THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
12:47 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Shall we?
Q Let's do it.
MR. MCCURRY: China? I don't have anything that I can tell you, other than the talks in Beijing have concluded. Mr. Sands has been in contact with Acting Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and we're evaluating the results. I haven't heard anything that indicates that they made a lot of progress, but they will continue their evaluation and if there's anything further to say, Ambassador Barshefsky will say it tomorrow.
Q At her news conference.
Q Wait a minute. Can you --
MR. MCCURRY: I mean that's where -- the course that we're on and the direction of our handling of this is consistent with the Trade Act of 1974, and we've been pretty transparent about how that would proceed. So you all know --
Q Did you say they made progress? That's not what the wires are suggesting.
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, I said I haven't heard anything to indicate they made progress.
Q Is there any other attempt or is there a last gasp chance here or --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there will be a period after the publication of any targeted sanctions list in which there are public comments on that list, and the United States will remain open to any effort to avoid something that we believe is unnecessary because we believe it's in the interest of both the Chinese people and the people of the United States to amicably resolve these trade disagreements.
Q Thirty days, right?
MR. MCCURRY: There's a 30-day comment period, that's correct.
Q Mike, I think a lot of Americans may have trouble assessing what the relationship is right now between the U.S. and China -- do we have a good relationship, a tense relationship. What's our relationship?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, most Americans understand complex relationships, and many of them are involved in personal relationships that are complex -- (laughter) -- and this is a complex relationship.
There is -- the reason why we agree -- the reason why we have a broad comprehensive strategy of engagement with China is because there are difficulties in a relationship that have to be managed. But at the same time, it's an enormously important relationship to the people of the United States who are involved in commerce, increasingly directed at what will become one of the world's largest markets in the next century, if not the largest market. We also share many global concerns. China is a member of the U.N. Security Council, where we work closely with China on matters of mutual interest. So there are broad, important, strategic relationship for our strategy of engagement.
But there are disagreements -- on trade, on human rights, on proliferation, on issues that we attempt to manage effectively through very patient, disciplined, engaged diplomacy, which is why our Secretary of State and the Deputy Premier of China often meet to work through these complications; why when we can make progress on difficult issues such as the proliferation case we discussed last week, we make that progress; why when there are disagreements that are not easily resolved, we have to, as in the case of protecting the intellectual property of the United States of America and its citizens, we act as we do as in regard to the trade dispute. So it is one in which you have to be very patient, very disciplined, very firm and follow a comprehensive strategy of engagement.
Q Mike, is the administration confident that the current course will not lead to an escalation and possibly to an outright trade war with China? Or is it the administration's view that that is a risk that you really have to take in a situation like this?
MR. MCCURRY: We have an obligation under our law to enforce our law. We have an obligation to make sure that agreements reached with the People's Republic of China are honored. The American people expect no less of this President or this administration. And so we are very patiently, very carefully pursuing this course, and we remain convinced that it is in the interest of China and in the interest of the United States to amicably resolve this conflict.
Q I don't think he got an answer.
Q Wait, wait. Can I just get an answer to the question, though, Mike, about what -- are you comfortable or confident that it will not lead to an escalation and a possible trade war, or is it your view that sometimes is a risk that you have to take?
MR. MCCURRY: We have to enforce the law, but we remain hopeful that we can resolve this conflict short of any tit-for-tat retaliation.
Q Based upon what you know now, do you have any doubt whether there will be a list of sanction targets published tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe I have made it pretty clear that we will have to evaluate the results of the meetings held and then Ambassador Barshefsky will say anything further about that tomorrow at 11:00 a.m.
Q I understand, but we are talking about --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that is a pretty clear answer -- as clear as I can give you right now.
Q Mike, based on what you are hearing from Beijing, what was the tone of the Chinese response to the U.S. case?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, in this effort to gather more facts, I don't believe a lot of new additional facts were gathered.
Q No, I mean what was the tone of the Chinese response to --
MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard about tonal quality.
