For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 13, 2001
Background Briefing to the Travel Pool
by Senior Administration Official
on the President's Meetings at Nato
2:30 P.M. (L)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This was a very encouraging meeting of the NAC. The President spoke first, after, of course, Lord Robertson, and covered his agenda, which was followed almost exactly by the other leaders. And it included -- and I'm not sure that this is the order -- new strategic framework and missile defense, strengthening the Alliance capabilities and ESDP, the Balkans, NATO enlargement.
Q This was the opening -- his opening remarks?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. His opening remarks, which you will have. You've got -- yes, you've got so far the public remarks, but we're going to be sending around an, if not quite a text, pretty full excerpts of what he said. So you will see what he said.
The President made his case in terms with which you're familiar. I'm not going to go into that, because you will see the text and you're familiar with the positions. I think it's more useful to characterize the Allied discussions and the Allied reaction.
In the first place, there was, on a new strategic framework and missile defense, all allies recognized that there is a real and growing threat, caused by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and means for their delivery.
Q That's exactly the language they refused to put into the communique --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not trying to put language into the mouths. I'm trying to characterize. Everyone recognized that there was a threat. Everyone recognized that the debate is an important one, and it is important for the Alliance to deal with this.
Now, some allies, some allies were strongly, vocally for missile defenses. One ally spoke of -- again, I don't want to quote, but to paraphrase, a sort of moral imperative to develop defenses because, as he put it, this is, after all, a defensive alliance, and it is better to rely on defenses to protect ourselves.
Q Who was that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to -- I believe the NATO rules are we don't give away individual allies.
Q Is that an exact quote, then?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, it is not an exact quote, but it is a very close paraphrase.
Q This is a defensive alliance --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right. A defensive alliance and developing defenses is morally -- it is morally preferable. Other allies spoke in favor of missile defenses as well.
Q Can you tell us who the allies were who spoke in favor of missile defense, just overall?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Rather, I think the NATO rules are that we don't identify particular countries with particular positions.
Q We heard they were going to be Hungary, Italy, Poland and Spain, and maybe the UK,
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I won't deny it.
Q And Britain?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to get into positively identifying countries.
Q What did France and Germany have to say?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There were a number of allies who expressed appreciation for the consultations, recognizing that a problem exists, but were more cautious. Yet, did not -- even these more cautious allies did not rule out the possibility of moving beyond the ABM Treaty to a new strategic framework. That possibility was left in one case explicitly open. The language in this case was something like, the ABM Treaty is important, but -- and if one were to move beyond it, it should be a to a comprehensive new framework.
So that phrase suggests, conceptually, the possibility of moving beyond what is accepted. In short, it was very heartening to see the debate structured in the way it was.
The second category of issues on which there was a strong alliance position was on NATO enlargement. There were a number of allies who expressed strong, even emotional support for continued NATO enlargement. No allies spoke against it, and Lord Robertson summed up a consensus which he then reiterated in his press remarks that the Alliance, at its summit in Prague next year, hopes and expects to be able to launch the next phase of NATO enlargement.
And Robertson then characterized that as meaning that zero option is off the table. That was his characterization. There was, again, strong support for NATO enlargement.
Q What do you think he meant by zero option is on the table?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry, that's a term of art meaning the option of inviting nobody at Prague is off the table. Robertson said, clearly, the Alliance -- well, his words speak for themselves -- but indicated that the Alliance consensus seemed to be that there would be invitations. Though what -- that was sort of an informal remark. His more prepared statement was, hopes and expects to launch the next phase of NATO enlargement.
Q So who are the most likely candidates?
Q Was anybody lukewarm about it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Lukewarm? There was nobody who was lukewarm. A couple of allies, one or two, said we also have to keep in mind Russian reaction. But no one suggested that NATO enlargement had been a bad thing. One or two pointed out that there were great fears before the '97 round of enlargement, that it would cost the Alliance money, and it turned out it hadn't, or the new allies wouldn't participate or contribute, and they had. So there was -- sort of one ally or another got up and said, this is a good thing.
Q Keeping in mind the Russian reaction, were they talking about the specific countries that may be invited, or the number of countries?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was not a couple of countries mentioned; candidates whom they had a particular sympathy for, though no country -- this wasn't a discussion of the who, but some countries mentioned some of the southern tier -- Romania, Bulgaria -- others mentioned Baltic countries.
But this was -- there was not a lot of discussion of the who; there was mostly discussion that enlargement has proven to be a good thing, a stabilizing thing, something which contributes to European security.
