USIS Washington File

01 June 2000

Transcript: Berger Press Briefing on Clinton-Schroeder Talks June 1

(June 1: Main topics - Russia, national missile defense, child
custody) (4,860)

National Security Advisor Sandy Berger briefed reporters June 1
following President Clinton's meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard
Schroeder in Berlin, outlining the gist of their conversation about
Clinton's upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the
U.S. proposal for a limited national missile defense (NMD), and the
problem of U.S.-German child custody and visitation disputes.

Berger said the two leaders had a "very substantive discussion" about
NMD and "I would hope that there is a better understanding ... on the
part of the German government that we are proceeding with care and
with deliberation."

He added that Schroeder expressed Germany's concern "that this not be
done at the expense of the arms control regime or without regard to
its impact on others. And, of course, those are all factors the
President has said that he will take into consideration" when deciding
whether to go forward with the system.

The summit in Moscow will be "the first opportunity [Clinton] and
Putin will have to talk to each other about this," Berger said. "I
think it's important that President Putin hear from President Clinton
how we see the threat, how we see the system, why we don't see it as a
threat to Russia."

"This is a system that is not directed at Russia; this is a system
that is directed at Saddam Hussein or North Korea or others who may
acquire, or who are acquiring, long-range missiles," he said.

Asked about sharing American missile defense technology with Russia,
Berger said
"we're prepared to cooperate in some respects with Russia in ways that
would be stabilizing," for example early warning information.
"Conceivably, there are areas where, as the President suggested
yesterday, we can share some technology, presumably other technology
we would not be able to share."

In discussing Russia, Clinton and Schroeder talked about Putin's
commitment to modernizing the Russian economy, and "whether
modernization...will reinforce democratization or whether it will come
at the expense of democratization." They also discussed Chechnya "and
the continuing imperative of bringing this to a political end, rather
than a continued military engagement."

Berger noted that on June 2 Clinton will receive the Charlemagne Prize
in Aachen, Germany, for his contribution to peace and integration of
Europe, adding that "the partnership between Europe and the United
States is something we value highly, the President values highly."

The President will speak "about where we've come in realizing the
vision...of a peaceful, undivided, democratic Europe for the first
time in history," with a focus on Southeastern Europe, Russia, and the
importance and durability of the transatlantic alliance, Berger said.

On the child custody issue, Berger said Clinton and Schroeder did not
discuss the details of Schroeder's proposal for a U.S.-German group of
experts to examine pending cases and help find ways to resolve them,
as well as "recommending changes that can be made in the system to
expedite resolution of these cases on a fair basis consistent with the
Hague Convention." But Berger said the proposal "represents a good

Berger and White House Spokesman Joe Lockhart, who also answered a few
questions from reporters, were asked about other issues, including
Holocaust reparations; Chechnya; the White House notification to
Congress on drug kingpins; Sierra Leone; North Korea and China; and
the appeals court decision on Elian Gonzalez.

Following is the White House transcript of the briefing:

(begin transcript)

Office of the Press Secretary
(Berlin, Germany)
June 1, 2000

Crowne Plaza Hotel
Berlin, Germany

9:38 P.M. (L) MR. LOCKHART: Good evening, everyone. Mr. Hunt. The
President's National Security Advisor, Samuel Berger, will brief you
on the meeting that the President just held with Chancellor Schroeder
and give you a sense of the important events of tomorrow, highlighted
by the President receiving the Charlemagne Prize. He will take some
questions, and if there are any other areas you want to discuss, I'll
be glad to take further questions.

MR. BERGER: Good evening. The meeting between President Clinton and
Chancellor Schroeder lasted I think about 90 minutes, scheduled for
about 45. There were three basic issues they talked about, after the
initial greetings. The first was Russia, our impending visit there,
and Putin is coming here I think sometime later this month. They
talked about the opportunities that a Putin administration offered, as
well as some of the concerns that they had.

I think they both see Putin as likely to be the President of Russia
for the next four years, and therefore, an extraordinarily important
figure in terms of not only the history of Russia, but the evolution
of East-West relations, or relations between Russia and Europe, Russia
and the United States.

Their view is that he clearly seems committed to modernizing the
Russian economy, which is the fundamental task before him -- or a
fundamental task before him -- and that in so doing, if he's
successful, notwithstanding the rather formidable obstacles he faces,
that he can bring the very dramatic changes that have taken place in
Russia over the last decade more directly to the Russian people and,
therefore, put democracy on an even more stable footing going forward.

