THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:50 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: All right. Welcome back to those of you who were on the trip; welcome to those of you who didn't go -- you missed a great trip.
Q You didn't send us any postcards.
MR. MCCURRY: We send back love letter every day from various -- from all the European capitals.
Q We didn't get one.
MR. MCCURRY: You didn't get a single one?
Why don't I start -- a couple of you wanted to get a little preview of the President's commencement remarks tomorrow at West Point. The President is going to say to the young women and men that he addresses tomorrow as they launch their careers, that the world that they will go out and protect and defend America's interests are going to be a much safer, more hopeful place because of all the work that we are doing now to adapt the structures of the post Cold War era to the new challenges we face in the 21st century.
He will talk a lot about America's vision of what the 21st century will be as we look around the world, and then, specifically what we can do now to build the record of the last four years and, indeed, of the last 50 years, to preserve and protect America's interest in the world and make sure this is a safer planet on which to live.
He will specifically make the case to the American people about the need for enlarging the North Atlantic Treaty organization, a subject that has very much been on the President's mind this week and very much been a part of the conversations we had with our other treaty allies -- obviously, given the ministerial meeting that has just concluded in Portugal.
The President will say essentially that the expansion of the most successful security alliance in the history of the world so that it adapts to the new challenges of the post Cold War era is manifestly in the interests of the American people. And he'll try to tell these young graduates that the job they do on behalf of their families, many of whom, of course, will be in the audience, is one that they should not only be proud of, but that they should recognize has real tangible benefits to all of the people in the country that they are about to serve; that the American people will benefit from a more secure, stable, democratic, prosperous and peaceful Europe; and that in time that creates economic benefits as well as just tangible benefits for the American people by making the world a safer place in which our security interests are less expensive to defend and protect.
So he will, in a way, try to link some of the positive economic news, that you've just seen the Vice President and others talk about, to the success we can have in expanding the horizons of peace and prosperity on the European continent and, indeed, the President will talk about how that is, in effect, what's happening around the world as we expand the community of nations pledged to the market economies and to democracy.
So I'll describe this as a speech that really continues to present the President's vision of the world that we will live in in the 21st century, that will specifically build on the argument he made in Europe to the Europeans about the need for NATO enlargement put in the context now of the argument that he wants the American people to hear, and in some ways, this will begin a debate that will go on now for well over a year about the merits of amending the North Atlantic Treaty so that we can begin to take on the new members that we expect to admit to the Alliance in Madrid in July.
Q Is he going to talk to these graduates specifically about their military role and the new military role of NATO as it expands to the East?
MR. MCCURRY: He will talk about the security challenges that they will address as members of the uniform military looking ahead to their years of service and looking beyond into the 21st century, not only with respect to Europe, but as we look around the world how we advance and protect America's security interests throughout the world. Many of them are bound to be deployed in forward positions around the world where we call upon young men and women to advance our interests, the reason why the President sends them to those positions of challenge is important to express and the President, indeed, will call them forward for the challenge that they've agreed to accept by taking on their assignment.
Q Will there be specifically more on Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: I expect he will touch on Bosnia. I don't expect that to be a major focus of his remarks.
Q Mike, do you think there will be warm welcomes from the news that West Point's going to take a $14 million budget cut?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that everyone who is graduating from West Point tomorrow has been following very closely the debate in the United States about how we configured our military forces so they meet the challenges we face, and every single one of them no doubt studied and are aware of the defense reviews that have been conducted, and are probably proud of what they are capable of doing in an area in which we have set some contours on the resources that we make available for our military.
I think what they're interested in knowing and what our budget and what our defense -- recently-concluded defense review makes clear is, they will be equipped with the most modern technologically capable equipment and tools that they need in order to do the jobs we send them to do.
Q As a follow-up, this is the Army's home, they've taken a beating pretty much this year -- how's he going to cheer these guys up?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President will find a way, both by his presence there and what he expresses by way of his personal respect for the challenge that these young officers take on, he will be able to boost morale, and I think he will talk about the challenges they face as they deal with all of the quality of life issues that are important to the nation's military -- not only the Army, but all of the uniformed military service.
Q Will he be dealing with military --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't expect that to be a major focus of his remarks.
Q -- maybe?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's possible he's still working through the address and it remains to be seen whether he will address that specifically.
