THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:17 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: The news of the day will be made by the President of the United States one hour from now when he steps out to the Rose Garden and hail the agreement reached today by NATO Secretary General Solana and the Russian Federation, represented by its Foreign Minister, Foreign Minister Primakov.
Q At 2:15 p.m.?
MR. MCCURRY: At 2:15 p.m.
Q Which means there's a signing in Paris, huh?
MR. MCCURRY: We would, in diplomatic parlance, gladly accept an invitation from the government of France to attend a signing ceremony, should we be invited, in Paris on May 27th.
Q Does that mean that you will be going?
MR. MCCURRY: Probably. That's what the discussion have been to the effect that there would be a signing ceremony in Paris the day before the U.S.-EU summit, scheduled to begin in The Hague, Netherlands, on the 28th of May.
Q What is your understanding on what's actually in the agreement?
MR. MCCURRY: Our understanding is that it is a good, strong document that reflects the hard work that this administration has put into deliberations with the Russian Federation, the work the President did in Helsinki with President Yeltsin, the very exceptional work that the Secretary General of NATO, Secretary General Solana, has done on behalf of the Alliance. The document is now being briefed to the North Atlantic Council in Brussels. There will be a procedure under which governments can take back to their capitals the document and review it between now and Friday, but we understanding that the document is being well received in Brussels.
It really codifies the relationship that we expect Russia and the North Atlantic Alliance to have, looking forward into the next century. It defines the nature of the military relationship that they will have, it sets up the mechanisms for structuring that relationship, and all aspects what we sought and wanted in this document we believe we've gotten. We have not had to make any concessions on any of those things that we consider to be sort of fundamental principles of how the future of the Alliance would be structured.
Q Mike, does the document have any language relating to stationing forces on the territory of new members or nuclear weapons?
MR. MCCURRY: It's got all of the -- it has language that reflects our three nos -- principles -- and the issues laid out by the President with respect to infrastructure and stationing that we talked about in Helsinki. The language will match those principles. And I think we will have, right after the President speaks, someone here to brief you on background who can tell you a little more about the substantive detail of the document.
Q What do the Russians get out of this?
MR. MCCURRY: The Russians get an opportunity to participate in the most successful military alliance in human history as an equal participant in a structure that will set parameters for relationships between the emerging independent states that used to be part of the Warsaw Pact and the Alliance itself. They will participate in areas of common purpose and they'll have a formal structure to that relationship that will assure the people of Russia the security that comes with living in an undivided democratic continent.
Q So that means that when the next round of people apply, after the first round -- like, let's say the Baltics want to get in -- that we would take Russia's considerations -- we would take their concerns into consideration before --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, one of our so-called red lines in these discussions were no exclusions from future membership.
Q That's not what I'm asking. I'm asking does it mean that before we go ahead and accept anybody beyond the three that we're going to take in in July, that we would take Russia's concerns into consideration?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we always take Russia's concerns into account as we make diplomacy. The decisions on membership will be made by members of the Alliance.
Q So the Russian involvement is not formalized?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no veto that Russia would have over new future members.
Q But they would participate in discussions about future members?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we would -- we have all manner of discussions with them on manners related to European security, of which this has been an issue. This is already an issue in our dialogue.
Q Does this treaty formalize those discussions -- veto or not?
MR. MCCURRY: It provides a mechanism for consultation on a number of issues. but there's already a structure to our bilateral dialogue and there will be a structure now. There's already a structure for their discussions with the Alliance through Partnership for Peace and that will continue under the new mechanism established by the document.
Q Mike, you often speak of an undivided Europe and security. Just kind of bring it home for the average person who doesn't follow national security issues -- what does this really mean to them?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, most Americans remember the great war that we fought in this century for the future of Europe and to liberate Europe from the authoritarian forces of fascism. We fought a long, cold struggle, called the Cold War, to prevail over totalitarianism. And now, as we look ahead to the next century we have this prospect of working together with a Europe that is united all the way from the Urals to the United Kingdom, it presents an extraordinary opportunity to the American people to engage with a peaceful continent in which we can enjoy commerce and relations and travel and tourism and all the things that go with amicable relations between nations. It's a stunning and extraordinary achievement if you think that just 50 years ago this was a continent divided by world war.
