George Bush photo

The President's News Conference With President Boris Yeltsin of Russia

June 17, 1992

President Bush. Well, Mr. President and distinguished members of the Russian delegation and distinguished guests, all. This has been an historic summit meeting. It brings us to the threshold of a new world, a world of hope and opportunity. The collapse of the U.S.S.R. and the emergence of a democratic Russia provides us with the greatest opportunity in our lifetime to win the permanent democratic peace that has eluded us through two world wars and the long cold war that followed.

President Yeltsin, as a result of this first-ever U.S.-Russia summit we've indeed formed a truly new relationship, one of peace, friendship, trust, and growing partnership. I am confident that this new relationship and our historic agreements at this summit will lead to a safer, more stable, and peaceful world into the next century.

Let me just say to the American people: Our support for Russia is unshakable because it is in our interest. Success for Russian democracy will enhance the security of every American. Think for just a minute about what that means, not for Presidents, nor for heads of state or historians, but for parents and their children. It means a future free from fear. And that is why I call upon the Congress to act quickly on the "FREEDOM Support Act," so that the American support reaches Russia when it is needed most, right now.

During the past 2 days the United States and Russia have defined a new military and security relationship. It is a new era. President Yeltsin and I have just signed a statement that will lead to the greatest arms reductions of the nuclear age, reductions far deeper than we could have hoped for even 6 months ago.

At this summit we've also opened a new chapter in our economic relationship. The economic agreements that we have signed today will pave the way for trade and investment in Russia, as will most-favored-nation status which takes effect today. We hope very much that Russia and the International Monetary Fund can reach a standby agreement soon in order to unlock the G - 7's economic support package.

And finally, President Yeltsin and I signed the Washington Charter, which states formally our mutual commitment to a peaceful future together as democratic partners. This document, along with the many agreements we signed from open lands to Peace Corps, will help to put behind us for good the sad and too often tragic legacy of the cold war.

President Yeltsin's commitment to me to uncover all facts pertaining to American POW's and MIA's is yet another symbol of our changed relationship. His commitment to also investigate the KAL 007 tragedy in which 61 Americans lost their lives nearly 9 years ago speaks to our mutual willingness to face some of the unpleasant truths of the past together.

During these 2 days we embarked on a new partnership. It is now within our power to alter forever our relationship so that it becomes the greatest force for peace, a democratic peace, that the world has ever known.

Let that be our vision for the future. And today, Mr. President, I pledge to you to make my commitment to make that vision I've outlined a reality.

Once again, thank you, sir.

President Yeltsin. Honorable Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen. The time has come when we can now take stock of the short but fruitful period in our relationship when new principles of the cooperation between the United States and Russia have been made.

I value this as a very important period. We now have a basis for interaction. We now have something that we can fill with substantive content. I doubt if today's documents could have been signed if we had not been looking for points of contact and mutual interest that we have been looking for, for years.

But it was very important, also, to cast away negative traditions, the profound disgust to each other which was masked by charming manners and politeness. We have now begun in a very good tempo, and the documents that we have signed today are not designed to define what has already been established in context but to find new ways to go forward. And the treaties and agreements that we have signed today do not just pertain to the two countries of ours. They are a sketch for a future world. They are characteristic of the kind of features that we want to see in this world. This world is becoming more attractive, more humane, kinder than we see today.

We are not trying to think of some global problems of restructuring the world. We do not want to force or coerce all the nations to join in this. We are looking for solving mutual problems based on mutual trust, including the personal trust between the two Presidents of Russia and the United States. We feel that it is on this basis primarily that we can get the best results.

Among the Russian-American relations, there are two things that are most important to my mind: strategic arms limitations and economic cooperation. The state of strategic arms has now been decided. Once the cold war was over, they turned out to be obsolete and unnecessary to mankind. And it is now simply a matter of calculating the best way and the best time schedule for destroying them and getting rid of them. Another important point is to defend the world from an accidental use of such arms in the world, and we have laid the basis for that, also.

Another very important area in our relationship is designing a good basis for fruitful economic cooperation and establishing all kinds of contacts in this economic sphere. We have concluded very important agreements that have removed obstacles in this way and to make it more attractive for businessmen to join in this effort, and this is very important for our country at this time. After 70 years of travesty as far as personal property was concerned, now private property is becoming ever more important and will become even more so in times to come.

