THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:55 P.M. EST
Q Were politics part of the National Security Council review of the B-2 decision?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Mr. Bell just laid out the decisive criteria used. It was quite clear from his presentation that you just heard that this was a decision made on the merits.
Q Mike, the Secretary of State has announced that he's sending Holbrooke and Carlucci and other U.S. officials back to Bosnia on Sunday, fearing that the Dayton Peace Agreement could unravel because of the holding of prisoners by the Bosnian government of Bosnian Serbs, whom the U.S. believes should be released who are not necessarily war criminals. Is there a fear in the Clinton administration now that the Datyon Agreements are on the verge of unraveling?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think -- you've jumbled a lot of things together. I doubt very much that Secretary Christopher said what you just indicated. I believe that he wants to make sure that the parties continue to make progress towards implementation. And they continue to gain confidence that all sides are carrying out their obligations under the Dayton Accords, and that with respect to obligations that exist related to war crimes that they religiously follow both the text of the agreement and the obligations they have as members of the international community to make good on the commitments to see that those who are responsible for these crimes are prosecuted.
Now, there's been a great deal of discussion in Bosnia amongst both representatives of the tribunal, Chief Prosecutor Goldstone and commanders from the international force, about what they can do to keep the joint military commissions meeting. There's no reason in our view that parties should not participate in those activities that will help build confidence in the peace process itself; and we encourage all parties, whatever their objections to certain developments, to continue to use the process to resolve differences that exist. And we, of course, will, through our diplomacy continue to press the governments to make good on the commitments that they've already signed that we believe are central in giving them the confidence that, in the long term, this peace will work. And it's no surprise at all that we will follow up, we will continue to follow up in urging the parties to meet their obligations, just as we've continue to follow up on the issue of war crimes.
The Assistant Secretary for Human Rights has been in Bosnia, has been looking at individual sites and collecting information and will continue to do that type of work as well.
Q Well, there is a special concern, isn't there, if they're going back and -- what can they actually do?
MR. MCCURRY: There is concern about all aspects of the agreement and a determination on our part to encourage the parties to meet their obligations. That's what we will continue to do. And we believe in the long term the parties, themselves, knowing that their people want peace, will continue to make good on the commitments that they've rendered before the governments that they signed the agreements in front of.
Q Are you calling on the Bosnian government to release these prisoners?
MR. MCCURRY: The statements that we've made about that are clear, they've come from IFOR. I don't have anything, really, to add to what they have said regarding the two military officers that are now being -- you're aware of what Chief Prosecutor Goldstone said yesterday and also aware of what international force commanders have said in response to that.
Q How about the insurance now?
MR. MCCURRY: Insurance?
Q Business liability insurance?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is that Mr. Bennett has been available and has answered questions on that, and I'm not sure --
Q We haven't been able to reach him.
Q Does the President still have insurance, and why did he get it in the first place?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding, from what Mr. Bennett has been telling people, is that the President, as do many people in professional life, particularly attorneys, have that type of liability coverage and had it for some time -- I believe, dating back to when he was serving back in public office in Arkansas.
Q When were the policies purchased?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a question that I'm referring to Mr. Bennett, because he's most knowledgeable about the policies and about the coverage under those policies and about any payments that have been made pursuant to those policies.
Q Did you have a chance to ask the President, though, what was on his mind when he bought the policies?
MR. MCCURRY: I did not. Those who have talked to him indicate that he bought these policies, as did many people in professional life who are more susceptible to facing lawsuits. That happens to a lot of people who are prominent, both in private sector and in public sector. As to the specifics on the policies, again, I refer you to Mr. Bennett.
Q Can you tell us to what extent the President was involved in the discussions between Bob Bennett and the insurance company?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Bennett's happy to answer that question.
Q At the time of the East Room press conference where the President said these legal bills were breaking him, did he know that he had this insurance --
MR. MCCURRY: He knew it at the time of his press conference, January 11th, he knew that he had policies that had that type of liability coverage. He understood that there might be some payments that would come pursuant to those policies. But he also knew that his legal bills would, far and away, exceed any coverage that those policies would render so that he would face additional millions-plus in legal fees that would still put him in the situation that he was asked about -- you're facing the possibility of a very dire financial picture, financial insolvency; that would still be the same situation. And as he correctly indicated, he feels very confident that he'll be able to meet his obligations and pay those bills.
