The President. Good afternoon. I’m very glad to be here in Indonesia for this APEC meeting. As I said before I left the United States, I am here because this opportunity for me to meet with leaders throughout this region can lead to more economic opportunities for Americans and a reduced threat of nuclear proliferation.
Today I had the opportunity to meet with President Jiang Zemin of China, Prime Minister Murayama of Japan, Prime Minister Keating of Australia, and President Kim of South Korea. The most important topic of our conversations was the situation on the Korean Peninsula. All the leaders indicated their strong support for the agreement we reached with North Korea to freeze and then to dismantle its ability to build nuclear weapons. All agreed on the importance of resuming the dialog between North and South Korea. This agreement marks an historic step to freeze and, ultimately, to end the greatest security threat in this region.
Prime Minister Murayama of Japan and South Korean President Kim agreed that we must maintain our close cooperation as we begin to implement the agreement. And the three of us plan to meet briefly again later this evening to follow up on our earlier conversations.
In all my meetings today I made it clear that the fundamental interests of the United States in the Pacific remain unchanged. And each of the leaders welcomed the assurance that the United States will continue to exercise active leadership in the region.
In each of the meetings today there was also strong agreement that the early ratification of GATT would be absolutely essential to maintaining a climate that promotes global economic growth and expanding trade. I told each of the leaders that I would do everything I could to pass the GATT, that Congress would come back soon, and that I thought it would pass. It was clear to me that the rest of the world is looking to the United States for leadership on this issue. It’s also clear to me, I will say again, that it is very much in our interest to pass GATT because it means more high-wage jobs for Americans.
Finally, in each of the meetings we discussed the APEC leaders meeting which begins tonight. I expressed my strong support for the efforts of President Soeharto to build on the common vision of the Asian-Pacific community that we set forth at Seattle last year in the first of these leaders meetings.
This week’s discussions I believe will allow us to take a critical step forward toward free and open trade throughout the region. After all, this is very important to the United States. Already one-third of our exports go to the Asia-Pacific region; already 2 million American jobs are tied to this region. This is the fastest growing part of the world. So it is very important that we proceed first with GATT and second with APEC so that we can continue the economic recovery at home and continue to provide increasing opportunities for our people.
All these meetings today reinforced my belief that the United States is strong in the Asian-Pacific region, that we are getting stronger in this region, and that in so doing we are strengthening Americans economically and in terms of our security. In short, we are moving in the right direction. This is a good investment. We need to make the most of it.
Terry [Terence Hunt, United Press International].
Q. Mr. President, APEC—as an economic organization—what kind of statement of support or commitment are you seeking from APEC about implementing the nuclear agreement with North Korea? Are you hoping that all the leaders have something to say on this?
The President. I think that the leaders who are most concerned with it may have something to say. I don’t know that the organization itself will.
President Kim and I obviously have worked most heavily on it. And Prime Minister Murayama has been terribly interested in it. But we had a long discussion today between President Jiang Zemin and myself about it, and it will become a topic of conversation elsewhere, as well. Prime Minister Keating was very intent on being supportive of the agreement.
I don’t know that there will be an APEC statement, because it’s an economic group. But I have not yet talked to anyone who does not believe it’s an important first step forward and that it ought to be implemented.
Q. Mr. President, as you know, some students have taken over or have occupied the parking lot in the U.S. Embassy here and are calling for the release of one of the leaders of the Timor human rights movement. They’ve asked to meet with you, sir. Has there been any contact between your entourage and these students? And how do you feel about their demands?
The President. Well, first, the whole issue of East Timor has been of a concern to the United States at least since I’ve been President. I talked about it in the campaign of 1992, and we have raised it in our conversations with Indonesian leaders. We will continue to do so. The contacts they’ve had, insofar as I know them, have occurred in an appropriate way through our Embassy there. But this is an issue which is a part of our dialog with the Indonesians, and it should be.
Cooperation With Republican Leaders
Q. Mr. President, Congressman Gingrich is known to feel that he was never properly or publicly thanked for his help on NAFTA. He has, however, said that he’s committed to helping to get the GATT legislation passed. First, have you discussed that issue, the GATT legislation, with him? And do you feel that you have anything else to say to him about his participation in NAFTA?
The President. Well, I don’t know about that. When NAFTA passed, I tried to be profuse in my thanks to the Republicans as well as the Democrats. Congressman Gingrich, Mr. Kolbe, Mr. Dreier, and others were critical in the success of NAFTA, and they are critical to the success of the GATT. I was encouraged by my conversations with both Congressman Gingrich and Senator Dole about GATT, and I look forward to working with them.
Rita [Rita Braver, CBS News].
