THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY AND ROBERT BELL, SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT AND SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR DEFENSE POLICY AND ARMS CONTROL, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL
The Briefing Room
12:51 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to our continuous series of briefings today. You will recall back on March 22nd, we announced that the United States had signed the Declaration on the South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone. And at that time, I asked if anyone here knew what SPNFZ was and not a single soul did. So I now ask, does anyone know what ANFZ is? ANFZ is --
Q Australia, New Zealand nuclear free zone.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, since I correctly predicted you would get it wrong, I'm delighted to have here Robert Bell, Senior Director for Arms Control and Defense Policy at the National Security Council who will enlighten you further about the African Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone.
I'll say it first, this is also known in the argot of the diplomatic community as the treaty of Pelindaba, Pelindaba being the town in South Africa where the treaty was actually negotiated. Pelindaba, I am told, is Zulu for "no comment." (Laughter.) That is a true fact. A word that I intend to remember. So from now on when I tell you, Pelindaba --
Q You ought to have all your briefings there.
MR. MCCURRY: -- you will know what I am saying.
Bob Bell, thank you for being here and thank you for taking a little time. We also, as you just heard, have paper available now on the African Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone.
MR. BELL: Thank you, Mike.
As Mike said, today in Cairo, the United States signed without any reservations the protocols to the nuclear-free zone in Africa, the Treaty of Pelindaba. This is a treaty that was signed today also by nearly 50 African states.
Together with the South Pacific Treaty and prior treaties that had established Latin America and Antarctica as nuclear-free zones, the African Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone Treaty, or ANFZ, in effect means that most of the Earth's southern hemisphere, an area stretching from Australia to Mauritius and from the Equator to the South Pole, is now a nuclear-free zone.
Yesterday, Vice President Gore called South African Deputy President Mbeki to express the President's deep appreciation for the pivotal role that South Africa played in the successful negotiation of this treaty. The treaty is named after the town of Pelindaba not only because, as Mike said, the treaty -- a lot of the treaty negotiation took place there, but it is also the town in South Africa where the South African government before Mandela had conducted a covert nuclear program, a program that has now been dismantled.
As I noted last month in my briefing on the South Pacific Treaty, the signing of this treaty is another milestone in this administration's impressive record of accomplishment in the area of arms control and nonproliferation, a record that now includes the indefinite and unconditional extension of the Nonproliferation Treaty, the entry into force of the START I Treaty, the ratification by the United States Senate of the START II Treaty, the nuclear framework agreement halting North Korea's nuclear weapons program, the fissile material cutoff initiative that we're pursuing in Geneva, the detargeting agreement with Russia, and the agreements providing for the removal of all strategic nuclear weapons from the three states of the former Soviet Union.
The signing today in Cairo also gives another significant impetus to the completion of a comprehensive test ban treaty that can be signed, as the President has called for, at the United Nations General Assembly in its session that begins this September.
The United States signed today two protocols to the ANFZ Treaty. Protocol II prohibits nuclear weapon states from conducting nuclear testing in Africa, which, of course, we have no plans or intentions of doing. France also signed Protocol II today, along with China and Great Britain. And it is instructive to recall that in the early 1960s, France conducted underground and even atmospheric testing in Algeria. So, between the Pelandaba program and the previous French test program in Africa, Africa did have a nuclear history that formally comes to an end today.
Under Protocol I, which we signed, each party pledges not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any ANFZ party. However, Protocol I will not limit options available to the United States in response to an attack by an ANFZ party using weapons of mass destruction.
As with the SPNFZ Treaty, the President will submit certain understandings and declarations to the Senate with the treaty for incorporation in the Senate's resolution of ratification when it gives its advice and consent. For example, as with the South Pacific Treaty, we will make clear our understanding that this treaty does not restrict freedom of the sea or other navigation and overflight rights guaranteed under international law.
MR. MCCURRY: Any questions?
Q How do you spell the town, Pelindaba?
Q One word, or two?
MR. BELL: One.
Q Does it really mean "no comment"?