Q Well, Mike, is he relieved by these payments? Do they really help --
MR. MCCURRY: It's better than not having that type of payment. But at the same time he's still going to face enormous bills, and so will the First Lady, and they will continue to face that financial burden well after the President and the First Lady leave the White House in the next century.
Q Mike, when you said the President was aware they had these insurance policies with that kind of coverage, what are you talking about, "that kind of coverage"? Personal liabilities, specifically sexual harassment coverage --
MR. MCCURRY: No, the umbrella liability provision that relates to tort claims.
Q I talked to Bennett for about $200 worth of minutes today. He didn't have much information on whether or not the President still has it, why he got it in the first place and why these years, '91 and '92, '94 to '95? Did he have it in between? Is there any way to get, at least to find out, if he still has it, or why he bought it or what he --
MR. MCCURRY: He's the most knowledgeable about the policies and I'm sure if he's in a position to follow up with you, he will.
Q Well, wouldn't the President even know if he had insurance, and when he got it, for goodness sake?
MR. MCCURRY: I think, as do many -- I mean, I have a homeowners insurance policy, I can't tell you, as I stand here, what it covers. I think most people in this country have got insurance policies, but as to what it specifically covers they probably don't know, unless you have a reason to have a claim, and you go to the insurance company to see if something is covered. I mean, I think most people --
Q But one of these was taken out while he was President, or could have been taken out while he was President.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's not clear and I suggest, again, that you refer that type of question to Mr. Bennett.
Q Well, Bob Bennett doesn't seem to be answering --
Q Mike, on one hand you say the President, like many professionals, has this kind of insurance policy. And on the other hand, you say that he didn't know what kind of policy he had. I mean, it's either one or the other.
MR. MCCURRY: No, that's not what I said. I said he knew he had a insurance policy that had umbrella liability coverage that might cover a tort claim of this nature, but he didn't know to what degree it would cover or what amounts would be paid as a result of it.
Q So he wasn't sure the insurance would cover it and he referred these policies to Bob Bennett and said, check into this to see if they'll cover --
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Bennett had been pursuing it, but the President hadn't been spending a lot of time on the issue. In fact, I don't have any information that indicates to me that he had any discussions with Mr. Bennett as Mr. Bennett was pursuing the issue of coverage.
Q Has the Clinton administration concluded that China did sell nuclear technology to Pakistan?
MR. MCCURRY: No, the administration has not.
Q Is the intelligence community convinced that that sale did occur?
MR. MCCURRY: That's something that you know I would not be so brave as to talk about here in a public setting.
Q So where does it stand right now in terms of assessing whether that sale was, in fact, a violation of the U.S. law?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have very real concerns, and we are evaluating the information that is available. We haven't made any determination that China has taken actions that would trigger the imposition of sanctions. Remember, if we make a determination based on the facts that that type of transfer has occurred, there are legal requirements that apply, but we've not made that determination. As a result, we've not made a decision to impose sanctions.
Q Will the President involve himself in that determination, in that decision?
MR. MCCURRY: He will if that is needed or if his foreign policy advisor suggests that he needs to make that decision.
Q Mike, are you ready to ask for a waiver in this case, a waiver of sanctions?
MR. MCCURRY: It's far premature to even speculate on that, even though there are some who do. They're just wrong to do so.
Q Are we trying to find out?
Q You're not turning it down?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are -- we have sanctions, we have a waiver process defined in law. Those are applicable if a determination is made. But not of that is applicable unless there's a determination made that triggers legal requirements that we have under our law.
Q You said it's "far premature." Does that mean that any decision on this is weeks away?
MR. MCCURRY: In this area, information that is available has to be assessed, and information gathering is a rather constant business. There will continue to be efforts to evaluate the information that they have and to see how that applies to the legal responsibilities we have to carefully execute the laws.
Q Actually, I was looking for some clue as to timing. You probably didn't get that.
MR. MCCURRY: I can't give you a hint.
Q Is it days away or weeks away?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't give you a hint. When they make that determination, they then have to proceed according to our law, and I'm not going to speculate on when that might happen.
Q Are they investigating? I mean, is it an active investigation?
