THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:04 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the White House for our daily briefing. What I would like to do -- let me start with one or two things the President did not get asked about. First, I would like to read a statement from the President of the United States of America on the meeting between Yassir Arafat and Binyamin Netanyahu. The statement is as follows:
"I welcome the meeting today between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and PLO Chairman Arafat. The meeting between the two leaders is a very important step in developing an Israeli-Palestinian partnership so essential to implementation of their agreements. Indeed, it reflects their continuing commitment to resolving their differences through negotiations and to securing a lasting peace. I look forward to meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu next Monday to review progress and discuss developments in the region."
Do we have a time yet set on that? Probably around noontime on Monday.
Item -- this actually caught my eye in my morning intelligence folder, which I will read to you.
Q Is that a classified document?
MR. MCCURRY: No, this one happens to be unclassified.
MR. MCCURRY: But it's interesting and I'll make a point on this. Production and wages continue to rise steadily -- this is in Bosnia -- (laughter) -- in Bosnia, production and wages continue to rise steadily while inflation remains under control in the Muslim Croat Federation.
Q There goes inflation through the roof.
Q What about wage stagnation and declining family incomes?
MR. MCCURRY: Industrial production increased 12.6 percent from June to July and registered an 109 percent gain over one year earlier.
Q But, Mike, polls show that people still feel bad about the economy in Bosnia. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it started in an economy ravaged by the effects of the war, and I think sometimes we forget and we get focused in on things that are happening there, miss something very important, that life has been transformed for so many people who just over a year ago were still dealing with the consequences of a very bitter and brutal war.
I raise this point because, do not forget that we have been doing a considerable amount of work here at the White House on the subject of the Bosnian election scheduled for September 14th. That's a very difficult haul. It has not been easy structuring the elections, but a lot of very -- people, particularly those at the OSC are working on it. There will be about 1200 international monitors there for the elections, and they will not necessarily be pristine examples of democracy at work, but it will be an important transformation as Bosnia begins to recover from the effects of the war.
Don't keep that too far off of your radar screens since we certainly don't.
Q On that, Mike, will the President be disappointed if nationalist parties that want to undo the Dayton Accords come to power and --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President would hope that the election results will confirm what we clearly believe are the desires of the people in Bosnia and particularly the people of the Muslim Croat Federation. They want peace. They want an opportunity to see their lives return to some semblance of normalcy. They want to see the kind of economic improvements that I just described to you, and while we can't take a position on what judgment they will make in an election, our desire would be to see people who are committed to the peace process, to the Dayton Accords, continue to provide leadership.
Q Right. But does the President feel that maintaining some kind of a federation and some kind of a federation and some kind of a semblance of a unitary state there is important, or would he be perfectly satisfied if they all decided to go --
MR. MCCURRY: He believes the structure, the constitutional structures that take place as a result of the election are very important features of the Dayton Accords and the Dayton process, and naturally we will remain fully committed to assisting all of the parties there as they fulfill the commitments they've made under the Accord.
Any other subjects you're interested in today? Yes?
Q Domestic agenda on the Hill. Would the President be content for Congress to leave on the 27th, and would he call for them basically to do the appropriations, all 13 appropriations bills?
MR. MCCURRY: Let me give you a little sense of the meeting Chief of Staff Leon Panetta had today with the Democratic leaders, with Minority Leader Daschle and Minority Leader Gephardt. They talked a lot about what kind of agenda we could expect in the coming weeks before Congress adjourns. Obviously, the stress all three placed was on the appropriations process. The President believes that Congress should complete the appropriations process and address those specific areas of priority and emphasis that he has been suggesting are important to the American people all along: first and foremost education -- we've got to preserve the investments in education that will help kids get the skills they need to be productive parts of a growing economy in the 21st century. The President wants to see full funding for his antidrug package that we've submitted to the Congress. We, above all else, cannot see further attempts to reduce the drug control strategy funding that we have had in the budget.
He wants to see preservation of our anticrime efforts and particularly the 100,000 cops program. And obviously we don't want to see any rollback of efforts to protect the environment or to enforce environmental laws. Those are key priorities. We've got some other things that clearly we're interested in. We're interested in seeing passage of our antiterrorism legislation with a strong taggants provision. We want Congress to enact an immigration bill that deals with legal immigration, addresses some of the reforms that have been suggested, but dropping the amendment that would deny education to children and kick them out on the streets, essentially leave them in the hands of gangs instead of in the hands of teachers.
