THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:00 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Other venues, other questions.
Q Will the President meet with George Bush out at the OTR, do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a good question. I didn't realize the former President Bush is there.
Q He's like honorary chairman or chairperson of the whole event. He's been out there all day. I was wondering if they would perhaps sit down and maybe talk Saddam.
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect -- I didn't know that that potential would arise, but we'll wait and see. I hadn't heard anything mentioned about it, but it wouldn't be a surprise if that happens.
Q Was there a meeting today of principals on the golf -- I'm sorry, on Iraq?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's senior national -- not the Persian Golf, the Persian Gulf. (Laughter.)
Q On Iraq.
MR. MCCURRY: The President's senior foreign policy advisors did meet this morning. They have been in regular contact with each other and with the President, and the President has been actively engaged with them as we manage matters related to Iraq.
Q He has met with them?
MR. MCCURRY: He did not meet with them at the meeting this morning, but he will be talking to both National Security Advisor Tony Lake and Deputy National Security Advisor Sandy Berger about some of the discussion they had today. We are effectively monitoring activities on the ground in Iraq and continuing --
Q Are we sending anyone there as an emissary or --
MR. MCCURRY: It wouldn't be a surprise that we would continue our pattern of high-level discussions. And it wouldn't be a surprise if there was some travel associated with the various steps that we have been taking. But I don't have any announcement of any travel.
Q Perry going? Lake? Christopher?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate.
Q Mike, in earlier phases of this go around with Iraq, there were some diplomatic signals sent -- some efforts to reach them. Have we since undertaken to take the warnings that the President and Mr. Perry and others have been issuing in sort of informal settings in Washington through more formal diplomatic channels to Iraq? Is that process continuing?
MR. MCCURRY: It has. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, the government of Iraq released the contents of one such diplomatic note and we've made it, suffice to say, abundantly clear to Saddam Hussein that his reckless behavior will have consequences. And we've also made it quite clear that we will protect our pilots, we will enforce the no-fly zone, and we will look less than generously on any effort to reconstitute his air defense systems, especially in the south in the expanded no-fly zone.
Q Do you know when the most recent diplomatic note or message was sent and how?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it was sent Friday -- Friday evening.
Q So it would be the last -- the last would be last Friday?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- I'd have to double-check. I'm not aware of any exchange since then. But we're quite confident that that message was received.
Q Can you say who is going to the area and what would be the purpose?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I can't. I can say, as I just said, that as you would well imagine that we would continue the very high-level consultations that we have been having with other governments especially those in the region as we continue to monitor and enforce the punitive actions that we've taken against Saddam Hussein.
Q Mike, is there a sense that the administration needs to better explain exactly what U.S. policy is toward Iraq? There's been criticism -- a lot of bipartisan criticism that that just hasn't been made plain.
MR. MCCURRY: We seem to be in a political season when there will be a variety of criticisms raised. The President has been very clear about his objectives as we deal with the provocative behavior of Saddam Hussein. We've made it quite clear that we are responding in a way that suits the strategic interests of the United States in constricting Saddam Hussein's ability to further intimidate his own people or neighbors. And we have extracted a price from him that he pays every day now with our enforcement of the expanded no-fly zone in the south. Our objectives are strategic, to further our own interests in that region, as opposed to a tactical response to his recent incursion into that north.
Q Mike, in what have we restricted his activities in northern Iraq by what we've done so far?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, I meant to suggest in southern Iraq with the expanded no-fly zone effectively removing air space that he has available to exercise and train his own air force and, not coincidentally, to pose any further threat to his neighbors to the south.
The President has addressed the question of Iraq publicly in the last several days, as you know, those of you who traveled with him. I wouldn't be surprised if he takes the opportunity in his radio address tomorrow to talk at greater length about our goals in that region in the long-term and our assessment of the threat that Saddam Hussein continues to pose in that region and will likely continue to pose for some time in the future. That has to be dealt with and dealt with effectively as we are doing.
Q What do you make of then the criticism by some that this administration has let the relationship with allies crumble and that it's not as strong as --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's just not at all true given the strong support we're getting from other governments both in the region and those who are part of the international coalition. The government of France, the government of Great Britain continue to work with us to patrol and enforce the no-fly zone. We continue to have support from governments in the region as we carry out those missions.
Q Mike, isn't there some difference, though, between the perception of -- haven't we had a somewhat different take on the danger posed by Saddam's latest action from some of our allies and isn't that a source of some of the problems here?
MR. MCCURRY: We would acknowledge that they -- as governments sometimes do, other governments have different analysis of the threat that he poses to his own people and somewhat different analysis of the nature of the fighting between the Kurdish factions in the north. But we saw that as provocative behavior that had to be addressed and we did so, did so effectively, and continue to do so each and every day as we enforce the expanded no-fly zone that the President ordered be created.
