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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release November 20, 1997
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                              MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

1:30 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: This is the best I can do, in terms of an audience? Well, I appreciate the attendance of those of you who are here. Let me add -- I want to add a few things to what I said this morning in the gaggle. I was asked about how the President followed developments last night. I had the opportunity to ask him, and I just wanted to give you a little more on that.

I think you know, he was screening the movie, "Welcome to Sarajevo," in the residence last night with some friends and family. He slipped out of the theater twice to take phone calls from National Security Advisor Berger, to really give his instructions that could be relayed to Secretary Albright, related to the formulations reflected in the statement issued by the five governments following the meeting in Geneva last night.

After the movie was over, he came back to the Oval Office and got an update from Geneva by National Security Advisor Berger and Deputy National Security Advisor Jim Steinberg. He worked in the Oval for a while, and then wandered down to Sandy's office after 11:00 p.m., and he watched Secretary Albright's statement in Geneva down in Sandy's office. She happened to call in afterwards, and spoke both to Sandy and then to the President. The President said that she had stated the U.S. position very clearly and unambiguously; the President said she'd done a good job.

He then stayed with Mr. Steinberg, Mr. Berger and Bruce Riedel, who's our senior director for that region at the NSC, and talked for about an hour about the things that we are going to need to do now to both strengthen UNSCOM in its capacity to do the work defined in relevant U.N. resolutions, to how we can continue to keep in place those things that will allow us some degree of confidence that our force posture in the region is consistent with what we think the reality of future behavior will be by the government of Iraq.

He also talked about how we can build on the unanimity of the world community, and facing this recent provocation. It's been instructive that we've seen the Security Council working together and working unanimously as we dealt with aspects of this episode. I think the President believes we need to continue to bring that kind of concentrated focus on the problem.

I think the President clearly believes that the focus that has been paid to questions related to weapons of mass destruction, biological weapons, chemical weapons, the threat that they pose, has been useful because the world community will increasingly, in the era we live in now, have to face that threat. That's something the President has talked about a lot.

But I think, more specifically, as a reminder that problems we've had in gaining the kind of full compliance we need from the government of Iraq, this was another telling episode that reminds the world of some of the frustrations we've seen in Saddam Hussein's lack of willingness to do what has been required of him by the world community.

Q Mike, did you talk to Sandy and Jim about how to strengthen UNSCOM? How does he want to strengthen UNSCOM?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there will be a meeting of the Special Commission tomorrow, and I assume that will lead to some type of Security Council discussion on that question.

I think, as you heard earlier from Mr. Berger, one of the concerns we have now is we need to go back and re-establish what is referred to as the baseline of understanding about what the extent of existing programs may have been. It will be very important for the U.N. Special Commission to be able to go back and do that kind of work.

Q Did he talk to the Russians at all, to thank them for their efforts?

MR. MCCURRY: He did not, but he concurred in the expression of appreciation reflected in the statement issued last night. I can only echo what Mr. Berger said earlier -- we hope the story ends up with a happy ending.

Q Do you think he will?

Q Mike, given that the Russians are now saying they're going to help get the sanctions eased, you guys seem to be going the other direction and saying you have new structures that have to be put in place to stop this from happening again -- isn't this just going to be a continuing long-term struggle with upsets like this over and over again? It seems like nothing's been solved.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are two pathways that are available. One would be the continued obstinacy of Saddam Hussein, continued behavior that we've seen in the past. The other would be, if he desires relief from the sanctions regime that he faces, would be a different kind of behavior. So I think in very large measure that's up to the government of Iraq and up to Saddam Hussein.

Q There seems to be so far a very broad suggestion that this was is going to continue by other means. You've got Hamdoon today saying that he hopes the first item of business in the Security Council tomorrow will be ways to prohibit the U2 overflights.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, his statements have not proven reliable in recent days. I think Tariq Aziz has made it clear that there hasn't been any conditions agreed to by the U.N. Security Council, and the Security Council has made it clear that their first item of business will be the nature and extent of compliance by the government of Iraq with Security Council Resolution 1137.

Q If the U.N. inspectors are going back, why is it still necessary to send over additional warplanes and Patriot air defense missiles to Kuwait?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, when the President dispatched them there he suggested that was a prudent and cautionary move, and that remains no less true now than it did then.

Q Why does it remain no less true now if we're going back to a situation where the inspectors will be allowed to inspect?

MR. MCCURRY: Because I think that this is an instance in which we will verify first and trust later.

Q Do you anticipate being able to withdraw anytime soon?

MR. MCCURRY: That depends on circumstances to develop.

