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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 9, 2005

Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley on the President's Meeting with President Putin
Rossiya Filing Center
Moscow, Russia

12:24 A.M. (Local)

MR. HADLEY: The events of the evening have concluded. As Dr. Rice said, the evening kind of confirmed the excellent relationship between these two men. The conversations were cordial, extensive, light-hearted at times, conducted in a very good atmosphere.

The two leaders had a private meeting, just the two of them plus translators. It went about 40 minutes. They discussed mostly -- a little bit about the Baltics and Georgia, talked a little bit about the President's speech that he gave in Latvia. There was then a press event, which you all saw. There was then a 45-minute extended meeting with Dr. Rice and myself on our side, and Foreign Minister Lavrov and National Security Advisor Igor Ivanov on their side joining with the two Presidents and the translators. And then there was a dinner tonight between the two couples. It was supposed to go an hour and 10 minutes; it went over two hours, involved dinner and also some -- seeing some of the facilities on the compound.

Dr. Rice talked a little bit about the discussions. Let me add just a little bit. President Putin, of course, has recently been to the Middle East, so he debriefed a little bit his trip; he'd met with Prime Minister Sharon, Prime Minister Abbas and other leaders. Then they talked a little bit about practical next steps for advancing the process of peace in the Middle East. They agreed on the need, obviously, to support Prime Minister Abbas, to support Prime Minister Sharon in his disengagement effort, and they talked specifically about the need for concrete steps to help the Palestinian Authority to fight terror, the importance of continuing the fight against terror in the Middle East.

There was a little discussion about Iran, and the President acknowledged the support that Russia had given in the process of trying to push Iran to the point where it would give up its nuclear aspirations, and particularly the two men indicated their mutual support for the negotiations being conducted by the EU-3. They also -- the President complimented President Putin on his state of the state speech here a week to 10 days ago, that talked extensively about democracy in Russia. And they also talked about U.N. reform, exchanged some ideas on where those proposals stand, and the two leaders agreed that the two countries needed, through their appropriate officials, to be in close discussion about U.N. reform as that process goes forward.

They also talked about the WTO and potential Russia accession to the WTO, and the ongoing negotiations between the United States and Russia on this subject. They affirmed the need for process. They each expressed confidence in each other's negotiators, Minister Gref and Rob Portman, and agreed that these two folks need to meet soon to try and get further progress towards a WTO agreement.

That's really the gist of what they talked about. I'd be glad to answer any questions.

Q Steve, can I start over here by asking you -- the Russian President has expressed this week a sentiment that he feels like the U.S. is lecturing Russia about democracy. So, in that vein, what was his response to the President's speech yesterday in Riga, which was rather pointed on that subject?

MR. HADLEY: You -- the press has characterized it as lecturing. We certainly don't characterize it as lecturing. And in the conversations I was in, neither did President Putin. The President did talk to President Putin about the visit in Latvia, and talked about his speech. And I think the views expressed by the Russian side, not only President Putin but other officials, is that there was some things that they liked about it, some things that they had less -- sort of more questions about, but, in balance, I think their judgment is that it was a balanced speech, with some real positive elements.

Q Since Mr. Putin said yesterday that -- he seemed to correct the President by saying we were not aggressors, we were liberators. Did that come up? I mean, that's quite a -- it's not a press's characterization, it's Putin's characterization.

MR. HADLEY: That's different than David's point. In the discussions I was in, that did not come up. Obviously, I think it's fair to say the Russians see the history a little bit differently, perhaps, than we do, but the history that the President described in his speech in Latvia, there's really nothing new on the U.S. side. That's the same view we've had, that it was a forced incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union. That's been our position for -- since 1918*, when we refused to recognize it, and kept the embassies open in Washington, D.C. So people may have forgotten that history, but it's not a new position on behalf of the United States.


Q Did the President specifically talk to President Putin about the fact that perhaps the U.S. feels that he's either intimidating his neighbors, or that he's not allowing democracies or supporting democracies to flourish, in Latvia, for example, like he said he would, and what was President Putin's response?

MR. HADLEY: He has, as you know, right along raised the issue of the relationship between Russia and its neighbors. One of the things, of course, he said in the speech he made in Riga, that he thought Russia had nothing to fear with democracies on its border, that, in fact, that is a good thing for Russia, because as he says, democratic states are peaceful states and generally want good relations with their neighbors. So that's the context in which the issue arise. Obviously, like any neighboring states, there are issues -- borders and other things. And the President has encouraged, really, both sides to try and resolve those issues in a peaceful and businesslike way.

Q Can you characterize the discussions, though, tonight on that issue between President Bush and President Putin?

