THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Paris, France) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release December 14, 1995
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
Hotel Prince de Galles Paris, France
1:42 P.M. (L)
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, or morning, depending where your body clock is located. I'm going to go back to David Johnson just briefly before I run through the President's meeting with President Chirac, just so you can -- no one had a chance to ask questions prior to the beginning of the ceremony. He was briefing, for those of you who weren't here, on the quadrilateral meeting that the President had with Milosevic, Izetbegovic, and Tudjman earlier today. And then he had one or two other color points.
MR. JOHNSON: I was finishing up with the high school students from Dayton, and there was one other point I wanted to make. They were accompanied by both a reporter from the Dayton Daily News, Tom Archdeacon, and a teacher from the Dayton area, Maija Racevskis. The reason I wanted to point that out to you is the teacher is a Latvian American who spent the first five years of her life in refugee camps before immigrating to the United States in the aftermath of the second world war.
She took a moment with the President after the students had spoken with him and wanted to point out to him how meaningful it was for her as an American who came to this country as a refugee that the United States was making this effort now to help implement a peace in Bosnia; that she had seen the destruction on television; that she knew of the tremendous number of people in Bosnia who had been displaced from their homes and how people in the United States and countries in Europe had reached out to them and had accepted a number of refugees and had given them homes. And as an American who came to the United States as a refugee, it was a particularly meaningful moment for her. And she thanked the President personally for taking this step to help the Bosnians implement this agreement.
MR. MCCURRY: Any questions?
Q Could you confirm or deny that Serbia and Bosnia exchanged letters of recognition, as Ambassador Holbrooke said yesterday they would?
MR. MCCURRY: I would prefer that both parties address that subject, but they did have a good, fruitful exchange that we believe will lead to normalization of relations. They both reviewed their commitments with the President during their session this morning.
Q But they have not yet crossed the threshold -- MR. MCCURRY: I think they are on the verge of is probably
the correct way to say it. But it would be more appropriate for the two governments to make that announcement.
Q Last thing, Mike. Did something happen since last night since Ambassador Holbrooke made the statement that stopped the exchanging of letters? Is it a setback or --
MR. MCCURRY: No, there was nothing that happened that proved the Assistant Secretary incorrect.
Q On rehabilitation assistance, Mike, was there any discussion? Did the President lay out his expectations to these leaders? And also, this notion of disincentives, as Secretary Christopher calls it, if the foreign troops don't pull out?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the commitments that they have made under the treaty they've just signed, or the agreement they've just signed, are quite clear. But so, too, are the penalties that would exist for any abrogations of the accord. Those have been clear to all three Presidents, specifically in the case of President Milosevic. He knows under the terms of the relevant U.N. Security Council resolution, there could be reimposition of economic sanctions if they don't make good on the commitments they initialed in Dayton and now signed here in Paris.
But there was nothing about any of the conversations the President had with the three Presidents this morning that would indicate anything but a commitment by them to make good on their agreement. That was very encouraging to the President; in fact, the President, at one point this morning, remarked to an aide in between some of the meetings he was having that this was a very satisfying moment.
Q On the rehab package, has this been introduced to Congress yet, or can you tell us a little bit about --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. The $85.6 million that was covered in the fact sheet is money, funds that are already authorized and appropriated. They are FY '95 funding, and there are some reprogram money that exists. That's not money that requires any additional congressional action.
The $600-million commitment that we have talked about generally, which would be our share over three years of the estimated bilateral money being provided by foreign governments in addition to the money coming from international financial institutions that will be part of this multi-billion-dollar effort to rebuild Bosnia, that money would require additional authorization and appropriation. But there is considerable sentiment in the Congress to make good on that commitment. Even as there is concern about the deployment of troops, there's an understanding that if the troops are there, the likelihood that their mission will be successful grows as the people of Bosnia begin to see tangible benefits for peace.
This is a lesson that we learned from the peace process in the Middle East as well -- the necessity of providing immediate tangible benefits to the citizens so that the leaders who are taking risks for peace can demonstrate to their populations that that risk is meritorious.
Q The question is not the worthiness of it, but what the status of it is.
MR. MCCURRY: The status of the money?
Q Of the money, of the request -- of the $600 million.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that request will be part of our overall foreign assistance budget request for FY '96. It's conceivable that some of the money could be made available, depending on how they interpret the continuing resolution that now exists and any future continuing resolutions that might be passed to cover funding until there's an overall budget agreement.
Obviously, it would be a lot easier to get that money cleared and appropriated once we've got a regular appropriations bill for the 150 account.
