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#14 - JRL 7205
Press Background Briefing By Senior Administration Official
WASHINGTON, June 1 /PRNewswire/ -- The following is a transcript of a background briefing by a senior administration official:
Aboard Air Force One
En route Evian-les-Bains, France
11:50 P.M. (L)


Q How'd the meeting go with President Putin? Was there something more substantive, behind-the-scenes, than we saw in the press conference?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was really an excellent meeting. They talked about a number of issues, some of which came out in the press conference. They talked quite a bit about proliferation; they talked about North Korea. The President expressed his support for what the Russians have been trying to do. The Russians are also talking to the North Koreans. Everybody is expressing to the North Koreans that it's extremely important not to build nuclear weapons, to live up to their agreements under the NPT and other agreements.

So they had a discussion about North Korea; had an exchange about Iran, which you heard about. I think when President Putin said that our views were closer than they seemed, it is absolutely the case that there's been some bridging of the differences about Iran over this last two years or so. Particularly, there have been very good discussions between the Minister of Atomic Energy here, and Spence Abraham, the Energy Secretary, about how to deal with the potential for civilian and nuclear -- civilian nuclear programs in Iran being diverted to nuclear weapons programs. So they pledged to have those discussions continue.

They talked about the importance of strategic dialogue. And what's really meant by that is an opportunity to talk broadly about issues before there is a crisis in a particular area. So to have broad scale discussions about, say, the Middle East; or broad scale discussions about Asia before you confront a particular issue there. And President Putin said, there are multiple channels there, ministers meet all the time. They're now also going to have a channel between the presidential administration and the National Security Council. So the Presidents, themselves, have a sort of direct line on these issues.

They talked some about economic issues. The President mentioned again his support for lifting the Jackson-Vanik restrictions on the Russians. The President has been very supportive of efforts to ready Russia for accession to the WTO. But we do have some issues concerning agriculture and tariffs -- again, chicken and pork and beef. (Laughter.) It's kind of the normal business, though, of international relations. And so the Presidents talked about the importance of the agricultural commission being set up between Gordeyev, the Agriculture Minister in Russia, and Veneman in the United States.

So that was the general tone.

Q On the weapons of mass destruction, the administration is coming under increasing pressure from other leaders about why a weapons system beyond what has been discovered has been found. Why is it that the only explanation right now is that there were two mobile labs found? I mean, certainly American troops weren't taking all those precautions just for two labs. Is it the administration's belief that this is going to be a history lesson and not an actual finding -- that is to say, you'll learn about the weapons program that existed at some point, but that it no longer exists?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. First of all, I would focus again on the fact that those biological weapons trailers, laboratories are -- look precisely like what Colin Powell described in his talk to the United Nations on February 5th. We are also learning from interviews about the way the chemical weapons capability was imbedded in the dual use infrastructure of chemical weapons facilities.

We've always known that this was a program that was built for concealment, it was built to be inspection-proof and discovery-proof. And so it's not surprising that it's going to take some time to put all of the pieces together.

It's not surprising that the most important source of materials are going to be documents -- of which there are hundreds, if not thousands -- and people and the ability to interview those people.

Now, only a small number of the people that we believe have information we've actually had the opportunity to interview. Only a small number of the documents have been exploited because, obviously, there are a lot of priorities right now in Iraq. That's why the Defense Department is sending a larger, more comprehensive team that will be capable of document exploitation with intelligence experts and the like. It's going to take some time. The program was built for deception and for concealment, and so it's going to take some time. But we have to remember that there's a long history of accusation of the weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq. A lot of what is unresolved about the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction program comes from the United Nations, from UNSCOM, from UNMOVIC and, of course, from U.S. and other intelligence. But it's going to take a while to put it all together.

Q The central question is still whether this is going to be -- what you discover is going to be the history of a program or an existing program? Do you think that these weapons systems or materials have either been transferred or destroyed?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: David, the ability to make large amounts of dry agent in a biological, mobile biological facility is a weapons program. That's a weapons program. Now, I can't answer at this point what the extent of this is. I can't answer what portions of it look like what, because we still have to go through documents, we have to interview people, we have to put the picture together.

But when you're talking about the discovery already of a facility for making biological agents in significant numbers that would be lethal to significant numbers of people, you're not talking about history.

Q On Iran, what's causing President Putin to change his mind about this program?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I would say we're having more of a meeting of the minds, is the way I would put it, Steve. And some of it undoubtedly has to do with what the IAEA found when they went into Iran, where they found a much more developed nuclear weapons -- I'm sorry, a more developed nuclear capability than anybody had seen heretofore

And we've always been in the United States, as you know, quite suspicious of Iranian intentions and believing that the Iranian civilian nuclear program was really a cover for their larger, nuclear weapons program. That has not been a common view with everybody of the world. But the extent of the program that the IAEA found, I think you're going to find that there are some elements that are at least questionable in a civilian use, if not down right inexplicable for civilian uses. And it's getting peoples' attention.

