THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
12:29 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House and welcome to our daily briefing. Let me start by telling you that the President had a good 25-minute conversation today with President Aliyef of Azerbaijan. President Clinton expressed his support for a commercially viable, early constructed and multiple oil pipelines from the Caspian Sea region that would benefit the companies that were investing in oil development, as well as all the countries of the region. Both President Clinton and President Aliyef expressed their concern about the lack of progress on the peace process involving the Negorno-Karabakh. They continued to express support for the peace process under the auspices of the OSCE's Minsk Group. President Clinton expressed his support for the steps Azerbaijan has been taking on economic reform and encouraged further steps by all parties to move towards free and fair elections.
Q What was the reason for this call on this day?
MR. MCCURRY: There's been discussion both bilaterally and within the region on the question of the oil pipelines and the routing of the oil pipelines, and the President wanted an opportunity to exchange views with President Aliyef on that subject, but also to review the current status of bilateral relations.
Q So he's basically come down in favor of a two-headed solution -- one through Turkey, one through Russia?
MR. MCCURRY: Most of the discussion today involved two, a trans-Caucasuses route and a route through Russia.
Any other subjects that you might have on your mind today?
Q Is there going to be a meeting with the Chinese in New York now that they've rejected the offer?
MR. MCCURRY: We've had good bilateral discussions at the vice foreign minister level with the Chinese government on a subject of a working meeting between President Clinton and President Jiang Zemin. We do expect to have an announcement shortly as to the timing and venue for such a meeting, but the speculation I've seen in the press indicating it would be around the margins of the U.N. meeting celebrating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations does not seem far off the mark to me. (Laughter.)
Q Did we give the Chinese assurances that we would limit --
Q Is it going to be on the 24th, or not?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't have the time. Either the 23rd or the 24th.
Q Can we give the Chinese assurances that we would limit the Taiwanese President's access to this country and what he's allowed to say when he's in this country?
MR. MCCURRY: We did not. I think most of you know the strong feelings that we have in this country about freedom of expression, and we made it clear to the Chinese that, under the American system, freedom of speech is both highly valued and protected. To limit a person's freedom of speech is contrary to American values. The United States, as a matter of policy, does not muzzle or restrict the freedom of speech by foreigners when they're on American soil.
Q Where did they get this idea, then?
MR. MCCURRY: You'd have to ask the Chinese government.
Q Is this a complete misunderstanding, or are they just flat wrong?
MR. MCCURRY: As to any restrictions on freedom of speech by a visiting foreigner to the United States, it's just an incorrect characterization.
Q What about limiting Li's access to the country?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our view of visits by Taiwanese officials is consistent with our policy that they should occur consistent with the unofficial status of our relations. That's been well-rehearsed both in bilateral meetings with the People's Republic officials and in our own public statements, we've indicated those circumstances under which unofficial visits by Taiwanese officials for private meetings would be rare or very few, in any event.
Q What is on the President's agenda for discussion for Pope John Paul II on Wednesday, and what does he expect to be on the Pope's agenda with him?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, why don't we do a little more on that tomorrow? I haven't seen any long agenda, but I would suggest that the President's very interested in warmly greeting His Holiness when he arrives in the United States. We have worked successfully with the Vatican on a number of global issues, dating back through all the international conferences in which we've had a strong interest. There are disagreements, of course, on some issues of social policy, but there's also, fundamentally, on the part of the President, enormous respect for a leader with such impressive and enormous moral authority in the world.
The President has an interest in sharing reflections on His Holiness's view of current world events, some of the recently completed international conferences, and any other subjects that His Holiness may wish to raise.
Q What did you find out about the tightened security?
MR. MCCURRY: I found out that as I've reported to you this morning, we take into account many things when security questions are in play, and decline for proper reasons to discuss them in any elaborate detail. But we've just been talking about the visit of the Pope to the United States; President Mubarak of Egypt is currently in residence at Blair House; we've had major international developments -- the signing of the Middle East Peace Process, a verdict and a legal proceeding in New York. All of these types of questions are assessed by experts in our government as they make security decisions. You can reckon that in this case, those various events have come to play in the current status of security operations around the White House and, indeed, at other U.S. government facilities both here and abroad.
