THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
12:35 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the White House daily briefing, proving that if you hold it they will come. Since otherwise I can't of a reason for you all to be here. What would you like to talk about today?
Q Trimble -- what is he doing? Are you giving him any kind of proposal?
MR. MCCURRY: David Trimble will be here for lunch today with the National Security Advisor, Tony Lake. The President will drop by that luncheon I suspect around 2:00 p.m. We have a very urgent need now to do everything we can, those who believe in the Northern Ireland peace process, to encourage a resumption of the cease-fire, to encourage the parties to continue the pathway towards all-party talks that can resolve their differences, and to continue to honor the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland, which, very manifestly, are in favor of peace.
And the purpose of the conversation with Mr. Trimble will be to that end. We will continue our contacts with the parties -- with the government of the United Kingdom, and with the government of the Republic of Ireland -- to urge them in the strongest possible way to find a way through the aftermath of this terrible tragedy and towards the pathway of peace that at once looked so promising.
Q Mike, in light of his refusal to condemn the bombing, indeed, his blaming it on the British government, what is the administration's posture now towards Gerry Adams?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Adams is an important leader in this process because he speaks for Sinn Fein. It is hard to imagine a process making progress towards peace without the active involvement of Sinn Fein. But again, we call on all parties to honor their commitments, to especially return to the promise of the cease-fire that changed the lives dramatically for the people of Northern Ireland. And we will continue to press that argument.
Q If I could follow up, Mike, presumably, that would have been true last Thursday, what you just said. Has the bombing and his reaction to it changed anything in terms of our posture toward him, willingness to have him here for visits, direct contact with him and so forth?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't believe there are any meetings planned currently with Mr. Adams.
Q That's not quite the question, though.
MR. MCCURRY: We continue to urge all parties to do what they can to use their office and to use their persuasive abilities to encourage those with whom they are in contact to honor the terms of the cease-fire and to return to peace.
Q What discussions occurred over the weekend between White House officials, administration officials and Gerry Adams?
MR. MCCURRY: There may have been some phone contact, but there was a great deal of work by the White House and by others within our government, working with all sides to do what we can to try to keep this process on track, especially the need to resume the cease-fire.
Q I'd like to follow up. Did the administration, anybody in the White House, seek some kind of explanation, assurances from Adams? What was the nature of those discussions?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've had strenuous conversations with everyone we've been in contact to do what parties can to return to the cease-fire and to return to discussions that can lead towards peace.
Q What is your view of the statement that he made?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the statement expressed sympathy for the victims, which was encouraging. It did not indicate any less of a desire to continue the process of peace. But parties need to speak themselves. Our government condemned the attack. We believe that was the right way to address the incident.
Q Mike, Prime Minister Major is saying that talks with Sinn Fein cannot continue and, indeed, apparently, they're not talking now with Sinn Fein at all. Does the U.S. support that position, and what has to happen before --
MR. MCCURRY: We are aware of the views of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. We'll continue to discuss matters with them closely and urgently.
Q Well, if Major says his ministers can't talk to Sinn Fein representatives, does that mean the U.S., since you're saying you might still talk to Sinn Fein representatives, would become sort of an intermediary?
MR. MCCURRY: As I indicated earlier, there are no plans for meetings that I'm aware of at the moment.
Q Mike, Mr. Trimble is calling for the U.S. to change its policy toward granting visas to Gerry Adams. Is there -- are you reviewing that policy at all?
MR. MCCURRY: I indicated earlier, and would continue to indicate, that we are urging all parties to do what we believe is necessary to keep the peace process moving forward. We believe the actions our government have been in furtherance of that proces.
Q So you're not considering changing the policy?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will most urgently see what we can do to get the cease-fire back in place and to continue the process forward towards peace. Now, if that happens, and we firmly believe we can use every ounce of diplomatic effort at our availability to do that, that would make all these other questions moot.
Q Does the U.S. still view Adams as the leader of Sinn Fein, and are you still viewing him in that role?
MR. MCCURRY: We're not aware of any change in the nature of that organization's leadership.
Q On Friday he said that he didn't know about the bombing in advance, and it supposedly was carried out by the IRA. Does that undermine his authority with them and with you all?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Sinn Fein and Mr. Adams have always taken the position that that organization and its political activity is separate from the Irish Republican Army, as you know.
