THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
1:29 P.M. EST
MS. MYERS: A couple quick things. The President, as you know, met with King Hussein this morning. They met with their advisers for about 25 minutes, and then they met one-on-one for about 20 minutes. They discussed the peace process in the Middle East, the Jordan-Israel track, as well as other bilateral issues. Among other things, the President and the King reaffirmed their commitment to a comprehensive peace.
And then I thought, as we head into the weekend, I would just sort of go through the process on the State of the Union address briefly, and where we are in that.
The process actually started before Christmas. The President sat down with a group of advisers and sketched out what he wanted to talk about, what he wanted to include in the speech. He took with him some briefing materials when he went away over the Christmas break, both to Arkansas and then to South Carolina. As you know, David Dreyer and Bob Boorstin are the chief architects, are the two people who have been sort of putting the President's thoughts and other people's thoughts into the various drafts.
The President has had several meetings on the speech since he's been back, including one on Tuesday of this week and one on Wednesday on the plane on the way back from Los Angeles. He is not having a formal meeting today, but will take the most current draft as well as his thoughts to Camp David for the weekend, and then will meet with advisers on it on Monday and Tuesday before the final speech is delivered.
Essentially, the speech will look back a little bit at what's been accomplished in the previous year, and I think most importantly, explain his agenda for the coming year and the principles guiding his presidency. He will talk about things -- issues, including health care, the economy, and job training. He'll talk some about foreign policy and welfare reform as well as crime. I think the emphasis will be on values in many ways, on the values like work, opportunity, family, security -- things that he's talked about over the course of the past year and things that he'll continue to talk about in the coming year.
Q Does the President feel that President Yeltsin misled him in any way by talking about keeping on with reform, and now the two chief reformers have resigned in protest over the policies of the new cabinet?
MS. MYERS: No. As you know, President Yeltsin told President Clinton that Gaidar was likely to resign when he was in Moscow.
Q But not Fedorov.
MS. MYERS: But not Fedorov. But during their meetings together -- there were several meetings together -- President Yeltsin reaffirmed his commitment to democracy, to territorial integrity of Russia's neighbors, and to economic reform.
President Clinton continues to believe that President Yeltsin is committed to those things. It is up to the Russian government to determine the exact pace and nature of those reforms. I think that there is some disappointment that Fedorov will not be in the government. He was someone who was clearly committed to reform. But the Russians I think understand that inflation is one of the most serious threats to reform. They'll need to deal with that. The pace and exact policies of reform are something that they'll have to work out, and we'll have to wait to some degree and see.
Q But the policies that caused the resignation were specifically increased subsidies which would cause inflation and the ruble exchange with Belarus, which would cost their treasury --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we'll have to wait and see what the new government does. It's unclear. I think, again, that Yeltsin and others did show their concern for inflation. I think the President believes President Yeltsin believes that inflation is a very serious threat to the Russian economy and that's something that they'll have to deal with. But, again, the specific policies are something that they'll have to work out.
Q But there's a perception out there that the President stood up and supported policies which Yeltsin backed away from as soon as the President --
MS. MYERS: Yeltsin hasn't backed away from any policies. I think, again, during his meetings with President Clinton he affirmed his commitment on a number of issues, and I think that, again, it's important to us that the Russians continue on the course of economic reform of democracy. And in the Moscow declaration they reaffirmed their support for a number of those things, including the territorial integrity of their neighbors. There were a number of things that I think President Yeltsin expressed commitment for that President Clinton supports. And I think that we'll have to see how it goes.
Q But this morning the Prime Minister is being quoted as saying that Western reform methods have caused more harm than good. Now, what does that mean if they're not backing away?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin both reaffirmed their commitment to continued reform. The exact structure of those reforms are something that they're going to have to work out for themselves. But, again, I think it is important that they continue on the path to reform, to market economics and continue toward democratization.
I think we're going to have to wait and see -- there are a number of other reformers in the government, including President Yeltsin. Chernomyrdin supports many reforms. Chubays is still there and again is in charge of privatization. As the President pointed out this morning, the Russians have made more progress in privatization than any of the other Eastern European economies.
Q So is the U.S. going to let Russia then define what it means by reform and go along with that definition?