MR. HADLEY: I wasn't in that discussion, as I say. That occurred in the private session. My sense from the President, it was a very straightforward conversation, as I described.

Q You say, he complimented President Putin on his recent speech. Could you elaborate a little bit? What did he find that he liked about it?

MR. HADLEY: Well, of course, I think the main thing was that the speech was focused on democracy, and Putin's description of the progress they are making in democracy and a recommitment to a democratic process and a democratic evolution. There were some references in that speech, as you know, to the press. There was references to civil society. And I think that was really -- the President was impressed by the focus and the time that was spent in a state of the state address to talk really about democracy in Russia. It is an important subject and it indicates that Putin thought it was an important subject, and a number of things he said in it were positive.

Q So since the Bratislava meeting, when it seemed -- we felt that there was a tense atmosphere, you feel like progress has been made, or that this speech was an indication that Russia is moving forward toward what the President would like to see?

MR. HADLEY: Look, I think it's an indication that there's been a good dialogue between the two countries. On the issue of democracy -- and it's not just democracy in Russia, of course. The President, as you know, is putting forward a freedom agenda more broadly. His goal is to end tyranny in the world. And one of the messages he has tried to bring to both the meeting in Latvia, the meeting here, and will in Georgia, as well, that, you know, let's -- yes, this is a celebration of history, but it's also a time to put the history behind us, to recognize it is a new Europe that has emerged out of the end of World War II and the fall of communism. It is a Europe that is now committed to democracy and freedom and human rights and these values.

And the job for all of us now is to work together, looking forward, to consolidate freedom and democracy in Europe and in the individual countries in Europe -- to consolidate it in Europe, and then for Europe and the United States to advance those values and principles in the rest of the world, certainly in the broader Middle East, but more generally, as well.

So I think the President thinks it's time to focus going forward on the opportunity we have to advance those values, not only in Europe, but beyond Europe, as well.

Q Could you describe any discussion on Iraq? And was there any talk about President Putin's comments -- or the concept that you can't export democracy?

MR. HADLEY: Well, the President addressed that in his Latvia address, where he noted that President Putin had talked about his interest -- Russia's interests were closer ties with the West, and the President said he agreed with that, and also that -- and I can't quote it exactly, but that democracy couldn't be imposed, it has to come out of a particular culture and society. And the President said in his speech, I agree with that, too, because we've said that democracy cannot be imposed, it has to be chosen, as the President said. And it's a struggle, it's a process. And countries really need to go down that process themselves. We can help, but in the end of the day, it has to be a homegrown process that results in democratic institutions that incorporate these values, but in ways that reflect the history and culture and experience of individual countries. I don't think there's any disagreement about that between the two.

Q In the context of Iraq, was there --

MR. HADLEY: There wasn't an extensive discussion. I mean, the President noted the progress that is made today, that it looks like there now is a full cabinet that has been approved by the legislature; that that is obviously progress. It was a pretty -- not a major area of focus in the conversations.

Q Steve, you talk about how the U.S. -- the Baltics position is not new, and that's true. But the President doesn't very often beat Russia about the head with it so publicly, like he has over the last several days. So in that context, what was the President trying to accomplish tonight as they came together face-to-face?

MR. HADLEY: Again, I don't accept the characterization, beat them over the head with it. The problem -- the reality, of course, is this is an event tomorrow on the end of World War II, which put this history back in the forefront of the public mind and provoked a debate about that history. And obviously, one of the things that the President wanted to do in this trip, and in the range of stops, is to have a full treatment of the history. There was World War II; that the Russians deserve a huge amount of credit for the defeat of fascism in Europe and making enormous sacrifices -- over 28 million people killed -- showing great courage; and to salute that, as well as the courage expressed by and manifested by our own citizens and others in the coalition -- that's why, of course, the stop in The Netherlands -- but to make the point that some we're liberated by the end of World War II, not all, that the liberation of the rest has occurred really with the fall of communism; that's a good thing. And that, of course, is going to be a theme that he did in the Baltics and will do again in Geogia -- that now there's an opportunity to put history -- or to move -- without discounting the history, to move beyond the history, since we do have these shared values. And that requires the hard work of democratic states. And part of that work in democratic states is not only sovereignty and majority rule, but taking care of minorities and making sure that they have adequate rights and are included in society.

And that's a theme he's given to the Latvians, where they deal with their minorities; it is a theme that he will take to Georgia as it deals with its minorities. And so the bottom line, I think, is the President wants to celebrate and acknowledge the sacrifice that has resulted in a situation where Europe is whole, free and at peace, sharing these values and principles, and then say, let's now look forward about consolidating these principles in Europe, and taking them and advancing them in the world.

