THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate ReleaseMarch 20, 2000
PRESS BRIEFING BY
NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SANDY BERGER
Pan-Pacific Sonargon Hotel
5:30 P.M. (L)
MR. BERGER: Here I am, ready or not. Let me begin by giving you somereadout from the meeting between President Clinton and the Prime Minister,Sheikh Hasina, today. The Prime Minister began the meeting by warmlywelcoming the President to Bangladesh and noting with, I think, great pridethat this was the first-ever visit by a President of the United States toBangladesh. She spoke quite eloquently about their commitment todemocracy and determination to resolve issues through the ballot, and notby the bullet.
She raised a number of specific issues with the President. I thinkyou heard her speak later at the Embassy about the question of the threeindividuals who are implicated in the murder of her father, who are in theUnited States. She expressed a strong view that she would hope that theywould be deported. I'll come back -- the President later said that he --that we were seeking to have them removed from the United States, that theywere in the midst of judicial proceedings, that he believed that we shouldseek that result. And he proposed that the United States and Bangladeshnegotiate an extradition treaty so that matters such as this can be handledmore expeditiously in the future.
She talked, as you heard at the Embassy, a great deal about hercommitment to increase the living standards of the people of this country.She talked about both the enormous challenges here, but also the greatachievements -- the 65-percent literacy rate that's been achieved; foodself-sufficiency; 40 percent of the budget for social development; 1.2million women in specific develop programs; 1 billion disbursed by thegovernment in microcredit.
She talked about the importance of the bilateral relationship with theUnited States and how, many times in the past, going back to some of thenatural disasters, as well as our very active aid program, we have beenstrong friends of Bangladesh.
She mentioned the increasing trade relationship between the UnitedStates and Bangladesh. There was $653 million in trade in 1991; $2.2billion in '99. The largest export of Bangladesh to the United States istextiles. She asked the President whether he would consider a significantincrease in the textile quota. Textile exports from Bangladesh to theUnited States were $1.8 billion last year. The President noted that thereis a 10-percent increase in the quota that's built into the phase-down ofthe quota and said he would look into whether anything further could bedone, but that would probably be difficult.
U.S. investment in Bangladesh over the last four years, I believe, was$750 million.
She spoke about the strong commitment of this country to peace and tobeing a leader for peace in the region; the progress they've made insettling problems with their neighbors, ending insurgency; and, of course,being the first country in this region to both sign and ratify theComprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
She asked the President to consider relief of the PL-480 debt; there's$700 million or $400 million, depending on which figures you look at. ThePresident indicated to her that we were going to -- while he did not havethe authority under the law to do that, we were going to invoke for thefirst time a new law that the President spoke about at the Embassy,essentially debt for nature, that enabled us to relieve $6 million of debtto release money that can be used to maintain the tropical forests.
She raised the issue of Bangladeshis in the United States who were outof status and would like to remain.
The President then responded -- he said he was honored to be here asthe first United States President. He thanked Bangladesh for thefriendship that they have continually manifested toward the United States;their leadership in the United States Security Council; their role inpeacekeeping from Haiti to Bosnia to Kosovo to Kuwait; the leadership onnon-proliferation; the progress they've made in child labor and thecondition of women; and on microcredit.
He said, where do we go from here, what else can we do. Hespecifically focused, talked a bit about the problem of potable water,drinking water, and indicated we would try to do more in that area. Alsoin the rural economic development area and turned to Secretary Daley andsuggested that he perhaps try to do some more in the investment area.
There was a rather long discussion of energy. As you know, Bangladeshhas substantial natural gas reserves. There is some uncertainty withrespect to what the quantity of those reserves are, but they're quitesubstantial. The Prime Minister said they were determined to maintain 50years of reserves for the children of Bangladesh. The President said thatthat was a sensible policy, but if reserves turned out to be greater thanthat, that this could be an important element of Bangladesh's developmentand offered to have a U.S. geological survey team come here and assess whatthe reserves are. They've been estimated anywhere between 10 and 40trillion feet of natural gas reserves.
As the President invited the Prime Minister to come to Washington inOctober, she accepted that invitation. And I think that's about it, so whydon't I now take your questions.
Q Sandy, what can you tell us -- what, if anything, has PresidentAssad said about the meeting this Sunday? Is there any chance at all fromthe Syrian position that would precipitate this meeting?
MR. BERGER: The President has been in ongoing contact with PresidentAssad and with Prime Minister Barak during the period since theShepherdstown talks in an effort to find a way to resume thosenegotiations. As the President pointed out earlier today, we are verypleased that, through the direct contact between Prime Minister Barak andChairman Arafat, with efforts by the President, by Secretary Albright, byour Special Envoy, Dennis Ross, we're now seeing the resumption of thePalestinian-Israeli talks. And, in fact, there are teams from thePalestinians and the Israelis who are coming to Washington this week toresume those negotiations.
