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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release August 24, 1994
                            PRESS BRIEFING
                            DEE DEE MYERS

                          The Briefing Room 

1:16 P.M. EDT

MS. MYERS: One quick announcement -- South African President Nelson Mandela has accepted President Clinton's invitation to make a state visit to Washington October 4th through 6th 1994. President Clinton looks forward to meeting with President Mandela and believes this visit will be an occasion for all Americans to celebrate and rejoice in the birth of a new South Africa. In the 100 days since his inauguration, President Mandela has given tangible meaning to his commitment to lead a nonracial society forward to address the social and economic legacies of apartheid.

His visit will help strengthen our partnership with a democratic South Africa in pursuit of peace and prosperity. President Mandela's visit will be his first to the United States since his inauguration in May of 1994, which was attended by Vice President and Mrs. Gore and the First Lady. President Clinton met with Mr. Mandela at the White House in July of 1993.

Q You are going to be warehousing anywhere between 7,000 and 50,000 Cubans at Guantanamo for an indefinite period of time, with no way to get them back into Cuba short of forcing them in. Can you tell me why this isn't the beginning of a quagmire?

MS. MYERS: Well, first of all, I don't think anybody can predict exactly how many Cubans will try to flee Cuba in the coming days. I think the number so far is 7,000, I think the Attorney General said today. We're doing everything we can to discourage Cubans from taking to the seas. It's dangerous, and it will not result in being -- in entry into the United States.

I think clearly we have a policy in place meant to deal with the incoming immigrants. We'll continue to have a policy that will deal with those immigrants. We'll have capacity at Guantanamo or at safe haven in other countries. And we'll explore our alternatives for dealing with Cubans who happen to be in those safe havens. I think we're doing what we can to deal with it.

I think it's important to focus on the source of the problem here. This is a problem created by the Cuban government and by Fidel Castro, by cynically encouraging people to take to the sea, by refusing to accept the kinds of reforms people in Cuba want and demand.

Q You have to separate the issues, though. You have people in Guantanamo that you have to do something about. And if you're focusing on the causes of the problem, there's nothing you can do about that.

MS. MYERS: Well, we're going to continue to put pressure on Cuba to make the transition to a democratic government, to move toward political and economic reform. That's been a consistent policy of this country and certainly of this government. In the meantime, we will deal with the outflow of migrants. In the immediate short-term, we'll pick them up at sea, we'll discourage them from taking to the seas, we'll provide them with refuge at Guantanamo, eventually in third countries where they will remain indefinitely, and we will deal with the situation there as is necessary.

Q So, you don't have any plan for dealing with these people?

MS. MYERS: We have a number of contingency plans for dealing with these people and the continued outflow of refugees and other things. And we'll make decisions about those as is necessary and required.

Q Before the lights go down, House Speaker Foley is not the only one now talking about perhaps something short of complete health care reform as the only thing that's feasible between now and the end of the year. If President Clinton objects to less than a full cup, is now the time for him to speak up and say that? Does he take issue with Foley?

MS. MYERS: Foley, I think, was responding to a hypothetical question. I think the President has been very clear in what he wants and in what he is going to continue to push for, and that is comprehensive health reform. Senator Mitchell and Senator Chafee are continuing to talk. Senator Mitchell has continued to work on this and has the Senate in session. Obviously, they're dealing with the crime bill now, but Senator Mitchell I think is the point person on this and he said they're going to continue to work on health care. The President believes they should continue to do that as long as they're making progress.

Q What is the President doing on the crime bill?

Q on the crime bill?

MS. MYERS: The President is -- it's a stereophonic question. (Laughter.)

Q We worked on that for hours.

MS. MYERS: The President is continuing to work on the crime bill today. He'll make some calls. He's got a list of calls which he's been making. The debate is ongoing on the Hill. What the President would like to see today is the Senate bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Q But they're not going to, and they've got the votes to stop it.

MS. MYERS: Well, I don't think there's any evidence of that.

Q There isn't?

MS. MYERS: I don't think so. I haven't seen any.

