THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:52 P.M. EDT
Q As long as you're talking about logistics, the schedule said pool coverage. Signing ceremonies aren't usually pool coverage out there. I mean, is that --
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is they're constituting -- they've got, you know, multiple countries there. They've got multiple countries present and they're constituting -- my understanding, is constituting expanded pools from each of the countries available. But we'll be able to give you more on that later.
Okay, let's move on. Let me tell you, the President had a 20-minute conversation with Russian President Boris Yeltsin this morning.
Q How long?
MR. MCCURRY: Twenty minutes. Much of the discussion focused on European questions, particularly the recent hopeful developments around the Bosnian conflict and the work that was done by the United States and the three parties yesterday, with the Contact Group in New York. The President underscored to President Yeltsin the importance that the United States attaches to continued close cooperation with Russia in the effort to promote a negotiated settlement in Bosnia. And indeed, the Russians have been a very valued participant in the Contact Group process and will be hosting various sessions as we move forward with the diplomacy.
This cooperation between Russia and the United States will be important as we work together on complex issues such as the question of an implementation force that would actually go in in the aftermath of a peace agreement to help the parties honor the commitments they make in such an agreement.
The two presidents also discussed the meeting that they have coming up next month on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly session in New York. They agree that that meeting will provide a timely opportunity for both Presidents to review the overall status of bilateral relationships. I should tell you, for planning purposes, that meeting will be October 23rd, and it will be held in Hyde Park, New York. The President suggested to President Yeltsin in the conversation today that that would evoke the spirit of cooperation that existed between the United States and Russia during World War II. Hyde Park, of course, being the home of President Franklin Roosevelt.
The two presidents also reviewed their recent correspondence and recent diplomatic consultations between the two governments, especially the meeting held yesterday between Foreign Minister Kozyrev and Secretary Christopher; the meetings recently between Deputy Secretary Talbott in Moscow with his Russian counterparts. The President, in general, felt it was a very productive review of issues that are both central to our current work on the bilateral relationship, and issues that lie ahead in the future as they plan for the meeting that will occur in October.
Q Did he initiate the call?
MR. MCCURRY: The President did initiate this call. There has been a very active correspondence between the two presidents, in which they both held open the possibility sometime in the near future of exchanging views by telephone, which, of course, they did today.
Q Specifically, what was discussed on the implementation force?
MR. MCCURRY: They discussed -- it was in a sense a follow-up on the discussion that the Foreign Minister and the Secretary had yesterday. Both presidents agreed that finding an agreeable approach to the question of an implementation force would be important. And certainly, the United States would welcome Russian participation in a NATO-commanded implementation force if and when there is a peace agreement, and if an when there is the deployment of such a force.
Q -- follow-up. Did Yeltsin raise the question of Russian participation in the command structure? What's the state of play on that?
MR. MCCURRY: No, they did not get into those kinds of specifics.
Q Did Yeltsin agree to placing Russian troops under a NATO command?
MR. MCCURRY: They didn't have a discussion that went to those aspects of command and control. They had a discussion about how to work together to address that question, it being a little preliminary at this point, absent an agreement, to get into detailed questions.
Q You just talked about Russian participation in a NATO-led force. Those may not have been your exact words --
MR. MCCURRY: I said we would welcome a Russian participation in the NATO-led force.
Q And that's what he told President Yeltsin?
MR. MCCURRY: That's been the Russian understanding of the U.S. view as we have publicly stated it for some time.
Q Did the President repeat that today?
MR. MCCURRY: He indicated that -- he indicated along those lines that our view of an implementation force and NATO's role has been fairly clear in our exchanges.
Q But did Yeltsin say that he would participate in a NATO-led force?
MR. MCCURRY: He said that we would find a way to work together to reach an agreeable approach, as I indicated.
Q Is the President committed to going to Russia in the spring for this nuclear summit?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. They did talk also about nuclear materials, about the importance of the summit that will be held in the spring of 1996 in Moscow on nuclear materials. That was a commitment that the leaders made when they gathered in Halifax several months ago.
