THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Dyersburg, Tennessee) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release August 31, 1996
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
Filing Center Dyersburg, Tennessee
2:25 P.M. CDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon, everyone. I just will be on background, as in a senior administration official, just to provide an update on what the President is up to.
Earlier today, the National Security Council principals met in Washington and reviewed the situation in Iraq. They have outlined some steps for the President's review which he is considering and shaping, reporting back in to National Security Adviser Tony Lake, who is the one who briefed him on the deliberations of the NSC earlier today.
I expect the President and the Vice President together, since there here together, to be reviewing some of the likely steps that we will pursue in the course of the coming days -- diplomatic steps principally, although as the President indicated he has changed the status of some of the forces that we have in the region.
You can well imagine that in the last 24 hours, with Iraqi military units engaged in active military operations, that has changed the way that U.S. forces and international forces operate in the theater, and there are some adjustments related to aircraft and ships going on now that are underway. The Pentagon, as I said to some of you earlier today, is a more reliable place to get good information on that.
I don't have a lot to add to that. Maybe if there are any questions -- I think the President's statement pretty well speaks for itself.
Q Well, when the President's asked Americans to say an extra prayer for our military people tonight, did that indicate that some military mission might be imminent?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not at all. What the President meant to indicate is that we have an extensive military presence in that region. We very actively and effectively enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions related to things like the no-fly zone, the resolutions that codify the outcome of the Persian Gulf War, principally U.N. Security Council Resolution 660 and 668. And those efforts are always dangerous because it is always risky to deploy in a theater in which there is active combat underway. The President is mindful of the fact that every time U.S. military personnel carry out duties in that region in some sense they are in harm's way. And he just said, we should remember our active-duty military at all times, but especially when they're carrying out important missions.
I do not expect to see anything -- I expect to see, over the course of coming days, a fairly extensive diplomatic effort as the international community understands and addresses what we've seen happening in and around the Kurdish center -- or Kurdish administrative capital today.
Q How seriously do we regard the violation of the no-fly zone or of any of the U.N. resolutions? And secondly, how much do we actually know about what's happened and who's responsible?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, first let me make very clear that we are not aware of any violations of the no-fly zone. To my knowledge, we've seen some -- we have some indications of helicopter activity up and around the 36th Parallel, but I am not aware of any reports that there have been air activity launched from Iraq above the 36th Parallel.
In terms of the U.N. Security Council resolutions, the one that is -- principally affects the Kurdish population in the north is the one which requires Saddam Hussein to respect the human rights and humanitarian needs of minority populations in Iraq. That was aimed both at the Kurds in North Iraq and the Shiia in Southern Iraq, principally in the Marshes* and those were largely humanitarian-related resolutions.
By the way, in furtherance of those, as you all know, the United States is a very active participant in Operation Provide Comfort. We have rendered some $300 million worth of assistance to the Kurds. We have worked with all of the different factions within the Kurdish population to encourage them, one, to limit their hostilities against each other, and, two, to cooperate both in resisting the aggression of Saddam Hussein, but also in furthering their own ambitions by concentrating on things like economic recovery, humanitarian assistance to those who are needy.
The difficulty of this situation is underscored by the fact that it does appear that there is some cooperation between certain Kurdish military elements and Iraqi forces, as the President indicated in his statement. So this is not a case solely of an incursion by Iraqi forces. There appears to be some cooperation with some elements of the Kurdish forces there principally, we believe are most likely associated with the KDP -- the Kurdish Democratic Party.
Q [name deleted] has the President consulted any foreign leaders about this crisis?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There have been consultations at a high level -- at the foreign minister level. Secretary Christopher has been engaged extensive diplomatic contacts through our embassies in the region. I will hold open the possibility that the President himself might be placing some calls. But I know that if that happens, it would not likely occur until tomorrow.
Q [name deleted] none of this involved his change of plans for Monday, Tuesday? Was this an issue with that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That was not an issue. We have got a very vigorous -- we are at a very vigorous moment in our political life as a nation, an important moment as Americans hear candidates address our issues. And we're not going to give Saddam Hussein the satisfaction of interfering with that process.
Q Mike, we're still flying in and out of the no-fly zone, aren't we? We're patrolling with helicopters and aircraft?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's a very active patrolling of the no-fly zone principally in the area above the 36th Parallel. And I think you can safely assume that they might increase those overflights and increase that monitoring function that we have in the region as a result of these developments.
Q Well, they're going into the area; they obviously are relaying all the information back to you all. Do you know whether or not there's been any threatening advances toward our aircraft?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I haven't heard of any hostile action aimed at international forces.
Q [name deleted] can you give me some sense of what the President is actually doing as we travel from stop to stop? Is he on the phone directly with Lake? Is the traveling NSC person briefing him or being the liaison?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, he continues -- he obviously continues to enjoy this bus trip. He is getting reports from time to time from Tony Lake and also from our NSC person here who is in a position to pass on relevant information that we can receive here on the road. And he's received some of those written and oral reports.
