THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:26 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Here we go. You're all excited about the Chicago Bulls, a number of you.
Q Why didn't Dennis Rodman speak?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know why. Why didn't he speak, Mary Ellen? We'll put the question to you. The co-captains spoke? Michael and Scottie, right? Jordan and Pippen spoke.
Q Does the President think that Dennis Rodman is a good role model for --
MR. MCCURRY: The President addressed that in an interview some time ago. We can get you the transcript. He had some interesting comments.
Q Is that right?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure did.
Q When was that?
MR. MCCURRY: He did it for the new sports -- what's that thing called? I'll give them the right plug. It's the Dow Jones Sports Plus Channel. And he got asked specific about that. He said he thought he was a very intriguing person, that he's got responsibilities as a role model, and talked about how Dennis might address those responsibilities. And then Rodman I think the next day responded to that and said he was delighted to learn that the President was a fan. But we can get you the whole transcript.
Q All right.
MR. MCCURRY: Anything else? Okay. See you later.
Q What have you got?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. Somebody wanted to know what we we're doing tomorrow. We can do that. The President is planning to go -- you know, obviously later he will go and speak at the memorial service celebrating the lives of those who died on the plane with former Secretary Ron Brown, and obviously that will be an emotional moment for the President and for many.
Tomorrow the President will drop by the Women's Economic Leadership Summit. Along with the Center for Policy Alternatives, the White House Women's Conference is holding a three-day women's economic summit that's bringing together more than 80 women leaders from state and federal governments, community development organizations, the private sector, organized labor, policy groups, higher education, and some folks from elected office around the country.
They're talking about the empowerment of women as women increasingly move into the entrepreneurial community and things that they can to do to stimulate the participation of women entrepreneurs in the economy and things that can be done generally to empower women economically.
Q Where is that and when?
MR. MCCURRY: It's been one of the things the First Lady, who is obviously taking a role in the conference as an honorary chair, has talked a lot recently about microcredit lending, and there will be a lot of discussion of that. And the President will drop by their gathering tomorrow, 12:20 p.m.
It begins today, by the way, at 3:30 p.m. We've got some more information on it if you're interested.
Q Is he going to talk about anything specific? Is this tied to some policy --
MR. MCCURRY: He'll talk a little bit more about microenterprise lending and some of the things that we've talked about recently, that both the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury have pursued in terms of lending practices that help stimulate the formation of small businesses.
Q Is that in the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: That will be over in the Old Executive Office Building.
MS. GLYNN: And in the White House Conference Center.
MR. MCCURRY: And the White House Conference Center is where the three-day conference is occurring. It begins today at 3:30 p.m. The President's major event of the day tomorrow is earlier in the morning. We are really going to demonstrate the wide-ranging and bipartisan support that exists for the chemical Weapons Convention and has existed through a number of administrations, showcasing some former administration officials who had a role in both negotiating and promulgating the Chemical Weapons Convention who now strongly support its ratification by the Senate.
And the President in very strong terms will call upon the Senate to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention by the end of April, when the deadline for original adherence to the Convention expires and the United States' role in the enforcement and implementation of the treaty will be severely restricted if we don't get ratification by April 29th.
The President, among other points, will make the case that this treaty has been now before the Senate since November of 1993. There have been 13 Senate hearings, hundreds of questions answered on behalf of this administration and previous administrations, and more than 1500 pages of information about the impact of the treaty. And it's time now to get on with ratifying a convention that will reduce the threat to our soldiers by requiring others to do what we are already doing, which is going out of the chemical weapons business. And it will also make it harder and more costly for terrorists to acquire these types of weapons.
Q Does he feel --
Q What time and where?
Q -- he pretty much has a deal and it's going to go through when Helms's problems have been addressed?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there is going to be a lot of hard work over the course of the coming month to secure the votes necessary for ratification, but the President is determined to do that, will work personally on it, and has already had substantial portions of the administration engaged towards that end.
Q Is he enlisting any of the former Presidents to personally call members of the Senate?
MR. MCCURRY: Some of them, if my understanding is correct, have been supportive, and of course they signed a letter to that effect that has circulated within the Senate. But we will remain in contact with officials of the previous administrations, including President Bush and representatives of the Reagan administration, to see if we can't secure help.
