THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
1:41 P.M. EST
MS. MYERS: Good afternoon. A quick statement: The President spoke yesterday with Canadian Prime Minister Chretien and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The Chretien call lasted about 10 minutes; the Kohl call lasted about 20 minutes. The leaders discussed the developing situation in Bosnia, and the U.N. and NATO efforts to stem the bloodshed in Sarajevo and achieve a settlement. The President also discussed Canadian participation in the space station with Prime Minister Chretien.
Q Is there any reaction to Vitaly Churkin's statement that Russia is prepared to send 400 troops to serve as peacekeepers, and Radovan Karadzic statement that the war in Sarajevo is over?
MS. MYERS: Well, if this means that the Serbs are complying with the NATO decision, then it is a positive step and we'll have to see how things transpire on the ground. Again, I would just point out that the NATO decision stands; that all of the heavy artillery and mortars have to be pulled out of the exclusion zone by the deadline or they will be subject -- or put under U.N. control or they will be subject to air strikes.
Q Was there any conflict or disagreement during the conversations with Chretien and Kohl regarding the deadline and what should take place if the ultimatum is not met?
MS. MYERS: No, the allies remain committed to the deadline, and there was just a discussion about transpiring from the -- let me just point out that the Kohl call was this morning, the Chretien was last night. I don't think I was clear on that.
Q Getting back to Wolf's question, what would the ramifications be of the Russians, as Churkin put it, bringing in several hundred troops into that area?
MS. MYERS: Well, that's something that would have to be worked out on the ground by the Russians and the U.N. I would say that there have been a number of conversations between the Russians and the Americans where the Russians have said they would do what they could to get the Serbs to comply, and that includes the conversation between President Clinton and President Yeltsin. They didn't discuss the specifics, but President Yeltsin said he would do what he could to get the Serbs to comply.
Q Do you feel that this is a part of that move?
Q Would that be a positive step to bring the troops in?
MS. MYERS: If this means that the Serbs will comply with the NATO decision, then it could be a positive step, yes.
Q There's been a lot of talk about the President's plan for health care being in trouble one way or another -- lobbying senior citizens and things. But leaving aside his plan, is the White House confident that some form of health care is going to passed whether it's the Clinton plan or somebody else's? Have you passed the mark where nothing is going to happen and something is going to happen, it's just a question of what now?
MS. MYERS: I think there's a commitment in Congress among the leadership and among many of the committee chairs and members of the committees, and certainly among -- by the President that a comprehensive health care reform bill will be passed this year before the 103rd Congress adjourns. The President has said that repeatedly. I think congressional leaders and committee chairs have confirmed that commitment. So I think that there's a definite move towards that;
I think there's growing pressure, continued pressure from the American people, who recognize that there is a health care crisis, that there is a tremendous problem in the way our health care system is structured and they want to see a new system that guarantees private insurance for every American. Obviously, there's going to be an ongoing debate about how that's structured, but I think we will see health reform this year.
Q The President's left eye seems to be kind of puffy and inflamed. Is there something wrong with it?
MS. MYERS: The President has an eye infection. It's conjunctivitis, which is a fairly normal condition. He has seen the doctor, Dr. Cavanah, who is one of the White House physicians. He is taking an eye drop with antibiotics in it every three to four hours. And it's something they think is normal, should be gone within three or four days.
Q When did he start taking it?
MS. MYERS: He saw one of the White House nurses last night, who I think rinsed his eye out with a saline solution and gave him drops. So it was some time during the Arkansas basketball game last night. (Laughter.)
Q I'm a little confused by what Dr. Tyson was saying earlier. What is the administration's view on how the framework talks stand right now? And how does the administration evaluate some of the overtures being made in Tokyo with regards to market opening --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think -- I'm sorry I missed most of what she said. But my understanding is that there has been no direct contact with the Japanese since Friday when the Prime Minister was here. There has been no change in our position. We certainly expect the markets open; we expect the Japanese to live up to the commitments that they have made. And at this point, the President's economic advisors are reviewing options with respect to next steps. At some point, they will go through those with the President and he will make a decision.
Q When do you think a decision will be made?
