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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 21, 1996
                           PRESS BRIEFING
                           BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

1:14 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Start off with a couple of housekeeping matters. We will have a written statement that provides a readout on President Clinton's meeting with President Kuchma, which lasted about 45 minutes. They concentrated mostly on the issue of market economic reforms in Ukraine, the sometimes difficult but very important pathway towards improved economic conditions that the government of Ukraine is historically and courageously pursuing.

The Vice President had met prior to President's meeting with President Kuchma and outlined a package of assistance, grants, and trade and investment incentives that we'll have available in written form to you shortly.

Q With the New Hampshire primary now history, what is the --

MR. MCCURRY: Is it history already? I thought we were still wallowing in the reverberations.

Q It's current history. Where does the President think he should go now in terms of getting back on some of the issues, like the balanced budget and other issues that are close to his heart? Is it time to do anything on those fronts?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President is confident he has not been far from those issues in recent weeks. He has been pursuing his own programs and policies, designed to create economic growth, to continue the performance of the U.S. economy, to respond to the condition of those American workers who have not seen real increases in their wages. And he's worked hard to think about those ways in which we can bring Americans together to address the challenges that we face.

He's talked about this at virtually every stop along the way in recent months, building on the themes that he articulated in his State of the Union address. And he's quite confident that that is the proper course for him as President and it's the one that he will pursue.

Q Is it time to revive the effort to achieve a seven-year balanced budget?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has had his door open for quite some time now for discussions that would lead us to the goal that he strongly embraces -- the goal of a balanced budget in seven years, using numbers that are certified by the Congressional Budget Office. He continues to believe that there is room to find an acceptable agreement based on the elements of various packages that have been advanced in his discussion with the bipartisan leadership of Congress.

Those discussions will continue. They will continue in a variety of ways. There have been staff-level contacts on and off throughout recent weeks. The President has been dealing with a number of related issues: First, the remaining FY 96 appropriations bills that have not been completed that need final action; how we can resolve differences that exist between the President and the congressional majority on those items.

Secondly, the expiration of the continuing resolution which is now funding our government in a temporary way. The March 15th expiration of that continuing resolution suggests there needs to be some form of additional action by Congress to continue to fund the activities of the federal government that don't have full appropriations.

And thirdly, and very importantly, the extension of the debt ceiling which is still a very high priority of the President, the Secretary of the Treasury, and we know of concerns shared by both senator Dole and Speaker Gingrich. And so in each of those areas, and maybe even perhaps in some combination of those three urgent matters pending, there will be additional discussions about the budget in the coming days.

Q Mike, can we go back to Ukraine just for a half second?


Q Is the President going to stop in Kiev on his trip to Moscow, do you know?

MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea.

MR. JOHNSON: No plans.

MR. MCCURRY: No plans to do so that I know of. I don't believe that subject came up in their discussion.

MR. JOHNSON: It did not.

MR. MCCURRY: Did not.

Q The President talked about it being an historic vote yesterday in terms of the numbers in the Democratic primary. Was it also historic because the President hasn't announced for reelection and has he given that any other thought?

MR. MCCURRY: The President hasn't given any additional thought to the question of when he would take a moment to formally declare his candidacy. He is a candidate for reelection. That is well-known to all of you, certainly well-known to the President. We will, at some point, have a proper occasion to mark the commencement of his campaign in a more formal way, but that time is not now and is not likely to be for many weeks.

Q In Louisiana, Gramm was for the balanced budget and lost to Buchanan in New Hampshire. Dole was supporting a balanced budget and lost to Buchanan whose message has nothing to do with a balanced budget. Do you feel the political pressure is lightening, that the American people may not care as much about the balanced budget as the Republicans on Capital Hill?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the President's never been motivated to achieve the goal of a balanced budget based on the political gain that might arise from doing so. He'd been motivated by his belief that this is the right thing for the American economy because it will have a measurable impact on interest rates. It will create conditions of further economic growth. It will be good for the American people, most importantly, good for the children of American who won't face the accelerating burden of debt that will be laid on them in the future. That's been the basis of his hard, long work with the congressional majority to achieve an acceptable balanced budget agreement. And it will continue to occupy a great deal of his time.

Q Did the President watch the returns last night?

MR. MCCURRY: He channel-surfed a little bit. He also took a big stack of paperwork with him and he was working and watching the returns on and off last night. As you know, around 9:30 p.m. last night he took a break, called our supporters up in Merrimack; he thanked the Clinton-Gore staff in New Hampshire that did an impressive job producing 95 percent of the Democratic votes for the President.

Q Did he meet with aides or advisors this morning to talk about the New Hampshire results?

MR. MCCURRY: No, he did not. He had a very active morning here, as you know, dealing with the visit of President Kuchma. He also, I should tell you, had a half-hour phone conversation with President Yeltsin earlier in the day and that was, I guess, his first order of business today, as the President plans throughout 1996 on more than one occasion to touch base with President Yeltsin and deal with issues that are on our bilateral agenda. In this phone call today they reviewed the President's meeting with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, the Chernomyrdin-Gore Commission sessions that were held recently. The President commented that he had seen President Yeltsin's speech announcing his own candidacy for reelection, and the President observed that free, fair and open elections which are about to occur in Russia is the true hallmark of progress towards democracy. And he complimented the Russian Federation on that progress.

