The President. Well, I have just spoken this morning by telephone with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and I am very pleased to announce that we have completed agreement on the START II treaty. U.S. and Russian expert teams are remaining in Geneva now to complete the formal work on the treaty text. This historic treaty will reduce by two-thirds current nuclear arsenals and will dramatically lower the numbers of strategic nuclear arms permitted by START I. In my view, this treaty is good for all mankind.
President Yeltsin and I have agreed to meet in Sochi, Russia, on January 2d and 3d, where we will sign the treaty. And I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the team standing here with me today: Larry Eagleburger, Secretary Cheney, Chairman Powell, and others who have done a superb job on this treaty.
We're going to use the occasion of the meeting in Sochi to consider a number of bilateral and regional issues and then to discuss ways to fulfill the promise and the potential of the U.S.-Russia relations.
Let me just say a word about our trip to Somalia. The trip, I hope, will show the concern that all Americans feel for the people of Somalia and for the condition. These are humanitarian concerns, and in my view it is proper that the President show this concern to the people over there.
I also want to make very clear how strongly we support our troops that are over there. They're doing a first-class job. I've had a good briefing from General Powell and Secretary Cheney, and I just can't tell you how proud I am of the young men and women that are serving halfway around the world in this great humanitarian cause.
We've tried to keep Governor Clinton closely advised, informed on the Somalia trip and obviously on the arms control agreement. So I think these are both important events, the trip to Sochi and the trip to Somalia. And I would like to take this occasion, because it'll be the last I see some of you this year, to wish you all a very happy new year.
Q. Mr. President, have you warned the Serbs not to widen the war?
The President. Well, I don't want to get into what we're doing in terms of detail there, but we've expressed our concern in a lot of different ways, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International]. And I don't want to go into more detail on that one.
Q. Sir, is it safe for you to go to Somalia?
The President. Yes, it's perfectly safe. I'm not in the least bit concerned of the security. I have great confidence in our military and in, certainly, as always, in the Secret Service. So no, there's not a worry in the world on that.
Q. Do you worry about whether START II could actually be approved, both in the U.S. Congress and can President Yeltsin get START II approval?
The President. No, I feel confident after talking to Larry Eagleburger, representations having been made by his interlocutors there, both their Defense Secretary and their Foreign Minister, that that will be approved. Boris Yeltsin is quite confident of that. He feels that it is a historic agreement and good for the whole world, as do I. I believe that our Congress will approve it. And of course, I've been appreciative of the words of -- without committing him on any way to any details -- the general words from Governor Clinton, President-elect Clinton, on this subject.
Q. Mr. President, do you view START II as a vindication of your attention to the foreign account?
The President. No, I view it as a great step for mankind. And it's not -- certainly it's not a personal achievement. The people standing here with me have worked hours, endless hours, to bring this about. So it's not personal. But I take great pride in this accomplishment because I think it's a very good treaty, and I'm proud that this team was able to work it out.
POW - MIA's
Q. Are you going to ask Yeltsin to unleash more information about the American POW's situation?
The President. Well, I am confident that Boris Yeltsin will go the extra mile on that. I think he has. But we just have to wait and see on that subject because all of us remain concerned about it. But I should express my confidence in his willingness to cooperate. I don't think anyone would disagree with that at all.
I think I've got to get ready to go to Somalia. Last one.
Q. Mr. President, on the Christmas Eve pardons, does it give the appearance that Government officials are above the law?
The President. No, it should not give any such appearance. Nobody is above the law. I believe when people break the law, that's a bad thing. I've read some stupid comment to the contrary. And of course, I feel that way. But the Constitution is quite clear on the powers of the President. And sometimes a President has to make a very difficult call, and that's what I've done.
But I'm glad you asked it, because I've read some rather frivolous reporting that I don't care about the law. I pride myself on 25 or more years of public service, of serving honorably, decently, and with my integrity intact. And certainly I wouldn't feel that way if I had a lack of respect for the law. And I don't think there is one single thing in my career that could lead anybody to look at my record and make a statement of that nature. So thank you for giving me the opportunity to clear it up.
Thank you all.
Note: The President spoke at 9:45 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. The proclamation of December 24 which granted Executive clemency to six former Government officials for their conduct related to the Iran-contra affair is listed in Appendix E at the end of this volume.