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Press Briefing by a Senior U.S. Administration Official on President George Bush's Meeting with French President Jacques Chirac
Sea Island, June 10, 2004, 10h05
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good morning. I've just come from the meeting between Presidents Chirac and Bush. It started at about 9:15 a.m., it went on for 35 minutes. At the conclusion of the meeting, the press came in and they both gave short statements, and, as you probably have seen, no questions.
This was a cordial meeting, a meeting taking place near the end of a successful G8 Summit. I think that the atmosphere of the meeting was colored by the fact that the G8 did launch successfully yesterday the Initiative on the Broader Middle East, which has been in the works for some months. It has been the object of considerable work, including considerable consultations between the U.S. and France. It was launched successfully yesterday. The summit has been a good one.
During their meeting, Jacques Chirac told the President that in his view, the summit had been good, it had been positive. And again, this good atmosphere has certainly colored the meeting between the two leaders.
The two leaders discussed three principal issues: development assistance in general, and I think this came about in anticipation of the outreach session today with the African leaders. Second was, President Chirac raised issues of the Congo and Rwanda and the need for world leaders to pay attention to that conflict. Third, the two leaders discussed a possible NATO role in Iraq. Since this has been the subject of considerable commentary in the press, let me say a little bit more about it.
The two leaders did not come to a firm conclusion, nor did they seek to. However, they did say that the two governments would be in very close touch in the weeks leading up to NATO's summit in Istanbul at the end of this month. I think it's fair to characterize the positions as moving carefully in the same direction.
What we did not hear is a firm red line of no's. We did hear some interest in consultation and possibly finding a suitable role for NATO. Of course, all along, from the beginning, it's been quite clear that there were two conditions needed for NATO to have even a productive discussion of what it might do in Iraq. One was a Security Council resolution, and the other was the position of the new Iraqi government. We have had a new Iraqi government really taking shape only in the past 10 days. We've had a Security Council resolution only for a couple of days. So it's very early days. And in the weeks remaining, I suspect that NATO governments will be in touch with each other, at NATO Headquarters and bilaterally, discussing what might be appropriate for NATO at this particular time.
I should point out that NATO already is in Iraq; 15 out of the 26 NATO nations have forces on the ground. Two non-U.S. NATO nations, Poland and Great Britain, are responsible for two mutlinational divisions. NATO is supporting the Polish multinational division in south-central Iraq. So NATO is there in Iraq.
It's clear that the French are thinking through what NATO might do. I would call the I think it's fair to characterize the French position as careful, but not wholly negative, at this point. And the two governments will be in touch in coming weeks to see what might be done.
This was a good meeting. Both Presidents have put the disagreements about Iraq from 2003 in the past, where those disagreements belong. It's clear that both leaders are looking ahead, and from this moment forward, are prepared to seek common ground and work together. I think the cooperation about the U.N. Security Council resolution was a clear indication of that, and I think we'll see more cooperation on Iraq in the weeks ahead.
Certainly the biggest breakthrough at this summit has occurred through the successful launch of the Broader Middle East Initiative, which has gone from an idea about which the media has written with considerable skepticism to a launch yesterday of a very robust initiative, which contains both strong language about the objectives that the G8 share, an institution for driving this process forward, and specific, robust programs to make it real.
So with that I'll stop and take questions, both here and in Savannah.
Q Did President Chirac indicate any more flexibility in the meeting on whether the French would ever support a NATO direct NATO role in Iraq, any more flexibility in the private meeting than he did in his news conference yesterday, or in other public statements?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'm uncomfortable characterizing the French position too far, but I heard I will try to be fair, and say that I heard caution on the part of the French, but not a hard, "no." I think the French are cautious about the visible NATO role, and I think it's clear that the views of the Iraqi government will be important, as France considers what NATO might do in the next couple of weeks.
So I don't want to push this too far and suggest there was some breakthrough agreement. But I think that the two sides have established the basis for discussion and consultation about what NATO's role might be.
Q Good that you mentioned that the initiative on the Middle East was received with some suspicion, and most of the people in the Arab world believe that this initiative has ignored or did not really give big input to the fact that the Arab-Israeli conflict was behind five wars in the region. So why this initiative did not consider this fact, as well, and ask Arab governments to ignore the fact and work on the reforms and other issues?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think you have mischaracterized and misstated the initiative. I suggest that, respectfully, that you read the political declaration that the G8 issued yesterday. It made very clear the commitment of the G8 leaders to seek a solution to the problem between the Palestinians and the Israelis along the line of a two-state solution. This was quite clearly expressed and in some detail.
