THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
ON PRESIDENT'S MEETING WITH PRESIDENT KUCHMA
9:25 P.M. (L)
MR. HAMMER: Good evening, everyone. We have here an administration official who will be briefing you on today's visit to Kiev, the President's meetings, the agenda, and some of the agreements that were signed.
Let me first, before turning the floor over, thank a group of students and journalists who have been assisting us on a volunteer basis from an organization called Pro Media, which is a USIA-AID funded democracy program that assists in the development of independent media by providing training, legal assistance, business and editorial consulting and other help.
Since 1996, it has worked with more than 4,000 Ukrainian journalists and hundreds of newspapers. Pro Media, through the efforts of the U.S. embassy in Ukraine is bringing a group of young journalists to the media filing center -- and you've probably seen a number of them around working today during our visit so they can get a better understanding of the work that you do and the work perhaps we do in the White House Press Office. I will actually be meeting with this group afterward, and I would encourage any of you that aren't crashing on deadlines to maybe spend some time with them as well, so they get a real feel for what an independent media is all about.
Now I'll turn the floor over.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi. I know that this is at the end of a long trip, so I'll be brief and be happy to take any questions that you have.
I think one of the most important statements that the President made in his speech today, and one of the things that explains why we're here at all, is the fact that for the United States, Europe's eastern border doesn't end at Ukraine's western border. We feel that it's a fundamental principle of our foreign policy that Ukraine and its integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures is in our national interest.
We met with President Kuchma and his senior leaders in two formal meetings. We also had an informal meeting and a reception, which gave the President a chance to meet with a group of leaders from their Rada, Ukraine's Parliament.
Those leaders included the Speaker of the Rada, his two deputies, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Chairman of the Defense Committee, and the Chairman of the Economic Reform Committee.
As you know from the fact sheets that Mike and his team have prepared and distributed to you, there are a number of very important deliverables, of announceables and achievements that we were able to sign or acknowledge in our talks today. Let me just focus on three right now, and then take your questions, if you have any.
First of all, of course most important -- not only for the United States, but for Ukraine and for Europe -- is President Kuchma's announcement about Chernobyl closure on December 15th. Chernobyl will close once and for all on that day and make Ukraine, Europe and the world a safer place.
We announced, in turn, our pledge of $78 million to the Chernobyl Shelter Fund. As you know, in 1995, the United States, the European Union and our G-7 colleagues met and pledged some $350 million to create a shelter, or a sarcophagus, around the Chernobyl reactors. That project is not yet completed and the G-7 will be hosting another pledging conference in Berlin, in early July, at which we have announced our pledge of $78 million.
In connection with Chernobyl and the pledge, we've also made two other important announcements. One, a $2 million Department of Energy Nuclear Safety program for Ukraine overall, in which we will work with Ukrainian scientists and engineers to increase nuclear safety in all of Ukraine's reactors. And, second, a important and innovative new program called a business incubator for the Chernobyl region.
As Chernobyl shuts down there will be a lot of lost economic opportunities -- scientists and engineers and others would be put out of work, we want to help create new economic opportunities for people in that region.
The second major announcement that was made today was our decision to eliminate commercial space-launch quotas with Ukraine. We are able to do this because of Ukraine's stellar record on nonproliferation, especially with regard to missile technologies. We have launch quota agreements with other countries which we have not abrogated. We decided that based on Ukraine's performance to take this step proactively today.
And, finally, I would just point out that the nuclear fuel qualifying agreement, while perhaps the most complicated, technically, of the announcements today, is incredibly important. Today, Ukraine can buy nuclear fuel for its civilian reactors from only one source, and that's Russia. Because Russia has a monopoly on Ukraine's market, it's able to charge exorbitant prices.
What this project does is create the technical capacity inside Ukraine to test and verify nuclear fuel from any supplier around the world, including the United States. That way, Ukraine can move into a market situation and diversity its supply of nuclear fuel, and also bid for lower prices.
So with that, I am happy to take any questions that you might have.
Q I have two. The first one, a clarification. On the fact sheet, it says that the U.S. has provided $200 million to date in Chernobyl assistance.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q Is the $78 million for the sarcophagus project on top of that, or is that part of the $200 million?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's an additional $78 million. We pledged in 1995 the first $78 million, and then have done other projects on top of that since the beginning of our relationship with independent Ukraine, so this will be on top of the $200 million.
Q Another one of the first subject you brought up. Was the President today saying that Ukraine should be a part of the European Union and NATO and under what circumstances would he endorse that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Those are really Ukraine's decisions. We support Ukraine's deeper and broader integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures. We feel that the strong, secure, prosperous Ukraine is in our interests. And as the President said today, we need a strong Ukraine as a partner in East Central Europe. Whether or not Ukraine decides it wants to be a member of any particular organization is something that the Ukrainians need to decide.
