THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS BACKGROUND BRIEFING
4:10 P.M. (L)
MR. HAMMER: We're doing this on background, as a Senior Administration Official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First of all, let me sum up. We're not out of India yet, but this is our last day. I think we consider this week to have been a milestone in U.S.-Indian relations. I think that what we've heard this week is the sound of ice melting; the ice of a 50-year relationship -- a relationship that for 50 years was frozen in the contours of the Cold War.
I think what the President has been able to do, I think, this week is to indicate to the Indians that the United States recognizes that they're a great country and that we have enormous common interests and that, at the same time, I think the President has made clear that we have concerns with some of India's policies, particularly, nuclear program; and do not believe that -- and believe that its nuclear program diverts resources from its development, increases the danger of any conflict and detracts from India's stature in the world.
But, by and large, I think this has been a positive week. And the fact that the President has invited Prime Minister Vajpayee back to Washington sometime later this year I think assures that we'll maintain the momentum that's been created.
Tomorrow we will go to Pakistan. The President will meet initially with President Tarar, who is the hold over President of Pakistan. He will then meet with Chief Executive, General Musharraf, it will be a lunch. And then he will speak directly to the Pakistani people on television.
I think our message to General Musharraf and to the Pakistanis will be, first, that we care about Pakistan's future. Pakistan has been a good friend to the United States. But we are very concerned about Pakistan's problems. We think that for Pakistan to have a hopeful future it needs to be a pathway back to democracy; there needs to be an end to the violence and a renewed dialogue over Kashmir with India. And there needs to be, in our judgment, the same set of decisions that the President urged the Indians to consider, and that is to de-escalate their nuclear program, rather than escalate it.
I think that's essentially the message to the Prime Minister. And I think the message to the pakistani people will, again, reflect our long-common ties and the goodwill that the two countries have had to each other, but the hard choices that Pakistan and the Pakistani people face about their future.
Q What do you expect Musharraf to say?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I don't want to speak for General Musharraf. I assume that he will point to yesterday's address on democracy. I assume that he will point to yesterday's address in which he set a date in the end of the year for local elections. I think that's a step; but what we need is a path.
I think that he will, on Kashmir, express their view of that situation. Excuse me, I should have added another issue on our agenda, which is terrorism -- you can just insert this back into my earlier litany.
The President will also raise the terrorism problem in Pakistan and urge -- we've had good cooperation with the Pakistanis in some respects, on fighting terrorism, but there's much more that the Pakistani government needs to do.
Now, going back to what Musharraf is likely to say, I think, is they are taking steps against certain groups that they consider terrorist groups; other groups they don't consider to be terrorist groups in Kashmir. And I think that -- I hope that he will agree with the President that what is important here is Pakistan has to address its fundamental problems of economy, of its governance, of corruption. These are all things that General Musharraf has spoken about, has spoken to. But Pakistan is being diverted from those issues by virtue of these other concerns.
Q Do you agree with the perception that the U.S. policy is now tilted increasingly towards India and away from Pakistan?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. I think we should throw away the concept of "tilt." We have a relationship with India; we have a relationship with Pakistan. And during the Cold War those two relationships were only defined in terms of one another.
I think we now need to define a relationship with India in terms of what is in the U.S. national interest. And I think we need to define our relationship with Pakistan in terms of what is in the U.S. national interest. So I think the notion of "tilt" is really obsolete, out of date.
What we want to see is a reduction of tensions; dialogue between these two countries. The Kashmir problem cannot be solved, in our judgment, by force. It simply ordains more people to die and be killed as pain is inflicted. Ultimately, there has got to be a solution that is achieved through negotiation between the two countries.
Q Is it accurate to say that India largely rebuffed your security agenda, but did -- was receptive to the atmospheric outreach of the President?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think it's a lot more than atmospherics. I think that you have a country in India that has had quite a distrust of the United States for 50 years. And the United States had quite a good deal of distrust for India during a large part of that period, when it was more aligned with the Soviet Union, when it was head of the non-aligned movement, when that was not -- when that was considered by the United States to be not a friendly act.
