THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:55 P.M. EDT
Q While we're waiting, can I get just a couple housekeeping questions?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure, housekeeping questions. Kind of a slow start to today's White House daily briefing while we await the arrival of --
Q Senator Specter says he's going to introduce legislation, fast track legislation to prevent Timothy McVeigh from being buried in a U.S. military cemetery. Would the President be interested -- would the President sign that into law to prevent McVeigh from being buried there?
MR. MCCURRY: That's the first I have heard that.
Q Is that a procedural question?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a housekeeping question? (Laughter.) A mausoleum-keeping question. What is that?
Q My CNN world headquarters asked that.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, go back and report to CNN world headquarters that we will duly consider any legislation of that nature introduced, if so enacted by the Congress of the United States.
Q Speaking of legislation, Mike, a bipartisan group of House members have introduced a bill calling for an end to the embargo on Cuba as regards food and medicine. Does the President support that?
MR. MCCURRY: We've seen news accounts of that. We have been very concerned about the humanitarian conditions that face the people of Cuba. Those conditions arise because of the nature of a very brutal totalitarian regime. If they had a market economy, if they had democracy, the citizens of Cuba would be far better off, as are other citizens throughout this hemisphere who now enjoy the benefits of democracy.
Our policy is premised on the Cuban Democracy Act. There have been aspects of that legislation that allow for opening and liberalization. In fact, there are some specific provisions that allow for us to attend to humanitarian conditions in Cuba. We work within the framework of that act, but this legislation, of course, we will examine carefully.
Q You what?
MR. MCCURRY: We will examine carefully. It's just been -- we've only seen news reports about it, and we'd have to look at it.
Q Are you philosophically sympathetic to it?
MR. MCCURRY: Philosophically and morally sympathetic to the people of Cuba who have suffered under this regime. But the conditions they face are the results of the economic policies and of the politics of that regime.
Q I thought it was the longstanding practice of the United States not to use food as a weapon.
MR. MCCURRY: That is correct, and we do not. But there is also, unlike North Korea -- I'm not aware of reports of widespread starvation in Cuba.
Q Mike, what do you think about the timing when some of the Congress members are trying to push to end affirmative action when the President is embarking on his race initiative?
MR. MCCURRY: It no doubt heightens the discussion on the issue and will bring into greater focus for Americans the question of whether or not affirmative action is an important tool that has to be available to address the discrimination that continues to exist in the workplace. The President would take the viewpoint that -- the proposal to eliminate or abolish affirmative action will help Americans focus on the question, do we need this tool; should it be available as a remedy; if so, under what conditions. And of course, our answer is, yes, we do need it; it has to be narrowly tailored; it has to meet the conditions that have been put forth by the Supreme Court, but it is certainly a valuable tool that must remain in the arsenal available to policymakers as they struggle with the residue of discrimination that continues to exist in our society.
Q So the President plans to veto if it should pass?
MR. MCCURRY: We said last year -- to my knowledge we haven't looked specifically at the measure that has been introduced now, but if it's identical to the bill that we threatened to veto last year, we would continue to say it would be subject to a veto threat.
Q Mike, you might have talked about this earlier in your gaggle, but I'm not sure I quite understand it. Is the administration's view that it's good that there is not an alternative Democratic tax plan and are you -- do you wish that there had been a Democratic bill?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we're in a stage in the legislative process now in which those who are responsible for writing tax legislation are coming forward with their ideas. Some of them were not participants in the negotiations that led to the bipartisan balanced budget agreement, so it's natural that some people are putting their ideas forward in the context of writing a tax bill. At the end of the day, the President believes that Congress will return to the central elements of the bipartisan balanced budget agreement because that's what will hold together the budget process, the tax-writing process, as we go through the rest of the legislative calendar. And that agreement is very specific on things like tax relief for the middle income, which the President is fighting hard for. It's very specific on some other features, and in the end of the day the legislation that comes down here for the President's signature is going to very closely resemble that agreement.
There are different ways to advance it. In the House, they did in fact put forward an alternative bill. That was a focus of some of the things Democrats tried to do to get their ideas into legislation. That was good. In the Senate, individual Democratic senators on the Finance Committee had ideas that they advanced on their own. That's another way of doing it. We think that process will continue to unfold, but it will be many more turns of the wheel before we get to legislation that's finally passed into law by Congress and comes here for signing.
