THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:49 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: I think most of you know that, given the general lack of enthusiasm for our proposed Erskine Bowles briefing on the amazing achievements of the year, I've managed to juice it up a little bit, so we'll have a guest star at the beginning of that briefing.
Q Erskine Bowles?
MR. MCCURRY: He'll be introduced by a friend of his at 2:30 p.m.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we'll come out. The President wanted to come out and actually say some things on that subject and then give everyone an update on Iraq, not much beyond what he has already said today.
Q What time?
MR. MCCURRY: Two thirty p.m. -- 2:30 p.m., 2:45 p.m., in that range. And the Secretary of Defense, my understanding from the Pentagon, the Secretary of Defense will be briefing in some greater detail later this afternoon over there.
Q Mike, the United States is consulting with a broad range of allies. Is the administration trying to develop a consensus for military action?
MR. MCCURRY: The administration, working in and with the United Nations, is trying to bring together the world community around a program of activity that will compel compliance by Saddam Hussein and the relevant U.N. Security Council Resolutions. There are ways in which that can be done, a number of options to pursue and we are consulting actively with allies and others on those options.
Q Is military action something we're discussing with the allies?
MR. MCCURRY: We certainly have not ruled in or ruled out any options and I'm not going to get into our private consultations.
Q Can you tell us what the President meant when he said that the sanctions would last as long as Saddam lasts?
MR. MCCURRY: We have long taken the view that there is nothing about the behavior of Saddam Hussein that indicates that his intent is peaceful and that is intent is to fully comply with relevant resolutions. In our view, there cannot be lifting of sanctions until he complies with relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions, and nothing about his behavior -- in fact, everything about his behavior suggests that he is more interested in wilfully violating those resolutions.
Q He seems to -- much farther than he has so far because the conditions for lifting the sanctions are very specific that are being set by the U.N., and you seem to be moving the goalposts slightly.
MR. MCCURRY: At this point, the conditions for lifting sanctions are a moot point when it comes to Saddam Hussein.
Q This goes to the heart of the debate, Mike. Saddam has always said that, in fact, the U.S. has no intention of lifting the sanctions. So are you not playing into his hand by saying so clearly that the sanctions will never be lifted?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he's got it upside-down. The world community has told him there will be no lifting of sanctions until he indicates his peaceful intentions and complies with the resolutions. He's not doing so. He's failing to do so and he's more importantly wilfully disregarding the resolutions that have been passed and the statements that have been made. The lack of relief for sanctions is his responsibility, not the U.N.'s responsibility.
Q Is it U.S. strategy now to use this current crisis as a way of dealing with the longer-term problem of Saddam's leadership of Iraq somehow?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what you mean by the question. Our interests and our work in this episode are to gain the compliance we need and to have assurance that he is not pursuing weapons of mass destruction programs.
Q I mean, not just put them in the box as far as compliance with the UNSCOM mission, but to somehow get past the situation where episodically, once a year he's provoking crisis?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we would certainly wish to be in a position where we are not dealing with this matter regularly, but we have very specific goals, and they have been publicly stated by the President and others.
Q Mike, could you give us a sense of how the President was informed yesterday that the American inspectors had left over land, and what his reaction was to that news?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we had a long meeting for over an hour and a half yesterday and they reviewed all the different developments. At that time we didn't know formally the response of the government of Iraq, but it was certainly anticipated based on what the President had been told, and I just believe he got an update at some point during the day that alerted him to the status of the U.S. participants in the inspections team, and then, of course, he got updates as they travelled out of the country.
Q He was said to be angry at the development that the inspectors had in fact been sent over land. Can you confirm that or say what his reaction was?
MR. MCCURRY: I was not there when he was told. I can check on that, but I had not heard that he was angry. He's angry in general about the lack of compliance with resolutions. And he's angry that there would be an attempt here to divide by nationality the important work that the United Nations is doing through its inspections committee.
