THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:50 P.M. EST
Q What do you hear from Saddam?
MR. MCCURRY: The category is foreign policy for $200. (Laughter.) I don't have a lot that I can add to what has already been said by Mr. Rubin over at the State Department on that subject. The U.N. Secretary General has sent a delegation to Baghdad to make clear that firm implementation with relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions is the expectation of the international community, and we'll be very closely monitoring the progress of that delegation.
Q The Iraqis are saying they're going to shoot down the next U-2 that crosses into their territory. Are we going to withdraw those flights?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, those flights are done as part of the enforcement effort, similar to the inspections that occurred, and that would be one more indication of willful disdain for the position taken by the U.N. Security Council. And I'm sure the Security Council would react accordingly.
Q Will there be any change in flights?
MR. MCCURRY: We have an ongoing pattern of activity related to ensuring compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions. I'm not aware that there's been any change in that other than the decision by Chairman Butler to suspend inspections because they cannot proceed with inspections for the reasons he has now made clear.
Q Well, are those flights technically part of the inspection mission?
MR. MCCURRY: They are done by the United States at the request of the United Nations, and they are done in furtherance of enforcement of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Q Was Jamie Rubin setting a firm deadline?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge, because we would not set a deadline on behalf of the United Nations team that's there. This is a team there on a mission sent by the U.N. Secretary General with the support of the United States and all the members of the Security Council, and it would be up to the Secretary General to indicate what the timetable is for that delegation.
Q But he mentioned a day or two -- compliance within a day or two.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's just as a practical purpose -- for practical purposes that may end up being correct.
Q There are reports the U.S. is moving additional fighter aircraft to the area to help enforce the no-fly zone --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the Pentagon can tell you more what our European Command has had in mind with that. We have a lot of activity in that region, a lot that's not directly related to inspections activity, but related to enforcement of no-fly and other efforts and they rotate assets in the region regularly. And the Pentagon can tell you more about what their operational deployments are all about.
Q Why do you say the European Command? Wouldn't the Central Command be in charge of it?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think -- not necessarily in Turkey.
Q But the Central Command would be in charge of the no-fly zone in the south, right?
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct.
Q Will there be a meeting at the White House this afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: There have been a series of discussions between the President's national security team on the subject of Iraq and on this latest step by Saddam Hussein, and they've been on and off the phone for most of the weekend and have been talking about it on and off. I think they are going to try to get together at some point today and probably will tomorrow and in the coming days as well.
Q And what is their purpose, to talk about --
MR. MCCURRY: Just to review the situation and see what we're hearing from the team that has been dispatched by the United Nations.
Q Will the President take part in that meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that he plans to. He'll be getting periodic updates as he has been from the National Security Advisor.
Q You've talked in the past about various options --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe I've ever talked about various options.
Q You specifically said there are options that can be taken. Are diplomatic options possible -- are there diplomatic options?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that's what's underway right now.
Q Are your hands tied militarily?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not saying anything one way or another about options that are available to us.
Q What is the administration's reaction to this threat of force against the U.S. military?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the threat of force -- I mean, there have been bravado statements from Saddam Hussein frequently and they've usually been met with the very appropriate response from the international community. To wit, his bravado is usually shown to be quite hollow.
Q I never heard a ringing -- when Scott asked you initially about are these slights going to continue, I never heard a ringing "they sure as hell are going to continue."
MR. MCCURRY: We're going to continue all the activity that would be suggested by the United Nations, by UNSCOM, necessary for the fulfillment of those objectives that they believe they can carry out under the circumstance. Now, they've made a decision, made by Chairman Butler of UNSCOM to change the way they're doing inspections for the reasons that are quite clear. But I'm not aware of any planned changes in our enforcement of other aspects of U.N. Security Council resolutions, including our vigorous enforcement of the no-fly zone.
Q Has the President authorized any increased deployment of U.S. military assets to the region?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not going to get into that right now.
