Press Briefing by Mark Gearan
5:15 P.M. (L)
MR. GEARAN: Good afternoon. My name is Mark Gearan. I'm the White House Communications Director. And we thought we might give you an assessment of where we thought the trip of the President stands at this point. We have miles to go before we sleep, literally, back in Washington, but several folks are preparing some assessments of the trip and what we thought we had accomplished and what our objectives were, that we thought at this point, anyway, it might be helpful for some of you.
Let me begin by saying that what we set out to do with the trip, what our objectives were and, indeed, what we felt we concluded at this point, anyway, in the trip. Before we even left from Washington, we realized that the President's trip comes at a really historic moment of opportunity in this post-Cold War period.
The President sought to come here on his visit to these cities and to these nations to affirm the importance to their leaders and, indeed, to the people of the transatlantic relationship that we want to affirm and reaffirm in instances so that global stability and prosperity with these new democracies are most important to us.
A lot of what the President spent time talking about in his various remarks was the importance of the political, economic and security interests and the ties among the Western nations. So when we left from Washington we sought to accomplish five principal objectives, and we're looking forward to those along this trip.
The first was -- and this is not in the order of the trip, necessarily, but a bit in what we sought out to do -- is to encourage continued reform in Russia so that they would avoid any return to the authoritarian or ultranationalism and aggressive foreign policy of the past.
Secondly, the President sought to reassert the centrality of what has been the world's most successful alliance, NATO, and to the security of the challenges that we face in this post-Cold War world, largely through the advancement of his initiative, the Partnership For Peace initiative that was endorsed by the NATO allies.
Third, we wanted to deepen our relations with the European Union in building on the cooperation that we had at the G-7, in the GATT Uruguay Round, and on the European Union's desire for stronger foreign and security policy roles.
Fourth, we wanted to draw the nations of Central and Eastern Europe into the community of Western democracies. And our trip to Prague and our visit with the four Visegrad leaders evidenced that.
Finally, we wanted to proceed with measures to ensure the denuclearization efforts. The President's been working, obviously, on the initiatives we have and the agreement we had with Ukraine, Belarus here. So that is what we set out to do in the trip.
As we stand now, certainly the President gives a great deal of credit to his foreign policy team -- Secretary Christopher, who was very involved from the outset -- suggested the NATO summit and the activity there; Secretary Aspin; the President's National Security Advisor, Tony Lake; and the important work of our representative to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright; and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Shalikashvili who played key roles in the Central and European leaders' acceptance of our Partnership For Peace initiative.
In terms of the efforts in Russia and our efforts to encourage democracy and reform there, the President, as I said, wanted to go to urge and continue Russia down the path for democracy and free markets so that they would not revert to their past roles of the kind of authoritarian rule and aggressive foreign policy. His meetings with President Yeltsin -- as we have said previously in briefings and in the President's personal conversations with you -- have been very productive. They have really forged a very warm and genuine friendship. The State Dinner last evening at the Kremlin and the President and his family were allowed the hospitality to stay at the Kremlin, and they enjoyed that and the opportunity to visit more extensively with President Yeltsin.
The meetings that he had in Moscow, as we've said, allowed President Clinton to note to President Yeltsin his appreciation for all of the remarkable changes that have existed there. We also had the opportunity to stress the reform process in Russia and the benefits that have been derived from it. And, thirdly, I think in the TV show that many of you saw that the President did yesterday -- it was an opportunity for him and one of the things we did throughout the trip was for him to visit with people in the countries along the way; whether it was from the consumers in the Russian bread store to the pub and the restaurant in Prague to the stops in Brussels, he wanted to have an opportunity to meet and to visit with people more informally and some of those settings allowed for that.
What he has also said from his trip in Russia is that he was very appreciative for the other leaders that came, because one of the objectives we sought right from the beginning was to broaden the context that we had with other leaders in other political groups in Russia.
In terms of the NATO meeting, the important piece, of course, is what we'd observe is that the Central European and Eastern Europeans and Russia showed their support for, and enthusiasm for it. And that as important to us. We worked very hard in the weeks preceding the trip to secure endorsement with our allies. And as I mentioned earlier, Ambassador Albright and General Shalikashvili's work was critical to the support from the leaders. We've spoken previously about the Partnership For Peace, which, again, the American-led initiative that we're very excited about.
