THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:30 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: All right, campers, what's on tap for today? What should I wax poetic about? Springtime in Washington.
Q Tell us about the President's letter to Boris Yeltsin.
MR. MCCURRY: It's very good, very warm, very interesting, very substantive, was very well received. And that's about all I'm going to say about it. (Laughter.)
Q I thought you were going to spill your guts?
Q What did he say?
MR. MCCURRY: Just hold on for a second, I'll read it to you. No, I won't do that. I thought I would tantalize you a little bit.
Q It's real tough hearing you out here, Mike.
MR. MCCURRY: That's because I was mumbling. I'm going to talk like Wolf Blitzer -- "reporting live from the White House." I can't really do it.
Q Get on the mike.
MR. MCCURRY: I am on the mike -- I am Mike.
Q What about the Chief of Staff's meeting with the Herman people?
MR. MCCURRY: This is a great way to do the briefing. Let's just ask all the questions at the start and then I'll sort of figure out which ones I want to answer. That's a good idea. Let's try that. What else do you want to talk about today? Let's do the subjects. What else is out there today? Anyone else -- what else do you want to ask about today?
Yes, sir, what did you want to ask about? Anyone -- I know what you want to ask about. What do you want to ask about.
Q Welfare recipients --
MR. MCCURRY: That's a good topic, that's good. What else is out there today? (Laughter.) Yes?
Q Cuba and the Democracy Movement.
MR. MCCURRY: Good, good. That's good. Okay, I've got some stuff on that. What else? (Laughter.)
Q I want to know what you've been drinking for lunch. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, that's good. Sounds like we have a good briefing today, so let's get going. Question number one -- letter to Boris Yeltsin.
Q Have you seen any pink elephants lately?
MR. MCCURRY: Pink elephants? What's that you're wearing?
MR. MCCURRY: She asked for it.
Q This isn't pink, it's --
MR. MCCURRY: It's lovely. (Laughter.)
Q Call the florist, you're going to need a big one for that --
MR. MCCURRY: All right, let's get down to work here. The Secretary of State delivered to President Yeltsin, after her own very good meeting with President Yeltsin today, a lengthy letter from President Clinton that follows up on an exchange of correspondence the two Presidents have had, previewing subjects that they expect to discuss in Helsinki. Most of the substance of the President's letter dealt with issues related to European security, specifically the future of Europe, the future of NATO, the obvious question of NATO expansion, and Russia's relationship to NATO as we move forward.
You've seen the Secretary of State engage seriously with her counterpart and with President Yeltsin and others in the Russian government today on exactly that subject. The report that she's given on the status of those discussions is right on the money, that there's a lot of hard work left on this subject and part of that hard work is reflected in the correspondence the President exchanged with President Yeltsin.
I'll say that he also added a personal note at the end just saying to President Yeltsin that he was glad to see that he was up and at work and feeling better, which is consistent with the report, obviously, delivered by Secretary of State Albright.
Pretty good, huh?
Q What was in the letter?
Q Reporters say he looks very white. Pale and waxen.
MR. MCCURRY: I thought he looked thin from the television picture I saw. What do you think, Wolf?
Q He looked like he lost some weight.
MR. MCCURRY: Looks like he lost some weight. That was my assessment as well.
Q Mike, on NATO expansion, next week the White House is releasing a report on the cost of what it's going to be, and I imagine it will also be starting to rally support in the Senate for NATO expansion. Do you expect, do you anticipate any opposition?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's very premature to anticipate opposition to a Senate ratification debate on a treaty that has not yet been amended. We've got a long ways to go in this process. It won't be until the Madrid summit that the leaders of the Alliance take on the question of how NATO will expand and who it will expand with. And that's the point at which we would then need to submit amendments to the North Atlantic Treaty to the United States Senate. So we are talking about a debate that occurs more later this year.
However, the future of an undivided democratic Europe at peace is such a high priority for the President as he thinks about his foreign policy agenda in a second term that we've already had extensive consultations with members of Congress on this general subject. One aspect of that is reflected in a report that will try to eyeball some of the estimated costs of NATO expansion and begin to put context around what the general parameters are of what the Alliance would do.
