THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MICHAEL MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:27 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: That's the news of the day in a nutshell.
Q What about the Waco report? What's the administration's reaction to the members of Congress who have said that Janet Reno's resignation should have been accepted at the time she accepted responsibility?
MR. MCCURRY: The report, as I understand it, is just being released. The White House has not had an opportunity to review the report; we will. If we have anything further to say on it, I'll let you know.
Q Are you cancelling the visa of President Samper --has been announced officially?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the State Department -- Nick Burns at the State Department is probably right now doing so.
Q Was that the President's decision?
MR. MCCURRY: The White House was fully aware of the steps that the State Department would take. The State Department, of course, is responsible for the issuances of visas. But the President takes very seriously our obligations to enforce U.S. law, and U.S. law specifically provides for us the means to bar from the United States those who knowingly assist and abet in narcotics trafficking.
Q Is there a precedent for this? Have we ever revoked a President's visa?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the State Department can tell you if there's any precedent. I'm not aware of any. We have used this provision of law in the past to bar certain individuals from entering the United States.
Q I don't think he's ever barred a President of a country you had diplomatic relations with.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any precedent of that nature, but the State Department will tell you that.
Q Are you cutting diplomatic relations?
MR. MCCURRY: We're taking a very specific step related to a visa matter.
Q Is it only he or his family or --
MR. MCCURRY: You should be at the State Department right now and not here because they are answering these same questions there right now. (Laughter.)
Q Isn't this sort of a policy that the White House would stand behind and have somebody --
MR. MCCURRY: I just did. Yes, as I just indicated.
Q Mike, last night the President wanted to talk about his golf game, not Ross Perot. You're not suggesting that the President and his political advisers are genuinely indifferent, though, to whether or not he gets in the race?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's at the present a moot point. There apparently will be a contested race in what is called the Reform Party, and we'll have to see what the outcome of that race is. There are two candidates running now, apparently two candidates running for the nomination or two candidates willing to accept the nomination of that party. And it's not very useful for us to speculate on what the impact of that might be because, obviously, we don't know which of those two candidates might be preferable to the members of that party.
Q What do you mean by what is called the Reform Party? You don't call it --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's not -- their ballot access depends on whether a party is registered and formally complies with state election law. And the status of the Reform Party varies from state to state. Though I think there are some places where it does qualify as a party and there are other places where it doesn't. That's got implications both in how the Federal Elections Commission views the entity and it also has implications as individual states qualify a party for a ballot.
Q So that wasn't questioning the adjective to describe the party?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm just saying --both the Republican and Democratic Parties are constituted formally as political institutions and have ballot access in all 50 states, but I don't think that's true of the Reform Party.
Q Well, does the White House or Clinton-Gore welcome Perot's throwing his hat in the ring? The more the merrier, or indifferent?
MR. MCCURRY: The White House encourages people who have got ideas and want to be a part of the national debate to step forward, but individuals have to make their own decisions. We said that on each and every person who's been speculated about as a potential candidate.
Q Mike, Canada is now talking about imposing some of the provisions of NAFTA because of their anger over the Helms-Burton issue. Does the President feel it is really worth it to alienate so many allies, close allies, to go for this thing?
MR. MCCURRY: We, in one fashion or another for quite some time now been dealing with the international response to aspects of the Helms-Burton Act. This was a subject, as you know, that we addressed in France when the Presidents gathered at the G-7 and when, of course, the President had an opportunity to see Prime Minister Chretien. It is true that there is opposition to the extraterritoriality provisions of the Helms-Burton Act elsewhere in this world. It is equally true that the United States insists upon positive change in Cuba towards democracy and freedom and that the United States remains deeply grieved by the actions of the Cuban government in shooting down innocent civilians.
That provision in that act is a consequence of the outrageous conduct of the Cuban government, and the President stands by the decision to apply this act. We were looking at how it should be implemented and the State Department has said some things about how we will implement aspects of that act in recent days. And we are charged enforcing and implementing the law.
Q On the same subject is the President likely to end up deciding that U.S. citizens and companies can sue foreign companies?
MR. MCCURRY: That, as you have heard from others in the administration, is a subject that is under review now. The Article III waiver provision of the Helms-Burton Act is a complicated issue. It's one that the President's senior foreign policy advisers have been reviewing. The applicability of that waiver is available, I believe, until Monday. And the President at some point, most likely early next week, will review that issue with his senior foreign policy advisers.
