THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:22 P.M. EDT
Q What's the big news in this welfare message?
MR. MCCURRY: The big news in this welfare message? That we are successfully implementing welfare reform and moving people from welfare dependency and the culture of welfare into work situations where they can become productive taxpaying members of our society, raising their families in a much more positive environment. And we're going to share some numbers about our progress and how much progress we've made, and we'll have some breakdown, state by state, to lay that out for you.
Beyond that, since it's Saturday news I'm talking about here on Thursday, I'll be oblique.
Q Hear any more from France?
MR. MCCURRY: We have very good relations with France. And people don't always stop to think about the enormous progress that we've been able to make and the things that we do together. We work together with the French government in so many different ways, on things related to Europe, Africa, the Middle East peace process.
The President, of the leaders that he knows now very well personally, I think enjoys the camaraderie he has with President Chirac about as much as any relationship he enjoys with any leader around the world. And I think that's important because we're going into a difficult discussion about the future of the transatlantic alliance and we're making history next Tuesday. By the end of that day, NATO will be expanded, and the process of adapting NATO for the 21st century will be well underway. But that is a process that is complex. And I think the President feels it's proper to have those complexities discussed thoroughly with leaders that he respects and with countries that we have formed the strongest possible bond with, which is the pledge of mutual defense that goes with being members of this historic alliance.
Q To what extent is this a divisive issue between the U.S. and its allies, the number of invites to hand out for NATO membership?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there are, as I say, complex arguments in favor of a lot of the different approaches that have been discussed within the Alliance. We've made clear our views; other governments have made clear their views. I don't know that there's any disagreement that there are a number of worthy candidates for entry into NATO. The issue is, how do you do it; what are the reasons for doing it; what principles do you apply to the criteria you're establishing for membership. And we have very strong reasons based on principle to think that the three nations that we will advocate in Madrid are the right three to add at this point in the history of the Alliance.
And we recognize that there are arguments that can be made on behalf of other countries, and we respect those arguments, and we will, probably at the end of the day, not disagree that some of those countries are on their way in the right direction towards membership in NATO eventually. But I think we also will do this in exactly the disciplined, prudent way that we've addressed the question of the future of the Alliance since President Clinton took office.
Q So the debate is a charade. You've made it clear you know what -- you'll prevail, the U.S. will, and you know at the end of the day what's going to happen. You've been telling us for three or four days, so what is the fight?
MR. MCCURRY: We hope we will. We hope the President's argument will prevail. But at the same time, I think President Clinton, even though his views are well-known on this subject within the Alliance, he thinks it's important for these leaders to have that discussion. He does want to hear about and listen carefully to the arguments presented by the other leaders.
Q Do you think the French will hold out until the Tuesday session?
MR. MCCURRY: I really do not want to speak with them. We, of course, have had discussions with them privately and we understand and assess accurately, I believe, what their sentiments are at this point, and that leads us to believe that it's important to hold open the opportunity for dialogue in Madrid.
Q So how would you describe what you expect the dialogue to be in Madrid? This morning you talked about a lively discussion. What kind of tone do you think behind those closed doors?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that these will be 16 leaders that know that this Alliance has been the most successful alliance in history because they work together to come to consensus. It is an alliance that has worked because 16 nations come together in common pursuit of their collective security interests. And the tone of the discussion will be every bit as serious as it should be when they're thinking about extending that very solemn obligation of mutual defense to other nations.
This is not some country club membership auction, or some fraternity rush we're dealing with here. This is really adding nations to the most successful military alliance in history. And that's a solemn obligation that these leaders undertake and I think they will have a very good textured discussion not only about the decision that they will reach in Madrid, but what is the future of this Alliance as we think into the 21st century.
Every time this Alliance has been expanded -- when Greece and Turkey were added, when Spain was added in the 1980s, when West Germany was added in 1955 -- it has grown stronger as a result of expansion. And we want that to be the outcome of the decisions reached in Madrid.
Q You give us these arguments, but your aides -- you, yourself, and the President have made clear that the U.S. decision on this point is not changeable. So I wonder what the discussion will be like, will the President be in a position of trying to persuade the French, most of all, or explain the U.S. position to them?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that what we've tried to make clear is that there is consensus within the Alliance now for three. We have not heard any objections to the addition of Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland as new entrants into the Alliance. There's a lack of consensus when you move beyond three. And that's our -- we've made that clear and I think our feelings on that are pretty well known and not likely to change.
But having a discussion about the future of the Alliance -- remember, the members that are added to the Alliance Tuesday in Madrid will formally begin a process that will actually not bring them directly into the Alliance until 1999. But there's a future -- the reason we're doing this and the purpose of this discussion is to enhance this Alliance for the 21st century. So talking about the 21st century and what the future of the Alliance will be is an important discussion to have.
