USIS Washington 

17 May 1998


Office of the Press Secretary
Birmingham, England)

May 17, 1998


Metropole Hotel
Birmingham, England

MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We have a really big
show for you today. Over the course of the last several days, as eight
leaders have been gathered around a room, but one U.S. official has
been in the room with Bill Clinton, and that official is here with us
today. He is the Deputy National Security Advisor to the President of
the United States, James B. Steinberg.

And as an added attraction, direct from Islamabad, by way of the
bilateral meeting with Boris Yeltsin, the Deputy Secretary of State of
the United States of America, the honorable Strobe Talbott. This is a
heavenly briefing, with such fire power. Jim is going to walk through
some summary remarks and give a readout on some of the sessions that
the leaders have been through the last few days. Strobe is here to
give you a readout on the Yeltsin meeting. I think all of you have
seen -- yes? --the remarks that the President gave your pool, so they
might reference those in passing. Mr. Steinberg.


Q: Do you believe, based on your discussions with the Pakistanis, that
they've made a firm decision to test nuclear weapons?

TALBOTT: All I can do is tell you the firm impression that I took away
with me when I left Islamabad yesterday. And let me just for the
record review who went and whom we saw.

I was accompanied by General Anthony Zinni, the Commander in Chief of
the U.S. Central Command; Rick Inderfurth the Assistant Secretary of
State for South Asia; and Bruce Rydell, who is the Senior Director of
the National Security Council for South Asia as well as for the Gulf
and the Middle East. We met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Foreign
Minister Ayub Kahn, and also with the Chief of the Army Staff, General
Jahangir Karamat.

We felt very strongly after those discussions that the Pakistani
leadership had not taken a decision. That said, I want to make clear,
as they made clear to us, that not having taken a decision as of the
time we met with them did not mean they had ruled out any options.
They gave us no specific commitments as to what they would feel it was
in their national interest to do, other than promising us that they
would take a full account of the message that we brought to them from
President Clinton, which you heard him reiterate publicly not long

That's really all I can tell you with certainty based on our own trip

Q: Strobe, your aware that Ayub said this morning that the decision
has been taken by the Cabinet and according to the wires, it will now
be a political decision to test. It is a matter of when, not if.

TALBOTT: Well, as I say, in our discussions we were very much focused
on the question of whether, and what we were told then was that no
decision had been made about whether they would feel that this was a
necessary and, indeed, unavoidable thing for them to do. And I can
convey to you that the sense we had throughout our meetings was that
the people with whom we met were wrestling with what, for them, was,
and no doubt continues to be, an extremely difficult and vexing

In reporting to Secretary Albright from the plane en route here and to
Sandy last night and to the President this morning, I said that I
could not predict what they would do, but it was very clear that it
was a hard decision.

Q: Strobe, as we try to reconcile these different things, it seems to
me there are three possible explanations -- and correct me if you
think I'm wrong and help us sort them out. Either they could not have
made a decision when you left and they have now, or they're saying one
thing to you and another thing to their domestic constituency. I mean,
is it possible that they want to leave the impression with the United
States that the door is not yet closed, but want to reassure their
public and especially their military that, yes, indeed, they are going
forward? I mean, how do you sort this out when you hear these reports
and yet know what they said to you?

TALBOTT: I can't be a lot of help to you, including helping you in
parsing sentences coming out of Islamabad, many of which I have not
seen, but I've only heard referred to.

I would simply say this. Our discussions were focused very much not on
the question of what they would say, but on the question of what they
would do. So as in so many other contexts, including, by the way, in
the rather relevant context of recent discussions we had with the
Indian government, we have always made clear that while we would
listen carefully to the words that we heard, we would attach a higher
order of importance to actions taken.

And what we heard was that no decision had been made on whether this
particular action -- namely a Pakistani nuclear test -- would take
place. And, as the President said today, contrary to some other news
reports that were floating around earlier, we have no information to
confirm that a Pakistani nuclear test has occurred. So in that sense,
we are today, on the critical issue of what has happened, we seem to
be today where we were yesterday. But obviously, words matter, too, in
this context, and I hope very much that the Pakistanis would be the
first to say that the words that President Clinton expressed a little
while ago over at the conference center also matter and that they will
continue to take account of the arguments that he made.

