Bill Clinton photo

The President's News Conference With Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada in Ottawa

October 08, 1999

Prime Minister Chretien. Mesdames et messieurs, ladies and gentlemen, it's a great pleasure for me to receive the President of the United States in Canada for this occasion of opening the new Embassy and for the President to come and make a speech in Mont-Tremblant on federalism.

As you know, the relations between Canada and the U.S. are excellent, and the President is here for his fifth visit to Canada since he started in office. And when I asked him to come to the conference at Mont-Tremblant, I had to call upon our longstanding friendship. And everyone is very pleased that you, the leader of the greatest democracy and the greatest federation, should come to give your point of view.

[Inaudible]—the President of the United States to come and make this statement, the speech in Mont-Tremblant, because he has been—he is in a very privileged position. He has been the Governor of a State, of Arkansas, and he has been the president of the conference of the Governors, and he has been, on the other side, the President of the United States. So he knows the functioning of a Federal system inside out. And I'm sure that the people coming from around the world will benefit very strongly from his experience. And I want to say thank you very much. And I take it as a great sign of friendship for Canada and for myself that you have accepted to be with us today.

If you want to say a few words.

President Clinton. Thank you. First of all, Prime Minister, thank you for welcoming me back for my fifth trip to Canada since I've been President.

I would like to be very brief, and then we'll open it to questions. I'm here today to dedicate our Embassy, to speak at the Prime Minister's federalism conference, and to have the chance to meet with Prime Minister Chretien. I want to just mention two or three issues.

First of all, I'm profoundly grateful for the leadership shown by Canada in our common efforts to promote world peace, the work we've done together in Haiti, the work we did together in Bosnia, the work we did together in Kosovo with NATO, and the efforts that we're all making in East Timor, which is still a difficult situation, where we've got to get all the refugees home and safe and where we strongly support Secretary-General Annan's efforts to establish a United Nations program there.

One of the things that we have worked on together is our efforts in nonproliferation. And Canada and the United States agree with all of our NATO Allies that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is the right thing to do, it's in the interest of the United States.

There has been far more controversy about it in our country than in other countries, including other nuclear powers who are our allies. And I was—we've been trying to have a debate on this for 2 years, but it is clear now that the level of opposition to the treaty and the time it would take to craft the necessary safeguards to get the necessary votes are simply not there. So I hope that the Senate will reach an agreement to delay the vote and to establish an orderly process, a nonpolitical orderly process, to systematically deal with all the issues that are out there and to take whatever time is necessary to do it.

With this treaty other nations will find it harder to acquire or to modernize nuclear weapons, and we will gain the means to detect and deter. If we don't have the treaty, the United States will continue to refrain from testing, and we'll give a green light to every other country in the world to test, to develop, to modernize nuclear weapons.

I think it's clear what we ought to do, but it's also clear that we ought not to rush this vote until there has been an appropriate process in the Senate.

So those are the major foreign policy issues I wanted to mention. The other thing I wanted to say is, I think Canada and the United States will be working very closely to try to reinvigorate the movement to expanded trade around the world. If we're going to really see the rest of the world's economy pick up and enjoy the kind of prosperity we have enjoyed in the last few years, we've got to make the most of this WTO ministerial. We've got to make the most of Canada's hosting the Free Trade Area of the Americas ministerial. And I think that's important.

Now, as to our bilateral relations, I wanted to mention one thing that we talked about in our meeting. We have agreed to have a more intensive dialog on border issues, through a new forum we creatively called the Canada-United States Partnership or CUSP. This will enable us to have local businesses, local communities, talk about managing border issues, and figure out how we can resolve some of the hassles people have with the vast volume of goods that go back and forth across the border and the vast number of people. So, I thank you.

And you've already said why you invited me to the federalism conference. And I can tell you, I was a Governor for 12 years, and no matter how hard you try, you will never solve all the problems of federalism. So the best thing you can do is to paraphrase Winston Churchill and say it is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

Thank you very much.

Prime Minister Chretien. Thank you, sir. Now, we'll take questions.


Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

Q. Mr. President, the Senate majority leader has stated that he would consider taking the test ban treaty off the table, withdrawing it from consideration under the caveat that it would not be reintroduced in the 106th Congress. Would you, sir, in order to preserve this treaty, be willing to give up ownership of it to the next Congress and the next administration?