Q Is it possible Tuesday, Mike, that the President could agree to bringing in more than three NATO members?
MR. MCCURRY: I think our views on that subject are as I've stated them and they have not changed. But the President, at the same time, will listen respectfully to the views of other nations.
Q So you are still ruling out more than three?
MR. MCCURRY: I said our position on this is well defined at this point and very clear to the other nations that will be around the table in Madrid.
Q The French spokesman actually has said that there is no consensus on three as far as France is concerned.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that the French government have expressed opposition to the three candidate members we have proposed, and I wouldn't want to comment on whether they're suggesting that they will not be willing to grant consensus at simply three.
Q Why should France have a major say at all when it hasn't even got troops in NATO?
MR. MCCURRY: The role that France has played within the political directorate of NATO has been very, very important. Remember the history of this Alliance. It grew up in the aftermath of a war in which there had been painful divisions in Europe, not least between France and Germany, and one of the great successes of this Alliance is that bound together countries that had been at war on that continent. And France, as a leading member of this Alliance, has played a very important role within it, irrespective of its decisions related to the military participation in the Alliance.
Q Military is what it's been all about and she pulled her troops out in the '50s.
MR. MCCURRY: Not technically correct. Let me give you an example of why that's not correct. This is a military alliance, but binding together these nations together to do collective security work together enhances other aspects of our relationships between countries and across the Atlantic. This has had -- NATO has had a positive impact on the whole integration of the European Continent, economically and politically. The discussion that we're having now about binding together new countries has already had a positive impact to diminish ethnic conflicts that exist between ethnic groups up and down Central Europe.
The discussion has led many of these new countries that are considering membership in NATO to reach their own agreements to limit ethnic controversies that exist. So it has other aspects, geodemographic, geopolitical, in addition to military, and that's important to recognize because that's one of the things that we're trying to encourage by expanding the Alliance itself.
Q How much of a factor was cost in your decision to limit it to three, and how difficult is it going to be to sell this cost, which you admit is underestimated, to the public?
MR. MCCURRY: You mean the economic cost?
Q Cost of expansion -- how much of a factor was that in limiting it to three and how bad of a sell is this --
MR. MCCURRY: Calculating the costs of expansion is something we have to do in order to be forthright and candid with the American people and with Congress about the requirements. It is no doubt less expensive to bring people together in a burden-sharing alliance than to see each of these countries that are proposed for membership develop their own security apparatus and their own military independently.
One feature of the Alliance is that we share costs for collective defense, and that's a good thing. That's less expensive in the long run, obviously. But I would suggest to you that the reasons for three are based more on the principles that underscore what NATO is about in the first place. It is an Alliance of democratic nations who share a belief in market economics, who work together in many aspects -- economic, political as well as military -- and the three countries that we have proposed be added in Madrid are those that we think have made the most progress in the seven years since the Iron Curtain fell.
That is the rationale. The rationale is that these three, in seven years have done a lot. There has been, yes, a lot of progress in the last seven months in Romania toward economic and political reform, but only seven months' worth. In Poland, they've had the ups and downs of making the transition away from communism and towards democracy and they've had seven years of experience now, and they're well on the path and far down the path.
Some of these other countries are making progress, but we'd like to see that progress continue and like to see their path of reform elongated before we consider future candidates for entrance into the Alliance.
Q There are other countries that want into NATO that have been at democratic and economic reforms a lot longer than Romania and Slovenia, like the Baltics. What are the reasons for not letting them in at this time?
MR. MCCURRY: We have a strong interest in enhancing our relationships with the Baltic countries, too. They are active participants in the Partnership for Peace program. We have a new Baltic initiative that's designed to encourage that type of participation. Yes, they are making considerable progress towards economic and political reform. We need more progress in the case of the Baltic countries in the interoperability of their militaries with the militaries with the West. But that takes time to unfold, and we hope, indeed in time it will unfold.
Q Does Russia's feelings about this have anything to do with it since that's where they've drawn the line, at former Soviet republics?
MR. MCCURRY: The decision-making we make on membership in NATO occurs irrespective of countries that are not part of the consensus process. But, of course, the reality of the security posture on that continent has to be considered. We have gone to great lengths to create a special relationship between Russia and NATO for the exact reason that their views do count, as we think about the future of Europe. And this process, again I would stress, has been since we launched it in 1994 with the President's speech a very carefully drawn process of expansion, so that there are no rash decisions made, so it's not caught up on the vortex of politics and what seems good at the moment, that's done for good, sound, rational reasons over time that will hold up. You heard Sandy Berger say the other day, there's no back exit to NATO, because once you make that solemn commitment to be a part of that Alliance, it endures and should endure forever.