Q Mike, a couple of other points on the same thing. The Chinese have said that they would retaliate in an amount much greater than $2 billion to $3 billion if we would slap sanctions on them. However, they have a huge surplus of trade with us. Does the administration feel that if it came to tit-for-tat, that they are far more vulnerable than we are, in the sense that they sell far more to us and, therefore, have more exposed goods than we do in terms of what we sell to them?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll state again what I said earlier. We believe the failure to resolve these trade disagreements can cause economic damage to people in the United States and certainly economic damage to people in China. That is why it is in the interest of both countries to resolve these disagreements.
Q My question is basically, if it came to --
MR. MCCURRY: The magnitude of the loss --
Q -- does the administration see China as paying the higher price than the U.S. because they have got more to lose?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd rather speculate at the moment, since you are calling for speculation, on an amicable resolution of the disagreement as opposed to the alternative, which is not an alternative that we are enthusiastic about.
Q Mike, doesn't a relationship that is marked by trade disputes, human rights violations and proliferation problems argue against extension or renewal of Most Favored Nation trade status?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because there are also areas of cooperation, areas of agreement, areas in which we have advanced the mutual interests in a climate of equality in our relations with the People's Republic. But the relationship itself has to be evaluated in its totality.
Q Has Lee Sands actually left Beijing, and is there a possibility that there could be more talks between now and --
MR. MCCURRY: Give a ring over to USTR and they should be able to tell you.
Q What does the 30-day period, the comment period actually mean? Does it mean that once the list is published there's still a chance for discussion?
MR. MCCURRY: We've indicated earlier that from a target list of approximately $3 billion in targeted sanctions we would compile a list of final sanctions amounting to about $2 billion. So it's a period in which USTR and the administration can more effectively analyze the proposed targeted sanctions.
Q So, in effect, Ambassador Barshefsky, from what I understand, put forth an action plan when she was there in April by which they could show evidence that they were making progress in protecting intellectual property rights? Can they still bite on the action plan over the course of the 30 days?
MR. MCCURRY: We have made it very clear in giving them a road map of how we see the agreement that we reached with them on intellectual property and how we believe it can be fairly and equitably enforced, we've made it clear the types of actions that would satisfy our concerns -- that's correct.
Q And they can still take those actions after tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: They can take those actions. But as I think I've made clear, the time quickly runs out.
Q I know, but just help me out on this if you can, Mike. There's a 30-day period before the sanctions are actually ordered, put into effect, a comment period, is that not correct?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that's correct.
Q Now, isn't there after that some time lag before they actually take effect that gives you even more -- a little more running room for --
MR. MCCURRY: There is a period in which -- they have to be ordered, in effect, by USTR. I don't know that that's necessarily exactly at the end of the 30-day comment period. There is a period for the evaluation of the comments as well, but you'll have to ask USTR exactly how they do that.
Q Mike, are you implying that if the Chinese do set up this retaliatory list once the United States acts that there will be no rethinking on the MFN decision on the part of the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard any indication that the President is anything less than committed to an extension of Most Favored Nation status, and a comprehensive engagement outside involves all sectors of our economic engagement with the People's Republic, not just the sector involving intellectual property -- for example, CDs, software, et cetera.
Q Will he formally be announcing the support for MFN say next Monday when he has a speech on Asia?
MR. MCCURRY: He could. I think in the coming days, both the Secretary of State and others in the administration will be talking about the importance of our relationship with China, and I do believe the President has an event on May 20th on which he might likely comment on Most Favored Nation status.
Q Mike, could you spell out some of the areas where you feel the relationship is working well?
MR. MCCURRY: The most positive one, our work together on the North Korean issue -- both the cooperation we enjoy from them in dealing with the North Korean nuclear program that was running vigorously at the point the administration took office and which is now in some ways back in the bottle and effectively under IAEA safeguards -- and a host of areas, the Middle East and other areas in which we need cooperation as we work together at the Security Council on global issues. We see that cooperation. And in efforts that we have from time to time made to limit tensions, for example, in the Taiwan Straits -- while not always agreeing with every point, we see at least a receptivity to the views that we express.
