THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:40 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: There is a shift change going on, you know. That's the way it goes.
Q So, Mack, is it a 2:00 lid today or what?
MR. MCCURRY: I hope so.
Let me underscore one thing. First of all, thanks to Under Secretary Kelly for being here and also underscore one point that he made. The number of teenagers committing homicides without guns is roughly the same today as it was in the 1970s, but the number of homicides by teens who have guns has tripled. In the interest of pristine accuracy I wanted to call that comment to your attention. The President inadvertently said the number of crimes committed without guns has remained roughly the same. He should have said homicides.
Q Mike, it seems that every week or two or three the President parcels out another initiative designed to show him as tough on crime. Why shouldn't this be -- this latest initiative be seen as just another election-year program with political motivations behind it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you will report it -- a lot of you will report that way, I'm sure. But, look, the President has demonstrated in a series of steps that he has taken a fundamental commitment to trying to protect America's kids. That's one of the big challenges he outlined at the beginning of this year at his State of the Union address. He has been coming back to that subject early and often because it's very important to him personally.
Now, if there is any political up side or down side in that, that will be up to that American people and not us.
Q But the timing of this -- two days after Mr. Dole comes out with his -- trots out his anticrime thing.
MR. MCCURRY: Whatever Mr. Dole said had nothing to do with the pilot project that the President announced today.
Q I guess I don't understand what is -- what precipitated an event, a White House event on this today, because it sounds as though this program has been in the works for some time and that, in fact, the 17 cities have all been doing this since February.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you asked Under Secretary Kelly that question and he gave you a good answer: that, first of all, there is a new tool available which is the enhanced capacity of the software program developed under Project LEAD; secondly, and most importantly, a new commitment in these 17 cities to get different jurisdictions and different entities working together, whether it's the federal prosecutor, the U.S. Attorney's Office, working with the state and local prosecutors, so that you can actually get more congruity in the effort to fight crime and to trace the weapons that are being used in these crimes. That's significant. You've got partnership agreements that officials from each of these 17 cities will be signing. We deem that to be news, and you can judge for yourself.
Q Did you see this as a problem before all this stuff was in place, that there wasn't cooperation between the various --
MR. MCCURRY: As Under Secretary Kelly indicated, in some cases there are jurisdictional turf battles that develop, and so we're hoping that by demonstrating the success of getting people working together, that will become a useful tool, a useful approach that we can evaluate through some of the research component that exists here and determine whether it's something we ought to try to expand nationally.
Q Mike, the published materials describe it as a new program. However well-intentioned the program is, are you engaging in some rhetorical overstatement? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Look, Under Secretary Kelly addressed that. I just addressed that. And you can decide for yourself whether it's news. We don't tell you what to write.
Q Can I move on?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Can you give us an idea of what's going to happen in the meeting tomorrow with Netanyahu?
Q Mike, what did she say?
MR. MCCURRY: She asked about the President's meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu tomorrow, a visit the President is looking forward to. They've met on several occasions when Prime Minister Netanyahu was then the leader of the opposition. First and foremost, the President will, of course, underscore the very close ties the United States has with Israel, with the people of Israel, and they will explore two subjects at great length that are very much on the mind of both the President and the Prime Minister -- first, the peace process, where we are in the various tracks, and what are the prospects for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the region; and then secondly, the steps that we can take together and that the world community can take collectively to combat terrorism.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is, I believe, a recognized expert on that subject, having written a book on the subject, a book the President has read. Mr. Netanyahu actually gave it to the President when they last met. And the President is very keen on talking about both follow-up to the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, the steps that we've got in place bilaterally now with the government of Israel to combat terrorism, and then those steps collectively that were suggested by the leaders at the recent G-7 summit in Lyon.
Q Mike, this is always a fun one especially in view of Sharon's position in the Cabinet. What's the U.S. policy on settlements in the West Bank, Jewish settlements? Are they legal? Are they an obstacle to peace? What are they?
MR. MCCURRY: Our view has not changed, and it remains, as with many issues that are fundamental to the discussions between the Israeli and the Palestinians, something that the two of them must address face to face as they work through the implications of the Declaration and the implementation of that very important document.
Q What does that mean?
MR. MCCURRY: It's the same as it's always been.
Q Would you state it for us?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't see a usefulness in restating a long-held view on that subject.
