The President. Good afternoon. I have just completed a very productive meeting with Prime Minister Rao. It’s an honor for me and for the United States to host the leader of the world’s largest democracy, a nation of almost 900 million people.
It was a distinct pleasure for me to meet the Prime Minister who has led India through what to me is an absolutely astonishing period of economic transformation. He’s kept a steady hand on the helm of Indian democracy through many challenges. India has sustained its commitment to representative government for many decades now. And I expressed my admiration to the Prime Minister for the remarkable achievement of India’s people in social, cultural, and scientific areas.
Today we began what I hope will be a very close working relationship as our two countries forge stronger partnership. Our nations share many common values. And speaking as friends, we explored ways to deepen our ties and to expand cooperation.
The Prime Minister and I shared our concerns and our hopes about world events. We talked about the many challenges facing international community and discussed how each of us is working through the United Nations and other organizations to solve those problems. In particular, I expressed my appreciation to the Prime Minister for India’s contributions to peacekeeping in Somalia, Cambodia, Mozambique, and elsewhere.
I told the Prime Minister that we heartily support his ambitious program of economic reform that brings India’s economy into the global marketplace. This important reform plan will be the engine of growth in our relationships. Our Commerce Department has identified India as one of the 10 biggest emerging markets around the world. We are pleased at the rapid expansion of trade and investment between our two countries. We are now the largest bilateral trading partner and investor with India. We’re proud of that, and we want that relationship to grow. We also discussed some of the obstacles to trade, and we pledged that we’d work hard to resolve those.
We talked about security issues that affect India in the post-cold-war era. We discussed common efforts to curb weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. We pledged to intensify our efforts to achieve a comprehensive test ban treaty and a verifiable global ban on the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. I told the Prime Minister that I hoped that India and Pakistan would continue their constructive dialog on ways to resolve their differences, including their differences over Kashmir.
In our talks today, we also agreed to increase the frequency of high-level visits and exchanges between our two countries. I’ve asked our Secretary of Energy, Hazel O’Leary, to visit India in July to further our talks on renewable energy. And I’ve asked the Secretary of Commerce, Ron Brown, to go to India in November to continue our important discussions on trade and to promote further growth in trade and investment.
Today’s visit was the first between Indian and United States leaders since Rajiv Gandhi came to the White House in 1987. I hope that the promising future in our relations will permit more frequent exchanges. Along with the United States, India is one of the world’s great experiments in multicultural democracy. Its people share our love for freedom, entrepreneurship, and self-expression. And they have fought for more than four decades now to keep their democracy alive under the most amazing challenges.
India’s freedom was born out of a remarkable struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi and others whose courage and vision still inspires us and people all around the world. The Prime Minister has been part of that struggle and that history from the beginning of his country and since he was a very young man. Today he struck me as a leader of great wisdom and experience. He shared some of that with me today. And under his leadership, India is taking its rightful place as a major world economic power and a partner in world affairs. We look forward to working with India in that way.
Mr. Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Rao. Thank you very much, Mr. President. I am greatly pleased to be here today and to have had an opportunity of meeting you. My fellow citizens of India join me in conveying to you, Mr. President, and to the citizens of this great country our warm greetings and friendship.
As the President has already told you, our talks today were held in an extremely friendly atmosphere. They were constructive, useful, and candid, as discussion between friends should be. We discussed international issues of concern to both sides, as also ways and means of strengthening bilateral ties.
The President and I agreed that we have an unprecedented opportunity to free India-U.S. bilateral relations from the distortions induced by the cold war, to look for areas of converging interest in the changed international situation, and work together for our mutual benefit.
We reviewed the tremendous economic opportunities thrown up by the sweeping economic reforms in India. I thank you, Mr. President, for your administration’s strong support to our endeavor. The U.S. is India’s largest trading partner. India is one of the big, emerging economies of the world, offering vast opportunities for trade and investment. Corporate America, too, is attracted by the prospects that have opened up in India. We will continue steadily along this path of economic liberalization. There will be no turning back.
The United States has a crucial position in promoting international cooperation. As the first post-cold-war President of the United States, you, Mr. President, have a special role to play in this regard. I’m happy to note in this context that Indo-U.S. cooperation flourishes in many areas, bilateral and multilateral, ranging from cooperation in U.N. peacekeeping and our joint advocacy of nuclear test ban treaty to our rapidly expanding economic ties.
As the growth and size of the Indian economy expands with the stimulus of international linkages and competition, we expect India to be in a position to make increasingly important contributions to the shaping of the world in both its political and economic dimensions. We look forward to working with the U.S. administration on the many areas in which our interests converge.
