THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS The Briefing Room
12:58 P.M. EST
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good afternoon. As you know, the President will be holding another press conference today at 2:00 p.m. But I'm ready to take your questions now. (Laughter.)
Q George, how serious is the situation with North Korea right now?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, obviously, it's a situation of great concern to the President and the entire administration. We're watching it very closely. We continue to hope that North Korea reverses its decision and agrees to abide by all the obligations under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. It's also my understanding that there will be further meetings at the IEA later this week, both on Wednesday and Thursday -- the board of directors on Wednesday and a full meeting on Thursday.
Q On what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The situation in North Korea.
Q On October 30, the President was in Pittsburgh and he addressed the issue of British Airways' purchase of U.S. Air, and he said he had several reasons to raise questions about it. He said, first of all, he didn't want a foreign country to have indirect control over our companies; secondly, he wanted to make sure that American companies had the same right to invest over there; thirdly, he said that there was going to be negotiations beginning on November 6th to make sure that we have the same access to British markets that they have to ours. Can you tell me how the President has been assured that all those things have happened in order to warrant preliminary approval?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: First of all, this is a different deal from the one that was being contemplated in October, as you know. Secondly, Secretary Pena today said that he would be seeking immediate negotiation of the U.S.-U.K. aviation pact because it does provide insufficient access to the U.S. market. Third, I just remind you that this is simply the first phase and the Secretary of Transportation has said that we shouldn't take any final decisions on the second and third phases at this point.
This decision by the Secretary this morning is simply abiding by the requirements of the law. As you know, this is a differently-structured deal. He will continue to review the deal, he will continue to review the second and third phases, and he will continue to seek comment on the issue of whether or not British Air or U.S. Air is meeting the citizenship requirements under the law. But this is a different deal and the President remains very concerned about open skies with the United Kingdom. He will be communicating those concerns directly. And the Secretary of Transportation will be seeking a new agreement.
Q Well, what are we seeking in a new agreement? What in particular, in terms of market access do we not have now that we want as a benchmark?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we clearly want more open skies. I can't get into the specifics of it. I refer you to the Secretary of Transportation. But we believe there is insufficient access now, that the current agreement is unfair, and we would like more access.
Q What is the difference in this new --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: This new agreement -- it has been restructured. It's simply the code sharing, which is -- we have to abide by under our current legal obligations. They have reduced the amount of investment, they don't have -- they've only got three people on the board, I believe. It's just a much lower number for the time being.
Q What is the President doing today on the storm situation? And are you at all overseeing these relief efforts -- trying to find those students missing in the Smokey Mountain National Forest?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if he's gotten any direct involvement in it, but we are receiving reports from the Federal Emergency Management Administration. As you know, this morning Alabama also was declared an emergency area for snow removal. They join Tennessee. Florida has been declared a disaster area. We are continuing to expect probably 17 other requests for emergency snow removal. The disaster assistance will take a little bit more time to assess over the next two or three days. But the President is very pleased with the performance of FEMA so far. They had people in place early, they have expedited all the requests as quickly as possible, and they are doing a good job.
Q The same FEMA team that we've come to know and love is now doing a good job?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No question about it. We had advance warning from the National Weather Service, and FEMA was prepared to act, and they've acted well.
Q Who's in charge of FEMA?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Tidwell, I believe.
Q Tidball. Remember him?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Tidball.
Q Is he a Bush person?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There are some -- yes.
Q Yes. He's a career person.
Q Is there any chance the President will visit --
Q Can you clarify the administration's position on the whole Yeltsin question? Are we truly, as some senior officials have suggested, neutral to the prospect of him dissolving the Russian Parliament? What is exactly the President's view on that? And also --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President stated his view. I would say that he is the authoritative source, and he's spoken out over the weekend. He continues to support President Yeltsin as the only democratically-elected leader in Russia and the only one in Russian history. And he believes that he embodies the process of reform. And the President continues to support President Yeltsin and the reform process.
Q Right, but what does that say about his relationship to the Parliament?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President hopes that the disputes between the Parliament and President Yeltsin are resolved in a manner consistent with reform.
Q George, when did they last speak?
Q What does that mean?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He hopes that they resolve their disputes and that the reform process continues.
