THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS The Briefing Room
12:48 P.M. EST
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good afternoon. Why don't we just go straight into questions.
Q What did the President mean when he said that when he knew who had done the terrorist bombing and why, he said, I think, I will determine what the appropriate course is for the United States and say it -- implying some sort of --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, currently, the investigation
Q What's the question?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What did the President mean when he said when I know who did the terrorist bombing and why I will recommend the United States take appropriate action -- I believe that was --
Q I don't want to put words in his mouth -- "I will determine what the appropriate course is for the United States and I'll take it."
Q I'm sure prosecution would be on the list.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Number one -- first we'll prosecute.
Q Right, but is there anything -- can you amplify what he was talking about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I mean, let's just take a step back. First of all, the investigation is continuing. It is continuing with the FBI and the appropriate authorities. And I think what the President was trying to say -- we have some initial indications that the person who is in custody was not acting alone, and if the President determines that further policies are needed after finding out who was involved, then he will certainly go forward. I don't have any specifics in mind at this time, but certainly he's going to do everything he can to protect the national security of Americans living here and abroad.
Q Is there some indication that state-sponsored terrorism may be involved?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Nothing right yet. I'm not going to say that there won't be something in the future. I have nothing on that now.
Q Can you tell us something about the new tightened sanctions on Serbia the President was talking about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right now we have -- first of all, I'd like to take a step back on that as well and talk a little bit about the successes we've had with the sanctions over the last several weeks. Number one, to begin with, we have apprehended a Serbian ship this morning called the Maria. It was intercepted off the Seychelles. It was carrying Serbian arms for export we believe toward Somalia and it was intercepted off the Seychelles this morning.
That is one of five ships that has been blocked over the last month, including the Dimitrackis, the Venture, the Velaluca, the Rosario and the Kareem. We have also had some success along the Danube of preventing any ships from going forward from being offloaded on the Danube.
I would say that what the President was referring to this morning -- we now have two teams in Europe, one being led by the State Department and one being led by the Treasury Department. They are interagency teams and the first team is trying to discuss how to stop the transfer of goods over land. They're discussing a variety of subjects including adding of monitors, improving communications systems and improved documentation. And they will be reporting back, we hope, this weekend.
The second team led by the Treasury Department is discussing enforcement of sanctions as they relate to the transfers of money. But the entire effort is designed to crack down on the Serbians to inflict real pain and real price for the actions they are taking.
Q So what you're looking at are ways to tighten sanctions? You're not announcing -- the impression the President left this morning was that sanctions were being tightened, I think were the words he used, as we were speaking, were being implemented. That's not the case, right now you're just looking at ways --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the sanctions are being implemented today. As I said we had an intercept of a ship on the high seas.
Q But those are the old sanctions. We're talking about new --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: First of all let me stress that we, at this point, are contemplating actions that come within the authority of the U.N. resolutions. And all of the things that we've talked about here would come within the authority of the U.N. resolutions so they could be implemented very quickly upon return of the teams, and that's what the discussions are about right now.
Q Are these all Serbian ships that were intercepted?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, either Serbian ships or carrying Serbian materials or carrying materials to Serbia.
Q George, you continue to describe the sanctions as successful and you come out again today to tell us more examples of what you say are successes with the sanctions, but they don't seem to have had any particular effect on the Serbs. The ethnic cleansing continue to go on. Instances of aggression continue to go on. Whatever incidents of violence you care to name continue to go on. How can you call them successful when you are producing no results?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we are producing results when we do anything to limit Serbia's ability to create goods in the long run, when we limit their ability to get financing. We, over time will be inhibiting their effect to carry on the aggression. That is not to say that the sanctions have stopped the aggression. Of course, they haven't. And the President is concerned about that, and he is doing what he can now to look at further actions that would help stop that action.
Q Could you tell us of any slowdown in the aggression that you can show as a result of sanctions?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can point to what we've done and what we've been able to seize. Obviously, the situation in eastern Bosnia is serious right now. And we are watching it very closely and we are doing everything we can, both with our allies and to try and stop it.