Q Is the Clinton attending that summit?
MR. MCCURRY: His current plans are to attend.
Q When is that summit?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not set yet, I don't believe.
Q Have you got a breakthrough yet on a CR?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. There is a lot of good work going on and a lot of -- they seem to be moving towards reaching an agreement, but nothing that I am told is final at this point.
Q How close -- (inaudible) -- the Rules Committee was holding open its afternoon for you.
MR. MCCURRY: They've narrowed the differences considerably. You, I think, are aware of the general contours of what the discussion is about, and they are -- it's conceivable to me, anyhow, that they could resolve those as early as this afternoon.
Q Will we see the President if there is a CR?
MR. MCCURRY: I doubt very much that you will. We will react to it in some fashion with a written statement, probably from Mr. Panetta. But, remember, this is important that we do get an agreement that would allow the orderly function of the government to continue during the period in which they resolve the real issues, and the real issues are what budget priorities will define the approach that Congress and the President agree to on the federal budget. That's the big question. This doesn't resolve the big question, but it does buy a little extra time for a discussion of those issues.
Q Is the President inclined to veto the defense appropriations bill?
MR. MCCURRY: The President would note that the $7 billion in excess of what's needed in the view of the administration, and that that bill has to be considered in the broad context of our overall budget priorities. You can't look just at the defense budget without considering spending levels for domestic programs; therefore, signing this bill before knowing what the overall budget picture will look like would be very difficult for the President to do.
Of course, it will depend on whether that question arises; that question will not arise unless Congress sends to him the defense appropriations bill, and they've not yet done so.
Q -- forthcoming or immediately on that, is what you're saying?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no conference report that's been sent to the President.
Q -- a veto of --
Q I'm sorry, Bill, let me just follow up. Are you not also suggesting that if and when it is, he's going to wait until he sees a broader set before he acts one way or the other?
MR. MCCURRY: The President would find it very difficult to sign a defense appropriations bill without knowing what the total budget picture is going to look like. And we certainly won't have that opportunity, and we won't know whether it is going to be vetoed until we know what the other bills look like, and we haven't even been sent this bill.
Q Is he going to veto the legislative appropriations bill, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Hold on for a second --
Q Does that mean that he won't be issuing a veto on anything until he -- (inaudible) -- appropriations bills --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I wouldn't necessarily say that. We've got two conference reports that we have now, one on military construction and one on legislative appropriations. The military construction bill, as we've watched it come together, does not appear to present major problems to the administration; on the other hand, the President finds it difficult to imagine why the Congress would take care of the Congress first in the appropriations process and leave the rest of America hanging.
There are 11 other appropriations bills that represent efforts very central and important to the American people that are now left hanging, so the President might just have to leave Congress hanging, too.
Q Mike, did you mean to say military construction does not present, or did you mean to say legislative appropriations?
MR. MCCURRY: -- substantial problems.
Q -- you mean military construction or legislative --
MR. MCCURRY: Military construction.
Q Is he going to veto it, or is the legislative appropriations --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll see. We'll see what other appropriations bills make their way to the President by October 7th.
Q -- said there's going to be a statement on the CPI --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Chairman Stiglitz will have a statement very shortly that will indicate that whatever adjustments are made to reflect changes in the cost of living, they should be done on the best scientific evidence and not in a process of making such adjustments that reflect political debate. That statement will become available very shortly.
Q Just to clarify the defense appropriations, I mean, originally it was -- Congress was going to try to send as many bills up to the President so that he could veto them and kind of get the process rolling.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q You're saying in this case, this is different; he doesn't have a problem with the substance of the bill, it's the amount and that's why he would --
MR. MCCURRY: You mean on defense appropriations? Well, it's twofold. This is one of the largest of the appropriations bills that would come to the President. It is over the budget request of the administration. There are problems in the bill, although the Congress, in developing the conference report, went a long ways towards addressing some of the very severe problems that existed in earlier versions of the bill, so the conference report restores some funding for technology, investment, resources -- it does some things that the administration certainly welcomes, although not at the same funding level requests that were initially put forward by the administration.