Q Mike, is there any awkwardness to this meeting owing to the President's clear support for Shimon Peres in the election?
MR. MCCURRY: No. (Laughter.)
Q Thanks for elaborating.
MR. MCCURRY: The President has worked in his correspondence and in discussions that others in the United States government have had with the Prime Minister to nurture the type of relationship with this Prime Minister that reflects the very deep and long-lasting ties that the people of the United States have with the people of Israel.
The Secretary of State had a very good meeting with the Prime Minister in Israel; he was very warmly received. The President's discussions so far, both by telephone and in writing with the Prime Minister, have been very cordial if not warm. And that certainly is the tone of the meeting we expect tomorrow -- one that reflects the very deep, lasting, and enduring bonds that exist between the people of our country and the people of Israel.
Q But, Mike, have you gotten any sense that Netanyahu might moderate his views on the land for peace initiative that had been underway before he came into power?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have a sense that he remains committed to the goal of a comprehensive, just, lasting peace in the region. And certainly a large part of their discussion tomorrow will focus on how best to achieve that objective. But it's one that certainly the United States shares with the government of Israel.
Q So, Mike, going into this meeting, do you think -- does the President think that he and the Prime Minister see eye to eye on the peace process?
MR. MCCURRY: They see eye to eye on many of the fundamental aspects of the peace process that has meant so much for the people of Israel. You have to think about the enormous change that has occurred in that region as a result of the peace process itself. The close relations that exist now between Jordan and the people of Israel, the increasing ability of Israeli citizens to move in their own region, the commercial and economic ties that are developing as a result of the peace process -- this has been extraordinarily beneficial to the people of Israel.
The dark side of that progress is, of course, the enemies of peace have been even more horrible in their promulgation of terrorist incidents that attempt to thwart that peace. And that, of course, will also have to be a subject of their conversations tomorrow.
Q So they're on the same wavelength. You think that there is no area -- no major areas of dispute?
MR. MCCURRY: There is -- it is not the position of the United States as a mediator in this process, as a facilitator of the peace process in our role as chair of the -- co-chair of the process itself, to render judgment on the discussions that the parties themselves have to have. The Israelis, in each of the tracks that they have with the other Arab partners in this process, have to confront issues that are difficult. There are times when the parties themselves certainly don't see eye to eye. There are times in which we lend our own insights, our own judgments, and sometimes they are not necessarily the same as the parties that are in discussion. But that's the role, the valuable role that we feel we can offer as a facilitator, as a contributor to the process itself.
Q How does the U.S. view the inclusion of Mr. --
Q -- Sharon -- thank you -- in the Israeli government?
MR. MCCURRY: The formation of a government by the new Prime Minister is one of the most delicate balancing acts that a Prime Minister must perform, and it is up to the Prime Minister, newly elected, to construct his government and to take into account his own domestic situation. It would be presumptuous for us to render any kind of verdict on the composition of that government. What is more important to the United States government are the policies pursued by that government, regardless of who has portfolios as members of the Cabinet.
Q Mike, the Israelis have let it be known that Netanyahu is going to come here with what they're describing as new hard evidence about Syrian involvement in sponsoring terrorism. How is the President likely to respond to that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are grateful as always with information that helps us better understand international terror. And we spend enormous amount of resources ourselves in seeking that type of information. So, of course, we would welcome any evidence or any additional information that sheds light on the work of terrorists. But our view has long been known. We feel that there is state sponsorship of terrorism and support for terrorism in all of those nations that are listed in the annual report that is issued by the State Department.
Q But how should that affect -- or should it affect Israel's dealings with Syria on the peace process itself?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's important to the goal of a comprehensive, just, lasting peace to make progress on the Syria-Israeli track. That is known, but how best to make that progress and how to take into account the Prime Minister's justified concerns about security is likely to be a subject of their conversation tomorrow. I wouldn't want to preempt it now, but I assume that they're going to want to discuss that tomorrow.
Q The Prime Minister let it be known over the weekend again, because of his concern about security, that he remains committed not to turn over the Golan Heights. Doesn't that essentially bring the peace process to a screeching halt? And has he personally conveyed that to the Clinton administration?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he will be here tomorrow, so maybe you could ask that question -- the last part of the question -- tomorrow. But whether it's the Golan, whether it's other issues associated with land for peace, we routinely refrain from taking positions on the elements of the process that the parties themselves advance in their own dialogue. There will be differing points of view, different perspectives on all of these questions. The sensitivity of the Golan has been an embedded feature of the discussions between the Syrians and the Israelis for some time now, but we have routinely not commented on the positions they've taken, because that's not useful and it's not -- doesn't comport with our rules as facilitator in the process.
