THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
The Conrad Hotel
Let me give you a readout on the meeting between President Yeltsin and President Clinton. It was a vigorous meeting, the two Presidents expressing strong convictions. They expressed their views on Chechnya, not too dissimilar from what you heard in the plenary session.
The hallmark of this relationship, however, has been the willingness of President Yeltsin and President Clinton to work through difficult issues. And I don't know that we convinced President Yeltsin on Chechnya -- he certainly didn't convince us that the course that they're on is not -- is likely to succeed. But I do think it was useful for President Yeltsin to be here today to hear the voices of the international -- his colleagues, which were quite uniform in expressing their concerns, not hostilely toward Russia, but out of concern for the impact that this could have on Russia.
The meeting, however, was, I think, cordial in its tone. It ended -- it actually both began and ended by President Yeltsin telling President Clinton that he owed him a visit to Moscow. At the end, saying that he hoped he would get him a date soon for coming to Moscow to continue the dialogue sometime next year. We will look at our schedule.
Now, on Chechnya, as I said it was quite consistent in essence with the exchange you heard this morning. President Yeltsin said that Russia is under the threat of what he described as "merciless terrorists;" that they were in favor of peace, but that that was only possible by eliminating the terrorists. He said that their intent is not to harm civilians, but that this -- that the rebels in Chechnya not only were indigenous, but also were increasingly being supported by radical fundamentalists from the region.
The President said to him that we don't disagree on the need to combat terrorism, but said that -- and that we would be prepared to work with Russia on cutting off resources to terrorist organizations, particularly international terrorist organizations -- but that we feel that the situation on the ground here is such that the civilians and rebels are intermingled, and makes it very difficult to avoid civilian casualties. Therefore, the President said, the means that you're using will undermine your ends, and lead to a cycle of violence. And that's why we're urging a political dialogue to achieve a political settlement. Again, this was, I would say, at least half the meeting, discussing Chechnya.
But on other subjects, they talked about arms control. They reviewed the recent exchange of letters that I mentioned to you yesterday on both nuclear reductions, the ABM treaty, NMD. I think the President clarified for President Yeltsin some legislation that he had signed last year which had some prefatory language about national missile defense, which Yeltsin believed reflected a firm decision on our part. The President explained, as I have here before, that he will decide this next year based on the four factors that I've talked about: threat, cost, technical feasibility, and the effect on arms control, and our overall security.
The President reiterated that the NMD systems that we're looking at are directed at rogue states -- maybe even, 10 years from now, terrorists who might have missiles; that Russia's own generals say they can overwhelm this system, and therefore it should not be a threat to their deterrence. They agreed to continue parallel discussions on START III and the ABM.
President Yeltsin raised the question of going further than we have before on dealing with plutonium stockpiles. He said he was increasingly concerned with this because of the risk that they could get in the hands of terrorists. We have had good cooperation with the Russians in this area in the past, and the President suggested that we have our experts discuss how we can intensify that.
President Yeltsin noted -- I would say with a little bit of irony in his voice -- that the Duma had approved the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in the past several days. The President indicated that he believed, as he said before, that the Senate at some point will take this up again, and eventually will ratify the CTBT.
On the CFE agreement, they noted that we're in the final stages of negotiation, and the President indicated the importance of Russia concluding agreements with Georgia and Moldova relating to agreement to withdraw their forces from those two countries, something that we have been urging the Russians to do now for quite sometime. Those negotiations are going on here in Istanbul; hopefully, they will reach a successful conclusion. I think they're at a quite advanced stage.
And then some discussion of the upcoming elections. The President talked about how important that was, the succession of democracy from one leader to another. Yeltsin described the political process underway, and the President underscored that elections and democracy were the key to Russia's transformation and would be an historic moment for Russia.
And, again, as I say, the conversation ended -- I think the meeting lasted
about an hour, and the conversation ended with President Yeltsin saying, come
to Russia and we will continue this discussion for three days.
MR. BERGER: He left Foreign Minister Ivanov behind. He said, Mr. Ivanov will negotiate with your ministers. The foreign ministers have been meeting this afternoon and I believe Secretary Albright may be by in a bit to bring you up to date on where those discussions go.
Let me simply frame that -- tomorrow, there are three possible documents that will be signed. One is, as I've said before, the CFE agreement. Two is the OSCE Charter, which we talked about before. And three is a declaration.
In the declaration, we have proposed some language relating to OSCE engagement in Chechnya. That is what's being discussed. It's obviously a consensus document; therefore, the Russians would have to agree to it. And I think I'll leave to Secretary Albright -- and I think she'll be by shortly -- to describe where that is.
Q The President said, in talking about an OSCE negotiations, that there were people other than terrorists that --
MR. BERGER: I'm sorry, I can't hear you.
