THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:34 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: This just in from the United Kingdom. This is important news, courtesy of Irv Molotzky of The New York Times who gave it to me. There's been a new tradition established in the British Parliament, and heretofore, members of the press lobby in the mother of parliaments were always briefed by an unnamed source, a government source or a Whitehall source, when the Prime Minister's press secretary briefed members of the press. And that tradition is changing, courtesy of Mr. Alastair Campbell, who is Tony Blair's chief press secretary and a rather good press secretary. But he will now be briefing reporters as "the Prime Minister's official spokesman." And he notes in The Guardian article that he will not be personally named because he does not want to become a public figure in the way that his White House counterpart has become a public figure. (Laughter.)
"It would be wrong to build up an unelected figure," Mr. Campbell said. The important person in the equation is the Prime Minister. It's not the unelected spokesman -- to which I say, hear, hear. (Laughter.) So heretofore, I will brief as "Unnamed White House spokesman." So C-SPAN, a note to you, I'm briefing now on camera -- that little line down there should say "unnamed White House spokesman.
Q Bring back the paper bag.
Q I thought only the State Department did that.
MR. MCCURRY: Either that or he could -- actually, he could brief as the Britain Mike McCurry, as long as I am referred to as the U.S. Alastair Campbell.
Q But he speaks only on background, and does he also brief American reporters? Because there once was a period where they would not allow --
MR. MCCURRY: There was a period in which only registered members of the lobby were ushered into the secret room.
Q That's still the case.
MR. MCCURRY: And that still is the case. I think you still have to be a member of the lobby.
Q You have to be part of the lobbying system, really -- you can't admit exists.
MR. MCCURRY: That's right. You couldn't admit it existed until now. You can now admit that such a lobby exists.
Q Is there a secret handshake there, too?
MR. MCCURRY: Could very well be.
Q Do you have an answer for him that we can write?
MR. MCCURRY: I applaud his movement towards attributability and I admire his anonymity. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: And I'll think about instituting the same. There are days here I certainly would prefer -- probably would profit from being unnamed White House spokesman.
Q You could try that bag again. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Try the bag again.
Q Mike, does the President believe that Louis Freeh is disloyal?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Does Mr. Freeh have the President's confidence?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President thinks that the FBI is the world's greatest law enforcement agency, and I think the President has great confidence that Louis Freeh is leading that agency as best he can.
Q So they have a working relationship?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that the President has working relationships with all responsible for law enforcement in this government. And that's one of the reasons why we've made some important progress in cutting the rates of crime in this country and why we continue to address the challenges to security that Americans face both domestically and abroad.
Q If I can just follow up and finish that off -- the answer to the second question -- do we take that to mean the President's personal endorsement of his FBI Director?
MR. MCCURRY: You take it whatever way you want to take it.
Q Well, the people of the United States have a right to know whether the President of the United States endorses the FBI Director.
MR. MCCURRY: I think I just gave you a good answer to that question.
Q When you say "as best he can," it sounds like less than a ringing endorsement of Louis Freeh.
Q Is the President fully satisfied?
MR. MCCURRY: It was not meant to be less than ringing.
Q Mike, is the President fully satisfied with Mr. Freeh's performance?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President is fully satisfied he is doing his best to lead the FBI, as I said.
Q He's the right man for the job?
MR. MCCURRY: He's the one in the job, that's correct. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, you're being evasive and you don't have to be. Why?
MR. MCCURRY: Because I'm just --
Q Maybe he has to be. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you, Helen.
Any other subjects?
Q I stand corrected, but do you mean to be evasive on this point?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not attempting to be evasive. I apologize if you're misinterpreting me.
Q Would it be wrong to say that he has full confidence in Louis Freeh?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I just told you that he's got confidence that Mr. Freeh is doing his best to lead the FBI.
Q Would the President be disappointed if he left early?
MR. MCCURRY: There is no indication at all that's going to happen.
Q Mike, do you recognize that your formulation is less than a full endorsement?
