PRESS BRIEFING BY
1:48 P.M. (L)
MR. MCCURRY: I will start with the answer to a question a number of you have posed, which is, President Yeltsin's impromptu reference to removing warheads. We are not exactly sure what he meant by that. Apparently, the Russian presidential press spokesman has indicated now that he was making a reference to additional detargeting that the Russian Federation might undertake with respect to non-nuclear members of NATO. We still are not precisely sure what that clarification means, so I -- we'll have an opportunity later today to ask President Yeltsin directly and ascertain more fully what that statement means.
Q What's the status quo as far as targeting?
MR. MCCURRY: The status quo is they're are no, as you've heard the President say often, no Russian missiles pointed at the United States and no U.S. missiles pointed at Russia. And there are some aspects of detargeting that affect the nuclear forces of the U.K. and France, but beyond that I'm not aware of any more expansive detargeting doctra that the Russian Federation has adopted. And we'll just have to seek further clarification on what President Yeltsin might mean.
Q Are you saying it's your understanding that it only applied to the non-nuclear nations?
MR. MCCURRY: Both the U.K. and France have had some discussions with respect to targeting with the Russian Federation. You can ask from each of their sides more about aspects of what understandings they have in place.
Q Yes, but what's your understanding of what the Russian people are saying about Yeltsin's comments today, that it only applies to non-nuclear or all NATO --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the only thing we have is just news -- wire reports indicating that the presidential press spokesman has indicated that President Yeltsin was referring to detargeting -- detargeting.
Q Well, if that winds up being all that it is, and that he's not talking about the removal of warheads, what's the U.S. take on the significance of his announcement?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is still, nonetheless, positive. We've always taken the view with respect to our own detargeting agreement with the Russian Federation that it is important among other reasons because it ensures greater security in moments of crisis not to have warheads targeted. It's widely
acknowledged that warheads can be fairly quickly and fairly easily retargeted; but it is a confidence-building measure to have these missiles non-targeted or detargeted in their ready posture.
Q But, Mike, would you say that it's your understanding that Russia currently has missiles that are targeted, or that you are not sure whether they have --
MR. MCCURRY: With respect to the strategic rocket forces of the Russian army, aside from the understandings we have with them bilaterally on targeting, we'd have to leave it to them to describe what their deployed state of targeting is.
Q Mike, doesn't it seem to be aimed mostly at perspective new members of NATO? In other words, it seems like they're setting up a strong --
MR. MCCURRY: It's not entirely clear, which is one of the reasons why we will seek further clarification.
Q Mike, I'm just trying to clarify something that Sandy said earlier. So are you taking back his comment earlier that taking the warheads off these missiles would be a much bigger step for the Russians?
MR. MCCURRY: No, that was -- he was hypothetically saying that would be a much bigger step, and obviously that's true. But there's some indication now from the Russian side that may not have been what President Yeltsin meant.
Q Mike, you all had no clue that he was going to say anything, whether it's targeting or warheads --
MR. MCCURRY: It seemed a fairly impromptu remark.
Q When you get clarification, will you put something out?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will have an opportunity to talk with President Yeltsin later today and my suspicion is by the time the two Presidents meet we may have already had some discussions with them. Now, we will, in some fashion or another, be in a position to give you readout on that discussion before we leave for The Hague. We'll probably have to do it by remote control from over at the residence by phoning something in here, but we'll be able to pass on anything we get.
Q To the pool as well, right?
MR. MCCURRY: The pool, yes, we can have the pool there.
Q But is it your understanding that what Yeltsin said actually there was that he would remove warheads --
MR. MCCURRY: The Russian -- I've heard -- I didn't hear the Russian myself, but there are some -- some of our Russian speakers don't believe he used either the word in Russian that we use for detargeting or deactivation. Deactivation is what we normally use as the word to describe removal of warheads. And he apparently used in Russian something that is neither of those two, but we're trying to get that sorted out now.
