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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 7, 1996
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                            BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

3:21 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Let me start with very quickly just a brief readout on the meeting that President Clinton had earlier today with King Hussein.

It was about a 40-minute meeting; very warm, encouraging, productive meeting. The President and Vice President and the respective delegations from both the Jordanian side and the U.S. side met together in the Oval Office. The meeting opened with a discussion of the state of the peace process and an assessment of what the recent violence in Israel means for the peace process and how best together governments in the region can work to confront the enemies of peace and to restore the sense of security to the people of Israel -- a goal which the King surely embraced.

The King had made clear - I believe, some of you saw in the photo opportunity earlier -- that he believed that nations needed to do whatever it could take to build international support for a fight against terrorism and that the parties themselves, as they deal with terror in the region, need to work aggressively to stem the threat that the people of Israel face.

Following that discussion, they then turned to regional security issues, including Iraq. President Clinton welcomed the King's very firm approach to Iraq, and both leaders agreed that it was important to continue to build support for opposition within Iraq to the regime of Saddam Hussein. The President reaffirmed that Jordan could count on support from the United States in the face of economic, military or other threats from Iraq.

Q Can you repeat that again?

MR. MCCURRY: The President reaffirmed that Jordan could count on support from the United States in the face of any economic, military or other threats posed by Iraq.

They reviewed the F-16 leasing package as pending in the continuing resolutions now up on the Hill. The President said that he would certainly work with Congress to see if we can't arrange for a prompt dispatch and deployment of those aircraft and secure the funds necessary for their release. The King welcomed the President's deployment to Jordan of U.S. Air Force F-15s and 16s which the Pentagon announced yesterday, as you know.

And they then discussed how best -- they met then privately one-on-one for some time, and among the other subjects that they discussed were, of course, the ways in which leaders in the region can best work with leaders throughout the international community to support the peace process. With that in mind -- I know there's a lot of speculation now about whether or not there will be some type of international gathering, perhaps as early as next week to address these questions.

As the President said earlier in the day, there are many things that are under consideration at this point, and we are working very aggressively through our diplomatic contacts in the region, indeed, throughout the world, to address the issue of how leaders themselves might express concern about the peace process, build support for the peace process, and together address ways in which the international community together can combat the scourge of terrorism.

Now, I would imagine throughout the rest of today and perhaps into tomorrow you're going to see a lot of news reports about various people suggesting that folks are flying here, there or everywhere. There are a lot of discussions underway. There hasn't been any final determination of how leaders could best make these expressions of support for the peace process and for efforts to combat terrorism. And certainly, when governments come together, agree on a course of action, we will announce it appropriately.

Q Is the report on the radio flat wrong?

Q Israeli Radio is wrong?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not even sure exactly what they've reported. I've seen CNN reports. I've heard about some Israeli reports. I know that there's some misinformation out there, and there's a lot of people speculating on ideas that, frankly, have been under consideration. But I am confident, having just talked to the President that they're not at a point where they have finalized any --

Q Well, does the President want to go?

Q -- says flatly that he's coming.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they're not right.

Q Does the President want to do it, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: They may be right eventually, but they're not right at this moment.

Q Does the President want to go to the Middle East next week?

MR. MCCURRY: The President wants to work with other leaders to do everything we can to continue to build support for the peace process and to continue to find ways that we can combat terror.

Q Mike, is there anything about what would have to happen to make such an international gathering seem a reasonable idea, particularly the United States' view about the importance of having Western European allies there, some of whom have a greater trading relationships with countries like Iran that we're concerned about?

MR. MCCURRY: We feel -- the question of summitry arises often, what goes into the making of good summit. And our view always is that they need to be well-structured, the participants have to reflect the concerns that the international community expresses on the issues of importance and they have to lead to productive outcomes. And we have a great deal of diplomacy underway at this hour that is aimed at determining whether that could be the case with any type of international gathering related to the current situation with respect to the peace process and to the terrorist incidents that the Israeli people have suffered recently.

Q -- allies from outside the region, from other members of our --

MR. MCCURRY: The international community around the world, leaders and nations have expressed support for this peace process, and they've contributed financial resources to that end. And our hope would be if they were proceeding with any type of conference that it would have broad participation and a wide cross-section invitees. But they are not at a point yet of even knowing whether that type of conference is going to be held.

