Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on Presidents Clinton and Putin Bilateral (7/21/00)

MR. CROWLEY: Good evening. President Clinton and President Putin have concluded a bilateral meeting here in Okinawa. We have two senior administration officials here to give you a debrief of that meeting. I remind you it is on BACKGROUND, attributable to senior administration officials.

With that, I'll introduce senior administration official number one.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good evening, everybody. What I thought would probably be most helpful to you would be for me just to run through the topics covered by President Clinton and President Putin. The meeting lasted for just about exactly an hour and 15 minutes. This was the fourth meeting between them, the second meeting since President Putin assumed that office. You all know, I think, that President Clinton met with Mr. Putin twice last year in his earlier capacities.

I will go through the topics in the order in which they came up. Not too surprisingly, President Putin was interested in getting a little bit of the flavor of the Camp David peace process from President Clinton. They spent some time on that. But because it is still very much in progress, there's not a great deal to report to you there, except that President Putin -- and by the way, Foreign Minister Ivanov was a part of the meeting -- President Putin did underscore Russia's desire to be helpful in whatever the follow-up to Camp David turns out to be. Russia, of course, is a cosponsor of the Madrid process in the Middle East peace process.

Then President Clinton asked President Putin for some of his impressions of his travels, particularly his visit to North Korea. And President Putin actually had quite a bit to say in that regard, and I would describe it as quite interesting and useful to us, as we try to get a better sense of what's happening in North Korea and a little bit better sense of Kim Chong-Il and his regime.

That subject led, quite naturally, into the question of ballistic missile proliferation, which, as I'll come to in a moment, relates, obviously, to national missile defense. And there was some discussion of ballistic missile proliferation in general, ballistic missile proliferation with regard to North Korea in particular. And then they got into the subject of strategic stability, which is the umbrella phrase we use to talk about strategic offensive arms control, START II, START III, and also strategic defense.

In that regard, the two leaders agreed on a joint statement on cooperation and on strategic stability, which has already been released to you. This should be seen, I think, as another step in a process that we hope will continue throughout this administration and beyond, which is to identify and move in areas where the United States and Russia can cooperate with regard to the whole problem of missile proliferation and the spread of dangerous technology.

It follows directly on -- it's a kind of a sequel to the principles document released at the Moscow summit, and the Presidents agreed that they would hope to make more progress of a concrete nature on cooperation of this kind when they meet during the millennium summit in early September.

Then they discussed another very specific nonproliferation issue, which is assistance and cooperation that has gone from Russian entities to Iran, assisting the Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile programs. This has been on the presidential agenda between the United States and Russia for at least three, three and a half years, and we've been dealing with it as governments longer than that. And it was a quite highly focused discussion on specific measures that we hope the Russian authorities will take following up on understandings and, indeed, following up on Russian regulations and laws that are on the books there in order to ensure that this kind of technology -- that is nuclear and missile technology -- does not fall into the wrong hands elsewhere.

Then there was a discussion of Chechnya, and particularly about the need to increase access to Chechnya for the international community, and more specifically, the OSCE assistance group. And then the two turned to the question of the Balkans and the months ahead, and from our standpoint -- here I'm characterizing the United States position -- the need to make clear to the Milosevic regime in Belgrade that it must show restraint, particularly with regard to the democratically elected leadership of Montenegro.

I'm coming now to senior official 1-A, who will report a little bit on the economic discussion. But there was a kind of a bridge between the political and economic discussion -- President Clinton talked about the need for rule of law as an underpinning for economic reform, for keeping Russian capital in the country, for attracting investment from outside. And he talked about rule of law not only in strictly economic terms, but also with regard to civil society, free press, open media.

He did compliment President Putin on the economic team that he's put together and the economic plan, but did register some concerns in the more general area of rule of law, very specifically with regard to a free press.

Why don't I turn it over to my colleague, and then we'll take a few questions. My colleague, 1-A. (Laughter.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I was going to be colleague 2, but I negotiated for 1-A with Lockhart. (Laughter.) There's no question that this bilateral was overwhelmingly on the security side, which is not surprising as they had had a quite extensive bilateral, they'd gone through many specific issues when we were in Moscow. And certainly, there will be -- some of these issues on the economic side will be raised tomorrow in the G-8.

The President did compliment President Putin on the fact that he used his state of the union address to give a very candid and direct description of the need for structural reform, rule of law for Russia, to fully make the transition that it needs to return to being a strong economic power.

As my colleague mentioned, he stressed the importance of the rule of law and attracting capital. He complimented the economic team, made clear that we were watching very closely their progress, that we knew that he was fully engaged in tax reform and the other issues that are currently going through the Duma, and that we were obviously following their negotiations with the IMF and their continuing progress, and that in the context of their reform efforts, that we looked forward to being supportive in their desire to have a successful IMF plan and to move forward from there.

So with that, I'm happy to take questions. But there's no question that the overwhelming part of this discussion was on the security and political issues my colleague mentioned.

