THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY; BOB BELL, SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR DEFENSE AND ARMS CONTROL POLICY AT NSC; AND STEVE PIFER, DIRECTOR FOR RUSSIAN AND EURASIAN AFFAIRS AT NSC
The Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. The world is a safer place as a result of the last 72 hours of U.S. diplomacy and success in U.S. foreign policy. For over two years the United States has worked with 30 other nations -- 29 other nations -- to, within the context of the existing CFE Treaty that protects the security of Europe in the post-Cold War era, design some ways in which, consistent with security interests of those nations, the Russian Federation can redeploy in the area of the so-called flanks. That issue was successfully resolved this week, a very important development for the future of Europe.
Secondly, next to Russia and the United States, Ukraine was the nation that had the greatest number of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons on the face of this Earth, and they now have zero. A very important development as we denuclearize in this post-Cold War era.
And lastly, you all probably know, this morning Secretary of State Christopher at the meeting of the North Atlantic Council Foreign Ministers in Berlin has set forward procedures by which Europe can take greater responsibilities for its own security and defense, establishing a European security and defense identity within NATO, separable but not separate, as we like to say.
Each of these developments, I think, will make -- certainly make Europe closer and safer, and it preserves the very fundamental interests the United States has in a strong transatlantic alliance. Meanwhile, the world itself, as a result of the enormous and impressive changes the last years, has become a safer place.
To talk about that today, to force-feed this good news to you, whether you want it or not, Bob Bell, who is the Senior Director for Defense and Arms Control Policy at the NSC, would like to talk briefly about the CFE flank limits negotiation and the successful resolution over the weekend. And Steve Pifer, who is the NSC Director for Russia and Eurasian Affairs, and was also a negotiator on the agreement that resulted in the denuclearization of Ukraine, is here to talk a little bit about Ukraine denuclearization.
Bob, Steve, welcome here. We'll start with Bob.
MR. BELL: Thank you, Mike. Good afternoon.
In a written statement released on Saturday, the President welcomed the agreement that was reached in Vienna that morning which resolves the CFE flank problem and thereby preserves the CFE Treaty as a key element of a new, more stable Europe.
The President noted that CFE has resulted in the elimination of over 50,000 pieces of military equipment, including tanks, artillery pieces, armored combat vehicles, fighter aircraft, and attack helicopters, and has put in place a system of greater transparency and inspections and confidence-building among these states.
We agree with the statement that was released in Ankara by the Turkish foreign ministry over the weekend that said -- and I'm quoting that statement -- "This understanding proves that issues concerning European security can be resolved by means of joint decisions to be reached by all the relevant countries rather than through unilateral moves."
The flank agreement consists of four parts: first, a map realignment which reduces the area of the original CFE flank zone; second, new constraints that will limit the amount of equipment Russia and Ukraine can deploy in the areas of both countries being removed from the original flank zone; and third, increased inspection requirements in these areas; and last, increased notifications concerning the equipment in these areas.
The agreement does not change the treaty per se -- it's not an amendment to the treaty -- nor does it change the ceilings that were established for the flank in the original treaty as they will now apply to this new, somewhat smaller flank area.
In meeting these limits, Russia may obtain assistance from countries willing to grant them equipment entitlements that are currently assigned to them, but only if they willingly agree. There is nothing in this agreement that requires that any state transfer such increased flexibility to Russia.
If Russia, in the end, should not gain increased flexibility through decisions of these other states, it will have to reduce its equipment holdings in the new flank area by 215 tanks, 2,000 armored combat vehicles, and 255 artillery pieces. To the extent that these countries should choose to grant Russia some entitlements that they currently enjoy, these reductions would be proportionately smaller.
And now I'll turn to Steve Pifer.
MR. PIFER: Thank you, Bob.
Saturday was a doubly good day for arms control and American security policy. As you saw, the President released a statement in which he noted that the last nuclear weapons were removed by Ukraine. They have gone back to Russia where they will be dismantled. This is a milestone both for our effort to enhance global security and to reduce the nuclear threat and also to promote nuclear nonproliferation.
