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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release August 15, 1997
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                             BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

12:08 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Before we start on anything else, I've got here with me, delighted to have with me, Ellen McCulloch-Lovell, who is the former Deputy Chief of Staff to the First Lady and now the newly named director of the Millennium program that the President announced today. I just want to check first if there is anything coming off the event the President has already done.

Q It sounds like the President thinks the millennium begins January 1, 2000. Is that the official government read on this?

MR. MCCURRY: Come on up.

MS. MCCULLOCH-LOVELL: Well, the time experts would tell us that it begins New Year's Eve 2000, but I think most people, when they see the odometer of time, when the 9's flip to 0's is when they're going to start celebrating. So we're thinking certainly in terms of a millennium year -- New Year's Eve to New Year's Eve -- and events leading up to that as well.

Q You have no price on what the federal government will be --

MS. MCCULLOCH-LOVELL: No, we're really drawing on existing resources in the federal agencies, and then a lot of private and voluntary efforts around the country.

Q The President in his speech today highlighted a couple of big things that other nations are doing. Are you looking for a big thing to do, or is it going to be lots of little things?

MS. MCCULLOCH-LOVELL: We're looking for ideas. Today was a launch and I think that people understand that this is a milestone in human history. And if there were a big thing that would mark it, we'd certainly be receptive to that.

But, meanwhile, I think communities and individuals around the country are going to be thinking about, as the President said, their gifts to the future. So we'll have a lot of gifts.

MR. MCCURRY: Thanks, Ellen. Since we did not gaggle earlier in the day, let me do a little more on what the President is up to today, shall we?

Q There's no objection.

MR. MCCURRY: I just wanted to make sure you wanted to hear the schedule. The President, at the moment, is meeting with his foreign policy advisors. He's had two discussions this morning, one on the Middle East and one underway now on Bosnia. involving different combinations of his foreign policy advisors obviously. For the Middle East discussion he talked to the Secretary of State, Ambassador Ross, Bruce Riedel from the NSC staff, and, of course, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger.

This was an opportunity for Ambassador Ross to report on the results of his recent trip to the region, an assessment of the discussions that he has had with the parties and their willingness to resume dialogue on the issues that they must face and, most importantly, a report on the effort to encourage greater security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government.

There was no decisions to be taken on this; this was really an opportunity for the President to hear a much fuller briefing. He had been apprised of Ambassador Ross' progress as Dennis went through his various combinations of meetings in the last couple of days, but this was a chance to really talk in a more relaxed setting about some of the things we might do next.

Q Does that mean Albright will be going?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything to add to what Mr. Rubin said over at the State Department yesterday on that subject. She certainly intends to go, as she announced in her speech, provided there is the kind of progress that we expect to see on security-related issues.

Q Has there been that yet?

MR. MCCURRY: We will continue to assess that.

Q You know, this hiatus has led -- the President wasn't taking any interest, active interest, in the Middle East, really caused a lot of the problems.

MR. MCCURRY: There has never been a moment where the President has not taken an active interest in the Middle East.

Q Well, it has not been public and it has not been vocal and it certainly has given free rein to all the other forces.

MR. MCCURRY: Don't mistake public diplomacy as the only extent of diplomacy. I think everyone knows well enough that that's not the way you measure the efforts that have been underway by the President and by anyone on his team.

Q The point of my question is how are you continuing now this -- really keeping a big hand in the Middle East.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, clearly, by having our top Middle East coordinator in the region, actively working with the parties, continuing to follow up working conversations with them, contemplating a likely trip by the Secretary of State provided that some of the things happen that we expect to happen, and the President actively engaged with that team and giving them his thinking on steps that we might pursue.

Q Mike, when was the latest briefing that the President has received on the UPS strike and what was discussed and what does he know, his reaction?

MR. MCCURRY: He's been getting updates as necessary from the Secretary of Labor, who has been at the Hyatt Regency as the parties talk. And the updates he's gotten are fully consistent with what you've seen reported coming out of the Hyatt.