MS. MYERS: I don't want to give a hard time line to it, but I think the process is ongoing.
Q What was the outcome, if anything, of the talks with Chretien on the space station?
MS. MYERS: They discussed it and I don't have any specific to give you on that.
Q Could there be a downside to the Russians coming to Bosnia if the Bosnian Serbs don't turn over all their heavy equipment to the U.N.? Wouldn't you have a situation where NATO could be bombing Russians?
MS. MYERS: No, because the Russians we're talking about here are U.N. troops, so they would be blue-helmut UNPROFOR troops. If this means that the Serbs are going to comply, if the Russians do, in fact, come and can help either move the Serb and Bosnian, for that matter, weapons into the containment areas, or to help put those weapons under U.N. control, then it could actually facilitate the process of meeting the U.N. objective -- the NATO objective. I just want to be very clear, that this in no way changes the NATO objective.
Q Well, the way Karadzic was talking today, it seems that one possibility for the Russian presence might be for the Russian so-called peacekeepers to interpose themselves between the Bosnian Serbs and the U.N. forces on the ground. If that were the case, would you oppose that kind of Russian action?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, those kinds of details have to be worked out by the commanders on the ground. Let me just point out that what General Rose is in the process of doing is putting additional UNPROFOR forces between the Bosnians and the Muslims in Sarajevo as part of the NATO declaration in order to try to facilitate ending the siege of Sarajevo, try to end the violence there, and try to facilitate the implementation of the outlines of the NATO agreement.
So I think if it's consistent with what we've said, which this certainly sounds like it could be, then it may help the Serbs meet our objectives, which would be potentially a good thing.
Q Does this come as a surprise to you? Were you surprised by this?
MS. MYERS: We weren't notified in advance. But, again, the Russians had indicated they would do what they could to help get the Serbs to comply.
Q So you haven't heard anything directly from the Russians as to their intentions?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q Is the U.S. still committed to committing ground troops to enforce any peace agreement? And does the number 25,000 still stand?
MS. MYERS: There's been no change in our position on that. What we said was that if there was a negotiated settlement that all the parties agreed to that we thought was reasonable, that we would commit -- would consider committing ground troops to the -- that's the only situation we would consider committing ground troops to -- but we would consider committing ground troops to enforcing an agreement; that we would, in fact, do that.
The number, I think, will depend on what the agreement is. What we have said is that it would be no more than 50 percent. So it would depend on the details of the agreement. It would depend on what the U.N. commanders on the ground determine was necessary and something that we would work out.
Q The President said this morning something to the effect that he was going to be talking more about the situation in Bosnia as the deadline gets closer. Do you all have something specific in mind of a slightly more specific nature --
MS. MYERS: No.
Q and what's he doing tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: Nothing of a specific -- I don't think he meant to imply something of a specific nature as being planned. But I think, almost on a daily basis since last week, the President has said something either in response to a question or in the form of a statement about the situation there. It's something that certainly we've talked about on a fairly regular basis over the course of the past year. I think he believes it's important. The American people understand what's at stake, why the U.S. and, in fact, NATO is getting involved in this. And there seems to be, if you believe polls, a fair amount of, I think, support for an allied use of air strikes as opposed to an American use of air strikes.
Q How do you know that? I mean, what's your --
MS. MYERS: I'm just referring to some public polls.
Q In the homelessness draft report, can you confirm that the administration is going with that figure of seven million homeless over the course of the 1980s?
MS. MYERS: The report is still in draft form. As you know, I guess it was March 19th, the President signed an executive order which called for a coordinated federal response to attack homelessness. What has happened now is a draft has gone to OMB for the OMB process where it's distributed to different agencies for their comment. They will, sometime in the near future, put together a final draft which will then go to the President.
I think the one thing that is significant about this report, irregardless of how the details get worked out, is that it is a fundamentally different view of homelessness than we've seen over the past 12 years. I think it's more comprehensive and it acknowledges a wider problem than perhaps has been done in the past.
Q What figure, though, does the administration go with on this --
MS. MYERS: Well, we don't have one. I mean, that's part of what the process of the report will determine. So when the report is final I think we can talk about specific numbers.
