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November 2, 1999


6:15 P.M. (L)

               THE WHITE HOUSE
                   Office of the Press Secretary
                                             (Oslo, Norway)
For Immediate Release
November 2, 1999
                                BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY
                          SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
                                       Radisson SAS Plaza Hotel
                                                     Oslo, Norway
6:15 P.M. (L)
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Let me just say a few things about
the President's meeting with Prime Minister Putin.  This was the second
meeting that the two of them had together.  They previously met in
Auckland.  I would say that it was a serious meeting and it was a frank
meeting.  It was a useful discussion, consistent with what we've been doing
in the past.  We've been engaging Russia at times where there have been
difficult issues in the relationship, and obviously, there are some
difficult issues now where there are differences such as in Chechnya, such
as the need to bring to a conclusion an adaptation of the Conventional
Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, some issues on arms control.  And as we have
in the past, what we found is that when we engage and work through these
problems, that that's the most constructive way to come up with effective
     Let me just say a few points about some specific issues that we talked
about.  First, on Chechnya, that very much was the dominant issue in the
discussion.  It revolved around four different points.
     The first is a recognition of Russia's territorial integrity, its
right to protect its people; on an understanding of the importance of
dealing with terrorist threats.  That's something that we've consistently
said in the past and we, obviously, reaffirmed again.
     Secondly, we stressed that we're very concerned that Russia is
pursuing a strategy that could entail major and increasing civilian
casualties in Chechnya, and we stressed that it's not in the interest of
any country, for that matter, to try to resolve internal problems at the
price of a major loss of life of innocent people, particularly in a
situation like Chechnya where the rebel forces are very much intermingled
with the civilian population.
     One of the things I think we effectively did, the President
effectively did, was to highlight some of the costs that this would entail
-- costs in humanitarian terms, costs in terms of making it harder to, in
the end, achieve a political solution to the Chechnya conflict, and costs
in terms of the damage that this could cause to Russia's international
     The third point was that, for these reasons, for these very costs that
we were outlining, we stressed the importance of having a political
strategy in order to bring the conflict to a close.  President Clinton
stressed that it was very clear that what people want is obviously to be
able to live a normal life.  And in order to satisfy that basic desire,
there has to be a situation of peace, and that the only way they were going
to get peace is through a political solution that everybody could buy into.
     We urged Russia to be proactive in pursuing a political dialogue,
either directly, or if it needs to, to seek a third party for discussions,
and that without a political strategy, that it could in fact, end up in a
worst case situation where it, in fact, sees significant humanitarian
losses as well as not achieving an end to the conflict.
     The fourth point, on Chechnya, was the importance of dealing with the
immediate humanitarian problems.  And again, we stressed that it's
absolutely crucial to let people get to safety, particularly those people
who have been displaced by the conflict.
     Prime Minister Putin told us that they have agreed to invite the OSCE
on a mission to, Ingushetia, to the northern areas of Chechnya and to
Dagestan to review the humanitarian situation.  That's an important first
step to, in fact, possibly get the humanitarian situation under control.
     Obviously, we have stressed the importance of opening borders and
allowing people to be able to get to safe and secure situations where they
can receive humanitarian aid.
     Q    Did the President say anything to the Prime Minister about what
steps the United States was willing to take, either through positive or
negative reinforcement to convince the Russians that the military option in
Chechnya is not the wise course to pursue?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Let me put it this way.  Russia is
dealing with a situation in Chechnya which it considers fundamental to its
territorial integrity and national security.  And Russia is going to take
actions in that situation that are consistent with its own assessment of
its security interests.  So, from our perspective, the most important
arguments and the most effective arguments that we think that we can
marshal with the Russians on the question is whether or not the strategy
that they're pursuing is one that is likely to achieve the national
security ends that they have.
     Now, for that reason, one of the things that the President has
continually underscored is that if there are major civilian casualties,
that that is something that is potentially going to turn civilians against
a dialogue with the government, that it's going to make it harder to
achieve a solution, that it's potentially going to, in fact, going to be
inconsistent with what Russia said it wants to achieve, which is a
normalization of the situation there and potentially a continuation of a
conflict over time, whether through hit-and-run tactics or other tactics.
     And so, what we have continually stressed is, number one, look at the
civilian casualties; number two, get a political dialogue going because
political dialogue is going to be absolutely fundamental to achieving a
solution; and number three, address the immediate humanitarian crisis
because this is something that is directly in Russia's control right now.
     Q    Was there an "or else we might" in there somewhere?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  No, there was not and "or else we
might," but I thing it's important to look at that in the context of the
overall relationship, which is we have a relationship with Russia as with
any other country where we're pursuing things that are in our own interest,
so we're pursuing a discussion on arms control because it's in our
interest; we're pursuing a discussion on economics issues because we want
to see Russia change, internally and economically, and that's in our
interest.  We're pursuing a discussion on non-proliferation because it's in
our interest to see a control over sensitive technologies.
