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THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary


For Immediate Release February 28, 1996
                           PRESS BRIEFING
                           BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

5:05 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: I just wanted to come out to save us quite a number of return phone calls. There's a press conference underway on the Hill; Rick Nuccio who is the President's Special Advisor for Cuba, is up there participating in a press conference with Congressman Menendez and others, but the purpose is to say that the President is delighted that we're able to reach agreement and common ground with Congress today on the Helms-Burton Act. The President, in light of the incident on Saturday, believes that tightening the embargo on Cuba is a necessary step now both to deal with this incident and to promote our overall goal of democratic change in Cuba.

We worked together in a spirit of cooperation with Congress over the past several days to achieve this result, and we credit all those -- especially Congressman Menendez, who did such a good job of working through our concerns about Title III.

Under the compromised provision on Title III, the right of action which would extend to foreign economic interests will not take effect until August 13, and then at that point, the President would have the right to suspend the effective date of the right of action for a rolling six-month periods if that were in the national interest and promote democracy in Cuba.

Now, the President is satisfied that that is a reasonable compromise, not necessarily ideal, from perspectives of the administration, but certainly one that will further our objectives in supporting the legislation, and given that important and very necessary change, he will sign the bill, if passed, and encourage members of Congress to support it.

Q Mike, what is the practical effect of that? Could the President just keep imposing these delays so that it would never kick in?

MR. MCCURRY: He can extend -- for every six-month you would have a right to extend the suspension, provided that it was in the national interest and furthered the goal of promoting democracy in Cuba.

Q And who determines whether it's in the national interest, the President?

MR. MCCURRY: That's the President's prerogative under the legislation.

Q Some waivers in other legislation the Congress has the right of veto. Is he veto proof on waivers?

MR. MCCURRY: I am not exactly certain how they worked out that provision. We're still getting some of the text of things that were negotiated back and forth, and I'm not sure what the congressional review aspect of that suspension is. But you can check -- I think people covering this on the Hill are probably raising that at the press conference.

Q So it is possible that if the President decided it was in the national interest, this Title III would never even take effect -- might never even take effect?

MR. MCCURRY: That's correct, the right of action -- there are other things, I believe, in Title III, but the right of action to sue foreign interests could conceivably be held in abeyance. But, obviously, the President, in the spirit of the act itself, would do that only if it met the criteria specified in the bill.

Q The President has no problems with the curb on aid to Russia or --

MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of provisions in the bill that caused us concern, that otherwise we would have worded to amend, but the President recognizes there is strong sentiment for passage of the bill. He supports that sentiment in light of the incident Saturday. And, as we often do with this Congress, we work to try to find common ground even when there might be some disagreements.

Q Is there anything more you can tell us about the dialogue with Brothers to the Rescue?

MR. MCCURRY: Not at this point, no. That's it. And the other thing I'll kick down now -- there have been a lot of -- a flurry of questions about where we are on the drug certification process. I'll tell you that the recommendation from the Secretary of State has not come from State to the President. The President has not reviewed, nor has he made any decisions regarding certification. We don't expect that prior -- any announcement on that prior to the due date Friday.

Q Do you expect it on Friday, though?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it's likely that State will brief on that on Friday, yes.

Q Mike, there was some reference --

MR. MCCURRY: They do annually, by the way, since there are 31 countries involved, they do it annually, although I'll be prepared on the more controversial ones involving Columbia and Mexico to say some things about it. If we proceed to announcement on Monday -- or Friday, I'll be prepared to say some things Friday.

Q Gingrich on the Hill made some reference to meeting with the White House tomorrow, beginning tomorrow on budget issues. Do you know what he's talking about?

MR. MCCURRY: I know that there had been some desire by Mr. Panetta to begin some discussions with various members on the Hill. I'll check into that. I don't know if they formally sent anything up or not.

Q Can you check to see if that's budget issues or actually appropriations?

MR. MCCURRY: Or FY '96 appropriations matters, yes, I'll check into that. I know that there have been conversations on FY '96 appropriations.

             Okay.  Thanks everyone.
             END                          5:10 P.M. EST