Q Mike, the President said this morning, this is not a replay of the Gulf War, and in fact, isn't that part of his problem, because Saddam has not moved into another country, it's more difficult to build up a coalition, both in the Arab world and at the U.N. So, doesn't that make his job harder?
MR. MCCURRY: You can make that analysis yourself. I think the President's point was that this is different from dealing with armed incursion -- it obviously is because the facts are different. But no matter how difficult the diplomacy, we've got work to do and we'll do it.
Q Hasn't the diplomacy been exhausted with the U.N. resolution and -- I mean, what -- is he making end runs now around the U.N., or is he trying to whip up another --
MR. MCCURRY: Obviously diplomacy is not exhausted since we have a number of people from the President on down engaged in it at this moment.
Q Well, what is the diplomacy aimed at?
MR. MCCURRY: Regaining compliance with the resolutions and convincing Saddam Hussein to reverse this provocative course of action.
Q But he's effectively succeeded in ending the inspections, and at the same time, because he hasn't used armed force, it makes it more difficult to rally world opinion against him. Wouldn't you say that he somehow boxed the United States in?
MR. MCCURRY: Most of you who are writing about this are writing your own analytical pieces on it. I'm not the person -- I can brief you on what's going on, what we're doing. You know, these are questions that go more to your analysis than to our views as a government.
Q Mike, I want to follow up on an earlier question. Is the end of Saddam's rule now a new condition for the lifting of sanctions?
MR. MCCURRY: That's never been listed as a condition by the United Nations Security Council, and we are not seeking to expand the interpretation of those resolutions at this moment. We want simple compliance with what the United Nations has already resolved itself to achieve.
Q What will be the diplomatic efforts of King Hussein in the sense of what would be the message of the President to the King -- would he try to get him --
MR. MCCURRY: The King is very knowledgeable about events in the region, is very wise when it comes to interpreting actions and responses and the President will seek his counsel and exchange views with him on the situation.
Q Would you hope that he would perhaps go to some other leaders in the region and perhaps have a united -- a statement from other Arab leaders and try to meet or mediate with the Iraqi leader?
MR. MCCURRY: The King is a voice of integrity, persuasion and courage when it comes to seeking peace in that region, and we know he is influential, but the King himself will decide how to address this matter.
Q Did the President and Britain's Prime Minister have a phone conversation or are they planning one?
MR. MCCURRY: They are planning one, but it has not occured to my knowledge .
Q Can you tick off other world leaders who he's --
MR. MCCURRY: He has a number planned, but none that have occurred yet. We have got, as you know, a high level of diplomatic activity at the United Nations and then the work the Secretary of State is doing. I think he will gain an assessment of those consultations prior to speaking at higher levels with individual governments.
Q But in your effort to inform us of the facts rather than have us write analysis, perhaps you could tell us who in particular he's thinking about talking to?
MR. MCCURRY: He thinks -- I think it's pretty obviously to you that we would want to remain in contact with fellow members of the Security Council and others, and I think it's more useful to you when I tell you when he's actually made some calls, not speculate on who he might call.
Q Mike, you and the President seem to have made it clear that the previous air strikes that this President ordered against Saddam, both after the assassination attempt or alleged assassination attempt against George Bush and after the Iraqi moves on the Kurds, in those cases he was able to act unilaterally. In this case, you seem to be saying he must act multilaterally, he must act to the -- you're not saying that.
MR. MCCURRY: I have not said that. I said I think several times here that we certainly prefer to act in concert with others, particularly on a matter of deep importance to the Security Council. But I have always said that, if necessary, to act alone to protect our interests overseas, we will act alone if we must.
Q And you feel you do have the authority already from the Security Council from previous votes or --
MR. MCCURRY: We would be well authorized if we had to act.
Q I'm sorry --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not an international lawyer so I'm not going to attempt to decipher that for you. But there have been discussions about this at State Department and other places in recent days. I think it has been adequately explored.