MR. MCCURRY: I am pretty careful on how I choose my words, Mr. Donvan.
Okay, anything else?
Q Did the President talk to Louis Freeh with regard to any of these developments?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge.
Q Does the United States feel isolated by going against the crowd, marching to its own drummer on Kyoto and land mines?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are not marching in either case to only our own drummer. In the case of Kyoto, there are a number of governments with a wide range of views. There are some that would prefer to see no international regime to deal with greenhouse gas emissions at this point. There are some that would like to see more aggressive targets set and more ambitious timetables. The President has struck a very reasonable balance and economically sound approach to the issue that the Vice President will carry to Kyoto early week.
By the way, some of the Vice President's staff who will travel with him will be here at 3:00 p.m. to brief you on the record on his trip.
In the case of land mines, for reasons that deal with the very special responsibility we've been given by the international community, by the United Nations, specifically with respect to Korea, the President has articulated the policy that he has articulated.
And yesterday our observer at the signing ceremonies in Ottawa, Ambassador Rick Inderfuerth, who has been named a special coordinator in our government for de-mining, for land mine related issues, indicated that we would hope for the day where we could sign this treaty if certain conditions were met to satisfy the President's concern: one, that we do have an acceptable alternative for personnel land mines in Korea; and two, that we deal with the problem that arose in the original language of the treaty dealing with our own antitank systems that were very important to the effort we conducted in the Persian Gulf War and could be, conceivably in the future, important.
The Defense Department is looking for alternatives and we believe, if by the year 2006 we develop those alternatives, it would be propose for the United States to sign this treaty, and that would be a good thing. We did not discourage governments from signing this treaty and we applaud the international effort to join the United States' effort to rid the Earth of the kind of mines that are creating the carnage that causes the President and so many others concern.
We have spent and will spend in the coming year I think $80 million to clear mines. I think other countries now are joining in the effort to create a common effort to de-mine areas that have got active land mines, and I think that's all to the well and good.
Q Mike, there's been a report from Kyoto that the U.S. is about to announce the proposal to cap its emission of greenhouse gas by anything from one to five percent, to go beyond the joint proposal. Is there any truth in these reports?
MR. MCCURRY: We are in an active negotiation in Kyoto; the Vice President will further our effort in Kyoto by presenting the United States' position. And we hope there will be flexibility that will allow governments to come together and achieve the kind of treaty that would make sense economically and also make sense in terms of environmental protection.
Q Mike, Iraq. What's our latest take on the -- news from Baghdad declaring the presidential sites off-limits?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's not for the government of Iraq to declare sites off-limits, it's for the government of Iraq to give the U.N. inspectors the access they need to the sites they determine important to see. And that's what will have to happen in the end of the day and it will happen in the end of the day.
Q Can I follow up on that? If it is our contention that the weapons inspectors have all the authority they need now to inspect those sites, does the United States think those sites should be inspected now?
MR. MCCURRY: The United States believes that Chairman Butler, on behalf of the United Nations, on behalf of the Special Commission, ought to have access to the sites that he deems necessary to see. They have successfully conducted inspections since the inspection team's return to Iraq. If I understand correctly, Chairman Butler will be traveling to Baghdad soon to discuss with Iraqi authorities the sites he would like to see, and we would expect and we would encourage, if not demand, that the government of Iraq grant access to those sites deemed necessary to see by UNSCOM.
Q There's no sense of urgency here. I mean, it's week ago --
MR. MCCURRY: To the contrary.
Q -- to actually -- (inaudible.)
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. We strongly condemn this act of violence. We understand that the government of Turkey has condemned it as well and has launched an investigation and will take appropriate measures to increase security at the sites important to the faithful.
Q One more question. Any comment on the recent agreement between Greece and Turkey to share the airspace over the Aegean Sea -- of NATO?
MR. MCCURRY: This is a very encouraging development arising from the Defense Ministerial meeting that just concluded in Brussels. We welcome the agreement in principle between Greece and Turkey that helps the adaption of NATO's command structure to come to closure now. This has been an issue I think for at least two decades, that's been a source of some friction between two close NATO allies, and we hope and expect that they will fully implement the agreement they've reached in principle.