Q Has the President any reaction to the violent events in Northern Ireland and their effect on the peace process?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has -- we are aware of the various statements that have been made. We are deeply concerned that violence and disturbances in Northern Ireland over the past several days have fanned the flames of very historic and very unreasonable animosities in those communities. The United States urges leaders to exercise leadership.
This is a point at which the hopes of the people of Northern Ireland had been raised by a peace process that offered such enormous possibility. And this is a moment in which all must reject sectarian violence and look upon talks as the way to make progress forward.
The United States, obviously, urges the repudiation of intimidation and use of force as a way of settling political and sectarian differences. The United States urges calm and forbearance. And we would suggest that the consequences of this continuing violence has a tragic effect in human terms, but it also has a tragic effect in economic terms. The possibility of the emergence of a new Northern Ireland is one of the most important possibilities of the peace process itself. And the United States is deeply concerned that that is at risk as the violence continues. And obviously we urge that that violence cease.
Q Has the President made any personal calls?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has been briefed on this. U.S. diplomats remain in touch with the parties, continuing to urge the parties to urge calm upon their communities. And we continue to hope that the peace process, the talks associated with the peace process, can move forward.
Q Is the President aware the Irish government has protested against the decision to allow this march take place on a route which is resisted by the Catholic community?
MR. MCCURRY: We are aware of the statement of the government of Ireland has issued. Our response in general is the one that I've just given.
Q Going back to the Samper thing, which is a White House question, did the President participate with his intercommission -- all the Cabinet members, McCaffrey -- in this to revoke the visa? Was this a State Department decision between Secretary Christopher --
MR. MCCURRY: It is a State Department decision that was reviewed in an interagency process conducted by the National Security Council. And the President, of course, was aware of the decision and concurs in it.
Q Why do you say the President was aware?
MR. MCCURRY: He concurs in it.
Q Wouldn't he have to sign off on something that is country to country?
MR. MCCURRY: The State Department issues visas. And given the importance of this matter, of course, the President signed off on it, and I indicated that three times already.
Q No, you didn't. I'm sorry, you said "aware."
MR. MCCURRY: I did, too. Yes, I did.
Q As the Commander-in-Chief, has the President had anything to say today to the heads of the services about safety of American troops overseas and about the Pentagon apparently not reading these reports that it gets?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President, as some of you know, spoke with General Downing, who's conducting a review of security issues related to the Central Command and to the Middle East region specifically -- spoke to him on Tuesday night and also to Dr. Perry, and said that as Commander-in-Chief he would spare no resources or effort to make sure that we understand precisely what happened in Saudi Arabia, and more important, what needs to be done, even if it needs to be done urgently, to effect the proper security measures.
There is an intense effort underway to get answers to questions like that. General Downing's assessment is part of that. So are the decisions that are taken by senior military commanders in the field. But the President has urged upon all of them to do everything necessary to ensure that we protect American citizens, American military personnel, and American diplomatic personnel. And as you're aware, the State Department had further things to say about that yesterday.
Q In the process that you've just outlined, where it goes back and forth to Perry, Downing -- has there been any change today once you saw this story about these reports?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you're asking a question about intelligence assessments that circulate within the Pentagon. And Ken Bacon at the Pentagon is prepared to answer questions about that.
Q No, I'm really asking if the President is curious or angry, either of those things, or does have any other reaction when he picks up the paper and sees this.
MR. MCCURRY: The President would suggest that the most important thing are to get the facts. And that's why he's got General Downing doing that type of security assessment now. And the degree to which that type of information has circulated is something they're discussing at this very moment at the Pentagon. And the President certainly will expect there to be an assessment of how security risks are assessed, how threats are assessed, and what the response was of the senior military commanders. And he's prepared to act, to do anything, as he indicated to General Downing the other night, to take remedial steps or anything suggested as a result of that assessment.
Q Mike, what could the Colombian President do to get his visa back? What are you looking for from him?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I would really prefer to leave this to the State Department because they're doing that. But I can give you what in general has been our insistence in our bilateral discussions with the Colombians. They need transparent investigations and prosecutions. They've got the enact and implement laws that strengthen the asset, forfeiture and criminal sentencing regimes we expect of them. They've got to implement a 1995 statute that they had passed related to money laundering. They've got to do more to seize drug trafficking aircraft. They've got to arrest, prosecute and convict traffickers -- drug traffickers -- and dismantle the network of organizations that operate out of Colombia. There's a long list of things that we have made public in the past -- discussed publicly in the past. They amount to a much more determined effort from the top down in Colombia to fight drug trafficking.
And given the allegations that have now been proven and pending against President Samper, he is not welcome in the United States. And clearly, we need to see at the top level of leadership in Colombia, a different attitude about the fight against drugs and more support for those in Colombia who have been helpful and supportive in our mutual efforts to eradicate drug trafficking.
