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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release November 18, 1997
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                              MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

1:37 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. What else is there to talk about today -- the weather?

Q Mike, what is the United States' understanding of the state of negotiations between Russia and Iraq and what are the details of that deal?

MR. MCCURRY: Our understanding is there have been discussions between Foreign Minister Primakov and Tariq Aziz and we have no understanding of the details of their discussions. They have not been briefed to the United States, nor, as far as we know, other members of the Security Council.

Q Does the United States welcome that effort?

MR. MCCURRY: We don't know what it is, so we can't welcome it.

Q What about this notion of having a foreign ministers meeting in Geneva on Thursday perhaps?

MR. MCCURRY: They've had some discussions about where best to caucus further on some of these matters and there have been some discussions about the proper venue. I think that discussion is complicated by the sheer logistics -- the Secretary of State is in New Delhi, the Foreign Minister of Russia is en route to South America, other ministers are around and about. We'll have to check further and see if anything develops. I think, in principle, we are interested in hearing more about any ideas that are out there, but we'd want to make sure that they are sufficient to meet our insistence and the insistence of the U.N. Security Council that the government of Iraq comply with the requirement that inspections under the auspices of the United Nations resume.

Q Is it your sense that in advance of a foreign ministers meeting, if it were to take place in Geneva or anyplace else, someone would be in touch with the Russian government to get a readout on what happened with his meetings with Tariq Aziz?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've had good contact with the government of Russia. My understanding is the Secretary of State has spoken directly to Foreign Minister Primakov. But as I said, we have not been apprised of the details of any ideas that the Russian Federation may have.

Q She spoke with Primakov after the meeting with Tariq Aziz?

MR. MCCURRY: That's correct.

Q And he didn't give her what happened -- he didn't tell her --

MR. MCCURRY: That's my understanding, yes.

Q Why wouldn't he tell her?

MR. MCCURRY: Because he is interested in presenting them at a meeting in which people could be briefed simultaneously, I gather. And whether or not that happens or not, it depends on further discussions.

Q Let me just follow one more time. Would this be a meeting of all five permanent -- the foreign ministers of all five, or just four?

MR. MCCURRY: There is no meeting; therefore, it's hard to know who might participate since no meeting has been decided upon. The discussions that have been occurring in and around this in person have involved four countries and, of course, there has been good written consultations with the People's Republic of China as well.

Q Mike, on a day when there is a lot of diplomatic activity, obviously for the last couple of days, what is the message the U.S. is sending by dispatching additional aircraft to the region?

MR. MCCURRY: It's a clear message that the action taken by Saddam Hussein in forwarding the will of the international community and refusing to allow the inspectors to do the work necessary to assure the world that he is not pursuing programs and weapons of mass destruction is very clear. The will is that he comply with the unequivocal statement of condemnation and requirement that those inspections be allowed, and that is a strong message being communicated in a variety of ways by a variety of governments, and in ways that are by now fairly transparent, no doubt, to Saddam Hussein.

Q Is it your sense that one of the reasons that diplomatic efforts seem to be having some effect at this point is because they were backed by U.S. readiness to use the military option?

MR. MCCURRY: I would not want to try to divine the thinking of Saddam Hussein, but it's easy to imagine that.

Q Did the United States know about this meeting between Tariq Aziz and Primakov before it happened, and was it sanctioned or asked for or were you just apprised of it?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the first part, it was widely reported so it was hard to miss. On the second part, we have encouraged other members of the Security Council to be equally clear and unequivocal in their own expressions to the government of Iraq.

Q Is it okay, Mike, for the U.S. to remain in the dark about what went on between the two men?

MR. MCCURRY: As I just indicated to you, to my knowledge, everyone is in the dark at this point until --

Q But is that all right?

MR. MCCURRY: They have not -- well, we're interested in learning more about the details, and of course, our enthusiasm for further discussions will grow if we learn that the analysis of any ideas is a positive one. But we're not in a position to make that judgment.

Q Mike, Sandy Berger was out here this morning, made the comments that he made about the oil for food program and apparent U.S. indifference on how the United Nations constitutes the UNSCOM teams. Should that be read --

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, that's not an expression of indifference at all. He was very clear in saying that they ought to be done by what is technically required for the United Nations to do the job of assuring the world that Iraq no longer is pursuing programs and weapons of mass destruction. There was not any lack of difference.

Q But with regard to nationalities.

