THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:05 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: All right. Shall we settle down and proceed? So that everybody -- I've got a couple of announcements on travel schedule, since you all are very often interested in that.
I'd like to start by saying first, the President, as he did last year, will give at least three major commencement addresses during graduation season this spring, as he did last year. The three will sort of work together thematically to reinforce some ideas the President wants to present to the nation about his ideas for the future of this country as we look ahead to the 21st century.
I'd describe them all as dealing with economic -- the future of economic policy in the country, how we can improve the health retirement income and wage security of Americans, how we can secure America's leadership position in the world, how we can ensure that the United States remains the moral force for leadership in this changing world, and how here at home we can reflect the values that have long been important in the American tradition.
Those broadly defined will be the thematic way the President will structure commencement addresses beginning May 10th, at Penn State University. He will then, as we've said previously, speak May 22nd at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. And then on June 4th, the President will be delighted to accept Princeton University's invitation to address its 250th commencement, a somewhat rare occasion, one that this loyal alum will be proud to attend. Because Princeton, by tradition, does not have a commencement speaker and the only occasions in which they've had an outside speaker for their commencement are occasions of major anniversaries of the University when other Presidents of the United States have spoken.
Q Which others?
MR. MCCURRY: I think Grover Cleveland and Truman, I think. We'll check, we can check on that or you can call the University and check.
Q All honorary degrees?
MR. MCCURRY: Honorary degree awards are at the discretion of each individual university, and I'll leave that to those institutions to announce.
Now, to continue with just travel plans as we look through the balance of this month and into June -- what I am aware of at this point is, as you know, he'll be going on Friday for the Senate Democratic retreat in Delaware, and the DNC dinner in Philadelphia. On Monday he'll do a day trip down to Miami for an event which will focus on our efforts to combat drug traffic. And then also for a DNC fundraiser later in the day.
He plans on May 7th to go to New Jersey for a dinner in tribute to Congressman Torricelli, who is running for the United States Senate, as you know. Again, to follow the sequence, on May 10th, he will be going to Penn State. May 17th he will be going out to Missouri for a dinner in honor of House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, which will be held in St. Louis, an occasion the President is looking forward to. May 22nd, as I said earlier, he will be delivering a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy. There is a DNC fundraiser that evening, not in New London, but somewhere in Connecticut -- in Connecticut, so we may be overnighting that night in Connecticut, but we don't know where yet.
And on May 23rd, as we have previously announced the President will be going to Milwaukee for a bilateral meeting with Chancellor Kohl. And then the June 4th trip to Princeton. So that's the travel we are aware of at this point.
Q Will he fly from Connecticut to Milwaukee if he stays over?
MR. MCCURRY: Apparently so. If they stay overnight.
Q And no overnight in Milwaukee?
MR. MCCURRY: Not one indicated here, no.
Q Why the meeting with Kohl in Milwaukee?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President had a desire to -- he has met often with Chancellor Kohl -- he had a desire to go to the heartland of America, a location that has a high concentration of German-Americans, as you know. And Mr. Hunt from the Associated Press is suggesting that they might sample some of local cuisine, the ethnic local cuisine, and that may be possible.
So that's that. What else would you like to know about?
Q Did the President call Bob Dole?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has not talked to the Majority Leader. We have been trying to set that up. Our Director of Legislative Affairs has attempted to be in contact with Sheila Burke, but hasn't connected yet. And I suspect if the President doesn't have an opportunity to call prior to -- he is out, out of the building now at the event I told you about earlier. If he doesn't have a chance to talk to the Majority Leader prior to the signing of the terrorism bill, he might have a chance to grab him when he is down here.
Q Do you think he is trying to duck it?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I wouldn't imagine that the Majority Leader would want to duck a conversation with the President.
Q Do you envision the President sort of dragging Dole aside, either into the Oval Office or maybe --
MR. MCCURRY: Grabbing him by the ear and pulling him in full view of your NBC television cameras.
Q Do you envision that this afternoon, some kind of --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't envision that.
Q -- one-on-one between Dole and the President? How do you envision that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't envision any detailed budget deliberations between the Majority Leader and the President today, no. But they might have a chance to talk and see if there is a way we can follow up.
Look, we have serious work we are doing on the FY '96 appropriations bill, as you know. The President has been devoting his attention to that in his meeting with the Democratic Congressional leaders today. And Mr. Panetta was on the Hill earlier today, is going back very shortly to continue to work on that measure. We have got to get in place a budget, final budget, that will govern the balance of this fiscal year, and then, hopefully, we can start serious deliberations on our budget proposal for the 1997 fiscal year.
And that's what this is about, and the President wants it done in a context where we have a certain agreement that will lead this country to a balanced budget. And since that is the professed desire of the Republican leadership of Congress, we want to get the work done and do it now.