Q Mike, does the administration have even a ballpark estimate as to how much time it may take the inspectors, once they get back into Iraq, to just get back to where they were before they were kicked out and we're not even allowed to inspect?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that our administration has any technical evaluation that would answer that question. We will be looking at Chairman Butler and the assessment made by the Special Commission most likely in connection with their meeting tomorrow to get a better understanding of that. It may be true that it will be impossible to know until the inspectors resume work, see what the status of their existing monitoring activity is at this point, and see if there was any obstruction or tampering with any of the procedures they have in place. And it will probably more like we get an evaluation after that occurs.

Q Mike, on a different subject, it appears that Larry Lawrence got a waiver to get buried at Arlington. Is the administration aware of any service other than giving lots of money to the Democratic Party that would justify such a waiver?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I would direct that question to the Secretary of the Army. He'll be prepared to answer it. I, myself, if I'm not mistaken, have always heard that in addition -- obviously, he died while serving as a U.S. ambassador overseas, but I believe he also was a merchant mariner and served during World War II on a ship that was torpedoed or at least suffered some kind of attack. I would ask you to double-check that with the Department of the Army and assure yourself that that's the case.

Q Mike, on this issue, Senator Specter has sent a letter to the President asking for a personal denial. He's apparently not satisfied with the denial that Lanny Davis put out.

MR. MCCURRY: I want to make a point about this story. We sit around and have journalism conferences from time to time and talk about things like this. This is a story that appeared largely uncorroborated with anonymous sources in a conservative right-wing publication. It was picked up on the hate-radio talk circuit and inflamed yesterday, and now we're sitting here talking about an article that as near as anyone can say and has been said now by the Army and said by the White House has no basis in fact, and we're treating it as if it has some legitimacy.

And we've got members of Congress reacting to the same phenomenon and treating it with a degree of legitimacy it probably doesn't need to have attached to it. So I'm a little concerned if sitting here and denying or clarifying or amplifying treats the absurd as something that is worthy of comment. And I don't know that I want to do that.

Q Wouldn't you make it a non-issue by releasing the list of all of those --

MR. MCCURRY: It was done -- if I'm not mistaken, the Army put out the circumstances of the 61 cases in which the Secretary of the Army has granted exemptions and went through them yesterday. And I think they indicated for privacy, there are Privacy Act provisions, no doubt, about the individual cases, but I believe they did that yesterday.

Q Mike, Mark's question was, is the President going to answer the letter.

MR. MCCURRY: I think it was answered adequately, in fact, more than adequately in the statement issued yesterday.

Q Mike, does that mean the President is not going to personally answer the letter?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe it was answered more than adequately in the statement issued by the White House.

Q To clarify, the Privacy Act protects what?

MR. MCCURRY: I will have to check -- the Privacy Act is the Privacy Act. I don't know exactly what the applications are to the procedures they have at the Army, but I would ask that you check there. They're willing to deal with that, and they were dealing with it yesterday.

Q But you're not saying that the Privacy Act definitely protects --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not a lawyer and I'm not sure what the application is, but they indicated concern for privacy and not identifying the names of people, many of whom were spouses of people who were already buried at Arlington. And they have some concern that they expressed that I saw reflected in some of the reporting.

Q And this may sound like a naive follow-up, but do you think it is inappropriate for people to get waivers if they do not meet the criteria if it's tied in any way --

MR. MCCURRY: Our statement last night couldn't have been clearer on that point.

Q Is there a timetable for sending Togo West's name to the Senate?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what the status of that nomination is.

Q Is the President still --

MR. MCCURRY: He's considered highly regarded here and he has certainly been mentioned in many news accounts as a possible candidate.

Q Mike, what do you know about the President's personal fax, telephone number being compromised by a posting on the Internet following some congressional testimony by Dick Morris?

MR. MCCURRY: All I know is what Roll Call has reported today -- they, to my knowledge, alerted us to the phenomenon. And obviously that would be a source of concern to the White House, because that's a very valuable way in which the President maintains contact with an incredibly diverse group of Americans.

Q Well, has it been posted?

MR. MCCURRY: I'd prefer not to say. I think if you look at the article, the article explains pretty well what happened.

Q What happened after the number was published on the Internet? What happened? Did they just simply change the phone number here?

MR. MCCURRY: If you read the article, you will get the answer, Peter. I'd prefer not to talk about it in this setting.

Q Mike, on Iraq, is there any concern whatsoever about the safety of the inspectors when they go back in now, and particularly are Americans at risk?

MR. MCCURRY: There obviously shouldn't be, but I think that Chairman Butler will be very attentive to that question as the teams go back in.