Q Well, if you have the votes, why don't you --

Q Dee Dee, if the President wants to see the thing brought to the floor for a vote, why doesn't he tell Mitchell to do that, or ask him to? My understanding is you don't want to vote until you've got the votes.

MS. MYERS: Well, that's always the case. But I think that -- I don't think there's any evidence to suggest that there's enough votes to stop it. We'll see how the process goes today.

Q If you had 60 votes, you would bring it to the floor.

MS. MYERS: If they had 41, mightn't they do the same thing?

Q No, they don't have power.

MS. MYERS: On a point of order? They -- well, they don't have -- well, I'm not going to speak for the Senate leadership on this issue, but the President would like to see the bill brought to the floor today. He'd like to see the Republicans stop -- both sides stop their objections to it. There has been broad bipartisan support for this bill throughout the process. Republicans and Democrats have been consulted on this and have worked on this every single step of the way, including the conference discussions that happened last week in the House. And I think representatives of the Senate and members of the Senate were present for those discussions.

They have supported every element of this bill, including the ban on assault weapons, the prevention money, the tougher punishment measures. All of those have had broad bipartisan support. The President wants to stop playing games with this bill, bring it to the floor, and get a vote on it.

Q Do you think this is a Dole-Gramm plot to both kill the crime bill and stall health care so it's killed?

MS. MYERS: It would certainly be a cynical ploy if it were. And I --

Q Do you think it is?

MS. MYERS: I don't know if it's for me to judge what's in their hearts. But I would certainly hope that they would do what's in the best interest of the American people and let this come to the floor for a vote on the conference report. And so we're going to continue, the President's going to call for that, as he has. He's working very hard to try to get this thing done.

Q Back to health care, will the President veto anything less than comprehensive care?

MS. MYERS: The President -- there's been no change in the President's position on this. He hopes that they'll continue to make progress toward a comprehensive health reform that will guarantee coverage for every American. That continues.

He has two things that he's stressed throughout this process. One is a bill that covers everybody; and two is a bill that works. And he's said that he'll look at both of those things and make sure that any bill meets his bottom line.

Q If the President's allies on Capitol Hill say, this is the best we can do for you. George Mitchell or you know -- if they say this is the reality --

MS. MYERS: George Mitchell and others, including Senator Chafee, continue to work on this. And what Senator Mitchell has said is, he thinks he can get a bill that gets to universal this year. There's been no change in Senator Mitchell's position on that. He's continuing to negotiate and to discuss this with other senators, and we'll continue to watch that process. As long as that process is going forward, the President will support Senator Mitchell's efforts.

Q Does the President still think it's realistic to expect comprehensive health care reform in 1994?

MS. MYERS: Well, I think he's hopeful as he has been throughout this process. Certainly it's difficult; he knew from the beginning it would be very, very difficult. But if he gave up every time somebody said that one of his initiatives was dead, he wouldn't have gotten the budget passed last year, he wouldn't have gotten NAFTA done, we wouldn't have gotten the assault weapons ban through the House, we wouldn't have gotten progress on any number of the initiatives that he's been able to succeed on. So this is a President who doesn't take no for an answer very easily. And he's made a lot of progress as a result.

Q You said twice today now that the President has not changed his position on his veto play. If it came to a point where he was changing his decision, how do you think he would let that be known?

MS. MYERS: If he comes to the point where he changes his decision, I'll let you know. (Laughter.) We'll let you know how that will become known.

Q Dee Dee, on Cuba, you described what you said was a policy for the immediate short-term. Are you ready now to say that in the future, as Guantanamo fills up and the safe havens fill up, the administration will not take the step of taking refugees and housing them in federal facilities in the mainland United States?

MS. MYERS: That's correct. I think the Attorney General said that --

Q No, what she said is the refugees would not be removed from Guantanamo to the mainland United States.

MS. MYERS: Because -- well, I think that she was making-- and then she went back and said, to be clear, that refugees picked up at sea are now being taken to Guantanamo. All of the refugees picked up at sea are taken to Guantanamo. None of those -- there is no plan to take or house any refugees here in the United States. Period.

Q So you're saying in the future that will never happen?