Q So there are no guarantees about -- against stationing troops on new member states or military installations?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there is language that reflects the concerns that we raised and talked about in Helsinki, and we'll have someone who will brief you after the President speaks further to the question.
Q Is there required Duma ratification, and do you expect that this is a document, that if it does, Yeltsin will have an easy sell, or is it going to be an uphill battle?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, President Yeltsin has already spoken to the document. How this document is treated within the polity of the Russian Federation will be for the leadership of the Russian Federation to determine. And President Yeltsin's comments, as they are emerging already on this, I think speak for themselves.
Q What does this do to the trip to see Blair?
MR. MCCURRY: Probably puts -- the tentative planning that we had made was that if there was an event in Paris we would see Prime Minister Blair at the end of the trip rather than the beginning of the trip. So I imagine we stop coming home from the Netherlands.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I don't think that's formally announced yet, and we'll have to discuss that with the U.K. But I imagine we will see Prime Minister Blair in Paris, too. Correct? He has to get the same invitation from the government of France that we're expecting to receive.
Q Do you expect the budget documentation to be ready today or tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't expect; I wouldn't rule it out. But they're working on it and they'll get it done in due course.
Q What is the President's involvement today in terms of talking to Lott and Gingrich or Archer?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any up to this point. He has been briefed on some of the back-and-forth. I don't believe that his engagement has been called for up to this point, but I wouldn't rule that out as we go through the afternoon.
Q Mike, you said you don't expect, but Senator Daschle seemed a little more optimistic, even though he wanted to see it on paper. Do you part company with the Minority Leader on --
MR. MCCURRY: No, we share his optimism.
Q Daschle also said that the President was supportive of his -- was in agreement with his alternative partial birth -- are you going to put out a --
MR. MCCURRY: He is. We are not putting out a written statement on that. Let me just tell you a little bit about it. The President did review the analysis of both Senator Daschle's amendment and Senator Feinstein's amendment. The President has -- a little history -- has long been an opponent of late term abortions. When he was governor of Arkansas, in fact, he signed legislation that barred third trimester abortions, with the appropriate exception for life or health of the mother. He's made it clear to the Congress that in those exceptional circumstances where there needs to be protection for a woman's life and health, that he would support banning this procedure or banning late term abortions. And the amendments offered by either Senator Daschle or Senator Feinstein would meet that specification according to the analysis that's been presented to the President. So he indicated to Senator Daschle this morning that he would be supportive of Senator Daschle's amendment.
Q What's the difference between Daschle and Senator Feinstein? I know what Daschle's says.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Feinstein's amendment exempts an abortion if in the medical judgment of the attending physician the abortion is necessary to avert serious adverse health consequences to the woman. It reflects more precisely that language that we presented to Congress in the President's veto message last year. Senator Daschle's amendment is more restrictive, talking about the grievous injury to the woman's physical health and then describing grievous injury in more detail.
Q Why not a statement of administration policy?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll probably send up some type of administration policy SAP that is similar to what we did in the House bill, that sends up the President's specifications in language reflecting the veto message, but it would be similar to what we did in the case of the House debate.
Q You don't mean you'll say you support Daschle, you'll just say you don't care which one of these two --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we will address specific amendments, but we will just say here's the language -- here's the President's concerns and here's the language that we're looking for.
Q Also, does the report by the American Medical Association on this issue have any impact on the President's view?
