PRESS BRIEFING BY
AND JIM STEINBERG
MR. MCCURRY: The President is enjoying the hospitality of the Romanian people and the government of Romania, and has concluded an excellent bilateral meeting with his counterparts. Here to brief you on it is Deputy National Security Advisor James Steinberg.
He will also tell you about the reception at which the President had an opportunity to meet some of the leading political figures of Romania. That was an enjoyable occasion for the President as well. The President is now preparing for the speech that he will deliver in a short while, which will, as Mr. Knoller indicated -- certainly we hope raise hopes of the Romanian people and compliment the Romanian people on the progress they've made towards democracy and assure them once again that the door is open to the bright future of participation in the institutions of the West.
MR. STEINBERG: Mr. McCurry.
The President today had about an hour meeting with President Constantinescu. They had a brief one-on-one session to begin with at which I'm told President Constantinescu showed President Clinton his Internet link-up, which just goes to show you that the world is getting closer.
The focus of their discussions were on the regional situation in Central and Southeastern Europe, and then on developments within Romania itself. President Constantinescu
began with a kind of description of some of his own efforts to strengthen relationships between Romania and its neighbors, in particular with Hungary and Ukraine, but also with some of the countries of Central Europe as well -- with Poland, with the Czech Republic, with Hungary.
And he made a point of contrasting what had happened among these countries in terms of coming to a peaceful resolution of their differences with what had happened between -- within the former Yugoslavia, between Serbia and Croatia and within Bosnia itself, and noted that what they had been able to achieve was increased stability without trying to -- calling on the West to invest in dollars or in the risk to lives.
And he then indicated that he was hopeful for the future and indicated to the President that, in his words, the fact that you have come here is the best commendation for our efforts and the best promise for our future.
He also discussed a little bit about why Romania is interested in joining NATO, and he indicated that while in the early days, after the end of the Cold War, the focus was largely on the impact of Russia and what that would mean for Romanian security, that there was now a conviction here that Russia was not a problem, but that the issue was closer integration with Romania's neighbors and the countries to the west. And he saw that as a very positive development.
President Constantinescu put a particular emphasis on supporting reform in Ukraine, which he saw as one of the great opportunities, but also a situation of great challenge as Ukraine proceeds with its difficult economic reforms and the upcoming elections next year, And finally he indicated Romania's interest in playing an increasing role in helping to try to bring stability to southeast Europe and the Balkans, and particularly to try to help in improving relations among Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria.
The President, in turn, congratulated President Constantinescu on what the reforms and the effort to date. He said, we're impressed with what you've done; it's really -- the changes are phenomenal that we've observed here in such a short period of time. He also -- the President also reflected on the contrast between how the ethnic problems between Romania and Hungary and Romania and Ukraine were being resolved with the situation in Bosnia, and also commended the President on the Romanian involvement in the Partnership for Peace, in Albania, and more broadly on the course of its political and economic reform.
He said, President Clinton indicated his appreciation for the very constructive position that President Constantinescu and his government had taken since the Madrid Summit. He said, President Clinton said, that reflected both wisdom and a dedication on your part, which was a real tribute to him.
The President acknowledged the difficult economic situation that President Constantinescu was facing and the
courageousness of the reforms that he was pursuing. The President indicated that he wanted to be as supportive as possible in helping those go forward. President Constantinescu replied, interesting enough, that as he went around the country encountering people, he expected to be challenged by the hardships that were created by the reforms. But he said more and more when he went around the country, people were encouraging him to go even faster with the reform process.
The President also commented on our effort to build a new strategic partnership with Romania. This is an effort that was launched when Prime Minister Ciorbea was in the United States meeting with Vice President Gore and it's an opportunity to strengthen our bilateral relationships. The President made a point of saying that this was not a substitute, obviously, for Romania's interest in moving forward towards membership in NATO, but it was an important complement to the NATO effort.
And finally, the President said that one of the reasons that we all ought to work together to make this first round of NATO enlargement so successful is that the surest way to guarantee that the door would be open would be to demonstrate that NATO can successfully expand, maintain its coherence and its capability and say to the world that this process of enlargement is one that will increase stability throughout the region.
At the reception, both President Constantinescu and President Clinton made short remarks. The theme of both remarks was hope. President Constantinescu observed that they didn't have any cities in Romania called Hope, but that they had a lot of hope. And he spoke very personally about a number of the individuals at the reception who had been dissidents and had served extensive jail sentence during the Ceausescu era. He -- in particular, one individual, Mr. Diaconescu, who the President had a chance to talk with personally -- is, I think, a widely revered figure from earlier days.