Q Where is he going to be and who is going to be there and what time is it?
MR. MCCURRY: It's going to be at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow on the South Portico, a list of participants to be announced.
Q What would be the immediate consequences of a failure to ratify by the end of April?
MR. MCCURRY: One of the immediate consequences is -- you know the technical name of it, David, but the consultative mechanism that actually implements the convention.
MR. JOHNSON: We would not be a member.
MR. MCCURRY: It's whatever -- what's the name of it? That's what I'm grasping for. In any event, if the Senate doesn't ratify by April 29, the United States would not be an original member in the consultative committee that actually implements and monitors the treaty as it takes effect -- or the convention itself as it takes effect. And that would put us at a real loss of a leadership role as we assure that other countries fully comply with the stipulations of the convention itself, as we figure out ways to monitor and verify implementation of the convention. I think that would be very disadvantageous to the United States as we protect our own strategic national interests in the world.
Q Any other consequences besides that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think also, the effect of having our country, which is already in the process of eliminating chemical weapons, not in the leadership role in encouraging other nations that might be exploring these types of weapons programs to do so and to shut their own down would be a real tragedy. And the principal loss would be the loss of the power of the U.S. example as we help encourage other countries to refrain from any research and development programs of this nature or any potential plans for use.
Q It would not bear upon American intentions to continue to go out of the chemical weapons business?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we are already doing that. It just means that we would lose a real advantage we have, given that we are already doing that, a real advantage we would have in exerting our leadership in the world.
Q Aside from exerting leadership, is there something else that you would lose by not being part of the original body?
MR. MCCURRY: Many people in our own domestic chemical industry feel like they would lose some of the ability they have to monitor types of chemical development and chemical R&D that would be occurring, because that's the information that flows into the international body that would promulgate and implement the treaty. We'll do more, by the way, on all of this tomorrow, so --
Q I thought they would also lose some marketing --
MR. MCCURRY: I think there are some market implications, too, but listen -- a lot of interest in this. We obviously will trot out some people to do some more significant briefings tomorrow. I think Bob Bell was going to be available tomorrow, so we'll load you up more fully on this tomorrow.
Q Is the Secretary of State working on her newfound friend, Senator Helms, on this subject?
MR. MCCURRY: She's had discussions with him. A number of people from the White House have been in discussion with the Majority Leader as well. We have been working this quietly and sometimes publicly for a number of weeks now, but the President tomorrow will really launch a push to devote considerable effort during the month of April to ratification.
Q Mike, a few minutes ago the President said that he rendered no judgments on the propriety of the $100,000 Lippo payment to Webb Hubbell. Is that right? Does the President not have an opinion on that, and has he not expressed an opinion on that?
MR. MCCURRY: He said that he did not know about it and is not fully aware of the circumstances under which Mr. Hubbell was retained. We're not in the position here to understand the nature of the legal work that Mr. Hubbell was retained to perform. So it's hard for us to render a judgment on it.
Q What the President said at the news conference a little over two months ago was that this was improper. I mean, that's the word that he used. Is it now not improper?
MR. MCCURRY: No, David, that's not a fair reading. The question he was posed to on January 28th had to deal with an allegation of hush money payments. The question was very clear and the President in his answer was very clear in reacting to the suggestion that there had been payments made to silence Webb Hubbell. And to my knowledge there's no one who established any evidence of that. It's difficult for us to prove the negative. But the context of that question I think is real clear if you go back and look at the question in addition to the answer.
Q So just to follow up, as far as the President is concerned, there's nothing wrong with that money going to Webb Hubbell from the Lippo Group as long as it was not hush money?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President is not in a position to render a judgment about what Mr. Hubbell did or did not do when he had been retained by the Lippo Group. It's not his position to judge what was then a private citizen in his own pursuit of gainful employment. I mean, he doesn't render an opinion on something like that.
You know, obviously, clearly, if there was ever established any reason to believe that it had been done with motives contrary to law, the President would have a very strong view of that. But we can't assume that. And there are now investigative bodies exploring exactly that question. So it would improper for him to say that in any event.