President Clinton. First of all, I don't own it. And insofar as I do, we always will, since we negotiated it and the United States was the first to sign it. But it isn't mine. It belongs to the world. And I think the whole nature of your question shows what's wrong with the way the Senate has treated this.

They've treated this like a political document. They've treated this whole issue like a political issue. They went out and got people committed to vote against the treaty before they knew the first thing about it. And what I have said is I don't understand what he's worried about. This thing could never have come up in the first place if he hadn't agreed to it. And I wouldn't bring it up unless I thought we could ratify it, because I won't treat it politically.

So this whole thing is about politics. It's about: Burn us in 1999 because we're against the treaty that 80 percent of the American people support, but please don't burn us again in 2000. It's political. This treaty is not going to come up until we think we can pass it, and it won't come up until they treat it seriously.

Every serious American treaty, for example, has the legislative language attached as safeguards, just like we did in the chemical weapons treaty, so that everyone understands exactly what it means. In this treaty they actually went out of their way to try to keep safeguards from being attached to it so that they could have the maximum number of votes against it.

So I will give you a nonpolitical answer. I will say again, they should put if off, and then they should agree to a legitimate process where Republican and Democratic Senators think about the national interest. They have total control over when it comes up, not me. If it had been up to me we'd have started on this 2 years ago. We'd have had 6 months of hearings, 2 weeks of debate, lots of negotiations, and this whole thing would have been out of the way a year and a half ago.

It was not out of the way because that's the decision they made not to bring it up. They control when it comes up. So you're asking the wrong person whether it would come up next year. You should turn around and ask Senator Lott whether it would come up next year.

What I want to do—I don't care when it comes up, except when it comes up, I want it to come up as soon as we can, pass it, with a legitimate process. As messy as this has been, this has illustrated to the American people, beyond any question, that this whole deal has been about politics so far.

Now, there are some people who are honestly against this treaty. But we haven't been able to hear from them for 2 years, and we haven't been able to answer them, and we haven't been able to work on it. So I think it's been a very healthy thing to bring it up. But now we ought to do what's right for America: take it out of politics. This is not going to be a huge issue next year in the election, one way or the other. We should deal with this on the merits. They should agree to a process, and they control when it comes up.

Prime Minister Chretien. And I would like to add that we all have an interest in that. And all your allies to Americans will want this process to be terminated as quickly as possible, because there's a lot of other nations that have to live with the consequences of what the American Congress will do. And peace in the world is extremely important for our neighbors, too.

Canadian Defense Industries Licenses

Q. Prime Minister, did you discuss the concerns that Canada's defense industries have had with having to get licenses? And did you get any answer from the President?

Prime Minister Chretien. Yes, we discussed and we have found an agreement. And the agreement will be in details made public by Madam Albright and Mr. Axworthy.

Q. Was it important to get an agreement? Why?

Prime Minister Chretien. But, yes. It's always important when you have a problem to find a solution. And we found a solution. That's all. [Laughter]

Next. Next.

U.S. Documents on Augusto Pinochet

Q. Mr. President, today a London magistrate ruled that former Chilean dictator Pinochet be extradited for trial in Spain. The CIA has been accused of withholding documents that are said to show that the United States encouraged the coup which installed Pinochet in power and that the CIA maintained close ties to Pinochet's repressive security forces. Will you order that the release of those documents be sped up?

President Clinton. Well, I believe we've released some documents and my understanding— before I came out here, I was told that we're about to release some more. So I think we ought to just keep releasing documents until we—I think you're entitled to know what happened back then and how it happened.

And obviously, the Governments of Spain and the United Kingdom are following their own legal systems. I would point out, in defense of the people of Chile, is that they actually succeeded in moving away from the Pinochet dictatorship and solving the problem they had in a way that allowed them to make a transition to parliamentary democracy. And I think even the people that spent their whole lives opposed to Pinochet, they have some—they're trying to figure out, now, what the impact on their democracy will be of all these actions.

But the United States has supported the legal process, and we continue to do so. And we support releasing the documents in an appropriate fashion. And we support the democracy which now exists in Chile.


Prime Minister Chretien. Okay, en Français.

