THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:26 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Let me start -- I want to ask David Johnson to start with a readout on the President's meeting with Prime Minister Persson of Sweden.
Q In Swedish?
Q We already heard it in Swedish. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: And when Mr. Johnson is complete with that, then maybe we'll be done. (Laughter.)
MR. JOHNSON: This is like choose a door. Okay.
The President met this morning with Prime Minister Persson of Sweden for about a half an hour. I think the Prime Minister gave you a readout on the meeting outside the West Wing here, although it was largely in Swedish. I think he also talked to you a bit in English.
The discussion was largely devoted to the Baltics and the efforts that Sweden has undertaken there to support the development of market democracies in the Baltic states and the efforts we have undertaken in common to try to help integrate them into the community of Western democracies since their reestablishment as independent states in the aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The Swedish Prime Minister described his vision of how to work with the states in kind of a five-part program -- strengthen bilateral relations that Sweden has with all of these states as the largest country in the region and the one with a long history of democracy; a strong effort to build regional institutions including working with them on issues such as migration, crime and narcotics; and he particularly thanked the President for the help that the FBI had given to Sweden and to the Baltic states in trying to address those issues.
He also talked about an advisory council for Baltic Sea cooperation that he had established and that he had asked Ambassador Richard Holbrook to serve on that. This is a group that will meet about three times a year and its primary purpose is to help foster investment and trade and economic growth in the Baltic States.
Q What did Holbrook say?
MR. JOHNSON: He's accepted. Let me make that clear. Persson did not ask the President; he told the President he had invited former Ambassador Holbrook to do that.
He also talked about the third element of this being the enlargement of the European Union's institutions and the importance that Sweden saw in not leaving the Baltic states behind in this process but continuing efforts to bring them into the institutions of the European Union.
The fourth element he saw was enlargement of the security institutions, in particular NATO. And while Sweden, not being a member of NATO, has nothing directly to say about whether these states eventually become members or choose other paths to support their security, he did express the view that it's important to attempt to avoid any type of security vacuums in that region as the Alliance expands and as we find new ways to describe the European security architecture of the 21st century.
And finally, he described the effort that he had undertaken and they all had undertaken to expand the dialogue with Russia because of its historic interest in the area and because of our need to work with Russia and have a working security relationship with Russia in the aftermath of the breakup of the Warsaw Pact, and then creating an expanded NATO.
The President, responding, told him that he appreciated this program and he thought it would be an effective way for Sweden to lead in the region and for Sweden to have a way to support the development of those states. He recalled -- the President did -- his summer visit to Riga in 1994, his meeting with the Baltic Presidents this summer, his efforts -- or manifestations of the efforts the United States is undertaking to help support the building of democracy in market economies in that area.
The President also recalled that the Baltic states' history and the expression of that in the United States even during his boyhood, that the individual Baltic countries had communities here, had longed for their freedom over a long period of time and it was important for us and others to help them realize that.
He found the issue of Prime Minister Persson bringing up the FBI as a rather interesting one and noted that alliances against crime and narcotics and terror are likely to be the really significant defense alliances of the 21st century, and he told the Prime Minister that he hoped to work with him and with the Prime Ministers of the Baltic states to help them put away the bitterness of the past and to work together on the future.
There were only a couple other issues that were discussed during this meeting. I'll mention them briefly: First, the United Nations and Prime Minister Persson's mentioning to the President that Sweden was interested in one of the elective seats to the U.N. Security Council that rotates and had begun a campaign to seek support for that. And second, a brief discussion of the U.S. decision not to support the current Secretary General for a second term.
Secretary Christopher wanted to underscore to the Prime Minister that this was not a decision that was going to change, it was one that was final. And while we didn't have candidate and that our only preconception is to find someone with an effective leadership capabilities and an effective commitment to reform, we hope that Sweden and other like-minded states could help us find such a candidate and help us move forward to selection of a new Secretary General.
Q Was he favoring Boutros-Ghali for the job?