MR. MCCURRY: The nationalities -- if I'm not mistaken, the National Security Advisor made it clear that we've got some expertise that's very important in the composition of those teams.

Q Mike, the point of the question is this: Saddam Hussein, as you well know, said that he would accept the teams back if it contained fewer Americans, and clearly the impression left by the National Security Advisor was the United States was somewhat indifferent about whether there were fewer Americans on those teams or not. The point of the question is simply this: Should all of this --

MR. MCCURRY: The point of the question is wrong because we are not indifferent about it, nor was he indifferent when he stood here. He made it quite clear that we have some expertise that's important to bring, and to answer the question, it's up to the United Nations to determine the composition of the team, as he indicated.

Q Should all of this be seen as flexibility on the part of the United States?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what "all of this" is that you're referring to. We've made it very clear the United Nations technically is in the position to compose inspections teams and I don't read that as flexibility, I read that as common sense. They're the ones that carry out the will of the Security Council when it comes to the conduct of these inspections and they've made it very clear -- Chairman Butler, who has been anything but flexible in compelling the right kind of behavior by the government of Iraq when it comes to those inspections has made it clear that they will compose their efforts in a way that gets the job done.

Q Former President Jimmy Carter said that he would be willing, be glad to be an envoy to Iraq. Is the White House looking at former President Carter for that?

MR. MCCURRY: He has enormous expertise -- his work through the auspices of the Carter Center is widely recognized as being very good at conflict resolution. If there is judgment by the President's national security advisors that his expertise and experience might be uniquely helpful at this moment, I'm sure that they will be in contact with the former President. I'm not aware that that's in the plans at the moment.

Q Mike, how central does the administration think that Primakov's efforts are? Is he viewed as perhaps the best placed envoy at this point, given his background, given his experience with the Iraqis?

MR. MCCURRY: He has enormous experience in that region of the world. He has a wealth of contacts with the government of Iraq at highest and high levels, and he is -- to the degree that he reinforces the unequivocal message of the Security Council in his presentations, certainly his involvement is helpful, just as it would be to have Foreign Minister Cook, Foreign Minister Vedrine, others, directly involved in discussions, as they have been.

Q Aren't you a little bit worried that the Russians might do some free-lance negotiating or present positions that the United States doesn't fully support? I mean, Primakov has done that in the past; why do you think he'll effectively represent --

MR. MCCURRY: The Russian Federation was among the nations unanimously supporting Security Council Resolution 1137, and member states have to adhere to the Security Council resolutions as a matter of the U.N. Charter. So his presentations would not present an opportunity for free-lancing.

Q But he might find a way out that the Russians would find acceptable --

MR. MCCURRY: His colleagues may not find his efforts acceptable.

Q But it's accurate to say that you're not looking for Russia to work out any deal, what you want Russia to do is to convey the point that Iraq has to comply.

MR. MCCURRY: We believe that Russia has been in a position and believe they have reinforced the message of the Security Council and the message that by now, the government of Iraq is hearing clearly expressed by the world community.

Q Mike, yesterday the State Department briefer said that once Iraq allowed the weapons inspectors back in with the Americans and so forth, that the U.S. would be willing to discuss "new arrangements" with regard to the weapons inspection teams. I don't understand what that means.

MR. MCCURRY: I can't add to -- Mr. Berger, I think, dealt with that question at some length this morning. I really am not going to add to what he already said.

Q Yes, but we seem -- here, you seem to be saying there can be no new arrangements if the U.N deals with that, but yesterday, the State Department was saying we're willing to talk about new arrangements. And I don't understand what the difference is.

MR. MCCURRY: I can't be any clearer than Mr. Berger was already this morning on that subject.

Q Mike, the last several days the President seems to have been spending as much, if not more, time raising money than meeting with his advisors on Iraq. Does he feel that's a satisfactory allocation of his time?

MR. MCCURRY: It's one that he has in the past expressed concern about, but it arises from the political necessities of the way campaign finance occurs in this country. We are now in a position of being woefully outspent by the Republican Party, so whatever effort the President has made is not sufficient to equalize the position of the Democratic Party with respect to the fundraising activity of the Republican Party, which occasionally you can read about in some newspapers.

Q Given these -- let me just follow up. Given these political imperatives, and at the same time you have this crisis with Iraq --

MR. MCCURRY: There has been no effect on the President's ability to deal with the current episode in Iraq because of his schedule. He can do any number of things all at once as Presidents are always required to do.