Q Are you satisfied with the public assurances the Chinese government has made in connection with the ring magnets sale to Pakistan?
MR. MCCURRY: We are because they made a very important, significant, new public commitment not to transfer materials to unsafeguarded facilities. That was at the heart of the case that Secretary of State Christopher looked at. And contrary to some news reports, it represented and entirely new public commitment on their part. And we also have in place a process of consultations with them in which we can pursue any questions or concerns that we have about future transactions.
Q Henry Kissinger seems to think in an op-ed page piece that the nonaggression trade between China and Russia works to our detriment in Asia. Do we see it that way?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be better for me to leave to the former Secretary of State geopolitical analysis of that nature. Our job, the job of this President is to advance U.S. interests in the world, to engage nations like the People's Republic and the Russian Federation, and to work with them when we can bring about more peaceful, more amicable resolutions of disputes as they exist. I would argue in that respect with both China and the Russian Federation we've got a pretty admirable record of progress in addressing areas in which there are some common concerns. And I will leave it to Henry Kissinger , who is a master diplomat, to analyze the geopolitical --
Q Are you saying that geopolitical matters are not of interest to this administration?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I say I leave it to him who is more qualified to I to analyze geopolitical relations.
Q I know, but the administration must have some view of the matter in that regard.
Q But do we feel it's harmful to us and Asia.
Q We're either troubled by it or we're not, or whatever.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is no surprise to us as two great nations that the Russian Federation and the People's Republic have a bilateral relationship.
Q A legal point with regard to the 1974 Trade Act. If, in fact, the Chinese counter-retaliate, then you have an obligation to meet that as well, don't you?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that is a good question to pose to Ambassador Barshefsky tomorrow.
Q Just one more on Wolf's question. The criticism of the Chinese has been that they haven't been specific enough. Is the U.S. -- on that statement about the ring magnets.
MR. MCCURRY: That is a very specific statement, and through both the private and public commentary of the People's Republic we understand that that applies to the type of transaction we looked at with respect to that facility and the Chinese entity that transferred the ring magnets to that Pakistan laboratory.
Q New subject?
MR. MCCURRY: New subject.
Q There is some suggestion on the Hill that the President should fire the Inspector General of the Transportation Department because of comments raising questions about the safety of ValuJet -- her public comments -- which seemed to go in a different direction than the Secretary of Transportation and the Administrator of the FAA. Is the President satisfied that everything was done and is being done to make sure that air traffic is safe?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think there are two questions there. On the first matter, I haven't heard any discussion of that. On the second matter, the President appreciated the update from the Secretary of Transportation today, the steps that the FAA took earlier this morning, and believes we must continue to do things to perfect and ensure the safety of America's air travel system.
Q A follow-up on that. There is a government policy in effect requiring federal employees to fly the least expensive flights, which can mean ValuJet and other such airlines. Has there been any modification of that policy in the wake of this crash in the administration's continuing review of ValuJet's performance?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I've heard. We still have an obligation to try to save the taxpayers money when we can do that, for those who are on official travel on behalf of the government, but nowhere is it required to take any commercial flight or in some cases charter flights that are less than safe.
Q I understand. But as far as the administration is concerned, that's not the case with ValuJet, at least not yet, is it?
MR. MCCURRY: That individual Cabinet agencies have a right to decide how and when they can contract for services with charter providers, and then as to what flights they take, regularly scheduled commercial air traffic is designed by the FAA to be safe in practice, and then that's the question of what the available price is. But no one, from the President on down, expects any government employee to have to take any flight that's unsafe. In fact, that's exactly why the air safety system exists, to ensure that those flights are safe.
Q Well, on that ground, there would be no unsafe flights.
Q So ValuJet still goes? So it is likely or possible, under the current policy, that you might be required to take ValuJet even during this review. That's a fair statement, isn't it?
MR. MCCURRY: And that, again, is up to individual contracting agencies who charter aircraft for passengers.
Q I'm not talking about charter, I'm talking about ordinary commercial flights.
