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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 15, 1997
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                              MIKE MCCURRY 

The Briefing Room

1:47 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: All right, everyone, we'll keep it short today because I know you're all otherwise occupied later in the day.

Q Yes, Mr. McCurry. What are the two names of the dog the President --

MR. MCCURRY: I am not at liberty to say.

Q Oh, come on.

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. The President has not elected to confide that top secret information to me.

Q Why is he extending it until tomorrow? Is he just trying to give it the holiday tease?

MR. MCCURRY: He's not. As he made it clear, he's already named the dog -- he just hasn't told you.

Q When the President goes to Bosnia next week, does he intend to start laying the groundwork for an extended U.S. mission there?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has been with his advisors thinking about the future of Bosnia, thinking how much better positioned the future will be because of the current stabilization force mission that is deployed there. But the President has not made any final decisions about what structure there should be for any post-SFOR deployment in Bosnia. That is a matter that, with our allies in NATO, we have been reviewing.

The defense ministers have authorized an examination of military options. I wouldn't be surprised if foreign ministers meeting at the North Atlantic Council begin to authorize a more formal review of options, but it would be within the President's purview to look at that process, perhaps comment on it, and discuss with the American people and certainly with the troops the valuable work they have done and what foundation that lays for the future.

Q When do the foreign ministers meet?

MR. MCCURRY: The NAC ministerial is the 15th and 16th. She's there -- Secretary Albright is in Brussels now and they meet today and tomorrow I believe.

Q A quick follow-up. Looking back on how this trip got put together, whose idea was it and how long has it been in the making?

MR. MCCURRY: It's been in the making for quite some time. The President, during the holiday season, always tries to find some way to spend time with men and women who serve this country in the armed services, and I believe maybe several weeks ago the idea of going to Bosnia was suggested, and we began a preliminary review of whether that would be possible.

Q When does he leave and where does he go and is he going to any other country?

MR. MCCURRY: We will make further announcements about the logistics when we've got all of those arrangements made. He will likely fly to Europe. He'll need to transfer to another type of aircraft in order to make the trip to Bosnia, so there will be some stopping point that we have not finalized at this point. And then the preliminary planning indicates stop in both Tuzla and Sarajevo.

It is most likely, apparently, that we will do it on Monday -- just for your own planning purposes -- that we would actually spend the day in Bosnia on Monday. But that has not been finally decided. We'll try to let you know formally when we make the final arrangements.

Q Indicating a departure on Sunday?

MR. MCCURRY: Correct.

Q Mike, you said, I believe, a moment ago that the President was reviewing options for the structure of a follow-on force to SFOR. Is he reviewing only options for a structure or is he reviewing whether there should be one, or not?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there has been, we've told you for some time, some developing consensus in the international community that there will be an international presence in Bosnia beyond June of 1998. What is beginning now is the work that we will very carefully and in a disciplined way do with our allies to look at what type of structure there should be for that presence. And then at that point you can make more properly decisions about what the U.S. participation, if any, would be.

Q Well, an international presence doesn't by definition mean with the U.S.?

MR. MCCURRY: It doesn't by definition mean that. But if you listen to anyone talking about it, if it is, for example, a NATO effort, the United States is the leader of NATO, and it would be difficult to imagine that kind of mission without the U.S. participating in some fashion. But a long ways away from any decision of what fashion that participation would take.

Q Mike, can the administration expect support from Congress for a follow-on mission after the White House will have broken two deadlines on Bosnia already?

MR. MCCURRY: Based, Scott, on the decision that -- or the consultations we did with Congress -- you'll recall we had a bipartisan leadership group in here -- when was that meeting? About a month ago now. But we had a very positive reaction from them, certainly concern expressed by the members, but a strong degree of common sense went into that conversation. And I think members of Congress recognize the positive gains that have occurred in Bosnia, the fact that the war there has been ended, that there has been progress towards reestablishing a civil society, although by no means a complete job, and some recognition that that important work that's been done needs to continue if we're going to avoid backsliding into the kind of chaos and ethnic strife that characterized the war period.

Q Well, if I can follow up on that -- Senators Hutchison, Byer, McCain all came out of the White House after that meeting, said they couldn't support you.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they said that they couldn't support the President at this time, that he needed to make more of a case and he needed to be more specific about the nature of any participation post-SFOR. And the work that our government is doing to look at that question is part of what I've just told you about.

Q Is the administration now through with deadlines, having had two of these deadlines come and go, so that this time it wouldn't put a precise date?

MR. MCCURRY: That would be something that the President would elect to address if and when he had some specific decision to share.

Q Mike, the German Finance Minister is going to be in town tomorrow. Is he going to meet with the President, and if so, what will they discuss?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll let you know at the gaggle tomorrow morning.