President Constantinescu also said that Romanians were like Americans in that they were full of dreams and that having the U.S. President here was a fulfillment of one of those dreams.
The President indicated that he was proud to be the first U.S. President to come to a free Romania. He was impressed by the reform, impressed by the remarkable attitude that Romania had taken towards it neighbors and called Romania a, beacon of hope in a region that is seeing so much conflict.
After the remarks, the President had an opportunity to meet with a number of prominent political officials and leaders from the community here -- in particular, as I mentioned, Mr. Diaconescu; Petre Roman and the President of the Senate and the leading Romanian political figure; the former President, Ion Illiescu; and Bela Marko, who's the head of the Hungarian Party
here. And in all these discussions the President stressed the need to continue on the path of reform and congratulated them on the remarkable coming together and the growth of a more plural political process within Romania, which he said was really a tremendous example to the much more contentious and narrow-minded political situation in the region, particularly in the former Yugoslavia.
Q Jim, what kind of discussion did they have about the next round of expansion, and what was the President's position on -- did he give any direct commitments that the United States would support Romania as long as it stayed on course?
MR. STEINBERG: John, the discussion was much broader than that. They did not discuss any kind of specific details of NATO enlargement, other than the fact that, obviously, President Constantinescu reiterated about Romania's continued desire to become a member of NATO and their intention to continue the reform, and made a point out of saying that Romania looked forward to working closely with the three who were invited because they saw that as an opportunity to move forward. But there was no particular -- President Constantinescu did not ask for any specific commitments and it was not discussed in those terms.
Q Beyond building a longer track record, did he make clear that the reforms have been of relatively short duration in Romania -- but beyond building a longer track record, what specific things would Romania have to do to not face a U.S. objection next time?
MR. STEINBERG: I don't think there's any kind of mechanical test here. I think that we look at the full set of circumstances in terms of any country's ability to fulfill the obligations of a NATO member, to contribute to NATO's capability and to play a constructive role in the region. And obviously the process of reform is an ongoing one even in the countries that were accepted. So I think it's going to be a judgment that will be made over time about how far Romania's reform has progressed, how irreversible it appears to be, and whether it can really come in and play a full role.
Because there's no sort of half membership or associate membership in NATO. Once you're in you really are a full member; you have all the benefits of membership, particularly that security guarantee, but you also have the full obligations. I don't think there's a mechanical test as to which are the specific --
Q -- specific area in which they fell short this time?
MR. STEINBERG: I think one of the things that I think were probably most important in the President's mind was
the fact that it's only been seven months, and since we've had this government that is so deeply committed to the reform process, that, as the President said, the changes are phenomenal in such a short period of time not only in terms of domestic reforms, but also the progress in resolving disputes with the neighbors, but that it seemed appropriate to give it more time.
And, again, I think both President Clinton and President Constantinescu stressed the fact that to some extent, taking it in a step-by-step way and making sure that its success is a guarantee not only for Romania, but for all the countries that are aspirants that the door would stay open.
President Constantinescu in particular noted that he wanted to make sure that as Romania went forward with its candidacy, that it did not somehow seem to be at the expense of other aspirants, including Bulgaria and the Baltics.
Q Was there a U.S. concern about holdovers, old-guard holdovers in Romania's security apparatus? Is that part of --
MR. STEINBERG: The issue was not specifically discussed between the two Presidents, but I think what they talked about, again, was the process of political reform, the fact that we now for the first time have a government which is fully composed of people who are really committed to that process. And it's something that is part of the overall process of transformation that's taking place.
Q But is it a concern of the United States when it comes to including them in NATO?
MR. STEINBERG: I think it's a concern -- it is an issue with respect to all the countries as they've moved from their past and trying to institute reform; that obviously these things don't take place overnight; that there's a need to, with many of these institutions -- and it's as true with foreign ministries and defense ministries as well as security services -- that there is a need to, on the one hand, not throw out all of the people who served in the past, but also to make sure that the people who do continue to serve are committed to the basic principles. That's something this government is working on and we hope they'll continue to work on.
Q Jim, what can the U.S., or will the U.S. do in real material terms in the bilateral relationship to help Romania move toward that sort of situation where they could be considered fully for --
MR. STEINBERG: Well, we have a number of bilateral activities with Romania. They include military exchanges and assistance through the SEED program, and I think in particular our discussions about trying to establish a strategic partnership
to deepen the political consultations between our two countries.
