31 May 2003
Russians Share U.S. Concerns on Iran's Nuclear ProgramU.S. official discusses counterproliferation initiative announced by Bush in Krakow
Following is a transcript of a background briefing given by a senior Bush administration official aboard Air Force One May 31 en route to St. Petersburg, Russia, from Krakow, Poland.
Discussing upcoming talks with Russian officials, the briefer said Russian officials recently have expressed "serious concern about the direction and extent of Iran's nuclear program. ... [T]he Russians are beginning to realize that the American concerns were justified."
The briefer said President Bush, in his talks in St. Petersburg, is expected to discuss his Proliferation Security Initiative announced in his speech in Krakow earlier that day. The briefer indicated that the initiative would be opened to a wide range of countries.
Following is a transcript of the background briefing:
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
Mr. Fleischer: We've got a readout of the Poland meetings, and a little preview of Russia, courtesy of a senior administration official.
Q: This is background?
Mr. Fleischer: Yes, this is on background.
Senior Administration Official: I've been asked so much to characterize the upcoming President's speech. I've found it's kind of a pleasure to be able to shift gears and actually be able to talk about it without watching that I don't give away too much.
You've heard the speech. It was an offer to work with Europeans, all Europeans, on a common agenda. One of the core messages was this is not a time for division, it's a time for unity; and when America and Europe work together, we can get accomplished great things in the world. So, first, it was a message of willingness to work with Europe.
Secondly, it was a statement of our agenda. Both fighting terrorism, counterproliferation, and I can talk a little bit later about the initiative the President cited. But also it's a speech that talked about the need to make the world a better place: fighting poverty, fighting AIDS, promoting economic development.
And in the Middle East, promoting peace and freedom. And you remember the line in the speech where the President says that these are inseparable -- that's very important that freedom and peace come together.
Now, I don't have to talk about the speech, I don't think, at great length -- you heard it. But we saw it as a speech which was an explanation of the American agenda in the world, in the context of Iraq or post-Iraq agenda, and a call for all of us to work together. And that's a theme the President will carry with him through this coming week.
I'll answer questions about the speech, but I think that's enough of a general characterization.
The meeting with Kwasniewski covered a little bit about Iraq and the Middle East. It covered economic -- U.S.-Polish economic relations, and U.S.-European relations. And Kwasniewski and President Bush have a very good relationship, they enjoy each other's company. They are both leaders that speak straight, don't waste time, say what's on their mind. The conversation was a very good one. There was a lot of back-and-forth. And it was clear that they shared the same assumptions.
Kwasniewski appreciated hearing how the President would approach Europe. Kwasniewski talked about Poland's position, needing good relations with Europe -- especially Germany -- and greatly appreciating President Bush's offer of cooperation with Europe.
On the Middle East that we talked -- the two leaders spoke about Polish leadership of one of the multi-national divisions in Iraq. Kwasniewski wanted to hear about our thinking about Iran, our thinking about the region. And at the end they spoke about bilateral economic relations and Kwasniewski's desire to increase American investment in Poland and hopes that the F-16 deal -- by which Poland is buying F-16s and Lockheed Martin will help provide American investment for Poland -- Kwasniewski endorsed that, said it was exactly the right kind of arrangement. And the President said he hoped the conditions in Poland would allow for rapid increases of American investment, you know, based on the investment climate.
The meeting with Prime Minister Miller was shorter. Prime Minister Miller had just flown from St. Petersburg. Prime Minister Miller expressed great appreciation for the speech which he had just listened to; he said it was exactly the right tone, the right message at the right time. And he talked about his determination to improve Poland's economy and improve the conditions for foreign investment.
I think that's all I have to say on --
Mr. Fleischer: -- the Russian trip, a little bit.
Senior Administration Official: Tonight we get -- late this afternoon we arrive in St. Petersburg. The President will be going out to Peterhof for a dinner and. I believe, fireworks display. There's also a ballet. To be honest, I only know the outline of the schedule, we get there and the President will be whisked off -- that's what I know.
Mr. Fleischer: Talk about the meeting with President Putin tomorrow.
Senior Administration Official: That I was going to get to, the substance. That's what I do know about. (Laughter.)
Q: Deep down you can't wait for the ballet, right? (Laughter.)
Senior Administration Official: That's right. (Laughter.)
The meeting with President Putin has already -- has been preceded by some very good meetings in Russia, including by Putin's long-time associate, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who spent -- in addition to spending time with Secretary Rumsfeld, visited the White House, met with Dr. Rice and met with the President.
We have the strong sense that Russia wants to put our differences over Iraq behind us; that Russia was not comfortable with where it found itself. And Russia wants to work with the United States and build on the very good relationship that President Putin and President Bush have.
They will -- it's always dangerous to predict what they will discuss, but the natural topics would be the new strategic relationship and its prospects for the future, especially in light of the fact that both houses of the Russian parliament passed the Treaty of Moscow, since the Senate has provided its advice and consent. That Treaty of Moscow goes into force and the Presidents will mark that important occasion, because that is an historic document.