Q Mike, what is the thinking about why Saddam has forced this confrontation at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: There's been a variety of speculation, some of it written in learned journals represented in this room and a lot of it reads pretty accurately.
Q What? Like what?
MR. MCCURRY: A variety of motives, a variety of -- some belief mistaken on his part, as he has been mistaken in the past that he might be able to exploit nuances in points of view in the international community. What he has succeeded in doing is uniting the international community behind a very firm declaration that he must be in full compliance with relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions, and that with respect to the inspections, the action that he has now ordered is unacceptable.
Q Except the world community seems to be divided on the use of force.
MR. MCCURRY: The world community is completely united in seeking firm implementation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions that have been ordered. And Saddam Hussein faces a unanimous vote of the Security Council and strong declarations from all of the permanent members of the Security Council that his current course of action is unacceptable.
Q What about the Arab League resolution opposing any use of force against Saddam Hussein?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not discussing use of force right now.
Q Mike, can you talk about the purpose of the President's trips to New Jersey and Virginia to help the gubernatorial candidates? Does he think that --
MR. MCCURRY: He was there to help the gubernatorial candidates.
Q Right. Is it base-building? Is it to get the vote out? Does he think -- can the White House bring its prestige into these races --
MR. MCCURRY: We have been significantly outspent by Republicans who have poured a lot of soft money support into those races, and we've had our money tied up in legal bills and legal fees for attorneys. So the best we can do is to try to generate some momentum and enthusiasm for these candidates by having the President campaign on behalf of our candidates. And those events have gone exceedingly well and we hope they'll have some help to our Democratic candidates.
Q Mike, on a different international issue, there has been a lot of cries of outrage about the nanny murder verdict. Do you know if the President had an opinion on the verdict or keeps in contact with any British officials about it?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard him express any opinion and I do not know whether or not it has been the subject of any contact between governments.
Q Mike, to what extent do you think the elections tomorrow are a scene-setter, a bellwether for next year? And to what extent did that play in the President's participation in these three states?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll be honest, Peter, I'll venture only a personal opinion. I think that every year in the year immediately after the presidential election we make a great deal out of these sets of races, the New York mayoral race, the New Jersey gubernatorial race, the Virginia gubernatorial race -- there are a handful of other races around the country that are significant; certainly the ballot proposition in Houston is one that we're watching tomorrow as well. But a lot of this is also withdrawal on the part of political reporters who don't have a lot to cover. I think you can over-read the results. Sometimes they give you some telltale indicators of the mood of the country and sometimes they don't, depending on what is going on in each of the local races. So my own caution would be not to over-read the results, but to make of them what you think you can reasonably make, given what the voters seem to be saying.
Q Has the President expressed any thoughts on telltale indicators that he's seen this year?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard, other than to say that, clearly, people are comfortable with the progress we're making economically. They continue to believe that tax relief is something that they seek; their own personal pocketbook circumstances seem to be motivating factors in these races. It's not a mood of the electorate that is counter-intuitive.
Q But the President himself used the words "tax irritants" in his speech today. You don't foresee the Republican Party --
MR. MCCURRY: I think he correctly perceives most American as finding taxes irritable. Makes sense.
Q In terms of future tactics next year?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think you can read future policy decisions into political stump speeches.
Q What about the issue of cutting education versus taxes?
Q Is the Supreme Court's decision today not to take up Proposition 209 a setback for the administration's policies on affirmative action?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think our views of Prop 209 are very well-known, articulated by the President even during the course of the campaign. The position of the United States government as argued in court was very clearly set forth in the briefs we filed in the Ninth Circuit. As litigation occurs in the future on that, the Justice Department will have to decide how to handle that on a case-by-case basis.
