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U.S./Russia Agreement on NATO Expansion

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The Briefing Room

US/Russia Agreement on
NATO Expansion

Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 14, 1997


The Rose Garden

2:29 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Today in Moscow we have taken an historic step closer to a peaceful, undivided, democratic Europe for the first time in history. The agreement that NATO, Secretary General Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Primakov have reached, and which we expect to be approved by NATO's governing council this week, forms a practical partnership between NATO and Russia that will make America, Europe and Russia stronger and more secure.

The agreement builds on the understandings that I reached with President Yeltsin in Helsinki. It helps to pave the way for NATO as it enlarges to take in new members to build a new relationship with Russia that benefits all of us.

In this century, Europe has suffered through two cold wars -- through two world wars and a cold war. And America has also paid a heavy price. Three years ago at the NATO Summit in Brussels, I laid out a vision for a new, different Europe in the 21st century -- an undivided continent where our values of democracy and human rights, free markets and peace know no boundaries; where nations know that their borders are secure and their independence respected; where nations defined their greatness by the promise of their people, not their power to dominate or destabilize.

For 50 years, NATO has been at the core of Europe and America's security. From the start of my first administration, the United States has worked to adapt NATO to new missions in a new century, to open its doors to Europe's new democracies, to strengthen its ties to non-members through the Partnership for Peace, and to forge a strong, productive relationship between NATO and a free, democratic Russia.

These are goals Republicans and Democrats alike share, building on the legacy of bipartisan leadership in Europe, begun after the war between President Truman, Secretary of State Marshall, and Senator Arthur Vandenberg. Today's agreement sets out a sustained cooperative relationship between NATO and Russia. NATO and Russia will consult and coordinate regularly. Where they all agree, they will act jointly as they are doing today in Bosnia. Russia will work closely with NATO, but not within NATO, giving Russia a voice in, but not a veto over NATO's business.

I congratulate NATO Secretary General Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Primakov. I look forward to personally thanking Secretary General Solana for his remarkable work when he visits here next week.

This agreement opens a way for a truly historic signing in Paris next month -- or excuse me, it will be later this month now. Let me say that NATO's relationship with Russia is a part of a larger process, to adapt NATO to new circumstances and new challenges in the

21st century. Just eight weeks from now in Madrid, NATO will invite the first new members to join our Alliance. Its doors will remain open to all those ready to shoulder the burdens of membership. The first new members will not be the last.

NATO, working with Russia and other friends of freedom, will see that we work to prevent a return to national rivalries, to defeat new threats to peace and prosperity, like the ethnic rivalries that have torn Bosnia asunder -- terrorism and weapons proliferation.

This March in Helsinki, President Yeltsin and I agreed that despite our differences over NATO enlargement, the relationship between the United States and Russia and the benefits to all of cooperation between NATO and Russia were too important to be jeopardized. And we set out the principles for how NATO and Russia could cooperate. Those form the basis for today's agreement, an agreement that proves that the relationship between NATO and Russia is not a zero-sum game, and that the 21st century does not have to be trapped in the same assessments of advantage and loss that brought death and destruction and heartbreak to so many for so long in the 20th century.

It is possible to enlarge NATO, to maintain its effectiveness as the most successful defense alliance in history, to strengthen our partnership with Russia, and to do all this in a way that advances our common objectives of freedom and human rights and peace and prosperity. We can build a better Europe without lines or gray zones, but with real security, real peace, and real hope for all its citizens. A more secure, peaceful, and hopeful Europe clearly means a better world for Americans in the 21st century.

Thank you.

Q Mr. President, what do you think finally brought the Russians around, if there was one deciding factor? And how much of a problem is it going to be, now that you've got the Russians sort of on board, to convince Congress that NATO should, in fact, be expanded?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me answer the -- the first question, I think what brought the Russians to this agreement was a sustained effort at dialogue between Russia and NATO and between Russia and the United States and other friends of democratic and between Russia and the United States and other friends of democratic Russia, making it clear that NATO has a new mission, that there was no attempt to be more threatening to Russia, but instead to build a common partnership for democratic values and democratic interests.

Yesterday, President Havel, of the Czech Republic, had a very compelling article in one of our major newspapers, laying out that case. We are not going to define NATO in the 21st century in the same way we did in the 20th century. And we are trying to change the realities that caused so much grief in the last century. I think he understood that -- that, in other words, that a democratic, free, non-aggressive -- that is, in a destructive sense -- non-aggressive Russia -- is not threatened by an expanded NATO, particularly now that there's going to be a partnership to work in areas which are in our common interests to work. So that's the first thing.

The second thing I would say is, in terms of the Congress, now that the partnership has been solidified between NATO and Russia, which I think is an important thing on its own merits, it would seem to me to be a great mistake to deny countries that are clearly able and willing and anxious to take on the responsibilities of NATO membership the opportunity to do that. The understandings that we have reached among ourselves about the process of expansion mean that the members themselves are ready to expand. And I believe

that in the end the Congress will support that, particularly since all of our NATO allies will be voting on to whom new membership will be offered.

Q How tough a sell does President Yeltsin have at home with this?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I would hope that the clarifications that were hammered out, first at Helsinki, but then the excellent work that Secretary General Solana did, will help President Yeltsin to demonstrate that he has secured an agreement which shows that, while they don't have a veto over NATO actions, that NATO has no plans, no intentions, and has made clear that its mission is not to threaten, confine, or in any way undermine Russia; that we're looking for a partnership here between a democratic Russia and the democracies that are in NATO; and that this, in fact, will strengthen Russia's security and reduce the sense of anxiety that it might have otherwise felt, I believe. And I believe he'll be in a position to argue that to the Russia people now in a forceful way.

But keep in mind, all of us are trying to change the --not only the facts on the ground, if you will, but the whole pattern of thought which has dominated the international politics of Europe for 50 years. And even though the Cold War is over, a lot of people want to go back to the kind of -- kind of an analysis that was more typical even before World War II, in the late 19th and early 20th century.

And we're trying to change all that. We're trying to prove that democracies can reach across territorial lines to form partnerships that commit themselves not only to preserve freedom within each other's borders and the integrity of those borders, but to face these new transnational threats like terrorism, ethnic convulsions and weapons proliferation.

Q Mr. President, President Yeltsin said that you have made a precise commitment in this document to guarantee that there will be no military installations in the new member states. Have you given those guarantees?

THE PRESIDENT: I would urge you, first of all, to look at the language that Secretary General Solana has agreed to and that our representatives have provisionally agreed to just in the last couple of hours. What the language does is to make it clear that there are no plans and there are no reasons to, in effect, activate old Warsaw Pact military installations for what you might call traditional NATO aggressive forward posturing, but that we will have to use -- there is an explicit understanding in the agreement that we will have to use some infrastructure for the agreed upon operations that are an integral part of being a NATO member.

So all we're doing in the understanding is to recognize, yes, there will be some use of military infrastructure so that the requirements of membership can be met by any new members, but, no, we are not moving the dividing line of Europe from its old dividing line between NATO and the Warsaw Pact further east. So I think we got just exactly the right kind of understanding. And, again, I think Secretary General Solana did it right.

Thank you.

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