This is also something that's worked very much through NATO. One of the things that's going to come out of the Madrid decision is a continuation of these dialogues that take place between aspirant members and NATO. Because in the end this is something that all of the NATO members are going to have to feel comfortable about. And NATO has a very active program working through the Partnership for Peace, now through the European American Partnership Council, are all sort of sets of activities. So, both bilaterally and multilaterally, there's an opportunity to work on these questions.
Q Would there be any effort to do anything in the area of encouraging private sector involvement?
MR. STEINBERG: Private sector involvement in the economy or --
Q In the economy.
MR. STEINBERG: There was a brief discussion between the two Presidents about that, particularly about the efforts to speed privatization in Romania. That's clearly been an area where prior to this government Romania was lagging. And I think that as President Constantinescu said, what he I think now sees is a very strong argument rather than to go slow, to try to go fast and move forward with the reforms.
Mike is pointing out that one of the places that we do get private sector, particularly investment support, is through the Romanian American Enterprise Fund, which is one of a series of funds that we have with countries throughout Central and Eastern Europe as a way of trying to get the private sector more involved in stimulating investment.
Q Jim, if I can ask you to take a broader look -- with the trip ending tomorrow, could either you or Mike say, beyond just saying again that it was historic, I mean, what was the main thing that was accomplished and what's the main thing that's left undone, still to do?
MR. STEINBERG: I think the main thing that was accomplished is that NATO in 1994 at the summit in Brussels set out a program, a vision about how NATO should evolve as part of a broader evolution of a more undivided Europe. And I think to a remarkable degree, if you go back and look at both what President Clinton had to say at that summit and what NATO, itself, concluded as what were its objectives, we've made extraordinary strides in fulfilling that -- that we've begun to take the real decisions, not just the forecast about what will be necessary to put this together.
And I see this past week, in the context of really
the last several months in which a whole set of new relationships have been put into place -- the NATO-Russia relationship, the NATO-Ukraine relationship, the offer of enlargement to the new members, the strengthening of the Partnership for Peace -- is really a grand blueprint not only now just on the blueprint, but actually in structure that's out there to make it possible to have some confidence that we can extend this period of stability into the future and also to be able to deal more effectively with challenges like Bosnia.
And so, in that sense, I think it really is -- it's a promise fulfilled in important ways. Now, obviously, there are challenges that remain. We still have the challenge of Bosnia. There are countries which are still not as far advanced in their reform and we want to continue to have those go forward. But I think that what we feel is that there is -- we have succeeded in taking the key steps to put the structures in place that make it possible to succeed.
Q -- continuation -- a continued demonstration of reform in a place like Romania, as well as some of the other aspirants to NATO? Is it that people that the administration would consider reformers remain in power unless they increase this rather thin margin they have? Describe what that is.
MR. STEINBERG: We have never tried to pin our judgment on who wins elections. The point is to have an electoral process that's free and open, to have the opportunity for free expression in the society; for people to be able to work and live freely; to stimulate the transformation of the economic system here so that there can be an opportunity for economic growth; and also, I think, very importantly, the continuation of this progress of reconciliation with neighbors.
I think that the President particularly has been struck by the relationship between reform and pluralism, democracy at home and the ability to make progress abroad. The fact that Hungarian community in Romania is now represented in the government I think facilitates the ability to achieve reconciliation with Hungary and similarly with both the ethnic Romanian community in Ukraine and others -- that in all of these countries as political pluralism takes hold.
So I think that's the real test here is to make sure that as future elections take place, that they're free and open and fair, that the economic reforms continue, that there is a sense that the totalitarian of the past is really finally put aside.
Q And does margin -- electoral margin and sort of party -- multiple parties -- does it have anything to do with it at all?
MR. STEINBERG: I think what's important is that
parties are able to operate. Again, I mean, the people have to decide. And we are not here to dictate which are the parties that ought to win the elections.
Q But is it a factor in deciding what goes forward?
MR. STEINBERG: I think that as long as those parties are committed to democracy, committed to economic reform that we would not have a view about that. Obviously, if parties came to power that were going to put an end to democracy, an end to freedom of speech or expression, that would have a big impact on whether we would see them as suitable members of NATO. It's clearly one of the most important criteria for being a member of NATO is that you be a solid and functioning democracy.
Q But if they're only a few points from power --that's the question.
MR. STEINBERG: I think that issue is how irreversible is the process.
Q -- while saying that NATO door is open, what do you say to Romanians who feel a little bit miffed about being snubbed from getting into NATO this time and who think they've done a pretty good job in their reforms, and yet they're going to hear a message from the President today that they have to do more?