Q Well, if I could follow up, can there be land for peace without the Golan Heights?
MR. MCCURRY: That is a central element of the dialogue between Israel and Syria. And can there be, as an advance generally in the peace process, an equation that ensures greater peace for an exchange of land? I think the answer is, yes. And the answer is provided most eloquently by the Declaration itself, and has been the story of the Palestinians success in negotiating with Israel.
Q Mike, why do we need to keep troops in Saudi Arabia? The general who is in command said on the air last night that the troops were being treated very badly over there, but he said also that we were there because of the United States, not Saudi Arabia. Now, what's the reasoning behind that? We've already taught these people how to fly the AWACs.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have enduring strategic interest in that region.
Q Well, what are they?
MR. MCCURRY: We fought a war -- you can enumerate several -- we fought a war there to protect the territorial integrity of one state that was threatened very directly by aggression from Saddam Hussein. We continue our presence there in part to enforce the U.N. Security Council mandates with respect to the outcome of the Persian Gulf War. But we also have other strategic enduring interests -- political, economic, security-related. And it is clear in the history of the world that we live in now that the United States alone is in a position to meet some of those needs and to provide the kind of balance through our force projection that brings greater stability, especially to regions that have so often in our recent history known conflict.
Q One of the things that's bothering investors in Israel is that there will be some pullback of U.S. assistance to Israel. Will that be one of the subjects in their discussion tomorrow? What will the President say to reassure Netanyahu on that subject?
MR. MCCURRY: Our commitment and the size of our projected assistance levels is well-known and has been an enduring feature of the President's budgets and reflects a bipartisan commitment that exists, going back through the most recent Republican administrations as well.
Q But Netanyahu has himself said -- suggested over the past that he thinks it might be time for Israel to voluntarily give up its economic assistance from the United States.
MR. MCCURRY: He has suggested that in part because of the enormous economic benefit that accrues to the people of Israel as the peace process itself deepens -- as they see their own economy grow and strengthen and as they see their ability to have commercial ties with others in the region prosper, it changes their own outlook on the need for assistance levels. But that would be something that the Prime Minister has addressed. As you know, he's addressed it hypothetically. Our commitment, the commitment the United States has to the people of Israel, was fundamental and it attaches first to the need to protect their security in that part of the world that is very troubled indeed.
Q So the President will reassure him tomorrow --
Q How long will they actually spend together? And is this the first meeting since Rabin's funeral?
MR. MCCURRY: They have met -- if I'm not mistaken, they have met since the Rabin funeral and I'm trying to remember. They met at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit when the President went on to Jerusalem at the conclusion of that summit. As to the schedule tomorrow, I'll leave it to -- Brian will have the schedule of what they're going to do tomorrow. He can tell you afterwards.
Q The BBC said that the United States sent Air Force One to bring him to the United States. Is that true? I mean it wouldn't be Air Force One if the President wasn't on it, but a U.S. aircraft.
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. We can check on that, but not that I'm aware of.
Q Mike, have the Israelis advised the White House that Netanyahu is going to meet soon with Arafat?
MR. MCCURRY: I would prefer to leave that -- let's wait and see tomorrow what kind of dialogue they have on the very important question of what type of contacts they have had with the Palestinian Authority and what type of contact they project in the future.
Q There is some indication that he's going to say something along those lines. Is the President going to encourage early and frequent contact with him despite what he said during --
MR. MCCURRY: We will, as we always do, encourage all parties to continue to make progress on the central features of the deliberations that exist within that process. And surely, with respect to the Palestinians and the Israelis, it is the questions that are fundamental to the implementation and the Declaration.
Q The President was fond of saying that we would provide aid to Israelis for taking risks for peace. And I wonder if there is any aid specifically targeted to any risks that Netanyahu might be less likely to take? For example, land for peace in the Golan -- that wouldn't have been committed now, but are there any U.S. aid efforts that could be rolled back?
