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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 28, 1997
                          PRESS BRIEFING BY
                           BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

11:42 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Let me do the President's schedule, since I didn't get a chance to do it earlier. He took pictures with the interns today, which was exciting. He enjoyed that. He's taping the radio address at this very moment, which will be a little different for Easter Sunday.

Q Is the Easter Bunny going to speak.

MR. MCCURRY: He's not going to talk about any specific action, but he wants to address the subject of race relations in America and he's got, I think, a fairly interesting and important comment on the status of race relations in America. Embargoed until 10:06 a.m. tomorrow. But we'll have the text of that shortly.

The President is also -- some of the leadership of the organized labor movement are stopping by to see him, as they do from time to time. He's going to see John Sweeney, from the AFL-CIO; Morty Barr from the Communication Workers; Jerry McIntee from ASME; and Andy Stein from the Service Workers. They're coming at around 12:15 p.m. They just want to review an agenda of items that they have, some of it related to welfare reform specifically, and then just a general overview of where things are headed in this session of Congress and some of the things that they're working on.

Q Do you think they might come out afterwards?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll check with them. I don't know if they have any plans to or not.

Q Has he started the welfare reform? Has he done anything about the immigration, the odious immigration provisions?

MR. MCCURRY: We have -- have we sent our immigration reform measure to the Hill? We have been working with Congress on the specific adjustments on the immigration provisions and the food stamp provisions that we're interested in getting. But, remember, we've always viewed those as items that we don't think are properly part of the effort to reform welfare as we know it. And, simultaneously, we're clearly doing a lot of work to successfully implement the welfare reform legislation passed last year.

And that's pretty much it. The President's got a couple of other office meetings and things like that during the day.

Q Mike, on the race relations issue, is the President going to make any announcement of future plans, or anything like that?

MR. MCCURRY: No, this is not an announcement. It is -- he just wants to talk -- there have been some things, particularly, the case out of Chicago earlier in the week, and he just wants to raise the subject and talk about the subject. No announcements expected.

Q How about the week ahead?

MR. MCCURRY: The week ahead will be -- in terms of the weekend, the President doesn't have, as far as I know, any particular plans for the Easter Weekend. The First Lady and Chelsea return very early Sunday morning. I think he's got some other members of the family who will be here. They're having a traditional Easter dinner on Sunday and I suspect we'll hear at some point later about what his plans are for going to church. But, by and large, he's going to have a weekend off here at home.

And Monday we will have the Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn, traditional, annual fun event. And then the President will have some things to say about pension security and the steps that we've taken over the last four years to really ensure that Americans have adequate retirement income security, specifically insurance sufficient to protect private sector pension benefits that are made available to retirees.

Tuesday, he sees King Hussein, as you know. The President's looking forward to visiting with His Majesty on the status of the peace process. I'm sure they'll be reviewing at that point further the work that Ambassador Ross has been doing in the region over the last several days.

Q About Tuesday, did the President delegate his authority to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to the Secretary of State?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I think she went out and grabbed it. (Laughter.) But the President is delighted with it. She's, by and large, got true aim. (Laughter.) And the only thing the President asked is that she get it across the plate.

Q What is the line of succession for this? It seems to have skipped the Vice President. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: The line of succession, as near as I can tell, was determined by the Baltimore Orioles organization. And they called her up. But the President is delighted that she'll be --

Q After the President declined, is that it? After the President declined because of his leg injury?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, the President -- well, we let them know that the President was not going to be available. And then I think they contacted her directly.

Q Here's for women.

MR. MCCURRY: That's not a bad idea. That's a good point, good point. Maybe someday we'll have someone chucking in the Major Leagues of the female gender. That would be something to see.

Q How many are on the team, nine? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Given that later on this year we will celebrate another important barrier that was crossed when Jackie Robinson took the field, that would be an important barrier to cross. And Helen Thomas --

Q I know about sports --

MR. MCCURRY: Helen Thomas throws some pretty good fast balls. (Laughter.) I can see it.

Q I want that in the record.

MR. MCCURRY: What do you think?

Wednesday, the President wants to talk a little more about education standards, come back to the question of building world quality educational standards in America. We've got a specific event on that. He's got an event with the Democratic Business Council that evening, which I'm sure will be of fascination to everybody. (Laughter.)

