THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:45 P.M. EDT
Q How close are you on chemical weapons?
MR. MCCURRY: Close.
Q How close?
MR. MCCURRY: Not there yet. The President is working the issue hard. I think -- if you think back to some of the concerns that Senator Dole expressed last year shortly before -- or during the campaign period, and then to see his statement today where he expressed satisfaction over the work that had been done by Senator Helms, Senator Lott, others on the Hill working with the administration to work through some of these conditions, and to see the persuasive impact that had on Senator Dole, we are at least hopeful that that argument will resonate among those undecided senators who are still thinking about how to approach their vote on the Convention.
I think it was a very significant development today and we hope all the remarks from General Powell to General Shalikashvili to certainly the President and the Vice President will lend some last-minute encouragement to those who are still thinking about it. And the President, by the way, I suspect will, based on our reports from folks we have on the Hill today, will be making some further calls right up to the wire.
Q Does that suggest the reports are negative, that they need help on the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that we have a number of undecided senators and we don't have the magic number of 67.
Q What do we hear from Sandy and Senator Lott?
MR. MCCURRY: Only what Senator Lott himself has already conveyed.
Q Mike, you were not quite clear last week on what would be the consequences if the treaty is ratified and the killer amendments are ratified at the same time.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have the practical effect of challenging the U.S. ratification. I think that those who would be responsible for implementation of the treaty itself and the Executive Council would deem that to be vitiating the treaty and would deem the United States to be in a non-ratified state.
Q Mike, did the President send some sort of written assurance, or the NSC to Senator Lott today on Articles 10 and 11?
MR. MCCURRY: We have -- I'd have to check whether we've sent anything specific. We have made some specific clarifications on the effect of those two concerns. I think we've made that available publicly here -- the wording, the clarification we've made on both of those points.
Q But nothing new, no new language?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check and see. There's been a very active dialogue back and forth. I hadn't heard that. But I'd have to check on that further.
Q Can you give us any background on how the Dole event came about?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has talked to him and I think, as Senator Dole's statement said, the President wrote to him yesterday as well -- that they have remained in contact on it. I believe, if I'm not mistaken, David, that Bob Bell from the NSC staff also briefed the Senator directly or --
MR. JOHNSON: Yes.
MR. MCCURRY: -- briefed Senator Dole as well. Just to walk through, I think what was important to Senator Dole -- I don't want to speak for him, but I'm reflecting what he certainly said earlier today -- was the nature of those conditions that had been specified to by the administration and by senators that are now in agreement. And he received a briefing on those and the way we had addressed some of the specific concerns that he had raised last year.
Q When did he tell you that he was going to be coming over for today's event? When did you know --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that we didn't know for certain he would be here until earlier this morning, correct?
MR. JOHNSON: Correct.
Q Has the Senator been able to swing over a vote, that you know of?
MR. MCCURRY: He's had some effect on the people that he's called. I would really leave that up to individual senators to say, but our sense is that people appreciate both the effort that he's made to make a persuasive for it and the work the White House and the administration has done to satisfy some of the concerns that senators have.
Q Has he been making calls?
MR. MCCURRY: He's been making calls not necessarily every day, but beginning last week has spoken to at least a dozen senators, probably somewhat more than --
Q We're talking about Dole.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, Senator Dole. I don't know whether he has or not. I don't know if he's had contact with other members of the Senate.
Q Oh, so you're not saying that Dole has had some effect on the people he's called?
MR. MCCURRY: No --
Q That was a great line.
MR. MCCURRY: I was referring to the President.
Q Oh, he's had some effect.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know whether Senator Dole has had contact with any of his former colleagues.
Q Can you walk us through how the White House was informed about yesterday's raid in Peru and whether or not the President has spoken with President Fujimori? Also, whether or not he's spoken with Prime Minister Hashimoto and what --
MR. MCCURRY: The White House Press Secretary was in his office having a conversation with someone, was watching MS-NBC and CNN, although, in fairness, I think CNN was on first. He picked up the phone and called the Deputy National Security Advisor and said, are you watching this? (Laughter.) The Deputy National Security Advisor said. no.