The United States and India are the world’s largest democracies. We share many cherished ideals and values. None are more important than democracy, individual liberty, and rule of law. My discussions with President Clinton have strengthened my conviction that our two nations can work together closely for international peace and development.
Mr. President, I thank you for your gracious invitation and your generous remarks. I shall cherish your warm hospitality, your vision, and our stimulating discussion. I look forward to working with you to further strengthen Indo-U.S. relations. I would also like to take this opportunity of wishing you success in your very important tasks.
And finally, Mr. President, I had the pleasure to invite you to visit India. You graciously accepted it. Please come at the time of your convenience.
The President. Thank you.
Let me say I’d like to alternate questions between the American and the Indian press. So we’ll begin with Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International] and—Terry [Terence Hunt, Associated Press], are you next? Go ahead, go ahead.
Q. Mr. President, U.N. inspectors in North Korea say there’s evidence that spent fuel rods are being withdrawn from a nuclear reactor, raising these concerns that it’s going to be reprocessed into plutonium for a nuclear weapon. How serious is this development? And is it still your position that North Korea must not be allowed to make a nuclear bomb?
The President. Let me tell you, first of all, I have nothing to add to what I said when I met with the Joint Chiefs this morning about that. I want to make sure that I have the facts from the inspectors and that the facts are there. When I know what the facts are, I will then make a statement about them.
I think it would be an error for North Korea to continue to thwart these inspections after they have agreed to comply with them. But I want to know what the facts are. And when I do, then I will make a more definitive statement.
Q. Mr. President, would you say after your talks with the Prime Minister that some of the problems which have dogged Indo-American relations, there have been no outcome, but in other words, the areas of agreement are so large that you can afford to play down the areas of disagreement or leave them aside for future reference? And also, you mentioned the global partnership, and in that connection I’d like to ask you about the statement made by the new Ambassador—Ambassador-designate—that if India is included in the Security Council, it will undermine cohesion. When you have a strong partner like India, why should it undermine cohesion? And if the largest democracy in the world cannot be a member of the Security Council, then who can be?
I also have a question for the Prime Minister—wait, wait—the question is that in India, people said that President Clinton is going to twist your arm. I want to ask you what is the state of your arm after your talks today? [Laughter]
The President. I can answer you the three questions very quickly, or two, and then you had one for the Prime Minister.
First of all, when two nations are friends, it doesn’t mean that they agree on everything or that they should. But in the context of their friendly relationships, they are then able to discuss differences, problems, or issues between them. We discussed in a very, I think, open way all the things that you might imagine we discussed today. But I have been disturbed by the apparent either strain or perhaps the better word is limitation on the relationships between the U.S. and India as reported in the press, not only here but in your country.
We have a very great stake, it seems to me, in the end of the cold war in having not only a friendly relationship but a constructive and operating relationship—we, the two great democracies, with a great future together. And we emphasized that positive today, not in any way not dealing with other issues of difficulty, but knowing that it all has to be put in a proper context in the interests of the American people and in the interests of the Indian people.
Secondly, with regard to the Security Council issue, that is an issue that I think the United States should keep an open mind on. We have been on record—I have personally and our administration has—for some considerable amount of time favoring permanent membership for Germany and for Japan, who were our two principal opponents in World War II and who since then have built enormous economic superpowers in the context of peaceful countries, not on the backs of military domination, not even with the development of nuclear weapons but basically because of their enormous ability to develop the capacities of their people.
That does not mean that I think we should have a definitive position prohibiting anybody else from participating in that way. I think that’s something we should keep an open mind on.
Prime Minister Rao. I think I owe you an answer. My arm is absolutely intact. The President didn’t even touch it. [Laughter]
The President. I’m very grateful you said that, Mr. Prime Minister, in more ways than one.
Go ahead, Helen.
Q. You’ve met with your foreign policy advisers today, and maybe it’s misunderstood, but there’s a widespread perception that you really don’t have a definable, resolute foreign policy, that it’s ad hoc, crisis to crisis, village to village. Is that true?
Mr. Prime Minister, there are widespread allegations of Indian human rights violations in Kashmir. Are they true?
Prime Minister Rao. No. They’re not true.
The President. No.
