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The Presidential Visit

Special White House Briefing by NSC Advisor Berger on President Clinton's Trip to Ireland and the United Kingdom

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary, December 7, 2000

PRESS BRIEFING BY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SANDY BERGER

The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:05 P.M. EST

[begin excerpt]

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon. As we prepare for the President's trip, there are a number of significant questions being asked -- Why is he going? What can he accomplish six weeks before he leaves office? What can he say in his public remarks that will help the parties focus on a more united future, rather than a bitter, partisan past? Now, this briefing is not just about the President's trip to Nebraska. Regarding his travel to Ireland, Northern Ireland, and England, there's no question he will be joyously received as a leader who has made an unprecedented commitment and lasting contribution to the Irish peace process.

Now, I know one question you're asking is, will this be the National Security Advisor's last foreign trip briefing. Darned if we know. But here to talk about the President's speech tomorrow in Kearney, Nebraska, population 28,168, and the trip next week to Ireland, Northern Ireland and England, which will include a second major foreign policy address, we have our favorite son of small town America, the pride of Millerton, New York, population 867, the National Security Advisor Samuel R. Berger.

[intervening text]

....on Monday evening, after lighting the Christmas tree, we leave for the Republican of Ireland, for Northern Ireland and England. Back on September 13, David Trimble and Seamus Mallon, First Minister and Deputy First Minister respectively of the new Northern Ireland Executive, came to Washington specifically for the purpose of inviting the President to visit Northern Ireland, again before the end of his presidency. That invitation was echoed by the Taoiseach, Prime Minister of Ireland Bertie Ahern, as well as by Prime Minister Tony Blair. And the President accepted, which will come as a great shock to you.

Northern Ireland has achieved extraordinary things since the President's first trip there -- that some of you were part of back in 1995 -- at a time when the possibility of the Good Friday Accord, which was accomplished in 1998, was really hard to imagine. The Good Friday Agreement is working. For the first time in 30 years, Northern Ireland politicians are working together in an executive. They've produced, together, a budget and a government program.

Leaders of both communities are working together on basic issues that affect people's lives -- education, agriculture, health care, environment, et cetera. The peace dividend is clear, and the number of American companies investing in Northern Ireland, which has risen from 40 in 1994 to 100 today, resulting in 22,000 new jobs.

But there are still real hurdles to an enduring peace, and I'm sure there will be for some time. The process still is fragile. Today there is the issue of engagement by IRA with the De Chastelain Commission, on putting arms beyond use; the suspension of Sinn Fein participation from North-South meetings; the issue of implementing police reform. These are all now issues in dispute.

The President will speak to the people of Northern Ireland and their leaders while he is there. He will urge them to focus on the unmistakable benefits that have been brought by the Good Friday Accord, arguing that the problems of power-sharing are far preferable to the problems of being powerless. As he has at key moments in this process in the past, he will remind the people and leaders of Northern Ireland how far they have come, what's at stake, how much they have to lose by going back. He will try to lift their sights a bit from the challenges of the moment to the more distant horizon, which is a lasting and durable peace.

The President is not going to negotiate the current issues. That is for the parties and the British and Irish governments. But he will try to contribute to a climate in which the parties and the governments are better able to reach these solutions in the future.

Now, let me briefly go over the schedule. We begin on Tuesday morning in Dublin, a chance for the President to consult with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on the peace process. It is also a chance to highlight Ireland's extraordinary economic success story. Ireland, today, is the fastest growing economy in all of Europe with one of its lowest rates of unemployment. And it's a good example of what can happen in the North once people are truly confident that peace will last.

After a call on the Irish President McAleese, and a lunch with the Taoiseach, the President will travel to Dundalk, just south of the Northern Ireland border in the Republic of Ireland, where he will give an outdoor speech. The Troubles hit this border region hard. But Dundalk today is a model of economic regeneration. This is a place that knows what violence has wrought and what peace can bring.

The President will spend Tuesday night in Belfast, and then on Wednesday morning he will meet with David Trimble, Seamus Mallon and other party leaders at Stormont, the site of the new Northern Ireland Assembly. In the afternoon he will deliver a speech to the people of Northerm Ireland, at a new modern arena known as the Oddessy Center, Oddessy Complex, which is part of a revitalized Belfast waterfront. Prime Minister Blair will be in Belfast with us.