Q At this point, who do you see as being the most likely candidates?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We haven't done the who, haven't started doing the who. We'll get to the who when we get to the who.
Q Is there a limit on how many you can accept at the next round, then, or is it sort of a --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, there are nine, or technically 10 self-proclaimed candidates. There is no technical number. The Alliance will make its decisions. But, again, in the U.S. government and in the Alliance, there has been not even the beginning of a systematic discussion of the who.
Q Is there a sense of NATO's capacity to absorb a limited number of numbers in each go-around? It's not likely that NATO would take all nine or 10?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to speculate what NATO might or might not do. I think it's fair to characterize the discussion as emphasizing that the experience of enlargement had been extraordinarily positive. Everybody felt, in retrospect, it had been a good thing. And so those are two issues.
Q It's hard not to say that -- three NATO --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, yes, but there is a way to do it politely and not mean it, and then there's a way to say it and really mean it. And what I was hearing was, damn, we really mean it. Third issue was the Balkans, particularly Macedonia. There was not, in fact, a great deal of discussion. There may be more discussion later on today, and Lord Robertson said at his press conference that he was going to be meeting with foreign minister later today. But there was a general -- there were strong concerns expressed about the deteriorating situation in Macedonia, expressions of support for the Trajkovski government, and for the Trajkovski government's efforts to facilitate a political solution, a political track that the Trajkovski plan from last week was referred to by quite a number of allies as something that's important and worthy of support. But there was not a lot of discussion of decisions or operational detail or what NATO does -- not at the NAC.
There was a discussion of ESDP, and for those not versed in NATO wonkism -- excuse me -- ESDP is the EU's military identity; in crude shorthand, the sort of Euro army which would be compatible with NATO.
It's part --
Q Rapid reaction force?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The rapid reaction force. The rapid reaction force. And the rapid reaction force is something which is -- the real issue here is bringing NATO and the EU together and working well together on this issue. The President said -- and you'll see this in his statement -- that we welcome an ESDP which is compatible with NATO, transparent with NATO, that adds to NATO's capabilities, and doesn't involve ways to duplication.
That's a significant statement, because there was a debate in the United States about whether ESDP was a good thing at all. But ever since the President's meeting with Tony Blair in February, this has been our position.
Q Can I go back to Macedonia briefly, because I wasn't sure if I heard you say that there wasn't a great deal of discussion on Macedonia, or not a great deal of discussion about intervention in Macedonia?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The latter. There was a great deal of discussion of the Balkans and the problem in Macedonia; there was not a great deal of discussion of what specifically one does. I don't think the setting of the NAC -- you thought right.
Q The indication was that foreign ministers would discuss this as the main topic of their lunch, that they're having now.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right -- which is a parallel lunch. So, ESDP was discussed, there was -- most allies, in fact, almost all allies who spoke to it said that ESDP could be a good thing if it is handled right and if it is open in the right way to allies who are not members of the EU.
ESDP, NATO enlargement, the Balkans, new strategic concept, missile defense -- capabilities. Robertson had, himself, expressed strongly the need for allies to provide sufficient resources for their militaries to modernize. He referred to the defense capabilities initiative, which was launched in the Washington Summit in 1999, and said that the allies had to bear down and do more to fulfill the commitments they had made then.
And there was -- he made the strong statement and some of the allies indicated that they were doing their best to meet them. I think that just about -- that covers the highlights.
Q Did he use the capability as credibility line that he used a couple of times --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, as a matter of fact he did. As a matter of fact, he did. What struck me -- the two things I wanted to hear about, other than whether we would get into a serious -- an operational discussion of Macedonia, the two things I went into the meeting interested in were: new strategic framework missile defense and NATO enlargement, and those broke very well from an American perspective.
Q Can I go back to missile defense for a second? Was there a sense among the allies, or at least the ones who were sitting on the fence, or even among all of them, that they need some more information, that they need more detail?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On missile defense? Not -- that wasn't actually the way allies expressed it. If I could capture what we were hearing, it was, we very much appreciate the President's decision to consult fully, we understand that there is a threat, we want to work with the United States as its thinking develops, and we're glad to be consulted.
Now, after this, there was a range of views expressed. But what I just said was sort of the core common themes. Again, without suggesting that there was a straightjacket unanimity.
Q Lord Robertson said that the President is not here to ask for any specific plan, because the United States does not have a specific plan or proposal, which seems to suggest we need a lot more details we can't decide on --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But I would put it another way. I would say that since the President has come forward with a conceptual argument and a strategic direction, what we want is understanding and appreciation of the conceptual argument, and signing on to the strategic direction.