But remember, a lot is going on diplomatically that might affect that equation. I think you've seen some of the reporting from Secretary Albright's trip, that one of the things she is talking about is the status of forces in Europe and how they might be reconfigured under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. That might have implications as well as to resource allocations.
So a lot will go into the mix, but we will be working closely with Congress. We will be looking for bipartisan approaches to what is arguably one of the most important items on the United States of America's post-Cold War agenda, which is to maintain an undivided, peaceful, secure European continent.
Q Has the President read George Kennan's piece in opposition to this?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is very familiar with the arguments, pro and con, and has been for some time, having embarked on this course, in reality, in 1993. The recent debate and those who have written extensively about that -- and there are good credible arguments that are put forward, but they are premised on the notion that somehow or other the expansion of NATO represents the drawing of a new line somewhere else in Europe than along the line of the old NATO-Warsaw Pact divide. That is not the way we approach the issue of NATO expansion. We look at the issue of NATO expansion as a way of taking that continent from the United Kingdom to the Urals and keeping it in an undivided, secure, peaceful, democratic status.
Q But you're still keeping a major country out of it.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we're not keeping anybody out. The expansion of NATO is not an exclusive process. It's designed to be an inclusive process. Indeed, all of those who are currently Partners for Peace and the Russian Federation itself have all been invited to participate in consultations and briefings related to the expansion of NATO. We had specifically with the Russian Federation a very detailed conversation about how we would establish a parallel relationship defined by a charter that would represent NATO's engagement with the Russian Federation.
Look what's happening in Bosnia where we have the Russian Federation currently engaged with NATO forces in conducting the stabilization mission there that the international stabilization forces is conducting. That's not excluding Russia from anything. It's including them in the very important work.
Q Why won't you take Russia in?
MR. MCCURRY: Because there is a very deliberate --
Q Is it because of the cost?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a very deliberate process. And to my knowledge, they've not indicated a desire to join, among other things. We have very patient, deliberate, disciplined discussions with the Russian Federation, as reflected in the Secretary of State's visit.
Q Mike, what about the NATO-Russia charter? Do you hope to make progress on that by the time of summit?
MR. MCCURRY: We hope to make progress on that by the time that the Madrid summit, yes. That's one of the subject explored.
Q But I mean the Helsinki summit?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, by the time of the Yeltsin -- I imagine that will be a subject the Presidents will take up and address at their summit.
Q The deputy of the Turkey Joint Chief of Staff --and the Secretary General of the Turkish National Security Council -- with unusual polemic statements here in the town threatened openly -- Cyprus militarily, warned specifically with new -- do you have any comment on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have comments on their public statements. I'll say that we've had in various places in our government meetings with them while they are here. They reflect the close relationships we have with the government of Turkey, consistent with the close relationships we have with government of Greece, consistent with our desire to ameliorate tensions that might exist in the Aegean over disputes on borders, which you are well familiar with. We also explored other bilateral relationships with them, talked specifically about the situation in Cyprus and dealt with a range of regional security and political issues that you would expect us to deal with, with a close friend and ally.
Q One more question, please. I just returned from a Turkish seminar on U.S. military aid to Turkey -- was an outcry for more U.S. military aid, criticizing members of the Congress including Senator Paul Sarbanes who are opposing it. Nothing, however, was said that this aid cannot be used against Cyprus, in violation of the existing U.S. foreign aid. It is possible for you to comment regarding your policy to this effect?
MR. MCCURRY: Our policy with respect to the military needs of both of our allies are well-known. They are conducted transparently in the bilateral discussions we have with them, and we are conscious always of the need to remove sources of tension between two highly valued allies.
Q If I could just switch gears for a second, now that Huang and Mr. Hubbell are pleading the 5th, what kind of public image do you think that creates as far as the White House is concerned?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. You are the ones that create public image, so you get to comment on that yourself.
Q You don't think there's any kind of political effect?