Q Can you explain the President's apparent optimism about the negotiations, because all of the reporting out of New York has been that, in fact, there is a possible breakdown of the negotiations?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That might be an interim breakdown. On the other hand, both sides have agreed to the first two steps called for in the negotiations. We hope that they will continue to come back to the table. And we will continue to press all sides to work in New York.
Q There is disagreement on the crucial step, which is the map, which is the third step, and the first two steps don't go into effect until the map is agreed upon.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And we are going to continue to press for agreement on all three steps.
Q George, these teams that you've mentioned, where physically are they at this point? Who are they --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure exactly which city they're in at this point. I know that they're expected to return probably as early as tomorrow.
Q Both teams are expected to return as early as tomorrow?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe so, yes.
Q And the team that is discussing overland transport, have they been in Romania, Greece, I mean, the countries --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just don't have the exact places. We can try and get that to you later. I just don't have it right now.
Q One other thing. You mention the problems with transport on the Danube, which has been one of the main weak points in the embargo. Have these discussions led to any new ideas about how to enforce the sanctions there without allowing the Serbs to effectively cut off traffic on the river to all the upstream countries?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There certainly been discussions. One thing I would point out, though, about the Danube now that there has been great success because there aren't really any goods going up and down the rivers. We've had good success with our allies in agreeing not to offload or load on to Serbian and other ships even though they are -- they might be free to go up and down the river, but they can't carry anything so we think that's been a good sign.
Q Where are they getting all their supplies and financing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're looking into it and obviously we're trying to do what we can to stop it off. I don't have a detailed list of where they're getting all their supplies.
Q Do you know of any countries dealing with them?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q As a general manner, do you have a sense of how they're managing to pull this off? I mean, obviously, if the sanctions were being as successful, perhaps, as you've described, they would not have any way to do this. So don't you have some sense of what's happening or should we say that the U.S. is baffled by the fact --
Q Is Russia involved?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't get into that. I just don't -- I believe that -- they obviously had a strong military, they've been building up the military for a long time. We have only been making this success over the last month since we've come into office and been able to stop these shipments from taking place. That's not going to turn off all of the productive capabilities overnight. But we believe we've been -- made some good success over the last month.
Q Sanctions take a very long time to have any effect and ethnic cleansing is taking place right now. So are you discussing with your allies any practical step to try to stop this operation of ethnic cleansing which is happening now in eastern Bosnia?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we're discussing it. As you know, we've had good discussions in the U.N. and we continue to work with our allies --
Q I'm thinking of any practical step other than strengthening the embargo.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We would like continued enforcement of the no-fly zone. I don't know exactly what you are referring to by practical steps. We believe by strengthening the embargo that is a good practical step we can take to limit the violence over time, we hope, and limit the capability of Serbia.
Q Haven't you given, maybe, too much consideration to the fears even -- of the French and of the British for the safety of the troops on the ground?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, those are obviously legitimate fears and that's one of the factors the President spoke to this morning.
Q To follow up on that, how does the President gauge what is success in a mission like this? If the talks were to remain stalled and these new sanctions, whatever they're going to be, turn out not to have any kind of measurable effect, how do you gauge what the next step should be and when you take it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it's something you could do continually. We will continually reassess our policy.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We talk with our allies, we use our intelligence assessments of what's happening on the ground. We listen to what they're saying and we just do it every day.
Q For example, what were the factors that led you to believe that they needed to be tougher now other than news reports that they weren't working?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The aggression is continuing and it's clearly a matter of concern to the President. There's no question the situation in eastern Bosnia is very serious, and we have to take whatever steps we can to try and pressure Serbia to be good actors at the negotiating table.
Q Whatever steps you can up to and including what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Up to and including what we're doing.
Q If your goal is to pressure Serbia over time, aren't you giving the Serbians exactly what they want, time to complete the ethnic cleansing process and present a fait accompli on the ground?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That is certainly not what we're doing. What we're doing right now is working through the U.N. to get a negotiated settlement. We're tightening the sanctions. We're doing everything we can to make it clear to the Serbians that we will not stand for the continued aggression, and we are working hard at that.
