TITLE: PRESS CONFERENCE WITH THE US AMBASSADOR ALEXANDER VERSHBOW [KOMSOMOLSKAYA PRAVDA DAILY OFFICE, 13:07, JANUARY 17, 2003]
SOURCE: FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE (http://www.fednews.ru/)
Moderator: Good day, dear colleagues. The Komsomolskaya Pravda publishing house is happy to welcome the ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Russian Federation, Mr. Vershbow. As you probably know from the press release, the topic of our press conference is Russian-US Relations and Joint Efforts against International Terrorism.
Mr. Ambassador, please.
Vershbow: Thank you very much. I will speak in English with interpreters. Let me offer a few introductory remarks. First I would like to thank our hosts, Komsomolskaya Pravda. They have a tradition of sometimes irreverent reporting. But I hope I won't be at the receiving end of this irreverence too often. But it is seriously speaking a pleasure to be here today and I look forward to your questions.
First let me say a few words about the state of Russian-American relations. I have sometimes been described as a hawk. But the fact of the matter is that I am optimistic about the state of US-Russian relations. The transformation of the relationship over the past year and a half has been remarkable. Both President Bush and President Putin have been able to escape the ideological constraints of the Cold War and I think that Russia's security interests and those of America increasingly coincide.
We really have much more to gain by working together than by competing with one another, and I think that has been the basis for the extraordinary cooperation that we have established on terrorism. And the recent agreement in the UN Security Council on resolution 1441 and the closer links between Russia and NATO to other examples of our ability to work together.
We still have our differences. For example, over Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran. We have tactical differences over how to deal with North Korea. But I think that Russia's proximity to the world's most unstable regions and to the sources of terrorism and the sources of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction give Russia the potential to be an ever more important partner for the United States than some of our traditional allies. But we still have a ways to go before we can fully realize this potential.
On Iraq, we have to keep the debate focused on what we call the bottom line, the need to achieve Iraqi disarmament of weapons of mass destruction. War is not inevitable. There is still a chance for a peaceful resolution, but the burden of proof is on Saddam to prove to the international community that he has disarmed and that he is complying with UN resolutions. He hasn't done that yet. There are some other issues that are complicating our relations in recent times. We are worried about some recent steps taken by the Russian side that could weaken our cooperation. I have in mind the termination of the mandate for the OSCE mission in Chechnya and also the denial of visas to some Americans working in important non-governmental organizations. We hope that these steps are just exceptions to the positive trends in our relations and do not reflect any weakening of Russia's commitment to expanding people to people links between our two countries, which remains very important.
So, with that I am ready for your questions.
Moderator: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. Now Interfax, you have the floor.
Q: Terekhov, Interfax. Mr. Ambassador, I have two questions. The first is what is the attitude in Washington to the proposal by Beijing to hold a US-North Korean meeting in Chinese territory? And the second question is whether you expect to visit ... (inaudible)... the trip by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs ... (inaudible)... the DPRK?
Vershbow: I am not yet familiar with the details of the Chinese proposals so I think it would be premature for me to comment. But I would say that as a general principle that we need the strongest possible united front among all the concerned powers but particularly the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea, if we are going to resolve the very serious dispute with North Korea. Any solution has to be based on clear renunciation by the North Koreans of their nuclear weapons program and return to compliance with their international obligations. We are hopeful that the mission of Deputy Minister Losyukov will help in convincing the North Korean regime to step back from the brink. I understand that he's only been to Beijing so far he has yet to engage with the North Koreans.
Moderator: Let us consider that the topic of North Korea is now over and I will ask a non-diplomatic question. The Americans have unilaterally withdrawn from the ABM Treaty of 1972. Why can't North Korea withdraw from the treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi? Or is it double standards?
Vershbow: I think that the two issues have no relationship at all. Our decision to leave the ABM Treaty reflected the fundamental changes in the strategic situation since 1972. And our objective is to develop systems that are purely defensive in their character. The North Koreans made a deal in 1994 in which they would receive all kinds of assistance in return for renouncing nuclear weapons. And they have simply violated that promise. They cheated on that deal. So, there are agreements between the North and the South that the Korean Peninsula should remain non-nuclear and it is up to the North Koreans to demonstrate that it will live up to that and not pursue their nuclear weapons which will be very destabilizing.
Moderator: Thank you. The IRNA news agency.
Q: IRNA. Mr. Ambassador, the Russian government continuously asserts that the Iranian-Russian relations have a purely peaceful character. Yesterday the head of the IAEA Mr. ElBaradei admitted the existence of good cooperation between that organization and Iran. Can you tell us about the substance of the apprehensions on the American side? Thank you.
Vershbow: Our concern is that even in the context of programs that may be consistent with the letter of Iran's agreements with the IAEA that there are programs underway in Iran that are designed to develop nuclear weapons. We are very concerned, for example, by the facilities that were recently publicized by the Iranian opposition groups that were never declared to the IAEA but which seem to be related to production of materials that could be used for nuclear weapons.