Q I don't know if you've been asked this in the past, but can we assume that Mrs. Clinton was one of the partners that Webb Hubbell defrauded, can we assume she has no hard feelings about that at all?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speak to what her personal feelings are about that.
Q Are budget negotiations going on with leaders or their staffs today and tomorrow, from Congress; and can you give us any details?
MR. MCCURRY: We told you at the time the President met with the chairs and ranking members of the budget committees that we would be following up during the Congressional recess with staff-to-staff contacts. Those have been underway. I believe there are some of those types of discussions underway today. I'm not aware that they will continue tomorrow. I think they move into a different sort of format for dialogue next week once the members return.
And, yes, there's been a lot of discussion underway, but I'm not going to compromise the potential success of those discussions by talking about it.
Q Will Clinton invite the leadership --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that we've always made clear that we want to work real hard to balance the budget and it would most likely be necessary for the President to talk to the bipartisan leadership at length if we're going to do so, and he's prepared to do that.
Q President Clinton is scheduled to meet the three big U.S. automakers today. Can you tell us about that meeting, and also the President's view about a --
MR. MCCURRY: That was going to occur today. We actually postponed that meeting because of the Ron Brown memorial service. And it will now be held -- we haven't rescheduled it, but it will be held sometime in the near future.
Q Mike, Yasser Arafat has just said that he will accept to meet with Netanyahu. Do you have any clue about when and where this summit will take place? Will it be in Washington --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on any of that. The President looks forward to seeing Prime Minister Netanyahu on Monday, and after they have an opportunity to talk we'll be able to explore a little bit more about what might happen next in our diplomacy.
Q Mike, how would you characterize Arafat's decision to accept to meet with Netanyahu?
MR. MCCURRY: We have -- you've heard me, you've heard the President and others encourage the parties to be in dialogue and we want them to be in dialogue. We think that's very important to the resolution of the issues that confront the parties immediately and, of course, to the continued momentum that must exist for the peace process itself as the parties clear the hurdles that have been in the way, as they deepen their own commitment to the Oslo process, and as they move towards resolution of final status issues.
Q Did the White House put pressure on Arafat to force him to accept this meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: We've been in contact with the parties and have obviously encouraged them to continue their dialogue.
Q Mike, given what you described this morning as a sensitive juncture that the process is at now, would this be an opportune time to get them together, knock heads, conference with all the leaders?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to talk about the steps that we would take, pursue, contemplate, as we encourage the parties to resolve their differences. There will be plenty of time for that, and there will be plenty of time for that in the weeks and months ahead, because this is a process that will require that kind of sustained commitment.
Q Do you have anything further today on the strawberry hepatitis scare, and are heads likely to roll at USDA?
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing beyond what -- the Agriculture Department and Health and Human Services gave, I think, a good briefing on the public health response, some of the epidemiology that went into working through an understanding of the outbreak. The President has received a good briefing memo from Secretary Shalala and Secretary Glickman on the efforts of the two agencies respectively, and we are watching that. But you really ought to stay in contact with USDA and Centers for Disease Control and the folks at the agencies who have been pursuing it.
Q But is the White House disturbed with the agencies?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is concerned about some of the things that have been reported, but acknowledges that both departments took quick steps, one to respond to the public health concerns that obviously we would have; and two, to look into the circumstances that gave rise to the outbreak in the first place. The agencies have moved very swiftly on that question as you know.
Q Did you ever give a date for Webb Hubbell's overnights in the --
MR. MCCURRY: It was late 1993, while he was still serving at Justice.
Q Mike, on Monday's meeting with Netanyahu, do you still hold to the view that it's essentially a consultative meeting and that the President will not at that time disclose his strategy for resumption of the talks?
MR. MCCURRY: They will meet on Monday and we'll tell you as much as they can after they meet about what they said to each other.
Q So we may get something more --
MR. MCCURRY: Or you may get more diplo-babble from the Press Secretary.
Q -- I heard this on CBS. I don't know their source, but they said that the Russians had developed a new form of anthrax so potent that it won't respond to antibiotics. Does the White House know anything about this --
MR. MCCURRY: Maybe Mr. Plante could help us out.
Q No idea.
MR. MCCURRY: Do you have any response on behalf of CBS, Mr. Plante?
