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 Home > News & Policies > May 2002

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 26, 2002

Press Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official
Novotel Paris Tour Eiffel
Paris, France

6:24 P.M. (L)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right. Afternoon, everybody.

This morning, the President went to the Karazan Cathedral for an orthodox service, and then went to St. Petersburg Grand Choral Synagogue for a meeting with the very diverse and re-born Jewish communities in Russia.

Here in France we've had a long and very substantive meeting with President Chirac and the press conference. You all heard that, and President Chirac gave a very full read-out of those discussions.

This evening there's going to be a working dinner between the two Presidents. Tomorrow, the President goes to Normandy. He will be making a speech there, then in the afternoon -- late afternoon, flies to Rome and will be having a small working meeting and working dinner with Prime Minister Berlusconi.

On Tuesday, the President will meet briefly with President Chiampi of Italy. And then, of course, the main event of the day, the NATO-Russia summit to conclude the NATO-Russia set of agreements that have been worked out by foreign ministers. Final event of the trip, on Tuesday afternoon, is the meeting between the President and the Holy Father. So that's what we've got ahead of us.

I'll be happy to take questions on either the Russia portion; anything supplemental I can do on the Chirac discussions, although you were there at the press conference; and I'd be very happy to talk about the NATO-Russia summit, and what's coming up.

Yes, please.

Q I may have mis-heard you, but did the President today say Putin would allow U.N. or international nuclear experts in to examine the Iranian reactor?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're -- do you remember, there has been a lot of discussion about this. And there was some -- there was a lot of probing questions and some answers about the discussions between the two Presidents about nuclear non-proliferation and Iran.

The President said they had made progress, and a senior administration official in background said that there was reason for this, although the senior administration official declined to get into details, which caused a lot of -- a degree of frustration.

This is a work in progress. They are discussing ways ahead to increase everyone's confidence, and to address what both Presidents agree could -- is a real potential problem, which is the acquisition of weapons of -- the potential acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by a country like Iran. Both Presidents agreed that this would be a very bad thing. Both Presidents agree that they'll be discussing ways to address this problem. It's a work in progress and that's really all I can say.

Q And could I follow on that, though?


Q He said the words. He said "inspectors." So what are we supposed to do with that? I mean, are you saying that it is one suggestion that's on the table, or are you saying that he mis-spoke? I mean, what --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I'm not saying -- I'm certainly not saying that he mis-spoke. I think you said it -- actually, your characterization is pretty good -- it's an idea that's on the table. This is something that we're discussing, among other things. Again, it's a work in progress.


Q But he didn't make it sound like it was just a work in progress. He made it sound like it was more to the reasons he felt comfortable. And also, just to clarify something, who would -- decide whether inspectors go into Iran? I mean, how does that work?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to have to go into the details of back-and-forth of what I've described as a work in progress, or one of your colleagues has put better than I did -- an idea on the table. This -- the reference was to the Bushehr Power Plant and a discussion of the potential problem this housed, and ways in which this potential problem could be mitigated, at least to some degree.

And there are various ways in which this might happen, but I'm not -- as I said, this is a work in progress, ideas on the table.


Q What you're saying is that the President finds acceptable a plant that can be verified to be not contributing to the proliferation problem, if a verification regime such as IAEA can be put in place?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to go further than what I've said. And, you know, the President's words speak for themselves and, as I said, it is -- there are ideas and ways to approach this that are being discussed.

But it's important -- and I'll emphasize that it is a work in progress, so it's not a -- there are ideas on the table, we're trying to put this together and grapple with a real problem in a real way. Hopefully, in a -- well, certainly in a constructive spirit with the Russians.

Yes, sir.

Q It's on the table. Is it on the table for Bush and Putin, Or has Iran been brought into this yet?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's -- there were some good, detailed discussions; there were substantive discussions held by the two Presidents and we'll see where we go from here.

Q But you asked for two, though, not Iran?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: At the moment, these are discussions between the two of them.

Q Did the President discuss with Chirac or --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They discussed the general problem of -- they discussed the problem of proliferation and weapons of mass destruction. They covered a very great deal of ground in, I guess, about an hour-and-a-half's meeting. This was serious stuff. They discussed a lot of questions, this among them. And they agree on the nature of the problem.

Q -- meeting with Berlusconi and what are the issues they have talked?