Obviously, there are concerns. They talked about Chechnya and the
continuing imperative of bringing this to a political end, rather than
a continued military engagement; and the challenge of Putin -- the
issue of whether modernization that I talked about will reinforce
democratization or whether it will come at the expense of
democratization. Those are all questions that obviously will be
answered by President Putin and the Russian people over the months

They had a good discussion on NMD [national missile defense]. The
President talked about, first, about the choices before him as we
proceed. They talked about the nature of the threat -- that is, the
development of the capability of a third country, some hostile,
perhaps ultimately subnational units having long-range missile
capabilities that can reach the United States, how we best deal with
that threat. They talked about the challenges of the technology, other
technological ideas that have been floated; about the broad security
consequences of both proceeding and not proceeding, including the
impact of arms control.

Clearly, as we said before, it is our strong preference to proceed, if
the President so decides, in the context of the arms control regime,
and the President made that clear to Chancellor Schroeder. Schroeder
acknowledged that this is a sovereign decision for the United States
government and the United States people to make. He expressed his
concern that we proceed with due consideration for the impact on
others, including Europe, assuming, of course, that we intend to do.

I think it was a good discussion, it was a very substantive
discussion, and I think that -- I would hope that there is a better
understanding, having listened to that discussion, on the part of the
German government that we are proceeding with care and with
deliberation through all of the dimensions of this.

The President then raised the child custody issue and his concern
about this problem, which has gained attention in the United States.
The Chancellor said that he had been looking at these cases, that he
was, of course concerned from his perspective about not interfering
with the judicial process, particularly given the historical
precedence here, but that he recognized that some cases did raise

He proposed a group of experts from both countries that would sift
through each of the individual cases that are at issue, and also look
to, prospectively, what kind of institutional changes perhaps are
necessary to make the system work better. This, I think, represents a
good step. The terms of reference of this group of experts remains to
be determined, and will be worked out between our justice ministers.
The President's concern here is that the Hague Convention, which
provides [that] certain rights in these cases be adhered to to the
greatest extent possible. Not only here, but in other countries, and
also in the United States, where in some cases it has not been adhered
to, I think, although it is a much smaller number of cases.

Let me just foreshadow tomorrow a little bit, and then take your
questions. The Charlemagne Prize, which the President is receiving
tomorrow for his contribution to peace and integration of Europe; and
the partnership between Europe and the United States is something we
value highly, the President values highly. I think you heard EU
President Prodi yesterday talk about the importance of this prize and
what it represents in Europe, indicating this made the President an
honorary European. Chancellor Schroeder today again in the meeting
expressed his pleasure that this was happening and how important this
was in a European context. I think for Europeans and for us I think
it's a big deal.

The prize -- this is the 50th anniversary of the Charlemagne Prize,
although it's only been given 40 times in 50 years. Some years, I
guess, there was no worthy recipient. I think you've been told before
some of the previous recipients -- Jean Monnet; Adenauer; Churchill;
Mitterrand; Kohl; Havel, who I believe will be there tomorrow; King
Juan Carlos, who I think also will be there; and Tony Blair. The
President is only the third American to receive the prize -- George
Marshall and Henry Kissinger being the other two.

Aachen, itself, is a very interesting location. I'm sure you know,
it's the ancient capital of Charlemagne and has been, in a sense, the
heart of the European identity for about 12 centuries. The city was
severely damaged during World War II, although the cathedral remained
intact. In 1944, Aachen was the first German city liberated by the
U.S. armies. There was enormous, deep and long historical resonance to
not only the location of the prize, but, obviously, the prize itself.

And the President will give an address and talk about where we've come
in realizing the vision that he's spoken of quite frequently over the
last eight years of a peaceful, undivided, democratic Europe for the
first time in history -- where we are on that, toward that end, and
the remaining tasks ahead; in particular, Southeastern Europe and
integrating it into Europe as the way of anchoring it into the
democratic world and the peaceful world; second, Russia and how it
evolves over the next decade and more; and then, third, the durability
and continued importance of the transatlantic alliance.

The President will talk a bit about some perceptions and
misperceptions on both sides of the Atlantic; but the abiding and
strong continuing interest that we have in maintaining the strength of
that alliance is essentially the bedrock of American foreign policy,
and I think European foreign policy.