Q Is the President on the verge of easing restrictions on the sale of super computers around the world?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has, for some time, been interested in how U.S. manufacturers can better take advantage of commercial opportunities that exist in the global market consistent with U.S. export law, and they are looking at the question of how to liberalize export restraints on the sale of higher speed computers. There hasn't been any final decision made by the President. My understanding is that his foreign policy advisors and officials from the Commerce Department and other relevant agencies have prepared a recommendation for the President that will go to him very shortly, and the President will make a decision as he sees fit.
Q What's the connection, if any, with the support that computer industry firms have given to the President in terms of his election and reelection campaign?
MR. MCCURRY: None.
Q I'm sure, Mike, this question will come as no surprise to you. On the nuclear testing of the French -- do you think the U.S. criticism has been strong enough? It certainly hasn't stopped the testing so far. Is the U.S. assisting a French nuclear testing program? And are you doing anything about this Greenpeace situation -- Greenpeace claims that it was piracy against a U.S. vessel in international waters.
MR. MCCURRY: In order, yes, we believe that the strong regret expressed by the United States government is appropriate. Secondly, the cooperation that exists between the United States and France has been briefed, I think rather fully at the Pentagon, and I don't have any change in the information they've been making publicly on that. And third, we are concerned about maritime activities by the French government and urge all to exercise restraint and make sure that there's not a loss of life or a loss of property.
Q What has the Pentagon been saying?
MR. MCCURRY: They've talked about the circumstances under which we have extended some support to the French, specifically in how we can best assure that their own arsenal is safe and reliable in a way that is consistent with our view that there should be a comprehensive test ban and that the environment for a comprehensive test ban is enhanced when countries refrain from testing.
Q You surely don't think that the word "regret" is strong.
MR. MCCURRY: I think the use of the word "regret" in connection with one of our closest European allies is strong, indeed.
Q When Chirac is here will you ask him to --
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect the subject of a comprehensive test ban and testing in general, and specifically French tests, will indeed be on the agenda.
Q Will you ask them to refrain from any further tests?
MR. MCCURRY: We have already asked for that.
Q One of the news magazines today reports the President and Newt Gingrich are now having regular weekly telephone conversations in search of compromise. I was wondering if that is accurate, if you can tell us anything about it, and if one of those things that they've been discussing is tax reform?
MR. MCCURRY: The President told me some time ago that he talks to the Speaker on a regular basis. In fact, I asked him when was the last time you talked to the Speaker, and he smiled and he said "this morning."
Q That was today?
MR. MCCURRY: No, this was last -- this was almost 10 days ago. But he declined to share with me the subject of those conversations, saying that he believed it was important for him to have an opportunity to visit with the Speaker on a private basis.
Q So you're not going to -- in other words, can you confirm that it's a regular weekly thing?
MR. MCCURRY: They talk regularly. I know they talked just prior to the meeting that was held here at the White House on Friday on Bosnia. They talked by telephone. I think they converse with each other rather frequently.
Q Is he trying to win him over? Has he had any success? Where's --
MR. MCCURRY: Of course, we're trying to win the Speaker over. The President has got views on --
Q Well, what's the big secret about the two men talking?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no secret. I just confirmed it.
Q And can you also tell us if the President had any response to sort of to-ing and fro-ing yesterday on the tax issues?
MR. MCCURRY: Did he have any response? No. He sat back and watched it. (Laughter.)
Q Did he enjoy it? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't characterize it as enjoyment. If anything, we believe that -- not specifically with reference to that dialogue, but to all that you're seeing on Capitol Hill, there seems to be increasingly some sense within the Republican congressional majority that maybe President Clinton had it right when he said we've got to balance the budget, we have to provide targeted tax relief to Americans who need tax relief, and we've got to extend the solvency of the Medicare-Medicaid funds so that the elderly will be protected. We have to preserve necessary investments in education; we've got to make sure we protect the environment.
Increasingly, you're seeing Republicans in the United States Congress say exactly the same thing, and increasingly, it looks like the congressional leadership might be winding their way around to the President's point of view. So, naturally, the President is encouraged by that type of discussion, but we've got a long ways to go, as all of you well know.
Q If they lifted that tax cut, would the President support Medicare, the Medicare proposals that --
MR. MCCURRY: There will be many, many things that go into the resolution of the budget issue. The President's interested in a balanced budget, it gets there the right way, not the wrong way, and he's been very clear and very specific in describing to the Congress what he expects that route would look like.
