95/05/05 Interview of Secretary of State by Margaret Warner on PBS-TV's "MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour"  Return to: Index of 1995 Secretary of State's Speeches/Testimonies || Electronic Research Collections Index || ERC Homepage

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                      U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
                       Office of the Spokesman 
For Immediate Release                                     May 5, 1995 
                            INTERVIEW OF 
                         BY MARGARET WARNER 
                 ON PBS-TV'S "MacNEIL/LEHRER NEWSHOUR" 
                          Washington, D.C. 
                            May 5, 1995 
MS. WARNER:  Welcome, Mr. Secretary. 
MS. WARNER:  What does the President hope to accomplish in Moscow next 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Well, one asks himself, why is the President 
going?  And I would say two main reasons.  The first reason is to 
commemorate the victory in World War II.  I think many Americans don't 
realize the extent of the Russian sacrifice.  In excess of 20 million 
Russians were killed in that terrible war.  President Yeltsin the other 
day used the figure 27 million. 
I know our losses here were dreadful, but they were about 400,000.  So I 
think the President is going there out of respect for the sacrifice of 
the Russian people.  He felt that it really might be understood by the 
Russian people if he didn't go. 
The second reason is really to pursue a pragmatic engagement with the 
Russian leaders, to be able to discuss a number of the issues on our 
agenda, to make some progress on them.  No great breakthroughs this 
time, I think, but progress is available. 
Then after there, he leaves for another very important stop in Kiev in 
the Ukraine.  Ukraine is a sometimes under-estimated country in that 
part of the world, but there are 60 million people with a very dynamic 
potential in terms of its economy and it's a country that's now going in 
right direction.  So I think those are three very important reasons for 
the President's trip. 
MS. WARNER:  Let's turn to one of the issues that I know is on your 
agenda in Moscow, which is Russia's plans to sell nuclear reactors to 
Iran.  The Russians are saying as far as they're concerned it's a closed 
matter.  They're going ahead.  What is the President going to try to do 
about that? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I think first we're going to be appealing to the 
Russians in their own self-interest.  We can't imagine why the Russians 
would want to try to engender a nuclear capability in nearby Iran.  We 
have given the Russians some quite sensitive information, indicating 
that Iran has in mind developing a nuclear-weapons capability. 
There's really no reason for them to have a nuclear reactor; they've got 
plenty of power.  Some of the recent evidence that has come to light -- 
that they are trying to also get a gas centrifuge which produces 
plutonium -- I think confirms -- 
MS. WARNER:  Weapons grade, in other words. 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Weapons-grade plutonium.  Thank you.  I think 
that that confirms the intention of the Iranians.  So the President will 
be making the case to the Russians that this is, in their own self-
interest, a really foolish thing to do.  We've shown how seriously we 
take Iran -- as a terrorist country, as a country that's undermining the 
peace process and a country that is seeking a nuclear- 
weapons program -- by the action the President took last Sunday of 
cutting off all trade with Iran.  And I think the President will be 
making the case to them that they really ought to not go forward with 
nuclear cooperation with Iran. 
MS. WARNER:  I gather these are the same arguments you made to the 
Russian Foreign Minister last week when he was here. 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Yes.  This is a long-term endeavor on our part.  
I think that our arguments are stronger this week because of the 
President's action than they were last week.  We're going to keep 
working at this.  After a good deal of persuasion at the present time 
none of our G-7 allies -- that is, none of the major industrial powers -
- are engaging in nuclear cooperation with Iran.  We hope that Russia 
will reach that same conclusion over time themselves. 
MS. WARNER:  The Russians, I gather, are saying that economically they 
need this deal; it's a billion-dollar deal for them.  Would the United 
States be willing to make Russia whole in any way if they were willing 
to give up this deal? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  We don't think we ought to have to compensate 
them for doing something that's in their own self-interest.  But I will 
say this, Margaret:  If they go ahead with this deal, it will be very 
difficult for us to engage in peaceful nuclear cooperation with them 
which might mean some dollars for them. 
On the other hand, if the deal is cancelled, if they don't go ahead, I 
think it will open the door to a much stronger program of nuclear 
cooperation between the United States and between MINATOM, which is the 
Russian Atomic Energy Agency.  There are incentives for them, but mainly 
I think we'll be appealing to them in terms of their own self-interest. 