Q Did he have any plans to come to the United States?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea.
Q Mike, can you say anything more substantive on Tony Lake's trip besides just a change of mood in China or is there something concrete that --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you've seen the reporting from his trip and seen his statements and those from his party. They were a very encouraging of discussions, occurred in a very warm and cordial environment in which the recent progress we have enjoyed in the bilateral relationship was discussed, and they discussed ways in which that progress can be sustained.
There are still differences in the relationship, to be sure. There are still areas in which there is not agreement between the People's Republic and the United States government, but there is a process underway, suggested both by Mr. Lake's visit, by the upcoming meeting that the Secretary of State will have the Deputy Premier Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, with the suggestion that it would be productive and useful in our bilateral relationship if the relationship sustains a momentum that would justify an exchange of heads of state visits. All of these things, I think, suggest a constructive bilateral relationship in which our common endeavors are pursued and our differences are more effectively managed.
Q Is he back now?
MR. MCCURRY: He is now in Bangkok. He has got a series of meetings with senior leaders in the Thai government related to our security and bilateral cooperation, some of our regional activities through ASEAN and other regional fora. And then he is forward bound to Vietnam after that. Due back here Monday, I believe, right? Monday.
Q Mike, one more try on Perot. The President and yourself have often said that in 1996 for a change the American people are going to get a clear choice, the two paths to the future he talks about. Are you worried at all that Perot and Lamm and perhaps others are going to muddy those waters?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the question belies the problem we have in analyzing what it all means. Is it Perot? Is it Lamm? Is it a combination of them? What are they going to offer? The President just will consistently put forward his vision for change and his vision of America's 21st century, and let others try to say that they've got a better vision. And so far we feel good about the argument the President has advanced. And we feel like we've made progress in helping the American people understand the enormous possibilities that exist and the ways in which the President proposed that we can meet the challenges we face in the 21st century while simultaneously protecting the values that are important to all Americans.
Q Is he ever in touch with Perot? I know he has a large circle of people he likes to talk with. Does he ever talk with Perot?
THE PRESIDENT: Not that I am aware of. Mr. Perot -- the only contact I know of is the one recently that Mack McLarty had when -- when, was that last year? This year? -- in Houston, down in Texas, they had a gathering of his organization, and Mr. McLarty attended.
Q Well, would the President -- if whoever the Reform Party candidate gets in, would his likely response to that be, look, we addressed much of the agenda that was laid out in '92 or --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, when Mr. McLarty made his presentation on behalf of the President to Mr. Perot's organization, that's the argument he made. He said, look, this administration lived up to the promises we made to the American people in 1992. We cut the federal budget deficit in half. We pledged that we would create 8 million new jobs. We've exceeded that goal by creating 10 million new jobs. We said we would restore -- get our economic house in order, move forward on issues that are related to political reform, move forward on those issues that place America in a position to compete effectively in the world in the 21st century. And we've built a record that the President is proud of, but it is not a record that he now intends to sit on. He intends to build on it.
And you just heard a presentation today about how we are doing that with respect to education, to make sure that children in the United States have the tools they need to compete effectively in the world in the 21st century.
Now, Mr. Perot has suggested those are issues that he is interested in. The President would demonstrate that he's provided pretty effective leadership over the three and a half years in addressing precisely those issues. And what fault Mr. Perot and Mr. Lamm or others might find with the President's record is far from clear to the White House.
Q Dole says that we hope he doesn't get in. The President doesn't take that stance?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is not a political pundit.
Q He wanted to ask you if you were getting paid by the word today, but he didn't have enough nerve. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No, Rita, I'm paid by the minute. Look, we've got -- this is good. We've got about an hour's worth here so far, huh?
Q Is Mrs. Clinton coming back today?
MR. MCCURRY: Mrs. Clinton due back tomorrow, I believe.
Q No, she's back today.
MR. MCCURRY: She's back today. That means Mr. Fournier is back, too. Well, we all welcome him back to his chair.
Q He'll be back on Monday. And you can wish Sonya a happy birthday.
MR. MCCURRY: Sonya is -- happy birthday. Sonya, happy birthday, back in your booth. Sorry I missed you earlier.
Anything else before we call this hour-long briefing to a conclusion?
This is -- you've noticed my technique works. I bring out all these special guest stars and I evaporate any sense of energy and enthusiasm in this room, so I don't get any spitballs thrown at me. Boy, am I clever. Good-bye.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:44 P.M. EDT