Just by way of background, when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, there were well over 4,000 nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The Ukrainians and the Russians reached an agreement that provided for the removal of the tactical nuclear weapons by the end of 1992. But in 1993 there were still 1,900 strategic nuclear weapons, most on systems targeted at the United States. That would have given Ukraine easily the third largest nuclear arsenal, as much as Britain, France and China combined.
In 1993, the talks between Moscow and Kiev, as I said, were at a standstill. The United States began to engage with both capitals in the fall of 1993. This included direct involvement by both the President and the Vice President. And these talks culminated successfully in January 1994 when in Moscow President Clinton, President Yeltsin and then-President Kravchuk of Ukraine signed the trilateral statement.
That statement had four basic provisions: One, the removal of nuclear weapons from Ukraine, which has now been accomplished. Two, the provision by Russia to Ukraine of compensation for the nuclear material in those warheads, and that is an ongoing process. Three, the provision by the United States, Britain and Russia of security assurances to Ukraine, and that was done in December of 1994. And, finally, the provision by the United States of cooperative threat reduction assistance, also known as Nunn-Lugar assistance, to Ukraine. That was key both in terms of getting the trilateral statement done and it's also been key in implementing the program.
Finally, I just might note that in addition to issuing the statement on Saturday, the President also wrote President Kuchma directly. He wanted to do things: first, to congratulate Ukraine on achieving this milestone; but, second, also to underscore the fact that the United States continues to attach great importance to a broad and robust relationship with the Ukraine.
Q A couple of questions. On CFE, how does the new agreement mesh with Russia's desire for flexibility in places like Chechnya, and do they have more or less flexibility? And on the Ukraine, the same agreement as I remember also called for removal of nuclear weapons from Kazakhstan and Belarus -- if we can get a status report on those?
MR. BELL: Well, this agreement does not change the flank limits as they apply or relate to Chechnya. As I said, the numbers in the treaty are unchanged. Chechnya before was in the flank; as a result of this agreement, Chechnya remains in the flank.
This agreement was about something else, which was that since the end of the Cold War you have a treaty that when it was concluded reflected Soviet forces as far west as Eastern Germany. And since then, of course, we've seen the complete withdrawal of Soviet -- now Russian -- forces from not only Eastern Germany, but Eastern and Central Europe. And as this mass of equipment has come back to Russia, it has spilled over into the flank areas.
So the issue was were we going to keep the treaty as it was originally and force them to relocate all of that equipment into the center of Western Russia, or were we going to take account of this change in the strategic situation over the last five years and allow them modestly higher levels to the north and south. But that goes geographically well beyond the immediate question of the Chechnya region.
Q Does it give them, effectively, more latitude with regard to Chechnya, in terms of these entitlements that you describe? Suppose Moscow gets some of Belarus's entitlements, wouldn't that, in practical terms, allow them to move more military hardware into Chechnya?
MR. BELL: Well, the amount of treaty-limited equipment that Russia has had in Chechnya -- tanks, artillery pieces, and armored combat vehicles, which are the three categories that apply on the flank -- that number has always been well below the numbers permitted in the treaty. In other words, even up to now, Russia has never chosen to concentrate its full flank entitlement in Chechnya. What this really does is allow them to have forces throughout the region of the North and South Caucasus and, to the north, the region around Leningrad, in higher numbers than was the case under the original 1991 treaty.
Q What happens if Yeltsin's opponent wins and has an expansionist policy?
MR. BELL: Well, one reason that we're particularly pleased to get this agreement in Vienna over the weekend is that the agreement is now binding. In our case it will require congressional approval, and we'll be consulting with Congress on the road ahead, but the agreement was adopted by the 30 nations in Vienna on Saturday and will give us about nine months to secure legislative approval in all capitals where that's required. And then in December the states will confirm that that step has been taken, and the treaty then goes forward on a permanent fashion.
Q It's binding pending approval of legislatures?
MR. BELL: Yes.
Q Can we get the -- on Kazakhstan and Belarus?
MR. PIFER: Yes, on the question, the trilateral statement that President Clinton signed in January 1994 was between the United States, Russia, and Ukraine. Separately, Russia and Kazakhstan worked out arrangements for the transfer back to Russia of all nuclear weapons in Kazakhstan and that was accomplished in December of 1995.