Q Mike, refresh my memory again. If the balanced budget is so important now, why wasn't it important when the President proposed his budget for FY '96 last February or in June when he presented a revised budget?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been so many times the President has proposed a balanced budget agreement -- you're talking about going back to the beginning of 1994?
MR. MCCURRY: 1995. Well, the President, as you know, in 1993, without any help from the Republicans, put in place a deficit reduction track that led to the very strong performance that the American economy is now enjoying. We put together our budget priorities, addressed them as best we could when we made the FY96 proposal initially. And then for all the reasons the President indicated during the course of last summer, he wanted to move and reach out to attempt to compromise and work with the Republican Congress to achieve the balanced budget goal.
And that's how we are where we are today, but we do have, certified by the Congressional Budget Office, certified by the President's own economists, a budget proposal on the table that reaches a balanced budget and does so consistent with the President's priorities, making sure that we do things to invest in the future of the American economy, that we protect our environment, that we make sure that the promise of Medicare and Medicaid is available to those who need it in our society.
And, encouragingly, now that we have the new estimates from the Congressional Economist, we see that we can do all those priorities and provide middle income tax relief to those hard working Americans who need some tax relief. That's probably the most encouraging development in the budget picture. It is going to be easier now to achieve the goal of a balanced budget and to provide tax relief, given the strong performance of the American economy, as certified by the Congressional Budget Office.
Q Mike, if there is a successful negotiation with Dole, and should there be -- these negotiations go on, do you think Dole could deliver the troops?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we would imagine as the likely nominee of the Republican Party he's in a position to exert some leadership over the Republican Party. But I notice that he's been having a hard time, that Republicans in his own party have frankly been on the attack recently. We have been trying to avoid saying anything negative, but there have been a lot of negative things said about Senator Dole from those in his own party, I notice.
Q Mike, does the President think that the Senator was being real in talking about this one-on-one or candidate-to-candidate negotiations? And, if so, why has there not been a chance for your people to tell his people your guy wants to talk to their guy? Why can't they get together on the phone? Who is backing out?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think we're at that point. There is serious work to do on the budget. The President takes seriously the comments that the Majority Leader made yesterday and we hope that we can get down to serious work of balancing the budget and do it soon.
Q What specific pieces of legislation do you think there can be bipartisan cooperation out of the coming weeks, and will be signed into law?
MR. MCCURRY: Health reform for the American people. We've got an encouraging development with 100 votes in the United States Senate for the Kassebaum-Kennedy health insurance bill that will extend health insurance protection to workers. Welfare reform, reforming welfare as we know it, the President continues to believe we can get that type of measure in place and move forward; protections for America's lower income workers, those who need a liveable wage and who need an increase in the minimum wage, strong bipartisan support there for that.
And the one we just talked about, balancing this budget and giving the American people something that will make our economy stronger, will help keep interest rates low, will make certain that their tax dollars are wisely spent as we look ahead to the balance of the century. Those are -- there's strong bipartisan support on all those areas, and like we see today as we sign a terrorism bill that will help America combat the scourge of international terrorism, Republicans and Democrats can work together, despite the fact that it's an election year and get this kind of work done.
Q Mike, I don't know if you've already reacted to this -- do you have any reaction to this poll that emerged in Russia after we left showing Yeltsin rebounding against Zyuganov?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any reaction, and haven't looked at it. I used to know something about polling; I know that it's hard to structure and model a poll when you don't have a lot of track record and experience with voting populations. And in the emerging democracy of Russia they don't have that kind of experience, so it's a little hard to imagine that public opinion sampling is a very scientific exercise in Russia, but there are good organizations that try to do it effectively.
Q Can I just follow that? Does the President feel he's got a pretty good fix on what Zyuganov has in mind, given the collision between the manifesto and what he was told during that meeting with --
MR. MCCURRY: The President feels like he got the softened version of what a new communist party program in Russia would look like. Some of the things, as Mr. Zyuganov presented them in that meeting, are a little bit different in tone and nuance from the way Mr. Zyuganov presents them when he's speaking to the Russian people out on the campaign trail. But it was important for the President to have an opportunity to hear him directly, to listen to him carefully, and the President appreciated the participation by all of the Russian political leaders who met with him last Sunday.
Q What is the White House reading on the situation in Paraguay? And do you think President Wasmosy has weathered the crisis?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President had a good conversation with President Wasmosy yesterday, about a 10-minute conversation in which we made clear the United States government would not recognize a government that came to power by the use of military force or threat, that our interest was in the restoration and the extension of democracy in Paraguay. We are hopeful that the announcements and the deliberations that have been made both by General Ovieda and by the President himself will lead to a favorable outcome and a continuation of democratic government, and we will continue to press both at the OAS and through our own diplomacy in the region for that outcome.