MR. MCCURRY: We have acknowledged that a long-term settlement between Israel and Syria that involved the Golan would present unique security concerns to the people of Israel, and in our private dialogue with the government of Israel that subject has been addressed. I think I'll leave it right there.
Q Well, but that would be promise of future aid. Is there anything that we're providing now that might be rolled back, I guess is the word I want to use?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. That would imply some type of punitive use of our assistance for the security needs of the people of Israel. We provide that because it is in the interests of our long-standing democratic ally in the region and because prudence dictates that we make sure that Israel maintain a qualitative superiority when we look at the regional balance of forces in that part of the world.
Q What about security tomorrow? Is it going to be any tougher and more --
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's best for us not to comment on security arrangements, but I'm confident both the Prime Minister and the President will be well protected.
Q Is the President going to do anything special to try to nurture a closer, friendly relationship with Netanyahu?
MR. MCCURRY: He may very well. But why don't we see what happens tomorrow and then we can tell you more about it.
Q Two questions. First of all, on Cuba. Will the hijacker be brought to the United States and will he be prosecuted in the United States? Will he be returned to the Cuban government?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is INS still has the individual in custody. They're conducting debriefings. No decision has been made about how the case will be handled, whether he will be repatriated to Cuba, whether he will be prosecuted in the United States, or whether he will be granted asylum. We will have to continue to follow that. I'm sure the State Department will be briefing on that after consulting with INS.
Q Granted asylum? Is that something the U.S. ever does in the case of hijackers?
MR. MCCURRY: There are a range of things that have to be evaluated appropriately by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Q Mike, I thought there was a reciprocal deal with Cuba on hijacking. Is there not?
MR. MCCURRY: You mean, the migration agreement related to refugees?
Q No, on hijacking.
MR. MCCURRY: On hijackers? There is -- Colonel Fetig is going to be in hot pursuit of the answer.
Q If the President is going to be consistent in speaking out on terrorism, doesn't he feel any need to speak out on the appointment of Ariel Sharon, considering he was the only minister to be kicked out of the Cabinet because he presided over the killing of up to 1,000 Lebanese refugees?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the history of the Sabra and Shatila events in Lebanon has been well rehearsed. The views of the United States government, which have not changed, were eloquently spoken at the time on those incidents.
Q How does the President feel about Richard Lamm possibly running as a Reform Party candidate?
MR. MCCURRY: Exactly as he said this morning when he answered that question.
Q Do you think -- I know, I know. But I'm trying to collaborate. Do you think that will help or hurt his reelection?
MR. MCCURRY: The IP 4:00 p.m. feed is coming up. (Laughter.)
Q Do you think it will help or hurt his reelection prospects?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not a clue. (Laughter.) Do you?
Q I have no clue either.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure by 4:00 p.m. you will have it all figured out and we will hear -- (laughter). I have not a clue. I don't know. It may help in some states; it may hurt in some states. Who knows? And is he going to get it? Is Perot going to get it? I don't know. You know, let them sort that out. They have got a party, the Reform Party; they got to decide who they're going to nominate, if anybody, and the American people have to decide whether they take him seriously. So we'll see.
Q Wait a second. If you say it will help in some states and hurt in other states --
MR. MCCURRY: It may -- it may. I don't know.
Q -- which states are you talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. I mean, he's in Colorado. I assume that he still has a base of support, but beyond that I haven't looked at it and don't have a clue.
Q Mike, I know the President spoke to it on Friday, but I wonder if you can elaborate or explain it better why it's all right for the President's own political party to accept contributions from the tobacco industry, but when the Republicans do it it's a subject for criticism?
MR. MCCURRY: The subject for criticism are the policies pursued, not the acceptance of the contribution. The concern that is raised is whether or not the policies have been trimmed to match the contributions. And in the case of the President's views they clearly are at odds with those of the industry, and you would have to argue as a matter of common sense and logic that he has been unaffected by contributions. The question raised is whether the opposition can make that same argument given some of their actions on health-related issues with respect to tobacco.
Q Isn't it possible that the Republicans hold their policies also regardless of what contributions it has received from the tobacco industry?
MR. MCCURRY: They could certainly try to make that argument.
Q Could we get a readout on Poland, the meeting --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I've got a longer written statement that I can provide. But the President enjoyed a very successful and, I would say, very friendly meeting today with President Kwasniewski. They discussed the issues that indicated at the beginning they would -- enlargement of NATO, the process by which Poland's economy is being invigorated through market democratic reforms and through greater economic liberalization.
