THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
12:40 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, hello. What's going on today? Good to see you all.
Q Peres has not left -- is he still up there? Weather delay?
MR. MCCURRY: He's still up there. I haven't heard anything. Do you guys know anything about the schedule, weather delays, or the Prime Minister not being able to be here? Do you know anything about it? They're checking on it right now.
Q Could you tell us about the beouf meeting today?
MR. MCCURRY: The what meeting? The President has had some contact with Secretary of Agriculture Glickman and has been aware of concerns of a lot of western range-state members of Congress about the 10-year low in cattle prices, and he's going to get together with the Secretary of Agriculture and several members of the Congress, a bipartisan group, today to talk about that and to look at what the effects are. We know, because of weather conditions, the draught, because of the current supplies of feed grain, that there has been some market impact on beef prices. They're going to talk about that and see what the economic consequences have been for cattlemen throughout the plain states and see if there's anything that suggests itself that might be appropriate for a federal response.
Q Does mad cow disease have anything to do with over prices?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it has nothing to do with it.
Q Why is he doing this right now?
Q Can you run us through today with Peres, exactly what's going to happen?
Q Let's finish the beef --
Q Can we finish the beef thing? Why is he doing this now?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've had a request for sometime both within the producer community and also within members of Congress that represent those states in which there are large concentrations of cattle producers to have a discussion about what the impact of prices has been on the families whose livelihoods depend on cattle farming. And we want to talk to them and get a better sense of what the concerns are. And we've got some ideas, too, that we might be able to explore on how to respond.
Q You're not worried about the President being accused of coming to the rescue of big cattle, I take it.
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not. This is a very important issue and are hundreds of thousands of families whose livelihoods depend on cattle ranching.
Q Is the administration considering any steps to control prices or affect prices of beef?
MR. MCCURRY: No. This is not -- we have no intent and no interest in intervening in commodity markets, period. But there are some things that might suggest themselves regarding grazing on lands that are within the conservation resource program; there are some other steps that we might be able to take regarding purchases through the school lunch program -- things like that we can look at that are our normal activities of the federal government and that might suggest themselves as appropriate steps to be taken.
Q Mike, aren't these low prices a good thing for consumers?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they may or may not be in the long-term. A depressed price now means a lot of people will cull herds. It means that they might face shortages in the out-years. Two or three years down the road, according to some of the analyses we've seen, there might an artificial inflation in cattle prices as a result of the diminution of stocks now and some of the steps that ranchers are having to take given the feed grain situation and given the weather situation in the plain states. So not necessarily are short-term lower prices something that will be beneficial for the economy in the long run.
Q Is that true of oil, as well, Mike, as an economic matter -- is that true of oil, too?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the case -- we've dealt with that issue yesterday. We've seen an artificial spike in oil and gas prices and the President acted to use the authority given to him by Congress recently in the FY '96 appropriations bill to sell some oil from the strategic petroleum reserves.
Q How does that square with the statement you just made about not intervening in commodities markets?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not intervention in the commodities market.
Q Of course it is, it's exactly what it is.
MR. MCCURRY: It's a sale of government strategic petroleum reserves --
Q -- to get prices down.
MR. MCCURRY: -- that was enacted recently by Congress.
Q Are there going to be any specific announcements on this beef today? For example, cattle grazing --
MR. MCCURRY: Stay tuned, 5:30 p.m. today.
Q Has the President now exhausted his authority on the sales from the strategic reserve, or does he have any additional latitude?
MR. MCCURRY: He's acted pursuant to that provision in the FY '96 appropriations bill. But he may well have additional authority if it's granted to him by Congress. He also directed the Secretary of Energy to conduct a review of what lay behind some of these recent spikes in the oil spot market and in gas prices at the pump. And we'll see if any further action is suggested based on that review.
Q Well, is there a 12-million-barrel ceiling on the authority he got from Congress?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it was a dollar amount -- anybody know? I think it was a dollar amount which translated into the million-barrel-per-day price.
Q So he needs congressional authority for any further sales?
MR. MCCURRY: He would have to go beyond -- to go beyond those current sales in that bill he would have to request additional authority from Congress. And you probably know, there have been some suggestions from members of Congress that that authority might be granted.
Q Is the Secretary of Agriculture going to come and talk about this here or what's the plan?
