Press Conference

My Life by Bill Clinton, p. 676

“At the press conference after our meeting, I said that we had made progress on Bosnia and that we would both push for the ratification of START II and work together to conclude a comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty in 1996. It was a good announcement, but Yeltsin stole the show. He told the press that he was leaving our meeting with more optimism than he had brought to it, because of all the press reports saying that our summit “was going to be a disaster. Well, now, for the first time, I can tell you that you’re a disaster.” I almost fell over laughing, and the press laughed too. All I could say to them in response was “Be sure you get the right attribution there.” Yeltsin could get away with saying the darndest things.  There’s no telling how he would have answered all the Whitewater questions.”

Clinton, William Jefferson. My Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.

The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy by Strobe Talbott (Deputy Secretary of State, pages 183-184)

“As they stood up to go out and face the press, Clinton presented Yeltsin with a pair of hand-tooled cowboy boots that would fit him better than the ones George Bush had given him at Camp David in January 1992. Clinton asked Yeltsin to take off one of his shoes so that they could compare sizes. The two exchanged right shoes, and the fit was fairly close - allowing Clinton to remark, as he almost always did, how similar they were in build. This was a point that always seemed to please Yeltsin. Yeltsin said perhaps they should wear each other’s shoes to the press conference, but his protocol chief, Vladimir Shevchenko, now on the edge of panic, persuaded Yeltsin not to do it. “Boris Nikolayevich,” he whispered, “the media will make something unflattering of this!”

Yeltsin wore his own shoes to the news conference but still gave the reporters just the sort of Boris Show they were counting on. He mocked the press for having predicted the U.S. and Russian differences over Bosnia would turn the summit into a disaster. Pointing directly at the cameras, Yeltsin bellowed, “Now, for the first time, I can tell you that you’re a disaster!”

Yeltsin always practiced diplomacy as performance art, and when he was drunk, the performance was burlesque. This was the worst incident so far. Clinton, however, doubled over in laughter, slapped Boris on the back and had to wipe tears from his eyes. When he came to the microphone, he said, “Just make sure you get the attribution right!”, then continued to laugh - a little too hard to be convincing.

I sensed that Clinton was trying to cover for Yeltsin. Perhaps, he figured, if both presidents seemed to be clowning around, there would be less of a focus in the news stories on Yeltsin’s inebriation.”

Talbott, Strobe. The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy. New York: Random House, 2002

The Miller Center, University of Virginia, Anthony Lake Oral History 2002 (National Security Advisor)

“I did not care much for Yeltsin. One low point, I thought, with the President, with Clinton, was at Hyde Park… Yeltsin really drank a lot of wine at the lunch, and was clearly reeling around. At the meeting afterwards he did make some useful policy concessions, which we dutifully recorded while his officials looked rather glum. But then they went out to meet with the press. I can’t remember what exactly he was saying, but Yeltsin went on and on, in a rather funny way, abusing the reporters. Clinton started laughing, cackling as he could when something amused him, and I thought—I’m sounding very stiff here—but it was very unpresidential and not good. But he did get along well with him.”

Press Conference