Q How would you describe the relationship between the President and Gingrich? Secretly friendly? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No, I would say that it's -- I would describe it as being candid and businesslike. These are two leaders, their respective branches of government who, I believe, are interested in moving the country's business forward. They happen to have different views on how that best can be done. And their dialogue is designed to make sure they can reach the destination of getting the nation's business done in a way that a majority of Americans can support.
Q Has the President had similar conversations with Senator Dole?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. But he does talk to Senator Dole from time to time.
Q Senator Dole yesterday said he would like to see state tax relief included in the final tax cut package.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry. Say again?
Q State tax relief. And he has proposed a targeted relief for family-owned businesses -- farms, ranches. Would that fall within your definition of --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to comment specifically on something that is that confined within the overall budget discussions or views. Generally, on tax relief, tax matters have been testified to by officials from the Treasury Department.
Q Mike, how would you describe the status of the President's minimum wage increase proposal?
MR. MCCURRY: Necessary, urgent, but so far, not going much of anywhere in the Congress.
Q So, back burner, dead in the water?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We will continue to press it because -- look, in a variety of venues, whether it's welfare reform, whether it's trying to prevent the Republicans from raising taxes on working people by scaling back the EITC, we are trying to make it clear that this country values work and people who work for a living. And one way certainly you can do that is to raise the wages of those who work at a minimum wage so that they are protected from the effects of inflation and so we can raise the value of that wage and restore some of its value, having been eroded now over the last several decades. I mean, we've got a value in the minimum wage now that you have to look back 40 years to see such a discrepancy between that and what current law and the effects of inflation would otherwise indicate.
Q Is there any current strategy to revive it on the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we continue to press it. I don't see -- Democrats would love to press it. We've raised it, we've had amendments offered to bills that have routinely been voted down in committee by the Republican majority, so it's hard to see it making much progress. But as in so many things, the Republicans as we go along here and they begin to assess where the American people would like to see these policy matters wind up, they might find their way back to the type of common sense and common ground that the President has defined.
Q Can you tell us about the meeting this afternoon, the President with the Secretary General of NATO?
MR. MCCURRY: I can. I believe it's underway now, and if we are still underway when that meeting concludes, we might have a quick readout. But I'll tell you that the President did intend to review several things. Of course, first and foremost, Bosnia, the status of our diplomacy. He wanted to first personally thank the Secretary General for all the leadership that he has demonstrated at NATO as we have applied the military force of NATO to our diplomatic efforts, and then he also wanted to visit with the Secretary General on the issue of a NATO expansion and seek his views as we prepare for further conversations, both within the Alliance, within Partnership for Peace countries, and, also ultimately, with Russia when he meets with President Yeltsin.
Q About two months ago or six weeks ago, you announced a presidential executive order on lobbying reform, which has never seen the light of day as far as I can tell.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I wouldn't say it hasn't seen the light of day. It's seen the light of day at all the various agencies that are now reviewing a draft of the Justice Department's proposed language for an executive order. We expect the review of that draft language will be concluded soon, and the President will be in a position to issue that executive order shortly.
The President, I'll tell you, will have some further things to say on lobbying reform later on today. We are very troubled by Congressman Armey's comments that that issue is now dead for this year. And the President will be saying a little more on that in a written statement we'll have later in the afternoon.
Q There will be a written statement?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q What's the President's view of the nonprofit organizations lobbying, even those that get some federal funds?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's very concerned about restrictions on advocacy that have been proposed within the Republican -- some of the Republican approaches on legislation now pending on the Hill. There are restrictions that would affect the U.S. Catholic Conference, the Conference of Bishops, among others, and other organizations, nonprofit organizations that have contributed enormously to public debate here in the United States. And some of the legislation now pending would severely restrict the ability of organizations to bring very valued, expert counsel to policymakers as they wrestle with difficult issues.
Q But what about lobbying?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, lobbying --
Q Is that what you call bringing value to expert counsel?
MR. MCCURRY: Some of the restrictions would prevent these organizations that are expert, for example, in the delivery of social services to indigent populations --
Q You mean they couldn't testify on the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: -- from even describing, to even talking about what they do and how they do it.
Q Oh, come on, Mike.