Q -- meeting with Berlusconi?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, he'll be meeting with Prime Minister Berlusconi. He's met several times, of course, in Rome last year and in Washington. They have an excellent relationship. They'll be discussing the -- oh. Hard to predict, but I anticipate that they will discuss the President's recent trip to Russia and -- or Russian-NATO relations, because after all, Prime Minister Berlusconi is hosting the NATO-Russia summit.

They'll discuss, I imagine, the whole spread of the transatlantic agenda, both the war on terrorism, to which Italy is making an important contribution; they'll be discussing transatlantic relations generally, the future of -- they will quite possibly discuss NATO's new capabilities to deal with post -- the post 9/11 strategic environment NATO finds itself in. I anticipate it will be a very good discussion. Again, predictions are hard to make. The two leaders will discuss what they discuss.

Yes, sir.

Q I know this isn't directly in your area, but you've seen the President more than we have. He seemed tired at the press conference, and mentioned being jet lagged. How has he been in these meetings? How late was he up last night? Do you know --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Last night the President had a wonderful dinner, the boat ride on the Neva, and the White Nights. It was just wonderful. That ended around midnight, a little before midnight. The discussion with Chirac was substantive, intense, focused. It was a very meaty discussion, and you got a sense of that, I think, from the two Presidents' press conference. So it was a very good discussion.

Q But you don't get a sense from seeing him that he's tired?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Being in the meeting, this was a very -- this was a very good discussion, very focused on the issues, and getting into the details. So it was quite good. I thought the President was very witty, myself.

Q Could you amplify maybe a little bit on why the President seemed perturbed at the suggestion of the anti-Americanism in Europe? Is that a -- at the end of his press conference. Was that a theme that he feels strongly about?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know that I accept the characterization. What he said was, when he was in Germany he felt the welcome was warm, and that the demonstrations are a sign of democratic health. If you go to a capital and there's no demonstrations, and you're told that everyone 100 percent supports you, that's when you start to wonder.

We felt, all through the trip, that the greeting and the warmth was real. We felt it was a very friendly reception, starting with the stop in Germany, certainly in Russia, and coming in here. Demonstrations are simply there, and I don't think anybody's terribly upset by them. That's part of the scene.

Q Just to follow up on that real quick, President Chirac said today in his opening comments, not on a question, but he voluntarily said: we had concerns about the President's approach to Russia, things didn't turn out the way we anticipated. How do you read that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was a lot written in the first months of the administration about a new Cold War, a new confrontation, the -- some people speculated, on both sides of the Atlantic, that the administration would miss an opportunity to engage with Russia constructively. You remember, the first sort of four or five months of the administration leading up to the Ljubljana meeting. That was coupled with speculation that the President's pursuit of a post-ABM treaty strategic regime would be an awful -- would lead to an arms race, strategic instability, all manner of terrible things would happen.

And it's rather heartening that the relationship with Russia is strong, pointed in the right direction, that we have a strategic framework beyond the ABM treaty, characterized by the most dramatic arms reduction since the atomic bomb was invented in 1945, back to the lowest levels of stockpiles since either the early Kennedy administration or late Eisenhower administration.

That's a moment of vindication for a policy with Russia which is constructive, positive, but also realistic, recognizing where there are differences. It's worked out. Having said that, I've got to immediately caution that realism -- realism means you understand there are differences, and you don't start pronouncing -- making grand pronouncement that everything is going to be great, and there are not going to be any issues.

But it certainly has been a very heartening development with Russia, and it was good to see President Chirac note that. So that was a very nice -- that was a very classy moment by President Chirac.

Q The President said today that the administration expressed concern about the Pakistani missile test. I'm not clear, was that concern before they announced and actually conducted the test? Or was he referring to the concern that they expressed afterwards? And if it was afterwards, I'd like to be clear. Was the administration warned in advance by the Pakistani regime that they were going to conduct them? And what did you say in response to that, if you were?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm hesitating only because I don't normally cover the issue, myself, and I don't want to mis-speak when I talk about the time sequence. I believe that the Pakistanis notified key governments in advance. But I believe that and I have to be -- I have to be somewhat careful. The President made some remarks at the Marinskiy Theater last night that were picked up by the media, and this certainly has been -- he has, in every stop -- in every stop -- discussed with leaders this very dangerous situation in South Asia.