Q What was the answer to that question? Does Russia have a say?
Q Have you gotten any word from the French, regardless of the wrangling over three, four or five countries, that they do want a positive outcome for Madrid and that they do want to avoid an impasse at the end of the summit, the collapse of the summit? Have you gotten any such word, promise, assurance from them?
MR. MCCURRY: We work so closely with the French government that our contacts with them lead us to believe that they want to cooperate in the spirit that has always defined decision-making within this Alliance -- consensus, a coming together of like-minded countries. We work through these issues, and I think there is a commitment on the part of the French government in the view of the United States government to work through these issues and to deal with it and deal with differences in good faith.
Q Mike, let me now say in regard to that, if I may follow up, the New York Times had a story this morning which essentially says that Chirac has decided to fold his tent and it's a done deal there will be three countries. This morning, though, the French Foreign Ministry spokesman in Paris said there is no consensus on either three, four or five and it's a wide-open issue. What is your understanding of where we are today? Is it a done deal or is it a wide-open issue today?
MR. MCCURRY: I think we rely upon our contacts with the French government with the public statements made by the French government before we rely on newspaper accounts.
Q Mike, if I could, the French also said today that it's their feeling that their requirements for joining the integrated military command have not been met. And one of the goals, I guess, of Madrid was to kind of bring them back into the fold there. Is that a price for the NATO enlargement, or is that a domestic --
MR. MCCURRY: I would suggest you disconnect these two discussions -- the question of the future of the Alliance adding new memberships with the role that France plays within the Alliance. That has been a subject of intense, active dialogue since the 1960s, obviously. It has many ramifications for the people of France. It has indeed been an issue within their own domestic debate, and we respect the decisionmaking that must be undertaken by the French government, particularly since the French government has undergone some transformation based on the recent election.
We understand that and respect that. And, of course, we will talk about a variety of issues related to the configuration of the military structures within NATO as a part of the summit. That would be a feature of the discussion at any summit, but we respect the timing that the French government itself wishes to bring to that particular issue. I would not draw any direct linkage between that and the question of the expansion of NATO.
Q If I could, the reason I attempted to do so was that the French are blaming basically the United States, at least internally, for -- and a refusal to give up the Southern Command for that decision and they're putting the onus on us, of course, on the refusal to accept Romania and Slovenia.
MR. MCCURRY: I would ask you that you please go back and have further consultations with the French government to see if they link those two issues. I don't believe they link them the way your question links them.
Q Why was the U.S. not able to resolve this issue before Madrid, as had been your stated intention? Did you miscalculate the depth of feeling about this on some of our allies' parts?
MR. MCCURRY: Not necessarily. I think it's a very complex issue and it's one in which leaders feel like they need to express themselves. And I think President Clinton respects that and wants to see that happen. We will continue to work, obviously, in the days working up to Tuesday to work through the agenda for the discussion on Tuesday, but the President wants to leave open the possibility that leaders would want to have this discussion on Tuesday. He thinks that's appropriate; given the magnitude of what is being done Tuesday to have a leaders discussion seems entirely appropriate. That doesn't rule out the likelihood of additional diplomatic discussions in the hours going up to the meeting Tuesday, but I think it's appropriate to have that discussion and I don't know that we ever underestimated the depth of feeling on this.
We were the last government to make public our views on this question. To my knowledge, every other member of the Alliance in one fashion or another publicly stated their views on the question of membership, and we knew there were strong feelings on behalf of other countries that we believe are certainly worthy of consideration, but not yet at this time.
Q When you say, Mike, that the President looks forward to hearing the discussion from the other leaders, it is also accurate to say that his mind is made up, right?
MR. MCCURRY: I think his views are very well known publicly and known within the Alliance because we've expressed them and he will certainly express the rationale we have for the three countries that we would propose for membership at this time.
Q Is there any chance he'll change his mind before Tuesday?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't consider that likely.
Q If the President looks forward to this lively discussion and considers it an appropriate thing to do, what will you be working through diplomatic channels to try to accomplish before Tuesday?
MR. MCCURRY: To ensure that this lively discussion produces a fruitful outcome.
Q I have a question that is related to NATO. Today Reuters is reporting that the NATO peacekeepers have been ordered to arrest Karadzic and Mladic and that the United States and British military units have been the ones designated to do the capture, and that this was agreed to -- an arrest order was issued after a meeting between Madeleine Albright and the President of the Bosnian Serbs. I wonder if you could comment on that.
