THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SAMUEL BERGER
Crowne Plaza Hotel
9:38 P.M. (L)
MR. LOCKHART: Good evening, everyone. Mr. Hunt. The President's National Security Advisor, Samuel Berger, will brief you on the meeting that the President just held with Chancellor Schroeder and give you a sense of the important events of tomorrow, highlighted by the President receiving the Charlemagne Prize. He will take some questions, and if there are any other areas you want to discuss, I'll be glad to take further questions.
MR. BERGER: Good evening. The meeting between President Clinton and Chancellor Schroeder lasted I think about 90 minutes, scheduled for about 45. There were three basic issues they talked about, after the initial greetings. The first was Russia, our impending to there and Putin is coming here I think sometime later this month. They talked about the opportunities that a Putin administration offered, as well as some of the concerns that they had.
I think they both see Putin as likely to be the President of Russia for the next four years, and therefore, an extraordinarily important figure in terms of not only the history of Russia, but the evolution of East-West relations, or relations between Russia and Europe, Russia and the United States.
Their view is that he clearly seems committed to modernizing the Russian economy, which is the fundamental task before him -- or a fundamental task before him -- and that in so doing, if he's successful, notwithstanding the rather formidable obstacles he faces, that he can bring the very dramatic changes that have taken place in Russia over the last decade more directly to the Russian people and, therefore, put democracy on an even more stable footing going forward.
Obviously, there are concerns. They talked about Chechnya and the continuing imperative of bringing this to a political end, rather than a continued military engagement; and the challenge of Putin -- the issue of whether modernization that I talked about will reinforce democratization or whether it will come at the expense of democratization. Those are all questions that obviously will be answered by President Putin and the Russian people over the months ahead.
They had a good discussion on NMD. The President talked about, first, about the choices before him as we proceed. They talked about the nature of the threat -- that is, the development of the capability of a third country, some hostile, perhaps ultimately subnational units having long-range missile capabilities that can reach the United States, how we best deal with that threat. They talked about the challenges of the technology, other technological ideas that have been floated; about the broad security consequences of both proceeding and not proceeding, including the impact of arms control.
Clearly, as we said before, it is our strong preference to proceed, if the President so decides, in the context of the arms control regime, and the President made that clear to Chancellor Schroeder. Schroeder acknowledged that this is a sovereign decision for the United States government and the United States people to make. He expressed his concern that we proceed with due consideration for the impact on others, including Europe, assuming, of course, that we intend to do.
I think it was a good discussion, it was a very substantive discussion, and I think that -- I would hope that there is a better understanding, having listened to that discussion, on the part of the German government that we are proceeding with care and with deliberation through all of the dimensions of this.
The President then raised the child custody issue and his concern about this problem, which has gained attention in the United States. The Chancellor said that he had been looking at these cases, that he was, of course concerned from his perspective about not interfering with the judicial process, particularly given the historical precedence here, but that he recognized that some cases did raise problems.
He proposed a group of experts from both countries that would sift through each of the individual cases that are at issue, and also look to, prospectively, what kind of institutional changes perhaps are necessary to make the system work better. This, I think, represents a good step. The terms of reference of this group of experts remains to be determined, and will be worked out between our justice ministers. The President's concern here is that the Hague Convention, which provides certain rights in these cases be adhered to to the greatest extent possible. Not only here, but in other countries, and also in the United States, where in some cases it has not been adhered to, I think, although it is a much smaller number of cases.
Let me just foreshadow tomorrow a little bit, and then take your questions. The Charlemagne Prize, which the President is receiving tomorrow for his contribution to peace and integration of Europe, and the partnership between Europe and the United States, is something we value highly, the President values highly. I think you heard EU President Prodi yesterday talk about the importance of this prize and what it represents in Europe, indicating this made the President an honorary European. Chancellor Schroeder today again in the meeting expressed his pleasure that this was happening and how important this was in a European context. I think for Europeans and for us I think it's a big deal.
The prize -- this is the 50th anniversary of the Charlemagne Prize, although it's only been given 40 times in 50 years. Some years, I guess, there was no worthy recipient. I think you've been told before some of the previous recipients -- Jean Monet; Adenauer; Churchill; Mitterrand; Kohl; Havel, who I believe will be there tomorrow; King Juan Carlos, who I think also will be there; and Tony Blair. The President is only the third American to receive the prize -- George Marshall and Henry Kissinger being the other two.