Q The Israeli report was pretty specific --

Q Do you think a conference like this would really do anything? Would it send a message, or would it just be sort of the public relations gimmick?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the concept itself has been very favorably received by the government of Israel. And some of the reports, as you know, are coming from Israel at this point. The reason for that is that the people of Israel are at a moment when this process is one they need to judge with respect to the implicit agreement in the peace process itself in exchange for lending more self-governing authority to the Palestinians in the territories. Will there be a measure of greater security for the people of Israel? And there's enormous concern about exactly that agreement at this point and whether or not that has been a good agreement.

And so the contributions that leaders to make to reassuring the people of Israel is indeed one that would be important to the United States, very significant, and certainly it's one that would be meaningful to the people of Israel in our view. But that's conditional upon whether or not in fact such a meeting occurs.

Q Mike, these discussions that you're talking -- are discussions underway on an actual nuts and bolts kind of antiterrorist strategy?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been a lot of different ways in which the subject of terrorism has been addressed by the international community. It's been the subject of reviews at the United Nations. The President, as you know, has addressed that subject in two consecutive speeches to the U.N. General Assembly. There has been a terrorism initiative that has been pursued by the G-7 countries and has been a subject on their political agendas. They have met both at Naples and then in Halifax last year, and there are other discussions that are underway regionally about how best to combat terrorism. And in this specific region in the Middle East, it's a question of breaking down those sources of support and infrastructure that lend comfort or assistance to terrorist organizations.

Q If I could follow up, please -- Mike, I want to follow up here. Be more specific. Are there any specific discussions underway in response -- antiterrorist discussions in response to the recent wave of bombings in Israel?

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, yes, as we've said over and over the last couple of days .

Q The decision-making process, isn't it the preference of the White House to move this into the region itself in order to maximize the effect and to demonstrate that the President is going to this very region to show support, or is it considered to be also proper to do it in Washington?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are a lot of different factors that would go into our thinking. But within the region itself, there has been expressions of condemnation of these terrorist incidents and there is a concern on our part that the people of Israel see in their own neighborhood support for their own security and for measures that will make their lives safer.

Q Mike, the Israeli Radio report was pretty specific. It said the summit would take place in Taba, it would be next Wednesday, and Clinton would go on to Israel from the summit conference. Is that wrong or premature?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's aspects of that that, indeed, are wrong, but there's much more that I can tell you than what I have already told you.

Q Whose idea specifically is this summit? Where would it be, when would it be? I mean, what are you looking at? Tell us what the -- the sponsors are?

MR. MCCURRY: Since the incidents last weekend, as I've told you over the last several days, there's been an enormous amount of contact between governments in the region. The President has corresponded with leaders in the region. There's been very active diplomacy under way at highest levels in our government and elsewhere aimed at addressing the question of how the international community, together, can come forward and do something to support Israel, to support the Palestinian authority as they try to make progress forward on the implementation of their own agreement, and as they attempt to reassure the people of Israel that their security is important to the international community itself. And from those conversations, many ideas have been put forward; some of them are leaking out in various capitals now, but we just -- these things take a little time and take a little precision.

Q When do you think you'll have a decision?

Q Whose idea was it?

Q The summit idea -- whose idea --

MR. MCCURRY: It grew out of the conversations that have been held between the United States government and other governments.

Q Was it particularly -- we've heard indications that it might have been particularly the Mubarak government that first mentioned it and the Egyptian government that was the --

Q Arafat's also been mentioned.

MR. MCCURRY: There's considerable interest in the idea, and a number of people claiming the parentage of the idea, which is a good thing.

Q And Damascus, too? Is there any interest there?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard any expressions of parenthood coming from that --

Q Damascus, Maryland, maybe.

Q When do you think that decision will be made?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe that we're looking actively to determine whether this type of an event is something that will be productive and useful, and we should know today or tomorrow.

Q Well, Mike, does the President think that this would be helpful to dealing with terrorism, a summit per se?

MR. MCCURRY: Properly structured, correctly defined, and aimed at useful outcomes, I think he feels it would be a useful idea.

Q And, also, Mike, would such a meeting be worthwhile if Syria did not attend?

MR. MCCURRY: There have been numerous occasions when the international community has come together in support of the peace process. Few of them -- in fact, I don't know if any of them have included representation by the Syrian government. So, clearly, this type of international gathering, as it's occurred in the past, has lent momentum and encouragement to the peace process. So the answer would be yes.

Q Is it possible such a gathering could happen at the foreign minister level, or is the feeling that if it happened, it would happen at the head of government?

