THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary ______________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release February 22, 2001
PRESS BRIEFING BY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR CONDOLEEZZA RICE
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
4:33 P.M. EST
DR. RICE: Let me just start with a statement about the President's meeting with Prime Minister Blair that will begin tomorrow. He's, as he said in his press conference, very grateful that Prime Minister Blair and Mrs. Blair will join him and Mrs. Bush at Camp David.
This relationship with the United Kingdom, of course, is a very special relationship. Those words really do mean something. Our relations with the British are broad, they are deep, they are of common culture and common history and, not to mention, common language. But it is, of course, a relationship that has served, I think, both countries and the allies that work with us very well.
And this gives the two men an opportunity to really get to know each other. They've talked a couple of times by phone. It gives them an opportunity in an informal setting, which is Camp David, to deepen their ties before they have to address issues as they come up. But they will address issues, and I'm happy to talk about that in your questions.
Just for a little run-through, the British are expected to arrive in time for a working lunch. Secretary Powell will be able to attend the working lunch before he leaves for the Middle East, after which the two Presidents will probably take a little walk around and perhaps have a chance to say hello to all of you.
There will be then a working session in the afternoon with a fuller range of advisors, and there will be a dinner -- that will be a private dinner for the Blairs and the Bushes. The next morning the British will depart.
I can't give you the exact timing of the press conference. We're still trying to work it out so that it works for both us and the British. But there will be a press availability by the two men at some point during the weekend.
Q So it might not be tomorrow?
DR. RICE: It's planned for tomorrow, but I think we're still -- is it now going to be -- I think they're still trying to work out some details on exactly when. It will most likely be tomorrow.
Q Condi, what is, going into this meeting, what is the position of the United States of a European defense force?
DR. RICE: The President clearly wants to have an opportunity to discuss this with Prime Minister Blair and not to communicate with him through the press about this issue. I think that you know that we are on the record as saying that we would be supportive of any efforts by the Europeans to enhance their defense capability; that we believe this is a good thing, as long as it is consistent with the enhancement of NATO. We believe that we share that goal with the British, and I think they are going to have a full discussion of precisely what that means and how that agenda might move forward. But I really do think it's fair to let the two men have a chance to really discuss this in some detail.
Q But you do have concerns that it might -- that it must be structured so it does not undermine NATO?
DR. RICE: My reading of the documents from Nice -- the recent meeting at Nice -- as well as discussions with British and German and other colleagues, is that it is also the concern of the Europeans that it not be a force that undermines NATO. And so I think we're on common footing there. It really now will come down to implementation. And I think the two men want to have a full discussion of this and then to come out and talk about it.
Q Dr. Rice, on Iraq, British and American officials that talked about trying to -- the sanctions so as they concentrate on the main objective of keeping out materials that make weapons of mass destruction. Are you expecting to formalize that in some way over these talks with the Prime Minister?
DR. RICE: There will certainly be talks with the Prime Minister about Iraq. Britain, as you know, has been one of our closest partners in the policy toward Iraq. The goal now of the policy has to be to regain the initiative where Saddam Hussein is concerned; to take a hard look at what we are doing, to make sure that he does not build weapons of mass destruction, that he does not threaten his neighbors; to make certain that he lives up to the obligations that he undertook after the end of the Gulf War. And the tactics by which we pursue those very important goals, that have not changed -- and let me emphasize, those goals have not changed since 1991 -- the various means by which we pursue those goals I think we're examining, we're examining fully, with an effort to try to regain the initiative and make sure that what we're doing is working.
And we will discuss some of those ideas with Prime Minister Blair. Of course, Secretary Powell's trip to the region is also extremely important in assessing where we are.
Q Dr. Rice, I assume that another issue that you will discussing with the British will be relations with Russia. We all know that Prime Minister Blair tried to build sort of a personal relationship with President Putin. Do you support those efforts? And while you're at it, could you please tell us, what exactly did you mean when you said in your Figaro interview that Russia is a threat to the Europeans?
