News

22 September 1997

TRANSCRIPT: GORE, U.S. MEDIA PANEL AT GORE-CHERNOMYRDIN MEETING

(Discuss religious law, proliferation, Mir, START II) (3030)



Moscow -- Vice President Al Gore discussed a variety of issues at a
roundtable discussion with the Moscow bureau chiefs of several U.S.
media operations September 22 during a break in meetings of the
Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission.


The vice president said that in one-on-one sessions with Russian Prime
Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the proposed law on religion in Russia
just passed by the Duma "was the first topic for discussion last
night, and we have continued that. And I've tried very hard to explain
exactly why we Americans feel so strongly about this."


He said the latest version of the law, which was vetoed by President
Boris Yeltsin in July, "falls far short, in our view, of the
principles enunciated in the veto message."


Gore said he and Chernomyrdin "agreed on a procedure for clarifying
why the Russian experts and the U.S. experts interpret the amendments
to the draft differently. And we will review the results of the
experts' deliberations tomorrow and the next day, and in this way I
hope to be able to make some progress in influencing the approach by
the Russian government to this draft legislation."


Among other issues Gore and Chernomyrdin have discussed so far, he
said, were: security issues, including "an agreement on the plutonium
production reactor that will halt the production of weapons-grade
plutonium"; the possibility of Russian missile technology reaching
Iran or any other rogue state; and the new Regional Investment
Initiative in Samara; and START II.


Following is the transcript of the roundtable:



(Begin text)



U.S. VICE PRESIDENT ALBERT GORE AND U.S. MEDIA MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEFS
ROUNDTABLE


"PINE TREES," MOSCOW, RUSSIA

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 1997, 14:15



VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Vice President Gore: I'm sorry to be running a
few minutes late, but thank you all very much for coming out to talk
with Gore at Bor. And sorry --


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: We tried to shield you from that phrase --



VICE PRESIDENT GORE: I know.



UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: -- Mr. Vice President.



VICE PRESIDENT GORE: I know.  I figured I would leap first.



I'll just say a few very brief words at the start and then open it up
for your questions.


This is the ninth round of the Commission meeting cycle, and we are
off to a really good start. We began with a lengthy one-on-one of
several hours last night. We had another one-on-one this morning and
then began the first plenary session. We continued our one-on-one
discussions over lunch. Some of the economic experts joined us for the
first part of the lunch, and then we moved on to some other issues
that required going back to the one-on-one format. We'll go back into
the second plenary today after this session.


I guess I'll forego giving you a rundown on what we expect the
outcomes from each committee to be. I will say that I've spent a
considerable amount of time on the new religion law. That was the
first topic for discussion last night, and we have continued that. And
I've tried very hard to explain exactly why we Americans feel so
strongly about this. I will be meeting with representatives of the
American religious groups here in Moscow tomorrow. I just spoke on the
telephone with Senator (Robert) Bennett (R-Utah). I've been in touch
with other senators and congressmen who are concerned about the
pending law. And the Prime Minister and I agreed on a procedure for
clarifying why the Russian experts and the U.S. experts interpret the
amendments to the draft differently. And we will review the results of
the experts' deliberations tomorrow and the next day, and in this way
I hope to be able to make some progress in influencing the approach by
the Russian government to this draft legislation.


If they can simply use President Yeltsin's veto message from the first
time around, we'll be in fine shape. But, as you know, the latest
draft falls far short, in our view, of the principles enunciated in
the veto message.


We've also spent a good deal of time on security issues. We'll be
turning to the space issues this afternoon. I have been in touch, of
course, with Dan Goldin and Yuri Koptev, and we'll turn to those
issues this afternoon and tomorrow. We're going to have an agreement
on the plutonium production reactor that will halt the production of
weapons-grade plutonium. I will have more to say about this agreement
at our press conference tomorrow, and my colleagues will be in a
position to provide a detailed briefing on its terms and implications
shortly afterwards. But this core conversion project is a real
breakthrough, and one that we worked on for a long, long time. It was
actually in doubt up until just a few hours ago.


We have spent a considerable amount of time talking about Iran. And of
course, President Clinton and I view the proliferation of weapons of
mass destruction and their delivery systems as one of the most
fundamental challenges that we face. I can tell you that there is no
doubt whatsoever that Russia also takes this issue very seriously.
And, as you know, the President and President Yeltsin discussed it in
Helsinki. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and I have been managing a
process for trying to come to grips with our differences on this for
some time now, and we asked Ambassador Frank Wisner to come as the
U.S. side's representative in a detailed set of discussions with Yuri
Koptev, who is representing the Russian side. And the two of them gave
a report to Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and myself this morning.
Actually, the Prime Minister was kind enough to arrange a helicopter
for Frank to keep his original schedule because we both view this as
absolutely critical. And we've agreed to continue to share information
and work together closely to prevent the possibility of Russian
missile technology reaching Iran or any other rogue state. And Wisner
and Koptev will have yet another meeting within six weeks -- less than
six weeks, actually. And we are working very hard on this.