Q Is it under consideration to move the F-117s over to the region?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q We were being told that there was a consideration of moving the F-117s over.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you've already seen at least one instance today in which our assessment of what our force posture should be in the region has resulted in a shift of deployment. And there may be others. We will be assessing things on an ongoing basis and the Secretary of Defense will be in a better position later today to tell you more.
Q The President emphasized this morning the danger of Saddam developing weapons of mass destruction again, and yesterday the Pentagon referred to him as a clear and present danger. Is the diplomatic effort attempting to convince others that is the case, and is that the problem you really face, that others don't fully appreciate the danger that Saddam poses, at least in a way that you state it?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's too shorthand a description. Governments in that region in particular that have dealt with the reality of his aggressive behavior and yet have also dealt with the crosswinds that blow across that region, in terms of the political dynamic that they face, make their analysis and judgments based on a number of complicated factors.
We do stress the nature of his behavior in the past, our understanding of what his capacity is, the danger that poses to governments in that region, and the need for action to thwart any ambition he has to reestablish those programs that would threaten not only that region but, indeed, the entire world.
Q Yeah, I didn't mean just the Middle East. I meant the entire world. I mean, obviously, you are pushing diplomacy for the next few days. And I just wondered if your sense is that others don't quite get what seems to be so clear to American officials.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think there is any lack of understanding of the danger he poses to the world. At the same time, I think there is fairly sophisticated interpretations about what individual countries' own interests are and individual countries pursue those interests sometimes in ways different from ways that we would like. But that is why we have to use the persuasive power of diplomacy to see if we can create a different perception; see if we can, through increased pressure, make it clear to Saddam that he must comply; and if he fails to comply, make it clear to the rest of the world that there needs to be consequences for his failure.
Q Do the others countries have the same sense of urgency that the United States seems to have? They may have an understanding?
MR. MCCURRY: I think all countries are apprised by Chairman Butler through the work of the special commission of what the capacity is of the programs believed to be at play in Iraq and how quickly they could be reconstituted to produce some capacity for mass destruction. And I think anyone who has read any of the reports of the special commission, and most member states at the United Nations no doubt have, are fully apprised of what the danger is and, therefore, what the urgency is.
Q There seems to be a lot of emphasis on sophisticated delivery systems like missiles, but it seems that a lot of these agents that the commission is concerned about could just as easily be delivered in a paper bag to a subway somewhere. Does the administration believe that Saddam has a terrorist capability to operate in the United States or in any other country outside of Iraq?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into our assessment of that question.
Q Mike, the President said that the goal of this, the one defining goal, would be to eliminate his ability to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. Do military strikes, as envisioned by the United States, meet that objective?
MR. MCCURRY: You're asking me to speculate on military strikes and I'm not going to.
Q But you said that that's an option. What I am saying is why is the military an option?
MR. MCCURRY: Why is it? Because the diplomacy may not work. It's pretty obvious.
Q No, but if the President says that our goal, the one defining goal, is we've got to make sure that he doesn't have weapons of mass destruction, I'm saying how does the military option, to the extent that you said that existed as an option, fulfill that goal?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the purpose of that military action would be to prevent him from constituting those programs.
Q Mike, yesterday on the Hill you had Torricelli and Joe Lieberman, two Democrats, speaking out on this, urging that if all else fails, use of force be considered or used. You have the House International Relations Committee coming out with a very strong signal saying that, if all else fails, force should be used.
Are statements*** like that helpful or hurtful to the President? Do they put pressure on the President or do they support him?
MR. MCCURRY: I think they are helpful in demonstrating the resolve of the United States Government as other countries see the discussion of the issue here in the United States. At the same time, the President is Commander-In-Chief and he has responsibilities to pursue this in a very disciplined way, in a determined way, as he said yesterday. And he will carry out his duties cognizant of his responsibilities to protect the interests of all Americans, not rush to respond to some headline.