Q Mike, does the administration still contend that Larry Lawrence served in the Merchant Marine and was aboard a ship that was torpedoed?
MR. MCCURRY: The administration is aware that there has been doubt cast on the authenticity of the presentations that have been made as to his war record, and they are properly being looked into.
Q Was his record vetted when he was appointed an ambassador?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the State Department can tell you more about the vetting process. The background checks for ambassadorial appointments are made by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at State, and if I understand correctly, that question has been asked and answered now at State.
Q Mike, was there in the last several weeks when this request first came up recently, was there effort made once again to look at his record, any contact made with his family?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that the effort was to retrieve the argumentation that was presented on behalf of the State Department to the Department of the Army which consisted of a recitation of the war record that came from Ambassador Dick Holbrooke, who at the time was Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs. He provided a fairly detailed account which I believe was provided not only directly by Mr. Lawrence to Ambassador Holbrooke, but also by others in the family.
Q Did the White House or administration make contact with his family in the last several days?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe -- I don't know whether the White House has directly, but I believe there's been some effort to try and find out and learn more in light of the doubt that's been cast on the authenticity of that presentation. We certainly, until just within the last day, wouldn't have had any reason to doubt the authenticity of the report.
Q So I just want to clarify -- you are saying you believe that probably since this new doubt was cast that the administration has tried to contact members of his family to clarify it?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, and I believe they are looking into -- if I'm not mistaken, the State Department is looking into the circumstances to see what they can learn.
Q Mike, on what basis was it that White House officials told us in the media that he had been in the Merchant Marines?
MR. MCCURRY: Based on -- my recollection -- I told you what I knew based on what I had always heard from people who were close to him and who presumably knew what his alleged record was or what they thought his alleged record was.
Q And if he wasn't in the Merchant Marines, should he have been buried at Arlington?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think at this point that's speculative, and why don't we wait and see what the facts are before we deal with it.
Q It sounded like you share at this point the sense of doubt.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to rush to judgment. I think it's not proper to rush to judgment until more facts are available.
Q How about the fact that apparently out of 81 Merchant Marines who were buried at Arlington he's the only one who was buried there without confirmation of the service? Does that trouble the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he was also a sitting ambassador at the time he died, and that, as Secretary West indicated when he had his press conference, is an important factor in the consideration as well.
Q So it doesn't bother the White House that that was not confirmed --
MR. MCCURRY: The White House -- this is not a matter in which the White House was involved in the deliberative process related to the burial. This, as Secretary West has indicated, was a decision that he affirmed upon a positive recommendation of the Superintendent of the Cemetery.
Q There was no imperative in the last week or two to go back beyond Holbrooke's endorsement to look to the record?
MR. MCCURRY: John, there was no reason that we were aware of to doubt the authenticity of the account.
Q It's just that in the atmosphere of a few weeks ago when you really wanted to put that story to rest one would think that you would go to the wall to find out everything that you could at that point about the individuals.
MR. MCCURRY: The Secretary of the Army had indicated that he had acted positively on a recommendation that had come from the Superintendent, and he described the process they used, and there didn't seem to be anything amiss in that record.
Q Mike, can I just go back to Freeh for a second. Was the White House aware of the contents of his memo which argued for continuation of the investigation?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge, aside from what was available in press accounts.
Q Do you have a position on whether that memo should be made public?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know. To my knowledge, we don't.
Q So you never received that memo through Justice or anything like that?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge, no.
Q Has the President received any sort of letter of retirement, resignation, whatever, from Freeh at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I have heard of.
Q Would you be opposed to the Justice Department releasing that Freeh memo?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a question you should have posed to the Attorney General.
Q Mike, if it were to turn out that these doubts are in fact valid, would it be the White House position that he should remain buried in Arlington?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't take a position on that. But if that did turn out to be the case, it would be distressing, obviously.