MR. MCCURRY: That story is not true, and we've just doublechecked in the last hour or so again with the Pentagon -- it's been in contact with the command structure at SFOR and the rules of engagement, the mission objectives for SFOR have not changed.
Q Just one thing about the discussions between now and Tuesday. Is the President going to be involved in those or is that at lower levels? You said there will be discussions on this NATO --
MR. MCCURRY: They will be more at staff level.
Q So he's not going to enter into it and make phone calls?
MR. MCCURRY: No. He gave good instructions to our foreign policy team at a meeting this morning and talked through some of the different elements of the discussion that will likely be had in Madrid. So I think our team has a good sense of the President's thinking on this, and he'll be prepared to go to work on it as he gathers Monday night. I suspect the President's first discussion will be the one that he has -- I mean on this question -- will be the one that he has with Secretary General Solana in Madrid on Monday.
Q Mike, two questions. Number one, going back to the French issue. When France announced yesterday that they were -- that the talks to rejoin the command had broken down, they gave no reason, although it was suggested -- two reasons were the number of countries as well as the U.S. position on the Southern Command. Will the U.S. change its position and allow a European to head the Southern Command? And two, on Bosnia, the Bosnian President has dissolved the parliament and I was looking for a U.S. -- yes, the Bosnian President has dissolved the parliament.
MR. MCCURRY: I'll try to get something on the second question. On the first, our views related to AFSOUTH and the importance the United States attaches to U.S. command -- not to rule out European participation in the structure of the military command structure of AFSOUTH itself, but the leadership position of commander of AFSOUTH is well known within the Alliance, and it is in part because of the very significant resources we deploy in the southern flank. And for reasons of integrated command and reasons that have been long discussed within the military side of the Alliance as well as the ministerial-civilian side, our views on that are not likely to change.
Q My question is, would the U.S., though, ever accept the idea of a European having authority over the 6th Fleet, or is that a carrot --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the 6th Fleet is the pride of many at the Pentagon, and you can imagine what the answer to that question is.
Q There are some people who are looking at the '97 to '99 window of expanded membership in NATO, and saying that the Russians are going to have more input into NATO decisions because of the Founding Act during this two-year period than the three new members coming in, because they're not coming in until '99. There have been suggestions in that regard to accord these three new members attendee or observer status right from the start. Is this acceptable to the U.S.?
MR. MCCURRY: No. None of the discussions about the expansion of the Alliance have ever considered second-class membership in the Alliance. That's one of the reasons why we are being so absolutely meticulous about how we judge the nations that we think are within the pool of eligible nations moving their way towards membership.
We've ruled out any type of less than full-fledged membership in the Alliance. But at the same time, we've worked to enhance things like Partnership for Peace; we'll be talking in Madrid about some new structures that will encourage partnership between Europe and across the Atlantic to the United States, and that's all by way of defining an enhanced expanded role for the countries that are coming along and making the transition away from communism and towards democracy and towards the West. But that's not the same thing as formal adherence to the Washington treaty of formal membership in the Alliance.
Q But you're even ruling out non-voting observer status in this two-year period pending formal membership.
MR. MCCURRY: I think the accession procedures that have been discussed within the Alliance so far say that there will be a period of negotiation following Tuesday with those who are invited for membership leading up to formal accession and formal ratification by the 16 parliaments, and entry into membership by 1999.
Q Well, if you take this position, do you have any concerns that in the next two years, Polish, Hungarian, Czech security interests might be jeopardized by the fact that the Russians will have a direct input into NATO deliberations and they will not?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not -- on the question of membership we've made it clear that there's nothing about the Russia-NATO Founding Act that allows anyone to have a veto over decisions of the other. That is an aspect of the Founding Act itself.
Q But, Mike, are you going to have things like how many troops are going to be stationed in these three countries, how much infrastructure? And over the next two years, the Russians will have a formal conduit into NATO to make their views known --
MR. MCCURRY: That's why we very carefully resolved many of those issues, beginning with the discussions in Helsinki leading up the wording that is in the Founding Act itself on exactly that issue.
Q The agreement that Ukraine is going to sign, will that give them a relationship with NATO equal to that of Russia?
MR. MCCURRY: The structure of that arrangement is very similar to the one that was developed with the Russian Federation. There are unique aspects to both the charter with Ukraine and the Founding Act with Russia. You can see some of the differences -- you will see some of the differences as it's formally launched on Wednesday in Madrid. But it's designed to indicate the seriousness with which the Alliance attaches its relationship with Ukraine -- obviously a former nuclear state within the former Soviet Union.
Q Mike, if I could follow on that, though, I guess what I'm trying to get at is, it was made clear that Russia has not veto over NATO decisions, but that Russia has an input and something pretty close to a veto over decisions that affect Russia.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that are taken by the entity that is established by the Founding Act itself.
