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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 1, 1997
                            PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                               MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

1:30 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. What's on your mind today?

Q Bliss. Is there any --

MR. MCCURRY: Bliss did you say?

Q Yes, bliss. Is the U.S. doing anything to deal with the Russians on this?

MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is that we've had some contact through the Consular officer with him. He's also had contact with an attorney representing him. Beyond that I'd have to refer you over to the State Department because they've been watching it more closely and been getting updates.

Q Where does the President stand on a recess appointment for Bill Lann Lee?

MR. MCCURRY: The President stands in favor of seeing him confirmed by the United States Senate. And at the moment we are hopeful that that could happen. It was very significant over the weekend that General Colin Powell said that if he were a member of the United States Senate he would vote to confirm Mr. Lee. We think that most members of the Senate, if they fairly judge the expertise that he has, if they looked at his determination to enforce the civil rights laws on the books the way a good, effective enforcer would, that they would look at this as a very worthy nominee. So we, first of all, remain hopeful that he could get confirmation by the Senate, and if not, we would have to assess what other options are available.

Q You haven't reached any decision on a possible recess appointment?

MR. MCCURRY: Not as of this moment, this time. But we are continuing to assess, obviously.

Q Well, if the President determines that the votes are not there for confirmation, is he prepared to do a recess appointment?

MR. MCCURRY: I think you've heard us on this subject before. We think he would make the right assistant attorney general for civil rights, and one way or another we plan to have him in that position.

Q Can you elaborate a little more on the decision for Vice President Gore to go to Kyoto, why he's going, why it took so long to decide that, what he plans to do there?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, you heard a lot of discussion of that by the President and the Vice President already. There's not much I can add to what they've said. I think the President felt it was important for the strongest possible presentation of the United States' position to be made at Kyoto. No disrespect to any other distinguished members of our delegation, but the Vice President knows this subject about as well as any living human being. He, with some degree of passion, can talk about the degree to which we've put together a sensible, realistic proposal that tries to bridge a lot of the differences that exist in the world community. And I think the President wanted the very best argument to be put forward to buttress the effort that Under Secretary Eizenstat will make to negotiate a treaty that we believe is in the best economic interests of the American people.

Q So why did it take you until the conference was actually underway to make this decision?

MR. MCCURRY: They start this week, presentations by delegations continue into next week. The Vice President, if I'm not mistaken, will be there sometime early next week, and it was, I think, important to get an assessment from Kyoto about how the preliminary discussions were shaping up as well.

Q What days will he be there?

Q Can you explain it will take as many as 80 or 85 members of the official American delegation to do this negotiation?

MR. MCCURRY: This is a very complex issue and there are stakeholders throughout the U.S. economy, and within the United States government different agencies with overlapping responsibilities. So it underscores the seriousness with which we approach this issue that we will have a delegation that is there to do the complicated, difficult, sometimes cumbersome work of negotiating in the international regime. The State Department can tell you more about who specifically the people are.

Q What assessment did you get back from Kyoto that prompted the decision today?

MR. MCCURRY: There was a determination by many of these delegations, including some that have been very strident in staking out early positions, to see if they can't make Kyoto a success. I think if you were betting on the prospects for success prior to the opening of this conference, you probably would have to be fairly conservative, because there didn't seem to be much likelihood the differences would be bridged. But our impression is, as we hear more from delegations gathering, that there really is a determination within the international community to try to address this issue forthrightly. And I think that that was one more argument for putting our strongest spokesman forward.

Q Mike, the Vice President said today that the United States would be willing to walk away from Kyoto if the deal was not one that the United States could agree to. How much negotiating room is there on the part of the United States? Is it an all-or-nothing deal?

MR. MCCURRY: The other delegations should understand that the U.S. position, as it was developed by the President and publicly articulated by him and as it will be argued for by the Vice President, has about as much flexibility as we could develop within our own government. This was a very carefully adjudicated policy decision within our government, and we believe it's a flexible approach, a common-sense approach, and a realistic approach. We hope other delegations will understand that we believe very strongly in that position.

Q Is it then "take it or leave it"?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are going to bargain and negotiate in good faith, but I think the people should understand the depth of the commitment we have to this negotiating position. And that's one of the reasons the President wanted to underscore that commitment by having the Vice President there at Kyoto.