MR. JOHNSON: He did not mention who he favored for the job. But the Secretary mentioned that there had been some rumors afoot that this might be a transitory idea of the United States, but we wanted to underscore that it certainly was not -- it was not going to change in the aftermath of -- excuse me, as the fall went on. And we were committed to finding a new candidate, a new Secretary General and one who would be effective in reforming the institution so that it could continue to enjoy the support of the American people.
Q David, how vociferous was the protest of Helms-Burton?
MR. JOHNSON: He mentioned it. The President made clear that his support for Helms-Burton was not going to change, that we thought that there needed to be real change in Cuba. And we thought that in the aftermath of the shootdown of those innocent civilian aircraft in international airspace near Cuba was something that we had to deal with decisively, and that Helms-Burton was an appropriate tool to do that.
Q David, just one last thing on Bosnia. He mentioned Bosnia was really just a quick, brief conversation.
MR. JOHNSON: This discussion was, as I said, devoted almost exclusively to the Baltics states. There was a brief discussion of Bosnia and the effort that the -- the Swedish Prime Minister thanked the President for his leadership on that, and the President, in turn, complimented the support that the Swedish troops had made in Bosnia, their 850 strong membership in the Baltic battalion there.
Q But nothing about elections?
MR. JOHNSON: No, it was devoted almost exclusively to the Baltics.
Q I would like to ask about two letters. The first one was sent from Boris Yeltsin to Bill Clinton in June with a message that it would be absolutely unacceptable if the Baltic states were members of NATO, even to think about it would be unacceptable to Russia. And I wonder what is the U.S. -- I understand the President hasn't answered. What is the newest reply on those letters?
And also, my second question is the Swedish Prime Minister had a letter from Latvia from the Estonian President Lennart Meri to President Clinton with him. Would you comment on that document as well?
MR. JOHNSON: I'm unaware of the second letter. With respect to the first letter, I'm not going to address it directly. I will address our policy with respect to membership in NATO, and that is that we're excluding no one. The Alliance is engaged right now in a very careful program to consult with the Partners for Peace who are interested in NATO membership, and the President has made clear, as has the Alliance, that it's not a question of if NATO will expand, but when and with whom, and those questions will be addressed over the course of the next several months and year.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you, David.
Other subjects. Yes?
Q What do you make of the former Senator's nondirect mention of the platform action last night in San Diego?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he apparently chose not to dwell at any great length on what is a fundamental issue coming up this fall. That is Mr. Dole has now embraced, indeed endorsed, an unrelenting, intolerant assault on a woman's right to choose through the platform language that is now on its way for adoption in San Diego. That will be a fundamental difference between the two candidates this fall because President Clinton is a strong supporter of a woman's right to choose and believes that we should not overturn Roe v. Wade.
Q Does the President favor a plank in the Democratic platform that would express tolerance and respect for pro-life views on abortion?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is greatly encouraged by the draft language in the Democratic platform that does exactly that. It notes that the Democratic Party is a party of inclusion. We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party. Now, specifically a very tolerant inclusive embrace of people who for moral conscience take a different point of view.
Q So the President feels that the Democrats are going to go into the fall campaign with a very tolerant plank that has now been removed by the Republicans?
MR. MCCURRY: We have a tolerance plank in our platform. The Republican platform plank on this issue is intolerant. And so is Mr. Dole.
Q Just a follow-up. Does that mean that people like former Governor Casey are going to address the convention?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's -- that subject hadn't been addressed; in fact, we have not announced a program of speakers. But we encourage participation at all levels of the party and expect that there will be those who have different points of view on the issue of choice that will address the convention.
Q But, Mike, when you say Mr. Dole is intolerant, isn't he the one who actually was pushing for a tolerance --
MR. MCCURRY: He at one point said it was non-negotiable, but apparently that was not true because they backed down and caved on that position in the face of Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson, people who are insisting on a very extreme anti-choice point of view. Bob Dole at one point indicated he would stand up to them in the name of tolerance, and he backed away from that.
Q Does that mean he's unsuccessful or intolerant --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they now have a platform that is intolerant, and Mr. Dole today clearly embraced that platform.
Q Right, but you just said, so was he --
MR. MCCURRY: And his can only be characterized now as being intolerant of those that have a point of view contrary to that in the platform.
