THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Mexico City, Mexico) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release May 7, 1997
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
J.W. Marriott Hotel Mexico City, Mexico
10:22 A.M. (L)
MR. MCCURRY: We've got, I think, what is a reasonably good advance text that you can follow along with. He'll amend and revise as he goes along. Obviously, the President will give a speech today that puts out the particulars of his vision of the U.S.-Mexican relationship, which is being redefined in very positive ways as a result not only of this meeting, but the ongoing relationship that we have with the government of Mexico.
He will today say in his speech that we seek a peaceful, prosperous partnership filled with respect and dignity. He will talk about the enormous benefits on both sides of the border that have resulted from the NAFTA agreement and the impact that that's had on our trade relationship. He'll talk a lot about the work that we've done over the last two days to develop cooperation on issues related to migration and fighting drugs, and on balance, the speech will be a real, I think, positive statement to both the people of Mexico and the people of the United States about the benefits of this very important bilateral relationship.
Q Is it a NAFTA speech, or is it broader?
MR. MCCURRY: It's broader than that, but I think a centerpiece of this speech is where he makes the economic argument that free trade is bringing benefits to both sides of this border. The President's intent is to remind the American people that the Mexican economy which, because of the peso crisis, really had a setback, has now prospered, come out of that setback, and the benefits to the people of both sides of the borders are growing almost daily because of the steps we took to encourage free trade.
Q How long will some of those in Mexico who have not felt the improvement have to wait?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, economic modernization, economic liberalization is a long-term process. And one of the things the President is keen on seeing now are the benefits of economic liberalization pushed down into the streets of Mexico so that the people who are at the lowest income levels begin to see the results. Now, some are, but we need to see continued progress as economic growth takes hold and as modernization takes place.
Q Is NAFTA a good model to use when discussing fast track trade with other countries? Shouldn't we be looking at NAFTA?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, a structured free trade environment is a good model. And the President, among other things today, will say that opening up more markets to free trade is important to the people of the United States; that people of the United States run the risk of losing the benefits of liberalized trade in this hemisphere if we don't act quickly to establish free trade agreements in this hemisphere. And obviously, there are some countries in which we can press forward with sooner in achieving those agreements.
But the President again today will reiterate that he will seek fast track authority from Congress and will work closely with Congress to achieve that this year.
Q When is he going to do it? When is he going to do it?
MR. MCCURRY: He'll do that in the course of this year. We've got consultations going on with Congress about how best to press forward on this agenda. It's important for us not to overload the circuits on Capitol Hill. At the moment, we're working hard to codify the balanced budget agreement recently reached between the White House and key members of Congress. And as we work through those issues and get in to later on this year, we'll be able to structure the dialogue with Congress about seeking fast track authority.
Q Mike, since the economy or economics is the focus today, why did Bob Rubin rush home yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: He just went back because there were -- his work here had been completed in the context of the Binational Commission meetings. There were some matters that he wanted to attend to at the Treasury Department. But they were the routine press of business at the Treasury Department, no alarming developments that I am aware of that sent him home. He, I think, just judged -- he came down with the President, participated in a lot of very productive meetings with his counterpart and with others who were here from the Cabinet and elected to go home just to get back to work at the Treasury Department.
Q Mike, on The Washington Post story today, was the White House aware of that before? And if it is true, does this give the President any pause in U.S.-Israeli relations?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not going to comment in any way, shape or form on that article. It contains information that you know that we routinely do not comment upon in any setting. The National Security Advisor, who has had discussions at senior levels of our government, is confident the President has the information he needs to conduct foreign policy.
Q Secretary Daley mentioned that, without naming Brazil directly, suggested that certain key elements of the free -- the hemispheric immigration process would like to turn it back or weaken it. How much ground has the administration lost absent fast track in letting Brazil consolidate and slow the pace down?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because of the aggressive export promotions of Mercosur export promotions of Mercosur, we are losing some opportunities. I think that, quite wisely, governments in South America have taken advantage of the liberalized trade environment and are pressing ahead with their own free trade agreements. The European Union has moved swiftly to take advantage of new market opportunities and new trade opportunities, and the United States is concerned that we will miss an historic opportunity to expand trade throughout our hemisphere if we do not move forward on free trade agreements.
Q Mr. McCurry, is there enough political capital to put forward for the fast track, and then also to negotiate something along the lines of changing the certification process as has been hinted with Congress?