Q Mike, do you think that it is likely that the differences between the EU position and the U.S. position will be bridged during this conference?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that's one of the most difficult parts of the negotiation ahead, and it remains to be seen.

Q But how likely is it? Are you optimistic?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't predict at this point.

Q Mike, back on the Lee nomination? Has the White House been in touch with Hatch to try to find a way to work around this logjam?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I know that we've had some conversations with the Majority Leader, but I don't know whether we've had conversations directly with Chairman Hatch.

Q Could I just follow that? Is there concern that if you go ahead with the recess appointment you would lose Hatch on subsequent court nominations or lose Lott on subsequent court nominations?

MR. MCCURRY: That would be unfortunate because we wouldn't want to see an important matter like that nomination tied to other issues. But you would really have to address the question to those two gentlemen, whether they would tie that issue to some other future pending decisions.

Q What did conversations with Lott produce? You said you had conversations with Lott about this.

MR. MCCURRY: No agreements, clearly.

Q What about Lee? Is he prepared to be a recess appointment?

MR. MCCURRY: That's a personal thing that he would best address himself. I think it's difficult to be put in that position, and understand he would be put in that position by senators who had no objection to his nomination initially and seemed to struggle mightily to come up with any worthy reason why they are against him now, leading one to believe that politics has more to do with it than anything.

Q The President talked about South Korea this morning. Do you have any more details? When might something be announced, and why is it in America's interest to support a package for South Korea?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we work within the international financial community, particularly within the International Monetary Fund, to try to bring stability to regional markets, and of course, in some cases, as recently with Indonesia and even before that with Mexico, if we deem it in our economic interests to participate in a rescue effort, we do so, because it is, in the end, in the interests of the American people to do so.

By restoring health to the Mexican economy we not only took a rescue package and made it available, we made money on the transaction since the loan was repaid fully with interest,and more importantly, we reestablished strength to the Mexican economy so that they are now buying more goods and services from U.S. manufacturers and providers of goods and services. So we believe it's part of our role in the international economy to be a source of financial stability. Now, that should be done, as the President has indicated, as the Secretary of the Treasury has indicated, under the auspices of the IMF in this particular case, consistent with the new framework developed in Manila.

Q Mike, it was two years ago today that the President lit the Christmas tree in Belfast. They're coming up again on another flurry of activity where -- from Northern Ireland will be coming here to bring their cases to you. Does the President continue to have a commitment to Northern Ireland's peace process? And what specifically do these people plan on doing once they come to meet here?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President continues to have a very deep personal commitment to that process. It is one in which in the last two years you certainly have seen ups and downs, but at the moment we think are, apropos in this season, at a moment of some hope because the parties are engaged. There are serious efforts underway by the Republic of Ireland, the Republic of the United Kingdom to stimulate the all-party process at Stormont. There have been encouraging signs and I think the role that the President will continue to play is to nurture those who are working hard in the name of peace.

Q What's your assessment on how the whole Arlington Cemetery thing played itself out?

MR. MCCURRY: Don't ask me because I'd prefer not to get angry again on that subject.

Q Mike, back on the Lee nomination. Will the President make a case for affirmative action programs continuing when he goes to Akron on Wednesday?

MR. MCCURRY: He will hear a range of viewpoints and then discuss his own views in a format that will allow I think some lively exchanges. And obviously he will talk about the necessity of retaining affirmative action as a tool consistent with the law as it's been rendered by the Supreme Court.

Q Do you foresee him making a decision on a recess appointment prior to going to Akron?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on that.

Q Once Janet Reno makes her announcement on whether or not to recommend an independent counsel, how would you expect the White House to react to whatever her decision might be?

MR. MCCURRY: I have no way of knowing time or contents, so I can't answer that question.

Q Refresh my memory, did we ever get a comment from the President on the settlement -- the decision to settle the Pascataway case, whether he thought it was a good idea in fact to pay --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he did.

Q On the Medicare commission, the Republican leadership seems to be set to announce their candidates today. Does the White House still intend to wait until a chairman is selected before announcing its list?

