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White House Discusses Expulsion of Russian Diplomats

Aired March 22, 2001 - 1:03 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Now let's go to CNN's Kelly Wallace, who is at the White House, who can tell us more about how this started today -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good afternoon, Natalie, from the very windy North Lawn here at the White House.

Right now, the White House is not commenting on any retaliatory moves that the Russians might take. It is defending this decision, though, saying it was the right way to go.

A little background just on how the U.S. arrived at this decision. The White House saying right after Robert Hanssen was arrested that Mr. Bush and his national security team began discussing possible actions the U.S. might take. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer telling reporters that last week the president's national security team made a recommendation that the U.S. should ask a number of Russian diplomats to leave, that last week Mr. Bush authorized that action to take place.

And we know that this morning the State Department informed the Russians that four Russian diplomats must leave. They are declared persona non grata and must leave the United States within 10 days.

They believed to be tied directly to the Robert Hanssen case. We also know that another 46 Russian diplomats have been asked to leave, according to the State Department, although they have not been directly tied to the Robert Hanssen investigation.

Now earlier on this day after a speech here in Washington, Mr. Bush talked to reporters and defended this decision. He also said, though, he still believed he could have productive relations with Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe we can have a working relationship with the Russians. I intend to have a working relationship with the Russians. I suspect the first time I'll have a chance to sit down with Mr. Putin is when I head overseas to the G7-plus-one. But our government made the right decision yesterday.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WALLACE: And at this time, there are no plans for Mr. Bush to write or call Russian President Vladimir Putin. As he mentioned, he expects to sit down with him the first time this summer at the G7- plus-one summit.

Now the White House again is defending its decision. Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, saying this shows the president's approach to foreign policy in that he will have cooperation with Russia in areas of disagreement. But Ari Fleischer saying that the president will also use a realistic approach in areas where the two sides disagree.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has expressed, the State Department has expressed concern about the level of Russian intelligence officers in this country. It's just a reminder that even in the post-Cold War era, situations like this arise. And the president will treat them seriously and deal with them realistically.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: And one other point that the Bush administration is making is saying that there have been concerns for a number of years, concerns even in the Clinton administration, about the large number of Russian intelligence officers operating here in the United States. This White House saying that Mr. Bush was concerned about this as well and that he took what the White House calling appropriate action.

Natalie, back to you.

ALLEN: And, Kelly, you mentioned 46 others may be asked to leave. They're not connected with the Hanssen case. Any more information about why they're being asked to leave?

WALLACE: This, again, as I said, they're not specifically believed to be tied to the Hanssen case. Again, it's more in line with this ongoing concern on the part of the United States that -- a concern that also existed during the Clinton administration, about the large number of these Russian intelligence officers operating in the United States after the Cold War has ended some 10 years ago.

So it appears that that move is in connection with this concern that's been ongoing. This White House, though, deciding in connection with Hanssen case to take this action now.

ALLEN: Kelly Wallace at the White House.

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