MR. MCCURRY: These are very difficult issues, to be sure, and there are different points of view in Congress. But we are pledged to work closely with our Congress on both of those issues to make sure that U.S. interests are advanced both economically and in our fight against drug trafficking, and doing it in an environment of respect for the dignity of the sovereign governments that we work closely with.
Q You're saying that you will look for the fast track this year. When and if you will be looking for a new certificaiton process, more respectful of other countries?
MR. MCCURRY: It is too early based on our discussions with members of Congress to predict timing on either of those issues. But the President does intend to move forward with fast track authority and certainly will continue conversations about how best to reflect our own concerns about fighting drugs as we look at the legal process that's used annually for certification.
Q If I can follow up on that, there's been a lot of hand-wringing about the delay or at least the fact that fast track has not gone up to the Hill yet, and the business community says this is going to be a tough fight, so we've got to get it up there soon, and if we don't get a bill up until the fall, there won't be enough time to do it and then it will be an election year. Do you share that analysis from the business community? Do you have to get it up really soon?
MR. MCCURRY: We've also had consultations with the business community on this issue and we understand their desire to move quickly because, as I said a moment ago, many in our business community feel like they are missing opportunities that they want to see available to pursue their own economic transactions. We have to do this in a way that is careful, that judges what pressure will come to bear on Congress as the debate unfolds, and we'll do so in a way that we think maximizes our opportunity to get the authority by the end of the year.
Q Mike, the Central American countries originally wanted NAFTA priority. They have told us many times now that they would like to enter into a free trade agreement separate with the United States. What is the position of the U.S. on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, first and foremost, we need the authority to negotiate those types of agreements. And that's where our effort has to concentrate. Without fast track authority, it would be impossible to enter into those type of agreements. But we have had some discussions, as you know, with various governments, including the government of Chile, and we will continue to examine how best to advance our interests using the success of NAFTA as a model for how we proceed.
Q But what would be the answer of President Clinton -- response of President Clinton during this visit?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our answer during this upcoming visit will be the one that I just gave. He will reassure his Central American counterparts and by indirection, of course, those throughout the hemisphere that he will seek fast track authority. He recognizes the important gains that will occur to all countries in this hemisphere if we continue to liberalize trade arrangements. And he will tell them that it is a high priority of his to obtain that authority from Congress this year.
Q One last question on that part of the trip. The Central American countries also would like the United States to give some amnesty to the illegal immigrants of Central America in the United States. What is your position on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has addressed that himself. We are aware of concerns that arise from the immigration bill related specifically to the cap that exists for some of the countries that are most noticeably affected -- Nicaragua, Guatemala, in particular. And the President's view is that immigration must be governed by the rule of law, that legal immigration and the confidence that we can proceed with orderly legal immigration must be the predicate for dealing with existing cases.
Now, on deportation issues, I think the one thing that the President will seek to do during his trip in the next several days is to reassure the governments of Central America that there will not be some hysterical effort to engage in mass deportations; that's not foreseen under the immigration bill.
We are again consulting closely with Congress about some of the concerns that arise from the immigration bill to see if we can address some of those specific concerns. I think there are an estimated 400,000 cases pending in the United States and we need to look carefully at each of those individually, but we'll do so in a way that respects both the principle of the law that was passed, but also reflects our desire to deal with any consequences of that law that would run counter to our concerns about individual human issues that arise in any immigration case.
Q Excuse me if you've answered either one of these questions. Will the President be seeking parity for the Caribbean Basin nations concurrently with fast track authority?
MR. MCCURRY: He will talk a little bit about ways that we can build on the success of the CBI, but I'd like to hold that and do that more closer to our arrival in Barbados. He might generally discuss that and I don't want to rule out that he'll discuss that with some of the Central American leaders that he sees tomorrow. But in general, I think that will be an issue that's more front and center for the President when he arrives in Barbados.
Q The second aspect of that question is also, will he seek labor and environment provisions within the central fast track authority, or will it be like NAFTA and consider it on the side?
MR. MCCURRY: We have said and repeatedly said that concerns about workers' rights and concerns about environmental protection have to be addressed within the context of expanding free trade arrangements. How you best do that and how you consider the concerns that many of the stakeholders in free trade have is one of the delicate issues that we have to consult closely with Congress about. We will do so, but we'll do so with the goal of concluding arrangements with Congress that give the President the authority he needs to strike the right type of free trade agreements.
Q Mike, in Zaire, can you tell us whether Mobutu has left for good?