Q Does the President have to sign the execute order for the 20,000 to go in, and if so, is he going to do that --
MR. MCCURRY: The President has to review what the status of forces are right now. The action by the North Atlantic Council to approve operation plan 10405 -- is that right, 10405? -- op plan 10405 was approved conditionally by the North Atlantic Council pending the signing today in Paris by the parties. Now that the parties have formally concluded their agreement, the North Atlantic Council will meet expeditiously, and we understand it should be by the end of the week, to provide the final approval for the contingent approval they gave to op plan 10405.
We expect that will then put General Joulwan in a position where he will begin to make individual troop requests pursuant to the plan, and those would go to the United States and be subject to our chain of command. But the President has made very clear to the Secretary of Defense that he will have the necessary authorization to cut those orders so that the troops can move. There's no question about that.
Q When do the troops move?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's -- it would be a very elaborate deployment plan that will flow according to the NATO planning that's already been done. I really refer you to NATO and U.S. military briefers who can tell you more about that. And all your news organizations are in a position to get those types of briefings from the folks they're dealing with in Tuzla and Germany and elsewhere.
Q Does the U.N. Security Council have to act, too, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: The U.N. Security Council will provide authorization to the implementation force in the form of a resolution that I believe is under consideration in the Security Council even as we speak, or will be likely under consideration today, is my latest understanding. But Ambassador Albright's office can provide you more information.
Q The President looked pretty pale and his voice was husky. Is he feeling all right?
MR. MCCURRY: He was feeling all right. He's been having a bit of a catch in his throat. I think he's been fighting off a bit of a cold over the last couple of days. And I think anyone who flew all night long, including this poor soul, is probably a little less than 100 percent. But he was very -- clearly, as he landed today, as the pool may be able to tell you, very excited about the day ahead and had been looking forward to the ceremony very much.
Can I run through very briefly -- all I'm going to say on the -- I haven't had a chance to get a thorough readout from the President about his bilateral meeting with President Chirac. They met tete-a-tete. They did not go into an expanded format with their delegations, so they met privately for close to 45 minutes prior to the ceremony. And then both President Chirac and President Clinton went directly into the ceremony. So there hasn't been an opportunity to get a complete debrief, but I do have a sense of the topics.
They talked at some length about the implementation of this agreement and the status of the implementation force that's about ready to be deployed. They discussed the importance of confidence-building measures in and around Sarajevo that would give the multiethnic population of Sarajevo and its suburbs some sense of confidence about the commitment of the parties to peace. And that's important, given the concerns that have been expressed by Bosnian Serbs in the southern and eastern suburbs of Sarajevo.
They talked about reconstruction assistance, the importance of moving quickly on that. The President informed President Chirac about his quick-start money that we've already covered here. They talked about the elections and the need to make sure that there is good international cooperation in supporting the free and fair elections that will be held to determine the new leadership pursuant to the constitutional arrangements that the parties have made.
They then went on to other topics of bilateral concern. They talked about Russia. They reviewed the Russian election Sunday. They talked about the expansion of NATO. They talked about France's role in NATO and the recent decision by the government of France to elevate its participation in the military planning committee, the defense planning committee.
The President talked about -- was asked about his Ireland trip and he, of course, with great relish, recounted that trip. They talked about Haiti. They talked about the Middle East peace process. The President briefed President Chirac on his just-concluded meeting with President Peres and previewed Secretary Christopher's coming trip to the region.
They talked -- President Chirac raised the subject of aid to developing nations, they spent some time on that. They discussed President Chirac's February 1st state visit to the United States, where they will have a greater opportunity to review our bilateral concerns in detail. And they talked at some length on the subject of Iran, with predictable positions voiced.
Q Did Chirac ask for specific steps with regard to Sarajevo, to reassure the Bosnian Serbs?
MR. MCCURRY: They discussed --
Q What was the question?
MR. MCCURRY: Did President Chirac ask for specific steps. I don't know the level of detail with which they addressed that question, but they did discuss the importance of giving Bosnian Serbs living around Sarajevo a sense that the agreement, as it pertains to a unitary Sarajevo would be in their best interests. They discussed ways that they might be reassuring. Now, how specific they got on that I just frankly don't know at this point.
Q Three artillery shells exploded in a government-controlled area in Sarajevo at the same time as the agreement was signed. What's the reaction of the White House and how do you interpret it?
MR. MCCURRY: I was not aware of that. I'll have to look into that.
Q I know you addressed this on the plane over, but what's your best feel on when the President might be going to visit the troops?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President would like to do that, subject to the recommendation of his military commanders. He believes it's important for him as Commander in Chief to express solidarity with the troops. Ideally, Christmas would be a good time to do that. On the other hand, the deployment schedule that the implementation force will be pursuing at that point is quite complicated, so I can't suggest to you that that's very likely. In fact, I can probably suggest that it's somewhat unlikely, given the deployment schedule that the military commanders will be following at that point.