The President discussed START II, what the ratification prospects were for START II in the Duma. They also discussed Chechnya, Bosnia, the Implementation Force, the status of the Russian brigade that is participating with the United States. They also reviewed the question of NATO and NATO plans during 1996 to consult on the issue of expansion. And they agreed that they would stay in regular contact prior to their next formal meeting, which will be in April at the summit that is being cohosted by the government of France and the Russian Federation.

Q Who placed the call?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe the President placed that call, but as you know, the two Presidents last talked to each other about a month ago and they agreed at that point that they would remain in contact periodically during the course of 1996.

Q That was before the Kuchma meeting?

MR. MCCURRY: It was prior to the Kuchma meeting, but the call today was coincidental to the President's visit today with President Kuchma. They did have -- the President did have a brief opportunity to reaffirm the importance of our work with the government of the Ukraine and our work together with the Russian Federation on the question of denuclearization. So the President did mention that he was about to see President Kuchma, but those two were connected only by convenience of schedule.

Q Mike, on another subject -- I don't know if you've been asked this in the last week, but does the White House have a view on Farrakhan's visits to Iran, Libya and other places? And has the Justice Department been asked to investigate for possible --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Justice Department has addressed that question. They've indicated they do have some concerns that they intend to raise with Minister Farrakhan. The State Department has expressed concern about Mr. Farrakhan's recent itinerary in Africa, a concern that the White House certainly shares.

Q In the photo op with President Kuchma, President Clinton seemed very ebullient, talking about a national recess on a nice spring day. Would it be correct to say that the mood generally around here is kind of upbeat and ebullient? Is that because of not only Democratic results but Republican results?

MR. MCCURRY: It would be accurate to say the President was making an observation on the very pleasant spring-like weather, and a little springtime in our lives is something we can all use.

Q Well, what is the White House reaction to the Buchanan win in New Hampshire?

MR. MCCURRY: We didn't have one that I recall.

Q I know, but could you give us one?

Q You mean you just all sat around with no reaction?

Q -- no thoughts at all?

MR. MCCURRY: We had no way of knowing based -- obviously, most of us here follow reports about politics and the Republican presidential campaign; we're aware that it was a very close race, and it ended up being that. So I don't know that there was surprise or any other particular emotion that I would convey.

Q How about some thoughts?

MR. MCCURRY: Some thoughts? They had a primary and they're going to have more.

Q Mike, yesterday you talked about the divisive nature of some of the things that Pat Buchanan has said in the past. Do you think that means that the voters who came out in support of him reacted to that and accepted it, or what does that say about the Republican Party?

MR. MCCURRY: I agree with the President's observation earlier that we'll leave the punditry to the professionals, and there are more than enough of them to judge that for themselves. All of your news organizations were up talking to voters who participated in the election yesterday in New Hampshire, so you can report on those results to your own satisfaction. No blood from this turnip today. (Laughter.)

Q With Richard Holbrooke leaving the State Department to go back to Wall Street, does he have a deal that he's available to you? Will he be called back if you need to do more Rome summits?

MR. MCCURRY: Mike, if I'm not mistaken, he's leading off the State Department daily briefing today and will most likely have that question posed to him. He has certainly indicated to the President and to many of us that he is available to continue to help. He's got a deep personal commitment for many personal reasons to the process that he advanced so ably and nobly. And I know that he would be available to pursue any requests made of him by either the Secretary of State or the President.

Q Did the President have any last conversations with him about that?

MR. MCCURRY: He did. He had a very good conversation -- yesterday, as you know, the President's principal national security advisors met yesterday to review Bosnia, the question of the Implementation Force, the progress for seeing the military aspects of implementation, some of our concerns about the lack of progress in some areas of civilian implementation. But at that point, the President had a very warm exchange with Ambassador Holbrooke, wished him well and thanked him for his exemplary service to his nation.

Q Mike, Buchanan is hammering more and more on the Republican Congress for what he terms "misplaced priorities" and actually attacks on interests of working people. This morning specifically, Buchanan was highly critical of Republican attempts to cut Medicare and veterans benefits. And the President, when asked about that remark, said, "Good for him." Could you be looking at Buchanan's attacks on the Republican Congress as a helpful wedge in your budget wrestling with the Republican leaders? He seems to be closer to your priorities than the Republican leadership on the Hill.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, what we, of course, appreciate those who share the President's priorities, and I believe that statement -- I'm not familiar with the full substance of what he said, but at least on the issues related to some aspects of budget deliberations he apparently shares some of the concerns and the priorities the President has articulated. But if he were to play any useful role in budget deliberations, that would be up to Senator Dole and Speaker Gingrich, and so you should really ask them whether they foresee him playing any such role in those deliberations. I think not, but that's really up to them.