President Clinton. I've got to take a couple of the Americans; go ahead. France, yes, go ahead.

Q. Monsieur Clinton——

Prime Minister Chretien. Oh, the question is for Clinton. [Laughter]

Premier Lucien Bouchard of Quebec

Q. Mr. Clinton, I want to know if your meeting with Mr. Bouchard today is an indication of any change in U.S. policy towards Quebec sovereignty? And secondly, if Mr. Chretien asked you anything about that meeting today?

President Clinton. No, and, no. That's the short answer.

Prime Minister Chretien. Thank you. Next. [Laughter]

President Clinton. The short answer, no and no. I did meet with him when he was in opposition about 4 years ago. He is the Premier of the Province. We're going there. He's the host. It's a courtesy, and I think I should do it. But there has been no change in our policy, whatsoever.

Prime Minister Chretien. American.

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

Q. First of all, Mr. President, are you going to meet Senator Helms' demand that you actually submit what you announced here today in writing? How badly has this hurt the United States?

President Clinton. I'm sorry, what?

Q. Senator Helms' demand that you submit it in writing to him.

President Clinton. Submit what?

Q. The CTBT—I'm sorry—the CTBT, the withdrawal of it in writing. He's asked for that. How badly has that hurt U.S. leadership role in arms control? And what's the message from India where the world's largest democracy just overwhelmingly reelected the Government that you criticized heavily for conducting nuclear tests?

President Clinton. Well, I think, first of all, if you look at India, you have to see the people voted for that Government for all kinds of reasons. And what I believe is—look, France conducted a nuclear test before they signed the treaty. What I believe is that the United States does not sign the treaty and show a little leadership here, why should the Pakistanis and the Indians do it?

Ever since the end of World War II and beginning with the election of Dwight Eisenhower, we have had a bipartisan commitment to leading the world away from proliferation. It has never been called into question until the present day. Never.

Now, we had to work for a very long time to get the Chemical Weapons Convention passed, which is very important. But Senator Helms and the others followed a legitimate process. I never had a doubt that the objections that they raised and the safeguards they wanted were absolutely heartfelt and serious. This treaty was never treated seriously. They took 2 years, had no time for hearings, said, "I'll give you 8 days," and later we discovered, after they said that, that that was offered only after they had 43 commitments on a party-line vote to vote against the treaty from people who hadn't heard a hearing and hadn't even thought about it, most of them.

So they want me to give them a letter to cover the political decision they have made that does severe damage to the interest of the United States and the interest of nonproliferation in the world? I don't think so. That's not what this is about. They have to take responsibility for whether they want to reverse 50 years of American leadership in nonproliferation that the Republicans have been just as involved in as the Democrats, to their everlasting credit.

Now, they have to make that decision. I cannot bring this treaty up again unless they want to. I have asked them to put it off because we don't have the votes. I have talked to enough Republicans to know that some of them have honest, genuine reservations about this treaty, and they ought to have the opportunity to have them resolved, instead of being told that they owe it to their party to vote against the treaty and that the leadership of their party will do everything they can to keep us from writing safeguards into the treaty which answer their reservations, which is what we do on every other thing.

So I don't want to get into making this political. But they shouldn't tie the Senate up or themselves up in knots thinking that some letter from me will somehow obscure from the American people next year the reality that they have run the risk of putting America on the wrong side of the proliferation issue for the first time in 50 years. And they want to do it, and then they don't want to get up and defend it before the American people in an election year. That's what this whole thing is about. That is the wrong thing to do.

We don't have the votes. I'm not going to try to bring it up without the votes. Let them take it down but also agree on a legitimate process to take this out of politics. I will not criticize them as long as they are genuinely working through the issues, the way we did in the chemical weapons treaty.

They're entitled to advise and consent. They're entitled to take all the time they want. But nobody hit a lick at this for 2 years. And then they tried to get it up and down on grounds that were other than substantive, and that's wrong. And it's bad for America. It has nothing to do with me and my administration. I wouldn't care who got the thing ratified, as long as we did it in the right way.