Q As you know, there are lots of stories off the Hill that there is great anger at the White House because the Democrats weren't brought in enough, and also, as you know, some stories --
MR. MCCURRY: I think sometimes reports like that I think are very overblown. I think they understand that the President has got objectives that we've put forth very clearly in the context of the balanced budget agreement, and that we will fight hard to get -- principally among them, getting the kind of tax cuts for the middle income that the President has proposed, targeted on education. That's something that the President feels very strongly, and more importantly or as important, making sure we have tax relief that doesn't lead to an explosion and deficits in the out-years beyond the ten-year window of the budget agreement itself. And that was something that the President specifically asked for and got from the Republican majority leaders.
Q Mike, can I come back to the Republican leadership? Are you worried that they're not going to be able to enforce that agreement, and the result is that the thing is going to unravel?
MR. MCCURRY: It's more likely in the short-term that we have a lot of churning of ideas, passage of legislation that gets changed as it goes through various parts of the process, as it goes through for consideration and ultimately into a conference. But our belief and our expectation is that at the end of the process the measure that comes back to the President closely resembles the contours and framework of the agreement that's already been reached.
Q You've got Dick Armey saying he's not bound by it.
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Armey, as Senator Lott himself has pointed out, participated in all the critical meetings that led to that agreement, so he's got a dispute with the Senate Majority Leader and probably with others in the Republican leadership if he takes that point of view. But, of course, he might -- if that's the case, we believe he'll ultimately end up being isolated because we assume and expect that the Republican leader's word is good.
Q Did he meet with his advisors today? And what's the thrust of the speech tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: The President did talk about our agenda and our expectations for the Denver Summit of the 8, and tomorrow I expect he'll start taking us into the summit weekend by talking with the American people about the strong position the United States is in now in the global economy, what led rise to the position we're in now, and how that differs from previous years in which many times we went into these international summits of the industrialized nations facing a lot of criticism from our international partners.
In this case, we go in enjoying the benefits of a very strong and robust economy. I think that gives the President an opportunity to put the focus at Denver on some of the new challenges we face in the post-Cold War era, some of the threats like terrorism, fighting international drug trafficking, dealing with environmental degradation, and dealing with things like infectious diseases, where these nations can come together and work together for the benefit of all their population.
So the President will talk about the real important work that will be done by the summit leaders, but try to explain it in the context that will be user-friendly for the American people so that they understand that meetings of this nature are important.
Q Mike, just to switch -- I'm sure people want to get back to Denver -- but to today's news. I just wanted to get for us TV folks the White House view on the capture of Mir Kansi and his court appearance today.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President is delighted that the combined work of our law enforcement agencies and the Justice Department, State Department, other agencies led to the arrest of this individual, who is soon to be charged with these most heinous crimes. And the President, in his statement, makes clear that any act of terror directed against the American people will result in punishment. And even if it takes years, those that we believe responsible will be tracked down, hunted down, and brought to justice.
Q As a follow-up, do you think this represents that plus the court appearance of --
Q The Saudi.
Q -- the Saudi related to the Khobar incident represents a turning point as far as morale for the CIA and FBI, since they've been under siege for --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to comment -- I don't want to accept the first premise of that question and draw certain inferences that you did. I will say that I think the combined law enforcement effort of the CIA, the FBI, and the people who put their lives on the line to bring this moment to the American people is something that ought to give every American a great deal of pride, and I'm sure it will do something for morale at those agencies.
Q Is everybody going to be eligible for the $2 million reward?
MR. MCCURRY: You should really -- it's a State Department program, they maintain it; you should really ask them.
Q Mike, is the President considering means-testing Medicare, considering approval of means-testing Medicare?
MR. MCCURRY: We have never ruled out the principle of means-testing and, in fact, we've seen it applied in some limited conditions in the past. Now, that is not -- there was a long discussion about how to address the question of what Medicare beneficiaries would bring to the table in the context of a balanced budget agreement. This was very heavily litigated during the negotiations around the agreement, and means-testing like that that's under consideration by the Senate Finance Committee was not part of that agreement. And they have now taken some action that we believe falls outside the parameters of the balanced budget agreement.
I'm saying that the principle itself may be useful in the future in another context, as we deal with longer-term problems related to entitlements, and particularly the Medicare trust fund, but we had constructed an agreement, working with the Republican majority in Congress, that did not rely on that type of device to get the Medicare savings that we need in the context of the balanced budget agreement.