Q The President said, with respect to the OSCE negotiations, that if the Russians would agree to it, there were people other than terrorists in Chechnya that could be negotiated with. President Yeltsin's remarks seemed to say that his argument was not with people who want to talk peace, but with the people -- with the terrorists themselves. Was there any movement inside the meeting? Any discussion? Any attempt to identify a group of people that the two could sit down and talk with?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think that's an important -- that, in general terms, was discussed. I mean, President Yeltsin said, I will not negotiate with terrorists, with bandits. And he described, in some detail, the activities of some of these groups in Chechnya, and the support they receive from outside interests, outside terrorist groups, et cetera.
The President said, I'm not talking about negotiating with terrorists. I'm talking about negotiating with those people in Chechnya who seek to have a peaceful resolution, and isolating the terrorists. And, again, President Yeltsin didn't say -- there was no agreement on that, but I think to the extent that President Yeltsin was here today and heard what President Clinton said, heard what Chancellor Schroeder said, heard what Mr. Ahtisaari said and others that were after us, hopefully that will push him down the road toward seeking a political solution.
Q Sandy, is there an analogy here? Maybe it's a poor one, but Yeltsin would negotiate -- let's take the Northern Ireland example -- he would negotiate with somebody like Sinn Fein but not with the IRA, is that the idea?
MR. BERGER: I think -- I've learned never to use metaphors -- (laughter) -- so I can't even use analogies. But I think the concept here I agree with, which is we're not suggesting that he should sit down with those forces in Chechnya who are, in fact, killing innocent people, have attacked Dagestan, who have been engaged in terrorist activities. I don't think anybody disputes the fact that Chechnya is a haven for terrorists and secessionists. But there are certainly other forces in Chechnya -- it's not for me to describe them or designate them who want this over, who want peace.
One of the reasons we would like to see some greater OSCE role -- again, I
don't think it's the be-all and the end-all, but an intermediary here may be
able to help create that dialogue.
MR. BERGER: I spoke to my opposite number and President Chirac before coming over here to make sure that I understood the dynamic. President Yeltsin had always planned to arrive last night and leave today. That had always been his intention. The meeting with President Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder, according to French government officials who were in the meeting, was very cordial, brief.
President Yeltsin said, I want to focus on a time when we can meet -- I think he said in Paris -- for a whole day and talk about European security issues and these issues. And they reached an agreement to a meeting, I think, sometime in December, and had a brief discussion and left not at all on an angry note. Whether that was by virtue of pressing business in Moscow or stamina or what, I can't speculate. But it was not stomping out of the room.
Q Your assessment on today's meeting between the Prime Minister and President Clinton -- Simitis and Ecevit -- sees both sides express a kind of satisfaction --
MR. BERGER: I'm pleased that the two foreign ministers met again. I believe
this is the fourth time -- Simitis and Ecevit
Q Sandy, I know Secretary Albright's coming, but could you describe the flavor of the Chechnya language in the charter?
MR. BERGER: No, I really -- she's been in these negotiations representing the President, and both is more familiar with the language and I think it's more appropriate for her to -- I'm not trying to duck anything, I just think it's more appropriate -- she'll be better able to answer your questions, I think.
Q You said the President spoke about the impact of the Chechnya crisis continuing and the status quo would have on Russia. What did he say about what that --
MR. BERGER: I'm sorry, for some reason I'm having a hard time tonight hearing you.
Q You said that the President spoke with Yeltsin about the impact that a continuation of the Chechnya crisis at its current stage would have on Russia. What impact did he describe, and how is it that it will have some serious impact on Russia if, in all the bilateral relationships with other countries, it doesn't seem to have had a serious impact?
MR. BERGER: First of all, internally, there's an awful lot of resources that
Russia is now expending on this conflict in Chechnya -- resources that obviously
are needed for its domestic economy. So, number one, it's a diversion of resources,
it's a diversion of the focus and attention of Russian government officials,
and the greater degree of instability that is created in the Northern Caucasus
-- this is a problem that could spread rather than be contained by continuing
Q Sandy, the Europeans and Mr. Ahtisaari used the word "condemn" in referring to the events in Chechnya. It didn't seem to me that the President's speech was anywhere near as strong, using language anywhere near as strong as that. Would you accept that?
MR. BERGER: No. We can stack up adjectives, I suppose, and see who has the larger, bigger pile. I don't think there was any question to anybody that was listening; the President was very firm in what he is saying. He was trying to persuade. He was trying to have an impact on Yeltsin. And he did that, I think, in a forceful way. And I think he did that in a clear way. And there was no mistaking his position.
And I think, in particular, when Yeltsin took a swipe at the United States for aggression in Kosovo, I thought the President's rejoinder was both powerful and quite telling. And almost everybody in that room -- that room was electrified at that moment. And I think almost everybody came up to the President afterwards and said they thought it was a very convincing way of making the point to Yeltsin that what goes on within a country is no longer simply a matter for that country; that the international community -- after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, after the Helsinki Final Act, after an OSCE Charter that we may sign tomorrow -- that the international community does have a right and obligation to express its concerns.