And if we were really lucky and if they got exuberant up there on Capitol Hill, it would be great if they dealt with some of the President's initiatives. Specifically, we would like to see the extension of the Family and Medical Leave Act that we have suggested should be expanded to include appointments, times for parent-teacher conferences, things like that. And obviously we would like to expand the Brady law to protect victims of domestic violence from gun violence, along the lines of the President's suggestion. Those are two -- I mean, the President, of all of his initiatives that you have heard him describe, those are two that might conceivably have a chance to see some action in Congress, and that would be great.
Q Those are submitted in legislative form. They're already --
MR. MCCURRY: Those are in a position in the legislative process where I think we have sent up specs -- we sent up specs sufficient to help the committees draft the necessary legislation working with the administration.
Q But they have not been introduced.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe they have been introduced as true bills, but they have got enough information that they can put them into existing conference reports, even perhaps Appropriations conference reports.
Q As far as any of the targeted tax relief proposals that the President outlined in his acceptance speech, that's all --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President would be delighted to see the Middle Class Bill of Rights, his tax credit for child care expenses, investments in education, some of those things that he put before the nation in his acceptance speech -- delighted to see that pass. We're realistic enough to know that those kinds of questions are now before the American people and not the Congress, because the President's opponent has a firm view on how he would structure an economic program; we have an equally firm view on ours.
Q Mike, have we knocked out Iraq's air defense capabilities, or those -- attack?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the cruise missile attacks, launched at the President's direction, focused on fixed and semi-fixed sites, principally SA-2, SA-3 sites. There continue to exist, as we saw today, mobile systems that are not conducive to targeting by cruise missiles, and they present a danger. But there is always danger in the airs over Iraq, because of their capacity. Our pilots are well trained to deal with that. They deal with it effectively. We'll know later how effective -- the harm the missile strike was on the particular site that illuminated one of our airplanes today.
But this has, over the past several years, happened from time to time. From time to time there have been incidents in which our pilots have had to neutralize a site that posed some risk to aircraft flying, and this was a -- they clearly were patrolling new terrain today, so they will get better understanding of what the operational capacity of the Iraqis are as they patrol.
Q Mike, the President seemed to suggest --
Q Does that mean that -- fixed and semi-fixed positions?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the report -- you have gotten a report from General Ralston earlier today on the effectiveness of the strikes against the targets that were selected -- made it possible, as the President just said moments ago, to go effective with the expanded no-fly zone today. And as you heard the President say, that's a considerable strategic advance for our presence in the region because it makes it possible to keep much closer eye on things that Saddam used to have at his disposal.
Q The President seemed to be suggesting in his remarks that it was kind of over for now; if they don't do anything more aggressive, we won't do anything. Is that a fair reading of his comments?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President was, I thought, pretty clear. Saddam Hussein has now paid a considerable price for his miscalculation and his misconduct. He has lost some strategic ability in the region. He is not in a position to threaten and harass neighbors, as he might have been prior. And we continue to be in a position where we can respond to any additional aggressive behavior by Saddam Hussein. We have seen some dispersal of troops that were in the Kurdish-controlled area in the north, as both Secretary Perry and the President have now reported. We hope they will maintain a non-offensive posture.
Q What have you been able to learn --
Q You're not declaring victory on that score, though, are you?
MR. MCCURRY: No, that will have to be monitored very, very carefully. They have got a force assembled to the north that has capacity. It could be oriented towards offensive action. And we will have to monitor that force very, very carefully.
Q Mike, what do you make of this MiG incident? Do you think that was harassment?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think the MiGs apparently flew down to take a look out of -- from the north and turned tail and ran pretty quick. That's the way it was reported.
Q Have you been able to learn anything about these reports of explosions and artillery fire in Baghdad?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't have anything on it. You ought to ask Peter Arnett. He's in Baghdad, right, Wolf? So whatever it is, it's not ours.
Q Has the U.S. sent any further communications to Baghdad by courier, fax --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any -- I'm not aware of any further message today.
Q In the absence of what you call "additional aggressive behavior" by Saddam Hussein, is it fair to say that in the absence of that that this mission is essentially over?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, remember, the mission Operation Desert Strike was designed to force Saddam Hussein to pay a price for his aggressive behavior and to establish the ongoing penalty he will pay for that behavior, which is the creation of the new no-fly zone, which severely restricts his operating capacity and his strategic ability in the region. He will pay the price for his misbehavior every day, day after day now, because he has lost that capacity to operate his aircraft above the 32nd Parallel.