Q:  In diplospeak, your description of --

MR. BERGER:  Diplo-speak?  That was Joe you were referring to.

Q: Your discussion of the national missile defense sounded like a
pretty sharp disagreement. Could you elaborate on what they discussed?
And did they in the end just agree to disagree, or where does this --

MR. BERGER: Was that in reporto-speak? (Laughter.) No, I don't think
it was a sharp disagreement. I think it was a very intelligent
discussion of a very complicated issue by two very smart men, and a
result of which [is] I think both learned something. That's how I
would describe it. That's not diplo-speak.

I think it was not at all sharp. It was the President saying, let me
tell you how I'm thinking about this, what are the issues that I've
got to deal with. We can't run away from this threat, it's there. How
quickly it will evolve, what is the right way to answer it and deal
with it, those are all very legitimate questions. But we can't bury
it, we can't put our head in the sand. Here are the choices and here
are the factors that I'm going to take into account, and I'm concerned
about how we proceed with Europe and their sense of comfort level with
this. But, ultimately, I've got to make a decision in terms of
American national security.

I think on Schroeder's part, I think that he said that -- as I said
before, they're concerned that this not be done at the expense of the
arms control regime or without regard to its impact on others. And, of
course, those are all factors the President has said that he will take
into consideration.

Q: What's your perception of the threat that and NMD would provoke any
kind of an arms race?

MR. BERGER: Well, I think that the system that we have developed --
although I would say again, not yet decided whether to go forward with
-- is a very limited system. It is a system that does not, from any
reasonable perspective, threaten the Russian deterrent. It's not
designed against China and we do not believe it will negate China's
nuclear deterrent going forward.

So we don't think that a limited system, particularly if we proceed
here in the context of a modified ABM treaty, as we proceed forward
with a START III process, would ignite an arms race. I think there are
other regimes that might be more -- run more of a risk.

But this is a system that is not directed at Russia; this is a system
that is directed at Saddam Hussein or North Korea or others who may
acquire, or who are acquiring, long-range missiles. And we have an
obligation to the American people to think through very carefully how
best we respond to that.

Q: Will the President modify his approach to Putin on this subject
based on what he heard today and learned today in the meeting with

MR. BERGER: I think you learn something from every encounter. But I
don't think fundamentally it will change the dialogue. I think that
this, as I said before, is the first opportunity he and Putin will
have to talk to each other about this. I think it's important that
President Putin hear from President Clinton how we see the threat, how
we see the system, why we don't see it as a threat to Russia.

I expect that President Putin will express his concerns about it and I
don't expect they'll resolve all differences, but I hope that there
will be a better appreciation of this as a result of the meeting
which, of course, has a number of other areas of concentration as

Q:  Did they talk about the Holocaust slave labor?

Q: Will President Clinton offer to share American missile defense
technology with Russia when he speaks with Putin?

MR. BERGER: I think that for some time we have said that we're
prepared to cooperate in some respects with Russia in ways that would
be stabilizing. For example, just to give you one example, early
warning information which, if Russia has a greater capability to
understand what may be being launched into the air, it will make
decisions that will be safer and more secure for us. So there are
plenty of areas of cooperation. Conceivably, we have not decided to go
forward. Conceivably, there are areas where, as the President
suggested yesterday, we can share some technology, presumably other
technology we would not be able to share.

Q: On the ABM Treaty, you said that Schroeder expressed concern that
any missile defense not be done at the expense of the arms control
regime. Is he asking for upholding the ABM Treaty as is; does he still
believe this is a viable treaty?

MR. BERGER: No, I don't think -- it was not expressed at that level of
detail. I think that the ABM Treaty envisioned by its own terms that
it would be amended and, in fact, it has been amended. It was amended
in 1974. So it's not like the Ten Commandments written in stone; it is
a document that, by its own terms, provides for amendments and changes
to deal with the evolution of circumstance.

What we're simply saying to the Russians is that there have been an
evolution of circumstance, and we ought to think about this in a way
that both enables us to deal with this threat, but also in a way that
preserves both an ABM Treaty, although with some modifications, and as
we proceed down the START road.

Q: So what did he mean when he said that it shouldn't be done at the
expense of the arms control regime, what was he referring to?

MR. BERGER: I think the Europeans would not be excited if the United
States unilaterally abrogated the ABM Treaty. But that is certainly a
right that we retain, and it is something the President ultimately may
have to decide. But it is our strong preference, if we proceed -- and
no decision to go forward has been made -- to do so in the context of
arms control.