That evening, the President will depart for England, where he and Prime Minister Blair will have dinner with the First Lady and with Mrs. Blair at Checkers, and I'm sure there will be a discussion of Northern Ireland and a broad range of other issues.

Then, on Thursday morning, the President will deliver a speech at Warwick University, about 150 miles outside of London. Warwick is one of Britain's newest and finest research universities, singled out by Prime Minister Blair as a model both of academic excellence and independence from the government.

The President will speak there to one of the greatest challenges the world faces over the next decade: to narrow the unsustainable gap between rich and poor among and within nations, focusing on issues we have been devoting considerable time and resources to in recent years, such as Third World debt relief; fighting infectious diseases such as AIDS, which are devastating parts of the developing world; basic education rights; and the digital divide -- all of what might be called the new development agenda for the 21st century.

These are issues that the President has succeeded in placing on the agenda of the G-8 meetings, at least the last two, and it is essential that they remain a priority for the United States and for the world in the future. And the President will speak to those issues at Warwick.

In addition to the speech, he will have an audience with the Queen in London, and then we will head back home on Thursday night. And that is a summary of the trip, and I'm happy to try to answer any questions.

Q: You said Tony Blair joins in Belfast?

MR. BERGER: Yes.

Q: And can you tell what the significance, what's the message there, of Blair accompanying Clinton there in Belfast?

MR. BERGER: Well, Northern Ireland still is a part of Great Britain, and, therefore, it's appropriate that the Prime Minister be there. And, as I say, the purpose -- the President will speak to the people of Northern Ireland when he's there, and to the leaders. And what the President very often has done in this process, in addition to importuning the parties at various points and trying to persuade them to make various steps, I think more than anything he has raised their sights, has caused them to look at their common interests, has caused them to look at what they have at stake in maintaining this process.

Like any peace process, this is a difficult -- implementation is difficult. The light at the end of the tunnel, on this and most peace processes, is often another tunnel. And what the President is basically going to do there is to try to contribute to the environment in which the current differences can be resolved.

Q: The President has gotten involved in negotiating the issues in the past. Why isn't he going to do that now?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I assume that when he meets with the parties in Belfast, at Stormont, he will talk about all these issues. But we're going to be in Stormont, in Northern Ireland, only for a matter of a few hours. And so there really is not an opportunity for the President to do what George Mitchell did over months and months. And it's for the parties and for Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Ahern to come to grips with these issues. But I'm sure he will speak to the parties about them. I don't expect necessarily they will get resolved while he's there. I think that his going will help, I believe, contribute to the environment in which they can get resolved.

Q: Sandy, you said that at various times the President weighed in on what he's considered key moments. Does the President consider this time in the dispute over cross-border and the RUC a key moment for him to get involved, or is as several congressmen have described it to me, a victory lap for the President before he leaves?

MR. BERGER: I think that this is a critical time for the peace process. There are a cluster of issues that have come together. It's the next big hurdle, just as it was a year or so ago, and each time these things become very difficult to resolve. So I think that his going at this time is an effort to not necessarily resolve the specific problems, but to speak to the parties about the necessity of seeing their larger interest in having them resolved.

Q: Sandy, the head of security for the State Department was quoted a short while ago as saying that security protection for Secretary of State Albright should be extended for a period of months after the transition. Do you think that's a good idea? Would it be a good idea for you, as well? Is there a new threat level that we don't know about?

MR. BERGER: Well, I just heard about this, Bob, when I was walking in the door, so I don't know what the rationale is. But it is something I'll discuss with the folks here. It was not something I was expecting to do.

Q: Do you think it would be a good idea for you?

MR. BERGER: I can't make that judgment. Again, it's not something I'm anticipating, but I will rely upon their judgment. I would prefer not to, actually.

Q: Is there anything extra in the way of security that we could know about in terms of this trip you're taking next week in Ireland, due to other things than Ireland?

MR. BERGER: There is always, when the President travels, extra efforts that are undertaken, obviously, in connection with his travel. But there is no -- I have no specific threat information which relates to the trip next week.

Q: How long, exactly, will you be in Northern Ireland? You said a few hours.