Q So you don't call his call for --
MR. MCCURRY: By the way, and this extends -- when in November of 1995 when he addressed this issue, it also extended to intolerance to those who are candidates for appointment to the federal judiciary, because he made it quite clear then that he would establish this as a litmus test for the appointment of judges.
Q I don't quite understand -- you said that Dole had supported -- his party has a platform that's unrelenting in its intolerance and an insult on a woman's right to choose; and then said, but your party's going to have a tolerance plank for people who are intolerant. I mean, which is it? Do you respect people who are right-to-life people or you don't?
MR. MCCURRY: We say that this is a matter of moral conscience that people should address privately. The one thing we don't need is the government telling people what they can and cannot do when it comes to matters of reproductive health, their own health and their own right to exercise their constitutional freedom of choice. And we recognize that there are different points of view as a matter of conscience on that issue. We respect the views of those who have contrary points of view of the party -- that this party is a pro-choice party. It will be made clear on our platform that that is the case, but we are tolerant of the view of others. That tolerance does not extend to the Republican Party.
Q How much say does the President have on the upcoming platform for the Democrats? Is he going over it line by line? Has he got a draft of it already?
MR. MCCURRY: We've had our representatives participating in the deliberations of the drafting committee and the platform committee. The President's very well-satisfied with the strong platform that is moving towards adoption in Chicago.
Q Mike, you have been extraordinarily successful in raising money for the campaign. And $11 million of the money you got was taxpayer money for use during the primary season. Since there was no primary opponent, is there any consideration of giving that money back?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely not because during that primary period, we faced political attacks from a number of Republican candidates for president, including the likely nominee of that party. The President had a right during that primary period to defend himself, defend his record, and you know we elected to do so.
Q Not much. I mean, you didn't spend much money during that period of time.
MR. MCCURRY: We spent what was recorded at the Federal Election Commission.
Q In his remarks to the Republican platform committee, Senator Dole had a challenge for the President saying that if he's all so all-fired concerned that the Dole tax cut plan might interfere with arriving at a balanced budget in the year 2002, why doesn't the President gather up some more Democratic votes for a balanced budget amendment?
MR. MCCURRY: He can say whatever he chooses to say. This President has clearly from the moment he took office been working to reduce the deficit. He fulfilled a fundamental pledge he made to the American people in 1992 to reduce the budget deficit by half. He was successful at that. He has now presented a plan to the Congress that would, in fact, lead to a balanced budget by the year 2002 as measured by the Congressional Budget Office, something that apparently Mr. Dole's not willing to say on behalf of his own plan.
Look, this President is doing serious work to reduce federal budget deficits and to balance the budget, not relying on smoke and mirrors, rosy scenarios and all manner of other gimmicks to achieve the goal.
Q Mike, in the 1992 campaign the President was very critical of Wall Street, of people who made over $1 million a year, but he's choosing to vacation at the home of somebody on Wall Street who made over $20 million a year and whose firm had to pay one of the largest fines on record. Is there any discomfort about that?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Could you explain why? Doesn't that clash with what he said in 1992?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't think there's any conflict. I would have to go back and look at what he said specifically in 1992, but he can choose to vacation with friends. I think most Americans would honor his right to do so.
Q What can you tell us about his trip coming up now?
MR. MCCURRY: Still somewhat in flux because we may be presented with some items for action by the Congress. We're waiting to see whether that happens. But the President intends to go ahead with an event that will stress the need to bring educational technology into the classroom, specifically, computer technology when he visits a school outside San Jose, California. And he's looking forward to an event that will stress the protection of children as we prevent crime oriented towards children when he speaks in Southern California on Friday.
Q Mike, last January you said that the President favored the legislation that would reimburse Mr. Dale for his legal expenses and would sign it. You also said the White House wanted to put this whole issue behind it to close the books on the whole thing. Had you discussed that with the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I had a couple of conversations dating back over the last couple of months -- or, I guess, around about the end of the year, early in the year with the President. And I think Mr. Toiv expressed himself on how forward leaning I was on those remarks last week.
