THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release
||June 20, 1999
TAPED INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT
BY RUSSIAN TV
5:16 P.M. (L)
Q Mr. President, hello, and let me express my gratitude for your
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. I'm glad to do it.
Q And let me start with this question. For the past week and a
half, relations between Russia and the West have been complicated by the
unexpected deployment of the Russian peacekeepers to Pristina. What was at
the heart of the disagreement between Moscow and the West regarding Russia's
participation in KFOR? How did you overcome this disagreement?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, let me say that this entire
difficulty in Kosovo has been a great test for the relationship between the
United States and Russia, but it is a test, I believe, that both countries
have passed -- on your part, thanks to the leadership of President Yeltsin and
the work that our foreign ministers and defense ministers have done, the work
that Prime Minister Stepashin has done.
I don't know that there ever was much disagreement about Russian
participation. I said from the beginning that I strongly felt in order for
the peacekeeping force to have credibility and full impact, Russia would have
to be a very important part of it. And the agreement we have reached
regarding Russian involvement in terms of leadership over the airport and
being involved here in three different sectors I think will enable all of us
to achieve our objectives: to bring the Kosovars home in peace and security,
and to make sure that the Serb minority as well as the Kosovo Albanian
majority are both treated freely and fairly.
Q Today, Mr. President, you met with Russian President
Yeltsin. What questions did you discuss, and what did you manage
to agree on?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, we discussed Kosovo. We
talked about what a difficult challenge it had been to our
relationship, and we both committed to implement our agreement in
good faith in a way that will, I think, reflect credit on the
leadership and greatness of Russia and the Russian people, and on
those of us who are working with Russia in Kosovo.
Secondly, we discussed the importance of continuing our
efforts to reduce the nuclear threat and the threat of
proliferation of missile technology. And we agreed to work
together on that. Among other things, President Yeltsin said
that he hoped that START II would be ratified by the Duma, and
that we would begin soon, parallel discussions on START III to
take our nuclear arsenals down even more and on the ABM Treaty.
Then, the third thing we discussed was the need to do more
to try to support economic development in Russia, to get Russia
qualified in the IMF program -- and, of course, that requires
some action in the Duma. And I expressed my strong support for
IMF assistance to Russia, as well as for help on the Soviet-era
debt problem and some other things that can be done, I believe,
to boost Russian economic prospects and help the lives of
ordinary citizens in Russia, which all of us think is very, very
Q Mr. President, let me ask you this. Both in Russia and
in the West, the question of Yeltsin's health, President
Yeltsin's health constantly comes up. How did you find Mr.
THE PRESIDENT: Today he was strong, clear alert, vigorous.
He stated Russia's case very forcefully on every issue, and we
did what we have done in all of our meetings -- we've now had 17
meetings in the last six and a half years. We had an agenda, we
reached agreements, and we committed to go forward. So I would
say today, he did very, very well.
He has acknowledged from time to time that he's had some
health problems, but in all of my conversations with him about
Kosovo and especially today, I found him to be alert and very
much on top of his responsibilities.
Q Mr. President, let me ask you about this. NATO's
operation in the Balkans has led to manifestations of
anti-Western and anti-American sentiments in Russia. What are
you planning to do to improve America's image in Russia's eyes,
and what kind of specific, concrete steps will you take to
improve relations between Russia and the U.S.?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first, I hope that this interview will
help to some extent by giving me the opportunity to clarify my
country's position and our commitment to a strong, successful,
democratic Russia, fully participating in world affairs and a
leadership role, and fully integrated into Europe in the major
economic and political institutions that will be so important to
the welfare of ordinary Russian citizens in the new century.
Second, I think that as we work together in Kosovo and as
you are able to bring to the Russian people the facts of the
horrible atrocities committed against the Kosovars by Mr.
Milosevic's forces, the nightmares that are so much like what we
saw in Bosnia before the United States and Russia and others went
in there, at least perhaps the Russian people will understand
what was behind what we were doing. We sought no political or
economic advantage, we sought no change in the balance of power
worldwide. We were only trying to reverse ethnic cleansing and
genocide. And now it is something we are doing together with the
Russian forces. So I hope that will help.
And, finally, I think it's very important that we get back
to our larger agenda: to reducing the nuclear threat and the
burden and -- it imposes on Russian as well as American people --
to reducing the threat of the proliferation of dangerous weapons
technology, and to building up the Russian economy in ways that
benefit ordinary Russian citizens. These are things that are in
the interest of the American people, things we are deeply
And I believe as we continue to work on these things
together, I would hope that the feeling the Russian people have
for the American people in the United States will warm up again,
because we strongly want our partnership with Russia to endure
and to be felt in the hearts of ordinary citizens in both
Q Mr. President, with regard to NATO's operation in the
Balkans, let me ask you this -- this question is asked by many
people nowadays. Does it not seem to you that the actions of the
United States and NATO show some sort of double standard -- I
mean, that America doesn't act, say, in the Balkans the same way
as it does in Kurdistan or Rwanda and other regions of the world,
where authorities are conducting a policy of genocide or national
oppression of minorities?
THE PRESIDENT: First, let me say --
Q Will NATO be just as -- I'm sorry to interrupt you --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes?
Q -- will NATO be just as firm with the KLA, for example,
as it has been against Serb forces if they try to take over
Kosovo or endanger the Serb population?