Q Political or not, it's traditional -- after all, Congress has a role under the Constitution in terms of war and peace, and there hasn't been any real overt consultation that we know of with Congress or the leaders.
MR. MCCURRY: I believe Dr. Perry and John Deutch were both on the Hill yesterday. And we will continue to actively consult with Congress. The President will continue to actively consult with Congress as well.
Q I'd like to follow up on all of these questions. Does the President, at this point, feel he has enough support internationally and domestically to carry out these greater strikes if we were to order them at this very moment?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on what actions the President may or may not order. The President is confident that the American people support our troops carrying out the difficult and sometimes dangerous work of enforcing the no-fly zone. The American people have been supportive of our efforts in that region to contain Saddam Hussein and to thwart his more reckless behavior. That support continues by any measure that we're aware of.
And as to international support, we work very hard to create that kind of support to continue to remind governments of the threat that Saddam Hussein poses in the region. Indeed, Secretary of State Christopher met with Gulf Cooperation Council ambassadors yesterday in furtherance of those aims. We've had very high-level visits to European capitals in connection with those aims.
But I would remind you, as the President often says, that we have leadership responsibilities in this world. And if we need to act alone, if necessary, we will act alone. We, of course, always build international support for the steps that we take in the world and, indeed, we are encouraged by the support that we have seen from other governments for precisely those measures we are now implementing in the Gulf.
Q Mike, was this meeting this morning an options meeting in terms of drawing up further possible military and economic and diplomatic steps for the President to look at later on?
MR. MCCURRY: As you would well imagine, it dealt with the situation in Iraq, the situation on the ground, a review of where our enforcement efforts are at this moment, an assessment of the kind of risk that our pilots are undertaking at they fly these missions. And this is -- I would describe it as an ongoing conversation the President has been having with his senior national security advisors in recent days.
Q To change the subject --
Q I have one more -- a couple more. Without the diplomatic gobbledygook, is it really U.S. policy to try to get Saddam ousted or to have him eliminated? Can you tell us honestly?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he -- the opportunity to do that -- and probably was more effectively presented in 1991. He remained in office. He remains a threat to his own people and to his neighbors. And we have actively worked to contain him. Our view has long been that he should fully comply with all U.N. Security Council resolutions and we have long felt that in doing so he would render himself obsolete as the leader of that nation.
Q What do you mean when you said was more effective when presented in 1991? What is it that you believe could have been done that was not done and what U.N. authority would have existed to do it?
MR. MCCURRY: There were judgments made by the last President, the last administration at the time that the Gulf War came to an end, and I think those have been carefully rehearsed in the historical review of the record.
Q What is the position of this administration with regard to those decisions?
MR. MCCURRY: We have dealt with the situation presented to President Clinton when he took office in 1993 and not looked backwards, but rather looked forwards.
Q So you have no position on this?
MR. MCCURRY: To my knowledge, the President has taken no position on those chain of decisions that have been described by those who participated.
Q He has no view of them? The administration has no view whether they were the proper steps, or what?
MR. MCCURRY: That the President inherited a situation in 1993 that he then had to manage effectively. I don't think he --as I said, I don't think he looked backward in history. He looked forward in how to more effectively contain and thwart Saddam Hussein, given that he was a reality.
Q May I just follow? There are some people who subscribe to the notion that it's better to have Saddam there so that the vacuum doesn't exist after him. Is that Clinton administration policy?
MR. MCCURRY: Our policy is the one I just described, that he should fully comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions and we think that would be inconsistent with his continued tenure and power.
Q Mike, does the administration contemplate reexamining its policy toward northern Iraq since the Kurds have clearly factionalized now?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that review, in a sense, occurred when we saw the fighting develop between the Kurdish factions. That was the tragedy of the people of the north, that the painstaking effort to bring those factions together to present a united front of opposition to Saddam Hussein fell apart because of the factional fighting between the rival groups in the north. That has impeded the delivery of humanitarian relief to the suffering people of the north, the Kurds most specifically. And it reminds us that the best outcome here could be for those factions who have made whatever temporary unholy alliances they've made, their long-term security and the long-term needs of those people fall in working together to address the threat that they face from Saddam Hussein.
Q So Operation Provide Comfort would continue even though these groups are split apart?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Operation Provide Comfort continues, but since many of the centers from which administrative relief was made available are now, in effect, war zones, that process is significantly impeded. That's caused the U.N. Secretary General to put in abeyance for the time being the projected oil sales by Iraq, which could have generated revenue because there's, in effect, no way to distribute the proceeds of those sales to the people that need the help.