Q Will he lay out a major argument for the American people here for NATO expansion? Is this the principal goal --
MR. MCCURRY: His principal goal is really to begin the debate on the reasons why the United States needs to remain engaged in Europe, why that's in the interest of the American people. In some ways, the President made that argument during the course of his trip to Europe this past week, but I think he's going to amplify on it this week. He's going to really make it clear that for every American, we are safer, more secure, and in the long run more prosperous when we live in a world in which security is no longer something that defines the worries that we face day to day and he will find a way to make that argument, I think, compellingly.
Q If I could follow up on that. There's this new question about our NATO allies wanting to add additional members to NATO that we are not too anxious to add, and that this would -- doesn't this conjure up a picture of an ever-expanding NATO which will cost us a lot of money?
MR. MCCURRY: No. This is the perfect snapshot that explains why this has been the most successful alliance in the history of the world, because it is 16 nations that cooperate together that have, in a way, made a sacred pledge to each other, and they take the commitments they make and membership in that organization very, very seriously. It's why this has been the subject of ongoing discussions now intensified at the ministerial level, it is why we'll continue to be working on this specific issue, my guess, right through to the beginning of the summit in Madrid.
Q Well, what's going to happen to that issue?
MR. MCCURRY: It will be resolved and new membership invitations will be extended in Madrid.
Q How vigorously with the United States fight the addition of the two members, and what impact will that have in terms of the Senate confirmation?
MR. MCCURRY: I think Secretary Albright made it quite clear yesterday that we had not rendered any final judgment on this, because NATO is an organization that operates by consensus. Our role is to advance our own thinking and do so in a way that will lead to the consensus that will be there in the end of the day as the North Atlantic Council makes decisions and then they are ratified and affirmed by the Presidents at their summit.
Q Mike, the administration has committed to maintaining 100,000 troops in Asia, and the cornerstone of U.S. presence in Asia is the alliance with Japan. Next week, the interim report on defense guidelines review of that alliance will be coming out. Do you think in light of that the President will make any remarks on the U.S.-Japan security alliance?
MR. MCCURRY: Again, I don't know -- we're not down to the specific line that is on the speech, and I can't tell you specifically how that will be addressed, but certainly the President would not say anything contrary to what we have said repeatedly, that we foresee our interests in the Asian Pacific region extending into the future. Our commitment to afford deployed presence there is something that has been reaffirmed by the President, the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, others. And that that will continue to be a fundamental aspect of the way we view our security interests in the region.
Q Some health groups are charging that the administration is not giving adequate support to EPA Administrator Browner and her revision of the air quality rules. Could you respond to that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think they're misreading what is the normal bureaucratic process by which federal regulations are promulgated, reviewed, commented upon and then finalized by the Office of Management and Budget. We are in the midst of that process. There's a lot of discussion back and forth about the ozone and particulate standard -- there's been a lot of public comment, as well. And OMB will carefully consider all those views before it finalizes a rule.
Oh, what news from -- (laughter.)
Q This just in.
MR. MCCURRY: This just in. This bulletin: The President of the United States today announced his intent to nominate James Franklin Collins, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who holds the rank of Minister Counsellor in the Foreign Service, as U.S. Ambassador to the Russia Federation. Good news to all who know Jim. Paper to follow -- or paper available. He's done a great job. He has been --
Q Where is he now?
MR. MCCURRY: Paper here, ready to go. Wires in the back, come get it. He has currently been serving -- has he been Assistant Secretary or --
MR. JOHNSON: He has been the Ambassador At Large for Russia --
MR. MCCURRY: Ambassador at Large for Russia and the newly independent states. He is really, ever since the point at which Strobe Talbott became Deputy Secretary, the Department has really been the person who had senior responsibility for the Russia portfolio within the State Department and has been I think extraordinarily successful in building a good relationships with a variety of his counterparts in the Russian Federation; and has been equally good, I think, at advancing our interests in all the newly emerging states.
Q Can we go back to Russia? Do you think this is a tough public sell, and does the President plan to take this to more general audiences?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I think it is a tough public sell because Americans look around the world, they see a world at peace, largely; they see regional conflicts of which they hear about sporadically. But they know they live in a world in which the dominate reality of a confrontation with adversary, bipolar world is defined by a clash between totalitarianism and democracy no longer defines their day to day existence. And so they do wonder what is the purpose of NATO, what useful role does it serve in a world where we're no longer worried about Russia any longer as a proximate threat to our own security.