MS. MYERS: To a certain degree they're going to have to define -- they're going to have to decide for themselves how they move forward towards reform. I think what we'll do is continue to work with them to make sure that our aid is directed in ways that can be most helpful. And as I think Secretary Bentsen said today -- or
yesterday -- that more reform will mean more aid. And I think that's something that we'll continue to work with the Russian government on.
Q You said more reform means more aid. I mean, when Bentsen said that he said more reform as defined by the IMF and defined by the international institutions. Are you now saying that the definition of reform is open?
MS. MYERS: Well, the definition of reform is continuation toward currency stabilization and lower inflation, toward privatization and market economics, more democracy. And it's something that we're going to have to work with them on.
Q This morning there were unconfirmed rumors out of Paris that the Paris Club extended the 1993 Russia debt rescheduling for four months in order to take off some payment burdens early this year. Is that something that the President has supported?
MS. MYERS: I haven't heard that. I don't have anything on that.
Q Will Clinton be asking for a G-7 finance ministers meeting on Russian aid in the next coming months to kind of follow up on his meetings?
MS. MYERS: We'll have to wait and see. There's nothing scheduled at this point.
Q Just to be clear, though, did the President understand that they were going to basically reorganize the government and keep the most radical reformers out?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think everybody knew that they were going to -- well, no -- a couple things. First of all, everyone knew that they were going to restructure the Cabinet. That was something that had been in the works for a while. Second of all, both Gaidar and Fedorov resigned, and I think that's an important point. They were not forced out -- or certainly Fedorov was not forced out.
Q He says he was.
MS. MYERS: No, he resigned.
Q He says he was forced out. I mean, I can bring you the -- read it to you, but he says it.
MS. MYERS: He, I think, was welcome to stay, according to Chernomyrdin and Yeltsin. I haven't seen the specific comment that you're talking about, but he was, as far as I know, not fired. He resigned. And I mean, perhaps in protest to certain policies, but I think that's an important point.
The other thing is that there are, continue to be reformers in the government and President Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin reaffirmed their commitment when President Clinton was in Russia to reform. Exactly how that is carried forward, again, is something that the Russians are going to have to decide for themselves. But President Clinton believes that President Yeltsin remains committed, and said so this morning.
Q On the Middle East, what are the President's hopes for this next round of talks that are going to start next week, and what, if any, will be his direct involvement? Does he plan to talk at all to the parties while they're here?
MS. MYERS: No, I think that it's something the parties have to work out for themselves. I think we will continue to support the process and to urge the process forward, but when it comes to
sitting down, I think the parties have to do that for themselves. I think the President is encouraged by the fact that the process is moving forward. He's had good conversations, as you know, with a number of leaders and will continue to do what he can to promote the process.
Q Is he going to meet individually with any of the negotiators or any --
MS. MYERS: No, not scheduled.
Q There have been some conflicting reports on the wires about Boutros-Ghali saying he would authorize U.N. strikes, he would not authorize U.N. strikes. Can you set us straight what the situation is right now?
MS. MYERS: I've seen the news accounts -- the one I saw said that Boutros-Ghali said that he would authorize air strikes, which has been, I think, consistent with what he's said in the past. All I know is what I've seen on the wire. I don't have any independent confirmation of that. But I don't know that there's been any change in his attitudes about it.
Q Is there any heightened alert that the U.S. is aware of or --
MS. MYERS: No, not that I know of.
Q If he asked for air strikes, it then goes to the North Atlantic Council and they decide when and where and how?
MS. MYERS: It goes from -- Don will correct me if I'm wrong -- it goes from the commanders on the ground to the North Atlantic Council to the Secretary General and then to NATO to decide the specifics to carry it out.
Q At what level does NATO decide this? Or has it already been decided? I mean, is it foreign ministers, defense ministers?
MS. MYERS: In NATO?
MS. MYERS: I think it starts with the Supreme Allied Commander, and I think from there whoever the commanders on the ground are.
Q So they don't have to go back to the heads of state -- they already gave their okay last week, right?