MR. MCCURRY: I answered that question earlier today and said I don't know enough about the situation, nor do we know enough about the situation here at the White House to comment.
Q Can you give us any rundown on the visit of Prince Sultan next week, particularly in relation to his visit to the White House to talk with President Clinton?
MR. MCCURRY: We look forward to a close meeting with him. We've got a number of regional security issues with respect to the Gulf and the Middle East that we will have on our agenda. We'll be very keen to know things about cooperation with respect to the investigation of the Khobar bombing and other security measures that the United States government will take in cooperation with the Saudi government to protect forces that are deployed in Saudi Arabia.
Q Any discussion of F-16s?
MR. MCCURRY: The Prince has already indicated publicly that that subject will not be on his agenda, so I do not expect the issue to arise.
Q How close does the President remain with Web Hubbell? Do they continue to be social friends?
MR. MCCURRY: To my knowledge they have not had any contact anytime recently.
Q And would it be appropriate calling on at least their former friendship to say, look, there's a public interest to you speaking, and therefore, I appeal to you as a friend --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything to add to my previous answer.
Q What was that? I missed that.
MR. MCCURRY: I said I'm not sufficiently familiar with the discussions that they have underway to comment.
Q What is the President's position on cooperation with the various investigations?
MR. MCCURRY: The same one we've always said, we think people should cooperate.
Q Mike, has he had contact with Web since he left his job, since he went to jail? I mean, when you say recent, what does that mean?
MR. MCCURRY: I asked the President if he's had any recent contact with him; he said, no. I didn't specify what recent, how recently. I'm not aware of any.
Q Is the White House running out of patience on hearings for Alexis Herman?
MR. MCCURRY: As the President indicated yesterday, we are. We are inclined to want to work closely with Chairman Jeffords to get a date scheduled. But the President was quite emphatic yesterday in saying we need to schedule a date, we need to move on. This department needs to have a Secretary, it needs to have Secretary Herman in place, and that will happen once there's a hearing and we can move forward with confirmation.
Q What was the purpose of the meeting today between Mr. Bowles and the supporters?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are a number of people in a range of organizations from organized labor to business, from women's groups to civil rights groups and others, who are strongly supportive of her nomination. They wanted to hear from us on what our assessment of the situation is and also wanted to know what they could do to be helpful to her because many of them wanted to express their support. And we encouraged them to do what we're doing, to publicly say it's time to move on and get a date and proceed with the confirmation.
Q What is your assessment?
MR. MCCURRY: It's very positive, and we think that once she has this hearing -- and we expect that will happen and we expect that will happen soon -- she'll be able to dispense with any remaining questions and will move to confirmation.
Q And why do you expect it to happen soon? I mean, obviously, it's been a long time now and --
MR. MCCURRY: Because we consider Senator Jeffords a fair and honorable person.
Q The White House doesn't have any question at all about the delay in scheduling the hearings?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, sure, we've got questions about the delay, which is why we've addressed it publicly, and the President went out of his way to address it publicly.
Q I mean, Senator Jeffords is the person who has delayed it, but, on the other hand, you say that he's honorable and he's done the advice and consent thing honorably. So I'm trying to figure out where the difference is here.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that there's a difference. We're trying to be helpful in encouraging him to schedule a hearing soon.
Q Well, are there a lot of unanswered questions? Isn't that what his stall is?
MR. MCCURRY: Not in our view, and we believe she's satisfactorily answered the questions that have been raised.
Q -- he met a group of people that -- wanted to meet. Did that new policy just -- why he went this time.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with the trip. I'll have to check, or maybe someone from the NSC can check for you.
Q A Cuban exile group called the Democracy Movement has recently purchased two British warplanes called Provos and they plan to fly into the same airstrip in Cuba where the planes were shot down last year. What's the White House reaction to this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our only reaction is that we encourage anyone who is flying there to fly consistent with the guidelines and the restrictions that have been placed down by the FAA. And we've work closely with groups down there that wish to commemorate certain anniversaries, take note of the tragic death of those who lost their life in the shootdown incident, and we've encouraged them to work closely with U.S. authorities, specifically the FAA and in some cases the Coast Guard, so they can have appropriate commemorative celebrations. And we hope any group planning to fly in that area would do so and would respect the restrictions that exist on airspace and on travel in that region.