Q Is dissolving Parliament and scheduling elections consistent with reform?
Q Yes, just a direct question -- what is the United States' view on the prospect of Yeltsin dissolving the Parliament?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, again, I don't know that -- Yeltsin has not dissolved the Parliament. I'm not going to answer a hypothetical question on that matter. But the President hopes that all the disputes are resolved in a peaceful manner that helps the reform process move along.
Q It is not something you, from the podium today, would want to rule out? You would not want to send President Yeltsin a signal, do not do that.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What I would like to do this time is say, is reiterate the President's support for the reform process.
Q George, when did they last speak?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They have not spoken in that last several days, so there's nothing new. I don't remember the exact date of when he spoke, but it was a few weeks ago.
Q Has the President been in touch with any members of Russian Parliament?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not directly, no.
Q George, is there going to be a meeting of the finance ministers and foreign ministers is Moscow to deal with the debt problem?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that there's been any resolution of that. We believe the meeting went well in Hong Kong this weekend of the G-7. And we hope that the process will continue to move forward, but there has not been a next meeting set.
Q What is the President's view of the French initiative to move the Tokyo summit up from July, to actually have a meeting of the heads earlier than July because of the Russian emergency?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I wouldn't necessarily want to rule it out, but we have not addressed that yet. We would like to see the process continue at this time. And there is a possibility of other meetings before Tokyo. But at this time we believe that the first meeting went well. We hope that the process continues to go forward speedily. And we just have no further decisions on other meetings at this time.
Q George, just about a year ago, I think during the New York primary, the President, then-Governor, endorsed the idea of a special American envoy to the ongoing Irish peace process. With the Irish Taoiseach due here on Wednesday, what is the President's feeling now about a peace envoy?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're continuing to review that matter and we want to look at the idea of maybe having a fact-finding mission or some other entity review the process. But we've been discussing that with both England and Ireland.
Q How would the fact-finding mission differ from the peace envoy?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know specifically how it would be structured. That is something we're now discussing with the Irish and English.
Q Is it a matter of semantics? Are the English unwilling to accept the idea of a peace envoy?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, we're reviewing the situation, and we'll continue our discussions with Ireland and England. When we have more on that, I'll let you know.
Q What is planned for Wednesday when the Taoiseach is here?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe they're just having a meeting here in the Oval Office, and then the President will be going on to the Hill for a meeting with Speaker Foley.
Q Will there be some discussion of this issue --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would assume so. I would assume there would be discussion.
Q What is the President's view on the IRA's involvement in the peace process? It's not involved at this point -- the IRA or any of their representatives. Would his peace envoy countenance IRA involvement in order to make --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, until we have a decision on how the U.S. involvement will be structured, I don't think I should get into a hypothetical about who would be involved.
Q Would that decision happen as early as Wednesday?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not certain it would happen on Wednesday.
Q How has the President been in touch with members of Russia's Parliament?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't believe he has been in direct contact, which is what I said.
Q No, no -- indirect. How? Indirectly how?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, we just have normal diplomatic contacts through the State Department and they've been reporting to the National Security Council.
Q Is the President doing anything to support Yeltsin other than saying that he supports the idea of an earlier G-7 meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he continues to speak out in support of President Yeltsin nearly every day. At the same time, he was very supportive of having Russian participation at the G-7 meeting this weekend and hopes that that process will continue.
Q Was there any sign that the debt relief question was settled or was moving forward in some way? Is there any prospect that the G-7 will be able to work out a rescheduling of Russia's debts?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that anything was settled over the weekend, but we intend to continue our discussions.
Q Is Mr. Delors going to be meeting with the President on Thursday?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe so, yes.
Q Is he coming here to the White House?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q What's the purpose of that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Just to have a meeting to get an update of the European Community's participation on a range of issues. I don't know if there's any specific agenda beyond the range of issues we deal with the EC.
Q Was this previously scheduled or is this --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, yes. This has been -- I think it was announced a couple of weeks ago.
Q Coming back to Korea for a moment. Can it be assumed you're looking for more than hope? I mean, during the buildup to this thing there was a lot of questions about good faith and inspections and so forth and assurances. And now they've shown where they stand by withdrawing. Is it just hope?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, we're deeply concerned about what is happening in North Korea and we intend to make our views known. And we're looking forward to the IEA meetings this week and we hope -- we will continue to press for a resolution.