Q Does the President have to approve candidates for request for Secret Service protection, like Buchanan took on protection last night?

MR. MCCURRY: I am not familiar enough with the way that is done. There is a consulting process that involves a committee that is established within the United States Congress, and they are the ones that I think by statute review the issue of executive protection for candidates. That's the way it's been done in the past. I've seen some recent news accounts that indicate that that process was about to commence on Capital Hill, but I believe that's done at the suggestion of the United States Congress. Of course, we would cooperate fully through the Treasury Department, through the Secret Service.

Q Back on Farrakhan for a second. Do you know if that's something the President has paid any attention to, had any reactions to?

MR. MCCURRY: I do not know. I have not heard him say anything about it, nor do I know if he was aware of the remarks that were made of concern about that at the State Department. But certainly the White House shares the view that those who attempt to engage and assist countries that are led by leaders who are in wanton and open violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions do so contrary to the interests that the United States government articulates as we deal with these issues and work with others in the international community to try to compel rogue states to behave by international norms.

Q I was wondering if I could ask you a question about the Santa Monica meeting with Hashimoto. Today Delta Airlines, Continental, TWA and a couple of other airlines called for opening of passenger airline talks with the Japanese. I was wondering if you intend to bring that up -- if you're listening to them, and if you intend to bring that up at the meeting.

MR. MCCURRY: I have not seen the comments of the commercial airlines. Our commitment to expanded opportunities for domestic commercial carriers is something that I think has been reflected in many of our recent conversations that we've had. We've done a lot of work, for example, with the government of Germany on an open skies agreement that is bearing some fruit. I'll have to look specifically at that issue -- although, as I told many of you earlier today, I do not see the meeting that President Clinton will have upcoming with Prime Minister Hashimoto as an opportunity to deal with that kind of detail of the bilateral relationship.

This is a session where the two of them will get to know each other better. They will screen some of the large, big-picture issues that are on the bilateral agenda, and they'll also work through some aspects of the agenda that we will pursue when the U.S. delegation goes with the President for the formal state visit that the President will make to Japan in April. That's the forum in which issues of that nature would more likely arise.

But we will double-check. And there's been some interest expressed in having a briefing prior to our departure for California so we can talk a little bit about the President's meeting with Prime Minister Hashimoto, and we'll work out some way or other for some of our smart people to do that.

Q Well, on that, Mike, I imagine you'll have a briefing in Santa Monica after the meeting. And how long do you expect the meeting to last?

MR. MCCURRY: The meeting is scheduled to last, if I'm not mistaken, just about an hour. It occurs in the early evening, California time, and given East Coast deadlines we'll do everything we can to provide a very quick readout. We'll certainly, during the day, give you a good sense of those things that the President intends to raise, those things on his mind, and then as quickly as we can after the meeting, give a quick readout so that those of you writing on deadline have what you need.

Q Can you tell us where else he's going on the West Coast trip after Southern California?

MR. MCCURRY: Let's save that for the end, and then Mary Ellen can do that.

The other thing I wanted to raise -- I got asked earlier today about Senator Mitchell's trip in connection to the peace process. I had told some of you, if you recall, that there was a previously scheduled engagement that he had under the auspices of, I believe, the Carnegie Foundation, for a forum on Bosnia that was going to have him in London today. He has been given his itinerary. He was asked by the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland to pursue independently discussions with those two governments to see what we can do at this point to encourage parties to return to the cease-fire and to advance the prospects of all-party talks that could lead to further progress in the Northern Ireland peace process.

As you know, we are greatly concerned about the events that have unfolded, the violations of the cease-fire and the announcement by the IRA that they were breaking the cease-fire. At the same time, I have to say that we are very encouraged that Loyalist paramilitaries have shown restraint in not responding to the breach of the cease-fire and the bombs in London. They are showing firmness, and we welcome that firmness. It is certainly, in the President's view, in the best interest of the people of Northern Ireland and reflects the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland that the bombs do not return as a daily fact of life in Northern Ireland.

Q In connection with that, now that the U.S. had had time to think about this, do you have any theories as to why exactly at least part of the IRA has decided to return to violence?

MR. MCCURRY: We don't have theories that are largely different from what the public utterances of those who are closest to the process, the parties themselves, who have all spoken to exactly that issue. And it reminds the White House how important it is to continue to press for progress in these discussions and to continue to see if there are ways that we can bridge differences that exist between the parties and then between the two governments and to see if we can't engender a process that will live up to the promise of the Downing Street declaration.

Q The President and the President of Ukraine did not discuss the Ukrainian planes in Colombia?

MR. MCCURRY: They did -- that issue has been raised with the government of Ukraine and has also been raised with President Kuchma during the course of the day. They did not spend time on that in their meeting because, as you know, President Kuchma was asked that question during the photo opportunity, reaffirmed what we had been told that the government of Ukraine will cooperate fully in investigating the report that appeared in the Los Angeles Times, and determining to our satisfaction the facts about any transfers that may have occurred to the Cali Cartel.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

MR. MCCURRY: Thank you.

END 1:35 P.M. EST