Q. While you’re here having the summit with the Asian-Pacific leaders, I wondered if you’d given any thought to when you return to Washington having sort of a summit with the incoming Republican leaders, some kind of series of face-to-face meetings where you’d work on a mutual agenda, and whether at this point you’ve fixed on any kind of strategy toward working with them?
The President. Well, my strategy will be to have an open door and to have a lot of contact. And I certainly intend to meet with them. I said before I left in my conversations with Senator Dole and Congressman Gingrich that I looked forward to having a chance to meet with them when I come back. I left, frankly, as you know, shortly after the elections, so there wasn’t a great deal of opportunity to think through all the details. And I asked them to work with Mr. Panetta about that, and I presume they are doing so.
Q. Mr. President, do you feel that—[inaudible]—what President Jiang Zemin said in reaction to the agreement on North Korea nuclear issue? And also, do you expect a firm commitment from Prime Minister Murayama and President Kim when you meet with them later this evening?
The President. Well, they all said that they strongly supported the agreement and that they thought it was very important that we continue to work it through. They understood that the implementation of the agreement would not be without difficulty and it would require a lot of efforts on several fronts.
They all also agreed that we ought to see a resumption of the North-South dialog, that these two countries have some things to resolve between themselves that the rest of us simply cannot do for them. A lot of these things they’re going to have to talk through themselves. But I was very encouraged by what President Jiang said and what Prime Minister Murayama said and what President Kim said about the agreement. They were all very forthright and strong in their support of it.
Wolf [Wolf Blitzer, Cable News Network].
Q. Mr. President, some of your critics back home are suggesting you’re giving too much importance to trade and economic issues with China, with Indonesia, other members of APEC and not enough to human rights. Specifically, this morning in your meeting with the Chinese leader, you didn’t forcefully address these human rights issues, presumably as forcefully as many human rights groups would like. And at this time that you’re here in Indonesia, Amnesty International is suggesting that human rights abuses here in Indonesia are getting worse. How do you respond to these critics?
The President. That the United States, perhaps more than any other country in the world, consistently and regularly raises human rights issues. There was a discussion of human rights issues in the meeting with President Jiang Zemin this morning in which a number of specific things were raised and in which we made it absolutely clear that in order for the United States’ relationship with China to fully flower, there had to be progress on all fronts.
So I think it was quite clear. And as I said, I have met with President Soeharto before; I have met with these other leaders before. Wherever there is a clear human rights problem, I have tried to address it and will continue to do so and use whatever influence we can in a positive way.
United Nations and Foreign Aid
Q. Senator Helms is talking about cuts in foreign aid and cuts for U.N. funding, saying that a lot of our money in years past has gone down what he called “foreign ratholes.” Does this bode well for your relationship with him, and does it undercut your position at meetings like this one?
The President. Well, let me say, first of all, I think that all Americans would agree that not every dollar that was spent by the United Nations in the past was spent as efficiently as possible. We have been very active since Ambassador Albright has been at the United Nations in pushing for U.N. reforms to increase the efficiency of the organization and to increase the impact of the dollars and other currencies that are spent there. And we have made some progress in improving the efficiency of the United Nations. I am proud of the work that Madeleine Albright and others have done in supporting that.
Now, having said that, it still seems to me that we are far better off working where we can with other nations of the world and trying to make our fair contribution as long as we know our dollars are going to be well spent.
If I might just point out, one of the things that we’re looking forward to as we go through the various phases of our mission in Haiti is turning over our mission to a United Nations operation to complete the overall mission in Haiti of training the police force, the armed forces, and being there until the next elections are conducted. That’s an area in our own backyard where the presence of the United Nations and the willingness of other nations to participate and to contribute is of economic benefit to us.
So I think we have to be—I agree with anyone, including Senator Helms, who wants the United Nations to be efficiently run and to say we have to continue to work at it. But I do not agree that it is a mistake for us to support peacekeeping. I think it is a good thing, a good allocation of our resources if properly done. And I would hope to be able to persuade a majority of both parties in the Congress, and in the Senate especially where there’s so much foreign affairs interest, that that is the right course.
Human Rights Demonstrations
Q. Mr. President, the protesters at the Embassy are demonstrating in the best nonviolent American tradition. And we’re all going to move on, but they’re going to still be here and have to face the justice system. Are you going to send any signal to the Indonesian Government this week that we’re worried about how they’ll be treated after we’re all gone?
The President. We’ve already done that. We’ve already said that we had no problem with these young people coming and expressing their views in our Embassy grounds, that we talked with them, we worked with them. And we have been assured that there will be no retribution against them for exercising their political expression and bringing their concerns to us. We have been assured of that, and I feel comfortable that the commitment we received will be honored.
