THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:35 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. This is the last briefing of this week -- (applause.)
Q Uh, oh. I hope you haven't jinxed us.
Q Don't be too sure of that. (Laughter.)
Q We'll hold you to it.
Q You never know.
MR. MCCURRY: The President of the United States of America, having spoken -- earlier today on many subjects I know you're interested in, means that I can be brief here at this briefing.
Q What about the Persian Gulf report? Are you going to do it?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we've got -- the announcement of that is ready to go very shortly. The President's talking about it now. I think as some of you know, the veterans roundtable he's doing -- we were giving them first crack at it on the executive order. On the presidential advisory committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses will be forthcoming immediately following the briefing.
Q The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms, has just said, referring to President Clinton and his handling of the situation in Bosnia, "Maybe he'll get some good advice from the Joint Chiefs, but I hope he won't shoot from the hip, because I don't think he's qualified. I wish someone else was in the Oval Office."
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I -- I'll have to find out more about that statement. But the President has spoken to you earlier today about the response that NATO is very effectively making to request from the United Nations in Bosnia. And the Commander-inChief is very satisfied that the military is responding correctly and efficiently to those requests.
Q Can you walk us through the chain of command now in terms of authorizing these air strikes. Is the two-point system still in place?
MR. MCCURRY: There's the dual-key system, and has been described over and over again at the State Department and at the Pentagon. You can refer --
Q What is the status of that now? Has Akashi --
MR. MCCURRY: Been no change --
Q signed off and now we're in the situation where he's approved the first one so the second one is up to the NATO commander?
MR. MCCURRY: The operation of the dual-key is -- has been briefed before. How it works in the case of each individual request for an air strike is something that I would refer you over to the Pentagon and perhaps the State Department because they've addressed it both since it involves the United Nations' clearance for an air strike as well. I believe, if I'm not mistaken that the same arrangements are in effect. And UNPROFOR requests can come from the ground -- it's relayed up through dual chains of command to both the U.N. authority and to -- through NATO to SACEUR.
I do believe that in the case of the U.N. some of that authority has been delegated by Secretary General Boutros-Ghali to Mr. Akashi, his representative in former Yugoslavia. But I would ask you to check with the U.N. to make absolutely sure that's true.
Q What do you hear about the safety of the hostages?
MR. MCCURRY: We are monitoring that very carefully, and the less I say about that I think the better.
Q Is the President going to talk to Yeltsin? He said what he would tell him, but does he have any plans to contact --
MR. MCCURRY: There's been a variety of diplomatic contacts with the Russian Federation, including, I believe, an effort by the Secretary of State to reach his counterpart, the Russian Foreign Minister, who's attending a CIS meeting in Minsk. And so they have not connected yet, but the Secretary has had a very active today, as has just been briefed at the State Department.
Q Mike, do you have anything on this latest kook? Was he just trying to show off, or was he a threat?
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing beyond what the Secret Service has told most of you already.
Q Mike, the President's going to have a couple of opportunities on Monday to talk about the POW-MIA issue -- the ceremony here, the one over at Arlington. Is he going to go beyond the formulation that he's stated in the past that Vietnam will have to do everything possible on the issue before full recognition --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Memorial Day is an opportunity to honor veterans in our nation, and especially those who gave their lives and service to our nation. And I expect his remarks to be aimed in that direction. He is not going to articulate, as far as I know, any new position of our government related to relations with the government of Vietnam.
Q What about on the POW-MIA issue itself?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's going to continue to say a very high priority of his and this administration's is the fullest possible accounting for POWs and MIAs. As you know, there's been a delegation just recently returned from Vietnam that has made some progress in that direction, has been -- delivered some documents by the government in Hanoi, and those materials are now being evaluated. But I'm not aware that there's been any definitive judgment on the materials received that would allow him to say anything further on that Monday.