But we've also been having very fruitful discussions with the Russians about this for a couple of years. And I think what the Russians want is that they don't want to be disadvantaged themselves, in terms of civilian cooperation. But if everybody is clear with the Iranians that they cannot have civilian cooperation and pursue a nuclear weapons program, therefore, and that the Iranians have got to do something about verification and the like, I think we'll be able to --

Q President Putin says he's worried that this will be used as an instrument of competition against -- how do you get around that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it means that everybody ought to be equally concerned about this, and not just Russia, I think is the point that he's making. And we would agree with that.

Now, the point was mentioned was here about British and other companies. There is some technology that we believe was transferred illegally, without knowledge of western companies, sometime back in history with the Iranians. But even so, there ought to be export controls by everybody. Everybody ought to be concerned about not allowing the Iranians to use civilian nuclear programs to --

Q What's the chance of getting those export controls?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we're making some progress. In some countries, they're there, but it's a matter of better enforcement. And in some countries -- as you know with China, for instance -- we've been working on the issue of trying to get the Chinese to improve their export control laws so that they actually have something to sanction companies with.

Q The good relations between the two leaders was pretty apparent. I mean, they were making a determined effort to put aside differences. How does that carry over to the summit in France, and sort of the mood of that meeting, of all the leaders?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me say one thing first, Terry, about the good relations between the leaders, because they do have good personal relations. But it is translated into a lot in terms of U.S.-Russian relations. They signed, or they exchanged instruments of ratification today for a treaty that I think would have been unthinkable just a few years ago with a Russian president, significantly reducing their strategic nuclear forces with -- in a document that is three-and-a-half pages long, that has overwhelming support of both legislatures and that's going to make a really big difference in moving the world from very, very large nuclear arsenals. That would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

The kind of counterterrorism cooperation that we enjoy with the Russians would have been unthinkable, probably just a little more than a couple of years ago, with 9/11. We were sitting here talking -- or standing here talking about the trade issues that we have, but it's a remarkable thing when you think that trade disputes, trade issues are the thing of normal interaction between states.

So this is a relationship that, yes, it's an important personal relationship, but it's come a long way in terms of the substance of the relationship, too.

As to Evian, I think the President's speech in Poland spoke for itself yesterday. He believes very strongly that the United States and its allies -- both traditional allies and new allies -- share a set of values from which we can proceed to make the world safer and better. And he laid out a very ambitious agenda for all of us in making the world safer and better. Proliferation concerns, a new proposal that we look at ways to interdict dangerous cargo. A very strong focus on poverty alleviation and AIDS and defeating the scourge of AIDS that is causing the continent of Africa, as well as other places, the flower of its youth, its ability to be prosperous. A very important agenda on NATO and NATO reforms, so that NATO can be an important force in fighting terrorism. And, of course, the war against global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

So the President is focused on a -- and I should mention also trade, of course, and lowering agricultural barriers and making it possible for developing countries to trade.

The President is focused on a positive agenda with like-minded allies. And I think that will be the focus of the G8.

Q On that point, the President said that he felt that this administration's disagreement with Russia over Iraq in some ways made their relationship stronger. Does he believe that's the case with France, as well?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'm not going to try and make a comparison here. The fact is, it's a new relationship with Russia. It's a relationship that's only been evolving for a relatively small number of years. We forget, the Soviet Union collapsed 12 years ago. This is a very new relationship with Russia. And in that sense, it's perhaps not surprising that there were going to be some bumps along the road in which the old agenda and the new agenda were in conflict.

So I think when the Presidents talked about strengthening their relationship as a result of having gone through hard times on Iraq, that's really what they're speaking of.

We'll see about the relationship with our other allies and how we come out of this. I think that 1483, the U.N. resolution, was a good start to show that we can move beyond the difficulties that we had on Iraq, that we can move to a relationship that is focused now on what needs to be done in the years ahead -- especially, what needs to be done to support the reconstruction of Iraq and prosperity for the Iraqi people.

Q Does the President believe that Jacques Chirac -- does he remain suspicious that Chirac will work to undermine key U.S. foreign policy goals, especially as it relates to what this administration perceives as U.S. security matters?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the President made clear yesterday in Krakow that he believes that we share the same goals with our long-time allies; and that what we need to focus on is that the forces out there that want to destabilize, that want to engage in terrorism, that want to build weapons of mass destruction would like nothing better than to have the western alliance or the transatlantic alliance in an internecine battle about whose power needs to be checked or does not need to be checked, they would like nothing better than that. Because then we would not be focused on what we need to do.