The Partnership, in summary, of course, reflects our best judgment at this point in time about how to promote security and stability in Europe. It avoids, as we have said previously, drawing new and any hostile dividing lines in Europe. And we look forward now, as the invitations proceed, to go forth.
The European Union we spoke of when we were in Brussels and that important relationship that the President sought to really deepen and broaden when we were there to enhance the relationships and the relationships that we developed. And
indeed, the meanings that the President had he felt were productive as we move forward beyond G-7 and the initiatives there in GATT and the Uruguay Round.
We have spoken previously about our efforts in Prague. And the Partnership For Peace, of course, was important. We also wanted to develop the kinds of relationships with those leaders that will be important in the years to come. And we were gratified by their acceptance and enthusiasm for our partnership initiative.
Finally, the denuclearization of the former Soviet states, which we're obviously here for in Minsk. The President came to congratulate Belarus for their initiative and for their commitment to denuclearization and to dismantle their weapons along the lines of the Nonproliferation Treaty, and the assistance that he suggested here in his speech that I'm sure many of you saw.
Secondly, of course, in this regard was the threepart trilateral agreement with Russia and the Ukraine and the United States on the denuclearization in the Ukraine. So we believe as we move forward now that the things that we set out in the early part of the trip we feel gratified that we've advanced.
The President came here with a pretty strong agenda, both in the individual meetings that he had with leaders and in the bilateral and trilateral meetings and the NATO summit. He had a vision of what he wanted to do. And I think he showed in the variety of settings that he was placed in from the formal NATO meetings to the bilateral meetings to the casual meetings in the cities that we went to, the range of his capacity and his performance levels here.
So that's where we stand. I'd be happy to kind of take any questions.
Q: How does the President feel he did? How do you think the President did --
MR. GEARAN: Well, ultimately --
Q: in addition to being very gratified?
MR. GEARAN: Well, ultimately, I think you have to judge the performance of what we've done by the results.
Q: We can't tell the results yet.
MR. GEARAN: I would respectfully take some issue with that. I think the results are critical. The Partnership For Peace is a very important initiative. It was American-led. The nonproliferation --
Q: the Partnership For Peace yet, Mark. I mean, how does -- all of these things still have to play out.
MR. GEARAN: I understand that.
Q: I'm trying to find out how you folks feel about how the President did. Is he happy with what he has done here on foreign policy? I'd like to get some sort of expression like that from you, if you care to share it.
MR. GEARAN: That's a great question. I'd like to have the opportunity --
Q: Why don't you hit it? (Laughter.)
MR. GEARAN: I'm kind of waiting for the opportunity to. This is just to -- our view is both in terms -- my point is in terms of the substance of what we achieved. That's one
measure that I think is an important one. It's an objective standard, it's a quantifiable answer from the Partnership For Peace, to the other initiatives, to the trilateral agreements, to the agreements we had with President Yeltsin, to our meeting here. Those are objective, definable standards that I think are measurable successes of this trip.
Secondly, I think you saw an opportunity of the President on the world stage, interacting with important leaders that will be critical to American security in the years ahead. President Yeltsin, obviously, in the relationship that they enjoy are NATO allies, and the kind of force that the President went into the NATO meeting with, and really all of the initiatives coming out of the NATO meeting were American initiatives. And I think you've seen kind of the commentary that has come from that from our Allied leaders in terms of the force of personality of the President that he went into, and the energy and commitment that he brought into those meetings.
You've seen him previously in other settings like this at the G-7 meeting and at the APEC meeting. The President, by -- of his personality and his ability to forge friendships quickly and deeply to his enthusiasm for the initiatives that he has lead here I think combine to allow for an important first European trip, and the first of three this calendar year to really combine to have a very successful summit.
He has said in the past during the campaign and throughout his presidency that to be strong at home you have to be strong abroad. Many of you have heard that along the way. I think what you have as we stand on the final hours of our trip here is that -- a President who came and took advantage of --many nations who are really thirsting for the kind of American leadership on initiatives in their countries -- that he was able to go into quickly to build upon and to move as we approach the 21st century.