And I think making the argument of why this security alliance continues to have vibrancy and relevance in the post Cold War era and looking ahead to the 21st century, how it can play a role in keeping Europe at peace, as the President argued this past week, is a very, very important argument to get down to the tangible level that the average American can understand and grasp and embrace. And the President is going to make that argument vigorously, beginning Saturday, will have to make it early and often because there are a lot of people in the country -- and it's reflected somewhat in the sentiment you see expressed in Congress from time to time, that begin to question the utility of America's engagement in the world -- and specifically in Europe.
Q What about the costs?
Q Is he going to mention to these graduates the idea that the United States military is being asked to do more with fewer resources around the world?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, again, we're not down to the final tinkering with the speech, so I don't know specifically if he'll make that point. But the President has addressed that in the past. One of the hallmarks of the success of the U.S. military in this day and age is that they are doing more with less. And they're doing that because they are combining better training, better productivity among members of both the uniformed service and the officer corps. And they're using wisely the technological superiority that we have.
One of the reasons why you hear the Pentagon often express concern about procurement and funding for procurement is they need to have the resources that make them a more efficient fighting force as they deal with the reality of a somewhat downsized military.
Q As he makes this case, is he going to tell the American people how much it's going to cost?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they know how much it costs because we've proposed it in our budget, the Congress and the President have agreed to roughly what the spending track is going to be for defense -- it's a considerable investment. But the argument has to be, this investment is about protecting the interests that we secure around the world by the presence of our military and by our readiness and our capacity to deal with the challenges we face.
Q Mike, how concerned is the President about what's happening in the new Republic of Congo, and government of Kabila?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have monitored very closely those developments. I think as some of you know, we expect Ambassador Richardson to travel to the region next week, you know, to continue the discussions that he has had periodically. We continue to believe that the newly formed government of the Republic of Congo needs to be broad-based, needs to take into view the different elements of the political life within the Republic of Congo. And that the track that has been announced for elections is an important one to adhere to. It is one that needs to now be followed through with so there can be free and fair elections that will reflect the will of the people of Congo, formerly Zaire.
Q Does the two-year time frame seem reasonable?
MR. MCCURRY: As the State Department said yesterday, it is reasonable. We would have obviously preferred something on a faster track but we think the most important thing is for there to be a commitment to inclusiveness in forming that government and, in the period of transition, to assure that all political viewpoints are accounted for in the political life of the emerging government.
Q Mike, Jennifer Laslow has been boasting of her connections to the Clinton camp -- of her '92 - '96 political consultant connections -- has been recycling a tape that came up months ago in the Virginia attorney general's race showing -- an amateur tape showing Gilbert Davis, Paula Jones' attorney, in a very intoxicated state and making some very lewd comments. Are you -- is the White House embracing this sort of effort that she says it to clear the President's name? And is she on the payroll of the party in any way, shape or form?
MR. MCCURRY: I, frankly, don't know thing about that.
Q She's been on all of the talk shows.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, good, let's leave it there then. (Laughter.)
Q The administration has already come pretty close to losing in both Houses on legislation. It could potentially derail the budget deal. Did the briefing this afternoon reflect some concerns about the need to keep the pressure on Congress to make this happen or -- because otherwise there wasn't immediately apparent what the news value was. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think it was pretty clear what was going on there. It was on a slow Friday afternoon; we were claiming the bragging rights that are rightfully ours. (Laughter.) You know, on a day when we had important economic statistics on first-quarter growth we took the opportunity, which was certainly news because I heard it reported already at least by some of your news organizations -- we took that opportunity to comment on the record the administration has had.
But I think the reminder here, to answer your question maybe a little more adroitly, is that those who paid the sacrifice of voting for the President's economic plan in 1993 ought to be proud of that vote. Those who committed themselves to the deficit reduction in 1993 ought to know that that vote produced the results that the President said would be produced, and that voting for this balanced budget agreement can continue that path of success.
So to those Democrats who stood with the President and made that economic program a reality, that's something they should take great pride in. And as we move through this process and continue the work of balancing the budget, that that type of success is still out there as the ultimate outcome of staying on this path, even though at times it requires tough votes and tough choices.
Q Is the agreement in trouble? Is it going to pass or --
MR. MCCURRY: The agreement, as you know from the votes in both Houses, got overwhelming majorities in both parties in both Houses. But there will be moments of challenge to that as we go through specific issues.
