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Albright Briefing Aboard Plane en route to Moscow

Albright Briefing Aboard Plane en route to Moscow, Russia

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright Briefing aboard plane En route to Moscow, Russia, January 31, 2000 As released by the Office of the Spokesman U.S. Department of State

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: There are two purposes to this trip. One is the fact that we are having the multilateral track talks for the first time since '93 when they were frozen. They are going to be at ministerial level and we consider them as a very important part of the peace process, important because they are complimentary to the bilateral tracks. And we believe that it is important to get these talks going in the various areas that have to do basically with regional stability because they're about refugees and water, and economic development, the environment and arms control. Those are all essential issues to underline and supplement the bilateral process.

They came about in an interesting way and have to do with the second purpose of the trip. I spend an awful lot of time talking to Igor Ivanov, a couple times a week sometimes or more often, and we thought that it would be a good idea to take some time and look at the issues that we could work together and those issues that clearly create problems. And one of the issues where there is a common purpose is the multilateral peace track. So I think that is a very useful way to underline the fact that there are certain areas which we have in common.

The reason that also I think it is obviously a good time is I've met Putin before but this will be the first visit since Yeltsin's resignation and his being Acting President. And I think it's important to have a meeting at this level in order to make some assessments about the direction of the relationship and all the things that we have to do.

So I want to go and I want to talk about all the things we have to do this year. I want to be able to step back a bit with Ivanov and go through the whole host of issues that we have to do which I can list for you in a minute.

And then the third is obviously to talk about Chechnya which is kind of shadowing our relationship at the moment.

The kinds of issues that we are going to be talking about are obviously issues to do with arms control, non-proliferation, the Caucasus. I spent time with Aliyez and Kocharian here in Davos and I want to talk to Ivanov about that. We're going to be talking about Kosovo and about Iraq, technology transfers, the whole host of issues that cover our relationship and kind of take a long look at them.

QUESTION: Can I get a little specific about arms control please? Suppose they say no to what is gently called modification of the ABM treaty for a space weapons system that we last heard about in the Reagan years. Suppose they say no, and I know Bush wants to do even more than that so apparently it is in our future one way or another, will the administration go ahead anyhow, there are other reasons not to go ahead, or will that deter the administration from going ahead in the spring with the program. And secondly is there a potential for trading off because of their, I would say legitimate, arms control concerns about fueling an arms race. Would you consider going down to lower levels to sort of balance, you know, concession on each side?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all there are a lot of things you said that I don't agree with. Let me say this, in terms of any decisions that we are going to be making they are based on the criteria of feasibility, of cost, of threat and how it affects our national security including arms control. Those are the things that are going to have to be a part of the assessment process that the President will keep in mind as he goes forward with that. Obviously when you look at the fourth one, our national security, our relationship and arms control, that involves a lot of different elements of how what this does to our overall position in the world which includes a lot of bilateral relationships. But I really want to make very clear to you -- there has been no decision. Those four criteria are very important. We are very concerned about the threat. And that is the purpose of it. This is not something against Russia. One of (inaudible) which is very much part of the discussion that Strobe Talbott has had and I'm going to have, in order to have them understand where this is.

QUESTION: But if they dig in on the treaty, the treaty wasn't one of those conditions, or one of those considerations you just listed. In other words, do they have to go along with modifying the treaty or do we go off on our own if we think it's in our national security interest to go off on our own?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think we always take our national security interests into consideration. But I'm not going to answer a hypothetical like that. Because we are right in the middle of these discussions and trying to talk to them about the fact that any modifications of the treaty do not undermine the treaty and we've amended the treaty before. We have said, the President has said, I have said, the ABM is central to a lot of our arms control regimes and the way we think about it.

QUESTION: There are trade off possibilities.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Again, this is the stage where we have said to them they have to ratify START II, and we will have serious negotiations about START III and at that stage as always there are discussions of numbers. But I am not going to get into hypotheticals.

QUESTION: Are there any tangibles that you hope will come out of the next three days? Is there anything that you want to walk away with?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all we would very much like to, on the multilaterals, have the Steering Committee, that's what's meeting now, begin to set certain times for when the working groups would begin their process. In terms of the Russia aspect, this is basically a session in which, as I said, I'm going to be talking to Putin and having a kind of step back discussion with Ivanov. So, no I think this is a good time for us to really talk about a lot of issues that we need to talk about.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, (inaudible) ...what's your take on Putin? He's been there since January 1.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: There has been a lot of speculation about Putin but I think we are at this stage, at the point where we have to judge him by his actions and not so much by the way different people describe him based on what they knew about him etc. And I think basically we're at the stage now where the ruble stops here. He has to figure out...we're going to watch what he's doing. There have been so many stories about his background, etc. Finally at a certain stage it's what people do that's important.