MR. MCCURRY: He will be here and we'll see how the meeting goes and see what kind of readout we can provide afterwards.
Q It doesn't start until 5:30 p.m., though?
MR. MCCURRY: Do it later.
Q Does the President plan ask for that additional authority, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: He doesn't have any plans at the moment. We'll await the results of Secretary O'Leary's review.
Q Can we have a photo op of that?
MR. MCCURRY: You already have a pool spray of it.
Q Would you put yesterday's action and today's concern about beef prices in a context of what Clinton believes his role of the presidency is? I mean, is he trying to be a market czar?
MR. MCCURRY: No, just what I just said. We believe that markets work best in resolving supply and demand situations. We've always felt that and there's no change in our view of that. We're dealing with two peculiar price phenomena in different markets that are unrelated.
They deal with some of the impacts on the markets that have come from external factors, in the case of oil prices; it's related to the deliberations at the U.N., it's related to reactions of the producer and refining community to deal with the scarcity brought on by anticipation or speculation about negotiations and perhaps other issues, as well. It's the peculiarities of the industry and the way the refiners are changing the mix of their production facilities, especially in places like California. A lot of different factors. That's got nothing to do with feed grain prices or cattle prices in an agricultural commodities market; totally unrelated.
Q New subject? The Likud leaders are saying now that they feel the pain and openly blame this administration in trying to influence the results of the elections in Israel. What is our reaction to this Likud pain?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President, himself, likes to make the point that people from outside don't do a very good job influencing the decisions the voters themselves have to make. He likes to cite his own example in Arkansas, when he once saw -- he said he can only think of one case where he saw someone from the outside have a demonstrable impact on the voters of Arkansas. And he believes that's true externally, too.
He doesn't believe that the President of the United States or U.S. leaders can play any role or have any real influence on the decisions of voters and indigenous democracies have to make on their own. And he certainly would dispute strongly any characterization of his own work with the Israeli government to further the peace process and to combat terrorism as being any evidence of a desire to impact the domestic political situation in Israel. That's for the Israeli people alone to decide.
Q Can you tell us a bit more about the U.S.-Israeli counterterrorism --
MR. MCCURRY: I can tell you that the President is looking forward to meeting with the Prime Minister. Do we know when that's going to happen? We hear that the latest is that it should be on time. But they will sign an agreement that grows out of the work that Israel did with a host of nations at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit recently. At that time the President committed to a bilateral counterterrorism program in cooperation with the government of Israel.
And we expect that agreement, once signed by the two leaders, to not only condemn all acts of terror and to further the work that was commenced at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, but also to develop strong bilateral programs that will help both countries fight terrorism in the interests of the citizens of both countries, because this is an accord, in the President's view, that will benefit both the people of the United States and the people of Israel.
We will share information with the government of Israel, exchange experts. There are provisions related to the extradition of known terrorists. There will be cooperation on research and development related to fighting terrorism. And there will also be a joint committee on counterterrorism that will be established to continue the efforts both governments will make together to combat terrorism.
Q Will the President be meeting with Chairman Arafat and the Prime Minister tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. He's scheduled to see Chairman Arafat tomorrow. I'm not aware of any change in the schedule at this point.
Q And will Arafat and Peres be meeting tonight, do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: You should ask both representatives of the Palestinian National Authority and then also the government of Israel.
Q Are you ruling out a change in the schedule for such a meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of and I've heard of no changes in the President's schedule planned at this time.
Q Mike, following the shift in Israel, a partial shift about the Palestinian state in labor decision, do you foresee a similar change in this administration vis-a-vis the question of the Palestinian state declaration?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that our views will remain unchanged on that issue while the parties themselves wrestle with issues that are suggested as final status matters under the declaration.
Q Are you planning any sort of readout or backrounder about the Clinton-Peres meeting this afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: We are. We will have someone, at the conclusion of the working lunch here in the briefing room to talk a little more about that work. We also will have a fairly lengthy joint communique that I expect both governments to issue.
Q Roughly what time do you anticipate that?
MR. MCCURRY: We were thinking 2:00 p.m.-2:30 p.m., in that neighborhood.
