THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release January 31, 1996
SANDY VERSHBOW, SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR
EUROPEAN AFFAIRS AT THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL
2:08 P.M. EST
MR. VERSHBOW: This was with little warning, but let me
give you a brief overview of President Chirac's visit.
As we have emphasized, it's an opportunity to strengthen
the close partnership between our two countries and the very close
friendship that the two presidents have established both before and
since President Chirac was elected last spring. They've met now three
times, and this will be their fourth formal meeting and, of course,
they've been in frequent contact by phone, particularly on the Bosnian
crisis last summer. And I think they've already forged a strong mutual
outlook on a lot of the major problems in the world.
There's going to be a very full agenda for what will
unfortunately be a short series of meetings, given the full program that
President Chirac has, including his address to the Congress.
I think number one on the list for us and for President
Chirac is the future evolution and adaptation of NATO. The question is
how to take forward the process that's been going on for the past few
years, to redefine NATO's roles and missions, to adjust its force and
command structures, to deal with the kinds of real world problems that
we face in the post Cold War period, and also to reach out to the new
democracies in the East and prepare the way for the admission of some of
them to the NATO alliance itself.
The basic course of NATO adaptation was, in its current
phase, was charted at the NATO summit in Brussels in January, '94; when
the Partnership for Peace was launched, the door was open to NATO
enlargement and when some initiatives were adopted to strengthen the
European role within the Alliance. Bosnia is, in fact, proving a lot of
these initiatives value in practice, and now the task is to adjust the
theory to catch up with the practice in many respects.
The new impulse for the discussion between the two
presidents on this occasion is the decision by President Chirac, which
we welcomed, to bring France closer to the defense bodies of the
Alliance and to seek to build a stronger European defense role within
the framework of NATO rather than outside it. This is something that we
have supported because we feel that NATO should remain the overall
Bosnia again is proving its continued importance, but that
it's very important for the United States and for the American public
and Congress to see that the European members of the Alliance
increasingly take on a greater responsibility and that will be, I think,
one of the key focal points of the discussions between the two
I don't think they're going to get too deeply into the
details of command structures and how to adjust NATO strategy, but
rather to set in motion a process over the next few months within the
Alliance that can lead to some important decisions by foreign ministers
The other dimension of the adaptation process is, of
course, NATO enlargement. And I think the two presidents will want to
discuss how to keep the momentum going through this year, which is the
second phase of the enlargement process, while at the same time
continuing to reach out to Russia and strengthen the NATO partnership
Other items on the agenda -- I'll stop soon -- will, of
course, include Bosnia. The French are key players within IFOR and have
responsibility for Sarajevo which is the most potentially delicate
sector looking ahead over the next few weeks when the Serb suburbs are
transferred formally to Federation control. And so the two presidents
will want to review how we're doing on implementation and how we're
going to deal with some of these delicate political problems.
Also, to discuss the equally important of civilian side of
implementation. We have worked together very well so far. There was a
good result in December at the pledging conference in Brussels for the
first quarter of this year, but we now have to look ahead to the longer
term to keep the civilian reconstruction effort going.
President Chirac is, of course, the chairman of the G-7
this year, will host the G-7 Summit in Lyons in June, and he intends and
we look forward to a discussion of a variety of G-7 issues. For our
part, we want to continue to strengthen G-7 cooperation and coordination
on issues like organized crime, terrorism, narcotics, want to discuss
U.N. reform where the G-7 countries are trying to give greater impulse
to that incremental process.
The French will be hosting a jobs conference, ministerial,
in Lille in the next few months, and they'll want to talk about ways to
stimulate employment. And the French have emphasized the need for the
G-7 to do more in the area of economic development. There, too, we see
some common ground, although I think we may see the issue of development
a bit more broadly, focusing on issues like the environment, population
and not just economic assistance.
Finally, I think they'll, if time permits, touch on a range
of regional issues where we see eye to eye in some cases and see -- and
don't see eye to eye in others -- issues like Iran, Iraq, Algeria, the
Middle East peace process. We would like to increase our cooperation
with the French in Africa on a variety of fronts. The French are the
largest donor of assistance to Africa. So I think there's room for
greater coordination and partnership there. So it is a pretty broad
agenda. NATO tops the list. G-7 issues will be very important as well.
I'll take your questions.
Q Did I miss a reference to nuclear testing?
MR. VERSHBOW: You did miss a reference, and it was a slip.
They will certainly discuss next steps on nuclear testing. President
Chirac will formally explain to the President what has been announced,
namely that the French have ended for good their nuclear testing, which
we have welcomed. And we look forward now to working in concert with
them to bring about a CTB this year.
