U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing January 16, 1997
Briefer: Nicholas Burns

4 US-Russian Space Docking
10-11 Gen. Lebed Visit to Washington
11-13 Discussions on beginning START III talks
19 Strobe Talbott Meetings in Europe

MR. BURNS: Finally, we want to note a very significant event, and that is the fact that the space station Atlantis and the Russian Mir have docked. Astronauts and cosmonauts are being exchanged. This doesn't get much press attention but this is an exceedingly important event. Because this presages the U.S., Russian, and European cooperation to build an international space station, to begin that process later in 1997. I'm surprised by how little press attention this gets. It's one of the most significant things happening in international life today. We want to congratulate the Russian Government and NASA, the American astronauts for their extraordinary accomplishments in building this program and achieving a successful docking between Atlantis and Mir yesterday.

QUESTION: Alright. With all these conflicting reports that I read about General Lebed's arrival here, can you tell us exactly if you know who invited General Lebed here? Is that an official invitation, and more to it, have you been approached by his people in arranging any meetings here? If you are approached, what would be your decision? Update us on that.

MR. BURNS: Good. Let me just say the U.S. Government policy longstanding for the inaugural is the following. We expect that Ambassadors here and Chiefs of Mission of diplomatic posts here -- Embassies in Washington -- will represent foreign countries at President Clinton's inauguration on Monday. Therefore, we have not invited any foreign dignitaries. We have not invited kings, presidents, prime minister, queens, princes -- anyone. We expect that diplomatic representatives here will be the representatives of their country. They will be seated in a prominent section of the seating at the inauguration, and they'll view the parade.

I think some non-profit groups, some of the lobbying organizations here in Washington, businesses, have invited a great number of foreigners. These are not invitations by the U.S. Government. I have no idea who invited General Lebed. I do not believe that he's made any request to see anybody officially, although obviously anytime that General Lebed is willing to talk, we're willing to talk, because he's a significant person in Russian society, and we have had a relationship with him. We've had conversations. He had a very good visit here a couple of months ago, and we're very much open to discussions with him. But I don't believe anything is planned.

QUESTION: On Strobe Talbott's trip, has the United States made a proposal, or is it considering a proposal to basically leapfrog START II, because you can't get it through the Duma and go right into START III negotiations?

MR. BURNS: Carol, I saw the same press reports that you did. I am not aware that any firm decisions on any of these issues -- on that particular issue -- any decisions have been made by the Administration. Our position is formally and privately and publicly that we think START II, which was signed four years ago this month, ought to be ratified by the Russian Duma, as has been ratified by the U.S. Senate. We certainly have always said for a number of years that we would like to go beyond START II and explore the possibility of further reductions in the level of nuclear arms.

But START II is important. I'm not aware of any decision in the United States Government to forget about START II or leapfrog START II and go on to START III.

QUESTION: But my question was not about a firm decision, and you keep using the word "decision." My question is, has there been a proposal floated? Is there consideration among senior officials in this government about doing this -- leapfrogging START II?

MR. BURNS: I'm not aware of any such proposal being made to any foreign government. I'm not aware of that. Okay?

QUESTION: Alright.

MR. BURNS: Wait a minute, Barry. I'm answering Carol's question. You've got --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) foreign government --

MR. BURNS: You've got to let me answer the question.

QUESTION: But you keep changing the question.

MR. BURNS: I'm not changing the question, Barry. I'm answering -- why don't you ask the question.

QUESTION: I'll ask it -- no, let her go. Then I'll try it a different way.

QUESTION: I did not say making a proposal to a foreign government. I'm leaving it as vague as possible, so that I don't want you to get caught up on any one word. Have there been discussions in this government about going beyond START II because you can't get it through the Russian Duma and trying a new approach and going right to START III negotiations?

MR. BURNS: I am not aware of any such discussions and, if I knew about them, I wouldn't tell the press about them -- if they were just deliberations or musings inside the U.S. Government before any approach had been made to a foreign government. I'm not aware of any, and I wouldn't say so even if I were.

Secondly, I don't believe that there's been any approach to foreign governments.

Third, START II is the centerpiece of our efforts right now.

QUESTION: Nick, you have --

QUESTION: I just want to make sure -- do the bidding here. As near as you know, as the spokesman of this State Department and in contact with all important senior officials, there's been no discussions of this idea. There has been no proposal, and there has certainly been no decision.

MR. BURNS: Carol, you understand what I'm saying. I'm not aware of any. I'm the spokesman here. I'm not in charge of our arms negotiations. I don't attend all meetings, so I cannot possibly know. I can't prove a negative, and I can't prove a positive. If I haven't been over at ACDA every day for the last five months or at the White House or at the Pentagon, or if I hadn't sat with Lynn Davis every day for the last five months, I can't possibly know everything that has been said and everything that has not been said.

I'm just telling you I'm not aware of any, but we're not in the practice here of sharing preliminary proposals under discussion inside the government with the public and the press. It's not the way the government works.

QUESTION: Well, will you take the question?

MR. BURNS: I'll consider looking into it, but I cannot promise an answer.

QUESTION: Nick, this is a kind of expertise and going back to the previous administration. Spurgeon Keeney, the head of the Arms Control Association, months ago -- and you know the arguments he made. He's not talking about leapfrogging. He's talking about unlocking this stalemate which one of the reasons the Russians haven't ratified, it's expensive for them to do this. You're helping them a little. They have to make choices between weapons, building the new weapons allowable with the expenses under START II. He proposed months ago a very detailed, serious proposal that you start on START III. The President proposed starting on START III to make it easier to get START II ratified, because the more weapons that are banned, the Russians won't have that big expense. That was one of his reasons.

I'll settle for considering. You have a March -- assuming Yeltsin's health is up to it -- you have a March summit coming up. Is the Administration considering that proposal or some variation of it to simultaneously -- well, not simultaneously -- to start on START II -- START III as a way of facilitating Russian approval of START II.

MR. BURNS: I can't settle for that word, because, as I said, when we're ready to make announcements, we make them. Our position is that START II ought to be ratified, and I gave an answer to Carol which I thought was as direct as I could be.

QUESTION: If you could leapfrog out of it, maybe you'd be freer -- not leapfrog, because, obviously, you want START II ratified, but to get started on START III before START II is ratified as a way of getting START II ratified.

MR. BURNS: I understand probably some of the confusion here. There have been a lot of people speaking on background to various reporters. We've even seen some On-the-Record statements in months past about this particular issue. The great thing about a hierarchical government is that the President gets to decide these, and I'm not aware the President has made any such decision. I'm not aware of any proposals on his desk, and therefore the President's position and the Secretary of State's position is START II ought to be ratified.

I do know that in all recent conversations with senior Russian Government officials, we have been saying privately START II is our priority. Let's work on ratifying START II.

... ... ...

QUESTION: You probably can't talk about this one either. Can you enlighten us a little bit on what Strobe Talbott was discussing regarding NATO and what kinds of concessions/offers/fig leaves -- whatever --NATO is ready to offer?

MR. BURNS: I have the "Top Secret" negotiating papers, I think. John, can we give those to the press? We can publish them afterwards, maybe. I'm being a little bit facetious because this is a little bit -- strange line of questioning. I can't tell you what Strobe's private conversations were and the private ideas that he put forward.

I can tell you that he was in Europe discussing NATO issues, European Security issues, bilateral issues. What he said privately to senior government officials in Bonn and Paris, it's not in our tradition to say what he said.