Q Aziz, on Larry King last night and later on Charlie Rose -- asserts the Iraqi position that the whole purpose of these sanctions is economic from the U.S. point of view to gain an economic advantage by thwarting Iraq's ability to export oil. What is your assessment of that concept?
MR. MCCURRY: That is wrong. The purpose is those stated in the U.N. Security Council resolutions that place those sanctions regimes in place. It is to compel behavior that the international community has ordered.
Q Mike, beyond the delay in his departure this afternoon for the meeting with King Hussein, has there been any change in the President's schedule over the next three or four days, any windows open for phone calls or any thought to returning early to Washington?
MR. MCCURRY: He has sufficient time on his calendar to deal with anything that he needs to deal with, but I am not aware of any change in plans.
Q Your Presidential Ambassador Holbrook is presiding over the conference today and tomorrow in Brussels with businessmen from Greece, Cyprus and Turkey in an effort, as he says, to find a resolution to the Greek-Turkish differences. I am wondering why your administration has given such a priority to the businessmen now.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that conference was an opportunity for Ambassador Holbrook to bring together people who are interested in the economic future of Cyprus, which will be an element of the eventual resolution of a conflict that we have devoted enormous diplomatic effort to in the course of the past year. The State Department can tell you more about his travels. He has also been in Germany and met with German officials, and then this conference in Brussels is another opportunity for him to discuss with those who are interested in the economic future of Cyprus and how to best promote economic opportunities there.
Q What was the White House reaction to the information about the files that the FBI have now turned over to the Justice Department, and are you going to ask to see those files as part of the --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we had any particular reaction. I don't think we knew about that until we heard of the story, and I think the Justice Department made some effort to alert people at the NSC about the information that they were providing to the Thompson Committee.
Q Will they also then provide that -- they will provide the same information at the same time to the NSC that they will provide at the Thompson?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe they got briefed on it late yesterday after we heard about it from The Washington Post. I don't think the information we got was much different from what the Post reported.
Q You said it wasn't much different, or it was?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe it was much different from what was reported.
Q Well, if it wasn't, that means that one of the campaign's top fundraisers is an agent of China.
MR. MCCURRY: That's not what that article says, nor I believe what the information suggests, but you may want to check further at the Justice Department if you're under that impression.
Q Well, aren't you appalled? Appalled?
MR. MCCURRY: Appalled at what?
Q Secretary Albright went to Beijing. She talked to them about this and said she had no information --
MR. MCCURRY: You're overreading the story. I think if you read that story carefully you'll try to -- once you get through it you'll see that there's -- judge for yourself how much information is actually there that corroborates what your interpretation is.
Q Well, it certainly named somebody very specifically that is a --
Q There is one thing at the end that there is information that the Chinese were boasting that they had thwarted the investigation in the U.S. Congress. Has that action been conveyed to the administration?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to discuss the information.
Q Mike, do you have any reaction to the earlier -- resignation of the Assistant Secretary of the Army or anything to say about the Marine Corps?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I looked into the matter after it was asked here yesterday and, I think the White House would concur in the sentiments expressed on behalf of the Secretary of Defense that the apology rendered was appropriate given the inappropriateness of the language as to what the -- I believe the individual is scheduled to leave service. If there's been a resignation now, I'll leave it to the Pentagon to react to that.
Q Michael, where's the White House going as far as Bill Lann Lee, and could there indeed be a recess appointment?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate, once again -- on the question of a recess appointment. We continue to believe he's someone that ought to be confirmed by the Senate. We're going to be discussing with senators how best to bring that nomination forward again in the belief that, as Senators return to their districts and hear from outraged citizens in their districts, there may be a change of heart.
Q What's the timetable on that? You mean, you'll just wait until the next session, or --
MR. MCCURRY: The Senate won't be in a position to confirm him until they return January 27th.