MR. MCCURRY: We intend to work with the Republican leadership and arrive at a consensus on a chairman, and then that's the point in which the President would feel more comfortable bringing forward his public choices. We've had, if I understand correctly, some good consultations on the Hill on the subject.

Q We have a report that the Clinton administration is thinking of embarking on a new get tough policy towards Israel, that the President would support some sort of Palestinian entity as a means of pressuring the Israelis into stopping settlement activity.

MR. MCCURRY: That sounds like the kind of speculation that sometimes arises in the region that usually ends up in the end of the day being misplaced. But we've been very open on our attitudes. We think both parties ought to continue to make good the commitments they pledged in Oslo. We have seen in the last day some indications that there are new ideas being pursued, and to the degree they are consistent with the Oslo framework they can be useful in advancing the process. But above all else, the parties have to make good on the commitments they've already rendered to each other as a way of building confidence and as a way of creating some momentum for the dialogue itself.

Q Mike, are you willing to wait around for that forever or are you going to take a more direct role in the negotiations at some point?

MR. MCCURRY: We're already directly involved in the Middle East peace process, as one surely knows by now requires utmost patience.

Q Are you reassessing the basic policy now as far as the U.S. position on Oslo to try to generate some positive movement?

MR. MCCURRY: No, but we are in search of ways to generate movement. We have been for some time. You heard the Secretary of State on that subject; she has made clear some things that we believe are necessary for the parties themselves to have the confidence necessary to move forward, and I think we've been very explicit about that.

Q Mike, you know that Saddam Hussein was parading around Iraq the sad case of these children, and my question is, is there any way the United States can make sure that the oil that is allowed to be sold does, in fact, reach these people, that the money and the food and medicine will reach these people?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, a couple of things. First, it was a pathetic exercise for Saddam Hussein to put on public display people who are victims by his own hand, because he is responsible for the delay in putting in place the transactions and the monitoring framework by the United Nations that would allow some assurance that the proceeds from those oil sales would go to sick children and to hungry children.

We took the lead, the United States took the lead in the Security Council in fashioning the so-called 986 oil sales so that there would be revenue from oil sales that would take care of starving and sick children, and it took well over a year for Saddam Hussein to agree to the mechanism necessary to assure that those funds would go to the people who needed the help. So a lot of that suffering that went on is directly responsible to actions and decisions by Saddam Hussein himself.

They reluctantly now have been brought to the point where they apparently will agree to continuation of these sales, even though we have made it clear for some time that we want to continue that program, perhaps even expand it so we can take care of the enormous humanitarian suffering that exists in Iraq. Our quarrel is not with the people of Iraq, it is with Saddam Hussein and Saddam Hussein, irrespective of what we do to take care of the children of Iraq, needs to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions and stop attempting to do things that deceive the international community. One reason why one has to be somewhat suspect about where those proceeds go and assure that there is a monitoring mechanism in place is because of his pattern of deception.

Q Are there any sales going through now?

MR. MCCURRY: There are sales going through -- about 95 percent of the some 1,525 requests for transaction authority have been approved by the Security Council. There have been, I think as of October 31, approximately $1.24 billion that has been collected under the 986 program and have been distributed. There have been about 2.4 million metric tons of food that has been distributed in Iraq under the oil for food program, and we want to seek to expand that consistent with the type of oversight that the United Nations needs to have to assure that these proceeds don't go off to the Republican Guards or elsewhere.

Q Mike, Kofi Annan was pretty explicit yesterday in saying that the money is not being diverted, as Bill Richardson and others have charged. He said that it's under U.N. control, that they've made sure of where that money is going. Does the U.S. still maintain --

MR. MCCURRY: We believe that the United Nations mechanism that's in place is important, has been effective. We do believe there has been some leakage, but it's been minimal, thankfully. And we need some assurances, as that program was structured, that it would continue to be immune from any effort by Saddam Hussein or the elites in Iraq to syphon the proceeds of those sales off for their own personal benefit.

