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Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Samuel Berger

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For Immediate Release November 17, 1999


Conrad Hotel
Istanbul, Turkey

8:12 P.M. (L)

MR. LEAVY: Good evening. We've got a briefing by the National Security Advisor, Samuel Berger, to give you a readout of the President's meeting with Prime Minister Barak. We'll take some questions.

Mr. Berger.

MR. BERGER: Only time I get treated with respect by Leavy is when he introduces me. The President had a good meeting with Prime Minister Barak, it lasted about 30 minutes, 35 minutes. They spoke about both tracks of the peace process, both the Palestinian track and the Syrian track. Once again, I was impressed by the determination and seriousness of purpose of the Prime Minister.

He had recently met with Chairman Arafat, I believe two days ago. I think that was a useful meeting, and I think both these leaders realize the seriousness of what's in front of them, the difficulty of the decisions they face, and I think both approach it with a sense of urgency.

Obviously, in one sense, there's not much time between now and February 15th, when the framework agreement is to be reached. In another sense, there is a long way to travel between the two parties, but I think they understand that and recognize that. On the Syrian track, we continue to try to resume negotiations between the Syrians and the Israelis. We are in contact, obviously, with the Israelis, but also with the Syrians, and will continue to do so to find an avenue to get negotiations re-initiated between the two.

As you'll understand, I'm not going to talk too much about the specifics of negotiations, but I thought it was a very positive meeting between the President and Prime Minister Barak.

Q Mr. Berger, was there any progress made on additional withdrawals from the West Bank? Did the Prime Minister make a commitment? Did the President weigh in on that? And, second, was there any discussion at all of the sale of the Israeli AWAC to China?

MR. BERGER: There was a discussion of the first. I don't believe there was a discussion of the second -- there was a part of the meeting in which just the two of them were alone. But I don't think that came up, based on my quick conversation with the President.

But on the first, the President did raise the current disagreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis on the final element of this transfer. And I think Prime Minister Barak expressed some hope that that matter would be resolved soon.

Q Sandy, is there any progress on the Syrian track? Is there anything that you can report?

MR. BERGER: I think on the Syrian track, again, we are talking to both sides. I think there is a harder threshold to get over to get the parties engaged with one another in negotiations, and that is something that we are working on very hard.

Q No progress?

MR. BERGER: No particular progress to report on that.

Q To follow up on the West Bank, did the President express any sort of view as to whether the Palestinians had the right to veto the specific territory that the Israelis would pull troops from?

MR. BERGER: I don't think that anything I would say about that publicly at this point would be helpful. I think the important thing is this gets resolved. As you know, Ambassador Ross is in the region now -- or at least was whenever this morning was then or here or in Washington -- and he's working on this, among other things and I think it's important for the parties to resolve this, and I hope it will be resolved quickly.

Q How tough is the President going to be on President Yeltsin tomorrow in his meeting -- on Chechnya, I'm speaking of.

MR. BERGER: I think the President will express our concerns on Chechnya -- among other things in the meeting -- there are other issues that we need to deal with. But as he said before and I have, and Secretary Albright, others, we are concerned about the level of civilian casualties and the number of refugees that are being created. Clearly, Russia has a right to fight terrorism within its borders. Clearly, this round was begun by Chechnyan rebels attacking Dagestan.

But our concern here is that the means being used are causing inordinate harm to civilians. And our own judgment is they're not likely to be productive in the long term, and that ultimately we would urge the Russians to engage in a political dialogue, and reach a political resolution of this. And the President will express all of that tomorrow, as I suspect other leaders who are here from around Europe and Asia and North America will, as well.


Q Sandy, on that point --

MR. BERGER: John? --

Q -- would you expect the other OSCE leaders to --

MR. BERGER: Well -- Mark? (Laughter.)

Q Thanks. Do you expect the OSCE leaders to gang up on Yeltsin on this issue.

MR. BERGER: I don't think it's a question of ganging up. I think everybody -- maybe virtually everybody here -- wants Russia to succeed in its transformation that it's been undergoing for the last 10 years, to a working democracy with a working economy, with having shed its empire. All of those things are extraordinarily important. And I think most of the countries here want Russia to continue on that transition.

So I don't think it's a question of ganging up. I think it's a question of expressing serious concern. And I think that the Russians will hear from Europeans and other Asians, as well as us, that the international community is very troubled by this.


Q Sandy --

MR. BERGER: You don't speak as loud tonight.

Q Sandy, Russian officials -- (laughter.)

MR. BERGER: Scott, what do you want to know? (Laughter.)

Q Russian officials have accused the United States of hypocrisy, citing the Kosovo crisis. They've basically told the West to butt out. How do you respond to that?

MR. BERGER: Well, I think that the international community has every right to be concerned about a situation where -- albeit an internal Russian situation -- where there is, I think in the judgment of most, a high cost in civilian casualties and refugees. And, in fact, one of the issues in the OSCE charter that's being negotiated is an expression of the fact that internal problems such as this in countries can be a matter of concern to the international community.

So I think the international community has every right to express its concerns.