Q Mike, regarding the announcement the President apparently is about to make regarding the typing up of -- what some regard as the loophole on these sport assault weapons coming in from abroad -- the NRA has already reacted. Mr. LaPierre has said the President's trying to bend the law, that the NRA will fight this in court, that these guns are less powerful than your average deer rifle and less powerful than the shotgun the President used when he went deer hunting, and that basically they're same kind of rifles because they're one shot at a time, not machine guns, not automatic weapons.
MR. MCCURRY: Hey, let me suggest that you ask the NRA why they believe hunters in this country need a modified assault weapon like an uzi to go out deer hunting -- go out for deer or for rabbits or for birds or whatever.
Q Dealers say they're not used for deer hunting. They're used for varmint hunting or for target practice.
MR. MCCURRY: I think they also have the capacity to be used in criminal acts, which is what the President will be addressing.
Q Mike, a moment ago on Iraq you used the word "urgency". Given the fact that Saddam can now --
MR. MCCURRY: -- more correctly asked about the urgency.
Q Asked about urgency -- fair enough. Given the fact that Saddam can now, with a free hand, hide and augment his weapons of mass destruction, is there a sense of racing the clock in the administration looking for a solution?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there is a sense of a timetable that does reflect the degree of concern we have about the program, and it's one that doesn't extend forever, and it certainly reflects the very hard work that we're doing at this moment in multiple levels and multiple places.
Q Does it extend for days?
MR. MCCURRY: It -- I'm not going to specify a time period, but it certainly is going to be addressed in a matter of coming days by the efforts that we have underway.
Q Mike, the Secretary General of the United Nations expressed his outrage today about the Iraqis using women and children as human shields in the event of a possible attack. How does the administration feel about what's going on there?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we think it is outrageous to bring noncombatants into a position of danger to put them in harm's way, but it's not a surprise. Given the nature of Saddam Hussein, he's gassed with chemical weapons his very citizens -- his own citizens. And he shows utter disregard of them. We have enormous, enormous sympathy for the condition of the Iraqi people. They are suffering, and they have suffered for far too long at the hands of Saddam Hussein, and it is part of the effort undertaken by the world community to try to bring some relief to their suffering.
Q In terms of the U.N. arrears problem -- do you feel that is hurting you now in trying to build cohesiveness within the Security Council and the U.N. for any eventuality in -- for Iraq?
MR. MCCURRY: It does not make the task easier.
Q As you know, our mutual friend Nicholas Burns Monday is leaving finally for Greece, as your new Ambassador to Greece. Any comment?
MR. MCCURRY: We are delighted that someone who is so distinguished and so knowledgeable about the full scope of U.S. foreign policy will be in a position to advance our objectives as we represent our objectives to the government of Greece. He is someone who I think has proven his reliability over time and proven his effectiveness, and he's obviously considered and regarded very highly by the President. We're sure that he will have a successful tour in Athens.
Q Mike, will the United States press for the continuation of the U2 flights, and would it do so unilaterally if it doesn't get a U.N. sanction?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that question does not arise. It's already been indicated that they will continue. It would be foolish for me to answer that question.
Q If I could follow up, why are they important, Mike? why does it matter that they continue?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the time when we no longer have the inspectors on the ground to do their work, the other means that we have available to help the United Nations understand what activity is under way there that might be of concern to the United Nations, it becomes all the more important.
Q Mike, other than what Ambassador Butler said -- I think it was last week -- about suspicious Iraqi moves, has there been anything else in recent days that would cause any concern?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't -- not a cause for concern. We monitor their activity there and have seen the kind of disbursal. The Pentagon has been in a better position, I think, to brief on this. They've clearly disbursed some of their assets around and about, so they take very seriously the situation they're in based on what their own actions suggest.
Q Mike, I apologize. I didn't hear the wording on the recess appointment question. Will you speculate on generically whether you'll consider -- or you just won't speculate.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not going to do that. I think I made clear for a couple of days now. I want to make a deal. If I decide I'm going to speculate on that, I'll let you know, okay?