There's also been a similar negotiation between Russia and Belarus. This has not required American involvement. There are still a very small number of strategic weapons in Belarus, but the agreement is that they will be withdrawn sometime in 1996. And we're confident that deadline will be met. So by the end of this year, all of the former Soviet nuclear weapons will be located only in Russia.
Q Do you feel confident that, if there is a Communist government in Russia, that they will go through with these types of agreements, especially this one? And any concern about the candidates' positions on arms control issues?
MR. BELL: Well, the value of treaties is not that there's a perfect guarantee that a new regime, if one occurs, will respect it, but that it certainly increases the threshold for that regime were it to choose to disregard it. And we've seen the treaties have been effectively held in place through lots of changes, including in the case of the START treaties and the CFE Treaty itself and the INF Treaty, these phenomenal changes in the Soviet Union and Russia.
Q It looks like they're going to have a good six or eight months to reconsider whether they want to sign the treaty, so it's a little bit premature to say they'll held to the terms of it.
MR. BELL: It's not a provision for reconsideration.
Q I mean, if they don't sign it -- what if Russia's -- Yeltsin's successor chooses not to sign it in the next nine months?
MR. BELL: Well, the agreement was approved on Saturday. There are certain states that will have to get legislative action before they can confirm that we're depositing our notification of adherence to this agreement. It's a unique situation we faced in the United States because when the Senate gave its advise and consent to this treaty it noted at that time that if the map changed, Senate approval would be required. But there are not many countries, according to our count, that will require action by their legislation, including, it appears, not the Duma. So this is simply a provision to meet our own constitutional requirement here to obtain congressional approval to this map change before we can permanently bind ourself to the provision.
Q There's some question about whether the bill now has to approve this?
MR. BELL: I don't know that they've made a decision. As I said at the outset, this is not an amendment to the treaty. We negotiated this for two years intentionally to avoid it being an amendment to the treaty, which would have then forced it back into the parliaments of all 30 states. But it's up to the Russia government to decide what their requirements are vis-a-vis the Duma.
Q There's three things that have happened here that give Russians sort of more sense of security -- the CFE flank limits are more flexible; NATO has shifted its focus from Russia to hotspots in Europe; and, of course, the Ukraine shift of the final nuclear weapons from the Ukraine to Russia. What effect do you think these efforts on an international level will have on the Yeltsin election prospects?
MR. PIFER: That's a hard one to call. I suspect that, as in most countries, the election campaign and the election vote on June 16th will be decided more on domestic issues rather than international issues. But, I mean, certainly to the extent that this enhances security from the Russian perspective, that's probably useful for the Russia government.
Q Was there any coordination on any of these issues to achieve these goals before the election?
MR. PIFER: No. The timing of the trilateral statement was fixed more than two years ago.
Q But NATO happened today.
MR. PIFER: The NAC ministerial was fixed, what, six months ago. And I think as you'll see from the communique that comes out of the NAC ministerial, they talk about processes that, in fact, have been going on for some time.
Q And does this end all the negotiations in the former Soviet Union in terms of nuclear --
MR. PIFER: In terms of -- with regards to returning the nuclear weapons, once that's accomplished from Belarus, then all the nuclear weapons are in Russia. Then I think the focus on nuclear arms control is START II and getting that ratified by the Russian Duma.
MR. MCCURRY: Thanks, guys.
Thank you to my colleagues. Let me run through some --I'm just going to announce some travel dates to get them on the record. I think some of these have been talked to before. And I think this covers our projected travel now, as we know it, through June with the -- I'm not going to reannounce the trip overseas that you know about at the end of the month.
June 9th, the President will leave for stops in Las Vegas, San Francisco, and San Diego, where he will be overnight. June 10th he will be in San Diego and Los Angeles; June 11th in Albuquerque. June 21st in Chicago, where he will attend the AFSCME convention, and he will then go on to Texas; June 22nd, Cleveland for the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting. And June 24th he will join the Vice President and Mrs. Gore at their annual family conference down in Nashville.
We will have more details on the itinerary as they are developed.
Q The overnight on the 21st?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, it shows overnight in Texas. I don't know whether -- they probably will, likely, go to Galveston and Houston.
Q But back between then and the Nashville event?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. He goes on the next -- yes, goes on the next day to Cleveland. I believe he returns here before he goes to Nashville.