The task now is to resume the Syrian negotiations. On the basis ofhis conversations with the two leaders, I think the President felt the nextlogical step was for him to meet directly with President Assad. He's hadmany direct, face-to-face conversations with Prime Minister Barak. Andthere are some things that are best discussed face-to-face, leader toleader. So I would hope that this could contribute to a process by whichthe Syrian-Israeli negotiations can be resumed. But we have no certaintyof that.
Q Is the President taking any specific proposal to Assad, or is itjust a general pushing of him in the direction of peace and negotiations?
MR. BERGER: I think the President will present to President Assad hisimpressions of how the process of negotiations can be resumed, based uponthe extensive conversations that he's had with both Prime Minister Barakand President Assad, but is not taking a specific American proposal.
Q A continuation of Shepherdstown or something different?
MR. BERGER: A resumption of direct negotiations between Syria andIsrael.
Q And the impressions that the President is taking with him to themeeting, do they not constitute some idea, American ideas to push theprocess along?
MR. BERGER: I think I will stay exactly what I -- repeat exactly whatI said. The President's impressions about how to get the negotiationsresumed, based upon the discussions that he has had over time with Assadand Barak.
Q You said something, they're best discussed face-to-face,leader-to-leader. Is it time for Barak to meet face-to-face,leader-to-leader with Assad?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think the next step is for President Clinton tomeet with President Assad.
Q How would you describe the events in Southern Lebanon asaffecting the process? That has unfolded since Shepherdstown.
MR. BERGER: Well, I think the violence in Southern Lebanon is not apositive development and we've urged restraint on all parties andcompliance with previous agreements and I'm glad that things have quieteddown.
Q Coming back from Bangladesh, do you have any ideas if there areany commitments from the U.S. companies -- how much more investment will bemade to --
MR. BERGER: Well, American investment has increased significantlyover the past four years, as I said, by almost $1 billion -- three-quartersof a billion dollars. I think there is tremendous potential here. Thisis, I think, a country with a very promising future and I think thePresident believes that. I'm sure the President will go back and encourageAmerican companies to focus on Bangladesh; and I think Secretary Daley willalso bring some attention to it, as well.
Q You could look at this resumption of talks in two ways. One waythat in these phone calls between the President and Assad, that someprogress is being made, and the President will give his impressions andthat things could be wrapped up in relatively fast time. Or you could lookat it the other way and say, things have been very, very rocky and there'sa fair way to go.
MR. BERGER: Yes. (Laughter.)
Q Which one is it?
MR. BERGER: I think it's a good thing that the President is meetingwith President Assad. I don't think that -- I think that it is a step in aprocess that hopefully can lead to a resumption of negotiations. But thatis by no means assured.
Q Sandy, can you tell us something about your upcoming trip toChina? And that was planned, I guess, before the Taiwan vote. How hasthat changed things for your plans, for what you hope to accomplish?
MR. BERGER: Well, this is a trip that has been scheduled for sometime, several weeks. There has been a regular dialogue that the NationalSecurity Advisor has had, going back to early in this administration, withChinese officials, once a year, to look at the issues ahead for the year.And it's in that spirit that this meeting was arranged.
I'm sure we'll discuss a wide range of issues, including the questionsinvolving, hopefully, a resumption of dialogue across the Taiwan Straits.
Q But what specifically are you going to tell them about what theU.S. will do, in terms of aggression against Taiwan?
MR. BERGER: I'm going to say that we believe that the issue betweenTaiwan -- the future relationship between Taiwan and China must be resolvedthrough peaceful means. And we would encourage a resumption of dialogue.
I think the statements that Mr. Chen has made in the last 24 or 48hours have been conciliatory. The statements from the Chinese side havebeen, I think, measured. And I think this is a time to now seize upon anopportunity that exists to resume a dialogue between Taipei and Beijing.
Q Can we go back just to the Assad thing for one second. You saidbefore that you're happy, you're glad that things have quieted down inSouthern Lebanon. This coupled with the President's meeting, does thisindicate that the U.S. is now pleased, or satisfied, with the steps thatDamascus took to use its influence to rein in Hezbollah?
MR. BERGER: Well, we have consistently urged the government of Syriato exercise its influence to try to restrain the groups in southern Lebanonfrom engaging in violent acts.
Q Well, yes, but you had -- there had been complaints from many inthe administration that they weren't doing enough, very publicly sayingthat they hadn't done enough, and that it made it more and more difficultto resume the talks. So the question is, I mean, have they now done enoughthat -- things have quieted down, that makes this meeting more --
MR. BERGER: I think it always remains a volatile area. And again, wewill continue to urge the Syrian government to use its influence toencourage restraint.
Q The Israeli-Syrian talks are one of several parts of the worldwhere the President's been involved for some time in trying to bring aboutpeace talks or negotiations. And I wonder if you think the President feelssome urgency now to get some of them done because of his own politicalcalendar?