Q You use the word speculate all over the place. We're not speculating. We're asking you a very simple question. Is the President sounding out the Senators to see when there is a possibility of prevailing if he does make a recess appointment?
MR. MCCURRY: If you check this transcript, you'll see I answered that question very directly already.
Q Yes, on Korea, do have anything new to announce?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry -- what subject?
MR. MCCURRY: On what subject? On Korea? No, I don't. I think the State Department indicated what our understanding of the preparatory talks are, and -- or hope that they can lead to full-fledged acceptance of the invitation of four party talks.
Q Mike, I read too much into what the President said this morning. It seemed to me like I detected a note of exasperation in his voice, saying people don't get the danger of Saddam Hussein. He talked about he 21st century, and he went beyond just the inspection team and what the U.N. resolutions are. He seemed to be saying the world doesn't get it.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- he did not say that. I think he made clear, though, what the stakes are for the world in allowing Saddam Hussein to have unfettered access to weapons of mass destruction.
Okay, anything else? Good. Thank you. We'll have some more of these guys do the week ahead.
MR. TOIV: The week ahead. I could be the President if you want, but --
Let's see. The Radio Address is being taped today, broadcast tomorrow. And, as Mike said this morning, it'll be an opportunity for the President to talk about some of the progress that we're continuing to make in reducing crime.
Then as you all know, the President tomorrow -- tonight he flies out to Las Vegas, overnights there, and then tomorrow he visits Sacramento, where he's going to dedicate the Yellow Basin Wildlife area. And he'll also attend a DNC lunch there and then travel to Los Angeles.
Sunday evening in Los Angeles, the President will address a reception for Rock the Vote and also a DNC dinner. Then on Monday, the President's travelling to Wichita, where he is going to be at the Cessna facility there, and he's going to announce the excellent progress that the Welfare to Work Foundation -- that's the Eli Segal initiative -- that the foundation has made in signing up companies as part of the private sector portion of the welfare -- the President's welfare to work initiative. And he will also announce a welfare to work initiative with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at that event. Monday night, he'll be in St. Louis for Jay Nixon for Senate, and for the Democratic Senate campaign committee. And then he will fly back to Washington that evening.
Tuesday, we have a working visit with President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, and he'll also attend DNC dinners that night here in town. On Wednesday, the President has a working visit with President Konare of Mali. And Thursday, no public events scheduled at this time. I suspect that will change, eventually. And then on Friday, the President will -- here at the White House -- will receive the first Rabin-Peres Peace Prize. That is -- that will be presented by former Prime Minister Peres and by Leah Rabin. And this is given by the Rabin-Peres Peace Prize Foundation, which is a joint effort of the separate peace foundations established by former Prime Minister Peres and Leah Rabin. And -- don't have a time on that. It's around lunchtime, I think. And the award honors the President's Middle East peace efforts.
Q Is there any money associated with that prize?
MR. TOIV: He would not be able to accept money, so they're trying to figure out exactly how to give an appropriate prize to him.
Q These foreign visits -- are they full-scale visits?
MR. TOIV: Those are working visits.
Q Barry, how much is he supposed to raise in the next couple of days?
MR. TOIV: Don't have that amount, but I'm sure that on the road they'll have that.
Q Barry -- one thing. The question asked earlier --the Blair call is still trying to be scheduled. It may happen over the weekend.
MR. TOIV: They're still trying to schedule the phone call with Prime Minister Blair. It may happen over the weekend.
Q What's the problem?
MR. TOIV: I don't know, Helen. I think I'd better get off so they can prepare for -- No, that's it. That's the entire public schedule as of right now.
Q Are there any pre-trip briefings on the APEC?
MR. TOIV: I'm sure we'll do something next week. I don't know yet what date. But yes.
END 2:19 P.M. EST