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Remarks Prior to Discussions With NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and an Exchange With Reporters

May 19, 1997

President Clinton. Let me say that the United States is very, very appreciative of the leadership that Secretary General Solana has shown in negotiating this NATO-Russia Founding Act. We are excited about the partnership. It is consistent with what we believe NATO should be doing. It is consistent with our plans to expand NATO. And I think the Secretary General has done a marvelous job, and I'm looking forward to having this chance to talk with him about our meeting, I guess a week from today in Paris, to celebrate the NATO-Russia partnership and then, of course, the Madrid summit this summer.

Secretary General Solana. Thank you very much, Mr. President, for your kind words. What you did is a prudent thing. [Laughter]

President Clinton. Go ahead.


Q. Mr. President, not to put too much of a damper on your enthusiasm, but some people are quite critical of the—questioning this NATO expansion. They're saying it will create more tension and cost more money and give us less security in the long run. Can you give assurances that this is not the case?

President Clinton. Well, it's a question of what you believe. I believe that we have had a long cold war and two world wars in the 20th century and a 19th century full of heartache and bloodshed because people were arguing over territory in Europe. And we now have a chance to create a European Continent where nation-states, for the first time, say they're going to respect each other's borders and work together on common security problems, as we are all doing together in Bosnia. And it seems to me, to find a framework which accomplishes that and which also keeps the United States and, I might add, Canada tied to the security and the freedom and the territorial integrity of Europe is an extraordinary achievement and gives us a chance to write a whole new chapter in the 21st century different from the one we have just written.

So I just simply disagree with those; it's a difference of opinion. I think that we're right and I believe history will prove us right and I'm prepared to take the decisions and live with the consequences.

Base Closings

Q. Mr. President, do you feel, as the Secretary of Defense does, that more bases need to be closed, more military bases? That is a politically, of course, unpopular idea.

President Clinton. I believe that the Secretary of Defense has done a good job on this quadrennial review. And what he has shown is the following: If we're going to keep a defense budget that is modest and take care of the men and women in uniform and continue to modernize our weapons system so we will maintain the kind of technological superiority we enjoyed in the Gulf war—and hopefully, never even have to fight a Gulf war again in the near future— to do that within the dollars available, we're going to have to continue to reorganize the military. And he's going to present that to the Congress and we will debate it and discuss it, but I think there are going to have to be some difficult decisions in the future. We can't balance the budget and continue to invest in the things that we need, whether it's new weapons systems or education, without continuing to restructure the underlying governmental support system.

Let me remind you that on the civilian side we've reduced the size of the Federal Government by 300,000 since 1993, and as a percentage of the civilian work force, it's now as small as it was in 1933 when President Roosevelt took office before the New Deal. So this is a restructuring that you see going on all over the world; it has to be done in America in the Government, and the Defense Department can't be fully exempt from it. They've managed it brilliantly, and I think they've done a good job. And it's not just the Secretary of Defense; it's also the Joint Chiefs. They've all worked on this. They believe it's in our national security interests, and I'm going to do my best to be supportive.

Most-Favored-Nation Trade Status for China

Q. Mr. President, supporting MFN for China, how will you reconcile that support with the human rights record of China?

President Clinton. I think we're more likely— as I've said repeatedly, I think we're more likely to have a positive influence on China by engaging them than we are by trying to isolate them. I think it's a simple judgment.

Russia-NATO Agreement

Q. Boris Yeltsin said today that he would reconsider his agreement with NATO if former republics like the Baltic States were to join NATO. Is it of concern to you?

President Clinton. I think—look, let's just take this—we're moving in the right direction. We've got an agreement that speaks for itself with Russia. And if we can continue to work with a democratic free Russia led by a man like Boris Yeltsin, I think you'll see a more peaceful world. And I think we'll harmonize these things as we go along. You can't resolve every issue at every moment. We're moving in the right direction, and I'm quite comfortable that we're going to get there.

NOTE: The President spoke at 1:15 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to President Boris Yeltsin of Russia. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

William J. Clinton, Remarks Prior to Discussions With NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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