Q Now, assuming that some of those decisions also affect the Ukraine, or in a situation where the decisions would also affect Ukraine, would they have equal stature, equal power?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, they have -- within the charter being developed between NATO and Ukraine, they have the same type of parallel obligations and responsibilities in decision-making with the Alliance. But as a practical matter, just as our government bilaterally in our discussions with Ukraine often deal with issues that there is sensitivity involving the Russian Federation and also discuss with the Russian Federation issues of sensitivity with respect to Ukraine, we resolve these things through the mutual diplomatic consultations that normally you would have both bilaterally and then collectively as the Alliance.
Let me get back to the -- we've seen reports that President Plavsic may seek to dissolve the Republic Srpska Assembly. We support the rights of the legitimate democratically-elected authorities to exercise their appropriate powers. We expect Republic Srpska officials to resolve these issues peacefully and constitutionally and in accordance with the Dayton Accords.
Q So that's okay?
MR. MCCURRY: No. They have to do it consistent with the civilian implementation aspects of Dayton, which put some very strict requirements on the collective entities and the foundations that were established post-Dayton to deal with civilian rule.
Q Picking up on Dayton, is the U.S. satisfied with the Dayton Accord so far as its ability to capture war criminals?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we, as you know, have expressed concern that more needs to be done to enhance the effectiveness of the Dayton process with respect to war criminals. We have sought also to make the work of the International War Crimes Tribunal more effective. We have done things that are designed to make the law enforcement capacity of the Tribunal more effective, and we think war criminals should be brought to justice. That's the reason why we applauded the capture of one notorious war criminal just last week.
Q Mike, I just want to get clear on this. You keep on talking about this meeting with Solana on Monday. It's not in the schedule. I just want to know if it --
MR. MCCURRY: I thought he was going to see Solana at some point Monday night. They haven't firmed it up entirely, but it's our expectation we will touch base with Solana before the meeting.
Q For those of us who are writing on the weekend we can say that he will meet Monday?
MR. MCCURRY: He expects to. I'd say he expects to touch base with Secretary General Solana prior to the meeting.
Q Can you give us a readout of the interviews today? I think they might have touched on Dayton.
MR. MCCURRY: We are going to actually put out the transcript of that very shortly. It's being transcribed now.
Q The TV one or the VOA one, or both?
MR. MCCURRY: Both. And, according to Ann -- correct me if I'm wrong -- there were a lot of questions very similar to the ones that we've been dealing with here about U.S.-French relations, three versus five. The President expressed support for Prime Minister Blair's recent initiatives with respect to Northern Ireland.
Q Did he talk about the war criminals issues in the --
MS. LUZZATTO: VOA -- he wasn't asked specifically about that, he was asked about implementation, generally.
Q Did he make news or just expand on what we're doing here today? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: He probably said a lot of the same things that I've said, only more eloquently, so I'd refer you to the transcript.
Q But, again, I just want to be clear that there's been no change in the approach to the arrests of the war criminals.
MR. MCCURRY: No. No, that story -- we heard from the Pentagon just a short while ago, they were in the process of knocking it down pretty hard. So you might want to check further. They expected to get --
Q Well, would they use American troops to go after those two?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no change in the deployment instructions with respect to the entire stabilization force there, which is the same rules of the road that you've heard before, that if encountered, they will be apprehended and delivered to appropriate authority.
Q Mike, Secretary Cohen and company went into the agenda of the trip next week. Could you possible hit quickly on the individual speeches the President plans to deliver?
MR. MCCURRY: I can try. Of course, in many respects, the longer we go here -- you'll hear the first of those speeches in a short while when he talks to the veterans groups. He wanted to take the occasion of Independence Day in talking to veterans, some of whom fought side by side with Polish troops in World War II, reminding people that this is an enduring partnership in many ways. Talk about the importance of his upcoming trip and really lay some of the foundations for the trip. You'll hear the President in a short while lay out the case, I think succinctly, for the American people of why the expansion of NATO is in the interest of the American people.
He will have a brief meeting on Monday with the congressional delegation there, including members of the Senate NATO observers group.
On Tuesday he'll make remarks to the American community -- is that still part of the schedule -- in which he will really talk about the significance of what's been done. During the course of the day on Tuesday as they deliberate, the President will have a formal intervention, but that occurs behind closed doors, and they'll have dialogue back and forth. But the President will want to place in some context publicly the decisions that are reached by the Alliance on Tuesday and he'll do that in his remarks to the American community.