Q On the 11th, does he return from Chicago?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Mike, is Chicago just a speech?
MR. MCCURRY: Chicago is a speech before AFSCME, yes.
All right. Wolf -- Mr. Blitzer.
Q Senator Dole says that Bill Clinton promises on balancing the budget are like the tape in Mission Impossible, they self-destruct in 10 seconds.
MR. MCCURRY: He has been big on movies recently. You notice that? He was into Twister last week, and now he is in to Mission Impossible. Maybe he is going to help some of those movies get viewers.
Look, this President has been focused on cutting the deficit since the minute he arrived here. He has been doing what Senator Dole today was only talking about. He cut the deficit in half, as he pledged to the American people he would do. He now has a proposal that would balance the federal budget by a date certain. His economic policies have resulted in a net new 8.5 million jobs in this economy, with slow, moderate, successful growth, low unemployment, low inflation. And the economic record of this administration is one that the President fully intends to run on later this fall.
Now, from the Republican opponents, we don't get any new ideas; we get, frankly, and old idea, which is tinkering with the Constitution. The President, as he suggested earlier today, would suggest to the Republicans in Congress, let's just do it. We know what we need to do to balance the budget, we know what the elements of a balanced budget should be, and we could probably do it in 18 hours. It would take usually 18 months to get an amendment ratified by the various states and to go into effect. And in any event would likely end up in the courts. So the President would suggest, why let the courts balance the federal budget when we've got it within the power of the Congress and the President to do it and to do it now.
Q Senator Dole seemed to have some intelligence, implying that the President would unveil some kind of a tax cut package tomorrow. Can you talk about that?
MR. MCCURRY: It's rare that he would have intelligence before we do, but I don't have that intelligence myself. The President will give a speech tomorrow at Princeton, the third in a series of commencement addresses about the future of the economy. In many ways the debate about 21st century America remains about the economy. We now have economic performance of the last three and a half years that we can build upon. And the President intends to suggest tomorrow that one way we can build upon it is to expand college opportunities for the people of America.
And one thing that is clear over and over again with higher education and higher learning goes higher earning. One way that we can now go about the work of raising incomes for the American people is to make sure they have access to college education at the community college level, at the university level, and skills and education.
Q He's not going to have a tax cut tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: If he does it will be news tomorrow.
Q Will it be news to you?
MR. MCCURRY: If he has news to make tomorrow, we'll make it tomorrow.
Q So you're not ruling out that there will be a possible tax cut proposal to service higher education needs?
MR. MCCURRY: Remember, the President already has an important tax proposal related to education, the $10,000 deduction that he's talked about a lot and I'm sure he'll talk about that again tomorrow.
Q But will there be a new initiative tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: There may be some new elements in the speech.
Q Including a possible use of the tax code to promote higher education?
MR. MCCURRY: There may be, but I'm not promising that.
Q Do you have a spy among you?
Q In response to stories that the Medicare trustees are going to say that the Medicare trust fund is in big trouble and that something may need to be done, Republicans are already saying that they were going to look for the President to come up with some new proposals and to change the bill that he has. Should we expect that the President is going to have some new proposals on that based on when the report comes out?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President already has a balanced budget proposal that would extend the solvency of the trust fund. The Republican Congress, as you'll recall, in 1993 took a walk on the President when the President's deficit reduction package extended the solvency of the Medicare trust funds by an additional three years. They weren't around when we did the hard work of extending the solvency of the fund then. The President has a proposal now that would extend the solvency of the fund that really, in terms of how long the fund stretches out, there's no difference in the length of solvency of the fund than the ideas that have been put forward by the Republican Congress.
Q But is he doing to have to fine-tune that because it now appears that there's deeper trouble than when he first made his original proposals?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they will have to watch the performance of the funds and look at out-year anticipated expenditures under the program. But the President has got a series of Medicare savings that are embedded in his FY '97 budget proposal that ought to be passed and passed now. That's one way to ensure an extension of the solvency of the funds.
Q How long would they extend the solvency?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check, Brit. I think -- I believe it was an additional six years, but I need to go back and check with some of our --
Q Even under the revised assumptions under which these --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll have to see what the trustees report on Wednesday.
Q But you will have something to say about that?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, certainly.
