THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: All right, ladies and gentlemen, this is the White House, this is our daily briefing. This is Monday, all the news has been made.
Q What does the Clinton administration think of Iraq's willingness to start selling oil under terms that the U.N. has accepted?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I have a statement on that matter. Iraq's agreement to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 986 is long overdue. It represents an important victory in the Security Council's efforts since 1991 to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. Iraq's belated decision to implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 986 demonstrates once again they will act in accordance with the requirements established by the Security Council only when the Council stands firm in refusing to negotiate lesser terms. It validates the longstanding view of the United States that there can be no discussion or modification to the overall sanctions regime until Iraq has met fully all of its obligations to the United Nations and makes clear that Iraq's current leadership has been and remains responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people.
Ambassador Albright has commented a short while ago on the negotiations that led to the agreement that was announced by the Secretary General today. It has long been the United States' view that the people suffering in Iraq at the hands of the Saddam Hussein regime ought to have access to the proceeds from these limited sales and that that revenue stream ought to go to their humanitarian needs, not to rebuild Saddam Hussein's palaces.
Q Are we comfortable with the provisions that were made to safeguard -- I just wondered if we're satisfied with the provisions that may exist to make sure the money goes where it's supposed to go.
MR. MCCURRY: The United States and the United Kingdom both have very strong views on that. As Ambassador Albright said a short while ago, we're satisfied that the proceeds from these sales will be directed to the people who are suffering, particularly the Shiia in the marsh and the Kurds in Northern Iraq.
Q What effect do you think this will have on gas prices and the push to repeal the gas tax?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not in a position to speculate on which market reaction will be. The market has known for some time that these sales have been contemplated, and whether or not any price fluctuations have been absorbed by the market is something that, frankly, only the market knows.
Q Does the Clinton administration ever see the day when relations between the U.S. and Iraq can be restored, normalized, as long as Saddam Hussein is in power?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it has consistently been the view of the United States that Iraq must fully comply with all of the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions, and it's the belief of our government that if that government does comply with all the resolutions that would be incompatible with Saddam Hussein's continued tenure in office.
Q Mike, on MFN, does the administration, has it sent the formal request to the Hill? Does the time clock start today, or will that come later?
MR. MCCURRY: The President plans to send the formal letter to Congress extending regular trade arrangements with China on June 3rd. Congress would then have 60 days to consider that decision. But within that period, within one month, the current provisions under the Jackson-Vanik Amendment would expire. That's how we got -- some of us got tripped earlier today on whether it was a month or 60 days. In fact, there is a 60-day review but it, for all practical purposes, it needs to be done within 30 days because that's when the provisions expire under the Jackson-Vanik Amendment.
Q Mike, does it require a positive vote from Congress, or if they do nothing just MFN is renewed?
MR. MCCURRY: I think they have to act --
Q To disapprove.
MR. MCCURRY: They have to pass a joint resolution of disapproval.
Q And then he can veto?
MR. MCCURRY: If they don't, then the decision stands.
Q So does that mean that in the future, because Jackson-Vanik will expire, there won't be any more annual MFN renewal debates?
MR. MCCURRY: Looking to the ever-able and capable David Johnson who always has answers to questions like that on the tip of his tongue, and he says, don't speculate. We'll have to check.
Q Will Senator Dole's imminent departure from the Senate jeopardize MFN?
MR. MCCURRY: It's difficult to assess. Senator Dole is supportive of the President's position, as you know, and as he stated in his speech recently. We have pledged to work with him to achieve approval of the President's decision. I'm sure that he will continue to be an influential voice in the debate on policy towards Asia and policy towards China in particular, and the President will welcome his continued support.
Q Was China officially informed, or did we inform China with the speech today?
MR. MCCURRY: That's kind of a State Department question. Do you know whether we -- it has been part of our dialogue with China that the President's intentions on extending regular trading arrangements -- that was known to the Chinese. Whether or not we have formally communicated that via our embassy in Beijing is something I can check on, or you might want to call over to State and see if they know.
Q Last week, after Bob Dole announced his withdrawal from the Senate you said that -- the White House said that it is hoped that the next month would lead to maybe some breakthroughs on some of the stalemated issues. Can you give us a sense of what kind of discussions are going on between the White House and the Hill, whether the President has gotten involved personally on any level and kind of where we are?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has had some conversations related to the subject we were just addressing, which is Most Favored Nation status for China. He remains available to talk about balancing the budget or reforming welfare as we know it, or achieving passage of the Kassebaum-Kennedy health care bill that would expand health care coverage, or raising the minimum wage -- all things that we believe there is bipartisan consensus in the Congress to do and to do now.
