THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
12:56 P.M. EST
Q The Russian are talking about giving the Iraqis some light at the end of the tunnel. Is it time for a timetable for lifting the sanctions?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't what the phrase "light at the end of the tunnel" means, so maybe at the conclusion of Secretary Albright's meeting we'll have a better sense of what that idea is.
Q Well, is it appropriate at this point to consider a timetable for the lifting of sanctions, a date certain?
MR. MCCURRY: It's appropriate at this time for Saddam Hussein to comply with the requirements that have been placed upon him by the international community through relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.
That was not exactly an answer. (Laughter.)
Q I take it the United States feels it's premature to be talking about the lifting of sanctions.
MR. MCCURRY: The United States has always said that compliance with relevant Security Council resolutions is a precondition for any consideration of that topic. I don't think our views on that have changed.
Q But is there some wiggle room as far as what could happen afterwards?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no wiggle room in our view that Saddam Hussein must allow the inspections necessary to determine what degree of activity there is related to weapons of mass destruction to resume, to resume unfettered. And it's very clear that nothing is going to happen with respect to sanctions until those inspections resume and until he complies with the requirements that have been placed upon him by the U.N. Security Council.
Q Well, once he does -- assuming he does -- then is there room for a timetable?
MR. MCCURRY: That at the moment is a moot point.
Q Mike, what's your thinking about reparations to Kuwait? Is that still a condition of getting sanctions lifted? There are some reports that we're backing off our insistence that Iraq has to pay those.
MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard anything to that effect. There are a variety of requirements under 687, which was the cease-fire resolution, that we have long maintained need to be fully complied with by the government of Iraq. At the moment, the most specific concern is obviously those requirements related to the UNSCOM inspections that need to resume.
Q This was portrayed as a concession that is --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any concessions.
Q The President obviously knows what's in this proposal.
MR. MCCURRY: The President knows that Secretary Albright agreed with Foreign Minister Primakov and with her other counterparts, Foreign Secretary Cook and Foreign Minister Vedrine, to withhold any specific detailed conversations on this Russian idea until the meeting occurs tonight in Geneva.
Q But we know what's in it?
MR. MCCURRY: We -- there have been public statements made and we have done everything we can to learn more about it. But there needs to be a discussion of it and there needs to be presentation of the concept by Foreign Minister Primakov. And we'll see whether there's a basis there to have further dialogue.
Q You're not suggesting that your walking into this blind, though, are you? I mean --
MR. MCCURRY: We rarely go into meetings with ministerial levels blind, as you know.
Q The President's phrase last night, "we cannot accept another dictator with weapons of mass destruction" -- does that imply a change in U.S. policy? Is it now policy to try to get rid of him?
MR. MCCURRY: No, there is no change in our view of that.
Q Are you willing to countenance any change in the U.N. inspection team? Must it have absolutely the same members go back in?
MR. MCCURRY: Asked and answered yesterday; Mr. Berger gave a good answer to that question yesterday.
Q Can you refresh our memory and tell us what he said?
MR. MCCURRY: You've got in on tape, so I know you can find it.
Q But he didn't really answer it precisely.
MR. MCCURRY: He said it's up to the U.N. It's up to the United Nations and the experts -- and Chairman Butler you'll hear from later today on this question, no doubt -- it's up to them to decide what they need technically to conduct the work they need. Our view, and I think his view, is that the American component of those efforts is a very valuable piece of the effort that they undertake because of the expertise that we have, and I don't imagine that view is going to change.
Q What do you think of the Iraqi -- very quick Iraqi rejection of any suggestion that a food for oil easing would be in their benefit in this situation?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's consistent with their attitude about that all along. They have utter disregard for the people of Iraq who would benefit from humanitarian oil sales. Saddam Hussein has no interest in feeding his suffering people or getting food and medicine and health care to those who need it, which would be allowed under those sales. He's repeatedly thumbed his nose at the idea that there could be humanitarian relief for his own people. It's just consistent with his past practice on this issue.
Q How much confidence does the United States have that the Russians may have actually reached a breakthrough?
MR. MCCURRY: Until we have the meeting tonight, we will have to withhold any expression of optimism.
Q Do you expect to have anything to say about it from here after the meeting, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't.
Q Mike, given that it's a moot point right now, but in a perfect world, if Saddam Hussein begins to comply with all the things he's supposed to do under 687, would the United States begin to go along with beginning to lift the sanctions?
MR. MCCURRY: If he has a change of heart and begins to comply with the terms of the resolution and begins to implement them, begins to respect the rights of the Kurdish population in the north and the populations in the south that he has gassed before and destroyed the marshlands upon which many of those populations live -- if, in other words, he became someone other than the Saddam Hussein we've come to know and began to implement relevant resolutions and live up to his international obligations, that's the condition upon which the United Nations could very easily then begin to move away from a sanctions regime.
That's just not where we are right this moment. In fact, we've gone the other direction, which is moved in the direction of willful disregard for the requirements that have been placed upon him.
Q And doesn't that give you reason to be skeptical about what the Russians are offering?
MR. MCCURRY: It gives us reason to be very careful and judge very carefully any presentations that are made about the intent of the government of Iraq.
Q But do we know how Britain and France are going to stand on this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they are in the same position that the United States government is -- they await the presentation to be made tonight.
Q New subject?
MR. MCCURRY: New subject.
Q The State Department issued a worldwide caution to Americans traveling abroad. Is that an unusual thing?
