RUSSIA: BACK TO THE BALLOT BOX
JUNE 17, 1996
For the first time,
Russians voted for a President last Sunday. Because of a close count - imcumbent Boris Yeltsin with 35% of the vote leads Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov who got 32% - they'll go back to the polls on July 3, for a runoff election. This Newsmaker interview with Secretary of State Warren Christopher was preceeded by a background report by Simon Marks. Secretary Christopher also discusses today's trade agreement between the US and the People's Republic of China.
Other NewsHour coverage of the Russian elections and China Trade:
June 17: Simon Marks explains Sunday's election results and how second-round voting in July might play out.
June 14: Simon Marks in Moscow reports on the Russian election two days before voters go to the polls.
June 4: U.S. ambassador to Russia Thomas Pickering discusses the elections with the NewsHour.
May 24: The NewsHour interviews Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov
Join an Online NewsHour forum on the Russian elections.
May 17: The NewsHour interviews Secretary Christopher on China Relations
May 15: The NewsHour interviews the President's trade advisor Charlene Barshefsky and the PRC's ambassador to the US about possible trade sanctions as a result of copyright violations by the PRC.
May 8: A NewsHour special report on China and high tech "piracy".
JIM LEHRER: Now, the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, who's with us for a Newsmaker interview. Mr. Secretary, welcome.
WARREN CHRISTOPHER, Secretary of State: Good evening, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read these Russian election results, sir?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Jim, it was a very exciting day in Russia yesterday, the day before, for Russians. As the President said, this is the first time in a thousand years that the Russians have chosen their leader. So I think that's the dominant reaction I had. The 70 percent turnout, you know, your excellent report from Moscow said that was disappointing that by our standards it's a very, very good turnout, so it was a very good day--
JIM LEHRER: Because we get normally barely 50 percent.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Exactly.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: So it was a very good day for democracy. Uh, now you're going to find what Americans will recognize. When there's a runoff election, both the parties in the runoff assiduously court the people who didn't make the runoff, and I think that's a very natural thing to be going on. And it was really quite a robust democracy, and that's what struck me.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think Yeltsin's going to pull it out?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Uh, Jim, you know, I've been in this job almost four years, and you've been in your job even longer. I'm unlikely to offer a prediction for that on your show tonight. I don't want to disappoint you.
JIM LEHRER: What, what are the factors that, that you read into these results that Yeltsin must now overcome if he is, in fact, going to win reelection?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Uh, Jim, I, I don't want to try to advise President Yeltsin, but let me tell you what our interests are--
JIM LEHRER: All right.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: --in that election. We have a very strong interest in continuing our military cooperation with Russia. That military cooperation or cooperation in the security field has led to a great lessening of the nuclear threat in the United States. It's led to our cooperation in Bosnia, so we'd like to see a situation that would continue that interest.
We also have a strong interest in continuing our foreign policy cooperation, cooperation that enabled the Russian troops to be withdrawn from the Baltics, enabled us to work together with the Ukraine to make sure that Ukraine did not retain a nuclear capacity, and we are also anxious to see internal reform continued there. From the standpoint of the United States, I think it is those issues which we ought to watch as this campaign unfolds.
JIM LEHRER: But Zyuganov, if he wins, all of the things that are in the U.S. interest would be in jeopardy, would they not, sir?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, that's a little broader than I would be prepared to go, but I would say this, Jim. There are some troubling things in Mr. Zyuganov's program. For example, a couple of months ago I was in Ukraine, the day that the Dumas led by Zyuganov's party adopted a, a provision that would basically reinstitute the Soviet Union, take back the countries into the Soviet Union. That caused great fear in Ukraine and I'm sure all the other countries that are now independent republics. So we do have some problems with Zyuganov's platform. I think it's only candid of me to say so.
JIM LEHRER: Is it correct to say, Mr. Secretary, that in spite of those great interests that we have in the outcome of that election, there's not a doggone thing that we can do about it over these next two weeks between now and July 3rd?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: This would be a decision for the Russian people to make. They'll see the candidates campaigning very vigorously. We'll have to continue our contacts with the Russian government. We have to deal with the government in power. Even in a two-week period, there are a number of things we'll be doing with this Russian government not to influence the election but simply in our own interests. For example, President Yeltsin will be at Leone for the industrial summit. We continue to work with him on a day to day basis.
JIM LEHRER: That's the end of the month.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Yes, sir. The end of--just before the next election--
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: --before the runoff. We continue to work with them on a day-to-day basis on a comprehensive test ban treaty. That really is going to come into focus in the next few days. So there are a number of things we need to do to stay in touch with the Russian government during this period, but certainly not to try to pick a candidate. That would be a very foolish thing for us to do. That's for the Russian people.
JIM LEHRER: All right, sir, the other big news of the day was the trade deal with China. What happened? What caused this deal to come off at the last minute?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, Jim, I think it's a product in part of our continuing engagement with the, with the Chinese. We invested a lot of our time and effort, and it turns out we have an ability to talk with them when we have a serious problem. Last year, as you know, we negotiated a structural agreement with them with respect to intellectual property rights.
That agreement was not adequately enforced in the course of the year, and so we went to them and told them unless there were some more specific enforcement measures, we were going to have to impose sanctions. They've done a great deal and they promised a great deal but with some back-up to ensure us that there will be enforcement now. For example, they closed 15 compact disc factories that have been making these pirated compact discs.
