Index

March 24, 2000

PRESS BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL

4:10 P.M. (L)

                              THE WHITE HOUSE
                       Office of the Press Secretary
                              (Mumbai, India)

___________________________________________________________________________
For Immediate Release                                     March 24, 2000


                         PRESS BACKGROUND BRIEFING
                                    BY
                      SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL

                           Aboard Air Force One
                          En route Mumbai, India


4:10 P.M. (L)


     MR. HAMMER:  We're doing this on background, as a Senior
Administration Official.

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  First of all, let me sum up.  We're
not out of India yet, but this is our last day.  I think we consider this
week to have been a milestone in U.S.-Indian relations.  I think that what
we've heard this week is the sound of ice melting; the ice of a 50-year
relationship -- a relationship that for 50 years was frozen in the contours
of the Cold War.

     I think what the President has been able to do, I think, this week is
to indicate to the Indians that the United States recognizes that they're a
great country and that we have enormous common interests and that, at the
same time, I think the President has made clear that we have concerns with
some of India's policies, particularly, nuclear program; and do not believe
that -- and believe that its nuclear program diverts resources from its
development, increases the danger of any conflict and detracts from India's
stature in the world.

     But, by and large, I think this has been a positive week.  And the
fact that the President has invited Prime Minister Vajpayee back to
Washington sometime later this year I think assures that we'll maintain the
momentum that's been created.

     Tomorrow we will go to Pakistan.  The President will meet initially
with President Tarar, who is the hold over President of Pakistan.  He will
then meet with Chief Executive, General Musharraf, it will be a lunch.  And
then he will speak directly to the Pakistani people on television.

     I think our message to General Musharraf and to the Pakistanis will
be, first, that we care about Pakistan's future.  Pakistan has been a good
friend to the United States.  But we are very concerned about Pakistan's
problems.  We think that for Pakistan to have a hopeful future it needs to
be a pathway back to democracy; there needs to be an end to the violence
and a renewed dialogue over Kashmir with India.  And there needs to be, in
our judgment, the same set of decisions that the President urged the
Indians to consider, and that is to de-escalate their nuclear program,
rather than escalate it.

     I think that's essentially the message to the Prime Minister.  And I
think the message to the pakistani people will, again, reflect our
long-common ties and the goodwill that the two countries have had to each
other, but the hard choices that Pakistan and the Pakistani people face
about their future.

     Q    What do you expect Musharraf to say?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I don't want to speak for
General Musharraf.  I assume that he will point to yesterday's address on
democracy.  I assume that he will point to yesterday's address in which he
set a date in the end of the year for local elections.  I think that's a
step; but what we need is a path.

     I think that he will, on Kashmir, express their view of that
situation.  Excuse me, I should have added another issue on our agenda,
which is terrorism -- you can just insert this back into my earlier litany.

     The President will also raise the terrorism problem in Pakistan and
urge -- we've had good cooperation with the Pakistanis in some respects, on
fighting terrorism, but there's much more that the Pakistani government
needs to do.

     Now, going back to what Musharraf is likely to say, I think, is they
are taking steps against certain groups that they consider terrorist
groups; other groups they don't consider to be terrorist groups in Kashmir.
And I think that -- I hope that he will agree with the President that what
is important here is Pakistan has to address its fundamental problems of
economy, of its governance, of corruption.  These are all things that
General Musharraf has spoken about, has spoken to.  But Pakistan is being
diverted from those issues by virtue of these other concerns.

     Q    Do you agree with the perception that the U.S. policy is now
tilted increasingly towards India and away from Pakistan?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  No.  I think we should throw away the
concept of "tilt."  We have a relationship with India; we have a
relationship with Pakistan.  And during the Cold War those two
relationships were only defined in terms of one another.

     I think we now need to define a relationship with India in terms of
what is in the U.S. national interest.  And I think we need to define our
relationship with Pakistan in terms of what is in the U.S. national
interest.  So I think the notion of "tilt" is really obsolete, out of date.


     What we want to see is a reduction of tensions; dialogue between these
two countries.  The Kashmir problem cannot be solved, in our judgment, by
force.  It simply ordains more people to die and be killed as pain is
inflicted.  Ultimately, there has got to be a solution that is achieved
through negotiation between the two countries.

