Press Briefing by Chip Blacker, Special Assistant to the President for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council
The Briefing Room
10:30 A.M. EDT
MR. MITCHELL: Chip has agreed to discuss the meeting that the President held this morning with Foreign Minister Kozyrev and the phone call he held with President Yeltsin.
DIRECTOR BLACKER: I thought I would take a few moments to just characterize both the meeting and the phone call. The meeting took place this morning shortly after 9:00 a.m. It was a meeting in keeping with preparations in connection with the upcoming summit, of course, in May. I think it's fair to characterize that as a good meeting, as an opportunity for the Foreign Minister and the President to do a very quick kind of overview of where we stand. I think the tone was positive and forward-leaning, and I think it transpired in a spirit in which both sides understand the importance and significance of the upcoming sessions in Moscow.
I think it's also fair to say that the phone call transpired in very much the same spirit. I think it was a good phone call. It provided both President Clinton and President Yeltsin an opportunity to review where we stand in the lead-up to the summit, to do a quick kind of overview of important issues, and to focus in particular on what I think each side feels is the importance of this meeting in the context of the continuing and productive development of relations between the United States and Russia.
The phone call took about 30 minutes. Again, the tone was good. I think it was a very important opportunity for President Clinton and President Yeltsin to compare notes, just like they did.
Q: What did President Yeltsin do -- how did he explain his decree now that -- in terms of Chechnya, the fighting and military action in Chechnya?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: I think you should probably check with the Russian side on how they understand that. He --
Q: What's the American understanding?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: The American understanding is that we continue to feel strongly about the importance of a permanent ceasefire and the connection of that permanence, if you will -- that is, the cessation of hostilities to the beginning of a genuine process of political reconciliation. And that has been our line. And I think you can characterize --
Q: Did you say that to Yeltsin? Did we say that --did the President say that to Yeltsin during this phone call?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: The President made clear, I think, that we continue to be very concerned about Chechnya and that we think it's very important that they move on with the process.
Q: Well, what about this idea? Is this just a way to kind of defuse the issue while President Clinton's in Moscow?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: I think our view is that any step which we can take which results in the cessation of hostilities and the saving of life is important in and of itself, but it must be linked ultimately to a process that leads to a lasting resolution of this tragic conflict.
Q: There are a number of outstanding issues where --on which there seems to be little agreement. Chechnya's just one. Then you have NATO, you had the Iranian nuke sales. Has any progress been made on any of those issues?
DIRECTOR BLACK: I think it's fair to say that the exchange of views on this was concise, was direct. And I think the spirit, clearly, of this was that we seek the capacity with the Russians to drive to move the relationship forward. And I think that the phone call and the meetings have taken place very much in this spirit. That is, there is a lot of momentum, there's a lot of energy, I think, within this relationship, and I think both sides are eager to press it forward, understanding that there are some important problems. But the underlying context and the content of the relationship is that we have a lot at stake, we have a lot of common interests, and we're seeking to resolve problem areas in that context. And I think it's very important that we keep that in mind.
Q: Do you look forward to, at the summit, seeing any resolution of those issues or any announcements of progress?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: Stay tuned, I guess is what I would say. I think we're optimistic about the capacity to move the agenda forward.
Q: Are the Russians showing any interests in the longstanding U.S. proposal for some relationship with NATO?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: I think it's fair to say that the Russian side -- and you should check this with them, of course; they can speak for themselves -- I think it's fair to say that the Russians have always been sensitive to the nature of their relationship with NATO. I don't think they have become less sensitive to that, but we're eager to move ahead with them on that issue in ways which redound to everyone's advantage and that contribute positively to the construction of a new security order in Europe. And I think both sides feel strongly about that.
Q: They declined last year to follow through on a formal link-up. Have they changed their mind about that?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: We're hopeful that they will move to a point where they can endorse those agreements.
Q: Are they ready to drop their objection to some East European countries joining NATO at this point?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: Again, I think they can speak for themselves on this. I don't think it is U.S. policy to expect them to abandon a point of view which they hold and have held strongly. The issue is, again, the level of analysis. And the level of analysis here is, what can each side do to contribute to the creation of what we hope will be a lasting, peaceful security order in Europe. That's what we're driving toward. And we're trying to work the problem, as we always have, but I think the sense is that there's more potential toward an outcome that works to the advantage of both sides.