MR. MCCURRY: I think -- I mean, we were aware that they examined the issue. I think the President was impressed with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which today indicated that they endorsed the Daschle amendment. I think that was brought to his attention. The AMA has not taken a position on the legislative proposals, but they have made a study of the circumstances in which late term abortions are indicated, and the judgment of the AMA is that they are rarely indicated, and that's consistent with the President's view that abortions in general ought to be rare and ought to be done under safe and legal and appropriate circumstances.
Q Mike, if I could follow up, the AMA report specifically finds that there is no identified situation where this procedure is the only appropriate procedure, which would seem to contradict the President's claim last year that there are circumstances when it is. Would he rethink that conclusion?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The President has found compelling those cases presented to him by the women involved, and those were exceptional cases where the procedure was indicated. I believe the AMA statement says it's not the only procedure; that may be true, but it is one that is indicated by doctors under certain rare circumstances.
Q Mike, does the President still believe that an exception should be made to protect the mother's mental health?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has not, to my knowledge, ever indicated that as -- he's talked about serious adverse health consequences to the mother, and I don't think we've ever specified that ought to be mental health.
Q So health consequences could include mental health, and that's different from what Daschle is proposing?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, what Senator Daschle, himself, has indicated is that severe mental stress can sometimes manifest itself physically. I mean, he has said that in context to the debate about his amendment. But his amendment is restricted to grievous physical injury to the woman's health.
Q But isn't that one of the bones of contention that some of the critics who think that --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that that's a bone of contention.
Q -- exception, when you include mental health as an exception, is that sort of loophole, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that that's true, but that's why the President has, to my knowledge, has always had stricter conditions that he attaches to the exception.
Q Do you consider the Daschle bill to -- the restrictions in the Daschle bill to be broader than the restrictions in --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, in some respects because they would ban all procedures, all abortions in the third trimester, they are more restrictive in a way. But we're talking about what is a rare procedure in any event.
Q So you're basically saying that mental stress is not a reason?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not taking a position on that. I'm saying that the President has indicated to Senator Daschle he supports Senator Daschle's amendment and Senator Daschle's amendment does not speak to that issue.
Q On trade, do you see any prospects for moving on the fast track issue with Republicans in the near term? And separately, is the administration concerned about the prospect of the Europe Union blocking the merger of Boeing and McDonald Douglas and have we communicated this to the Europe Commission?
MR. MCCURRY: On the second point, with respect to Boeing, I don't know if we've taken any position on that transaction in front of the Europe Union. On the first question, we have been in consultations with Congress about the timetable for fast track. The President has indicated publicly he will seek fast track authority this year and we are determining when best to do that in our discussions.
Q Does "this year" mean realistically that he wants it done before he goes back to South America?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he would like it done before he goes to Santiago for the second Summit of the Americas so that you can then present to them the launch.
Q -- that '98?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's early enough in '98.
Q It's March, right?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q So October, a trip to Brazil and Venezuela is not in his mind?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it would be preferable to the President to have fast track authority by October, when he goes. But realistically we'll have to take into account what the congressional calendar is and see whether that's possible. It would be good in any event to have the process well underway at that point.
Q Mike, why aren't we doing it now?
MR. MCCURRY: Because we are frying a lot of fish right now and the kettle is only so big.
Q I want to take another run at a question you probably feel you just answered. But is not the Daschle proposal quite broadly restrictive if it bans all procedures in cases of a viable fetuses. Is that not --
MR. MCCURRY: I think it is restrictive, yes. And it is intended to be and it is consistent with the President's view that abortion after post-viability should be very restricted.
Q But why wouldn't he prefer Feinstein since it's more closely --
MR. MCCURRY: He has indicated his support for either version of the language would be acceptable to him.
Q Are you lobbying for --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that we're lobbying, because Senator Daschle's been doing a pretty good job rounding up support.
Q Is there any response to the letter by the President of the Southern Baptist Convention that criticized the President as a member of his delegation?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not even aware that -- I'm not aware of the letter. I'm not aware of the letter.