Q Can you tell me how much time the President has been spending on another potentially very dramatic situation in Asia with the blowout of the Asian markets, a crisis which by no means is under control at this point? Or is he relying more on Treasury and Larry Summers to deal with it?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he, of course, looks to the Treasury Department for expertise, and more particularly, to the Deputy Secretary who has been involved in the senior officials meetings in Manila in preparation for the upcoming Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum session in Vancouver. But looking ahead to Vancouver, the President has been actively involved with his advisors in a dialogue on those questions, particularly with Secretary Rubin, and of course will have an opportunity for further briefings as we prepare for the meetings next week.

Q When will that be? When are you going to --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's had some meetings already and will have meetings and briefings later in the week -- Thursday and Friday -- on the subject of both the bilateral meetings he will have next week in Vancouver and then the plenary sessions of APEC itself.

Q Will we have a briefing?


Q When?

MR. MCCURRY: When did we decide -- Thursday? Thursday. Did we decide who -- the two that I wanted? Not clear yet? We have high-quality briefers who will be here Thursday to talk.

Q On the seatbelt -- on the airbag issue, the President is on record as saying --

MR. MCCURRY: Are you calling me an airbag?

Q No, I would never do that. (Laughter.) The President a year or so ago suggested he would support an effort that people would have the ability to deactivate their airbags. Now the Department of Transportation says they can only do so under certain limited circumstances. Is the President going back on what he suggested he would be doing?

MR. MCCURRY: No. The President is very well satisfied that Secretary Slater has arrived at a common-sense solution here. There's a concern about safety and airbags clearly protect the safety of passengers, especially front-seat passengers. They're concerned about infants and smaller passengers and the ability to deactivate those voluntarily by vehicle owners seems to be a very good common-sense solution that will give individual Americans the choice that they need to best protect their own families, depending on what their driving circumstances are, depending on what their family situation is. So I think he's fairly satisfied with the outcome.

Q If I could go back to Iraq for a second -- if Primakov were to be offering the Russians a, as it were, better deal than the Security Council has been offering, that would be unacceptable to us?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Security Council has not offered any deal, it has expressed its views quite clearly in Resolution 1137. If there are discussions on how best to achieve Iraqi compliance with 1137 that have occurred we'll be very interested in the details. But one way or another the compliance with 1137 will have to be the effective outcome of any discussions that have been underway.

Q Isn't it extraordinary that he would talk to Albright on the telephone after this meeting and not give her at least some indication of what was discussed? Doesn't that give you a little trepidation?

MR. MCCURRY: There were in a -- not in a position where they could communicate well and not in a position where they could communicate effectively -- the Secretary being in New Delhi, the Foreign Minister being in Moscow -- and obviously, part of the discussion was about having a face-to-face meeting so that ministers could learn more about the details. It makes sense, if you think of this as a call to see if there was a way of scheduling a meeting.

Q Did they achieve any progress in scheduling a face-to-face meeting between Albright and Primakov?

MR. MCCURRY: They're talking about that, but there have been no decisions about whether or not to go ahead and have the meeting.

Q Would that be separate from the four-way ministerial meeting, or would there be a bilateral meeting between Primakov and Albright?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, my understanding of the conversation was about having a collection of ministers together. I would really leave it up to the State Department to apprise you later about who and how many might be able to attend, and it really will be up to the State Department to brief further on what they resolve on this and what her travel schedule is.

Q Is the President confident that Primakov is presenting the administration's views clearly to Saddam?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, wait a minute. It's not the job of the Russian Foreign Minister to present the views of the United States government. So we wouldn't anticipate that in any event. It is an obligation of a member state of the Security Council to present the views of the Security Council. And we have some degree of confidence that the message delivered by the Russian Federation has been unequivocal with respect to the need for compliance.

Q You're confident that he's faithfully conveying the sentiment of the Security Council?

MR. MCCURRY: We are not privy to those conversations so we can't comment in substantive detail on them. But the representation thus has been that he has very clearly reflected the will of the United Nations as expressed by the Security Council.

Q And what else he talked about we simply do not know -- we have no idea?

MR. MCCURRY: At this point, we have not had an opportunity to have a fuller briefing on it, that's correct.

Q Mike, the Russians have just released a letter that they say is from Saddam Hussein to President Yeltsin in which Saddam requests a balanced political solution to the crisis. Is a balanced political solution what the United States seeks?