Aachen, itself, is a very interesting location. I'm sure you know, it's the ancient capital of Charlemagne and has been, in a sense, the heart of the European identity for about 12 centuries. The city was severely damaged during World War II, although the cathedral remained intact. In 1944, Aachen was the first German city liberated by the U.S. armies. There was enormous, deep and long historical resonance to not only the location of the price, but, obviously, the prize itself.
And the President will give an address and talk about where we've come in realizing the vision that he's spoken of quite frequently over the last eight years of a peaceful, undivided, democratic Europe, for the first time in history -- where we are on that, toward that end, and the remaining tasks ahead; in particular, Southeastern Europe and integrating it into Europe as the way of anchoring it into the democratic world and the peaceful world; second, Russia and how it evolves over the next decade and more; and then, third, the durability and continued importance of the transatlantic alliance.
The President will talk a bit about some perceptions and misperceptions on both sides of the Atlantic, but the abiding and strong continuing interest that we have in maintaining the strength of that alliance is essentially the bedrock of American foreign policy, and I think European foreign policy.
Q In diplospeak, your description of --
MR. BERGER: Diplo-speak? That was Joe you were referring to.
Q Your discussion of the national missile defense sounded like a pretty sharp disagreement. Could you elaborate on what they discussed? And did they in the end just agree to disagree, or where does this --
MR. BERGER: Was that in reporto-speak? (Laughter.) No, I don't think it was a sharp disagreement. I think it was a very intelligent discussion of a very complicated issue by two very smart men, and a result of which I think both learned something. That's how I would describe it. That's not diplo-speak.
I think it was not at all sharp. It was the President saying, let me tell you how I'm thinking about this, what are the issues that I've got to deal with. We can't run away from this threat, it's there. How quickly it will evolve, what is the right way to answer it and deal with it, those are all very legitimate questions. But we can't bury it, we can't put our head in the sand. Here are the choices and here are the factors that I'm going to take into account, and I'm concerned about how we proceed with Europe and their sense of comfort level with this. But, ultimately, I've got to make a decision in terms of American national security.
I think on Schroeder's part, I think that he said that -- as I said before, they're concerned that this not be done at the expense of the arms control regime or without regard to its impact on others. And, of course, those are all factors the President has said that he will take into consideration.
Q What's your perception of the threat that and MND would provoke any kind of an arms race?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think that the system that we have developed -- although I would say again, not yet decided whether to go forward with -- is a very limited system. It is a system that does not, from any reasonable perspective, threaten the Russian deterrent. It's not designed against China and we do not believe it will negate China's nuclear deterrent going forward.
So we don't think that a limited system, particularly if we proceed here in the context of a modified ABM treaty, as we proceed forward with a START III process, would ignite an arms race. I think there are other regimes that might be more -- run more of a risk.
But this is a system that is not directed at Russia; this is a system that is directed at Saddam Hussein or North Korea or others who may acquire, or who are acquiring, long-range missiles. And we have an obligation to the American people to think through very carefully how best we respond to that.
Q Will the President modify his approach to Putin on this subject based on what he heard today and learned today in the meeting with Schroeder?
MR. BERGER: I think you learn something from every encounter. But I don't think fundamentally it will change the dialogue. I think that this, as I said before, is the first opportunity and Putin will have to talk to each other about this. I think it's important that President Putin hear from President Clinton how we see the threat, how we see the system, why we don't see it as a threat to Russia.
I expect that President Putin will express his concerns about it and I don't expect they'll resolve all differences, but I hope that there will be a better appreciation of this as a result of the meeting which, of course, has a number of other areas of concentration as well.
Q Did they talk about the Holocaust slave labor?
Q Will President Clinton offer to share American missile defense technology with Russia when he speaks with Putin?
MR. BERGER: I think that for some time we have said that we're prepared to cooperate in some respects with Russia in ways that would be stabilizing. For example, just to give you one example, early warning information which, if Russia has a greater capability to understand what may be being launched into the air, it will make decisions that will be safer and more secure for us. So there are plenty of areas of cooperation. Conceivably, we have not decided to go forward. Conceivably, there are areas where, as the President suggested yesterday, we can share some technology, presumably other technology we would not be able to share.
Q On the ABM Treaty, you said that Schroeder expressed concern that any missile defense not be done at the expense of the arms control regime. Is he asking for upholding the ABM Treaty as is; does he still believe this is a viable treaty?
