THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate ReleaseMarch 24, 2000
PRESS BACKGROUND BRIEFING
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
Aboard Air Force One
En route Mumbai, India
4:10 P.M. (L)
MR. HAMMER: We're doing this on background, as a SeniorAdministration Official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First of all, let me sum up. We'renot out of India yet, but this is our last day. I think we consider thisweek to have been a milestone in U.S.-Indian relations. I think that whatwe've heard this week is the sound of ice melting; the ice of a 50-yearrelationship -- a relationship that for 50 years was frozen in the contoursof the Cold War.
I think what the President has been able to do, I think, this week isto indicate to the Indians that the United States recognizes that they're agreat country and that we have enormous common interests and that, at thesame time, I think the President has made clear that we have concerns withsome of India's policies, particularly, nuclear program; and do not believethat -- and believe that its nuclear program diverts resources from itsdevelopment, increases the danger of any conflict and detracts from India'sstature in the world.
But, by and large, I think this has been a positive week. And thefact that the President has invited Prime Minister Vajpayee back toWashington sometime later this year I think assures that we'll maintain themomentum that's been created.
Tomorrow we will go to Pakistan. The President will meet initiallywith President Tarar, who is the hold over President of Pakistan. He willthen meet with Chief Executive, General Musharraf, it will be a lunch. Andthen he will speak directly to the Pakistani people on television.
I think our message to General Musharraf and to the Pakistanis willbe, first, that we care about Pakistan's future. Pakistan has been a goodfriend to the United States. But we are very concerned about Pakistan'sproblems. We think that for Pakistan to have a hopeful future it needs tobe a pathway back to democracy; there needs to be an end to the violenceand a renewed dialogue over Kashmir with India. And there needs to be, inour judgment, the same set of decisions that the President urged theIndians to consider, and that is to de-escalate their nuclear program,rather than escalate it.
I think that's essentially the message to the Prime Minister. And Ithink the message to the pakistani people will, again, reflect ourlong-common ties and the goodwill that the two countries have had to eachother, but the hard choices that Pakistan and the Pakistani people faceabout their future.
Q What do you expect Musharraf to say?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I don't want to speak forGeneral Musharraf. I assume that he will point to yesterday's address ondemocracy. I assume that he will point to yesterday's address in which heset a date in the end of the year for local elections. I think that's astep; but what we need is a path.
I think that he will, on Kashmir, express their view of thatsituation. Excuse me, I should have added another issue on our agenda,which is terrorism -- you can just insert this back into my earlier litany.
The President will also raise the terrorism problem in Pakistan andurge -- we've had good cooperation with the Pakistanis in some respects, onfighting terrorism, but there's much more that the Pakistani governmentneeds to do.
Now, going back to what Musharraf is likely to say, I think, is theyare taking steps against certain groups that they consider terroristgroups; other groups they don't consider to be terrorist groups in Kashmir.And I think that -- I hope that he will agree with the President that whatis important here is Pakistan has to address its fundamental problems ofeconomy, of its governance, of corruption. These are all things thatGeneral Musharraf has spoken about, has spoken to. But Pakistan is beingdiverted from those issues by virtue of these other concerns.
Q Do you agree with the perception that the U.S. policy is nowtilted increasingly towards India and away from Pakistan?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. I think we should throw away theconcept of "tilt." We have a relationship with India; we have arelationship with Pakistan. And during the Cold War those tworelationships were only defined in terms of one another.
I think we now need to define a relationship with India in terms ofwhat is in the U.S. national interest. And I think we need to define ourrelationship with Pakistan in terms of what is in the U.S. nationalinterest. So I think the notion of "tilt" is really obsolete, out of date.
What we want to see is a reduction of tensions; dialogue between thesetwo countries. The Kashmir problem cannot be solved, in our judgment, byforce. It simply ordains more people to die and be killed as pain isinflicted. Ultimately, there has got to be a solution that is achievedthrough negotiation between the two countries.