But it is not possible for the President to consider this large a bill without having a better sense of how all the other budget priorities are going to work out. This is a very large sum of money; it is over budget; and we have to be cognizant of what other requirements there will be on domestic programs, what other needs the President will see as we see other appropriations bills develop.
Q Whose budget is it over?
MR. MCCURRY: It's over the requests that have been made by the Defense Department.
Q I know, but isn't within the budget that's actually been enacted by the Congress?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it meets the -- I believe it meets the congressional spending targets in the congressional resolution, but that doesn't have the effect of law. And it's over our budget request. It's over what our military planners and our Defense Department have said is necessary for the nation's adequate defense.
Q Mike, does the Stiglitz statement mean that the President does not exclude a downward adjustment in the cost of living index on social security, he just doesn't want that to happen while the budget process is going on?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President -- first, the President did not make such a downward adjustment when we developed our own budget proposals because at the time of our budget proposals, we did not see conclusive evidence to support a change in inflation assumptions for budgetary purposes. But the President feels and agrees with the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers that this is a question that should be looked at from its technical aspects. It should be looked at by experts who can make a good recommendation if and when the Congress decided to make any adjustment in the way we calculate inflation and reflected that in any budget measure sent to the President.
Q What kind of experts are you looking for -- are saying the Boskin Commission did not do a good job?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, principally the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been the place where there's already been an ongoing effort to improve the calculation of cost-of-living adjustments. And we believe that the BLS, working with other agencies, including the Council of Economic Advisers, should continue to review the evidence and look for information about what the magnitude is of any possible bias in the way inflation is currently calculated.
Q Mike, isn't this just a politically easy way to get more money? And doesn't it hurt old people and veterans and --
MR. MCCURRY: I've heard some in Congress suggest that as they reflect on this idea.
Q But, Mike, you're saying if and when Congress decides to do this -- you're going to wait until they actually pass a law that would change the calculation before he decides, or would this be part of the negotiations --
MR. MCCURRY: As I indicated, we will have to look at very good, constructive, scientific, technical analysis of the idea.
Q So what's the basic disagreement that you have, if any, with Moynihan on this issue of cost of living and Social Security?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Senator Moynihan, who is a recognized expert of these types of questions, given his own history in the Labor Department, has put forward an argument that we think needs to be studied very carefully.
Q Mike, forgive me, maybe I'm misunderstanding. It sounds like you're saying that the President is going to let Congress do what it wants on this issue, and then after he sees how it plays, he will then talk to BLS and decide what --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, not necessarily. I can't say that because it's not at all clear that Congress will take up this idea. They seem seized of it at the moment. We'll have to see whether they do anything with it.
Q -- is not equally seized, is the point. (Laughter.)
Q He's a little less seized.
Q He's not sure he "sees" it the way they do. (Laughter.)
Q If Congress were to choose to put forward this new budget proposal and use it as an offset to some of the Medicare savings, would the White House have any objection to that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we don't know. That's the whole purpose of looking at it in a very scientific and detailed way.
Q Mike, considering the House and Senate vote, is AmeriCorps dead? What kind of --
MR. MCCURRY: It can't possibly be dead because it will trigger a veto by the President of the VA-HUD appropriations bill. We came very close in the United States Senate to getting a majority support in the Senate for the AmeriCorps program. There were some reasons why individual senators did not support the amendment offered yesterday for reasons that had to do with where the money was coming to restore funding from AmeriCorps and that those are reasonable concerns, especially by the Democratic Senators who did not support the amendment. But it's clear that we came very close, if not exceeded, 50 percent of the Senate supporting the AmeriCorps program. It's very encouraging to the President.
Nonetheless, the VA-HUD appropriations bill is riddled with problems to begin with. It will be vetoed because of the lack of funding for AmeriCorps, among other reasons. And then we'll go back to square one and see what we can do to restore funding for a program that is absolutely central to the President's idea that we have to encourage service by young Americans and also provide opportunity for educational opportunities.