In conclusion, I would like to draw your attention to the following. Less than anything else do we need to delude ourselves by what we have accomplished. We would like to strive to the maximum that we would like to see happen. And if we look at our dialog in this light, then there is only one conclusion. We have to intensely work and forge ahead, both in the United States and in Russia. For those who come after us, we have to leave a good heritage, and this is important for the peoples of both of our countries. I thank you, Mr. President, for creating wonderful conditions for our work, and I congratulate you for the wonderful result of this work.

President Bush. We'll take a few questions. Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International].


Q. President Yeltsin, in terms of the POW's and the MIA's, do you think that Mikhail Gorbachev or any of his predecessors, even going back to Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, knew about the possibility that Americans were being held? And why are you going to see Governor Clinton? Are you trying to touch all bases before November?

President Yeltsin. Well, that's just the point; they did know. That's the very point, that they kept it a secret. The point is that that era, when we kept the truth from each other, has come to an end, and we will now tell the truth to each other, person to person, and will never do a double-play.

Meeting With Governor Clinton

Q. How about the Governor Clinton -- Clinton?

President Yeltsin. Tomorrow morning I'm going to see Governor Clinton, and we will meet. And as for the future, Russia will respect the wishes of the American people.

Korean Airliner Attack and POW - MIA's

Q. My name is Sonya, and I'm from the newspaper Izvestia. And Mr. Yeltsin, you have said that you would like to make public the facts connected with the Korean airliner. Our newspaper has already been doing this investigation for a number of years, and we have already found out a lot of things. Now we would like to know just exactly who was responsible for what happened, and what do you think we can expect?

Q. Mr. President, you referred -- your presentation of your remarks to the KAL 007 shootdown, and you referred to the place by President Yeltsin that some facts would be revealed. And I wondered to which extent you think the American administration would be helpful in that regard as well. Is there anything you could say to us about the tragedy?

President Yeltsin. I will answer. You know that on the 20th of August at about 1800 hours of last year when it was clear that the coup leaders had lost, we seized the archives of the KGB and the former Central Committee of the Communist Party. We placed armed guards around the buildings. But several hours before that, one car from each place had time to remove some of the archives from those two buildings and destroy them. We do not know what was in those archives.

Now we are trying to check all of those archives, do a comprehensive check of all of them, and we stumbled upon one document which we feel might be the beginning of a chain that might help us to unravel the entire tragedy with the Korean Boeing. It was a memorandum from KGB to the Central Committee of the Communist Party where it says that such a tragedy had taken place, and so on and so forth and that there are documents which would clarify the entire picture. The next line then says these documents are so well concealed that it is doubtful that our children will be able to find them, those who come after us will be able to find them. So this is our task. So then we began to check all the archives of the KGB, and this is our challenge; we're trying to find those documents that were referred to. I still cherish the hope that we'll be able to find those documents, and if we do so we will immediately make them public. I will be the first to call President Bush personally and tell him about it. And I will call you, too. [Laughter]

President Bush. The gentleman asked me to follow on, and I would simply say, one, we have great respect for this approach. It will be most reassuring to the American people, not only as it relates to the airline, but also to the question that President Yeltsin handled so well before the Congress, the question of the POW's and MIA's. So I can't add anything to that except to say that we will pledge to him our full cooperation in terms of any inquiry or what we might have that they don't know at this time. It is essential for the families that we get to the bottom of this, and it's essential to strengthening further this very strong relationship. So that's all I could add.

Yes, Terry [Terence Hunt, Associated Press].

Arms Agreements

Q. Mr. President, a two-part question: President Yeltsin today pledged to deactivate the heavy SS - 18 missiles that he said are targeted on the United States. Is there a reciprocal move that the United States will make? And the second question is, you mentioned that these arms reductions are going to be the deepest of the nuclear age. Does this mean that the peace dividend will be even bigger than what was expected, and that will be more money for American cities and domestic problems?

President Bush. Well, let me say that we will live up to the agreement we entered into. I'm not prepared to say what we will do in regards to the question of defusing or targeting, but we will live up to the letter of the agreement that we have discussed.