Q Did the President initiate these calls to Canada and Germany?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q And on what basis? For what reason? Just to coordinate? What does the President do every day to try to get a policy? Because sometimes when we talk to the State Department people, they have sort of a different view, a little different angle. And I'm not saying 180 degrees, but is there any coordination in this administration on what is going on?
MS. MYERS: We try. I think that--
Q Because I think that, as we get closer to this deadline, we'd like to know who's speaking.
MS. MYERS: I think that there has been a good degree of coordination on this. I think some of the details are being worked out on the ground -- exactly how we go about achieving the objectives of UNPROFOR control, for example, or things that we'll have to work out on the ground. And so I think that as these things get worked out there's been some bit of confusion, but I think there's been no confusion in the overall objective of the policy, whether you're talking to the State Department or to the White House or to the Defense Department; that we want -- we insist that the weapons be moved out of the exclusion zone or put under UNPROFOR control.
Q And the power now for air strikes is right in the hands of NATO; they don't have to come back to the White House; they just --
MS. MYERS: They don't have to come back to the White House, but the process still requires one of two ways: either the UNPROFOR commanders on the ground, which, ultimately, I guess is General Rose, would request it to the U.N., to Boutros-Ghali; and then Boutros-Ghali would have to determine whether he or somebody else -- it's unclear at this point whether Akashi is the point person or not -- would have to authorize or actually give approval to the first strike, the ice breaker. Or request could come from the NAC, from NATO itself. So it's basically the same structure as existed for close air support.
Q So Boutros-Ghali is still --
MS. MYERS: Yes, the U.N. still -- all of this will be coordinated closely with the U.N., and all of it is permissible under existing U.N. resolutions. We expect all of it to be carried out closely with them.
Q As the Sunday deadline approaches and the possibility that U.S. forces might be engaged in bombing, is the President devoting more time to foreign policy on a daily basis -- briefings about the progress of all of this? And on Sunday, can we expect a statement from you that the President or some senior figure either explaining that the Bosnians have complied with the ultimatum or say that they have not, and bombs away?
MS. MYERS: In response to the -- let me answer the second part first. I think there's a briefing today at DOD to explain the process of disseminating information should there be air strikes, just as a point of fact. So you may check with the folks over there.
I think that the information will come first out of Naples, is their feeling, since Admiral Borda and the NATO forces are being coordinated out of Naples. We haven't made a decision about specifically whether we would have a statement on Sunday or not. I think as things get a little bit closer, we can probably give you a little bit better guidance. The President is expected to be here in Washington over the weekend.
On the first part, the President has spent a good deal of time over the course of the last several weeks on this, on the Bosnian problem in particular, stepping up a bit with the attacks on the open air market a week ago Saturday. He has kept in close contact on this, as you know. The NATO decision was reached, I think, largely as a result of his personal involvement. And he directed the activities all along. And he's kept, I think, very close watch on events as they've developed, and I expect him to continue to do that.
Q Is it a good idea for him, Dee Dee, to do an Oval Office address to the American people in advance of any possible air strikes?
MS. MYERS: It's not something that's being considered at this point. Again, it is a NATO operation. It's something that will -- hopefully, if the Serbs comply, it won't be necessary. But we will insist that the Serbs comply and that the Bosnia Muslims comply as well. But --
Q The U.N. is now saying in Sarajevo, according to this Reuters report that has just moved, that convoys of Serbian guns have started moving out from the hills. "And we have news of a very significant withdrawal of Serb forces from the hills around Sarajevo."
MS. MYERS: Thank you for that update. (Laughter.)
Q Is it something that you know about?
MS. MYERS: I didn't have that specific report, but that -- obviously, if the Serbs comply, that will be good news. That is -- the intention of the NATO decision is to get the heavy weapons out of the exclusion zone or to put them under UNPROFOR control, to try to stop the violence in Sarajevo. Now, air strikes alone won't be enough to break the siege of Sarajevo or to get the peace process completely on track. But we hope that it will be an impetus to move toward the only viable long-term solution which is a negotiated settlement.
Q Has the President moved -- is the air strike threat, does it hold beyond Sunday --
MS. MYERS: Of course. Of course.
