Bill Clinton photo

Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Tony Lake

March 01, 1995

The Briefing Room

3:10 P.M. EST

MR. LAKE: Let me say first just a few words about the President's speech this evening. He will emphasize in it the importance of American engagement in the world. He will warn of a developing at least ripple of isolationism that we are seeing, and express his intention, his very firm intention, to oppose it.

One way of illustrating the importance of this engagement is to ask yourself a series of "what if" questions. For example, what if the President had not succeeded in negotiating a GATT or getting ratification of GATT and negotiating the NAFTA treaty, et cetera, what would that mean for a lot of American jobs? What if the President had not stood up to Saddam Hussein and beaten back what could have been an act of aggression and was an act of intimidation against Kuwait? What if we had not acted against Haiti; what would the situation look like there if we had not dealt with the Cuban refugee problem as we did? We think all of these "what ifs" add up to engagement making a real difference in the lives, the everyday lives of American citizens.

Engagement depends on bipartisanship on the Hill, and the President will invoke the spirit of Truman and Vandenburg to call for that bipartisanship as we seek to work with a coalition of the center in the Congress that would span both parties, coalition of internationalists who are committed to policies of American engagement.

Senator Dole today gave a speech which called for engagement. We have differences on a number of issues apparently with Senator Dole, but the essential thrust was toward engagement. In fact, the Senator said at the end of his speech that leadership does come with a price tag, but it is a price worth paying. We agree. And that is one reason why we are calling for the kinds of resources that we need to defend our national interests abroad, to conduct the kinds of national security policies that we are seeking to implement.

That means sufficient resources for our defense budget so that the President and Secretary Perry and the Joint Chiefs can see to the readiness of our forces and to carry out the modernization programs that we need without diverting billions of dollars of funds potentially to Star Wars programs, premature programs that would reduce our ability to pursue readiness in that modernization. It means funding international affairs budget beyond defense that is about one percent of our whole budget, that is a quarter less than the international affairs budgets of the mid-1990s, and that goes to fund, for example, aid programs that are helping to provide immunization for children around the world and cutting child mortality as has happened since 1988, I believe it is; aid programs that -- for $2 billion can leverage $40 billion worth of assistance in multilateral development banks; aid programs that are supporting democracy around the world.

I believe around 20 percent of our aid program goes to supporting democracy, and democracy helps produce stability around the world, which is in our national interest. Aid programs which create jobs, because a lot of our effort in this administration has gone to not only opening markets, but developing markets in the third world. One statistic: American exports to developing nations from 1990 to 1993 were up $46 billion. And that translates into some 900,000 American jobs. So we think that these resources that we will be fighting for are again, very important not in some abstract sense for American national security interests, true as that is, but because they help improve the lives of American citizens themselves.

Similarly, we believe that the question of whether the United States will continue to engage or become isolated will turn on what the Congress does about U.N. peacekeeping. The House bill, as you know, would, for technical reasons, have the effect almost certainly of killing U.N. peacekeeping around the world. The effect of that would be very damaging to our national interest and would represent a radical reversal of 50 years of American foreign policy.

There are over 60,000 U.N. peacekeepers operating on the Golan Heights, on the border between Kuwait and Iraq, on the border between India and Pakistan, in Cyprus, in El Salvador, and elsewhere. All of those missions are serving American national interests and preventing larger wars or promoting democracy. If there were no U.N. peacekeeping, those 60,000 soldiers, of whom less than 1,000 are American now, would either probably have to be American or we would not be seeing that job done. And we should be placed in the position of either acting alone or not acting at all. So we will oppose that should it appear in one guise or another in the Senate.

The President's speech tonight will mostly illustrate the importance of engagement, however, by -- the President will talk about what we have done and must do this year in reducing the nuclear threat to our cities and to our citizens.

Over the last two years, in fact, the President was able to reach an agreement with President Yeltsin on detargeting Americans and Russians with our respective strategic missiles systems. We have put START I in place now. We -- the President has put a lot of his own time into now gaining the agreements of Kazakhstan and Belarus and Ukraine to foreswear nuclear weapons in those states. We have through Nunn-Lugar funds helped to increase the security of nuclear facilities in the former Soviet Union and we negotiated, as you know, of course, an agreement with North Korea that puts a cap and eventually will dismantle their dangerous nuclear program.

