THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SECRETARY OF COMMERCE MICKEY KANTOR
The Briefing Room
9:44 A.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: I've asked the Secretary of Commerce, Mickey Kantor, to come here today because he is leaving tomorrow, I believe -- right, Mickey -- on a presidential economic and business development mission to Croatia and Bosnia. He'll be gone July 10th through July 14th. He's leading a delegation consisting of 16 U.S. companies from sectors of all the telecommunications infrastructure, tourism, areas which we believe will be vital to the economic reconstruction of both Croatia and Bosnia in the aftermath of the war.
Mickey will tell you more about his mission, but among many other things about it, it reflects the continuing U.S. commitment to nurturing and deepening the peace process in the Balkans; and, secondly, it also reminds people of our commitment personally to fulfill the legacy and the achievements launched by the late Ron Brown.
So it's a pleasure to have Secretary Kantor here. He's going to tell you a little bit about his trip and take a few questions. And thanks for coming over.
SECRETARY KANTOR: Thank you, Mike.
First of all, I'm joined by our Under Secretary for International Trade, Stu Eizenstat, who as both the E.U. Ambassador, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union and now as Under Secretary, has done an enormous amount of work in this area.
We really are -- this mission represents not only a follow-on to Secretary Brown's mission, which ended in tragedy on St. John's Mountain, but also represents these next or -- stage or new phase in what we're trying to do in this war-torn area in order to reconstruct and revitalize. It is visible. It is going to be concrete, a demonstrable presence of U.S. and private business working with government resources as well as private resources in Bosnia, and to work with trade normalization, number one, with Croatia. Number two, to involve an advocacy for U.S. businesses in two ways -- one, in terms of the $5 billion which will be provided internationally for the reconstruction of Bosnia and advocacy for U.S. businesses in Croatia, where the economy is in fairly good shape, as well as, of course, coordination and dissemination of information and the integration in Bosnia of private and public sector resources in order to rebuild that area.
I'll be starting -- I'll arrive Thursday morning, leave tomorrow afternoon. I arrive -- the first event, I will do a private memorial service on St. John's Mountain, memorializing the military and business and, of course, Commerce Department and, of course, my friend Ron Brown's tragic death on that mountain. It'll be a private service, not a public service.
I'll then meet with the Prime Minister of Croatia. We'll talk about trade normalization. I will go through a number of events there. We will go on to Sarajevo the next morning, where I will meet with both the Federation leadership as well as the Bosnian leadership. And we'll talk there about the integration of private and public sector, advocacy of U.S. being involved in -- U.S. businesses being involved in a number of projects there that are funded by the $5 billion.
I'm going to Tuzla to meet with U.S. troops -- Army and Air Force and Navy. And then go to Zagreb and end the trip in Zagreb meeting with President Tudjman. And we'll be talking there about advocacy of very specific U.S. projects. We have 16 businesses, as Michael said, on the trip with us. A number of them have been involved in negotiations in Bosnia as well as, most particularly, Croatia on particular projects -- everything from ENRON to ENSERCH to Boeing aircraft and Parson's Group and others. And so we hope, of course, to move those negotiations along as well.
I'd be happy to answer any questions. Yes, sir.
Q Mr. Secretary, just a basic question. Are you sensitive, are you convinced that your aircraft is safe to travel?
SECRETARY KANTOR: I'm convinced it's safe or I wouldn't really subject others to any kind of danger. We've had meetings with the Air Force. I'm totally convinced it's not only safe, but it's a well-planned mission, and I'm deeply grateful to the Air Force for the amount of time and effort they spent on this. The fact is, we should not be deterred, nor will we -- the President has made it clear -- in memory of these folks who gave their lives in trying to put a foundation under the peace process, deterred from pursuing that because of this tragedy that occurred. I'm completely confident of its safety.
Q What changes have been made by the Air Force in terms of the aircraft that you're going to be flying as opposed to the aircraft that Ron Brown flew that gives you that confidence?
SECRETARY KANTOR: Frankly, the confidence comes out of, one, what was learned from, unfortunately, that tragedy; number two, the imposition of only visual flight rules going into Dubrovnik. We've already made contingency plans if, of course, the visual flight rules can't be carried out as to where we'll go into. And so, therefore, I am completely confident this has been well thought out. I've had two meetings with the Air Force to make sure the people going with me are safe.
Q Did some corporate leaders who were invited decline to go because of their concerns?
SECRETARY KANTOR: No. The fact is, almost every company, without exception, who went on the first trip will be on the second trip. And the only reason there are -- may be one or two exceptions -- I don't know, David, how many, one or two, three?
MR. MARCHICK: Just three, I think.
SECRETARY KANTOR: Three exceptions to this is -- for other reasons, having nothing to do with the safety or security of the trip.
Q I just want to clarify -- 16 companies?
SECRETARY KANTOR: Sixteen companies are going, yes. They involve everything from tourism to finance to energy to aerospace. They cover a full gamut of U.S. private sector involvement. It's quite an impressive list of companies. They represent $65 billion last year in revenues. And so it's substantial companies going on this trip. And I'm deeply grateful that they would again participate.
Q Do you expect to sign any agreements while you're there?
SECRETARY KANTOR: Well, we'll see. I don't want to presage any commitments or decisions made by other governments. I don't think that would be wise or appropriate on my part. The fact is we've made some progress there. We continue to do it. The fact is we're moving into the next stage. I have to undergird this peace process with a private sector and public sector building of these economies. You can't have peace if people don't have jobs.
For instance, in Bosnia today, 75 to 80 percent of the people are unemployed. Roads, bridges, gas lines, generators are all gone or destroyed. Industries have been completely obliterated. There needs to be a complete rebuilding process.
Now, Croatia is in a little different situation. Croatia, of course, has a $17 billion economy. Their per capita GDP is about $3,650. It's about seven times that of the folks in Bosnia today. So, therefore, it's at a different stage. So we're talking about in trade normalization with Croatia, we're talking about individual projects in Croatia of some magnitude, versus in Bosnia working with government and other resources, nongovernmental organization resources, to try to start rebuilding the infrastructure. So there's two different stages you need to look at as you look at the underpinning of the peace process.
Q Mr. Secretary, why would an American business executive think that Bosnia was a fit place for capital investment when there is still evidence of ethnic tensions and there was just an incident the other day where Bosnian Serb citizens almost attacked some IFOR troops that were Americans?
SECRETARY KANTOR: I think a couple of reasons. One is the future. But even more important, you know, there's something that characterizes Americans, whether it be business people or government leaders, nongovernmental organization -- that is, we believe in peace and stability, we believe in reaching out. This is, in some ways, a faith in what has been accomplished in the last year, which is quite substantial.
And I think we ought to have some admiration for these businesses who are looking at the long-term rather than the short-term, and also showing a patriotic inclination to go in there and to try to contribute to this process.
There will be no, or very few, short run profits, especially in Bosnia. There will be, obviously in Croatia it's a different situation given the size of the economy. But this has to do with people's commitment to the peace process, and I think they ought to be admired for it.
Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 9:56 A.M. EDT