And so I don't think it's atmospherics when you build trust and when people, two nations, the two largest democracies, begin to define their futures in common. I think that's substance.
Now, on the security agenda, I think that we had no expectation. We said so to many of you before we left, that in the context of this trip the Indians were going to make any steps -- take any steps. It's not possible for them to do that, politically. I would hope that in the aftermath of the trip, that the process of building a consensus in India for -- for example, signing the CTBT -- will be strengthened. I hope the discussion of the future of their nuclear program will increase. But these are obviously issues that, ultimately, India has got to decide.
Q Assad, how hopeful are you of the talks with Assad?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's an important meeting, but I don't expect an immediate result from this meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to determine, based upon conversations the President has had with Barak and with Assad over the months, whether there is a basis on which negotiations can resume. I expect that Assad will reflect on -- as a result of this -- there will be some -- I expect that as a result of this meeting, I hope as a result of this meeting both sides will have a greater degree of confidence that if they get back into the negotiation, it will be a serious one. But I don't think that the necessarily will happen here in Geneva. I think that may happen, unfold after Geneva.
Q Do you expect no announcement of a schedule of resumption of meetings?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I expect no announcement.
Q What are the prospects for staying a second night? There has been some talk that he'll stay Sunday night? Is that impossible?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's not -- I wouldn't rule it -- it's not what's the plan. But we aren't meeting with Assad until late in the afternoon. We're not getting in until 4:00 a.m., as you know, so the meeting is not until the afternoon. It's not inconceivable that they could go over into Monday. That's not the plan. If it does go over to Monday, I don't want you all to say that I ruled that possibility out. But the plan is to meet on Sunday and then go back.
Q The meeting with Musharraf, where is that being held and what conditions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's being held -- the meetings are being held in the residence of the President, and then in the Cabinet office that is adjacent to it. It's essentially kind of like a function of our Old Executive Office Building.
Q In Musharraf's interview with CBS last week, he said that the process that he would envision toward restoring democracy could take years. He was asked, is this about a month or could this take years. And he said, no, it's not months, it could easily be years. Is that in any way remotely acceptable to the United States?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the question is what is in the interest of the people of Pakistan. I think that what we would like to see -- what we would encourage General Musharraf to do is to set forth a road map by which democracy gets restored, so that he's able to do the things he has to do, domestically -- people having the sense that they can see the pathway back to democracy.
So I don't want to try to ascribe a particular number of days to it. But I think that having a road map, having a path by which you ultimately lead to national elections I think would be very important.
Q Are they going to have -- session with the press, as you do normally in countries with most leaders?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know the answer to that. I think there will be somebody, obviously, available to speak.
Q Will the President -- on behalf of Sharif?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I expect he will raise that.
Q Will he meet with anybody related to Sharif, anybody from his party or his family or his legal team?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. The meetings here have been very much restricted to what we need to do our business, and not -- he's going to speak directly to all the Pakistani people and we have not wanted to be in a position where we had to negotiate with the government about who would be at a particular function.
Q How long has he been given for that address?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know that the -- I think the address is probably about 10 minutes. I don't know, it's a good question.
Q Will the President be discussing the possible outlines, substance of an agreement between the Israelis and the Syrians? Or will he just be discussing --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's more accurate, John, to say that he, having talked to these two leaders now at length, has some understanding of what the needs of each of them are. I think the effort here will be to determine whether or not it's possible -- whether or not both leaders can have confidence that their needs -- can have a higher level of confidence that their needs can ultimately be met if they go back into a negotiation.
So we're not going to put down the American plan or --
Q It's the same old issues, who's going to be at the early warning station, the thinning out of troops between Damascus and Golan Heights. Are they going to --
MR. HAMMER: Thank you very much.