Q What is the U.S. position, Mike? Would the U.S. support removing warheads? And would the U.S. --
MR. MCCURRY: The United States is involved in a very deliberate, careful and prudent arms control process with the Russian Federation that right now rests on ratification of START II by the Russian Parliament, moving on to the parameters of a START III agreement. And that has made the world a safer place, and we will continue on that course.
Q So there would be no reciprocation even if he did mean removal of warheads?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we first need to find out what exactly he meant, and then we'll find out whether we reciprocate or discuss or illuminate further.
All right, let me do a little bit on -- the President, when he arrived at Elysee Palace had a half hour bilateral meeting with French President Jacques Chirac. Most of the discussion was about the subject matter that we're dealing with today -- the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the preparations for the Madrid conference in July. They had a fairly lengthy discussion about Bosnia, the status of NATO-Russia cooperation in Bosnia. They discussed the Middle East, the Middle East peace process specifically, some other regional security issues. The President personally thanked President Chirac for not only the leadership he has shown in hosting today's gathering, but also specifically for the moral leadership that President Chirac has extended on the subject of Bosnia.
Q French elections?
MR. MCCURRY: The subject of French elections did not come up.
Q Did they talk about Iran and the election and the possibility of some kind of Western overture to the new --
MR. MCCURRY: They talked in general about regional security issues and the subject of Iran was touched upon.
Q Did they discuss the possibility of using NATO troops to track down war criminals in Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: They discussed Bosnia generally. I'm not going to describe the conversation more specifically than that.
Q Back on the impromptu remarks. What does it say about Yeltsin's state of mind to make a statement like this? It catches you off-guard, it catches people off-guard in his own country, it catches the rest of the leaders off-guard. Why come out and off the cuff --
MR. MCCURRY: President Yeltsin is known to speak his mind at moments like this, and I'd say there's nothing out of the ordinary about that. (Laughter.)
Q That was what he was discussing with Chirac? Before the break there was this long back and forth --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we don't know yet. We haven't had a chance -- he was actually engaged in a long conversation with Prime Minister Prodi, and I believe the subject was Bosnia because the Italian Prime Minister had just recently been in Bosnia and he was seeking an opportunity to discuss Bosnia with the President. I'm told that that break went on because they were trying to get the temperature in the room lowered.
Q Mike, the President seemed to be spending an awful lot of time talking to Blair during the remarks.
MR. MCCURRY: He was seated next to Prime Minister Blair, so it's not unusual that he would be talking to the person who was his seat mate.
Q I'm just wondering if you know what they were talking about.
MR. MCCURRY: I mean, since they both speak English -- (laughter) -- or at least variance of, it's probably not
surprising that they would engage in animated conversation.
Q But you don't know what they were talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I haven't, obviously, had a chance to talk to the President in more detail about his conversations, and we'll try to do more of that later.
Q During the five-minute break that we had because of the heat, did the President talk to any other leaders or was he --
MR. MCCURRY: Just President Chirac, that I saw, and then he moved to the back of the room and had some discussions with some of his other counterparts.
Q Not Yeltsin, as far as you know?
MR. MCCURRY: Not as far as I know. My guess is he probably saved that because he knew he was seeing President Yeltsin later.
Q Is it safe to say the President was surprised by his remark, as well?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I wouldn't say "surprised," just saying curious and interested in getting further clarification.
Q What's on the agenda for his coming meeting with Yeltsin?
MR. MCCURRY: They will discuss issues related to the further implementation of the Founding Act that was signed today. They will most likely discuss Bosnia, but I suspect most of the time will be spent preparing items related to the agenda at the Denver Summit of the Eight.
Q And will they talk about START II at all?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will again press upon President Yeltsin the importance of Duma ratification of START II, yes.
Q Is it certain that Yeltsin will be at the Summit in Denver?
MR. MCCURRY: He's expected to attend, yes.
Q Mike, when the NATO agreement was announced there seemed to be some confusion at least by President Yeltsin about what exactly Russia was allowed to do in terms of a veto. Do you feel like he's kind of backed off of that and has maybe come to accept your definition?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if there was confusion. I think he was presenting the Founding Act in a way that he thought would engender support among the Russian people. And you now all have Founding Act, so you know what's in it.