Q You said, turn it on.
MR. MCCURRY: And that, to my knowledge, is how senior members of our administration learned -- (laughter) -- which is an elaborate way of saying we had no official notification in advance from the government. We have been, through our embassy in Lima, watching very carefully the developments in and around the embassy compound, and we remain in close contact with the government of Peru. As Secretary Cohen said last night, it would not be incorrect to say we had some indications that they might be reaching some moment of decision with respect to the hostages in the embassy, but we did not have any advance notice.
Q Do you applaud this decision? Do you applaud the decision --
MR. MCCURRY: What I said earlier today, and what others in our government have now said, is that we had urged repeatedly that a peaceful outcome be looked for, but we well understand the decisions of a government that has more information than we do if they feel they need to act to protect their own citizens and international diplomats in a situation in which they're the best judge of the circumstances that lead to that type of action.
Q What about the phone call?
MR. MCCURRY: The President hasn't had a phone call with either Prime Minister Hashimoto or President Fujimori. He, of course, plans to see Prime Minister Hashimoto on Friday.
Q There is a wire story that says that some elite Peruvian soldiers were trained in the U.S. in antiterrorism tactics, specifically including rescue, in December and January.
MR. MCCURRY: We have an ongoing counterterrorism program of cooperation that we heard about from the State Department earlier today, and I think they're in a position to brief you more on that. That's not with respect to this particular incident, but it's an ongoing program of cooperation that dates back, I think the State Department indicated, to the early 1990s.
Q And it just happened to be Peru's turn to come in December or January?
MR. MCCURRY: We have -- given our strong concern about terrorism and our fight against terrorism, we have a number of counterterrorism programs underway with a number of governments around the world.
Q Mike, was any sensitive listening equipment or other such technical assistance passed on to the Peruvians? There's another report to that effect.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the guidance that has been provided to me by the agencies of government that looked at it carefully is that we did not provide equipment with respect to this particular mission yesterday. Now, we do have -- as I say, we've had some cooperative exchanges with the Peruvians; I believe they have been with -- Bill, back to your question -- with the police, not with military units. Our understanding is that these were Peruvian military units that carried out the rescue effort yesterday, and I believe our cooperation on counterterrorism has been confined to the national police. But the State Department can tell you more about that; indeed, I believe they're briefing to that right now.
Q You're being very careful not to rule out the possibility that the U.S. has provided this type of equipment in the past, that it could have been used --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not in a position to know what equipment was used by the Peruvian military units that conducted this operation successfully yesterday.
Q One of the reasons that Kenneth Starr asked for more time for his efforts yesterday was because there is some litigation under seal, supposedly, including an assertion of privilege, perhaps executive privilege. Is the White House asserting executive privilege in any matter before Mr. Starr?
MR. MCCURRY: I just don't have any comment on Mr. Starr's filing in court.
Q You have said in the past I think that the White House was not asserting executive privilege in any matters relating to Whitewater. Is that still the case?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that was about the campaign contributions controversy. But again, I don't have any comment on that particular matter.
Q Didn't the President say he wouldn't use executive privilege a couple of years back when --
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to go back and look. It would have been prior to my arrival here. I just don't remember that myself.
Q What time is the President's meeting with the Dalai Lama?
MR. MCCURRY: Probably about 3:00 p.m.
Q And what will the President be telling him?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will convey his respect to the moral leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He will -- they'll have an opportunity to talk about the important cultural and religious heritage of Tibet. They will exchange views on the current status of U.S.-Sino relations, and I expect that the President will also convey to His Holiness the President's willingness to suggest to the People's Republic of China that the enter into a dialogue with the Dalai Lama or the Dalai Lama's representatives.