MS. MYERS: That's correct.

Now, just to go back and address another question that you raised, the immediate short-term plan is to take them all to Guantanamo. At some point we expect that we will have safe haven in a third country, or perhaps a number of third countries. I don't think a decision has been made at this point whether refugees picked up would always be taken to Guantanamo. That's why I said in the immediate short-term.

Q And are you ready to say, also, the refugees will never be returned directly to Cuba?

MS. MYERS: No refugees will be returned to Cuba against their will.

Q Dee Dee, will they be able to apply in Guantanamo to be legal immigrants into the United States? Or do they have to do that in Cuba?

MS. MYERS: No, absolutely not. And that's a point that I think each of these administration officials here earlier tried to stress. Anyone who is picked up at sea will be given safe haven, access to safe haven. If they so choose and want to go back to Cuba, we will work to arrange that for them. But they will absolutely in no way have any way of coming to the United States.

Q They will not be able to apply to go through the legal immigration procedures? There won't be a processing center at Guantanamo?

MS. MYERS: That is correct. That is correct. There is no processing center at Guantanamo. There is no prospect of them applying for status within the United States.

The only way to do that is through either the in-country processing center for those who are politically persecuted or through the intersection, through other legal means, which is petitions that are initiated in the United States.

Q Are you saying that there's no way for these people to get into the United States from Guantanamo or from the safe havens, and there is nobody going to be sent back to Cuba against their will; that if somebody wants to, they can just move into Guantanamo forever?

MS. MYERS: Well, Guantanamo, one of the safe havens or potentially down the road, permanent resettlement outside the United States.

Q So it is now an option for these people if they want to become wards of the United States they can do so?

MS. MYERS: At some point, again, I think we'll look at long-term solutions as the process goes on. I wouldn't rule out permanent resettlement outside the United States.

Q Dee Dee, could you take a question about the budget, the cost of this so far?

MS. MYERS: Yes, Secretary Perry said he didn't have the numbers, that he expected to get them some time in the not-toodistant future.

Q They're not all DOD costs. Could you coordinate getting some kind of number for us?

MS. MYERS: Sure. I don't know whether that kind of figure is something we can put together any time in the next day or so, but we'll take a look at it.

Q At some point, you all are going to have to think about a supplemental, or is there an emergency appropriation that is available?

MS. MYERS: Yes, and I don't think any decision has been made on that, but I'll take the question and see what the --

Q Maybe Rivlin has some sort of --


Q The second thing is, can you give us any sense of the President's response, since we haven't spoken to him since Friday, as these numbers have increased? I'm sure he was told in the briefing today that 3,700 people in the last 24 hours -- what is his feeling about the way it's going?

MS. MYERS: Well, I think clearly he's concerned about the level of refugees, about the number of refugees leaving. It is dangerous. The waters are shark-infested. People are -- people have died in transit. That concerns him.

But he also wants to make it clear and wants the administration to continue to make clear that those who are picked up at sea will not be allowed into the United States. I think he believes we have to give the policy time to work; that he stands by the policy, believes that we have to do what we can to discourage people from taking to the sea and make it clear that they are not coming here.

Q He hasn't said to his people, this isn't working, we need to change it?


Q Has he expressed any frustration with --

MS. MYERS: I think he's concerned about the level of migration. There's no question about it. It is a tough problem, but the problem has been created by Castro and the Cuban government and --

Q Is he satisfied with this policy?


Q Dee Dee, do you know when we'll get an announcement on an agreement for a safe haven for third country with Cubans? In particular, the Secretary mentioned Turks and Caicos was close. Will there be somebody -- will there be Cubans going to a safe haven any time soon? And if so, when?

Q They'll announce it at 7:15 p.m., after our deadline.

MS. MYERS: Yeah, we're going to wait until after the last update has been filed with the network news. No, there's no time line. I don't have a particular time line -- it's kind of an inside joke -- (laughter). There is no particular time line for making announcements about safe haven. I would expect that as soon as the other countries have agreed and the proper agreements have been ratified by each side, that we'll be able to announce that.