Q Anything new that you want to pass along?

MR. MCCURRY: Anything new on this subject will be reported first to the many, many journalists who are anxious to hear the news down at the Hyatt Regency, and that's where --

Q Well, are you encouraged now?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not characterizing their talks nor offering any assessment from our part on where things stand. They're talking and that's good.

Q What about Bosnia, what was discussed?

MR. MCCURRY: On the second part, they shifted some of the participants for the second part of this foreign policy conversation. The President wanted to hear from Ambassadors Holbrooke and Gelbard, who just returned from Bosnia. Their assessment of some of the discussions they've had with various leaders in the region and members of the joint presidency.

Remember that the President has identified eight priority areas with respect to Bosnia, including economic reconstruction, refugee return, civil institutions, monitoring of police functions. We've got a whole list of things that we are actively working on and he's getting, from about a dozen different people within government, status reports on some of those priorities related to Bosnia.

Q Mike, what message does the President hope that the ongoing increase in the troop presence there will send, and what does he hope they will accomplish with this greater presence?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, for some time we've described this period of overlap in which there would be an additional deployment during the period of the September elections. The importance of the elections, the municipal elections in mid-September to the continued effort to fully implement the Dayton Accords is something the United States attaches great importance to, and the ability of SFOR to provide a stable environment for the conduct of those elections is one of the most important mission objectives of the deployment itself.

So it's just a further demonstration the international community is fully committed to help strengthen and deepen the transition that must occur in Bosnia as they shed the vestiges of the civil war and move into a period hopefully that will be more peaceful and that will allow the democratic free will of the people of Bosnia to be expressed.

Q Is the timetable still there for mid-1988?

MR. MCCURRY: No change in our view on that timetable.

Q Can you really do that with Karadzic still around?

MR. MCCURRY: It is very important for all the parties to make good the commitment specifically expressed in the Dayton Accords, that he and other indicted war criminals are to play no role in the political life of Bosnia-Herzegovina or Republic of Srbska.

Q He was on the front page of, like, the New York Times the other day holding a news conference.

MR. MCCURRY: That's distressing.

Q Can he wreck the process?

MR. MCCURRY: He has the capacity to be a negative influence and that has long been recognized and it is one of the reasons why we have stressed to the parties their obligations to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal and to bring to justice those who have been indicted.

Q Based on the conversations with this team today, do you expect the President to take any new steps in that area?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have already outlined new steps. We were in the process of implementing the new steps the President addressed and agreed to some months ago. So this is really more an update on where we are in doing those things that have brought more vigor and intensity to our effort to see that all aspects of the Dayton Accords are fully implemented.

Q Should Karadzic be more concerned that there will be 50 percent more U.S. troops there next month?

MR. MCCURRY: He should be concerned that the international community is growing increasingly impatient with the inability of the war crimes tribunal to try the case that he has been indicted for.

Q Were there any decisions made by the President today on this matter?

MR. MCCURRY: This was not a decision-making meeting, it was a review of decisions that he has already taken.

Q How about the inability of the forces there to get him?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have told you over and over again, we are working both through SFOR and with the parties to make more effective the work of the war crimes tribunal. We're pursuing a number of options with respect to that.

Q Aren't the problems deeper than getting Karadzic? Suppose you get him, or suppose he is gotten. There are still power structure beneath them and there are still centuries-old animosities and a lot of focus is put on this guy.

MR. MCCURRY: That is absolutely true. The transformation that will need to take place in Bosnia to recover from the war is likely to be a generation-long effort. But the historical enmity of some of those populations in the Balkans makes more difficult the creation of some type of civil order there. And do the problems extend well beyond any one individual leader? Of course they do. They reflect some of the ancient hatreds that have existed in the Balkans and that will continue, and likely always be, a very difficult situation.