MR. MCCURRY: We are interested in compliance with the will of the world community, as supported by the Russian Federation and the United States, as expressed by the Security Council in Resolution 1137.

Q Balanced is the wrong word?

MR. MCCURRY: The words in that resolution are on paper and you can read them and they are quite clear.

Q Mike, isn't all this a replay of what we saw during Desert Shield, before the Persian Gulf War?

MR. MCCURRY: I was out of government at the time so I can't comment on that.

Q Well, let me more specific. Leading up to the Persian Gulf War, we had the French and the Russians -- there was all kinds of diplomacy by third parties and Saddam stood his ground and finally only a military solution --

MR. MCCURRY: A useful historical footnote, Leo. Thank you.

Q My question now is to what extent is that useful historical footnote in the minds of the President and his advisors?

MR. MCCURRY: Somewhat.

Q Mike, the President, over the last few months, has had a series of outreach meetings with Northeasterners, gay and lesbian Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, and last week, young people. Over the weekend, he said that now "I insist that we have a reporter in every one of these meetings; I wished we had one in all the others." Who are the reporters who attended those outreach meetings?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe he said, now I wish -- now I will insist that -- it was future tense. I'll have to talk to the President about that. I heard from Joe that he had said that, but I hadn't talked to the President about it.

Q The President is expected to receive the Consumer Bill of Rights on Thursday. Is this the first step toward federal regulation of HMOs or some form of national standard?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll comment on that Thursday.

Q Mike, today is the start of the Tawana Brawley trial in which Al Sharpton is a defendant. The President had himself photographed with Al Sharpton in New York two weeks ago. Can you tell us whether, by doing that, the President was signaling that he felt that the charges against Sharpton weren't serious? And if not, why would he want to be photographed with a guy who might be guilty of defamation?

MR. MCCURRY: He was not, and I was not aware of the photograph.

Q Is the President meeting with Erskine Bowles today to talk about the Chief of Staff's departure?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe he's playing golf with Erskine. Correct?

Q Mike, if I could go back -- I mean, there is a photograph of him with Sharpton, there's no doubt about it.

MR. MCCURRY: I wasn't aware of that.

Q Mike, getting to the judge's comments about the black farmers and USDA, what's the President's thoughts about the 30 days that the USDA has to get themselves together to get the black farmers straight from all the bias?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he looks forward to having a good meeting both with the farmers and with Secretary Glickman in which they will have an opportunity to talk about a range of issues that affect not only minority farmers, but all rural farmers, particularly those who have smaller land holdings. They're going to talk, obviously, about tobacco and tobacco growing, and the President's suggestion there needs to be some assistance for rural communities that depend on tobacco for livelihood and income since that's a special concern to many of those same farmers -- talk about access to credit, clearly. And the President will review the work that Secretary Glickman has been doing at the Agriculture Department with respect to race discrimination and the provision of benefits under some of the Ag Department's programs. Looking forward to the meeting; this will be a good opportunity in December to pursue all those items and to have the President comment favorably on a lot of the things that Secretary Glickman has been doing.

Q Did you say December, Mike?


Q Mike, after the President's call to the President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak, did he call any other world leaders on the Iraq thing?

MR. MCCURRY: He spoke to Secretary General Koffi Annan. Beyond that, he has been getting the reports related to the diplomacy of the Secretary and some of the discussions others here have had.

Q Did the President get a briefing from the FBI on their final findings on the TWA 800 case?

MR. MCCURRY: We got, through our Cabinet Secretary, an update on what they were announcing with respect to that investigation and also the announcements the FBI made earlier today with respect to the Atlanta bombings, but just by way of an information update. I don't think a detailed briefing.

Q On the TWA 800 case, after the downing of TWA 800, the President put into effect certain security measures that have caused some inconvenience for travelers. Since the FBI now says there is no evidence of criminal activity, is there any thought given to reviewing those additional security measures?

MR. MCCURRY: Remember at the time, Mark, we indicated that while that case highlighted the attention of America's traveling public as to the concern and the threat, that, really, those were prudent steps to take based on the world we live in now and the proximate threats that we see from time to time of terrorist activities.

