THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY The Briefing Room
1:50 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you to Secretary Riley. Anyone else have anything else they would like to discuss? I don't have any charts. Other subjects today on this quiet day?
Q Does the President still support --
MR. MCCURRY: Wolf, by the way, congratulations.
Q Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: This is National Wolf Awareness Week.
Q I didn't know that. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: National Wolf Awareness week, celebrating -- the Defenders of Wildlife say that this has been the most pro-Wolf administration. It's about wolf restoration --
Q We knew that.
MR. MCCURRY: -- predators, all the work of returning wolves to Yellowstone. We've done a good thing.
MR. MCCURRY: This is going to culminate -- Wolf Awareness Week culminates in a one-hour documentary next Monday that will not be on CNN; it will be on the Discovery Channel.
Q I'll be watching that. Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Wolf. We're going to give you the first question all week long.
Q Thank you very much. On the global warming subject, in 1993 the President said he is committed by the year 2000 to reducing U.S. emissions to the 1990 level. Does he still support that position?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has been working with his advisors on an approach that we can take as we head into the Kyoto Conference that will take into account everything about the world and about the commitments that have been made throughout the international community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The President spoke to the United Nations and, as you know, he committed himself to binding targets that would be realistic, that would be achievable, that would be implemented through flexible arrangements, and that would require the participation of all of the nations of the international community, developing and developed alike. That's his most recent policy address on the subject. That's guiding his thinking as he prepares with his advisors to advance a strong U.S. negotiating position in preparation for the Kyoto Conference.
Q Can I follow up? Does he still support that position he took in '93?
MR. MCCURRY: There are hundreds of issues now that are under review in connection with preparing our negotiating position, and one of the key issues is what kind of targets ought to be set, what kind of targets are realistic, what the costs of those targets would be to the American taxpayer, how those costs can be measured against and balanced with the appropriate benefits. So I'm not going to preview what the President's going to decide, but that's a central question about the entire negotiating position we have.
Q Is that going to be done this week, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't rule that out.
Q How does it not undercut the U.S. negotiating position when the negotiations -- the final negotiations for that treaty start today and we may not even until next week know what the U.S. position is?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that we will have -- the nations that are negotiating this treaty are awaiting the U.S. position, and we've had considerable bilateral dialogue with all of the nations that are going to be instrumental in fashioning an international regime if one is achievable, and I think they know most of our thinking on these issues. Certainly, the President made it abundantly clear the direction we would go when he spoke at the U.N.
Q Mike, has the President reached a decision on this yet, or are we still awaiting --
MR. MCCURRY: He's reached hundreds of decisions on the general issue because it's so complex, but there are remaining issues that are very important to the position that we will advance that are still unfolding.
Q How much longer do we expect them to unfold?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule out the President saying something further about this, this week.
Q Among the decisions that he hasn't reached are the percentage of 1990 levels and by what date?
MR. MCCURRY: There are a lot of issues --
Q Or are those -- he has reached?
MR. MCCURRY: -- exactly how you set timing, targets, how you benchmark the achievement of goals. Those are all issues that are being discussed.
Q And one other thing on these binding limits. He supports binding limits on gas emissions, but is that only for developed, industrialized nations, or for developing nations as well?
MR. MCCURRY: The questions you are all asking me go really to the heart of what the President's decision-making process is. There are no answers to the questions at this point that I can give you, but the President will be able to articulate it, more importantly be in a strong position then to advance our views as we negotiate exactly those issues with other international delegations.
Q Mike, does the President remember asking Mr. Jenrette for a $50,000 contribution to the DNC?
MR. MCCURRY: As noted in the Newsweek article, Mr. Kendall, his attorney, indicates that the President has no specific recollection of that conversation but doesn't dispute Mr. Jenrette account.
Q Mike, what is the White House reaction to Nelson Mandela's statements that America is racist and arrogant about his trip to Libya?
MR. MCCURRY: Those are unfortunate comments because they don't reflect the respect and the admiration that we have for President Mandela. We do, however, take issue with his proposed trip to Libya because, according to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 748 and 883, flights into Tripoli are a violation of sanctions that exist to bring compliance by the government of Libya to the will of the international community with respect to the shoot-down of Pan Am 103.
For that very reason, we have always suggested and believed that diplomatic contacts with the government of Libya ought to be at a low level. But that nonetheless does not affect our respect for President Mandela.
Q Could this jeopardize the trip for next year?
MR. MCCURRY: I would see no reason why it would.
Q Mike, the committee investigators and the FBI were able to find the Jenrette letter. Why did the White House not come up with it under subpoena?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't answer that question. I don't know the answer.
