NEWSMAKER: SANDY BERGER
MARCH 27, 1997
In a Newsmaker interview with Margaret Warner, National Security Advisor discusses the separation of the National Security Council from the White House's political wing, Vice President Al Gore's trip to China, and the conflict between the NSC and the FBI over possible attempts by China to influence the 1996 elections.
MARGARET WARNER: Samuel Berger took over from Anthony Lake as head of the National Security Council when President Clinton reshuffled his foreign policy and defense team last December. His relationship with Bill Clinton dates back 25 years when they both worked for the presidential campaign of George McGovern. Berger served as Mr. Clinton's foreign policy adviser during the 1992 campaign, then became Lake's chief deputy at the NSC. He joins us for his first NewsHour interview since becoming National Security Adviser. And, welcome. First, we hope not the last.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
March 26, 1997:
Jim Lehrer leads a discussion on Gore's trip to China.
March 18, 1997:
The text of Anthony Lake's letter of withdrawal.
March 12, 1997:
Lake spends a second day before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
March 11, 1997:
Coverage of the first day of Lake's confirmation hearing.
SAMUEL (SANDY) BERGER, National Security Adviser: Good to be here. I hope not.
MARGARET WARNER: You gave a major speech today in which you said that we should stop calling this time we're living in the post-Cold War era. What should we call it? How should we think of it?
SAMUEL (SANDY) BERGER: Well, the post Cold War era is the phrase that defines what has ended--the collapse of the Soviet Union, the collapse of the Berlin Wall. What we really need to focus on now is what we're building. And what I tried to do in today's speech, what the President has laid out in the State of the Union and elsewhere, are the strategic objectives of this new area of construction--an undivided, peaceful Europe, a relationship between Asia and the United States, an open trading system, America building peace in areas like the Middle East. These are the acts of construction that will mark the new era that we're entering.
MARGARET WARNER: But you still haven't given me the bumper sticker line.
SAMUEL (SANDY) BERGER: I don't think there is or need we spend a lot of time looking for the lift or the driving cliché that will answer every question. Containment was a one-word description of a policy. In its application to the central question of the Soviet Union it was enormously successful. As it was applied elsewhere, one might argue that it was not always quite as successful. I don't think there's a single slogan that embraces all the judgments we need to make. I think there is, however, a strategic direction of building an international community of shared values and shared interests.
MARGARET WARNER: All rights. Let's turn to your new job. Tony Lake's management of the NSC did come in for a lot of criticism during his confirmation hearings to be head of the CIA. Are you going to run the NSC in a management sense any differently than he did?
SAMUEL (SANDY) BERGER: Well, first of all, I think Tony was an excellent National Security Adviser. I think the period -- the President's first term -- was a period of great accomplishment, ending the war in Bosnia, bringing peace to Haiti, enormous accomplishments in the trade area, peace in the Middle East. I could go on and on. So I think that his administration of the NSC and the President's leadership during the first term have been very sound. But I think that there are questions that were raised. And I think I would say also that the national security staff is an extraordinarily dedicated and fine staff. But there are some questions that have been raised in the course of the hearings about how you insulate the NSC from partisan political pressure on the one hand, without isolating the NSC from the outside world, and I think those questions need greater clarity, and I will talk with other former National Security Advisers and hope to provide that clarity.
MARGARET WARNER: So if the FBI came to brief two of your staffers in a few months about some other foreign government trying to influence U.S. elections, would you want to know about it?
SAMUEL (SANDY) BERGER: Well, in the case you're referring to the answer is certainly yes.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And if an NSC--
SAMUEL (SANDY) BERGER: But let me say this. There are also--here is a balance between micromanagement and need to know. A senior director at the National Security Council is the rank of an assistant secretary. These are extraordinarily bright people, hundreds of pieces of information come across their desks every day. I don't need to know everything, nor should I--should they feel compelled to pass everything up the line. But, clearly, there are things that have broad implications, as was the case of that particular piece of information which I would have wanted to know, I think the President would have wanted to know.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you have--let me turn to the other example, which had to do with the fact that an NSC staffer, one of these directors, warned that the President shouldn't meet with a certain international businessman. I don't want to rehash that. I want to know in the future do you have assurances that that recommendation would stand and not be overruled by political people either at the White House or the DNC?
SAMUEL (SANDY) BERGER: The President has said that he felt the procedures, some of the procedures that were in place the last few years, in terms of who he had--who had access to him were lax. He has directed the chief of staff, Mr. Bowles, to design a more rigorous system. I think the National Security Council has a role to play in that system, particularly with respect to foreign visitors. We can have access to certain databases and determine whether there is information with respect to those individuals that ought to be known by the people putting on the event, but we can't be a police force for the tens of thousands of people who come to the White House.
MARGARET WARNER: Attorney General Reno today defended the FBI's decision to refuse your NSC's request for some counter-intelligence information about China's alleged attempts to subvert the U.S. election, and this was information you're asking for, for Madeleine Albright, the Secretary of State, before her first trip to China. Now, are you--are you comfortable with that? How do you feel about that, that the FBI would not give you the information?
SAMUEL (SANDY) BERGER: Well, the FBI is in a difficult position. Obviously, it has a law enforcement responsibility and a need to preserve the integrity of that law enforcement process. I would hope when there are matters touching on national security that there would be a willingness to share that information to the extent they deem appropriate.