Canada in the New Millennium

Q. On your throne speech next week, do you see it as charting some kind of grand new course for the millennium? Or is it just more of the same? [Laughter]

Prime Minister Chretien. Yes, it will be if Canada is considered as the best country in the world. [Laughter]

President Clinton. Are you sure he's not one of ours? [Laughter]

Prime Minister Chretien. You know, they're complaining because I keep telling them that Canada's been considered, Mr. President, as the best country in the world to live in. I'm sorry to tell you to that. [Laughter] And I want to carry on in the 21st century with the same thing, and they say I have no vision. Imagine if I had a vision. [Laughter] So you will see.

Q. Mr. Chretien? Mr. Chretien?

President Clinton. Go ahead. [Laughter] I'm sorry. That was great.

Oil Prices

Q. You've been asked to sell oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve to fight rising heating oil prices as the winter comes. Do you think this is a good idea, and do you agree with Senator Schumer that OPEC has been engaged in price gouging, to raise the prices?

President Clinton. I think we should look at the reserve and the question of whether, if we released some oil from it for sales, we could moderate the price some.

I think that the States in the Northeast, as you know, are unusually dependent upon home heating oil and, therefore, are the most sensitive to oil prices. But it's also true that the price of oil was historically low for a good long time. And it's made a modest rebound, now.

I'm grateful that it hasn't put any inflation in our economy and so far we can manage it. But we have to be sensitive to the people who are disproportionately affected by it. And I have not reached a decision yet, because I haven't been given a recommendation yet, about whether we could have any appreciable impact on the Americans that are most disproportionately affected.

One of the reasons we always fight hard for the LIHEAP program, apart from what the summertime can do to people all over America, is that we know these people in the Northeast have a problem that no other Americans have, with the impact of the oil prices. It hits them much, much harder. So we're looking at it.

Prime Minister Chretien. Thank you.



Q. This morning you talked about rule of law, respect for rule of law being one of the fundamental principles Canada and the U.S. share. I am wondering, in that context, if the President could tell us what he thinks of Mr. Bouchard saying that Quebec could secede without regard to the Canadian Constitution, or the Supreme Court ruling last year, which said they must have a clear majority vote, yes, and a clear question. Would the U.S. ever recognize a sovereign Quebec under those circumstances?

Prime Minister Chretien. I think that it's for me to reply. I think that the rule of law will apply to Canada. We have a judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada, which said very clearly that the question has to be clear and the majority has to be clear. And if there is a clear will expressed, that only after that, that negotiations could start.

So the rule of law will be applied. The question will have to be clear, and the majority will have to be clear. And I know that if they have a clear question, the President of the United States will never have to make a decision on that.

Natural Disasters

Q. Excuse me. I would like to say something. You've had a lot of disasters lately, and so has the world. And I'm with Christian News, and I would like to ask you, have you thought that possibly this is a message from above that there is moral decay, that there is abortion, that there is violence? I was wondering if you had given it some thought.

President Clinton. Actually, I have. You know, we—particularly because of all the millennial predictions. But I think the fact is that some of these natural disasters are part of predictable weather patterns, and the others have been predicted for more than a decade now by people who tell us that the climate is warming up. And I think that the real moral message here is that as we all get richer and use more of the resources God has given us, we're being called upon to take greater care of them. And I think that we have to deal seriously with the impact of the changing climate.

I was just in New Zealand at the jumpingoff place for 70 percent of our operations in Antarctica, the South Pole, talking about the thinning of the polar ice cap there and the consequences it could bring to the whole world.

So I believe that insofar as these natural disasters are greater in intensity or number than previous ones, the primary warning we're getting from on high is that we have to keep—to use the phrase of a person I know reasonably well— we have to keep Earth in the balance. We have to respond to this in an appropriate way.


Prime Minister Chretien Okay. And that will be the last one.

President Clinton. Go ahead.

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

Q. Sir, you talked about the Republicans playing politics with this arms ban treaty or weapons testing ban treaty. Are you talking about normal partisan politics, just Republicans versus Democrats? Are you talking about the kind of politics where some Republicans—maybe not a lot of them, but some—will say, "I'm sorry, Bill Clinton is for it. I feel so viscerally that I despise Bill Clinton, I'm not going to go along with something that he wants that much, and I'm not going to give him a victory during his administration on something this important?"

President Clinton. I don't think that's what's going on. I mean, it might be, but I don't think so. That sounds like Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, you know? [Laughter] But I don't think that's what's going on.