What was the second part?

Federal Budget

Q. It was peace dividend. Will the peace dividend be bigger?

President Bush. Well, a dividend is declared when you make a profit, and our Government is operating at an enormous, enormous deficit. And therefore, those who say take the money from this agreement and spend it on some Federal project have to understand that the American people want to get something done about this deficit and want to get something done so that we can get this economy growing. So I would not pledge that any savings that might accrue to us because of this far-reaching agreement would go to some Federal spending project.

On the other hand, I'm determined to help the cities. We've got some good proposals up there and for the Congress, and I believe they're working on them, and I hope that they'll pass them.

We're alternating between the visiting journalists and those familiar faces here at home.

Russia-U.S. Agreements

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. Yeltsin, the reaction to your statement in Congress was overwhelming. What do you think the reaction of the Russian Parliament would be to the documents and the agreements that have been signed here today?

President Yeltsin. Yes, I believe that the Russian Parliament reflects, or should reflect, the opinion of the Russian people. The documents, the charters, the treaties that have been signed are promising. It is a promising step for improving the life of Russia, for progress in realizing reforms. Not to support them would be a crime towards one's own people. And I am certain that the Supreme Soviet will support what we signed.


Q. President Yeltsin, there is still some confusion here in Washington over raising the issue of POW's and MIA's. Is there actual information that you have unearthed in these archives? It's a very sensitive issue in the United States, and people are asking whether there's actual evidence that there is some kind of chain or trail, as you termed it with the Korean incident, that gets people's hopes up that some of this information will come home.

President Yeltsin. I'm sorry, I'm not sure I understood the question. Are you talking about the Korean airliner or the POW's?

What we have on the POW's, I have written everything to and given it to the Senate, what we know today. But we have made a step forward even yesterday. President Bush has made the decision to create his own part of a commission, and it will be a joint commission then, and it will have cochairmen. On our part it will be General Volkogonov. He is the historian, and he is a very honest man. He has conducted this work for many years. From the American side the cochairman will be the former Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Mr. Toon. I think that when they join their efforts I think they will be able to move forward a lot faster in order to really clarify the entire picture.

Global Defense System

Q. I am from the newspaper the Red Star. As we understood, you want to create a global defense system. What are the prospects or how do you intend to move forward with this system?

President Bush. Well, we've signed a broad, I would say, beginning agreement on that. I think President Yeltsin has touched on that in his public speeches, but I'd be glad to implement it. We want to guard against nuclear proliferation, reckless use of weapons of mass destruction. For a long time we've been doing research in this area, and it seems to us that this is a good area for cooperation with Russia. And so we've just begun on this from this agreement that we've entered into here today.

But it will develop, and there's good science, good technology on both sides. And we're determined to work together on this global defense area.

Yes, John [John Cochran, NBC News].

POW - MIA's and Assistance for Russia

Q. Sir, a question to both of you regarding this question of American prisoners. We don't understand, sir, why former Soviet leaders would have wanted to keep these American prisoners quiet. In the case of Francis Gary Powers, Khrushchev used that as political propaganda to undermine President Eisenhower. Why would these prisoners have been kept alive and in camps without any publicity? Was it just meanness, cruelty? They just wanted to crush them, find out what they could? Do your archives reveal anything about that?

My question to you, sir, would be: Do you think that what Mr. Yeltsin had to say about the POW - MIA issue defused that issue completely today? What are your people telling you about the prospect of Russian aid now in Congress?

President Yeltsin. You have had a chance to ask this question of the former President of the former Soviet Union, why he kept this a secret. I'm not responsible for him. [Laughter]

President Bush. Good answer.

I think the way President Yeltsin handled that question was extraordinarily sensitive in the Congress today, was extraordinarily sensitive to American public opinion and to the anguish and grief of the families.

I would refer you to the various chairmen that are here with us today, representatives of both parties. But in my view he defused, by being so forthright and so forthcoming, the criticism that you say did exist. I think I know of one very honorable Senator who has probably as much at stake in this broad subject as any, Senator McCain, who was a prisoner himself in Vietnam for a long, long time. He was satisfied and pleased with the statement by President Yeltsin. So it is my hope that that matter has been disposed of. We will go forward working cooperatively with Russia. I hope it's been disposed of.

