Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger

Spoken by

William J. Clinton

The Briefing Room

9:59 A.M. EDT

COLONEL CROWLEY: Good morning. A very impressive turnout for a relatively early hour for the White House press corps.

Q: Some of them perhaps.

COLONEL CROWLEY: Perhaps most of you just got off the press plane early this morning and came to straight to the office — very commendable of you.

The President on Sunday travels to New York for a speech on Monday to open the U.N. General Assembly.

Q: What time?

COLONEL CROWLEY: Patience, Helen. He will also have the opportunity to have some bilateral meetings that really go to the heart of our U.S. national interests around the world: stabilizing the economic situation around the world, advancing the cause of nonproliferation, preventing regional conflict.

Here to give you a preview of the President’s activity on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, will be the National Security Advisor Sandy Berger.

Q: The speech is Monday, on Rosh Hashanah, is it?

MR. BERGER: That’s a good question, Sam.

Q: Well, seriously.

MR. BERGER: We did not set the schedule.

First of all, I want to totally disassociate myself from that gratuitous attack on the press by Colonel Crowley. (Laughter.) He’s on his own. I’ve always seen you here early. I stand behind my people.

If it’s September, it must be UNGA, and I’d like to spend a few moments with you this morning talking about the President’s visit to New York for the 53rd U.N. General Assembly, which begins on Monday, which is Rosh Hashanah — a decision the U.N. made, not us.

Let me take a few moments to highlight the President’s schedule, his objectives, including his speech on Monday, his bilateral meetings with Italian Prime Minister Prodi, Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif, Japanese Prime Minister Obuchi. And I also want to briefly mention the NYU conference the President will attend on Monday afternoon, and then take your questions.

We leave for New York on Sunday afternoon. The President will meet with Prime Minister Prodi sometime late in the afternoon, early in the evening Sunday in New York. I expect the discussion with the Prime Minister will be fairly far ranging but will focus especially on the problems in Kosovo and in Albania, where the Italians obviously are critical partners to us in seeking to restore some peace and stability.

I also expect that they will be talking more broadly about the economic situation and the situation in Russia and the President’s impressions following his visit and following the selection of Prime Minister Primakov.

On Monday the President begins his day with a call on Secretary General Annan and General Assembly President Opertti, who is the foreign minister of Uruguay. It’s a rotating position each year. We will focus in that meeting, I think, especially on Iraq, on Kosovo. I’m sure there will be some discussion in that meeting of U.N. reform and other related issues.

Then the President will address the U.N. General Assembly. As usual, the President of the United States is the first speaker to the General Assembly, after the President of the UNGA. This is the ninth time the President will have addressed the United Nations — sixth in terms of the annual meetings, but also in special sessions that they have held on drugs, environment, and on the occasion of the U.N.’s 50th anniversary.

And the President will talk about terrorism and the common obligations of the international community to fight it. In recent months, as you know, for example at the Naval Academy, and in recent weeks in the wake of the bombings of our embassies in Africa and our strikes in Sudan and in Afghanistan, the President has spoken about this issue quite frequently. But he has done so often, particularly, for example, in the Naval Academy speech, in programmatic terms: here’s what the international community must do together to fight terrorism. We have to have better money-laundering legislation. We have to have better cooperative mechanisms.

I expect in this speech for him to address the question more broadly and speak to the international community about why the fight against terrorism has become one that has to be at or near the top of our world agenda. He will point out that with the spread of information technology and the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction, the technology of terror has become more lethal and more available, and therefore there is a greater degree of common responsibility to deal with this issue together.

He wants to make it clear to the international community that the fight against terrorism is not a clash of civilizations or cultures. The dividing line is between those who practice, support, and tolerate terror, and those who understand that terrorism is plain and simple murder. And he wants to press his case that the only way to succeed in the combat against terrorism is working together and understanding our common obligations to deal with this increasingly serious problem.

Following the speech, the President will meet with Prime Minister Sharif of Pakistan. As you know, we’ve had a close relationship with Pakistan for many years and we hope to work with Pakistan in the years to come. That has obviously been complicated, as is the case with India, by their nuclear tests.