Q You guys have received product liability, right? What are you going to do with that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, everyone knows quite well that the President believes the product liability legislation passed by this Congress does not adequately protect consumers, does not address the need to protect the American people from faulty products that could cause to American families. And he has indicated long ago that he would veto that measure that's taking, frankly, quite some time to get here to the White House. There will be other people, on behalf of those who support a legitimate product liability reform, speaking in a manner that the President certainly is sympathetic to on the Hill later today.
Q The lawyer representing the fired Travel Office employees says that the bill that the President, I guess, said he would sign that would compensate them for their legal fees reached the Senate floor and was held up by Senator Pryor. A, did the White House have anything to do with that? And, b, has the President's position on the measure changed?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. I'd have to check, and not to my knowledge.
Q Is that something that the White House would be interested in getting dislodged and urging Senator Pryor to let go?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we have taken any position on it other than the one that I have articulated in the past.
Q Which is that the President would sign it, right? Does that hold?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, that's correct.
Q Does that hold?
Q Well, would he urge Senator Pryor to release it so that he could get it down here and sign it?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check. I don't know.
Q Is he going to veto this week the product liability bill? Do you expect that to happen --
MR. MCCURRY: I expect it to happen soon, but it's no question that he will veto it.
Q Does he have it now?
MR. MCCURRY: Hasn't arrived yet, and I understand that they were planning to send it down here with some fanfare, apparently.
Q What is on the agenda tomorrow between the President and Chairman Arafat? Will there be any announcement of new aid to the Palestinians? Could you discuss the agenda, please?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the agenda is first to compliment the Chairman on the work done to change provisions of the Covenant; second, to review the peace process broadly in the region, to discuss those steps that are necessary now to advance the Middle East peace process itself; and third, to talk specifically about aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, including the need to strengthen and deepen the economic renewal taking place in the territories.
Our commitments, financial commitments, are very well-known. We will be talking about how we can make sure that that assistance can be and will be and will continue to be effective.
Q Have the Chinese expressed any displeasure about the Al Gore meeting with Martin Lee today? I believe the meeting is going on now. That notwithstanding, what is the rationale for that meeting? What influence do you place on Hong Kong?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Mr. Lee is a very important leader of the Legislative Council. His party occupies 29 of the 60 seats in the Legislative Council. And with respect to the Legislative Council itself, we see the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration as being a framework for the future of Hong Kong that the United States strongly supports as a matter of our own federal law passed in 1992.
The meeting today is one that is important because it furthers our dialogue with an important political leader in Hong Kong. And our views on the importance of the Declaration itself, our support for the Declaration, our concern about those who would suggest that there ought to be new requirements or new credentials required of those who would participate in the political life of Hong Kong under the Declaration is very well-known, certainly to the People's Republic.
Q Mike, on the product liability bill, does the President expect to have a public vetoing --
MR. MCCURRY: He probably will do some type of event that makes clear why the President is acting in the interests of American consumers.
Q And has there been any progress in getting members of Congress to agree to a balanced budget meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: No, and we continue -- we will continue to -- I'm sorry, what was your question, Rita? I missed it.
Q Balanced budget meeting.
MR. MCCURRY: No. And we are distressed that we see growing evidence that the Republican majority and Senator Dole tend to march in their own separatist, extremist direction, which is going to leave us with a measure that the President will be forced to veto.
We will be right back to the same old, same old. Everyone knows that this President will stand firm against measures that do not protect the nation's elderly, that do not provide Medicaid to those who are in need, that do not provide funding necessary for protection of the environment for investment in education and technology and those things that will grow our economy in the future.
And as the President suggested Saturday and we continue to suggest, the way to resolve these questions is to sit and to work together in a bipartisan spirit to make progress. And we are, frankly, dismayed that there has not been a willingness on the part of the Republican leadership to engage in that kind of real conversation about advancing budget priorities instead of concocting phony measures that have no chance of passage or no chance of enactment and won't give the American people the kind of balanced budget they deserve.
Anything else? Okay. I am told by David that we will probably have the readout on working sessions with Prime MInister Peres between 3:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. so it will be a little later than we suggested. And it looks like the Prime Minster will be here around 1:40 p.m., so he is running probably about a half an hour late.
Q Is that photo op still on?
MR. MCCURRY: We will do something maybe with Secretary Glickman, something in that --
Q Is that photo op with Peres still on?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:55 P.M. EDT