Q: Mark, some of this had the trappings of a political campaign. Why does he feel it necessary to come over to this part of the world and do things that you would do if you were running for office?
MR. GEARAN: I think the trip was very heavily laden with opportunities for important diplomatic initiatives. I think certainly the bulk of the time that he spent was in either the NATO meetings or bilateral meetings or individual one-on-one sessions informally with people that really allowed for the kind of range of accomplishments that I've suggested previously.
He very much wanted to have informal sessions with people, whether it was a jam session in Prague or a dinner with the President there, to stopping by a coffee shop in Brussels where he has a chance to mix and to visit with people to really take the pulse of people in the countries. He had those kinds of opportunities. I think the television studio speech and set of remarks yesterday was certainly something that he -- we have used during the campaign and into his presidency. But it is a very good format for him to have the kind of exchange of ideas and to learn quickly what is on the minds of people.
Finally, and arguably most importantly, in this respect that the personal involvement of the President from the early preparation that he had on this trip to his personal performance in these sessions and the initiatives that he led really show the -- reflect what people are reaching out for in the countries that we visited and the people. And that is for strong American leadership in order to prepare us as we move towards the next century.
Q: Mark, is there anything that didn't go swimmingly well and the President thinks he needs a little more
work that he discovered on this trip that he feels he ought to apply himself to, perhaps?
MR. GEARAN: I guess fundamentally one would have to observe the context in which the President started the trip following his mother's death and obviously coming into that with the kind of fatigue and -- was difficult for him. He quickly immersed himself into the trip and into the preparations for it.
I think he recognizes that when an American President speaks away from home, he speaks for the entire country. And he spent a great deal of time in advance of the meetings preparing for them. That would be the obvious --
Q: Mark, what about Bosnia? There clearly seem to be tensions left after all that was said and done, and an initiative that was not an American initiative, a British and French one passed. What effect do you think that --
MR. GEARAN: I think the sum total, certainly, will have been a good and productive session at NATO where they were able to, in the kind of sessions they had, the combination of the formal session and then the dinner, the working dinner, that really allowed for the leaders to speak through clearly and frankly where they see this going.
This is going to be an issue that we will continue to deal with and monitor. But I think the meeting comes out with a resolve to -- and an assessment of where we stand and where the individual leaders stand. I think that was important, certainly, for the President and for the leaders.
Q: Would you please tell us what should we expect from tomorrow's meeting in Geneva?
MR. GEARAN: We can handle that at the side, and Mike McCurry from the State Department might want to go into it briefly. I wanted to just summarize the trip, then we can go forth from there.
Q: On the trip, what's the President's enthusiasm about his renewed contacts and rapport with Yeltsin, somewhat moderated by the background against which this visit played in Moscow -- the tumultuous opening of the Parliament that some people think does not really augur well for the future of reforms in that country.
MR. GEARAN: I think the President came away from his meetings with President Yeltsin feeling that he was very much on top of his job, that he felt that he had a team in place that really had a defined strategy of what they want to accomplish. That it is a group of people that are not unduly deterred or distracted by the political opposition, that they have definable goals, where they see their country going. And he was impressed with their enthusiasm and commitment to their plan. So that was the combination of both the meetings that he had, as well as other Cabinet members, Secretary Christopher and Secretary Bentsen, who had ancillary meetings with their counterparts.
Secretary Bentsen remarked in our briefing that it was certainly one of the best economic teams that he has seen in place. And, of course, that would be critical for the kind of reforms that will have to ensue.
Q: When we get back to the United States, how will this focus now on international affairs play out? Are we going to hear more of this, or will we move right into health care?
MR. GEARAN: -- at home, there are important initiatives that the President is anxious to return to. Obviously, we'll be having the State of the Union Address on January 25th, where he will outline agenda for the year. In
advance of that, you will also have an opportunity on the anniversary of his inaugural to make remarks.
But our work plan for the year is an important one and a full one, from the passage of the crime bill when we return to, obviously, then, the serious work that will have to be done on health care reform.