Since that time, there have been ongoing discussions between the Indians and the United States, between the Pakistanis and the United States, on measures and steps that the two governments could take that would move them more firmly back into the nonproliferation regime. These relate to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. They relate to how they develop and deploy their missiles. They relate to moratoriums on fissile material and direct dialogue on some of the fundamental issues that divide them, particularly Kashmir. And the President will be talking to Prime Minister Sharif on each of these and hope that we can get — encourage him to take some steps in this direction, as we have with the Indians.

Following the meeting with Prime Minister Sharif, there will be a luncheon hosted by Secretary General Annan, a traditional lunch for all of the heads of delegation, that will take place there. Obviously there will be some discussion of our financial relationship with the U.N. We are in the paradoxical position of being the world’s largest contributor to the U.N. as well as the world’s largest debtor to the U.N. And we are continuing to work with Congress to deal particularly with the latter of those two problems.

Finally, late in the afternoon of Monday, the President will join a number of leaders, the First Lady as well, at a conference sponsored by NYU on strengthening democracy in the global economy. This will be an all-day conference; the President will join it in the afternoon. I think the First Lady will attend it throughout the day.

The President’s participation will include a roundtable discussion with Prime Minister Blair of Great Britain, Prime Minister Prodi, President Stoyanov of Bulgaria, and Prime Minister Persson of Sweden. And this should be a fairly free-flowing conversation among the leaders about their practical experience in devising new methods of governance to deal with promoting democracy, civil society, in the global economy.

Q: The President of Bulgaria, did say?

MR. BERGER: Stoyanov, S-t-o-y-a-n-o-v. He can spell your name, though. On Tuesday the President will have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Obuchi. This will be the first meeting between the new prime minster of Japan and the President. It will take place the Rockefeller estate at Tarrytown, so it will get away from the hurly-burly of New York. This is, I think, an important meeting.

First, the President and the Prime Minister, I believe, will want to reaffirm the extreme importance of our relationship and of our security relationship. This remains our most important relationship in Asia, and a partnership that is the foundation of stability in the Asian Pacific region. And with all of the economic and other turmoil in the region, I think it is especially important to make clear that that security relationship rests on a rock-solid foundation.

Now, at the same time, the President will obviously want to discuss, and I’m sure the Prime Minster will want to discuss, the international economic situation, the financial decisions and policies of the government of Japan, and our sense of urgency that it is important that Japan move forward to stimulate its economy through fiscal policies, that it deal with its banking crisis — I take it that in the last 24 hours there has been some movement in the Diet on that — and that it deal with — continue to deal with deregulation and market access. Because the fact that this is an economy that has been in recession for almost seven years and now is heading into a period of negative growth is a tremendous drag on the overall Asian financial situation and we really cannot, I think in our judgment, see a reversal of the general Asian financial prospects without a significant upturn in Japan.

We obviously have a lot of other issues to talk about with Japan, particularly involving Korea, maintaining the agreed framework that freezes their program to produce nuclear material, at the same time dealing with our upcoming talks with the Koreans on their missile program. The launch of the Taepo Dong missile over Japan on August 31 obviously has been troubling both to us and to the Japanese.

And sometime in mid-afternoon on Tuesday, we shall return.

Q: Obuchi has, apparently under some pressure, agreed to some limited form of banking reform. In the judgment of the U.S. government, is this enough? What do you think of the measures?

MR. BERGER: I have not seen, Sam, the specific measures that were approved yesterday, so I think I’ll withhold comment. I think, clearly, it is very important that they deal in a quite bold way with their banking problem, but I can’t really make a judgment on a set of measures I haven’t seen yet.

Q: In connection with your meeting with Prime Minister Sharif, is the United States encouraged or discouraged by what’s happening in India and Pakistan? And where do you stand in terms of the trip to India and Pakistan? When is the decision?