Q: When you said that you might share some technology, but not other
technology -- yesterday, the President suggested a pretty strong moral
imperative saying it would be unethical, it would be a moral
obligation to share it --

MR. BERGER: I think you have to -- it depends on what. If we had a
system and we determined that the missile had been launched -- not at
us, but at somebody else -- I presume if it was launched at Europe, we
would have a moral obligation to tell Europe, to inform them what we

To the extent that we could share information and share technology,
not only in that circumstances -- which, obviously, is an extreme
circumstance -- but that gives them greater capacity of benefit from
this system, that's something that we will look at. But, again, I
think it's premature to be too specific about this, since we haven't
yet made those judgments.

Q: But did Schroeder express any interest in Germany or other European
nations obtaining the technology as a part of a system providing
defense for itself, for all of Europe?

MR. BERGER: You know, Europeans are not -- to take it out of the
Schroeder context -- are not impervious to the threat that we're
talking about. Many of the Europeans I've talked to recognize that
this is a problem. I don't think they're far along in their thinking
to determine what the right solution for them is. And, obviously, a
lot depends upon how we proceed.

Q: [U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust issues] Stu Eizenstat had
suggested two days ago that he was hopeful that an agreement on
Holocaust slave labor fund would be -- a German fund -- would be
perhaps signed by the two men during this visit to Germany. Did they
discuss that subject and how close are they to an agreement? And is
there any thought about having American firms that benefited from
slave labor also start a fund of their own?

MR. BERGER:  I would rather that we find Stu, Joe --

Q:  Did the issue come up?

MR. BERGER: The issue did not come up, and I have not had a chance to
talk to Stu in the last 24, 36 hours, so I'm not exactly sure where
this stands, and I'm reluctant to suggest there will or there won't be
an agreement. When I last spoke to Stu it was not -- there were still
issues to be resolved. It did come up in the context of, I think, a
commitment on the part -- it came up particularly in the meeting with
[German] President Rau in the context of a desire of both countries to
resolve this, recognizing there were still some legal issues that had
to be resolved.

Q:  What about with Schroeder?

MR. BERGER:  I don't think it came up with Schroeder, no.

Q: On the custody issue, did they discuss how they might expedite
contacts between American parents who have not been able to see their
children in Germany? And, also, who would be these experts that
they're talking about?

MR. BERGER: Well, again, this is a new idea that Chancellor Schroeder
put on the table today, after the President raised this issue. And I
think we're going to have to now have serious discussions on what the
nature of this group would be and what their mandate would be, what
their authority would be.

We did talk about visitation rights, specifically, and the suffering
of parents who can't even see their children. I think, clearly, that
is something that this group could look at in individual cases. But
exactly how -- what their mandate will be, what their authority will
be, other than the very general one at this point of -- or generic one
-- of looking through all the cases, presumably determine where there
are problems; and, second, recommending changes that can be made in
the system to expedite resolution of these cases on a fair basis
consistent with the Hague Convention. Beyond that, that really now has
to go to, I think, the justice ministers to work out.

Q: Can you say something more about these transatlantic misconceptions
that the President is going to tell the world about tomorrow?

MR. BERGER: Well, I don't want to -- I mean, two I'll just mention --
perceptions or misperceptions I think is what I said. One, on the
European side, I think there is often some resistance to what they
perceive as overwhelming American power and American unilateralism in
some cases. I think many Americans are concerned about burden-sharing
issues in situations like the Balkans. The facts in many cases are
different than the perceptions, and I think the President wants to
address those.

Q: In the conversation on Chechnya, will there be anything new or
different that Schroeder or the President will have to say about the
situation there to achieve the result which you said they both favor,
which is moving this toward a political and away from a military

MR. BERGER: Well, that's the headline version. I'm sure that it will
be more specific than that. Clearly, number one, we would like to see
an end to this. There are still lives being lost in Chechnya and our
view -- and it's been our view since the President met with Putin in
Auckland -- has been that this can only come to a resolution through
some kind of political settlement.

Second of all, there are questions of human rights issues that have
been raised, questions of accountability and process and access by the
international community. I think those will be questions that will be
raised in Moscow.

Q: You said that the two learned something from each other in the
discussion. What did the President learn from Schroeder --
technological aspects -- and did it change his perception at all about
this thing going forth?