MR. MCCURRY: I can tell you that we've got -- he has left for Gabon for meetings with Presidents Bongo, Lissouba and Eyadema. His aides have indicated that he's expected to remain in Gabon only until Friday when he is to return to Zaire. We have not received any indication that President Mobutu has decided not to return to Zaire.
Q -- Gabon instead of returning -- Are you trying to put pressure on him for that?
MR. MCCURRY: We've continued our conversations about how to achieve an orderly transition to a political process that will lead to free and fair elections. Ambassador Richardson has been engaged -- I think he's on his way to Paris, if I'm not mistaken, where he will consult closely with the French government on these issues. We'll continue our diplomatic support of the efforts that are underway by the United Nations and the government of South Africa to achieve agreements that will lead to both the cessation of hostilities in Zaire and the type of orderly transition to a new government that the international community seeks.
Q Mike, would it help if Mobutu did not return, if he stayed in Gabon --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on that. I think we've received the indications I just suggested from the government of Zaire and we will work in that context.
Q Getting back to NAFTA, has there been any talk of the trucking regulations during this visit? Are we any closer to having them implemented?
MR. MCCURRY: That's an issue that may have been broached during some of the Binational Commission discussions that occurred on Monday with some of the trade officials who were discussing those issues. That was not an issue that the President's attempted to resolve yesterday. We'll have to continue our dialogue on that. Obviously, our safety concerns are well-known to the government of Mexico and will use the mechanism of the NAFTA process to address those concerns.
Q Has Erskine told the President that he'd like to return to North Carolina soon now that the framework of the balanced budget agreement is complete?
MR. MCCURRY: Erskine Bowles has said publicly as late as over the weekend on one of the shows that he was on that he's not a permanent creature of Washington. His heart is in North Carolina because that's where his family is. He is, as he describes himself, a creature of the private sector and his interest is eventually to return to private life. But he has a job to do, and he is very satisfied with the role he's been able to play in reaching the framework of an historic balanced budget agreement. But there's a lot of work ahead on that front in codifying that agreement and turning it into authorizations and appropriations, and Erskine intends to plow ahead on that work.
Q The conventional wisdom has been he's not going to stay here for a full year, but maybe by the end of the year he might decide to leave. Does that still appear to be --
MR. MCCURRY: I think Erskine Bowles is someone who has got an exquisite sense of timing and also an exquisite sense of duty, and he will make his timings in the best -- he'll make his own personal decisions in the best interest of the President and furtherance of his own personal commitment to achieving a balanced budget and to doing the work that the President has laid out for a second term.
Q His departure is not imminent?
MR. MCCURRY: His departure, to my knowledge, is not imminent.
Q Mike, the President looked kind of beat last night at the state dinner. Is the altitude here taking its toll?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think it's the hours of work that are probably taking a toll. I think it was a late evening last night, but the President thoroughly enjoyed it. He had a wonderful tour of the National Palace, which is an extraordinary building, and the dinner ran late because the President was enjoying the conversation and decided to stay at the dinner a little bit later on. But this has been a fairly grueling schedule and he's having a good time at it, but I think all of us take our wear and tear on these trips.
Q Mike, can you give us a little bit of a sense of the relationship between Zedillo and the President on this trip? They seem to be getting along well. Can you give us any insight into how that's going?
MR. MCCURRY: Not only the two Presidents but the two First Ladies as well have really struck up a very familiar way of conversing. They do so with, I think, a lot of affection for each other, but they do so with respect for the important purposes that attach to the leadership of both countries.
We have been able to work through a number of complicated issues on this trip and I think that the ability to do so reflects the good working relationship that's developed personally between President Clinton and President Zedillo.
But our long-term interests are not predicated on personal relationships. They're predicated on advancing the interests of the people of the United States. And in each and every case on this trip -- whether it's migration, whether it's economic and trade issues, whether it's the fight against drugs, whether it's protecting the environment -- both Presidents have been able to find ways to accommodate their own national interests and do so in a way that expands opportunities for the people on both sides of the border.
That's what has made this, I think, such a successful visit to Mexico, because there is great respect for the sovereignty of both peoples and yet a common ground and certainly a great deal of cooperation in resolving questions that would be important for both peoples as we plow ahead in our relationship.
Q Did the President agree to meet more, more frequently?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, both here in Mexico, and I think you'll see him reaffirm to the leaders in Central American tomorrow, will reaffirm the importance of these types of high level exchanges.