Q When this crisis was touched on more than a month ago, it was because Richard Butler sent a letter outlining his plans to have the U.N. weapons inspectors visit certain sites, which to this date are still off-limits to those weapons inspectors. So how does the U.S. maintain that things are better than they were before if all those sites are still off-limits?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that anyone has maintained that anything is better. It's better that the U.N. inspectors are on-site and not out of country, but we are by no means satisfied that they have been allowed to do the work unfettered that they are supposed to be able to do under relevant U.N. Security Council actions. And we continue to stress within the Security Council the importance of compliance so we get exactly at the answers and the sites that the world community expects.

Q But what is the material difference between them being out of the country not being able to inspect sites or being in the country not being able to inspect sites?

MR. MCCURRY: They continue -- they have continued uninterrupted the inspections activities that they have ordered up day by day. They are going to, presumably at some point, seek sites and we'll have to see what the response of the government of Iraq is.

Q But you already know what the response is. They've asked to see them and they've been refused.

MR. MCCURRY: Their response changes from day to day, as you know.

Q Is there a hesitancy, Mike, on the part of the United Nations -- certainly not on Butler's part, but on the Security Council -- to even ask at this juncture to see those sites?

MR. MCCURRY: I've detected -- I mean, I don't believe the United States has detected any hesitancy on the part of the Special Commission and its chairman to request authority to do what they think is necessary. If anything, they've demonstrated their willingness to pursue exactly those sites and those inspections that they deem necessary, and they continue to do so.

Q What about a possible trip from the Reverend Louis Farrakhan to Iraq. Yesterday the U.N. Ambassador, Bill Richardson, said it would be unhelpful, but the last time he went the Justice Department didn't do anything about it. Is that the administration's position, to simply ignore it?

MR. MCCURRY: It's the Justice Department and the Treasury Department that have enforcement responsibilities related to sanctions that are in place. The State Department is the one that decides whether one can travel on a valid passport. They did not do so in the case of Mr. Farrakhan and have indicated today they haven't had any request for any authority to travel from him. But it's up to the Justice Department and the Treasury Department to seek whatever enforcement action is necessary. And in the case of Mr. Farrakhan's travel to Libya, I believe they reviewed that matter and made public their decision on what action or non-action to take.

Q But the question is, before he goes to Iraq, are you going to do anything to try to preempt him or urge him not to go or anything?

MR. MCCURRY: I have heard earlier today there may have been some contact at the State Department, so you should check their briefing that is underway on that subject.

Q When the President announced his race initiative, he suggested there would be concrete proposals during the year that he would make. Will any of those come on Wednesday when he goes to Akron, or is he just going to Akron to listen?

MR. MCCURRY: We have been making, throughout this process, taking advantage of the initiative to make policy announcements. There may be some new ideas that the President expresses on Wednesday, but there will be, in the course of coming weeks and as we get into the State of the Union process next week, specific policy actions that are related to the initiative.

Q And so the purpose of this Wednesday is to listen?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's a town hall meeting so the purpose is to pursue the kind of dialogue the President has asked for, obviously.

Q And do you know how the participants were chosen?

MR. MCCURRY: They were chosen -- they were recommended to the White House by the University of Akron, located elected officials, specifically the Mayor and the Congressman, and the Coming Together project, which is a nationally recognized activity that promotes understanding of racial differences among youth.

Q Can you explain why Abigail Thernstrom was chosen, as opposed to any of the other conservative voices on race like Glenn Loury or Ward Connerly? I mean, there were a lot to choose from. Why was she picked?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, presently I don't rule out that the President will have a further session with exactly those kinds of people, but this was an attempt to identify three authors who have written provocatively on the subject of race who would stimulate the kind of conversation the President wants at this town hall meeting. She is one voice among the three authors who will be present to help facilitate the conversation the President will guide on Wednesday. But again, as I said, I don't rule out sometime soon the President meeting with an additional grouping of people who take a somewhat different view on those questions.

Q Is there any timing for that? There is supposed to be a group of conservatives coming in sometime in December.

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard that they have nailed down the time, but roughly end of the year, beginning of next year. They haven't nailed that down yet.

MR. LOCKHART: They're still trying to do it for --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, they are still trying to work it out this month, Joe says.