Q So you'll fight to get rid of this provision?
MR. MCCURRY: Our expectation is that that's one of several things that will be changed as the legislation moves forward.
Q Was the principle of means-testing one of the reasons that the '95 budget was vetoed? Was it an issue at that time?
MR. MCCURRY: That was not a feature of the Republican budget. We have injected some income-related tests into government programs in previous legislation. There has been, in the past, as you know, some, I guess you would philosophically call it, means-testing on the taxation of Social Security benefits. So, philosophically, it's not something that the President has ever said he's adamantly opposed to, but we have not used that to generate the kind of budget savings that we need in the context of this agreement.
And again, the work that the Congress did working with the President to get this agreement was very important, and well over 80 percent of one caucus, 70 percent of another caucus voted for this in one fashion or another in both the House and the Senate. So, remember, strong majorities of both parties are in favor of this agreement. And we think at the end of the day they're going to recognize they did good work, and they're going to return to the merits of that.
Q I'm not sure if I heard an answer to his question, though, because what you said is you suspect that this will be dropped, but I wasn't sure if you said the White House doesn't want this in or the White House does want it in.
MR. MCCURRY: We prefer that they stick with the terms of the agreements. They don't need --
Q The terms of the agreement are broad. We're now talking about the details and the debits.
MR. MCCURRY: When it came to Medicare savings and the impact on beneficiaries, the terms were precise, and they did not call for income tests or premium tests.
Q As I recall, the terms included more payments for beneficiaries over a certain amount of income.
MR. MCCURRY: This was a heavily litigated area in the discussions and the negotiators know that in the context that was a premium feature that was very narrowly drawn, in fact specified in the discussions.
Q So you do not look too kindly on the Senate Finance Committee proposal --
MR. MCCURRY: Broadly speaking, they've done some things in the markup that are improvements, certainly, over the House bill --
Q But Senator Kerrey wants to raise --
MR. MCCURRY: They have a lot of things they want to do. They're going to have to work a lot of that out. But, ultimately, this legislation is going to return to look more like the balanced budget agreement that was worked out between the President and the leaders.
Q Can you explain why -- I mean, since you're not opposed to it philosophically, what is the political reason that doing it in the budget agreement would be bad? In other words, you think you only get one bite of the apple to go after beneficiaries and if you do it here it would be easier to oppose, or what?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because in principle it may be useful, like for a longer-term discussion -- the long-term question of the Medicare trust fund --
Q Why is that --
MR. MCCURRY: Because it's not needed to generate the savings in Medicare that fit within the contours of the balanced budget agreement.
Q There are many different ways to get savings, but I'm wondering why --
MR. MCCURRY: There are in theory, but we negotiated precise means in the agreement and we want them to stick with the precise discussions that we've already had.
Let's go on to something else.
Q Can you talk a little more about the President's role in monitoring the investigation and apprehension of the CIA shooting guy?
MR. MCCURRY: I can say that he, since 1993, has followed for well over four years now the efforts of the United States government to apprehend the suspect that we had. There have been a variety of efforts over those years -- in fact, there have probably been some moments when we were close and hot on the trail. But as to the ultimate apprehension of the suspect, the President personally approved the planning for the apprehension and followed the execution of the plan very carefully, and was delighted to get the news that he was apprehended.
Q What about the apprehension required a presidential decision? What aspect of the apprehension of this guy required a presidential decision?
MR. MCCURRY: There are certain aspects of it that I just can't get too detailed into.
Q Well, maybe we can make it easier for you. Can you tell us what the President's position is on extraterritorial arrests?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't believe that that question arises in this case.
Q Why is that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not going to go into the details of that.
Q Did this arrest require any special -- even if you can't disclose what's in it -- any special presidential order or executive order, a sealed or some kind of directive --
MR. MCCURRY: If it would I wouldn't be able to talk about it publicly.
Q You wouldn't be able to talk about what was in it, but could you at least tell us if there was some special presidential act --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to -- the details of how the apprehension occurred is something I'm not going to get into.
Q Why, though?
MR. MCCURRY: For obvious reasons, Wolf, and you know them.
Q I'd like to actually go back to Mara's question of a minute ago. If this is something the administration thinks could be in the long-term interest of Americans, why not take advantage of this opportunity to pursue it?