MR. MCCURRY: That is -- you can check with people who have interpreted that statute.
Q -- attached to Treasury postal appropriations --
MR. MCCURRY: He hasn't been sent a conference report on Treasury postal.
Q The President's address on domestic violence, does it relate, or does he intend it to relate in any way to the O.J. Simpson case?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Mark, you had a question. (Laughter.)
Q Is the President going to wait until the last minute to veto the legislative appropriations bill?
MR. MCCURRY: No. (Laughter.)
Q Does that mean he's going to veto it before or has he decided not to veto it?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he's got a pretty clear idea of what he will do, and I expect him to announce it in the next several days.
Q Did you find out if the President has spoken to Sam Nunn anytime recently about --
MR. MCCURRY: He has not spoken to him on the question of his political future anytime recently, but he has talked to him about it in the past. He admires greatly Senator Nunn and he recognizes this is a deeply personal decision that the Senator must make. But the President certainly hopes that the nation can continue to benefit from the excellent service he has brought to the United States Senate on behalf of the people of Georgia.
Q One follow-up on that. Do you have any comment on Sonny Montgomery quitting?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is saddened by that news. He's very close personally to Congressman Montgomery. He admires Congressman Montgomery's steadfast efforts over the years to ensure that America has a strong national defense and to ensure that those who have served this country or veterans receive the benefits that they are entitled to receive. Since he's been actually a young man, President Clinton has known Congressman Montgomery personally and greatly admires the service that he's brought to the nation.
Q Back to the domestic violence just for a second. Didn't we just do this with Bonnie Campbell back in the spring?
MR. MCCURRY: Bonnie Campbell was appointed head of the task force that we've got on domestic violence, and part of what we are doing today as we begin Domestic Violence Awareness Month is talking some of the efforts that she has now put in place as a result of the position the President named her to when last we visited this subject publicly.
Q When the President talked about capital gains at the Sperling luncheon last week, it's been interpreted in some quarters as him actually opening the door to approving any sort of gains differential to higher income as long as it's put in the context of an overall bill that is skewed toward middle income taxpayers. Is there any opening there at all?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything to add to what I said on that last week.
Q So you're saying that you're ruling out any kind of targeted relief for upper income as long as it's --
MR. MCCURRY: The President answer that himself very clearly.
Q I'm a visiting journalist from Ireland.
Q Hey, hello.
MR. MCCURRY: Hello.
Q I'd like to ask you how planning is going for the presidential visit to Ireland in November.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's going extensively. I believe there was an advance team that was just in Ireland within the last several days, and they came back filled with a lot of ideas about things that the President might do, subjects that he ought properly to address. And they carried back some recommendations for those who will also travel in advance of the President's trip. I believe there are some National Security Council officials who will leave today, if not tomorrow, for an additional advance consultation with both the government of the United Kingdom and the Republican of Ireland.
The President's very much looking forward to that visit. It comes at a point at which we need to bring new energy into the peace process in Northern Ireland. And the President is hopeful that his visit will serve that purpose.
Q Mike, about planning for travel, what are these rumors we're hearing about two more trips from hell -- one beginning -- (laughter) -- and one on the 20th?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will be traveling, and you can get some help down here or afterwards on the exact schedule.
Q Just to follow up briefly on the previous question -- in the planning going on now, is there any thought that the President may accept the invitation that was extended to visit what was identified as his ancestral home?
MR. MCCURRY: My understand is there was competition over who is claiming the ancestral home. (Laughter.) And I'll have to check on that subject. Part of it is sorting out within the President's family, the President's own understanding of his genealogy compared with those who have found a new enthusiasm for claiming him as a distant relative.
Q Will we be going to the McCurry family home on this trip?
MR. MCCURRY: That's -- I think the Irish kicked us out of Irish, and the Scottish kicked us out of Scotland, so --
Q Who are the competitors for his -- who is claiming him?
MR. MCCURRY: There's -- Helen, I don't have the details, but there have been reports from Ireland, several who have looked into the President's genealogy have suggested various places that are sort of ancestral homes. And there are competing versions of that, is my understanding. But the President would wish that he could visit all of them, but, of course, his schedule won't allow for that.
Now, any other subjects that need to be illumined today? Enough? Good-bye. Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:51 P.M. EDT