Q Does it matter whether he is tried or not?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, because he is responsible, in the alleged indictment, for some of the worst genocide in Europe since the Holocaust. So it matters very much.

Q Can I get back to the picture on the front of the paper yesterday? He just seems to think he's untouchable.

MR. MCCURRY: He just seems to believe that he can play some role in the life, political life of Republic of Srpska. And under the Dayton Accords, he must not.

Q You said you were going to discuss -- tell us about the President's mood going on a vacation and what he plans to do and so forth. You said that a couple of days ago.

MR. MCCURRY: You ready to lighten up the mood, do a little vacation here? Say again?

Q The rest of today?

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, the rest of today, he will, after the foreign policy meetings we were just discussing, tape the radio address, which will be on some of the opportunities Americans will have to receive assistance and help with higher education as a result of the recently enacted balanced budget. He's going to tape that around 1:00 p.m., so we should have that out on an embargoed basis pretty early.

And then his staff is going to amuse him with a skit on the South Lawn, since we won't be with him on his birthday, and we'll wish him a happy 51st birthday.

Q Are we allowed to cover that?

MR. MCCURRY: Why don't you go find out about that, see what they think. Some people may -- because some people near and dear to us are involved in this skit, they may not want that widely reported.

Q Are you in it?

MR. MCCURRY: I am told I am. (Laughter.) It remains to be seen whether that will actually occur. We also -- as we customarily do, the staff often does various things in honor of the President's birthday and this year one of the things that people are voluntarily doing on their own is, if they want to, donating a check to some nonprofit involved in literacy work, volunteering time to a local educational charity here in the District of Columbia or somewhere nearby, donating new or gently used books to children in the District of Columbia, and, as always, trying to find the most amusing birthday card that you can get, because the President likes funny birthday cards.

Q For those of us working this weekend, if the UPS thing were to be settled, would you expect the President to say something?

MR. MCCURRY: I would expect, depending -- speculatively, if the President is gone or if he's here, we would probably have some type of statement if something positive happened. I would imagine more in a written statement fashion than anything else.

But the news -- again to stress -- there are plenty of your colleagues investing a lot of time, well into last night, covering that down at the Hyatt Regency. So that's where the news will be.

Q Has it gone down now to the wire? Is something really cooking?

MR. MCCURRY: The news is down there and that's where you should go get the answer to that kind of question.

Q Speaking of statements, will there be any sort of departure statement Sunday before he leaves?

MR. MCCURRY: Not planned, that I know. He's going for a relaxing day at Block Island and doing some sightseeing and it's the beginning of vacation.

Q What time is the skit, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: About an hour or so, hour and a half.

Let's do vacation. The President told several of us this morning that he's very much looking forward to this vacation. He said, I haven't taken a vacation for three weeks since I've been President, have I. And everyone laughed and said, yes, and the question is, are you actually going to do it this time. But he indicated he was pretty determined to do that and it is going to be a lot of relaxing family time. Of course, Mrs. Clinton will be with him and I think Chelsea will be there on and off. And this is, obviously, an important vacation for them as a family since it is the last they will take before she departs for college.

They intend to read a lot. The President intends to play golf, take lots of walks, and catch some crabs in Oyster Bay, said the President. He has also been given a therapy program by his doctors to continue the convalescent work on his knee and he'll probably be back to jogging.

Q Is he going to apply for a license for the crabbing?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if he --

Q It is apparently a requirement.

MR. MCCURRY: If you need a license, I'm sure he will apply for one. I'm sure that will be strictly attended to by anyone --

Q It's a long line in town.

MR. MCCURRY: As far as his reading list for vacation, he is taking with him the J.E. Smith biography of John Marshall that has been very highly regarded, "John Marshall, Definer of a Nation"; "Betrayal of Science and Reason" by Paul and Ann Ehrlich"; "Thinking in Time," the book by Richard Nudstadt and Ernest Mae, the two eminent historians, about how you grapple with public policy questions thinking historically; the book "God, a Biography" by Jack Miles, and a book by Peter Salins called "Assimilation American Style."

