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                     Office of the Press Secretary
                       (Raleigh, North Carolina)
For Immediate Release                                      March 13, 1997
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                            The State Capitol
                         Raleigh, North Carolina                     

12:20 P.M. EST

MS. GLYNN: We've got two Cabinet Secretaries here today -- Secretary of Defense William Cohen, and Secretary of education Dick Riley. If you have any questions about other things, like the fundraisers, I can take your questions later off camera.

SECRETARY RILEY: I'm Dick Riley, the Secretary of Education. And I want to say, first of all, the President is so happy to be here in North Carolina and recognize what this state has achieved in education. Governor Hunt has truly been a national leader in education and we're all grateful for his leadership.

This state will be the third state in the nation, along with Maryland and Michigan, that have agreed through their leadership to sign up for the national test for reading and math. I believe that many more states will follow. The Secretary of Defense will speak to the defense schools in a moment.

I want to be very clear about one thing, and that is that these national tests for 4th grade reading and 8th grade math are voluntarily. If they were not voluntary, the President wouldn't be out urging states and school districts to take an interest in them. They are really an opportunity and not a requirement. They are a national challenge and not a national curriculum.

Both the President and I respect and endorse the state and local role in defining the progress of American education. We think that's very important. These tests, then, give parents and teachers, local school boards, the opportunity to compare how their children are measuring up in these two very basic skills.

The President's challenge to the rest of the country to follow Governor Hunt's lead also in rewarding master teachers who are board-certified with a pay raise makes real good sense. That's something that the nation is looking at. I believe that every school in the nation should have a master teacher on its faculty. And, as the President pointed out, that would make great sense. His proposal is to pave the way for 100,000 master teachers over the next decade. We can't ask our students to reach for national standards if we aren't asking America's teachers to match up to the same high standard and raise their own standards.

So we are going to have a national forum on attracting and preparing America's teachers for the 21st century this spring, and you'll be hearing more about that. We need to train 2 million new teachers, more than the level of teachers we have now, over the next 10 years.

In conclusion, I want to say how pleased I am, along with the President, to be here in North Carolina, but the President putting education as his number one priority for his four years, a second four-year term. I've served with the President, as he indicated, as Governor Hunt has, for years, and I do know that education is a subject that's dear to his heart. This is a natural subject for him. He's at home with it. He is truly one of the nation's most knowledgeable leaders when it comes to education policy and it makes my job challenging, but very interesting.

Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen.

SECRETARY COHEN: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. There were a couple of reasons why I wanted to join the President here today. We share, obviously, a passion for basketball, but also for education. Prior to my entry into politics some 25 years ago -- actually, longer than that -- I had the privilege of teaching at the University of Maine for a period of about six years. And so education has also been a passion of mine, as well.

The Defense Department is deeply committed to quality education for members of our military and their children. And for this reason we look forward to participating in the President's initiative on national standards of excellence in education. This is going to help gauge the performance of our students by both national and also international standards. And this measurement is particularly important for students and their families, as they are required to move often, and this will help them in their movement back and forth from base to base, city to city and country to country. And it also reminds us about our commitment of forward presence abroad.

Of the 115,000 students that we have in grades K through 12, about 81,000 study in foreign countries -- the balance of the study in the Department's domestic school program. The DOD schools strive to meet rigorous standards and they are succeeding. Fourth grade students now rank 8th in the nation among 48 jurisdictions on standardized math tests. Earlier this year Governor Hunt presented the Fort Bragg's schools with his Excellence In Education Award for early childhood education.

At Camp LeJeune, the Bressler (phonetic) Middle School and the Stone Street Elementary School have both been awarded the National School of Excellence designated by the United States Department of Education. LeJeune High School is the top scoring school in North Carolina on the American High School mathematics examination.

In 1995, the Department of Defense schools adopted a comprehensive improvement plan following the passage of President Clinton's Goals 2000. Under this plan, DOD schools have issued academic standards that are among the most rigorous in the nation. They have started to raise graduation requirements even further in all overseas high schools. They've established home school partnerships to bring parents into the educational decision-making process. And the President was very clear on this in his statement today. These programs cannot succeed unless we have the active engagement of parents working with their children.

And one of the reasons that our students and schools score so well is that parents also take the education of their children and of themselves very seriously. About 95 percent of all the recruits in our military now hold high school diplomas, compared to about 75 percent of America's youth. And most of the recruits enroll in the Montgomery G.I. Bill, which provides money for them for advanced education.

So we have a very well-educated force, and the President's program is going to help educate children of that force for the 21st century.

The President talked about this just briefly, but let me say from my perspective in this new capacity in which I serve, we talk about this frequently, but I have now seen it firsthand in my travels around the country and also internationally. We're very proud of our military. We are proud of the people who are coming in to serve in our military. And, equally importantly, we are very proud of the demonstration of excellence and competence and patriotism and idealism and commitment. When they finish their service to their country in the military, we are producing fine citizens to go back into the communities to help make them even better.

So we believe that this is a model program that the Defense Department schools, under the jurisdiction of the President, will serve as a model for the rest of the country. We are doing exceptionally well now and we want to prove to the country that we certainly can meet any national or international standard, and if we can do that in the military schools, we can do it anywhere in the country. So it's my pleasure to be here today.