Q Mike, are you saying that -- I just want to make sure that I understand this. Are you saying that the White House was not contacted and was not a conduit at the time of the request for Larry Lawrence's burial?
MR. MCCURRY: I can imagine, and have some recollection myself, that his spouse called here, but my understanding is the process was already underway, involving the Army, and the State Department had already made a positive recommendation on behalf of a senior U.S. diplomat serving under direction of the State Department and the Assistant Secretary. And obviously the positive recommendation that went through as it was considered didn't indicate that there was any role for the White House to play, and I'm not aware that the White House played any role in the deliberative process.
Q Mike, could I just follow up? Is the doubt on whether or not he was in the Merchant Marines or whether or not he was aboard that ship that was torpedoed?
MR. MCCURRY: The doubt arises from the information that's been provided by Congressman Everett, and we obviously have to check into that.
Q Is it on both fronts, that he was never even in the Merchant --
MR. MCCURRY: He's had a press conference, and I think it's pretty clear what he said.
Q Do you expect to announce the Medicare Commission appointments today?
MR. MCCURRY: I expect to announce it soon, but I think it's increasingly unlikely that it's today.
Q Mike, given Japan's contractual commitments to support U.S. security commitments in Northeast Asia, do you have a problem with Japan having signed the land mines treaty yesterday, given that the U.S. is not signing because of South Korea?
MR. MCCURRY: We have taken the position that those governments that see fit to sign it should not be discouraged from doing so. We only ask that governments understand the position the United States has taken, given our unique responsibilities and the concern we have about language affecting one particular system that we have which is an antitank system, that they recognize that we're not prepared at this time to sign, although we look forward to the day when we could conceivably be able to.
Q Are you saying -- would you know if Freeh had sent any letter of resignation? Would you know?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm pretty certain I would, yes.
Q When is the President going to meet with the opponents of affirmative action?
MR. MCCURRY: They're setting up that for later in the month, Wolf. I don't think they've got a date pinned down yet -- I haven't heard.
Q And we'll be there? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: They're getting closer to setting it and to deciding who is going to be there.
Q How did the President think that it went yesterday, having a chance to reflect on it?
MR. MCCURRY: He enjoyed it a lot. We've talked about it even today and agreed that it was a very positive discussion and the kind of discussion the President wanted to foster through his Race Initiative. But certainly in terms of format and logistics, we might alter some of the future town halls that we do, but we look forward to doing more.
Q When do you think the final recommendations of the Advisory Panel are now going to be released?
MR. MCCURRY: The President -- I'm not certain they're going to do recommendations. They will assist the President in the preparation of a final report as a result of the initiative, and that will occur next year.
Q Much was made of the fact that Abigail Thernstrom was added to the invitation list to have a conservative voice, and the President went after her more than he went after anybody else in the meeting. What conclusion should we draw from that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if he "went after her." I don't think that's an accurate characterization. He had one exchange with her that was interesting and provocative and was designed to draw her opinions a bit and get a little more vibrancy in the discussion. I think it proved to be successful.
Q Was there a concern that the discussion lagged? When you talk about making alterations -- was there a concern that the discussion tended to lag a bit?
MR. MCCURRY: There were some moments that were slower than other moments, and I think the President felt like he wanted to get some of these real issues on the table and get some spirited debate going. Certainly we'll have an opportunity when we have this next group in to get that going to.
Q When is that?
MR. MCCURRY: As I said, I think they're getting close to nailing it down. It will be sometime, I guess, in the next two weeks. Right?
Q Didn't he feel it was pretty nebulous? Everyone comes in and --
MR. MCCURRY: I think I told some of you yesterday, it's not a subject in which there are easy, quick answers. So it's something that requires thoughtful, provocative discussion and that requires attention to those practices that are working. I think one of the most interesting things yesterday were the exhibits and presentations made by some of those groups that were highlighted in and around the meeting hall itself. And one of the things that we want to positively use this initiative for is to replicate the success of groups that are bringing folks together to deal with this issue in real human terms and concrete terms and ways that really change people's lives. And that, in some respects, was one of the more interesting parts of the day yesterday.