Now, that has essentially been successful. They have been the patrols as part of Southern Watch. But that will continue to be, as it always has been, an exercise that requires vigilance and courage on the part of those pilots flying those missions.
Q Mike, do you know how much of Saddam's air force was based in that expanded area of the no-fly zone, and how much of that part of his air force he managed to get out of there before this took effect?
MR. MCCURRY: He, as has been the case previously with no-fly zone enforcement actions, there was a grace period in which he could remove those planes so that he wouldn't be tempted to use them or to attempt to sneak them out at a later date. Now, I think Secretary Perry said a little bit about the number of aircraft they saw leave earlier today before the deadline went into effect. But, Brit, they would be able to tell you better at the Pentagon what portion of his overall aircraft -- I guess the key thing is their air force had essentially used that corridor between the 32nd and 33rd Parallel to train. That's where they don't have a lot of operating room over their own air space, but that's where they used to do whatever exercises they conducted. They've lost that now, so his capacity to have a real effective air force has been severely diminished.
Q There are two bases that were used as training bases there? Is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: There were two -- my understanding, two bases that we were concerned about. I don't know if there were additional bases there, but two that I know of.
Q How are they ranked in order of importance to the whole Iraqi air force?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't. Any of you guys? Colonel, do you know? We'll check -- if you don't mind, check over at the Pentagon.
Q What was the rationale for giving him 24 hours or 36 hours to remove those planes?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because as long as they were in that area, they would present some potential threat to our force. I mean, if they're there, they could take off, and then we would have to have an engagement with them. By removing them in areas where they are allowed to be, we reduce any risks that might exist to our pilots later on if Saddam suddenly decided he needed to try to sneak them out of that corridor and, in fact, that has happened in the past; that's why in the past we've always given a short grace period to remove those planes elsewhere.
Q How goes the coalition, and what efforts are being made by the U.S. to stitch that back together at least on the public front and get some kind of expression of support now after the fact for this mission?
MR. MCCURRY: We are making extensive efforts, diplomatically, to remind people of the importance of the efforts we have underway to keep those who are so supportive of our previous efforts in Iraq together. We respect some of the differences that have been expressed; we also respect the different analysis that even some of our closest allies bring to the situation. But you've heard this President over and over again say that when the United States needs to act, we will act in concert with others when we can, but if necessary, sometimes we must act alone.
Q Did you find out whether he was going to make some phone calls this afternoon, too?
MR. MCCURRY: I checked. I'm not aware of any that he's planned today. He's monitoring a lot of the activity we have. By the way, you probably know that Secretary of State Christopher is on his way to European capitals and will be in position to have high-level consultations with his counterparts in coming days, if not hours.
Q Senator McCain and others keep asking whether the administration has a plan B with regard to Iraq, namely some direct action to dislodge Saddam from the northern enclave. The President and you keep talking about Saddam having paid a heavy price in the south and strategically, but is this administration content to let Saddam leave his troops indefinitely north of the 36th Parallel?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no specific prohibition against him having troops in that area; it's what those troops do that is restricted by the will of the international community. He cannot use that force to repress minorities inside his own boundary. He can't do that with his military anywhere within Iraq; that's a condition placed upon him as a result of his loss in the Desert Storm war.
But let me make the point we deliberately did not enter into the equation in north Iraq on behalf of either of the warring factions within the Kurds. Our national interests were not sufficiently engaged to attach ourselves to one side or the other in that fight.
That's not the question that was addressed; the question that was addressed was: do we allow Saddam Hussein to use his military in a provocative way in a fashion that hurts the interests of the civilian Kurdish population in the north. And the answer to that is, no, we don't let him get away with that, he pays a significant price for having done so. But the price he paid was at our choosing, consistent with our vital strategic interests in the region.
Q Well, what do you say to the Kurds who remain not only threatened, but subjugated, as a result of --
MR. MCCURRY: We would remind them how important it was to work with us, as they did for many years, to present a common ground solidarity against Saddam Hussein. Part of the opportunity Saddam gained here was because the Kurds are fighting each other. So the message to the Kurds would be, stop your conflict with each other, resume the negotiations aimed at the cease-fire that the United States was attempting to broker, come back to the table and work together so that you can avoid the provocations of those who would attempt to repress you.
Q Let me just follow with one further. Supposing they agree with that and do allow you effectively to broker a peace between these two factions. Would you in return then give them some security assurances?
MR. MCCURRY: That's so bizarrely hypothetical, I can't answer it. The problem right now is, there is no indication from either party that they want to have that kind of negotiation.