They will talk about the way ahead. They'll talk about the challenges that both Russia and the United States face: challenges from terrorism, challenges from proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And these are challenges that affect both countries' interests very seriously. They'll talk about the need for Russia -- I suspect they will talk about the need for Russia and the United States to work together and to work with Europe.
And the President will very likely explain his vision of the United States-Europe and a Europe whole, free and at peace, working together on a common agenda. Russia certainly has a place, and an important place, working with the United States on a common agenda.
I expect it will be a constructive meeting. The two Presidents have always been open with each other, open when they agreed, open when they disagreed. American-Russian cooperation is strong in a number of areas: in energy, in space. And I expect that they will mark that -- mark that cooperation. So we're looking forward to a good meeting. They don't agree -- the two Presidents, the two countries don't agree on everything, but they've always had a good relationship and an ability to work through these problems.
So we're counting on good meetings. They will meet tomorrow. And then we're off to Evian.
Q: Iran? Will they discuss their differences on Iran? How will they -- will they be able to narrow those at all?
Senior Administration Official: Dangerous and -- it is dangerous and foolish to predict meetings that haven't happened yet.
Q: -- you're here.
Senior Administration Official: No, I am here, actually, to give you a maximum of information at a minimum risk of making a fool out of myself. And we'll see how well I do.
Senior Administration Official: The Russians have expressed, in recent weeks, serious concern about the direction and extent of Iran's nuclear program. They have said this publicly. It's clear that they are concerned. We have spoken -- the President, Secretary Powell, Dr. Rice and others in the administration have spoken with the Russians for quite a while about the problem that Iran's nuclear program poses.
The Russians -- and Secretary Powell heard this when he was in Moscow -- the Russians are beginning to realize that the American concerns were justified. Those are words that Russians have used, and characterizations Russians, themselves, have made. So we have seen some good developments in Russian thinking. We hope that this translates into good developments in Russian actions with respect to Iran and with respect to North Korea.
I expect, also, that the President will discuss his counter -- his initiative announced today on nonproliferation, on counterproliferation. And, obviously, we will want the widest circle possible of countries at the right point joining with us.
Q: -- what you think is the cause of the Russians awakening on this issue? They have long resisted American concerns about their arms program. Did we provide them with new information, new intelligence or new ways to look at this that suddenly made them realize that Iran wasn't completely sincere in its --
Senior Administration Official: The IAEA reports, I think, were -- impressed Russia very much. And when they heard from the IAEA that Iran's program is more advanced than they had acknowledged, they realized that they had heard the same sorts of arguments from us for some time. Now, I don't want to characterize their thinking too much, but they said to us things like: we realize that you were right; we realize your concerns were justified; we realize you had a point.
So I think it is a slow realization that this was not, in fact, an American effort to try to damage lucrative Russian commercial contracts, but was a genuine and serious concern about a serious problem.
Q: Do you have time to talk a little bit about the nuts and bolts of the counterproliferation initiative?
Senior Administration Official: It's an initiative -- it's an initiative which is starting with a series of consultations with close allies and others. We've approached already the United Kingdom, Spain, Poland, Australia, and a number of other countries about this. The President mentioned only Poland because we were in Poland -- but, in fact, these countries I've mentioned have expressed an interest in being part of this.
Now, what the "this" is, is a series of efforts to develop legal and actual capabilities to stop the proliferation of dangerous technologies and materials, and aimed at expanding interdiction efforts. I will tell you what our inspiration was for this initiative, and it's sort of the origin of our thinking. You may remember some months ago a Spanish vessel stopped in a very dangerous operation, a very difficult operation -- stopped an unflagged vessel that was found to be carrying Scud missiles for North Korea. It was a courageous action by the Spanish navy, by the Spanish frigate. It was successful. And in the end we discovered, as you'll recall, that we'd lacked the legal authority to hold the cargo and the cargo was sent on.
That was not the favorite moment of many people who worked on this issue. And it was as a result of this that the administration started thinking about ways to develop new capabilities and groups of countries willing to develop legal tools and pool resources to actually prevent proliferation from occurring.
We plan to get together with our close allies, with countries that I named and with others, because we want -- the more countries you have in an effort like this, the better -- in a multilateral way and working with countries individually to develop the tools we need so that we can succeed in stopping such shipments in the future. So we're going to be talking in the next two weeks, and working rather intensely. So this is an initiative that is being developed, and we will be working on it in the weeks and months ahead.
Q: You said you need new legal authority, and who do you go to get that?
Senior Administration Official: We may need -- countries may have to develop their own national authorities to do these sorts of things, and our lawyers are looking at different kinds of authorities that may be needed. I'm not a lawyer. I know that we're looking -- each country has to -- we will want to discuss with countries authorities that they think they need, authorities that they already have, and then we'll decide what we need to do.
Q: Because that case was in international waters.