Q Do you agree with Congressman Archer that the burden of proof should be shifted back to the IRS to prove that a taxpayer did something wrong instead of having the burden of proof on the taxpayer?
MR. MCCURRY: We believe taxpayers ought to be immune from unwarranted, aggressive efforts by federal tax collectors. We've got a proposal now in place that would do that, that would establish citizen oversight through advisory boards around the country of the efforts of the IRS, plus ways in which individual taxpayers can have their rights enhanced and protected.
Chairman Archer has some ideas with respect to that, and we will certainly look at them and review them, but I think our view is very clear that the IRS itself, if it's to be the tax collection agency that we must have and that must work responsively with respect to taxpayers, is going to have to have some mechanism available to pursue cases in which there are discrepancies.
Q To follow up, Mike, on the line item veto, the President has now used it several times, and originally this was seen as a great tool and weapon for the White House, but there has been negative reaction on Capitol Hill and some talk that it has made fast track a harder vote in the House. Do you think that the line item veto has turned out to be a kind of double-edged sword?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't see any direct linkage to fast track, nor should there be. Congress, and remember it was Congress that gave the President the line item veto, gave it to him for very good reason -- so that he would use it, use it in instances where the President felt it was unwarranted, in which the interests of taxpayers had to be protected. And this President has acted now to protect about $2 billion worth of spending that is just not needed at this point. That's in the interests of the taxpayers; that's why the Congress gave him that authority to begin with.
Q Have you see a reaction on the Hill, though, of anger or pique?
MR. MCCURRY: We've seen a reaction from members of Congress who, very naturally and very predictably, want to fight for the projects in their districts that they believe are worthy. But the President was given this authority by Congress to balance the interests of all 535 members of Congress and the interests of the American people, and not to respond to the specific interests of one individual member of Congress.
Q On the IRS, the President put out his package of reforms. Can you explain why he doesn't think -- is it that he does not think legislation is needed, or that Congressman Archer's reform, the idea of putting the burden of proof on the agency rather than the taxpayer, is unnecessary?
MR. MCCURRY: This debate is properly about how we can make the IRS a better performing agency. It needs to be better performing, but it nonetheless needs to be around. Every American knows that we're going to have to pay taxes and we need to have a mechanism for collecting taxes and it ought to be fair and it ought to not give advantage to any one individual taxpayer over another. So our effort has been on making sure the agency responds effectively. Shifting the burden of proof would be an entirely new exercise, but remember, for criminal cases, the burden of proof is already on the government, on the IRS specifically, so if Chairman Archer has additional ideas, we'll have to examine them.
Q Mike, you said the IRS has to have a mechanism to pursue cases where there are discrepancies. How would shifting the burden of proof in the later stages take away that mechanism?
MR. MCCURRY: It would change the way in which those claims are adjudicated, and as I just indicated, in criminal cases, it doesn't change at all.
Q Right, but they still could go after them. So how does this take away --
MR. MCCURRY: The point is that they should be performing their duties and performing their function with some sensitivity to the taxpayers and with respect for the interest that taxpayers bring into the equation, which is the purpose of the reforms that the President is advancing, which is the way to solve the problem.
Q You aren't saying that this would take away the IRS's ability to go after taxpayers who --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know exactly what Chairman Archer's provision would do because, to my knowledge, it hasn't been examined by the Treasury Department yet.
Q Hasn't it been an argument, at least among one of your officials, that to do this, the shift of burden would or could possibly make the IRS more intrusive and more assertive?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be one of the concerns we would have to examine in looking at Chairman Archer's language. If it led to that outcome, of course that would not be in anyone's interest -- certainly not in the administration's interest.
Q Any comment on the official visit by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew to the United States, since he's -- already?
MR. MCCURRY: The administration and the President specifically looks forward to welcoming His Holiness. I think this will be a very productive visit, both to its ability to lead to greater understanding within the ecumenical community of the role the Patriarch plays, but also to advance the interests that he has been so outspoken on and has raised so vigorously in his travels around the world.
The President and others in our government who plan to meet with him very much look forward to the visit.
Q Mike, was the date of the President's first town hall meeting on race moved back a day because December 2nd is the day when Reno is to decide on the independent counsel?
MR. MCCURRY: I hadn't heard that. I had heard that there was some interest in advancing it, but I don't even know if we've set the date for it yet.
Q Mike, you said that it's your understanding that all of the beta -- the original copies of the WHCA videotapes of coffees and fundraisers and things have been provided to the Justice Department.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think I said that. I said that Justice has got some of them. My understanding is they've got the original betas from the 44 coffees, and the other originals are available, but the Justice Department, to my knowledge, has not asked for them, but they're available for inspection by whoever wants to see them -- committees in Congress included.