MR. BERGER: No. I think the timetable here in these things is notdriven largely by our electoral timetable. The fact is that the timetablein the Middle East is driven by Barak, Assad and Arafat. They each havetheir own, I think, imperatives.
I believe Prime Minister Barak has made it very clear that he wants totry to achieve a comprehensive peace this year. I think President Assadhas indicated that he is determined to try to seek a peace agreement, andChairman Arafat has. Time is not the friend of peace in the Middle East,and I think any sense of urgency comes from their clock, and not our clock.
I think in Northern Ireland, for two years people have enjoyed thebenefits of the Good Friday Agreement and the people of Ireland don't wantto go back -- people of Northern Ireland don't want to go back. And we'recoming up on a second year anniversary. There are some significantproblems that have arisen in terms of keeping the process going, but Iwould say even during this period there still is a maintenance of peace.
So I think there tends to kind of over-estimate the extent to whichthe people around the world are driven by our timetable. They're driven bytheir own timetables. I think in the Middle East there is a factor whichis relevant. I think the fact is that all of the parties have a particulartrust in President Clinton and I think they believe that he can be helpfulin achieving the goal that they seek. But I don't think that -- I thinkthe impetus comes from the dynamic of the region.
Q The Indian Prime Minister yesterday said India will not make anydecisions on security under pressure. Looking ahead to the talks thatstart tomorrow, do you have any indication at all that India is ready tomove in our direction in any way on nuclear policy, on talking toPakistanis, any of these security issues?
MR. BERGER: We have no intention of pressuring the Indians. I'm surethe President will discuss with the Prime Minister a range of issues,including the opportunity for a new partnership between India and theUnited States, but also why we believe that it is not in India's interestin the long run for there to be a nuclear arms race that diverts resourcesand raises dangers. But that is a judgment ultimately that the governmentand people of India will have to make.
Q The President, just before he left, and the Secretary of Statealso said that curbing India's nuclear -- is essential for the relationshipto grow. While at the same time, the U.S. has been saying that it's goingto have a broad-based relationship which is not going to be held hostage toa single issue. But isn't this a case of holding the nuclear -- hostage inthe sense of pressing India all the time?
MR. BERGER: I think what the Secretary of State said is that progresson the nonproliferation agenda is important for our relationship to reachits full potential. There are certain sanctions that are mandated by U.S.law, and we have indicated to the government of India and the government ofPakistan certain steps, certain interim steps that we believe would beuseful in de-escalating the tension, including the Comprehensive Test BanTreaty, including stronger export controls. These are all things that thegovernment and people of India will decide ultimately to do if they believein their judgment it is in their self-interest. We happen to think it isin their self-interest to have a de-escalation of tensions andde-escalation of an arms race.
We believe we need to -- we believe there is a unique opportunity tostrengthen our partnership with India, but there are some constraints onthe full realization of that, which relate to the nonproliferation agenda.
Q -- extend his invitation to visit U.S. to the Prime Minister ofBangladesh, Sheikh Hasina. Is he going to do the same for the PrimeMinister of India and General Musharraf of Pakistan?
MR. BERGER: I'm sorry, I didn't -- well, we haven't reached thosestops yet, so we'll wait and see.
Q Sandy, is there something specific that you think President Assadwants to hear from President Clinton?
MR. BERGER: I think that both Prime Minister Barak and PresidentAssad want to -- want some understanding or some sense that, in the finalanalysis, if there are peace negotiations, that their needs can be met.And I think that obviously any negotiation involves compromise andflexibility. But I think, as I say, what the President will be discussingis his views on how to get the process resumed.
Q Can you tell us if the bilateral with the Prime Minister, did thesubject of the change to the President's schedule today come up at all?And can you give us any more detailed explanation for --
MR. BERGER: It was, obviously, mentioned. It was not discussed atlength. I'm not going to go much further than the President went. We hadspecific information which led us to the conclusion that traveling to thevillage was inadvisable.
Q Can you kindly tell us why President cancelled his tour to --
MR. BERGER: I think I just answered the question. But since I didn'thear your question, I have to rely on Mr. Hammer. And if I didn't answeryour question, it's his fault.
MR. HAMMER: That's right.
Q -- Pakistan with the recent shooting of one of the main lawyersfor Nawaz Sharif. And as you all know, the former Prime Minister was trulyforthcoming in signing the Washington accord handed out by the White House,President Clinton. At the risk of creating domestic opposition at home, isPresident Clinton planning to discuss the issue of the probableimprisonment -- during his meeting with General Musharraf?
MR. BERGER: I'm sure the question of the ultimatedisposition of former Prime Minister Sharif will be raised.
Q After the President give Assad his impressions of how the peacetalks can be presumed, what then? Does he want Assad to say, well, this isa good idea, we'll go this way or what does he want?
MR. BERGER: I do not expect there to be an immediately result fromthis meeting on Sunday. I expect that President Assad will go back; we'llcomeback to Washington; and we will continue the process.
THE PRESS: Thank you very much.
END 6:00 P.M. (L)