Q Any reaction to Speaker Gingrich's proposal for an investigation of the arm sales by Iran to the Bosnian Muslims?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he has a right to ask for the creation of that type of committee. Hopefully, given there are so many committees that the Republicans had unleashed on this issue, perhaps this will synchronize some of those efforts and save the taxpayers some money so we don't have duplicative efforts. But the administration, as we have already made clear, is more than anxious to tell the story about how we conducted that diplomacy and what our objectives were because it led to a very positive outcome, the Dayton Peace Accords strengthened Bosnian army, and the military accords now in place that are working to help create some measure of stability in Bosnia.
Q But it also gave a foothold to the Iranians in Bosnia.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it did not give a foothold to Iranians in Bosnia because the Iranians were already there and very present and had a great deal of activity underway in Bosnia prior to any decision we made regarding our own knowledge about the nature of Bosnian arms shipments.
Q The President of Lebanon indicated that President Clinton sounded somewhat guardedly optimistic about developments in the Middle East. Can you share with us any progress that may have been made by Secretary Christopher today?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't -- Secretary Christopher has had very good meetings today, over four hours with President Assad in Damascus. He then went on to Lebanon where he met with the Prime Minister. President Harawi, meeting here with President Clinton, noted how encouraging it was that his bilateral meeting with President Clinton was occurring almost exactly the same moment that Secretary of State Christopher was in Lebanon meeting with the Prime Minister. And on both of these fronts in both of these discussions, we hope we advance the cause of peace in the Middle East generally.
This was an opportunity for them obviously to review the recent turmoil in South Lebanon, but also, more importantly, to talk about the structure of the Middle East peace process and how we can move forward towards the goal of a comprehensive and lasting peace in the region. They had a very good dialogue on that. They talked about the ways in which we might be able to provide some humanitarian relief for those citizens in South Lebanon who have been affected by the attempt to curb the activity of Hezbollah, and, in all, a very good discussion.
As far as the Secretary of State's diplomacy, he is in a better position to describe that, and to your colleagues traveling with him he will. But they are now working very intensively on an American document that presents a balanced formula by which all sides could go back to a condition in which civilians on both sides of the border are no longer threatened.
Q Why would President Clinton tell the Lebanese President that an agreement appeared close, or that was the indication that the President --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because the Secretary of State is doing enormously effective work in trying to bring about that result.
Q Well, is it close, Mike? Is an agreement close?
MR. MCCURRY: The Secretary of State -- you have a colleague of yours traveling with him, and you should get a report from the Secretary of State.
Q When is the aid package going to be announced?
MR. MCCURRY: We did. The President indicated that he would be making a package of aid available.
Q How much?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be approximately $1 million available for a response in -- this is a contribution
in response to the call of the international community, the Red Cross for emergency assistance in Lebanon.
We intend to go beyond that, too, and provide additional relief through funds that are available to our Ambassador in Beirut. It's not a huge amount of money, but it's a very important sum that can help with providing blankets, food, emergency services to those who have been affected by the fighting in south Lebanon. We're also planning to transfer some U.S. military medical supplies and equipment approximately 50,000 pounds worth over to Lebanese authorities so they can be distributed to those who are in need.
Q Mike, the President declines to criticize Israel's activities in southern Lebanon based on Syria's, what he calls, occupation of Lebanon. And, of course, President Hrawi says Syrian troops were invited; he says there is no occupation. How do the two leaders deal with that?
MR. MCCURRY: They deal with that in the same way they have in the painstaking process of trying to bring about peace to the Middle East through very patient, effective diplomacy that has already produced those agreements that exist and as we continue to deliberate on the Syrian-Israeli track, measures that we hope can bring the kinds of agreements that would bring peace to Lebanon.
Q Let me ask it this way then. Does the President feel that Hrawi's invitation to the Syrians is a part of the problem there?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't have any new views on that issue which is an issue that is as old as the Middle East peace process itself.
Q Is the United States prepared to boycott Nigerian oil or impose any other penalties, investment penalties or anything else on Nigeria?
MR. MCCURRY: We are pleased by some of the steps that have now been taken by the Commonwealth in the direction of targeted sanctions. We believe that could bring pressure on the regime in Nigeria to bring about a restoration of democratic rule, and we will continue to work with other governments towards that end.
Q What about the oil issue?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the oil issue has been one that we have raised with a number of our allies and with other members of the international community, and there's not a broad-based consensus on how best to use that type of sanction. There may be a way in which you can craft targeted sanctions that might have some impact on the petroleum or oil sector, but that would be the result of further deliberations.
Q Mike, May 1st is Labor Day in Cuba. I understand another Cuban exile group from Miami is thinking of sending a flotilla outside territorial waters on May 1. Will that mean the Coast Guard will be mobilized again to protect them or what?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you have to check with the Coast Guard and Transportation officials, but they are in a position, because of the actions taken by the President last month, to respond in the very direct fashion that they did just recently.
Q Mike, have these people been told that --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. You had best check at Transportation Department.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you.
END 1:30 P.M. EDT