MR. STEINBERG: There are two ways that it becomes activated. One is the direct UNPROFOR link which goes directly to the U.N. And then the other is if a country determines that -- one of the members of NATO determines that a strangulation of Sarajevo is occurring, can take this to the North Atlantic Council, which then reviews it either at the foreign affairs minister level or a higher level, and then that goes to Boutros-Ghali. But he does have the right for refusal.
MS. MYERS: There are two ways that air strikes can be triggered. The first is that the UNPROFOR commanders on the ground can appeal directly to the Secretary General of the U.N. if Sarajevo were to be strangled or disruption of humanitarian aid --
MR. STEINBERG: Or they're under attack.
MS. MYERS: Or they're under attack, right, because one of the -- air strikes -- one of the purposes was to protect UNPROFOR forces if they were under attack.
The other way is that one of the countries involved can go to NAC, ask for air strikes. Then the request goes to the U.N., where it would be in Boutros-Ghali's hands.
Q Boutros-Ghali also said today that the reason he was considering air strikes in this case was to ensure the rotation of U.N. peacekeeping troops; and in the next breath, he said, "and that matter is on its way to being resolved." So what is the situation? I mean, is there an increased possibility of air strikes in Bosnia over the next few days? Or is it your understand that he's simply restating the longstanding policy, which is that he has the authority to order air strikes if indeed all the conditions for rotating troops are not met?
MS. MYERS: I don't want to speak too much for him, but I would point out that there is a troop rotation. It was something that was talked about in Brussels at the NATO Conference; that protecting U.N. troops on the ground was one of the missions, one of the potential uses of air strikes. I think there was some concern last week about the safety of troops during the rotation. I don't think that there's any heightened concern, but I think all of those are factors perhaps in his comments.
Q But you have no sense that air strikes in Bosnia are imminent.
MS. MYERS: No.
Q Fedorov said today that he considers Strobe Talbott to have stabbed the reformers in the back when he said that what they need is more therapy and less shock. Do you have any comment on that?
MS. MYERS: I didn't see that comment. I think that --
Q What was the question?
MS. MYERS: The question was, Fedorov said that Strobe Talbott stabbed the reformers in the back when he said what the Russian economy needed was less shock and more therapy.
I think that Mr. Talbott believes that those comments were taken somewhat out of context; that the administration's position has been, and what the President has said on a number of occasions, is that what the Russian economy needed was more shock and more cushion. And I think that's been the United States' position on that. And we'll continue to work with the Russians to provide more cushion as they make the difficult transition to a market economy.
Q You're saying that Talbott believes that his original comments were taken out of context, not Fedorov's comments today?
MS. MYERS: Right. I'm sorry, make that clear. Because Strobe's position and the position of others in the administration including the President, starting with the President, are that the Russian economy needs continued reform and help in cushioning the impacts of reform on the Russian people. And that was something he talked with President Yeltsin about at length while he was in Moscow.
Q In light of these resignations this week, is there any -- is the administration involved in any reconsideration of U.S.
policy toward Russia? Is there any kind of aid assistance in the works that could be jeopardized by these resignations?
MS. MYERS: There have been ongoing conversations, particularly in the last few weeks, with the Russians about how best to target both bilateral and multinational aid, particularly in our case bilateral aid, so that it is useful in helping the transition. I think that those discussions will be ongoing.
Q But is any of that in jeopardy as a result of the events this week? Is there anything in the pipeline that could be withheld or reconsidered? And is the administration reconsidering its policy toward Russia right now?
MS. MYERS: No. But there are ongoing conversations about how best to direct the aid, and those conversations will continue. And again, particularly with reference to the international institutions, more reform means more aid. And so part of the how and when the aid is distributed will depend on how reforms take effect on the ground. In terms of our aid, I think we're continuing to work with the Russians to determine how best to apply that. But most of it -- much of it has either been sent or appropriated already.
Q Does the administration intend to go to the IMF and say, hey, you better take a second look at some of this, given the events of this week?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what conversations specifically we'll have with them, but they'll continue to -- they have a lot of prerequisites already that are attached to that and they'll continue to apply their standards.
Q Dee Dee, last night on Larry King right at the end of that interview, the President was asked about his greatest fears and he made a comment about a nation that might not continue with reform and might necessitate extra security spending and we wouldn't have trade with them. He didn't say Russia, but I can't think of another country that fits that bill. Can you confirm that he was talking about Russia, and is that one of his greatest fears -- that Russia will go off the tracks for reform?
