President Clinton Meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin

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Putin President Clinton told Russian legislators today that partnership, despite differences, is the right course for both their nations. America and Russia are not destined to be adversaries again, he said, “but it is not guaranteed that we will be allies.” [includes rush transcript]

He recounted major differences, U.S. missile defense plans and Russia’s conflict in Chechnya among them, in a 45-minute address to the parliament.

Clinton was the first American president to address the Duma, assembled in its office-building-style capitol building with members of the upper chamber, the Federation Council. He spoke to a polite but undemonstrative house of more than 400.

As Clinton finished, ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky shouted at other Duma members for applauding him.

“I told him in English, lift the blockade on Iraq, withdraw troops from Yugoslavia and do not intervene in Russian affairs,’’ Zhirnovsky said afterward.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said he thought Clinton would be “more honest” about the situation in Russia. “We are for dialogue,” he said. “We understand that there can be no war in the modern world.”

From Moscow, Clinton traveled to Kiev, Ukraine, where President Leonid Kuchma was expected to announce that the Chernobyl power plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, will be shut down this year.


  • Bill Hartung, a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute. Call: 212.229.5808 ext 112.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: President Clinton told Russian legislators today that partnership, despite differences, is the right course for both their nations. “America and Russia are not destined to be adversaries again,” he said, “but it is not guaranteed that we will be allies.” He recounted major differences — US missile defense plans and Russia’s conflict in Chechnya, among them — in the forty-five-minute address to the Parliament.

Clinton is the first American President to address the Duma, assembled in its office-building-style Capitol building, with members of the upper chamber, the Federation Council. He spoke to a house of more than 400.

As Clinton finished, ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky shouted at other Duma members for applauding him. Zhirinovksy said afterward, “I told him in English, lift the blockage on Iraq, withdraw troops from Yugoslavia, and do not intervene in Russian affairs.” Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said he thought Clinton would be more honest about the situation in Russia. He said, “We are for dialogue. We understand that there can be no war in the modern world.”

From Moscow, Clinton traveled to Kiev, Ukraine, where President Leonid Kuchma was expected to announce that the Chernobyl power plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, will be shut down this year. The United States is helping finance that shutdown.

Well, today we’re going to talk about what was and was not accomplished at the US-Russian Summit between Vladimir Putin and President Clinton. And we’re joined by Bill Hartung. He’s a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute at the New School for Social Research, now, I believe, called New School University in New York City.

BILL HARTUNG: Unfortunately, yes. That wasn’t my idea.

AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now! Well, tell us, what is on the table and what happened this weekend.

BILL HARTUNG: Well, it was sort of déjà-vu all over again. You know, an American President going to meet with the Russian leader to talk about plans for reducing nuclear weapons and negotiating over a missile defense system. It sounded very much like what happened with Reagan and Gorbachev in Reykjavik. And similarly, this sort of Holy Grail of missile defense is once again standing in the way of getting rid of nuclear weapons.

When Putin came in, he quickly ratified the START II treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban, which we couldn’t even get the US Senate to do. Then he said, you know, “Let’s immediately get down to 1,500 or 1,000 warheads,” which would be low enough levels that other countries would be interested in then negotiating limits on their own nuclear arsenals. And Clinton said, “Well, you know, continuing on this national missile defense.” Now, national missile defense is not affordable. It’s not feasible technically. It’s dangerous. And it raises the question of, you know, why is Clinton doing this? And it ends up, most of it is Clintonian Dick Morris triangulation. You know, they want to steal an issue from the Republicans. The Republicans have united behind missile defense as if it’s the legacy of Ronald Reagan. They seem to forget that Regan actually himself abandoned Star Wars in favor of nuclear reductions at the end of his term.

And so, we have this absurd situation, where basically Clinton says we’re going to forfeit the possibility of deep reductions in nuclear arsenals of the only country that can really hurt us now, Russia, in exchange for letting the Pentagon basically have a slush fund to try to develop a missile defense system, which may or may not ever work. So it’s one of the most absurd junctures in US-Russian relations, you know, in the whole history of our relations with Russia and the Soviet Union. And it’s because of Bill Clinton’s cowardice and because of the, you know, discipline and fervor of the conservative right that we’ve ended up in this position.

AMY GOODMAN: What does the presidential race have to do with this here in the United States?

