|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Press Briefing Following Bilateral Meeting with Acting President Putin, Marriott Grand Hotel
Moscow, Russia, February 2, 2000
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I have just had a 2 hour 45 minute meeting with Acting President Putin and we covered a lot of the most important issues in the U.S.-Russian relationship. We talked about arms control, non-proliferation, the economy, civil society, Chechnya and regional conflict. And as I said in the speech that I gave this morning, clearly there are areas of cooperation and areas in which we disagree. And that was evident in our discussions. What was interesting was that Acting President Putin did say that, for them, U.S.-Russian relations are of over-riding importance and I agreed with that. And, so we had a very, I thought, a very substantive and very useful meeting. And I'd be very glad to answer your questions.
QUESTION: Thank you. In your speech, you dwelled on the problem of proliferation and you said they'd made a good start with the new regime but that you needed more action. What you did mention, at least North Korea and Iran are specific areas of concern, did you take this up with him in specific terms, and did you get anything in the way of assurances that something they're doing, they will stop doing, and if so, what is it, please?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, on proliferation we committed ourselves to work together on it and that he expressed agreement with the approach that we are taking and I talked about the need for strong enforcement of Russia's export controls. And that a process we've established to deal with that will be carried on. He did understand the importance of what was going on. We talked about North Korea and Iran and problems created by them in a variety of places.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, one of the reasons that you came here was to try to build some new trust and confidence in the bilateral relationship. You mentioned this morning that they were going -- U.S.-Russian relations -- were going through a kind of strange period. Do you leave with a sense that the relationship is better than when you arrived? And what actually did you accomplish on that broader front?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all I think that we did several things while I was here. And I do think that the fact that we had successful multilateral track talks was actually not a foregone conclusion. I think that the fact that it worked and that we accomplished setting up the committees has a lot to do with the fact that we worked very closely with the Russians and as an example of one of the areas in which our cooperation serves us well.
I think, though, this visit and the number of times that I've met with Foreign Minister Ivanov, and in addition to this morning's meeting with Acting President Putin, I had a sense that we are very clear about the importance of the U.S.-Russian relationship, that we have a number of areas that we have [where] agreement must be worked on. I was impressed with the kind of can-do approach that Acting President Putin put forward in terms of issues -- those issues that I discussed. A certain amount of problem-solving approach. I did not feel that we had dogmatic discussions. We had practical discussions between leaders -- him, not me, (inaudible) leader -- of countries that know that they have an essential relationship and that we have to deal with problems.
Now, on the whole, the discussion was one in which it was a can-do approach. We didn't mince words however, either of us, on the issue of Chechnya, where we clearly continue to have disagreements. So Tyler, I think that basically to say -- from my perspective I think it was a good trip because we are able to have an event that showed the importance of acting together . I had many discussions in which I was able to outline our approach to issues and hear theirs. And I think it was a good way of having a longer meeting with Acting President Putin. It's the third time I've met him. I was with the President when he met him in Auckland and Oslo, but, obviously, having a chance to have an almost three-hour meeting with him gave me a chance to have a better sense of, what his interests were and how he might act.
QUESTION: Thank you. Two questions Madam Secretary. I know that you were saying before you got here that you wanted to deliver the message that Russia was continuing to isolate itself with the war in Chechnya. But what was President Putin's direct response to you, if in fact you delivered that exact message, and secondly you said you met with him for almost three hours. Before you arrived you described him as having two strands to his personality. Did you get a better sense about which direction he's going in? Did he share anything with you that would help you to clarify your position or his position on it?
SECRETARY ALBIGHT: First, let me say, I did in fact say what I had said I was going to say: that they were isolating themselves. I think that -- and I'm just telling you my sense of what his sense about this is -- that to them, what they're doing in Chechnya is essential for the future of Russia. That is the way they see it.
They see themselves as fighting terrorists and those who would like to undermine Russia. So for them, he feels this is essential. And, I think that, basically, while he heard what I had to say on the isolation, self-isolation issue, I don't think that it was … it's not dispositive for him given their view of how they see this. I obviously disagreed.
I also said to him what I've said publicly. Which is that he's riding a tiger and that we do not see a military solution to this and that there had to be a political solution to it. We -- either while he restated theirs and talked about what he considered terrorists were doing in Chechnya and the instability that it was posing for the region, I put a number of suggestions on the table. And in response I had proposed that there be a humanitarian needs assessment team that could go into Chechnya; something that has not been possible since the beginning of the war. And he seemed receptive to that idea and asked that Foreign Minister Ivanov and I discuss it further, which we obviously will.