If we don't have an architecture, which we have said we don't have, then it's pointless to say that allies haven't signed onto details when we haven't offered any. The level of the discussion now is about a conceptual approach. That's what the President has said. He's outlined a goal where he wants to go, what the problem is, what the constraints are, and he asked for Allied support as he moves in this direction with them.
Q You still don't have the majority of the countries; you only have four, right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Four?
Q NATO allies --
Q Four countries you've just signed on to this.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This was not a pledging session or a show of hands. All of the countries recognized that the threat is real, all of the countries recognize that the debate is important. More than four countries suggested they already believe missile defenses are the way to go. Other countries clearly are interested in more discussion. But that's actually doing very well.
Q If it's more than four, is it five or eight?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no. A good number of countries.
Q If all of the countries agree it's a common threat, why didn't they agree on that language just a few weeks ago in Budapest?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I was the one who used "common threat," they talk about threat. I think the problem is that there -- quite frankly, there was much too much made by the press about that language in the communique. The Budapest Communique was, from our point of view, a more than satisfactory doctrine.
Q Without getting into that, discussing how -- whether that whole day was characterized right by the press, the fact is, they didn't agree on language that called it a threat, right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The word allies -- the way -- remember, I'm trying to describe what 18 other allies -- the words of 18 other allies. They talked about threats, and they talked about threats to the Alliance, and they talked about a problem of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and means to deliver them.
That was just about universal. I don't think there was an ally who suggested that that threat is exaggerated or doesn't exist.
Q Did they discuss NATO intervening in Macedonia?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It did not come up. They did not discuss it.
Q What about -- you said operational details. What were you talking about?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They didn't discuss -- they didn't have a discussion of NATO intervening in Macedonia.
Q Okay, okay.
Q On what the ministers will be talking about over lunch --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, they'll be talking about Macedonia. They'll be talking about Macedonia. But what we have in Macedonia is an insurgency and a political track and a need to support that political track and the government of Trajkovski.
Now, what means you use is something they'll be discussing. But this is not -- you know, allies were talking about the need to engage, the need to take it very seriously, and the need for NATO to play a role. But there was not specific operational plans discussed.
Q On missile defense, what is it then -- if you're not going to talk about numbers, and this isn't a pledging session -- what is it you're looking for? Is there a tipping point of generally positive support from a relatively large portion of members that is going to make this administration feel safe to go forward? Is it just the Russians that matter in this, and they'll bring along others? I mean, what's the point of the exercise?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Do you mean, what are we looking for?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: An allied -- what we're looking for is allied thinking moving in a direction where they understand the problem and want to work with us on common solutions. That's a process. To expect, after just a couple of months, allies to stand up -- the idea that allies would stand up and salute without thinking about it is not only unrealistic, it's not to be -- it's not a fair objective. What we want is for allies to keep an open mind, think about this, work with us as we're moving forward.
Q But is there a suggestion implicit in that that you're looking for permission of any kind?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Permission?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We would like to work with the Alliance. The President has made it clear many times that he intends to move forward --
Q Unilaterally --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, he intends to move forward, but wants to move forward with the Alliance.
Q If you didn't get any of the top tier -- "top tier" -- like France, Germany, and Britain on board, could you move forward?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Speculative question. The fact is, today we were -- I was very heartened by the center of gravity of the debate.
Q How many agreed with Bush's statement yesterday, the ABM Treaty is a relic of the Cold War and should be scrapped, should be done away with? Were they agreeing with that today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They were actually -- I was counting the number of allies who actually mentioned the ABM Treaty, and there weren't many either way, which was curious. I want to think about what that means. It was curious that -- that may indicate that certainly there is not an allied view that the ABM Treaty is the cornerstone of strategic stability. I didn't hear that as a generally expressed allied view. What I heard generally expressed is there's a problem and we have to work together in the solutions, and the Americans are right to be consulting with us.
Q If I could ask just one more question about the atmospherics. In talking about this idea that we would like to work with the allies and that the President has mentioned a number of times he wants to move forward, did he in any way make the suggestion that "I'm going ahead with this plan, love to have you folks on board, but if you don't, well, you've missed the train, it's leaving the station"?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He did not. He did not. His emphasis was, we're committed to NATO; this is an Alliance problem, let's deal with it as an Alliance. But then, again, you'll be able to look at his remarks when they're distributed. They will express it better than I could characterize it.
Q Thank you very much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure.
END 2:53 P.M. (Local)