QUESTION: The deal he cut with the Communists, what's your assessment of that? And what do you think it means for his capacity as a reformer as you referred to him (inaudible)?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'm going to be meeting with some Duma (members), it's the first time any of us has been there since the Duma elections. So I'm going to have a chance to talk to them. Again, I think I want to see what the agreement that he's made, what it will bring in terms of how the Duma behaves. I think there were a lot of stories, and frankly all of us were concerned about the agreement, but I think we have to now see what the program is, how they carry it out. We want very much to see a reform program. The Russian economy has taken a small tick up and I want to talk to him a little bit about what his reform program is in the economic sphere.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, getting back to the security issues, there have been talks going on in Geneva for some days, can you report any progress in terms of narrowing the differences on ABM treaty, START III and so on?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I can't. These are very intensive talks. They are going to be going on for quite a long time at various levels and we're all kind of doing various pieces of them and I haven't had a chance to get a readout.

QUESTION: Did they give a better sense though of whether Putin is in favor of passing START II, just a concept of getting START II through the Duma, and do you get any sense of whether he's committed to embarking on a START III process formally?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: He has said, and so has Ivanov whenever I talk to him, that they want to get START II ratified. That has been one of their programs. And I think they have all along also wanted to get going on START III. We are the ones that have basically said that they have to ratify START II. Again, I think you are asking me the kind of questions that I'm going to be asking, that this is the reason for having this kind of a longer session with him and I'll be better able to answer all these questions on our way back or while we're there. But you're on the right track in terms of the things I'm trying to get done.

QUESTION: But we want START II ratified before we negotiate START III?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes. We've had general (discussion) but no negotiations.

QUESTION: How much time are you going to have with Putin and what's your message to him, what do you hope to get across to him?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: You never know how much time but I'm hoping to have a good meaty session. Basically I think what I'm going to be looking for is how he sees the U.S.-Russia relationship, making clear to him as I have all along to Ivanov, is that while we do not agree on everything we don't have to disagree across the board. They have their national security interests, we have ours. We have many things that we have to do in common. We have found a number of things where we have both prospered by acting together. Middle East is one of them. On the Caucasus, as part of the Minsk Group, we've operated together. We have interests to try to get that resolved. We've had issues that, obviously we have some disagreements on Kosovo, on the other hand they are there with us. So there are a series of issues that I want to talk to him about, about where we can cooperate and the importance of widening that and then trying to talk to them obviously very clearly about Chechnya. Their argument is that they are trying to rout out terrorism and obviously all of us are very concerned about terrorism. But we have made very clear that we are very concerned also about the loss of civilian life, the problem of the refugees and that they are basically getting mired. And in every discussion that we've had with the Russians at a variety of levels since Chechnya started, we've been telling them that the only solution to this is a political dialogue, that ultimately this is a no-win situation for them, and to a great extent, that is one of the things that I think is evident and that I'll be talking about.

QUESTION: Will there be anything you'll be bringing to Vladimir Putin in terms of how he might bring the Chechnya conflict closer to an end?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well I think we are going to be discussing again the possibility of political dialogue that maybe the OSCE can be helpful in. (inaudible)...going to be exploring ways with him and also making clear to him something that is very clear to me which is that Russia is isolating itself as a result of Chechnya. That they are having more troubles when they go to Istanbul or we have a G8 meeting or any number of places where they are isolating themselves from the international community that they need to be very much a part of.

QUESTION: Do you think that realistically knowing that presidential elections are less than two months away and how popular the war is at home that you can expect that he will seek that political solution rather than stepping up the conflict as he has?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: There is no question that the war is popular. But I've said before that he is riding a tiger. He has to understand the problems that this is causing for him. I also think that he has to deal for the longer run than the election. But to be honest with you, I think it is going to be very hard. Because I think they do see it as working positively for them. What I find interesting, and I am looking forward to having discussions on this, is there are increasing reports that they are being told or recognizing their military losses and what this is doing in terms of some families protesting and things like that. I would like to get a better assessment both from Putin and Ivanov about how they are seeing it. You're right, it's a very popular issue for them.

QUESTION: What other avenues does the United States have other than voicing disapproval on Chechnya and telling them that it's bad for them too. What can you do other than repeat that message?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Look, I think it's very important for us to be able to continue to deliver the message and not cut off our nose to spite our face. I know there are those who believe that there ought to be sanctions. I happen to think that when we think about the assistance that we give to Russia is two thirds related to threat reduction and of the other third, three fourths of it has to do with civil society, trying to give assistance at the local level that are not delivered to the central government but to local areas, and that we need to concentrate on that, and if we were to cut ourselves off from them I think we are undermining what we are trying to do which is to make sure that Russia keeps going on to a reform process. So from our purposes I think they need to hear over and over again that this is not working for them, that it is isolating them, and that this is not the way to deal with (inaudible). But it is clearly a very difficult issue. I don't think anybody underestimates the difficulty of it but they are dealing with it in a way that doesn't solve it, that only exacerbates it.

Thank you.

[End of Document]

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