The President has stated previously this is our number one domestic priority. He's anxious to get it done this year, and we'll be devoting the kind of resources and energy that the administration will bring to bear to assure enactment of them.
Another key initiative that we're going to be working on very hard next year is welfare reform. So we have a great deal to go back to that awaits our return. In terms of the trip, certainly, as I said earlier, that as the President has said, to be strong at home you have to be strong abroad. And as we prepare to leave this part of our trip here, I think the successes that we've realized to date will allow for him to return home, fortified with that kind of -- those achievements that we have had here from Brussels to Prague, to Moscow to Minsk -- those kinds of things allow him to return back home.
Q: In a speaking sense, will he be including that in speeches, or will he -- like in a summation to the American people, or any events or anything? Or just back to domestic?
MR. GEARAN: It is never "just back to domestic." What the President has made very clear to -- it's 4:30 p.m. If you want to make Air Force One, you have to leave in another five minutes.
Let me go back to this, because this is important. What the President has said repeatedly, of course, is that the distinction between foreign policy and domestic policy is an artificial one in the sense that the issues frequently get joined.
What you saw here on this trip, especially the kinds of issues that we dealt with here, that distinction is not real in the world that we live in today -- the kinds of issues that the NATO allied leaders dealt with, the kind of economic reforms that we talked about in Prague and in Moscow and in Minsk. Indeed, the economic security of Europe and with the formulation of the European Union combined to reinforce, I believe, this point, that that distinction is less important than it might have been in previous years. That's how he approaches his job back home. That's how he approached coming here on this trip.
Q: Can you see any parallels in the USA --supposed to what the leaders of Russia and Belarus? I mean, that the USA has made all the stakes -- put in all the stakes on Boris Yeltsin. And here in Belarus put in all the stakes on Shushkevich. So is the State Department and the White House ready to change the stakes or to broaden the cycle in Russia and in Belarus, or not?
MR. GEARAN: Well, I think the combination of events in the schedule would evidence certainly that the President -- what we just said previously about President Yeltsin and his support for the kind of reforms and, indeed, the appreciation that he has for the kinds of reforms that he has led here. But also more broadly, the reforms that are going on here. A lot of his message in Moscow and here is -- to the kind of reforms, economic reforms and political reforms and security reforms, outlined in the President's speech today, that he has advanced.
He took the opportunity, in several countries we have, as we did when we went to the G-7, to meet with other younger, in some instances, political leaders from a variety of
different groups to kind of expand the contacts and to expand his message beyond --
Q: And in Belarus? Shushkevich and -- well, maybe some other leaders.
MR. GEARAN: He met with the leaders here and with members of the party here. This was a briefer stop, obviously, by time allowances that we had in so many other countries we visited. We had -- my point was a more broader point in terms of Moscow.
Q: Was there anything that was particularly disappointing that didn't go the way that you expected it to? Were you left with a bad taste in any way?
MR. GEARAN: My sense was the most disappointing element was the lack of sleep that many of you have endured. But I think by judging the standards of what we set out to do in those five points that I outlined in the beginning, combined with the personal force -- magnitude and personal force that the President brought in his stops, I think would have to allow for a summation of the trip as having been a very successful one.
Sleep deficit remains, and we will burden you with that through Sunday night.
Q: By visiting Kuropaty, is he being critical of the current government? I mean, he's meeting with the reformers out there who have been here, had to stand in the mud and the ice because they weren't allowed at these other ceremonies. Or is it -- how does that play out, the kind of the clash of meeting with the current government and the reformers later on?
MR. GEARAN: Well, I think what it plays out is the President had said before he left that he thought it would be important to remember the victims of past Stalinist terror. There was an issue that remained in terms of the schedule of that. He has spent a great deal of his time here in the bilateral meetings and his speech to press for the kind of reforms; that's the broader message that he wanted to send here. And he was certainly aware of the sensitivities that existed, but also was very anxious to make that stop as he did.
Q: not trying to drive a wedge in between these two, he's just trying to encourage these other reformers that he's meeting with now?
MR. GEARAN: I don't think I can really add to what the President said in his remarks here.
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Mark Gearan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269742