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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 6, 1997
                          PRESS BRIEFING BY
                            MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

2:35 P.M. EST

Q Are you going to answer a question on Cuba, flights to Cuba?

MR. MCCURRY: Flights to Cuba? What do you need to know? What's the question?

Q Did the President get a $5 million donation for allowing humanitarian flights?

MR. MCCURRY: No. The President allowed -- agreed with the State Department and the Treasury Department, which, after consultation with members of the community, with Catholic relief services, with members of the Congress from south Florida, all recommended that because of the hurricane in October, that they allow hurricane supplies to go to Cuba. That decision was reviewed by the State Department and the Treasury Department and approved here at the White House by the National Security Council well in advance of the alleged fundraiser.

Q Does the President recall having a conversation with that individual, though, and saying to him that he was going --

MR. MCCURRY: The President doesn't recollect it directly, but I think he knew of the issue, because we were in south Florida that day; he had been told that we were preparing to -- the Treasury Department was preparing to release the licenses so that the relief services would go, and it wouldn't surprise me if he had told this person what was by then public knowledge that we were allowing the relief services to go.

Q So he might well have said that?

MR. MCCURRY: He might well have said -- as you see, it was reported that he was -- the gentleman suggested the President told him, I'm going to let the aid go. And, of course, that decision had been made at that point.

Q Was it public at the time?

MR. MCCURRY: It was public at the time we had that day told Catholic Charity groups in south Florida that the licenses had been approved so they could start preparing to send the hurricane relief aid to Florida. And I think the Miami Herald reported it the next day and I, I recall, confirmed it to the pool that day, which would have been October 23rd.

Q Is the President praying against our cynicism?

MR. MCCURRY: The President is praying for optimism and enlightenment.

Q -- what it was that the President -- when he said this morning in the breakfast, "I got so mad at our friends in the Congress in the Republican Party because they were real mean to me" over something? What were they real mean about?

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I don't know. I think there are probably any number of choices on that agenda. He was talking about a period in which there was a fair amount of partisan rancor early on.

Q Well, I know he was talking about how the Republicans let him know, for example, early on there would be no votes for his economic plan.

MR. MCCURRY: That there would be no votes for his economic program that has led to this amazing period of sustained growth with low rates of inflation, steady moderate growth, low rates of unemployment. It's put us in a very strong financial position so that now we look forward to balancing the budget. It's correct the President was unhappy that not a single Republican voted for that economic program.

Q -- a time he was thinking about of real meanness?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it was early in the -- from my remarks -- I haven't talked to him extensively about it, but I think he was referring to early in his term.

Q Mike, the Republican budget leadership in Congress is expressing --

MR. MCCURRY: What was the deal with Kasich's map? I was trying to figure out --

Q Yes, it was Chicago and New York and Los Angeles.

MR. MCCURRY: Can anyone explain that argument to me?

Q He said the President is cheating.

MR. MCCURRY: He said we were starting in --

Q He said that essentially the President was cheating in this race toward a balanced budget.

MR. MCCURRY: But I couldn't figure out -- did any of you guys understand what he was trying to say?

Q Domenici tried to translate afterwards -- something about different economic assumptions. But it was still --

MR. MCCURRY: I think the point -- maybe the point is, well, gee, the CBO and the OMB have got different assumptions and they always do. We say on balance, and we've given you some materials -- we think ours have held up pretty well and they've been accurate and conservative. So, you know, I think we're all starting at the same -- maybe he felt he's starting up in Newfoundland and we're starting in New York.

Q What he is suggesting, though, is the President is ducking, dodging the tough entitlement issues, that he was hoping to see a bold budget. Instead of more spending, he was hoping to see some really long-term dealing with Social Security and Medicare.

MR. MCCURRY: The President addressed that issue Tuesday night. And he did deal with that issue and said, we are going to have to have a bipartisan process that looks out into the next century and deals with the long-term issues related to the solvency of Social Security and Medicare.

Now, one thing we should suggest is coming together quickly on a bipartisan basis to balance the budget now -- that helps you solve those long-term problems. And, frankly, it creates a little bit of confidence on both sides that you can handle these difficult political issues and make progress. So the best thing to do would be to take the President's budget proposal, work on it, work on it together in a bipartisan fashion, balance the budget, and then move to those more difficult long-term issues that surely we should address. And the President has said we can have a bipartisan process that will do that.

Q -- from Domenici and Kasich give you any sort of -- the President any sort of concern over how the budget is going to be received?

MR. MCCURRY: We fully expected that there would be criticism, but the important thing for the President is that there has been no dismissal of his budget proposal as a document dead on arrival. They dealt with it seriously today. They raised the concerns that they had. We know that there will be some differences as we move forward, but the important message that we took from the Republican leaders' statements today is that they want to move forward with the President, deal with these differences, and balance the budget. That's good news.

Q At what point will the President actually send up to Congress legislation to create the bipartisan commission or whatever vehicle he wants to deal with these long-term problems?

MR. MCCURRY: It will only work as a bipartisan process if we have close consultation with them --

Q Well, has he started that consultation?