We have regular contacts back and forth through our Legislative Affairs shop to get a better sense of what the Senate and the House schedules will be and what measures they are taking up and, of course, we are available at a moment's notice to address those matters.
Q That's kind of passive. Is the White House taking any kind of proactive -- did the President, following his first conversation with Senator Dole, call him back and say, okay, let's go for it?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. He has not had a subsequent conversation. He would be willing to if it looked like there was any reason to believe that that would be fruitful. As I indicated before, coming off the President's discussion with Senator Dole, the President's belief is it would be possible to pass the Kassebaum-Kennedy health care bill and to raise the minimum wage and to do that rather expeditiously. But, ultimately, that's going to be a question of timing decided by the Republican leaders in the Congress.
Q What's your understanding of what Gerry Adams has said about some nonviolent steps or agreeing to consider --
MR. MCCURRY: Anything new today, or is this in general?
Q There's been a statement today that the IRA would agree to consider nonviolent something or other, and I couldn't make heads or tails --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check on that. There have been discussions back and forth. We remain in contact with the parties. A lot of discussion back and forth following Prime Minister Major's article which appeared last week in the Irish Times. It continues to be our belief that Sinn Fein ought to press the IRA for an immediate resumption of the cease-fire, and it continues to be our belief that the June 10th all-party talks are a valuable opportunity for the parties to address the concerns that they have as they attempt to bring the conflict to a permanent end. And that is, suffice to say, something we communicated regularly to the parties.
Q As far as you know, Gerry Adams hasn't directly communicated this to the administration, whatever his statement is today?
MR. MCCURRY: Let us check on if there's something -- that's something I hadn't heard about today.
Q This is a foreign policy week around here. Can we expect any new initiatives or new themes on foreign
policy, or are his speeches this week basically restatements of existing policy?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President will, in his graduation remarks to the Coast Guard Academy, make a broad defense of the need for American leadership in this world and the continued cased for America's engagement around the globe in places where U.S. diplomacy can make a difference. He'll have some new formulations, if not necessarily new initiatives that will be in the speech. But I can do more on that for you tomorrow.
Q Does the President believe the notion that the need for American leadership around the globe is under assault?
MR. MCCURRY: He believes, Brit, that there is a debate within our Congress on pulling back from some of America's historic engagement around this world. There are calls for retrenchment, for pulling back from some of the standard means by which the United States advances its economic and security interests in the world. And the President strongly and firmly rejects those calls for isolationism.
Q From which quarter in the Congress does he perceive these coming? Not the majority --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, not from the -- I would not say from the Republican majority. By and large, on questions of the importance of U.S. engagement in this world, Senator Dole, certainly, and President Clinton are very much of like mind that there needs to be active U.S. engagement as we advance our economic, security, political, and geopolitical interests.
Q Mike, there has been some criticism that the level of the defense budget is not enough to cover the two mid-sized conflicts which have been part of American doctrine for some time. Did President Clinton say anything about that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have strong views on the defense authorization bill that is moving its way through Congress. It has been debated in the House recently. We believe that the budget that we presented in our FY'97 request is sufficient to protect America's interests in this world to deal with the contingencies that the Pentagon has planned for -- all part of its bottom-up review and looking forward in what we perceive to be the threats that will arise for the balance of this century.
It is a prudent budget. It puts investments in technologies in weapon system that we believe our going to be an important part of meeting our security needs for the balance of this century, and it does not spend a lot of money up front for technologies that might not prove useful when threats emerge into the next century.
So we have strong views on the bill. We have communicated them in the course of the House debate, and we look forward to seeing if we can get some of these concerns addressed as the bill moves forward.
Q I just wondered, since he's going to answer the criticisms of those who feel that we need to retrench, would he also be answering the criticisms in this speech of those who feel that we've already had a de facto retrenchment by limitations on spending for defense?
MR. MCCURRY: Some of those concerns he will address, and there will be a vigorous debate in the Congress this week on measures like national ballistic missile defense. I expect you will hear the President address those matters often because he is determined to make a strong case for the defense budget that we submitted.
Q Mike, previous to Senator Dole's speech on Cuba yesterday, does the White House feel they were in sync, Dole and Bill Clinton, on what to do about the -- previous to the speech?