Q Can you give a rundown on the meeting with Santer, what some of the important agenda items are on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I can. I should tell you also that the President right now is meeting with Secretary of State Albright and the Middle East peace team. She leaves tomorrow for important meetings over the next two days with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat, and the President wanted to provide some guidance to her in advance of those meetings, and also to review some of the effort the United States will make to encourage the parties to deal with some of the issues that are on the agenda, both short-term and long-term.
Q Did they talk about Iraq at all?
MR. MCCURRY: They will probably take the opportunity, since they're together, to do a brief update on Iraq and the action at the U.N. today.
Q And on that subject, you indicated that there is a sense of urgency here about Iraq. How urgent? And does the President still consider this a crisis, a word he once used?
MR. MCCURRY: The President doesn't think this episode is over, by any means. We have a significant force deployed in that region for precisely the reason that the Commander in Chief wants options as we look ahead to the resolution of questions we have on the nature of the biological and chemical weapons programs that they may be pursuing.
But, as we've said in the past, our preference is for a diplomatic resolution and a diplomatic resolution will consist of compliance with the needs of the U.N. Special Commission, which is going to have to have access to certain sites if they're ever going to get to a position where they can understand and clarify the world's understanding of the programs that Saddam Hussein may have been pursuing.
Q Is it still fair, then, to characterize it as a crisis, from the President's standpoint?
MR. MCCURRY: The President certainly treats it as that, but you are the ones who do the characterization.
Q But, Mike, what's your basis for saying that there is some urgency to this. What evidence should we look upon to say that this is being dealt with -- not the military buildup, but the pressing forward on the inspections.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the inspections are continuing to occur. There have been -- to my knowledge, there has not been any problems or disruptions in the work that the U.N. inspectors are doing. And Chairman Butler, as I just indicated to you, will be going to Baghdad shortly to review the need to see additional sites. And we are watching the important -- that's an important effort, obviously, and one that needs to be tended to swiftly.
Q Is Albright carrying with her any indications or set dates?
MR. MCCURRY: She will, as she always does, have useful contributions to make to the discussions with the parties. We have ideas and views that we present from time to time in our role as a mediator, and at this point, we want them to focus intently on the immediate issues that we have put forward -- the nature of the security cooperation and the nature of further redevelopment, the accelerated timing for final status issues, and the concept of a timeout in the development of settlements. They know that that's the agenda and they can well expect the Secretary to come prepared to press those particular issues with determination.
Q Her itinerary is one meeting with each man with no allowance for shuttling?
MR. MCCURRY: That's -- her immediate plan is the one that's been announced and it's pretty much like that.
Q Mike, you probably saw Prime Minister Netanyahu's criticism of President Clinton for refusing to meet with him the last time their planes nearly touched at Los Angeles Airport -- that the President was insulting Israel, the people of Israel, not just him by not having time to meet with him. I wonder if you agree with that.
MR. MCCURRY: The President was not. The Prime Minister no doubt knows that. And we remain in contact with the government of Israel to explore possible times for the meeting that will surely occur.
Q Another one on Albright. Is the President giving her any guidance on the South African visit? Because there's been the tension there over Nelson Mandela's trips.
MR. MCCURRY: They will -- because she goes onward from her stops in Europe related to the meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat, she goes on to visit Africa and no doubt the Secretary will probably spend a little bit of time reviewing that trip. The President is very anxious to hear more, learn more from her in anticipation of his own trip to Africa next year. And then she goes beyond Africa back to Brussels for the foreign ministers meeting at NATO.
Q Is the U.S. still disturbed that Nelson Mandela went to Libya?
MR. MCCURRY: We've expressed ourselves on that subject. I don't think there's anything useful to add at this point.