MR. MCCURRY: Because that's directly related to the question of how are we going to deal with the long-term status of the entitlement trust funds, not only Medicare, but Social Security. Those are questions that we will face as a matter of urgency well into the next century, but something that this President believes he ought to contend with during the course of this term. He also believes you cannot overload the circuits by putting long-term questions on top of what is a very real time debate right now over balancing the budget.
We've got a good balanced budget agreement and we need to get it into law. And means-testing Social Security was not a part of that agreement and doesn't need to be placed into law right now, even if it is a worthy subject for discussion under whatever process is devised for long-term consideration of entitlement issues.
Q Mike, you seem to be saying that in principle, means-testing of both Medicare and Social Security might be agreeable to the White House, is that right?
MR. MCCURRY: I think in theory, in principle, yes. But it's not a question we can deal with in this context, trying to get a balanced budget agreement through Congress. And nor do we need to because we've got --
Q But you don't have any principled position on whether means-testing Medicare and Social Security might, as some suggest, change the character of both programs.
MR. MCCURRY: We understand that suggestion, that tampering with what is called the universality of the program might undermine some of the fundamental commitments that they date back to Roosevelt. But at the same time, there are reasons why the President has suggested all along we need a bipartisan process that will look at those long-term questions. Those are not the questions we face in the context of finishing the work of writing the balanced budget agreement into law.
Q Is this a new or consistent position that the President has had on the --
MR. MCCURRY: He has said this all along. In fact, he even said it, if I recall, right, in his interview with the AARP newsletter last year.
Q That he's open in principle to the notion?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Can you just make this clear? You're saying that bringing it up now would raise all the questions about universality and this is not the right time to have that debate?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm just saying we have said all along, there is a long-term debate we need to have on the entitlement trust funds. We don't need to have that debate in the context of generating savings out of Medicare to balance the budget by a date certain, which is what we're working on right now.
Q So you're saying that by bring up means-testing now, it would force that debate, and that's what's bad about doing it now?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm just saying it's not necessary -- Q I know you're saying it's not necessary, but what
would be --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't understand the question. What are you asking?
Q What I'm asking is, even if it's not necessary, what is the philosophically opposition to doing it in the context of the balanced budget agreement, other than it's just simply not the option you prefer?
MR. MCCURRY: Because the savings generated out of Medicare were carefully negotiated and discussed by those who participated in the balanced budget discussions. They talked specifically about how you would ask -- what requirements you would make of beneficiaries to ask them to pay more. The decision was made to limit the hit that beneficiaries would have to take and extract some of the savings from providers and from hospitals and others. And the way in which those saving were constructed was pretty well delineated. So this kind of flies in the face of that agreement, begins to tamper with the integrity of that agreement. And we don't need to do that. It's not a question right now of what is the general philosophical principle of means-testing; it's about what continues to hold the balanced budget agreement together. And that's where we think the Congress ought to redirect its focus to.
Q Going back to the Denver Summit, the membership of the summit is changing this year, and I wondered, do you think the agenda of the summit also is in the process of transition from an economic summit to one with a much broader focus?
MR. MCCURRY: The answer is yes. I think you heard a number of people from the administration that the condition of the global economy right now, and certainly the U.S. role in that global economy, does change the nature of some of these discussions. We're not dealing with the same type of global financial questions we've dealt with in the past.
So just look at, for one example, the area of free trade. We've had a proliferation of free trade agreements, especially those with Japan, that bring some structure and framework to trade relations that used to be a dominant topic at these summits in the past.
So I think as the economy has done well, as the global economy has expanded, as we have certainly enjoyed some success in the global marketplace, our focus has turned to some of the other issues, and certainly President Yeltsin's participation in the summit provides an opportunity to deal with other political, regional security issues that ought to be part of this discussion.
Q In his speech tomorrow, will the President be offering any proposals, or will it just be kind of a review of, here's where we are and here's where we're --
MR. MCCURRY: I describe it more as a way in which we can kind of bring to attention of the American people the importance of the kind of work we do at a summit like this.
Q Could we go back to the CIA for a second?
MR. MCCURRY: You can, but you know I'm very handicapped on what I can say and I'm not going to help you very much. So with that caveat, yes.
Q A couple of basic questions. What country did the arrest take place in?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into that.