MR. MCCURRY: We still are awaiting some type of clarification of what the Senator meant in his speech. It's not clear whether he was calling for armed invasion of Cuba, or whether he was supporting the Helms-Burton approach to isolating Cuba. We'll just have to wait --
Q What do you suspect, Michael? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect it was a good, red-meat speech to an audience in Florida, and that a lot of that hadn't been thought through. (Laughter.)
Q The U.S. Supreme Court this morning ruled that in the Colorado -- case that you can't single out one group of people, gays, and remove them from equal protection under the law. I'm wondering if that decision might change where Clinton stands now and his willingness to sign the defense of marriage act.
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes the day's decision was appropriate. The Colorado law denied a group of citizens the right to participate effectively in the political process in Colorado, and the President believes that's bad public policy. It's also inconsistent with our common values and principles that make our nation strong, and it does not change his view on that other particular piece of legislation.
Q What is, exactly, his view of that piece of legislation which you've never --
MR. MCCURRY: We haven't changed our current posture. We are analyzing that legislation.
Q But he doesn't have --
MR. MCCURRY: And it hasn't passed yet.
Q -- a view on it yet?
MR. MCCURRY: We have not expressed a view on that legislation.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Can we stay on that subject for a second? How does that square with the President's opposition then to same-sex marriage?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a different issue. That's an issue that goes to the President's personal beliefs about marriage and what marriage should be as an institution in our family life. This is a very particular opinion by the Court which our legal counsel is still looking at that addresses the rights of individual groups of Americans to have redress in our political system.
Q Well, I understand that, but this group of Americans has decided that they have the right to have a same-sex marriage. I mean, I don't understand how then the President --
MR. MCCURRY: The issue before the Court in the decision today was what rights they have in Colorado to have access to the legislative process, and that was what the Court looked at and examined and ruled on, as you can see from the majority opinion.
Q Mike, from the point of view of the President personally, is he disturbed that his, as an anticrime President, that his top strategist was giving advice, strategic advice, to a fugitive rapist? And has he said anything about that to Dick Morris?
MR. MCCURRY: You're referring to the -- there is a case in Connecticut where Mr. Morris has been -- was retained by the defense attorney to provide expert testimony as to venue and whether or not prejudicial publicity had made the venue at hand less than equitable for the defendant. That is a case that goes back, has been well publicized throughout most of last year, and the President was aware of his work in the past on that case.
Q And he is not disturbed by it?
MR. MCCURRY: The President was aware that he had worked on this case. The President is confident that Mr. Morris is working full-time for him now.
Q But, Mike, is the President -- he was aware prior to it, and agreed that he could continue to do it?
MR. MCCURRY: He was aware -- we were aware at the time that this matter became public in the course of a lot of publicity around the case in Connecticut last year. That's how I think we became aware that he had been retained by the defense attorney. We were aware of it, and to my knowledge, the President didn't express an opinion about it.
Q He's not worried about guilt by association?
MR. MCCURRY: We're always worried that people will make inaccurate and intemperate accusations, and we just hope that the truth of the situation becomes clear.
Q The President's view is that he's no longer involved in the case and that the matter is closed, is that right?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check. To my knowledge, he is not actively working on the case now. He did, essentially, a poll -- I'll have to check and see when, I'm not sure I know exactly when it was conducted, but it was in response to the choice of the venue.
Q But, Mike, he testified in court in March, and what I'm trying to get is some sense of whether the President is in any way disturbed by that fact, or whether he said anything to Mr. Morris about it.
MR. MCCURRY: The President expects him to work full-time as a consultant to his campaign, and we were aware of his work on this case.
Q Did he expect to be working full-time in March?
MR. MCCURRY: He was asked to go back and testify pursuant to the poll he had taken.
Q How does that square with full-time?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check with -- it was apparently a one-day appearance in court.
Q Michael, isn't a change of venue for defense in defense cases part of what he does? Isn't that his business? It's not just this case, he's had several others where he helps defendants in very serious violent crimes?
MR. MCCURRY: This is -- one of his lines of business is to provide venue recommendations. He worked for the Attorney General of Mississippi, too, I believe, in getting venue recommendations on the case that they've got relating to tobacco claims under Medicare. So he does this type of work.
Q Does the President feel that he may continue to carry out this line of business while working for the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Our understanding and his representations to us is that he's not pursuing that type of work during the course of the election year.