Q No, none. I'll check on this and get back to you.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know a thing about it. I will look into it, see if there is any -- we'll get back to Mr. Plante for an answer.
Q Is the White House aware that Eugene Ludwig, the bank regulator who was at that coffee, has apparently had to recuse himself from a decision on Nationsbank, an application that they've made --
MR. MCCURRY: I assume some people at the White House read the newspaper story to that effect. But I don't know whether they knew that in advance.
Q Are you -- do you follow what he's doing? I mean, has the White House asked him to look for decisions in which he might have to recuse --
MR. MCCURRY: To my knowledge, there has been no role that the White House has played in that decision that he made, but I can check further into that.
Q Mike, in Helsinki the President said that Denver would become the Summit of the Eight. Does that mean that Russia henceforth will be added to the annual rotation of venues?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know that that's a question that's been addressed. Russia's participation has grown steadily in the annual format that has in the past been called G-7. As we now move to the format of Summit of the Eight, Russia takes on an increasing role, although there will be preserved within this format opportunities for the seven industrialized nations to talk about those economic currency fiscal matters that they routinely discuss at gatherings like this annually. But I'm not going to speculate about future meetings. They usually, in their final communique, indicate where the next meeting will take place.
Q Is this one issue under review in the run-up to Denver, as to whether or not to expand the rotation?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not seen anything myself indicating that that's one of those issues.
Q Mike, just on the Middle East, one more try here. Is the President going to present any kind of specific proposals to Mr. Netanyahu?
MR. MCCURRY: I've already said that he's well aware that we're at a moment in this process where we need some new thinking and we need some hard work. And I think he's prepared to do both.
Q Mike, does the disclosure that one of the people that Erskine Bowles called while he was at SBA was at the time running a business that was under SBA scrutiny, does that change your answer that this was just a friend doing something for a friend?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely not. Will Dunbar, who is with the firm Allied Capital, is someone that Erskine had known for a number of years, that his own firm represented. Allied Capital was a client of Erskine's firm prior to this, so he had a prior relationship long before he came into government.
And in any event, because of that prior relationship, when Erskine became head of the SBA he very properly recused himself from anything having to do with Allied Capital. It's quite to the contrary. I mean, he made absolutely sure in structuring his own work that he did not handle matters related to Allied Capital.
Q On the big question of -- the big questions around Don Fowler, Tamraz, and the CIA, is the White House investigating in any way what happened there? Is there an official investigation underway?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. There is one thing that is happening here, which is Sandy Berger is looking at procedures for making sure that information that needs to be briefed up the chain of command at the NSC absolutely for certain gets briefed up, and you've probably seen some coverage of that. Separately, at the CIA, as you probably know, they have said publicly that the Inspector General there has got a review underway.
Q Can you tell us more about this Berger operation now? Is everything brought to him?
MR. MCCURRY: He's got a couple -- several things that he is exploring, working with the White House Legal Counsel about steps that they would take both to monitor foreigners who come here to the White House for any purpose, and he has also gone back and talked to previous national security advisors. I believe he's meeting with Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft in particular and there the two that he has actually talked to about what types of procedures have existed in the past related to NSC security and access procedures. I think he's going to prepare some recommendations that will then go to the Chief of Staff that he will implement, but they are not finished with that yet.
Q Is there a definitive decision then that this doesn't warrant White House investigation, or just so far there has been no decision made to have a White House investigation?
MR. MCCURRY: The Counsel is looking into the circumstances related to the contact that we've already briefed upon, but I think we've briefed pretty publicly, and David in particular has done that on what we understand about that contact and had indicated that the NSC staffer in question responded quite appropriately.
Q Also, the L.A. Times on the same story today, reports that Fowler's caller ID showed up on the CIA -- it quotes its source being a White House source. Does it strike you odd that the White House would be a source for something about caller ID at the CIA?
MR. MCCURRY: I missed that myself, but I don't want to speculate about anonymous sources in news accounts.
Q Does the President have any intention of choosing Lake for any other position that would not require Senate confirmation?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he would certainly consider that if Tony had any real interest in doing that, but I think that Tony is interested in getting on with his life.
MR. MCCURRY: Down and out. (Laughter.) All right. Good-bye. See you tomorrow.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:49 P.M. EST