Q Yeltsin said today he would sign the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and submit it for ratification. Is that -- how would the President be likely to respond to that tomorrow, and do you view that as a --

MR. BERGER: The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty? I didn't see that comment. But we would certainly welcome ratification by the Duma -- or the Congress -- (laughter) -- of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Q Sandy, does the United States accept the Russian argument that those civilian casualties in Chechnya are just collateral damage as opposed to terror bombing, or terror attacks on civilian --

MR. BERGER: I think that they are at a level that is in some cases indiscriminate, and I don't know that that's their intention -- that is, to attack civilian targets. But I think the way that this is being conducted, the means it is being conducted, has that result, as well as, obviously, creating a large number of refugees and our view is that it's ultimately harmful to the stability of Russia. Now, that's a view we can express; the Russians may disagree with that view, but it's something that we believe -- I think many in the international community share that belief.

Q Would the OSCE statement have anything to say about Chechnya? Do you expect -- I understand it's going to be done by consensus, so how do you --

MR. BERGER: Let me take a minute to talk about the next two days and what will come out of this, or what may come out of this. I mean, a number of these things are still being negotiated tonight. There will be an OSCE document that will -- an OSCE charter, which in its most significant regard, assuming it all comes together, in fact, will express what, in fact, has been OSCE's increasing role, whether it's been in Kosovo or Chechnya or other places in the region, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, that is to seek to be an instrument of conflict prevention in troubled regions a step before you get to conflict, or in the post-conflict period.

OSCE is not a peacekeeping organization, but it has been peacekeeping in the military sense, but it has been an instrument of trying to preserve the peace, and this document expresses that as a central purpose of OSCE, and that's a very important, I think, step if we can come to agreement on it. So that's number one. Number two, we've been working for three years on revision to the Conventional Forces in Europe Agreement, the CFE Agreement, which has not been modified significantly since 1990.

In 1990, of course, there was the Warsaw Pact. This was the agreement by which the conventional forces that are in both eastern, central and western Europe, throughout Europe, are limited, and thousands of conventional weapons have been destroyed pursuant to this. When the CFE Treaty was, in 1990, last dealt with in a serious way, there was the Warsaw Pact and there was NATO. And so the ceilings are all bloc to bloc, which obviously are obsolete. Now, three members that were in the Warsaw Pact are members of NATO, not to mention just the end of the Warsaw Pact itself.

So, number one, this treaty creates new ceilings that are basically country-by-country ceilings. Number two, it provides for significantly greater transparency of conventional forces, country-to-country. Number three, it provides a greater international recognition of the right of nations to consent to the stationing of foreign forces on their soil. And, number four, it provides for the accession to this agreement by countries that were neither in NATO or the Warsaw Pact -- the Baltics, for example.

And so the second important document that's under discussion here is the CFE agreement. Now, you know, I expect, in answer to your question about Chechnya, Terry, that in the interventions of the 54, or 50, leaders who are here, many will address Chechnya
-- certainly we will, and I know many others will. Whether there is a collective document in a group this large, I'm not certain of at all.

Q Moving back to the pipeline issue, do you think that that will come up in the meeting with Yeltsin tomorrow? And how will the United States deal with Russia's concerns now about the new pipelines?

MR. BERGER: Well, I think the pipeline -- which is the two pipelines; one is an oil pipeline from Baku, Azerbaijan, to Ceyhan, which has now been agreed upon. It will be announced and signed, the agreement, in the next few days. A very significant development, in my judgment, something we've been working on for five years; and then the second is a gas pipeline, the trans-Caspian pipeline, which is not quite, I think, at completion at this point -- is part of a larger strategy that we have been pursuing since 1994, I think, of encouraging multiple pipelines.

A great deal of Caspian oil will go through Russia, through existing pipelines and through new pipelines. Our view has been, it's important for this region to have multiple channels of distribution of this oil, and a channel to the west, not to the exclusion of Russia, but opening up this Caucasus-Central Asian region, the old Silk Road, to Europe and to the West. So it has always been our policy and objective to encourage multiple pipelines, not to discourage the Russian pipeline, but to encourage a western pipeline as well as a Russian --

Q Do you expect that to come up in the meeting tomorrow, and how will the U.S. address the fact that Russia feels as though the U.S. encouragement of the development of these pipelines is intended to undermine their authority in the region?

MR. BERGER: In a way, I think it's similar to my answer to the question; that is, this is not directed against Russia, and anyway. I don't know what the relative volumes are, but a substantial amount of Caspian oil will transit Russia and will be sold in Russia and transit Russia.

But I think not only in the United States but, more importantly, the countries in the region and the international oil companies have believed that it's important for there to be a diversified set of delivery systems to create a greater degree of independence and a greater degree of wealth in that region of the world.

Q Will the President bring that message to the meeting tomorrow?

MR. BERGER: I don't think that that will be part of his -- the pipeline is not an -- this is an OSCE summit, and the pipeline is not really on the agenda -- I guess he could bring it up. But if someone raises it I'm sure he'll provide a response.

Q The President's meeting with Mr. Yeltsin, if the ABM Treaty and the national missile defense are on the agenda, will the President offer any new ideas on how to overcome Russian refusal to engage in talking about amending the treaty -- or how to overcome it?