Q. Mr. President, in terms of the goals of this economic summit, I understand that you’re hoping that a timetable of action aimed at liberalizing trade comes out of this meeting. That may not seem like a giant political payoff for people back home, and I’m wondering, how do you explain what the benefits of this meeting are to Americans who are wondering why you came to Jakarta?
The President. Well, first of all, let’s wait and see what happens. But I would like to make two comments about it. I told the American people when I sought this office that it was necessary for the President to look to the longterm economic interests of the country as well as to the short-term economic interests of the country, that we were moving into a global economy in which we had to make long-term commitments and expect others to make them if we wanted Americans to have good jobs and stable incomes and brighter futures.
We don’t yet know—I don’t want to jump the gun on what the agreement will be, but I think most Americans would like it very much to know that at some date certain that every market in this part of the world, the fastest growing part of the world with already some of the most powerful economies in the world, would be as open to our products as our markets are to theirs. I think Americans would like that.
And I would ask that the Americans who want immediate results to remember that after 2 years of hard work, we have the economy going in the right direction. We need to provide more stability and higher wages in it and more security, ability to afford health care and things of that kind. And we have seen some significant advances in foreign policy in the Middle East, in Northern Ireland, in Haiti, with the missile agreement with China, with the nuclear agreement with North Korea. These things take time, but you do get the payoff if you invest the time.
This is a remarkable thing, the fact that these 15 leaders are meeting for the second time in 2 years and talking about ripping down the barriers that divide us so that all of our people can be more prosperous in the future.
I did not want, when I became President, I did not want to see this world polarized by trading blocs which would take the place of the nuclear blocs of the cold war. I wanted to see regions cooperate within themselves but also reach out beyond their borders. That’s what I have worked for in Europe, in Latin America, in Africa, and certainly in Asia. It is the fastest growing part of the world. The American people cannot be as prosperous as they need to be unless we succeed here in Asia.
Q. Mr. President, we haven’t heard you on Bosnia. Do you care to say something about that?
The President. Well, I can say that I’ve obviously been very concerned about the events of the last few days in Bihac. We have tabled a— we have put forth a proposal to our allies there and to the members of the Contact Group. And we are hoping to see the situation stabilize.
Q. What about the embargo, the criticism that you——
The President. We have been criticized by some of our allies, but I think they need to understand the situation. The United States Congress had a heavy majority in favor of unilateral lifting of the arms embargo. Instead of that, we got a bill through the Congress which said that we should pursue a multilateral lift of the arms embargo through the United Nations if the Contact Group proposal was not adopted but that we would stop spending American tax dollars to enforce the embargo directly.
Now we know that the Bosnian Government itself, which enjoys such wide support in the Congress in both parties, has asked us not to lift the arms embargo for a period of 6 months while they continue to work to try to sell the Contact Group proposal.
We have worked very hard in the last few days—I want to compliment the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense and others in our administration, including the United Nations Ambassador and the National Security Adviser—we’ve all worked hard to try to explain to our allies exactly what we have done and what we have not done. We are not violating the arms embargo. We are observing the international arms embargo. We will continue to do it. But the arrangement which we have adopted on enforcement is the product of intense negotiations in the United States Congress, which Senator Nunn and others helped us to work out to avoid what I believe would have been a very serious mistake, which would have been a unilateral vote by the Congress to lift the arms embargo.
Q. Mr. President, can you take one question from Indonesian press?
The President. Yes, I think I owe you one. I was looking for someone to raise their hand. Go ahead, I’ll give you one.
Military Sales and the APEC Summit
Q. Mr. President, does the relationship between the civilian and the military in a developing country affect U.S. military sales to the country?
The President. Well, there are many things that affect United States military sales to a country. And so I guess the answer to that would be, it depends on the facts; it would depend on the specifics of a case. But we have been quite careful in what we do with our military equipment and sales, and we will continue to do that.
You didn’t ask this question, but I do think I should say again—I want to hammer this home for the Indonesian press, if not for the American press—this is a remarkable thing that is being done here in Indonesia and quite remarkable that President Soeharto is trying to spearhead a clear and specific commitment on the part of all these nations in the fastest growing part of the world to tear down their trade barriers. It is a very significant thing.
So far as I know, there is no precedent for it. I had hoped such a thing would occur when I convened the leaders in Seattle last year, but I knew that this was something that would have to bubble up from the grass-roots, from the people in the fast-growing economies of Asia. And this is a remarkable meeting that, in history, will be looked back on as a very important part of what the world looks like well into the 21st century.
Q. Any jet lag?
The President. Just a tad. I think I’m still somewhere between Jordan and Jerusalem. [Laughter]