Q I'm just wondering whether the various investigations going on in the Department of Education and the Department of Labor about aspects of affirmative action in California -- will those investigations continue?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they've got some inquiries they are making; in some cases, they're not directly related to 209. For example, the Department of Education has got an Office of Civil Rights inquiry into admissions policies for the University of California system that's not directly impacted by Prop 209, but they fall in the general category of reviews related to affirmative action. Remember, though, we are doing that throughout the federal government as we have to apply the standards of Adarand to what should be and must be under the Court's ruling a very narrowly tailored, strictly scrutinized application of law in places where it's appropriate. So those inquiries need to occur.
Q Is the President upset by all this, I mean, that they're going to wipe out affirmative action in this country?
MR. MCCURRY: The President -- he has spoken to that, and of course, he is, and has very clearly stated over and over again, Helen, that we need to keep that as a corrective tool to protect Americans who have suffered injustice, discrimination and even the residue of racism.
Q Will this at all have any impact on the Bill Lee nomination at the Justice Department?
MR. MCCURRY: It never should have had any impact because senators should not attempt to force their own policy prescriptions by way of controversies over nominations. But I suspect now that there shouldn't be any reason to use this as a lever to gain any different outcome of that nomination, and we would expect Mr. Lee's nomination to go forward and hope that he would get speedy confirmation.
Q Can I ask a couple of -- if we haven't exhausted this -- a couple other question on Iraq?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, to the degree it hasn't been covered at State already.
Q Was there any indication that these U.N. weapons inspectors were on the verge of discovering something new and different that could have resulted in this Iraqi decision?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to discuss what they do and do not discover. They report regularly to the Security Council as the U.N. Special Commission is required to do, about what they determine as far as their own analysis of weapons programs that may or may not be active and what their inspections are determining, and those reports should go properly to the U.N. first.
Q What is the U.S. policy on the overthrow of Saddam Hussein?
MR. MCCURRY: Our long-stated view has been that Saddam Hussein should and must fully comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions. Our view has been if he does so, it's hard to imagine that he would continue to be a viable authoritative political figure in Iraq. I don't believe there's been any change in view on the part of our government.
Q Is the U.S. actively working to see that he's overthrown?
MR. MCCURRY: We're actively working to ensure that he fully complies with the U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Q Since 1995, the President has signed a directive that exempts the Air Force base at Groom Lake, Nevada from having to produce any documents or information relating to a series of lawsuits. These lawsuits are launched by civilian workers who claim they were injured by toxic fumes. Can you tell me why the President continues to invoke this executive --
MR. MCCURRY: You're correct that on September 26, the President renewed an existing exemption for the United States Air Force operating location near Groom Lake, Nevada from any applicable requirement for the disclosure to unauthorized persons of classified information concerning the location. That exemption does not limit the applicability or enforcement of any requirement of law other than those that might require the disclosure of classified information. Beyond that, I can't comment further.
Q Does the administration have any response -- have you responded to Senator McCain's letter on the line item veto over the weekend? He expressed a list of concerns about the use of the line item veto.
MR. MCCURRY: We have not responded that I'm aware of, but I'll check into it further.
Q What is the President going to be doing between now and Friday to ensure a victory on the fast track legislation? Does he have enough Democratic votes?
MR. MCCURRY: He will be making the case aggressively to individual members. We believe that we've had some luck working with individual members, helping them understand the importance of free and open trade to the fundamentals of our economy. Remember, we have weathered financial storms well in recent days because the strength in fundamentals of the American economy are very clear. They are built in part on the work that we are doing to open the markets overseas to U.S. goods and services, and the President I think correctly argues that we have to keep that momentum, keep building on those market opportunities if we're to sustain the kind of economic performance America has enjoyed over the last four and a half years.
So we have been making that case, and I think making it persuasively. We've been addressing some of the concerns of individual members of the Senate and the House concerning labor protections, environmental protection, the impact of trade on agricultural communities, and I think some of you know that Senator Daschle has scheduled an opportunity to visit with reporters on the Hill in a short while, and we're encouraged by all of the things that we're seeing.
We've really got a lot of momentum building towards the vote on Friday. We now have the Majority Leader and the Speaker and elements of the Republican leadership in the House also working very hard to generate the kind of support that we need for bipartisan passage of fast track authority.
