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Background Briefing on the President's Visit to Pakistan

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Trip to South Asia


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate ReleaseMarch 7, 2000


The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:40 P.M. EST

MR. STOCKWELL: Good afternoon. Today's special topic briefwill be on the President's upcoming trip to South Asia, and with me aretwo senior administration officials on BACKGROUND.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As you know, the Presidenthas decided that he will stop in Pakistan at the conclusion of his SouthAsia trip later this month. He will got to Pakistan because it isimportant to a number of key United States national interests that heengage with Pakistan at this time.

Let me briefly outline the important national interests wehave at stake in Pakistan today. These include avoiding the threat of aconflict in South Asia; promoting the return of democracy to Pakistan;fighting terrorism; preventing the proliferation of weapons of massdestruction; and creating an environment of regional peace and security.

The President will go to Pakistan because the Pakistani nationis a friend, not because he approves of or acquiesces in the governmentof General Pervez Musharraf. He is not going to mediate the Kashmirdispute. Rather he will go to continue his consistent efforts toadvance the interests I outlined above, as he has over the last sevenyears and as he did in his meeting with then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharifat Blair House last 4th of July. The understanding that he reached withSharif that day played a key role in ending a tense conflict in Kargil.

We cannot predict when the next flare-up might occur in thisregion, but tensions are higher there now than at any time since thelast Indian-Pakistani war in 1971. We are concerned that, throughmisunderstandings or gradual escalation, the two countries could onceagain find themselves in conflict. The President has a responsibilityto our nation and to the world to do what he can to avoid such adangerous development.

The President believes that it's crucial that he carry amessage of restraint and dialogue to both capitals on this trip. Healso wants to assure that we have lines of communication that may benecessary and useful in a crisis -- the kind of relationship thatenabled him to play the effective role he did with Nawaz Sharif lastJuly.

Terrorism is another vital American interest at play inPakistan and next-door in Afghanistan. The terrorists in their camps inAfghanistan, especially Usama bin-Laden, all too clearly aimed directlyat America and American lives. This will be high on the President'sagenda.

Democracy in Pakistan was interrupted on October 12th lastyear. Some have urged the President to avoid Pakistan to demonstrateour displeasure at the military coup there. In fact, that action wouldbe welcomed by the very anti-democratic and militant elements inPakistan that represent the long-term threat to that country's system.And it would dishearten those in Pakistan who have stood for secular,Western-oriented democracy for 50 years. We do not want to break faithwith them. The President is convinced that this is the right decisionthat best protects the interests of the American people.

With those opening remarks, I'd be happy to take questions.

Q Are you worried at all how this might affect -- what kind ofa reaction it might draw from India?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, in the process ofmaking this decision, the President has consulted widely. Among thoseconsultations today he spoke with Prime Minister Vajpayee on the phoneand informed him of what he was doing. I think that the Indian peopleunderstand and the Indian government understands that we have vitalinterests here and that those interests are best kept protected by linesof communication.

Q What's the format of this? Is this going to be a quickee atthe end of the trip? I mean, an airport stop?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, exact logistics, ofcourse, now need to be worked out between now and the time he goes, butit will be a relatively short visit of several hours. We do not plan onstaying overnight.

Q Is this going to be to Islamabad or Karachi or --


Q Will he be in the city?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're still in the process ofworking out the logistics. Actually, we are at the beginning of theprocess of working out the logistics.

Q Can you tell us if the government has made any progress onthe three main area of concern to the United States -- democracy,nonproliferation and terrorism?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, those are the threeareas that we have raised, with democracy and terrorism andnonproliferation. There was no checklist of actions that Pakistanneeded to take for the visit to be scheduled. We did not give them,when I was there in January, a checklist, and they did not give us oneeither. But we have been in close consultation with them for some time,and the President has concluded that the time is right for a visit.

But let me -- in terms of what has transpired on the democracyissue and what hasn't, on the negative side, the constitution remainssuspended. Provincial national assemblies remain suspended. An unknownnumber of politicians remain under detention without charge. As many ofyou know, judges were required to sign loyalty oaths a few weeks ago.And to date, there has been no comprehensive road map or time frame fora return to civilian democratic rule.

Now, on the more positive side, the press and nongovernmentalorganizations are allowed to operate freely. There has been acommitment to local elections this year. There have been efforts toprosecute corruption, to go after tax evasion. This is theaccountability campaign that General Musharraf launched. And the trialof former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appears to be proceeding properly,including with due process.