Q Do you have any hope about President Chirac on the same wavelength as yours concerning Iran?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will continue to -- I've said often in the past, we will continue to have a critical dialogue with the European Union about the idea of a critical dialogue with Iran. And that will continue.
With respect to the Iranian elections, as a number of us said over the weekend, it is really the actions of government that speak loudest. And the things that concern us
and trouble us about Iran's behavior in the world need to change for us to think more liberally about Iran's role in the international community. And there's no evidence that we see of any change in the fundamental policies of that regime.
Q Mike, what do you understand will be Yeltsin's role, or the Russian role, in Madrid?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a subject that, as you can tell from President Chirac's remarks today, is still under discussion. President Chirac met with President Yeltsin last night, and my understanding is, among other things, that President Chirac, as did President Clinton, talked about the importance of the Madrid Summit and inquiries were being made about whether or not President Yeltsin might be in attendance in Madrid. I don't believe an answer has been given by the Russian Federation.
Q In the meeting with Chirac, did the Presidents discuss France's desire to have Romania and possibly Slovenia as one of the first countries in NATO?
MR. MCCURRY: I think on the general subject of NATO enlargement, the who and the how and the when were part of the discussion.
Q Did they discuss the Boeing-McDonnell Douglas merger?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that was reported to me. I'll check specifically on that subject. But I didn't have any indication that that subject came up. And, in any event, our view on that is well-known, that while it's under review by the Federal Trade Commission, we're not inclined to make much of a comment on it in any event.
Q Mike, when you say that the missiles can be fairly quickly and fairly easily retargeted, how quickly? I mean, are we talking minutes?
MR. MCCURRY: That's -- normally, when you talk about warheads and how you target them and things like that, we don't really talk about that in open-microphone situations. It's been reported and you can read that in any report on this subject and I don't think we've ever disputed any of the public accounts.
Q Do we have idea how many Russian missiles we're talking about that would be affected?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe -- the strategic rocket forces commander has ever indicated what they're targeting doctrine is with respect to intermediate range targets for intercontinental ballistic missiles. Is that correct? Look over to my experts over here.
Q Mike, can I ask an unrelated question? Gephardt, in his advanced text of his speech today in Detroit, is going to come out against MFN for China, and I was wondering if the White House has any reaction.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll charitably disagree. The suspension of normal trade relations with China would be, in some sense, a declaration of economic war on China and would further isolate China from the world community. And it's long been our policy view that engagement with China is much more likely to produce the changes in behavior that the American people seek. And isolation is likely to produce exactly the opposite reaction that would be detrimental to the interests of the people of the United States. I think our view on that is fairly well-rehearsed by now.
Q Mike, beyond the speech on Saturday, I guess, where the President is going to be talking about NATO, what other things do you have planned to try to convince Congress and the people about --
MR. MCCURRY: I could either have -- Nick could probably talk to us a little bit more at length, but we've already got up and running at State Department an office that is going to be responsible for talking about the merits of our engagement with Europe with the American people, explaining what the positive benefits are of the effort we make on behalf of a continent that we twice defended during world war.
And that engagement, we argue, is in the long-term interest of the American people. And we understand we have to make that case persuasively over the course of the next year, year and a half, leading up to a Senate ratification vote on amendments to the North Atlantic Treaty.
Do you want to talk a little bit more about - an effort to try to bring the arguments before the American people so that the American people are fully engaged in this debate and understand it, and, obviously, we do likewise with members of Congress.
Q By sending out certain speakers or --
MR. MCCURRY: All of the above -- speakers, we've got all kinds of things that you'd normally do if you were trying to raise the profile of a foreign policy issue and really bring it vigorously in front of the American people. We'll be doing all that.
Q Mike, do the other European governments also have a tough selling job in front of them, or is it different from country to country?