That's a big step forward. That's more than half of their production has already been closed, and they've committed to close the rest of it. They're going to go on an enforcement campaign in Gwon Dong Province, the main province where this, this piracy has been going on. They've taken a series of steps, as you heard--as your listeners heard Laura Tyson say--to ensure us that there will be real enforcement this time around, so I think it's a, it's an indication that we can do business with the Chinese when we focus on a particular issue, as we were able to in the nonproliferation area.
JIM LEHRER: Why does this kind of thing keep happening with the Chinese, where we seem to be on the brink of some terrible trade war or some terrible breach in relations in it. At the last minute, it all gets resolved. Is this just the pattern of the relationship?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, these are two very big countries and of course, their country is undergoing such dramatic change. It's a transition in their government but also dramatic growth in the economy. And I think they would say that some aspects of their economy are not fully within, within their control, and that may be part of the problem that we've witnessed here. But there is, I'd have to say, there is a negotiating style. They seem to be quite addicted to doing things at the very last moment, which keeps our trade negotiators up, up nice, as Charlene Barshefsky, who I think did an excellent job, negotiated day and night for the last couple of days.
JIM LEHRER: Was there--in this particular case, did the United States give up anything? Most negotiations, both sides give up something. Did we give up anything to make this deal, or did the Chinese do all the giving?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Jim, this was a question of whether they'd enforce an agreement that they carried out last year.
JIM LEHRER: Which was a general agreement, right?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: A general agreement. This is a much more specific agreement, with much better monitoring provisions. What we gave up was our, our imposing $2 billion of sanctions now. Those sanctions would have hurt us in a sense, and they would have produced some counter sanctions on the part of the Chinese. So I think this is a much better result, but we would not have gone this route unless we got a good, a good result, and I think through our negotiations, we were able to achieve a good result with the closing of all of those factories with this campaign of enforcement with stronger border enforcement than we have had without it.
JIM LEHRER: Should this be read, Mr. Secretary, as a giant step in improving overall relations with China, or just a one deal about piracy?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: It's a little broader than that, Jim. Since the first of the year, we've taken a number of important steps with the Chinese. The tensions have been defused considerably in the Taiwan Straits, although that problem remains. We have worked our way through the bearing magnet problem, and reached a conclusion satisfactory to us on that.
JIM LEHRER: Explain that to me quickly.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, that, that was a proliferation issue where we detected that they had sent out of the country some 70,000 dollars in particular kind of bearings. They sent them to Pakistan. We felt that was a violation. We went to them. They convinced us that that was not known as the highest levels, was not willful, but more important than that, they gave us a commitment not to do it again, and they gave us ways to assure ourselves that it would not be done again.
Finally, the President has indicated that we would seek approval of the most favored nation treatment again this year. The President has indicated to Congress that he intended to give that, and I think so that's an important--a fourth important step that we've taken with respect to U.S.-China relations. We'll continue to have problems with China. It's a big evolving country with a different form of government than ours. But the important thing for us to do is to stay engaged, to be in a situation where we can work through our problems, rather than having, turning them into crises, either trade crises or security crises.
JIM LEHRER: Finally, the Middle East. There was a report on the, on the wires this afternoon that you're going to the Middle East next week, is that true?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Jim, the plans have not been firmed up, but Prime Minister-elect Netanyahu has invited me to come out there after he's had his government put together. It looks like he'll put together, the government together in the next couple of days, so I probably have some travel plans in my future out there again, but there is no definite plans at the moment.
JIM LEHRER: What do you make of the statements over the weekend from Netanyahu that land for peace with Syria is just not something that he's in favor of?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Uh, Jim, until I have a chance to talk with him face to face over time, I think it would be premature to speculate on things that have been said in the last couple of days. I talked to him a couple of times on the telephone, but we need to sit down together to talk about where the peace process has gone to this point, what his plans are. He's indicated he wants to continue the peace process. He said he wanted to negotiate with Syria without preconditions, and so I think we have to fit that all into the broader mosaic of where this new prime minister intends to try to take the peace process. And he'll be coming here to meet with the President; after we've had a series of meetings, my going there and his coming here, I'll be in a better position to say but right now I wouldn't want to say.
JIM LEHRER: There has been much said in this country since the election, since the election of Netanyahu, that, that he and others in charge of the Israeli government must understand that the United States has an interest in peace in the Middle East that goes beyond Israel, so that in addition to Israel's and in addition to the Arabs. Has that been transmitted to Netanyahu? Do you think he understands that the U.S. has an interest as well?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, I'm sure he understands that. As I say, we haven't had a talk with him. Over the last three years, there have been dramatic developments there. Israel has made peace treaties with Jordan, and they've made a number of agreements with the Palestinians. They have also been able to open up the diplomatic relations with a number of countries there, so the landscape has changed greatly. We have helped that landscape change in the course of that. We have, I think, undertaken certain--we've reached certain understandings with the countries in the region. We know that they had done this.
On the other hand, our enduring interest is in the security of Israel, and we'll not compromise that in any way, but I hope we can harmonize that progress has been made to try to make sure the momentum continues with the, with the new administration. As I say, I look forward to talking with, with him about that, and I know the President looks forward to talking with him as well.
JIM LEHRER: Is one of your reasons for going so soon after the government is formed to, to emphasize that, hey, look, Mr. Netanyahu, we have an interest here too, and let's talk about it before he does anything?
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Well, he was the one who--he invited me to come after his government was put together. I think it's quite functional for me to meet with him before he comes here, and so I think that will affect the timing of my visit. He plans to come here shortly after, after our July 4th holiday, so I think I want to get out there before that, so he and I can try to make his visit here the most productive.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.
SEC. CHRISTOPHER: Thank you, Jim.