Q Do you know yet how you're going to do it? Will you be taking Cubans from Guantanamo to a safe haven, removing Haitians to safe havens to make room for Cubans?

MS. MYERS: Unclear. I mean, that will depend on the agreements that we reach with third countries about safe haven -- whether they're willing to accept Cubans, how much space there is. There's two options. If third countries accept Cubans, one is to bring them directly as they're picked up at sea; and the other, of course, would be to take them from Guantanamo. I think it will depend on exactly how the agreements are worked out with the third countries.

Q Dee Dee, if the administration's message finally gets through to would-be Cuban refugees that they're going to Guantanamo, and if they're still intent on leaving Cuba, there could be a movement to go directly to Guantanamo without taking directly to the seas. Secretary Perry said that we would consider this an unfriendly act and take appropriate action. Can you elaborate on what you actually would do if you had sizeable numbers of Cubans risking the path through the mine field? Would you give them notice now that they would not be admitted through the American fence?

MS. MYERS: I think we have contingency plans in place to deal with that should it happen. At this point, we have no evidence that that is happening. There's no evidence that anybody's planning or getting ready to do that. Second of all, I think we're discouraging people -- and that was part of Secretary Perry's point -- is that it's very dangerous. There are literally thousands of mines in that no-man's land, and it is not a way for people to reach Guantanamo.

Q But they're risking their lives through sharks, they might risk their lives through mines --

MS. MYERS: That is not the way to reach Guantanamo. As Secretary Perry said, if the Cuban government encourages people to do that, it will be considered an unfriendly act, and in the meantime we will have contingency plans for dealing with it.

Q What did Secretary Perry mean when he said the U.S. would encourage the Cuban refugees at Guantanamo to ask for repatriation?

MS. MYERS: Well, I think that we're not asking anybody to go back against their will. But if people are interested in that option, we're willing to try to work it out.

Since 1984, we've had migrant discussions with Cuba, including returning some people from the Mariel boatlift. And so there is some history of returning people to Cuba. The Cuban government has been willing to discuss those kinds of things at times. So I think that was his point -- that if people want to, we want to let them know that's something we'll try to help facilitate.

Q But there's no policy decision to promote the idea that, hey, maybe it would be a good idea if you went back where you came from?

MS. MYERS: I think we'll let it be known that if people are interested in going back, we can try to facilitate that. But we're certainly not going to try to force people to go back.

Q Do you have any schedule for the President tomorrow?

Q Are you considering further actions against Castro, including cutting off all visits -- all American visits?

MS. MYERS: Nothing like that to announce at this point. I don't think we're planning anything.

As Secretary Perry said -- I think it was Perry -- said today, one of the things we're trying to work out with the charter flights is ways to allow necessary people to go, including the press. So there's no plan at this point to clamp down on press or some other necessary people going down there.

Q Can you address who pays for putting Cubans at third countries? And are they going to be put, for example, on Panama at U.S. bases?

MS. MYERS: That was certainly envisioned in our original discussions with Panama. Those facilities then would be U.S. facilities. And as Secretary Perry said, those are a DOD budget item.

Q What about Saint Lucia and some of these other places? Are they again going to --

MS. MYERS: I'll have to take that. I'm not sure those would be DOD. I believe that they are, that any facilities there would be set up by the Defense Department and paid for out of Defense Department operating budgets. But let me take that, and we'll post an answer.

Q Also, can you address what pressures you're bringing on Castro? Mr. Tarnoff was asked about that and he said that Castro ought to be worried because he's losing people who were brought up under his regime. Why shouldn't Castro just be happy to be getting rid of these malcontents, as he was with Mariel?

MS. MYERS: Well, I think clearly there's pressure building with people within the country. I think also we've taken a couple of steps to put additional pressure on him. By eliminating remittances, we've eliminated foreign currency, which, as you know, the government desperately needs. Remittances from the United States is one of the top sources of income, particularly of foreign currency, in Cuba.

They already have a very short supply of foreign currency. It's difficult for them to do business with their other trading partners around the world because they have no cash.

These are the kind of steps that were meant to put pressure on Castro to eliminate his means of surviving and of funding his government while he continues to repress his people.