Q Mike, the President is making two more fundraising -- or four more fundraising events this weekend on his way to Vancouver. There have been analyses that show he's used Air Force One for fundraising more than any other President. Do you think there is any question about propriety of this, given that taxpayers basically subsidize --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't think it's any surprise that he has spent more money, because if you look at what the costs are of running national campaigns and congressional campaigns, they have escalated dramatically, which is yet again a reason why we should enact campaign finance reform when a vote comes early next year so that we can put some curbs and limits on both the amount of time candidates spend fundraising and the amount of money that is devoted to campaigns themselves.

Q But you don't think there's any propriety issue, given that I think the DNC --

MR. MCCURRY: I think it's very proper for the President as the head of the Democratic Party to assist candidates in fundraising.

Q How concerned is the President that the Democrats might not be financially competitive next year?

MR. MCCURRY: He's very concerned.

Q Mike, how is the President's briefing coming along on APEC? You had mentioned that today and tomorrow he would be doing APEC briefings. Is he doing that? Who is he getting briefed by?

MR. MCCURRY: He's underway now and he's getting a combination of briefings both on the meetings of the forum itself, the leaders meeting that he will have with all the other leaders of the Asian economies. And then he's getting some briefings later in the day on more -- several bilateral meetings that he'll be having. We'll say more about both sets of briefings when we are back here at 2:45 p.m. with my dynamic duo.

Q Has he got a report back on the deal that they got in Manila yesterday and is he satisfied that that will help solve the Southeast Asian crisis?

MR. MCCURRY: He's heard a fair amount about it. I think he's going to get more detail on that. He believes Deputy Secretary Summers achieved a number of very important goals with respect to the type of facilities under the auspices of the IMF that will be available to deal with some of the episodes of fluctuation we've seen in Asian markets. But I'll defer to Dan Tarullo who will be here later who can tell you a little bit more about that.

Q Sorry, just to go back to the fundraising question for a second. Does he feel any degree of responsibility for having put them in that position because of the campaign last year, or does he feel frustration and blame the Republicans for --

MR. MCCURRY: He's addressed all the matters about his own responsibility and did so recently in an interview. But I think that he also sees himself as responsible to help the party and the party's congressional campaign committees have resources that at least partially offset the significant advantage that the Republican Party will have in the 1998 campaign cycle and beyond.

Q Mike, a little while ago you referred to these questions about the cemetery being put on hate-radio. Were you referring to Rush Limbaugh or what were you referring to?

MR. MCCURRY: It was apparently on a number of talk radios yesterday, if I judge from news accounts correctly.

Q I'm just wondering what you meant by hate radio, who you were referring to.

MR. MCCURRY: I think they know who they are.

Q When do you expect the President to focus more in on Bosnia, the options before him and how he's going to rule on other decisions --

MR. MCCURRY: He's been doing a lot of work on that. We will, between now and the end of the year be looking at the question of ramping down the current SFOR contingent. You'll probably hear more from the Pentagon about that, I would imagine, as you get into early next year, because they need to begin spelling out exactly what some of the operational decisions are.

But the question of how you structure an international security presence in Bosnia beyond June of 1998 will be one that the President's senior policymakers will be taking up and dealing with, probably on and off for the balance of the year. I can't project the time table for decision-making on that, but it will certainly go into some of the discussions that you'll see happening later in the year.

There will be a NATO ministerial meeting in December, as there is annually, in Brussels, and no doubt some discussion of these issues with respect to that meeting.

Q Just to follow up on that, does the President want to get these decisions made and have Congress approve them before the NATO expansion vote takes place?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure that there's necessarily a direct connection to those two. But in and around a discussion of the future of Europe, the future of NATO, the question of how the international community deals with this difficult problem in the heart of Europe will no doubt play into that discussion.

Q That's what I'm asking -- if you would like Bosnia to kind of be resolved before he asks NATO to take on this huge new job of preserving Eastern Europe.

MR. MCCURRY: I think as a practical matter, the timing will probably work out that way.

Q Mike, I understand that you don't want to talk about the internal fallout from this fax number being disclosed. What do you think about the congressional procedures that would allow confidential information like that to be released in such a public way?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they've had their lapses, and if I'm not mistaken, they have expressed regret to Mr. Ruff for the fact that it happened. It's not the first time that they've had some procedural lapses.

Q What can you tell us about this Rabin Peres Award that will be presented tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to defer -- unless any of you have got more details on it -- I forgot to get details on it. We can provide -- we'll probably be putting out some paper advisory on that.

We can get you some more on that. What I know about it personally is that this is an effort by the family of former Prime Minister Rabin and also those closely associated with work of Prime MInister Peres to establish recognition for those who have been active and committed to the Middle East peace process. And we can probably get you more on that later on.

Q Is that another slap at Netanyahu?

MR. MCCURRY: We don't slap at Netanyahu at all, so it couldn't be another one.

Anything else? Good. See you at 2:45 p.m.

END 1:45 P.M. EST