MR. MCCURRY: Ordinary flights -- frankly, I have to check with GSA because I don't know, standing here, how they make those selections.
Q Is the President satisfied with these three steps that Pena initially proposed?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he is satisfied with the report this morning from the Secretary of Transportation. But the Secretary of Transportation indicated he would continue in a comprehensive review. In fact, one of the steps that the FAA announced today was a comprehensive review of training procedures and assignments to make sure that that system is working exactly as it should. So, if there are additional reports to the President from the Secretary, the PResident will receive them and encourage the Secretary to do anything necessary to ensure safety in the system.
Q Mike, I think that Brit's question was getting at, in another way, the question most Americans are asking right now. Does the administration think ValuJet is a safe airline - as safe as any other airline?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I believe that the FAA had in place, beginning in February of this year, a review of procedures, maintenance and practices of ValuJet. The Secretary has spoken publicly to that. The FAA is certainly the best place to go to get an evaluation of the performance of that particular carrier as they would be with any carrier. They are the ones that do that inspection.
Q Mike, has the President been concerned at all that initially Secretary Pena might have gone too far in bending toward defending that airline, ValuJet?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that, as they've explained very carefully and had greater opportunity to explain, all the steps that they took to ensure the safety of ValuJet, the public record has been clear.
Q If I could ask the same question --
Q Shouldn't there be an overall look at all aviation now, in view of the Ron Brown and the lack of safety in the military, and then now on the commercial, civilian end? I mean, isn't there some overall entity that could --
MR. MCCURRY: As I described to some of you earlier today, the Challenge 2000 review that Administrator Hinson has underway at FAA is exactly that type of comprehensive review, and today he very specifically pinpointed it on inspector training, inspector practices and inspector assignments.
The other thing, of course, was adding significantly to the number of inspectors to ensure that they can do that, but as other issues arise, such as what type of inspections or how inspections are conducted, that type of review can generate any needed change in practice.
Q Does the President plan to fly down to Florida anytime soon?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard of any plans for him to do that.
Q Different subject. Senator Grams of Minnesota suggested in the Senate this morning that on the one-year anniversary of its closing, it is time to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue. He said the White House has become a fortress and that, in effect, the country has given into --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, what a sourpuss. He can go out here and see guys playing street hockey and see the tourists who now have got more places and more room to take their pictures and --
Q When they're allowed to be on the avenue at all.
Q Mayor Marion Barry is for it. Has the President talked with Barry about it?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't talked to him about it.
Q Did you talk with the Mayor about it?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't talked to him about it. I think that the President feels like there have been positive aspects to the change in configuration out here on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Q Well, Mike, are you still going ahead with a plan to push forward their redesign sometime next year, right?
MR. MCCURRY: They have a very limited plan. I think they plan to plant some trees or something out there. That's about all they're doing, I believe, because we don't have a lot of money to throw at the problem.
Q So the administration opposes this legislation?
MR. MCCURRY: Does he have a specific -- I didn't hear that there was legislation.
Q He has introduced a specific bill, it has been endorsed by Mayor Barry who says -- in a letter, said the effects on parking patterns and drivers' convenience, business income, parking revenue, and most important, public access to the White House have all been significant.
MR. MCCURRY: There have to my knowledge not been any change in public access to the White House, and I would suggest in some respects there's more access because you can walk freely on the street in front of the White House. It makes it easier for tourists to take pictures and it's become kind of a nicer place out there.
Q For large periods of time it's shut down.
MR. MCCURRY: As to other issue, we will look at the other issues, look at the legislation. I'm not aware that we've taken any position on the legislation.
Q Grams says that no one has made a compelling case for closing Pennsylvania Avenue.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's just not true. I mean, the Secret Service made a pretty compelling case when they talked about the reason for closing it down in the first place. I think Oklahoma City was a pretty good argument, wasn't it?
Q Well, there was a review that was made public --
MR. MCCURRY: Okay.