     And so what we're trying to do is recognize that there are a whole
series of issues in the Russia relationship that are difficult and hard
questions, and we need to pursue them, recognizing that there may be
interlinkages among them, but that also each one of them has an end that we
want to achieve and we need to keep on pursuing that.
     Q    Did the President even present it to Mr. Putin in a way that
there may be multilateral arrangements where world public opinion could be
undermined if the Chechnya situation continued?  Was there any kind of
argument along those lines, setting aside the bilateral relationship?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, and excuse me if I wasn't clear
enough about that.  The President made very clear that if there is a
significant increase in civilian casualties, that not only is that going to
have an immediate humanitarian costs that Russia should be concerned about,
it's going to affect Russia's international reputation, which it's been
working very hard to try to restore.
     I would also say that I think it's very clear in the Russians minds
that they recognize that the upcoming summit in Istanbul is -- it's an OSC
summit; it's focused on issues of how states interrelate with one another,
but also how states treat their own people; that if the conflict is, in
fact, continuing to escalate and there are humanitarian casualties, that
there's going to be a tremendous amount of international scrutiny.
     And it's partly in that context I think that Russia is so avidly
trying to respond and address some of the questions that are being put
forward to it.  Now, I think one of the key questions is to move from that
recognition that Russia, I think, has increasingly developed to try to get
actions on the ground that address the humanitarian crisis and bring us
closer -- bring the Russians closer to a political solution.
     Q    Did the President bring up that summit as a venue where this
could come up, where the Russians have indicated to us in other forums
their concern that that could come up --
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  It came up in the discussion
recognizing that the Istanbul summit is somewhere where this kind of issue
could very well come up.
     Q    Did the President use the phrase "indiscriminate attack against
civilians." which has been used at this podium yesterday?  I didn't hear it
in your briefing.  And secondly, what kind of conflict is this?  The
Russians portray this as a police action against terrorists.  It seems like
there is about 40,000 troops involved, so some would call it an internal
armed conflict.  How do you regard it?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I don't think that the President
specifically used the term "indiscriminate attacks."  It's been used in
other discussions.  What was clear in the President's discussion was that
in a situation where civilians and these rebel forces are, indeed, very
much intermingled, that addressing that conflict through intensive shelling
can result in significant humanitarian casualties, and that, indeed, where
the rebel camps have very much dispersed and there is no specific rebel
infrastructure, that it becomes extremely difficult to pinpoint any
specific attack.  And so, from that perspective, it's particularly
important to be sensitive to the potential humanitarian impacts of the
intensification of both the air strikes and the shelling which the Russians
have announced as being part of their current strategy.
     Q    My other question is about what type of conflict is this?  Is
this just a police action against terrorists?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think when you recognize that there
have been significant attacks against lawful authorities in Russia, that
rebels began attacks in Dagestan, at the same time we have an extremely
complex situation where you have a significant number of rebels -- I don't
think any of us know what the numbers are -- the Russians have used the
numbers in the tens of thousands -- and there is not one particular group
-- they're not individuals that can be isolated specifically, and they're
very much interspersed and intermingled with the civilian population.  And
in that context, it becomes much more difficult to know how to specifically
get at those rebels without having major humanitarian casualties.
     And it further reaffirms, it further underscores the need to actually
pursue a political dialogue because there is no obvious military solution
that one can achieve without major costs, human life costs also being
     Q    How long did the meeting last?
     Q    The Prime Minister said that he was willing to have the OSCE come
in and have a look at the humanitarian situation in connection with
Chechnya.  Was there any thought about having the OSCE involved as a
mediator or trying to get a political solution started?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think that's a good question for
the Russians to answer.
     Q    Did the President ask them?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  What we suggested to them, as I said
before, was that they need to get a dialogue going, they need to be
proactive, they need to be creative about it.  If they can't do it
directly, they should think about third parties.  If this is a third party
the Russians think they could work with, then that's good; if it's not,
then there are other things that they might consider.  And we hope that
they do.
     Q    Is it not true that the National Security Advisor already raise
that scenario with Mr. Putin and was rebuffed?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  The National Security Advisor was
very clear in his conversations with Prime Minister Putin about the
importance of a political dialogue.  Each time we've had this discussion, I
think we've continued to look at different ways that we can advance it.  I
think that we were clearer today about the importance of seeking creative
solutions and potentially looking at third parties, if that is a useful
alternative, than we have been in the past.