Q Is the President at all concerned that the Medicare commission is already missing its first deadline by not being able to reach a consensus on finding some --

MR. MCCURRY: No, they are working on difficult issues that are going to take some time to resolve, and they are going to have to be resolved in a bipartisan way. We are trying to assure that there is a bipartisan composition for that commission that will arrive at a solution that will work for both the Congress and the President and for both sides of the aisle.

They have got a lot of work to do in addressing a long-term problem. Remember, the short-term issues of trust fund solvency have been addressed through the balanced budget agreement and some of the actions that have already been taken.

Q Mike, what would you say to those who find it a little odd that two fundraisers right as Janet Reno is deciding whether past fundraising activities should be investigated?

MR. MCCURRY: Wake up and see reality. Reality is that campaign spending is running somewhat out of control and that Republicans are out-spending Democrats five to one. So just get used to it, because the President is going to have to do a lot more of it unless we secure campaign finance reform. And people who are concerned about it or find it odd or peculiar ought to write their congressman and assure that we get campaign finance reform enacted early next year.

Q Is there going to be a statement from the President in recognition of World AIDS today?

MR. MCCURRY: Did we put that proclamation out? There will be a statement coming out shortly, I believe.

Q Mike, on a related thing, there's an initiative in California to require union members to be asked for their permission before they raise dues collections. Is the President going to take a position on that?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard him take a position on that. We've had some discussions related to that that have come up from time to time in our dealings with Congress, but they amount to codifying what has been interpreted by the Supreme Court, if I'm not mistaken?

Q So you don't expect him to take a position?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't asked him about it. I don't know the answer.

Q Mike, is the President going to be meeting this week with the President of the European Communication, Jacques Santer? And if they have such a meeting are you confident they will be able to bridge differences in positions on the global climate change issue?

MR. MCCURRY: He will be here for the U.S.-EU summit that will occur on Friday. I can very well imagine that global climate change will be one of many subjects on the agenda because it frequently is. I don't believe that that session is designed to bridge differences, although certainly we will exchange views with the leadership of the European Union on that question, because it's important for those differences to be bridged as we think of the negotiating occurring in Kyoto. But there would be more in the discussion on the range of issues that we pursue in common with the European Union that we address at our twice-annual summits.

Q What are these issues?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, trade; economic future; NATO future; Russia's participation in NATO; Bosnia, to be sure; the status of efforts at European integration. We'll exchange views on a range of issues global in nature -- the Middle East peace process; other issues in which we are actively engaged with the European Union. We'll probably later in the week do a more complete agenda.

Anything I left out there?


Q Can you elaborate on what the President said on the pornography Internet thing today? Is this enough? Is this satisfactory to the White House to avoid any future attempts at regulation? Is there more that the White House will seek for them to do?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the summit is a direct response to the challenge that the President put forward back on July 16th. In fact, I think they announced this summit at that event itself. We believe that the industry, using appropriate technologies and using its own best practices, should be encouraged and could be encouraged to come forward with its own initiatives. And we'll look very carefully at what the industry is recommending, see how user-friendly it will be for parents who need tools to protect their kids from smut on the Internet, and analyze the results of the summit as they are announced today. The Vice President, of course, may very well say more on this subject when he speaks at the summit tomorrow.

Q Web Hubbell, in his book, writes that when he first went to the Justice Department, the President asked him to find answers to questions --

MR. MCCURRY: This was asked and answered last week. Anything else?

Q Did you get any additional stuff -- (laughter.)


Anything else?

Q Is it your position now you won't comment on anything in the book?

MR. MCCURRY: A lot of people are going to write books in the course of the next several years and --

Q Are you?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't plan to, no. And I'm just not going to respond to each and everything that occurs in any of these books.

Q Why not?

MR. MCCURRY: Because that's all we would spend our time doing and it's not a useful expenditure of time.

Q There hasn't been that many --

Q What were the answers?

Q What were the questions?

MR. MCCURRY: I just said I'm not going to respond to each and every thing in every book that's been written, including Mr. Hubbell's book. He's already responded, if I'm not mistaken, that it was a tongue-in-cheek request -- or told that to you, if I'm not mistaken, Wolf. So I don't know that there's much more necessary to be said.

Q What's up tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: Tomorrow is -- we'll see what happens. We're still making it up.

Okay, thanks.

Q Thank you.

END 1:57 P.M. EST