Q And that will be in the Vice President's office?
MR. MCCURRY: The Dalai Lama will be here to meet with the Vice President and the President will join that meeting in progress.
Q Any photo op?
MR. MCCURRY: There's a photo that we will release of the meeting, yes.
Q To follow up on the Whitewater questions, does the Counsel's Office have any notes or documents reflecting conversations with Whitewater --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not going to comment on that matter.
Q Why not? Why won't you comment?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a matter under investigation and it's not -- it would be proper for comments on that to come from the independent counsel.
Q On the Dalai Lama, is it unusual to have a photo released? Have you done it in the past?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't remember if we've done it in the past, or not. I'm getting nods from the gallery here that we've done it in the past.
Q This is a little less than -- because we have photos in there --
MR. MCCURRY: It's designed to be exactly the same.
Q Exactly the same?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q In the Vice President's office here?
MR. MCCURRY: Here in the West Wing. And I believe he is then also going to go see the First Lady in the Residence after he concludes the meeting with the Vice President and the President.
Q Why? What are they going to talk --
MR. MCCURRY: Just a chance to visit and a chance for the First Lady to express her admiration for his spiritual and moral leadership.
Q Did she request a meeting with him, or vice versa?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that.
Q Has she ever met with him before here --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I don't believe they've met, although they may have met in the past. I'd have to check.
Q Mike, while you don't want to talk about the Starr filing itself, how do you feel about -- how does the President feel about the ultimate effect that this is going to have, drawing this out probably at least until the end of the year?
MR. MCCURRY: It has no practical effect because it just extends the circumstances under which we're already working on all the things that the President works on on behalf of the American people. No change in the status quo.
Q Bruce Lindsey was supposed to meet with one of the Attorneys General -- today. Do you know if that meeting took place and what happened during that meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: Do you know anything about that? He's had a lot of contact on and off almost daily, I think, with some of the parties in the tobacco discussion, so I wouldn't doubt that.
Q -- supposed to be here at the White House.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I wouldn't doubt that, and the parties have been here from time to time on and off to talk to Bruce, so it wouldn't surprise me.
Q What's the administration's position on the lawsuit that Florida is filing about the welfare reform bill and legal immigrants?
MR. MCCURRY: We are looking at the lawsuit that's been brought by the state of Florida. The Justice Department has it under review now. In general, as a general proposition, the Justice Department protects federal law in circumstances like that, but they'll have to review the suit and then determine the right posture in court.
Q But wouldn't the administration think about the fact that Florida is seeking some help, essentially, to pay for --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are a number of governors in a number of states that share the administration's view that certain provisions of the welfare reform bill are going to be unnecessarily cumbersome for states and, more importantly, will jeopardize the health and welfare of legal immigrants. And that's a position we've taken, why we're trying to address and remedy certain portions of that bill. So we can well understand the concerns by the state, but as a legal matter, the Justice Department will have to look at the suit and determine the right course of action.
Q Mike, is the White House happy that the Supreme Court has accepted your request for a fast track reading on the line-item veto?
MR. MCCURRY: That's right. But, in fact, we will have a statement from the President shortly indicating that he's pleased that the Supreme Court granted the Solicitor General's request to provide an expedited review of the lower court ruling. You know, we had gone to the Court, along with some of the parties that brought suit, and asked that they use the expedited review procedure to bring a prompt review by the court in this session, given the importance of the constitutional issues at stake. The President, of course, is a fierce defender of the line-item veto and wants to have that as a tool to curb unnecessary and wasteful and spending. Whether or not that is a constitutional use of executive authority is a decision now that the Court will review, and the President is pleased they will do so.
Q As a follow, are you going to put the same kind of pressure behind any other court cases outstanding before the Court?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this one was triggered by a specific provision in the bill in the act of Congress that allowed for expedited review. So there was a procedure enacted into law that allowed for that direct path to the Supreme Court. And there are other instances where that type of procedure is used. I'm not aware of any that are pending at the moment.