I think all that combined certainly creates a more favorable environment, but we've got a lot of work to do in the coming week. The President will be doing it. He'll be meeting individually and in small groups with members, and he'll have more to say on this subject throughout the week.
Q Mike, in terms of addressing individual concerns, are you going
o -- are those private deals with individual members, or are you going to announce how you've addressed those?
MR. MCCURRY: I think we will have some general approaches that you'll see develop maybe even later this afternoon on some things that we're doing to try to make clear the President's commitment to free and open trade, but also free and open trade that doesn't come at the expense of the American working family, at the expense of our environment, or at the expense of rural communities.
Q Is he going to announce this himself?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe Senator Daschle has scheduled a press statement for 3:30 p.m., if I'm not mistaken.
Q It's the administration trade agenda?
MR. MCCURRY: He'll have more to say at 3:30 p.m.
Q Mike, you announced that the President is going to be attending the APEC leaders summit in Vancouver --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm glad we did that. Did we do that? He is.
Q Are you concerned that the financial storms you just mentioned might overshadow any kind of trade liberalization, longer-range policy proposals that the United States would otherwise have wanted to come out of that summit?
MR. MCCURRY: To the contrary. I think one of the purposes and virtues of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation forum has been the ability to deal with regional economic issues, harmonization of things like customs protections, customs procedures, ability to handle vagaries in currency markets. There has been a collective effort in that entity to really bring not only more liberalization and openness and transparency to economic relations, but also to bring more collective thinking to how these economies cooperate together in a region that is central to the future of the United States, to be sure, but to all of those who have participated in commercial activity around the Pacific Rim.
So I think it's actually, in fact, an excellent opportunity to address some of those fundamental questions that go into countering some of the fluctuations we've seen in markets because at the end of the day, that organization and the work we will do in Vancouver is about building the fundamentals of strong, prosperous economies into the future for the entire region.
Q Why do you think you'll win the cloture vote tomorrow in the Senate?
MR. MCCURRY: We're working hard on it. Probably, the President will be personally engaged on that later today, in fact.
Q The Chinese President has completed his tour of the U.S. Does the President have any overall evaluation of the impact of the visit?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President believes that the principal objective he had in maintaining leader-to-leader visits is to maintain an engagement with the People's Republic that advances the interests of the people of the United States, and it addresses all the core concerns that we have as we think about our position in the region, as we think about the security issues and as we think about those values that Americans hold dear -- fundamental respect for human rights, for democracy, for the promotion of democratic institutions. I think in all respects in that dialogue we move forward.
We did not resolve some of the deep differences that exist on human rights, but I think the President thought it very valuable for President Jiang Zemin to hear the people of America speak to their profound concern about these issues while he was here. And at least some of that, if one might take a hint from his Harvard speech, was at least reflected in some of the thinking expressed by the President of the People's Republic prior to his departure.
This is not a relationship in which there will be any fast answers to the questions that divide us, but it's a relationship that certainly will profit from the type of leader-to-leader visit that we just had, and the President, of course, looks forward to continuing this dialogue in a variety of ways in the course of the coming year and also at some point in 1998 traveling to the People's Republic himself.
Q Mike, did I understand you when you said that you expected -- I think you said that you expect the bill to be -- to Bill Lee's nomination to fade in light of the Supreme Court's --
MR. MCCURRY: I think I said that we didn't believe it should have been there in the first place, and it shouldn't have been related to the issues that it apparently was being related to, but in any event, approximate cause of some of that opposition has now been removed, and we would expect the nomination to move forward.
Q Any comment on the fall of the New Zealand government?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't have anything on that, but the State Department I think may have put something out on that.
Q And on Dole's facelift? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Are you confirming that he had one?
MR. MCCURRY: You're not? Then I don't think I'll comment on it.