MR. MCCURRY: Early next week, we will be meeting with the leadership, but I suspect that the first and most important thing is to work on the budget, try to get a balanced budget agreement together, and then use that as a confidence-building measure for dealing with longer-term issues. Once they --

Q You're saying, not till that's done can --

MR. MCCURRY: No, you can talk about anything at any time. But as a practical matter you make so much easier the work to deal with the long-term issues if you move quickly to address the short-term problems we have with things like the Medicare trust fund that we should start with the types of issues identified in the President's budget proposal today.

Q Mike, can you elaborate on this revenue-neutral tax simplification plan that's tucked inside the budget?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know much about that other than to say that they have looked for ways that -- it's partly just the general review of the tax code that is ongoing, and partly the reinventing government effort -- look at ways that we can simplify the tax code, find ways to make tax filing and tax preparation easier for millions and millions of Americans. We've done a lot of that already through electronic filing, through short form, through some of the steps that have been implemented. And they are continuing to look at that type of measure.

It's been described to me as being nothing that is particularly earth shattering, but something that is part of the effort to simplify the American taxpayer's encounter with the tax code each and every year.

We can look into that, see if we can get some more on it.

MS. GLYNN: I think the Treasury is briefing on that right now.

MR. MCCURRY: Mary Ellen says that the Treasury Department in their departmental briefing on the budget intends to get into that issue in more detail. And they're doing that at 3:15 p.m.

Q Senate Majority Leader Lott said today that he expects a budget agreement to be reached six weeks. Do you have a response to that? Is that realistic?

MR. MCCURRY: Good news. I hadn't heard that, and he's in a position to be a reliable forecaster.

Q Yes, but you also have the likes of Tom DeLay saying the administration is on a journey to Shangri-La, spending going up and up.

MR. MCCURRY: Sounds like an overexcited press secretary prepared the press release. I used to write them myself, so I know.

Q Are you going to have briefings tomorrow on the economic report, actual briefings?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we plan to do that. I think we plan to work with people who might have an interest in the President's annual economic report. It is public on Monday. But because it's an interesting report, because Dr. Stiglitz's staff have put a lot of time into it and the President has looked at it carefully, we might want to begin giving you some ideas about it. Maybe we should do that. Clearly, because of the intense interest you had in our budget presentations today, you would maybe like another economic briefing on the President's economic report. Takers?

Q Can we have two?

MR. MCCURRY: Maybe two. Maybe we should think about, if there's interest, do some kind of embargoed briefing or something. We'll work with the Council of Economic Advisors and see if we can arrange that.

Q -- has been complaining about federal marshals looking for Craig Livingstone and Anthony Marceca. Any comment from the White House that they may be on the lam, so to speak?

MR. MCCURRY: I would not know where they are. Neither of them are employees of the White House.

Q And you don't have any concern that they may not be complying with actions from interested parties in the FBI files case?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if we have any direct knowledge of whether they are or aren't.

Q Two questions, one a budget clarification. The $51 billion for education, that also includes the DOE number of $29 billion, is that right?

MR. HAAS: Yes, it would. It's a total of mandatory discretionary spending plus the tax proposal. So, yes, that would include the DOE budget.

MR. MCCURRY: And that was an effort to really go through -- what they did in constructing that number was go through the 10 points that the President identified and really try to calculate the dollar value of that proposal, that challenge, and then say that that represents the spending budget for those items.

Q And then my other question is, Chernomrydin told Russian television that Clinton and Yeltsin will meet in the second half of March, probably in Europe. Can you tell us if there are plans for that or can you confirm that for us?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't go beyond what you heard from the very authoritative briefing you had earlier today. That is a subject that we expect the Vice President and the Prime Minister to address directly. The President has already said that he looks forward to meeting with President Yeltsin in the March time frame, and we've indicated the venue is open. But that will be a subject for discussion and we'll see whether they make any progress on that issue in the next two days.

Q Mike, on that same subject, will the President directly respond to Chernomrydin's concerns about NATO when they meet tomorrow? Will they get specific on those kinds of issues?

MR. MCCURRY: It's entirely possible -- that's a fundamental issue in our bilateral relationship -- entirely possible that the Prime Minister might want to raise that issue. What the President would say in response is what we have said repeatedly, that we have a schedule and a plan in place that has been approved by all the members of the North Atlantic Alliance. we are proceeding on that timetable. We equally value the importance of the discussions we're having with the Russian Federation about the relationship that will develop we hope from a formal charter commitment between the Russian Federation and NATO. And we hope that those discussions can occur parallel to discussions about NATO expansion.

But our work plan, our timing is well-known at this point. The work that will be done at the Madrid summit in July is well-known. And the Russian Federation is not surprised by what has been a very transparent process.

Q He seems to be particularly concerned that it's going to provoke a regional arms race.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's been a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of adaptation of NATO for the challenges to the future. I can recite for you if you want the reasons why we believe this is in the security interests of the United States, our European allies, and fundamentally in the interests of the Russian people as we create an undivided democratic Europe that is more secure. And the whole premise of the discussions we're having with the Russian Federation are based on the long-term future of Europe as a more secure continent once we have adapted the world's most successful treaty alliance for the needs of the next century.