And so what the President called on yesterday is that we all refocus our attention on that positive agenda.

Q But does he intend to send that message specifically to Jacques Chirac? Does Jacques Chirac need to understand that from the President?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Everybody needs to understand that, David. All of us need to understand that. But our goal now -- there are really big issues ahead of us: nonproliferation, global economic growth, development and poverty alleviation, fighting AIDS, fighting terrorism. There's a huge agenda and the President is going to keep reminding everybody that we need to focus on --

Q Did the President explicitly raise with President Putin this new counterproliferation initiative? And what did he ask Putin to do?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, it was a short meeting, unfortunately. We will raise this with the Russians in greater detail, but they did not talk about the specific initiative today. He just asked President Putin through our strategic dialogue to say to his people that we really need to take some serious looks at what we can do on the proliferation issue. And I should mention that it was actually President Putin who first brought up the proliferation issue and said that he saw it of extreme importance. So we will get there with the Russians.

We will, by the way, I think also raise this with President Hu today, the importance of dealing with the proliferation issue, because with the Chinese we have of course the immediate issues concerning North Korea, where China has been playing an active and, we believe, helpful role. Because as the President has made very clear, North Korea would like nothing better than to have this be an issue between North Korea and the United States. This is an issue between North Korea and the world, and the President will reiterate that with President Hu today.

Q And, briefly, do these meetings with the Russian and the Chinese leaders play any role in any policy shifts or nuance changes in terms of U.S.-North Korea policy?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think what this is doing is really solidifying our policies on North Korea. And, again, the President has said that he's committed to a peaceful resolution of the issue. He keeps all his options on the table, but we wants a peaceful resolution.

The way to get a peaceful resolution of the North Korean issue is for there to be a consistent and coherent message from all the important countries involved, to the North Koreans, that their pursuit of nuclear weapons, their pursuit of strategy of blackmail is simply not going to work. And so whenever there is an opportunity for the President to -- sitting with President Putin or sitting with President Hu -- to emphasize the common ground on policy toward North Korea, it's extremely important in strengthening that policy.

Q And never has there been so much attention in Britain about a handshake. How much thought has been given to the handshake with President Chirac?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: None. (Laughter.) No, the President is going to do what the President does -- he's a friendly person, he's going to I'm sure shake President Chirac's hand, and we're looking forward to seeing him. He had an encounter with Chancellor Schroeder last night, they shook hands.

Q They shook hands?

Q You know it's ordinary to kiss on both cheeks, right?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's only if you are French, I think, David. We don't do that in the United States. (Laughter.) In Texas they don't do that. (Laughter.)

Q How does the handshake with Putin compare with the one that will be done with Chirac?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, now; come, now. This is Kremlinology at its worst, okay? (Laughter.)

Q Can I ask one on the mideast? I know that discussions and negotiations have been underway for the public statements that would follow the three-way summit. At this point, do you expect the parties to make any specific concessions beyond a general acceptance of the road map as a result of the meeting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The point of this meeting is to get everybody to affirm their responsibilities. It's really not to have specific -- kind of a specific work plan going forward. They have a work plan, it's called the road map.

So this is really more to affirm that, to affirm that they're ready to move, to sit down with the President, eye-to-eye and say, all right, we're ready to take on our responsibilities. I've put it the following way in the past: there is a tendency -- well, in any negotiation but, particularly, in the Middle East -- to talk a great deal about what the other guy must do. And what the President is expecting is that in parallel the parties will accept their responsibilities to do what they can do to advance the cause of peace.

Q Will the President follow that up with any sort of sanctions, if they don't?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL Well, the United States is going to be in a position to assess where progress is being made and where it isn't. And to assess where the roadblocks to progress are and where they are not.

Q And what would happen then?

Q Does he really expect them to say, not what they can do -- everybody knows what they can do, but what they're prepared to do now to at least -- there's a first stage, there's the confidence-building measures, as you know, of course.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And some of those have already been taken. Some of those confidence-building measures have already been taken. We've been following closely the discussions between Prime Minister Sharon and Prime MinisterAbbas, where the Israelis agreed to do something that should make like better for the Palestinian people, in terms of closures, in terms of revenue transfers, accelerated revenue transfers. Where the parties are talking about how, as the Palestinians rebuild and restructure and reform their security services, how they can take more responsibility for Palestinian territory so the Israelis can withdraw. Those are discussions that are underway.

But this is a process that is going to take some time. What the President is heartened by is the positive atmosphere of engagement between Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Abbas; by Prime Minister Abbas's avowed willingness to fight terrorism. And now everybody is going to have to try and help him do it. And that, by the way, includes the Arab states who will need to be steadfast in their support of the anti-terrorist efforts of the Palestinian Authority.

Q Thank you.


2:12 P.M. EDT

SOURCE White House Press Office

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