Q Has he had even preliminary conversations with any of the trustees about this, given the fact that it looks like there's going to be a pretty big hit?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the solvency of those funds and the performance of paying for Medicare and Medicaid has been something that has been very much on the President's mind as he works through all the budget issues. In fact, there was a large discussion about that in the context of putting together the FY '97 budget proposal.
Q Well, I just want to make it clear -- you're telling us that you're not expecting any new proposals to come out?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any new proposals.
Q Mike, Dole announced that he's proposing a bill tomorrow to speed up NATO expansion by helping, facilitating countries qualified for membership. Would the President sign such a bill?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have got a very carefully drawn work plan for NATO enlargement. That is exactly what the Secretary of State is working on today with his counterparts. It would be -- it would most likely come as very unwelcome news to the foreign ministers gathering in Berlin today to hear any abrupt surprise announcement about a change in U.S. plans as it relates to NATO enlargement.
We have pursued a very careful, measured approach to the question of NATO expansion because, after all, this is a solemn treaty commitment made to any individual what was invited to become a member of this alliance. The responsibilities are reciprocal. NATO is not a country club that you go join some afternoon because you're expected to pledge yourself to the mutual defense of all other participants in the alliance. And, because of that, this administration has been enormously careful about who we work with to provide that invitation and that opportunity.
Now, the plan that has been developed, being discussed in Berlin today is very straightforward. We are briefing individual members who are partners for peace, in the Partnership for Peace program, about the obligations and requirements of NATO membership. We expect to proceed on the calendar that has already been announced, that goes out through '96 and '97, as they look at the question of who might then become potential eligible members for the Alliance.
To move that process any faster, in light of some of the turbulent issues under consideration in Europe would be of very great concern, not only within Central Europe, where most of the potential new members lay, but throughout the rest of Western Europe, as well.
Q Mike, just another question about tax cuts. If the President already has the targeted education tax cut and a whole bunch of other ones that he's supporting, why would you all even be considering offering any more tax cuts at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as I said, the President is interested in expanding college education opportunities for the American people because we know for certain that that correlates with higher income earning potential. We have not stopped looking at ways to do that.
Q Why now? He's always been interested in that. Why now?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are always looking at ways that we can accomplish the President's objectives, and the President has been committed from day one of his term in office to tax relief for middle-income people.
Q But why isn't the $10,000 tax credit that he's already proposed good enough?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is good enough. We wish Congress would pass it. They haven't passed it yet, as you know.
Q That's what I'm --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, among other things, one thing the President's very interested in is how you extend that type of opportunity to, particularly, people focused in on the community college level.
Q But the $10,000 tax cut wasn't good for community colleges?
MR. MCCURRY: It was good -- it was good for expenses -- the deduction itself could be claimed by people who were using, I think, using it for either community college, private, or public university, four-year, or I think also for some skills and learning opportunities that were job related.
Q Would you just clarify what you just said, though? You said he is interested in looking at ways to make it easier for people to go to community colleges. The $10,000 does apply to that.
MR. MCCURRY: It applies to that and the President is always looking for other ways that we might be able to expand that opportunity.
Q Does the fact that the deficit, short-term and mid-term, is coming down beyond previous estimates give the President more latitude to expand tax relief?
MR. MCCURRY: I would put it a different way. It makes it easier to accomplish a fundamental objective that the President has, and he believes a majority in Congress shares with him, which is to achieve a balanced federal budget by a date certain. The tough -- you still have to make some tough choices, and this President has demonstrated a capacity for making those tough choices. You still have to do that, but it becomes somewhat easier to do that in a context of growing economy, larger-than-expected revenues, and a deficit situation that is improving.
Q In other words, whatever the President may propose in terms of new tax initiatives, he would still hew to his pledge to have a balanced budget by 2002 scored by CBO?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is very leery of anyone coming forward saying that we can afford massive tax cuts when they don't indicate how they would pay for such tax cuts. And my understanding is, everything that Senator Dole has always said on the record on this subject puts him in the exact same position.
Q But my question was not about Dole; my question was about Clinton. Does the President stick with his announced commitment, whatever initiatives he may propose, to then still come out with a balanced budget by year 2002 scored by CBO?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has always felt that tax relief ought to be provided within the context of a balanced budget, correct.