Q You can't tell us what country?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into that.
Q Mike, why not?
MR. MCCURRY: Because I'm not -- I didn't do the arrest. The White House didn't make the arrest. The agency that did -- if they want to tell you, they can.
Q What difference does it make?
MR. MCCURRY: We're just not going to get into it.
Q Are you able to assert that the apprehension was made in a lawful manner?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. (Laughter.)
Q Can you tell me if the President is rethinking his refusal to intervene in the tobacco negotiations, because it seems to be --
MR. MCCURRY: No change in what I told you yesterday. Nothing new on that.
Q On the House next week after Denver is scheduled to vote on MFN. Is that going to put a damper on Denver getting into China issues?
MR. MCCURRY: Not -- no. I suspect, given the transition about to occur in Hong Kong, given the importance of issues related to China to all of these countries, that there will be a discussion of China's role in the world economy and global trading institutions, and I'm sure the subject will come up. I don't know that there is any impediment to that, because we've got a vote coming up in our Congress.
Q But earlier briefings this week from the White House suggested that at least the U.S. delegation might just limit itself to something in the communique having to do with Hong Kong and not go beyond that. Is that going to be the U.S. position --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say it again?
Q For instance -- well, from the earlier briefings this week here, the indication was that the only thing we're going to see in the final communique regarding China is Hong Kong, but that you would not open up the wider issue of China's overall record on human rights. Is that the position of the U.S. delegation going into Denver?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the position of our delegation going in is that if there is any extensive discussion of China, all the issues relevant to China that normally we discuss in bilateral meetings would probably come up in this multilateral setting, and human rights would certainly be one of them.
Wolf, I want to go back to your question.
Q Can I finish on that point? There's a difference, Mike, between what is discussed at a summit like that and what finally gets in a communique. My question is, does the United States want in the final communique a reference to the overall record of China on human rights?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen anything that leads me to believe they're having a detailed discussion that would lead to that. But again, the communique will be written during the course of the weekend.
Wolf, back to your question a second ago. I want to revisit that and just explain the answer a little bit. The parties are clearly in discussion in dialogue. We are following it very, very closely and they, themselves, have said they're either going to get an agreement sometime soon or they're not, and we will expect to get a report at some point. The President has followed it closely enough that he will see what they have when they bring something to him. At this point, we're not sure what that would be, if anything.
Q Does that mean you're leaving open the possibility that once he gets that report, there could be a change in his hands-off policy?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to anticipate what the parties might, in fact, decide to bring to the White House, but they're not there yet; that much I know.
Q Leaving here yesterday, Mike Moore said to us that they had -- the states had put the final offer on the table and basically they were going to wait and see what the tobacco companies had. Have the tobacco companies been here, have they told you --
MR. MCCURRY: We have, I think -- I think Mr. Lindsey's had telephone contact with them. To my knowledge, they haven't come in in person. But as to what the response is from one side is to the other, you really have to go talk to them about that.
Q Mike, on Al-Sayegh, the Saudi, first of all, if he has Iranian ties, is the U.S. still committed to some sort of retaliation against --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not going to come any way near, shape, way --
Q About Saudi Arabia, talking about Saudi Arabia? Would you talk about Saudi Arabia?
MR. MCCURRY: That's highly speculative and there are no words that I will utter on that, but I'll make a lot of grunting sounds. (Laughter.)
Q On MFN, the --
MR. MCCURRY: NTR.
Q NTR, sorry.
MR. MCCURRY: NTR.
Q NTR. Is the White House preparing other proposals intended to put pressure on China as a means of selling MFN on the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've seen some interesting ideas emerge on the Hill, things like the idea of expanding Radio Free Asia or looking at ways in which we can continue to bring our human rights concerns forward and ways in which we could encourage the kind of attention to human rights in China that might be helpful in addressing our concerns and I don't think we are open to some of that.
Q Mike are you going to on your own, or are you going to accept the ones that the Republican task force will come up with?
MR. MCCURRY: They've got some ideas that we're going to look at very carefully, and I think we would be interested in seeing if there's a way we can work with them on some of these concepts.
Q You're not planning a White House initiative like that?
MR. MCCURRY: We're not planning on an initiative like that, but I think we could very well find our way toward seeing if we can't embrace some of the ideas they've put forward, because many of them are useful.