Q At which point in the agenda does that come? Main
MR. VERSHBOW: I think that will probably come up --
they're going to have two meetings. There will be a restricted session
in the Oval Office with just a few key advisers, and I suspect that will
come up there, along with some of the G-7 political issues and some of
the more thorny issues that I mentioned. And they'll focus on the NATO
issues and G-7 economic issues when all the key Cabinet advisers are
Q Can I follow up with two questions? I bet you won't
answer this, but I've got to try. Was there a deal in the works from
the beginning, when Chirac's visit was originally postponed, that the
French told the Americans, okay, give us time, let us finish the nuclear
tests and reschedule us for February? Did the U.S. know all the time
that the French tests were complete?
Q Go ahead, say it, say it.
MR. VERSHBOW: No. We did not have any such deal. We
didn't know when they were going to end the series. We were very
pleased that they ended it before the visit because it adds a positive
tone to the discussion. The main issue that affected the schedule was
the inability to work with the Congress on a date in the fall for
addressing the joint session.
Q Do you have a reaction to the congressional protest?
MR. VERSHBOW: To the congressional --
Q Protests to this joint session.
MR. VERSHBOW: Over the testing issue?
MR;. VERSHBOW: That's not for us to comment on. I mean, I
think we are looking to the future here. We have welcomed the end of
French testing and the very strong French affirmations of intent to
pursue a CTB, and that's what we want to do.
Q Nonetheless, if Democrats boycott --
Q But it's members of the President's own party that asked
that the invitation be withdrawn.
Q Wait a minute. Bill, you had a question.
Q It is a group of members of the President's own party
who have asked the Republicans to withdraw the invitation to address the
joint session of Congress. This causes you no problems at all?
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, we think -- we hope that the address
to the joint session goes forward, because I think it's an opportunity
for the Congress to hear from one of our key allies, and how he views
both the challenges together globally but also his views on the
importance of continued American leadership and continued American
engagement in Europe and in the world. So in that sense we would regret
missing that opportunity, despite differences that many members may have
on the nuclear testing issue.
Q But some Democrats are also going to say they're going
to boycott it if nothing else. What would that do to relations with
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, I don't think it will have any
substantial impact on our bilateral relationship. It will obviously not
do much for the relationship between those members and President Chirac.
Q I've got one more, since you're in the hot seat on this.
There has been a lot of criticism from the allies saying that the U.S.
protests were not vigorous enough. Do you think the U.S. protests of
the testing were of substance?
MR. VERSHBOW: I of course think our protests were just
right on the mark. And if anything -- if you ask the French, they felt
they were too vigorous, and some felt they were not vigorous enough, so
we felt we wanted to hew to our principled position that they should not
have continued the testing, but now that they finally have ended it,
we're very happy about it.
Q Does that mean the U.S. regards it as a closed book now
that this episode of French nuclear testing -- in defiance of world
opinion, including America's?
MR. VERSHBOW: Closed book in the sense that it's resolved
between us. It obviously could have some impact on our ability to
conclude a CTB and to bring some countries who have pointed to French
testing as an obstacle on board the CTB. But I think --
Q Well, just following up on Connie's question, was it
mere coincidence that the testing ended just a few days before Chirac
arrived for the State Visit and would it have cast a "nuclear cloud," so
to speak, over the talks?
Q A mushroom cloud.
MR. VERSHBOW: You'd have to ask the French about the
timing. There was an announcement some weeks earlier by the Defense
Minister that, if successful, the sixth test would be the last. I think
this was based on the results of the program as much as on the hue and
cry that the test program elicited. You'll have to ask them about
which factors are --
Q Does NATO have a date for expansion -- the decision?
MR. VERSHBOW: No.
Q Could I have one more on the nuclear --
MR. VERSHBOW: I've got to shift to NATO expansion.
Q I've got one more on the nuclear --
MR. VERSHBOW: I don't work on nuclear testing. Let me --
is there a date for NATO expansion? No. What the allies agreed in
December at the Foreign Minister's meeting was to begin a second phase
of the process in which we begin to engage individual countries in a
more intensive fashion to begin to chart out what are going to be the
requirements that they need to meet to be invited to join the Alliance
and what NATO would have to do to begin to prepare to extend the defense
guarantee to those countries.
So we're getting down to the serious, concrete issues of a
NATO enlargement, building on the principles set forth in the
enlargement study next year.
What the Ministers agreed was that at their next
ministerial meeting in December -- not the next one, the one after next
-- they will review the progress to date and decide on the next steps.
So we will be coming up to the edge of a decision on the who and the
when, but I can't predict at this point whether -- exactly when that
decision will be taken.
Q So nothing happens this year, then, in calendar '96, the
terms of --
MR. VERSHBOW: Through most of this year. I simply
wouldn't want to predict what the ministerial in December, which will be
at the beginning of December, will decide as far as, what next.