Q Do you have any reaction to Congressman Burton's suggestion that there may have been some tampering with these tapes?
MR. MCCURRY: If he has any evidence to that effect, he should produce it. I suspect it will be like suggestions he's made in the past that are completely baseless.
Q Can you say affirmatively, Mike, that the tapes were provided in their entirety with no editing?
MR. MCCURRY: Of course they were. There wouldn't be any reason to provide them in any other fashion. For practical purposes, I think in some cases since you're dealing with a large volume of tapes, they've dubbed them off onto a master, but the originals are available for inspection. In the case of the 44 coffee tapes, those are already in the custody of the Justice Department, it is my understanding from the Counsel's Office, but please double-check with them.
Q That was my question. Who now has custody of the tapes?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the 44 that are in the possession of the Justice Department, custody is maintained by the Justice Department. The others are either in the custody of the Archives or the White House Communications Agency, I understand. But they're available for inspection.
Q One more question. The U.S. government representative, Tom Miller, during his press conference the other day excluded only my daily newspaper -- the meeting of the opposition. The -- of Greece filed a strong protest with the U.S. Embassy, and the State Department has been notified -- but so far there's no explanation. I would like you to comment, since the whole matter has to do with the freedom of the press, to which democratic America is extremely sensitive.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are extremely sensitive to freedom of the press, but I have no knowledge of that specific incident. I'll have to check further at the Justice Department, but I'd encourage you to refer the question to them, too.
Q Mike, in answer to April's question, I heard you talk about Mandela's forthcoming visit to Libya. But what about his call for an end to sanctions, U.N. sanctions on Libya? It seems as though there are growing calls for the end to those sanctions and that the U.S. and Britain are becoming isolated on this point.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I doubt very much that those calls for sanctions will amount to much. But it is clear that the United States and the United Kingdom remain insistent on what the United Nations Security Council has already ordered, that the two suspects in the Pan Am 103 bombing be submitted for justice by trial in either the United States or the United Kingdom. That's not going to change. That's been our position. In every which way and manner, Moammar Gadhafi has tried to wriggle out from under that obligation that the international community has placed upon him and that obligation will remain. It's not going to change.
Q Is the White House aware of these letters that have been written to the families of Pan Am 103 victims?
MR. MCCURRY: There have been persistently over the last five years -- well, over at least the last three years, efforts to alter, change, coax different forms of compliance, usually instigated by the government of Libya, and none of them have reached the point of being seriously entertained by the United States government.
Q Mike, I'd like to ask you to clarify a point on global warming. I understood one of your earlier answers to be that the President had not decided yet on what U.S. policy would be with regard to the obligations of developing countries. I thought he'd already conceptually decided that a long time ago, that this has to be a global effort.
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Q There may be different targets for them --
MR. MCCURRY: Correct. I meant that the general principle has been the one that he has articulated all the way back to his United Nations speech and that we have pursued actively in our diplomacy -- witness the agreement we just reached with the government of Argentina over the weekend -- that the developing world must be a participant if we are to achieve a viable, realistic international regime.
How you structure the regime and what specifically are the requirements placed upon developing nations is something that's still under review and will be under discussion as the negotiators pursue their work.
Q But as far as the White House is concerned, all these millions of dollars in commercials that have been running on some channels against your global warming position that allege that only the developed countries would have to make an effort, that's totally inaccurate as far as your position is concerned?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've said repeatedly that that is false and misleading advertising. It is, and it leaves any reasonable viewer with the understanding that there has already been a treaty negotiated and, of course, there hasn't been, much less has there been advanced a U.S. position. The President still has that under consideration.
Q So just to follow up and try to clarify this one narrow point, does the President support binding limits on developing nations?
MR. MCCURRY: The President supports binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions that would be embodied in an international regime. That would include, no doubt, specific requirements on developing nations. But how they are structured and what the responsibilities of developing nations versus the industrialized developed world would be is still something under consideration by our government and still something that will be long under consideration by the negotiators. It's the heart of the debate in many ways.
Q But would developing nations have targets that they would have to meet -- binding targets?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's going to have to address that, ultimately. I believe that's the thinking of many of his advisors. But how that's achieved or what flexibility there would be for achieving it is something that's still under discussion.
Q Mike, on China, the President's speech on Friday, will that be in lieu of the usual briefing? In other words, will he, himself, lay out his agenda for the summit in that speech?
MR. MCCURRY: He will, but we'll have additional people available as well to pre-brief the summit.