MR. BELL: I'm assured by John Holliman that that's correct.
MR. MCCURRY: Thanks.
All right. I'm getting off easy today without much work. I've got everyone else working for me. Any other question that you want to ask?
I'll just announce for those who had not heard earlier that Secretary Christopher will be here at approximately 2:30 p.m. to give you a sketch, a preview of the President's upcoming trip to the Republic of Korea, Japan and the Russian Federation. And we'll also have after that several experts from throughout our government who will talk about specific aspects of the President's upcoming trip. That's still on for 2:30 p.m.
Q The President leaves Sunday -- what?
MR. MCCURRY: The President leaves very late Sunday night, I think, close to about 11:00 p.m.
Q Mike, what's the U.S. opinion on the stepped-up Israelis raids in Lebanon?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we, obviously are always concerned when we see an outbreak of fighting in that region. We've said before that the attacks by Hezbollah against Northern Israel have created a much more dangerous situation and the Israeli government has been compelled to respond.
It remains our view that all the parties who have an interest in the long-term peace and stability in that region should carefully consider how best to use their influence with the parties to see if we can get the fighting to subside. We've communicated those views. We've had a lot of contact with the government of Israel today just to determine what, in fact, is going on. And we will continue to exchange views with them as they deal with what is and has been a Hezbollah-sponsored threat to the security of Northern Israel.
Q You had said earlier there was confusion about press accounts about what was happening. You've had a couple of hours now; What's your understanding of what has happened?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have gotten more information available from the government of Israel, and they have spoken publicly to his. I was referring to news reports earlier this morning that there was somehow or other Israeli naval action indicated, and we don't see any indication of that type of naval activity.
Q Mike, you say that the United States is urging restraint on the parties. But it seems from the tone of your remarks that you hold Israel relatively blameless because of the Hezbollah attacks.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, remember, there is a history now of Hezbollah-sponsored terrorist activities that have, naturally, been of concern to the government of Israel. But we encourage -- continue to encourage all the parties to do what they can to restore some measure of peace and stability in that region.
Surely, the best thing that could contribute to the peace in that region is a comprehensive, just and lasting peace agreement, and we continue to remain very engaged with all the parties in the region to see if we can't make progress specifically, of course, on the Israel-Syria track.
Q Well, the party that has influence is obviously Syria. Have there been any contacts with Damascus to get them to rein in Hezbollah? Or do they have any influence over that specific group?
MR. MCCURRY: I will not talk about specific diplomatic contacts that we've had, but as you know from prior occasions and when there has been violence associated with Lebanon and Northern Israel, we have had regular contact with the government in Damascus, as we have with other parties, and encourage everyone to use influence that they have to see if we can get the fighting to subside.
Q Is the Lebanese Prime Minister, in your view, speaking for President Assad when he refuses to curb Hezbollah as long as Israel occupies Southern Lebanon?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not specifically familiar with the remarks you're referring to, but the parties themselves in that region speak to their own involvements and their own sources of influence.
Q Mike, why is it necessary for the President to come out on camera tomorrow to announce a six-month review of the U.S.-Japan auto agreement? Isn't that something to --
MR. MCCURRY: To take credit for all the good news in U.S. trade figures. Our exports are up in those areas where we've got agreements with Japan. The results are really striking. There's been a measured increase in U.S. exports, specifically, in autos and other sectors, and we've got bragging rights. So we'll claim them. Is that straightforward enough?
Q Mike, on another kind of -- yesterday, following up on the President's decision on the late-term abortions, do you think he will be paying a political price for this now?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the President, as you could tell yesterday, was deeply moved by the stories he heard from those women. And as he said in his letter to the cardinals, he thought about and prayed about this issue. Any time you wrestle with a perplexing moral question like that, you just have to accept whatever the political consequences, pro or con.
And I don't know that the President has thought much about it. We know that it will be a political issue. It's clearly already being used politically by the President's opponents. But the President looked into the faces of those families and reassured himself that he did what he thought he properly had to do.