Q And how do you handle not only the continued strong
objections from the Russians to eastward expansion, but even the
increasing vehemence of their opposition from President Yeltsin on down?
The administration keeps saying you're working both tracks on eastward
expansion as well forging closer strategic ties between NATO and Russia,
but the Russians will have none of it. At what point do you have to
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, we're not going to reassess because we
believe that we have a policy course that is the correct one that tries
to balance the goal of expanding the community of democracies in the
security realm just as the E.U. is doing in the economic realm, while at
the same time reaching out to Russia to develop a strong strategic
partnership between the Alliance and Russia.
Opposition has been vehement for a long time. We haven't
heard anything to top the "Cold Peace" speech in Budapest more than a
year ago. So I don't think we can say that it's become more vehement.
Our response is to stay steady and deliberate and proceed on the course
that we've outlined. And I think what we're seeing in Bosnia shows that
it is possible, despite Russian objections of principle to NATO
enlargement, that NATO can build practical cooperation. We have a
Russian brigade under the command of am American general in Bosnia,
which was something unthinkable a short while back. We have an American
base in a former Warsaw Pact country in Hungary. So I think the
policy at this point remains the correct one, and we'll continue to work
Q Does the administration feel that you can get both NATO
enlargement and Russian ratification of START II?
MR. VERSHBOW: We think we can. We hope the Russian
ratification of START II will happen very soon, so that that will be out
of the way.
Q You don't see any linkage in Moscow?
MR. VERSHBOW: Some politicians have asserted the linkage,
but I don't think it's the official Russian policy.
Q Could I just take one more stab at that nuclear
question? I'm kind of confused in my own mind how you regard it. Is
there a rift to be mended, or is there no rift to be mended --
MR. VERSHBOW: Between us and France?
Q Yes, with the decision to limit at six; does that end it
MR. VERSHBOW: I don't think "rift" is the word I would
have used to characterize where we were before the end of this French
test series. There was a serious difference of view as to the wisdom of
continuing the testing, and as to the necessity of continuing the tests.
But I think we are now prepared to draw a line under it and focus on the
real goal that we share, which is to achieve a CTB, if possible this
year, that will gain universal adherence.
Q Can we expect an announcement of this decision between
Chirac and Clinton -- like a major announcement on NATO or on the use of
nuclear French power?
MR. VERSHBOW: I wouldn't want to predict how major an
announcement -- it will be seen. The aim is not to arrive at any formal
agreement, because this is something that needs to be worked out within
the alliance among all 16 members. What we hope is that the two leaders
will provide a joint impulse to work on the basis of some of the common
principles that I was describing, namely, building a stronger European
defense role within the framework of NATO, while at the same time
keeping on the steady course with respect to NATO's outreach to the
Q Would you expect a major announcement of any kind of
agreement coming out of this meeting?
MR. VERSHBOW: There is no formal agreements or treaties or
anything being finalized for signature during this visit, so it is more
a meeting of very close allies and partners who have maintained a
continuing interaction on a broad range of issues, and trying to give an
impulse to a number of them.
Q What is going to be the role of Russia at the G-7? Will
it ever be G-8, or is --
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, that will be something, I'm sure, the
two presidents will discuss. The French, I believe, are a bit more
forward leaning on the early transition from the G-7 plus 1 to a
full-fledged G-8. But that --
Q And how do we feel?
MR. VERSHBOW: We certainly share the goal, but I think we
are a little more cautious on the timetable. But I don't think the
issue is being posed for decision by President Chirac with respect to
the Lyons Summit. So it is more of a medium-term issue.
Q Do you know if Chirac is coming into this session with
any particular concerns on his agenda?
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, I think he has some well known
concerns about legislation that is pending in the Congress that would
apply extraterritorially to some French firms who cooperate with Libya
or Iran. I am sure we will hear his complaints on that score.
And I think he has expressed concern, going back to the
first meeting with the President last June, about the decline in U.S.
foreign assistance spending. I think that will be a theme in his
address to the Congress and in his meeting with the President, as well,
particularly funding for the International Development Association, IDA.
Q Could you expand a bit on that pending legislation in
Congress; what is that exactly?
MR. VERSHBOW: There is a D'Amato bill that is pending
which would impose sanctions against firms that invest in the energy
sector in Iran and Libya, and Senator Kennedy has an amendment that
would apply sanctions against firms cooperating with Libya. So these
are of concern, not only to the French, but to other foreign countries
that have oil companies.
Q They have considerable properties along those lines --
MR. VERSHBOW: Yes, I couldn't give you the facts and
figures, but yes.
END 2:30 P.M. EST