Q So this has to be a permanent move out of the --
MS. MYERS: That's correct. There is no end date to the NATO decision. And there has been absolutely no change in the 10-day period. It ends as of Sunday night, 7:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, or is daylight time? Daylight time.
Q In terms of the conditions under which you commit ground troops, is there a settlement? You said earlier, we'd consider committing them if there was a negotiated settlement. I thought the President has always said as long as all of the parties agree and --
MS. MYERS: I think that's generally it. I think we reserve the right to review whatever decision is made. And if it's one that we feel is reached in good faith, negotiated by the parties, then we would commit ground troops. But we reserve the right certainly to review any agreement that is reached and make sure that it meets our criteria.
Q Dee Dee, do you reply to the U.N. request for the U.S to send peacekeepers?
MS. MYERS: There's been no change in our position on that issue, which is that the only circumstances under which we would send peacekeepers would be if a negotiated settlement was reached.
Q I know, but did you officially reply to the U.N. request? There was a request.
MS. MYERS: Yes, there was an official request. I'm not sure -- I know that Ambassador Albright had a conversation. There were two parts to that request. One was for troops, and one was for counter-battery radar. The additional radar request, I think, is
being handled through military channels and is still under review with NATO generally, not just the United States.
Q And the first part?
MS. MYERS: I assume it's been done formally. I can double-check that. But there is no change in our position. We will not send additional -- the United States will not send peacekeepers to Bosnia at this time.
Q The agreement between -- and North Korea, what is the status of Patriot and Team Spirit?
MS. MYERS: There has been no change in the status on Patriots or Team Spirit. Again, we've looked favorably on sending Patriot missiles to South Korea. The technical details have not been worked out. On Team Spirit, planning proceeds decision on how to -- we're moving forward with that and any decisions on that will be based solely on our security concerns for the Peninsula.
Q Dee Dee, is the administration planning to charge aliens who are seeking political asylum for asking for asylum and prevent them from working and --
MS. MYERS: There is a proposal which is going to be published in the Federal Registry to that effect, that would charge, I believe it's $130 fee. But it would waive the fee in cases where people were unable to pay. And the objective is not to, as was stated in the article, not to keep people from applying, but to help to defray the cost of asylum application. Again, it's going to the Federal Register. It will be published and, I think, reviewed.
Q Has the President --
MS. MYERS: I don't know that he's commented on it yet. It's something that came out of INS. It's an INS proposal. I just don't know whether he's had any comment on it. I can take that. I don't think he has a comment on it.
Q How is it determined whether they can pay?
MS. MYERS: How is it determined? You have to check with INS for the specifics on how they would determine whether somebody could come up with the $130.
Q There's also preventing them from working, from having work permits for some period of time. What's the purpose of that? It sounds like it's all designed to deter people from seeking asylum.
MS. MYERS: I'll have to take that part of the question. I'm not sure what the answer is.
Q Do you have any comment on whether Mark Gearan has ever seen a country and western singer? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: There's reported sightings of Mark Gearan at a country-western bar in Little Rock, Arkansas, but they have been unconfirmed. He swears his hair cut is early 1960s, too.
Q Dee Dee, what's the status of Super 301?
MS. MYERS: It's under review. I mean, we haven't ruled anything out in terms of additional steps that could be taken in response to the collapse of the framework. But we don't have anything more on that.
Q Dee Dee, there have been a lot of reports about the relations are not very good between the White House and President Aristide. Would you care to comment on the differences -- the White House seems to be asking for a naming of a new prime minister?
MS. MYERS: Well, we're still committed to restoring democracy to Haiti and to reinstating Father Aristide. Now, we've looked at a number of options -- a number of options have been proposed, which we're reviewing, I think, and looking favorably on some to expand the base of the government in Haiti and to get back to some of the objectives that were outlined in the Governors Island Accord last July. That discussion is ongoing. But I think we still have a working relationship with Father Aristide. Again, we believe he's the democratically-elected president of Haiti, and our policy still is to restore a democratically elected government, which is headed by Father Aristide.