Q Is he aware of at least a couple of those cardinals issuing statements after the veto yesterday which said Catholic voters would now have to reexamine whether in their conscience could support him?
MR. MCCURRY: We know that they have made those comments. But we also know that Americans of all religious persuasions, including Catholic Americans wrestle with this issue, many of them are profoundly affected by the moral ambivalence other Americans share. And the President doesn't believe, and I don't know that any of us here at the White House believe, that any particular religious group in America votes monolithically or as a block. I think there's ample evidence to, in fact, suggest that they don't.
Q A follow-up, the mothers that he presented yesterday with their very compelling stories, the President did not address the critics' of the procedures complaints that this has become used as an elective, surgical --
MR. MCCURRY: That's not true. The President made it very clear that he was searching for a way with this Congress to prohibit this procedure as an elective procedure. What he wanted was specific language that would protect the health of mothers, like the ones that he met with yesterday -- those who would face serious, adverse health consequences as a result of their pregnancies and who needed to have in the few, rare cases where this is the procedure that would be indicated by qualified medical experts. He wanted to make sure that it would be available to these families.
The Congress would not entertain a discussion with this President about how to address this issue so that elective -- it would not be used as an elective procedure. And the President made that clear yesterday, and he also made it clear in his letter.
Q Mike, does the administration believe that Airbus won contracts with China based on the merits or because China wanted to do some political tweaking to send a message?
MR. MCCURRY: We can't answer the question. What motivated a particular transaction that the government of China might be interested in. What we can say or we can also fully calculate what the commercial impact will be -- what we can say, because it's true, is that U.S. manufactured aircraft are the finest in the world. We've got a very competitive position in the Asian market -- 65 percent of the imports going into that region are U.S.-manufactured aircraft. And we'll be more than happy to go out and compete globally for the types of contracts that the government of China is considering, because we think we've got the best product on the market.
Q Let me go back to the Retirement Security Act. Can you reasonably expect to get that through Congress and then take credit from a Republican? Are they going to let you do that, or is this a positioning exercise?
MR. MCCURRY: Bill, if you look back on the history of pension reform -- going all the way back to the passage of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, it has been an area that has always enjoyed a great deal of bipartisan support. All the initial legislation developed with strong Republican sponsorships, strong Democratic sponsorship, and this area has continued to be, throughout the years, an area in which there is a lot of bipartisan cooperation.
The President puts these proposals forward knowing that there will be strong support in the Congress for these proposals, we suspect on both sides of the aisle, and because there historically has been support for the types of things we've proposed in 401K plans.
Now, is it realistic to expect it will happen this year? Who knows? Maybe there will be a desire to protect the income retirement needs of future retirees, and maybe the Congress will want to work together with this President and accomplish something that both sides can claim credit on. We would hope so, and there's evidence that that's happened.
We just had a line-item veto signing ceremony here, the President suspects it's going to be possible to get a bipartisan welfare reform bill passed. As you heard him say earlier, we fully expect to get a bipartisan health insurance reform bill passed. And where this is done, the President fully expects to share the credit with the Republican Congress, and that's right and proper.
Q On the other hand, could you forgive them for thinking that perhaps he would try to take the credit for this in an election year?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, taking credit -- we'll do our best to go out and take credit for the President for things that he's done that are good for the American people, of course, and they'll do likewise on their side. Most Americans will say, good, just split the difference and we'll give each side credit for getting something good done for the American people. And that's, obviously, fine by us.
Q So the President wouldn't use this as a campaign issue then, would he?
MR. MCCURRY: You bet he will use the efforts that he has made in his first term to protect the retirement income security of today's retirees and future retirees, to make sure that their pension promise from their employer is in place and it's a good promise. The steps that we're taking to make pension coverage more available for today's workers, that is kind of a fundamental premise of this President as you hear him talk about what we have to do in this country in the 21st century. We've got to reward work. We've got to increase security for those who are working. And that's going to be a major part of the presentation he makes to the people of this country as he argues about America's future in the year ahead.
