THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN JOINT LEADERSHIP MEETING The Cabinet Room
10:45 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the press. This is our first bipartisan leadership meeting on the resumption of the Congress and we have a lot of things to discuss today.
I want to begin with a discussion of the crime bill and the importance of proceeding deliberately and quickly to pass it; to reiterate my commitment yesterday that we will do whatever we can to get the first 20,000 police officers on the streets this year if the crime bill is passed in an expeditious fashion. Then we'll move onto some other issues where I hope we can have a good bipartisan discussion in support of domestic issues like the budget and health care; and also we'll talk a little about Bosnia today and some other foreign policy issues.
Q Mr. President, do you have some concern -- there's more shelling today. I mean, there's some suspicion that the Muslims may be trying to provoke the Serbs. Have we started something with air strikes that will make matters worse rather than better?
THE PRESIDENT: We certainly haven't started anything. We have done exactly what we said we would do under the U.N. policy -- that if the U.N. forces there were put at risk, as they were in the shelling of Gorazde, we would offer close air support if the General asked, and the civilian authorities agreed. We went through all the procedural requirements, and we did exactly what I think we should have done.
Q Well, the Serbian --
Q What about --
THE PRESIDENT: We have talked -- let me answer Andrea's question -- we have cautioned the Bosnian government forces not to try to take advantage of this in violation of the understandings themselves. And General Rose has been very firm on that this morning.
Q Are you considering expanding this to other safe havens if the Serbs persist and don't get the message?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I wouldn't rule anything out. We're working very closely with General Rose, and he's got a very aggressive view of his role there, which I think is good --
Q The Serbian leader has threatened against the U.N. forces. They've kidnapped some, they're holding some in house arrest. They've escalated the military action.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, every time we have been firm, though, in the end it's been a winner for the peace process. And I think it will be here. And I'm very encouraged by the position taken by the Russians, that they want the Serbs to withdraw from the safe area in Gorazde, and they want to return to the negotiating table.
Before this last incident, I thought we were getting pretty close to -- not just to a cease-fire, but to an absolute cessation of hostilities and a real serious bargaining position. So we could get back there in a hurry, and I wish the Russians well in working with the Serbs. I've assured President Yeltsin that we have no interest in using NATO's air power to affect the outcome of the war. But we do want to protect the U.N. mandate. And we do want a negotiation, and I think we're going to get one.
Q Have you seen or heard anything from the Serbs that would indicate a response to the air strike, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't know how to answer that, Peter. The Russians -- Mr. Churkin is over there now, and we're working on trying to get this think back on track and I hope we can do it. But we have to be firm in our reaction to the plane violations of the United Nations resolutions and in what we set our policy to do.
The good thing that we've seen since the terrible incident in Sarajevo in the market is that both the U.N. and NATO have been able to follow what they said their policy would be all along, and that was -- and I think that's what we have to do. We have to be firm in pursuing the policy that we say we have. It's our only chance of success --
Q Will it be more difficult to -- your domestic agenda with George Mitchell nominated to the -- will it be harder, once he's nominated?
Q Do you have the name of a Supreme Court justice on your left?
THE PRESIDENT: You think the next Supreme Court justice should be to my left, Helen? (Laughter) --
Q I said is he.
Q Unless you're considering Mr. Foley.
THE PRESIDENT: He'd be a good one. (Laughter.)
Q Does that make you nervous? (Laughter.)
END10:50 A.M. EDT