I believe that the speech that he gave today, not just in this category but in all categories, helped assure the passage of the "FREEDOM Support Act." It is essential that we move forward and pass that. I know there's a lot of questions that will be asked up there, but it is in our interest. I know it's in the interest of both Russia and the United States, and we must not miss this opportunity. I'll say once again, we've spent literally trillions of dollars, trillions of dollars for defense. Here's an opportunity to take out an insurance policy for peace and democracy and to back a courageous leader and a courageous people. So I think it will pass. And I think his speech today, that I watched keenly, will help assure that passage. He was very well-received in the Congress, and maybe after this is over you can discuss this with some of the leaders of the Congress who are here.

Russia-U.S. Agreements

Q. You were talking about the situation in which many Russians find themselves. What do you think the significance of this visit will be for the common people of Russia? What can you say about that?

President Yeltsin. I think that the negotiations themselves and the documents, and I might say that we will have signed about 39 documents, all in all. We have signed seven with President Bush and then the premiers, the deputy premiers, the deputy secretaries, the secretaries of state or foreign ministers are signing them, but each of these documents is profitable for Russians, for the Russian people.

Nowhere have we compromised our economic interests, our freedom, or the interests of the Russian people. We always kept in mind the interests of the people of Russia. I'm very grateful, by the way, to President Bush that he always took a position that if we do not take measures now to support Russia that this will not be a collapse of Russia only; it will also mean the collapse for the United States also, because it will mean new trillions of dollars for the arms race. And this is what we have to understand. This is inadmissible and impermissible. So each document is of direct import and direct benefit to Russian citizens.

Assistance for Russia

Q. Mr. President, how serious do you think is the need for economic aid to Russia, and how soon do you think the United States will be able to make a contribution?

President Bush. I would simply say we think it's serious. We think that the changes that Russia has embarked on are absolutely essential. I know there are still some problems that remain with the IMF, but we had very frank discussions about that. We are prepared to help move this package forward as swiftly as possible. I think the President put it best when he talked about the urgency of this so I will let him add onto it. But we are viewing this as priority. We are viewing this as of prior consideration. We have many domestic issues here, and we're going to keep pushing forward on them, economic growth, help for the cities. We can do all of those and pass this "FREEDOM Support Act."

So we're going to keep pushing forward on the domestic front, but this is priority internationally. We are going to be prepared to be weighing in and talking in great depth about this when I go to the G - 7 summit in Munich.

Q. This goes with it, Mr. President. What are the alternatives if Congress doesn't pass the aid to Russia?

President Bush. Well, I think they're going to pass it, and it's too hypothetical.

Do you want to comment on the urgency? No? Okay.

President Yeltsin. I think that, of course, these $24 billion are important, the $24 billion that would have come to us as credits from the IMF. It is an important thing for any civilized country, especially for Russia at this time, during this very difficult period of reforms. But these $24 billion will not save Russia; they will not even significantly help us. Perhaps they will help us to stabilize the ruble, they will help us to make the ruble convertible in July, once this question is decided.

But the most important thing is that once the IMF decides this issue, this will open the door for a powerful stream, influx of private capital. Those will not be credits. Those will be direct investments from private companies. We have talked to business people in the United States together with President Bush and the business people here understand that very well. And the same situation exists in other countries, and that will be a matter of hundreds of billions of dollars. And that will be very important aid. It will be direct aid. It will be civilized aid. It will support our private sector, which is what we want.

Russia-U.S. Relations

Q. Russian Television, First Channel. This is a question to both Presidents. You have really had good results from this meeting. What is it that you have failed to accomplish or have not had time to accomplish? What do you think is your next point on the agenda? Should be for the next summit, perhaps?

President Yeltsin. You know, in addition to those issues which are reflected in the documents that have been signed, we discussed dozens and dozens of other issues which are not reflected in the documents, dozens of them. For example, there was a wonderful pleasure trip on a boat on the river which lasted an hour and 15 minutes. And even during that trip we worked, and we discussed a lot of issues that we will continue to talk about and will raise again at the next meeting. And I hope very much that the President of the United States will accept my invitation and will come and visit on an official visit to Moscow at the end of this year. And I am convinced that a very serious package of documents will be prepared by the time he comes for this visit.

