Bill Clinton photo

Press Briefing by White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry and State Department Spokesman Nick Burns

May 09, 1995

The Radisson Slavjanskaya

Moscow, Russia

1:10 P.M. (L)

MR MCCURRY: Well, by popular demand, we agreed to do this on camera. I think you all know my able and erstwhile successor and colleague, Nick Burns, the spokesman at the State Department, who is here. He's the former senior director of the National Security Council for Russia and a whole bunch of other places. What else -- Ukraine, Russia?

MR. BURNS: That's right -- Russia, Ukraine.

MR. MCCURRY: And parts therein.

I would say today, if -- those of you who are fans of Vladimir Nabokov, today is truly a day that memory speaks. The President is very conscious of the fact that today his task is to help the Russian people commemorate their enormous sacrifice in World War II. And he's grateful for the acknowledgement that President Yeltsin has given to the role the United States played in the victory over fascism 50 years ago.

I think as you know, he's participated in the commemorative parade on Red Square today, laid a wreath at Aleksandrovskiy Sad. He arrived at the Kremlin through the Borovitsky Gate. And the motorcade parked next to the famous Bell Tower in the Kremlin, just with the Tzar's Cannon nearby.

The President and Mrs. Clinton received a very warm welcome from President and Mrs. Yeltsin. The President was accompanied by Secretary Christopher, Secretary Rubin, National Security Adviser Lake, Deputy Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and others, as they walked through the Spassky Gate and back out to the Red Square to march along the side of the Kremlin Wall past the tombs of many notable and famous Russian leaders and others including the author John Reed.

The President stood and chatted for a brief time with Prime Minister Major, Prime Minister Chretien, Prime Minister Bruton, and President Jiang Zemin. He reports to me that he had amicable conversations with all of them, but certainly didn't conduct any heavy diplomacy. They were all remarking about the weather, about the pageantry of the parade itself.

The President found the parade very -- a very emotional experience. He said it was a little overwhelming, watching these veterans of the World War II campaign, many of whom appeared to him to be blind, obviously many getting along in years, many supporting each other and holding hands. He was, in some ways, overwhelmed by their presence on Red Square. He suggested to an aide at one point that, I just can't get over the faces. The faces are incredible.

The President said that, looking at them, I couldn't help but realize how many of their comrades were not here today to march in this parade. And he said in many ways, as kind of a poignant aftermath of the Cold War, the fact that, together the allies who defeated Nazi Germany have not been together at a moment like this to celebrate. This is, in a way, a vestige of the Cold War itself. There was no opportunity during the Cold War to conduct that type of commemoration.

They were all -- the President reported a conversation that Prime Minister Major had with Hillary at one point in which the Prime Minister remarked that he was thinking on the way here from the commemorative events in Europe that there were more Russian soliders lost at Leningrad than British people who died in the entire war. And it struck both the Prime Minister and many of the others there that the enormity of the sacrifice made by the Russian people during World War II is something that should very much be the focus of the commemorative events today.

Q: (inaudible)

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I'll add -- Nick's had -- Secretary Christopher had a couple of conversations as well. I suspect you'll want to push the story forward to some of tomorrow's meetings. We're not prepared to say much about that today, because a lot of that is going to depend, as President Yeltsin has made clear, on the conversation that President Clinton and President Yeltsin have tomorrow.

But, Nick, why don't you help me out here and fill in on Christopher --

Q: Mike, just before you go on, on today, what's the reason why the event with the President and American veterans is closed?

Q: Say that again --

Q: The question was, the reason why the event with the President and U.S. veterans is closed.

MR. MCCURRY: I thought there was -- was there a pooled event for that, or what's the arrangements for that?

Q: It says it's closed press.

MR. MCCURRY: This is with American veterans? Anybody know?

Q: Well, can we see if there's anything you can do to open it up?

MR. MCCURRY: These are the veterans -- I'll ask. The President has, a couple of times, expressed a desire to be able to talk to some of the veterans that are here from the United States and visit with them privately. I'll see if there's any way that we can open at least some of that up. We can't? I'm told we can't.

Q: Has the President watched any of the military parade on TV since he came back here?

MR. MCCURRY: No, he returned here to the hotel and had a light lunch of borscht and a Russian dumpling that was not pierogie, it was, what did they say? Pinnelli, or something like that. It sounded --

Q: Cabbage or beef?

MR. MCCURRY: -- Pel'meni. And, I think, like some of us did, he probably caught a little snooze, but I don't --

Q: So he hasn't watched it on TV?

MR. MCCURRY: It didn't appear to me that he had been watching television prior to departing here for the event that he's now en route to.