So much has already been done. But this is a year with a very large agenda before us. We are working very hard at gaining the indefinite and unconditional extension of the Nonproliferation Treaty. At the review conference this spring we are working with the Senate to gain ratification of the START II treaty, and the President will call this evening for its rapid ratification. We're well pleased so far with the attitude of the Senate.

We will try to negotiate -- complete negotiations this year on a comprehensive test ban treaty. We will seek the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention. We work in various ways to do all we can to prevent nuclear smuggling. And, of course, we will be very vigilant to make sure that the North Koreans implement the agreement that we have reached with them on their nuclear program. We will, in the course of our briefing this afternoon later, talk more of the details of this very, very full nuclear agenda before us.

Let me take any questions for a while anyway that you would like to address.

Q: Tony, what really makes this address tonight any different from what the President's been saying now for sometime about --

MR. LAKE: There will be some specifics that are different on nuclear programs. I think what is mostly different here is that he will more clearly point out the dangers of what we see to be isolationist trends in some of the measures that are being supported on the Hill in our society as a whole. And the reason he will be more definite about that is that the situation seems to be changing on the Hill and that the debates we've seen in recent weeks do suggest that there is that isolationist ripple which we wish to stop here if we can and keep it from becoming a wave.

Q: What is the basis of the opposition to an indefinite extension of NPT? And also, are we trying to get Israel and India to join, and other countries that have the --

MR. LAKE: Secretary Christopher has -- to take the second part -- has been involved in discussing this question with both the Egyptians and the Israelis and will continue those discussions in his trip to the Middle East. I think that the opposition of some governments to the indefinite extension of the NPT turns on two questions. One is some of them believe that they want an out; that if things change somehow, they want to be able to have a clear date at which they can review, or whether they wish to remain in the treaty, or how the treaty is serving them. We think that's not a necessary concern because you can't amend, in fact, the treaty as you go along, even once you have its indefinite extension. And we believe that it is extremely important that the international community send a clear message to all those who would consider acquiring nuclear weapons, that the international community permanently believes that that should not happen.

A second concern that some nations assert is that the nuclear powers have not done enough to deal with their own nuclear weaponry, why should we be going to them now and saying don't develop nuclear weapons yourself. And the fact is that we have a tremendously positive story to tell now after the recent years of process. If you combine Start I and Start II, together for example, we and the Russians will have gotten rid of two-thirds of our nuclear arsenals. And I think that well answers the concerns of those states.

Q: The isolationist ripple that you refer to I assume comes from the House debate on HR-7. How do you read the sentiment in the Senate? I mean, is that equally isolationist, or do you think they're likely to --

MR. LAKE: We don't think it will be and we hope it is not. And we will work to, as I said, keep that ripple from the House from becoming a wave in the Senate.

Q: Tony, Senator Dole criticized the administration earlier this afternoon for pursuing a Yeltsin first policy which works against American interests, that they did North Korea, Serbia -- he cited some other examples, and which also emboldened him to pursue the course he is pursuing in Chechnya. How do you respond to that and how do we expect to hear President Clinton responding to his criticism of Russian policy?

MR. LAKE: I don't think that the President will specifically respond to Senator Dole tonight. The President has his own positive message that he will be laying out. Let me say that, first of all, we believe it has been and is fundamentally in the American national interest that we support reform in Russia, and we will continue to do so. We believe that it is fundamentally in the American national interest to support denuclearization programs in Russia. And we will continue to do so. And we will fight for the budgets that are necessary to do both on the Hill. And without any apology whatsoever, we'll continue to follow such a policy.

To state that this is a "Russia first" policy or that we have somehow failed to make known our concerns on Chechnya is simply wrong. The fact is that if you look at the budget that we have submitted this year, two-thirds of our aid goes to non-Russian members of the former Soviet Union. This is not a "Russia first" policy. And if you --

Q: I said Yeltsin first.

MR. LAKE: I thought -- no, I thought you said Russia first.