Q The Tyson briefing was about the 20th that we've had in the past several months in which the economy has been described as robust, or at least coming on strong. If that's true, what's the status of the middle income tax cut? When can Americans expect to get something out of this?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think Americans are getting a lot out of it. For example, low interest rates have allowed millions to refinance or buy homes. Nearly two million new jobs have been created. I think, generally, consumer confidence is up. So the Americans -- middle income Americans have gotten a lot out of this improving economy already. The President said that if the economy strengthened he would review that, and I'm sure that we'll review it as time goes forward.
Q Well, what's the degree of strength it has to reach before --
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to set any specific criteria, other than to say that while the economy is improving and I think, again, consumer confidence and other indicators are up, not everybody has felt the benefits of the growing economy. And the President and others in this administration remain committed to continuing to spur economic growth until the benefits are even more broadly felt.
Q Does that remain a live option over the next two or three years?
MS. MYERS: What, middle-class tax cut?
MS. MYERS: Yes, the President said if the economy improved, he would like to take another look at it. And I think that at some point we hope the economy is strong enough that we could do that.
Q? A former -- recently former high-ranking member of this administration, who now no longer is in it has been on kind of a concert tour -- (laughter) -- talking about how this White House is cynically embracing a crime bill which has measures in it that are empty and a sham and won't work. Do you have any reaction to that?
MS. MYERS: We simply disagree with him.
Q Had he expressed before he left his objections to the White House, do you know?
MS. MYERS: I don't know whether he did to the White House, and I certainly can't speak for Justice. I don't know of any direct conversations about that, but I wouldn't rule it out.
Let me just say that the President does remain committed to a crime bill that includes 100,000 new police officers, a three strikes and you're out proposal -- which is still being shaped, more money for prisons and a number of other things that you've heard him talk about a number of times. And we just disagree with some people who don't think we need additional measures to fight crime.
Q I don't think that's what he says, but is he committed to a -- and you know that -- is he committed to a crime bill -- is the President committed to a crime bill that expands the number of minimum mandatory sentences, that relaxes habeas corpus rules, and that expands the number of federal penalties punishable by death?
MS. MYERS: We haven't taken a position on the first two that I know of. I'll double check that -- on habeas and mandatory minimums. I'll have to double check that, I don't think that we have. He is committed to a crime bill that includes the proposals that he's outlined. It is up to Congress to work out all of the details. I mean, the President has said there may be some things in there with which he doesn't agree, but that alone might not be the basis for fighting the bill. He believes that if we have a crime bill that includes a ban on assault weapons, 100,000 new officers on the streets, more prisons and three strikes, you're out and a couple other things that he's talked about, that that is a good thing and that the country should implement it.
Q The President said the other day that he didn't think the crime bill should be littered with a whole lot of provisions. What did he mean by that?
MS. MYERS: I think that there are a number of --there's literally, I think, dozens of amendments that are pending. I think, again, he has outlined the things that he thinks are most important to it. Those are the things that he has emphasized, those are the things that he'll continue to talk about. It is up to the Senate and the House to both finalized their bills, to work out a conference report. And I think the President's going to continue to try to keep the focus on the things that he cares about.
Q One more thing -- if all those other things that I cited that the President hasn't taken a position on are included in this crime bill, will it be called the President's crime bill?
MS. MYERS: I think, again, if it is something we're working on with Congress. But, yet, I think the President has outlined the things that he cares about. And those are the major components of the bills. Now, there may be some other things which he hasn't taken a position on. That is their legislative prerogative. But it is certainly he has talked about, pushed and helped pass and eventually will sign.
Q Dee Dee, what does three strikes and you're out mean to him? In other words, it's just the concept he supports, or what kind of a three strikes?
MS. MYERS: Correct. It's a concept which essentially says that people who commit a third violent felony -- and within a federal bill, it has to meet specific federal requirements -- would get life without the possibility of parole. Now, specifically how that is structured -- I mean, what the President has said is that he would like to see it structured narrowly enough so that it does target the 9 percent of recidivous* criminals who commit 70 percent of the violent crimes.
Exactly how that is structured, exactly what the language is, is something that has to be worked out in Congress. But
the President remains committed to the concept narrowly defined or defined in such a way that it really does target those violent, most likely repeat offenders.