I also said to him that there was a real problem in terms of people -- that we were operating off of different facts, somehow, and therefore, that it was necessary for him to let accredited journalists go in and for there to be greater transparency. And he seemed to take that onboard. And, we'll see. But, you know as I said, neither of us minced words on Chechnya, but I did put some of these ideas forward. And he seemed, you know, at least was willing to talk about them.
I don't think that we're any closer to a solution -- political solution -- on Chechnya, but I was interested in his saying that he was for greater … for some kind of stable relationship, greater autonomy for Cechnya and social and economic reconstruction there. But I didn't hear how he intended to get from here to there. I found him a very well-informed person and a very good interlocutor. He was obviously on top of all the issues that we talked about. He's obviously a Russian patriot and also someone who seeks a normal position for Russia within the West. And he struck me as a problem solver.
QUESTION: I don't know if there's anything more you can tell us about his manner and his demeanor with you; your sense of him as a person. And also I wanted to ask about the ABM thing. In your speech you said we would urge the Russians not to just say "Nyet" to changes in the ABM and I wondered if that was also a restatement in positions.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me take it from the bottom. I was encouraged by the discussion on arms control and some seeming flexibility on deep cuts. He seemed to have a common, I don't know whether we'd have the common view, but an understanding of new threats and how to deal with them while preserving the fundamental principles of the ABM Treaty. And we talked about the importance of getting START II ratified. So, I found him knowledgeable on the subject and, again, encouraged by flexibility. But on all of these issues and all the discussions I had I think -- and this also has to do with the second part of your question, is whatever impression I might have is neither here nor there. What is important is whether there are facts that actually happen. And how he carries out the various things that he is proposing and the actions, I think, and while I think everybody has been engaged in psychobabble about him, I think that what is important now is to watch what he does. And that's the judgement that we ought to make.
In terms of what he's like, we had a very intensive but pleasant discussion. I mean, we both spoke very openly about what we thought and as I said he's a very interesting interlocutor and patient, I'd have to say. I don't think he was planning to spend almost three hours. And there are those who say that this is probably the longest meeting that a Secretary of State has had on a first meeting with a Russian leader. You'll have to check history for that, however.
QUESTION: Just one follow-on to that. Did he refer at all to notes, or did he simply speak extemporaneously.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: He was actually quite funny about that. He held up a stack of cards and said that those had been prepared for him, but he didn't use them. He took notes. I also showed my cards that had been prepared for me. And so I think that in that regard, we had a fairly -- how these things go -- informal discussion. I've been in a number of meetings with lots of different people all over the world, where sometimes you could just exchange your cards. But, this was one of those where I think that we had a genuine discussion.
QUESTION: You mentioned that he seemed to show some flexibility on numbers and deeper cuts. Can you tell us whether you discussed START III and numbers below 2,500 or 2000?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I never said that he was flexible on numbers. I said that, overall, I was encouraged by his flexibility and that he did talk about deep cuts. But we never talked about numbers or any details of START III. But, we were talking about general aspects of how to move forward and obviously again these are negotiations that are going to be carried out -- discussions and negotiations at other levels. At Strobe Talbot (inaudible) , as well as Foreign Minister Ivanov and I are going to be. But we did not discuss any numbers, Jane.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, during your discussion with Vladimir Putin today did you, at any stage, hear any indication that he intends to open any negotiations with anyone in Chechnya?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that, as I said, I didn't think they were closer to a political dialogue and he talked about the difficulty of finding an interlocutor.
QUESTION: Do you think that this conflict ends with the taking of Grozny, as the Russians seemed to suggest at different points? And the second part of my question would be, did you have any discussion about a possible summit -- a Presidential summit?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I have said that I think it's very difficult to see a military solution to this. And I said that to him. And the fact that the Chechen fighters are different kinds of fighters and it's a little hard to say that having occupied Grozny is how it would end. And, basically, one of the reasons that we've been saying to them that we don't see a military solution is that it's hard to see it ending simply by that, by taking Grozny. He and I did not discuss a summit, though it has been part of a discussion that I've had in a general way with Foreign Minister Ivanov.
QUESTION: Did he make the familiar promise to push for START ratification that we've heard?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I asked him and he said he would. Yes.
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