Q Mike, Chairman Burton has postponed the hearing of Mr. Ruff. Can you tell us anything about the reasons for that?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't. I mean, I think he sent a letter that's pretty straightforward. Mr. Ruff is more than willing to sit and work through these issues with Chairman Burton and his staff. We have now sent, I think, 15,000 pages worth of documentation to Chairman Burton's committee. There are only several dozen issues that arise on specific documents because of attorney-client privilege and I think our views on attorney-client privilege are well-known at this point. But there's nothing that can't be amicably resolved, as we did in the case of the Senate.
Q He said that Ruff had asked for additional time to structure --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think he said that. I think he said that they were awaiting a privileged log from the Counsel's Office and that's what's being produced.
Q Well, Ruff said he needed more time, more time to prepare the privilege log, did he not?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that he said that. It just hadn't been produced by the somewhat arbitrary deadline that had been established by the committee.
Q So he didn't say he needed more time, he just needed more time?
MR. MCCURRY: He just took more time.
Q Separate from the log, he said in his letter he needed more time to prepare documents and look through documents. Does that mean he's going to deliver more documents in addition to the log?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have delivered -- I'm not aware that -- we've delivered a lot of paper to him already.
Q He's referring to an additional collection of documents he's planning to give to Burton --
MR. MCCURRY: No, there are a set of documents that we think are properly restricted because they're either covered by attorney-client privilege and-or they are sensitive documents related to personnel that ought to be protected for privacy reasons. Those are the only documents that are in dispute. And I believe that we have resolved any questions on those kinds of documents in dealing with the Senate and we think we can resolve any questions with the House committee, too. It shouldn't be too hard to do.
Q The President is doing the law enforcement memorial tomorrow. Does he have anything in particular by way of announcements or anything he wants to do, or is --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this is an annual occasion to pay tribute to law enforcement officers who have fallen in the line of duty. There will be some good news tomorrow, which is that the number of law enforcement active-duty officers who fell in the line of duty in 1996 is down, probably the lowest it's been in over three decades, I think, which will be good news for everyone who supports our folks in uniform who take care of our communities. But the President will also have some things to say about protecting law enforcement officers from gun violence and from violent crime generally.
Q One of the doctors who does perform late term abortions is quoted today -- as saying that he would use the Daschle bill basically as a loophole, and certify anyone who -- under that procedure. Is that of any concern to the White House, that one of the few doctors who does these procedures says the bill is a loophole you can drive a truck through?
MR. MCCURRY: There is very specific language in Senator Daschle's amendment on grievous injury, and it's well-defined in the statute. I'm not aware of what this doctor has said, but it's pretty specific language. We're hearing from the other side of this debate that it is too restrictive.
Q Mike, I want to come back to law enforcement. You said the President is going to have some things to say about gun violence and law enforcement officers. A little while back, I asked you -- when the police officers who are involved in a very high-profile bank robbery, they were advocating for legislation to make Kevlar vests illegal to get through the mail. Would the President be addressing anything of that nature, any specific legislative initiatives?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure whether that's on his agenda for tomorrow or not.
Q Mike, on the budget, the House members that were at this meeting didn't talk to us. Do you guys have a sense yet of where the House leadership is on the budget?
MR. MCCURRY: They had a vote. They had to leave because they were called up for a vote, so it was not because they didn't want to have a chat. There is probably a more vibrant and wider range of views within the House caucus than within the Senate. There problem us somewhat more concern about the nature of the emerging balanced budget agreement in the House caucus as opposed to the Senate caucus. But that's not surprising given that it's larger, reflects a broader cross-section of the American pollution spectrum.
Q And has the leadership -- has Gephardt given you any indication yet what he's doing?
MR. MCCURRY: He's given us the same indications he's given to you.
Q Mike, does the President still want Eric Holder to be Deputy Attorney General, and is there any concern about the delay in the hearings or the issue involving the Washington police?