DR. RICE: Let me take the second question first. What I said was that in the context of proliferation behavior, where we have been quite concerned about Russian proliferation behavior, vis a vis, for instance, Iran, that there is a problem and a threat to all of our interests.
If you look a little further in that interview, however, I say that I think that Russia is a partner and even a potential ally. And so I don't think I was being inconsistent. It is absolutely the case in the context of proliferation behavior that we have a lot of work to do together. And I think that we would hope as our relationship, as the relationship of this administration with the Russian Putin administration evolves, that we can start to get a better handle on these proliferation problems.
I think it is a very good thing that Prime Minister Blair has developed a good relationship with President Putin. There is no reason that we should be anything but glad about that. And I am sure that President Bush will look for an assessment and advice from Prime Minister Blair on his views of how to handle the U.S.-Russian, as well as the Russian relationship with the allies more generally.
Q Back to Iraq for a moment. You said the Prime Minister and the President will be examining means to reach their goals in regards to Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Is it possible that the sanctions, as they are now, are no longer the appropriate means to reach the goals?
DR. RICE: I think we're reviewing everything at this point. But it is very clear that whatever we do, we have to make sure that Saddam Hussein is constrained, that he does not acquire weapons of mass destruction, that he cannot threaten his neighbors.
There is a sanctions regime in place. We believe very strongly that it's a regime that now has some problems. There is no doubt about that. But precisely how to focus and make sure that this regime is serving our purposes, that's the purpose of the review. It's what Colin Powell is going to be talking about when he goes to the region, and it's also the focus -- it will be some of the focus of the conversation with the Prime Minister. But I wouldn't jump to any conclusions about what the outcome of those discussions will be. We're still very much in conversation among the members of the national security team and with the President, himself, on what we need to do.
Q Yes, also on Iraq, how concerned is the United States about the criticism among Arab allies and European allies following Friday's air strikes against Iraq? And, in light of that criticism, how important is this meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair?
DR. RICE: Well, let me remind you that the British participated in the air strikes on Friday. Clearly, we would hope for better support for the kinds of things that we had to do on Friday, because Saddam Hussein is a threat to this region and he's a threat to his neighboring states. He demonstrated that when he decided to occupy Kuwait and repeatedly and continually threatens his neighbors. So I don't think there's any disagreement about the nature of the regime in Baghdad and about Saddam Hussein.
The United States -- the President of the United States has an obligation to make certain that he protects the pilots, the people in uniform who are patrolling the no-fly zone, with the purpose of making certain that Saddam Hussein cannot threaten his neighbors and isn't acquiring weapons of mass destruction. So the President had to act, along with Prime Minister Blair -- the British had to act. I think that that is generally understood, but it obviously is the case that the coalition needs some rebuilding. We've said that before. And Secretary Powell will try to begin some of that process when he goes to the region.
Q You mentioned that the two leaders have had two telephone conversations. The first one occurred after Governor Bush became President-elect. What were the circumstances of the second call and who initiated it?
DR. RICE: In fact, they talked before the President was elected. They talked during the campaign. They talked at one point during the -- I'm sorry -- they talked during the transition, and they talked after the President became President. So they have talked a couple of times.
The purpose of this meeting, though, is to do face-to-face what you cannot on the telephone, which is really to get to know somebody, to spend some time in both discussions about issues, but also in an informal setting with family. And both of them believe, from what I've heard about Prime Minister Blair and certainly what I know about President Bush, they believe that personal relations matter, and that they want to deepen those relations so that they can carry out the agenda that we have before us. There is no doubt that the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States is a strong, special relationship that serves both well. That the two men would develop a personal relationship can further that goal.
Q Dr. Rice, there's a lot of concern in some European countries about a new arms race because of the national missile defense system. And there have been many European officials in Washington -- and how can you, the new American administration, make the national missile defense system more appealing to skeptical Europeans? Would pushing of the Test Ban Treaty in Congress be one of the measures you can think of, or are there other options? What are you thinking?
DR. RICE: The President made clear when he was running for President that he did not believe that the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty furthered the nonproliferation goals that we do think are extremely important because it was not verifiable, because it didn't include certain parties, and because it certainly did nothing about the states that we are most concerned about when we talk about national missile defense. So the two issues I think cannot really be linked up.