The President has a reception for Central and Eastern European leaders on Wednesday, and that's the point in which we'll probably make a statement and take some questions, too -- right? Wednesday. That's the press conference. That's what I meant, in the afternoon. So that will be a public opportunity and you guys will have a chance to see him then. Then, the speeches, he has major public speeches in Poland, Romania and Denmark.
Q That's what I'm focused on. What does he plan to touch on in those speeches?
MR. MCCURRY: In Poland, he is going to, obviously, congratulate the people of Poland and the leadership of Poland on the progress that they have made in the last seven years as they've made the transition to democracy and market economics, and compliment them for their willingness to take on the obligations for membership in NATO. They have significant -- they will have to devote significant effort, resources, personnel to the challenge of becoming a member of this Alliance, and the President will compliment them for taking on that obligation; in a sense, celebrate with them.
He then, in Bucharest, will tell the people of Romania that while we obviously at this point don't expect them to be invited for membership, that the extraordinary courage that President Constantinescu has shown in his own progress towards economic reform in the last seven months and the work that they are doing collectively to enhance the security of the Romanian people is something that also should be celebrated and is something that certainly suggests that they are on the right path as they think of their future relationship with Europe and with the Alliance.
The President then will go to Denmark to pick up that part of the trip that we couldn't do when he went to Helsinki and will I think enjoy being the first American President to be treated to Danish hospitality. And we'll talk -- interestingly, we'll talk about the role that the Danes have played within the Alliance and the work that we've done collectively with them. They've been very active participants in Bosnia, they have been, like other contributing members of this Alliance, steadfast in their support for the mutual goals that we share within this Alliance.
So in a sense, you've got new member, likely a prospective member in the future, and then one of our partners in NATO who has been a contributing member and you can see all aspects of what the future of this Alliance is about, what its past has been about, and how we can look forward to NATO's role in our own lives and the future.
Q Mike, what's the President's preference with regard to the timetable for the second round? Does he prefer to have this open-ended, or would he be amenable in Madrid for setting a specific decision date?
MR. MCCURRY: Leo, that is sufficiently sensitive that I think I'll leave it to the President to address that next week.
Q A domestic question, Mike. In New York, ACORN is trying to organize workfare participants that attempted to deliver petition signatures on Mayor Giuliani, who bumped the question to Washington, saying that's where the complaining should be done. Does the White House have a feeling about organizing former welfare recipients who are now working for --
MR. MCCURRY: We think they should be allowed to enjoy the protections of labor law and most particularly should be paid a minimum wage. That's why the President strongly objects to some of the discussion in Congress about not paying workfare participants the minimum wage to which they're entitled -- while we will continue to press the case that we need to honor those who are making that transition from welfare to work by ensuring that it pays them to go to work and assuring that they have a liveable wage that they can endure on.
Q But in terms of organizing for other benefits, which is what these folks are after? They're after health care benefits and other things.
MR. MCCURRY: We well understand the desire of people who are working to come together and try to advocate for the best benefits that they can get, and that's an acceptable part of our collective bargaining process under national labor law. We think that workers participating in workfare experiments should be able to negotiate for the kind of protections that other workers enjoy in the marketplace.
Q Mike, in recent weeks, Ken Starr has been shopping a book proposal with major publishing houses in New York.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, do tell? (Laughter.)
Q Do you think that's appropriate at this stage?
MR. MCCURRY: Tell me more about it. I'm not familiar with it. (Laughter.)
Q It's called "Mike McCurry." (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Tell me more about it? (Laughter.)
Q It's a book proposal not relating to Whitewater.
Q But, nonetheless, the perception in New York is that he is cashing in on the celebrity, and I understand the money may be moving upwards. Would you find this appropriate and would you have a comment on this at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: Nah. (Laughter.)
Q Another Starr question. What are the President's feelings about reports that Starr is about to indict Webb Hubbell again?
MR. MCCURRY: That's up to the Office of Independent Counsel to comment upon. I'm not going to speculate on what actions they may or may not be planning to take.
Q Do you have any comment about leaks of this type?
MR. MCCURRY: The White House shares the sentiments most recently expressed by the President's attorney, David Kendall, in his letter to Mr. Starr on that exact question.
Q Your restraint is admirable.
Q The President explained why he thinks it's necessary to come toward the Republicans on certain of their priorities, like capital gains and inheritance tax. Why didn't he hold out for covering all low-income working families, instead of just some of them? In other words --
MR. MCCURRY: You mean of the children provision?
Q Or the child tax credit, yes. In fact, his latest proposal doesn't cover all of them as his first proposal would have. It just covers, I think, 4 to 6 million more than the Senate.
MR. MCCURRY: Our '98 budget proposal only covered 5 of 10 million.
Q No, I'm talking about the child tax credit, not the health credit.