I think you have the following things. I think you have—I will say again—you have some Republicans who have thought about this and listened to people who aren't for it and really believe it's not the right thing to do. I hate it when we have fights. We're always questioning other people's motives. There are people who genuinely aren't for this. I think they're dead wrong, and I think it would be a disaster if their view prevailed, but I believe that's what they think.

Now, in addition to that, however, this process—the Democrats were frustrated because for 2 years—that's why I don't think the second part of your thing is right. For 2 years they've been trying to bring this treaty up for a hearing, during which time we did ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention, and they could never even get hearings. So there was something about this thing that they didn't want to give hearings on.

So then the Democrats agreed to what they knew was a truncated hearing schedule—almost no hearings—and debate schedule, only to find that basically a sufficient number of votes in the Republican caucus had been locked down for reasons of party loyalty, whatever their motives were, from people who couldn't possibly know enough about the treaty right now to know they were against it on the merits. Now, maybe it's they don't want some alleged victory to come to the administration during the pendency of the political season. Maybe that's it, maybe not. My point is, I don't care about that. I don't care who gets credit for it. If they adopted it, I'd be glad to say it was Trent Lott's triumph. It's six and one-half dozen of the other to me. What I want to do is to leave this country with a framework—my country with a framework for dealing with the major security problems of the 21st century.

I believe that there will still be rogue states that want nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. I, furthermore, believe that there will be enemies of all nation states—terrorist groups, organized criminals, drug runners—who will be increasingly likely to have access to miniaturized, but powerful weapons of mass destruction. And what I would like to leave office doing is not getting credit for anything—I don't give a rip who gets the credit for it. What I want is the Chemical Weapons Convention to be enforced, the Biological Weapons Convention to have teeth added to it so it actually means something, and this Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to be in place so at least we have a shot to reduce the number of nuclear states and the sophistication of their weapons and their ability to use them. That's the whole deal with me.

Because I think that our successors are going to have a whole lot of headaches from all these groups, and we need to minimize risk because as societies grow more open they'll be more vulnerable to being terrorized by people who have access to this. That's the whole deal with me. I don't care who gets credit for it; I just want there to be a framework for dealing with it.

So if they take more than a year to deal with this, if there is a legitimate process of working through, that's okay with me. If there is an emergency in the world where the rest of the world—it looks like we're going to have 10 other people try to become nuclear powers, and they've had 2 months of hearings or 3 months of hearings, and I think there's some reason we ought to vote—that goes back to your question—I don't want to say on the front end, "Yes, I'll play the same political game, and no matter what, we won't vote next year, no matter what other developments we see on the Indian subcontinent or in other places."

But this thing can't come up for a vote if they don't bring it up. And I'm not going to willfully try to get it up if I think it's going to get beat. That's the only thing I want to— I'm sorry to bore our Canadian friends with a discourse to American politics. And the other thing, the United States cannot afford to relinquish the leadership of the world in the cause of nonproliferation.

So if they want to strengthen the treaty, there are all kinds of vehicles through which we can do it. We do it on every other treaty. And if they want to take months, if they want to take a year—whatever they need to take—just play this straight. I'm not going to be out there— there's no downside for them to playing it straight.

But I will not say in advance, no matter what—no matter what happens in the world, no matter what unforeseeable development there is, no matter what other countries are about to do, no matter what, I would not ask you to deal with this next year, because on the merits there might be a reason. If it's just politics, we won't, because I'm not going to bring it up if we can't win.

Prime Minister Chretien. Perhaps, Mr. President, I would like to add that when we were at the summit in Birmingham, and it was at the moment that India was about to do the experiment and Pakistan was to follow, we were all extremely preoccupied about it. And it is a problem that concerns the world. And it's not only the United States; everybody around the globe has a stake into that.

And for me, I cannot agree more than the President that the leadership of the United States for the allies is extremely important. And keep up the good fight.

And unfortunately, we have to go. Merci beaucoup. Thank you.

President Clinton. Thank you.

NOTE: The President's 181st news conference began at 12:05 p.m. in the Parliament Building. In his remarks, the President referred to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy of Canada. He also referred to LIHEAP, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. A portion of this news conference could not be verified because the tape was incomplete.

William J. Clinton, The President's News Conference With Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada in Ottawa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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