     Q    Again, but the heart of the question -- is it not true that the
National Security Advisor suggested that to Prime Minister Putin, and Prime
Minister Putin said no thank you -- or words to that effect?
     Q    Did the President raise the question of the plight of the
refugees --
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Let me just say certainly not that
I'm aware of.  I mean, Sandy may have said something and I wasn't aware of
it, but not that I'm aware of.
     Q    Did the President raise the plight of the refugees -- the
hundreds of thousands who are trying to get out -- with Putin?  Because the
Russians apparently are still blocking the borders.
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, we have raised that, and it was
in that context that Prime Minister Putin said that they recognize that
there needs to be quick action to address the humanitarian situation and
that he also raised the OSCE mission to look at the humanitarian situation.
     Obviously, the answer, or the solution here is to open the border, and
that's what we're going to look at.
     Q    Did the President raise them today?
     Q    Where did Putin say that the   OSCE could go?  Could they go into
and all around Chechnya or just in the neighboring countries?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  He had said Dagestan, areas in
Northern Chechnya, and Ingushetia.
     Q    What was the restriction --
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Because of the security situation --
their answer was because of the security situation and a concern that
people may be taken hostage, as has happened on other occasions.
     Q    Other than talking about the OSCE mission, did the Prime Minister
respond in some way to the logic that you laid out about the desirability
of a military solution and so forth?  And what was his general answer to
those arguments?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  It's a good question.  Let me sort of
summarize what some of the key pieces of his response were.  One is a
recognition that the desperate economic situation in Chechnya was one that,
in fact, has made the situation even more difficult, and has increased the
prospect for unrest there, and that implicit in that, being that you need
to deal with the long-term economic situation and to, in fact, actually be
able to resolve the problem.
     Second, very strong view on his part that this is a conflict that was
initiated by the rebels because of their attack into Dagestan.  Third, a
view on his part that there has to be a strong response against the
terrorists, and fourth, he did agree that the way to resolve the problem is
going to have to be through some form of political dialogue.
     The question, I think, that where we still have some differences, how
do they get to that political dialogue, are they being proactive about it,
how quickly are they going to get to it.  Those are questions that the
Russians are going to have to answer for themselves, and from our
perspective, the quicker that they can move on this, the better it's going
to be.
     Q    Who do you think would be the third party in that political
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  We didn't specify.  That's going to
be something they're going to have to make some judgment about.
     Q    -- thinking about.
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  There are a number of different
parties out there.  Obviously, the question of the OSCE was raised before.
There are individuals within Russia that could be turned to.  There are
other international parties.  I think the key question right now is for
Russia to make a decision that either such a third party dialogue or a
direct dialogue is going to be something that they're going to pursue,
because there is a need for an effective political strategy that brings the
conflict to an end.
     Q    I just want to know one thing.  Is the United States suggesting,
then, that Russia negotiate with -- the known leaders of the armed Chechen
opposition?  Because Putin said himself at his news conference last night,
that he is -- Russia is ready to open political talks with political
authorities in Chechnya, but they won't talk to the leaders of the armed
resistance.  Is the United States suggesting that they do?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  No, we're not suggesting that the
Russian government enter into a dialogue or a discussion with Basayev.
They're going to have to make judgments about what representatives of the
Chechen people they may be able to work with.  They have given different
signals at different times of who those people may be.
     For example, Chechen President Maskhadov is one person who, at one
point, they indicated they might have a discussion with.  Later, Putin
indicated that they could not.  Just in the last day or two, the Minister
of Regions -- I forgot what his exact title is -- indicated that, in fact,
that Maskhadov was a legally elected President of Chechnya, and that if he
renounced terrorism, that he may be somebody that they could talk with.
     Those are the kinds of questions that they're going to have to work
through and decide who our credible partners on the other side that they're
willing to talk to.
     Q    Did Prime Minister Putin suggest when the mission might be
allowed in?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I don't know the answer to that
question, sorry.  All right.  Sorry.  You've been patient.
     Q    You may regret this if you will answer this.  Just standing back,
what would you see the difference in argument between Serbia's view that
was protecting the territorial integrity of what remains of the former
Yugoslavia, and Russia protecting the territory integrity of Russia?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I would say that they're extremely
different situations and that I wouldn't go into a comparison between the
two.  What I think is clear in the situation in Chechnya is that in order
to bring an end to the conflict in an extremely complex situation where the
rebels are very much intermixed with the civilian population, that it is
important for the Russian government to look at a proactive political
dialogue that can address some of the core issues that led to the conflict
to begin with, and that that political dialogue has to be the absolute
foundation for a successful solution because we don't see how a military
solution is going to work in this situation.
     THE PRESS:  Thank you.
                                     6:50 P.M. (L)

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