Q Who in the White House is taking the lead on this issue, working out this issue?
MS. MYERS: Bruce Reed.
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q He's the top official up here who's --
MS. MYERS: He's the domestic policy official who works most closely on this issue, yes.
Q Dee Dee, is the President happy with the -- I think there's a three strikes and you're out proposal contained in the Senate version.
MS. MYERS: There's two. There are two different amendments that contain slightly different versions, and he has not taken a position specifically on either.
Q Which amendments are you talking about?
MS. MYERS: The amendments -- there's a couple three strike proposals in the form of amendments to the Senate bill.
Q One of the knocks that Phil Heymann has talked about is his concern that there hasn't been enough thought put into the long-term ramifications of this, particularly cost -- cost of new prison space, cost of keeping these officers on the street after a set number of years. How do you all respond to that?
MS. MYERS: I think there's been a great deal of thought given to all of those issues. And there's been a great deal of thought given to how best to keep violent repeat offenders off the streets and away from the American people.
Q Given the current situation of the budget, where does the money come from?
MS. MYERS: Well, as you know, anything that is proposed and passed will have to be paid for. The Senate is paid for with $22 billion, including 252,000 reductions in full-time employees and other things.
Q When does the President decide on the concept of the policy of commercialization of satellite images and related remote products -- sensing products?
MS. MYERS: What is the President's position?
Q No, he has to decide on national policy on the commercialization of satellite images and remote sensing products.
MS. MYERS: I will have to take that question. We'll take it and try to get back to you.
Q Dee Dee, according to The New York Times, this homeless report suggests that the deduction for interest rates paid on home mortgages is a possible source of income to pay for the homeless. Is that under consideration by the White House to reduce the amount of deductions that a person can take for interest paying
on home mortgages to either pay for the homeless problem or any other?
MS. MYERS: Again, it's a draft report. But that is not under consideration.
Q Well, I'm speaking about -- is the administration eyeing the home interest rate reduction as any possible source of income?
MS. MYERS: That is not under consideration.
Q The homeless report is only a draft, but it's sounded in a comment that he made to the pool this morning that a sort of underlying decision to expand the homelessness, the antihomelessness effort have already been made. I'm talking about beyond Cisneros --
MS. MYERS: Sure, I think that's already reflected in a number of ways. One, Secretary Cisneros said fighting homelessness was his top priority as HUD Secretary. Two, there's been a large increase, and nearly a tripling in the homeless budget at HUD. Three, I just think there's a broader commitment among the different Cabinet agencies to doing something about the homeless problem which is reflected in the fact that the President requested this report and is something that has been worked out through an interagency process.
Now, exactly how the program is structured and what the money is used for, I think, will be reflected in the final report. But I think, clearly, the actions already taken in the first year reflect an expanded commitment to fighting homelessness.
Q Is the draft in his hands?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q Is this report to decide how to spend the additional money that is already committed, or is their consideration being given for a further expansion of spending?
MS. MYERS: No, it's not -- this is not something to spend the money, but I think it's consistent with increased budgets. A new look at homelessness will be a coordinated effort. And, again, we'll wait until we see the final details of the report, but any additional spending would have to be offset by cuts someplace else in the budget. I'm not saying one way or anther whether this will cost additional money or not. We'll have to wait for the final report.
Q Is there anything on his schedule for tomorrow of consequence?
MS. MYERS: The only thing on the public schedule for tomorrow is the lunch with CEOs, which is at 12:30 p.m. in the Map Room of the residence. And it's bringing in a group of CEOs from around the country to discuss the President's health care plan.
Q? You've taken a pretty strong position, a firm position against deflecting questions on Whitewater from the podium, saying that it's under investigation and will have no comment. Yet twice today the President was asked questions on it and he talked about it at length. What is the policy to answering questions on Whitewater? Are you going to address every issue that we ask, or not?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q In your dreams. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: And I think that from time to time, since the President is personally involved he may choose to answer a question. I think generally the policy is that the Whitewater issue is being looked into by a special counsel, and we're not going to comment on it.
Q So it's up to him if he feels like it, but otherwise it's off --
MS. MYERS: He's the President.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
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