Q Two things. Just to follow up on Leo. I mean, some of them say they turned to Saddam in utter frustration because they weren't getting the kind of help they want from you.
MR. MCCURRY: That is not the case. We have been there expending our own treasure and our own resources, and in the case of some of the aspects, the military aspects of Operation Provide Comfort at great risk to U.S. military personnel to help them face the humanitarian needs that they have. But the collapse of the amicable relations between the parties and their willingness to attach themselves to others from the outside who are attempting to influence their behavior is tragic, because the people who are paying the price are going to be the Kurdish population that has suffered -- in some respects, suffered for decades if not centuries because of the hostilities that exist between major powers in that region.
Q Could you just tell us -- yesterday, even though there were signs of dispersal or redeployment, they were still shelling Sulaymaniyah. What exactly is happening in that region now?
MR. MCCURRY: They've been -- as the President has said, the Secretary of Defense has said, there has been some dispersal of forces, there continues to be some sporadic shelling that we are aware of. We're not certain that the dispersal indicates any type of withdrawal. There has been a general pullback, as the Secretary of Defense said, from Irbil proper, but it's a force that remains in a position to do damage, and it's a force that, as I said earlier, we will continue to monitor carefully.
Q Mike, it appears that this step in the expansion of the no-fly zone is a fait accompli and is relatively permanent -- now part of the no-fly zone, not likely to change. That being the case, what is Saddam's incentive for backing off in the north?
MR. MCCURRY: He has a number of incentives. One, he can't get access to the oil revenue that -- remember the other part of the package here, which is he has now been restricted in his ability to sell oil to gain revenue that he could use for humanitarian relief for easing the conditions of his people. The Iraqi people are suffering because of the belligerency and the miscalculations of Saddam Hussein.
There are reports already of heavy inflation in Baghdad, people paying double prices for milk, the people of Iraq are suffering because of Saddam Hussein, and because of his miscalculations. He knows that his only avenue towards addressing the needs of his people is to comply with the wishes of the international community and to conduct himself as he expected to conduct himself in light of the U.N. Security Council resolutions that attach themselves to his behavior.
Q But yesterday Senator Dole laid out a whole bunch of things that he thinks Saddam should have to do before he gets the oil. Could you say very specifically what exactly does Saddam have to do for the oil revenue to start again, and would there be any pullback of the no-fly zone, or is that --
MR. MCCURRY: Fully comply with all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. Most of the things mentioned by Senator Dole yesterday are already requirements that are codified by the international community with respect to weapons of mass destruction, with respect to the use of his own military against the civilian population of Iraq, the requirements that exist for him with respect to honoring other obligations to come out of the resolutions that ended the Desert Storm war.
The only new requirement in the list that I heard from Senator Dole was the removal of forces from Kurdish-controlled territory, and with respect to Senator Dole, he needs to tell the American people how he would propose to do that.
The advice given to the President of the United States was that that would be an objective that could only be accomplished if we were willing to entertain the prospects of U.S. ground forces in the region. So I can't speak for Senator Dole, he needs to answer that question how he would achieve that aim.
We've selected a course of action that the President is confident is the right one, and we appreciate the support we've been getting for that stance.
Q But what I don't understand is, if removal of the forces from the Kurdish areas is not one of your criteria -- in other words, it's okay that he's there so long as he's not using them to repress anybody?
MR. MCCURRY: U.N. Security Council Resolution 688 says that he cannot conduct any activity, whether it's use of military or secret police or others that repress civilian populations, specifically the Kurdish population in the north. There is nothing that restricts him from having an army in that region. As a practical matter, that army poses a threat to those populations, and what we are deterring is the threat to that population.
Q But what I don't understand is, how are you going to know -- if it's okay that he's there, the only thing that's not okay with us is if he's using them in a certain way --
MR. MCCURRY: Well --
Q -- how are you going to know --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, as a practical matter, if he does not intend to use that force for any hostile behavior or for any strategic or for any tactical military objective, he most likely would not keep it where it is now. It's an army on the move. They would remove it back to his permanent garrisons to the south. But that's -- the question right now in the immediate days and weeks is, what does he use that force to do. And if he uses it for aggressive behavior, there would be consequences for that.
Q But there are some critics who are saying, he's been doing this kind of stuff since the Gulf War. Why was it necessary now to undertake this punishment, this action against him as opposed to a year ago, when he was doing, if not the same, similar kinds of things repressing his own people?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been, to be sure, instances in which he continues to harass, intimidate his own people, and especially minority populations, but from time to time -- and some of that -- we expect compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions -- it is the awful situation that the people of Iraq face as a result of his continued presence in power.