On Thursday, the Chicago Bulls are in town, so he'll finally see them and we'll let you know later on next week who all of the interesting people from the Chicago Bulls will be present.

He meets with the Prime Minister of Portugal on Thursday. He will probably -- there's a memorial service for Ron Brown next Thursday, and the President does plan to try to attend that.

Q Where would that be?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the Commerce Department.

Q And where is the Business Council? Is that here?

MR. MCCURRY: That's at the Sheraton-Carlton.

By the way, when the President talks about pension matters on Monday, for those of you who've got pool assignments, that's going to be over at the Labor Department, in the Great Hall of the Labor Department. So we need to make sure we can make coverage arrangements accordingly.

Q Mike, why is that? Is there something new coming out, or --

MR. MCCURRY: Some good news. It's a good news story about retirement income security.

Q What about Friday?

MR. MCCURRY: Friday, we may or may not have an event. We've got something in mind, but it's not announceable at this point. Saturday, looks like we're doing the radio broadcast live. And that's the week.

Q Mike, the Harold Ickes documents, I know one of your favorite topics --

MR. MCCURRY: Do you want them today? Good Friday?

Q Yes.

Q The DNC says that, you know, when we went there and said, okay, you've got them, can we have them from you since the White House is so busy preparing other documents, they said, well, we'd like to put them out, we'll check with the White House. Went back to them, and today they say White House Counsel's Office has informed us that since these documents were collected by a White House staff member, they consider them within their purview and they're the only ones who have the right to release them. And I just wondered, why not just go ahead and release the DNC if you're serious about wanting to get them out?

MR. MCCURRY: To get them out.

Q Yes.

MR. MCCURRY: Good question.

Q Why not go ahead and let them do it.

MR. MCCURRY: Good question. I'll try to get an answer by Monday.

Q Mike, can you comment on the Post article about the administration negotiating a security pact with the Baltics?

MR. MCCURRY: Let me go through a little bit on that. We've had ongoing discussions with the Baltic nations about security and a range of security issues. As we meet with them bilaterally occasionally, we've had formats in which we encounter all three governments simultaneously, we want to advance their integration into the transatlantic community and into the institutions that are important to the future of Europe, because that's where they properly belong after domination by a foreign power for 50 years.

We've got a number of initiatives that we are pursuing with them, bilateral, regional. Part of the process, we have discussed with them some type of joint document that would outline some of the shared commitments that we have to sovereignty, independence, and security with the Baltics. That would not be any substitution or compensation for the eventual question of whether these Baltic states would want to become members of NATO. And membership is open to them because membership in NATO is nonexclusionary, as we said repeatedly. That's an issue that would be addressed by the Alliance as we move ahead on the question of expansion.

Q President Clinton has said repeatedly that Russia will get a voice, but not a veto in NATO affairs after this charter is signed. Does that mean they get a voice on whether or not the Baltics become members?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, a voice, not a veto is exactly that. They have -- within the context of the charter, they would have the opportunity to consult, talk, discuss matters related to mutual interest in NATO. But they clearly, as we've said, no veto is the operative policy.

Q But isn't that precisely what the Baltics are so worried about, that Russia will actually have a say over whether they become members of NATO?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that -- I'm not going to describe what their concerns or worries are. We've made it pretty clear that membership is open and the question of membership is inclusionary, not exclusionary.

Q Would it be fair to say that what you're talking to the Baltics about is something more than Partnership for Peace and less than NATO membership -- the security charter you're talking about?

MR. MCCURRY: It's clear that we're not talking about something that is a substitute for membership. Membership is something that's very specific, very well understood and the policy of opening NATO to additional members will be fully transparent. But there is -- because of history, because of political geography, because of the security interests in the Baltics -- interest in defining and codifying the security relationships we anticipate with the three Baltic states.

Q So that's more than just Partnership for Peace?

MR. MCCURRY: It goes a little bit beyond. I mean, we have formal Partnership for Peace arrangements in place, but this does go a little bit beyond that. But it's not unusual, if you think about the way within NATO we work on issues related to regional security, there very often are separate ways of discussing some of the issues that arise all around the continent.

Q On another subject, are there any prominent leaders in with the President this morning for his radio address, particularly civil rights leaders?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. We'll check on it.