Senior Administration Official: I know. And so one of the things we need to do with the countries that are interested is to decide what authorities we need for actions inside territorial waters, inside national airspace, at ports, in the air, to get things done. So this is -- that's a very good question, and we need to work with all of these countries to determine what we need to do.
Q: -- go back to the U.N.?
Senior Administration Official: We'll see -- we will see what we need to do in a serious way to get the authorities we need. And those are the kinds of questions we'll be asking. This is a serious initiative to deal with a serious problem, and it has a real world aspect. I mean, there's nothing more real than shipping this kind of stuff and stopping it. It's not a wonk problem, if I can use the term; it's a real world problem and one which we're serious about.
Q: Are you expecting any decisions tomorrow after they talk and have their news briefing? Or are they just going to talk about Iran and the nuclear thing, or is there something going to be decided?
Senior Administration Official: I think they're going to talk about it. We'll see how the discussions go. This is a tough issue for the Russians, and if you follow the Russian public statements carefully, you will see that sometimes they're very forward-leaning publicly and acknowledging the depth of the problem; sometimes they're at pains to stress that it's not their fault. And I'm choosing my words carefully.
So given that record, I want to see as much progress as we can get. But this is going to take -- we've been at this with the Russians and I think we'll continue the go after this with the Russians.
Q: Will the President make a specific request of Putin?
Senior Administration Official: I don't want to get into the specifics other than talk about the topic.
Q: How long ago did you approach these initial members of the new initiative?
Senior Administration Official: Within the last couple of weeks. Within the last couple of weeks -- that's all. So it's fairly new. And we got -- the response we got from the British, the Spanish, the Poles, and some others was extremely positive. The reaction by -- if I could characterize it is: this sounds really interesting; we would love to be a part of this. The Spanish added a few things: this is great, we know exactly why you want to do this; boy, do we want to be part of this.
Q: Now, is it a coincidence that the countries that you cited were all principal allies in the war?
Senior Administration Official: Those are countries we went to, but we are not limiting ourselves. We are not bounded by that. I want to emphasize that -- we are not limiting ourselves and using -- a country's position on Iraq is not going to keep us from working with that country. Not at all.
Q: But that is why we went to them first?
Senior Administration Official: Well, we're going to a lot -- we're going to other countries. Without -- I don't want to name any countries unless I am sure that they have responded favorably. And so --
Q: That's one of the issues --
Senior Administration Official: It would not be accurate to say that we are only going to countries who were very supportive on Iraq. But I don't want to go further because I don't want to characterize the position of countries who may not want to have their positions characterized.
Q: Who is in charge of this initiative?
Senior Administration Official: Who's in charge? Within the administration? Oh, it's very much an interagency product of -- State, Defense, NSC have all been working -- and I stress working in complete harmony, by the way.
Q: Where does the buck stop? Who's the coordinator of that interagency --
Senior Administration Official: This is a presidential initiative. He's announced it, so people working -- Dr. Rice and people working on her staff have been very active. But State Department has been involved at every -- and Defense have been involved at every stage. I would say there's a very effective interagency troika of people running this, and they have -- when I say this is an interagency, I mean that, and it has been a very productive period of policymaking and a launch.
Q: -- today, meeting with the Polish leader, you mentioned U.S. business investment, and you mentioned F-16s and Lockheed Martin. Fill me out there, walk me through that.
Senior Administration Official: There was a very -- if you want the details, you could go to Lockheed Martin. But as I understand it, the deal for F-16s was a very -- involved a very complicated package of offsets which involved Lockheed Martin.
Q: Is this unusual?
Senior Administration Official: Yes, this is a very new deal and it's a very big one. It is the first major American military contract in Poland or any of the new democracies.
Mr. Fleischer: It's not new as of today. It was earlier --
Senior Administration Official: Right. Yes, that's right, that's correct. That's correct. It was new when it was announced, and it is a couple of months old. Yes, several months old.
Q: What was new today?
Senior Administration Official: Oh, about that? Nothing. No, no, they discussed the fact that the investment elements of this arrangement might be very beneficial for the Polish economy, for U.S. investment in Poland.
Q: You're referring to this deal two months ago?
Senior Administration Official: That's right. At least. It was finalized in December.
Q: Will Presidents Putin and Bush discuss Russia's economic interests in Iraq? Is that still an issue that's --
Senior Administration Official: Well, there have been a number of discussions with the Russians about our approach toward Iraq reconstruction and the fact that we have been transparent with them. We've been very straightforward with the Russians about our approach both in respect to the development of Iraq's oil sector and the future contracts, generally. And I think the Russians have -- the Russians had a number of concerns, and the fact that we have been open with them, and the fact that the process is transparent I think has made them more confident.
I imagine this may come up, and what's most important to us is the welfare of the Iraqi people and the reconstruction of that country along lines that will make it a prospering, developed country whose wealth benefits its people, and a country able to work with partners and friends around the world.
Q: Thank you so much for doing this. This was very helpful.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)