BILL HARTUNG: Well, Clinton, for, you know — almost since he first came in, when he tried to push through the gays-in-the-military policy, he quickly decided that the best way to neutralize the Republicans on defense issues was to throw money at the Pentagon. And so, he has — essentially, his military budget over his term is indistinguishable from what George Bush would have spent. The difference is he’s got a Republican Congress that adds five or ten billion dollars every year to what his Pentagon requests.

But in the case of missile defense, what he had done is he had this sort of cutesy strategy of still — he was spending $4 billion a year. He was saying, you know, we’ll see if the technology’s ready and then in, you know, 1999, we’ll make a decision about whether to deploy it. And when he did that back in 1996, under the influence of Bill Cohen, his wonderful Republican defense secretary, you know, the idea was, well, let’s kick it past the '96 elections. Let's, you know, throw it down the road to where it’s not going to be controversial issue. In the meantime, the Republicans mobilized. They rigged up the Rumsfeld report, which gave an exaggerated sense of the North Korean missile threat. The North Koreans tested a missile.

Now Clinton feels compelled to make a decision this summer about whether to go ahead with this system. And so, basically, the Republicans have been able to control the agenda on this, and the strategy of meeting them halfway isn’t working on this [inaudible] he goes halfway out on the limb, the Republicans go further out on the limb, and he and Gore feel compelled to follow them.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Bill Hartung, who’s a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute at the New School in New York City, as President Clinton wraps up his summit with Vladimir Putin. What has been Putin’s response to the National Missile Defense system?

BILL HARTUNG: Initially, he said he wasn’t going to budge at all. He said, “If you violate the ABM Treaty, all treaties having to do with arms between the US and Russia will be off — conventional forces, nuclear forces, you name it.” More recently, he has said, “Well, perhaps we can collaborate on a system to deal with the missile threat from states like North Korea and Iran.”

The Clinton people have agreed to discuss this further with him, but basically at this point, neither side has budged. Clinton wants his limited missile defense. He wants Russia to modify the ABM Treaty. The Russians clearly do not want to do that. So on this issue so far, you know, there’s no movement. So they made a few subsidiary agreements just to sort of show that, you know, there was good will, but on the missile defense issue itself, there’s no progress.

AMY GOODMAN: What are the corporations in the United States that have to gain from the National Missile Defense?

BILL HARTUNG: Well, I call them the “lumbering behemoths of the Apocalypse,” because they’re these big unwieldy companies, which, despite the fact that the government’s been throwing billions of dollars at them, have managed to see their stock prices halved in the last two years, profit margins are lower, because of their own mistakes, you know, blowing up an intelligence satellite on the launch pad, fraud on TRW’s work on the missile defense system itself, flaws in the Patriot missile that Raytheon makes. So, basically, you’ve got Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and TRW. And those four companies have gotten 60% of the more than $2 billion that the Pentagon has shoveled out for missile defense research in the last few years.

These companies are now in charge of testing and telling the government whether this thing is going to work. So the companies that will stand to make tens of billions of dollars from building this are the ones that are doing the tests. That’s sort of the definition of a conflict of interest. And Boeing, which is supposed to be supervising the entire process, was involved with TRW on an actual system where there’s allegations of fraud. There’s an Israeli-born engineer named Nira Schwartz who worked on a TRW system that was supposed to be able to tell the difference between a decoy and a nuclear warhead. She said they forced her to fudge those results, and she’s filing a civil suit against the company.

So you’ve got these companies that have a history of corruption, that desperately need the money, that are basically being given the job of telling us whether we need this and whether it’s going to work.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Hartung, in a piece you just wrote in The Nation, “Star Wars II: Here We Go Again,” you talk about the three Cs of contemporary US politics: conservative ideology, Clintonian cowardice and corporate influence. These short-term pressures, in turn reinforced by an ambitious long-range military objective, the misguided quest for a state of absolute military superiority. You also talk about Colin Powell being the one to come up with the whole rogue state idea.

BILL HARTUNG: Yeah, basically there’s two tracks to this. One is this misguided sort of ideology and pork barrel politics. We’ve got people like Frank Gaffney, who was so rightwing he got kicked out of the Reagan Pentagon, who’s been beating the drums for this for ten years, funded by Richard Mellon Scaife, by the Coors family, by Lockheed Martin and Boeing. And when he linked up with Newt Gingrich and the Gingrich Republicans, they were able to take hold of this debate.

But then you’ve also got, you know, President Clinton and his continuing compromise. You’ve got these companies desperate for this. And then you’ve got this sort of strain of cowboy militarism. The US Space Command has these ambitious documents that basically say they want to dominate space the way Britain dominated the seas in the nineteenth century.