Q: Did you get any sense from your discussions there of what the
Pakistanis were looking for either from the United States or the rest
of the world that might prevent them from going ahead with the test --
either words, deeds, actions, incentive, direct help, in that whole
range -- what did they tell you it would take to move them away from a
decision to do it?

TALBOTT: Well, they made quite clear that they didn't think there was
any magic wand to be waved here, that the international community or
the United States could do something that would make the problem that
the Indian test has created for them go away. There was no indication
that they were looking for from us or from anybody else some kind of
magic bullet solution to this. They certainly didn't convey to us a
wish list of things which, if we did them, they would then not test.
They saw the problem in a much more both fundamental and sophisticated
way than that. Although, I think it's clear that one of the things
they are going to continue to look at is the attitude and the actions
of the international community. But more than that I really can't say.

Q: Given what's happened in India and what may happen in Pakistan,
does the administration need to fundamentally revise its
nonproliferation strategy? And, if so, how will that happen?

TALBOTT: I think the fundamental merits and wisdom of the
administration's nonproliferation strategy globally and with regard to
the South Asian subcontinent have, if anything, been vindicated by
these developments. There is no question, as President Clinton noted
very soon after the Indian test occurred, the test was a destabilizing
development. And the question now is how to limit the damage that was
done and get particularly those two very important countries on the
subcontinent moving back in the same direction that much of the rest
of the world is moving, and that is away from, rather than toward,
reliance on nuclear weapons.

Q: You said that the Pakistanis were going to be watching carefully
what the world did. In the context of what the G-8 did, what is it
that you think the Pakistanis were looking for? You must have
something in mind, as was implicit by their reaction to what it was
that the G-8 did it was inadequate from their point of view. What
would have made a G-8 action adequate from the perspective of the

TALBOTT: I think there are limits in any setting to how far I should
go in trying to read their minds, particularly in a rapidly developing
situation like this one. And insofar as I am prepared to try to do
that, it won't be in this setting.

But I will tell you that the statement that has been released here,
which Jim has referred to, and he's in a much more authoritative
position to describe the provenance of it and the significance of it,
says something quite significant. You have the eight leaders here
using a very strong verb, "condemn," and also making clear that all of
the eight leaders here and their governments are going to very much
take what India has done into account as they calibrate their own
relations with India. That seems on the face of it to be quite a
significant response.

But I want to come back to my answer to the earlier question. The
Pakistani leaders struck me as addressing this problem in an extremely
concentrated, intensive way, and without any illusion that there are
simple answers, particularly from the outside world. They see this as
a problem for them as a result of their geographical position and
because of the differences that exist between Pakistan and India. And
I think that we'll just have to wait and see.

Q: The President said earlier that he was going to work very hard to
come up with an affirmative strategy to try to flip the nuclear tide
back in the right direction. Can you give us a sense of how he could
possibly do this, what kind of strategies was he talking about, and
can you talk a little bit more about it being in the wrong direction?

TALBOTT: No, I don't want to speculate on how we are going to move
forward here. We have a lot to digest. I think, as all of you know,
Jim and Sandy and I and others, and the President spent a good deal of
time this morning just trying to ascertain the facts. I am going to be
working with my colleagues at the direction of the Secretary to move
very quickly in thinking about next steps, but I wouldn't want to go
any further than that. And I'd be surprised -- Jim will maybe take a
crack at that himself, but I doubt if in substance he will go very
much further.

Maybe one more and then back to Jim, if that's all right.

Q: If they're not looking for a magic solution, they're looking at
their own concerns, can you tell us a little bit more about what
they're concerns are, what is going into their calculation?

TALBOTT: Well, they have a very large neighbor with whom they have had
a lot of difficulties, to put it mildly, over the half century that
both of these nations have existed. They've fought three wars. And
that very large neighbor has just exploded a series of nuclear
devices, and unlike in 1974 when they exploded what they called a
"smiling Buddha", a peaceful explosive -- in this case, they have made
no bones about the fact that this is a weapon. And there have been
statements made from very high levels, including the highest level,
making clear that this is a weapon. And Pakistan, for reasons
well-known to all of you, clearly sees this as directly affecting its
own national security.

President Clinton made the argument in succinct form when he met with
a number of reporters after the meeting with President Yeltsin, the
essence of the argument why it could -- we hope it will be the
conclusion or the decision of the Pakistani government that it's not
in its national interest to conduct a test here. And the essence of
that is that Pakistan will demonstrate strength and self-confidence if
it continues to show restraint.