Q In the context of the briefing that we're going to get later today on the Olympics and the role of the federal government, is the White House expecting and seeking some political benefit from identifying the President frequently this year with the Olympics and American --
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect like President Reagan did when we had the opportunity to host the Olympics before, we will be honored by the presence of the delegations, the athletes and we'll want to be a good host. And he will labor to be a good host.
Q The President, in addressing the law enforcement officers memorial tomorrow, does he have any particular point that he wants to make?
MR. MCCURRY: He does. You may have noticed earlier that we've declared tomorrow Peace Officers Memorial Day in honor of those who have given their lives trying to keep our communities safer. And his remarks will appropriately reflect those sentiments.
Q Can I come back to a subject from yesterday on same-sex marriage? You reiterated the President's '92 statement that he personally opposes same-sex marriage. But has he decided what to do on this legislation in the Senate?
MR. MCCURRY: They are still going to look at that legislation. Let me just point out on that, that legislation involves, as near as I understand it, a court ruling in Hawaii. The court has referred back to lower courts for further adjudication the question of how you would recognize same-sex unions. The President just believes that's wrong. He doesn't believe in same-sex marriage.
But, frankly, it's hard to see why they need this legislation at this point because there's no compelling argument right now that that -- there's no statute pending in Hawaii, so it's something that's going to clearly be adjudicated in lower courts. There's a sense here that what is driving the public debate on this issue is an attempt by some in Congress to force this as a wedge issue.
And the President, frankly, wishes that we would do a little more to bring Americans together and not hold out any community for punitive action. Now, there's a difference between sanctioning something and making sure that you prohibit discrimination. This President's record on ensuring that there's not discrimination against gay and lesbians is very clear, and he feels strongly on that, but just as a question of what he believes, he doesn't believe that same-sex marriage -- he just doesn't believe in it.
Q But would he sign the legislation or not? You know you've got your liaison out there saying that the President is outraged with this type of a proposal.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's not at all clear that this legislation, once you look into it, not at all clear what the purpose of the legislation is at this moment and not at all clear that it's going to advance in Congress.
Q Something like 33 states are considering legislation that would codify in their state laws that they wouldn't be like Hawaii, that a marriage is between a man and a woman. Eight of them have passed it. You can blame the Republicans in Congress for making hay of it and some of them have said they'd like to make hay of it. But when the Hawaii Supreme Court remanded it back to the court, there was an immediate reaction in all these states. And if the President thinks the bill is untimely or whatever, if it comes to him, could you get us an answer at some point whether he'll veto it or sign it?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure. I will, and I suspect his evaluation of the bill would be consistent with his personally stated bill that he opposes same-sex marriage.
Q And Mike, a follow question. Yesterday, you had made the point that the President opposes same-sex marriages because he wants to strengthen the American family, and there was a question from the floor here why same-sex marriage hurts the American family and you implied that you might get back to us on that. Is this the right day --
MR. MCCURRY: No, the only thing I have -- The President believes that marriage as an institution ought to be reserved for a union between one man and one woman. That's his view -- has long been his view. I haven't gone deeper into the moral philosophy behind it. And marriage as an institution is one that brings people together, and thus is something that does strengthen the tradition of family life in this country.
Q Does that mean the President would not --
Q -- the anti-abortion Democrats who want to put that in the party plank -- change the party plank?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything to add to what this spokesperson for the party said, or our campaign spokesman. They both sort of indicated that they are in the platform process, we would welcome contributions from people who would like to make the argument for that. I believe it is safe to say the Democratic Party will remain a party that advocates choice for women. But we also respect, on this very hard-to-resolve moral issue, we respect those that have different opinions.
Q Mike, is your view of this, the President's view of this mean that there will be no kind of legal recognition of same-sex relationships that he would find acceptable, the word marriage aside, or is it simply the concept of marriage with all the religious and moral overtones that it's always had that makes him believe that it can't be done?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, marriage is a union sanctioned under state laws. That's why we're dealing with the question of Hawaii and others. And the President believes that that sanction by the state ought to be reserved for unions between male and female.