Q That's not the practical effect. The practical effect is that every day the Serbians seem to take more ground and now we have a U.N. sponsored effort to enable Bosnian Muslims to escape, which has the effect of ceding more ground to Serbia.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It has the effect of saving lives.
Q It may that as well, but, I mean, the Serbians seem to be gaining every day that this delays.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not that it delays. We are working right now. Again, the aggressiveness of the Serbians is a matter of concern. We are doing what we can to stop it.
Q Have you ruled out military intervention, and have you given any Serbians any line beyond which they cannot go?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President, as you know, has said that we would contemplate a military force to enforce any agreement. He has not called for any further military actions at this time.
Q Has he ruled it out?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, he is not proposing it right now. He's proposing intensifying the sanctions. It is not something we are discussing at this time.
Q Didn't he say, though, in his statement today that he had ruled out ground forces?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Ground forces , he has said many times, is not something he wants to do.
Q George, any reaction to Radovan Karadzic's statement expressing regret that his words have been misinterpreted and apologizing, in effect, saying it was a bad translation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll accept.
Q In connection with these discussions on financial transactions that the Treasury team is having, has there been any discussion of a freeze on Serbian assets?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I can't get into the specifics of what they're discussing, but they're discussing a range of actions.
Q George, is it a good idea for us just to sit outside that gate down in Waco and wait forever and nothing happen? Why don't we do something? Are we losing the confidence of the world when we just sit there and take that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that every day that goes by where there isn't other violence and we have more children released is good. And if it takes a little time, that's fine.
Q George, would you please tell me if Russian arms shipments to Serbia will be on the agenda in Vancouver?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I have not heard that discussed. The President wants the focus of the meeting to be on President Yeltsin's economic program, what we can do to foster the economic and political reforms he is trying to enact.
Q Any response to this House task force that today asked that the airdrops be stopped?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I have not seen exactly what the House task force has called for. I would only point out that we believe there has been more success with the airdrops in recent days. I would point out that since the airdrop announcement, not only have more food and medicines been able to get through on the air, but it's also increased in some degree the effectiveness of the land convoys. And the city of Tuzla has received six convoys with 630 metric tons of aid. Gorazde has had one convoy with 110 metric tons. So we've had seven convoys with 740 metric tons as compared to about three convoys and 242 metric tons gotten through land convoys before the airdrops. So the airdrop not only allows food and medicines to get into areas which can't be reached by land at all -- and we've had some success in that getting through -- but it also helps the land convoys get their food through as well.
Q George, as part of the more intensive support that the President expressed today for Yeltsin's reforms, is the President going to ask the Japanese to invite Yeltsin to the G-7?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll have to get back to you on that. I don't have an answer to that right now.
Q Also, can you shed a little bit more light on what the President did mean with new approaches that the United States might put into effect to help Yeltsin?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as he said, he wanted to announce the specifics as we got closer to the dates. So I'll let his statements on that stand. But he's always had a strong commitment to doing whatever we can creatively along with our allies to make sure that Russia survives.
Q Why Vancouver?
Q Just one other on this --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Nice place -- you ever been there? (Laughter.)
Q? op ed piece and he seemed to concur with what Nixon said in The New York Times this morning. Does he plan to meet with Nixon or talk to Nixon before the summit in Vancouver?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, I think he has spoken with President Nixon on the phone in the last week. They has a good conversation, about 30 minutes, basically on this subject. And I believe he'll probably also be meeting with him, although I don't have a specific date yet.
Q How long did he talk?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think about 30 minutes.
Q Who called who?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the President called former President Nixon.
Q What did they talk about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: To talk about Russia and other matters.
Q Do you expect them to meet prior to the summit?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's possible.
Q After Nixon's trip to Moscow --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q Do you know when this took place?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It was a couple of days ago. I'm not sure of exactly when.
Q Does that raise Nixon's stature as a elder statesman?
Q Has the President called former President Bush at all since he took office?
Q Since he took office?
Q This is not hard. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure. I don't think so.