MR. MCCURRY: Our child -- I guess, originally, the child tax credit, ours only went up to age 13; and then we agreed -- we did agree that expanding it was a good idea.
Q I was asking about he made a big point that he wants to cover low-income working families, like the rookie cop, right?
MR. MCCURRY: Right.
Q But, in fact, he doesn't cover all low-income working families in his latest proposal.
MR. TOIV: He addressed the problem that was the greatest concern, which is the fact that they pay other taxes and recovering all those taxes. In other words --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I think we set the income level so that those who would be able to get both credits, both the EITC and the child credit include all those who are currently paying payroll taxes, Social Security taxes and Medicare taxes.
Q But still so many low-income working families would not get the full child tax credit under the President's latest proposal.
MR. MCCURRY: That might be so, I don't know. I think that's not true -- that's true only as a smaller fraction. We obviously make significant improvements in that area from what the House and the Senate have done and we'll stand firm by that.
Q I'm just asking why he didn't want to hold out for what he originally asked.
MR. MCCURRY: Why he didn't go for 100 percent? Well, listen, we had to go some distance towards them in order to try to reach an agreement that would work. I mean, once you add in the capital gains provision and the estate tax relief, you use up a good chunk of change. But there would be no deal -- and obviously would be no deal unless we allowed the Republicans to do some of the things they want to do for upper-income folk.
Q And that's what caused you to have a scaled-back --
MR. MCCURRY: You had to give them something initiative course of a negotiation. But we still kept many protections.
MR. TOIV: The basic issue is being able to write off their payroll taxes --
MR. MCCURRY: Right. I mean, we still protected -- Barry's exactly right -- we still protected those who are going to look for some way to kind of negate the effect of the payroll tax, which is our main concern, that those folks are penalized by not being able to take that credit because they do, in fact, pay taxes -- unlike those on the Hill who talk about how they're trying to claim welfare or something. It's just not true, they pay payroll taxes.
Q On that subject also, are reports that you could reach an agreement with the GOP on the tax proposals by next week reasonable?
MR. MCCURRY: I think they're very optimistic. We suspect we're going to have to go out and make the case that President Clinton's tax cut and how it's structured and why it works best for middle income makes sense and is better than the versions that are moving in the House and the Senate. And I think that while the President is gone next week the Vice President will be very vigorously involved in making that case publicly so we can build some support and enhance our position as we negotiate with Congress as they move into conference.
Q The report said the agreement could come as early as next week. Is that reasonable?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's, I would say, optimistic. probably highly --
Q The report's optimistic, or the prospect is optimistic?
MR. MCCURRY: The prospects of an agreement next week are highly optimistic.
Q -- bottom line are markers for the Vice President to accept or not accept, or will it be constantly negotiated?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that there is going to be a lot of negotiating. There will be staff level contacts next week.
MR. TOIV: I mean the reports are optimistic.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, the reports that there will be a deal on a tax bill as early as next week, I think are highly optimistic, probably --
Q Too optimistic. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: -- too optimistic. I'm not pessimistic.
Q Oh, no.
MR. MCCURRY: I just asked were they reasonable.
Q The week after?
Q Mike, what's the level of concern here about the situation on this Mir space craft and to what extent has this evolved into a geopolitical thing with concerns maybe here about giving the Russians some face saving on the condition of this spacecraft?
MR. MCCURRY: You can talk to Administrator Goldin more about this, he's talked a lot about. We've worked very closely with the Russian government to address the needs that they have there. They've stabilized the situation. We've gotten a fair number of reports here from NASA directly and I'd encourage you to be in contact with NASA. They've established a formal way of working through the engineering problems they've got, some of the other command and control type questions that they've been wrestling with, and we're satisfied that the cooperation is good.
Q And you're satisfied that the conditions, the safety of the three guys on there have stabilized?
MR. MCCURRY: That is first and foremost in the minds of those who are watching the mission. But, remember, they made that determination when they sent the U.S. astronaut there in the first place, that there was acceptable risk. It's never going to be perfectly safe because being in space entails risk. But they were confident the risk was acceptable when they began the mission, and as they've dealt with the collision and the aftermath of the collision, they have watched all the safety considerations very carefully.
And the President, his questions have been to that point. He's asked a lot about what emergency procedures are in place, how are they assessing the safety conditions. That's been his primary interest, satisfied that there is good technical work being done to address the engineering issues that they're working through on how to do repairs, how to do follow-on visits to the spacecraft. That's what I think.
Q You mentioned Vice President Gore will be conducting talks next week. Who else will be doing that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he'll be out speaking publicly to the issue. I don't think he is negotiating next week.
Q In terms of the negotiators, what's the process at this point? Who will be talking next week?