MARGARET WARNER: You mentioned about wanting to isolate or insulate the NSC from political considerations, political pressures. You have been described, however, during the last few years as really the nexus between NSC and the political planning that went on at the White House. You were the ones--you were the one in those meetings with the pollsters and the campaign advertising people and so on. In retrospect, do you think that was appropriate for you to be there?
SAMUEL (SANDY) BERGER: Well, first of all, let me say my principal responsibility and what I spent 17 or 18 hours a day doing was the conduct of American foreign policy, advising the President. There were weekly meetings the President had with senior officials in the White House and some of the campaign consultants. I thought it was appropriate to have somebody from the foreign policy shop at those meetings so that those people who were engaged in directing the campaign had an understanding of what the President's foreign policies were, and those of us who were on the foreign policy side had an understanding of what the general thrust and themes of the campaign were. There was no discussion at those meetings of fund-raising or contributors. And I think--I don't think it was inappropriate, but obviously one has to be very cautious about that.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let's turn to Vice President Gore's trip to China. What did the U.S. get out of that trip?
SAMUEL (SANDY) BERGER: Well, I think the policy of engagement with China is extraordinarily important. How China evolves, Margaret, over the next 10 years or 20 years will be--will have a profound impact on the stability and peace of Asia and the entire world. Will China integrate increasingly into the international community, or China develop in a more nationalistic and self-absorbed way? China will decide its own destiny, but we can help shape those choices if we are engaged with China. And we engage with China not as a reward for good behavior. We engage with China to expand areas where we can cooperate, such as stability in the Korean Peninsula, ending nuclear testing, as we've done last year, as well as to raise, forthrightly, as the Vice President did areas of disagreement, human rights, some questions of market access, issues of some of China's weapon sales. So the fundamental importance of the trip is to engage with China to deal with issues where we have mutual interests, and issues where we have problems not to isolate China or isolate us from a quarter of the world's population.
MARGARET WARNER: Some critics, some observers of the trip in editorial pages, including the Washington Post for one, criticized the Gore trip because they felt that the business interests seemed paramount. I think the Post said something like it gave the impression that commercial interests trump all U.S. policy in China. Does that concern you?
SAMUEL (SANDY) BERGER: That's not true. We have a broad-ranging relationship with China. The Vice President's discussions with the Chinese involved--were a strategic dialogue. They involved issues of regional stability. They involved the Korean Peninsula. I'm sure they involved Taiwan. I know they involved Hong Kong. Part of our relationship is economic. We now have a trade deficit with China. We can't get rid of that trade deficit if we don't sell things to China. We can't simultaneously complain about a trade deficit and not be supportive of American business as it seeks to sell into that market. But it hardly dominates the relationship. This is a broad, complex relationship. The economic dimension is simply one of many.
MARGARET WARNER: Now you mentioned Hong Kong. Why did the Vice President not go to Hong Kong?
SAMUEL (SANDY) BERGER: I think the Vice President felt that it was most effective to raise our concerns about Hong Kong directly with the Chinese. Others from the administration have traveled to Hong Kong. There will be many senior visitors from Hong Kong coming to the United States. But we wanted to convey to the Chinese that the world here is concerned about the way in which Hong Kong is integrated into China at the end of this summer.
MARGARET WARNER: So it wasn't a concern about offending the Chinese?
SAMUEL (SANDY) BERGER: No. I think it was--this was--first of all, it's a limited trip in duration, but I think it's a question of how you are most effective in trying to achieve the result we want, which is not only in our interest but it's very much in China's interest to have a peaceful integration of Hong Kong which preserves the distinct identity and political freedoms of Hong Kong.
MARGARET WARNER: There was also quite a bit of confusion about what exactly the Vice President said, what message he left with the Chinese when they asked him about all this, this fund-raising scandal and the ongoing investigation. What was the message that he conveyed to the Chinese?
SAMUEL (SANDY) BERGER: Well, I was not in the meeting but my impression is that what the Vice President said is that these are serious allegations, they are under investigation by our Justice Department, if they are true, we would take them seriously, and obviously, some appropriate action will be necessary, but they're still allegations, and we need to at the same time we investigate those allegations, we need to proceed to deal with the broad range of issues that we have in common with China. You know, we have problems with other countries, sometimes law enforcement problems with other countries. Sometimes they're our allies. Sometimes they're our quasi-allies. We don't deal with the relationship. We try to deal with a relationship as well as vigorously pursue the law enforcement matters at the same time.
MARGARET WARNER: If in the ensuing months, though, this investigation should get to the point say there were indictments or that it was clear that the law enforcement community here or grand jury came to the conclusion that this interference was attempted, then what? For instance, would the summit go ahead between the President and Jiang Zemin--
SAMUEL (SANDY) BERGER: I'm not going to get ahead of what we know or what I know. The fact is that there is an investigation ongoing; let's see where it leads; and obviously the President has indicated before that these are serious allegations, but they are allegations, and their overall relationship remains extremely important in our interest. This is not something we do for China. It's something that we pursue for the United States.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you so much for coming in.
SAMUEL (SANDY) BERGER: Thank you.