Q Is the President at this point considering sending any administration official over to London or Ireland or Northern Ireland to participate in efforts to get this back on track -- Lake or perhaps others?
MR. MCCURRY: There are no definite plans that I'm aware of at the moment for U.S. government officials to travel to work on that issue, in particular. Now, Senator Mitchell, who retains his position as a special advisor to the President and the Secretary of State on economic matters related to Northern Ireland, has a previously scheduled trip to London, but it's in connection with another subject. I believe the subject is Bosnia, not the Northern Ireland peace process.
Q Do you consider that the Mitchell effort to break the deadlock that was rejected by London, is that pretty much dead?
MR. MCCURRY: By all means, no. The Mitchell Commission, in its report on the decommissioning issues, gave to the parties the pathway they could follow back to the promise of peace. And that's what they need. They need to get back on that path now in the aftermath of this incident.
Q Do you consider that pathway to be rejected? I mean, Major said --
MR. MCCURRY: It was not -- statements of Prime Minister Major were very clear. He had an alternative that he proposed, and others commented on the Mitchell report, the international bodies report on decommissioning. Our government commented by saying it was a very important and very valuable study of how the parties themselves can move towards all-party talks that would be inclusive. And that remains, in our view, the way that peace can be advanced in Northern Ireland.
Q Mike, Prime Minister Bruton said today that Prime Minister Major, in his insistence on having these elections in Northern Ireland, was pouring gasoline on the flames. And it seems that this demand was the thing that really threw a monkey wrench into the talks. Are there any efforts by the administration to get around this thing and to --
MR. MCCURRY: All the efforts that I just described. You will see us refraining from comments on the positions that individual parties have taken or statements they have made because our work will be towards the effort of getting them back to a process in which all-party talks are possible, and most urgently, getting them back to a cease-fire that holds and that protects the people of Northern Ireland.
Q So you're not willing even to say that you disagree with Mr. Adams' statement that John Major was to blame for the bombing?
MR. MCCURRY: I carefully answered that question already.
Q Excuse me, you don't mind if I pose it again. I missed it.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, go ahead, pose it again.
Q Am I correct in saying you refuse even to say the administration disagrees with the statement by Mr. Adams that Mr. Major was responsible for the bombing?
MR. MCCURRY: We commented on the terrible incident that occurred, expressed our condemnation of
that act, and by our statement, indicated what we believe to be the correct and proper response to such a heinous act.
Q How difficult does it make it for the administration to serve as an arbitrator in this dispute if, in fact, Gerry Adams will refuse to even condemn the bombing that occurred over the weekend? And was that impressed upon Mr. Adams in discussions with the administration officials?
MR. MCCURRY: We had very candid, very frank discussions with many of those who are part of this process. But we also understand the very complex dynamic that all these leaders face as they take risks for peace. The best we can do is to encourage them to take risks, and for many, those risks are considerable. That's true of every peace process that the United States works to further. That's true in the case of the Middle East. It was certainly true in the case of Bosnia. It's true elsewhere. The courage of leaders who are willing to risk themselves for the sake of peace is usually a central element in the ability to arrive at peace.
Q Does that mean that you're worried that if you did call on Adams to condemn this act more -- than his leadership position could be jeopardized even further than it is?
MR. MCCURRY: That is the kind of speculation I won't engage in here.
Q Is part of encouraging the parties here to take risk, does that include encouraging Gerry Adams or encouraging opponents of elections to embrace elections as an option for having peace talks?
MR. MCCURRY: Senator Mitchell's report on behalf of the international parties said that an elective process might be a useful element of the process, even though that was outside the remit of the international party. And our comments on that report are very clear.
Q So does that mean that you find the elections a possible option here?
MR. MCCURRY: We concur that the Mitchell body's review of that issue, even though it was necessarily outside the remit of the international body, was a useful contribution to the understanding of the issues.
Q If Gerry Adams can't, in effect, deliver something from the IRA, at least a commitment to peace, then what exactly is the U.S. trying to do in talking with him?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't accept the premise of that question because he has been an important contributor in the discussions that have occurred to date and we hope he will remain so.