Q Mike, given the fact that the United States and Great Britain hold one position, Russia and France holding another on leasing or sale of oil in Iraq for humanitarian purposes, do you think they can reach a consensus --
MR. MCCURRY: It's a little overstating. There are some different nuance views on how the sales should be constructed. I believe that the Security Council is of the view that attending the humanitarian needs of children who are sick or who need medicine and doctors is something that should allow oil sales to proceed. Some of the questions related to the oil sales are structured or what the nature of the oversight mechanism is are things that can certainly be resolved amicably in the Security Council.
Q What's the Brussels meeting about?
MR. MCCURRY: The annual foreign ministers meeting of the North Atlantic Council. And surely, Bosnia, among other subjects, will be on the agenda.
Q Rahm Emanuel hit a pretty tough shot at Gephardt in The New York Times. Does the White House consider it entirely proper for a staff member to be quoted publicly making a comment like that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think his comments were mild in comparison to some that were rendered by members of the Democratic Caucus in the House. The President has his eye on 1998 and working with House Democrats to advance a program that the President believes in, that the President believes reflects the values of our party and the work this party has done for the last five years, and he's confident that as we advance that agenda in 1998 we'll probably work to elect more Democrats to the House in 1998. And 1998 may have fallen out of Mr. Gephardt's calendar book, but it's surely in the President's.
Q And what effect does that comment have on your relationships with Mr. Gephardt?
MR. MCCURRY: We continue to work with him in those issues and areas in which there is a great degree of commonality in the agenda. And we think that there's greater commonality in that agenda than some of his remarks may have suggested.
Q Do you think that when he said that the Democratic Party shouldn't just be a money machine that he was taking a swipe at the President and the Vice President who have been spending a lot of time raising money?
MR. MCCURRY: You should ask him that question.
Q Well, what do you think?
MR. MCCURRY: My opinion doesn't count, as Alastair Campbell would say. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, you were just saying before the President would like to get some of the real racial issues on the table. Probably the most explosive racial issue in the country right now is the Tawanda Brawley case. Does the President intend to address that, and if not, why not?
MR. MCCURRY: The reason that it would not be proper to address that right now is that there's litigation on a defamation suit that's underway, and I don't think we ever comment on litigation that's underway or a court action that's underway.
Q He posed for pictures with one of the parties to that suit --
Q When Sandy Berger meets with the Japanese foreign minister this evening, will he pass on any expression of White House concern in the state of the Japanese economy right now or bailing out South Korea, Kyoto disputes?
MR. MCCURRY: He will certainly review the work that's been done in recent days to lend stability to the regional economy through the IMF facility that has been developed for the Republic of Korea in which the government of Japan is a significant participant, as is the government of the United States. They will, no doubt, repeat some of the conversations that the President and the Prime Minister had related to our respective views of each other's economies. And I think that was well-rehearsed for you at the time we met in Vancouver. And they will talk about the importance of pursuing the Manila Framework for regional economic stability which certainly was reflected in the agreement that has been reached with respect to the South Korean economy.
Q You said that when Larry Lawrence's spouse called the White House, the White House was not involved in the deliberative process on the Arlington decision. But what process does that phone call fall into?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it was just a grieving spouse calling to reach friends at the White House.
Q Not to make a request?
Q Did she talk to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Not to make a request in line with -- in the area of the burial?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think she indicated the desire of the family to have him buried at Arlington. I'm sure she did that.
Q But that indication of desire was not picked up by anybody and moved forward?
MR. MCCURRY: It is my understanding, based on what I have been told, that there was no action by the White House on that; that it was already well underway within the review process that exists at the Department of the Army.
Q The boy who shot up the school in Kentucky today says that he got the idea from a movie. Any chance the President will ever address the tremendous amount of gun violence in movies?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he has addressed that and talked about the important role model -- the influence that movies and popular culture can have on people. And he has talked about the importance of sending positive messages, especially to America's young people. The Vice President was on the subject of tobacco use doing exactly that yesterday. But certainly on the subject of gun violence, the President has been quite outspoken on that point.