One other thing I did want to again say is that the Commission is in a
new phase on this trip with the announcement of the Regional
Investment Initiative and the visit to Samara. This is a systematic
effort to promote engagement at the oblast level. We are very
interested in it. It's a prototype and we hope to learn from this
experience about how to deepen the engagement at the oblast level,
also with the regions of the U.S. and regions of Russia.


QUESTION (FROM CNN): Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I wanted to start
with something that actually I guess you are going to be discussing
this afternoon. And that's Mir. (Inaudible) -- speaking to the
problems -- (inaudible) -- computer. I guess there are a couple of
questions. Does this give ammunition to those who are very critical of
the program and say the U.S. should pull out of it? And then also
should the program continue? And we have the shuttle coming up this
weekend -- (inaudible) --


VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Well, I'd like to differentiate between the Mir,
on the one hand, and the overall U.S.-Russia cooperation in space, on
the other hand. They are, of course, related but the larger
cooperative program is different in important respects. But where the
Mir itself is concerned, NASA is conducting a very intensive and
detailed review of the problems with Mir and will make a careful
evaluation of whether or not to proceed with the upcoming launch of
the 7th Shuttle-Mir docking mission. I have great confidence in the
thorough safety evaluation process at NASA. Safety is the overriding
concern in that evaluation process. And any decision that will follow
will be solely on the analysis of mission safety.


To put this in perspective, this is a very old space station from
which we have been learning a tremendous amount, as have the Russians.
When you say "old" and apply the adjective to computers it has a
special resonance because computer technology is changing so rapidly,
and the generation of computer technology on board the Mir is such
that they frequently have to replace circuit boards. And when they
replace a circuit board, the computer is shut down, and yet the
process for replacing the circuit board is relatively short. So you
have a series of events where technically the computer is down, but
it's primarily for the replacement of the circuit board and then it's
back up again. If you look back over the last few weeks, you'll recall
many incidents where the first report comes "The computer's down," and
then an hour or so later, "The computer's back up." That's why.
They're changing the circuit board.


But that should not be cause for great comfort. It's just a means of
putting it somewhat in perspective. They have a new computer planned
for installation, and the mission is on track to put it up there. But
this whole question is one that the NASA experts are going to analyze
very, very carefully, as I said before. And certainly I don't want to
prejudge the outcome of that analysis, but I will repeat, the outcome
will based solely on safety considerations.


QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, what did Frank Wisner and Yuri Koptev
tell you about the possibility that non-state proliferation, non-state
entities are proliferating these missile components and weapons of
mass destruction? Have they really done a thorough check? Do they
really have any evidence that non-state --


VICE PRESIDENT GORE: I think that for a variety of reasons it's going
to be better for me to let Prime Minister Chernomyrdin address that
particular question, as I'm sure it will come up at the press
conference tomorrow.


I'll respond, though, today by saying there's no question whatsoever
that the Wisner-Koptev investigation has been extremely thorough. It
has been conducted in what appears to be total good faith. New
information has been brought to light. There is a common view by the
United States and Russia about the inadvisability of ballistic missile
technology or technology for weapons of mass destruction going to
Iran. And yet the process is one that is continuing, because they've
developed an agenda for further fact finding. And the process is a
good one, and I will let the Prime Minister speak to the issue that
you raise, because I really think it's appropriate for him to say that
first. And I hope you'll let me do that.


QUESTION: I'd like to ask you for some elaboration on the religious
issue. You said -- (off mike) -- process has been established for
American and Russian specialists to discuss the law.


VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Yeah.



QUESTION: (Off mike) -- communications, but in your discussions with
Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, did you get any indication that the
Yeltsin government might veto its own bill, perhaps veto it for a
second time, or seek further amendments or changes in this legislation
as a result of this process?


VICE PRESIDENT GORE: First, I don't want to equate the word "process"
as I've used it in one context with the way I've used in the second
context, because, when I refer to the process on dealing with these
concerns about the religious law, I'm really talking about a process
over the next three days. I mean, we're trying to come to grips with
differences of opinion on the significance of legal language, and I am
optimistic we will at least have a common base from which to debate
the prospects. At no time did I hear anything which would make me feel
comfortable in saying to you that there is a possibility he'll veto. I
did not hear that. But I did hear statements that convinced me that he
does have -- he being Chernomyrdin -- that he does have an open mind
about the source of concerns that I expressed. And that the process is
not a closed one, and there is still an opportunity for changes and
amendments to be considered. The Federation Council as you know takes
it up, when? at the end of this week, this is my information. It's
hard to get a fix on it, but we are operating from the assumption that
they are going to take it up in the next several days.