Q Like today?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President does have a meeting -- I don't know if it could be done as early as today, because I think they've just issued this task force report, but the President will see members of the House tonight on the question of normal trade relations with China.
Q And that's what they're going to talk about?
MR. MCCURRY: They'll talk about the issue broadly and probably other aspects of U.S.-China relations.
Q Apparently, they've put off the House consideration of this beyond next week. They were supposed to do it next week, but they've delayed -- they've decided to just focus on taxes next week.
MR. MCCURRY: That's the first I've heard of that. I, in fact, had heard earlier today they were looking to schedule a vote Tuesday or Wednesday.
Q Do you have any good information?
MR. MCCURRY: News to me.
Q Anything interesting from the interview that you can share with us?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Was there any news in the interview?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, but if I gave an exclusive interview to you, you would not want me to tell anyone else.
Q No, but you don't do that. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No, the President had some good thoughts, and I'm sure they will be able to write --
Q The Journal has never written anything good about you guys yet. (Laughter.)
Q Cancel your subscription. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: They always tell us the editorial page is not the same thing as the news page. I always wonder whether I ought to believe that argument.
Q Do you intend to officially rename MFN NTR?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm going to see if I can con you guys into using it.
MR. MCCURRY: There is a point there, though. I think most Americans, they say, what's this business about getting some favored treatment of China, and that's not what we're talking about. I think everyone here knows that, so the device of saying normal trade relations until we're blue in the face, maybe it will stick, maybe it won't. I don't know.
Q What would it take to change it, though? Is that a legal?
MR. MCCURRY: I think in the trade law -- that's under the Trade Act of 1974, Most Favored Nation is a statutory --
MS. LUZZATTO: It's go back to Jackson-Vanik.
MR. MCCURRY: It goes back to the Jackson-Vanik.
Q Are the tobacco talks at all complicated by the fact that I presume that Bruce is going to go with the President tomorrow and hence isn't able to have this shuttle diplomacy take place?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I know of, no.
Q Who will they report to in his absence?
MR. MCCURRY: He's been -- look, they've been talking all throughout the long course of this dialogue, and Mr. Lindsey has taken their calls in various, far-flung places.
Q Who's going with the President? And what will your role be? Will you be briefing?
MR. MCCURRY: We will. We haven't -- I haven't seen a briefing schedule. Do you know -- what is -- I mean, Secretary Rubin, Secretary Albright obviously as our sherpas --
Q Every day?
MR. MCCURRY: -- of our delegation. Ambassador Barshefsky will be there. Deputy Secretary Summers will be there.
MR. TOIV: We're going to try to brief basically every day that there's something going on.
MR. MCCURRY: Probably two or three times every day to make sure we can -- (laughter) -- alert you to all the important news that will occur at this summit, keep you abreast of the latest developments.
MR. MCCURRY: Sitting out there enjoying the beautiful Rocky Mountain scenery since there won't be much else to do.
Q On Cambodia, have you gotten any news on Pol Pot and what kind of news do you have?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen any -- I mean, I have seen some of the reports. We've seen the same reports that you've seen and what the status of Khmer Rouge is at this point or what -- remnants of the Khmer Rouge and I'm not aware that we have gotten any specific information on it.
Q Going back to my futile questions on the CIA, you said that you were close and hot on the trail in the past. Is that to say that they were close to catching him before?
MR. MCCURRY: That was to whet your appetite so --
Q It did.
MR. MCCURRY: -- you'll go listen, go talk to some of those who were involved in this more directly.
Q But can you elaborate on that?
MR. MCCURRY: As you know, the White House doesn't conduct that type of law enforcement activity, but those who do might have a great story to tell. That's what I was trying to suggest to you.
Q Mike, Southern Baptists today voted to boycott Disney.
MR. MCCURRY: Did they actually take that vote?
Q Yes, they did.
MR. MCCURRY: And I apologize, I have not asked the President the question that I think you are interested in -- is what his reaction is as a Southern Baptist -- to that. I will check with him. He has in the past said that there are times -- from time to time -- when he departs from positions that his denomination takes, respectfully, as a matter of conscience. But I'll check on this in particular.
Q Does he have a reaction as not from a religious point of view but just from a Presidential point of view about whether this is the way that people ought to achieve goals?
MR. MCCURRY: Obviously, I have not had a chance to talk to him about it.