MS. WARNER:  You mentioned nuclear cooperation.  I'd like to ask you, in 
the wake of the Oklahoma bombing, it certainly appears that the 
perpetrators of that bombing, if they'd had a nuclear device they would 
have probably used it.  They seemed to choose the greatest destructive 
capacity they could possibly get. 
What is the status of the program begun under President Bush and 
Secretary Baker to try to stop the leakage of all of these -- I think 
it's some 500 tons of highly enriched uranium that is in Russia, poorly 
guarded at these various nuclear installations? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Secretary Perry has been working very hard on 
that particular project, and we're making real progress.  Just let me 
give you one or two illustrations. 
In Kazakhstan, just in the last week they shipped out their last nuclear 
device.  As you perhaps know, a couple of months ago we were able to 
purchase from Kazakhstan some highly enriched uranium that was there and 
was in some danger of being purchased by somebody else or to fall into 
ugly hands. 
In Russia, we've been having very good conversations with them about 
their nuclear fuel, trying to ensure that they have a safe and very 
vigilant program to safeguard that. 
The Nunn-Lugar funds that our Congress appropriated under the leadership 
of two Presidents now have gone to try to help to dismantle their 
nuclear arsenal in Russia and also to safeguard the highly enriched 
uranium that comes out of Russia.  So we have a broad-based program.  
We're doing a number of things, including purchasing some highly 
enriched uranium for commercial purposes here in the United States. 
MS. WARNER:  Jessica Matthews, I think a former member of your State 
Department, wrote a piece in the Post today -- an op-ed piece -- in 
which she said that program, which the United States was going to spend 
some, I think, $12 billion  
over 20 years to buy uranium, is really faltering; that very little 
money has gone over; that very little uranium has come out of Russia.  
Is she right? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I saw the article.  Certainly we're going to 
take that seriously (and) make sure that if there's something faltering 
about that program we look into it.  As a matter fact, it's that kind of 
an article that sometimes spurs us to further action. 
I know this is a very high priority for Secretary Perry.  He was in 
Russia a couple of weeks ago and visited some places where they're 
dismantling nuclear facilities.  You can be sure that we'll not let that 
program falter because it is very important that it happens. 
Frankly, I thought the column was perhaps a good reminder to us, but my 
impression is it was somewhat overstated. 
MS. WARNER:  Since the Oklahoma bombing, has there been any renewed 
thinking?  Have there been any new efforts?  Is it something that 
spurred the Administration to redouble its efforts in this area or to 
rethink the program at all? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Oh, there certainly as been.  As you know, as a 
result of the Oklahoma bombing the President has launched a whole new 
series of actions to improve our capacity to deal with terrorists here 
in the United States.  But they're doing the same thing abroad. 
Even before the Oklahoma case we had sent up to the Congress an omnibus 
terrorism bill which has a number of new authorities. 
It happens, Margaret -- I just have come from a very moving ceremony at 
the State Department in which we added three new names to the plaque on 
our walls of people who were killed in the service of the State 
Department.  Two of them were killed in that terrorist bombing in 
Karachi.  So it's very much on my mind today.  We're going to be under 
the impetus both of Oklahoma City and bombings like Karachi for getting 
some new authorities that will work both here in the United States 
against terrorists as well as work abroad. 
I think Oklahoma City is a reminder that this is not purely a foreign 
phenomenon; but nevertheless, by far the largest number of terrorists 
incidents in recent years have come from abroad or have been abroad.  We 
just need to have some new vigilance; we need to have some new 
I think we are fortunate to have an agency of the quality and competence 
of the FBI working hard on this problem. 
MS. WARNER:  You said yesterday at a briefing at the White House that 
Russia's prospects for full membership in the G-7 would depend on their 
actions vis-a-vis Iran and also Chechnya.  Are you saying that the 
United States would seek to delay full membership -- either halt or 
delay full membership -- unless Russia were to be satisfactory on those 
two fronts? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Margaret, I wouldn't make it dependent on any 
single issue.  I think the way the world community perceives Russia on 
such issues as Chechnya will really determine how rapidly they're 
integrated into some of the Western institutions. 
The United States has been, I would think, the most active party at the 
G-7 in encouraging that the Russians be brought into the discussions 
there.  They're in political discussions at the present time, not in the 
economic discussions. 