By the way, in the President's radio address -- which he'll tape shortly I think, so you'll get it shortly, embargoed for use tomorrow morning -- he'll talk not only about his trip to Europe this week and how -- saying many of the same things said here today -- how the performance of the U.S. economy is now a given as world leaders gather and they talk about what economic challenges we face in the world, but he will also talk about those things that we need to do to codify and embrace this balanced budget agreement and lay down some specific ideas on how the formation of the tax component of that balanced agreement ought to go forward.
That's the subject he will address tomorrow, but he'll continue to make the case that this is in the economic interests of the United States, that the performance we're seeing is because we made the commitment in 1993 to move on the path of deficit reduction, and we have to stay on that path.
Q Mike, I don't want to beat this down, but you said you didn't know about the tape. Aren't you concerned that there are people out there apparently free-lancing on your behalf?
MR. MCCURRY: Again, I don't know a thing about it. I didn't know she had a press conference, in fact, I don't even know who she is -- personally I don't, and I'll check and see if anyone here cares one way or the other.
Q Has the President met, does he plan to meet with Bob Bennett to discuss all this anytime --
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I know of. He had, as I told the troop on the way, he had a conversation with him in Paris, and I'm now aware that they've had any follow-up conversation.
Q Does the President -- does the White House sanction Democratic attacks on the credibility of her lawyer? Is that --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know a thing about what you're talking about, so --
Q Just the principle, is that something --
MR. MCCURRY: It sounds like something that, if it's an attorney -- if it's anyone who has got an indirect connection to the case, she should best ask Mr. Bennett about it. I don't really have anything for you and don't plan to have anything for you on it.
Q Mike, since the economy is doing so well and Yeltsin signed the pact in Paris and Mr. Clinton has called him a good democrat, is there pressure now to take some of that money and give it to Russia when they come over for G-8? Are they looking for more specific monetary plans?
MR. MCCURRY: They have, of course, talked about the resources they need to continue the economic progress they're making, the modernization they're committed to. That has largely been done within the confines of the international financial institutions that lend capital to the Russian Federation and there will no doubt be considerable discussion of that point. The U.S. Direct Assistance Programs are carefully tailored, they're fairly modest, given the resources that are available, but a large part of our assistance comes in the form of multilateral lending, and that has proven very successful as Russia's economy has stabilized and is just beginning to turn the corner.
Q There's an estimated $50 billion in international money going into Central and Eastern Europe. What percentage of U.S. money do you think that is?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I'd -- I mean, that's $50 billion total of multilateral lending of which my guess is the U.S. portion is a fifth, maybe. That would be a rough guess. I mean, I could check on that.
Q You're talking about the lessons for congressional Democrats to learn from '93 dealing with the balanced budget. Has the President made that point one-on-one with Dick Gephardt? Has he had any sort of conversation with him on this subject?
MR. MCCURRY: They've talked about it in the past. I don't know that they've -- I mean, that's kind of a given, because a Minority Leader would certainly take that point and acknowledge that point. And he understands exactly how his caucus felt about the '93 vote, and the pain they went through, but he understands that it produces results. And the President, in general, on his relations with Mr. Gephardt I think handled that pretty well in London yesterday.
Q Mike, it turns out the same day the AMA endorsed the partial-birth abortion ban, they also sent a letter to the Hill with their legislative wish list. Is the White House concerned there was some kind of deal going on here or quid pro quo?
MR. MCCURRY: They say there wasn't. I don't know -- we don't have any information that suggests there was. It seems like one of those curious coincidences that happen in Washington from time to time. (Laughter.)
Q Next week?
MR. MCCURRY: Want me to do next week? Next week is very quiet. Maybe I'll start with the end of the week. I think as you know, Chelsea Clinton graduates from Sidwell Friends College next Friday. By tradition, that is a private event. We've been working to try to find some way that at least a portion of that ceremony, specifically the President's remarks, might be made available. I'll keep you posted on whether we make any progress on that. We appreciate some of the ideas we've gotten from the White House Correspondents Association on that and we'll try to work something out on that. But because --
Q So we don't have to buy the amateur videotape? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: So you can go find some proud mommy and daddy who will make it available? (Laughter.) Well, exactly.