Q Mike, we first heard back in the spring about this -- (inaudible) -- index adjustment and were told then that the BLS was studying -- (inaudible). Do you anticipate that they're going to finally going to reach a decision sometime in the next six weeks or, or is it liable that they're going to need months to make this decision?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no way of predicting. They have been looking at it for some time, and the important thing for them to do is to get the right answers and to look at it in a fashion that allows the President to make his best judgments if and when we face the question of how to adjust the calculation of the CPI.
Q It sounds like you're in no rush to deal with this.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's not clear that there's a need to be in a rush to deal with it. It's not clear that it's today's hot idea. Whether it's tomorrow's hot idea or not, we'll have to see.
Q When you say you're leaving it to Labor Statistics and others to study, is there a specific effort to study this or is it just --
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the Chairman's segment will refer to some of the efforts that have been underway. I'll refer you to the written statement.
Q I work for -- (inaudible)-- Japan, and I'd like to ask you about -- some questions about the rape case which occurred in Okinawa on September 4th. The reaction of the U.S. government to it was quick and -- (audible) -- really appreciate it. (inaudible) -- before coming to Washington, I went to Okinawa to cover this news. And the reaction is getting much bigger day by day. And the -- (inaudible) -- to it is also getting larger. What do you think -- the first thing is what do you think about it? And the second is -- the main point, what is -- (inaudible) -- human rights of the school girl who was raped? How does the U.S. government compensate -- (inaudible) --
MR. MCCURRY: The last part of your question I can't answer specifically. I know that Dr. Perry and officials at the Defense Department have been looking at the issue of how we can adequately express our regret beyond the public statements that have been made not only by the President, by Ambassador Mondale and by others.
You're correct in noting that the United States very quickly indicated that we deplored and regretted this truly awful incident. The President has been kept very much apprised of the status of discussions not only about the case, but about steps that the U.S. military will take to create a better understanding of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior by U.S. military forces serving in Japan.
My understanding is that Dr. Perry earlier today has indicated that the acting Chair of the Joint Chiefs has called for a day of reflection by U.S. Armed Forces serving in Japan so that they can examine issues that are fundamental to what is proper behavior by U.S. military service -- personnel serving abroad.
And, of course, the White House welcomes that development. And we will continue to follow very carefully not only the resolution of the specific case and whatever just compensation is due the family that has had to live through this very tragic incident, but also additional steps we can take to make sure that no such incident ever occurs again.
Q Did the President, or you, or others in this building have a chance to further study the implications of Ross Perot's new third party?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we've been busy on other work. (Laughter.)
Q Back on Okinawa just for a second. Is there any change or shift in the offing in the agreement that mandates that U.S. servicemen be held by the Americans until there's actually a formal indictment by --
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that's the future of the status of forces agreement. I'm not aware of any change in that. You should check at the State Department.
Q Who proposed a day of reflection?
MR. MCCURRY: It was done by -- my understanding -- the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who's serving, in the absence of General Shalikashvili, as the Acting Chair of the Joint Chiefs. Is that correct?
Q The Washington Post is publishing today that Director Deutch of the CIA will be disciplining -- (inaudible) -- to gain some personnel -- (inaudible) -- Latin America, specifically Guatemala? Has the President been kept abreast of this?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. You'll know -- remember that the President had instructed his intelligence advisory board to follow this carefully, as they are. Not long ago, I briefed you and gave you an update on the status of that review. And we indicated at that time -- and I believe the Director of Central Intelligence indicated -- that there would be personnel actions forthcoming based on that. So we have followed these developments carefully.
The President, from the beginning, indicated that any wrongdoing ought to be punished very swiftly and very directly. And he will be getting further information as the Director of Central Intelligence takes the personnel actions necessary to meet the President's requirement that those who are responsible for any wrongdoing be disciplined.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: You're very welcome.
END 2:08 P.M. EDT