So the record so far is mixed. We believe it's too early tojudge the record of the new government. These will clearly be the focusof the President's concerns that he'll express when he is there. We dohope to hear more from General Musharraf on these subjects, especiallydemocracy, when he speaks to the Pakistani people on March 23rd, whichis their national day, and will be two days before the Presidentarrives.

Q What about terrorism?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Terrorism? We have seencertain actions taken by the governments of Pakistan, including theinitial phase of the deweaponization program to try to get guns off thestreets and to ban the public display. General Musharraf has announcedthat he intends to go to Kandahar. He has not taken that trip yet, buthe intends to go there to speak to Mullah Omar, and they have saidpublicly that the three issues on General Musharraf's agenda in Kandaharwill be what is referred to the Afghan scenario, the idea of how tobring about a settlement there in the fighting; secondly, bin-Laden; andthirdly, closing down terrorist training camps.

So we are obviously quite interested in not only GeneralMusharraf going to Kandahar, but hopefully seeing some concrete resultsas a result of that visit.

Q Two general questions on the trip. One, what does thePresident hope to accomplish by going at this point, and secondly, yousay this is the right time to go. Can't critics come back and say,well, no, by going right now you're rewarding both countries forbehavior that we don't approve of?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me address that questionapart. This trip is primarily a trip to India. We will be spendingfive days in India, we will be visiting five cities in India. When thePrime Minister and the President spoke today, they spoke mostly aboutthe upcoming events in India and how important it is for us to turn anew page in U.S.-Indian relations. So I think that the primary focus onwhere we're hoping that this trip will mark a departure in U.S. policyis in the relationship with India.

I think as the senior administration official made clear fromthe list of where we are, we're not satisfied that what we've got inPakistan is a resolution of our concerns. But we believe it is very,very important to maintain these channels of communication that Ioutlined. We made an important and significant difference last July inaverting a conflict that could have become an extraordinarily seriousone, and it is important to have that line of communication.

As for timing, the President doesn't go to this part of theworld every month. This is the first visit by a President to India in22 years. I believe it will be the first visit ever by a President toBangladesh. And it will be the first visit by a President to Pakistanin, I think, 30 years?

Q In 1969 -- Richard Nixon.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Could I underscore one thingin terms of the purpose to be served here? I mean, we recognize theconcerns that have been expressed about this trip perhaps conferringlegitimacy on General Musharraf. The fact is that our decision totravel to Pakistan, the President's decision, is not an endorsement.But it is a statement of continuing engagement with Pakistan.

We have had a longstanding friendly relationship withPakistan, and to avoid going there on this trip could send the wrongsignal to the people of Pakistan that after many years of a closerelationship, that the United States was turning its back on a friend.We did not want that message to the people of Pakistan to be perceivedor heard. So this will be expressing concerns directly to theleadership in Pakistan, but also a continuing statement of engagementwith Pakistan as a nation and with its people. And that's a veryimportant part of the President's decision on why he decided to go.

Q How would you characterize the Indian President's reactionto the news?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Prime Minister and thePresident spent, as I said, almost the virtual entirety of theirconversation talking about U.S.-Indian relations. The Prime Ministersaid that, of course, where the President goes is an American decision.We have, both the United States and India, concerns about the future ofPakistan. But I think the reaction was that he understood this was thePresident's call to make and that he wanted to focus on being asuperlative host during those five days that the President is in India.

Q Will this be an in-and-out like Bangladesh is? Will hereturn to India after Pakistan, or will it be on the way out?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It will be on the way out.

Q You addressed two of the concerns, democracy and terrorism.What about the third concern with Pakistan non-proliferation? Whatprogress has been made on that front?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, at this point theyhaven't made any further promises. Foreign Minister Sattar has beenattempting to develop a national consensus in Pakistan for signing theCTBT. We are very pleased, by the way, to be able to pass along thattoday Bangladesh ratified the CTBT, the first South Asian nation to doso. We hope the U.S. will follow its lead on ratification as soon aspossible. (Laughter.) But this is a nice thing to have done before wearrive there.

But in terms of Pakistan, an effort is underway -- ForeignMinister Sattar has made the case for signature. But to date it has nottaken place, and that, therefore, will continue to be one of the thingsthat we will raise with General Musharraf and other leaders when we'rethere.

