THE WHITE HOUSE
the Press Secretary
INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT
IN LIVE NATIONAL
WITH EKHO MOSKVIY
Ekho Moskviy Studios
7:50 P.M. (L)
Q Good evening. Today we have a
guest, the President of the United States of America. Good evening, Mr.
THE PRESIDENT: Good evening.
Q Right off the bat,
I'd like to say that today we've already had a press conference, which our
listeners could see you, and so for that reason, my questions will not be
political in nature. Mostly listeners will be asking their questions.
My first question is as follows, Mr. President. The latest public
opinion poll in Russia by the Institute of -- had found that 11 percent of
Russians see an enemy in the United States. Another 11 percent of Russians do
not know how to answer this question. And 78 percent of Russians believe that
Russia is more of a friend, rather than an enemy. I would ask you, since just
the ordinary people say this, as to the other 22 percent who feel that Russia
is either an enemy or do not know how to answer the question, what would you be
able to say directly to those people who are now listening to you and watching
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first I would say the 78 percent are right.
And I would say that the United States has tried to be a friend to Russia, and
to democracy, prosperity, and strength in Russia.
I have worked hard to
help support Russian democracy, Russian economic reform, and a large role for
Russia in the world. I supported Russia coming into the G-8, to the Asian
Pacific economic leaders group; having a special partnership with NATO; working
on the ground, our troops, Russian troops side by side in the Balkans. And I
intend to support Russia's effort to get a program going with the International
Monetary Fund, with the World Bank. I believe the world needs a strong and
prosperous and democratic Russia that respects the rule of law and the
differences among its people. And that's what I've worked for.
have tried to be a good friend. And I think America wants friendly relations.
The American people basically like the Russian people, and they feel better
when they think we have good relations and that we have a good future together.
Q By the way, Mr. President, you are mistaken, because right in front
of me is a Gallup Poll from the United States, March of the year 2000, and the
"positive" attitude towards Russia, or "mostly positive," is only 40 percent of
the American population; and "mostly negative" or "very negative" is 59 percent
answers of the Americans who were polled. How could you explain to the Russians
now why Americans, a significant part of the citizens, are negative towards
Russia? Is it fear? Is it unhappiness? Are they angry, or what?
PRESIDENT: I think it overwhelmingly is the opinion of the American people --
and most people in the West about the situation in Chechnya and the highly
publicized other differences we have. But I think if you ask the American
people another question -- would you like to see a good American relationship
with a strong, prosperous, democratic Russia -- they would say yes. And if you
talk to the American people that have actually known Russians and you ask them,
do you like the Russian people, overwhelmingly, they would say yes.
am finished with asking my questions, Mr. President. Now let's go to the
questions that ordinary people have asked. Some questions came over the
Internet -- from St. Petersburg, from Moscow -- and they basically all ask the
same question: Why don't you want, together with Mr. Putin, together with
Russia, to create a joint system of national antiballistic missile system? Why
have not you accepted this proposal of -- these questions came before the press
conference, but it does increase the fear among those people, doesn't it?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me explain the issue here. And I don't want to
take too long on any questions, because we want to answer as many as possible,
but this is very important.
First of all, I have no objection to
working with Russia on a joint missile defense that would intercept a missile
directed at Russia or the United States from a hostile power in the Middle East
or anywhere else, in the so-called boost phase. I have no objection to doing
that. I think we should work together on it. The problem is, we think it will
take 10 years or more to develop; the technology is not yet available.
Now, by contrast, we expect to face this threat in the United States
within five years, and we think the other technology for the limited national
missile defense will be available within that time. So that's why I haven't
agreed to scrap what seems to be a clear way of defending our country for an
unclear way. But I think it's important that the Russian people and the
American people understand the exact nature of the dispute here.
it frightens Russians, obviously.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I understand. But
I think they won't be frightened if they understand the exact nature of the
difference, even if we can't resolve the difference.
Missile Treaty of 1972 enshrined a theory of our security -- that is, Russian
security and American security -- based on strategic stability and mutual
deterrence. That is, we would never have so many defensive weapons and we
wouldn't have national missile defenses that could interfere with our offensive
weapons, so that neither of us would ever launch nuclear missiles at each other
because of that. Okay.