MR. BERGER: Well, let me answer the second part and then the first part. You all know these trips have a certain lead time so that advance work can be done, security work can be done. I think we have to make a decision on this sometime in the next few weeks. We have discussed with the Indians, and with the Pakistanis, the steps that we think need to be taken to put them back on track, as I say, more firmly back on track in the nonproliferation regime. I think there has been some movement, but I think so far it’s been insufficient.

Q: Are we absolutely sure that this pharmaceutical plant in Sudan was producing nerve gas, because President Carter has said, if we’re not sure and not positive in view of our aftermath investigation, that we should apologize and make amends?

MR. BERGER: Well, I have a high level of confidence that the pharmaceutical plant in Sudan was associated with chemical weapons, that a chemical called EMPTA, which is essentially the penultimate precursor to VX gas — there are very few steps, maybe even only one step, between EMPTA and VX nerve gas — had been present at the plant. I believe we have a high level of confidence that that is true, number one.

Number two, we know that Bin Ladin is seeking chemical weapons.

Number three, we know that he has had a long association with the Sudanese government, which harbors a number of his associates, and particularly in association with the Sudanese government and an interest in working with them on chemical weapons production.

Number four, we know that he was a major financier of what is called the Military Industrial Corporation in Sudan, of which this plant is a part.

So, putting all that together, I think we had overwhelming grounds to strike this facility, and in fact I would put the question the other way: knowing what we knew, that there was a plant in Sudan that had an association with Bin Ladin, who seeks chemical weapons and that that —

Q: I don’t see that would give you absolute —

MR. BERGER: Let me finish my point, Helen. What I was saying was, I think the answer — the question was just the opposite: knowing what we knew, that this plant was associated with chemical weapons, number one; number two, that Ben Laden was associated with the Military Industrial Corporation of which this was a part; number three, that he seeks chemical weapons for the purpose of using them against Americans and others — for us to have not struck that plant, I think, would have been irresponsible.

Q: You say you had a high level of confidence that it was making this chemical precursor, but you didn’t seem to know that it was apparently also making legitimate pharmaceuticals?

MR. BERGER: That’s not true. Read my briefing on the day of the — on the day I came out here to brief — I happened to reread it last night actually — I said that this plant was making other things as well as this.

Q: Not to belabor this point, but the way you turned the question around could be legitimate — you could say, knowing what we knew, we did the right thing. But knowing what you know now — you seem to be couching it a little bit. You said, “associated with.”

MR. BERGER: I don’t mean to couch anything. I have no less certainty about this, in fact I have even more certainty about this, than I did at the time that we struck it, based upon subsequent information. But this is a facility — we have physical evidence that this facility — of the presence there of a chemical that can, as far as we know, can only be used in chemical weapons, it is part of a Military Industrial Corporation of which Usama Bin Ladin is associated. He seeks chemical weapons for the purpose of using them for terrorist action. I think the case is very strong.

Q: Well, at the time these two installations in the Sudan and Afghanistan —

MR. BERGER: And let me just say one last thing, the Sudanese government here — the compassion for the humanitarian instincts of the Sudanese government here is a little bit disingenuous. This is a government that is one of the principal state sponsors of terrorism in the world, number one; number two, there are somewhere between 1.5 million people starving in southern and western Sudan — and we have plenty of food to get to those people, but we can’t get that food to those people because the government will not let us have access to those people. This is a government who harbored Carlos; this is a government who harbored the people who tried to kill President Mubarak.

So I’m sure that they’re deeply concerned about the penicillin that they may have lost in this plant, but I think you’ve got to put it in perspective here in terms of the nature of this regime. This plant was, in my judgment, a legitimate target, and had we not struck it I don’t know how we could have faced the American people and said, we had every reason to believe that there was a chemical weapons-related facility here, associated with Usama Bin Ladin, who has said he wants to kill Americans, but we decided not to attack it.

Q: That really leads into what I was trying to ask you, in the sense that when the time the U.S. struck Sudan and Afghanistan, U.S. officials warned that there would be other strikes, this wasn’t it. Where are the other strikes? Are there plants still going now that the American people will discover — you should have struck, you didn’t strike?