Q AP is reporting that Iraq has announced that there would be no more retaliation on U.S. planes flying in the no-fly zone. Is that the type of announcement you were looking for to bring down tensions?
MR. MCCURRY: The President himself has said it's actions that speak louder than words. And we'll be looking at actions, not statements from Baghdad.
Q Is there any thought to changing the President's decision not to release his medical records that people are talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the President is in excellent, overall health and it's apparent to us we're going to have to do whatever it takes to satisfy you and the American public that that's true. And we'll figure out the right way to do that.
Q Was that a yes on releasing the records?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a stay-tuned.
Q Two days ago the White House said that some aides had requested reimbursement for legal fees in the Travelgate matter over at the Justice Department. And the White House told us that they wouldn't -- the press -- I think this was the Washington Post -- that they would not release the names because they were mostly low-level people who we hadn't heard of. And now Hatch has released the names and they are people like Stephanopoulos and Mack McLarty, Maggie Williams, Lisa Caputo. Can you sort or explain to us what happens?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, my understanding was that the concern about releasing the names were related to Privacy Act considerations. But the names have now been released by Senator Hatch, as you know.
Q What about the statement that they're all people you wouldn't have heard of?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't think the statement that "they were all" was made. I think that probably the better characterization would be that it was a range of people here. But they're now publicly identified so you can tell who they are.
Q Oh, okay, no harm, no foul.
Q Several news agencies are reporting that Baghdad has said they would suspend military actions --
MR. MCCURRY: That was asked and answered moments ago.
Q Do you have any idea when the President plans to meet with these CEOs on ideas on moving welfare recipients to work?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard any dates discussed for that.
Q Can you give us the CPI reaction?
MR. MCCURRY: Dr. Stiglitz has got a statement that we've put out that reacts -- we're very encouraged by the trends we're seeing in the economy. We are seeing over and over again various indicators that show we can sustain the steady growth we had seen in the economy while keeping inflation in check. That's very good news for the American people and certainly we hope a good sign of where the economy is headed in the long-term.
Q Would you tell us what the President has done so far to talk to congressional leaders about his undertaking in Iraq? You seem to be saying that there's not much likelihood of a more formal address to the public after the radio address tomorrow on Iraq. Do I understand you correctly on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President will continue to keep the American people alert to and informed about the steps that he is taking. And I don't want to project how and when he might talk to them. He will likely take the opportunity to address that tomorrow. He has been in contact with some members of the Senate related to the Chemical Weapons Convention. I'll have to check with him. It's very possible that in some of those conversations the subject of Iraq came up as well. I would not rule out that he would want to continue to stay engaged with the congressional leadership at the very least on the subject of Iraq in the coming days as we continue to deal with the situation.
Q Mike, is he at all uncomfortable about talking about Iraq in campaign settings as he did over the past couple of days?
MR. MCCURRY: He is because in his own -- his sense is that this is a matter in which we have to act consistent with our national security interest and that, therefore, is not a political issue. But as you know, he has faced some criticism from his opponents on this and he has taken the opportunity at some of his appearances recently to discuss with the American people the steps that he is taking and the course of action that he has outlined.
Q Will he continue to do that or do you think he'll attempt to do it outside of campaign settings?
MR. MCCURRY: I imagine he will find a variety of settings to address the situation in the Gulf.
Q So he's not uncomfortable really discussing it in a campaign setting?
MR. MCCURRY: He prefers to keep these discussions out of the realm of politics. That said, since he is obviously having to spend a fair amount of his time now before the American people campaigning, there are sometimes when those settings are the appropriate ones for him to make a comment.
Q Is the President bringing anything with him by way of additional help for people in North Carolina tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard -- I know that the Federal Emergency Management Administration has been processing a lot of requests and doing things related to the President's disaster declaration. But I'll have to check and see if there's anything additional to that that will come up tomorrow.
Q Will he actually view flood damage tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Mary Ellen, do you know more about the trip tomorrow? Why don't you come on up?
MS. GLYNN: No, he will not actually fly over the flood damage mainly because there's not quite enough time. But he will meet with volunteers and some of the federal workers who have been trying to help people there.
Q Back on Iraq, would he feel comfortable ordering military action or having military action be underway while he's on the campaign trail?
MR. MCCURRY: As the President's already demonstrated, his Commander-in-Chief duties go with him wherever he is. And he is fully prepared to execute those responsibilities no matter where he is in this country. And he also does not believe that Saddam Hussein should have the satisfaction of doing anything to disrupt the political process that the American people now have underway.
Q But do you think, Mike, that maybe some of the families of people that are being sent over there to fight have sensibilities, too, and that it might occur to them that it wasn't such a great thing to have the President out in front of cheering audiences announcing his next action, that maybe some more sober setting would be appropriate to that?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has not done that to my knowledge and the President --
Q Well he did it yesterday, didn't he?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has not announced any course of action he's going to pursue. He's described to the American people the course of action he's taken already. And there a difference there. I think he would find the dignified, proper setting and make announcements that he felt he had to make.