Q When will that start? Is Treasury --

MS. MYERS: Treasury was working -- as soon as the regs are published they will go into effect. I expect that will happen this week. We'll check with them and see. It could happen as soon as today, but I haven't heard.

Q Dee Dee, has the President considered that by relaxing the economic embargo he might get fewer refugees, and by tightening it, he's going to get more? Because if Cuba would become a nicer place to live -- assuming a lot of these are economic refugees -- be a nicer place to live, then people would stay there.

MS. MYERS: Castro knows what he has to do -- he has to move toward democratic and economic reforms if he wants to do business. And that's been our policy for 30-plus years; that continues to be our policy. He knows what he has to do; it's no mystery. We'd like to see free elections and a move toward democratic government in Cuba.

Q It hasn't worked.

MS. MYERS: Well, he knows what he has to do. I mean, the burden of this thing lies with him.

Q But that wasn't the question that Susan asked.

Q There's no reason for him to do it.

MS. MYERS: There is a reason for him to do it. His economy is collapsing, and if he wants to move toward a stronger economy and protect his government, he needs to move toward democratic reform. He knows exactly what he has to do.

Q Dee Dee, while we're talking about democratic reform, what is the policy now and what are we trying to do in terms of Haiti?

MS. MYERS: Haiti. Where? I think there's been no change in our policy in Haiti. We expect the military leaders to step aside. We will continue to press for the restoration of the duly elected leader of that country, President Aristide.

Q Two follow-ups on that -- today the Haitians cut off all charter flights into and out of Haiti. Do we view that as any kind of threat to the American citizens and U.S. government employees who are working there?

MS. MYERS: I thought we stopped charter flights from between the United States and Haiti quite a while ago.

Q No, there have been flights for journalists and resupply for humanitarian.

MS. MYERS: Humanitarian has always been on a permission basis from the government -- or since we cut off charter flights, on a permission basis from the government.

I'll have to take that. I'm not aware of that development. But we certainly believe that they ought to allow humanitarian supplies and relief supplies into that country.

Q But you are aware of the fact that they're withholding the gasoline from the humanitarian people. Are you doing anything to get that --

MS. MYERS: We're putting pressure on them to release those supplies. It is our understanding that the humanitarian organizations have a couple of weeks' reserve. But we want to see that gasoline released.

Q The U.S. embassy down there says they're going to start buying gasoline on the black market. Is that going to be sanctioned by the Clinton administration?

MS. MYERS: I think what we're going to try to do is put pressure on the government to release the fuel that's down there for those humanitarian purposes. They have, again, a couple of weeks' supply. In the meantime, we're going to pressure them to let the gas go to its intended destination.

Q And if they don't?

MS. MYERS: Well, we'll see.

Q Dee Dee, Secretary Perry said that by the end of next week, Guantanamo will be able to take 40,000 refugees.

MS. MYERS: Right, and he pointed out it has a capacity to expand well beyond that if need be.

Q Can you give us a little bit of a better idea of what you mean by well beyond that? Are we talking double that or --

MS. MYERS: Well, I think he stopped there for a reason -- 40,000 in the next two weeks -- in less than the next two weeks. But I think there's plenty of capacity to expand beyond that substantially. And I'm not going to attach a specific number to it, but it can go substantially beyond 40,000.

Q No crime bill meetings this afternoon?

MS. MYERS: No congressional meetings scheduled. The President, as you know, will address B'nai B'rith at 3:30 p.m., where he'll talk about crime and health care, as well as the Middle East.

Q Is that an audio or a video?

MS. MYERS: It's satellite television. And then he doesn't have any meetings scheduled with members of Congress or anything formal. But I wouldn't rule out the possibility that if it would help, we would put it on.

Q (inaudible)

THE PRESS: Thanks.

MS. MYERS: Yeah, we do. Sure, thank you.

Q Is there anything new on Mexico?

MS. MYERS: No, nothing that happened yesterday.

Q And nothing in the schedule tomorrow?

MS. MYERS: No public events as of now.

END 1:45 P.M. EDT