Q We did this earlier in the week, but what was the President's response to the meeting with Senators McCain and Kerry when they came over and urged that now would be the time to formalize relations with Vietnam?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he restated our view and our policy that further progress in broadening the relations with Vietnam would depend on the fullest possible accounting for POWs and MIAs. He reviewed the status of the mission just led by Assistant Secretary Lord and indicated to the two senators that they had received materials -- of course, the two senators were aware of that. In fact, they, themselves, said that they thought that the government in Hanoi had been very helpful in providing those materials. But those are still being evaluated by the Pentagon. They're looking through what they got and seeing if it matches up to some of the discrepancy cases and some of the missing cases that they're still evaluating through the joint task force.
So I would suggest that we just have to wait and see what type of analysis we get out of the Pentagon, until we declare that this latest delivery of documents represents any significant progress forward.
Q Mike, the formulation has -- for a long time has been the fullest possible accounting in terms of POW-MIA. What does that mean? Does that mean every single one must be accounted for or --
MR. MCCURRY: That is -- we use that phrase "fullest possible accounting" for the simple reason that it may be in the end impossible in some cases to establish with absolutely certainty what has happened to those who most likely gave their lives in Vietnam. But that, nonetheless, puts a very high threshold there for this administration. And fullest possible accounting means exactly that, that we have to go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that in each and every case where there's any possible avenue to get additional information, those avenues are pursued.
Q How do you know when you've reached the point where there isn't anymore accounting that's possible?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's one -- one thing that we now work through very carefully with Vietnam. As we get additional information -- in some cases we have family members who come forward who discover documentation or find letters or find things that they themselves might be useful to us as we try to get this accounting, we continue to pursue those types of leads. And as I've described to some of you prior, out at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, they do extraordinary forensic work, almost like detectives in tracking down some of the information that they are able to retrieve from Vietnam on site visits that the joint task force has been able to do out in very remote parts of the Vietnam, and in some cases Laos and Cambodia as well.
Q Mike, what is the difference between China and Vietnam on one hand and Cuba on the other? Why is Cuba sort of treated as the one last pariah of the Cold War?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, China, among other things, has a -- adopted policy of moving toward market economics, markets reforms, and has a body of law that recognizes western financial institutions and protects the value of western investments through some of their adopted law. So as a totalitarian communist country it has adopted a different type of economic strategy and has instituted some economic reforms that allow us to engage in commerce.
In the case of Cuba, remains a very backward, some say ideological -- ideologically-stuck state that has not learned the lesson of history taught to us throughout the 1980s that totalitarian command-and-control economies don't work and can't work.
So thus the regime of Fidel Castro has not been able to get on the right side of history. So there's a substantial difference in the history of the two countries, and thus in the difference --
Q That isn't why we don't recognize Cuba, because of their --
MR. MCCURRY: And the other difference, Jack, is that we are governed in the case of Cuba by the Cuban Democracy Act, which is the law of the land and which the administration strongly supports, which codifies in law a mandatory approach that is different from the one that we would pursue in the case of China.
Q Mike, when do you expect a veto on the rescission bill?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't predict because we have not received the bill. The enrolled bill has not been delivered to the White House. And it obviously will be vetoed promptly upon its receipt. But it's anybody's guess when the leadership might send that to us.
Q What's the strategy --
Q When can we expect an MFN decision?
MR. MCCURRY: Sometime before June 3rd.
Q Mike, on the rescission bill again, is it true that the President has -- I may have missed you telling someone -- the President has decided not to worry about the timber references in it and some other things, but will simply -- would go for just the education being restored?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm glad you asked that. I saw some reference today to speculation by -- allegedly by an administration official, maybe a janitor somewhere -- I'm not entirely sure -- but someone who suggested that there was a willingness on our part to fall off our strong objections to the timber provisions in that bill. That's just not so. That remains a very strong concern. That language is one that we are -- have discussed very directly with various members of Congress and that the President feels very strongly about as reflected in all the public statements that he has made and the administration and as made on his behalf.
Q So he couldn't possibly go for it if it didn't have that in it.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we -- you know, I -- there is going to be -- there be negotiations at a future date. And the President has made very clear what the parameters of a compromise would be that he would find acceptable.