MS. MYERS: You know, I didn't ask him specifically what he was referring to. I think what he said in the past was that he thinks that Russia is our greatest strategic concern; that the continued democratization of Russia is important both because it will allow us to spend less on our own strategic defense as well as creating new markets for American products, and that's something that he's been committed to from day one of his administration. But I can't answer specifically since I didn't ask him that question.
Q Dee Dee, could you just clear up the Strobe thing? Are you saying that he now says that he used a poor choice of words when he said less shock and more therapy, or that he never said those things at all?
MS. MYERS: No, I don't think that he would say he never said them. I just think that he -- again, I haven't had an in-depth conversation with him about this, but he did say that he thought that his remark was taken somewhat out of context because I think he's always believed that the Russian reforms need to continue apace, but that there needed to be some concern for the effects of those reforms on the lives of Russian people. And I think that's been the administration's policy.
Q Can we go back to the Middle East, please?
Q A little while ago Bo Cutter said that the speed in Tokyo of the reform package was a "significant setback for Hosokawa" Is the President worried that Hosokawa might be somewhat of a lame duck before he even gets a chance to meet with him?
MS. MYERS: I think that -- I'm not going to characterize the domestic political situation in Japan. That's something that Prime Minister Hosokawa will have to deal with. I think, on any level the framework talks will go forward and we'll continue to meet and discuss those.
Q Going back to the Middle East --
Q Would you echo the "significant setback" statement?
MS. MYERS: No. I'm specifically not commenting on the domestic political situation in Japan.
Q On the Middle East -- in this meeting this morning and the reaffirmation of comprehensive peace, does that mean that the President has agreed that the comprehensive peace means that no agreement will be signed by any of the parties until all the parties agree to their agreements?
MS. MYERS: I think the President believes that it's important to make progress on the individual tracks and as a means to a comprehensive peace. So I think that we're going to continue to push forward for as much progress as we can on each of the specific tracks.
Q That's not the same thing.
MS. MYERS: That there was an agreement signed between --
Q Will there be no agreement by any party -- between Israel and the Palestinians, between Israel and Jordan, so forth -- unless all the parties -- Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestinians -- sign agreements with Israel --
MS. MYERS: That's something for the parties to work out themselves.
Q Well, then the President is not in support of the conclusion that all the parties have to agree before there's one agreement.
MS. MYERS: The President believes that the only solution to the situation in the region is a comprehensive peace; that that is something that has to be worked out among the parties. That there is progress being made on each of the individual tracks and we're going to continue to support that progress.
Q May I ask some questions about the media attendance at the news conference last Sunday in Geneva between the Presidents? My understanding is that there was a pool and the Swiss and the Americans and the Syrians were allowed to have members of the press in that pool and nobody else. Does that exclude -- that is in the print media. I don't know about the television and radio components. But what I'd like to know is how did this originate, that the Israelis would be excluded, or anybody else would be excluded?
MS. MYERS: There was an Israeli journalist included at that press conference.
Q That's not my question. We know that. There was a women that was finally allowed to become part of the American delegation. But the point is that the composition of the attendance
was limited to the Swiss, Americans and Syrians. The question is where did this originate. Was it Syria? Was it the United States? Who agreed to it? Did the President know about it before he went in?
MS. MYERS: The President doesn't get involved in the back-and-forth negotiations of advance people.
Q Well, I agree --
MS. MYERS: Let me answer the question. As is normal when we're having a press conference between two countries, people sit down and discuss the arrangements about -- you have a limited amount of space, how are you going to allocate it. There were a number of back-and-forth discussions. In the process of that we made it clear that we wanted an Israeli, other countries to be represented including an Israeli journalist and a Lebanon journalist and a number of others. There was one from Middle East Broadcasting, a number of others representing countries in the region, and that's ultimately what happened.
Specifically, in terms of who said what when, I don't know the answers to that. I don't know that we'll ever know the answers to it. The bottom line is that we insisted that other countries including Israel be represented, and they were.