The missile defense that we're talking about is for states like Iran, like North Korea, where the proliferation regime has -- non-proliferation regime has become quite leaky, and where you now do have a proliferation of missile technologies into places where we're very concerned about it being there.
Missile defense is something the President is absolutely committed to. He believes that there is a growing recognition around the world that this is a real threat, and it's a threat of today's world, not a threat of the Cold War. It's a post-Cold War threat. I think he reads the comments of the Russians as understanding that this is a real threat that we now have to deal with.
So we believe that when this is properly presented, when we have looked hard at our options for missile defense, and when we have put this in the context of a new strategic environment in which defenses have to play a role to deter conflict, that we will have a very good case to bring to our allies. We intend to take that case to our allies and consult with them, but that we'll also have a very good case for others who might also be worried.
Q On that point, can you clarify the message that you're getting from the Russians, as best you understand it? I mean, are they talking about working with the Americans to build one large missile defense shield? Are they talking about building there own in response to what we do?
DR. RICE: I can't answer the question because -- in fact, we've never seen the paper. The paper was presented to Lord Robertson. But all that I can read from this is that there is a recognition that there is a threat. And perhaps there is a recognition that missile defenses are a necessary part of addressing that threat.
I think we look forward at some point, at an appropriate point in time, to discussions and conversations with the Russians about how that threat can be addressed. We know that missile defenses are an important component of getting the new -- getting ready for the new world, as opposed to the world that we've left. Precisely what the Russians have in mind, I do not know.
Q The Northern Ireland peace process is wandering towards one of its periodic crises, and I wonder if there will be discussion between Mr. Blair and the President on the issue. And if not, is there a sign, perhaps, coming from Washington of a design not to be quite so intimately involved in that process?
DR. RICE: Well, we're -- this peace process is going through stages. It's in a stage right now where the parties themselves are trying to make progress. There is absolute commitment to the importance of what's going on in Northern Ireland, to the peace process that's been underway. And the United States remains ready to engage in an appropriate manner, and at an appropriate level when that engagement is needed.
I think that we will be interested in hearing from Prime Minister Blair what he thinks that might involve. But there is no diminution of interest in the Northern Ireland issue.
Q The President said during his press conference that he was sending some kind of message to the Chinese regarding their presence in Iraq. Can you tell us a little bit about how that message is being transmitted -- are you doing it here through the embassy, or is he writing a letter, how he's planning to do it? And secondly, what exactly now are you asking the Chinese to do -- withdraw those civilians, to simply explain why they're there? What do you think exactly they were doing?
DR. RICE: What we've told the Chinese is that we have concerns about Chinese activities in Iraq. We have told them that we are concerned that there may be violations of the sanctions regime, and we've asked them to give us further information and to look into what is going on there.
That has been done a couple of times. It was done first by the outgoing Clinton administration in the middle of January at the level of Assistant Secretary for International Organizations, David Welch, who was in Beijing at the time. Secretary Powell then had a discussion in general with his counterpart at the P-5 when he was in New York about the importance of respecting sanctions. And then he spoke, in the last couple of days -- it may have been actually yesterday, but I'm not certain of that -- to the Chinese Ambassador about -- that's right -- about our concerns.
Q Are you worried that this starts your relationship off with China on sort of a bad foot?
DR. RICE: No. Let me just mention that the President had already sent to President Jiang Zemin a letter that talked about his desires and wishes for a good relationship with China. So there was some context for this. Our first engagement with the Chinese was not Colin Powell saying to the Chinese Ambassador, we have concerns about this issue. But I think it's only fair that we be in a position to raise this, and we are awaiting an answer back from the Chinese.
Q Two questions. Brian Cowen, the Foreign Minister from Ireland, will be here next week, after Prime Minister Blair leaves. And you were talking about the European reaction to the Iraqi raids by Britain and the United States and that you're not so concerned about European reaction, but the Irish have come out and condemned those bombings. And there has been, seemingly, less attention to the Northern Ireland situation by the Bush administration then by the previous administration. Do you feel that the Irish may not have quite so special a relationship now as in the past few years?