The political declaration also stated the conviction of the G8, all the members, including France and the United States, that reforms in the broader Middle East should take place, and that the Israeli-Palestinian problem, which has gone on for decades, should not be should not constitute a blockade or an excuse for the lack of reform.
But rather than listen to the United States, I think all of the G8 countries have been impressed by the voices in the region, starting with the Sona Declaration, including the Alexandria Library Declaration, the Istanbul Conference on Islam and Democracy, conferences in Beirut, and, frankly, most impressively, the Arab League Summit, which issued a strong statement on reform.
The G8 has put itself on the side of reform and reformers in the region. This is not an imposition; this is a response to calls we've heard from the peoples and governments of the region. And these calls for reform we intend to support to the best of our ability. This is no longer an American initiative, this is a G8 initiative. And I'm pleased that it was launched in what I think was a very balanced way. There were a number of regional governments represented here yesterday, and these governments can certainly speak for themselves.
So I think we're off to a good start. It is a start, nothing more, but it is a promising start.
Q There was a good meeting this week with Schroeder, good meeting, now you're saying, with Chirac. Do you think that the rift between Europe and the USA is now firmly closed, finished, and that the USA feels more happy, more confident about its European allies, its continental European allies, than in the past?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I would put it this way. I would say that European governments and the American government certainly understand that whatever our differences about Iraq, whatever the differences between some Europeans and the Americans, and whatever the differences among Europeans, of 2003, we want the same things for Iraq now. We want to see a sovereign, stable, successful and democraticizing Iraqi government, at peace with itself and its neighbors. We want to see an Iraq that is successful for the Iraqi people. We want to see peace. We want to see Iraq living as one nation with rights for all the communities, and living well with its neighbors. These are points where there is no disagreement, but a high level of common view.
Given that, it's not surprising, and should not be surprising, that European and American governments have come together around a set of initiatives and actions designed to advance common interests. There were very sharp disagreements in 2003. Those belong to the past and historians will have a great time writing about them.
Q The President has talked about greater NATO involvement in Iraq. Condoleezza Rice, yesterday in an interview with the BBC, said that she didn't anticipate greater NATO involvement and troops on the ground. That's a position that was also echoed by Paul Wolfowitz. What is it that the American government wants of NATO?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that there is no magic formula which will create massive new numbers of NATO troops. There are, of course, a lot of NATO troops on the ground the United States, Great Britain, Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Romania, Bulgaria, the list goes on are all NATO members, they all have troops in Iraq.
So I think Dr. Rice pointed out the obvious, which is that we do not expect under any circumstances that there will be massive new numbers of NATO troops coming into Iraq, whether or not there is an official NATO involvement in the country. or not.
That said, there are a variety of ways that NATO could increase its contributions, both to support the Polish and/or the British-led multinational divisions. There could be a NATO role in supporting the training of Iraqi forces. There are a number of possibilities that NATO staff, military staff, NATO governments, NATO representatives will be chewing over, over the next couple of weeks.
Again, to have a productive discussion in NATO about a possible its possible role in Iraq, you needed two things. You needed an Iraqi interim government with a face and a government willing to stand up and say, we want the international community to help us with security. You also needed, as an absolute, a strong Security Council resolution which provided for international support for the multinational force. We are getting to that. We have a good U.N. Security Council resolution. We are working with the Iraqi government, and we'll see what happens in the weeks ahead. We have about two weeks until Istanbul, we'll see what happens.
Q After the discussions this morning between the two Presidents, would you describe it that the relationship between the two countries have improved at this meeting here from this Summit of G8? And would you, in principle, say that this summit has changed something in their relation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would say, yes, and, yes. Certainly I think I'm stating the obvious, which is, I suppose, a rather dangerous thing I think I'm stating the obvious when I say that French-American relations are in a far happier place now than they were through much of 2003, when the Iraq war when the disagreements about the Iraq war were in an acute phase. Those disagreements now belong to a phase of recent history; that is, they no longer govern the present and do not really govern the future.
I would say that the Sea Island Summit and the President's visit to Europe before this has crystalized a trend over the past few months, during which European and American governments have come increasingly together around a common set of objectives. I think Europeans and Americans understand full-well that Iraq the success of Iraq, along the lines I discussed earlier, is critical for the security of both the United States and Europe. We are in this together. We may not have gotten to this point together, but we're in it now together, and the way out looks far better if we are together.