Q Mr. Secretary?

SECRETARY COHEN: Which secretary? (Laughter.)

Q The Defense Secretary. Could you talk to us a little bit about what the situation is in Albania and are we going to use American Armed Forces to evacuate Americans there?

SECRETARY COHEN: Well, I think the situation in Albania is deteriorating, and as I indicated as recently as yesterday or last evening, we will take whatever measures are necessary to make sure that those Americans who want to leave or need to leave will be safely evacuated. So we're following it on a very close basis, and we have the capability and the capacity to provide for their evacuation and we will do so at the request of the Ambassador.

Q Mr. Secretary, you mentioned quality of life for the soldiers and, of course, one other thing that you are very concerned about is the safety of soldiers. The shooting in Israel -- the shooting in Jordan of Israeli schoolchildren demonstrates the volatility of the Mideast and, of course, as you know, the concern has been of the soldiers in the Mideast area. Do you have any further worries this morning as a result of this shooting?

SECRETARY COHEN: Well, obviously, when you have a tragedy of that kind, it's going to certainly complicate the Middle East peace process. Prime Minister Netanyahu is under criticism from within, from without. We have other nations who are being quite critical of the process itself not moving along fast enough. Something like this occurs, it's going to create even more opposition within the state of Israel in terms of moving forward. So it will complicate the Middle East peace process, but we have seen tragedy after tragedy in that region in the past and the leaders have been able to overcome that, so I think it will be a temporary setback. But we will proceed along the path of peace.

Q The safety of soldiers from terrorist attacks is what I'm getting at -- the safety of soldiers for any terrorist attack --

SECRETARY COHEN: Our soldiers? Well, our soldiers are not in the line of fire, so to speak, over in that region. They are not at risk in the state of Israel, if that's what you're suggesting.

Q No, I was thinking in the Mideast in Saudi Arabia, a further terrorist attack --

SECRETARY COHEN: Of course, we're always concerned about that. One of the things that we have done since the Khobar Tower bombing was to really focus upon force protection, to take a number of steps to make sure that we take whatever precautions can be reasonably taken. And we must understand that no matter how good we are at force protection, there are always the possibility some terrorist activities will produce fatalities. And so we're taking very high precautions against terrorist actions in that entire region. But it's not to say that you can be 100 percent guaranteed that you'll ensure the safety, but we're doing as much as we can.

Q Mr. Secretary, have you decided how you're going to answer Senators Boxer and Feinstein about their concerns about the sale of the Long Beach shipyard to a Chinese-owned company? And do you have any reservations or think it should be vetted, put through a national security review?

SECRETARY COHEN: Well, I just learned about the request a short time ago and have not had time to really evaluate it. My understanding was that this base went through the base closure process, that it was turned over to the city and the city made the determination to allow for this either sale or lease. Obviously, if there are any national security implications involved in this, we will review it. But I haven't had an opportunity to really thoroughly look at the request and look at the situation, but I will.

Q Secretary Cohen, Pierre Salinger has held a news conference in Paris, says he has proved that a U.S. Navy ship took down TWA 800. I wonder I you would address that.

SECRETARY COHEN: Based on the information that I have, there is no basis for such an allegation pertaining to a Navy ship or a Navy missile. My understanding is there has been a very thorough investigation in terms of any Navy assets that were -- any of our Navy assets -- the complete inventory of their missiles or weapons on board, and there is no basis, no foundation for such an allegation that a Navy missile was involved in this tragedy.

MS. GLYNN: Wait, wait, wait -- let's just take two more. He has to go.

Q Secretary, can you tell us what your reaction was to the five women who stepped forward and said that they were somehow coerced in the Aberdeen investigation? Is there anything you're doing to look into their concerns?

SECRETARY COHEN: Well, yes, the Army is looking into the entire matter pertaining to Aberdeen. I met yesterday with the Secretary of the Army and also with General Rimer (phonetic) to enquire about how that investigation is proceeding. And there will be a very thorough investigation into all of the allegations pertaining to that.

I am concerned not only about sexual harassment, but if there were any racial considerations or factors involved, I certainly would be concerned about that as well. I think we have to allow the investigation to continue -- not to try the case in public, but rather have the full, formal process allowed to complete itself, and then make a determination as to what took place at Aberdeen.

Q Do you think there are any racial implications in this?

SECRETARY COHEN: I don't know.

Q Do you buy into the --

SECRETARY COHEN: I have no reason to conclude that there were. I think what we have to do is wait until all the facts unfold, until we have the hearing first and then the verdict. And then we can make a determination whether or not it was a matter pertaining to sexual harassment or whether or not there were racial factors involved. It's something that we are going to look at. I'm sure they will be a very thorough investigation of the subject matter and then we will make an assessment.

Q Secretary Cohen -- reports that the NSC monitored communication between Beijing and their Washington embassy -- by influencing U.S. elections?

SECRETARY COHEN: We never comment on any such reports dealing with that.

MS GLYNN: Okay, thanks.

Q Never?

SECRETARY RILEY: Good job. (Laughter.)


THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 12:36 P.M. EST