Now, we recognized that things might change and
threats might come from other places, even way back then. So there was a
possibility of amending the missile defense treaty. Now, we recognize -- just
today, President Putin and I signed a statement of principles that said, okay,
there is a new threat, the treaty may be able to be amended, but we disagree
right now on how to meet the threat. That's what we said.
issue is this: If the U.S. has a missile defense that can stop a couple of
missiles from North Korea, does it have the potential to upset what has kept us
safe all these years, which is mutual deterrence and stability. We say, no,
they say -- the Russians say it might. So we're trying to work through that.
But the point is, neither side believes the other side is trying to
hurt them directly. There is an honest difference of opinion here. And we
closed some of the gaps in our two positions, and we promise to keep working on
Believe me, I did not want to scrap the ABM Treaty or the theory of
mutual deterrence or strategic stability. Both President Putin and I want to
reduce the number of offensive missiles, but keep the theory that has kept us
safe all these years.
Q I think it's time to listen to some phone
calls. I would like to say to Mr. President that now the Ekho program also is
carrying out electronic voting, and at the end of our discussion we'd like to
comment you on what we get. The question that people are voting on is as
follows: Will the situation under President Putin improve towards the United
States, or will it get worse, or you don't know? So by the end of the program
here we'll get some results.
This is the first call. Do you think
financial crisis is possible in the United States?
THE PRESIDENT: Well,
first of all, the Russian condition does concern me. I think when the Russian
economy is healthier, the American economy will be healthier. And I intend to
support the economic reform program that the President and the Prime Minister
I think a financial crisis is unlikely in the United
States, as long as we have a good economic program, as long as we keep our
budget in surplus, as long as we're continuing to open our markets and compete
with other countries, and as long as we're investing in our people. If we have
good policies and we work hard, I think a big financial crisis is unlikely.
Q Have you ever seen the puppets program, have you seen your own
puppet? And how do you relate to the fact that there is a program such as this
that lampoons presidents?
THE PRESIDENT: I haven't seen it. Perhaps I
can get it on tape and watch it; I would like to see it. But it doesn't bother
me. I have been lampooned in America a lot. There is almost nothing anybody can
say to make fun of me that hasn't been said already. And as long as it's said
in good spirit and good humor, I don't mind. I think we need people to make fun
of us so we don't take ourselves too seriously. And if it's not said in good
spirits, then you just have to ignore it and go to work every day.
Okay, in that case, I have a question, Mr. President. It seems to me, despite
the First Amendment of the Constitution, any President of the United States, or
Argentina, or Russia, any other country, has a desire to kind of squash the
press, which is not -- that follows you all the time, looks for dirty stories,
is always trying to hound you. Have you ever had a desire to shake a journalist
real strong? And if you've had such feelings, how did you manage to control
them? This is the main question. Of course, it refers to just about any -- it
could be asked for any President, any leader.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, of
course, from time to time you read something that you believe is either untrue
or unfair -- or maybe you're afraid it is true, and you just wish it weren't
printed. And you can get angry. But I think the important thing -- in our
country, for example, if you're a public figure, it's almost impossible to even
win a lawsuit against somebody who's deliberately lying about you, because we
have bent over backwards in favor of the freedom of the press.
do we do that? Because we think that democracy is more stable and people are
more free, when the press is free. And we trust the people to understand if the
press is either false or unfair. In other words -- particularly in this
electronic age, when if someone says something about me that's not true, I can
go on a program like this, and I can say, here's what they say; here's the
truth. I can go on television. I can give a speech.
So what we believe
is that, even though if you have a really free press that much freedom can
carry with it irresponsibility, you still have more stability in society by
letting people be free, by letting the debates unfold, and by trusting that the
citizens, the voters, in the end will get it right.
And we've had this
First Amendment for over 200 years now. And the press has become more and more
and more free. The meaning of it has been broadened. And our country has gotten
stronger and stronger. It can become personally painful if someone says
something that maybe they shouldn't say, but the society is stronger with a
free press. And if you trust the people, then you must believe that if
something is said you don't agree with, you go out and disagree. You tell the
people your side, and you trust them to make the right decision. That's what I
believe gives you the strongest society.