Now, I think, obviously there's further matters being investigated in the case of the Kentucky shootings, that we have to be sensitive to not pre-judge those issues, but the President as a practical matter has often raised the importance of sending the right message, whether it is the use of drugs, the use of addictive substances, tobacco use, gun violence, and trying to send messages that nurture America's children.
Q Mike, when the President was -- when Clinton was running for President in '92, he made the very provocative comment about Sister Soljah. I think the question, just to piggy-back on Deborah's here a minute, will we see him now as he tries to ignite this conversation, sort of get out of the box a little bit and comment on things that people are talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't see him in any box yesterday. He had a good, vibrant, productive conversation.
Q This morning auto trade figures with Japan come out this morning, and I think the foreign minister is also meeting with Secretary Rubin tomorrow. Will the U.S.-Japan trade ties come up either with Mr. Berger or Mr. Rubin?
MR. MCCURRY: They no doubt -- our general trade relationship is often on the agenda. I don't want to suggest they dominate the agenda because we have so many areas that we pursue in common. We have been talking earlier in this briefing about the Middle East in which the government of Japan has become an important participant as we develop economic support for the transition occurring in that region.
So a number of issues will be on the agenda. It will not be dominated by any one. If I am correct, Secretary Daley and Ambassador Barshefsky have already addressed some of the auto issues, and those will continue to be a source of dialogue between our governments.
Q Back to Santer --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll come back and do that. We'll do that. That's kind of a day-ahead thing.
Q All right.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes?
Q On the '98 agenda, since the White House doesn't appear to be planning any major tax reform initiatives, do you see any legitimacy to the movement afoot in some states and regions for property tax relief?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't agree with the premise of your question that we aren't looking at tax relief ideas. To my knowledge, no one has ruled out presenting some tax relief, tax ideas, as part of the President's agenda next year.
Q -- tax relief in itself as far as doing that on --
MR. MCCURRY: Let me check with Mr. Sperling. I will refer the question to Mr. Sperling because I think different states have different circumstances. We have encouraged states to use the positive economic circumstances they find themselves in because of the strength of the national economy to do things that are good for the citizens of those states. In some cases, that could be tax relief. In other cases, it is to ensure that there is the provision of social services necessary as we make the transition from welfare dependency to work situations for so many people. We have encouraged states to think about taking some of that money and applying it to child care needs and to other social service needs. So I think it depends on the circumstances of each individual state.
Q If I could follow up on that, I mean, there has been a Democratic tax reform plan out there for quite some time, and it is Congressman Gephardt's. What does the President think of his proposal?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we have looked at that, but we will be developing our ideas as we plan for next year.
Q We keep hearing conflicting predictions about what should be done in Bosnia. Albright is talking about a strong follow-on force. The Secretary of Defense is giving us a different story, and the -- are over there giving us a third story. What is the White House position?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you're not correctly portraying the views of the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State. They together share the President's view that there is a growing consensus there should be some international military presence in Bosnia beyond June of 1998. As the defense ministers just agreed, there should be a tasking to NATO military planners so the nature of the options available are well understood. And those options will be needed to be reviewed by the President. The President has not made any decision on what, if any, U.S. participation would be in such an international force and those are decisions that lie ahead as we analyze the work done ahead by NATO military planners. That is the view as expressed by the Secretary of State and as expressed by the Secretary of Defense.
Q I'm trying to clarify what you said a moment ago in terms of tax reform.
MR. MCCURRY: I just disputed your question.
Q I know. But in terms of defining tax reform, last week the OMB Director had said as long as there is something deficit neutral such as the alternative minimum tax, et cetera, and it could be paid for in an acceptable way. But I was talking in terms of major tax reform like the flat tax.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, if we had a major tax proposal to make, we would make it in due course at a proper time, fully explained by people other than me.
Q They've drawn the groups for World Cup soccer this year, and we are in a four-team group with the Iranians scheduled to play them in Lyon next June. Will that create any problems, do you think?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, but you may want to check with the State Department or some of the NSC people.