MR. MCCURRY: As I said, they are actively evaluating the information they have available. That is ongoing, they do that all the time. And when it comes to a point they need to make a recommendation to the President via the principals, if they need to do that, or when others who look at these issues make recommendations to the foreign policy principals who meet on the President's behalf, they act accordingly.
Q Let me ask you this question, Mike. If there is this active evaluation under way now on such a sensitive subject, why, in the middle of this, would the White House approve the sale of these four satellites, this very sensitive technology, to China at a time when there is an active evaluation of another very sensitive issue, namely, alleged Chinese sale of nuclear technology to Pakistan?
MR. MCCURRY: You're trying to mix apples and oranges in a brew that I don't think I would want to drink. Those are two different types of issues. And the applicable issues, when it came to the commercial satellite launches, involved civilian technology, not military technology. They are evaluated under separate provisions and the issues that -- I think they're even evaluated under separate statutes, if I'm not mistaken. So there are different types of issues. We have a commercial trade relationship with China. We have done previous -- we have authorized previous commercial transactions in the satellite launch area, and there's no change in our view that that is part of our very active and very broad economic engagement with China.
But the specific issue that we're dealing with when it comes to allegations that there's been a transfer of nuclear technology have to be evaluated differently, and that is a source of very real concern to this administration. We spend a great deal of time and effort evaluating that type of information because it relates very directly to our very strong concerns about proliferation
Q If you do conclude that there was a violation and you decide not to issue a waiver, how would that impact on U.S.-Chinese relations?
MR. MCCURRY: That is so wildly speculative a question, I'm not even going to attempt to answer it.
Q Well, let me ask you this. The sale of those commercial satellites, are they being funded, financed by the Ex-Im Bank? Would that kind of a sale be eliminated if --
MR. MCCURRY: We have, I think -- I believe there is about $10 billion worth of economic trade activity that is Ex-Im Bank-financed that would be affected by the imposition of any type of sanctions under the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act. But I don't know whether that is applicable to these, to the commercial satellite launches. We'll have the NSC folks check on that.
Q Has the President softened his position on the farm bill in light of the Senate vote yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think as you saw in the Secretary of Agriculture Glickman's statement last night, the President obviously wants to see new farm legislation enacted quickly, with the 1996 Spring planting season coming up and we need to resolve this for the sake of farmers around the country. He doesn't want to be in a position where he has to veto any farm legislation, and that's why we will continue to work with Congress to address some of our concerns.
As Secretary Glickman said last night, they made some progress when the measure was considered in the Senate. They added $300 million for the rural economic development program and they've taken some other steps. We are encouraged to think that maybe there could be additional movement. We certainly hope there will be in the conference committee, and we hope that the bill is satisfactory as the action is completed by the Congress.
Q Do you have any reaction to the lawsuits filed against the telecommunications law in New York and Philadelphia today?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we don't. We know that there's -- we've got many of the exact same concerns that families around this country would have about protecting their children from pornography and obscenity. In fact, a large part of what the President talked about today was the violence chip and how we can protect families from material that they don't want their kids to see. That's what -- that's what was the purpose of the Exon Amendment but, obviously, the fact is that the court challenge will have to be decided in court, and meanwhile we will do what we can through this legislation and through other efforts to help protect children from obscene material.
Q -- just for one second. Does the First Lady have any such coverage?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know.
Q Do you have any better guidance on the signing the defense appropriations bill? You said Saturday is the outer limit.
MR. MCCURRY: The authorization bill. The defense authorization bill action must be taken by the President by February 10th, which is, I guess, during the day on Saturday, and he will be here on Saturday prior to departure for Iowa, obviously.
Q Well, what does it mean? Why don't you just say it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because I don't want to rule out the possibility we might do it tomorrow, okay? Is that all right?
Q Yes. And has he decided on the HIV --
MR. MCCURRY: They're working very hard on that issue and we will obviously have something in connection with the bill, because that's the provision of the bill that most concerns the administration. We'll have something further to say on how we'll handle that objectionable provision.
Q You don't think he'd do it on the road, though, in Iowa?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I do not think that.
Q Who forged the Gearan memo? He wouldn't use language like that.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. What else? (Laughter.) Thank you.
END 2:12 P.M. EST