But, really, because of that, most of the week they are doing -- we've given them a lot of family time this week because I think they're doing things in and around that event that they want to do as a family. The President, obviously, tomorrow has got his trip up to West Point.
Sunday and Monday, nothing planned; Tuesday, nothing planned; Wednesday, we plan a signing ceremony for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act on the South Lawn. That's really the reauthorization of the legislation that dates back to the mid-1970s that really give disabled children the right to a specifically tailored and appropriate public education that has made such a difference in the lives of millions of disabled children. That has been reauthorized and the President will sign the reauthorization Wednesday morning at 10:30 a.m. And then that evening is the repeat performance at Filomena's Restaurant between the President of the United States and the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Q Is he going to bring -- so she can eat for her country again?
MR. MCCURRY: No, they are all -- the President is on a diet, and the Chancellor is facing a campaign, so I think it's going to be a somewhat more modest occasion than their first encounter at that venue.
Thursday is off. Friday is the graduation, as you know, and Saturday is the radio address. So we're looking forward to a quiet week around here and we're going to have to figure out something to make news out of.
Q Mike, when do we get the radio address?
MR. MCCURRY: He has not taped it yet, but the President dropped by the Oval Office a short while ago to just clear off some paperwork since he was out for most of the week, and several eager staffers encouraged him to tape it early this afternoon -- since we have one, two pieces of paper coming out within a half hour, and then with the exception of the radio address, that's our full lid for the day.
Q It says here on my radar screen that James Carville has started something called the "Education and Information Project." Do you have any idea what that might be?
MR. MCCURRY: Not a clue. (Laughter.) But I'm sure it will provide grist for many mills, and I'm sure he'll be happy to talk to you about it.
Q The White House doesn't have any knowledge of this?
MR. MCCURRY: There are a lot of people at the White House and a lot of people who talk to James, and they probably acknowledge some of what he's doing, but I don't know specifically what that is.
Q Do you expect any more ambassadorial appointments next week? Any with an Indonesian tinge to them?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as I told you, things are now coming in the pipeline as you can tell from Ambassador Collins' appointment. I wouldn't rule it out, but -- specifically, no.
Q Mike, press conference in the near future?
MR. MCCURRY: Press conference? Yes.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I was looking to say something interesting today, since there hasn't been a whole -- else to say.
Q Where is it on the block?
MR. MCCURRY: I think we're doing it mid-June.
MR. MCCURRY: Right, mid-June.
Q Before the summit?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q That would be late June then. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: What was the date?
MR. JOHNSON: Denver is 20th through the 22nd.
MR. MCCURRY: I think we were looking to do it sometime around the second week in June. But I'll announce it next week so we'll have something to talk about next week. Since so far, not much, right?
What else? Anything else? I have to do a farewell for Mr. Small. The last day? Is today the last day?
Q Today is it.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, today is sort of technically Mary Ellen's last day and she chose not to show up at work -- (laughter) -- so I applaud your presence here.
Q A UPI man is always at the scene.
MR. MCCURRY: For 17 years for United Press International, Bill has reported. And I, for one, can attest I hear him every single morning, one way or another on the radio, reporting for someone who picks up UPI's product and distributes it under their own name. And there are more that do that than some of you think, I would make the point. But he has been here at the White House for 12 years and good service rendered to United Press International and lots of good times had with you, Bill. (Applause.)
Not many of your colleagues would get that kind of applause -- (laughter) -- upon their departure.
Q We're just glad to see him go. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: You'll probably be happy to see me go, too, and I shall.
Q You might also acknowledge the arrival of my replacement, returning to the role that he fulfilled here during the Nixon administration, that is Mr. Don Fulsome, the new UPI radio correspondent.
MR. MCCURRY: Don, welcome.
Q Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Welcome, we are delighted to have you here, and it's a reminder to me that we owe you all a radio --
Q When did you sneak in here? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: A reminder to me, since we didn't do it on your watch, that we owe the radio folks a radio roundtable -- good for me to put that record because now I can't take it back, right?
Q I figured you'd wait until I'm out of here. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No, it would have been a pleasure to do it while you were here. Maybe we should do an exclusive with you on departure. No, you don't want to work.
All right. Thanks, everyone. We'll see you on Monday.
Q Did you just announce your resignation?
Q Yes, you said you were going.
MR. MCCURRY: I meant going now. Leaving. I was trying to conveniently end the briefing.
END 3:23 P.M. EDT