Q To follow up on tax reform, does the President believe the proper time is approaching for major tax reform?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President has indicated, and we have always indicated, that we are interested in seeing if we can make the tax system simpler and fairer for people. And, obviously, this President has spent a considerable amount of time in the last five years working to provide the right kind of tax relief to the American that will grow the economy in the future. And we have done that with targeted tax relief and a variety of things for the working poor, in providing incentives for higher education. That work won't be suspended. We are not going to be satisfied that we have exhausted ideas for tax simplicity or fairness.
Q Do you think those proposals made the system simpler as well as fairer?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I think in some cases the system has been made simpler because more people are moving to electronic filing, more people are using the short form. In other cases, it has made it fairer because more people are gaining the advantages of tax relief as they apply tax credits to things like college education and some of the other useful purposes that we have designated targeted tax relief for.
Paula, you are trying the patience of the front row, but keep going. (Laughter.) They're all acting nervous. You're all acting bored up here. But I enjoy these conversations. Go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q We're not bored. We want to file this hot stuff about you being contentious with everyone.
Q As far as simplification goes, then you are not ruling out less brackets, less income brackets down the line.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not deposing myself on the subject of tax reform right now. We've got a lot of work ahead to do. There are a lot of ideas under examination. You've heard that from Mr. Sperling, I believe, yourself. And when we've got some declarative positions to outline, we'll do it.
Q Mike, I don't think we asked you directly before if a letter of resignation from Mr. Freeh would be welcomed here.
MR. MCCURRY: I've said all I have on that subject.
Q And, forgive me, but that was my question -- would the President be inclined to accept a resignation from the FBI Director?
MR. MCCURRY: You've milked all you're going to get out of me on that subject today.
I promised you the answer -- yes, U.S.-EU Summit tomorrow. The President and his EU counterparts, they will be discussing our efforts to cooperate to counter threats to peace and advance our common goals. That's very useful, isn't it?
They'll talk about Iran, Iraq, mutual support for the Middle East peace process. They'll be talking, obviously, about global climate change, although I don't anticipate they will do any work tomorrow in their summit that prejudges the work that our respective delegations are doing in Kyoto, although they certainly will discuss where things stand in Kyoto.
They will talk about EU efforts to reduce unemployment and make progress towards fuller economic and political integration, particularly the development of a single currency, the status of the European Union and membership in the European Union. There will no doubt be some anticipatory discussions of the work that Prime Minister Blair wants to conduct in Birmingham next year, which is of enormous interest to the President. They'll talk about some outstanding agricultural trade differences.
Q In the White House here?
MR. MCCURRY: Here in the White House.
Q What's the coverage of it?
MR. MCCURRY: They are meeting in different places. They've also been meeting at the State Department and elsewhere. There will some kind of press opportunity in the morning and then I think that they go over to the State Department and do a longer session at the end of the day.
Q The President goes to the State Department?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no. Some of the participants.
Q The agricultural issues, do you know what they are?
MR. MCCURRY: Ag issues -- are they talking about -- meat imports? These guys can check a little more for you.
Q Are you talking about a photo op or an actual press availability?
MR. MCCURRY: I think when they -- some of the participants, including Ambassador Barshefsky, Deputy Secretary Talbott, and others, are going to have -- are they going to have a joint press availability at the State Department?
MS. LUZZATTO: I don't think it's been decided yet.
MR. MCCURRY: That hasn't been decided yet.
Q What about the President?
MR. MCCURRY: He'll do the press opportunity with his counterparts in the morning in the Oval. And meet elsewhere.
Q Mike, the President is going to be here Christmas Day, obviously, but the 26th, does he plan any public appearances on the 26th?
MR. MCCURRY: We are working to try to get you a better understanding of what he's going to do over the holidays all the way through the New Year's break, because I think he plans to be out of town and then all of you can set your own personal calendars accordingly. And we thought we might even be able to do that tomorrow, I think. Right? So we'll give you a better idea of what he plans to do. They will be here in and around the Christmas holiday, although I think they plan to go out of town for New Year's and beyond.
Thank you. END 2:18 P.M. EST