June 20: Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger


Office of the Press Secretary
(Cologne, Germany)

For Immediate Release June 20, 1999


Hotel Mondial am Dom
Cologne, Germany

2:20 P.M. (L)

MR. BERGER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the Yeltsin-Clinton meeting, which just broke up. It lasted about an hour. It was a very good meeting, very constructive, very positive, and I believe very productive.

President Yeltsin was in good form. He was strong, he was forceful. His sense of humor was evident. And of the 17 meetings that the President has had with President Yeltsin over the last almost seven years, six and a half years, I think this was one of the best.

They agreed essentially that our two countries have gone through a difficult period through the Kosovo war, Kosovo conflict. It put substantial strains on our relationship, but it was now time to turn to the future, to put that behind us, to cooperate on the peace, and to spend the remaining period of President Yeltsin's term and President Clinton's term getting things done for the United States and for Russia.

In that connection, President Yeltsin asked that the Gore-Stepashin Commission, which I've talked to you about before -- the commission the Vice President has had for a number of years with the Russian Prime Minister -- be renewed, because it is such a productive channel. And the President agreed, and I suspect that Prime Minister Stepashin will be coming to the United States sometime in the summer.

President Yeltsin presented President Clinton with a very interesting gift. He said that when he had come into office -- or at least several years ago -- he had asked all of the agencies of the Russian government to declassify any and all material related to President Kennedy, and President Kennedy's assassination, both military and civilian archives, as well as private archives. And he presented to the President today a document which contains the material that was the result of this review -- that has apparently taken several years.

The President expressed gratitude for this. He said that President Kennedy's both life and death is a subject of enormous interest and fascination to the American people, and this is something that they will find very important and useful.

Q What's in it?

MR. BERGER: I don't read Russian and I don't know -- I haven't had a chance to look at it.

Q It's in Russian?

MR. BERGER: The documents appear to be in Russian; whether there is a translated version or not, I don't know.

Q -- a bomb shelter of some sort?

MR. BERGER: During the meeting, I was trying to pay attention to meetings, so I didn't read the documents. (Laughter.) I'm sorry.

Q -- news cycle. (Laughter.)

MR. BERGER: I'm sure that those documents will be reviewed carefully and all interesting elements will be made public.

The President said essentially that our relationship had gone -- had been tested over the past four months and that we had passed the test. And he thanked President Yeltsin for not giving up on our relationship, and for deciding even if they could not join us in the war, they would help to make peace. And he said now it's time, President Clinton said, for us to focus on other areas. And President Yeltsin agreed very much with that formulation. So there's very little looking back in this meeting.

On the arms control area -- let me start with that -- the two Presidents agreed on a number of elements. Number one, President Yeltsin said that they remain committed to START II; this is something Prime Minister Stepashin had said yesterday. I believe it was Foreign Minister Ivanov said he did not believe it was likely or possible for that to happen before the Duma leaves for the summer, but it is something they will return to.

At the same time, the two Presidents agreed that they will resume discussions on START III and on the ABM Treaty in the fall. Now, this is very significant because for the first time the Russians have agreed to discuss changes in the ABM Treaty that may be necessitated by a national missile defense system were we to decide to deploy one. At the same time, we've indicated that we will continue the discussions that have been going on at an expert level on what a START III package might look like -- these are not really negotiations, these are essentially consultations or discussions preliminary to negotiations on START III, so that if START II is ratified the two sides will be able to move very swiftly towards a formal START III negotiation.

And President Yeltsin said he wanted the ministers to report back to the Presidents by July 30th; that if we left things only to the experts, nothing would get done, and he wanted to maintain personal control of this.

On economic issues, the President said that he thought there was goodwill towards Russia in the West in terms of economic cooperation, but it was extremely important to finalize an agreement with the IMF and to complete the actions that the Duma needs to take. And once that happened, we could turn, for example, to re-scheduling of the Soviet-era debt in the Paris Club and other things that would help be of economic assistance to Russia.

He said, again, the President said that it was very important to finalize the agreement with the IMF. President Yeltsin said, "I am personally committed to it."

Q Did the President say --

MR. BERGER: Let me go through this, in my order, and then I'll answer questions.

They talked a bit about Jackson-Vanik. This came after President Yeltsin said that it's very important that we get rid of these irritants in our relationship that are just perennial. We've been talking about Jackson-Vanik -- this is now me talking, not Yeltsin -- really since the beginning of Yeltsin's era, and there's been one thing or another that has prevented us to achieving congressional approval.

The President said that he very much wanted to repeal Jackson-Vanik, but that the issue that remained is in particular the rise of anti-Semitic statements and rhetoric, particularly from the nationalists, particularly from Yeltsin's opponents and enemies, and that he would hope that Yeltsin would attend to this, and if he did, that we'll go back to the Congress on Jackson-Vanik.

Yeltsin was very firm. He said, "provide me with all of the material you have and I will really sit on them." (Laughter.)