But the two points I would come back to from our own mission to
Islamabad is, first, they understand that argument, they gave us a
fair hearing, they heard us out, they had clearly thought of it
themselves; but they also have other factors that they have to weigh
and they see this as their sovereign right to decide this for
themselves. And we can only hope that they will take account of what
they have heard from us and, indeed, from many others.

Q:  -- time or place for a summit?

TALBOTT: No time and place for a summit, but a clear eagerness on the
part of the two Presidents that it occur.

Q: But any possibility that it would happen before START II

TALBOTT: The President, himself, addressed that and he and President
Yeltsin talked about that fairly briefly. There was no need for them
to go into great length because they've talked about it before.

President Yeltsin and President Clinton have, going back to Denver of
last year, said that they wanted their bilateral summit in 1998 to be
a forward-looking summit that would have two themes in particular. One
is an enhancement and a strengthening of the economic relationship
between the two countries, and another is moving beyond START II to
START III. The second of those agenda items will obviously be much
easier to deal with in a productive and promising way if START II has
been ratified.

Thanks a lot.

STEINBERG: Let me just say one more about the issue of the affirmative
strategy, because this was something that the eight leaders discussed
at some length. And one thing they all agree on is that the most
immediate priority is to get these two countries to sign the CTB as
promptly as possible. But second, they also reaffirmed the basic
strategy of the Nonproliferation Treaty and the overall
nonproliferation regime, that they all said -- rather than calling
into question, they all had the common view that this mean that there
was a need to reiterate, to redouble our efforts to achieve it.

So I think there is in this sort of the basic objectives of where they
want to go. There is a very strong consensus among the leaders.

Q: Strobe said that this represents a vindication of the strategy. How
can it be a vindication of the strategy when we have one more nuclear
power and possibly -- declared nuclear power -- and possibly a second?

STEINBERG: I think that's not a precise quote, but I think what he
said is it vindicates the importance of the strategy, because I think
all of the leaders agreed that this was something that they found very
dangerous and very destabilizing, and are not prepared to sort of
simply turn their backs or to tolerate or to accept the fact that
other countries are going to move in that direction.

Q: So you think it's important -- is there no need to rethink how you
get to the goal you all agree is important?

STEINBERG: Clearly, we will take into account the facts as they exist,
but what is important is that they reiterated the basic objectives
here, which is a strong commitment to the Comprehensive Test Ban
Treaty, and a strong commitment to the nonproliferation regime that
has been the prevailing norm since the treaty was signed 31 years ago.

Q: When President Yeltsin came in today, did he tell the other leaders
that it was his information that Pakistan had detonated a test?

STEINBERG: There was a lot of discussion about what information people
had back home from capitals. People had various reports from different
places. There was a lot of checking back with capitals as to what the
facts were and I think they all agreed that they wanted to make sure
that they knew what the facts were before they had any reaction to it.

Q:  -- President kind of open that issue by --

STEINBERG: Actually, a number of leaders had had reports from back
home, some indicating that they had heard reports that a test had
taken place, others that they hadn't heard that a test had taken
place. But I'm not going to characterize the conversation in any more

Q: Given that India's resistance to the CTB has always been that they
don't want to sign on while Russia and the United States have lots of
weapons and they don't have any, is it your sense through any
conversations that you've had with India that they're starting to
think that if Russia and America go forward with START III that that
will somehow bring them on? Is there something that you can do to --
India's resistance has always been the same thing -- is there
something you can do to change that resistance?

STEINBERG: Well, it's certainly true that -- it is an argument that
India has made in the past. And the response that we have made in the
past is to look at the progress of arms control that the United States
and Russia have been pursuing and the very dramatic reduction of
nuclear weapons that have taken place over the time that President
Clinton has been President. And we have always argued to them in the
context of the conference on disarmament and elsewhere that we are, in
fact, carrying out our commitment under Article VI of the NPT to
reduce nuclear weapons with the goal of eventually eliminating them.

So I think we have felt for a long time that to the extent that this
is a concern of the Indians that we are addressing it. And certainly
if we go forward to START III, that will be another major step along
the way. And we are very much committed to continue on that downward
path. We very much hope that they would see this as responsive to that
concern. We hoped that even before the test took place.