And then, of course, at the end of the Federation Council's decisions,
then it can go several different ways. And I think that there are
openings in the process for consideration of changes.


QUESTION: Wall Street Journal.  (Off mike.)



VICE PRESIDENT GORE: We had a pretty intensive discussion of that this
morning in the plenary session and I expressed deep concern about the
recent withdrawal by Russia of the Exxon bid and reports about Yukos's
problematic relationship with Amoco. I think your paper had an article
on each of those incidents. I've heard from the American business
executives involved in those issues. I believe that the Prime Minister
clearly heard our view. And the two co-chairs of the Business
Development Committee with their colleagues were assigned to work
intensively on this. There was an agreement they would report back to
us within two months. The Prime Minister also pointed out that the PSA
legislation is still under debate. There's still an opportunity to
make changes in the approach. I'm determined to do all I can to work
with the Russians to make the American investments in these projects
possible and profitable. It's good for Russia, good for the United
States, good for stability.


Both of those issues are very, very complicated, as you know, but I
think we made a little progress on those today.


QUESTION: There's a number of issues where the differences between
Russia and the United States involve what parliament is doing, whether
it's the religion bill, whether it's the START II talks, tax reform,
issues like this. Have you had any discussions about how some of these
differences might be bridged and what the government might be able to
do in terms of working with parliament?


VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Yes, we have, and, well, where START II is
concerned, for example, I think the government here is optimistic that
the Duma will ratify START II. And we had some extensive exchanges
about details related to START II that need to be mastered in order to
enhance their ability to persuade the Duma to ratify the treaty. As
soon as they do ratify it, we can immediately open negotiations on
START III, but we cannot do that until ratification.


I would say, overall, I came away with much more optimism about START
II ratification, but we've got a lot of work to do, and that's in
process now.


Now, the general part of your question is, yes, we frequently talk
about the Duma -- and the Congress, for that matter. But he's got it
tougher than President Clinton and I do, for sure. And that's saying
something.


QUESTION: I'd like to ask about this problem with the Peace Corps
volunteers. Did you discuss that?


VICE PRESIDENT GORE: We did.



QUESTION: And what was the outcome?



VICE PRESIDENT GORE: He said it would be solved. He said that the
basic problem was, originally, they had a governmental sponsor, and
their system, when you have a bureaucracy or an organization that
serves as the sponsor, they're the ones that sort of walk you through
the process. And in the course of the changes in the last six years,
that particular organization disappeared from the chart, and so the
Peace Corps doesn't have a formal sponsor now. And he said that he
would take care of that. We're going to stay on it because it's not
the first time we've dealt with it.


And it's frustrating, especially to the volunteers, and we are going
to follow up on a regular basis on that. And I am very optimistic that
it'll be solved.


QUESTION: I have a question about the commercial air travel agreement
between Russia and the United States. United Airlines filed a
complaint last week, alleging protectionism and an unfair balance of
access to the two countries. Will that come up in your discussions
with Chernomyrdin, and what is your assessment of the current
agreement? Do you think it's even-handed?


VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Let us follow up with you on that. Jenny, if you
will ask Secretary Daley to follow up with Carol Williams of the LA
Times.


QUESTION: It's not on your agenda?



VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Well, it may be on a committee that hadn't
reported yet. Personally, I have not dealt with it in the meetings
thus far, but we have another two days of meetings. And so if you'll
allow me to do so, I'd like to get you more accurate information and
follow-up.


QUESTION: Reuters. Russians proposed yesterday joint U.S.-Russian
monitoring of (inaudible)... nuclear reactor. (Inaudible).


VICE PRESIDENT GORE: We had extensive discussions of the reactor site
and joint monitoring is the least of our concerns. It is a discussion
that has slowly made progress. And it is of course related to the
topic I mentioned earlier, that we've asked Frank Wisner and
(inaudible) to help us with. And I will say that the common view
between Russia and the United States on ballistic missiles also
applies to nuclear technology. We share the view that certain
developments could be destabilizing in the Middle East and
destabilizing in the broader context. Of course, Russia has a slightly
different perspective, but I think the differences have narrowed
considerably -- and I obviously have to choose my words carefully
because the discussion is still under way and it is an extremely
sensitive discussion on the Russian side.


But we are making some progress there. And the afternoon plenary was
supposed to start ten minutes ago, and I hope that you will come to
the press conference tomorrow. Thank you all very much.


(End transcript)