MR. MCCURRY: They have done that on prior occasions. It's unusual in the sense that from time to time the judgment of our experts is that conditions are sufficient to remind the American traveling public, especially when they're overseas, that they ought to be mindful of the environment around them and be careful about things related to their own security and the security of others. But I think it does reflect a series of things, as outlined in the statement by the State Department, that would require us to notify Americans of our concern.
Remember that under longstanding United States government policy, anytime that we effect any security changes at our own diplomatic establishments around the world, we automatically tell the American public of that as well, so that there is no dual standard in the information that's available.
Q As a follow, knowing that the travel industry regards this as a significant economic revenue time of the year for them, are you concerned about the impact that this would have on them and the American economy?
MR. MCCURRY: We are mindful of that, but we are more concerned that we give accurate information to the American public about the need to be careful as they travel around the world. There's nothing about this caution that says to the American public they should not travel. What it suggests is that they ought to be very cognizant of matters related to their own security.
And most American citizens who have now traveled, particularly around the world, have become accustomed to being more alert to their own security situation when it comes to handling their own baggage or noticing things around them that seem to be out of place. And it's just useful for the United States to remind its citizens that at a moment in which we have seen a series of things that would cause our own government to be concerned about U.S. personnel around the world, that it's good to remind all Americans who might be traveling that they should be alert. And that's what this caution does.
Q What about alerts here? Any greater stepped-up security here in the wake of the various --
MR. MCCURRY: We assess things and have almost a daily adjustment of whatever the security procedures are here. And one useful thing is that we don't talk about it.
Q Mike, there was an article today in the Daily Telegraph where people were complaining that in Great Britain, I think it's 26 out of the 30 terrorist organizations that are on the State Department's list have their headquarters or offices in London because of the nature of the legislation there. For instance, it's not an offense to conspire to commit acts of terrorism abroad according to British law. Now, there's some attempts in the British Parliament to change that, which, of course, I think would be in line with what the United States is trying to do with this terrorism. Is the U.S. also trying to influence a change of legislation in Britain to prevent this place from becoming a --
MR. MCCURRY: I am not aware that we have taken any position on emerging legislation in the Parliament, but we certainly have worked very closely with the United Kingdom to create better cooperation, government to government, in our ability to counteract terrorist activity and to understand better the movement and trafficking of those who support, condone, and conduct terrorist related activity.
Q Mike, given the Vice President's comments yesterday -- could you -- and yours this morning -- could you set up the Patient's Bill of Rights recommendations that are coming forward to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'll save a lot of that for the President tomorrow. The President has been following carefully the work of the quality commission on health care choices that has been discussing a bill of rights that would apply to the American consumer when it comes to their own interaction with the health care delivery system or with the health care insurance system. And I think the President is -- finds the work that they have conducted commendable. He intends to say so tomorrow and I think he intends to say more specifically about the specific rights and responsibilities that have been identified by the quality commission. But, in short, I think he feels they've done a good piece of work, and the implications of that work and how we can move ahead to implement some of those ideas will be the subject of the President's remarks tomorrow.
Q Is he endorsing it -- their report?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that will likely be the news that you write tomorrow.
Q I'm sorry, say again? What was that again, Helen?
MR. MCCURRY: Just was he going to endorse the report of the commission.
Q Mike, were you able to find out whether the White House had input into the DEA warning to doctors in Oregon about assisted suicide?
MR. MCCURRY: I did check into that and we did not.
Q Yes, to another subject. Could you give us an update on who could be nominated as U.S. ambassador in Mexico and when this nomination would be announced? What is the current situation about it?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has identified a number of very well-qualified candidates, but he has not made any final selection that I'm aware of. And we expect to do so soon.
All right, thank you.
Q Mike, do you have anything on the ceremony tomorrow honoring religious leaders?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has got the annual religious breakfast tomorrow that he has here and I don't have the -- do you have the schedule on that? -- the religious breakfast tomorrow? Do you know when it is? Check and see if you know when it is. He annually has the opportunity to meet with religious leaders, and this is the annual breakfast that he has with religious leaders tomorrow. And there's coverage of that that's available.
Q Any more national security meetings today with the President?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will be having further discussions with Mr. Berger later today. Mr. Berger has been quite active, speaking to Secretary Albright, Secretary Cohen and others.
Q Any other calls --
MR. MCCURRY: None that I'm aware of today -- so far.
Q Roughly when, Mike?
Q I just wondered, anything on the schedule tonight --
MR. MCCURRY: He's only got a social engagement at the White House on his calendar tonight.
Q When will he talk with Sandy, roughly?
MR. MCCURRY: He's already talked to him several times today and probably will talk to him several times more.
Q Basically, I'm trying to figure out whether the President is going to get a real-time readout of what the Secretary discussed in Geneva. Is he likely to be given a brief late, a midnight briefing?
MR. MCCURRY: He should be in the meeting and so not in a position to provide a real-time readout, but he'll hear about it shortly after the meeting, I'm sure.
Q He will?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure he'll hear something one way or another at the end of the meeting. But I imagine you'll get a real-time readout because there will probably be some public pronouncement at the conclusion of that meeting. I don't know that that's how they've set this meeting up, but if you're following this you'll probably hear it first from Geneva.
Q Mike, do you expect any reaction here?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not expecting any reaction here tonight. I think we're going to want to assess whatever the results of the meeting are, and given that it's likely to conclude very late tonight if not early tomorrow morning, it will probably be tomorrow before we move any further publicly on the subject.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:11 P.M. EST