Q And will that be also on Friday?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll do that Monday, maybe? We're still working out schedule.
Q Is that exclusively a China speech, or are there other foreign policy subjects?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be dominated by a discussion of our relationship with the People's Republic, but it will place that important relationship in the context of our relations around the world, and specifically in the Asian Pacific region.
Q Can you give us any information on what the agenda at this point is for the summit?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't, sitting here right now, but I'll do that later in the week. It's the full range of things on our bilateral relationship -- the economic, strategic, geopolitical issues we pursue, and a full range that includes everything from trade to human rights, to the mutual work we do together related to security, particularly in places like the Korean Peninsula. It will be an expansive review of what is an ever-expanding bilateral relationship.
Q Can I ask, what is current negotiation status with China about nuclear agreement -- nuclear cooperation agreement, also in Congress?
MR. MCCURRY: There are two representatives of the United States government in Beijing, having additional discussions as a prelude to the summit meeting next week. That is the current status.
Q Einhorn and Sandy Kristoff?
MR. MCCURRY: Deputy Assistant Secretary Einhorn and Mr. Samore, from the National Security Council.
Q How long will they be there?
MR. MCCURRY: They just arrived, I believe, over the weekend. They are pursuing a range of nonproliferation related issues. There are other matters that are certainly under discussion as we prepare for the summit, and they will be there for a matter of days, I guess -- I haven't heard any different from that.
Q Mike, will the Maritime Commission finalize the U.S.-Japanese shipping agreement today, and will that include the $4 million for fines?
MR. MCCURRY: Do not know the answer. You should direct that to the Maritime Commission. My understanding is their deliberations are still continuing.
Q Mike, when the President laid down the gauntlet on campaign finance reform a few weeks ago, he said he was going to shine the public spotlight on the Congress and that members of Congress would be held accountable on this. Does he feel like he accomplished that, or is he --
MR. MCCURRY: I think he did. I think the debates that we've had, particularly in the Senate with the succession of filibuster votes, have made it clear whether people are for or against campaign finance reform. So it did have that effect and I think, in part, the President may have contributed to that by raising up the issue. And we still believe that there is time for Congress to change its thinking on this and come to the perspective that we need an overall reform of campaign finance laws.
Q Mike, could you confirm on the record that the White House has received the President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection Report, better known as the CIPR terrorism report, and when you plan to act on that?
MR. MCCURRY: We expect to get it later today. It will be then under review for a period of 120 days, roughly --
COLONEL CROWLEY: About that.
MR. MCCURRY: -- by the administration. We look forward to receiving what will be an important commentary on critical infrastructure and the security surrounding critical infrastructure.
Q Can you -- some of the recommendations?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I won't.
Q Mike, back to David's question, do the actions taken by Congress satisfy the President's threat to keep lawmakers in session until they deal with the campaign finance --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it doesn't appear at this point that they are going to advance to any final consideration. But the President did achieve an up or down vote on campaign finance reform, which was, in effect, what those votes were all about.
Q Mike, with regard to that seismic/nuclear test event in Russia, is the administration now willing to put that to rest and acknowledge it was a seismic event?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't put that to rest because I understand experts still review the data and still continue their discussions with Russian authorities to understand better the nature of the event.
Q So, as far as the White House goes, this is still an open issue?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it never was anything but an open issue from the viewpoint of the White House.
Q Can I just try one more time on this 1993 statement the President made --
MR. MCCURRY: No, you've exhausted me on that.
Q On the IRS reform issue --
MR. MCCURRY: If you can think of a more clever way to ask it. (Laughter.)
Q That's what he was trying to do.
Q Hey, come on, it's Wolf Week. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. We'll give you another shot. See if I step into the leg-hole trap that you're setting for me.
Q Has the President opened up his position on whether or not the U.S., by the year 2000, should meet the 1990 level on greenhouse emissions?
MR. MCCURRY: If you read carefully his speech at the U.N., he didn't restate that position.
Q On the IRS reform, the issue of the burden of proof, if the agency's aim in this whole initiative is to make the IRS more customer friendly, why wouldn't you want to shift the burden of proof?
MR. MCCURRY: Because we're going to have to know what it means, how it works, what the implications are. We'd have to, in short, do a careful analysis rather than just read about it in the newspaper
Q Mike, has Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater been keeping the President abreast of what's happening today as far as Amtrak and the possible strike?
MR. MCCURRY: He has kept the White House abreast and there is no change, in my understanding, from his announcement yesterday that there would be a one-week cooling off period for the parties.
THE PRESS: Thank
END 2:13 P.M. EDT