MR. MCCURRY: We are sending a lengthy version of our views to the Hill in the form of a letter from Secretary Rubin that will set forth a lot of our technical criteria, and there will be staff-level work. We've had a lot of Treasury and OMB folks that have been involved in that. But I think --
MR. TOIV: There is also a letter that's gone --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, OMB Director Frank Raines has also sent a letter on the spending side that deals with the spending side of the reconciliation process. So we're in the normal give-and-take back and forth between the White House and the Hill as the reconciliation bill moves forward.
Q But, Mike, can you tell us who specifically from Treasury and the White House and OMB is working on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't -- it's all the normal people who are involved at the staff level. Treasury can help you out on that.
Q Is there any sort of impact foreseen about the Mike Moore settlement on this case in Mississippi, as far as the review of the tobacco agreement?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I mean, that was a feature of their discussions. That litigation and pending litigation was obviously one of the things that got the parties together. So we'll watch how that develops.
Q Do you find that a good thing for the settlement or does it take some of the pressure off --
MR. MCCURRY: I think it was -- clearly, one of the reasons why the attorneys general negotiated this deal was so that they could settle suits like that, so I don't know that it has an impact one way or another. It doesn't affect our consideration. I mean, we assumed that the settlement proposed would have some impact on the litigation pending at the local level as they tried to resolve those individual cases. But they will be resolved in a way that's consistent with the agreement and probably dependent on adoption of the agreement.
Q And it doesn't put any more or lessen any of the pressure on the tobacco companies to sign the global settlement? Does it lessen the pressure on them to sign --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't do it unless I get more details, like when and where and that kind of thing.
Q The Mississippi settlement doesn't lessen the pressure on the tobacco companies to sign the global deal?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I mean, it was one of the cases pending that presumably all parties took into account as they did the negotiation. I mean, they were familiar with the terms of the litigation.
Q Do you see any problem with Europeans bringing up the Lockheed merger?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't comment on that. The FTC is going to review any proposed merger like that and we can't comment until they --
Q -- green light?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, on Lockheed, not the Grumman deal. We have some guidance on that. I'll come back to that.
Q Mike, has Hubbell been punished enough? I mean, Starr has already gone after him once and he's done his time.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any comment. I don't know what Ken Starr will or will not do with respect to that case.
Q Mike, is the President excited about the advancement of American space programs with the Mars probe tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes indeed. His Science Adviser Jack Gibbons entertained some of the senior staff here at the White House with a mock-up of the probe that will be on the surface of Mars shortly, and the President has had an update or two as time has gone on, and he's looking forward with fingers crossed to a successful landing and a successful commencement of the probe.
Q Talking about the Boeing merger --
MR. MCCURRY: You're talking about the Boeing-McDonnell merger, right? There are a lot of words here that come down to say that -- I've heard them -- the FTC obviously concluded that it would not violate U.S. antitrust law, that it would not substantially lessen competition that otherwise would have occurred within the aircraft industry. I know that the President's belief is that we want to remain very competitive in international markets and we want to assure that we have the capacity within our own defense sector to give U.S. fighting forces the resources they need so that we can remain the leading protector and guarantor of peace and freedom the world over well into the next century.
The FTC has found nothing about the proposed merger inconsistent with law and nothing that we're aware of inconsistent with that foreign policy objective. There's still a review of that, by the way, you know, under way by the European community and they are looking at the proposed transaction with respect to their own law. We hope they will do so consistent with the principles that they've said would apply to the review.
Q Going back for a second to the tax cut. Will the President sign a bill that denies tax credits to the working poor?
MR. MCCURRY: Will he --
Q Will he sign a bill that denies the tax credit to the working poor?
MR. MCCURRY: I think we've made it pretty clear that that, as it's now written, is an unacceptable provision, but we think because we've made our views so clear on that point, that provision will likely change as the conference continues its work.
Q As it's written in both bills?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's only written in the House version.
Q So the Senate version of that is acceptable?
MR. MCCURRY: That concept of this so-called "stacking" or stacking the credit is unacceptable and we expect it will change before there is a final bill produced.
Q Any comment on the "don't ask, don't tell" decision yesterday being overruled?
MR. MCCURRY: We continue to believe that the policy is a good one, it is being implemented effectively by the Department of Defense. Every time this issue has risen up to the appellate level, the law itself has been upheld, and we will abide by whatever determination is made by the Justice Department with respect to an appeal of the decision that's been rendered in New York. Is that right? That's about right.
All right, we'll see you all either on the road next week or not back here until the 14th of July.
Q Is the President going to run into his daughter anywhere in Europe?
MR. MCCURRY: I think she's going to show up in Spain.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:13 P.M. EDT