Q Did President Clinton send a letter to Prime Minister Hashimoto with specific recommendations on Japanese economic policy?
MR. MCCURRY: The President and the Prime Minister have a vibrant exchange of views that include exchange of written correspondence. And for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, our Asian NSC experts tell me I'm not to confirm that they've recently had an exchange of correspondence -- (laughter) -- that might include discussion of the Japanese economy.
Q Take that, you guys.
Q Does the same answer apply to a letter from Larry Summers to Prime Minister Hashimoto?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't dare speak for Mr. Summers. He's capable -- I think -- of speaking for himself. (Laughter.)
Q I'm not doing too well, but one more question. On the executive order for the Burma sanctions, when do you expect that to be actually written down?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, that's a good question. (Laughter.) Given the announcement by the Secretary of State, they will formalize the executive order shortly, but it will have to be reviewed by OMB prior to final clearance.
Q Because some people have been saying it's Friday. Is that off track or --
MR. JOHNSON: It's in the realm of possibility, but we can't --
MR. MCCURRY: That could be, but we don't know yet.
Q Mike, when you say that you're close on chemical weapons, is that close as in not quite there yet or close as in guarding against complacency?
MR. MCCURRY: Close as in not quite there yet. I don't believe we have 67 votes rounded up and in the pocket.
Q Mike, on budget, where are you? Do you anticipate --
MR. MCCURRY: The budget?
Q -- is it too optimistic to think there is a deal? And what about Larry Summers? (Laughter.) Does the White House -- that the proponents for cutting the inheritance tax are driven by selfishness?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think that even Deputy Treasury Secretary Summers would say that he addressed that issue particularly artfully. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, he's suggested that he certainly doesn't impugn the motives of those who just have a different approach on estate taxation. We've got our own proposals, our own ideas, and we will work together with members of Congress who want to look at that question. On the general subject of where we are on the budget --
Q Is he wrong in using that word?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that was not a well-chosen use of words.
Q Obviously, then, you're saying you don't share that.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, clearly not. Clearly not.
Q On the budget, Senator Lott said today that it was time for the administration to give on the budget. Do you have any reaction to that? Do you feel that you have not given?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's often better to give than to receive, but we feel like we have been quite generous in the discussions to date.
Q What message is the President going to give to the Democrats --
MR. MCCURRY: That he's going to work -- he's going to tell them that he is working hard to reach a balanced budget agreement, but it will require flexibility. There are some on both sides of the aisle that would like to draw lines in the sand and say that agreements have to be X, Y, and Z, but that's frequently not the way negotiations work. We're working hard. We're going to stick at it because of the importance of balancing the budget. And the President believes it's the right thing to do for the country and it's the right thing to do for our national economy and that you can do it and still protect cherished values that we share with our friends on the Hill with respect to Medicare, with investments in education, environmental protection -- those things that are cornerstones of how we will approach the task of balancing the budget. The President believes you can do that within the framework of a bipartisan balanced budget agreement, but it will require some flexibility on all sides.
Q Did you deliberately avoid commenting a moment ago on the progress of the budget negotiations?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q When invited to do so?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely.
Q Mike, have the Republicans been giving as well as receiving?
MR. MCCURRY: They've been good discussions, and we'll see where they go.
Q Mike, does the statement by the 10 Republicans sink the deal?
MR. MCCURRY: Not any more than there have been similar comments on both sides of the aisle. In the end of the day, the President believes we have to produce a balanced budget agreement that generates majority support on both sides of the aisle. And he believes that's doable.
Q Is everything in the list -- they listed several things that had to be in an agreement. Is there anything on that list that the President --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to try to negotiate a budget deal with them right here and now.
Q This letter that may or may not have been written to Hashimoto -- I mean, did he bring up specific outstanding issues that are under discussion now?