Q Was that a yes then to Terry's question?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't even remember -- what was your question, Terry?
Q The question was whether he's feel comfortable --
Q Would he feel uncomfortable having military action underway while he's out on the campaign.
MR. MCCURRY: The President is the President and the Commander-in-Chief no matter where he is, no matter what time of day, anywhere he is in the world. And those responsibilities go with him and the capacity to fulfill his duties and responsibilities go with him no matter where he is. We're not going to let Saddam Hussein hijack America's national election.
Q Mike, how about appropriations? Last night, the President put out a written statement that said he would rather find the funding out of defense to do his counterterrorism package. But he wasn't very specific about where he would cut or where he'd less to spend less on defense. Livingston says he'd like more specifics. Can you identify or is the President prepared to identify what he would spend less on?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will, of course, work with the Chairman to identify that portion of the $11.2 billion in extra spending from which we believe it's possible to fund the President's counterterrorism initiatives. I'm not going to do that here. But we would be prepared to do that with the appropriations committees because that's the way the work would have to be done legislatively.
Q And Livingston also said he wants Leon to get involved again if possible. Is Panetta going to be involved in this?
MR. MCCURRY: He may already be. But I would fully expect him to be involved as he routinely is on matters related to appropriations.
Q Anything about this trip Tuesday that you can tell us about?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's not -- not yet. We'll have -- we're trying to get a schedule on that soon.
Q How much of a week ahead can you give us at this point?
Q This is Tuesday we're talking about. It's Friday.
MR. MCCURRY: Well we -- it's campaign time, so the campaign makes decisions about where he's going to go and they don't necessarily always make those decisions well in advance.
I'll tell you a little bit about the week. Obviously, he goes to North Carolina tomorrow. Sunday, he's out to Iowa as you know. The campaign has announced that he'll be out there for Senator Harkin's steak-fry -- a splendid occasion for all who have had an opportunity to visit Indianola. Monday, out to Cincinnati.
How much have we announced so far?
MS. GLYNN: We just announced Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
MR. MCCURRY: Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday? We come back here Monday night. Tuesday, there's discussions of going back to the Midwest. Wednesday, some discussions about going further West. (Laughter.) And Thursday, some discussions about going way west.
Q Is that a trip in continuum?
Q Are we talking Hawaii here?
Q We're talking buses here.
MR. MCCURRY: As you all know, the Clinton-Gore '96 Campaign is now the repository of the President's schedule information. We'll work with them to try to give you updates as soon as possible.
Q Try to get some answers out of them.
Q Does the President have any particular points that he wants to make at the Congressional Black Caucus tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as he has often in these audiences, he will be reinforcing a central there that he's been arguing to the American people -- America's diversity is a sign of our strength. How we bring people together from different backgrounds, different races, ethnic groups, religious groups in this country to build a stronger American community is one of the central arguments he's making during the course of this election. He'll certainly be talking about that.
And he'll be talking about the administration's record as it relates to concerns in the African American community and across all of America -- talking certainly about crime, talking about moving people from welfare to work, reminding this audience of the significant advances the African American community has enjoyed in economic terms as a result of the President's economic stewardship of the last four years.
Q The administration is said to be looking at a proposal to create a duty-free zone on the Internet. Do you have any idea about that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to look into that. I don't know about that.
Q Mike, was the final decision to send the additional military equipment into the area made by the President or did the Pentagon do it and then the President was informed?
MR. MCCURRY: The President had recommendations from the senior military planners and did instruct the Defense Department to proceed with those plans.
Q Okinawa's Governor -- announced that they're to start the legal process to renew land-lease for the U.S. military bases on Okinawa to end a year-long dispute with the central government. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will continue to work with the government of Japan through the Special Action Committee forum that we have established on Okinawa to address those concerns. We recognize that there are legitimate concerns the people of Okinawa have. We have attempted to address them in our direct discussions with the government of Japan.
Q Mike, do you have any reaction to Speaker Gingrich's comments on welfare -- on Democrats allegedly undoing welfare reform in a second term in his remarks to the Christian Coalition this morning --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't. He says a lot of things these days that don't merit much of a reaction. But the President, if you'll recall, just last week gave a very significant address on the steps he will take to successfully implement welfare reform when he addressed the Southern Governors Association in Missouri. Now, that statement stands as a very eloquent rebuke to the Speaker.
This President is committed to making welfare reform a success. He's working with the governors and he's got his sleeves rolled up and moving ahead. And we'll leave the criticism for those who are playing politics.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:30 P.M. EDT