Q I didn't hear you mention the words "national missile defense." Did President Putin bring that up? Did he express the opposition that you've heard? And what did he think about what Chancellor Schroeder said today, and Prime Minister Chirac?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Terry, I actually did refer to NMD. It came up -- just to put it in the context of the flow -- it came us as kind of a segue of the discussion of North Korea because, as you know, the North Korean ballistic missile program is at the cutting edge of the threat, which in turn is the driving consideration in the national intelligence estimate in NMD.

The two Presidents have talked about this considerably before; they spent a great deal of time on it during their Moscow summit. President Clinton made clear, as he has publicly, that he has not made a decision, but he intends to make a decision during the course of this summer. He mentioned that he will be consulting with Secretary Cohen, who is reviewing, among other things, the most recent test and that that will be one factor -- though, not the deciding factor by any means.

President Putin did say basically -- and this is a paraphrase, not a quotation -- that the Russian reasons for concern about NMD and opposition to the specifics of the American program are well-known, but that Russia and the United States can still find a great deal to do together to deal with the overall problem, which Russia recognizes. And Russia's recognition of the overall problem was contained, of course, in the Moscow document. And you'll see in the follow-up document that we release tonight some additional steps that we're taking.

Q Can you -- steps are that are actually --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. They're in a couple of areas. As you know, there was an early warning center established in the Moscow document. We've now set a timetable for getting that up and running. We've also given some additional instructions to experts on some activities that will take place, particularly with regard to pre-launch notification. We're going to, under the general rubric of the Nonproliferation Treaty, we're going to work together to find some ways of ensuring that that comes into force.

On CTBT, in addition to reaffirming our desire -- that is, the United States' desire -- to see that come into force, which, of course, can happen only when it's ratified, we've also instructed experts to zero in on some confidence and transparency measures which, if we can achieve those measures, will help in CTBT.

Then, the Russians have put forward a proposal for something that they call a global monitoring system, sometimes translated to global control system. We think that there are some elements of that which can be incorporated, both with the existing missile technology control regime and also a code of conduct for nations to follow that would provide incentives to countries not to proliferate dangerous technology. It's all pretty well spelled out in the document.

Q On North Korea, did the President have a specific discussion of North Koran leader Kim Chong-Il's proposal of stopping ballistic missile research in exchange for access to other nations' rockets. And did you get any more of a sense of whether you now view that offer as any more sincere or likely to actually be carried out?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We got a somewhat clearer idea of what President Putin has in mind in this regard, although we're going to have some follow-up discussions tomorrow among others besides the two Presidents. While they're involved in G-8 activities tomorrow, we're going to have some additional meetings, and I think that will give us a chance to get a lot more precision, not only on what the Russians think the Pyongyang leadership has in mind, but also what Russia has in mind.

Our position on that is we've already referred to in public, just based on the press accounts, and that is if what's envisioned here would be for North Korea to give up, to foreswear its ballistic missile program in exchange for some kind of international assistance in putting into orbit satellites and that kind of thing, and if it was clearly understood that the launch capability was going to be outside the territory of North Korea and thoroughly subject to international technology controls, that not only would be something that we would be prepared to pursue, but it's actually something we have pursued in the past. And, by the way, it might have some resonance here in the G-8; there might be a role for the G-8 in that, as well.

Q Does that description comport with what is the Russians' understanding of it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So far. And we are going to have follow up discussions over the next day or so.

Q I'm sorry, I didn't get the follow-up there. Did Putin believe also that what Kim Chong-Il was talking about was assistance for rocket development outside of North Korea or not? SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We need to have further discussions with our Russian colleagues in order to get a bit more about what actually transpired between President Putin and Kim Chong-Il in Pyongyang on that. That is a very germane and immediate question.

I think you can tell from the list of topics that I gave you -- and also there was really quite a bit of time spent on the Middle East and on some more general impressions of North Korea -- we sort of laid the basis for good follow-up discussions both at a political level and a technical level in the days to come.

Q You mentioned earlier that North Korea is on the cutting edge of this threat that the national missile defense system -- dealing with. Obviously, Putin, I would think, would say, listen, if the North Koreans are willing to do this, there is even less need for you to have this system. Was that argument made by Putin?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not quite, John. There are couple of issues. First of all, as I tried to make -- I'm trying to be clear about what's not clear. It's not entirely clear what is in Kim Chong-il's mind with regard to this possible trade-off. I mean, a very dangerous possibility -- which I'm not attributing, by the way, to the Russians -- but a very dangerous idea would be that the international community would provide actual launch capability to North Korea -- that is to say, rockets -- rockets to be launched from North Korean territory. The North Koreans might say, well, this is for peaceful purposes, it's to launch satellites -- but, of course, it was supposedly a satellite launch that really got this ball rolling, or at least rolling a lot faster in August of 1998.

So we need to have a much better idea of what the North Koreans have in mind. We have a somewhat better idea of what the Russians have in mind. But in any event, the underlying problem here is that the North Koreans had already progressed quite far, as the August '98 missile shot demonstrated. And that means that they could, in relatively short order, if they were to decide to suspend the moratorium on testing and rush ahead with a testing program, they could have a missile that could threaten Japan, for starters -- well, I guess we should say South Korea for starters, Japan and not too much farther in the future, the United States.