Q Do you have any response to Sam Nunn's speech on the Senate floor?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I wanted to clear up one more thing on Bosnia before I went. There was some suggestion yesterday in the newspapers that the Bosnians may not have been welcoming the airdrops. I just wanted to be clear that Bosnian President Izetbegovic did brief the member of the U.N. Security Council yesterday -- members of the U.N. Security Council yesterday afternoon and he praised the U.S. for undertaking what he called "the noble task of air dropping relieve to our starving population." He added that he was very thankful for this humanitarian effort, although it is not yet attained fully it's desired results and he also urged the U.S. to continue to enhance it's noble efforts in Bosnia. And the Bosnian government wanted to do everything it could to counter any charges that the airdrops had failed and to publicly thank the administration for it's efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering in Bosnia. So they asked us to make the contents of those discussions known.
Q Have you heard from that team that was in Russia evaluating how the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure the status of the team yet. I don't have any report on that.
Q A clarification of what you said about the teams coming back -- are they looking for new sanctions or ways to make old ones more effective, and reading from that, would there be --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's new actions, but I think it's contemplated that we could have some new actions but still consistent with the U.N. authority we have new.
Q Might we expect some sort of announcement over the weekend?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not certain of that. I wouldn't rule it out, but I'm not certain it would be.
Q Can you respond to Sam Nunn's speech on the Senate floor warning that these budget cuts -- the effort to reduce the deficit should not be all done out of defense. He was very concerned about defense spending, that too much is coming out of defense.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President agrees that defense shouldn't bear the sole burden for deficit reduction and that's why we do have a balanced plan. Obviously, Senator Nunn is an expert in these matters and we take what he has to say very seriously and we'll be reviewing his speech with great care.
Q In other words, is that to say that you would not go deeper into defense than Sam Nunn thinks is advisable?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, it's to say that we'll review his recommendations with great care and I'm certain that he'll --that a lot of his suggestions are stuff that we can look at.
Q But he apparently believes that your proposals are already are too deep in defense.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we'll, again, review his speech and we believe that we have a good proposal.
Q George, is there any reaction to this story that Janet Reno was arrested but charges were dropped for driving while under the intoxication or whatever?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I haven't seen the story. I've never heard anything like that.
Q Is there anything -- you don't know anything about this is all?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Nothing at all, no. This is the first I've heard.
Q George, that -- I'm sorry, that story was leaked by a lobbyist for the NRA with nothing to back it up. Do you think that signals some extra problems for the NRA? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think the President could be any more strongly for the Brady bill than he is right now. But I think it does shed a light on the kind of tactics the NRA is engaged in in the past. And it obviously won't be helpful to their case and it has nothing to do with the work they say they care about.
Q What is this story about Panetta telling a congressional committee today to consider capping COLAs for Social Security?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I haven't seen the report.
Q He suggested possible reductions in COLAs for some in an interview with AP.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: All I can say is that the President is open to any suggestions from the Congress for reducing spending. He will take a look at them, he will review them quite seriously. I don't know what Chairman Panetta said this morning. I don't know that I can rely necessarily on second or thirdhand reports. I don't think I should comment beyond that.
Q taking another look at COLAs, not necessarily caps but individual COLAs for upper income people.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President's been on the record about upper income restrictions in the past. We'll take a look at individual proposals as they're made. And I don't think it's probably a good idea to respond to hypothetical proposals that aren't being made at this time. But we will look at everything.
Q Well, what Panetta apparently said is that if you really want to get big dollars out of this budget, he was addressing this --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's a statement of fact.
Q The President spoke kind of emphatically this morning about the need to continue with the stimulus package even in the face of continued good economic news. Is he beginning to feel that maybe his upper hand is being eroded by --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, not at all. I think what the President sees across the country is great support for his program. We feel very good about the support we have in Congress right now for the package. What he wants to do is emphasize the importance of jobcreating investments and job-creating stimulus. All the news we've seen is very encouraging. At the same time we still don't have enough good jobs being created both now and for the future, and that's exactly what the President's investment package is designed to do.
Q How many more percentage points would this unemployment rate have to drop before he decided that maybe it wasn't so necessary to provide a stimulus package?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll take every point dropped that we can get. At the same time, it's important that if the unemployment rate drops, it also drops and the jobs being created are full-time jobs that people can live on.