Q In the year since the lobby reform bill went into effect the number of lobbyists registered has more than doubled and the amount they said they've spent has about quadrupled. Senator Levin sent a letter to the President asking to have the law tightened and expanded in terms of reporting by computer and other things. I was wondering what your view is of the effectiveness of the law so far and what the President might back in terms of expanding it.
MR. MCCURRY: I think Senator Levin's letter more accurately reflects the success we've had with the Lobbying Disclosure Act since it was passed, and, in fact, Senator Levin compliments President Clinton for his strong support of lobbying reform and notes some of the things that you said, that we've -- obviously the number of lobbyists in Washington have not doubled; what's increased and tightened are the standards that exist for full disclosure. You didn't have an increase in one year of some 4,800 lobbyists up to now 10,000. What you have is a new regulatory scheme in which we have much more disclosure, much more access to information on behalf of those who are looking to see what lobbyists do and what they spend.
And the reported increase in expenditures likewise -- there was only $250 million roughly of reported lobbying expenditures in 1995. There is almost $1 billion now, by the estimate of Senator Levin. And that reflects, I think, something about how much pressure is brought to bear on those making public policy by those advocating on behalf of whatever interests they represent.
The important thing here is that we have created a climate where there is more disclosure and, as Senator Levin said, they're looking for ways of streamlining reporting practices so that it's not a burden on those who have to fill out these reports, but nonetheless provides a way the information can be available and that members of the press and members of the public can access it and understand what is being lobbied on and by whom.
Q Is the White House going to set an example now and hire welfare recipients?
MR. MCCURRY: We're not at that point, but we are making some progress. We are now -- have received from the Office of Personnel Management an analysis and some options have been prepared by the Director, Jim King, that really look at what prospects are for the hiring of welfare-dependent people within the federal work force. And, of course, that would be guidance to the White House on what we could do here. Our Domestic Policy Council Director Bruce Reed now has that report. They're examining it and they're looking to both applications for federal hiring policies generally, and then what specifically we can do here at the White House. We'll keep you posted.
Q What's the -- have you taken a position on a specific prosecutor for the fundraising issue?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we have not had any comment on it.
Q Are you opposed to it?
MR. MCCURRY: We have not had any comment on that.
Q And what do you think about outside groups --
MR. MCCURRY: We have not had any comment on that.
Q -- for example, Forbes is going to start running ads next week --
MR. MCCURRY: We have not had any comment on that, either.
Q Mike, on the welfare thing, this question came up I guess a couple of months ago -- it seems like you're always saying, well, we're studying that and we'll get back --
MR. MCCURRY: John, I just gave you a good progress report. We asked the OPM to look at the issue. They've studied it. They've given us a good analysis of options. We have to look at that now and we have to see what we could do here.
Q My question was, if I could ask it -- the President has said that he's encouraging private companies to do this, it should be relatively easy. I mean, does your own experience, where apparently it's not so easy, suggest that it's going to be more difficult for others?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we have said it's easy or not easy. We've said we need to do it by the book. So we've got the analysis of the regulations and --
Q In the church the other day he was saying that if every company of 800,000 should be able to hire one or two of these and the problem would be over with.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think that we -- remember that there is a policy implication here. We are not creating public service employment for welfare dependents. And that's not what this is about. We're looking at ways in which, consistent with federal employment guidelines, we can be part of the solution. And that was the purpose of the tasking that we gave to OPM, which we're now looking at and which we will review.
Q Would one of the positions, if a welfare recipient does work here, be white collar versus blue?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that -- I haven't seen the study. I don't know whether it addresses any differences between grade levels or classification levels within the federal work force.