Q Mike, yesterday when you were asked about this, when you were asked why he opposes same-sex marriages, said that you think we ought to be doing things to strengthen the family, thus implying same-sex marriage weakens the family. As you undoubtedly know, some gay rights activists took extreme umbrage at those remarks. Would you care to clarify them?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I dispute the question. I think a lot of people called this for what it is -- it was an attempt to try to divide Americans on the controversial issue. That's what this is, and that's what I saw spokespeople for the gay and lesbian community correctly say this is an issue that is just designed to provoke hostility towards gays and lesbians, and the President believes that's about right.
Q But you're siding with the other side; you're siding with the side that is --
MR. MCCURRY: The President has a strong belief on this, and that's his belief.
Q What about the extension of rights that typically accrue to married couples, such as health care benefits, Social Security benefits --
Q Hospital visiting rights --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to go -- there are a lot of things that you get into in the whole question of domestic partnerships and what spousal rights people might have. That's basically not much of an issue at a time when we're having trouble protecting those benefits that already exist. But the President, consistent with the view that he is against same-sex marriage sees no opportunity here to expand federal benefits as they relate to spousal coverage. It would be contrary to his view that you -- contrary to his view against same-sex marriage.
Q So he doesn't have, for example, any plans under consideration to sign various executive orders granting rights to gays, for example, for hospital rights --
MR. MCCURRY: I've heard of no such plans.
Q Do you know what was behind that executive order the President put out today ending a status of combatant zones around Vietnam?
MR. MCCURRY: We did, and we caught that, too -- (laughter) -- it struck us as we were trying to figure out what that is. We are trying to check that.
Q The Vietnam War is over.
MR. MCCURRY: The war is over. It is no longer a combat zone, as near as I can tell.
Q Is there a legal reason, Mike, to bring that up?
MR. MCCURRY: That's why we're trying to find out now.
Q Is the President -- your previous remarks on same-sex marriage seem to suggest the President opposes the concept o a domestic partnership law on the federal law. Is that a correct --
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes that, as they are now, that those are best left to state and local governments.
Q Mike, to change the subject -- the corporate responsibility conference on Thursday, is the President going to speak, is he going to be putting out any policy statements or will --
MR. MCCURRY: One of those exciting events where we really talk about the things that we can do to prepare for the challenges we face in the workplace of the 21st century? Yes, it will be that kind of event.
Q Will you be able to work in anything about the important work of the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission?
MR. MCCURRY: We probably could. There are five areas they're going to be looking at at this conference on Friday: How to create more family-friendly work places; second, how to enhance the health and retirement security of the American work force; third, how to make work places more safe and secure; fourth, how employers can invest in their workers to contribute to their future productivity, raise their skills and training levels, because that is one way in which we know you can raise their incomes, which is one of our key strategies as we think ahead to the future; and then, lastly, how we can encourage more partnership between employees and employers as they address issues together.
Now, in that -- there are going to be two panels you've seen I think reported in various places. The first panel is on family-friendly workplaces. The second panel on investment and partnerships, education and training. We've got a variety of people from the private sector who have done that kind of work for their employees, who will be represented. And in the session the President is expected to sort of point out ways in which we can use -- in which individual private sector employers have done a good job of enhancing and nurturing the work place skills and environment of their work force and point to the need to do more of that as we prepare our growing economy for the 21st century.
Q Is Reich going to participate in this?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got a large group that will be participating. We've got at -- by the way, just a little on the schedule, there's a working breakfast at 8:30 a.m. A lot of members of the President's economic team, from the National Economic Council will be present; a lot of the Cabinet secretaries will be there. I don't have a complete list yet, but I would suspect the Secretary of Labor would be there. And then after the breakfast here at the White House they go up to Georgetown for the two panel discussions beginning at around 11:00 a.m..
Q Will CEO's salaries be discussed?
MR. MCCURRY: It could very well. It could very well be discussed. I don't see that on the agenda that I just outlined for you, but it might come up.
Q Is Mitsubishi on the invitation list?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't see them listed.
All right. Thank you, everyone.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:19 P.M. EDT