The President. No, the answer is no. Let me—wait—if you want to say that this administration has not waved a magic wand and solved all the problems that I dealt with, that I was given when I came to office, that’s one thing. But to say that we don’t have a clear policy which says our first priority is the safety and security of the American people; in that context we need to continue the work that we are doing with Russia to denuclearize the other former republics, the republics of the former Soviet Union, and to reduce the nuclear threat—and we are doing that; that we then have a serious issue in terms of maintaining our security commitments in the Asian-Pacific region and dealing with the Korean issue—we are doing that—and we have done it, I think, with remarkable consistency in the face of attempts, rhetorical attempts by others to try to tilt the balance one way or the other; that we have a new national security interest, or a renewed national security interest in promoting economic growth and democracy and partnerships which we have manifested with NAFTA, with GATT, with the APEC meeting, with the Summit of the Americas; that from the beginning of my campaign for President, I said that we should not introduce ground troops into Bosnia but that we should try to do what we can to stop ethnic cleansing and to increase the multinational efforts, led by the Europeans who have primary interests there, to bring an end to the fighting on honorable and decent terms—we have certainly done that. And the initiative taken by the Americans and by my administration led to the actions that NATO has taken, has funded and carried out the longest humanitarian airlift ever in our history, and is in large measure responsible for the progress that has been made there.
Now, the fighting in Bosnia continues; the fighting in Haiti continues. I continue to try to look for new solutions. If we look for new solutions when old solutions don’t work, does that mean we don’t have a coherent foreign policy? I don’t think so. So I dispute that.
I think we have made remarkable progress in the Middle East, another place where our national interests are plainly at stake, where the Secretary of State has plainly done a very good job and has the dialog between Syria and Israel further along than it has ever been, as far as I know. And we have played a very constructive role in the progress that has been made in the agreement between the PLO and Israel with regard to Jericho and Gaza. So I feel good about those things.
Do we still have some problems that we had the day I showed up? Yes, we do, and I guess the day I leave office we’ll still have some problems. And if we last another 218 years, we’ll still have some problems. But I think we are moving aggressively to address these. So that’s still—no is as good an answer as that.
Q. My question is, Mr. President, to you regarding Kashmir, and it is in two parts. Recently a report was released by State Department in which it said, and I quote, “There were credible reports in 1993 of official Pakistani support to Kashmiri militants, who undertook attacks of terrorism in India-controlled Kashmir,” unquote. Last year, the House Republican Task Force on Terrorism branded Pakistan as a terrorist state. My question is, will U.S. now put Pakistan back on the list of states that sponsor terrorism? With all the radical statements made by State Department, what is your stand, Mr. President, on Kashmir now?
The President. Well, since the spring of last year, based on our best evidence, official Pakistani material support to the Kashmiri militants has dropped. The Secretary of State concluded last July and again this past January that the available evidence did not warrant a finding that Pakistan—and I’ve got the exact language here—has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. Plainly there is still assistance to the militants by private parties in Pakistan. And all I can tell you is we will have to continue to monitor that situation and deal with it based on the facts as we see them.
The ultimate answer there is for these two great nations to get together and resolve that.
Q. This kind of follows the question that Helen raised before. At one point, you made it sound as if giving China most-favored-nation status was going to be a pretty easy decision. Why has it taken so long to come to this decision, and what are some of the factors that are going into your decisionmaking on this right now? And can you tell us about Mr. Armacost’s mission a little bit?
The President. First of all, it’s the decision of great moment for this country that involves not only the economic interests of the American people and the people of China and the human rights interests of the people of China and the human rights commitments of the American people and our Government but also enormous national security interests and international security considerations for a long time to come across a broad range of areas. So it is a very important issue.
Secondly, the decision is due to be made based on facts as they exist moving up to the deadline of June 3d; so that it would have been inappropriate to make a decision in January, February, or March based on that, based on the Executive order, and also the ongoing contacts we had with China.
Thirdly, I can’t comment on the question you asked with regard to Mr. Armacost, because we have had a number of people who have gone to China, who have discussed the issues relating to this matter with the Chinese. And we are continuing to have discussions with the Chinese. That’s the final answer to your question. The reason that I have not made my statement yet is that we have not concluded our discussions with the Chinese. And I think anything I say about them until we have concluded them would be inappropriate.
Q. How far advanced do you think India’s nuclear program is, and how many bombs do you think India possesses?
The President. I think you asked the wrong person that. [Laughter] I don’t think I can or should comment on that.
Q. Mr. President, you have said that all options are open with regard to Haiti. Can you tell us if that’s correct or what the American interest would be in using military action inherent in that threat and how that differs from Rwanda, say, or Bosnia, where you have specifically ruled out the possibility of using U.S. troops?
The President. In Bosnia, since February of 1993, I have said that the United States should contribute to a multinational NATO effort to enforce a peace agreement, if one is reached.