The President is also going to take with him, I think --

Q Any light reading?

MR. MCCURRY: A little light reading. Those are the serious tomes. That's the bag in the right hand. The bag in the left hand has got all the trashy beach novels. He hasn't decided yet. He's got them all lined up and he's going to, at the last minute, decide which books he is going to take with him, but he typically reads as many mysteries and novels as he does other things.

Q Did Oprah send her book club list? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: The President is also going to take with him -- by the way, he got -- Ken Burns did a real nice thing, sent him -- the prominent filmmaker sent him a copy of his upcoming PBS special on the Lewis & Clark trail, which I think airs sometime in the fall, so he is going to get a sneak preview of that.

Q Which he'll share with us?

MR. MCCURRY: I would think it is proper to also credit -- Mr. Burns, of course, is eminent himself but he was assisted in this project by noted scholar --

Q Dayton Duncan.

MR. MCCURRY: Dayton Duncan. We have a winner in the back. Dayton Duncan, longtime colleague of Mr. Lockhart and Mr. McCurry and one fine fellow who has found that it is far better to be an eminent scholar and bard of New Hampshire than it is to be a press secretary. He knows a lot that we don't.

Q He was press secretary in the Dukakis administration. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he was press secretary to President Mondale and President Dukakis both. Very interesting.

Q Could you tell us how fast the President can read a book, generally?

MR. MCCURRY: How fast?

Q Yes.

MR. MCCURRY: He reads voraciously. He is not a speed reader but he reads consumptively. (Laughter.)

Q He gets really sick. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: He reads enthusiastically.

Q Is he not going to any weddings on Sunday?

MR. MCCURRY: I have no information that he plans to go to any weddings.

Q What is he doing on Block Island?

MR. MCCURRY: He's doing -- I think touring a lighthouse and having a private dinner, early dinner, luncheon.

MR. LOCKHART: Dinner, and then spend some time on the beach.

MR. MCCURRY: And spend some time on the beach, I think with Senator Reed among others and some of Senator Reed's friends.

Q Could you tell us why. Is there a reason? Is there a particular --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, because they had wanted to spend a whole weekend there and that didn't work out, so people were excited about having him come by so he wanted to do that.

Q And what are your plans?

MR. MCCURRY: Heading south as fast as possible. Get on I-85 and keep driving.

Q For how long?

MR. MCCURRY: Till I find the relaxing pine forests of northwest South Carolina, catfish, hush puppies.

Q When are you coming back?


Q How long will you be gone?

MR. MCCURRY: Maybe never. I might just stay down there. No, I think we'll be rotating here. We will not brief here until September 8th, Monday, September 8th. Of course, the briefing room here will be in disrepair until that time, then restored lovingly to this splendid condition by September 8th.

Q So you'll be coming back to work earlier than that?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I'll be in, I guess, the last week in August, towards the end of the week. But we'll have people here. Mr. Lockhart will be here the first part of the vacation, Mr. Toiv traveling with the President, and then they will flip.

Q Does the President have any concern about the report that the way the welfare bill is setting standards for disability for kids that 96,000 are reported to have been struck from the rolls and many of them, in the opinion of advocates, still deserving of the benefits?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, great care and precision has gone into implementing the law. Everyone here is familiar with the administration's concerns about the law. Everyone is aware of all that we have done to try to protect children in the implementation of the Welfare Reform Act. Many of these children, if they no longer get SSI disability benefits, are going to get Medicaid because we fought to include that in the balanced budget agreement.

Now, they are still reviewing cases. As you, I think, saw in the story that was reported today, they've got I think some 180,000 cases total that they're going to review out of the population of 1 million who are eligible for these benefits. And they are applying, fairly, the standards and the regulations that have been developed over these many months. Individuals who are denied benefits have a right to appeal and there is an appeals process, so if someone believes they've been unfairly denied a benefit there is a mechanism to get redress.