Q But at this point he seems not to have any -- if you believe he didn't know, then he --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe our government will make summary judgments of that nature at this point.
Q Mike, how much of a foreign policy setback do you think this is for the Clinton administration?
MR. MCCURRY: Our effort to advance peace was an important foreign policy objective, and there's no doubt that we are disappointed in this outcome. Yet we are not willing at this point to say that there is any kind of collapse of a peace process or an end to a peace process. There has been an announcement by one party of an abrogation of the cease-fire, and our most urgent task is to get all parties to again honor the cease-fire. We believe that's not without some possibility.
Q Has the President made any phone calls over the weekend or today to any of those parties?
MR. MCCURRY: Only the calls to Prime Minister Major and Prime Minister Bruton that he reported to you already, and I'm not aware that there were any additional calls.
Q That was Friday?
MR. MCCURRY: It was over the weekend.
Q Mike, I can understand when you have to talk to people with whom you disagree, even strongly, in a mediation effort of this kind. But it's not clear exactly what would be lost by the administration saying that it disagreed with the statement on Adams' part that a great many people here and in England must have found abhorrent. Can the administration not even say it disagrees with that?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't speak for people in Great Britain or the Republic of Ireland or elsewhere. I can tell you what we said about this tragic incident, and I said that we believe our response was the correct and proper one. And I can tell you that we hope that those who judge these incidents will reflect on what's happened and see the urgent need to return to the peace process. And through my answers to your questions now, you may gather that's trying to make that more possible.
Q Mike, is this administration now in contact with Adams and others trying to get the IRA back on board on a cease-fire? Or do you have independent contacts with the IRA or its representatives other than Adams in an effort to bring them back on board?
MR. MCCURRY: We do not have, that I am aware of, independent contacts with anyone who purports to represent the IRA.
Q Mike, the Prime Minister is saying that this may not be the last atrocity if the cease-fire is not renewed. And yet the IRA seems to be indicating that this was a one-shot deal, so to speak. Is there any intelligence or information that the U.S. government has as to what exactly --
MR. MCCURRY: If we had intelligence information, I obviously wouldn't discuss it.
Q Do you see any merit on either of those sides, or do you believe one more than the other?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there is a lot of information. We'll evaluate it as best we can and make the proper decisions accordingly.
Q Another subject. Is the President going to take a flood-viewing trip to the Pacific Northwest?
MR. MCCURRY: The President plans a trip to the Pacific Northwest to inspect the flood damage in states that he declared major disaster areas, and we'll have more details on that. The trip will be Wednesday. And then the President will also make a previously scheduled trip to New Jersey and New York metropolitan area on Thursday.
Q Is that all one trip?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not clear at this point. We'll let you know more on the details of the travel.
Q Do you have any idea what he'll be focusing on?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's going to the Pacific Northwest to look particularly at the damage that's been caused by the flooding there, by the storms that began January 26th. He'll be very concerned about federal relief efforts and whether everything is working well. Our report from James Lee Witt, Federal Emergency Management Agency head, is that things have been working very well there. There's great cooperation between local disaster relief officials and the federal officials. The President will, of course, want to be there to do everything he can, one, to provide any comfort to the victims of the flooding, and, two, to make sure that all federal efforts are occurring satisfactorily.
Q What's the trip -- what's the event in New Jersey?
MR. MCCURRY: He's got a combination of events. I believe there's a fundraiser at one point.
MS. TERZANO: It's a fundraiser in New York and a technology classroom --
MR. MCCURRY: And then -- doing some more work on technology in the classrooms during an event Thursday, in the day Thursday.
Q Mike, how close is the administration to making a decision on sanctions against China for sales to Pakistan?
MR. MCCURRY: That's an issue that remains under review.
Q Is there a deadline for that, an actual deadline, or just --
MR. MCCURRY: Not a deadline. The government addresses the question of sanctions as a result of making a determination and we evaluate all the information to see if it's necessary to make such a determination.
Q Could you perhaps help us by telling us at what stage of the process the matter has reached?
MR. MCCURRY: We obviously are looking at information available to us and trying to understand events like particular transactions all the time. We're looking for new information all the time on subjects of that nature because they're of very real concern to us given our proliferation concerns. When we have satisfactory information to make the kind of determination that would then trigger sanctions, we do so and act according to the requirements of our law.