Q The way it comes out in the press, was this arrangement made that the Israelis would be there and a Lebanese was included --
MS. MYERS: It was something that was worked out through a series of back-and-forth conversations over a course of a couple days in Geneva. The bottom line is that we insisted that other countries be represented, and they were.
Q A couple of housekeeping measures. Could I ask what is the status on the Fed nomination interviews? Have those stopped now, the replacement for the people who will depart the Federal Reserve? Has the interviewing stopped yet? Has Perry had his interview?
MS. MYERS: All I can say about that is that when we're ready we'll have an announcement. And I'm not going to get into the process.
Q Also, on the jobs summit, the Europeans were saying that the 14th and 15th are the hard dates for the G-7 jobs summit that Clinton proposed. Do we have a location, and is that in fact the hard date?
MS. MYERS: I don't have a specific announcement on that at this time. I think we'll have one soon, but we're not ready to make an announcement yet.
Q The President said last night he had a short list of candidates for the Defense Secretary job. Is he taking that list with him to Camp David this weekend, and is he meeting with any of those people?
MS. MYERS: I think he'll spend some time on it over the course of certainly -- he has over the course of the last few days. He will over the course of the next few days until the process is completed. And I think in the meantime we're not going to comment on whether or not he's met with anybody or who he's met with or who he's spoken to, or how long or short the list might be.
Q Dee Dee, is anybody going with him to Camp David? Are there going to be --
MS. MYERS: Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea and -- he has not invited any staff, believe it or not. We're offended.
Q Last night the President indicated a willingness to cooperate with the special counsel in this probe of the Whitewater matter and Madison Guaranty. Does that mean the President and Mrs. Clinton would be willing to submit to questioning under oath?
MS. MYERS: I think the President -- as the President said last night, that he and the First Lady plan to cooperate fully. And beyond that, I don't think we have any comment.
Q But at this point, you can cooperate and you can submit to questioning, but questioning under oath takes it one notch higher. So, I mean, is the President -- has he expressed any willingness to submit to questioning under oath?
MS. MYERS: At this point, all he has said and all that we have to say is that he'll cooperate fully with the investigation.
Q On the abortion rally, I know there's no message. Is the President having any private communication with the leaders or how is he handling that?
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of. I don't know -- at a staff level, I'm sure there's been communication.
Q But officially, just ignoring the --
MS. MYERS: Again, I think there's been contact at a staff level.
Q To cooperate fully would suggest that any request that comes from the independent investigator the White House will accede to. Is that not the case?
MS. MYERS: All I can say is that we are going to cooperate fully. And beyond that --
Q You are not unwilling to say whether they would agree willingly to testify under oath?
MS. MYERS: I'm not willing to say anything more than that they'll cooperate fully and will --
Q Can you explain what that means -- cooperate fully?
MS. MYERS: It means exactly what it means. They'll cooperate fully with the investigation. And beyond that, we don't have anything to say. We're not going to get into characterizing what -- they'll cooperate fully. I think that that is all we need to say about it.
Q Is it wrong to think that that means that any request that comes they will accede to?
MS. MYERS: They'll cooperate fully. That means fully.
Q In who's view?
MS. MYERS: They will cooperate fully with the independent counsel's investigation. And beyond that, I have nothing to say.
Q Another question on Russia -- would you expect President Clinton at all to call President Yeltsin and ask for any reaffirmation on the reform process in the wake of the cabinet change or would you say Yeltsin would call --
MS. MYERS: They speak from time to time. There's no call scheduled. I wouldn't rule out that they might speak in the near future. They do speak, as you know, from time to time. Again, I think President Yeltsin reassured President Clinton on the trip that he's fully committed to reform. President Clinton believes that.
Q But not since the change?
MS. MYERS: They have not spoken, no.
Q Dee Dee, last year the administration didn't go forward with health care reform until the budget reconciliation bill was enacted because of the complexity of the budget, the budgetary issues. Is it possible the administration might apply the same rationale with welfare reform and not go forward with that until health care reform is resolved?
MS. MYERS: Well, first of all, as you know, health care reform is the President's top domestic priority this year, and it certainly will go forward. It's already in the process of moving forward. And when Congress comes back, I'm sure he'll take it up right away. The President believes that health care reform is an important component of welfare reform. In the meantime -- and that one of the reasons a lot of people don't take jobs or are unable to take jobs is because they are afraid of losing their health benefits. So, certainly this is an important component of welfare reform.