Q Do you have anything on the supposed deadline today for Harold Ickes to submit his papers to the House committee investigation?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I know that he plans to and he's got some documents that he is prepared to deliver responsive to the request. The only thing I know is that here we will have to look at anything that is deemed to be a White House document to make sure that any constitutional prerogatives of the presidency are protected. But I have not heard of any problems with respect to that review.
Q Is he still a member of the White House staff?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q What is his relation? He's in charge of the G-7, planning for that --
MR. MCCURRY: His status is the one that we announced when we made the announcement last week.
Q What is that? Could you refresh --
MR. MCCURRY: We can get you the paper -- whatever it was.
Q On the issue of Mexico and certification, why should the public not have some question about the credibility of the process considering the action last year in which Colombia -- sanctions were imposed on Colombia and not Mexico, and as Pete Stark said yesterday, Mexican leaders are up to it in their armpits as well?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't -- I'm not going to comment about the Congressman said. But we've got a process. It's one that's very carefully done, and it's done at the State Department. The State Department makes the recommendations. And if you're questioning the process, you should really go over and ask them.
Q Was Foreign Minister Gurria back here today? And if so, who did he see and what --
MR. MCCURRY: He was back here. He saw the National Security Advisor Sandy Berger today. They had, again, a review of issues related to the upcoming summit meeting between President Zedillo and President Clinton, binational issues that are of concern to both governments, further discussion of the matters that have been in the news this week, and a review of other regional issues.
Q When the certification recommendation is formulated over at State, what goes into the making up of that? Can things other than strictly law enforcement things --
MR. MCCURRY: It's a very, very detailed criteria that is defined in some respects by the statue and now by the practice of having done this. You should contact -- I guess, Assistant Secretary Gelbard is the person to do that, and I imagine they will be planning to do briefings and other things at State next week, as they do annually when they do the certification report.
Okay. See you all next week.
Q Oh, radio address.
MR. MCCURRY: Radio address. The radio address is about the general good news we've had, related to the economy -- the strong performance of an economy that's growing and producing jobs at low rates of inflation and expanding, and probably encouraged by prospects of balancing the budget. So there will something about the importance of balancing the budget. And then I think, if I'm not mistaken, that the Senate is taking up the constitutional balanced budget amendment next week and I imagine he might have a word or two to say about that -- in opposition, obviously.
Q Live or taped?
MR. MCCURRY: Taping today and airing tomorrow.
Q What's he doing tomorrow?
Q Yes, the weekend.
MR. MCCURRY: The weekend? He has the weekend off. On Monday he will be celebrating Black History Month with an event involving some of the Historically Black Colleges from around the country; and then expand the education theme later, meeting with the America Council on Education, where he will advance our education agenda.
He may have some public event with some discussions Tuesday about our effort to combat drugs here in the United States and globally. Wednesday the Chilean President, President Frei, is here, so he's here for a state visit, state dinner -- South Lawn arrival ceremony, meetings, photo ops, joint press conference. Two guys, two flags, as we used to call it.
Thursday we may have an event, may not have an event. (Laughter.) Doesn't really seem to be clear at this point. And there's some question about what the family's personal plans are for the week. I don't have any yet -- or for the end of the week, next weekend -- I don't have an update on that for you.
We'll have two of these sort of foreign leader press conferences during the month of February, but I insisted that didn't count against my quota, so we'll have a formal press conference on Tuesday, March 4th.
Q What time?
MR. MCCURRY: Same time as usual, some time in the afternoon.
Q Two o'clock?
MR. MCCURRY: Whatever. (Laughter.) Are we doing any of this other stuff, this travel? Have we announced any of that?
MR. JOHNSON: Just the Hawaii trip. (Laughter.)
Q Is he beginning to enjoy them?
MR. MCCURRY: Is he? Yes, he enjoys them. He always enjoys them.
Q Have you got any more details on that Hawaii trip? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: On the Terry Hunt memorial birthday trip? The 51st birthday tour to Hawaii.
Q The Terry Hunt senility test. (Laughter.)
Q Oooh. Getting mean.
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing further on that one. Have a good weekend.
END 1:52 P.M. EST