President Bush. A summit of this nature is broken down into two general categories: one, agreements, where you sit down and you hammer out agreements. Many of them are precooked. The Arms Control Agreement was enhanced and was finalized because President Yeltsin came here with some new ideas and he and his Foreign Minister and Jim Baker and others here worked very hard on getting it finalized. So that's part of it; it's the agreements.

But I find that a lot of the benefit of a meeting of this nature is the kind of discussion that we had, not just on that boat where we talked for an hour about worldwide problems but the discussions that we had upstairs when I had some private time with the President, private time in the Oval Office with him, the Secretary, and Brent Scowcroft.

It is very important that Russia and the United States not pass in the dark; that we understand. He understands how we look at the Balkans, for example, and I understand how he does, or the Middle East or South America or Japan. It is very important that two very important countries like this discuss in detail without trying to hammer out agreements the world situation, and that's exactly what we did. I have a far better understanding of the problem he faces at home and perhaps he has a better understanding of the problems that we face here in this country.


Q. Question for both Presidents, President Yeltsin first. I'd like to follow up on a question my colleague asked a few moments ago because of the sensitivity of the POW issues.

A few minutes ago you described to one of the Russian journalists a document that you'd found relating to the Korean airline shootdown. Can you describe to us any documents or details that you have found about the prisoner of war issue so that Americans might understand why you believe that prisoners might have been taken to Russia and why you believe there might be still some alive?

And President Bush, can you tell us if there are any documents you have found relating to this in the time since you have learned of this situation?

President Bush. I'll answer it -- no -- and then let him take the first part. There are none that have been brought to my attention.

President Yeltsin. What we know today and what I have informed the Senate about, we are prepared to submit all the documents on that score. As to what we find later, as we find it we will submit those documents. I assure you that there will be no secrets; as we find them we will let them be known. It will be a joint commission, and they will be working together in the archives.

Q. Can you tell us, sir, what you have found already?

President Yeltsin. The most important thing is that we know the numerical picture. We know how many people there were on the territory, how many were left, what camps the POW's were held in, the citizens of the United States; which war they were from, whether it was World War II or the Korean war or any other incident. So that part of the picture is clear. We know who died, where they are buried. We know that, also.

What we still don't know, we don't know a certain number of people who really we can't find where they belong, and we don't know where they are, and we have simply no information about them. This is why we say that maybe some of them are still alive and are still in Russia. This is why we say we would like to find further documents on those people.

President Bush. May I say we are going to take two more questions, one from each side. But let me add something to this. This is not a one-sided question. We aren't holding anybody. I know of nobody ever having held people. But there's a lot of heartbreak in Russia. There's a lot of families that wonder what happened to their loved ones in Afghanistan. While we were having these frank talks, I told President Yeltsin we would do absolutely everything we can. We lack a lot of purchase in some of these areas, but we will do absolutely everything we can to cooperate with him to see that those young men, these Russians who are held, allegedly held in Afghanistan are returned.

So the heartbreak is on both sides. The agony is on both sides, different circumstances. But I just wanted you to know that we have pledged, and I want the people in Russia to know, that we have pledged to work cooperatively with President Yeltsin to try to get some information that might alleviate the suffering of families in Russia.

Assistance for Russia

Q. I have a question for President Bush. Could you perhaps answer this somewhat delicate question? You talked about the preparedness of America to provide aid, but that there are difficulties. Could you tell us something about the possibilities that have arisen for helping Russia as a result of signing the kind of documents that you have signed? What is possible, and what makes it psychologically difficult? What should be changed in Russia to make it easier? What would be conducive to our being able to help?

President Bush. Change in Russia to make it easier would be going forward as briskly as possible with the reforms. That opens up not only cooperative support from the United States, but from the G - 7 and other countries who want to help.

I think -- just help me once again with the first part of that. I lost my train of thought.