Russia has been on an upward course as far as involvement in Western 
institutions.  I think that might level out until the West is satisfied 
on issues like Chechnya and, I would also say from the standpoint of the 
United States, cooperation on dealing with countries that are seeking a 
nuclear-weapons capability like we believe Iran is. 
It's in all of our interests to have Russia involved in these Western 
institutions, and we want to see that happen.  But you'll notice that 
the European Union and the Council of Europe have basically put on hold 
Russia's application for membership until we see how the Chechnya 
situation is resolved. 
MS. WARNER:  What is your assessment -- given the dangers, as you said, 
from a nuclear-armed Iran to Russia, why do you think the Russians are 
so far insisting they're going to go ahead? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I think there's an economic element here, of 
course.  MINATOM, which is their Atomic Energy Agency, employs about a 
million people, I understand, in Russia.  It's a very large 
organization, and they're not doubt seeking customers. 
My experience with Iran is that that's not a very fiscally sound 
customer, and so they may be disappointed in that regard.  But I think 
it's primarily driven by economic matters. 
Margaret, I don't want to leave -- talking about these problems with 
Russia -- without emphasizing the very many matters on which we are 
working together.  We're working  
together closely on the Non-Proliferation Treaty extension at the United 
Nations, on the Middle East.  We've been working closely together on the 
problem of Ukraine.  We worked closely with them when they removed their 
troops from the Baltics. 
So it's important to keep a sense of balance here.  That's that 
pragmatic engagement we have, working together where we agree and 
managing those issues where we don't agree. 
MS. WARNER:  But so far the Russian insistence on going ahead, does it 
raise any questions to you about the degree to which Boris Yeltsin is in 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  No, there's no question in my mind that Boris 
Yeltsin is in charge.  He's making the major decisions in the 
government.  It's possible that there's some degree of cooperation here 
that went ahead without his full knowledge -- that is, perhaps the gas 
centrifuge aspect of it; but that happens in many governments.  I think 
if you happened to see the interview with President Yeltsin in Time 
magazine earlier this week, that exhibited a person who is vital and 
very much on the top of his game as far as that interview went. 
MS. WARNER:  Now, some critics -- turning briefly to Chechnya and what 
impact it's had on Russia, some critics, including Yegor Gaidar who used 
to be the economic czar for Boris Yeltsin, have said that the whole 
Chechnya affair has basically increased instability in Russia and 
heightened the possibility of even a coup.  Is that your assessment? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I think it's had an adverse impact on President 
Yeltsin's standing within Russia.  As far as in the international 
community, I certainly wouldn't go so far as to make the kind of 
predictions that Gaidar did.  But I think it has caused distress within 
the country.  It's been a tragedy within the country. 
The very first the United States was concerned about this, we warned him 
against it as early as before Christmas of last year.  The tragedy is 
compounded now as the war goes on, and right now you can see the 
Chechens perhaps trying to take advantage of this delicate period by 
stepping up the fighting on their side. 
There needs to be a political solution and a cease-fire and then a 
reconstruction in that area.  I think that would do the most to rebuild 
or rehabilitate the image of Boris Yeltsin abroad and at home. 
MS. WARNER:  And in terms of the prospects for the U.S. having some 
leverage with Russia, do cutbacks and threatened  
cutbacks in U.S. aid to Russia from the new Republican Congress, does 
that lessen any leverage -- whatever leverage we still have left? 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  I think we need to ask ourselves about each item 
of aid as to whether or not we think it should be cancelled.  We give 
that aid because it's in our own self-interest.  I think you need to 
answer, "Do you think we should cut down the Nunn-Lugar aid for the 
dismantlement of their nuclear capability?"  Certainly not. 
Does one think we should cut back on aid for privatization?  Not at all.  
That's in our interest.  So I would not think we ought to try to get 
leverage that way.  We shouldn't make our relationship or our aid 
hostage or dependent to any single issue. 
But beyond that, Margaret, we have to have a very balanced approach.  We 
have to be steady and calm, because in dealing with Russia, we're 
dealing with a country that has a tremendous potential for good; but 
also, with their tremendous nuclear arsenal, it could be very concerning 
if they go a different direction. 
MS. WARNER:  Mr. Secretary, that's all the time we have.  Thanks for 
being with us. 
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER:  Thanks for inviting me. 
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