Q Mike, is the President going to meet with Netanyahu when he comes in a couple of weeks?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe his schedule has been -- I don't believe the Prime Minister's schedule has been clarified at this point, so I'm not aware of any plans for a meeting at this point. I know that there have been discussions about what his projected travel might be.
Q How about the President's schedule?
Q Can you discuss a little bit what you expect the President to cover Saturday night in his speech to the Human Rights Campaign?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't do that at this point. Maybe later in the week I'd be able to help you on that.
Q Do you have any estimate of how many lawmakers he's spoken to in the last week on fast track, and how many he's hoping to speak to before the vote?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's spoken, to this point, to literally hundreds, given all the sessions we've had both in private settings, in group settings, in large groups, small groups. I think in the course of the coming week he will reach out to, I think it's easy to say, dozens of members.
Q And do you sense that the fact that the market went through all those gyrations last week has given new momentum to making the case for fast track? I mean, you seem to be hinting --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if it's given any new momentum or not. But I would say that one of the ways in which we weather market fluctuations is because of the fundamental strengths that exist in our economy. The source of those strengths, in part, is the commitment we've had to a free and open trade that has opened up markets overseas, created high value jobs here in the United States, have gotten Americans involved and engaged with the global economy, and helps provide an economic foundation that weathers any temporary vagaries in the financial markets.
Q But you also made the argument that if fast track isn't approved that it could roil the markets and make --
MR. MCCURRY: We haven't made that argument directly, but it is a source of strength in our economy' you remove one of the foundations of an economic policy that's working for this country and you do some damage to what we like to call the fundamentals of long-term economic growth. And that's never good news one way or another.
At the source of everything, what makes the most sense for us to pursue are good, strong economic policies that sustain economic growth and continue to provide economic opportunity for the American people. And fundamental to that is to continue to press open foreign markets, to continue to and do everything we can to increase goods and services that are exported overseas from the United States. You remove the President's ability to negotiate agreements to do that, and you remove one of the foundations of America's economic strength. I think that certainly would be read negatively by the markets.
Q Mike, back to APEC. Will finance ministers be meeting in Vancouver ahead of that, and would the currency turmoil be a subject?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be, in advance of the Vancouver meeting,
meetings of the economic sherpas. I can't recall whether the finance
ministers meet in advance of the APEC meeting, but in and ar
APEC meetings they do meet, and they most likely will have a discussion.
Is there any G-7 -- there was just a G-7 finance ministers meeting in Paris fairly recently, correct? I'd check the schedule with Secretary Rubin, too, to see if they've got additional things that they're --
Q And would that APEC Summit be a forum for trying to break a logjam on the global warming treaty?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure it will be a subject of discussion. I don't know if it will be the place in which you could "break the logjam."
Q Back to fast track. Could the President's lobbying efforts include at trip to Capitol Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll let you know more about his schedule for the balance of the week as we have it. I haven't heard that suggested yet, but I wouldn't rule out that he will be fully engaged with various members in a variety of settings.
Q Mike, where doesn't the President rank this in terms of importance of votes on the Hill this year? Second only to the budget votes?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the balance budget vote, the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty vote -- there have been a series of things that were still unresolved about education, which -- education and investing in education, like free and open trade, is one of the fundamentals of what the President sees as a long-term growth strategy for our country. So I think a lot of those are important, but this surely ranks as one of the more important votes in this session, and the President certainly hopes the outcome comes out favorably.
Q Are you saying that is he doesn't get fast track trading authority, he can no longer say that the fundamentals of the America economy are a strong as they were --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm just saying that one of the tools that help give value to t one of those fundamentals, which is the pursuit of free and open trade, is diminished. And if the President's hands are tied when it comes to pursue free trade agreements overseas, then one of the tools we use to help sustain the economic performance we have seen has been circumscribed. And that's not likely to be a good thing in terms of our macroeconomic strategy.
Q Mike, what time is he meeting with the senators today?
MR. MCCURRY: We still don't know exactly. We have got time budgeted between 5:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.roughly, right? In that neighborhood.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:19 P.M. EST