Q Have you spoken to President
Putin about freedom of the press in Russia?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, we had
a discussion about it, and I said in my press conference today -- I quoted his
statement. President Putin said that without civil society and free press, the
Russian democracy couldn't go on. And I think that's a wise statement.
I also believe, though, that this is something that has to be debated
and fought for and struggled for. For example, in the beginning of our
democracy, around 1800, we had the same Constitution we have today. But there
were -- people could bring lawsuits against people who printed things in the
newspapers, and often win in ways that intimidated them. So we had to keep
changing the law to try to preserve the right for totally innocent private
citizens to bring suit against people who might use the press to hurt them
deliberately and to lie about them deliberately, while still allowing a very
broad range for political debate and dispute and dissent.
So we've been
working on this a long time. But the trend has always been for more freedom of
the press -- particularly where public issues and public officials are
concerned. And I think it's fair to say that no one in modern history in our
country has had either more negative press or more painful press than I have,
but I still think, on balance, as long as you get to answer, the people have a
chance to get it right. And you get more stability, because an open press also
ensures that all these issues are fully debated and that all sides are fully
So I believe it's an instrument of stability. And if you think
it's not free enough here, then what I would urge you to do is to look at the
example of America. Read the 200-year history of our country and just work on
the issues as they come up. Just keep pushing for more -- a broader and broader
and broader interpretation of freedom of the press. But as I said, we've been
working on it a long time. But it's served us well.
Q But you don't
necessarily have to expel journalists. To tell you the truth, I have read the
memoirs of your former press secretary, Mr. Stephanopoulos. You get upset, do
nothing, answer, or just let it go past you. Or you could ask the tax police,
for example, to check on the business of CNN, or you could --
PRESIDENT: Yes, but I never did that. I would never do that. And, first of all,
it's now clearly illegal for a President to do that. It's not lawful. If you're
mad at somebody, I think the thing to do is to express your anger, blow off
steam, and go on about your business. Or even better, control your anger and
think of a way to make sure the public has the impression you believe is the
Q I'm repeating the telephone numbers for Moscow, and for
callers for other cities. All calls are for President Clinton. You're live on
the air, hello? What is your question: I'd like to ask what kind of influence
does the President have on the International Monetary Fund, and why is it not
giving us credits? It seems that we have an economic rise in our economy, and
we're not getting any credits from the International Monetary Fund. I'd like to
get an answer to this question. Why?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all,
the President can have some influence over the International Monetary Fund, but
he doesn't run it. All the various contributors to the fund have some
influence. I have focused a lot on trying to reform the IMF, to make sure that
its policies and practices meet the real needs of countries for the 21st
Secondly, I do support Russia getting a program with the IMF
and getting financial help from the IMF -- your new President, Mr. Putin, and
your new Prime Minister, have come up with a very good plan, and when they go
before the IMF and ask for financial support, the United States will support
them. They're putting the plan together now, they're going to make the
presentation; I expect to support it.
Q Mr. President, I'd like to
check to see how ready you are to quick questions, quick answers we got over
the Internet from Russia, all of Russia. These are private questions. You're a
sports person, you know sports -- are you ready to answer them?
PRESIDENT: I'll do my best.
Q Mr. Clinton, what kind of slogan would
you put on the wall of the Oval Room for the next President?
PRESIDENT: What should the next President's slogan be? Making the most of our
prosperity, meeting the big challenges of the 21st century.
Q How long
has it been since you've held money in your hands, cash?
About an hour.
Q What did you buy?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I didn't
buy anything, but I got my -- I'm going to dinner after I leave you, and so I
brought my money with me. But I try to go out and shop every -- buy something
every few months, anyway, just so I keep in touch with people. And I talk to
people in book stores, or I go buy something for my wife or my daughter, just
to see what things cost and see what people are doing. I think it's important
that Presidents not get too isolated.
Q A favorite question that we
always ask on our radio station programs. Mr. President, do you remember how
you made your first dollar, earned your first dollar, and how did you spend it?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I remember how I made it; I don't remember how I
spent it. The first thing I did to earn money was cutting lawns and cutting
hedges, and taking care of the yards of the people who lived in my
neighborhood. And I was probably about nine or 10 years old when I did that.