So it's -- you've got to look, I think, at the trip as a whole, which focuses on this history because of the event that's going to be out here tomorrow.

Q That was actually my question, is how did tonight's -- that's actually exactly my question, is how did tonight's face-to-face meeting fit into that whole? What was Bush trying to accomplish by sitting down with Putin, and maybe not getting into all the specific grievances of this and that? What was he trying to accomplish?

MR. HADLEY: One of the things I think he was trying to accomplish was, one -- really two things. One, there's a lot more to our relationship with Russia than just this discussion, of course, so there's an opportunity for the two men to talk about Iran and the Middle East and all these other things which we talked about, which reminds us all that the agenda with Russia is a broad one. We do have a lot of common interests, areas where we need to work together to achieve common interests and common values. And at the same time, of course, the issue about the democracy and freedom agenda is at the center of the President's foreign policy, and he obviously wants Putin's support in that endeavor.

So I think it's just another opportunity to continue these themes, and probably to do a little bit of explanation, and make sure that President Putin understood the message the President was sending in the Balt and the message that the President will be conveying in Georgia.

Q Did the words "Molotov-Ribbentrov" actually come up? Did the President actually make any requests of the President -- President Putin to do anything, or was the answer already clear before he walked in, so he didn't raise the issue?

MR. HADLEY: I think that issue and the history has been pretty well discussed over the last several days. It came up in the press backgrounder before we went on this trip; it's been in the press. I think the history has been pretty well discussed here in the run-up to this event tomorrow. And again, the President felt the time was really now to, as I said, start shifting and mapping out the way forward. And I think that was much more the focus of things tonight.

Q He didn't raise it?

MR. HADLEY: Say again?

Q He did not, then, raise it? He felt like it had already been dealt with?

MR. HADLEY: Not in the discussions I was in. But, of course, there was the 45-minute private meeting, and I wasn't in the debrief of that; I can't tell you that it didn't come up. But his focus really is, without denigrating in any way the history, trying to focus, as I said, on moving forward and the opportunity we have to advance freedom generally.

Q I have two questions. Did President Putin bring up the President's travel, his itinerary? Did he complain about his trips to Latvia and to Georgia, like Foreign Minister Lavrov did in the letter?


Q Not a word?

MR. HADLEY: Not in any of the discussions that I was in. You know, this is -- the letter that people talk about with Foreign Minister Lavrov was -- you tell me -- six weeks ago. I mean, it was about the time we announced the trip. And it wasn't a particularly big deal at the time and I think that's old news, and has been for weeks.

Q But you -- a certain senior administration official told me that you were expecting that Putin would bring this up; that he would complain about the travel plans of the President. And that never happened?

MR. HADLEY: I didn't expect he would complain about it. It didn't come from me.

Q You heard none of it from the meetings you were in?

MR. HADLEY: No, I did not. Now, I said there was a private meeting where they discussed the Baltics and Georgia. I think it was much more to make sure that Putin understood the message that the President made in his speech in Latvia and would be making in Georgia.

Q How much did time did they spend on North Korea? And what did they say about it?

MR. HADLEY: There was a brief discussion about North Korea and a sort of rendering about what the North Koreans have said, about bilateral discussions and the like, and a reaffirmation by the President, of course, the importance of the six-party talks and the North Koreans returning to the six-party talks to discuss giving up the nuclear weapons. It wasn't a -- their nuclear programs -- there wasn't any new ground that was particularly broken on that issue.

Q -- about what to do if North Korea tests a nuclear weapon?

MR. HADLEY: There wasn't any discussion about that.

Q Two questions. Did President Putin raise the question of Belarus that was raised by President Bush in his speech? And secondly, you said President Bush would like Mr. Putin's support for his democracy and freedom agenda. Do you get a sense he has it?

MR. HADLEY: First, Belarus not in the discussions that I have -- that I was in. And secondly, in terms of the freedom agenda, I would say, yes, and I would point to you the fact that Russia is one of the members of the Quartet that is focusing on the advance of progress in the Middle East and, of course, the core of our approach to that is the need for a democratic Palestinian state. And that is an enterprise that the Quartet is going to be very involved in. Jim Wolfensohn, as you know, who is going to work on that aspect with the Palestinians, is actually going to do it under the auspices of the Quartet.

The Russians have been increasingly supportive about the effort we're making in Iraq and the elections there and the formation of government there. So I think, yes. And I would also say that -- I'd go back to Putin's speech here 10 days ago where he talks about the importance of democracy in Russia. So I think, yes, they're on board with that agenda.

