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Question-and-Answer Session With Russian Reporters in Vancouver

April 04, 1993

Aid to Russia

Q. I had two questions for both Presidents, so you could probably answer for Boris, too. [Laughter]

The President. I'll give you my answer, then I'll give you Yeltsin's answer. [Laughter]

Q. The first is that this is the meeting of the Presidents. So the money that's being promised is Government money, and naturally it's going to be distributed through the Government. But you've indicated that three-quarters are going to be going to businesses. So the question is how the Russian businesses themselves are going to be consulted, if ever? What are the priorities, because there are several association of Russian businessmen existing already. So will they be invited to participate in setting up priorities for investment? This is the first.

And second, to you: We know that polls, public polls in America do not show that Americans are very enthusiastic about giving this aid. Like Newsweek polls say that about 75 percent don't approve it, and New York Times published that 52 percent support if it just prevents civil war, 42 percent if it fosters democratic reform, and only 29 percent if it just personally supports Yeltsin. How are you going to sort of handle this problem that Americans themselves are not very enthusiastic?

Thank you.

Q. I have a question. I'm sorry, is there going to be a translation of everything into Russian? No, just the answers. Just the answers. Okay.

The President. The answer to the first question is, it depends on what kind of aid we're discussing. For example, the funds that will be set up for financing new businesses will obviously go to those businesses who apply and who seem to be good risks and make the application. The privatization fund will be used to support the privatization of existing public enterprises. Then there are some other general funds in the Democracy Corps and other things which people in Russia will have some influence over the distribution of.

With regard to your second question, let me say that I would think that there would be people in both countries who would not feel too warmly toward simply the American Government giving money to the Russian Government. There's opposition to that in Russia. And in our country, throughout our whole history, there has been an opposition to foreign aid of all kinds. That is, this has nothing to do with Russia. If you look at the whole history, of America, any kind of aid program has always been unpopular.

What I have tried to tell the American people is, this is not an aid program, this is an investment program; that this is an investment in our future. We spent $4 trillion, trillion, on armaments, on soldiers, and other investments because of the cold war. Now, with a democratic government in Russia, with the newly independent states, the remainder of them, working on a democracy and struggling to get their economies going, it seems to me very much in our interest to make it possible to do whatever we can for democracy to survive, for the economy of Russia to grow because of the potential for trade and investment there, and for us to continue the effort to reduce nuclear weapons and other elements of hostility on both sides, on our side and on the Russian side. So I don't see this as an aid program. This is an investment for the United States. This is very much in the interest of the United States. The things I announced today, the second stage of the program which I hope to put together next week, in my view are things that are good for my country and for the taxpayers and workers of my country.

Russia is a very great nation that needs some partnership now, some common endeavor with other people who share her goals. But it would be a great mistake for anyone to view this as some sort of just a charity or an aid issue. That's not what it is. It's an investment for America, and it's a wonderful investment. Like all investments, there is some risk. But there's far less risk with a far greater potential of return than the $4 trillion we spend looking at each other across the barrier of the cold war.

Ukraine and Trade Restrictions

Q. Mr. President, first of all, thank you very much indeed for coming here and talking to us. In the memory of the living correspondents, this is the first time an American President is doing this to the Russian press corps, so it's kind of a very measured breakthrough.

I have two questions. One, in your introductory remarks of the other press conference, you mentioned in brief that you discussed the START II and START I issues. Could you tell us, did you reach an agreement with President Yeltsin as to what might be done in order to have Ukraine join the ratification of START I and the NPT regime? And my second question is, how confident you are that the United States Congress would be eager to support you in lifting Jackson-Vanik and other restrictions inherited from the cold war?

The President. First, we discussed the issue of Ukraine with regard to START I and NPT and generally with regard to the need to proceed to have the other independent states all be non-nuclear but also to have the United States develop strong relationships with them. We know that one thing that we could do that would increase, I think, the willingness of the Ukraine to support this direction is to successfully conclude our own negotiations on highly enriched uranium, because that would provide not only an important economic opportunity for Russia but also for Ukraine, and it would show some reaching out on our part. But we agreed that basically the people who signed off on the Lisbon Protocol have got to honor what they did, and we agreed to continue to press that.

I, myself, have spent a good deal of time trying to reassure Ukraine's leaders, specifically the President and the Foreign Minister, that I want strong ties with Ukraine, that the United States very much wants a good relationship with Ukraine, but that in order to do what we need to do together to strengthen the economy of Ukraine and to have the United States be fully supportive, the commitment to ratify START I and to join the NPT regime is critical.

With regard to Jackson-Vanik and COCOM, I would make two points: First, I have agreed with the Republican and Democratic leaders in the Congress that we will, as soon as I return, have a list of all the legislative and other restrictions-some of them are regulatory in nature-imposed on relations between the United States and Russia, that are legacies of the cold war. And we will see how many of them we could agree to do away with fight now, at least among the leadership of the Congress.

With regard to Jackson-Vanik, I think there will be an openness to change the law if the Congress is convinced there are, in fact, no more refuseniks, no more people who wish to emigrate who are not being allowed to. If the fact is that there is no one there who the law was designed to affect, then I think that the desire to keep the law will be much less.

With regard to COCOM, my guess is, and it's nothing more than a guess, that the leadership of Congress and indeed my own advisers might prefer to see some sort of phased movement out of the COCOM regime. But I think they would be willing to begin it in the fairly near future.

President's Interest in Russia

Q. Mr. Clinton, when I read your speech in Annapolis, I got the impression that you have a completely different personal—and I stress that, personal, not political—approach towards Russia, compared to the approach of Mr. Bush. Could you formulate in a few words what is the difference between you as a personality and your approach, the difference between your approach to Russia and the approach of Mr. Bush? And why did you cite Akhmatova in the last part of your speech?

The President. Let me say, first, I do not wish to compare myself with President Bush or anyone else. I can't say what was in his heart about Russia. I can say that since I was a boy, I have been personally fascinated with the history, the music, and the culture and the literature of Russia. I have been thrilled by Russian music since I was a serious student of music, for more than 30 years now. I have read major Russian novelists and many of your poets and followed your ballet and tried to know as much as I could about your history.

And I went to the Soviet Union, but it was then the Soviet Union—you may know, it was a big issue in the last Presidential campaign that I spent the first week of 1970 alone in Moscow—and did not return again until 3 days before Mr. Yeltsin was elected President. But all that time I was away, I was following events there very closely and hoping for the day when we could be genuine partners. So I have always had a personal feeling about Russia.

I remember, for example—a lot of you know I like music very much—one of the most moving experiences for me as a musician was when Leonard Bernstein took the New York Philharmonic to Moscow and played Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony to the Russians. And he played the last movement more rapidly than anyone had ever played it before because it was technically so difficult. That is something I followed very closely when it occurred.

These are things that have always had a big impact on my life. And I had just always hoped that someday, if I ever had the chance to, I could play a role in seeing our two countries become closer partners.

NOTE: The question-and-answer session began at 2:46 p.m. at Canada Place.

William J. Clinton, Question-and-Answer Session With Russian Reporters in Vancouver Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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