THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE PRESIDENT
The Briefing Room
11:50 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I have just met with my national security team, and I want to tell you about the new steps I have ordered to respond to the situation in the border regions near Rwanda.
The flow of refugees across Rwanda's borders has now created what could be the world's worst humanitarian crisis in a generation. It is a disaster borne of brutal violence and, according to experts now on site, it is now claiming one life every minute.
Today I am announcing an immediate and massive increase in our response. These efforts will be directed from the White House through my National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, working with Deputy Secretary of Defense Deutsch, AID Administrator Atwood and General Shalikashvili; and Brigadier General John Nix of our European Command will command a joint task force to head our efforts on the ground.
From the beginning of this tragedy, the United States has been in the forefront of the international community's response. As the crisis has gotten worse, our response has also grown.
In May, when the first wave of Rwandan refugees fled to Tanzania, I ordered the release of $15 million in aid. These monies helped to prevent the kind of problems in Tanzania we are now seeing in Zaire. Since that time, we have authorized an additional $135 million in relief in the area. Beginning in May, I ordered an airlift of relief supplies. Since then, we have flown over 100 missions.
On May 10th, the Vice President met with the United Nations Secretary General and the head of the Organization of African Unity in an effort to expand the U.N. peacekeeping force in Rwanda. The following week, the Security Council approved a resolution authorizing that expansion. Then I ordered the Department of Defense to provide equipment, including 50 armored personnel carriers to aid the peacekeepers.
Throughout June and July, I ordered increases in our relief efforts as the crisis escalated. I sent senior administration officials to the region, including Brian Atwood, the Administrator of AID.
Today, I have ordered an immediate massive increase in our efforts in the region in support of an appeal from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I've ordered the Defense Department to establish and manage an airlift hub in Uganda, which will be used as a staging area for around-the-clock operations for shipments of relief supplies to the refugees in the Rwandan border regions. Consultations are underway now with the government of Uganda.
I have directed the Defense Department to assist in expanding airlift operations near the refugee camps in Goma and Bukavu. We will provide personnel and equipment to enable these airfields to operate on a 24-hour basis. I've ordered our military to increase the capacity to receive, transfer and distribute goods at these airfields. Our aim is to move food, medicine and other supplies to those in need as quickly as possible.
I've directed the Pentagon to establish a safe water supply, and to distribute as much water as possible to those at risk. Safe water is essential to stop the outbreak of cholera and other diseases that threaten the refugees.
Today and tomorrow, about 20 million oral rehydration therapy packages will be delivered -- packages that were purchased through aid and delivered on U.S. military aircraft to the refugees in order to try to stem the cholera outbreak.
Our task in Rwanda is twofold: first, to alleviate the suffering as quickly as possible; second, to take steps to establish conditions that will enable the refugees to return home. To achieve the second objective, I have ordered the State Department and our Ambassador to the United Nations, who is here with us today, to take immediate action to help create those conditions. The United States will support and urge the immediate deployment of a full contingent of United Nations peacekeepers to Rwanda to provide security for the return of the refugees.
We are making clear to the new leaders of Rwanda that international acceptance, including American recognition, depends upon the establishment of a broad-based government, the rule of law, and efforts at national reconciliation. We're taking action to counteract the propaganda of the extremists Hutu elements who continue to urge Rwandans to flee. Taken together, these steps will help to relieve the suffering of the Rwandan refugees and create conditions for their return home.
As I said yesterday, we face here a growing human catastrophe. The United States not only supports the efforts of the international community, but is and will continue to take a leading role in those efforts. In the days to come as Americans see this heartbreaking unfolding tragedy, the suffering must not only touch our hearts, it must move Americans all across our nation to reach out with their own private contribution to relief organizations. And it must move us as a nation to take the practical actions that this crisis demands.
Q Mr. President, how much will all of this cost? And how many U.S. troops will be engaged in this operation?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'd like to leave the details on that question to those who will brief you. It will be in excess of $100 million. We'll have modest commitments of American manpower, but enough to do the job.
Q The leadership came here last night and told you that your health care plan for all intents and purposes is dead and that they are going to start over with something very different from what you had proposed. How do you feel about that? Are you willing to accept this turn of events?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I want to tell you -- I
had a prediction last night. I said to the leadership -- they said,
what should we say? I said, well, I have been saying for four weeks
we have agreed to dramatically change this plan. We're going to
string it out, we have to have a longer phase-in; we have to have
less bureaucracy; we have to have totally voluntary small business
alliances; and we have to give a bigger break to small businesses to
get them to buy into it.
I'll bet if you go out there and say it, it will be treated as news. And that is exactly what happened. That is exactly what I said to the governors. That is exactly what I've been saying for the last three or four weeks.
And I'm glad that it finally is going out to the American people. We listened to the American people; all of us did. So we said -- when I sent my plan to the Congress, I implored the Congress to go out and offer suggestions for changing it, for improving it, for making it better. I did that from day one. I have -- I am still waiting for someone else to produce a bill who believes there's another way to achieve universal coverage.
I thought it was a very good meeting because the leaders reaffirmed their belief that our objectives should stay the same: universal coverage, so that we can provide security to those who have health insurance and cover those who don't. Now, one-sixth of our people -- remember, America is going in the wrong direction. Only the United States is reducing the number of people with health coverage every year.
Q But are you going to accept anything --
THE PRESIDENT: Secondly -- our goals are the same. We reaffirmed them; the leaders reaffirmed them: universal coverage, quality and choice, an emphasis on preventative and primary care, and discipline in constraining costs, not only for the government so that we don't increase the deficit, but also for people in their private insurance plans. And we will have a bill in the Senate and a bill in the House that will achieve those objectives.
The burden is then on others. Finally, the burden must go to others. I would remind you now we have the Medical Association -- the American Medical Association -- several other physicians groups, the Nurses Association, the nonprofit hospital association, virtually every medical center in the country, a huge group of small businesses, a huge group of large businesses, and a wide array of others who support these four goals. The bill that we will come out with, I am confident, will reach these four goals. How we reach them is now up to the Congress working with the White House. But the burden is on those who think they have a better idea to come forward with it.
Someday we are going to have to focus on those who have other alternatives. That is my objective. I think we will reach those four goals. I thought it was a great meeting, and my prediction was that if they would go out and say what I've been saying for a month that it would make news. And sure enough, it did. And I feel very, very good about it.
Now I have to turn this over to them to answer more questions about Rwanda.
Q What kind of international response is needed, sir?
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END12:00 Noon EDT