Q Why were you forward leaning? What led you to believe that the President would sign that if he had never, in fact, told you that?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say that he had never told me that; I'd said that we had had some discussions about the bill, and I was probably forward leaning in saying he would sign that bill, and not complete enough in characterizing some of his concerns he had about people who are mounting their own legal expenses here.
Q So he's not going to sign it? Is that a definite?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say that. I said that he'll have to look at -- I think the same thing Mr. Toiv said last week, that he'll have to look at whatever gets passed.
Q So he never told you he'd sign it. He never told you he'd sign it.
MR. MCCURRY: He didn't lead me to believe he would either encourage passage or oppose the measure if passed by Congress.
Q Right, but did --
MR. MCCURRY: And I interpolated that to say that he would sign it. I probably should have indicated he had some reservations. The reservations extended to the treatment of those who are amassing their own legal bills.
Q Mike, can you confirm that the President received a letter from the Japanese Prime Minister urging him to resolve the insurance disagreement with the same kind of political push that he gave to the semiconductor agreement last week?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't confirm that. We can check on that, though.
Q This is about California again. Besides technology in the classroom and crimes against children, might the President make some announcement that's health related, tobacco related?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any announcement, no.
Q Would you rule out the possibility the President will propose any tax cut plan of his own?
MR. MCCURRY: He's already proposed tax relief for middle-income people. And he strongly supports that, encourages Congress to act on the very targeted, paid for tax relief measure he has put before Congress that's consistent with the goal of the balanced budget -- one that doesn't balloon the deficit.
Q How about any additional plan?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any additional proposals that the President intends to submit.
Q Back on the Travel Office thing for a second. Has the President or any of his people talked to anyone on the Hill or made any sort of concrete steps as far as arranging for either broader legislation that will cover the people here or an additional private bill that would cover legal expenses of White House staffers?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we've had any specific discussions, but we have made the same suggestions to them that Barry and Mary Ellen indicated last week that there should be balanced and equitable treatment.
Q At what point was that issue raised with someone on the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know, probably in the course of the last couple of weeks.
Q I'm just trying to figure -- if the President is making a push more towards arranging for relief for the people here at the White House or just making sure that he quashes the Billy Dale bill.
MR. MCCURRY: No, he's not -- look, that's not -- his interest is in equitable and fair treatment of people who amount legal expenses when they're simply fulfilling their duties to comply with legitimate inquiries.
Q Do you have the topic for the speech in Salinas?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. It's an anticrime event that's stressing, I think, community law enforcement efforts.
Q Community policing?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe so. Mary Ellen may know more about it.
Q Mike, on the Dole tax plan, he has been talking a lot about economic insecurity among Americans, and I know the President does bring that up from time to time, but we don't hear that much specifically about it. How does the White House assess how economically concerned Americans are?
MR. MCCURRY: We have some reason to believe that Americans, as they watch the performance of this economy, as they see the very strong economic growth that we've just recently recorded in the most recent quarter, as we see the impressive job growth in the economy, as Americans see that interest rates are low, that they are seeing low rates of unemployment, as they begin to absorb what they see in their communities and around their families and their neighborhoods, they see the evidence of a strong economy, we think that people are feeling more optimistic about this country's future. And, indeed, the President's very optimistic; believes now we can move forward with an economic growth strategy that will increase incomes for the American people.
That's the next task that lies ahead of us as we build on the strong performance that the economy has had over the last three and a half years. So the President is very upbeat about what we face in the future, about the prospects for the American economy in the 21st century and about America's leading role in the global economy of the 21st century. And we'll leave it to Mr. Dole to be gloomy and doomy.
Q Mike, can you comment on the McLarty deposition yesterday which again suggests, it's like the fifth White House official to say he felt pressure from Hillary Clinton to fire Billy Dale and the rest of the Travel Office staff. Are they all imagining it or --
MR. MCCURRY: I really don't have anything to add to what Mr. Fabiana said yesterday on that.
Q The President's got some of the Olympic athletes tomorrow morning. These are what, just medal winners only or --
MR. MCCURRY: The entire team is invited, and we hope as many of them can make it as can make it. And he's looking forward to seeing winners and almost winners because they're all winners.