Q I think I stepped on Wolf's question about whether Dennis Ross is going to see the President over the weekend.

MR. MCCURRY: I doubt that he will see him over the weekend. We're going to get a report on it. The President will be in contact with the Secretary of State, too, who's had very active conversations with Ambassador Ross.

But on Monday, most likely, the President will see Ambassador Ross. I also expect the President on Monday to get a much more detailed briefing from the Vice President on the Vice President's trip to China. The President has already had a good opportunity to review in a thumbnail sketch some of the things the Vice President was able to do on the trip, which we believe had some very significant elements related to our strategy of constructive engagement with the People's Republic of China.

The President told the Vice President he wanted to hear a lot more about that because there were some things he was particularly interested in. And the Vice President will come in and give the President a much more thorough briefing Monday.

Q Does the U.S. government concur with the Canadian government that they have located one of the participants in the Khobar Towers bombing?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Canadian government in connection with the immigration question is looking at, has had some things to say. But you all know we have a very active criminal investigation underway with respect to the Khobar bombing and I am not going to say anything further on the subject for the reason that that is something that is of deep importance to the President, to all the people of the United States of America and the work on that is ongoing.

Q Is he being asked for extradition to the United States?

MR. MCCURRY: There's a legal process underway in Canada, as you can tell from the documents that they filed yesterday. It could lead in any number of directions, but it's clear from the Canadian government's point of view what their disposition is.

Q Can I follow up? If he is extradited to the United States and charged with an act of terrorism, would that be something that would be punishable by the death penalty under the new law s?

MR. MCCURRY: It would be highly improper for me to speculate on something like that.

Q Mike, has the President gotten any reports, beyond news reports, about the suicide pact? Is there anybody -- been anybody briefing from the government?

MR. MCCURRY: Not really. Like all Americans, I think he is interested in it and, as he told you yesterday, very troubled by it. I think he wants, as he wants all Americans, to try to understand this so that we can cope with it and deal with it. But as to specific briefing about them, there's not -- aside from the availability of federal resources, if needed, in the conduct of the law enforcement investigation by state and local authorities, there's not any other federal role that's suggested.

Q And on one other news item, has the President gotten any briefings or is -- do you see the White House in any way getting involved in this issue of the King family and James Earl Ray?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard of anything that suggests a role here at the White House. My guess would be if there's anything with respect to litigation or anything that's involving court proceedings, that would be followed by the Justice Department most closely.

Q The King family, to your knowledge, hasn't approached the President and asked him to get involved?

MR. MCCURRY: To my knowledge, no, but I have not looked into that, and I will.

Q What does he hear from Ross now?

MR. MCCURRY: He hears that Ambassador Ross had meetings that were constructive, that Ambassador Ross has characterized and described and declared much more work will need to be done and will be done.

Q Mike, what are the President's plans for watching the Atlanta city bombing trial in terms of monitoring developments?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- I'd have to check. I don't know.

Q Can you give a reaction to this Justice Department report on Howard Shapiro?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any comment on that. That's an internal review that's been done at the Department. To my knowledge, they have not made it public yet or they're making it publicly shortly. I've been told by White House Legal Counsel that we have not been briefed on the content.

Q Mike, has anybody here at the White House or any people who are administration officials been asked to go down to the Grand Jury here and testify on the ongoing fundraising investigation?

MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge.

Q Mike, scheduling question. After the walk-through on the budget that took place this week at the staff level, what goes on next?

MR. MCCURRY: More work.

Q But, I mean, among whom?

MR. MCCURRY: Those that need to participate. (Laughter.)

Q Does that mean lawmakers?

Q Does that mean Raines and Bowles?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I mean, they've had staff contacts this week -- Jack Lew from OMB has been involved in directing a lot of that; Gene Sperling's been monitoring it very carefully as we move into next week and Congress comes back from recess. It will move back to the team that the President's been having working on this --John Hilley, Erskine, Frank Raines, Gene.

Q So, presumably staff --

MR. MCCURRY: And that's basically our group.

Q -- staff next week, lawmakers the following when they get back?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll see.

Q Can you once again just describe to us what the policy of the White House is now as far as who has contacts between the White House and the FBI -- how that works?