Q: Do you have any recent news from them that indicates that that
might be a persuasive argument with them?

STEINBERG: There are certainly reports from various commentators in
India that continue to raise this issue. And we will continue to point
out what we're trying to do. But I think that -- we feel not only
because they think it would be a good thing for them, but we think
it's a good thing for the world, we ought to pursue that path.

Q: What did Yeltsin say that makes you believe that START II is going
to be --

STEINBERG: I can't improve over Strobe, because he was there and I

Q: Well, do we feel better about it after the meeting? I mean, do we
really think it's going to happen this year?

STEINBERG: I just can't -- I mean, I can't say any more, other than
the fact that we see a number of steps being taken by President
Yeltsin and people in the Duma trying to move that forward.

MCCURRY: On that, I'd also refer you to the President's comments. He
was encouraged by President Yeltsin's report that within the Duma
there is committee consideration of aspects of the START II underway,
and it is, obviously, an active legislative consideration at this

Q: Jim, if we know the Pakistanis have nukes, if we know that they can
make them fully weapons capable without testing, and if we know that
they can test them without hurting anybody, what difference does it
make if they go ahead and detonate one?

STEINBERG: I can't necessarily accept your assumptions on any of the
first three, so it's a little hard to answer the question. We believe
very strongly that it is not in the interest of India, not in the
interest of Pakistan, to test, nor it is in their interest to develop
nuclear weapons. And so, our goal and our objective will be to make
sure that this does not become a more dangerous arms raise than it
might otherwise be.

The fact that we know that they have been pursuing these things is a
matter of concern, which is why we have taken a number of steps, both
directly with them and in our relations with other who may be dealing
with them, not only to try to reduce the risk of their having a
nuclear arms race, but also with respect to other weapons of mass

Q: Prime Minister Blair talked about a telephone conversation that he
had with Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee -- the U.S. has had a
delegation in Islamabad -- what contacts have -- what
government-to-government contacts have there been with New Delhi in
the last couple of days?

STEINBERG:  You mean from us?

Q:  Yes.

STEINBERG: I am not aware of any high level direct contacts with India
Northern Ireland the last couple of days.

MCCURRY:  Last question over here.

Q: Since the U.S. has espoused the principle of nuclear deterrence for
50 years, how do you go to a country who has just seen its arch rival
explode a nuclear weapon reasonably close to its borders, which has
the capacity to do the same -- how do you go to that country and
persuade them not to do what they believe is the only thing that can
actually prevent them from their assured destruction by an Indian
nuclear weapon at some point within the next 10 or 20 years?

STEINBERG: I think that in part, because we are not prepared at this
point to accept the idea that India would pursue a nuclear weapons
program as a fait accompli or that India should become a nuclear
weapon state, and that the best status to try to achieve is the
denuclearization of the peninsula -- of the subcontinent, and that,
therefore, rather than start down that road, Pakistan should work with
us and the international community to create the conditions and do the
things that will help India give up its program rather than to accept
the fact that the program should go forward. I mean, we have always
pursued a goal of trying to reduce nuclear weapons, not to increase

Q: Jim, doesn't that sort of fly in the face of logic? I mean, you
said you're not prepared to accept that they might be a nuclear state.
They're saying, we are a nuclear state; deal with it; and we can make
the big bomb.

STEINBERG: Again, they have conducted a series of tests; that doesn't
mean that they're a nuclear weapons state, nor that we need to accept
that. There have been a number of countries over the past several
decades which have had nuclear weapons programs, and they've all given
them up. A number of countries which refuse to join the NPT in the
'60s, in the '70s, in the '80s, which have now joined -- I'd point out
to you that South Africa, for example, Brazil, for example, Argentina,
for example, Taiwan, South Korea -- all are countries which to varying
degrees were pursuing nuclear options and they gave them up.

And I think it is our very strong conviction, and the conviction of
many other countries, that we should not simply shrug our shoulders
and say, well, I guess they've done that, but rather to focus our
efforts on persuading them that in fact their safety -- look at
Ukraine. Ukraine had nuclear weapons, gave them up because it made a
decision that Ukraine's security would be better pursued not by having
the nuclear weapons that they had. The same is true with Kazakhstan.
So there is plenty of precedent in history for countries to see their
future and their destiny, and that's a path that we want to see
everyone go down.


(end transcript)