MR. MCCURRY: Why else would he write? (Laughter.)
Q He's going to see him the day after tomorrow. Why wouldn't he just wait for the day after tomorrow to --
MR. MCCURRY: I think he wanted to, in advance -- he's looking forward -- he's got a good working relationship with the Prime Minister. And, as we often do, we put some ideas in play that both sides can think about in advance of an important bilateral meeting -- if such a letter had been written, of course. (Laughter.)
Q Has he done this in the past, prior to a bilateral?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, sure. They have a regular exchange of ideas and very frequently a preview of a bilateral meeting like this, so they can get a lot of work done in the time they have allocated. It's not unusual. I don't know specifically if we've done it in each and every instance, but we regularly preview issues and look through different elements of the dialogue.
And these -- by no means is that the only subject. As you know, they've got a number of subjects they're going to have under review.
Q But the letter itself, it would have been just on economic issues, or security as well?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not talking about this hypothetical letter any further, because I've probably already done enough damage as it is.
Q On Sunday, is the President meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister, and, if so, how does the meeting with the Dalai Lama today impact what might go on then --
MR. MCCURRY: The President is -- the State Department is announcing today the President is seeing Qian Qichen -- am I announcing that Qian Qichen, the Deputy Prime Minister-Foreign Minister will see the President anytime soon, Mr. Johnson? You wouldn't rule that out?
MR. JOHNSON: I think that's premature.
MR. MCCURRY: Premature, wouldn't rule that out. But the concerns that we have about Tibet, as I indicated earlier, our views on the rich cultural and religious heritage of Tibet and the important role the Dalai Lama plays in the preservation of that heritage is something we have raised in the past with senior levels of the People's Republic. And I believe it's correct to say that the President will express to the Dalai Lama today his willingness to raise the importance of dialogue with the Dalai Lama when he eventually sees President Jiang Zemin.
Q There's a memo circulating on the Hill, written by Bruce Reed, Secretary Shalala and Secretary Glickman, to the President asking the President to make an immediate decision on Texas' request to privatize its welfare programs and outlines the union opposition and outlines a course of action, a recommendation --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, a memo from who to who?
Q Bruce Reed, Secretaries Shalala and Glickman to the President dated April 4th.
MR. MCCURRY: From who to them?
Q From those three to the President.
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen that, I'm sorry. I know they're working the issue. Obviously, we've got concerns about some of the ways in which Texas will approach welfare reform. But we are working with the state. The administration is working with the state to make sure it accomplishes the objective.
Q But there are accusations, though, that the administration is dragging its feet on this and members of Congress are planning on introducing amendments to allow Texas to do this, regardless of what the administration --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are aware of some of those expressions of concern and working to try to resolve the issue.
Q Something completely different, but a group of disabled Americans has asked the President to step in on the issue of including a portrayal of Roosevelt in a wheelchair at his new memorial and are threatening to protest otherwise. Has the President responded to them and do you know what position he plans to take?
MR. MCCURRY: They will be here at 4:00 p.m. and they will be meeting with some senior staffers here. And they will be getting some news that I think they will probably find encouraging and that is the result of a lot of hard work we've done, particularly with Senator Inouye. As you probably know, any alteration in the design of the memorial would require an act of Congress because of the way the memorial was authorized by Congress in the first place. So stay tuned. And I believe they're seeing Sylvia Matthews.
MS. GLYNN: It's unclear.
MR. MCCURRY: Unclear. Probably some of the folks who have been working on this issue.
Q Could you be a little more explicit for our reporting purposes as to whether --
MR. MCCURRY: No, because we want to talk it through with the representatives of the various groups first. But that will happen around 4:00 p.m. and we'll try to help you afterwards.
Q -- is meeting with who? People who support the idea of --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, some of the representatives of disability groups and others who have expressed concern about the original design of the memorial.
Q What's the President's position on that, regardless of what you already know now?