Q Mike, the specific report to which you may refer was one which said that he had told Speaker Gingrich that in fact if he could get the $700 million back for certain education and training programs that are important to him, that he would be willing to yield on this timber matter. Is that not true?
MR. MCCURRY: You can well imagine, Brit, that with the prospect of an active negotiation with congressional leaders on that bill so that we can achieve the administration's objective and the President's objective of significant deficit reduction, the elements of that negotiation I'm not going to display for you publicly.
Q Well, I understand that, but if the President has already told the Speaker of the House of Representatives that this is --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not --
Q the position he would take, then there isn't much to conceal from us now, is there?
MR. MCCURRY: You're making -- you're making a facile assumption that what the Speaker may have told --
Q Well, then, Mike, if that's -- all I'm asking is whether -- if that assumption is incorrect, all you've got to do is say no he didn't say that.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he may have told the Speaker many things in the course of the negotiation. How they all fit together and how they all hang together is what a negotiation is usually about.
Q So you're not really denying it. You're not denying it.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not confirming or denying anything about discussions that the President of the United States may have had in an attempt to achieve deficit reduction and move this country towards better sanity and fiscal discipline.
Q When you said, I'm glad you asked that question, we thought you were going to either knock it down --
Q In fact, answer it.
MR. MCCURRY: I was knocking down -- I was knocking down a very specific point on the timber salvage provision.
Q Well, that's what I'm trying to figure out. I'm afraid you've left me a little confused --
MR. MCCURRY: We didn't say that -- we didn't say we'd --
Q at this point -- (inaudible) -- Speaker one thing, and a policy --
MR. MCCURRY: You're alleging that the President has said things to the Speaker that I'm not confirming that the President said.
Q You're not denying either, however.
Q But is it not at the moment at least a moot point, because objections by the White House to other elements of the bill remains -- (inaudible) -- assure its veto --
MR. MCCURRY: As we reported to you here at the moment, no reason to believe that there would be any progress sufficient to have a compromise measure ready to go when the Congress returns.
Q But all of that is a -- the whole conversation with the Speaker that was reported was a post-veto scenario for a rewritten bill. Am I not correct about that, or am I wrong about that?
MR. MCCURRY: It was reported, but only some parts of conversations get reported sometimes when people talk about private conversations between the President and others. So just take that -- as you analyze where the discussions might be.
Q overall policy -- is the President willing to give up his objections to the timber language in anything post-veto?
MR. MCCURRY: I said earlier, I'm not going to speculate what forum a final compromise measure might take. But the President could not have been more open and more direct with all of you in describing exactly the type of measure that he would find acceptable and that he would be able to sign.
Q What's the strategy now to get the Foster nomination over the top? What do you foresee?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, what we foresee is a lot of hard work ahead as we -- with individual senators, let them know more about Dr. Foster's record, remind them of the very eloquent presentation he made to the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, which has now approved his nomination. And probably a shoe leather by Dr. Foster as he gets around and meets additional members of the Senate who will be considering the nomination. But we hope the result of all that work would be a confirmation vote in his favor so that he can get on with being America's doctor and take the position of Surgeon General.
Q Are you expecting a filibuster?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Senator Phil Gramm has indicated that is his intent, and that would be unfortunate, because Dr. Foster, now having won the support of the committee, is clearly someone well-qualified, with the experience and the background to serve in that position. And going to the extraordinary length of a filibuster on a nomination of this nature would certainly be -- what, a surprise, I guess.
Q Do you think you have the votes to break a filibuster?
MR. MCCURRY: We are working it, and we are confident that we have a lot of support in the Senate now for Dr. Foster's nomination. Whether that adds up to 60 votes or not, we don't know at this point.
Q And do you have a -- does the administration have a strategy to force Senator Dole to bring the issue to a vote?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again.
Q Do you have a -- does the administration have a strategy to make sure that Senator Dole doesn't prevent this from coming up?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we don't have a strategy, because Senator Dole as the Majority Leader, can effectively prevent consideration of the nomination if he chooses to do so. But given the public support for this nomination and now the support of one of the committees of the United States Senate, the Majority Leader would probably have to go a long ways towards -- to explain to the American public why he would go to that length.