THE PRESIDENT: The answer to the last question has to be
yes, and a strong yes. Our commitment, as I said from the
beginning, is a Kosovo in which no innocent civilians were
subject to death, uprooting or oppression. Our commitment,
therefore, now must be to give equal protection to all the
innocent civilian citizens of Kosovo. And I would just note that
KLA has agreed now to demilitarize, to give up its large weapons,
to suspend any kind of military operations or training, including
even the wearing of the uniforms. So we will have to be
vigilant, but I am pleased with the progress of that.
And I want to say again, I am committed to protecting all
the people of Kosovo, and one of the reasons that I wanted the
Russians to come in and first have a partnership is so that the
Serbs, as well as the Kosovar Albanians, would feel that the KFOR
force was committed to their protection, and that they would all
try to live together again. It's going to be hard; a lot of
horrible, horrible things have occurred. But we will work with
them and we will do our best to help reconcile the civilians who
had no role in the wrongdoing, to help them reconcile to one
Q And as far as the first part of my question.
THE PRESIDENT: The first part of your question, I have
spoken to quite extensively in America. First, America did
actually play a very major role in preserving an area of
protection for the Kurds in Northern Iraq for several years after
the Gulf War. And we have, several times, intervened to try to
help protect the Kurds, and will continue to be sensitive to
Secondly, I have said repeatedly that the slaughter of the
Rwandans, the genocide in Rwanda occurred in the short space of
about 100 days, and we were caught flat-footed. I feel terrible
that we did nothing. And I would hope that if anything like that
develops in Africa again that the United States and Russia,
indeed, all the major powers of the United Nations would move
aggressively to try to stop it.
We should not countenance genocide or ethnic cleansing
anywhere in the world if we have the power to stop it. That's
not to say that we can expect all people of all different ethnic
groups to always like each other and never even to fight. But
when innocent civilians are subject to mass slaughter and ethnic
cleansing, if we can stop it, we should.
Q Let me ask you about the role of Russia in the Balkans
peace deal more in detail. There are basically two views. Some
believe that NATO was forced to turn to Russia for help because
only Russia could sit down with both sides and convince Milosevic
to accept the peace deal. Others believe that the West could
have avoided turning out Russia, and only did so out of goodwill
and a desire to preserve Russia's role in the Balkans. What is
your point of view?
THE PRESIDENT: I would say there's a little bit of both
there. The United States and the other NATO authorities do view
Russia with goodwill, not ill will, and we do want and believe
Russia should appropriately have a role in the Balkans. But,
also, I always believed if we were going to get a diplomatic
solution here, we had to have Russia's involvement.
Keep in mind, before the bombing began, for 14 months we
worked closely with the Russians to try to find a diplomatic
solution in the Balkans, because we knew that Russia's positive
influence would be essential. Then, when it appeared that the
diplomatic solution might be possible and could bring an end to
the bombing and bring the Kosovars home, President Yeltsin was
willing to appoint Mr. Chernomyrdin.
He then came to us and made it clear that he would like
someone who could represent the rest of Europe in these
negotiations, and President Ahtisaari of Finland became his
partner. And I believe that the Russian people should be very,
very proud of the role, the indispensable role that Russia played
in these diplomatic negotiations, and the role of Mr.
Chernomyrdin in particular. He and President Ahtisaari did a
very, very good job, and it's something that I think is a great
credit to Russia and to the people of Russia.
Q And there's probably now one last topic that I wanted
to dwell upon. Today is the last day of the G-8 summit. The
Western press usually refers to it as G-7-plus-Russia, even
though more than a year ago in Birmingham, Russia was officially
admitted, accepted to the club of the world leading nations. Is
Russia, in fact, a full-fledged member of the G-8, or is it still
early to talk seriously about this because of Russia's economic
weakness and is the U.S. going to pressure the IMF to provide
credits to Russia, and is the U.S. going to help Russia's economy
apart from IMF?
THE PRESIDENT: Let me try to answer all of your questions.
There is a G-8 now, not a G-7-plus-one. It is a G-8; Russia is a
Q Please do it.
THE PRESIDENT: The communique that we issued today, which
covers a wide range of economic and social issues, was fully
participated in by Russia. The Russians had a full hand, along
with all the rest of us, in developing this communique. And
President Yeltsin was at the meeting today when the leaders went
over the sections and, in effect, ratified and said we wanted it
out there. So I think you can feel quite good about that, and
about the fact that there is a G-8 and Russia is a full member of
Secondly, you ask about the future and whether we would
pressure the IMF to help Russia. The answer is that we have
always strongly, strongly supported IMF assistance to Russia. We
also strongly, however, support the changes that the Duma has
been asked to make in order to give Russia a competitive world
economy. Because no matter how much the IMF tries to help Russia,
unless your country has made the basic changes that every country
must make to compete in the global economy, the private money
will not flow into Russia that will really bring it back to the
position that the Russian people deserve, and that, frankly, the
rest of the world needs. It's very much in the interest of the
United States to have an economically successful, strong,
prosperous Russia. And I will do everything I can to that end.
And your third question was whether there were things apart
from the IMF that we could do to help the Russian economy, and
the answer to that is, yes. And I discussed some of those with
President Yeltsin today.
I want you to understand that the United States believes
that a strong and prosperous, democratic Russia, actively
involved with the rest of Europe, actively involved with the
United States, actively working together in partnership to solve
the world's problems, from terrorism to the threat of weapons of
mass destruction, to the need to stop ethnic cleansing -- that
this is in our interest. We do this because we genuinely want
the Russian people to have a leading role in the world and to
have personal prosperity, because we think it gives us a safer
world and it's better for the American people.
Q Mr. President, thank you for your time, thank you for
your answers, and I wish you good luck.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
END 5:34 P.M. (L)