Q: Why did he choose not to go to the military parade? What's the symbolism of that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, this is a -- he is here in Russian to commemorate the military victories of World War II. And he is not here to dwell on the security issues that remain part of the bilateral agenda that we would discuss with Russia. But they are not to his mind the reasons for commemoration today. The commemorative events that we celebrate today were best represented in the President's view in the faces of the veterans who marched in Red Square today, and that's where he chose to commemorate these events with the Russian people.

Q: Mike, is that a round-about way of saying that the circumstance in Chechnya makes it inappropriate?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there -- we made very clear, even as late as last night, that the military campaign in Chechnya causes the United States grave concern, and even to the point that we sought assurances that there would not be participation by Chechen units in the parade that the President witnessed in Red Square today.

Q: -- not be the case in this other parade, right?

MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. Mr. Burns.

MR. BURNS: I just have two quick things to add to what Mike said. First, if you think of this as both symbolism and substance, these three days here, in terms of the substance, Secretary Christopher had a brief conversation with Andrey Kozyrev on Red Square during the ceremonies in which they discussed Kozyrev's visit to Washington 10 days ago. And some of the issues came up, and most prominently, European security issues. They had a brief discussion of that, and on the basis of that, they decided that they wanted to get together tomorrow when President Clinton and President Yeltsin have their one-on-one. Christopher and Kozyrev will also get together and focus on the European security issue.

Second, on the sympbolism -- Mike has spoken to this -- it's been impressive to read President Yeltsin's speeches yesterday and today and to hear them. He's talked about the figure of nearly 27 million war dead, which is exceedingly higher than the figure that had been used throughout most of the Cold War.

And I know that Secretary Christopher found President Yeltsin's remarks to be impressive this morning and appropriate. He talked about the U.S. contribution to the Soviet war effort during the second world war -- lend-lease, the opening of the second front. Yeltsin also did that yesterday. He's paid great attention to the role that the allies, led by the United States, made during the second world war. And we were certainly gratified and pleased to see that reference.

MR. MCCURRY: Anything else or you all still asleep?

Q: You mentioned -- one of the issues, the European security -- the NATO issue. Was there any conversation, any movement on any level, staff, anyplace on the other issues? Iran --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the question of European -- the European security architecture and the Russian relationship to NATO is one that has been the subject of intensive diplomacy going up to the meeting tomorrow, but there have been no change in where matters stand because, as late as the President's phone -- the last -- the President's last phone call with President Yeltsin, President Yeltsin made clear that he was -- appreciated the progress that had been made by staff and by the diplomats involved.

Q: What prompted the second meeting? Was there something happening that -- between the two today that caused them to say, well, let's get together?

MR. MCCURRY: Between Christopher and Kozyrev?

Q: -- anything new?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I think it's just to kind of fine-tune --

MR. BURNS: This was an impromptu conversation this morning. This was not planned, they were simply standing together talking about a lot of things. And they both agreed that the European security issue was important enough to be reviewed again tomorrow. But as Mike said, I think that the ministers have taken this conversation about as far as it can be taken. I'll get into it a little bit more detail tomorrow. And the two Presidents are going to need to have a very detailed, very thoughtful conversation on that issue, I think as well as the Iran issue. And so we're going to have to wait until tomorrow to see the outcome of both of those issues.

MR. MCCURRY: Just let me -- a point on that -- that you know so often in the past these summits, because there was more contentiousness in the relationship, especially during the Cold War, more of the summit results needed to be pre-cooked. We have a different relationship with Russia now, and it does depend a lot in the capacity of President Yeltsin to make decisions about issues that in some ways he must make judgments on before they can more forward through the Russian Federation. And that's why President Yeltsin has indicated to President Clinton that there needs to be a thorough discussion of these issues between the two before they can move forward on some of these.

So we -- we are here today have very little idea of what outcome there will be on some of the key issues that will be under discussion tomorrow. And we've got a good sense of where the diplomatic efforts stands, but that in no way indicates that that will result in any progress or any achievable or measurable result. It depends on the conversation between the two.

Q: Mike, there's a report that the U.S. wants to raise some alleged violations of arms agreements with the Soviet -- with the Russians. Is that the case?

MR. MCCURRY: What is that? CFE?

MR. BURNS: We saw the same report -- this is the Washington Post story you're referring to? We, as you know, there's a -- there's a very broad arms agenda with the Russians. It involves the START issues, nuclear cooperation, the Iran issues, biological and chemical weapons. The report I saw was concerned with the last two issues.

And contrary to the implication of the report, there's nothing really new here. For all of the six meetings that the President has had with President Yeltsin, we have raised biological and chemical weapons -- specifically, whether or not the Russians are adhering to the two conventions to which they've agreed. And I'm sure that those issues will come up tomorrow. But there's nothing dramatic that has happened over the last couple of days that I think warrants a spotlight on that particular issue. It's an area of ongoing concern. And we've reported to the Congress on both our performance and Russian performance in adhering to the two conventions.