The President, indeed, remarked at one point that they consider the success of the Polish reform model to be -- or the Polish economic reforms to be something of a model now for emerging democracies that are in transition economically.
They had a very good discussion about -- fairly thorough discussion about the NATO enlargement issue. No surprise there. The President reiterated our belief that this must be a very careful discipline process, and that the President understands that requires some patience.
But I'll leave it to President Kwasniewski to address his own reaction to that. Our sense was that there is some degree of understanding that the requirements of NATO membership require an extended period of evaluation as move through the Partnership for Peace process, as we now move into the questions of who and when the alliance itself might expand. In all, a very good meeting.
Q Did they discuss dates?
MR. MCCURRY: They discussed what the likely schedule would be for consideration for the issue. And I believe, as you've all known, as the United States has said publicly, we would look to the NATO ministerial meetings in December as being a place where they might begin to evaluate the question of how the Partnership has performed and what the timetable might be looking ahead for expansion. But then again, that will be a very carefully constructed process, as the President indicated earlier, designed to make sure that it has agreement at the level of 16 which is required for changes in the North Atlantic Treaty itself.
Q Mike, let me see if I understand you. Are you saying that you think the NATO ministerial in December will set the timetable for the --
MR. MCCURRY: I had far too good a gobbledygook an answer for that. There's no way you could construct that -- no. They will move during the course, probably beginning in the December ministerial meeting, into a process of evaluating over the course of the coming year, how they will answer the questions who and when. That's going to take some time, but the President very carefully avoided any discussion of timetable.
But as the President said earlier today, it's going to happen. The question is it's got to happen in a fashion that meets the needs of all members of the Alliance; that meets the needs of those of us in parliamentary democracies that will require the consent in some fashion of our legislative branches in order to move ahead, which means a treaty ratification vote in the United States Senate for us here in the United States. So this is a process that's going to have to be very carefully, deliberately designed. And it's likely to take some time.
Q Did they discuss at all the Russian elections -- Yeltsin's win and how that affects Poland?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not reflected in the written readout, although I think we may want to check that because I believe they did have a very brief conversation about that, agreeing, obviously, that the advance of democracy in Russia is something that serves the interests of all those within Europe and, certainly, the interests of the United States.
Q Mike, does the President approve political ads produced by his campaign on his behalf?
MR. MCCURRY: He's responsible for them and has to take responsibility for them, as would any candidate for office.
Q You might know that the Dole campaign is up in arms about this latest ad suggesting that Senator Dole supports the right of tobacco companies to target their ads against kids. They say that's just not true and they challenge the Clinton campaign and the White House to show them one word that shows Dole is in favor of that.
MR. MCCURRY: A subject that I'm sure Mr. Lockhart has been dealing with today. I'll refer it over to him.
Q On Mark's question, does he actually usually review them before they go on the air, look at a videotape, or whatever?
MR. MCCURRY: He usually, as a practice, reviews an ad going on the air from the Clinton-Gore Committee, yes -- because he knows that he's ultimately responsible for it.
Q So he signed off on this one?
Q Yes, did he review this one?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe he did, yes.
Q Are there any subliminal messages in those ads? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Subliminal messages. You mean, like, the press secretary is winking at network correspondents or something like that? No, not that I know of. (Laughter.)
Q It was just a joke.
MR. MCCURRY: Anything else?
Q Do you have any further information on the delay of the HMO regulations? You were asked about that --
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't get -- I got from Chris Jennings, and you probably have talked to him since then, I got just a sense that there's a little more heavy breathing in the article than there is reality. The regulations have been moving forward. They've been looking at the impact of Medicare contracts, which typically start January 1st -- so there's a January 1, '97 date that has some impact here.
But, in all, they are not, it's clear to the administration, not shelving any of its regulatory responsibilities over Medicare and Medicaid HMOs. And we remain absolutely committed to implementing the physician incentive regulations that are the subject of the article today.
Q But weren't the regional regulations supposed to go into effect May 28th? Have they gone into effect?
MR. MCCURRY: They have not gone into effect, but I'd have to refer you to HHS about the process they're using to craft the rule and promulgate the rule.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: You're very welcome.
END 2:08 P.M. EDT