Q Might that be tied, for instance, to reinstitution of the war games that were suspended in anticipation of some action on this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe the team spirit is moving forward, but that has nothing to do with the North Korean decision.
Q But last year they suspended --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't speak on what might happen in the future, but they are continuing now.
Q Has the President received a request from Seoul that additional U.S. troops will be brought in, or those that were --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge, no.
Q for the war games remain on --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They are going forward at this time, but I don't know of any other additional requests.
Q ones are still there?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not positive. I believe so.
Q Can you say if it's still true that there are no nuclear arms in South Korea?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't comment on that.
Q What is the President's position as of now on Israel's policy for the deportees?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President, as he said this morning, believes that Secretary Christopher reached a good agreement, consistent with U.N. Resolution 799, and we continue to hope that all parties will come to the peace table as quickly as possible.
Q Does the President believe that Israel should release the deportees?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President believes that we are on the path towards release consistent with U.N. resolutions and we support the agreement that has been reached.
Q A follow-up to my St. Patrick's Day question. (Laughter.) If the United States were to become involved in the Irish peace process with the appointment of envoy, would you rule out the involvement of the IRA either directly or through their political --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, since we don't have a decision on the envoy, I don't think I should comment on hypotheticals relating to the appointment of an envoy.
Q It's hardly hypothetical, George, when both governments that you had referenced earlier, Britain and Ireland, are on record on the subject. I'm just wondering what our positions.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it is hypothetical -- it is hypothetical in that no decisions have been made.
Q So he wouldn't rule out the IRA --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I think that it's highly unlikely, but I just don't want to discuss it further.
Q George, now that the House has joined the Senate in rejecting the idea of letting HIV positive people into the country, where does that leave the administration? They had a review of the Guantanamo refugees underway at HHS. What's the status of that? Where do you go with that? And what is the President's reaction to the votes on the Hill? Might you veto that bill?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The review of the situation in Guantanamo continues. I don't think that --
Q still alive?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you for your comment -- (laughter.)
Q It's a legitimate question.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But the House and the Senate have both spoken. The President believes that the NIH bill is critically important, because of the research funds it provides for women's health. And we probably -- I would think that the President will review that when it's put on his desk.
Q But is this the end of it for letting those people into the country?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the President continues to review the situation on Guantanamo, but the House and the Senate have had a clear statement of their will with regard to the broader question, and the President has to take their concerns into account as he considers the overall NIH bill.
Q What are we going to do with them? We're spending $55 million a year to keep them down there. The House and Senate say, don't let them in. You've had a review going on for many months now, as you pointed out. What's going to happen to these people? They're sitting there in limbo.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And we are going to continue to review the situation, and when we come up with an approach we will announce it.
Q George, do you have concern that Boris Yeltsin, since he's been stripped of much of his power by the Parliament, no longer is the representative of Russia, that President Clinton should be meeting with, and do you think the summit would be a waste of time?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not in the least. President Yeltsin is the democratically-elected leader of Russia. He is moving forward on the reforms and we support him.
Q Is the Parliament the democratically-elected Parliament of Russia?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if I want to get into an analysis of the Russian political system -- a full analysis of the Russian political system from this podium. But the President continues to believe that President Yeltsin maintains the best hope for reform.
Q Not the Parliament?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: President Yeltsin embodies the process of reform. Clearly, there are reformist elements in the Parliament, but President Yeltsin is doing the most to move the process forward.
Q Do you believe that President Yeltsin speaks for Russia when he makes arms control deals and he makes commitments -- financial commitments for the country?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Absolutely. He is the elected leader of Russia.
Q Well, you said earlier, George, that Yeltsin was the only democratically-elected leader in Russian history. That kind of leaves the Parliament out, doesn't it? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He is the only democratic -- I should have said President. I mean leader in terms of the head of state.
Q So you think that there's some chance that under some definition you might be willing to consider that gang over there in the Parliament to be elected?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I didn't say that. My statement stands on its own.
Q Well, it may do something, but stand is not the word that I had in mind. (Laughter.)