Q So there's a determination -- the facts with a determination has to be made, and then is there a process here that has to be gone through for a decision to come, but take some time, or what?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it can occur in different ways depending on the nature of the transaction. It usually involves in interagency process, and this is a matter of sufficient concern that there has been a great deal of interagency work on the issue.
Q Mike, what kind of turnout is the President looking for in Iowa for him tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: Enough to win the caucuses.
Q That's a foregone conclusion.
MR. MCCURRY: Obviously, for the President to go there this weekend was to stimulate interest. Since the President is unopposed he wanted, first, to just thank the people of Iowa for the support he's gotten over the last three years, and then encourage those Democrats to go out and participate in what is a grass-roots process that really launches in some ways the events that culminate in the nomination convention that will occur in Chicago later this year, where the President fully well expects to be renominated.
Q How closely will the President be watching the Iowa caucus this time?
MR. MCCURRY: Not very.
Q Does the President think the turnout matters in the Democratic caucuses? Does it make a difference?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, yes, it does make a difference because mostly -- not so much for the presidential selection event, because there's no drama on that side, but it is a process by which local precinct organizers begin the work of preparing for a general election. Iowa is a state that we hope to do very well in, come the general election in November, and this is a participatory process in which a party helps rebuild itself at a local level. So it's very important, and that's why we've encouraged turnout.
Q So you think that the low turnout would be a sign of little interest --
MR. MCCURRY: Low turnout wouldn't mean much of anything, to be honest with you. But it provides bodies that can kind of be identified, who can work later in the election, who can help down-ballot candidates, who can get out and do the type of trench work that political campaigns need during an election time later this year.
Q Mike, why do you think the President is not watching this very closely? Isn't he very interested in what comes out --
MR. MCCURRY: He's not very intellectually stimulated by the debate on the Republican side. (Laughter.)
Q Would the President be disappointed if he got less than 90 percent of the Democratic vote?
MR. MCCURRY: He would like to get 50 percent plus.
Q Does he think "undecided" has some pretty good issues? Is that the concern?
Q Are we going to hear about Greenspan's renomination this week?
MR. MCCURRY: Not today.
Q On Bosnia, is the White House confident things are getting back on track there over the weekend?
MR. MCCURRY: We're encouraged by the meetings that Assistant Secretary Holbrooke had over the weekend, and by some of the announcements from the Bosnian Serb military authorities that they are not severing contacts with the international force and are, in fact, in some ways looking for possibilities of again continuing their cooperation.
We are very keen on seeing them cooperate with joint military commissions and some of the civil military commissions that have been in place as a result of the Dayton agreements, because that's where a lot of issues can get ironed out and addressed to the satisfaction of the parties. That needs to happen; that's something that our commanders on the ground who spend a lot of time encouraging and coaxing as they deal with all three parties.
Q Can you give us some guidance on the Fed nominations then?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will deal with the issue of the tenure of the current chairman sometime before March. There has been no formal recommendations sent to him by the Director of the National Economic Council, Dr. Tyson. There has been considerable conversation about the subject of not only the position of chair of the Fed, but also the two vacancies that exist on the board.
But, again, I'd say one thing that concerns the White House and the administration is that these appointments to what should be and must be an independent board are too often now becoming enmeshed in politics. For that reason, the President has to very carefully understand the nature of the appointments and the recommendation, and there has not been a formal recommendation made to the President because they're still evaluating issues of that nature.
Q Congressman Richardson brought three political prisoners out of Cuba. Has he contacted the White House? He seems to be doing a lot of diplomatic work on the side.
MR. MCCURRY: He has proven himself quite able when it comes to the release of those who are incarcerated for political reasons. We welcome the release of the political prisoners that he brought back from Havana, and we appreciate the role that Congressman Richardson played in what was a successful effort to get those who were, we believe, unfairly detained.
Q Mike, back on Bosnia. Is the administration confident that war criminals there will be brought to justice just as promptly as under the old system?
MR. MCCURRY: We are confident that those who are guilty of atrocities and war crimes in Former Yugoslavia will eventually get the justice they deserve through the International War Crimes Tribunal. We've expended a considerable amount of effort and considerable resources to assist the tribunal in its work.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:00 P.M. EST