MR. BERGER: No, I don't think -- it was not expressed at that level of detail. I think that the ABM Treaty envisioned by its own terms that it would be amended and, in fact, it has been amended. It was amended in 1974. So it's not like the Ten Commandments written in stone; it is a document that, by its own terms, provides for amendments and changes to deal with the evolution of circumstance.
What we're simply saying to the Russians is that there have been an evolution of circumstance, and we ought to think about this in a way that both enables us to deal with this threat, but also in a way that preserves both an ABM Treaty, although with some modifications, and as we proceed down the START road.
Q So what did he mean when he said that it shouldn't be done at the expense of the arms control regime, what was he referring to?
MR. BERGER: I think the Europeans would not be excited if the United States unilaterally abrogated the ABM Treaty. But that is certainly a right that we retain, and it is something the President ultimately may have to decide. But it is our strong preference, if we proceed -- and no decision to go forward has been made -- to do so in the context of arms control.
Q When you said that you might share some technology, but not other technology -- yesterday, the President suggested a pretty strong moral imperative saying it would be unethical, it would be a moral obligation to share it --
MR. BERGER: I think you have to -- it depends on what. If we had a system and we determined that the missile had been launched -- not at us, but at somebody else -- I presume if it was launched at Europe, we would have a moral obligation to tell Europe, to inform them what we knew.
To the extent that we could share information and share technology, not only in that circumstances -- which, obviously, is an extreme circumstance -- but that gives them greater capacity of benefit from this system, that's something that we will look at. But, again, I think it's premature to be too specific about this, since we haven't yet made those judgments.
Q But did Schroeder express any interest in Germany or other European nations obtaining the technology as a part of a system providing defense for itself, for all of Europe?
MR. BERGER: You know, Europeans are not -- to take it out of the Schroeder context -- are not impervious to the threat that we're talking about. Many of the Europeans I've talked to recognize that this is a problem. I don't think they're far along in their thinking to determine what the right solution for them is. And, obviously, a lot depends upon how we proceed.
Q Stu Eizenstat had suggested two days ago that he was hopeful that an agreement on Holocaust slave labor fund would be -- a German fund -- would be perhaps signed by the two men during this visit to Germany. Did they discuss that subject and how close are they to an agreement? And is there any thought about having American firms that benefited from slave labor also start a fund of their own?
MR. BERGER: I would rather that we find Stu, Joe --
Q Did the issue come up?
MR. BERGER: The issue did not come up, and I have not had a chance to talk to Stu in the last 24, 36 hours, so I'm not exactly sure where this stands, and I'm reluctant to suggest there will or there won't be an agreement. When I last spoke to Stu it was not -- there were still issues to be resolved. It did come up in the context of, I think, a commitment on the part -- it came up particularly in the meeting with President Rau in the context of a desire of both countries to resolve this, recognizing there were still some legal issues that had to be resolved.
Q What about with Schroeder?
MR. BERGER: I don't think it came up with Schroeder, no.
Q On the custody issue, did they discuss how they might expedite contacts between American parents who have not been able to see their children in Germany? And, also, who would be these experts that they're talking about?
MR. BERGER: Well, again, this is a new idea that Chancellor Schroeder put on the table today, after the President raised this issue. And I think we're going to have to now have serious discussions on what the nature of this group would be and what their mandate would be, what their authority would be.
We did talk about visitation rights, specifically, and the suffering of parents who can't even see their children. I think, clearly, that is something that this group could look at in individual cases. But exactly how -- what their mandate will be, what their authority will be, other than the very general one at this point of -- or generic one -- of looking through all the cases, presumably determine where there are problems; and, second, recommending changes that can be made in the system to expedite resolution of these cases on a fair basis consistent with the Hague Convention. Beyond that, that really now has to go to, I think, the justice ministers to work out.
Q Can you say something more about these transatlantic misconceptions that the President is going to tell the world about tomorrow?
MR. BERGER: Well, I don't want to -- I mean, two I'll just mention -- perceptions or misperceptions I think is what I said. One, on the European side, I think there is often some resistance to what they perceive as overwhelming American power and American unilateralism in some cases. I think many Americans are concerned about burden-sharing issues in situations like the Balkans. The facts in many cases are different than the perceptions, and I think the President wants to address those.
Q In the conversation on Chechnya, will there be anything new or different that Schroeder or the President will have to say about the situation there to achieve the result which you said they both favor, which is moving this toward a political and away from a military solution?
MR. BERGER: Well, that's the headline version. I'm sure that it will be more specific than that. Clearly, number one, we would like to see an end to this. There are still lives being lost in Chechnya and our view -- and it's been our view since the President met with Putin in Auckland -- has been that this can only come to a resolution through some kind of political settlement.