MR. MCCURRY: At this hour, a lot is possible. And I think you're more interested in what is factual and true, and when we can provide that information, we will.

Q Is this something that Russia might attend as well?

MR. MCCURRY: They have been a very valued cosponsor of the Middle East peace process, so our consultations have, of course, included the Russian Federation.

Q Is it possible he won't --

Q Did the President and King Hussein discuss building up -- I mean, more than just saying, yes, we hope the can be effective, the opposition to Saddam Hussein by arming Iraqi opposition and actually getting something going more concrete?

MR. MCCURRY: I indicated earlier that they discussed regional security issues, including Iraq, including the nature of the Iraqi regime, and as you can probably well imagine, any detail of the type that you just asked in your question, and that's something I would review in a readout on a meeting like this. They discussed, generally, the brutality that Saddam Hussein's regime visits upon the people of Iraq, and that's of enormous personal concern to the King, it's something that clearly motivates his desire to see an indigenous opposition developed to the Saddam Hussein regime.

Q Inside, by arming the inside?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into any kind of detail on the sensitive discussions they had.

Q Why did you suddenly discover it was brutal?

Q Did the King offer any commitments to close down Hamas offices in Amman?

MR. MCCURRY: They discussed -- the President discussed that issue, and the King, as he indicated in his public remarks, understands that there needs to be strong measures to discourage those who would sponsor terrorism. I believe it would be best for the government of Jordan to address any specific steps that they might take, and my understanding is, the Foreign Minister either has, or has most likely addressed that question.

Q Another subject?

MR. MCCURRY: Another subject? Sure.

Q When is the President going to sign the Helms-Burton bill?

MR. MCCURRY: He will sign it when he receives -- I don't even know that we have received it yet formally, but I don't expect any action on it this week.

Q Next week?

MR. MCCURRY: Next week, yes.

Q Senator Dole has called on the President to issue federal indictments against those in Cuba responsible for the downing of the two civilian aircraft. Do you have a response? Dole and Connie Mack. I think they've sent a letter.

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to look at that. I'm not even sure what U.S. laws applicable. But we have taken very strong measures in response to what we consider an illegal act by Cuban military pilots that downed the planes, and more importantly, we've taken direct action against Fidel Castro. That's the purpose of the Helms-Burton legislation that was referenced earlier, and that is very strong and swift response to this brutal act.

Q Mike, tomorrow in California when the President talks about corporate responsibility, is he going to advance any of the specific ideas of the Reichian Gestalt, or is he going to -- (laughter) -- further on his concerns about this one way or another?

MR. MCCURRY: I'd like first more greater understanding, definition of Reichian Gestalt. (Laughter.)

Q Is he going to make any news by embracing particular concepts or putting forward particular programs, or is he going to meditate on the merits of various --

MR. MCCURRY: I think he's going to point to some of those things that are done specifically by the employer that he's visiting to improve the quality of life for their employees, and is going to talk in a broader sense about how that can contribute to economic growth, which is why the President's highest priorities as he addresses the needs of our economy, how we can grow our economy so that we reach into the 21st century workers are earning more, they are more productive; employers are more sensitive to the needs of workers as they develop new skills and training.

You can gather from my answer that we can't expect a lot of front-page headlines on it. (Laughter.) But it will be, I think, a very interesting discussion of those issues, but I don't expect them to advance any new economic initiatives.

Look, back up a little bit, remember, we've been telling you all along, the President is confident that those proposals and measures that he has put before this Congress would do a lot to, A, make the lives of employees more satisfactory as they gain skills and training that will make them more productive workers and, frankly, help them earn more money, as they look forward to a brighter economic future.

But we also put forward things that we think represent sound economic policy, whether it's raising the minimum wage, raising incomes, whether it's investing in those types of technologies and education that will advance economic growth as we look into the next decade. And, indeed, on Saturday the President is going to participate in this wonderful electronic barn-raising, as he keeps calling it, where on Net Day, where they actually go and wire -- start the job of wiring classrooms in California to the Internet. These are all exciting ways in which we are going to advance the interests of a growing economy. And the President is focused on those measures now. I don't foresee some new package of measures or anything like that anytime soon.

Q Isn't that a Buchanan issue?

MR. MCCURRY: Computers in the classroom?

Q No, no --

MR. MCCURRY: That's the President's issue. He's been talking about that over and over.