Q One question about Bosnia, please? He's going to go to Sarajevo, too. Is he going to meet Izetbegovic and others? And what would be a message for local leaders?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President would certainly hope to meet the right combination of leadership from the Federation, and if possible, of course, the President would be -- find it most welcome to see President Izetbegovic. Our message would be, as it often is in our discussions at high levels with leaders of the Federation, the importance of fully implementing and making progress towards the objectives outlined in the Dayton Accords, and also expressing some degree of support and personal satisfaction with the enormous struggle of the people of Bosnia as they repair from the damage caused by the war itself.

Q What do you mean by "the right combination" of leaders?

MR. MCCURRY: It's, as you know, a complicated formula by which they structure the presidency, and we will see what combination of the leadership is available, given that it's the holiday time.

Q Mike, on Iran, with both sides calling welcoming a dialogue, what will it take to get the two sides together? Are there certain conditions that have to be met?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't really want to go beyond what the President has already indicated. We would desire a dialogue that was candid, authoritative, and one in which the issues that certainly would be on our agenda could be addressed in an open manner.

Q Is Lanny Davis leaving the White House?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard any official announcement from him, but I think he has done an extraordinarily good job at the White House. He has gone well beyond the commitment that he rendered to the President, and I think he has got -- he may have some desire to return to his law practice, and I think for very, very good reasons. But I think I would leave it to him to make that announcement.

Q Mike, Richard Butler is over in Baghdad right now. There doesn't appear to be any willingness on the part of the Iraqis to open up those so-called presidential sites. Where do we go from here?

MR. MCCURRY: Chairman Butler, when he has concluded his conversations with the Iraqi officials, will go to the Security Council, make a report, and we await it anxiously.

Q Mike, but assuming, as the Iraqis have very publicly stated that those presidential sites will remain off limits, if that continues to be the case, what does the U.S. do?

MR. MCCURRY: The United States would carefully and anxiously await the report Chairman Butler would give to the Security Council, and then, in connection with the deliberations with other members of the Security Council, discuss future steps.

Q Is it all right with the United States that the sites are off limits?

MR. MCCURRY: Obviously not. We have so said so many times. I don't think you'd have any doubt about that.

Q Back to Iran. A couple times you have now said that "authoritative." Are you concerned Khatemi is not speaking for the Iranian government?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't mean to indicate that in the very least. That is a formulation that goes back to the Bush presidency, and it's designed to deal with what was in previous years at times suggestions by outside actors that they might be in a position to speak for the government of Iran. We have always insisted, therefore, on having an authoritative dialogue with an authorized representative of the government.

Q Do you think that he was talking about having --

MR. MCCURRY: No, he talked about talking to the American people.

Q I ask because at the same time as he was saying conciliatory things, you had the spiritual leader of Iran still basically saying the same "death to America" stuff.

MR. MCCURRY: There are many aspects both to Mr. Khatemi's remarks and things said by the religious leadership of Iran, to be sure. That's why we assess those remarks very carefully.

Q Besides just repeating the policy that goes back to the Bush administration, is the administration going to do anything to try and get a dialogue underway?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll we've indicated that we welcome the remarks that have been made and we consider them having been made in a positive way. And I'm not aware that there are any further follow-up steps that have been suggested at this point.

Q Mike, the decision to make an Acting Attorney General appointment rather than a recess appointment that had been talked about earlier -- can you talk about how you reached that decision and were there senators who suggested that? And do you think this is going to ease Senator Byrd's objections?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has gone on at some great length about that, but we have had close consultations with leadership and others in the Senate. I believe the suggestion first came from Senate Democrats that giving him --

Q Do you know specifically who?

MR. MCCURRY: We have talked to a number of Democratic senators, as you can well imagine -- certainly Senator Daschle and others. But the suggestion that he be in a position in which he could fully accomplish his goals and objectives in the post and not be in any way fettered, which he won't be under law, but still be in a position in which, if possible, he could be confirmed by the Senate at some future date was a desirable outcome here. And the President has acted today in a way in which we hope increases the chances that sometime in the future, and hopefully sometime next year, Mr. Lee will be confirmed outright for the position that he has been nominated to.

Q Do you know if this is acceptable to Byrd, because he had written a letter earlier?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't speak for Senator Byrd on that point.

Q Did you just say that Daschle proposed the idea at first? I'm sorry, I missed --

MR. MCCURRY: I did not say that, no.

Q Does the law allow Bill Lann Lee to say in office indefinitely if there were not another reference to the Senate?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe that is the case. This is not a situation in which the Vacancy Act applies. But if I understand correctly in the Justice Department's view, this would allow him to remain in that position in an acting capacity so long as the Attorney General so deems.