MR. STEINBERG: Well, I think that if you look out on the streets today you see that there are a lot of people here who obviously recognize that the fact that the President felt that the answer was "not yet" was not a reason to have a negative attitude. And I think that what's been striking both in the discussions with officials and with the people here is the sense that clearly they want to be members of NATO, but they also want to have a strong relationship with the United States. The United States has a very important role here.
In talking with officials at the reception, people were reminding me about how Romanians had been inspired by President Wilson and the kind of the support for their national identity that came out of that period. And so I think there's a very strong emotional connection between Romania and the United States. And I think that's reflected in the fact that although clearly they would have preferred to have gotten in NATO, that I think they see this not as a setback, but rather just another step that they have to take.
Q The President talked early in the week about the need to sort of sell NATO back home. If anything, what do you think this trip has accomplished? And can you tell us a little bit now about what he plans to do to follow up and to get to --
MR. STEINBERG: I think that what this trip demonstrates is, one, the importance that the countries of the region attach to NATO and the sense that they have of NATO as a positive force contributing to European stability. Second, I think -- we see it in both Poland and Romania -- the fact that their desire to join NATO itself is helping to reduce tensions and increase stability in the region.
And so, for the American people, what that means is by expanding NATO, we don't make it more likely that America is going to have to come and fight another European war, but rather less likely. And I think that's obviously one of the questions that American people are going to ask in terms of why should we enlarge NATO -- are we making a commitment; are we putting Americans at risk.
And I think that there are really concrete demonstrations here that the countries are prepared to take the kinds of steps that by becoming members of NATO, that they will make conflict in the region less likely. And I think also the very important connection that they have with the United States and the value that they place on the relationship with the United States.
Q -- do you think that Americans really, having watched the way the Soviet state fell apart, really now feel threatened by another one?
MR. STEINBERG: I think the American people know that we have soldiers in Bosnia right now because of the instability that was created there. And I think the President has a deep conviction. And he discussed it with President Constantinescu and he discussed it with President Kwasnieski that it is precisely this process of strengthening NATO and enlarging NATO and having countries take the steps necessary to resolve their problems, they're going to make future Bosnias less likely. So, in that sense, I think it has a very direct impact.
Q -- foreign ministry today condemned yesterday's action in Bosnia, called it a cowboy raid. What do you make of that? And have they registered any official protest either with the United States or the NATO commanders?
MR. STEINBERG: I don't know whether they've raised an official protest or not, but I am familiar with the remarks. The only thing I would say on that is this -- the decision to conduct this operation was a decision taken by SFOR commanders and that was within their authority to do so.
MR. MCCURRY: It being Friday, want a little week ahead?
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. Monday there will be an event related to health insurance and following up on some commitments the President expressed early in the year related to genetic screening. I'm trying to find out more about that so I can tell you more about that.
Tuesday morning the President intends to meet -- and I believe we've nailed this down now -- intends to meet with the bipartisan congressional leadership and the major figures in the budget discussions on the Hill for a discussion about the reconciliation bills and where we are as the conference process moves forward.
On Wednesday, as you know, the President will host this event with industry leaders, family representatives, parents advocates, children's advocates related to decency on the Internet -- we've told you about previously.
Thursday the President travels to Pittsburgh for the NAACP convention, and then on to Chicago for the National Association of Black Journalists annual convention. And Friday the President greets those attending Girls Nation in our Nation's Capital. That's the week ahead.
Tomorrow is the radio address. The radio address I expect to be on the President's strong support for a tax cut and the priorities that ought to attach to tax cut legislation. He will prerecord the radio address in Copenhagen tomorrow morning, so we'll have it early enough for people to file off of it.
Q Is he going to the Hill or are they coming to him?
MR. MCCURRY: Meeting out of the White House. And given that everyone -- I think you all know we have to leave here immediately at the conclusion of the President's speech, so we will try, if we can, to get you -- particularly the wires, see if we can't get some type of advanced text before we go. But, obviously. the main filing for the day is onward in Copenhagen.
Q -- discussions on the tax cut, the budget stuff this week -- are they anywhere where the President thinks he can get together and fix this, or are they a ways away from that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President's view is that the spirit of bipartisanship is holding on the Hill and that the likelihood of tax cut legislation and spending legislation that reflects the bipartisan balanced budget agreement is still quite likely. And the President intends to work hard to keep that spirit alive and well, not only in the meeting next week, but in all of our deliberations with the relevant members of Congress.
Q Jim didn't really answer the second half of Rita's question about coming out of here and the planning for selling.