MR. MCCURRY: It differs from country to country. There have been -- the question of whether Europe has been an active one in the domestic political debates of a number of our North Atlantic allies. But in each country the situation is somewhat different and the receptivity to the new adaptive structure of NATO tends to grow as you move East.
Q There's no members of Congress traveling with the President, right?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, no, we've got a good delegation with us, came over on Air Force One, including Senator Biden -- does anyone have the delegation list? Senator Roth, Senator Biden, Senator Smith, Congresswoman Pelosi -- I'm afraid I'm going to leave someone out. Mary Ellen can get the full list for you.
Q Do you know who is here from the Cabinet, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Secretary Albright, and she may be the only -- I think she's the only Cabinet member here.
Q Is Barshefsky here?
MR. MCCURRY: Ambassador Barshefsky is here.
Q Mike, why is the Yeltsin bilateral stills only?
MR. MCCURRY: Because we thought it would make a pretty picture and we wanted to make sure that the still photographers could be there to take it.
Q Are you worried about impromptu remarks maybe?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm worried about my own impromptu remarks, which I make too many of sometimes.
Q Can you give a serious answer, though? We should be in there to cover something like that.
MR. MCCURRY: There are a lot of factors that go into how we make arrangements for meetings and I'm not going to point to any one particular one.
Q But, Mike, the United States doesn't want a camera in there, or who doesn't want a camera in there?
MR. MCCURRY: We just worked out arrangements jointly for these meetings with the Russian Federation, as we always do.
Q So the Russians didn't want a camera in there? I mean, seriously, is it --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying we didn't make arrangements to have a camera in there. And if you ever want to revisit your view on whether correspondents have to always be present when cameras are there, let me know.
Q No, but we've tried to revisit this issue of a camera in there --
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, we're done with this.
Q Roth has talked more than others about taking in more than three as a beginning. Is that moving any clearer, or is it still -- should we write most likely three and the usual three?
MR. MCCURRY: Really, we've got, as you can tell today, 16 governments that have to make that decision, not just one. We have views on that. We are exploring those questions with those that we consult with now, and the invitations will be extended properly at Madrid.
Q Would you care to offer any sort of guidance about whether we should stick to the sort of phraseology that's been used?
MR. MCCURRY: Our thinking is very much along the lines of what you've seen reported.
Q Back to your acknowledgement that you're going to have to do a selling job to get this approved in Congress, the point was made last week that it wouldn't be a slam-dunk. How do you assess where you are right now with Congress before you --
MR. MCCURRY: I think we're either at the beginning or just prior to the beginning of a real full debate on this question. I think many members of Congress have not dug in on the details or, certainly they have followed today's historic agreement, but they want more information, they want clarifications. I've seen even from Chairman Helms' spokesman a general receptivity to the idea of NATO expansion, but a hunger for greater clarity on what it means in terms of our own commitments and what it means for the future of the Alliance. And those are good questions that all need to be explored and raised during the course of a debate.
Q But you acknowledge you're starting out behind, you would not prevail if the vote were today?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't hazard a guess where the majority of Congress is on this issue, but we'll need a treaty ratifying vote, and that means that we'll have to have a strong
bipartisan vote, and that means we're going to have a lot of hard work in the year-plus ahead.
Q Did you invite the Republican leadership to come to this meeting here?
MR. MCCURRY: President Clinton, when he met with the bipartisan leadership at the White House, talked about the importance of today and put it in the context of the history of our engagement with Europe and suggested it would be great to have a congressional delegation here. And I think I got everyone except Congressman John McHugh who's also here -- and they are representing the leadership.
Q Could you read the list again?
MR. MCCURRY: Senator Biden, Senator Roth, Senator Smith, Congresswoman Pelosi, Congressman McHugh.
Q Mike, if I could just follow up on a question that I tried to ask earlier. Are you convinced now that Boris Yeltsin understands the Russian role in the same way that the United States understands the Russian role and the rest of NATO does?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think he ever had any understanding but what was in the document that he just signed a short while ago.
Q So do you think he's been misreported or --
MR. MCCURRY: I think he made an argument and it was reported. I didn't say misreported.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
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