President Yeltsin made a plea for a greater degree of reliance by the United States and by the international community -- the United Nations -- on OSCE. I think this is implicitly not on NATO, to deal with problems in Europe. The President agreed that we did want to see a U.N. role and an OSCE role and, indeed, the U.N. would be responsible, have overall responsibility for the carrying out of the civil implementation of the Kosovo agreement.

President Yeltsin invited President Clinton to come to Moscow, and at the end, President Yeltsin turned to Vice Minister Memedov and Deputy Secretary Talbott, sort of wagged his finger and said, now, I want you to do an accurate record of this meeting, an accurate record. And they both said, yes, Mr. President. And the meeting ended.

It was a very -- as I say, it was a very friendly, warm meeting. President Yeltsin was animated, and I would say it was a meeting of renewal. That's how I would describe it.

Q Sandy, Ivanov has said that Clinton had told him he would speak out in favor of writing off part of the Soviet-era debt. Is that right?

MR. BERGER: Well, anything with respect to debt depends first upon them finalizing agreement with the IMF. What the Russians would like is essentially a writing off of all Soviet-era debt. I think the President indicated that's something that we could examine, but we don't hold much of that debt -- it's mostly German and other debt -- and that if he was not able to get agreement on that, we at least would be able to reschedule the debt.

So he said he would make -- President Clinton indicated that he would discuss with his colleagues whether debt relief, debt forgiveness, would be possible, but that he was doubtful that would be achievable, but at least we should do debt rescheduling as soon as the Russians reached an agreement with the IMF.

Q Just to make sure I understand this, is he considering writing off U.S.-Russia debt?

MR. BERGER: This would be a multilateral action through the Paris Club. And most of the Soviet-era debt is not American, it's -- I think the largest debtor, largest creditor is Germany.

Q Sandy, you mentioned the two Presidents have met something like 17 times. In probably all 17 of those, Yeltsin has promised to try to get START II through the Duma. Why should we put any more stock in him saying it this time?

MR. BERGER: Well, I think there have been a number of times when there really was a serious effort made by the Russian government to get the START II ratified. In each case, something happened, whether it was Kosovo or something else, that undercut the ability of the government to do that; the fall of the government, for example.

They face a difficult situation in the Duma in getting this ratified. But the Russian military is in favor of ratifying START II, and I believe what President Yeltsin and the Foreign Minister were saying is that they would make a good-faith effort to try to do it. I don't think they made any promises on it.

Q Sandy, are you suggesting now the two countries can just keep going as if Kosovo never happened? And is it your understanding as of this hour, all the Serb forces did, indeed, leave Kosovo?

MR. BERGER: Well, I think that we are -- the two countries are back in business. I don't think that -- I think Kosovo has left some scars, presumably on both sides, but I think that the fact that we were able to cooperate with the Russians in achieving the peace, the fact that we've now reached an agreement in Helsinki which President Yeltsin strongly endorsed for peacekeeping, and the fact that these two Presidents want to get things done in their remaining -- certainly before the end of President Yeltsin's term, which is next summer, I think gives us forward momentum.

In terms of the Serb withdrawal, I can't answer, Ann, your question exactly. I know as of this morning they were on schedule to be out by the end of the day. Now, I don't know -- I have not heard anything in the last five or six hours, and whether they will actually make it by the end of the day or not.

Let me just add one other piece of information here, and that is that the KLA and KFOR have agreed, ad ref to NATO, on an "undertaking of demilitarization and transformation of the UCK." That is, they've reached the demilitarization agreement, which now has to go to the NAC to be approved. I'm not quite sure what the approval process is in the UCK.

But it will provide for the KLA to maintain the cease-fire; to cease carrying weapons in designated areas, towns and other routes; to not engage in any military-related activities without the approval of the commander of KFOR; within 30 days to place in designated storage areas all prohibited weapons -- essentially everything except sidearms and registered rifles, hunting rifles; within 30 days to ensure that all KLA members of foreign origin have left Kosovo; to respect KFOR's authority to take all necessary action to establish a secure environment, to enforce the undertaking and otherwise carry out its mission.

So I think that's a very positive development today; another step along the way of trying to build a structure of peace in Kosovo.

Q Sandy, could you elaborate on Yeltsin's willingness to review the ABM Treaty? Is that an indication that they would go for amending the ABM Treaty so as to give us a green light for a national missile defense, if that's where the U.S. is headed? Is that how far-reaching it is?

MR. BERGER: What they have agreed to is to consider possible changes in the strategic situation that have a bearing on the ABM Treaty. Now, in English, what that means is that we will have parallel discussions in the fall on the one hand on what START III might look like. There already have been some discussions we've had at the expert level on that. And the second would be on modifications to the ABM Treaty that may be occasioned by a national missile defense system if we were to deploy one.

As you know, we have not made that decision, we will not make that decision until June of next year, and then even if we were to make that decision, there are a number of different so-called architectures that, more or less, intrude upon the ABM Treaty.

The President affirmed our commitment to the ABM Treaty and our desire to, if there were any changes necessary, to negotiate those with the Russians. And this, I think, is a recognition on the part of the Russians that they're prepared to have that discussion.