Q The Colombian Congress is going to vote this week on the accusations against President Samper of taking drug money for his campaign. The Washington Post had a major story yesterday citing American officials, that various sanctions are being considered in case it exonerates him, such as suspension of visas to government officials of Colombia, taking away preferential tariffs to Colombian products coming to the United States, and cancelling landing rights to Colombian airlines. It says the President will be provided with a menu of possible sanctions.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't want to speculate about things that might be presented to the President. The United States has not officially threatened any sanctions against the government of Colombia. But the counternarcotics certification process itself contemplates possible sanctions as part of the decertification process, and we have held open the possibility that sanctions might be considered at some date. But there is nothing that is currently pending that constitutes an official threat of sanctions.
Q Mike, just trying to follow up on something Mara asked, would any tax proposals that the President might undertake be in the nature of supplemental to what he already has on the table? Does he intend to withdraw anything that he has? Would these be substitutes, alternatives, or supplements?
MR. MCCURRY: If the President makes news tomorrow, he will make it tomorrow.
Q Mike, Newsweek is reporting that the President plans to introduce a constitutional amendment to protect victims' rights. Is there any truth to that report?
Q What was the question?
Q A constitutional amendment to protect victims' rights.
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything to indicate to me that that is true, but I'll check further.
Q Could you check that for us?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check it.
Q How will you get back to us on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll answer the question tomorrow at some point.
Q Mike, can you make any kind of statement about what the President would do with respect to pardoning Susan McDougal, her ex-husband, and Governor Tucker?
MR. MCCURRY: I have heard absolutely nothing that would indicate that idea is being seriously entertained.
Q Well, I know, but can you rule it out? That's the question.
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't even heard anyone suggest that they would request such a pardon.
Q Well, you can't rule it out then?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. McDougal said he might consider doing that at some future date. I'm not even going to speculate on that. That would be as close to being a non-starter as I can imagine. But if something is officially -- a pardon request is officially filed through the Justice Department through a very lengthy consideration, if something came through in that official channel, we would consider it at that time. But there is nothing that even remotely resembles that possibility pending.
Q Is the President questioning the possible scapegoatings of three Air Force officers in connection with Ron Brown's death? Because there have been allegations that Brown wanted to take that trip no matter what and so forth.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there was disciplinary action taken by the Pentagon. The White House was informed of that. The White House -- we're not required to make any action decision related to those disciplinary actions. And I have heard nothing that indicates the President disputes the disciplinary action that the Secretary of Defense took.
Q He has read the report on it, and he agrees?
MR. MCCURRY: He has not -- he was not presented with a report; he was informed of a disciplinary action taken within the Air Force, properly reviewed within the Pentagon and by the Secretary of Defense. And action here at the White House was not required on that. But as I say, I haven't heard anything that indicates that anyone here at the White House disputes the disciplinary action taken.
Q Do you have some details on the Iraqi oil sales yet?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Q What about the Chief of Naval Operations? Can you give
us an idea of where that selection process is?
MR. MCCURRY: The process is underway.
Q Mike, if the President does, in fact, offer some new and expanded tax cut ideas, proposals tomorrow in his speech, you're going to, undoubtedly, be accused by the other party of trying to do some one-upmanship again on Republican policies.
MR. MCCURRY: I think it would be, for that reason alone, a good idea to wait and see whether the President, in fact, does that tomorrow.
Q Mike, a few weeks ago at the corporate citizenship conference, the President did talk about expanding the employer education assistance program, the Section 127 program, which is a tax initiative. Will he reaffirm that tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen anything related to that in the early drafts of the speech, but he'll be working on it tonight and tomorrow.
Q Senator Dole happened to see Lech Walesa last Thursday in Chicago. When was today's meeting between President and Lech Walesa announced?
MR. MCCURRY: We announced it back last month sometime, several weeks ago.
Q Mike, what does the United States government think about the expansion of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian Territory or the building of more Jewish settlements? And is Israel still holding -- the United States holding Israel accountable to the conditions of the $10 billion in loan guarantees?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you heard the Secretary of State asked that question yesterday, and he responded by saying that there has been no change in our U.S. views or U.S. policies related to settlements. And that is the case.