But he's also, frankly, entertaining some of the local officials who have joined him on the bus in between stops. He is in a position to continue both the fun that he's having while campaigning and the serious work that he has to do as he addresses the situation in Iraq.
Q Can you elaborate at all on the reinforcements that the President was talking about?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would prefer not to because I think the Pentagon folks are in a better position to provide specific information. As I said earlier, I'd like to say it involves some change of status of aircraft and some ship movements. My guess would be -- and I stress that I'm in a position only to guess -- but principally in the Gulf and in the Eastern Med. But I think they are most likely letting some folks know some of the changes in activity that they have underway there.
Anything else we need, or any other --
Q [name deleted] I wonder if you could give us just a feel for what future travel looks like?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Future travel, our plans, as you know, are to continue on from Memphis to Little Rock tonight. The President will have his day off tomorrow and a rally in Little Rock on Sunday, to kick off a Labor Day trip up to Wisconsin on Monday.
We had plans originally to go to Pennsylvania on Tuesday. The judgment of the President's advisors and the campaign is that he would be better served if we gave him two days off in the coming week, instead of only part of one. And for that reason we are begging the indulgence of our supporters in Pittsburgh and asking that we reschedule the event that we had planned for Pittsburgh on Tuesday. That will give the President two full days, would mean that they would return Monday night to Washington, after the stops in Wisconsin.
Q And Thursday and Friday --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We still travel Thursday-Friday, but I don't know that that's pinned down. Maybe Joe can help you out. I believe the campaign had said some things about Florida, but I'm not sure what else they're thinking of.
Q Did the President have a chance to take any rest this morning? He seems to be visibly a little --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think it's safe to say we were all pretty pooped when we got in last night, and, of course, he had a fairly -- he had calls and some business to attend to there this morning. So I think that's probably tuckered him out a little bit. But he's good about capturing a cat-nap from time to time and when he needs one, and I'm sure he'll do that this afternoon.
Q Mike, along those lines, his voice sounds awful hoarse. Is he taking anything for that or --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He lost a little bit -- I think his doctor gives him some type of anti-inflammatory spray that he can use from time to time, like a throat spray. But, really, the more you tax the vocal cords, the more likely it is that you'll do some damage. That was another reason why we said let's not try to extend this current trip one day too far.
Q A bridge too far?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: A bridge too far, right. Anything else?
Q A u-turn?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is not a u-turn. This is a pit stop on that road to the future. (Laughter.)
Q And you're not writing off Pennsylvania?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, we're not writing on Pennsylvania, nor are we so over-confident that we think we can skip this otherwise scheduled trip. And we discount all the crazy polls that say we're 21 points ahead, too.
Q You think it's only 20?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's -- I don't think anyone should take polls in the immediate aftermath of conventions on a holiday weekend, because I think they're wasting money.
As far as I know -- of course, I can't speak for the campaign, but I don't think we're wasting our money in that fashion.
Q One more on Iraq. This list of options that has been set down -- can you give us any sense of what they look like and how soon Clinton will have to feel he needs to make a decision about what to do?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't say -- I probably misspoke if I said "list of options." It's really more of a -- it's kind of several suggested steps, things that we should do, people that we should be in contact with. We have partners in the region that we worked with in the past, such as in October of 1994 when we dealt with a provocative action by Saddam Hussein. So we frankly have a well-developed sense of the diplomacy that we should bring to bear at a moment like this, and we'll be pursuing those types of leads.
The President wants to review that course of action, perhaps fine-tune it, perhaps add himself as an element to some of that diplomacy and some of that review of options. And as I say, this is something he will be putting his attention to in the coming days.
Q These steps are purely of a diplomatic nature?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- I do not want you to think they are purely or solely of a diplomatic nature.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'd say mainly and most immediately they are mainly of a diplomatic nature.
Q Since you're on background would you like to comment on the hotel last night?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Excellent. I think I stayed in that place in 1988.
Q You did remember.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I stayed in a lot of places like that in 1988, and I think I stayed there. It was wonderful. And it was a warm welcome that we had in Paducah and we loved every minute of it. I'm sure you did, too.
Welcome to the campaign and you have got 66 days more of the same.
Okay, anything else?
All right. I'll be out of pocket for a while, but I'll touch base with some of you before we take off here.
Q Are you now going all night through, or are you --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, I haven't decided yet because I don't know -- Mary Ellen is due down in Little Rock, and I believe that -- I don't see a reason why I would want to be in Little Rock overnight or during the day tomorrow.
Q We're asking because some of your status as a three-star general --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Get you on that road to the future, the immediate future of Memphis.
Q On that plane to the past.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we're trying to work out transportation arrangements for people who would like to make it to Memphis and my Marlene and others are turning their attention to that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:50 P.M. CDT