Q Did the President and Mr. Putin talk about enlarging -- enlargement of the Security Council of the United Nations? Did Mr. Putin propose German to get in --

MR. HADLEY: No, there was no proposal. There was a discussion of the issue of the enlargement of the Security Council. And it was noted that our position has been the only country we have come out in support of joining the Security Council has been Japan. It was noted that President Putin had made some public comments about Germany. But I think there was a recognition that both parties have some -- both the United States and Russia have some work to do in defining their own thinking about how to approach U.N. Security Council reform, and a commitment that the two countries needed to be in conversation with each other and sharing views on that subject; that it's an important one, and that really both sides have some work to do, and an agreement that would probably be useful to do that -- some of that working and thinking together.

Q On the Iran issue, how hopeful is the President that EU-Iran talks will succeed? And if it doesn't, is the President willing to ask Russian help to get Iranian case to Security Council?

MR. HADLEY: Well, we, of course, are hopeful. We've tried to support the EU-3 Iran discussions with some of the things that were done right after the President returned from Europe. We've been skeptical all along as to whether it would work. That doesn't mean that we aren't hopeful, and that we don't support it. But, obviously, some skepticism is in order. As you may remember, one of the things that is in the letter of the EU-3 foreign ministers that went to the rest of the EU was a recognition that if those negotiations break down, or if the current suspension is lifted, that it would be a matter for the Security Council. And that's well-known. And I think we would hope that Russia would be supportive of that effort. But, again, that's a hypothetical at this point.

As a general matter, the Russians have been very supportive of the effort -- both supportive of what the EU-3 is negotiating with Iran, and also supportive in the discussions they have had directly with Iran about the Bushehr reactor program and the take-back of the fuel, and the effort to put some proliferation safeguards into whatever arrangement Russia and Iran come up with respect to Bushehr.

Q I know President Bush praised President Putin for his recent speech about democracy, but that was also the speech when Mr. Putin described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century. Did President Bush ask him why President Putin made that comment?

MR. HADLEY: Not in the discussions that I've been in, but, you know, that comment isn't too much of a mystery, because if you read it in context, it's a context he's talking about the kind of humanitarian and dislocation that the breakup of the Soviet Union caused, and the problem that that caused for people economically, from a humanitarian standpoint. That's really not news. I mean, all of you were reporting that at the time. So I think if you look at that in context, it kind of explains itself.

Q None of us reported at the time it was the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century.

MR. HADLEY: No, but we did -- you all did report, as we saw, the dislocations that were caused at the time.

Q Nobody compared it to the Holocaust or the great terror. Is this a characterization the United States accepts?

MR. HADLEY: I was asked the question about the comment that he made about the breakup of the Soviet Union, and I simply said that it did not come up in conversation, and that if you looked at the text, that comment explained itself rather clearly.

Q That text in Russia, but --

Q I have two questions, sir -- a follow-up on the North Koreans. Did both leaders discuss any further option, or a possible option, going to the U.N. Security Council in the North Korean case? That's my first question. Also, you mentioned the President's support of the Japanese permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council. Did the President explain what -- his support of Japan to President Putin?

MR. HADLEY: No, he just noted it, that that has been the position we'd taken, and he noted that President Putin had talked about Germany. And there's no real discussion about -- we have said publically that at some point, if there isn't progress, the discussions with North Korea would have to go to the Security Council. But that's been something we've said before.

Q Steve, you mentioned that there are a number of things that the President liked in the state of the state address from Mr. Putin. But have you seen any actions, specifically on the points the President mentioned in his speech in Latvia -- rule of law, economic fairness, press freedom? Mr. Putin may be saying some things that you like, but has he done anything?

MR. HADLEY: Well, not in the last 10 days since he's given the speech.

Q What about the last six months?

Q He gave the same speech a year ago.

MR. HADLEY: Well, you know, look -- we've heard some things about NGOs on the affirmative side. There's a lot on the other side of the ledger that has raised concerns over the last six months. That's, obviously, something that is the reason why the President raised it in Bratislava, and it's a reason why I think he took some hope that -- from the speech that was given today. But one of the things we have said for some time is, obviously those words have to be translated into deeds, and we expect that as that happens, it will allow the United States and Russia to have an even closer relationship, because we've said many times that in the end of the day, the kind of close relationship we would like to have with Russia is a relationship that will require us to share common principles and common values in our societies, because that's really, you know -- that is really the true basis of enduring relationship and enduring partnership. So we would hope for that kind of outcome.

Q Did the President and Mr. Putin discuss any concrete steps with respect to these political reforms that we're talking about right now that would be tied to membership in the WTO?

MR. HADLEY: They did not discuss that, no. Okay, thank you.

Q Thank you very much.

END 12:55 A.M. (Local)