The President has indicated that he is considering that. He certainly wouldn't rule out paying a visit to the troops sometime in calendar year 1996 when the deployment is complete. But we are really going to rely on the judgment of the commanders because they know what can get in and out of Tuzla and what requirements there would be for a presidential visit. The President has made it quite clear he wants to do nothing that interferes with the work that our commanders and our military forces need to do.
Q Is there a big job still ahead of the President in selling the idea of a mission to the public in the U.S.?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. And he has indicated to a number of us that it will take very patient and continuing work; that the support, however enthusiastic from the Congress, and important as that support is, does not end the necessity of continuing to visit with the American people on the role our forces are playing, why they are playing that role and why the President believes they will be successful.
And we have some confidence based on the briefings the President has gotten from his senior military commanders that this mission will be successful. And as that success is demonstrated it will be popular with the American people because they will do an enormously noble thing now. They are going to help bring peace to this land that has been wrought with conflict for the last four years.
Q Does the President have the sense that by brokering this agreement and signing this treaty today, triggering the deployment of all these troops, that he has in a sense put his presidency on the line?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that he thinks of it in that terms. It has certainly been described to him that way by others, but the President feels that he has done something important, done something that's right and done something that is not only in the best interests of the United States, but in the best interests of Europe and, most importantly, the people and the children of Bosnia, as he indicated in his remarks today.
Q Mike, do you have any sort of color or can you give us some sense of logistics given the situation here in Paris. How are things going in sort of getting around town?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, for us they've been very smooth, and for the President they've been very smooth. His helicopters landed across the river. They motorcaded to the Ambassador's Residence with no problem. It's a lot easier moving around when you're the President of the United States than when you're an average French citizen that doesn't have public transportation, quite clearly.
Q Did the French nuclear test come up today?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any information indicating that it did. I can't rule out that it might have, but the list of topics that I got from Tony Lake did not indicate that they reviewed that topic.
Q Did they discuss the strikes at all?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I am aware of. In the session where they sat formally together it did not come up. But President Chirac and President Clinton were talking in quite an animated way as they were moving around Elysee Palace awaiting the arrival of some of the other leaders. And it's quite likely, in my opinion, that it came up. I'll try to check with the President later when I see him and ask him that.
Q You made reference to when he might or would like to visit the troops. And I think you said he'd be waiting for them all to be there. The best, last estimate was they should all be in by early February. Is that still -- there's been some -- weather delays and all. What is the current estimate when all 20,000 will be there?
MR. MCCURRY: I would ask you, Barry, to go back and check with the Pentagon briefing on that. I believe I've seen senior military and senior defense officials describe it as about a two-month track. And they've been pretty precise, and I don't want to wing an answer to that because they've already said on the record in various places what it is.
But I make it clear that we don't have any plan or tentative plan at this point. The President just thinks it would be something good to do. He thinks it's important for him to do that as Commander in Chief, and he would like to do it. But he understands that, first and foremost, we've got to make sure that logistically our commanders and their troops are getting their work done, and we don't want to interfere with that.
Q From where we were sitting, the three Balkan leaders seemed pretty stiff. Was there tension between them, or was there any warmth --
MR. MCCURRY: This was, I think, for all three a somber occasion. There was no tension between them, but it's clear that they, all three, carry enormous burdens of different sorts, and there was not much interaction among them. But there was no tension. They greeted each other. They clearly know each other quite well now from having spent the time that they spent together before and after Dayton. And our impression is that each of them -- each of the three were struck in different ways by the solemnity of this occasion. And that was reflected in some of the private exchanges they had with the President.
David probably told you the format of the session they had. They met together as four, and then as the meeting broke up, the President met individually, privately with each of the three leaders. And there was some exchange as they were waiting for their opportunity to meet privately with the President.
Q Why did they meet, so they would just feel comfortable talking about issues that they would want to raise?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because they covered -- they knew what they needed to cover together. But the President, quite frankly, had some specific things he wanted to raise privately with each of the three.
Q Mike, what's the budget situation? Does the President have --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll come back and do -- we'll go back to domestic stuff in a second.
Q Can you explain what happened after midnight last night when Mr. Holbrooke told us there would be the recognition this morning before the meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe -- my understanding is that the Assistant Secretary has been once again proven correct. But as I indicated earlier, I'd really prefer that the governments describe the exchange that they had at the Ambassador's Residence this morning on the subject of mutual recognition between Bosnia and Serbia.
Q And do you have anything on the problem with NATO was experiencing yesterday on the rules of engagement regarding war criminals? Has that been ironed out?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, I don't have anything on that, Andrea. I can look into that, but my guess is that they're probably covering that out of their briefing.