MR. BERGER: I’m certainly not going to announce ahead of time what are plans are. We have been very proactive, as some of the arrests indicate. And we will continue to be proactive across a broad range of areas.

Q: Speaking of other strikes — moving on?

MR. BERGER: Yes.

Q: In your conversations with the Secretary General about Iraq, what will you propose that the U.N. do if Iraq pulls out its weapons — kicks out the U.N. weapons inspectors altogether?

MR. BERGER: Well, I think the Security Council and the Secretary General, back in I guess February, made it very clear that Iraq had an obligation to give inspectors access and to permit UNSCOM to operate. This is extremely important.

Since Saddam Hussein has restricted the activity of the inspectors, we have gone back to the Security Council, put the burden there in the first instance. And as a result of that they have voted unanimously to suspend any review of sanctions until there is compliance. So essentially sanctions now are a permanent feature of the landscape, unless there is compliance.

If Saddam Hussein takes the further step of expelling the UNSCOM inspectors in the first instance, I believe the U.N. Security Council ought to act to gain compliance. If they fail to do that, we will obviously have to face a number of decisions.

Q: What sorts of things are you going to explore? I mean, you put Iraq on the agenda, what are you going to talk about that you haven’t already talked about at length?

MR. BERGER: Well, the first instance, the Security Council has passed resolutions saying there has to be access for the UNSCOM inspectors. If that access is denied in the first instance, it is for the Security Council to secure compliance, in our judgment. If they fail to do that, then we will have to obviously consider other steps.

Q: But it has been denied — the access has been denied now for a period of time.

MR. BERGER: Well, the access has been restricted and the Security Council has taken one important step, which is to say to Iraq there will be no review of sanctions relief as long as this situation remains.

Now, what we seek here is not simply a restricted UNSCOM; we seek an UNSCOM that can operate and we seek Iraqi compliance. But I think, as I say, in the first instance I think it is an obligation of the Secretary General, it’s an obligation of the Security Council.

Q: Is the President worried that despite his public advice in Moscow — and I suppose private advice — Primakov and company seem to be moving Russia back toward statism, back toward state-control of the economy, and maybe back toward Communism?

MR. BERGER: Well, what we found in Russia was an economic crisis wrapped in a political crisis. There was a serious economic crumbling, but an absolute inability to even have a government to deal with it.

Now Russia has a government. We intend to remain engaged with that government. We believe that it needs to understand the laws of gravity, so to speak, of the international economy, in terms of basic steps that it needs to take. There are many ways to get there, but steps that, for example, ignite hyper-inflation or steps that move back from privatization toward re-nationalization are not likely to solve Russia’s economic program.

So I think it’s too early to make a final judgment on this. There was a meeting of the G-7 deputy foreign ministers, as you know, on Monday in London. The Russians were present — I guess it’s the G-8. And the finance ministers and political directors spoke very candidly and frankly to the Russians about the kinds of policies we believe are necessary to get them back on a track of gaining confidence.

Q: Is it clear that the IMF is not going to release the expected September tranche of money?

MR. BERGER: Well, I think the circumstances under which the IMF negotiated that obviously are different than they are today. I think there would have to be a level of confidence on the part of the IMF that Russia was taking steps that moved in the right direction. And I know there is an IMF team in Moscow today.

Q: Sandy, the President was fairly emphatic on Wednesday about the scandal and the Starr report and all that not impacting his ability to lead, especially in regard to foreign policy. Let me pose two questions. Are you concerned that it might embolden foreign governments, like, for example, particularly Saddam Hussein, to act in a way that he might otherwise not act because he thinks that the American President is distracted, whether that belief is correct or incorrect?

And number two, does it impact your ability to get things done in Congress with Congress focused on the scandal? Does it impact your ability to get things done like UN dues or IMF money?

MR. BERGER: Well, on the first question, David, I think it would be a grave mistake for any foreign leader or any group to believe that if the United States interests are threatened, the United States will not respond in a firm and united way. When our embassies were attacked in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, you recall this is when the President was on Martha’s Vineyard — there were a few other things going on. That did not stop us from responding. We had strong bipartisan support for doing that.