I think this is generally recognized. I think the Sea Island Summit has demonstrated a growing consensus about Iraq, and more broadly than Iraq, a consensus about what needs to happen in the broader Middle East, including, by the way, efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
So I think it has been a remarkably productive summit. I think it has been a remarkably productive period in U.S.-European relations. But we are not even through June. We have another presidential trip to Europe, we have two more summits coming up, plus a bilateral visit to Turkey. So there is a lot of work to be done. We are moving in a good direction, Europe and the United States together. When you're moving in a good direction, the point is to keep moving.
Q Both the British and the French have supported various types of global taxation schemes for financing the United Nations Millennium Summit goals. Where is the discussion on that, or has it come up? I thought it was going to come up yesterday. And what is the position at this point?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it's possible these issues will come up during the Africa outreach session that's starting right about now. The United States has certainly increased its development assistance through the Millennium Challenge Account. We've done a lot. Other countries are doing their part. I suspect these issues will come up, and there's more work to be done.
What the United States has tried to do, through the Millennium Challenge Account, is link its assistance to good governance on the part of countries which need our help. And this is both innovative and, so far, rather successful. That's our point of view. I think there will be a good discussion today.
Q I want to go back to the European-U.S. relations. If you compare the meeting with Chancellor Schroeder and President Chirac, would you see any differences, either in the meetings, in their outcome, or in the state of the relations, German-U.S., French-U.S.?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, there are so many ways to answer that question to get me into trouble, and to get several governments in trouble, I'm sure, if I really worked at it. What can I say? A profound difference, because Chirac President Chirac speaks French and Chancellor Schroeder speaks German. They both understand some English, although I think President Chirac's English is better than he lets on. (Laughter.)
Our relations with both France and Germany were obviously under strain last year because of Iraq. Again, I'm speaking the obvious, which is sometimes a dangerous thing to do. Our relations French-American and German-American relations are now in a far better place than they were. Both meetings were productive. Both meetings were characterized by an increasing sense of common interest.
I should say that Germany played a leadership role in the intellectual and policy development of the Broader Middle East Initiative. And I refer specifically to Joschka Fischer's speech at Wehrkunde, where he took a very forward-leaning position and one which had considerable impact on the final outcome. It was Joschka Fischer's formula about the relationship between reform and democracy in the region and progress toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute that was ultimately adopted. So we are we have enjoyed exceptionally good working relations with the German government about the Broader Middle East Initiative, and we're very appreciative of their role.
We certainly appreciate both France and Germany's position that they are, let us say, unlikely to contribute troops to Iraq, but they have both contributed troops to NATO operations in Afghanistan.
There is by the way, on that subject, I should point out that NATO is in Afghanistan. This has been notably successful in terms of the reaction of the Afghan government and the people of Afghanistan. So NATO is perfectly capable of operating in rather remote, out of what used to be called out-of-area fields, and doing so successfully.
Q We never got the American readout on the bilateral with President Putin. Is that a sign of trouble, sir?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, no, not at all. It is a sign of logistical difficulties. My colleague from the NSC came over to the press center and was prepared to give a readout, but I think he was rained out, to use the American expression, but a Tony Blair press conference. It is not a sign of trouble. That was a good meeting. I was not present for it, so I shouldn't characterize it, but everything I've heard suggested that it was a good meeting. The two leaders made progress both on setting out bilateral tasks for both governments. They had a good discussion about Iraq and the Middle East, and President Putin has been an active participant in the discussions here.
No, it is not a sign of trouble, it is a sign of the logistical difficulties of moving people at a G8 summit, when many things are happening.
Q Can you describe the differences between President Bush and President Chirac over the reduction of Iraqi debt, and where that issue stands going forward?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The statement on the broader Middle East included some language on the reduction of Iraqi debt. And if you look at that, that will tell you pretty much where we are. The G8 leaders have agreed to seek to reduce Iraqi debt; they have agreed to seek to do it this year, in 2004. There are debt reduction of the magnitude that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government requires is not an easy thing, so there's a great deal of discussion about how much debt reduction, and debt reduction combined with what other steps. These discussions are continuing. I think we've made some very good progress.