Q His activities are suspended pending the election, is that right?
MR. MCCURRY: What?
Q It's the White House's understanding is that such activities are suspended pending the election?
MR. MCCURRY: It's our understanding that he's not pursuing that type of client. What I need for you to do is to go back and talk to Joe Lockhart over at the campaign; they've been dealing with this issue over the last couple of days, and I think they've got a statement from Mr. Morris that's available and some other background information.
Q Did the President or anybody in the White House specifically go to Morris and say knock it off until after the election?
MR. MCCURRY: It was made clear to Mr. Morris that we needed his services devoted to the President's reelection campaign during the course of the year> But I don't believe it was an issue because I believe that's what Mr. Morris volunteered to do.
Q But was it put that delicately -- you know, we need your help, so please refrain from working -- or, did they say, don't take these controversial cases?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know, I wasn't a participant in the conversation.
Q Getting back to the defense of marriage act just for a second, you said the President will continue to act on his personal beliefs. Is he going to do that even though the Supreme Court ruled that you can't separate gay people out and deny them equal protection?
MR. MCCURRY: Our counsel is looking at the case to see if that's, in fact, what the court ruled. There will be different interpretations of the court's opinion, and I'll rely on the one that's provided to me by the legal counsel.
Q Is he going to rely on a legal opinion then, or an interpretation of the Supreme Court, or his personal beliefs?
MR. MCCURRY: As we very often do, we will rely on the judgment of the White House legal counsel as they look at an opinion of the court.
Q Anything more on the Admiral Boorda case, and is there a search underway now for a new CNO? Has that started?
MR. MCCURRY: There are discussions underway about replacement for Admiral Boorda. Secretary Perry indicated that would be a recommendation coming to the President in a matter of days as opposed to weeks. And the President will review the recommendation when it comes.
Q That hasn't happened yet?
MR. MCCURRY: Has not happened yet to my knowledge.
Q Also on that, following his visit with the family over the weekend and perhaps talks with other people, has the President been able to make any sense of what happened?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President has thought about it a lot, but I think that is best kept private.
Q What is your understanding of what his role is going to be tomorrow at the service?
MR. MCCURRY: He is delivering one of the eulogies -- is that correct? Yes.
Q Does he think that the attacks by James Webb and others had a lot to -- had anything to do with the --
MR. MCCURRY: Helen, there are any number of things that he could think about this, but I think, in respect to Admiral Boorda and to the family, he'd just prefer to keep it private.
Q Could you -- just to clarify the Dick Morrison -- when you say your understanding is that he's not pursuing that type of client, are you making a difference between adding new clients to his roster and finishing work that he already --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think he had one or two political clients that he was going -- he had previous arrangements with that he was going to pursue this year, but other than that, he was devoting full-time to the campaign. But, again, I ask that you check with Joe Lockhart over at the campaign on that.
Q On this report of the 1994 assassination idea, at least, by -- Yusef, can the White House add anything more? Was it aware that this was actually going on?
MR. MCCURRY: Jill, that's a case they're currently selecting a jury for, and because the case is ongoing I'd prefer not to comment on it.
Q I wanted to ask about land mines. What plans do you have to circumvent the law which the President signed into effect last February prohibiting the use of land mines, calling for a moratorium on land mines in 1999?
MR. MCCURRY: You're referring to the Leahy Amendment.
Q I am.
MR. MCCURRY: The President is encouraged by the decision of the Pentagon to explore alternative technologies to do some R&D on land mines that would make it possible to find other ways to protect American fighting men and women as they're deployed. Now, at the same time, we will be vigorously pursuing an international agreement that would ban all antipersonnel land mines. And we think we can do that -- we believe we can get that done by the end of this century.
The view of a lot of experts is that the United States is in a stronger position to negotiate a ban on that type of mine in consultation with other governments, and that you might, in fact, lose a little bit of bargaining leverage taking a unilateral step prior to the commencement of an international dialogue. Still, you also would not be in a position to respond the placement or decision by other governments to continue the use of that type of land mine absent any international agreement.
Q Mike, one of the chief producers --
MR. MCCURRY: By the way, the most significant thing about the President's announcement last week is the banning of so-called dumb land mines. Those are the ones that are blowing off the legs of children in Cambodia and Afghanistan and elsewhere. And we have unilaterally renounced the use of those land mines, even though that requires some change of training, logistics and planning on the part of our own Pentagon.