DR. RICE: No, I wouldn't draw that conclusion at all. I think that the United States needs to sometimes let parties push a process as far as they can. If our help is needed, if our engagement is needed, I think we're prepared to do that. But the talks entered a particular phase. They're trying to implement some of the aspects of it. And I don't think -- I just want to be very clear that we don't have any less interest in this issue, but we are in a different phase, and we stand ready to help when and if we can.
Q Have nationalists from Irish political parties asked for assistance from the Bush administration?
DR. RICE: I'm not aware of any attempt to get our assistance in pushing the process forward at this particular point in time -- not here at the White House. My understanding is that we may discuss this with the British. We really are happy and ready to do whatever we can. It's an important process.
Q Dr. Rice, another question on China, if I may, and Iraq. You indicated the Clinton administration sent some sort of communication before they left office. How long have Chinese workers been there, and do we know if they are civilian or military? And what is our knowledge about who they are and what they're doing?
DR. RICE: We are still gathering facts on precisely what may be going on on the ground. And I think we certainly hope that the Chinese can help us to clarify what is going on on the ground. I want to make clear that we're not accusing, at this point, the Chinese of anything. But we are telling them that we have tremendous concerns about what's going on, that China as a member of the Permanent 5, has in many ways special responsibilities to make certain that the sanctions regime is enforced, and that we would really appreciate an answer to the inquiries that we've made.
Q You've gotten no answers or no explanations from them thus far?
DR. RICE: We had not as of the time that Secretary Powell raised this with the Chinese Ambassador.
Q Dr. Rice, may I go back to the missile defense issue? Since the system is basically for protection against terrorist countries and fatal accidents, to prevent them, isn't it a reasonable idea, and maybe that's what the Russians are suggesting, that the whole transatlantic region, perhaps including Russia, would establish some kind of a collective protective missile shield?
DR. RICE: There are many different ways to think about cooperation in this field. There's data that could be shared. There are lots of ways to think about cooperation. I will say this -- it goes back to the question of Russian proliferation behavior -- one of the problems in talking about cooperation and sharing is that if, in fact, Russia is engaged in activities that are helping countries to acquire weapons of mass destruction or missile technology against which the shield is actually working, this is not going to be a very cooperative relationship.
So proliferation behavior and what we can do in a cooperative manner is very much linked here, and I think that's a point that we will want to make to the Russians. We are not, in principle, against cooperation. But we do have a problem with the proliferation behavior. And I, frankly, don't know enough about what the Russians proposed to Lord Robertson, and in reading his comments, it didn't seem as if it was a particularly detail concept.
Q So a change in their approach to proliferation is a precondition to cutting any deal on missile defense?
DR. RICE: I didn't say it was a precondition, but I will say that it's a fact that one has to take into account when you look at the question of what you can or cannot share. The proliferation regime has become leaky, the nonproliferation regime, and a good bit of that leakage we believe is because there is not sufficient attention to this issue in Moscow.
Q Does the President hope that his relationship with Prime Minister Blair can evolve to the point where Prime Minister Blair is the one soothing European concerns about missile defense and other issues such as this recent strike on Iraq?
DR. RICE: I don't think that the President sees Prime Minister Blair as some sort of intermediary with the European allies. I don't think the British would want to be put in that position. And our relationship with the British is straightforward. We have straightforward bilateral relationships with our other allies. We're going to talk with all concerned. We have a particularly close concern with the British, a special relationship, which is a word that I think actually does capture the essence of it.
And we certainly expect that, for instance, within the European Union that what we believe to have been strong support for Atlanticism that the British have expressed is helpful in how the European Union shapes its policies on defense or on trade or on any other set of issues. But it's not to try and make the British somehow an intermediary.
Q And to follow up, sort of, on that, how does the President view the Third Way philosophy that Prime Minister Blair so enthusiastically backed along with President Clinton?