Tomorrow will be the first time since 1968 that an American President has met in Central America with his counterparts, when President Johnson was in the region -- not the first time in the region; of course, the President saw these leaders, I think in 1993. And the value that attaches to these types of exchanges as we take full benefit of the changes occurring throughout Central America and throughout all of this hemisphere are certainly enhanced by following up on the kind of working relationships that we've established.
The Summit of the Americas in Miami leading to the next Summit of the Americas in Santiago sketch out a framework of high-level working relationships that are very important if we are going to take advantage of the enormous changes occurring in this hemisphere.
If you think about the incredible change that's occurred in Central America since the 1980s when we were dealing with the residue of Cold War, when we were dealing with conflict, a lot of economic, political instability, when we were dealing with military authoritarianism, a change that's occurred as these countries liberalized both politically and economically is really remarkable -- and that's one thing the President will certainly celebrate during his visits tomorrow -- but it's a process of change that the President seeks to nurture and deepen with some of the ideas he advances.
Q One of the things that in Guatamala, Mexico played a very strong role ushering in the peace process. Is the U.S. counting more on Mexico as a partner not only in economic, but in foreign policy for the region?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's a good observation. The Guatemala peace accords were critical, I think, to really symbolically demonstrating to the world that's occurred in Central America in last decade. The role the government of Mexico played was indeed key. And Mexico as it prospers, as it changes can indeed become more of a significant factor in the foreign relations of this hemisphere, and that, while there is not any structured discussion of that, I think as Mexico emerges, as its economy comes out of the Peso crisis, it's clear that Mexico is poised to play a more important role in the region and indeed many of these countries -- Costa Rica's is another example -- have the opportunity to really demonstrate a leadership role as we work together on many of the issues that confront the hemisphere.
Q You said that the administration is going to be talking with Congress about alleviating some of the concerns about deportation. And one of the principle things that you have to deal with is a cap that was in put in on suspensions of deportations limiting them to 4,000. Are you going to be urging Congress to scrap that cap or raise that cap?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to go beyond what Commissioner Meissner said here yesterday. I thought she provided a good answer to that. It was delicately phrased. She said we are working closely with the Congress to address those concerns. We understand that the way we structure a law can have a real human impact in individual cases, and we need to deal with the consequences of that law, but do so in a manner that respects the integrity of the reform of legal immigration that we achieved in the bill that was passed.
Q Well, what she said was, she didn't want to discuss it because to publicly discuss that might jeopardize the chances of success. If this were a national security issue, I could understand that. But it's a matter of immigration policy.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's also a matter of careful discussions between the administration and Congress. It won't be productive if we try to negotiate the issue in public.
Q Did Louis Freeh recommend that Janet Reno should appoint a counsel?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't comment on that story other than to say, as we have said consistently, that those decisions have to be made by the Attorney General based on law, and she has very carefully and very patiently, before Congress, explained her reasoning. I don't have anything to add to what she said.
Q At least one of the opposition parties with whom President Clinton met yesterday is not very committed to NAFTA. Is there any second thought -- we were briefed yesterday -- was there any second comment or any second thought about the meeting with the opposition parties yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no follow-up on that other than to say the President appreciated the opportunity to hear the views of the political leaders he saw yesterday. He thinks that it is important to recognize the political diversity that exists within the political culture of Mexico. But our views of NAFTA are those that President will articulate shortly in his speech.
Q Mike, do you have any color on the President and the First Lady's tourism both today and while they've been here prior to this?
MR. MCCURRY: Not yet.
Q -- honeymoon and that sort of thing.
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President will reference his honeymoon in the speech coming up and he will talk about their own enjoyment and enchantment with Mexico. The President has talked a lot about his trip today to see some things that he normally doesn't see. It's almost a regular complaint of the President of the United States on foreign trips that some many other members of the delegation get to see so much more of the country than he does because he is confined, in many cases, to hotel rooms having meetings.
And so the opportunity to visit a place that foreign dignitaries normally wouldn't go to see a slice of average life in Mexico, albeit a small one, and then to tour some of the significant archeological wonders of Mexico is something the President has very much looked forward to. Of course, he regrets that he won't be able to climb to the top of the pyramid. He would no doubt try if he could. But he is, I think, looking forward to a day of really enjoying some of the splendors of Mexico and also doing what the President often likes to do, having more direct contact with the people of the country he's visiting.
Q Has the subject of Cuba come up between the Presidents?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't recall seeing a specific reference to it. I think there may have been a discussion related to Helms-Burton, but maybe after I take off you can check with David Johnson on that point. And I think there was some general discussion about issues pertaining to Helms-Burton that occurred yesterday, and certainly that is a feature of dialogue that the Secretary of State has had with Foreign Secretary Gurria in the past. So I can imagine that it did arise; I haven't heard anything reported to me that it was a large part of their discussion yesterday.