MR. MCCURRY: We did -- if you look back, I think in the transcript from Madrid we talked a little bit about the types of things we're doing. We've had other administration officials even during this week reaching out and talking to the American people, mostly through different media opportunities that we can develop and through the State Department's public outreach effort that they maintain annually. But we've been using that to begin to educate people on the benefits that would arise from the policy that we've put in place with respect to NATO expansion and just to explain some of the simple basic fundamentals, because there's, I think, some hunger at least now this week for information about what this all means to the American people.
So we've got a combination of all of the things that you would normally expect an administration to do, from communicating directly with the public through the media, to television interviews, radio talk show-type interviews. The President will be engaged in some of this when we return, although we still don't, to my knowledge, have anything like a specific date, but he will continue to speak to this point, and so will other leaders in the administration as well.
We also next week will give extensive briefings on Capitol Hill about the results of this trip, the discussions in Madrid, although we recognize that the benefit of having the congressional Observer Group with us is that they will hear directly from some of their colleagues as well.
Q -- this week that builds public interest in the subject in the United States?
MR. MCCURRY: We think that we've probably opened the door to the discussion a little wider this week. People are paying some attention to that because they see the President is traveling. But this is a subject that will take very patient effort on our part through the rest of this year and into next year when the real debate will occur in the Senate to help the American people understand what the costs and benefits of this decision will be.
Q Jesse Helms wrote a piece in The Wall Street Journal earlier in the week sort of saying that he was troubled, he was in favor of expansion, but what the administration has been talking about in recent weeks has frightened him because he sees it changing from a military to a political alliance. And I wondered what the response is to that and how do you deal with that.
MR. MCCURRY: We had very good conversations with
Chairman Helms and his staff. We believe we can satisfy Chairman Helms' concerns as we go through this debate and demonstrate the positive benefits that arise to the security of all Americans as a result of an expansion of this Alliance.
This is, first and foremost, a military alliance. But one of the benefits of the post-Cold War era is that security, economic, political, geopolitical concerns mix together since we're not facing the primary threat of superpower adversary face-offs. So you do have an opportunity to see positive things happen in a political sense because of things that the Alliance itself requires.
Jim was talking about a little bit of that earlier. The Alliance requires minimization of conflict between ethnic groups. And Romania's desire to be a part of NATO and be a part of the institutions in the West has surely been at least part of the motive for the efforts the -- what the President described today as phenomenal efforts they've made to limit tensions with Ukrainian populations or Hungarian populations inside Romania. So that's the kind of process that is both political, but it comes as a result in part of the desire to participate in a collective security organization that first and foremost has military purposes.
Q Speaking of next week, is the race task force meeting next week and what's going to be the President's involvement on that?
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct, they are meeting on Monday, but I believe that is an organizational meeting. And to my knowledge. the President is not participating in that meeting.
Q Do they meet at the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check on that. They had put out some detail on that back in Washington and I looked at that and didn't --
Q -- those meetings will be open to the public?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, they will comply with the requirements for open discussion.
Q Has there been any contact with Chretien?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. I believe the Prime Minister is on vacation, although we've had some senior level contact.
Q Can you elaborate?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q -- Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have been -- will this delay the second wave to NATO enlargement?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, will there be a --
Q Will there be a delay because of that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the timing will be that suggested in the communique issued in Madrid, that there will be a review at the time of the entrance of new members in 1999 that will assess the discussions and the process at that point. And the President is very clear in suggesting that the view of the United States is that the first group of members, new members, will not be the last group of new members. But as to timing and sequencing, that's something that would have to be done collectively by the Alliance.
Q Mike, is there any objection to the Senate moving toward -- for Bosnia operations after the date the President said he would be out?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have strong objections to that, not based on any disagreement on the timing of the mission, because the timing of the mission is well-known and is established by the North Atlantic Council. Our disagreement is with interference with what the President believes is his constitutional prerogatives for the conduct of foreign policy.
Q Who was the last American President here, do you guys know?
MR. MCCURRY: We keep saying 22 years ago and I assume that maybe some were on the trip -- it was President Ford's trip through Eastern Europe in 1975, summer of 1975, I believe he went to Yugoslavia, Romania -- who else -- maybe some veterans of this trip are here.
Q August 2nd and 3rd.
MR. MCCURRY: This was August 2nd and 3rd, 1975? It was sort of a late-summer trip through the Balkans and other stops in Eastern Europe.
Q Do you have any idea why both Nixon and Ford would do it on the same day? They both went August 2,3. Is there something August 2,3 of import?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. The question was, why would there have been trips roughly at the same period -- unless it was in connection with -- don't know. See if we can do a little research, or maybe someone from the embassy public affairs staff. Who knows. Okay. Thank you. We'll see you in Denmark.
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