Q Is it accurate to say that India largely rebuffed your securityagenda, but did -- was receptive to the atmospheric outreach of thePresident?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think it's a lot more thanatmospherics. I think that you have a country in India that has had quitea distrust of the United States for 50 years. And the United States hadquite a good deal of distrust for India during a large part of that period,when it was more aligned with the Soviet Union, when it was head of thenon-aligned movement, when that was not -- when that was considered by theUnited States to be not a friendly act.
And so I don't think it's atmospherics when you build trust and whenpeople, two nations, the two largest democracies, begin to define theirfutures in common. I think that's substance.
Now, on the security agenda, I think that we had no expectation. Wesaid so to many of you before we left, that in the context of this trip theIndians were going to make any steps -- take any steps. It's not possiblefor them to do that, politically. I would hope that in the aftermath ofthe trip, that the process of building a consensus in India for -- forexample, signing the CTBT -- will be strengthened. I hope the discussionof the future of their nuclear program will increase. But these areobviously issues that, ultimately, India has got to decide.
Q Assad, how hopeful are you of the talks with Assad?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's an important meeting,but I don't expect an immediate result from this meeting. The purpose ofthis meeting is to determine, based upon conversations the President hashad with Barak and with Assad over the months, whether there is a basis onwhich negotiations can resume. I expect that Assad will reflect on -- as aresult of this -- there will be some -- I expect that as a result of thismeeting, I hope as a result of this meeting both sides will have a greaterdegree of confidence that if they get back into the negotiation, it will bea serious one. But I don't think that the necessarily will happen here inGeneva. I think that may happen, unfold after Geneva.
Q Do you expect no announcement of a schedule of resumption ofmeetings?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I expect no announcement.
Q What are the prospects for staying a second night? There hasbeen some talk that he'll stay Sunday night? Is that impossible?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's not -- I wouldn't ruleit -- it's not what's the plan. But we aren't meeting with Assad untillate in the afternoon. We're not getting in until 4:00 a.m., as you know,so the meeting is not until the afternoon. It's not inconceivable thatthey could go over into Monday. That's not the plan. If it does go overto Monday, I don't want you all to say that I ruled that possibility out.But the plan is to meet on Sunday and then go back.
Q The meeting with Musharraf, where is that being held and whatconditions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's being held -- the meetings arebeing held in the residence of the President, and then in the Cabinetoffice that is adjacent to it. It's essentially kind of like a function ofour Old Executive Office Building.
Q In Musharraf's interview with CBS last week, he said that theprocess that he would envision toward restoring democracy could take years.He was asked, is this about a month or could this take years. And he said,no, it's not months, it could easily be years. Is that in any way remotelyacceptable to the United States?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the question is what is in theinterest of the people of Pakistan. I think that what we would like to see-- what we would encourage General Musharraf to do is to set forth a roadmap by which democracy gets restored, so that he's able to do the things hehas to do, domestically -- people having the sense that they can see thepathway back to democracy.
So I don't want to try to ascribe a particular number of days to it.But I think that having a road map, having a path by which you ultimatelylead to national elections I think would be very important.
Q Are they going to have -- session with the press, as you donormally in countries with most leaders?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know the answer to that. Ithink there will be somebody, obviously, available to speak.
Q Will the President -- on behalf of Sharif?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I expect he will raise that.
Q Will he meet with anybody related to Sharif, anybody from hisparty or his family or his legal team?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. The meetings here have been verymuch restricted to what we need to do our business, and not -- he's goingto speak directly to all the Pakistani people and we have not wanted to bein a position where we had to negotiate with the government about who wouldbe at a particular function.
Q How long has he been given for that address?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know that the -- I think theaddress is probably about 10 minutes. I don't know, it's a good question.
Q Will the President be discussing the possible outlines, substanceof an agreement between the Israelis and the Syrians? Or will he just bediscussing --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's more accurate, John, tosay that he, having talked to these two leaders now at length, has someunderstanding of what the needs of each of them are. I think the efforthere will be to determine whether or not it's possible -- whether or notboth leaders can have confidence that their needs -- can have a higherlevel of confidence that their needs can ultimately be met if they go backinto a negotiation.
So we're not going to put down the American plan or --
Q It's the same old issues, who's going to be at the early warningstation, the thinning out of troops between Damascus and Golan Heights.Are they going to --
MR. HAMMER: Thank you very much.