According to Social Security Administration, what we've heard so far is that children with mild learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders are those who are principally being identified as part of the case-by-case review of these cases. And that -- I mean, people knew that would happen. The prediction, in fact, was I think from HHS -- or from the Social Security Administration, rather, was that up to 135,000, 140,000 children would ultimately be denied benefits that they currently are eligible for and that's what Congress intended. That's exactly what Congress wanted to see happen.

Q Is that tolerable?

Q Did you expect it so quickly?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the argument made by the proponents of this in Congress is that there was abuse in the program and that the way to end the abuse was to tighten the standard of those who are eligible. We took, as you know, a contrary view, but we have to implement and enforce the law passed by Congress.

Q Mike, on the vacation, has the President thought about going fishing, and decided not to go fishing because of the diseased fish?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything about diseased fish at Martha's Vineyard.

Q It's moving upward, you know, from North Carolina on up.

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar enough with --

MR. LOCKHART: Has that affected your plans?

MR. MCCURRY: Does that affect my plans? No. I know my bluegills and my catfish, and I know my bass.

Q Tell us how the President and his family decided to go back to Martha's Vineyard as opposed to go out to Jackson Hole again. Were any polls involved?

MR. MCCURRY: No, they were there -- they went to Martha's Vineyard two times while he's been President and liked it. They went out West two times, they liked that, and they just wanted to go back to Martha's Vineyard this year. It's a little closer by -- also, my sense is it's a little closer by for the First Daughter, and she's got some friends who will be departing from school down here so I don't expect her to be up there the whole time. It's a little easier for her to get back and forth, too.

Q Is she leaving with them or is she flying --

MR. MCCURRY: You would have to ask the First Lady's Office. My impression is she won't be there the whole time.

Q Will the President be briefed on the tobacco review before he goes, or will he be updated as that continues?

MR. MCCURRY: We've had some conversations on and off here and you've seen Attorney General Moore here, I think Attorney General Humphrey was here today, too. So we've been continuing some discussions here. He gets an occasional update on that, but the formal presentation of the review and the recommendations by his advisors will not be presented until September.

Q Mike, General Humphrey outside and Peter Angelos said that the settlement that's being considered by the White House is so inadequate that they ought to look at increasing the $368 billion to, say, as high as -- $800 billion was the figure that Humphrey raised, and they suggested a $2 per pack cigarette price increase. Is that something the White House is willing to even consider?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we appreciate the opportunity to exchange views on that general subject with the Attorney General in Minnesota, and he's got very strong views on that, as do others in the public health community and others amongst the Attorneys General, and we'll consider all those views as we evaluate the proposed settlement.

Q But those are the types of change that -- you have not identified those types of changes as being the kind of things that have been under review previously?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't spoken specifically to the substantive elements of the review one way or another. I don't intend to until it's concluded. All right.

Q Is the President going out tonight?

MR. MCCURRY: I think he may -- there's a chance he may go out tonight, so the pool will be on alert. We're going to try --if we can establish some lid, we will. There's probably a little piece of an embargoed news coming out later tonight that we'll share with the wires at an appropriate point later on, and I'm not aware of any other major things hanging.

Q On what?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to say it here, but we'll tell you shortly afterwards.

Q Is it an important subject?

MR. MCCURRY: No, it's, as I described, a little piece of news that we will need you to be alert to before we can put on a full lid.

Q It's those little pieces of news on Friday afternoon that are always so interesting.

MR. MCCURRY: It's not of that nature. I think that's it. Anything else? The President asked me to wish all of you a very happy vacation. He, I think, will look forward to seeing some of you on and off during the vacation, if you're so occupied. And for those of you who are going on your own vacations, have a happy time from him and from me.

Q Tell him the same things for us.

MR. MCCURRY: I will, Helen, pass that on from you to him. And he looks forward to seeing you all again in September.

END 12:35 P.M. EDT