But at the same time, when he has begun to do things that indicate he is getting aggressive or he is beginning to believe he can get away with certain types of behavior, as in October 1994, as now, he has to be checked. And that's -- the purpose of our action was so that he would not have larger designs that went beyond his entry on behalf of one of these factions in the internal strife occurring in the north Iraq.
I mean, as horrible as that was or as that is, especially for those civilians affected by that fighting, the larger danger was what type of emboldened action he might conduct with that force, particularly with respect to others in the region or even potentially with our close ally, Israel.
Q Has the President made, or does he plan to make, any phone calls today to --
MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard of any today, but as with the case with Prime Minister Chretien yesterday, if something occurs we will let you know.
Q If the President's Florida trip is still on, does he plan to meet with officials at the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, which oversees U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf?
MR. MCCURRY: He is getting good reports in from the Pentagon, and obviously we're getting good info from Central Command. I'm not aware of any stop planned down there tomorrow. He will be focussing on education. He might address Iraq as he did just a short while ago just so his audience has any late information that's available. But his focus tomorrow will be on education and on health care, especially health care for senior citizens.
Q Back on the budget for a second, did Mr. Panetta get a sense from the leadership about how likely a continuing resolution might be?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know directly if he got a sense. Our expectation has been all along that at some point, as we get at the very end of the session, there will likely be a continuing, but our preference is for regular appropriations bills that we negotiate with the Congress. That's the way -- the regular order of business is the preferable order of business, but we most likely will end up with some type of C.R. at the end. It's too early at this point to speculate on what would be in that C.R. But I'll tell you one thing, and this Republican Congress ought to know this full well by now, it will be a C.R. that at least in some measure reflects the President's priorities with respect to Medicare, Medicaid, education, environmental protection, and investing in American future.
If it doesn't do that, it will be subject to the same kind of veto that the President has exercised prior.
Q You talked about a C.R. all the way through March. Would the President accept one that long?
MR. MCCURRY: I just don't want to speculate on what terms a C.R. might be. For now, we are going to work to try to get appropriations bill that measure up to the President's priorities. That will be our concentration, our focus. I suspect it will be some time, weeks probably, before we get into serious deliberations over a C.R.
Q You mentioned earlier that you thought tax bills would be deferred to next year. What about the proposal, though, the President made to increase the capital gains tax exclusion for home sale. Senator Dole has said that that was a long-standing objective of his as well. Could the Republicans in Congress be just as eager as the President to pass this earlier?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has a provision related to the capital gains treatment of home sales. There are other types of proposals out there. Mr. Dole's is not -- I don't remember -- I don't believe it has been introduced in Congress, but we would welcome the opportunity to work with Republican members of Congress to pass that kind of measure.
We would be delighted if any part of the President's package, as he has presented it to the Congress to work with the Republican Congress and achieve -- we have proven, in fact, that we can do that. We have done some things together with this Republican Congress for the American people that have been good. And the President's argument to the Republican Congress would be that's good for all of us, and let's get some work done here in the name of the American people, and then we can argue during the campaign about who should get the most credit, but at least we are getting something done for the American people. That's better than having a standoff.
Q Mike, so the President will be willing to pass some of those things as stand-alone measures if he could. It doesn't have to be some big, integrated package of all his agenda?
MR. MCCURRY: He'd be willing -- if we could get some of our initiatives through working with this Congress, of course, he would. Most likely, they would be attached to larger vehicles coming along. But if we could get them passed separately, we would certainly entertain that.
Q Mike, in the wake of the action in Iraq, has the President ordered any special antiterrorist provisions either here in this country or for U.S. troops overseas?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are maintaining a very high state of vigilance with respect to safety and security of U.S. personnel, U.S. military forces overseas and American citizens overseas. The State Department has issued some general instructions to the traveling public that they should heed. It is a time of some increased tension in that region. Certainly, American citizens in that region ought to pay close attention to the travel information that's provided by the Department of State.
And we already have and will continue to maintain very high degree of security precautions for U.S. facilities, installations and personnel overseas.
Q So nothing more than, for example, in Saudi Arabia where --
MR. MCCURRY: We -- I'm not going to discuss specific security measures, but our security measures always reflect the environment in which the United States must operate in the world. And it takes into account all sorts of developments that might affect the safety of American citizens and American personnel.