So, we are concerned that Russia's cooperation with Iran, which again may be consistent with the letter of the IAEA, may nevertheless be helping in the development of nuclear weapons. But we hope that Russia will recognize the dangers and strengthen its controls over the transfer of sensitive technologies.
Moderator: Thank you, Komsomolskaya Pravda.
Q: The pursuit of the operation Desert Storm against Iraq in 1991 was authorized by appropriate UN resolution. This time round, will the United States try to take it to the point that the UN would again give its approval to the pursuit of the action or Washington is firmly resolved to act unilaterally?
Vershbow: The first point I should make is President Bush has not made any decision regarding any military operation in Iraq and is still hopeful that we can find a peaceful solution. And of course we have been working within the framework of the United Nations since September in order to bring the maximum international pressure to bear on Saddam Hussein to comply with the obligations that he has ignored for more than ten years. What additional resolutions may or may not be needed is still to be determined through discussions and consultations within the Security Council.
We believe that there is already considerable authority under the existing UN resolutions to underpin many forms of actions against Iraq, including military action.
Moderator: Thank you.
Q: RIA Novosti. Two questions. I will come back to North Korea. Does the United States intend to bring the matter of North Korea up in the UN Security Council? And the second, related question is what written guarantees can the US really give to Pyongyang? -- A non-aggression treaty as they want to or some other? What is the variant?
Vershbow: We are in the process of consulting with our major partners, including Russia, on how and when to bring this issue to the US Security Council. But the North Koreans, by declaring their withdrawal from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, have in effect forced the issue in the direction of the UN Security Council.
This was part of the ground rules of the IAEA. But we will of course be interested in whether the Deputy Minister Losyukov has some success in persuading the North Koreans to reconsider their decision to withdraw from the NPT. I think that I would not want to speculate on what forms some guarantees to North Korea might take. Because President Bush has already declared many times publicly that he has no intention of invading North Korea or attacking North Korea. And of course if North Korea comes back into the non-proliferation treaty, it would again be beneficiary of a security guarantee that all the nuclear powers make to the non-nuclear state regarding non-aggression. So it just only shows that North Korea's provocations are actually reducing its own security. But I should stress again, President Bush earlier this week underscored our readiness for political solution and our readiness to resume assistance to North Korea but only on condition that it renounce its nuclear program.
And North Korea's response to this sadly recalls the kind of hysterical propaganda that one hasn't heard in many years. Perhaps, one has to go back to the 1930s in Russia to hear this kind of rhetoric.
Moderator: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. I will specify the question asked by my colleague. Before inspectors find anything, I mean until observers find something there, America will not start combat actions. Can you say yes or no? Or, will it begin them despite January 27 and other dates?
Vershbow: I can't give such a simple answer to your question because the issue in Iraq is disarmament, it's not inspections. It's up to Saddam Hussein to prove that he does not have weapons of mass destruction. And so far his cooperation has been minimal and largely passive
Moderator: But the United States is preparing a military operation and says that it has such information about weapons in Iraq. Won't it be easier to transfer this information to the inspectors and observers in order to close this issue? If it has the information, why keep it away from the public?
Vershbow: We are certainly preparing for a possible military operation and we hope that Saddam takes this very seriously in that regard. And we will certainly provide the inspectors additional information based on the considerable evidence that we have that Saddam continues to possess weapons of mass destruction.
But there is no guarantee that the inspectors will find any particular weapons given that Saddam has had for years to conceal and to deceive the international community without the presence of inspectors in this country. But this is not supposed to be a cat-and-mouse game. Saddam is supposed to be forthcoming, he is supposed to present the proof, if he has it, that he has destroyed these weapons. We believe there is no such proof available.
Q: If we are talking about regimes that brutally suppress their own peoples, if we are talking about genocide, torture, and famine caused artificially, can this provide enough grounds for the use of force, or is it necessary to wait till there is a threat that these regimes obtain weapons of mass destruction or till the day when it suddenly becomes clear that they already have them?
Vershbow: I am not going to assert any general doctrine in this regard. Each situation has to be addressed based on its specific circumstances. I think that if one recalls the case of Kosovo, there was strong sentiment among most members of the international community that there was sufficient threat of mass murder and even genocide that it did justify international military intervention in defense of the Albanian minority in Kosovo.
In the case of Iraq, however, the issue is weapons of mass destruction. That is what this is all about. We have more than 10 years of UN resolutions repeatedly demanding that Saddam disarm and he has consistently avoided his responsibility towards the UN Security Council. The credibility of the United Nations is at stake. So, this is really Saddam's last chance to comply with the will of the international community as expressed through the UN Security Council.
Q: Do the facts available to the US provide sufficient proof of Iraq's guilt for the international community? And second, should the inspectors continue their work for several more months as ElBaradei said a couple of days ago?