MR. BERGER: We get into -- we're going to go to Belfast on Tuesday night. We will be there all day Wednesday. And we will wind up Wednesday night -- the President will stay with Prime Minister Blair in Checkers, and the rest of us will be in London. So he'll be there a full day.

Q: If the President is asked by the parties to return in some sort of senior advisory role after he leaves office, would he consider that?

MR. BERGER: I don't know. I think -- they have to, obviously, continue to deal with these issues among themselves. I'm sure the President will have an abiding interest in peace in Northern Ireland, peace in the Middle East, peace in the Balkans, and will always be available if it's necessary and useful. I don't want to speak for him, but I don't think that's too great a risk on my part of saying it.

Q: The two university speeches, Nebraska and in the U.K., on these general topics, the President's thoughts are pretty well-known, even to the casual observer. He's for a continued engagement globally, and he's for globalization, but with an eye toward reducing disparities within and among nations. Is he going to sound any new ideas or create any new news with these two speeches?

MR. BERGER: Well, I think the purpose of these two speeches is -- let's take them separately. I think the purpose of the speech tomorrow is to pull together in a, hopefully, coherent way the foreign policy that has been pursued by this administration and the fundamental principles that animate it.

We came here, we arrived here, the President was elected at a time when we were still in what was being called the "post-Cold War period." By definition, that's defining the thrust of our policy in terms of what's ending. Our task was to define our foreign policy in terms of what we're building. I think we've done that over the last eight years, and I think that tomorrow's speech seeks to draw that together and to point to the future as we talk about a foreign policy for a global age.

I think the speech in Warwick really is to challenge the international community to deal with a new set of issues that are exacerbating the divide between rich and poor. We had a development agenda, a North-South development agenda, during the '60s and the '70s and the '80s, which was primarily based upon aid, aid flows. And in the '80s we tended to emphasize trade as being almost exclusively the mechanism of development.

We've tried, over the last few years, to focus and to bring into the first tier of national security concerns how to deal with what might be called a globalization gap, the globalization gap. That is, how do we deal with the digital divide; how do we deal with this terrible problem of AIDS and malaria and tuberculous in the Third World, devastating Africa, India and many other parts of the world. Can we do serious leaps on Third World debt in a way that assures that the benefits of that relief will be plowed back into education, into health care and to things that -- into good governance -- things that will change the lives of the people of these countries.

And I think the President sees, as you know from having listened to him, that this is a fundamental issue that the world will have to come to grips with. It's unsustainable, this gap, over a long period of time, in an age in which we all see what happens in the world simultaneously. We can choose not to act, but we can't choose not to know. And the President would prefer us to know and to act.

Q: Regarding Northern Ireland, would the President hope that his successor would be involved in Northern Ireland as he has, or does he feel that they've now reached a point over there where they don't need that sort of outside boot to the degree they did in the mid '90s? And two, why should an American President get so involved? What is the national interest? Is it because there are a lot of Irish Americans in this country? Is it because the late, lamented special relationship with the English? I mean, we still have it. What is the reason?

MR. BERGER: I think wherever the United States and the President of the United States -- let me back up -- we live in a time of inordinate -- of unparalleled American influence; economically, militarily, culturally, socially and every other way. Now, we could sort of sit back on our haunches and say the woes of the world and we'll basically just live behind the security of a continental nation. I don't believe that that's sustainable.

I believe that where we can use our influence, and where people want us to use our influence to be a peacemaker, we should do that. I think if we can advance peace in the Middle East that's in our interest. I think if we can advance peace in Ethiopia and Eritrea, where the President has been deeply involved and we're on the verge of signing -- the parties -- a peace agreement -- we've had our special envoy, Tony Lake, out there seven times in the last year, as well as Secretary Rice and Gayle Smith of my staff -- I think it is a way of exercising American power that I think helps justify -- is both our responsibility as a leading power in the world, and I think helps to define America in a way in which our power is less resented, because it is being used to advance peace and not simply to advance our self-interest.

Q: Beyond that, would the President, however, want his successor, does he hope that his successor would remain very engaged with the Northern Ireland problem, or does he think that they have, as I said, moved on to another phase now, that sort of help isn't needed?