MR. MCCURRY: The one that we will convey to them at 4:00 p.m. (Laughter.)
Q -- President called Tiger Woods after his victory and there were some unfortunate comments that came from one of the competitors, Fuzzy Zoeller. Is he going to support a proposed condemnation of Mr. Zoeller?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President's understanding is that Fuzzy Zoeller has apologized. The President believes that's appropriate.
Q Can you say anything else about the reports that China's diverting civilian technology for military purposes?
MR. MCCURRY: Not a lot I can say about that because it's been reported that that is a matter that's under investigation. I will say that we've got some assurance that the machines in question are now under the supervision of the original customer. They're back a McDonnell Douglas facility, and that's important. That happened after we became aware that some of the machines have been moved to an inappropriate location. We began working with the company and with the Chinese government to secure the return of the machines to an appropriate facility, and that's now been accomplished. But other than that, it's a matter under criminal investigation, and there's a limit to what I can say.
Q If I just may follow up, you're saying that the machines in question were at an inappropriate location --
MR. MCCURRY: Correct.
Q -- the U.S. made some representation on that basis and --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, an unapproved location.
MR. MCCURRY: Because under the terms of the original transfer of license, there were strict safeguards on where the machine could actually be.
Q And after representation by American diplomats, I presume the machine was moved?
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct.
Q -- that they copied -- that they used the machinery in an unapproved way, or that they can copy the machine?
MR. MCCURRY: I've told you all I can tell you.
Q Roughly when was it referring to?
MR. MCCURRY: The license was issued by the Commerce Department in September of 1994. I don't know when the equipment transferred. I haven't seen that in any of the paperwork on this.
Q And transferred back -- you don't know when it transferred back?
MR. MCCURRY: Right. Don't know -- I don't have a specific timetable.
Q Do you know how long it was in the unapproved position?
MR. JOHNSON: I think that's part of the investigation.
MR. MCCURRY: Right. There may be some more we can do. If you're following this, we might be some more we can tell you off camera. But they're also, just so you know, doing a lot on this at State at this hour.
Q The Pentagon originally objected to this deal, didn't they? I mean, in retrospect, the White House --
MR. MCCURRY: This license was granted as a result of an interagency process in which there was consensus by all the agencies involved.
Q Didn't the Pentagon originally object?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to characterize the views of individual agencies.
Q Mike, can you say how it was that Mr. Clark's appearance was arranged in the ceremony this morning? George Clark, the World War I veteran, how his appearance was arranged? And can you say what the purpose was of having him there?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he was there as a symbolic reminder of a generation that had to live with the horror of poison gas and had to fight under conditions in which it was used in warfare. And ultimately, this debate is about protecting U.S. forces. That's why we had the former Joint Chiefs of Staff, the current Joint Chief, and others representing our military there, to make the persuasive argument that this is in the best interests of those who fight wars on behalf of the United States. And he was a very vivid and symbolic reminder of the price we paid in the past when poison gas has been used.
Now, how it was arranged, I could -- someone else here find out for you.
Q You don't know if you all were looking for him or if he ---
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I could -- we can try to track that down.
Q Mike, after this 4:00 p.m. meeting, do you anticipate putting out any statement of change of position or anything?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's what we're doing, right? Putting out a piece of paper.
MS. GLYNN: Perhaps.
Q On the tobacco investigations, is there any concern of a possible appearance of conflict of interest with Hugh Rodham's participation, given that he stand to make a lot of money if there is a settlement, which the White House is pushing? I mean, is that a concern at all?
MR. MCCURRY: He's a lawyer in private life and has clients -- represents any number of clients. How he came to represent this particular group, you'd have to ask the group.
Q Did he run it by the White House or the Clintons beforehand, that he was going to participate in this?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge.
Q Mike, was the President's meeting with the automaker CEOs ever rescheduled?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I've heard.
END 2:15 P.M. EDT