Q Is the administration totally satisfied with Chirac's support for the U.S. strategy on the war on terror?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Actually, we are very satisfied. The French have been terrific in this, whether it's intelligence-sharing, or military support, and use of financial instruments to start shutting down terrorist financial infrastructure -- the French have been just terrific.

It is interesting that there is almost a sort of parallel reality between much of the commentary on both sides of the Atlantic and the reality on the ground, at least as we see it. The French have been terrific, and we are very heartened by it -- and heartened by many other European countries who have pitched into this fight.

Q Looking ahead for the next couple of days, and even later this year, NATO continues to expand towards Russia's borders, and you also have even Russia, itself, sort of becoming almost an honorary member with this NATO plus 20, or "At 20." At what point does the Alliance become so large that its effectiveness starts to become diminished?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: NATO is in the process -- is in a very creative and important process now of thinking through its capabilities for a post-9/11 world. And this is -- it's a creative process, and a creative process inevitably is going to be lot of thinking, a lot of ideas floating around. NATO has adapted to -- this is the second time since the end of the Cold War that NATO has had to take on tasks that, in a military sense, at least, are new. The first one was in the Balkans, which many people think NATO was a bit late. But in the end, NATO did what it had to do, and it's been very successful.

Post-9/11 -- in the post-9/11 world, NATO has to think about its military missions. Now, one of the -- I commend to you the paragraph five of the NAC communique -- ministerial communique coming out of Reykjavik, not a recommendation I usually make. But that -- you may remember that there was a debate within NATO, and broadly, about in area or out of area. And this paragraph indicates that that debate is over.

On September 12th, NATO, for the first time in its history, invokes Article 5, which is basically, an attack on one is an attack on all. That threat to NATO came from what used to be called an out-of-area source. Yet NATO determined that this was an Article 5 threat. Now NATO is in the process of determining how we can best develop the military capabilities to deal with this new threat.

In this context, a larger NATO may actually be more effective. Countries -- if you look at the Berlin speech, the President said that countries should be able to contribute what they best can to this common fight. A lot of NATO -- some of NATO's new members have specialized military capabilities that are already very useful. The Poles have very good special forces; the Czechs have very good anti-chemical, anti-biological warfare units. And these new NATO members are just starting to adapt themselves to NATO's military structures.

You're going to hear a lot more about this, not so much at Rome, because that's not really about NATO's internal restructuring, but up to the Prague summit. So there is a lot of thinking being done. I could talk more, but I think this is enough for now.

Q If I could just make one brief follow-up. Arguably, terrorism is the enemy of all civilized nations, so at what point does it start to look less like an alliance and more like the United Nations?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll have to push back on the premise of the question. I think NATO is -- NATO was established as the security arm of the great transatlantic alliance of democracies. That is the reason why countries which have -- which are moving out of communism and becoming free market democracies themselves want strongly to join NATO. They don't want to join NATO because it's an ineffective talk-shop; they want to join NATO because they see this very, very clearly as the bulwark of democracy. The new NATO members are happy to be in NATO, and there are countries that want very, very much to be in NATO, and to stand up, kick, and do what needs to be done.

There were some concerns expressed that expanding NATO from 16 to 19 would make it less effective. Hasn't done so at all. In fact, the Poles, Czechs, Hungarians have been terrific at building consensus and helping NATO come to firm decisions. So NATO does have a challenge ahead, but it's now grappling with the right challenge, asking the right questions, which is the military capabilities to deal with the post-9/11 situation.

Q When the President was asked about the Pakistani ballistic tests, his answer actually focused on what the Pakistanis are doing over the Line of Control, and whether or not Musharraf has lived up to his commitments to stop that cross-border situation. Is it the President's view, is it the administration's view that that's really the heart of the problem here, and that the missile tests are actually sort of a reflection of the real problem, which is whether or not Musharraf is living up to his commitments?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The problem is a problem on the ground, and a problem -- the missile tests are, in some sense, a function of that. But, of course, you can have countries that don't want to get into a conflict marching toward a conflict; a series of steps, all of which look rational on their own merits, and end up to catastrophe. And that's certainly what everyone wants to avoid. That's what we're focused on.

Q Is it fair to say that that's the real issue for the President and the administration, what's happening on the ground?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The situation on the ground is a major -- the focus of everyone's attention. But the missile tests are a problem in their own right, whatever their original cause.

Thank you.

END 6:44 P.M. (L)