Q Mike, now that the official period of mourning is over, there are some names being bandied about. Does the President have his economic advisors suggesting names to look at for Secretary of Commerce?
MR. MCCURRY: The search for a replacement for Secretary Brown is now underway. The President has not yet held any formal meetings, but he's had one or two discussions now. He's got some people in mind. He will continue those deliberations rather swiftly, because he thinks it's very important for that department, which plays such a central role in our global economic strategy, to have strong leadership. He's looking for someone who will be capable of leading that department into the future, and I expect he won't wait too long before he announces who he intends to place in Secretary Brown's position.
Q He will send up a name?
MR. MCCURRY: We will -- he will find a replacement for Secretary Brown and do so rather swiftly.
Q Has McLarty taken himself out of the running?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes -- let me just say one thing. I've read several stories speculating on various names. I don't want to get into the speculation on individual names, but in at least one case, there is someone being speculated about who has made it quite clear that he's happy doing what he's doing and does not wish to be considered for the position. So I would take with a great deal of caution what you're being told by some of your sources. Every story I've seen so far that has named names, to my knowledge, includes names that are not under consideration.
Q I just wanted to ask, Mike, just for -- the other side of Bill and Mick's question. If for some reason Congress doesn't go along with this and abandons what the President would consider its bipartisan tradition of support for pension reform and security, would he use that as an example of how this Congress is extreme and out of step with the American public, and not fighting for the concerns of working people?
MR. MCCURRY: He'll make his arguments as he goes into the fall and goes into the campaign based on what is the record of the Congress and his own record. But one thing he will talk about is the steps that we need to take to protect the pension security of America's workers and the reasons why we need to encourage the private sector to make pensions available as we think about what the needs of our economy and our work force will be in the 21st century.
Q I guess my question -- move forward if they thought it had no chance at all, too, right?
MR. MCCURRY: In this area, there is ample reason to believe from both the Democratic side of the aisle and the Republican there will be strong support for the kinds of things the President is talking about. And so we'd prefer to think on the bright side and say there's going to be progress here that the President can celebrate working with this Congress. And if not, then we will continue to make the case we need to do these types of things, we need to provide this type of coverage and the President will lay out that case and try to get some support from the American people so we can let Congress know that they do need to support that kind of legislation.
Q Did you have any discussions in the last several days with any Republican chairmen or leaders about this legislation, introducing it or its progress?
MR. MCCURRY: Not at the leadership level, but most of these measures -- many of these measures have been incorporated in some of the legislation the President has promulgated in the past -- Middle Class Bill of Rights; he talked about some of these same things in the State of the Union address, and we have had staff-level discussions with some of the pension experts up on the Hill on various aspects of this legislation. So we believe there is a working environment here certainly at the staff level, and if we get closer towards consideration, the President would be more than willing to be engaged in that, too. But there is a working environment between the White House and the Congress that would suggest that we can make some progress on this legislation.
Q Were some of these issues or proposals or something very close to it included in the Republican balanced budget? Did they --
MR. MCCURRY: Some of the -- the asset reversions issue is in the Republican budget, and we specifically have objected to and indicated that's a source of real concern to the President. In fact, our package of measures we've talked about today would block the step that the Republican Congress tried to promulgate.
Q What about IRA expansion --
MR. MCCURRY: I think, again let me reflect on what we were saying earlier, in this area there is some overlap between the two parties on what they think needs to be done to protect pensions and to make pensions more available and more affordable. Some of these ideas on pension simplification and 401K plans have been around for a while and there have been experts on both sides of the aisle advocating these types of steps.
So I think that's -- we are encouraged. This is not in every sense something that's new that we're putting forward because what you need to do to expand pension availability and how you can make it more affordable for a small employer to provide it are ideas that I think are fairly well-known. The important thing is to try to get it done, and we're obviously trying to put a focus on it here so we can move the ball.
Q Mike, how about the chaos in Liberia? It seems to be generalized. Have you heard anything lately about removal of U.S. citizens?