MR. BERGER: Well, I think we certainly have had enough conversations
with the Europeans over the past months to know the issues that they
raised. I thought Chancellor Schroeder raised those issues. And, as I
say, we also would like to do this, if we do it at all, in the context
of arms control in ways that are sensitive to the impacts on our

Q: On Sierra Leone, you guys released from the White House today a
memorandum from the Secretary of State showing that President Clinton
has made an official presidential determination that furnishing
support for the peacekeeping efforts there is important to the
security interests of the United States. Is that prelude simply to
furnishing logistical support, or do you envision some larger role for
the United States that this would give us a legal basis to implement?

MR. BERGER: I think that is in connection -- I'm not specifically
familiar with the piece of paper that you have in front of you, but I
think that is in connection with our readiness, as we've said before,
to work with regional countries -- Nigeria, in particular; Ghana and
others -- in helping them to deploy to Sierra Leone, to enhance the
peacekeeping mission there, to do so with as good equipment and
training as is possible. So I think our role would be logistical, as
well as, perhaps in the area of training and assistance, but not in
any kind of a combat capacity.

Q: Sandy, is there a risk that Putin might view the President's
decision as something of an ultimatum, either accept a renegotiation
of the ABM treaty or we could exercise our right to withdraw from it?

MR. BERGER: No, I don't think we've ever presented anything as an
ultimatum. The fact is that we have a threat. We have developed a
system. We have to make a judgment whether the technology is
sufficiently far along to have confidence in it. We would like to do
that in the context of arms control. It is clearly in the interest of
Russia that if a limited NMD system goes forward -- let alone a Star
Wars kind of system -- that it be done in the context of arms control.

And so I think this will not be presented as an ultimatum. It will be
presented as a set of issues that the Russians have to make their own
judgment about, in terms of what their -- how they see their
interests. Would they like to see this -- is it better for them for
this to proceed in the context of a modified ABM treaty, or run the
risk that this President or a subsequent President might build this
system or a larger system outside the context of the ABM Treaty?

Q: Sandy, any response to the -- by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il to

MR. BERGER: Well, like our South Korean allies, we welcome this
development. It reflects -- I believe it's the first visit by a North
Korean leader to China in well over a decade. And anything that brings
North Korea out of isolation and into contact with other nations is a
good development.

Obviously, we look forward very much to the North-South summit, which
will take place June 12th to 14th. I think that is a truly historic
meeting, and I think as part of that, you're seeing some of this other
diplomatic activity take place.

Thank you.

MR. LOCKHART:  Do you guys have anything else you want to cover?

Q: Joe, will the President today or sometime tomorrow send a
notification to Congress about the drug kingpin situation --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have a statutory deadline of June 1, and I
expect that we will meet that deadline.

Q:  So it will be something tonight?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't think we'll be doing anything as far as
keeping you up until the middle of the night, so I expect if we have
something, it may be for tomorrow. If we have something to send to
Congress, it will be done today or tomorrow, I expect.

Q: Can you give us any kind of tick-tock on how the President was
notified about the Elian decision? Did he read it in its entirety or

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think he's had a chance to read it in its
entirety. We were notified of the decision as we were landing in
Berlin. We had just finished briefing the President on the trip here,
and Deputy Counsel Bruce Lindsey and myself went to the front, told
him of the decision, what we knew about it. We have subsequently
gotten the opinion over here. Bruce has read it; he gave the President
a little fuller briefing later in the day. But he hasn't had a chance
in between all these meetings to sit down and read it.

Q: And the President mentioned it in his -- when he came out of the
meeting with Schroeder. Did you happen to know if he mentioned it in
the meeting with --

MR. LOCKHART: Not really in the meeting. He mentioned as they were
walking out of the meeting to Chancellor Schroeder that because this
was such a big domestic story in the States, he would be saying
something about it. There was no discussion of it, but as a matter of
courtesy, he mentioned to Chancellor Schroeder that he would be making
a few brief comments on this at the end of his statement.

Q:  Joe, when is the President meeting with former Chancellor Kohl?

MR. LOCKHART: Do we have a time on that? Let me get a time for you.
Tomorrow, but I'll have to get a time for you for that.

Q:  Are they going to have lunch?  (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure we have that much time in the schedule.

THE PRESS:  Thank you.

END  10:10 P.M. (L)

(end transcript)

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