Q What is the administration view of President Izetbegovic remarks in which he didn't seem very excited about this at the signing, but said, we come to it reluctantly; it's like bitter medicine that you have to take. I mean, he didn't really sound like he was embracing this.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's easy to understand why. He has been the victim of aggression during the course of this war. And our government, our government is very sympathetic to the position that the Bosnian government found itself in as it negotiated this agreement. They've lost -- you know, in terms of the territory that was once part of Bosnia-Herzegovina, I think everyone in this room knows what sacrifice they paid as a result of this conflict, and also what, in a sense, what opportunity they've gained as a result of the agreement.
So his remarks were poignant, and we have a great deal of sympathy for the way he expressed his feelings because of the losses that the Bosnian people have suffered. At the same time, the fact that President Izetbegovic said without reservation they commit themselves to this agreement is very significant, and it's a commitment that the President reaffirmed in his meeting with President Izetbegovic.
Q I'm struck by his reference to skeptics in his speech. You made some reference to some convincing remains to be done. Could you characterize in any way how he feels? I mean, the congressional vote was rather tepid. But here you are signing an agreement. Does he feel the skeptics are turning out to be wrong, or is it too early to say, or what?
MR. MCCURRY: It is too early to say. We cannot do for the people of Bosnia what they must now do for themselves, which is to build their nation and to deepen the roots of peace. We can create an environment in which they have a good opportunity and a chance to succeed at doing so.
But that is the work that we have committed to do and it's the support that we give to them as they pursue that peace that the President underscored today. And the President believes that as that peace deepens, and as the people -- as not only the people of Bosnia, but as the people of the world, see that peace take hold, then those who are skeptical now, those who are concerned about the deployment of U.S. troops will see their confidence build and see the merit of the mission.
All right, let me do a quick on -- I don't have a lot to report on budget. I can tell you there has been numerous conversations that Chief of Staff Panetta has had. Since the action on that is back in Washington and there will, indeed, be a fair amount of action on that today, I really would like to refer you to people back in Washington who can help you understand more.
The discussion has centered around how they will proceed in the coming days and into the weekend, the likelihood -- it seems very likely at this point that there will be extensive negotiations through this weekend. And it is built around the President's commitment and the commitment of the Republican leadership to engage in good faith negotiations that will achieve the objectives outlined in the continuing resolution, a seven-year balanced budget track.
Q Are you comfortable that there is not going to be a government shutdown?
MR. MCCURRY: Can't say with certainty that there will not be a shutdown, but there seems to be a willingness on the part of both the Republican majority and Congress and the President to conduct good-faith negotiations that will avert that shutdown.
Q Is it likely that the President will get personally involved?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has been involved to the extent that he approved Leon's strategy for the discussions that he carried out yesterday and will likely carry out today and tomorrow. I've gotten a report relayed to him by Erskine Bowles on Leon's conversations last night back in Washington. And as he has been on the phone -- he's been fairly involved day by day already -- he's talked to both the Speaker and the Majority Leader on an off over the last several days, and I suspect he will as we go through the weekend as well.
Q But if I could follow them with one more. Before the shutdown in November the President said that he would get personally involved for talks if that if that were necessary to make the difference. Is that -- that same offer holds?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as I just indicated, he already has been personally involved.
Q When you say that it's going through the weekend and that both -- all sides have expressed a desire not to have another shutdown, does that mean the negotiations now are about an extension of the CR and not about somehow completely a deal by the end of the weekend
MR. MCCURRY: No, my understanding is the discussions are more about how do they achieve a balanced budget plan and good-faith negotiations towards that end ought to make it likely that they find a way to extend the continuing resolution.
Q Didn't you say yesterday that the chance that there would be a new budget and have the budget deal done in time to avert a shutdown was -- that's out?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's very unlikely by Friday night that they're going to complete the work on a balanced budget plan. My point is that if there appears to be good-faith negotiations towards that end, it seems to the White House more likely that Congress would be willing to extend the terms of the continuing resolution.
Q There is a New York Times report this morning about a Pentagon team being on the ground searching for the body of an American pilot. Do you have anything on that, and is there any sign of cooperation --
MR. MCCURRY: I need to get more on that. That is a very complicated story that has many chapters, and I would prefer to consult with some of my colleagues back in Washington before I get too deeply into that story.
Q Can we go back to the foreign for a second?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q Foreign, back to Bosnia for a second. What is the hold-up on recognition between Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that there's any hold-up. I think it was a judgment by the leadership of both countries that that was not a subject that they would address here in Paris.
Q Do you expect them to get together in the coming days?
MR. MCCURRY: We hope they will. That would be consistent with the agreement they've now signed.
All right. Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:10 P.M. (L)