MR. MCCURRY: It's very simple. The process of contacts on substantive matters is within the domain of the White House Legal Counsel as it is broadly speaking for the Justice Department. And if the White House has a need to transact business with the Justice Department or the Bureau on any sensitive matter, it is handled by the Counsel's Office. It's handled counsel to counsel.

Q Mike, the President said earlier that he had specific instructions or he gave Mr. Ross specific instructions before leaving and he talked about ideas that he was going to float with Arafat and Netanyahu. Can you tell us if Arafat seemed receptive to those ideas?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to go beyond the characterization that Ambassador Ross has already given in the region.

Yes, Deborah?

Q Mike, with regard to Lanny Davis and Pakistan, is it Mr. Davis' position that he knew nothing of Mark Siegel's charges of having been shaken down by Burton until he read about it in the press? Mark had never discussed it with him?

MR. MCCURRY: That's absolutely correct. He did not --he says he did not have any knowledge of the matters that came to light involving Mr. Siegel until he read about it in the Washington Post and was surprised to read about it.

Q Did he work with Mark when they were both lobbyists for --

MR. MCCURRY: He was one of the attorneys at Patton, Boggs and Blowl that worked on that account. And Mr. Siegel, I think, in his capacity at his own private concern was probably working on that same issue at the same time.

Q Mike, did Vice President Gore nail down a date for Jiang Zemin's visit to the United States for the summit?

MR. MCCURRY: As he publicly indicated, there was no specific date set.

Q Is it the White House's intention to wait until after the FBI completes its investigation of the so-called China efforts to funnel funds into the American political process because setting a date?

MR. MCCURRY: There are many factors that go into scheduling a high-level visit between Presidents. First and foremost, the important question for the United States is the status of our relationship, is it moving forward along the lines that the two Presidents foreshadowed when they met in the Philippines. And there are any number of issues that relate to making judgments about a question like that.

Q Is that investigation one of the factors?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on whether it's a factor because it would make an assumption about where that investigation is going. I don't know where it's going.

Q On the same point, is it fair to expect that no decision will be made before July 1, because you first want to see what happens with the Hong Kong takeover?

MR. MCCURRY: We have no way of knowing what the status of the investigation is or what the timing would be or how long it's going to take --

Q I'm not talking about the investigation. I'm talking about the takeover of Hong Kong, that you would wait to see how the Chinese behave at the time of the takeover and shortly thereafter before you would set a date.

MR. MCCURRY: As the Chinese government knows, that is one of many issues that we will monitor very carefully and watch very closely, and one that we consider important to our bilateral dialogue.

Q Was that to mean that it won't happen before July 1 then?

MR. MCCURRY: The Vice President indicated they were anticipating an exchange with President Jiang Zemin in the fall, late fall, and I think we've said that before, too.

Q But we're asking about when the date might be announced.

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, you mean when they might -- the Vice President indicated after his meetings that both sides would exchange views on that subject. He did not set any date for an announcement.

Q Mike, is it going to be a state visit?

MR. MCCURRY: The modalities, the level of the visit, the timing have not been addressed by both governments leading to an announcement.

Q I thought they were reciprocal state visits. That's not the case?

MR. MCCURRY: That's anticipated -- that's the anticipated level of the exchange, and that would have to be formally announced by both governments.

Q What did the President think of the Herblock cartoon today?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if he saw it, and I didn't see it myself.

Q It's on Gore in China.

MR. MCCURRY: I'll look at it. The President thought, as he said yesterday, the Vice President did a very good job representing the United States and its people in China. And for good reason, we think that many aspects of the bilateral relationship advanced as a result of the Vice President's trip, which, of course, was the important news about the trip.

Q Mike, just to clarify, when the White House told the Orioles the President couldn't make it, did the White House offer up the Vice President, or was it just declining on behalf of the President?

MR. MCCURRY: I think there was just a very informal contact with the Orioles organization saying the President was not likely going to be able to be there on Opening Day, and I think we left it at that. It was not a formal demarche.

Q Why was that? Because of the President's leg injury or the meeting with King Hussein? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: I think it was a combination of things, and also because the President anticipates -- our big baseball moment comes later on this spring at the Jackie Robinson thing.

Q Did the President suggest Madeleine Albright? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: No, he did not.

Q Did he suggest Al Gore?

MR. MCCURRY: Okay, see you all. Have a good weekend.

END 12:04 P.M. EST