Q Could you please give more details on what was said about Congo and Rwanda, and maybe share what, if anything, has been said about Sudan at this summit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I believe the Sudan there has been a great deal of discussion of Sudan, and I suspect it will come up again. But I am sorry, I haven't been in those meetings, so I don't want to mischaracterize inadvertently by talking about it when I wasn't present.
President Chirac raised issues pertaining to Congo and Rwanda, and I think it's fair to characterize the thrust of his message as, we'd better pay attention to this and make sure it doesn't get out of hand.
I suspect Sudan will come up. That is of great concern to all the leaders here. The session going on now will be a venue where this might take where this discussion might take place. I suspect there will be a readout at some point of that session. And you might want to put your question to whoever gives the backgrounder.
Q What is is there a specific peace dividend, if you will, that the U.S. government is seeking from its improved relations with France? I mean, by way of
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wasn't aware we were at war.
Q Well, I mean, in terms of the better relations. Is there something they're not going to put more troops into Iraq, that's clear. Debt reduction is still up in the air. Is there something else that the U.S. government and France could work towards in a broader agreement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we are we have already started working with France on some very critical issues. Peace dividend without accepting the premise of the phrase, but to answer your question in the spirit it was asked, we've already achieved harmony on the U.N. Security Council resolution, which is a strong resolution, a good one, and done very quickly. We have achieved an understanding on the Broader Middle East Initiative. It is quite clear now that the United States and France want to see Iraq succeed. It is clear that we will be discussing what role NATO might play again, might play. I don't want to push this too far.
The President had a good visit in Paris, and, obviously, a very moving visit in Normandy. These things are quite significant and they have already taken place and we've got another trip to Europe coming up.
Q Good morning. President Chirac yesterday made reference to a possibility of a Western presence on the ground at some point, via the road map process. Could you flesh that out a little, and, I guess, first by saying how he would see an ability to get that process actually moving?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Obviously, we would move we want to move forward as best we can, as quickly as we can and go as far as we can. The United States is committed to the road map. We have we obviously have problems with the way Arafat has been leading his people for a number of years. We have considerable hope and strongly support Prime Minister Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza.
This opens up the possibility of a real breakthrough. Israeli withdraw from Gaza would, after all, be the first time that Israel has withdrawn from any repeat any land that is recognized by everyone to be land that will form part of a future Palestinian state. This is a very big deal. This is not talk; it isn't empty rhetoric; it isn't resolutions. It is the prospect of an actual, physical Israeli withdrawal. This is a very big deal, and we hope that this that Prime Minister Sharon succeeds. And then, we hope that the international community will be ready to support this process.
As for the possibility of what you described as what you characterized as Western troops on the ground, post-settlement, I think it's very early to talk about such things. Let's take first things first; let's make the progress we can. And the problems of how a settlement might be monitored and supported is something that we'll deal with when we get there, and something I wouldn't mind dealing with because I wouldn't mind getting there at all.
Q In Rome, the President talked about Berlusconi's input in the U.N. resolution. You just talked about Fischer's input in the greater Middle East initiative. With respect to the French and the improved relations, we share common goals, but what would you point us to in terms of listening that we've done to the French and, perhaps, even accommodation we've made to the French as a part of this new era of good feeling?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, sure. As a matter of fact, in the Broader Middle East Initiative, the French made clear that they wanted explicit language about the Israel- Palestinian peace process included. We said that we had no objection to that, but we needed to maintain this clear principle that Israel-Palestinian peace could not be a precondition for reform.
After all, logically it makes no sense to say that because we are dissatisfied with the condition of the Palestinian people, that we should not care about dictatorships in some other country. I don't see the logic, I never did.
But the French wanted language added, they wanted it moved up, put in the text. And in fact, we found their position to be reasonable. We accommodated them, they accommodated us. We had a very happy outcome. This is known as diplomacy, an art so-forgotten as to be exotic and even radical.
Q A totally different subject. President Chirac mentioned need of engaging countries like China and Brazil yesterday, and he invited them to the summit last year. Has he, or any other leaders and officials, seriously raised the suggestion of changing this G8 to like G9, G10, if not in this bilateral talk, in other occasions, as well?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, this certainly did not come up in the meeting between President Chirac and President Bush this morning. I don't know whether it might have come up during some of the meetings of the G8 at which I was not present. It did not come up this time, and its an issue that's going to be discussed for some time. But it didn't come up this morning.
Source: Official G8 Sea Island site
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