Q George, can you give us an interim report of any kind on the Clinton-Rabin meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. They'll be out in an hour and you'll be able to question them.
Q George, given the political uncertainty in Russia, is there any thought that perhaps the defense cuts that the President proposed in his economic plan might be a little too steep, and is there any reconsideration?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at this point. And we continue to move forward with the budget as planned.
Q There are reports from the G-7, the meeting over the weekend that one of the focuses are a new fund for displaced workers in Russia. When we talk about this getting aid closer to the people on these proposals for money that's more visible as working and working more quickly there, are we talking about funds beyond the $700 million that you're proposing?
If we have funds to announce beyond the $700 million, we'll clearly let you know. But we have nothing to announce right now.
Q Is it under consideration to expand the funding levels?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the President has said, we will have announcements before the summit or around the summit, but I can't comment on the nature of those announcements until we're ready.
Q Has the President met with Senator Leahy or any of the Democrats in the Senate who are seeking more funding to rearrange the foreign aid program?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that he's had a specific new meeting on this particular subject, but he saw Senator Leahy last week on other matters.
Q Other matters?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: On other matters.
Q A follow-up, if I could ask. The $300 million increment addition to the Russian foreign aid package is from the 150 foreign aid account, which means that it has to come out of some other country. What is the administration's view of which country it should come out of? Should it be across the board? Should it come from Egypt and Israel? Should it come from someone else?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as the President has said, he wants the aid to Egypt and Israel to go forward as previously contemplated. There will be general reductions in security assistance. I don't have the specific line-by-line reductions right now, but there will be general reductions in security assistance to make up for the shortfall.
Q Across the board or for a specific --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't want to necessarily say across the board, but we will make up for the reductions through the security assistance account.
Q information that you said you'd provide before the April -- the line-by-line on the security assistance account, will we get that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: When we submit it to the committee, sure.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe it's in early April.
Q In early -- so the week after next?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have the specific day, but we will release it as soon as we can.
Q George, what is the President's view on the need for some kind of -- social assistance or income security for unemployed workers in Russia?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President has called for a full review of all the assistance options to Russia. That review is going on right now. And when we have some decisions to make, we'll let you know.
Q You'll tell us.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes. (Laughter.)
Q Do you have any kind of a general estimate or overall estimate of the storm damage? And is the President thinking about going to see any of these --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We don't have a solid overall estimate yet. A lot of the damage assessment teams will be getting to work -- they started yesterday, but they're going to be getting to work over the next 24 to 48 hours. So I don't have a number I can put on it at this time.
Q You don't have a ballpark --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's really a tricky business. I don't think we can get into a number right now. But we will be having the teams work on that over the next 24 to 48 hours. And the President, as I said, is -- or as Dee Dee said earlier today, is likely to be traveling later in the week, but we don't have that finalized yet.
Q Is it storm related, then?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not necessarily.
Q Will that be Friday, and that will just be a day trip?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Probably.
Q Where will -- in what city or area or state.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're not quite ready yet.
Q What part of the country?
Q Hemisphere? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Probably south.
Q Can we go back to the HIV ban again? Does the President agree with most of the members of Congress who seem to think that HIV poses a medical threat if people who carry the virus are allowed into this country permanently?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President thinks that --
Q What did she ask?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Does the President agree with members of Congress who believe that those who come into the country with HIV pose a medical threat to the rest of the United States -- is that correct?
Q That's exactly right.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you. They make compelling arguments. I mean, it's something that the President will clearly take into account as the --
Q Does he believe that to be true or is he concerned about the cost? I mean, what is it that he would agree with in the legislation that would enable him to sign it, having in the past said that he was going to review the whole thing and thought that these people should not be the banned from coming into the country?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But the President also believes that the National Institutes of Health bill should not necessarily be held hostage to any single provision included in the bill.
Q So that he would pursue lifting the ban independent of this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I didn't say that. I said we would review the situation.
Q But were he to sign that bill, then he would -- we can assume that because he doesn't agree with the policy in that one little bit of that bill, that he would then pursue lifting this ban as he had said he would before.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know under -- I don't know that he would necessarily actively seek a legislative solution given the fact that the House and the Senate have spoken so clearly on the issue.
END 1:18 P.M. EST