USIS Washington File

02 February 2000

Transcript: Albright Briefing Following Talks with Putin in Moscow

(Feb. 2: Says Acting Russian President has "can-do" approach) (2,500)

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with Acting Russian
President Vladimir Putin for almost three hours February 2 in Moscow
and said they had "a genuine discussion" about many of the most
important issues affecting the U.S.-Russian relationship, including
arms control, non-proliferation, the economy, civil society, Chechnya,
and regional conflict.

At a briefing afterward, Albright said the meeting was very
substantive and very useful, and that she agreed when Putin said
U.S.-Russian relations "are of over-riding importance" to his country.

"I was impressed with the kind of can-do approach that Acting
President Putin put forward in terms of issues," she said, adding that
she found him to be very well-informed. "He's obviously a Russian
patriot and also someone who seeks a normal position for Russia within
the West. And he struck me as a problem solver."

Albright said neither she nor Putin "minced words" about Chechnya --
that Putin believes the course Russia is taking there is essential for
its future and that the United States obviously disagrees -- yet she
said he seemed receptive to her proposal of sending a humanitarian
needs assessment team to the republic.

"I don't think that we're any closer to a solution -- political
solution -- on Chechnya, but I was interested in his saying that he
was for greater ... for some kind of stable relationship, greater
autonomy for Chechnya and social and economic reconstruction there.
But I didn't hear how he intended to get from here to there."

Albright also said she was "encouraged by the discussion on arms
control and some seeming flexibility on deep cuts," but she emphasized
that she and Putin did not discuss specific numbers nor any details of
the START III treaty.

Following is a transcript of the briefing:

(begin transcript)

Office of the Spokesman 
(Zagreb, Croatia)
February 2, 2000


Marriott Grand Hotel
Moscow, Russia
February 2, 2000

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I have just had a 2 hour 45 minute meeting with
Acting President Putin and we covered a lot of the most important
issues in the U.S.-Russian relationship. We talked about arms control,
non-proliferation, the economy, civil society, Chechnya and regional
conflict. And as I said in the speech that I gave this morning,
clearly there are areas of cooperation and areas in which we disagree.
And that was evident in our discussions. What was interesting was that
Acting President Putin did say that, for them, U.S.-Russian relations
are of over-riding importance and I agreed with that. And, so we had a
very, I thought, a very substantive and very useful meeting. And I'd
be very glad to answer your questions.

QUESTION: Thank you. In your speech, you dwelled on the problem of
proliferation and you said they'd made a good start with the new
regime but that you needed more action. What you did mention, at least
North Korea and Iran are specific areas of concern, did you take this
up with him in specific terms, and did you get anything in the way of
assurances that something they're doing, they will stop doing, and if
so, what is it, please?

ALBRIGHT: Well, on proliferation we committed ourselves to work
together on it and that he expressed agreement with the approach that
we are taking and I talked about the need for strong enforcement of
Russia's export controls. And that a process we've established to deal
with that will be carried on. He did understand the importance of what
was going on. We talked about North Korea and Iran and problems
created by them in a variety of places.

Q: Madam Secretary, one of the reasons that you came here was to try
to build some new trust and confidence in the bilateral relationship.
You mentioned this morning that they were going -- U.S.-Russian
relations -- were going through a kind of strange period. Do you leave
with a sense that the relationship is better than when you arrived?
And what actually did you accomplish on that broader front?

ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all I think that we did several things while
I was here. And I do think that the fact that we had successful
multilateral track talks was actually not a foregone conclusion. I
think that the fact that it worked and that we accomplished setting up
the committees has a lot to do with the fact that we worked very
closely with the Russians and as an example of one of the areas in
which our cooperation serves us well. I think, though, this visit and
the number of times that I've met with Foreign Minister Ivanov, and in
addition to this morning's meeting with Acting President Putin, I had
a sense that we are very clear about the importance of the
U.S.-Russian relationship, that we have a number of areas that we have
(where) agreement must be worked on. I was impressed with the kind of
can-do approach that Acting President Putin put forward in terms of
issues -- those issues that I discussed. A certain amount of
problem-solving approach. I did not feel that we had dogmatic
discussions. We had practical discussions between leaders -- him, not
me, (inaudible) leader -- of countries that know that they have an
essential relationship and that we have to deal with problems.

Now, on the whole, the discussion was one in which it was a can-do
approach. We didn't mince words however, either of us, on the issue of
Chechnya, where we clearly continue to have disagreements. So Tyler, I
think that basically to say -- from my perspective I think it was a
good trip because we are able to have an event that showed the
importance of acting together. I had many discussions in which I was
able to outline our approach to issues and hear theirs. And I think it
was a good way of having a longer meeting with Acting President Putin.
It's the third time I've met him. I was with the President when he met
him in Auckland and Oslo, but, obviously, having a chance to have an
almost three-hour meeting with him gave me a chance to have a better
sense of, what his interests were and how he might act.

Q: Thank you. Two questions Madam Secretary. I know that you were
saying before you got here that you wanted to deliver the message that
Russia was continuing to isolate itself with the war in Chechnya. But
what was President Putin's direct response to you, if in fact you
delivered that exact message, and secondly you said you met with him
for almost three hours. Before you arrived you described him as having
two strands to his personality. Did you get a better sense about which
direction he's going in? Did he share anything with you that would
help you to clarify your position or his position on it?