Q: So at this summit you expect some words of either conciliation, or maybe some way to finesse it somehow?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: I think finesse would be the wrong verb, because it's not -- because there's content to this, real content, and I think we are driving toward an outcome in which the interests of both sides are fully represented within this larger context of constructing this new order. Would I expect something to come out of the summit that would be contributory to this? Yes.
Q: Can you point to any progress at all -- to follow up on Jill's questions -- on any of those three issues, other than this hope for momentum? Was there any progress on the Iran nuclear reactor issue? Was there any progress on Chechnya, any progress at all on NATO?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: Again, the President took advantage of his time on the phone with President Yeltsin to raise a number of issues and to underscore, as far as we're concerned, the importance of working these through in ways that are consistent with what we think is in the long-term interest not only of our own security, but international security.
Q: So there was no progress then?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: You can characterize it as you choose.
Q: Could you list the issues that were discussed? I mean, I assume NATO and the Iran nuclear deal, and what other issues?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: I would prefer not to run through a precise list. The phone call is confidential.
Q: NATO and the Iran nuclear deal, were they discussed?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: I think the way for me to respond is to note that there are a number of issues which they reviewed which are high up on the agenda.
Q: Well, was this phone --
Q: Was the CFE important in the discussion?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: In the what?
Q: In the discussion, the talk today on the call --the CFE an important matter for both countries.
DIRECTOR BLACKER: As I said, there is a cluster of issues toward the top of the agenda, and we focused on that cluster. And that was the content of the conversation.
Q: Did they discuss the current political situation in Russia and upcoming elections, et cetera?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: I'm mostly trying to recall this -- the lion's share, overwhelmingly, the time that they spent on the phone was focused narrowly on the relationship and on the summit, and I cannot recall a specific reference to political developments within Russia.
Q: Can you subscribe any part of the economic basket? Was that talked about at all in terms of the issues they are going to be discussing at the summit within this phone call?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: The importance that we attach to the continuing reform of both the Russian political process and the kind of economic foundation of the new Russia did feature in the phone call. That is to say, the President did reference the importance which we attach to the process which integrates Russia.
Q: But did they discuss particular U.S. requests or expectations?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: No.
Q: When they talked about Chechnya, did the President in any way appreciate -- register his appreciation for a cease-fire, even though it's not the solution?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: I'm sorry, once more.
Q: When the President talked to Mr. Yeltsin about Chechnya, what did he say about the cease-fire itself? Did he call it a good step?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: The verb that you used was "register" in the first version. Yes, he, I think, made quite clear, as I said, that --
Q: Well, you said what the administration position is. I'm trying to get an idea of what the President said to Mr. Yeltsin.
DIRECTOR BLACKER: That he felt strongly about this and that we certainly welcomed it as a step towards this larger process, which was the point I was trying to make. I was not trying to unload fodder.
Q: No, I know the U.S. policy --
DIRECTOR BLACKER: But I was trying to say that there's a logic to this policy.
Q: What does the U.S. government expect the Chechens to do? Do we think they're going to stop fighting just because the Russians stopped fighting?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: I don't think we have any concrete -- I mean, they'll do what they're going to do. We think it's a very helpful step at this point that the Russians have announced that there will be a cease-fire.
Q: Did Cluny name come up at all?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: Yes, it did.
Q: What did Mr. Yeltsin tell us they could possibly do to find this figure?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: We took advantage of the opportunity to stress the importance which we attach to this case, and the President urged President Yeltsin -- asked him to be both sensitive to it and as helpful as they could be.
Q: And Mr. Yeltsin said, I'll get right on it, or do you recall? Cluny been one of the severest critics of what Russia is now doing in Chechnya.
DIRECTOR BLACKER: I know that.
Q: So it's interesting to know what Mr. Yeltsin said.
DIRECTOR BLACKER: His response was part of a broader response to the importance that they attach to the resolution of the conflict.
Q: Did they discuss anything about the Middle East in which Russia and the U.S. do have common interests?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: If I remember correctly, the Middle East did not come up in a concrete way in the conversation.
Q: Do you have any further information about the explosion in the pipeline this morning? And did that figure at all in the conversation?
DIRECTOR BLACKER: I have not had a chance yet to check beyond the headline on that, and it did not.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END10:42 A.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Chip Blacker, Special Assistant to the President for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269916