Q Has the President -- since the closing ceremonies, has the President expressed himself in any way an overall assessment of the Olympics?
MR. MCCURRY: His overall assessment of the Olympics are, first and foremost, that the state of Georgia and Atlanta did a spectacular job in hosting in what the President, I think, would describe as the best games ever. And I think he also has enormous satisfaction at the spirit of those games. The Olympic spirit that he talked about when he met with the team right before the beginning of the games really did prevail in the face of, obviously, the tragedy of the bombing incident in Centennial Park. It was an enormously impressive moment for the United States but, indeed, for the entire world community that came together to celebrate the games -- and some darn good athletic competition.
Q Any hint of what public events the President might be doing while in Jackson Hole?
MR. MCCURRY: I've got some ideas, but nothing that's announceable.
Q How's the bill signing agenda going?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't checked. I should have checked before coming down with the Secretary's office. We've got the Ag appropriations bill, is it here? And that's the only one that I'm aware of that we might anticipate action on imminently. We just got one -- you don't know which one is was, though?
Q Is it beginning to look like he might have to sign welfare on the road?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't have any way of knowing. You know, the Congress and the leadership of Congress makes its own decisions about how they enroll and present for final action to the White House the measures that Congress has passed.
Q When you say that the President said that Boutros-Ghali is not negotiable -- you have no one to replace him. Isn't this boiling down to a personal vendetta, that anybody but -- you'd take anybody, and so forth -- you're not backing anyone you think would be superior and so forth?
MR. MCCURRY: No, that's not the case. We have careful, diplomatic discussions going on with other members of the United Nations, other members of the Security Council, to find someone who can carry out the fundamental need for reform and lead that institution into the 21st century. And we need someone of superior capabilities and we need to arrive at a candidate that will enjoy the support of that body and the world community.
Q But you don't have anyone in mind. I mean, we have no list --
MR. MCCURRY: We've got -- we're working on it. Nothing that I'm talking about publicly.
Q Have campaign plans crystallized for what the President's going to do right after Chicago, between Chicago and Labor Day?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to the point that they are announceable.
Q How about just getting him to Chicago?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe the campaign has announced anything on that.
Q Mike, back to Mara's question. I'm a little unclear, did the President ever tell you he would sign this bill?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that was asked and answered already.
Q No, what's --
MR. MCCURRY: I said I had conversations with him, and I drew a conclusion by interpolating some of the things he said to me.
Q Mike, does the President have any plans to fully nominate Charlene Barshefsky as United States Trade Representative?
MR. MCCURRY: We have reached an agreement with the Finance Committee that would allow her to remain in an acting capacity, I believe until the conclusion of this Congress. Is that correct -- or until the year? No time set, but because of the expiration of the 120-day limit, we needed to have a satisfactory understanding with the Finance Committee, and that understanding was achieved, protecting all of the legal rights and issues that are underlying the discussion, but one that was both satisfactory to the White House and satisfactory to the committee.
Q Does he not have enough confidence in her to nominate her fully?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, he has -- that's not the issue at all. He has enormous confidence in her and, in fact, praised her for her work in Vancouver and most recently on the agreements we've reached with Japan. She's been a superb trade negotiator and someone that the President respects and admires in that capacity. The issue of her nomination is one that involves a statute that we need to look at carefully. We are working through that issue with the Finance Committee, and we hope that we can have that resolved so indeed she could continue in that capacity.
Q What do you all hear about the immigration reform bill?
MR. MCCURRY: Haven't heard anything new. That it needs a lot of work. It needs a lot of work specifically on the Gallegly amendment, and that will be -- may or may not be an item high on the priority list of Congress when Congress returns in September.
Q Would you rule out a welfare reform signing on the road? I mean, is that a --
MR. MCCURRY: I have no way of knowing at this point. It depends on when it -- it depends on when Congress sends it here.
Q Can you give us any more guidance on tobacco and when the White House is going to make its decision?
MR. MCCURRY: That's an FDA decision. You might want to check there. On the pending rulemaking?
Q You have to --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it will -- the status check is best made, I think, at FDA. And we haven't had any indication that there is anything coming. Right, Mary Ellen?
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:50 P.M. EDT