Q No, corporate greed. Corporate --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I know of one person who has been addressing that throughout his tenure as President, and that's the guy I work for.

Q Do you know anything about the themes of a big campaign ad bought by Clinton-Gore?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't. I have heard some discussion on it. My understanding is that Ann Lewis is in a better position over at Clinton-Gore to say more about it.

Q She's not very talkative about it.

MR. MCCURRY: She's not?

Q No. You don't even know what the subject is?

MR. MCCURRY: What I know, based on the fine work of Ms. Glynn, is the title of one of these spots -- this can't be right -- "Cherish." (Laughter.) Remember that?

Q "Cherish is the word I use to describe" --

MR. MCCURRY: What was the name of that group? That was the --

Q The Association.

Q Is this about the Clinton-Gore association?

MR. MCCURRY: That goes back to junior high school for me, okay?

Q And further.

MR. MCCURRY: Maybe there's a hidden message there that I'm missing. No, it follows up on some of the things the President said in the State of the Union, and then the other -- the DNC, I understand, is also going up with some new traffic. They've been on and off the air from time to time. They've got one on welfare reform and one on domestic violence.

Q How much are they costing?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not the person to answer those questions. You should go to our political people.

Q Do you know how many states it's targeted at?

MR. MCCURRY: That's a Clinton-Gore '96 question, not a White House Press Secretary question.

Q Well, when is it going out? Do we know?

MR. MCCURRY: That's a Clinton-Gore '96 question.

Q Then give us something better on the Middle East.

MR. MCCURRY: I think they're talking about it today because my understanding is they were going to go on today or tomorrow, right about this neighborhood. The committee is the place you need to go, and there going to have, by the way, a full-time press secretary beginning real soon, so it will be easier for them to answer questions like this.

Q Who is it?

MR. MCCURRY: Joe Lockhart. Do you all know -- I think most of you know Joe. Fine fellow.

Q Mike, is the President standing by Jean Kennedy Smith, and did he sign off on the reprimand?

MR. MCCURRY: No, the question of a disciplinary letter, which was reported in some stories today regarding Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith is something that is a State Department matter. And my understanding from State Department people is that that type of personnel action is very likely in the province of the Privacy Act, so there's not much that can be said about that. But that was handled over the and I think they're in a position to brief you more about it over there.

Q Is he standing by her?

MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. She's been a very fine U.S. ambassador.

Q Are you confirming it?

Q Now, wait a minute. Are you saying that as far as you know this is correct, or you don't know, or what?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of anything that was wrong in the news account I saw, but I'm not the person to ask because it's a State Department matter. It's Secretary Christopher --

Q Well, she's there as the President's representative, though, isn't she?

MR. MCCURRY: The question I got was whether the President is confident in her service, and he is. And that's the right question for me.

Q Scott Reed of the Dole campaign is quoted as saying yesterday that the Senate Majority Leader's office, he expects, will now be a little more combative, and that they want to draw clear ideological differences between the nominees of the two parties. How do you expect to work with --

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't kept track of their players over there. Is he the one that got fired, or is he the one that's still there?

Q He's still there.

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, he's still there.

Q He's saying that Dole is going to get combative as Majority Leader.

MR. MCCURRY: I worked in some presidential campaigns from time to time, and you very often see friction develop between the campaign staff and the Senate staff, so they might be having little internal disagreements over there.

Q Unlike the seamless relationship between you and Ann Lewis?

MR. MCCURRY: No, we've -- they are completely cooperative.

Q So if you don't say anything, she doesn't either. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: We have a mutual non-news pledge on most matters related to politics.

Q Well, you're batting a thousand on that.

MR. MCCURRY: For good reason, because our attentions are on weightier matters at the moment.

Q When is the spokesperson coming on board, so we can get some answers -- the press secretary for the campaign?

MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Lockhart, if I understand correctly, begins next week. He's a good fellow. I think some of you know him. He travelled extensively with Governor Dukakis in '92. He worked for Vice President Mondale. It is true that I think I contributed to him his greatest asset, which is his wife, who works for ABC News.

Q He contributed her?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. She worked for me in the Glenn campaign and I sent her -- Laura Hogan -- after Senator Glenn withdrew from the race in '84 she went over and worked for Mondale.

We still have some other takers back here who are going to ask more questions.