MR. MCCURRY: The latest we've got is the evacuation is expected to continue over the next several days. They have made some adjustments to reflect the security situation. But they are getting people out. The information we have from the State Department is they've got a total of about 560 people who have now been evacuated from the embassy compound. And at this hour over at the State Department I believe they are providing additional information.
Q There are many others that aren't Americans also, right?
MR. MCCURRY: One hundred fifty-one of those 560 are American citizens.
Q Mike, you talked about the President wanting to act quickly to find a successor for Commerce. Has he made a decision whether he wants to put a nominee up for OMB or whether he wants to allow someone to remain as acting --
MR. MCCURRY: He has got several vacancies, several personnel issues that he is looking at, and OMB is, of course, one of them, and he is working through a variety of appointment issues with the Chief of Staff, the Vice President, and others.
Q Dr. Rivlin is expected to depart at the end of the month, is that right?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't remember what she has announced as her schedule. I would have to check on that.
Q Would you expect anything happening soon on that front, on OMB?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule that out.
Q You had mentioned bragging rights on trade. You've got a $59-billion trade imbalance with Japan, and I think that they have only opened up like 30-some car dealerships, not the 200 that you had envisioned. What are you talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are talking about specifically in those areas that we have agreements -- I think there have been something like 75, 80 percent increase in export activity in those areas covered by agreements under the framework. Now, we are going to do a lot more on this tomorrow. Dr. Tyson and Mickey Kantor will be here for a briefing tomorrow to walk through some of that.
The point is that in those areas where we have reached agreements, those agreements are making a measured difference. There is more work to do. We would be the first to acknowledge we have to continue to work to open markets and continue to make sure that trade is free and fair, and that is something that this President has pledged to working on. But the point, is we are making progress, and that is the progress that we will describe in greater detail tomorrow.
One last question.
Q Just on a lighthearted note, on this movie, the CBS movie the President is going to appear in, what made him decide to do this one? He must be asked to do quite a few different things like this.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, in this one it was the strength of the presentation he got from Larry Horowitz and Diane Quinn, who are the coproducers. They -- it sounds like a very -- you know, a fun project for the President, but also a very worthy made-for-TV special. It deals with the passage of the Family Medical Leave Act. I think all of you know how strongly the President has supported that and was involved in that. He has got -- it doesn't take a great deal of time to do this, and he has nothing other than a cameo role. But since it features --
Q Does that mean there is no comment?
MR. MCCURRY: Cameo. That's the Zulu pronunciation. (Laughter.)
Q That was his first car, a cameo. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: That's right. So anyhow, he thinks it would be a fun thing to do and it would promote a piece of legislation that has made it much more possible for families to take care of children who are facing devastating diseases. And for his own part, his proceeds -- he has got to get paid a union wage for his short work in it and the 500 bucks or so that he would get he will give to the Make A Wish Foundation, donate it to that charity.
Q So is it going to have a shot where you bust into the Oval Office with some sort of urgent message?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I think it will be -- I think the scene, if I checked my edits correctly, did require for the Press Secretary to burst in with urgent news at an appropriate time. (Laughter.)
Q When will this be filmed?
MR. MCCURRY: They're going to do it in early May. They apparently are starting -- they're shooting out on the West Coast now and they expect to be here sometime in early May and we'll take a couple of hours to do this.
Q Will they do it in the Oval Office?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. The scene, as I understand it, involves the President meeting the child in the Oval Office.
Q Will he stick to the script, do you think, or be a textual deviant?
Q Now, is this based loosely on this story that he tells about seeing this family that went through the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: This is built -- and it's a fictional account that is a composite of two real-life stories. Ginny has got some more information if you are interested in that.
Anything else? All right, we'll see you later on.
Q When is it going to air?
MR. MCCURRY: It will air -- my understanding is CBS says it will air most likely sometime in December.
MS. TERZANO: November or December.
MR. MCCURRY: Sometime in November or December.
Q Not during the campaign?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not during the campaign. And we were sensitive, of course, to equal time provisions and that -- the proper way to do it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:21 P.M. EDT