Q When you say that you're in the midst of making areentrance, what do you see? You see a public speech and then someintense talks between Clinton and Musharraf? I mean, what's the pointof going if he doesn't have really intense talks with this person?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There will be intense talks,but I'll defer to my colleague on that.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're not in a position todayto lay out a schedule, but your basic point -- yes, this is about havingan intense discussion with General Musharraf, and conveying to him ourviews and hearing his views, hearing what he thinks he can do on theconcerns that we've laid out, but also making very clear the Americanposition.

Q In which, if any, of these countries will the Presidentspeak at any length with opposition leaders?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't have a completeschedule yet that I can give you of this. I know he's certainlyplanning on meeting with the leader of the opposition in Bangladesh. Iwould imagine he'll have opportunities to talk to other politicalparties in India.

Q In more than a social setting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't have a full scheduleat this stage. We've still got 10 days to go.

Q What contacts have you had with General Musharraf in thelast few days, and just to clarify, has a decision not been made aboutprecisely where they're going to meet in Islamabad?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are only now in theprocess of working out the logistics of where they're going to meet. Wehave had contacts with General Musharraf's government for some time. Asyou know, Assistant Secretary Indefurth traveled there in January.Today, National Security Advisor Berger spoke with him on the phone.

Q The President will be coming from India, and presumablyhe'll be talking with the Indians about Kashmir. Since he'll only havea short, relatively short amount of time with Musharraf, what will be ontop of his list? Kashmir, since he'll just have come from India, andyou say that they're very close at loggerheads? Or will it just be asort of a broad sweep of everything?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we are developing ourrecommended points now. I don't think that we want to list prioritieshere. I think the President, he obviously knows the concerns that wehave been expressing to the government of Pakistan, and we have led withdemocracy, and then terrorism and nonproliferation.

Clearly, regional stability -- I think the comments that theother senior administration official made in the written statementunderscore our concerns about certain directions, trends in the region.These are of concern. We think that tensions are high, and there is nodialogue. And we hope that there would be some opportunity to encouragesome movement toward dialogue.

I think the President will obviously tailor his approach inPakistan to reflect his discussions with Indian leaders. I think weshare with India many of the concerns that we've mentioned. So this isstill unfolding, and we don't have a game plan written out at thisstage. We know the concerns. We think even in a limited amount oftime, having the President of the United States deliver a message at thehighest level, we hope will have impact over the long term.

But again, to restate something that was said earlier, thedecision to go there, to Pakistan, is because the President believesthis is in U.S. national interests for the long run, and not to havegone there would possibly have set that back.

Q What does the General's attitude seem to be toward theterrorists, or suspected terrorists, who are suspected of having someassociation with Usama bin Laden in Afghanistan?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: General Musharraf recognizesthat terrorism is a problem in South Asia. He has no dispute about thatat all. He certainly recognizes our concerns about bin Laden, and Ithink that his decision to travel to Kandahar is an expression of hisown personal desire to address those concerns directly with Mullah Omar.As many of you know, Mullah Omar does not travel. If one wants to seehim, one goes to Kandahar to have those meetings. And we think that itis something that we support, in terms of General Musharraf going there.

He recognizes that there is a spillover effect in Pakistan ofwhat has occurred for the last 20 years in Afghanistan; that theMujahadeen, the Jihad culture, Kalashnikov culture is spilling over intoPakistan; that there are a number of organizations that are pursuingJihad, including in Kashmir. There are numbers of guns on the street;that's why he has announced this deweaponization program, to take theseguns back or at least get them out of public display. So he's concernedabout the problem.

And we have made it clear to him that this problem, in ourview, places Pakistan itself at risk, and that it is terribly important-- we have had this discussion with Prime Minister Sharif, so this is acontinuation with General Musharraf. They need to get some control overthese organizations. And we believe the first place to start is withone organization, the HUM, which the U.S. has designated a terroristorganization.

So this is a very tough problem. It will not be solvedovernight, but we believe that some steps can be taken soon to addressit.

Q The President is not going to negotiate the Kasmir issue,but will he be offering some further good offices of the United States,as facilitator and whatever way you want to describe it -- in any sortof formal role there? Not himself, but offering up someone else?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I do not see us taking onsome kind of formal role as a mediator or a negotiator between the twoparties. As the President has said on several occasions, mediation issomething that can only happen when both parties have asked you to, andI do not see us getting into that on this occasion.

MR. STOCKWELL: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

END 4:00 P.M. EST  

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