ALBRIGHT: First, let me say, I did in fact say what I had said I was
going to say: that they were isolating themselves. I think that -- and
I'm just telling you my sense of what his sense about this is -- that
to them, what they're doing in Chechnya is essential for the future of
Russia. That is the way they see it. They see themselves as fighting
terrorists and those who would like to undermine Russia. So for them,
he feels this is essential. And, I think that, basically, while he
heard what I had to say on the isolation, self-isolation issue, I
don't think that it was ... it's not dispositive for him given their
view of how they see this. I obviously disagreed. I also said to him
what I've said publicly. Which is that he's riding a tiger and that we
do not see a military solution to this and that there had to be a
political solution to it.

We -- either while he restated theirs and talked about what he
considered terrorists were doing in Chechnya and the instability that
it was posing for the region, I put a number of suggestions on the
table. And in response I had proposed that there be a humanitarian
needs assessment team that could go into Chechnya; something that has
not been possible since the beginning of the war. And he seemed
receptive to that idea and asked that Foreign Minister Ivanov and I
discuss it further, which we obviously will. I also said to him that
there was a real problem in terms of people -- that we were operating
off of different facts, somehow, and therefore, that it was necessary
for him to let accredited journalists go in and for there to be
greater transparency. And he seemed to take that onboard. And, we'll

But, you know as I said, neither of us minced words on Chechnya, but I
did put some of these ideas forward. And he seemed, you know, at least
was willing to talk about them. I don't think that we're any closer to
a solution -- political solution -- on Chechnya, but I was interested
in his saying that he was for greater ... for some kind of stable
relationship, greater autonomy for Chechnya and social and economic
reconstruction there. But I didn't hear how he intended to get from
here to there. I found him a very well-informed person and a very good
interlocutor. He was obviously on top of all the issues that we talked
about. He's obviously a Russian patriot and also someone who seeks a
normal position for Russia within the West. And he struck me as a
problem solver.

Q: I don't know if there's anything more you can tell us about his
manner and his demeanor with you; your sense of him as a person. And
also I wanted to ask about the ABM thing. In your speech you said we
would urge the Russians not to just say "Nyet" to changes in the ABM,
and I wondered if that was also a restatement in positions.

ALBRIGHT: Let me take it from the bottom. I was encouraged by the
discussion on arms control and some seeming flexibility on deep cuts.
He seemed to have a common, I don't whether we'd have the common view,
but an understanding of new threats and how to deal with them while
preserving the fundamental principles of the ABM Treaty. And we talked
about the importance of getting START II ratified. So, I found him
knowledgeable on the subject and, again, encouraged by flexibility.
But on all of these issues and all the discussions I had I think --
and this also has to do with the second part of your question, is
whatever impression I might have is neither here nor there. What is
important is whether there are facts that actually happen. And how he
carries out the various things that he is proposing and the actions, I
think, and while I think everybody has been engaged in psychobabble
about him, I think that what is important now is to watch what he
does. And that's the judgment that we ought to make.

In terms of what he's like, we had a very intensive but pleasant
discussion. I mean, he, we both spoke very openly about what we
thought and as I said he's a very interesting interlocutor and
patient, I'd have to say. I don't think he was planning to spend
almost three hours. And there are those who say that this is probably
the longest meeting that a Secretary of State has had on a first
meeting with a Russian leader. You'll have to check history for that,

Q: Just one follow-on to that. Did he refer at all to notes, or did he
simply speak extemporaneously.

ALBRIGHT: He was actually quite funny about that. He held up a stack
of cards and said that those had been prepared for him, but he didn't
use them. He took notes. I also showed my cards that had been prepared
for me. And so I think that in that regard, we had a fairly -- how
these things go -- informal discussion. I've been in a number of
meetings with lots of different people all over the world, where
sometimes you could just exchange your cards. But, this was one of
those where I think that we had a genuine discussion.

Q: You mentioned that he seemed to show some flexibility on numbers
and deeper cuts. Can you tell us whether you discussed START III and
numbers below 2,500 or 2,000?

ALBRIGHT: I never said that he was flexible on numbers. I said that,
overall, I was encouraged by his flexibility and that he did talk
about deep cuts. But we never talked about numbers or any details of
START III. But, we were talking about general aspects of how to move
forward and obviously again these are negotiations that are going to
be carried out -- discussions and negotiations at other levels. At
Strobe Talbot (inaudible), as well as Foreign Minister Ivanov and I
are going to be. But we did not discuss any numbers, Jane.

Q: Madam Secretary, during your discussion with Vladimir Putin today
did you, at any stage, hear any indication that he intends to open any
negotiations with anyone in Chechnya?

ALBRIGHT: I think that, as I said, I didn't think they were closer to
a political dialogue and he talked about the difficulty of finding an

Q: Do you think that this conflict ends with the taking of Grozny, as
the Russians seemed to suggest at different points? And the second
part of my question would be, did you have any discussion about a
possible summit -- a Presidential summit?

ALBRIGHT: I have said that I think it's very difficult to see a
military solution to this. And I said that to him. And the fact that
the Chechen fighters are different kinds of fighters and it's a little
hard to say that having occupied Grozny is how it would end. And,
basically, one of the reasons that we've been saying to them that we
don't see a military solution is that it's hard to see it ending
simply by that, by taking Grozny. He and I did not discuss a summit,
though it has been part of a discussion that I've had in a general way
with Foreign Minister Ivanov.

Q: Did he make the familiar promise to push for START ratification
that we've heard?

ALBRIGHT:  I asked him and he said he would.  Yes.

(end transcript) 

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