Q One of the things that the briefers mentioned earlier today -- one of the problems was the perception, I guess, of the Russian people and Russian officials of what NATO is, and suggesting that it's moved beyond that as an organization. Is there anything in particular that's being done during the meetings the Vice President is having to change attitude or to get Chernomrydin something that he can take back to alter that perception?

MR. MCCURRY: The meeting itself is part of the effort to change perceptions. The Russian people know of NATO, only through decades of propaganda by the former communist government, as something that is contrary to their own interest. We, of course --

Q But why would it be propaganda? It was.

MR. MCCURRY: -- have our own view of the establishment of that Alliance because we believe it protected the West from the Soviet threat. But the important thing is those barriers are broken down now. The very building in Mainz in which the allies used to plan the Live Oaks exercises which were premised on a Soviet invasion of Germany is now the very building in which the former Warsaw Pact ministers meet and gather and work in the Partnership for Peace program. I think that's also where the Russian military office has their office for ongoing discussions with members of NATO.

I mean, that is what changes perceptions -- the reality that this is an alliance that's adapting itself to the new dynamic of the post-Cold War era. And the Russian people will come to understand it as they see the positive benefits of engagement with the West and as they see things like Russian participation in a NATO military effort to stabilize Bosnia, for example. And it's an effort that the Russian people are rightfully proud of -- their participation in that type of effort.

Q Mike, if the NATO-Russia relationship is such a fundamental part of bilateral relations with Russia, why is the U.S. reticent about Chirac's idea of a five-power summit in Paris dealing with this issue in particular?

MR. MCCURRY: Well I don't -- "reticent" is your word, not necessarily our word. We will explore further the concept. It's been floated publicly by the government of France. We conduct our discussions with the Russian Federation in settings like the one we have underway now, and the upcoming summit between President Clinton and President Yeltsin. And we look to other discussions to be those that advance the mutual objectives we have within the alliance. We'd want to know a lot more about that proposal and what it proposes to do and how it coordinates with the work that's being done in preparation for the July Madrid summit. There will be a summit involving all five of those nations in July. And that's --the effort to coordinate and make sure that we harmonize diplomatic efforts is one that always occurs between allies. I'm sure there will be further discussion of that.

Q May we go back to Latin America? Did the President write to the President of Ecuador recently, praising him for his efforts to resolve the problems with Peru? And what do you think of the situation?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have a very complicated political situation in Ecuador, to say the least. We have been very supportive of the efforts of Peru and Ecuador to resolve their tensions and their differences. I'm not aware that we had sent any letter. I think maybe our NSC folks can check on that for you. But we have had an ongoing supportive interest in the dialogue between Peru and Ecuador, designed to limit their conflicts over a border dispute.

Q Do you know anything about a Bosnian spy ring?

MR. MCCURRY: A Bosnian spy ring? I know that you --

Q In the U.S.

MR. MCCURRY: I know that it's always wise not to read -- not to believe everything you read. Do you want me to say more on that subject?

Q Yes.

MR. MCCURRY: You recall back to the concern we had coming out of the Dayton Accords about the possibility of ongoing Iranian intelligence activity in Bosnia. We made a condition of our train-and-equip program the eradication of those perceived links between the Bosnian government and Iranian intelligence services. That was a fundamental contingency of the commitment we made through train-and-equip. We believe that the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina has complied with that commitment. We monitor that compliance continuously. We don't comment on intelligence reports, and there are good reasons why we don't do that. We were concerned about sources, methods, because reports sometimes have very preliminary, fragmentary, incomplete, and sometimes erroneous information.

So we would suggest that as you read reports about intelligence reports, you keep a proper skepticism.

Q So you're denying it.

MR. MCCURRY: I think I just said something very carefully, and I'll stick with what I've just said.

Q There is a report from the Caribbean that President Clinton may add a stop in Costa Rica on his Latin American tour later in the year.

Q He's already going to Costa Rica.

MR. MCCURRY: We announced it.

Q Do you have more details on the trip --

MR. MCCURRY: We have not put out any further details on that.

Q Mike, if I could stick with Latin America for just a second. At what stage is the interagency review of the arms export policy to Latin America? Is that at the presidential level? And the timing of the announcement of outcome of that review --

MR. MCCURRY: It's sub-deputy.

Q Do you expect an outcome before he makes the trip that you're just talking about?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to predict whether there would be an outcome prior to the trip. It has not, to my knowledge, reached a principals level or preparation of recommendations for the President at this point.

Q Has the administration made a final decision as to whether or not they're going to sell F-16s to Chile?


Q To Chile. There's a report that they're talking about maybe selling a small number of F-16s to Chile.

MR. MCCURRY: That's the same. That's the same issue. That's the same question. That's still a matter of inner agency review.

Okay, happy budgeting. See you.

END 2:55 P.M. EST