As to specific timing, it's something that we'll work with the Congress on. I think they we are going to move forward on health care reform. We'll move forward on welfare reform this year. As to the specific timing of that, it's something that we'll work out with Congress.
Q What do you think about the jurisdictional overlap?
MS. MYERS: That's something -- again, that's a discussion that we need to have with members of Congress and particularly, members who are on the committees that would have jurisdiction over both of those issues.
Q Dee Dee, as a follow-up, will he use the State of the Union address to roll out any new initiatives including the parameters of welfare reform with specific --
MS. MYERS: I wouldn't look for the speech to be -- he will not use that as an opportunity to go into detail and to make -- to outline any new policies. Although he'll certainly talk about a number of issues, including health care and welfare. I think, I wouldn't rule out that he'll make some news, but it won't be -- I wouldn't look for a comprehensive -- (laughter.) Well, I just want to keep you guys guessing.
Q Will we get the speech in advance?
MS. MYERS: No, I wouldn't count on getting the speech in advance.
Q Will the speech be more thematic or more of a laundry list of everything he's going to talk about --
MS. MYERS: I think the objective is to focus more on major issues and themes than to make it a laundry list, although he certainly will take about a number of issues since the agenda is pretty broad this year.
Q Is there anything else on the schedule Monday or Tuesday?
MS. MYERS: Monday and Tuesday are pretty much down except for the speech. Wednesday's still under consideration. Thursday he'll probably do something in Maryland and then go to Piney Point or -- Piney Point for the House retreat. Friday --
Q What will be the coverage to Piney Point?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that that's been resolved yet. It probably will be travel, probably travel pool, sitting out in the snow. We can only hope. On Friday, he will meet with the mayors who are here for a conference. Saturday is the radio address. Sunday is the NGA dinner. The governors are here again on Super Bowl Sunday. And then on Monday, January 31, the NGA is having their crime and violence discussion here at the White House, and the DGA is having their annual dinner which the President will attend.
Q The dinner is off campus?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think so, but I don't know where. The date of the discussion -- that is, Monday, January 31.
Q May I follow up on the press conference in Geneva? The President had many news conferences in this trip to Europe and also here with foreign dignitaries. Has there ever been a limitation on what press, what country's press can be represented?
MS. MYERS: Every single time we do a press conference with foreign leaders, we negotiate the terms of coverage. It's standard. So there's always a discussion about it. This was nothing, I don't think, extraordinary about the circumstances about this.
Q I'm not asking that. I'm asking whether there was a limitation in any news conference that the President had on this trip?
MS. MYERS: And I just said, there's always a discussion about -- there's always a discussion about how seats are allocated. And by definition, that means certain people are excluded. It's just the way it works when you have more demand than you have supply. And so, it's by definition.
Q Can you tell me whether there have been any directives issued by the White House Counsel's Office on whether -- how the legal fees and representation of anybody in here who might be subpoenaed in connection with the Whitewater thing will go? Is it your impression that besides the Clintons, all the staff will pay their own lawyer's fees if they have to get lawyers.
MS. MYERS: I honestly can't -- I have no idea. I can take that question. I have not given it any thought or heard any discussion about it. I don't know.
Q And all legal work connected with this now is being handled by Kendall and his team, not by the Counsel's Office?
MS. MYERS: I'm not sure. Most of it's being -- I don't know if all of it's being handled by -- I'll have to take that question, too. I would hate to give a blanket statement on that at this point.
Q A question on the way Boutros-Ghali is conducting his business. Basically in this letter he is telling the Security Council what he intends to do. Now, isn't it time to tell this person that he is working for the Security Council and not the Security Council for him?
MS. MYERS: What letter are you referring to?
Q Where he is explaining why he hasn't doing anything to -- the fine nature of this --
MS. MYERS: I don't have any comment on that today.
Q To what extent are you satisfied with the way he is conducting his business?
MS. MYERS: He's, I think, operated in a straightforward manner. I don't have any more comment on it at this point.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:50 P.M. EST