Q Why doesn't the Vacancy Act apply in this --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not a lawyer. I suggest you ask the Justice Department. They've got a lot of lawyers.

Q That's not a gray area, it's clear-cut --

MR. MCCURRY: They've got a lot of lawyers at the Justice Department.

Q Mike, did Hatch's indication that an acting appointment -- Acting Assistant Attorney General appointment would be more acceptable, that it influenced the President's decision at all?

MR. MCCURRY: Chairman Hatch's thinking?

Q Yes, Hatch's thinking on this?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President reflected on what we heard from a number of people that we talked to. Chairman Hatch -- we were aware of his views through discussions he's had with some folks here at the White House, certainly the Majority Leader, certainly others on the Democratic side, and others on the Republican side for that matter.

Q You don't have any fears that he will be -- you said that he'll be unfettered -- you don't have any fears that he'll be constantly called up to the Hill for testifying or anything like that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can't predict the behavior of Republicans in the Senate by any stretch of the imagination, but I believe that they will see Mr. Lee in the capacity that he now takes on, enforce the laws of this nation as they are on the books in a very diligent manner. And in due course, we believe that the Senate will come to the view that the nomination that has been made by the President is a worthy one and they will grant advice and consent.

Q This is regard to a different topic. Do you have any new information about who's going to be the next U.S. ambassador to Mexico? Is there any new --

MR. MCCURRY: I do not have any new information on that subject.

Q Mike, can you give a sense of how much time the President is personally devoting the currency crisis, financial issues in Southeast Asia?

MR. MCCURRY: I have a sense that he's devoted an enormous amount of time and, given the time difference, has worked very late many evenings on this subject, both through phone calls and through getting reports from Secretary Rubin and others.

Q We're going into a -- heading into a midterm election year, and I wonder if the White House is concerned that you're going to have increasing problems with nominations like Bill Lann Lee and getting anybody confirmed in the Senate this next year?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think the President has tried to act today in a very responsible manner, making clear what his prerogatives are as President, making clear what his preferences are when it comes to the enforcement of law and the execution of policies that he makes as the nation's chief executive. I think the spirit in which the President approached this issue, we hope, will have some impact on the Senate as they consider other nominations.

We've been in periods in the past -- in the past several years, in which we've had very controversial nominations, some of which have been successful for the administration and others less so. However, that has not interfered with the ability of the Senate to move forward on other important nominations. And there is important work to be done, particularly by the federal bench, and we would certainly hope that the Senate would continue to act to clear nominations in a way consistent with what they have done in the past five years.

Q What's your assessment of where Satcher stands? Is he caught up in the same kind of politics on abortion that Lee was with affirmative action?

MR. MCCURRY: He's caught up in a different issue, but he is nonetheless caught up. And we hope when the Senate returns in January they will see the merit of having such a highly qualified person in that position and will move to expedite him through the confirmation process.

Q Was one of the messages from today that the President won't hesitate to circumvent the Senate either by appointing people in acting capacity --

MR. MCCURRY: That message today is when there is important work to for the American people the President is determined to see that that work goes forward.

Q Would that be true for the Surgeon General?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- we would hope that regular order would prevail in all circumstances.

Q Do you expect the child care proposals to be in the State of the Union?

MR. MCCURRY: From the time of the White House Conference on Child Care, the President has made clear that there will be an initiative on child care in the offing, and while the details have not been settled, I think it's a reasonable assumption the President will want to address that very important issue in the State of the Union address.

Q But he hasn't got any firm proposals yet?

MR. MCCURRY: He has received some very good options and ideas, some of which were nicely outlined for you over the weekend, but those remain at this point options. Many of those options have budget impacts. How those ideas are fleshed out and developed and made into a concrete proposal will be some of the work the President's policy advisors do between now and the end of January.

Q The late hours that you said the President is spending on Southeast Asia and enormous amount of time, he's a little bit out of sight, but does that suggest that he is a lot more worried about the situation there than we we've been led to believe by public statements?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I believe we have confidence in the facilities that have been structured by the international community, particularly those that were developed by the International Monetary Fund. And we've been working carefully with our counterparts to see that those are successfully implemented and that they bring the stability that we would like to see to regional markets.

Q Then why is he giving so much time to it?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not saying that he's spending every waking hour or otherwise sleeping hour working on it, but he has been involved with it from time to time.

Q Mike, back on Iraq for a moment. It seemed that last month the administration was not at all hesitant to paint a very dire picture of the situation over there vis-a-vis Iraq stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. Nothing has changed in the last several weeks, and yet --

MR. MCCURRY: You're absolutely right about that.

Q And yet it doesn't seem -- correct me if I'm wrong -- is the administration -- it seems like the rhetoric has been toned down, that there is less concern being expressed.