Q Mike, any reaction at all to Clinger's comments on missing Eggleston diary notes?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q What is being done, if anything, to find those?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't -- look, the notes relate to a meeting that has been thoroughly discussed and reviewed in both the GAO report and by the Justice Department. There are other contemporaneous accounts of that meeting. And I think this is another attempt by Chairman Clinger to manufacture an issue where none exists.
Q So you think they're meaningless since there are other ones out there?
MR. MCCURRY: There are other people who have testified, to and provided information about the meetings in question. And, again, this is an effort by him, directed by the House Republican leadership, to just gin up political issues.
Q Mike, when Tony Lake visits China, will he be talking about the possibility of the President eventually going to China? What's on his agenda? When will he be going?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd prefer to wait until we actually pin down with any precision the fact that he's going to go and when he's going to go before we speculate on what the agenda might be. We have an interest in pursuing comprehensive, broad-based discussion with the People's Republic on a range of issues. Secretary of State Christopher in his speech on U.S.-Sino relations suggested that regular meetings at highest levels would be useful between the two countries as we work through issues in our bilateral relationship. But I don't want to speculate on what Tony might raise if and when he does journey to China.
Q Do you think he might go before the June 17th deadline for sanctions?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate at all about when he might go.
Q Is the trip to France limited to France for the economic summit for the President, or does he have any other country in mind?
MR. MCCURRY: He also plans to go to Paris, as you know. We announced that last week. And I haven't put a lid on the final itinerary yet.
Q Did you come up, Mike, with a fourth commencement address? Have you stopped looking? Is it possible on the California trip?
MR. MCCURRY: He has no -- I haven't seen anything further as a commencement address.
Q It looks like it's going to hold at three then?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe so.
Q Mike, with Senator Dole and the President both talking about tax relief, what is the fundamental difference between the two on this key point?
MR. MCCURRY: The fundamental difference? Well, the fundamental difference is what kind of tax relief and how much. The concern remains that for a very large package of tax relief that disproportionately goes to the wealthiest Americans, the Republicans in Congress would pay for that by cuts, savings, whatever you want to call it, in Medicare that would be disproportionally hurtful to those who depend on those programs. That's a very key difference.
The President has always suggested that tax relief, targeted properly so that you can do things like grow the economy, so you can do things like provide incentives for education and for child care and for people saving for their retirement, is proper in the context of a balanced budget, but done so prudently so that you don't have to go after the very important programs that protect people in need.
Remember, this Republican Congress attempted to cut $270 billion out of Medicare so they could provide a very large tax cut that we demonstrated went disproportionately to the very wealthiest Americans. And that remains our concern when we hear different suggestions that people are going to come forward with large, gigantic, $600 billion tax cuts. The question is, how are they going to pay for it, where are they going to get the money and what programs are they going to take away from the American people.
Q So if the President were to propose a tax credit tomorrow for education, he would definitely include also the details about the offsets?
MR. MCCURRY: We believe you have to do tax relief in the context of a balanced budget, and you certainly will hold us to the standard of demonstrating how we would do that.
Q Mike, could you indulge a parochial question from a newspaper that circulates in New Jersey? As you know, Princeton does not traditionally have outside commencement speakers, precisely to avoid making the commencement some kind of occasion of kerfuffle about issues not related to the event. (Laughter.) And you don't think the President would go to Princeton and make some cheap little political hit -- (laughter) -- and ruin the day for the people --
MR. MCCURRY: All loyal sons and daughters of Princeton, including those who are Republicans, can be assured that the President would take such an important, auspicious occasion and use it to advance the important arguments fundamental to the future of this nation, fundamental to the 21st century America that we all would wish to see. Princeton graduate or non-Princeton graduate, Republican or Democratic or independent.
In short, it's a nonpartisan occasion in which he will offer his thoughts about the ways in which we can grow, expand the economy as we look ahead to the 21st century. Much as we advertised, each of these three speeches have been about either the community of America and how we can bring it together, America's place in the world or, in this case, America's economic challenges as we look ahead to the 21st century.
I suggest to you, and I think most of you would agree, neither of the previous two commencement speeches represented partisan political attacks on the President's opponents and don't expect that tomorrow.
Q Mike, I got a couple of questions about the G-7 Summit planning. Is Yeltsin going to be there come what may in the Russian elections? Suppose Yeltsin gets knocked out in the first round?