And I believe that it is true that when America’s interests are at issue, that Republicans and Democrats generally come together to do the things that have to be done. That certainly has been our experience so far and I expect it to continue to be our experience. I think it would be — anybody who made that calculation would make a grave miscalculation.

In terms of working with Congress — these issues have been contentious for three years. The UN arrears problem has been a difficult problem for us for several years. We didn’t just get to be in this position overnight, and it continues to be. I remain hopeful that we’ll make some progress on that in this session. And I remain hopeful that we’ll make progress on IMF money.

Q: On these Japan bilaterals, I know that you can’t speak specifically on the latest banking reform measures and so on, but generally speaking is the Administration satisfied with what’s in train in terms of stimulus measures, or will the President be calling for further reforms? And also, just logistically, will you be briefing before you go back to Washington on Tuesday?

MR. BERGER: Well, on your first question, I think we have a strong sense of urgency that the Japanese government move as quickly as possible to stimulate its economy, to restore growth, to deal with its banking problem, to open its markets, to deregulate. And I think that the President will be encouraging the Prime Minister to work with all elements of the Japanese political leadership to move boldly and to move forward very promptly. If that down-drag continues from Japan, it will have quite a devastating effect on not only the economies of Asia, but the security of Asia.

Now, in terms of briefing, I am sure that — Mr. Leavy tells me that we will be briefing. And if he says so, it must be true.

Q: Will the reports of the President’s conversations with the world leaders include a message that: I’m not distracted, that the matters in the United States are not affecting me?

MR. BERGER: No, I don’t think so. It doesn’t come up in these meetings.

Q: Will he bring it up?

MR. BERGER: No, because I don’t think there’s a need to. The President has enormous support from leaders around the world, he has great stature, which you saw as we moved through Africa, as we moved into China, as we’ve traveled in Latin America, as we went to Northern Ireland. I think the leaders of the world are prepared to — look very much to the United States for leadership. They want and expect the United States to lead, and I think they very much look to the President to lead, and we intend to continue to do that.

Q: Sandy, you just said that if Japan doesn’t fix its economic situation, it will have a devastating effect on its political security as well as its economic security. I mean, the United States —

MR. BERGER: No, that’s not what I said. I said that if Japan does not reverse its situation and begin to grow and begin to deal with these problems it will have — and I may have used the word “devastating” — certainly a serious effect throughout Asia on the economies of other countries in Asia that depend — the two big economies in the world, as you know, are the United States and Japan.

Q: Not just economy, but you said also their political —

MR. BERGER: Well, I think, you know, if you look at Indonesia for example, I would say that there’s a higher degree of social disruption in Indonesia today than there was before the economic crisis. We don’t want to see that pattern, obviously, replicated elsewhere.

Q: Thank you very much.

Q: Holbrooke’s dead, do you agree?

MR. BERGER: No.

Q: Seriously, Senator Helms said he isn’t going to act on it even if you send it up this year.

MR. BERGER: Well, I’m glad you asked me that question. I do not believe that Ambassador Holbrooke’s nomination, by any means, is dead. It is a nomination that the President and I think the rest of us feel very strongly is in the national interest. We very much want and look forward to having Dick as part of the foreign policy team. There are matters as you know that are under review at the Justice Department. We would hope that those matters would be handled expeditiously and we would be able to submit his name, if not before Congress leaves this session, but when it comes back.

I would say one other thing, Sam, off the New York Times editorial today. We have enormous confidence in Ambassador Burleigh. Ambassador Burleigh has been the number two to Ambassador Richardson. He is a career ambassador. He is a man of enormous distinction and talent. I would remind people that Ambassador Pickering, as a carer ambassador, was one of our most distinguished U.N. ambassadors.

So I think in the period while these matters are resolved with Dick, we’re in good hands.

Q: Could you do a recess appointment?

MR. BERGER: I don’t know that that’s contemplated.

Q: Do you know it’s not contemplated?

MR. BERGER: I have not heard it discussed.

END 10:30 A.M. EDT