MR. MCCURRY: We're not rattling sabers today because the sabers are already effectively deployed in the region. What we are awaiting are a report from the chairman of UNSCOM. We hope that that report would be favorable, but if it's not a favorable report the President will have to assess what other options are available in consultation with other members of the Security Council.

Q Well, Mike, when you were involved in the crisis, you described the kind of stockpiling of chemical weapons that Iraq could do --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not quite certain when we did not become involved in this crisis. I'm not sure where and when it was that we did not become involved in the crisis. We have a very significant force --

Q So you're saying it's still a crisis.

MR. MCCURRY: -- deployed in that region. They are deployed there for a reason. The Commander in Chief has got them there for a purpose, which is to preserve future options if other options are necessary. That has not changed. It may have affected the way you all think and report about it, but it hasn't affected the way we think and plan about the issue.

Q So you're saying we're still as much of a crisis as we were when you were talking more about it and --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, of course not, because at the time we were talking about before, the government of Iraq has expelled certain UNSCOM investigators and the teams were then withdrawn. That was a much more dire condition. Those teams are back. They've successfully conducted inspections and surprise inspections -- I believe they did well over a dozen inspections over the weekend. But they're coming up on the point now where there are additional sites that Chairman Butler is no doubt -- wants access to. And whether or not they are granted access to those sensitive sites will be of very real interest to the U.N. Security Council.

Q Do they -- have the Russians ever communicated to the U.S. side that they did give the Iraqis any guarantees in regard to types of sites that could be visited or a timetable of lifting of sanctions?

MR. MCCURRY: They have indicated that they have faithfully represented the views of the Security Council and their private diplomacy with the government of Iraq.

Q Have they done the reverse? Have they communicated to the Security Council or the U.S. side Iraqis concerns of have they communicated to you that they made any promises to the Iraqis?

MR. MCCURRY: I think, obviously, they have pursued certain issues in the Security Council consistent with what they've no doubt discussed with the government of Iraq. But not being a party to that discussion, I can't answer that question in any greater detail.

Q Will a tax credit be a part of the child care proposal?

MR. MCCURRY: There will be a -- it will be a good solid initiative that will extend tax relief to Americans who need it and will extend some help to employers who, in a good conscious way, think of ways of helping their employees with the burdens of child care. Beyond that, there's nothing else I'm going to tell you.

Q Back in October, though, when the conference was held, when an administration official referred to the Kohl proposal as a likely model which would extend credits if you have on-site or subsidized day care -- so you're still looking actively --

MR. MCCURRY: We're looking at a number of ideas.

Q Mike, aside from the dog's name, any other details, like where does it sleep, has it met Socks?

MR. MCCURRY: That dog is one well-mannered pooch.

Q Does it have an office?

MR. MCCURRY: The Oval. (Laughter.) The dog has been firmly encamped at the foot of the President in the Oval.

Q Any accidents in the Oval Office?

MR. MCCURRY: No, the dog is a very well-behaved, well-mannered dog, and as any manner of aides have been sucking up to the dog. (Laughter.) And no doubt, its master as well. It's a dog that very much enjoys a tummy scratch.

Q Is this from firsthand experience?

Q What do you call him?

MR. MCCURRY: I call it "Dog." (Laughter.) I said, I like your dog.

Q Can we have a photo op of the dog?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, this President and this dog have become so attached already I don't think you're going to have any trouble getting pictures down the road, sometime.

Q Mike, where does it sleep?

Q Is he bringing him to the press conference?

Q Is there a dog house?

MR. MCCURRY: He likes to -- he finds just the right place where the sun comes in through the window and plops down right at that location.

Q Has it met Socks yet?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe the First Lady has indicated earlier that they are arranging a detente. (Laughter.) But I don't know whether that's been arranged, or not. The dog divides his time between the Oval Office and then when we are using the Oval Office, as we did earlier today, the dog prefers the study, the private study. (Laughter.)

Q Has he messed any White House rugs yet?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. It's a very well-trained, happy dog.

Q Does Chelsea like this dog?

MR. MCCURRY: I would assume so, but I haven't talked to her about the dog.

Anything else?

Q Do we have a schedule besides the press conference tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I know of -- do you know?

Q Yes, he's giving out some awards, isn't he?

MR. MCCURRY: We're doing some science and technology awards in the morning, I believe, and then we do the press conference in the afternoon. And, by the way, with the personnel announcement that is now in the bins, I will announce a full lid for the day.

Q Thank you.

Q Did the President take note of the school shooting down in Stamps, Arkansas?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that.

Q -- bailout for South Korea --

MR. MCCURRY: We did a lot of questions on that already.

Okay, thanks.

END 2:10 P.M. EST