DR. RICE: Prime Minister Blair and President Bush will undoubtedly talk about a lot of issues, including domestic policy. I think that it's pretty clear that President Bush has a strong domestic agenda. One of the issues that I think they apparently share a very great interest in is education; they probably will talk about that. But I don't really think that the labels around this are particularly helpful. They can talk about a whole range of issues of dealing with social and other concerns in a post-industrial environment.
Q Back on NMD, what exactly does the President want to hear from the Prime Minister? Does he want permission to use the --
DR. RICE: I think we're going to let the two men talk about this issue and not try to prejudge what's going to come out of this. They're going to approach this as allies and friends. I think they'll have an open discussion about it. And I think the President is just looking forward to an exchange of views.
He's not going in -- again, this is not a meeting in which we expect massive agreements or outcomes in a summit meeting, not a formal meeting of any kind. And so I think they'll just discuss the issues. I wouldn't expect anything in particular.
Q One question on North Korea. I believe the North Korean Foreign Ministry said today that it might abandon its freeze on its missile programs and its commitment not to do any missile tests if the Bush administration continues what it's calling a hard-line approach toward North Korea. Do you consider these threats? Are you concerned about them?
DR. RICE: Well, all we've said about North Korea is that it is a regime to be carefully watched. I think that's an unimpeachable position. We have said that anything that we do with North Korea we will closely coordinate with our allies in the region, both South Korea and with Japan.
We have said that we are very concerned about the proliferation of missile technology that is coming out of North Korea, and about the North Korean indigenous program. If that's a hard-line position, then so be it, but I don't actually think it is. I think it's a factual position about the North Korean regime. We are reviewing our policy toward North Korea.
But I will just mention that North Korea is one of the reasons, of course, that -- states like North Korea is one of the reasons that one worries about missile defense, to protect against exactly that kind of threat. So it's not helpful for the North Koreans threaten to have missile tests in order to get it to do something to give up missile defense. That's actually counterproductive.
Q Are you convinced that there really is a change in tone on the part of Russia on missile defense, or are you waiting to hear back more from them?
DR. RICE: We're prepared to explore. What I think we're hearing is an admission that there's a threat, an admission that there is a threat that might be addressed by missile defense. I won't call it a change in tone, but I think it's a welcome recognition of the condition in which we and the rest of the responsible nations of the world find ourselves.
Q Dr. Rice, John Baldwin has warned that plans for a European military force could undermine NATO. Dr. Kissinger has made similar warnings in recent weeks. Are those concerns that the White House shares, and will they be expressed to Prime Minister Blair?
DR. RICE: We have said all along that it is our goal to see a strengthening of European defense capacity, including, hopefully, a greater commitment of resources to European armed forces. The British have been very good in this regard, but not all Europeans have been. We've said also to have Europe do more for its own defense and, therefore, enhance NATO is a good thing.
Now, the question of how this relates to NATO, I think we're getting to the place that this becomes a question of implementation. And our goal has to be as longstanding NATO allies -- British, German, U.S., all -- to make certain that this new chapter in European security and defense is, in fact, augmenting NATO, helping NATO, and not undermining it in some way. But I'm quite confident that with goodwill on all sides, and that with an implementation plan that works, that we can get that done.
Q Can I just follow up? Have you discussed that with President Chirac in your meetings before in Washington?
DR. RICE: The meeting with President Chirac, if you remember, was prior to the President taking office, and did not go into this issue in any great detail. But I'm certain that at some point in the future we will have this discussion with the French.
I think we all have a common goal here, which is to see a strong and secure Europe, to recognize that a lot has happened since the end of the Cold War -- there are new members of NATO, NATO is trying to do other things. But we obviously still believe that NATO is the primary security instrument in Europe, and so do our European allies.
Yes, last question.
Q Do you think that your concern about Chinese activities in Iraq affects your decision on arms sales to Taiwan?
MS. RICE: The question of arms sales to Taiwan will rest on issues of what it takes for Taiwan to be able to defend itself. And I think that that is the best matrix, the best prism through which to see the question of what we do with arms sales to Taiwan.
Thank you very much.
END 5:03 P.M. EST