Vershbow: Well, I think a lot of facts have already been presented, including the very detailed White Paper published by the government of the United Kingdom. But I am certain that my own government will be presenting additional facts to reinforce the case that Saddam still has weapons of mass destruction and has failed to carry out the necessary disarmament. And I hope it will be convincing to you. It certainly is very convincing to me.
Moderator: This is a very serious statement, Mr. Ambassador. Are you sure that the government of the United States will provide the proof in the near future? When will that happen?
Vershbow: That I can't say -- I can't say when and in what degree we will be putting up more information but I am certain that as the moment of decision comes closer we will be making the case as effectively as we can.
And I would again repeat the point that it is up to Saddam to prove that he doesn't have the weapons of mass destruction. That's the bottom line.
On the second question, this will have to be discussed in the Security Council, how much longer the inspection process should continue. It will turn on the contents of the report that will be presented by both Blix and ElBaradei on January 27 to the Security Council.
Q: This book says here that the US military budget is larger than the combined military budgets of all other countries in the world. Can you confirm this? Is this book known in the United States? Does you country remember its author?
And my second question. Can you confirm that the production of drugs after the US operation in Afghanistan has increased five-fold? And do you think that the US should bear its share of responsibility for the growing flow of drugs to Russia and Western Europe?
Vershbow: I don't even know what that book is that you are holding, so I can't --
Moderator: Please, say the name of the book and its author.
Vershbow: I can't say, of course, that our -- there are no secrets about the American military budget. See, this is published in France. I will have to give it a careful examination before I give it any endorsement. Of course, France is America's first ally in history, but this is one of the complicated ones.
But we first make no secret that with the new threats of the 21st century it is essential for the United States to develop new capabilities to deal with the threats in defense of our own, civilization and to defend our allies and friends.
As for the narcotics question, we are very concerned that there continues to be wide-scale production of narcotics in Afghanistan and that a large portion is being exported to Russia and sometimes through Russia to other countries. It would certainly not accept responsibility for this problem. I think it's a challenge for Russia, for the United States and for other countries participating in the restoration of stability to Afghanistan, to help the Afghan authorities to eradicate this problem.
I think it underscores the importance of all countries uniting to help in the economic reconstruction of Afghanistan so that there are alternative sources of income and alternative sources of jobs for the citizens of that country. And I would mention that here in our embassy we have representative of the US Drug Enforcement Agency. They have very good cooperation with their Russian counterparts in trying to coordinate operations to block the shipment of narcotics from Afghanistan through Central Asia to Russia.
Q: Given the package solution to the North Korean issue proposed by Russia, is the United States ready to begin direct negotiations with Pyongyang?
And second, what is the difference in approaches to North Korea between the US and Russia?
Vershbow: I think that the Russian so-called package proposal is more sort of general ideas rather than a very precise negotiating position. But I think that there are common principles in the Russian position and the American position. Both of us are asking or both of us are demanding that the North Koreans reverse the many provocative steps they have taken in recent weeks, bring back the inspectors from the IAEA, freeze all efforts to start up the nuclear reactor at Pyongyang and on that basis I think we could have a very productive dialogue. So I think that any final resolution is going to have to involve even more effective safeguards than were encompassed by the 1994 agreement. We saw that under that agreement North Korea was able to conduct a covert program to develop enriched uranium and it can be very hard to trust them without more effective measures of control.
Moderator: And the last question, colleagues, it is RIA Novosti.
Q: The question is about Georgia, with your permission. Did the Georgian leadership inform the United States that in the Pankisi Gorge there are the rebels and the camps connected with Al Qaeda in the past two years? They have admitted this only now.
Moderator: And why did they mistrust Russia, as a follow up to the previous question? Russia was saying for a long time that there were rebels there. How was it in actual reality?
Vershbow: I don't think that the Georgians were telling us things that they weren't also telling Russia at that time. We were pressing them for a long time to take action against the groups and the activities in the Pankisi Gorge and we presented our evidence to them regarding the presence of not only Chechen fighters but also fighters linked to Al Qaeda and other international networks. We are pleased that in the course of last year the Georgian government did begin to take more effective measures which have had some success but the job is still not done.
Moderator: And in order for us to complete the press conference whose topic is of course Russian-American relations, to what extent is the United States prepared to support Russia in the struggle with terrorism and will they agree to adjusting their position on Chechnya?
Vershbow: I think we have been consistently supportive of Russia in its struggle with terrorism, whether it has its roots in Chechnya or in other places. And I think our solidarity was very clear during the Moscow hostage taking in October.
And the steps I have just described in the context of Georgia are further demonstration of our support. But we have not changed our view that of course not every Chechen is terrorist and that there ultimately does need to be a political solution to the Chechen conflict. A purely military solution in our view does not exist. And so we hope that in the coming months a political process can be established that can encourage a peaceful solution and encourage those Chechens who reject violence to become a participant in the restoration of peace and stability to that tragic republic.
Moderator: Thank you Mr. Ambassador for finding time to come here.