I think all of those things, while they do cause inconvenience, are well-placed in a world in which we see almost daily some evidence of terrorism activity someplace in the world. And I think given our concern about assuring that we have the safest and most reliable security systems in place for America's air travelers, we wouldn't, that I'm aware of, go back and revisit the changes that were put into effect. They were studied very carefully. You know, the Vice President did a very good job in the aftermath of that announcement by the President, really working with the industry and structuring those safety measures so that they would be as least intrusive as possible, but at the same time produce the maximum amount of security safeguards for travelers. And I think we have some confidence that we have struck the right balance, irrespective of the announcement today.

Q Following up on Leo's question, in view of the fact that the President's concerned about his time and having spent so much time fundraising, how does he justify playing golf today?

MR. MCCURRY: You could have told, if you had listened carefully to one of the questions earlier, that he had a specific purpose in thinking and playing golf today with someone he's playing golf with.

Q What would the purpose be?

MR. MCCURRY: Why don't you speculate on it?

Q You mean, this really is an important meeting that's happening out there?

MR. MCCURRY: Could be.

Q It couldn't be done inside the White House?

MR. MCCURRY: We may find out.

Q Can you go over some of the issues President Clinton will discuss with the President of Kazakhstan?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. First of all, hopefully, if you're following the visit by the President of Kazakhstan, you have paid some attention to the significant announcements that have come from the Vice President and President Nazarbayev as a result of the meeting of the joint commission that they had. They've been at the State Department and have reached some important results with respect to defense, security, business and commercial developments. There has just been a signing involving two consortiums related to oil and gas, energy research and development in the Caspian Basin, which I think is very positive.

The President, when he meets later this afternoon with President Nazarbayev will have a broad discussion of bilateral issues and multilateral issues that will focus on both political and economic reform in Kazakhstan, questions related to nonproliferation and the progress that we have been making with the government of Kazakhstan on nonproliferation-related issues. They obviously will talk about the importance of Caspian energy development, including a discussion of east-west Eurasian transport corridors and trans-Caspian pipelines, which the United States government has strongly supported. Many of you know that we have been long in favor of multiple routes for pipeline traffic, and that is a source of -- that's a very serious subject of discussion that's been going on between the two governments. There will also be discussions of security issues and defense cooperation.

At the conclusion of the meeting, I expect the two Presidents to release a joint statement which will reaffirm the very close relations that we have with the government of Kazakhstan and the importance the United States government attaches to the development of democracy, market economics, and institutions of further economic progress throughout Central Asia.

Q And that statement will be the readout or will there be --

MR. MCCURRY: That will be a readout and then Anne or someone will be available for additional questions if you have any.

Q Is the Chief of Staff planning or intending to leave before the State of the Union? And if so, is part of the purpose of today's outing for the President to ask him to stay or to talk about his successor or --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure a question that important would be one that would be personal and be discussed between the two of them to the satisfaction of both before any further public discussions are made. And beyond that, I don't know the answer.

Q Mike, will you be playing golf at some point --(laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. When I leave the White House, I'll get to return to the game that I loved so much that I left five years ago.

Q On terrorism, since this attack in Luxor is some sort of, apparently, Sikh retaliation because of the Egyptian -- are there any increased steps the U.S. can take? Are we considering extraditing or sending back any of these people who are in prison?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to comment on what is suggested as motive until the government of Egypt has a better opportunity to conduct the kind of law enforcement investigation and judicial proceedings that would establish that with some certainty.

The second half of your question, though, is a different question -- do we, mindful of the presence of terrorist activity in this world, always find ways to be vigilant, always find ways to remind Americans who are here at home or abroad of how to take the best possible precautions to protect themselves and their families? The answer is yes. And we assess that always and through our embassies around the world. When we are alert to situations that require any kind of information or warning to the American public or the America family abroad, we always make that very widely available.

Q Mike, can you tell us where the additional U.S. war planes are going to be stationed in --

MR. MCCURRY: I can't, but they're getting ready to brief on that at the Pentagon right now.

Q And do we have permission yet from the Saudis to fly from their territory?

MR. MCCURRY: In the steps that we are taking to enhance our force posture in the region, we are working with those in the region who best understand what kind of proximate threat Saddam Hussein poses. I think I'll leave it at that.

Q Have you made any progress in scheduling a press conference?


Q Can we play golf with the President? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Some of you have.

Q Mike, let me take reverse of that previous question -- are the Saudis withholding their permission?

MR. MCCURRY: I'd leave it to the Pentagon to talk about how they are going to base and deploy the resources, but I don't think it would be safe to make that judgment.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:05 P.M. EST