     Q    Is it accurate to say that India largely rebuffed your security
agenda, but did -- was receptive to the atmospheric outreach of the
President?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I think it's a lot more than
atmospherics.  I think that you have a country in India that has had quite
a distrust of the United States for 50 years.  And the United States had
quite a good deal of distrust for India during a large part of that period,
when it was more aligned with the Soviet Union, when it was head of the
non-aligned movement, when that was not -- when that was considered by the
United States to be not a friendly act.

     And so I don't think it's atmospherics when you build trust and when
people, two nations, the two largest democracies, begin to define their
futures in common.  I think that's substance.

     Now, on the security agenda, I think that we had no expectation.  We
said so to many of you before we left, that in the context of this trip the
Indians were going to make any steps -- take any steps.  It's not possible
for them to do that, politically.  I would hope that in the aftermath of
the trip, that the process of building a consensus in India for -- for
example, signing the CTBT -- will be strengthened.  I hope the discussion
of the future of their nuclear program will increase.  But these are
obviously issues that, ultimately, India has got to decide.

     Q    Assad, how hopeful are you of the talks with Assad?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think it's an important meeting,
but I don't expect an immediate result from this meeting.  The purpose of
this meeting is to determine, based upon conversations the President has
had with Barak and with Assad over the months, whether there is a basis on
which negotiations can resume.  I expect that Assad will reflect on -- as a
result of this -- there will be some -- I expect that as a result of this
meeting, I hope as a result of this meeting both sides will have a greater
degree of confidence that if they get back into the negotiation, it will be
a serious one.  But I don't think that the necessarily will happen here in
Geneva.  I think that may happen, unfold after Geneva.

     Q    Do you expect no announcement of a schedule of resumption of
meetings?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I expect no announcement.

     Q    What are the prospects for staying a second night?  There has
been some talk that he'll stay Sunday night?  Is that impossible?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think it's not -- I wouldn't rule
it -- it's not what's the plan.  But we aren't meeting with Assad until
late in the afternoon.  We're not getting in until 4:00 a.m., as you know,
so the meeting is not until the afternoon.  It's not inconceivable that
they could go over into Monday.  That's not the plan.  If it does go over
to Monday, I don't want you all to say that I ruled that possibility out.
But the plan is to meet on Sunday and then go back.

     Q    The meeting with Musharraf, where is that being held and what
conditions?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  It's being held -- the meetings are
being held in the residence of the President, and then in the Cabinet
office that is adjacent to it.  It's essentially kind of like a function of
our Old Executive Office Building.

     Q    In Musharraf's interview with CBS last week, he said that the
process that he would envision toward restoring democracy could take years.
He was asked, is this about a month or could this take years.  And he said,
no, it's not months, it could easily be years.  Is that in any way remotely
acceptable to the United States?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, the question is what is in the
interest of the people of Pakistan.  I think that what we would like to see
-- what we would encourage General Musharraf to do is to set forth a road
map by which democracy gets restored, so that he's able to do the things he
has to do, domestically -- people having the sense that they can see the
pathway back to democracy.

     So I don't want to try to ascribe a particular number of days to it.
But I think that having a road map, having a path by which you ultimately
lead to national elections I think would be very important.

     Q    Are they going to have -- session with the press, as you do
normally in countries with most leaders?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I don't know the answer to that.  I
think there will be somebody, obviously, available to speak.

     Q    Will the President -- on behalf of Sharif?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I expect he will raise that.

     Q    Will he meet with anybody related to Sharif, anybody from his
party or his family or his legal team?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  No.  The meetings here have been very
much restricted to what we need to do our business, and not -- he's going
to speak directly to all the Pakistani people and we have not wanted to be
in a position where we had to negotiate with the government about who would
be at a particular function.

     Q    How long has he been given for that address?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I don't know that the -- I think the
address is probably about 10 minutes.  I don't know, it's a good question.

     Q    Will the President be discussing the possible outlines, substance
of an agreement between the Israelis and the Syrians?  Or will he just be
discussing --

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think it's more accurate, John, to
say that he, having talked to these two leaders now at length, has some
understanding of what the needs of each of them are.  I think the effort
here will be to determine whether or not it's possible -- whether or not
both leaders can have confidence that their needs -- can have a higher
level of confidence that their needs can ultimately be met if they go back
into a negotiation.

     So we're not going to put down the American plan or --

     Q    It's the same old issues, who's going to be at the early warning
station, the thinning out of troops between Damascus and Golan Heights.
Are they going to --

     MR. HAMMER:  Thank you very much.

     END  4:25 P.M. (L)