Q. In a possible combat situation——
The President. The difference is, first of all— again, I say, I think it is a mistake for an American President to discuss hypothetical uses of force. But we plainly have a significant interest in Haiti. First, it’s in our backyard. Second, we’ve got a million Haitian-Americans. Third, we’ve got several thousand Americans in Haiti. Fourth, we believe drugs are coming through Haiti to the United States. Fifth, we face the possibility, continuous possibility, of a massive outflow of Haitian migrants to the United States; they were free to do so because of conditions in Haiti. So we have a lot of very significant interests there. Sixth, Haiti and Cuba are the only two nondemocracies left in our hemisphere, and unlike Cuba, Haiti at least had an election and voted overwhelmingly for a democratic government, which has been denied.
Q. After this summit, are there differences between India and the U.S.? NPT and human rights, have they narrowed down, or does it stand where it is?
The President. I wouldn’t say they have narrowed down, but I think they should be seen in the context of the whole relationship. We both support a comprehensive test ban treaty. We both support an end to the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. If we did both those things, that would dramatically reduce the prospect of nuclear development anywhere in the world if, in fact, those treaties were adhered to by everyone and enforced.
We have some things that we have agreed to continue to discuss with regard to the human rights issue and the proliferation issue, and we will continue to discuss them. But I think what you should say is, the differences remain, but in the context of our common interests and our common values, we believe they can be managed in a very constructive way and still allow this relationship to grow and strengthen.
Q. Mr. President, if I could ask you a domestic question. Welfare reform, which has been delayed repeatedly over these months—so many of your colleagues, or so many Democrats in Congress say health care reform should have the priority now, that if you do go forward with the welfare reform package, in terms of financing, that that would muddy the waters, make it more difficult to get health care reform. Since welfare reform is dependent, as you often say, on health care reform, why not simply delay welfare reform a little bit longer so you get health care first?
The President. Well, first let me say, Congress, just as it did last year when we had the most productive first year of a Presidency in 40 years, I guess, Congress has a lot to do. They’ve already passed major education reform, school-to-work, Goals 2000, Head Start expansion. They still have to deal with lobby reform, campaign finance reform, most importantly to me, the crime bill, as well as the health care issue.
But as you have seen with health care or with welfare reform, introducing a piece of legislation starts a process that does not finish in a week or a month. And I think the outlines of the principles that I have embraced on welfare reform are very well known. Indeed, my own views on this are not markedly different from the bill introduced by Mr. McCurdy and others except for the way that I would propose to pay for it.
And so I think that putting out in the late spring—we’re a little later than I thought we’d be; I thought we’d have this bill out around the first of May—but putting out the bill so that the Congress can see it and see what I think ought to be done and how I would propose to pay for it and so the Democrats and Republicans alike can evaluate it, is an appropriate thing to do. It might catch fire; the whole thing might catch fire. We might have a bipartisan consensus to move the bill in a hurry and get it this year. I wouldn’t write that off. But I don’t see that that will undermine health care.
It is, however—the flipside is true. Until you find a way to provide health coverage for all workers, you will never have full welfare reform because you’re going to have people staying on welfare because that’s the only way their kids can get health care. And you’re going to have the anomaly of people getting off welfare, taking low-wage jobs, giving up their health coverage so they can earn taxes to pay for the health care of the people who stayed on welfare. So that is the more important issue for the long run. But I don’t believe that my introducing my plan will undermine our ability to achieve health care reform this year.
Q. Mr. President, Israel is known to possess nuclear arms, but the U.S. doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it, while there is a lot of pressure on countries like India. Why this double standard?
The President. Well, first of all, sir, we are trying to deal with the international nuclear problems. But we also believe very strongly that the fewer countries who become nuclear powers, the better off we’re all going to be.
And if there is a system in which the security of nations who think they may have to develop nuclear weapons to protect themselves can have their security guaranteed in other ways, we think that that’s our job to try to put the system out there, to put those alternatives out there, so that people will see it is not in their longterm security interest to develop such weapons. That’s our position.
What we’re trying to do is to keep the number of people in the nuclear club as small as possible and then reduce the nuclear arsenals that they have, including our own. As you know, we’ve worked hard to reduce our own with the Russians.
So that is our position. But our position further is that no one should be asked to put their own security at risk to achieve that. So any dialog we have with India on this would be in the context of what is pivotal for India’s security: How can we enhance your security, not diminish it? It would be wrong for the United States to tell your great nation, or the smallest nation on the face of the Earth, that we recommend a course of action for them that would reduce security. We should be in the business of increasing security.
But I believe you can increase your security and avoid becoming a nuclear power. Japan did it. Germany did it. A lot of other countries have done it. We can do it together.