MR. MCCURRY: He believes that is a very warranted and strong nominee for that vital position at the Justice Department, and hopes that the Judiciary Committee will very quickly resolve any concerns they have in favor of a nominee that needs to get to work.
Q He has no concerns about this issue that seems to have --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't spoken to him about whether he has concerns about it or not. He expects the Senate to be able to resolve any concerns they have expeditiously.
Q Mike, can I go back to the mental health issue? It's still a little muddy to me. The President doesn't seek this as an exception, and Daschle's bill does not specify mental health as an exception. But you said earlier that Daschle feels that mental anxiety or whatever can manifest itself into a medical problem.
MR. MCCURRY: That's my -- I've heard the Senator say that or seen the Senator say that.
Q Does the President agree with that thinking?
MR. MCCURRY: The President understands that there are circumstances in which that can become physical. He's not a doctor, it's not his to make a diagnosis on it. But, in any event, the terminology in Senator Daschle's amendment is pretty restrictive and does not include a mental health exception, as you know.
Q Do you have a reaction to the loss of Richardson's seat in New Mexico?
MR. MCCURRY: It was disappointing to lose the seat, but it also reflects what happens when you've got a three-way contest and the third party candidate takes, we believe, mostly from the Democratic side of the ledger. But we've got a lot of other targets of opportunity coming up as we look ahead to House seats and we'll be fighting contests across the country.
Q Do you have a position on the alternative aid package to the District of Columbia?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything prepared on that. We were continuing to try to work through with the D.C. elected officials support for our plan, and continue to press the case for the plan that we presented.
Q Is there a timeline that the President's giving for the dispute in Zaire to be resolved before he might --
MR. MCCURRY: No, we're just hopeful that they actually go ahead and meet as they were scheduled to do. I don't believe that meeting has occurred yet, but we hope that President Mobutu and the alliance leader, Kabila, as they meet and think about the future of Zaire and the people of Zaire, can find a way to accommodate the international community's desire to see a cease-fire and to see an orderly transition to a new government.
Q On budget, we've heard since Monday that the deal's going to come through.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the deal has already happened. We're just waiting to see the fine print.
Q On seven or eight issues you guys are looking at right now, are they the same seven or eight that were on Monday? Or are we seeing new niggling issues coming into the process?
MR. MCCURRY: It's sort of a combination of a little or all of that.
Q Could you give us an example of one?
MR. MCCURRY: No. It will be done soon enough.
Q Do you have any more detail on the Sunday commencement speech?
MR. MCCURRY: Not yet. Ask tomorrow.
Q I just wanted to clarify what your sending up to the Hill on the Daschle and Feinstein amendments? Are you sending up something separate saying --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think we're going to send anything specific on that. We're going to reiterate the kind of language that the President would prefer and then I've just indicated to you that the language in the Feinstein and Daschle amendments he would find acceptable and would sign into law.
Q Getting back to the Sunday's commencement speech, is it possible that new policy issues could be announced Sunday?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q And on the budget, you're still waiting for the Lott and Gingrich letter?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. There will be a letter related to the tax bill that we expect to receive from the Speaker and the Majority Leader, and then my understanding is there will also be an addendum that will cover in greater detail the nature of the agreement.
Q You just said there is going to be some policy going on. It's supposed to be science and technology, anything specific -- money?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I'm not going to -- if we can manage to squeeze some shred of news out of it, it will be when he gives the speech and not four days ahead of time.
Q On the agreement with Solana, the NATO agreement, will that be released? Are we going to see what --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, will it be what?
Q The agreement with Primakov and Solana, is there going to be a release of what they agreed to?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, at some proper point the document will be made public in Brussels, no doubt, by the North Atlantic Council. My guess is that they may have done that already -- do you know? Not until Friday, until after they've gone through the silence procedure.
Q -- prepared to talk at this briefing after the President about some of the --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we can give you more specifics on it.
Okay. Thank you.
END 1:42 P.m. EDT