In my lifetime, I probably had -- earned money doing 20 or 25 different
things. I've built houses, I've cleared land, I've worked in a grocery store. I
had a news comic book business. Obviously, I was a musician. I made money as a
musician. I've been a teacher. I've done a lot of different things in my life.
Q This is a question -- Mr. President, do you know how to drive a car,
an airplane, a submarine, tank? Maybe President Putin has inspired this
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, to the car, although I haven't driven one
in a while. And, no, to the airplane. I have taken off and landed a small plane
-- 25 years ago my wife gave me airplane lessons -- but I never pursued it, I
never got my pilot's license. And I have never -- the submarine -- I've ridden
in a tank, but I've never driven a tank or guided a submarine.
back to the telephone questions, here's another question from the Internet.
What do you value in this life most of all?
THE PRESIDENT: My family,
in this life.
Q There will be other questions about your wife and your
daughter. And now back to the telephones. Your question, please? Hello? You're
live on the air. The question is as follows: In 1995, Mr. President spoke at a
meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And he very highly praised the role of
the United States in the ideological efforts to make the Soviet Union fall
apart. And the question was said about disassembling Russia, the falling apart
of the military complex, and creating regimes in these republics, which we
need, as he said. And so the question: How can you comment on that statement
that you made at that time?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I wish I
had exactly the words before me. But if I said that I thought the United States
and its allies in the Cold War, by staying strong, hastened the end of
communism and the end of the Soviet Union, and the liberation of all these
various states, and the rise of democracy -- I believed that then; I still
But that does not mean that I think Russia should be
weak. I want Russia to be strong. I have worked for eight years for a strong
Russia. I want Russia to be strong and prosperous. But I also want it to be
democratic; to respect the differences of its people, religious, ethnic and
otherwise; and to be governed by the rule of law.
But I do not want a
weak Russia. I want Russia to be strong. And I also want Russia, as I said just
a couple of days ago in Germany, to have the ability to be fully part of all
major international institutions, and have its full say there.
Q And in
this connection, there is a question. Mr. President, would you frankly say for
the United States today, is Russia a country of the Third World, a developing
THE PRESIDENT: No. No. Russia was badly hurt by the recent
economic crisis, and by some problems in the transition from a
command-and-control, communist economy to a market economy. You know the
problems as well as I do. But it is a country with a vast and impressive array
of science and technology achievements, incredibly well-educated people, and
the capacity, I believe, to see a big growth in per capita income very quickly.
So it's not fair to say that Russia is a developing or Third World
country. It is fair to say, I think, that the incomes of the Russian people are
far below where they should be, and far below where they will be if the new
government implements serious economic reforms and investors from around the
world have confidence that their money will be treated in an appropriate way. I
think you will see a large growth in jobs and incomes here, because your people
are immensely talented. I think you've got good years ahead of you.
Since we don't have much time left, I would like to once again ask a
quick-style question, and expect that you could answer quickly. These, like I
said, are private questions, private questions from our listeners. Here's a
question from one of our listeners, maybe you remember, he set up an interview
with you --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, he did.
Q Some say the
political career of Hillary Clinton will be so successful that she will become
the President of the United States of America. Who knows? Are you ready to
return to the White House as a husband of the President, being sort of the
First Mister? How do you look at it? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well,
let me say, first of all, I'm very proud of my wife for running for the Senate.
She's running hard, and I think she'll win. And she's promised to serve her
full term. Now, when she finishes that service, if she wants to continue in
public life, I'll support her any way I can.
But I expect that the Vice
President, Al Gore, will be elected President. And I expect he'll run for
reelection. And after that, who knows what will happen? But I'll say that I'm
very proud of my wife, and I'm going to support her political career any way I
can. And I'm going to try to be a good citizen in any way that I can, both of
my country and of the world, when I leave office.
Q Mr. President, are
you happy with your daughter, how she's studying, how she relates to her
relatives, to her parents.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think when you become
the parent of a young man or a young woman, you're always happy when they still
want to be around you and spend some time with you. So I'm very happy with her.
I'm very proud of her and I love her very much.
Q A Moscow student asks
you to convey his greetings to her, and says that the growing generation will
correct your mistakes -- he and she will improve the mistakes of their parents.