Q Does the President support Ukrainian membership to these organizations?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, of course, we have no say in matters concerning the European Union. We aren't a member and, as far as I know, we aren't applying any time soon. But, on NATO, the door is open on NATO to any country that is a stable market democracy and that meets the conditions. That's NATO's policy.
Q The President has also said repeatedly that he wants to see Turkey in the EU. He's not blocked by the fact the U.S. is not a member of the EU in making recommendations. I mean, it's a straightforward question, it's yes or no.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. Well, I think Turkey has made that statement, itself -- expressed that interest. Right now, Ukraine is in the middle of a process of economic and democratic transformation as you know. And it is now focusing on completing the requirements of what's called a partnership and cooperation agreement with the EU, and working toward associate member status. And the President supports that.
Q How many Chernobyl-style reactors are in operation right now, across the former Soviet Union; and are there any plans to deal with these and provide assistance to clean up some of these other ones, too?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know the number. I know that we have projects throughout the former Soviet Union, in Russia and in Central Asia to do the same types of things. I don't know the number of reactors -- I will try to get that for you.
Q Aren't a lot of these accidents waiting to happen?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, nuclear safety at these types of reactors is something that is a serious issue and one that we watch, and we work with the governments in those countries very closely to minimize the risk and to shift away from those unsafe reactors into new forms of energy -- whether that be fossil fuel based or safe nuclear capacity.
Q The Ukraine government in the past, I think, has made linkage between the announcement of the date of the closure of the plant and the provision of funding for replacement nuclear reactor. Does the announcement of the date without the apparent provision of this funding mean that they would actually change that policy?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. I think it's a great step forward. What they've done, basically, is said, we made a commitment when we signed this memorandum of understanding in 1997, and we're going to follow through with that commitment. The commitment signed at that time was to close Chernobyl by the end of the year 2000. Now we have a concrete date. What that does is to give us more momentum going into this July 6th -- or 5th, pledging conference in Berlin. And it will help increase the ability of other G-7 donors to provide funding for the sarcophagus.
Q If I may follow up. What about the replacement for the nuclear reactor, the replacement nuclear reactor? I mean, there has been quite a lot of objection to that from Western Europe. Is it at all likely that funding will be made available for this nuclear reactor and is the U.S. likely to provide any such funding?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The United States has said on record -- and our policy hasn't changed -- that if Ukraine creates the right conditions for that reactor, we'll support it through our export trade agencies, in particular, Ex-Im Bank.
What is key here, though, is to understand that in building this reactor, this new capacity, Ukraine would have to take on debt. What nobody wants to see happen is for Ukraine to take on debt that it can't repay. We don't want to increase the debt burden on this country just now, as it's starting to show signs of economic recovery.
Q The Ukraine already has an acute energy crisis.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. And?
Q How do you address this issue if --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay. The Chernobyl reactor that is going to be closed on December 15th represents about 3 percent of Ukraine's electric power per year. Not a large sum, but certainly non-trivial.
We have been encouraging Ukraine over the past several years to take steps to increase energy efficiency, both on the consumption side and on the production side. In the meantime, Ukraine has asked, in addition, to -- replacement nuclear capacity, over the long-term, it has asked for replacement fossil fuel capacity in the short-term -- i.e., this winter, to get it over this cold period in the winter. They asked for this fossil fuel capacity from the European Union, and are now in negotiations with the EU on the details of how that fuel may be provided.
Q Why didn't the President mention this in his remarks?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President did mention the United States pledge of $78 million in the signing ceremony. This is President Kuchma's reactor and we felt -- we were very pleased that today we were able to reach agreement with President Kuchma that would allow us to make this announcement. We thought it was important that he take the lead on this and that we respond by announcing our $78 million pledge. That's something that we're going to do.
The fossil fuel issue that I was speaking to is something between Ukraine and the EU.
Q I'm talking about the closure of Chernobyl. Why didn't the President mention the closure of Chernobyl?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In the crowd speech?
Q Yes. Just forgot it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, certainly didn't forget it. I think here, again, it was a sense on our part that this is something for President Kuchma to be doing today. It's Ukraine's reactor. There's a lot of emotional sensitivity, political sensitivity to this question, and we just wanted to be mindful of that and respectful of President Kuchma's position.
Q You said there's a lot of political sensitivity?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Lots of people got sick and died because of Chernobyl, and it's a pain in many Ukrainian hearts today. It is something that every Ukrainian feels in a very deep and personal way. Closing Chernobyl is important. Doing it in a way that demonstrates cooperation with the West we think is important. And I think it's just bound to be a sensitive issue all around.
MR. HAMMER: Thank you very much.
Q Can we go home now?
MR. HAMMER: You can go home now. (Laughter.)
END 9:20 P.M. (L)
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