THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
The Briefing Room
12:55 P.M. EST
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon. This shouldn't take very long. And I think McCurry's going to be out here in 10 or 15 minutes or so, so I'll just try and run through briefly; it's pretty straightforward.
Let me start by just giving you a brief synopsis of where we see the peace process in Northern Ireland, and then run through the details of the President's decision to grant Mr. Adams a multiple-entry visa for another three months, which will permit fundraising as well as to invite him and other political party leaders to our reception here at the White House on March 17th.
Basically, since we came into office, we've been looking for ways to advance the peace process in Northern Ireland, and starting from the last December 15th, '93 Downing Street Declaration, we've been trying to engage where we thought it would help people lay down arms and enter into the peace process. Since that time, since the Downing Street Declaration, we've seen an IRA cease-fire since last August 31st that was followed by a paramilitary cease-fire in October. Both of those have held for the longest time in recent history. You had a Christmas in Northern Ireland that was, for the first time, normal, and we see a momentum that we hope is becoming irreversible, moving forward.
There have been a series of meetings between Sinn Fein officials and British officials. The Sinn Fein and Mr. Adams made positive welcoming comments about the framework document, which was put forward by the two Prime Ministers several weeks ago, which we view as a real historic opportunity to move the foundation forward.
This morning, you may or may not have seen the statement put forward by Mr. Adams in which they agreed to put decommissioning on the table at the talks with the British. We view that as an important step forward. And our role throughout this has been to reach out to both Sinn Fein officials who are committed to the peace process, to the unionist officials -- we've reached out to Molineaux; we've reached out to others in the Unionist Party, met with them regularly. We don't have an agenda of where we want the process to go. We're just looking, trying to get the talks started and seeing where we can be helpful on that.
Given that scenario, yesterday, once we had gotten a commitment from Sinn Fein that they would make such a statement, the President decided to go ahead and issue the visa to Mr. Adams. It will be for three months, multi-entry, the same one he has now, with the fundraising restrictions removed.
And as I said, he and the other leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland will be invited to our parties. Those phone calls are going out today.
Let me just give a quick tick-tock on the decision- making process. Adams applied for the visa on February 22nd. The President yesterday directed that we try and seek a public commitment from Sinn Fein to include decommissioning on the table in the talks. My colleague and I had some conversations yesterday with intermediaries to Adams, got the commitment. And when they published the document this morning about 8:00 a.m., we went ahead and went public with our decision to do that. We've made some consultations on the Hill this morning. And McCurry announced it this morning. He's prepared to go into it further if you still have questions after this background. We've kept the British and the Irish government informed throughout this process. Let me stop there.
Q What guarantee does the U.S. have, or anyone have, that Gerry Adams when he is here, would not not try to raise money to buy weapons?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, the best guarantee in this kind of business -- guarantee is not the word we would choose -- but the best indication of their intentions is the continuing cease-fire, and their willingness to engage seriously with the British on this issue. We've also asked, and they've agreed, that they make any funds raised here fully transparent and audited and things like that. But, as I said, really, the best guarantee is continuation of the peace process.
Q What would be audited?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The funds raised here would be audited and accounted for fully.
Q According to a Downing Street briefing this morning, the British government line is that this is going to sour relations between London and Washington. What comment have you on that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I haven't heard the briefing, so I can't comment on it. But we don't expect it to sour relations -- we, the British, or the Irish, for that matter. I mean, our role all along has been to try to promote the peace and move things forward, and we feel our position over the last year has helped advance the cease-fire, has helped Sinn Fein to enter into talks that are constructive and productive, and I think we helped get this commitment to talk seriously about decommissioning and the upcoming talks with the British, and we'll continue to try to play that encouraging role. I think the relations between our countries will remain on good terms.
Q Did Mayhew bring the decommissioning of weapons up to the President?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Mayhew didn't see the President. He saw Tony Lake and the Vice President. I was not present at the Vice President's meeting, so I'd have to defer that to others. I was present at the meeting with Tony Lake, and yes, it did come up.
Q So was the President acknowledging concerns -- British government concerns about the decommissioning issue and making that the reason for the multiple-entry visa?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as I said, it was not the only reason. We have, all along, encouraged them to engage constructively in the discussions, hold to the cease-fire. We've had a lot of progress in the last year on a wide variety of issues. We have also made it clear to Sinn Fein that we felt that decommissioning had to be dealt with up front and seriously, and encouraged them strongly to make the statement that they did today. It also does not stop today; this is something that we're going to try and encourage those to do. It's also not the only issue on the table, but it's certainly -- any peace process is going to have to include this issue, and we welcome their statement this morning as a step towards recognizing that and moving forward on it.
Q Less than 48 hours ago -- sorry, after you.