MR. BERGER: I believe the subject will come up, as well as START, START II, START III. Let me just put this in a little context, because I think it's a little bit misunderstood in terms of where we are on the national missile defense issue.

The President said sometime ago that he would decide sometime next year whether to proceed with a national missile defense directed towards terrorist rogue states, based upon four criteria, four issues that he'll take into account. One, the threat, what is the level of threat that we face? Two, the technological feasibility of this very complex undertaking. General Shelton has described this as being like a bullet shooting at a bullet. Three, the cost. And, fourth, its overall impact on security, including arms control. We very much believe the ABM treaty serves our national interest, and would like to preserve it.

What we have discussed with the Russians is engaging with us in two ways. One, since they also face these same rogue nation threats, in cooperation on a limited NMD system itself, so that they could also benefit from its evolution, should we go forward. And, B, to make some modifications in the ABM treaty that would enable us to go forward. And I believe we will continue to seek to have those discussions with the Russians over the next months, until a decision is made.

Q In other words, you won't have any new ideas on ways to overcome the resistance that they've shown consistently on this?

MR. BERGER: Well, I think part of this -- part of this, obviously, is a very technical discussion of whether this is in fact a threat to the Russian deterrents or not. And that discussion needs to take place and has taken place already, and will continue to take place at a technical level, at a military-to-military and a strategic expert-to-expert level talks. But I think the President will seek to describe for President Yeltsin what our intent is, what our purpose is, what the capability is of the kind of system that we're looking at, which we would do in phases, to assure him that this is not directed at Russia.

They've already exchanged two, I think, very serious and thoughtful letters. I mean, they've exchanged one set of letters; President Yeltsin sent us a very, I think, serious and non-polemic letter, one that made their case. And the President sent back a letter responding. And so there is a dialogue going on on this.

Q What did he say in that letter?


Q What did he say in that letter, and when did he send it?

MR. BERGER: This exchange took place over the last month. And as I say, the letter from President Yeltsin was an analysis of their concerns, and the letter from the President was our response to those concerns.

Q Mr. Berger, based on the meeting today between President Clinton and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew? And your assessment for tomorrow's meeting between the Prime Minister of Greece and Turkey --

MR. BERGER: We had a wonderful meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch. It was very warm and, I thought, very moving. He is someone who has met the President before; he was in Washington in 1997, I believe. Mrs. Clinton has met with him on more than one occasion. And he raised some of the concerns that he has, and we discussed those, as well as, I think, a very deeply felt expression to the President of his hope the President would continue to work for peace.

And -- if I can just finish -- presented the President with a rather extraordinary gift, which was a hand-drafted old parchment page from the Scriptures, a passage the President particularly likes and quotes often, but I'm the wrong person to be an expert on this. I tend towards the Old Testament myself -- (laughter) -- from St. Paul's. And this is one of the President's favorite passages of the Bible, and it was a very touching thing.


Q The idea has been talked about, that Russia should bring in a third party to help a political negotiation between the Russian leadership and the Chechnyan leadership, and that perhaps the OSCE would be the best body to do that mediation. Has that suggestion ever been floated directly to the Russian? And if so, how did they respond?

MR. BERGER: I think it's an issue that will be discussed over the next few days. I think that our view is that there is
-- there could be a role for an organization like OSCE -- number one, maintaining open borders so people can leave if they want to leave; number two, with respect to refugees that are now in Dagestan and elsewhere; and, number three, perhaps to try to create a political dialogue on the ground. And that is something we will raise with the Russians.

Q But has it been raised yet? And how did they respond?

MR. BERGER: I think there's been some discussion of it. They've not accepted the idea at this point, but I think we'll talk about it some more tomorrow.

Q Sandy, just two questions on Chechnya. There were reports in the Russian press that a delegation of Chechens are coming to the OSCE. I'm wondering if you can confirm that of if you know if that's true or not?

MR. BERGER: They did not ask for a bilateral with the President of the United States, so it's outside my scope of --

Q And, also, beyond just expressing concern, what else can the OSCE do about Chechnya?

MR. BERGER: Well, I think that -- this is an extraordinary gathering of countries. This is a third of the world's nations are here. And, you know, I think Russia has to factor into its equation the extent to which it alienates or distances itself from the international community if it continues to pursue this course or escalates this course. S I think international views can make a difference, and I suspect will be, as I say, expressed not just by us, but by others.

Q Should the U.S. ratify the -- sign the CFE while Russia is currently in flagrant breach of its provisions?

MR. BERGER: Well, first of all, since the treaty is not -- all of the provisions of the treaty are not resolved, I can't answer the question specifically, because obviously it depends upon how things are resolved.

I think there are benefits to this treaty. I think I mentioned them before -- benefits in terms of adapting an old Cold War system to a new Europe, benefits in terms of giving a greater degree of international authority to countries saying that they need consent to have foreign governments stationed on their soil, benefit in terms of the transparency of knowing what other countries are doing, and benefits in the sense of allowing this to truly be open to all of the region.

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Europe 1999 Briefings: November 12-17

Briefing by National Security Advisor Samuel Berger

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Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Samuel Berger

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