MR. MCCURRY: There's been nothing that would indicate any change in the plans of the Russian Federation to be represented by President Yeltsin, who would remain President under any outcome June 16th.
Q The second question is with regard to reports of the meeting in Milwaukee between the President and Chancellor Kohl that apparently Kohl suggested or requests that at Lyon, Yeltsin be invited to be a full-fledged member of the group and, in effect, to move the thing to G-8 on both economic and political side, and that President Clinton said no to that. Is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: The level and degree of Russian participation in deliberations of the G-7 has been an ongoing subject of dialogue between the United States and other members of the G-7. It did come up in the meeting between the Chancellor and the President. And the plans for Russian participation, as you know, reflect a somewhat enhanced degree of participation, reflecting in general the enhanced degree that they are playing a role in the economic and political deliberations of the seven.
Q What did you think of Netanyahu's speech yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: I think -- didn't we issue a statement on that? The Prime Minister-elect reflected in his speech yesterday a commitment to the peace process that was very much welcomed by the President and by the United States. He indicated a willingness to work with all the parties in the region to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace. That remains a very important and central goal of U.S. foreign policy. Given his comments, we look forward to working closely with the Prime Minister-elect.
Q Mike, Secretary Christopher said on Friday I think it was that we -- I assume he means the United States -- have not yet had a chance to brief Mr. Netanyahu on the peace process, and underscored, as you have just done again here, the words of Mr. Netanyahu expressing a "commitment to the peace process." Wouldn't it be more seemly for the United States to want to be briefed by Mr. Netanyahu on what he might think since he's now been elected, and also to keep in mind that this man was elected by a country that gave every indication that it's worried about the procedures in this peace process so-called?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as the President correctly indicated over the weekend, the people of Israel exhibited a strong desire for two things simultaneously -- for peace, for lasting peace with her Arab neighbors in the region, but, secondly, for security. And that was reflected in a very closely-fought election. If I am not mistaken, there have been some contacts between U.S. officials and representatives of Bibi Netanyahu. There will continue to be --
Q Who's briefing whom in such contacts?
MR. MCCURRY: They are members of our Middle East peace team who have been quite active in the region, who are well-known to Mr. Netanyahu because he meets with them and speaks with them frequently. And we expect we will have very close, ongoing, direct dialogue with the new Prime Minister and with his likely choice the new Foreign Minister-designate.
Q Well, do we feel that we're in a position that we need to be briefing him or perhaps being briefed by him?
MR. MCCURRY: You would not hear Mr. Netanyahu or anyone part of this process suggest that the United States has played anything other than a very important facilitating role in this process. And as we do with the parties and as we will continue to do with the parties, we share ideas about the contours of the peace process. We offer our suggestions. We hear what their proposals and ideas are. And as the Secretary of State indicated over the weekend, we understand that part of that will be dealing with the dynamic of policymaking within the new Israeli government.
Q Are members of the U.S. team going over to Israel anytime soon?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a good question to ask at the State Department today, and I think it's already been asked. And the answer, I don't know, Wolf, but they are briefing on that over there right now.
Q Would the President and the White House throw their weight behind this whole thing, the new reality in the Middle East and the reality in Israel between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and possibly after Mr. Netanyahu forms his government, invite the interlocutors and all the parties involved and have them here in Washington for a special summit like they did in the past successfully?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a highly speculative suggestion about what might be best for the peace process. What we have to do, as the Secretary of State indicated already, is to take stock of where we are, to assess what the government of Israel will pursue as it moves forward in its own publicly-stated commitment to pursue the peace process. And we will be there to play the role that we always play -- along with the Russian Federation, the co-sponsor of the peace process -- to facilitate the dialogue between the parties, and to do what we can to see them advance toward the goals that they have established.
Q Can you see any indication by Mr. Netanyahu calling on President Mubarak and King Hussein and other Middle East leaders and not calling on Yasser Arafat, just to have some aides talking to him?
MR. MCCURRY: It would not become me to suggest answers to questions that he and his government-elect should properly address.
Q Any progress on setting up a news conference, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: A great deal of progress, great deal of deliberations; no date to announce. (Laughter.)
THE PRESS: Thank you.
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