Q Is that apt to give you a freer hand on Capitol Hill? Things have been pretty frozen with Helms and the Foreign Relations Committee on the ABM amendment. Will that give you a little bit more leverage now?

MR. BERGER: Our intent has been to wait until there is ratification of START II, assuming that happens this year, and then submit to the Senate together the START II, the protocol that we negotiated in Helsinki that extends the period of START II, and the agreement with respect to ABM-TM demarcation that we reached in Helsinki -- to submit those as a package to the Senate. Senator Helms has expressed a desire for a particular sequencing, but we will continue to discuss this with him.

Q Any discussion of the seizure by the Russians at the Pristina airport, or the misstatements by Ivanov surrounding that?

MR. BERGER: No, I think the President made a judgment, and I think it was the right judgment here, to make this summit about the future and not about the past.

Q Yeltsin didn't bring it up himself?

MR. BERGER: No. There was a discussion of Kosovo in the sense that it put strains on our relationship, it had been a difficult period in our relationship, strained our friendship, but that, in part because of the intervention of the two Presidents and their staying in touch with each other, the relationship managed to survive that, and now let's get on with it.

Q What was Russia's position on the aid to Serbia had to be included in the package?

MR. BERGER: Didn't raise it.

Q What about the invitation for the President to go to Moscow? Wouldn't it be Mr. Yeltsin's turn to come to Washington?

MR. BERGER: I think actually that's probably right, in a sequential way. We'll have to discuss that.

Q -- made no commitments to go?

MR. BERGER: No. At some point, obviously, it would be useful for them to get together again. We'll decide which location would be best.

Q Sandy, if President Clinton didn't raise the airport issue, does that mean that he feels he has a full understanding of what happened there, and full confidence that he knows who's in control of what in Russia?

MR. BERGER: I think that we've already heard the Russian explanation. I don't expect that there would have been any different explanation had the President raised it. And it simply would have diverted this meeting into a rehash of recriminations on both sides. I think the President was determined, since we know what the Russian explanation -- official explanation is, to focus on rebuilding the relationship, on renewal. And I think he succeeded in doing that.

Q Did Yeltsin look healthy to you?

MR. BERGER: Yes. He looked robust. He walked a bit stiffly, but he was very forceful -- the fist was pounding and at a couple of points when some of his colleagues, his ministers and others, made points and he didn't agree with them, he said, no, that's not what I -- I don't believe that. If we let the experts, he said, do this, we'll never get a done deal. There was othe talk at the other side of the table, obviously. (Laughter.)

I thought he was very much in charge. I thought he seemed strong, in good humor and very -- it was a very good discussion.

Q Roughly, how soon do you think the President will go to Moscow? Is there an evident window, in the fall or something?

MR. BERGER: I have no idea. This was not something that I anticipated happening in this meeting. We've got a pretty heavy schedule of travel, as you know, including, perhaps, to OSCE and then to the APEC meeting, which -- and the President today, at the leaders meeting, I think got agreement from the leaders that there should be a Balkan conference in the Balkans sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Q Would he go?

MR. BERGER: Yes. That is that the leaders should meet with the frontline states someplace in the Balkans sometime in the next several months. So I think you put all that together -- we'll have to figure out the schedule.

Q Do you have a timetable --

Q Forgive me if you talked about this already. Where do things stand with Russia vis-a-vis Western economic aid? And if you've already discussed this, I apologize.

MR. BERGER: Well you know, I think the President indicated that there was a strong willingness on the part of the West to be helpful economically, but it depended upon Russia reaching a final agreement with the IMF, which the President said would be a powerful signal to the international community that Russia was committed to continue to be committed to reform. President Yeltsin agreed with that. And then the President said if that happens we can do other things, for example, rescheduling debt in the Paris Club, et cetera.

Q Do you have a timetable on the KLA demiliterization?

MR. BERGER: Well, the timetable is -- I think that a number of the agreements -- obligations adhere when it's entered, but there is then a timetable, seven days to establish secure weapons storage areas, 30 days then to put all heavy weapons into this contanments, 30 days to ensure that all KLA members of foreign origin have left. There are various time tables.

MR. LEAVY: All right, Terry, last question.

Q Was there any discussion about when the Russian troops would go into Kosovo, when they would deploy, take up their positions? Did they reach an agreement on that?

MR. BERGER: No. I think that's something that will be resolved with General Jackson very much at a military --

Q Is it our understanding that Russia today signed on to the idea that there would be no reconstruction aid for Serbia unless Serbian democratizes?

MR. BERGER: Did who sign on?

Q The Russians.

MR. BERGER: No. The issue did not come up in the meeting between President Clinton and President Yeltsin. You'll have to ask Mr. Steinberg whether it came up in the earlier --

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:45 P.M. (L)

Return to Fact Sheets & Briefings

President`s Trip to Europe: Briefings

Joint Press Briefing by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

June 16: Press Briefing by White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart

Joint Press Briefing by Gene Sperling

Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger

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Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger

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Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger

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