Q Mike, is the President or the administration making any special efforts today to make sure all the allies stay on board on the air strike policy?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes -- check with the briefing over at the State Department and they'll tell you a lot about what the Secretary of State has been doing. The President's been following the scope of those diplomatic contacts closely.
Q Is the President making any phone calls to world leaders?
MR. MCCURRY: He has not been advised to do so at this point by his foreign policy team?
Q Is Senator Frist's vote a surprise --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again.
Q Was the Frist vote a surprise this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it was -- I won't say a surprise. It was gratifying. There was a lot of hard work done. And I think you all know the work that Senator Frist did during the nomination process itself in the questioning that he directed to Dr. Foster. But it was certainly gratifying, as Dr. Foster said, and certainly as the President said, to see his home state senator support Dr. Foster's nomination.
Q Was Kassebaum's vote a surprise, and did she tell the White House --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't -- I just don't know the answer of whether or not Chairman Kassebaum informed any White House staff in advance of her vote. I did say earlier, and I'd say again now, that the administration is gratified that she offered Dr. Foster the opportunity for a very fair hearing and a balanced presentation of arguments on behalf of his nomination. And despite her vote, which, of course, the White House found disappointing, we are appreciative of the way that she conducted the confirmation hearing itself, and appreciate her willingness and her determination to see that the nomination, one way or another, reached the Senate floor.
Q Do you view Frist's support as strong enough that he will actively lobby other senators -- are counting on him to do that?
MR. MCCURRY: It wouldn't be proper for me to answer that. You can ask Senator Frist.
Q What about Japan -- are we ready to move into consultations with Japan?
MR. MCCURRY: Ambassador Kantor has just said so earlier today and has indicated that he's requested consultations with the Japanese counterparts June 20, 21 here in Washington.
Q Is it the intention that that would give it enough time for the sanctions to actually start taking effect?
MR. MCCURRY: Sanctions are not scheduled to take effect until June 28th, if I'm not mistaken.
Q Mike, under what conditions would the United States -- (inaudible) -- the Marines in Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: Well -- only under the types of contingency plans that NATO military planners have drafted to meet certain scenarios that they have been looking at. But there's been no decision by the Commander-in-Chief to do so.
Q Is there a process -- there has to be a decision at some level that would then signal you all that it's time to send the Marines in, or would you try --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there would be -- there is a detailed process by -- this would be within the context of a NATO operation on behalf of UNPROFOR that has been looked at very carefully by NATO military planers. We have been an active participant in that planning. But that would depend entirely on what situation and what contingencies NATO faced at a particular moment. It would be speculative at this point to suggest any particular scenario.
Q But as a broad matter, hasn't it always been to try to get NATO forces out of there? Isn't that what that's --
MR. MCCURRY: No -- broadly stated, the concern had been if it was a necessity under whatever contingency to do an evacuation of UNPROFOR personnel, would NATO be there to assist in that evacuation. NATO has said it would be; the United States has said we would, of course, honor our obligations and our responsibilities to our NATO allies. But it is speculative to say what type of contingencies those might be.
Q But there is no such plan now, at this --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's not correct. There are -- there's planning -- contingency planning that's been done by NATO military planners.
Q But I mean no decision to evacuate.
MR. MCCURRY: No decision -- no. There's not been a decision.
Q But evacuation is the linchpin of the whole thing, is it not?
MR. MCCURRY: Evacuation is connected with an extraction of UNPROFOR from former Yugoslavia and Bosnia, in particular. And there's been, to the contrary, no reason for that. And in fact, one of the things that is currently going on now a the demonstration that UNPROFOR intends to remain and to attempt to fulfill its mission in Bosnia.
Q Am I -- isn't that the sole exception to the broad policy that we're not -- or the general policy that we're not going to have ground troops in there?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, the policy of the President is very clear. He will not commit ground troops to the conflict in Bosnia as part of the ongoing conflict or on behalf of any of the warring factions.