Q: He said both.

MR. LAKE: Okay, he said both -- together we have covered both here. Let me -- okay, I will come to Yeltsin then. And secondly, if you go back to the very first days of the Chechnya crisis when the President was in Miami, he spoke out then about Chechnya, and we have been ever since very direct in both our public and our private statements about Chechnya. So I think that is unfounded as well.

With regard to Yeltsin himself, Boris Yeltsin is the President of Russia. Yeltsin has traditionally been the leaders -- the leader of the reform movement in Russia. Chechnya has started to drive a wedge between President Yeltsin and some of the reformers. In our view, it is important that we act in a way which makes it easier rather than harder for Yeltsin and the reformers to come together again. And we will continue to do that while unapologetically and very directly making known our concerns to President Yeltsin and the Russian government when we have disagreements. And we do have those disagreements, and we will pursue them as sovereign nations do.

Q: Senator Dole warned today that Iran is getting closer and closer to nuclear trigger, and the traditional ways of dealing with Iraq and Iran effort to get a nuclear trigger are not working. Will the President address the nuclear threat from Iran and Iran's backing of international terrorism?

MR. LAKE: Yes, and we are very concerned about Iran's activities both in supporting terrorism and on the nuclear front. As you know, we have developed a policy of dual containment designed to contain the influence of both Iraq and Iran -- policies that we are following very vigorously.

Let me say here that the Senator's comments on Ambassador Albright's mission to Europe and elsewhere about maintaining Iraqi sanctions are simply unfounded on the facts. The fact is that Ambassador Albright has been traveling around to the capitals of members of the U.N. Security Council with a very, very tough message, saying that this administration remains committed to maintaining sanctions so long as Iraq is out of compliance with relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions; and specifically, that while we believe that we can maintain the votes -- and this administration through a lot of hard work has maintained the votes in the Security Council; we believe that we will -- but should we not, Ambassador Albright has said the President is prepared to veto the Security Council. So the Senator is simply misinformed about what Ambassador Albright has been doing.

I might add also that we do not need lectures on how to stand up to the Iraqis. If you look at the President's response at the time of the threat against President Bush's life, or at our rapid and effective response when Saddam Hussein moved his divisions toward the Kuwaiti border.

Q: On a more immediate development involving Iran, how concerned is the U.S. about the deployment of some antiaircraft missiles on Abu Musa? And what, if anything, can or will the U.S. do about that?

MR. LAKE: Well, we have been watching this very closely now for some months. This is -- this buildup of weaponry on the islands has been taking place for some months. We are watching it. And we will watch it to make sure that it is defensive in character.

Q: Do you believe it's defensive in character now, and if it --

MR. LAKE: We will have to see. But we have not yet seen evidence that it is not.

Q: So at this point the U.S. has no intention to take any sort of action, or has there been any contact indirectly with Iran to voice concerns about that deployment?

MR. LAKE: We'll watch this very carefully.

Q: If I could just follow up on your comment that we do not need lectures on how to deal with the Iraqis, are you saying here that you think that Senator Dole's comments were out of line?

MR. LAKE: As I said, we welcomed the thrust of the Senator's speech, much of which we could have given ourselves. There will be differences from time to time. And I would certainly differ with the Senator in his characterization of what our policy is toward both Iraq and Iran, both with regard to the facts and with regard to our intentions and our record, which we think is very good and very firm and will remain so.

Q: Since NAFTA has been one of the major achievements of this administration, how does the National Security Council and the President view the situation in Mexico right now, political and economic?

MR. LAKE: I believe that the economic situation in Mexico obviously has an important impact on the political situation in Mexico as well, and that that is one of the reasons why the economy of Mexico is not only an economic concern to the United States but a national security concern as well, because we need to work very closely with the government of Mexico on such issues as immigration, on counter narcotics, a variety of other issues. And that requires a government in Mexico that has the political base for working closely with us. And that is one of the reasons -- I don't mean in a partisan sense, political base, but that is one of the reasons why the President took the strong action that he did in seeking to deal with the economic situation.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END3:33 P.M. EST

William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Tony Lake Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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