THE PRESIDENT: I certainly hope so. I certainly hope so. That's what's
supposed to happen in life.
Q And the last question -- I'm asking this
one. It's a poll and I would like for you to comment on the results. Just
before your visit, there were questions raised about you -- not just about
America, but you, yourself. What do you think about Russia? That was a question
to the Russians. I think the public have come up with very interesting results.
One-third, exactly, feels that you, personally -- you, not America, but you,
personally -- feel that you're a positively disposed towards America.
One-third, exactly thinks that you are ill-disposed. And one-third thinks that
they cannot answer this question. I would like Mr. President, by the end of our
discussion agree to say something to the people who have doubts in you.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that I made it clear that I'm positively
disposed toward Russia, but I understand why a third would question that. That
is -- why would you question that? Well, because we had differences between the
United States and Russia over Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya.
Q By the way,
there were many questions on Kosovo --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, yes.
Q -- do you agree with the fact that there was a mistake made.
THE PRESIDENT: So we had differences. But I would like to ask you to
consider on the other side -- I led the way in supporting Russia's entry into
the G-8 organization, the prestigious international organization; into the
Asian Pacific leaders organization; into the special partnership agreement with
NATO. I have supported every effort to help Russia economically. I have been
here five times. No American President has ever been here five times to Moscow.
I wouldn't be surprised if no American President ever comes here five times
I first came to this city in 1969 when I was 23 years old. And I
have been favorably disposed toward Russia and the Russian people ever since --
notwithstanding our disagreements, even during the Cold War.
And one of
the things that I have always tried to do is to help support a free,
prosperous, strong Russia, that is fully integrated into the international
institutions and the Western institutions, so that tomorrow and in all of the
tomorrows to come, you will be a great nation. But greatness will be defined
not by the dominance of your neighbors, but by the dominance of the achievement
of your people and the power of your partnerships with other countries. That's
what I want, and I've worked very hard for it.
But I am extremely
favorably disposed toward the people of Russia. And I am extremely optimistic
about the future partnerships between the United States and Russia.
thank you, Mr. President, for coming here. Of course, many questions have been
left unasked. And I hope that after you return, after your term of office has
ended, return back to Russia, perhaps even before that, you will be able to
come back to the studio again, because I have many other questions. If you
would allow, I would give all these questions to your staff and maybe some of
them would interest you.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, do.
Q The last
one. There were 5,000 of them that came in. You see the results. Forty-eight
percent of the viewers believe that the relations between the United States and
Russia will improve under Putin. Forty-two percent believe that they will get
worse. And the rest don't know. What do you think about this last poll that we
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that it reflects, first of all,
the fact that he's just in office, so people can't know for sure. Secondly,
you've got almost 49 percent saying they will, which shows that people
appreciate the fact that he's a strong and able man who has been gracious to me
in this first meeting of ours in Russia. And then the 42 percent, I think, are
focused on the differences we've had, and the problems that have been
The truth is, you can't know for sure. But I think that
based on the meeting I had, we've got a better than even chance that our
relationship will improve.
The relationship between United States and
Russia is profoundly important. It will tend always to be characterized by the
disagreements, because they will always get more press coverage, because they
will always be more current. But if there is a strong underlying commitment to
democracy, to freedom, to mutual prosperity, mutual respect, I think that over
time they will get better even if there are disagreements. That's what I
believe, and that's what I've worked for.
Q Thank you very much, Mr.
President. We will be waiting for your return, so that you could answer --
THE PRESIDENT: I'd like to come back.
Q -- by being in the
studio some of the other questions, maybe as a businessman or a lawyer. Thank
you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: I'd love to come back, because I saw on
your wall that the only way I get to sign my picture is if I come twice, you
see. So I'd like to come back. And I want to thank all the people who called or
who e-mailed in their questions. And I hope you will give me all the questions,
and maybe I can write you something about them, too.
Q As a journalist,
I am going to try and hold you to that.
Thanks to all who called and
weren't able to get on the air. And we may be able to talk to Mr. Clinton when
he comes back. You're viewing a program with the President of the United
States, William Jefferson Clinton. Thank you very much.
END 8:30 P.M.