Q The three Marines who were convicted of rape off a base in Okinawa were sentenced today. Some in Japan think the sentence was a little light. What is the White House reaction?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, my understanding, actually, under Japanese law, if I'm not mistaken is, it is a fairly stiff penalty. But, more importantly, we have felt the tragedy of this horrible incident from the perspective of the victim and the victim's family. And, as you know, Dr. Perry and others in the Pentagon have personally expressed their concerns on behalf of the United States government. We respect the process that resulted in this decision. We believe the more important thing is for a healing process between our two nations to lead to closer and stronger ties.

Q Mike, the signature, whenever it takes place on the Helms-Burton, is it going to be a small event, are they going to have a lot of guests?

MR. MCCURRY: It didn't sound to me like it was going to be small. Probably some folks from the Hill down here sometime next week, and all subject to whatever changes in the schedule are contemplated.

Q It won't be a small, quick signing thing?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I've heard. I've heard more they'll do something with some of the congressional sponsors present.

Q Some members of Congress are concerned about a State Department PLO compliance report, the latest one from the State Department, saying that they think the State Department's soft-pedaled its criticism of Arafat. Does the President think Arafat has done enough to crack down on Hamas?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've handled that question over and over the last couple of days, and we think he can do more and, indeed, he is doing more. But for the specific report you should ask Mr. Burns over at the State Department.

Q There's been a report on the Taiwan Defense Ministry to China has begun missile tests. Can you confirm that? And what is the U.S. stance on it?

MR. MCCURRY: I think we have been following, monitoring that closely. If, indeed, there have been missile tests associated with the military exercises that are underway now adjacent to the Taiwan Straits, they would be consistent with what the People's Republic had previously announced. They've previously announced they would likely include as part of this exercise missile tests. We would be deeply disturbed by any test of that nature, consider that provocative, and consider them reckless.

We believe there are tensions in the Taiwan Strait that need to be addressed through direct cross-Strait dialogue. We have repeatedly urged the People's Republic to refrain from provocative exercises and provocative actions. Indeed, we've made the same appeal to Taiwan. The cornerstone of our policy with respect to China is the foundation provided by the three communiques, and within that framework is the suggestion that the issue of Taiwan must be resolved peacefully without use of force or threat of force.

So these missile exercises -- and, indeed, we have some reason to believe they have occurred -- we consider both provocative and reckless.

Q Is the United States preparing to slap China with sanctions for sale of nuclear technology to Iran?

MR. MCCURRY: There's been no change -- that issue is one that is being evaluated and no change in the status of that issue. Now, one thing I should say, you all know that Vice Minister Liu Huaqiu has arrived here, or is arriving here shortly. He will be having a variety of discussions with U.S. government officials in coming days.

This administration is committed to a comprehensive engagement with China. We want to pursue a very detailed, very extensive agenda of bilateral concerns with China. We've got issues related to commerce, related to regional issues, related to security, related to matters of global importance in which we believe this very important relationship must include productive exchange of views on both sides. We are going to have and will have contacts at a variety of levels. But we also know that in coming months we are going to have times in which we are not able to make progress and we're going to have to manage our differences effectively.

We, of course, hope on those issues where we are addressing our concerns we do make progress, but we recognize that on occasion that will not be possible. That, among other reasons, is why Vice Minister Liu will, beginning tomorrow --

Q How do you spell his name?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll give that to you later. Vice Minister Liu will be spending a day away from Washington with National Security Adviser Tony Lake tomorrow to really work through this very broad agenda of issues in which we must have comprehensive engagement. We hope that type of strategic dialogue will lead to effective management of those areas in which there are disagreements and, hopefully, progress on areas in which we think our bilateral concerns can be advanced.

Q Away from Washington? Where?

MR. MCCURRY: Just out locally.

Q Are there any plans for the Minister to see the President while he's here?

MR. MCCURRY: There are no plans at this time for that. He will see Secretary Christopher, Secretary Perry. But this dialogue comes at a very important moment and critical moment. And in light of some of the tensions in the Taiwan Straits, perhaps a moment in which some of these concerns can be more ably addressed in our exchange of views.

Q Well, is this their response?

Q How strongly does the U.S. plan to make its concerns known to --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again?

Q How strongly does the U.S. plan to make its concerns over these things known?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have repeatedly made our concerns about tensions in that region known to the government of the People's Republic.

Q Will it be repeated to the Minister during his visit here?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, and, indeed, have been already, prior to his arrival.

Thank you.

END 3:51 P.M. EST