Q. In order to formulate your answer -- --

President Bush. Okay, no, but what we can do -- the first part of your question comes back to me -- what we can do the most is to pass the "FREEDOM Support Act." Now, you say, what are the problems with that. Some of the big package relates to the reforms and the need to get it through the IMF. Very candidly, so the people of Russia will understand that, there is some sentiment here that we should concentrate all our efforts in terms of spending domestically.

It is my view -- I don't think that's the will of the Congress, however. I believe the Congress will support the "FREEDOM Support Act." We are in an election year here. The people of Russia have to understand it's a little strange out there, and things work differently in an election year. But the case for this "FREEDOM Support Act" is so overriding that I am confident that we can lay the politics aside and get this passed. I don't know if the interpreter got this, but I think that President Yeltsin's speech today, and I notice the Senators all had to go vote, but I think that they would tell you that that speech today was so well-received that that will enhance passage of the "FREEDOM Support Act."

That is the answer to your question. What can the United States do? It can pass this. It can work with the international financial institutions to be sure to see if we can help eliminate some of the problems and work cooperatively with the G - 7, who I'm convinced will want to help Russia. It's that kind of an approach.

We've got one more to go.

Q. I ask about what should be changed in Russia in order to make aid easier?

President Bush. Well, I just think accommodation as much as possible -- and you've got Mr. Gaydar trying to very much do that, along with this President -- to accommodate the requirements of the international financial institutions. We've made a commitment, here. We've made a commitment, and we're going to go forward with it.

The whole package needs to be passed by having these changes that the President's already started, go forward. There are certain requirements, there are some -- I leave that to the financial experts that are here from Russia, but I can't say anything about the details except to say that what Russia can do is to try to iron out the requirements that lie ahead. I know that President Yeltsin's determined to do that, and I'm confident, with an able man like the Vice Premier here, if it can be done, he'll help get it done. So that's the only answer.

President Yeltsin. Just a moment, I also would like to give my evaluation, since I am a participant in these events. And on my part it is 9 -- in other words, 9 out of 10 is the probability of help of what we have decided upon. That's how I would evaluate it.

President Bush. I think so, too. Last question. Last question.

Arms Agreements

Q. A question for both Presidents. President Yeltsin said that we don't want to force any other nations to join you. But now that you are so far down the road of disarmament, should some of the allies of the United States cut deeply their own nuclear weapons?

President Yeltsin. The thing is that when I was on an official visit in France or a working visit in the United Kingdom and when we discussed this issue in detail with the leaders of those countries, I personally came to the conclusion that, actually, we didn't really need to talk about these issues; it wasn't really necessary because the quantities are totally incommensurate.

Can you imagine 21,000 warheads, strategic warheads, that our two countries have in their possession and then take 100 that some other country has, is it really worth talking about? Is it worth arguing about? Especially once we began discussing it, they themselves come to the conclusion that the atmosphere in the world, once it changes, it will itself lead them to lower the level of the strategic armaments. Their own peoples will demand it. In France they have 5 submarines and we have hundreds; so how can we compare them?

President Bush. Let me just reiterate the policy of the United States. We do not negotiate somebody else's armaments; we talk about the United States. So I'm not going to go into that at all. Our policy is well-known, and I think that the President put this in very proper perspective here. We're dealing with something enormous in working down our own arsenals. We've got our plate pretty full there. But it is not for the President of the United States to start talking about the French or British deterrent, and that's not my role.

Thank you all very much. We're out of here.

Note: The President's 132d news conference began at 4:47 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. During the news conference, the following persons were referred to: Gen. Dmitri Volkogonov, senior adviser to President Yeltsin, and Yegor Gaydar, First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia. President Yeltsin spoke in Russian, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter. The news conference followed a ceremony in which President Bush and President Yeltsin signed the Washington Charter for American-Russian Partnership and Friendship; Joint United States-Russian Statement on a Global Protection System; the Bilateral Investment Treaty; the Treaty for the Avoidance of Double Taxation; Joint Understanding on reductions in strategic offensive arms; Space Cooperation Agreement; and the Agreement on the Destruction and Safeguarding of Weapons and the Prevention of Weapons Proliferation.

George Bush, The President's News Conference With President Boris Yeltsin of Russia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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