Q Mike, one more time on northern Iraq. It seems to me you could have done a lot of damage with an air campaign against the Republican Guard. You don't need ground troops to do a lot of damage as Desert Storm showed. I'm wondering why that wasn't considered. It just seems like American casualties was the main consideration --
MR. MCCURRY: It became apparent particularly upon advice of our senior military commanders that while you could inflict significant damage to a force of 30,000 to 40,000 heavily armored infantry divisions or infantry troops, you couldn't necessarily evict them from that portion of Kurdish-controlled Iraq that they entered.
Nor could we -- did we determine or did the President determine that our national interests were sufficiently engaged to enter into that conflict on behalf of one faction or the other. We obviously, in order to do that, would have had been taking sides against the faction that the Iraqi military was supporting. And we did not see our interests sufficiently engaged on that question, but we did see strong, vital strategic interests in curbing his potential for future aggressive behavior.
So we selected this option, selected these restrictions on his operations, knowing that they would contribute over the long term to our own strategic position in the Gulf.
Q What does that say about it being a safe haven? Doesn't that sort of make a mockery of the term "safe haven"?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's -- the term "safe haven," by the way, is not referenced in any of the relevant Security Council documents. It has been -- the effect has been -- of U.N. Security Council Resolution 688 -- has been to suggest to Saddam he cannot repress the Kurdish population that lives in the north. And that has given them, in effect, a canton to administer -- they've been able to do that with the relief -- the humanitarian relief -- that they've gotten through Operation Provide Comfort.
But that is not a legally defined safe area in the same sense that we sought and established in the case of Bosnia, in which there was a specific description of what the requirements were and specific notice given to Bosnian Serb military authorities about what they could do and not do in and around certain exclusion zones. These are different concepts here.
Q You're saying that if you attacked the Republican Guard from the air that would be the equivalent of taking sides? Doesn't that mean that Saddam Hussein can basically manufacture a split in any ethnic group he wants to -- come in and then he ties your hands from doing anything -- from the air against his troops?
MR. MCCURRY: Remember, he has an obligation not to take action against civilian populations. But to answer your first question, of course, he was alleged -- and we believed -- to have been invited by Mr. Barzani to come in and operate on behalf of the KDP. Action against Saddam's forces would thus have been interpreted as support of the PUK faction. And that would thus have put the United States in the middle of an internal, sectional fight -- intra-factional fighting -- in the Kurdish population.
Q You made a big deal out of not letting him choose where you respond. Right?
MR. MCCURRY: Right.
Q And now it sounds like anytime he wants to find someone to invite him in, he can --
MR. MCCURRY: No, to the contrary -- exactly to the contrary, Maura. That's -- what we've said is that he should not use his military force to repress individual portions of his own population. That force continues to be a threat to the people of Iraq. That's one of the reasons among the several reasons that the President indicated we hoped to deter his behavior through the actions we've now taken.
Q Mike, I'm sorry if you've answered this before I was in here. What does the President envision as the future of Provide Comfort? Is it over?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, right now, it is made difficult because of the fighting that is occurring between the Kurdish factions in the north. Provide Comfort has been invaluable help to the civilian population of the north and it has worked best when there's been cooperation between them. But the operation we believe is an important one and will continue. And we will try to work in and around the difficulties that present themselves on the ground because of the fighting that exists.
That was already the case prior to the most recent use of the Iraqi military forces. There was already fighting occurring and some very brave United Nations and NGO representatives had to work in and around the fighting that was occurring between the Kurdish groups.
Q If you don't demand that Saddam Hussein withdraw his troops from northern Iraq, aren't you really leaving the initiative with him? I mean, you say that he has to pay a price if he uses his troops, but maybe he's willing to pay that price. I mean, what's --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he has now paid a price for what he's done. He's seen his strategic capacity diminished.
Q Yes, but you haven't really forced him to stop doing that.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you're correct. We haven't forced him to stop doing it, but we've put him on notice that there are further consequences if he now continues to use that force in an aggressive action on behalf of -- ever use it against the Kurdish population or part of the Kurdish population in the north.
There are additional consequences that would apply. He has now paid a price for what he's done. He is not, at the moment, doing anything with that force as he was earlier. And we'll have to watch him very carefully.
Q So you're saying that there can, in fact, be further military action against Iraq?
MR. MCCURRY: There can be further consequences, as the President has indicated, if he does not -- if he uses that force aggressively to repress his own population.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:42 P.M. EDT