Q Would a hostage situation where you wanted to extract specific NATO personnel --
MR. MCCURRY: Doyle, you can -- I'm not going to be able to speculate on what might happen. It wouldn't be wise to do so.
Q No, my question was, is that clearly not on your list of contingencies or is it a gray area?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a question that NATO military planners have no doubt addressed in their planning. But I'm not going -- at liberty, nor should I describe any of the details of that planning.
Q Are the U.S. Armed Forces on any special state of readiness this weekend?
MR. MCCURRY: I would refer that to the Pentagon.
Q Mike, have you confirmed that these U.N. people that we've seen pictures of today chained to fences or whatever, are, in fact, U.N. personnel? And if they are, how --
MR. MCCURRY: Have I? No, I have not. You should direct that question to UNPROFOR, who would know more about the status of its enrolled forces in Bosnia.
Q But has the United States government been told that U.N. personnel have been taken hostage?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check on that. I don't know what our latest communiques have been from U.N. authorities.
Q Well, is the President going to stay watch, in view of the escalation, new tensions --
MR. MCCURRY: He will be watching very carefully the developments in Bosnia.
Q Mike, is there a danger that the taking of hostages in fact will hurt the policy in keeping -- (inaudible) -- forces there?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure I understand your question. In what sense?
Q In the sense that it shows, it makes the argument of those who say you can't do air strikes and keep the air forces there because they become hostage, and that if they keep taking hostages that it will make people want to pull out?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it certainly complicates some aspects of UNPROFOR's mission in Bosnia, but UNPROFOR's mission in Bosnia extends to humanitarian relief, to sanctions enforcement, to additional activities beyond the protection of safe areas. It certainly does complicate the direct work they're doing in the safe areas.
Q Mike, what is the President's agenda in the meeting with the AFL-CIO this afternoon? And does he intend by his timing to signal support for Mr. Kirkland in his reelection?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I'd make very clear on behalf of the President that he is not taking a position at all in any questions related to the leadership of the federation. He is taking this opportunity to remind the members of the executive council of the AfL-CIO of all the good work that we have done on behalf of working families in this country, to review some of the issues that are outstanding on the agenda. And it is an opportunity for him to hear suggestions and ideas from the leaders of organized labor. That's the purpose of the discussion. And I doubt very much whether, given the array of participants, whether there will be much discussion of leadership politics at the federation.
Q Mike, are you saying, then -- just a couple of minutes ago on Bosnia -- are you saying that now the fact that NATO has taken this action makes it less likely that they would pull out ultimately?
MR. MCCURRY: I was saying that, as the President said yesterday, that the determination to remain in attempt to fulfill UNPROFOR's mission is certainly evidenced by the request from UNPROFOR to get assistance from NATO so that they can make good on the aspects of their mission. Yes. And that is certainly our -- our strong desire is to see UNPROFOR remain, to help save lives in Bosnia, and to continue to do the humanitarian work, and to continue to do some of the protective work that they have done and done against great odds, but done rather successfully.
Q Mike, why is it the President would threaten to veto legislation that would dictate foreign policy, but he so embraces the Cuban Democracy Act, which does exactly that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Cuban Democracy predates this administration, but it does represent, in the President's view, a valid and necessary way to bring economic pressure on a regime that does not seem to understand the scope and force of history, does not seem to understand the lesson that so many former communist states have learned, that market economics works best and democracy is the way in which people can self-govern. And that legislation is a way by which the United States brings economic pressure to bear on Cuba to help the people of Cuba make that transformation.
Q But isn't the same principle at issue of Congress dictating foreign policy that he so objects to in this other legislation in the Gilman bill?
MR. MCCURRY: There's a different legislative history in the case of that act. That act was developed in consultation between the Executive and the Legislative Branch. It does not represent a preemptive challenge to the authority of a president, in this case, a prior president to carry out foreign policy.
Thank you all.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:00 P.M. EDT