Q Do you have any kind of readout on the bishops?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not yet, no.
Q Were you in the meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q Are you going to put out anything on it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: If we have anything to put out, sure.
Q George, back on Bosnia just for a second. The President when he was talking this morning, was talking about sanctions and coordination with the U.N. Are you ruling out any unilateral action by the United States?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The U.S. generally wants to work with our allies to come up with a coordinated approach in Bosnia that helps gets the parties to the table and helps makes sure that humanitarian supplies can get through. That's the approach we're focused on right now.
Q You're saying that you're going to evaluate proposals for -- further proposal for cutting the budget. Do you anticipate any kind of a message before the budget committee starts marking up?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's unlikely. As you know, they're working on the chairman's mark right now, and they're in deliberations right now. We'll certainly be discussing their proposals with them. I believe that the President will be meeting with members of the budget committee over the next several days, and we'll continue to keep our ears open.
Q George, when the President was in California he said there really couldn't be a full-blown national economic recovery until California recovers. This morning, the unemployment rate in California went up from 9.5 percent to 9.8 percent. Is that one factor in the President's reckoning for staying with the short-term stimulus --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the continued high unemployment in California is a matter of grave concern to the President. As you know, California is about an eighth of the U.S. economy. Its economy is larger than the economies of many countries. And America won't fully recover until California also is in a full recovery that's creating jobs. And high unemployment in California is a matter of great concern to him and it's one of the reasons that he's pushing so hard for the investments that he thinks are important, that will create good jobs both in California and the rest of the country.
Q Is it also one of the reasons he's sticking with his push to get the short-term stimulus?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Absolutely. We need to create jobs both in the short and the long term.
Q Is it possible that the high rate of unemployment in California is due to the fact that 1,000 illegal aliens a night get across the border into U.S. citizenship -- going across the border --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it has a lot more to do with the loss of defense jobs and the decline of the manufacturing base, and the fact that we haven't invested enough. But we'll continue to do what we can to prevent illegal immigration.
Q Of the dozens of proposals the President has received from Capitol Hill, are there any single cuts that the President has signed off on?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know that we've seen dozens. We're going to continue to look at the packages that are presented. And when we see things that we can accept, we'll be prepared to announce our support.
Q When you say that the individual arrested in New York in connection with the World Trade Building bombing, the initial indications are that he was not acting alone -- what do the initial indications -- can you go beyond that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I really can't go beyond that, no.
Q Is it part of a broader terrorism --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The investigation is continuing, and that's really all I can say. I can't characterize it beyond that.
Q Do you have any indications that any suspects have fled the United States?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't comment on it.
Q On this weekend and the week ahead, travel?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Weekend, the President will be giving his radio address tomorrow at 10:06 a.m., and I think that's it for the weekend. But you never know for sure.
Q Can you give us an outline on next week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe he'll be in Washington most of the week. However, he's considering traveling at the end. I don't think we have a set place yet, but he'll be having various meetings. He'll be speaking to the National League of Cities on Monday here in Washington. He'll be doing some small business events on Wednesday and Thursday. And, as you know, he'll be doing continual work with the budget committees and other members of Congress as the budget resolution -- the President's budget resolution is marked up in committee.
Q And the trip is an overnight?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Probably, its just not set yet, though.
Q Just to get back to the question about the economic stimulus. The President made a fairly lengthy defense of the need for the stimulus package. Would it be fair to interpret that as sort of a preemptive strike to try to prevent folks from using the numbers today as reason to back off the stimulus?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think its a fair indication of how strongly he feels about the investment program and the shortterm stimulus program and how important he believes it is for the long-term health of the economy.
Q For the long-term health of the economy?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Short and long-term health. Sure.
Q Will you give us an update on where the President stands on filling positions at the Pentagon and the Secretaries' positions -- the Under Secretaries' positions and many of these other agencies in town where they seem to be operating in the state of limbo?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we've been making progress. We've had several announcements this week; we expect to have more. Again, we hope to have the announcements on the Pentagon -- the Assistant Secretaries very soon. I don't have a hard date on it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:15 P.M. EST