Second of all, there are questions of human rights issues that have been raised, questions of accountability and process and access by the international community. I think those will be questions that will be raised in Moscow.
Q You said that the two learned something from each other in the discussion. What did the President learn from Schroeder -- technological aspects -- and did it change his perception at all about this thing going forth?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think we certainly have had enough conversations with the Europeans over the past months to know the issues that they raised. I thought Chancellor Schroeder raised those issues. And, as I say, we also would like to do this, if we do it at all, in the context of arms control in ways that are sensitive to the impacts on our allies.
Q On Sierra Leone, you guys released from the White House today a memorandum from the Secretary of State showing that President Clinton has made an official presidential determination that furnishing support for the peacekeeping efforts there is important to the security interests of the United States. Is that prelude simply to furnishing logistical support, or do you envision some larger role for the United States that this would give us a legal basis to implement?
MR. BERGER: I think that is in connection -- I'm not specifically familiar with the piece of paper that you have in front of you, but I think that is in connection with our readiness, as we've said before, to work with regional countries -- Nigeria, in particular; Ghana and others -- in helping them to deploy to Sierra Leone, to enhance the peacekeeping mission there, to do so with as good equipment and training as is possible. So I think our role would be logistical, as well as, perhaps in the area of training and assistance, but not in any kind of a combat capacity.
Q Sandy, is there a risk that Putin might view the President's decision as something of an ultimatum, either accept a renegotiation or the ABM treaty or we could exercise our right to withdraw from it?
MR. BERGER: No, I don't think we've ever presented anything as an ultimatum. The fact is that we have a threat. We have developed a system. We have to make a judgment whether the technology is sufficiently far along to have confidence in it. We would like to do that in the context of arms control. It is clearly in the interest of Russia that if a limited NMD system goes forward -- let alone a Star Wars kind of system -- that it be done in the context of arms control.
And so I think this will not be presented as an ultimatum. It will be presented as a set of issues that the Russians have to make their own judgment about, in terms of what their -- how they see their interests. Would they like to see this -- is it better for them for this to proceed in the context of a modified ABM treaty, or run the risk that this President or a subsequent President might build this system or a larger system outside the context of the ABM Treaty?
Q Sandy, any response to the -- by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il to China?
MR. BERGER: Well, like our South Korean allies, we welcome this development. It reflects -- I believe it's the first visit by a North Korean leader to China in well over a decade. And anything that brings North Korea out of isolation and into contact with other nations is a good development.
Obviously, we look forward very much to the North-South summit, which will take place June 12th to 14th. I think that is a truly historic meeting, and I think as part of that, you're seeing some of this other diplomatic activity take place.
MR. LOCKHART: Do you guys have anything else you want to cover?
Q Joe, will the President today or sometime tomorrow send a notification to Congress about the drug kingpin situation --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have a statutory deadline of June 1, and I expect that we will meet that deadline.
Q So it will be something tonight?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't think we'll be doing anything as far as keeping you up until the middle of the night, so I expect if we have something, it may be for tomorrow. If we have something to send to Congress, it will be done today or tomorrow, I expect.
Q Can you give us any kind of tick-tock on how the President was notified about the Elian decision? Did he read it in its entirety or --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think he's had a chance to read it in its entirety. We were notified of the decision as we were landing in Berlin. We had just finished briefing the President on the trip here, and Deputy Counsel Bruce Lindsey and myself went to the front, told him of the decision, what we knew about it. We have subsequently gotten the opinion over here. Bruce has read it; he gave the President a little fuller briefing later in the day. But he hasn't had a chance in between all these meetings to sit down and read it.
Q And the President mentioned it in his -- when he came out of the meeting with Schroeder. Did you happen to know if he mentioned it in the meeting with --
MR. LOCKHART: Not really in the meeting. He mentioned as they were walking out of the meeting to Chancellor Schroeder that because this was such a big domestic story in the States, he would be saying something about it. There was no discussion of it, but as a matter of courtesy, he mentioned to Chancellor Schroeder that he would be making a few brief comments on this at the end of his statement.
Q Joe, when is the President meeting with former Chancellor Kohl?
MR. LOCKHART: Do we have a time on that? Let me get a time for you. Tomorrow, but I'll have to get a time for you for that.
Q Are they going to have lunch? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure we have that much time in the schedule. (Laughter.)
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 10:10 P.M. (L)
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