Yes, that's a good point -- Mike just suggests that we give you a little bit about what's been going on behind the scenes here in preparation for the summit. Lynn Davis, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, has had a series of meetings with the Russian Deputy Minister, Georgiy Mamadov, leading up to this. And they have covered the full range of arms issues.

In addition to that, there have been a lot of contacts in the last 48 hours at the subcabinet level with officials in our delegation meeting with their Russian counterparts, as you would expect, in any summit. And they have covered a range of political and economic issues. So there's been a lot of conversations the last couple of days and the last couple of weeks. But on this particular issue that you asked about, nothing that I know of that is at all surprising or unexpected.

Q: Is there a set agenda for tomorrow? I mean -- is Yeltsin willing now to go into these issues, or are you going to try to evade them?

MR. BURNS: We've worked out an agenda with the Russians for tomorrow -- you know, what the two will be discussing in general in their one-on-one, although they reserve the right to bring up any issues they want to. And for the plenary sessions, there's going to be one that focuses on security issues and another that focuses on political and economic issues. So it's pretty well worked out.

MR. MCCURRY: But it's within the realm of possible that they'll stay in the one-on-one --

MR. BURNS: That's right. I mean, past practice is that the two presidents often decide that they want to spend more time one on one than go -- than in a plenary session. I remember in the September '94 summit in Washington, that was certainly the case. So these things are not entirely scripted by staff. The two presidents have a lot of -- they have a lot of breadth to make their own decisions about the nature of the discussions tomorrow.

Q: They'll be there just with note-takers and translators?

MR. BURNS: Yes, in the one-on-one session, just with translators, interpreters and note-takers.

Q: Mike, as you say this is a -- you say this is not a precooked summit. What guideposts are you going to be looking for to judge the success or failure --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we -- I kind of go back to what Secretary Christopher and others laid out in the backgrounder we did before we departed. This is a strategic relationship in which the United States works very carefully and to advance our own economic security and political interests -- in short, putting our national interests forward in the context of the dialogue in which we are sometimes dealing with differences with the Russian Federation, and sometimes finding a very cooperative attitude in which we can make progress.

So the real measure is how do we advance the interests that the American people would expect the President to put foremost on the table, whether we protect those interests, and whether we can do anything to advance our interests, both economic, political and security, as we deal with Russians who sometimes have a different point of view. Now that -- you know, again, we've said over and over again in preparation for the meeting tomorrow, this is not a summit where you can pull out a scorecard and check off things that have been achieved. It's a question of laying in place the kind of dialogue that can lead to cooperation and lead to further progress on issues that we care about.

A good example is a question of the sale of nuclear technology to Iran. Everyone knows that we've been pressing the Russians hard on that issue, but no one suspects or expects that there will be any resolution of that issue or any major change in the point of view of the Russian Federation during the meetings tomorrow.

But on the other hand, if we can, through this dialogue, raise the importance of that issue, make President Yeltsin more sensitive to our proliferation concerns and find a way to deal with that issue as time progresses, we would consider that an important outcome.

Q: -- think that Kozyrev's comments on NBC last night were significant? Is it encouraging, his comments on --

MR. MCCURRY: It's just impossible to say today. We'll have to see what exactly were behind those comments tomorrow. But, again, everything we've heard from the Russian side would not indicate any major change of view in their posture on the sale itself.

Q: (inaudible)

Q: (inaudible)

MR. MCCURRY: Well, NATO is the most successful collective security umbrella in the history of mankind in some ways. If you want to look at it as the enormous devastation that would have resulted from conflict during the period of the Cold War in which two nuclear superpowers faced each other and the protection that that security umbrella has offered to the alliance of 16, and as it looks to its future and to the next century with the possibilities of integrating further the former states of the Soviet Union with the West that it provides through the NATO umbrella and an amazing opportunity to make this the most impressive period of peace and stability in the history of the European continent, NATO can play a fundamental role as we look ahead to the next century in that collective security. But it, in order to do that, must be modernized and must be reinvigorated as it looks ahead to its mission in the next century, which is precisely the purpose of programs like Partnership for Peace and precisely the reason why the President and President Yeltsin, I suspect, will spend most of their time privately on that subject tomorrow.

Q: -- security -- security against what?

MR. MCCURRY: Security against -- the NATO alliance is -- the NATO alliance is a mutual pledge by 16 nations to come to the defense of each other when threatened. And looking ahead to the types of threats that these 16 might face in future years, one can see through the type of regional instability that we see in various places of conflict -- you know, within this hemisphere and beyond, the opportunities that NATO might have to be employed as a tool of collective security.