Q Going back again to a question I did before, is the amnesty part of the request of the Central American Presidents out of the question for now, or is it something that the President can consider?
MR. MCCURRY: Again, we have got to deal with the issues that derive from the immigration bill very carefully because there are strong feelings in Congress on this, and I don't want to suggest that we would not hear those concerns. We certainly will hear those concerns expressed by the governments of Central America, we expect that, but we will also explain that we are trying to resolve some of these concerns in our very patient dialogue with Congress.
Q Why is the DEA nowhere to be seen if yesterday was devoted to this alliance? And after you leave today, after all is said and done, who is going to be taking care of this and who is going to be following it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, yesterday was devoted to a considerable wealth of dialogue of which a large part was the Alliance Against Drugs, but the administration's viewpoints were effectively represented by the President and then by General McCaffrey, who has responsibility for all the law enforcement agencies in our government that contribute to his national drug control strategy. He is the point man in working the interagency process that brings so many agencies together in our fight against drugs, not just the DEA but all of those that are involved, from Justice to ATF to a lot of other agencies that contribute resources to the fight against drugs. So it was proper for him at this high level of dialogue to represent the views. And as the General said yesterday, as a matter of interagency commitment, all of the agencies of the government are pledged to fulfill the commitments rendered by President Clinton yesterday.
Q Has the President talked about the human rights situation in Mexico to Zedillo or did members of the Cabinet talk about the human rights in Mexico?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, that is a regular feature of our dialogue. We report on it annually through the report of the State Department, and the subject does come up regularly in our bilateral dialogue.
Q But yesterday did they talk about it?
MR. MCCURRY: They did, and it was to reference the concerns that we've expressed in the past to attach the importance that we bring to the subject of human rights and individual liberties as we advance our dialogue, to do so in the environment of respect that we have for the views of other governments.
Q Was Chiapas mentioned in that conversation?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check and see if Chiapas as a specific issue arose. I know that we have inquired about the status of conditions there and the status of any conflict with rebel elements there in the past, I'd have to maybe go back and double-check whether it specifically arose yesterday.
Q Unless I missed it, I don't think the President's made any public comment about the human rights situation in Mexico.
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to go back and look at everything he said. I thought that he had, but I know that in looking at the preparation for the presentations he was making and others in our government were making, that they did devote time to the subject.
Q Did Mexico sign off on William Weld as the next ambassador?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know for certain. I do not believe that we have presented a name to the government of Mexico for agrement at this point.
Q The President yesterday said this was his fifth trip to Mexico. Do you know when any of the other trips were?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't. I know that, obviously, his honeymoon was one of them. And I believe as governor of Arkansas he came here. But I don't have the -- I can't enumerate them specifically.
Q His honeymoon was --
MR. MCCURRY: Trick question -- '74? I'd have to check. Wait, I can answer that easy. It's 22 years ago. Do the math for me, because I'm dim-witted.
Q How concerned is the White House about opposition in conference to the growing opposition to NAFTA? And are the Mexicans concerned about that, too? Have they brought that up?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the government of Mexico understands the complicated political dynamic that exists pertaining to free trade issues in our Congress. They expressed some concern about some statements that are made on our side of the border about the free trade debate. But at the same time, they recognize the fundamental merit of free trade, the arrangements that we've reached. They appreciate the President's resolve to press forward on those arrangements, and they understand that the progress that the Mexican economy has demonstrated over the last year is itself a strong argument in favor of the free trade arrangements that have been achieved.
Q But how much of a threat is that in Congress? How strong is it growing, and is the White House --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are strong points of view in our Congress, but that's one of the reasons why we are trying to work closely with our Congress to resolve concerns, to establish the right formula to proceed with an expansion of free trade, because there is no question in the President's mind that free trade arrangements have benefited the people of the United States, just as they've benefited the people of Mexico, the people of Canada. They have created more net economic opportunity for people on both sides of the border.
This will be the last question. The President is getting ready to talk. I think we've done all the issues that I'm aware of. We will try to get you a little bit of color from the trip, although I think the pool will be in a position to do some of that. And David and Mary Ellen will be around for the balance of the day if you need them for anything. And I'm going to go sightseeing. You looked shocked.
All right, thank you.
END 10:55 A.M. (L)