Q Mike, one of the chief producers is China. Will there be some discussion in the future with China about land mines?
MR. MCCURRY: This is an issue that we have had discussions with the People's Republic on in the past, and that will be part of the dialogue that we pursue. The venue for that dialogue is still uncertain, whether it's a conference on disarmament or some others. But the President is going to very vigorously and very aggressively pursue a ban of all types of land mines. We've already implemented the unilateral ban on so-called dumb land mines, and the only ones that we will keep in our arsenal are those necessary with the exception of Korea -- and the training requirements of the Pentagon are those that are self-deactivating.
Q Mike, haven't we already stopped producing dumb mines? That's not a -- that's not since --
MR. MCCURRY: We have stopped producing them, but we had 4 million of them in our inventory -- or more than 4 million in our inventory.
Q And are those going to be what, they're going to be destroyed --
MR. MCCURRY: They are going to be destroyed or deactivated with the two exceptions noted by the President. And that is -- look, that's significant. Those are the ones that lie there hidden underground that are going to pose threats to civilians. The kind that we will keep in our inventory are ones that are designed to in a very short period of time, frankly, in a matter of days, to self-deactivate. And even if there's a dud, it goes dead in a very short period, I think less than three months.
And that is in the interim until we get a complete ban as a way to ensure that the President, as Commander-in-Chief, lives up to his responsibilities to the people we put in harm's way, in addition to doing something about what is obviously the humanitarian concern we feel for civilians who would otherwise face that type of danger.
Q Mike, back on MFN. What's your read on the Hill? Do you face any likelihood that they will be able to override this?
MR. MCCURRY: It's going to be a tough fight. That's why the President is getting started a little bit early in a sense by giving the speech today.
Q Do you feel it's necessary to enlist the support of folks like George Bush, Jim Baker, others that you have used on NAFTA, GATT, and other --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll be looking for -- I don't know that I want to single out anyone in particular, but we will be looking for support from those who understand the importance of our engagement with the People's Republic.
Q But you don't need more than one-third of one House to protect that, right?
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct.
Q Well, you can't really be too worried about that, are you?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are worried enough that we are not taking anything for granted.
Q Mike, back to the UN-Iraq deal. Will U.S. companies be allowed to sell food and buy oil from Iraq?
MR. MCCURRY: That is -- once the agreement is reached and the statement issued by the Security Council, individual member nations are going to have to develop their own response to the decision of the Security Council. To my knowledge, we have not addressed that question yet. So that will -- that's one of the details we will have to work out.
Q You mean it's a possibility the United States will be selling products to Iraq?
MR. MCCURRY: Not the United States. The issue is whether U.S. enterprises, private sector interests, would be allowed to participate, and we don't know the answer to that.
Q When and if Senator Dole keeps talking about liberal decisions by Clinton-appointed judges, will you, in light of today's Supreme Court pro-gay rights decision, point to that as an example of Republican-appointed conservative judges making liberal decisions?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Probably not -- I should say, probably not.
Q Mike, just one last thing to clarify on Dick Morris. The President knew of this representation and raised no objections?
MR. MCCURRY: That would be accurate. This has been a case that has very much been in the public's eye, since -- my first knowledge of it came last summer, I believe, when it was first discussed publicly in Connecticut.
Q On same-sex marriage, when do you expect to have a position on the legislation? It doesn't seem to be a particularly complex kind of issue.
MR. MCCURRY: When one is developed and when one is looked at. It's also not clear what the prognosis for the legislation is and what form it will take as it's being considered on the Hill.
Q Senator Hatch left the White House saying he's going to fight you on the Iraqi decision, saying this is only going to strengthen a terrorist regime in Baghdad, a repressive, terrorist regime in Baghdad.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, then, that's a very damaging charge for him to raise against former President Bush. He was the one that was President when this Security Council resolution was adopted by the United Nations, so his quarrel is with President Bush, not with President Clinton.
Q Since then, there has been no change in the U.S. conditions?
MR. MCCURRY: It's long been our view that humanitarian sales as allowed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 986 should proceed for the sake of the Kurds, the marsh Shiia, those who are suffering under Saddam Hussein's regime. And this President, this administration's responsibility was to ensure that we negotiated the proper memorandum of understanding so that the proceeds from those sales would go into the humanitarian efforts, the food, the medicine, the humanitarian relief the people of Iraq need.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:43 P.M. EDT