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, do you want to add?

MR. BURNS: Yes, I want to add to that. Let me just say something else in response to Sid's question. I think there is a unity that links this trip with the President's last trip to Russia, which was in January 1994. As you remember, that trip began in Brussels at the NATO Summit, which was historic because it made the fundamental decision to reinvigorate NATO and expand it eastward.

And that trip, then, took the President to Prague where he talked to Central Europeans about this issue, and then to Moscow and Minsk. And as we look at the future of NATO, I think we look at it as framed by the vision that the President first talked about in January 1994.

Today, we have marked -- we've commemorated one of the worst aspects of this century's history. And the President, a year and a half ago, talked about the need to make the 21st Century peaceful. Europe should be peaceful, united and secure.

And his view is that the way we can accomplish that is to keep NATO going, to reinvigorate it, give it a new role, expand it eastward, and at the same time work with the Russian government on a new relationship between NATO and Russia. And that is at stake when we talk about the European security dialogue, if Russia chooses to sign up to the Partnership for Peace, if it agrees to sign the two implementing documents, the way will be clear for that NATO-Russia dialogue which will be parallel to the process of expanding NATO. And that is fundamentally what's at stake here, and that's why tomorrow's discussions are so important.

Q: Do you expect -- documents might be signed?

MR. BURNS: That's entirely up to President Yeltsin and President Clinton to discuss tomorrow. That's been the focus, Brit, of our diplomacy since well before Budapest. That was the issue at Brussels and Budapest, that the Russians and Americans were talking about publicly as well as privately. And Secretary Christopher has had three meetings with Kozyrev since Budapest to try to define what we can do together on that issue. So it's certainly one of the key issues that the President's going to raise tomorrow with Yeltsin. And we hope, of course, that's there's going to be progress, but I can't say we expect it. It is entirely up to the two of them.

Q: Mike, clearly this ceremony here today is very important to the Russians. It's something they've in many ways been waiting for for 50 years. Do you foresee that this tribute that's being paid by Clinton and other western allies here will enable Yeltsin to be more generous on some of the issues that we're bringing up tomorrow at the bilateral?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's very difficult to say, but it has had a profound impact. To pick up on something that Nick has said earlier -- President Yeltsin, in a very impressive way in the last two days, has spoken candidly and in many ways provided an unvarnished element of truth to the Russian people about the history, not only of the World War II period, but how that relates in some ways to modern Russian history.

And in covering, you know, both Stalin and Marshall Zhukov in the speech, he's used the commemoration of this World War II event in a way to address some issues that are still resonant in the Russian political culture today. So I can't speculate on what impact it might have on the diplomatic effort tomorrow, but it clearly does have some impact on the political dynamic that does exist within the Russian political culture today.

Q: Mike, as usual at summits like these, people talk about the relationship between the two presidents -- (inaudible) -- get that personal message across. But some have said that -- (inaudible) -- focuses even more strongly on that, and some have said the reason for that is that the U.S. is uncertain about what Boris Yeltsin is getting in terms of information from his own staff and his own people. What do you say to that --

MR. MCCURRY: In every meeting at this level that has occurred between the Russian Federation and the United States, it's clear that the President has been fully charge of the brief on the Russian side. President Yeltsin has always come prepared to deal with those issues that we've made clear that we are going to deal with.

Now, there is speculation from time to time that there are aspects of certain transactions -- a good example is the Russian deal that might not have moved their way all the way through the Russian bureaucracy and may not have come to the attention of President Yeltsin. One can only speculate on that. But we believe that the relationship that we are forging with the Russian Federation goes beyond personalities and that the reason we meet with President Yeltsin is because he is the democratically-elected President of Russia. He also is the person that we judge to be in a position to make things happen on those issues of concern that we have placed on the bilateral agenda. And that's one reason why the personal, one-on-one meeting we attach some importance to. Boris Yeltsin is a decisionmaker, and it's clear that many of the things that are in place for discussion will not be resolved until he, face to face, has an opportunity to discuss them with President Clinton.

So we're describing more a reality that exists in the diplomatic relationship rather than something that we seek to nurture or to cultivate by the way we handle the preparations and the actual summit itself.

Q: Thanks a lot.

MR. MCCURRY: I wore you out.

Q: What about the Jeremy Gaines --

Q: We were worn out already. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: I want to hear more about the Jeremy Gaines incident. We've made inquiries to the authorities.

Q: -- Dave Leavy --

MR. MCCURRY: There's a Dave Leavy sighting in the back of the room, along with a Bud Dancy sighting for those of you who want to see a colleague.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:36 P.M. (L)

William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry and State Department Spokesman Nick Burns Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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