MR. BERGER: Well, I think that the United States always will have a special connection to the problems there. We've played a very active role over the last several years. I would hope that the next President would take an active interest and would be available to be of assistance. Obviously, some of this, in this case in particular, derives from the President's particular standing with the parties, but he earned that standing the hard way, by working at it.

Q: Sandy, what do you think this President's legacy will be in foreign policy? That's something -- he ran on a domestic policy back in '92, but he's been very active, he's been to Africa, China, the Mideast peace talks, and now Ireland again, the Good Friday Accord. What do you think --

MR. BERGER: Legacies will be written by you all and by historians. Let me tell you what I think the accomplishments have been; I'm more comfortable with that word. I think that this administration has revitalized our alliances. We came in at a time, found NATO to be questioned -- its purpose and relevance to be questioned at the end of the Cold War. We've opened it to new democracies, to new missions, and as a result of that, acted for the first time as a military alliance. Similarly, I think, in Asia, we have strengthened the relationship with Japan, and we've obviously built, I think, a much stronger relationship with China, but on a principled basis, as well as with Korea.

I think that as a peacemaker, the President has been uniquely successful. Whether that has been Northern Ireland, we've been talking about the Middle East, even with its current problems, in Bosnia and Kosovo, even in Ethiopia and Eritrea, where what he's done has been pretty much below the radar screen. Third, I think that he has elevated a new series of issues that are going to be -- we're going to talk about it at Warwick University, to the first -- to the attention of the United States and the world as issues we have to deal with. Whether those are -- whether that's global climate change or terrorism or Third World debt, poverty, et cetera, I think that's an important step.

I think in the global economic area, the President -- this has been an uniquely productive period, in terms of both the architecture and the results of global commerce. The President completed the GATT Round, did NAFTA, did an historic agreement with China, we did 300 other trade agreements. I think he's been the first President of the global economy -- of the global age and the global economy.

So, I think -- I guess the final, fifth area that I would talk about, and these will all be things he talks about tomorrow, has been trying to bring old adversaries -- in particular, Russia and China -- into the international community. And I think there, there have been some successes and there are still areas that concern us.

[intervening text]

Q: Yesterday the IRA released a statement, again reiterating their decision to work to put arms beyond use. The Taoiseach's language on this has changed also over the last few weeks where he says now that they would like to see arms put beyond use instead of saying that they would like arms decommissioned. Does the White House work along the same lines as the Taoiseach, that you would like to see arms put beyond use, or would you like to see them decommissioned?

MR. BERGER: Well, I don't want to get into the semantics of how one describes it. There are obligations under the Good Friday agreement on both sides, and we hope and expect those obligations will be fulfilled. We welcome the statement yesterday that you referred to. And obviously further steps need to be taken by the IRA in conjunction with De Chastelain toward the objective of decommissioning.

MR. CROWLEY: Last question. Joe.

Q: On the speech in Dundalk, is that any significance seeing that Dundalk has been associated with this dissident group, the Real IRA, that's continuing to use violence?

MR. BERGER: No. The significance of Dundalk is -- we wanted to go outside of Dublin. The President has been -- I think this is the third time that he will have been Dublin. Last time we went to Limerick. And this is a community, as I say, that's on the border with Northern Ireland which suffered severely during the conflict, and which is revitalizing since the conflict. And I think that symbolically expresses both what we can't go back to and what the future holds if we stay on -- if they stay on course.

Q: Sandy, Sudan -- what's the reaction to what the action taken against the U.S. envoy there? Does he have the right to visit whoever he pleases, whether or not it's a dissident?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm not familiar enough with what's happened today, obviously, to be able to answer your question.

Q: Sandy, this is a very busy time for Mrs. Clinton as she prepares for the Senate. Why has she elected to go on this particular trip? Will she have separate meetings with Irish leaders, or sit in on all the President's meetings ?

THE PRESIDENT: Mrs. Clinton has herself been quite involved in -- both in Ireland and in Northern Ireland, and has worked with a group called Vital Voices, citizens for peace, in a sense -- small "c", small "p" -- and is herself a highly respected person in Northern Ireland, and I think believes -- has a deep commitment to the peace process. So it's not at all to me surprising that she would go, and I think, quite appropriate. And she will have her own -- there will be separate events that she does there.

[end excerpt]