Q Patrick Mayhew, the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on Tuesday said here that in his view it would be a mistake to lift the fundraising restrictions on Mr. Adams, and he said that 50 million people in the United Kingdom would be dismayed at the sort of a handshake between President Clinton and Mr. Adams. Are you still persuaded that you and the British government are of one mind on this, or has there been a difference?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll let the British government speak for themselves on this. We've had disagreements in the past on tactics. I think we share the exact same goal of getting peace and a resolution of this conflict in Northern Ireland. We feel that we've helped move the process down on a commitment for Sinn Fein on the decommissioning. The British government has made clear that they would welcome such a move over recent days, making clear that they wanted to have some assurances from Sinn Fein that they would talk constructively about decommissioning. Were the British to go to ministerial, we felt it would be useful to try and encourage them to state that very clearly and publicly, which they did so.
Q Just to follow up on that, when you say you've had disagreements in the past with the British government, in your view have there been no disagreements with them over the past 48 hours?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't really want to characterize their own position; I mean, you have to get that directly from them.
Q Do you think there's been a disagreement with the British government on this, or not?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We've kept them fully informed, and I think that's about all I'm going to say. I'll let them characterize their own views directly.
Q As your country offered a $2 million award for the capture for terrorist murderers who killed your diplomats, do you think it's appropriate to be inviting to a White House reception a man who until recently was the front man for a terrorist organization? Also I should mention this -- the President's commitment to the worldwide campaign against terrorism made in the State of the Union speech -- is it appropriate? Did it take much persuading?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have all along made it clear that we will engage directly with those who are willing to embrace the peace process and lay down their weapons. And we consider Gerry Adams to be in that category. We have progressively dealt with him as the peace process became firmer and more solid.
Let me, while you're at it, give you the names of the other people who are going to be invited. It's John Hume, Jim Molyneaux, Gerry Adams, John Alderdice, Ian Paisley, David Irvine, and Gary McMichael. And we're in the process of contacting all of them right now.
Q Does anybody in the White House seriously believe that Mr. Molyneaux or Dr. Paisley will be attending this reception? Did you believe that when you issued the invitations, or is it just a cynical ploy? (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't characterize it, not to your surprise, as a cynical ploy. But I think what we want to do is make it clear that all the parties in Northern Ireland who embrace the peace process are welcome at this celebration.
Q Did any of your briefers say that they would be welcome, that they would welcome this invitation -- does anybody in your office believe they will come?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We certainly hope so.
Q Do you believe they will?
Q In the past I understood the position to be that you would lift the ban on fundraising when there was progress toward decommissioning. And now you're saying that you're lifting the ban when they've just agreed to talk about decommissioning. Can you explain why your position softened on that, or why the President's position has softened on that and he's willing to lift the ban just when they've agreed to talk about it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't say it's a softening, we consider a Republic commitment to discuss decommissioning and talks with the British as a step forward and as progress. I think there's been a lot of misinformation in the press about what we have or have not implied they had to do or not had to do. It's similar when he came -- when he came a year ago, they had the same misperceptions of what we expected Adams to say while he was here on the visa.
Q In the past, the way the White House has handled since the meetings, like the President's meeting with Salman Rushdie, has been to keep cameras away. Are you going to allow this meeting to be photographed.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's inappropriate to characterize it as a meeting. This is a not a meeting with the President. He will be at a reception in the Residence. He probably will meet with Tony Lake. We've offered that, we just haven't set the schedule up yet.
Q Will you allow it to be photographed? And will the President attend the reception on the Hill that Mr. Adams may also attend on --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President will be attending the Speaker's lunch on the Hill on the 16th. It's the day before St. Patrick's Day there. He will be going to that. I do not think there's going to be press at the reception at the --
Q Why not?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- at the Residence. I'll leave that for McCurry's answer. I don't know how they're going to handle all that yet.
Q If Mr. Adams also attends the lunch, that won't be a meeting either?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. Actually I don't know if they've worked that out yet. I heard this morning that the Speaker has invited him, but I'm not sure exactly where that stands. But it will be a lunch. I assume they'll see each other. And whether there will be press there or not, I don't think they've worked out.
Q In this world of symbolism that we're in, it looks like Gerry Adams is going to be shaking hands with the American President before he shakes hands with John Major. What is the significance of that from your perspective?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll leave you guys to comment on that. But that's likely.
Q Can you tell us what Senator Kennedy's involvement in all of this was? And who were the intermediaries when you and your colleague spoke to yesterday?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Senator Kennedy has weighed in as have others on the Hill to permit us to allow Gerry Adams to fund-raise. The intermediaries that we speak to are the ones we have in the past. I don't if we want to -- I haven't checked with them, so I'm not sure I need to say who it is. But it's the same ones we also use, if you --
Q Did Kennedy and the President speak yesterday?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know the answer to that. We'll have to check.
Q Did you specifically discuss with the British the significance of the Adams' statement before you announced your decision? They say you didn't.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, did we --
Q The British don't consider that the Adams' statement made this morning amounted to a very substantial breakthrough at all. Did you consult with them about the significance of that statement before you announced your decision?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President made a decision yesterday that based on their -- the continuation of the cease-fire, the fact that they've welcomed the joint framework document. They are a series of meetings with the British document that if we could get a positive public statement about their willingness to issue a statement about decommissioning, about their willingness to participate in talks with the British seriously about decommission that he would permit them to fund-raise. And we kept the British informed of this process.
I'll leave it the way I characterized it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END1:12 P.M. EST