And by putting it in terms that I think Yeltsin could relate to -- what would happen if you, having stood on that tank, had been arrested? Would you have wanted the international community to be silent, or to stand up and condemn it? I thought that was an extraordinarily powerful way of making that point.
Q Was he making some kind of analogy to democracy in Chechnya?
MR. BERGER: No. There are two different issues here. Put Chechnya aside. Yeltsin was, and has, challenged -- and did in his intervention -- this is none of your business, he has said to the world. This is none of your business, Chechnya. This is our business; stay out of our business.
And the President was saying, that's wrong; it's not just your business, it's the international community's business, because violations of human rights are matters that the international community has a right and obligation to speak to. And particularly as friends of Russia, we have an obligation to speak up when we think you're headed -- you're on a course that is going to be damaging. So the point the President was addressing was Yeltsin's point that the international community had no right to condemn them for what was going on in Chechnya.
Q Sandy, do you have any reason to believe that Yeltsin will be influenced by any of the things that were said today?
MR. BERGER: I don't know the answer to that, Mark. I think the fact that he came, in and of itself, was, I think, an interesting fact, and suggests that Russia does care about the international community and seeks to maintain its relationships with the international community. I think he was hearing this from people who have been -- Jacques Chirac, and the Germans, and the President -- who have been supportive of Russia's democracy, supportive of what Russia has been seeking to do in general; not people who have been hostile.
So I hope it has some impact. I can't say whether it will or not. But I think we have an obligation to try to express our concerns.
Q Can you describe the meeting with Chirac?
MR. BERGER: No. I can't speak about the meeting with Chirac, except to say that having gotten a description from the French official -- as I said, it was a very cordial meeting. Yeltsin basically clearly wanted it to not last long, and therefore, in a sense, wanted to set a date for a follow-up meeting with both the Germans and the French -- I believe in Paris, I'm not sure of that.
Q What about the toast of the President?
MR. BERGER: Excuse me?
Q What about the toast with the President?
MR. BERGER: Of Chirac and the President? I'm sorry. President Chirac and President Clinton sat next to each other at lunch, and were engaged in about an hour discussion on a range of subjects -- the Middle East and European security. But since I was not at the table, I can't give you very much of a readout from the meeting.
Q Did President Yeltsin indicate any willingness to let relief agencies into Chechnya?
MR. BERGER: I think that's something that's being discussed by the ministers this afternoon.
Q -- conversation between President Yeltsin and President Clinton?
MR. BERGER: No. President Clinton expressed our view that it's important, as he did again in his intervention in his statement at the session, that what we want to see here is an end to the violence against innocent civilians, the ability of people to return to their homes, access of relief organizations. He made those points again to President Yeltsin in the private meeting.
Q Did the President ever say, look, this could cost Russia money in terms of loans in the future, loan guarantees?
MR. BERGER: Not in those terms. I think that -- quite honestly, I don't think that would be the most effective way to get them to change course at this point.
Q Did President Yeltsin mention anything about how the prosecution of the war is affecting the popularity of the Prime Minister?
MR. BERGER: No.
Q Could you talk a little bit about who is helping the Chechen -- the rebels, the separatists? Because I know Mr. Yeltsin's referred to them, and President Clinton appears to have referred to them. Who are these --
MR. BERGER: He spoke particularly of Islamic fundamentalist groups -- I'm using his description -- groups that are being supported by countries in the region. He didn't specifically indicate which countries. You know, we have, for example, some information that Osama bin Laden is supporting some of these people.
Q The President tomorrow is traveling to Greece. Can you tell us what he is hoping to accomplish there, with Greece?
MR. BERGER: Well, we very much look forward to arriving in Greece. I think that, first of all, I think he wants to emphasize the dynamism of today's Greece. You know, 10 years ago Greece was the lowest-growth country, I believe, in the EU. It's now one of the most dynamic countries in the EU. And I think it's important for the President to underscore that, both for the international community and for the American people.
Second of all, we have a lot of bilateral issues with Greece. We have a strong, obviously, common interest in the Balkans, in what happens in the development of southeast Europe, in the development of Kosovo. Greeks have taken a very active role in those efforts.
Number three, as he has here in Turkey, I'm sure in Greece he will speak about the value of reconciliation between Greece and Turkey in general, and specifically with reference to the talks that now have been agreed to on Cyprus. So it will be a full agenda.
Q Sandy, we didn't see him today. Can you give us a feeling on how he looked? Was he engaged? Did he seem healthy?
MR. BERGER: Yeltsin? Yes. He seemed in -- I couldn't really judge in the big meeting, because I was sitting at the other end of the room. But in the private meeting, the President said he had a firm handshake, and he was very vigorous, very energetic, very forceful. He has -- he still has a sense of humor, a mischievous sense of humor. And I thought physically he seemed quite good for a man who generally has a number of health problems that we know about.
Okay, thank you.
END 7:30 P.M. (L)
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