And part of the dilemma of the offense/defense relationship is that it takes a lot longer as we've been reminded recently to demonstrate a highly accurate defensive system than it does to develop a fairly crude, not very accurate offensive system.

So, in other words, what I'm saying is, President Putin did not say that what he had heard in Pyongyang was some kind of a slam-dunk rebuttal to the premise of NMD. He's opposed to NMD, and he's hoping that we can, whatever we do, we'll do cooperatively. But he didn't go as far as your question suggested.

Q Was Putin enthusiastic about what North Korea is proposing?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He clearly thought it was something to be studied and discussed with us and with others, and I suspect he'll be reporting on it to the other G-8 leaders. I would say he was cautiously interested in it.

Q What do you think the North Koreans hope to accomplish by having these out-of-country launches, peaceful launches?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it's not clear that that's what the North Koreans have in mind, at least on the basis of what we've heard so far. I think I've taken it about as far as I can.

Q On the Balkans, did Mr. Putin --


Q Balkans?


Q Did Mr. Putin indicate any change, modification, clarification of his position regarding Mr. Milosevic?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to characterize the Russian position, except to say that the fairly intense part of the conversation on the Balkans gave each president a chance to concentrate on the key points. For us, the key point is that Slobodan Milosevic has already unleashed four wars; he's already once presided over the massive dismemberment of a country called Yugoslavia, and come very close to doing so again in Kosovo, and let's not do it again. And that ought to be the message to him, notably including from Russia.

Q Does the U.S. support the -- warning to Russia about Milosevic, that they better back off supporting --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The conversation between President Clinton and President Putin wasn't about exchanging warnings, it was about exchanging analysis and views and making sure that we understand each other's position and saying if we can broaden a little bit the common ground.

Q Yes, but does the U.S. support the move afoot among European countries to pressure Putin against supporting Milosevic, or even giving any --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I've got to tell you, I mean, I was in Miyozaki for the G-8 Foreign Ministers' meeting last week, and it is not correct to say that the consensus among other foreign ministers there was to pressure Russia. Russia is part of this organization, it's part of the G-8. We're working on this problem together.

I assume many of you have seen the language that was included in the ministerial communique coming out of the G-8 last week. That was language that Russia supported. So we're doing this with Russia; not by any means pressuring Russia.

Q Roughly, how much of the hour and 15 minutes was devoted to North Korea and NMD? And secondly, am I correct in understanding you that President Putin did not feel it necessary to rehearse his arguments in opposition to NMD? He just said these are well-known and sort of brushed over it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The latter point's easy. That's basically correct. He sort of did his opposition to NMD by reference. They were together six weeks ago, something like that, and President Clinton remembers vividly what President Putin had to say and vice-versa.

As for how much time -- it would be a wild guess. It was certainly 10 minutes, 10 or 15 minutes, something like that. Is that what you asked -- you lumped two subjects together, North Korea and NMD/missile proliferation, the whole cluster of issues. I would say, particularly if you add that other part, it probably was 15 minutes in all, because there was discussion of START III as well.

Q Do you know what President Putin have in mind when he said Russia was willing to be helpful in the aftermath of Camp David?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I do, but I don't want to get into it. I mean, none of it would surprise you very much. Russia has both interests and influence in the area, and it's a cosponsor of the peace process. But how exactly it might be helpful will depend on the outcome in Camp David, which not even this guy can tell you, whatever his name is.

Q And the question -- in the discussion about Iran and Russia and proliferation, was there anything said in concrete terms in that discussion which would lead the United States to be less concerned about the issue?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. No. We're very concerned about the issue, and President Putin, by the way, has said publicly in at least two interview that I read that he recognizes that there is a real problem here. In fact, the Russian recognition that there is a real problem is contained in the Moscow principles document.

Now, that said, it is useful to get a better insight into the thinking in Pyongyang and we certainly are interested in exploring not only Russia's understanding, but the North Koreans' understanding of what might be possible by way of an arrangement whereby North Korea would truly give up and unplug -- and "unplug" is key -- its ballistic missile program. But there are many more questions than there are answers.

I would say we established a good basis for beginning to answer those questions from the Russian standpoint, but we're going to have -- Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation Bob Einhorn is going to be having follow-up discussions directly with the North Koreans, picking up on the ones that he had in Kuala Lumpur a week or so ago. So we'll have a chance to talk to the North Koreans directly about this, as well.

Q A question for colleague 1-A -- was there any discussion of the U.S. stance towards a possible rescheduling of Russia's Soviet-era debt, and what was the President's position on that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, there really wasn't, other than the general notion that I think has been expressed several times -- things have to proceed in a certain order, which is, first, the implementation of a sound, structural economic plan with an IMF program. And then that is what triggers the ability for there to be Paris club consideration for a rescheduling.

And then I think as was said in Cologne last year, to the degree that such reforms can be shown on a consistent, sustained period, that would open the door for more comprehensive long-term look at their debt situation. But I think that, again, with the meeting they had fairly recently, and with Secretary Summers' discussions with the Finance Minister so recently, I think both positions were known. I do expect the discussion to come up tomorrow at the G-8.

Thank you.

8:55 P.M. (L)

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