And then there’s short-term objectives. William Cohen basically says if we have to go in and, you know, take out North Korea, we don’t want them to have any missiles that could hurt our troops.

So it’s not really about a defensive system. It’s about extending US military dominance, allowing the US to intervene with relative impunity, as they did in Iraq and Kosovo.

AMY GOODMAN: Where is the peace movement today in the United States?

BILL HARTUNG: Well, it’s gearing up, you know, on the level of the debate. I think we’ve actually done pretty well. You know, we’ve revved up groups like Peace Action, are doing ads against senators who tried to kill the Comprehensive Test Ban. There’s a group called the Fourth Freedom Forum that’s doing a lot of good grassroots work. Groups like Union of Concerned Scientists have basically shown that this thing makes no sense as a technical matter. So I think we’ve got — sort of like in the early periods of the anti-Vietnam War movement, if they’re willing to debate us face to face, they might as well send an empty chair, because their arguments make no sense.

But what we don’t have yet is purchase on the political system. Both parties are talking about deploying one form of missile defense. Ralph Nader has said that he will start speaking against this. And I think if he does, that will offer an interesting option, because he’s already in a position to hurt Gore in some key states. But until we find people like Dennis Kucinich and allies of his in the system who can take this grassroots pressure that’s just starting and change it into policy, we’re still at a disadvantage. We could win the debate. We could win the media, you know, wars on this, and we could still lose the battle.

But I think the thing we have going for us is that the choice is so stark now. Do we want to reduce thousands of nuclear weapons, or do we want to blow billions of dollars on a dangerous, unworkable defense system that was supposed to be discarded within the days of Ronald Regan? Just like we discarded the notion that ketchup is a vegetable, let’s — you know, let’s be done with this already. So I think a lot of people are scratching their heads about why Clinton, or anybody, would want to do this.

And we do have an opportunity over these next three to six months and also at the conventions in the summer to frame the debate on our terms, that the only way to be safe from these weapons is not by building high-tech gadgets; it’s by abolishing nuclear weapons, getting rid of the damn things once and for all.

AMY GOODMAN: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, TRW — do you know how much they have contributed to the presidential campaigns, to the parties?

BILL HARTUNG: They’ve given several million in soft money just in this recent cycle. And, in fact, just one donor, Bernard Schwartz, who has longstanding ties to Lockheed Martin — he also runs Loral Space, which is doing some of the radar work for missile defense — he has given $1.1 million personally to Democratic Party committees in this last election. He was the one that got in trouble for pushing the State Department to change the terms on satellite exports to China in a deal that some people think helped them improve the capabilities of their nuclear missiles.

So these — they’ve got also a guy named Bruce Jackson who ran the Committee to Expand NATO. He’s a chief fundraiser for the Republicans, and he is also on Lockheed Martin’s board and the board of Frank Gaffney’s group, which is the sort of nerve center of this whole movement. He said at a meeting that I was at to a bunch of his cronies that, “You know, if Bush gets in, don’t worry about it, because I personally am going to be writing the Republican platform on this stuff.’

So they’re deep into the political system both with money, with influence peddling, with the revolving door. And that’s why we have to scream bloody murder if we’re going to stop these folks.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see any difference between the Gore and Bush platforms on nuclear weapons?

BILL HARTUNG: Yeah. Gore’s is dangerous and misguided, and Bush’s is totally insane, you know, because, basically, you know, Gore holds open this possibility of negotiating a limited defense with Russia. The problem with that is that limited defense would also negate China’s very small nuclear force of only eighteen to twenty missiles. So it would still spur an arms race in Asia. It would still spur other countries to want to get their own nukes. So it’s hardly — you know, if the Russians came through, that’s not the end of the story.

Bush just wants to raise the flag of Reaganism. He’s like, you know, put weapons at sea, put them in space, put them in your bathroom. I mean, you know, this guy is like ridiculous. And it just indicates that, you know, maybe he was better off when he was keeping his mouth shut or forgetting the names of countries, because when he does, you know, speak in complete sentences, the content of those sentences are completely idiotic.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Hartung, I want to thank you for being with us, Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute at New School University. If people want to get your latest studies, where can they go on the web or where can they call?

BILL HARTUNG: They should go to our site, You click on projects and on arms trade, you can get our new report. Or you can call us at (212) 229-5808, extension 112.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s (212) 229-5808.

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