Q Could you ask him about from both points of view then?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I will.
Q Mike, despite trade not being --
MR. MCCURRY: Is that CBS beating up on ABC?
Q Oh, that's so mean.
Q Mike, despite trade not being a big issue for the Summit of the 8, the President will be having a bilateral with the Japanese Prime Minister, and today we found out that the Japanese trade surplus in May with the United States doubled. To what extent do you think the two leaders will address reining in that rise?
MR. MCCURRY: I know one of the two leaders will address it because, as we've said to the Prime Minister in the past, the good work we've done on trade, which has minimized some of our conflict over trade-related issues can't be lost now if we see an acceleration of the surpluses. And when the President met Prime Minister Hashimoto -- what did we meet, in April? -- in April, one of the things the President said is that we have to watch these current account surplus numbers very carefully because we don't want to see a return to the day in which there was a chronic and persistent surplus on your side that then provokes protectionist sentiments in the United States.
The President has alerted the Prime Minister to his concern about that. We have seen in some of the data some indications that those surpluses are continuing, and we are going to continue to suggest that the answer is going to have to be in some type of regulatory reform of the Japanese economy that stimulates domestic demand.
And part of the problem, we acknowledge, is the strength of our economy. We are buying a lot more from around the world because American consumers have got the benefit of a strong economy and in general some increase in wages. But at the same time, we still believe there are things that Japanese policy-makers can do in the context of their own economy that would both deregulate and stimulate demand for imported products from the United States and elsewhere.
Q When he was in contact with him? Recently?
MR. MCCURRY: They met in April, when Prime Minister Hashimoto was here. But this will be a continuation of that discussion. And the answer is, yes, I do expect that they will get into that, although I would point out, as I often point out, that that is no longer the dominant subject of their discussions. We have got a number of things that we will be working through with Prime Minister Hashimoto that reflect a lot of the work we do together on our common agenda as we face some of these post-Cold War, transnational, global issues that we deal with.
Q What will be dominant? North Korea, do you think, will be high up there?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that will be -- that will be certainly a very important meeting. If I'm not mistaken Prime Minister Hashimoto is going to Beijing in September for bilateral meetings with President Jiang Zemin. I think they will want to have a very detailed review of relations with the People's Republic and regional security issues, the status of the defense guidelines review. All of those are items that I think will be on the agenda and subject to review.
And plus, I think as people know, the President enjoys personally his encounters with the Prime Minister and they often find, if they have some time privately to talk, they will reflect on some of the larger global issues that both leaders face as leaders of two of the major industrial powers on earth.
You want another one? You want another try at this?
Q We're hearing that there might be a tobacco deal.
MR. MCCURRY: You're going to hear there is a deal. And I'll tell you, call me back in a half-hour, you're going to say, oh, we hear it fell apart.
Q So you think that's -- it's too iffy right now?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's too iffy right now, unless something has changed in the 25 -- how long have I been out here? Twenty-five minutes.
Q A couple hours.
MR. MCCURRY: Feels like hours.
Q But if there was, would both parties come here, or how would it work?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not at all clear, not at all clear if they reached agreement how they would bring it here. I think it would be similar to some of the sessions we've had in the past. I imagine they would all want to come here. But what they would do and who they would meet with is not at all clear. And it would be speculative anyhow until we know what they've done.
Q What role, if any, has Ann Richards played in the tobacco talks? And has she been talking to anyone here?
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, stump the press secretary.
MR. LOCKHART: She's part of the law firm representing --
MR. MCCURRY: Has her firm been involved in some of the discussions; is that --
MR. MCCURRY: I have not -- first I have heard that question asked, and I would have to check with Bruce Lindsey and others. Just don't know.
One last one, way in the back.
Q Back on Cambodia. If indeed Pol Pot has surrendered, what is the White House thinking or what was your reaction when you heard those reports? And is the White House going to be concerned about a power vacuum and who might be next in the situation in Cambodia?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Khmer Rouge had a significantly diminished impact in the political life of Cambodia. They had some influence, and, as a result of that influence, their sentiments were explored by some of the members of the governing parties in the coalition. But at the same time, there is this long, sad, tragic history there that the United States well remembers and the international community well remembers, and we'll certainly watch those developments. But as I said to you earlier, I don't have specific information on what we understand his status to be.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: You're welcome.
END 2:34 P.M. EDT