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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 17, 1997
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                              MIKE MCCURRY 

The Briefing Room

1:40 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: I apologize, ladies and gentlemen, for being late. We were watching lion on the loose.

Q Did they catch him?

MR. MCCURRY: No, they're still out there -- lion on the loose. The President has decided to rename the lion, Luke. (Laughter.)

Q Ohhhh!

MR. MCCURRY: That was for you, Mr. Bloom, and your boss.

Q You looked like you were worried in the photograph in The New York Times.

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Erskine and I didn't look all too happy in that. That must have been the pre-press conference picture, because of course, we would have looked delighted afterwards.

Q Mike, who was beeping you with messages to get him to end it?

MR. MCCURRY: A mischief maker here -- take your pick. Take a vote. Who is the principal mischief maker who would be beeping me with funny messages?

Q You only get one guess.

Q Joe.

Q Lockhart.

Q Wolf.

MR. MCCURRY: Ah, Wolf. Award-winning, Pulitzer Prize winning, dog-naming reporter, Wolf Blitzer. (Laughter.)

I'm sorry -- let's get to work. I just want to let you know, I still am getting more details on the President's trip to Bosnia, but the only thing I can share with you at this point is at least when we're going and when we're returning. We'll leave just a little after 4:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon and return probably just around 3:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, the 23rd.

Q Do you know where he changes planes?

MR. MCCURRY: Is that for sure? At Aviano, in Italy.

Q Will he deliver a speech in Sarajevo?

MR. MCCURRY: We are working on details; I'd prefer not to get into the itinerary until we've got it locked up.

Q Does that mean he's down on Tuesday and Wednesday?

Q He's got to go to a soup kitchen.

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, yes, please. No, because he'll be running around doing Christmas shopping at the last minute.

Q But I mean no public --

Q He does go to some kind of --

Q Is Mrs. Clinton going?

MR. MCCURRY: Do we know the answer for sure to that yet? Don't have an answer to that yet. We are going to try to include some other people.

Q What about the announcement of his Bosnia position the President mentioned at the press conference yesterday -- will that be tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: Most likely. Some off chance it will be Friday, but most likely here tomorrow. Here, in the White House.

Q Can you explain why it's a good idea not to have a set date?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to preview whatever the President is announcing tomorrow.

Q Well, before we leave Bosnia for a second, could you just at least tell us -- confirm that the President is going to announce in principle that the U.S. should continue to have a troop presence in Bosnia?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President made it clear yesterday he wants to talk to the American people about the significant progress we've made in Bosnia, talk about the direction of our policy as we look ahead, as we look beyond June of 1998. And the President will want to at least in some preliminary way provide a reaction to the decision taken by the North Atlantic Council yesterday to authorize a study of options for a military presence in Bosnia beyond June of 1998.

Now, that said, there are decisions that will have to be reviewed carefully by the North Atlantic Council, the United States, and the Commander in Chief will make decisions down the road related to further planning, further development of options that will be done at NATO. But work will be conducted with a high degree of priority next year. As you know, yesterday in Brussels the foreign ministers authorized military planners and a preparation of political military options to be conducted by mid-January.

Q If there is another --

MR. MCCURRY: That's a pretty good non-confirmation. (Laughter.)

Q Right. But if there is an agreement in principle to stay, do you think the next time around the President will also attach another deadline? He's done this twice now.

MR. MCCURRY: The President has indicated he will speak further on that subject, and he will speak when he speaks.

Q What is the forum for his announcement, Mike? Here?

MR. MCCURRY: We haven't determined yet. Probably standing right here.

Q What do you mean speak to the American people? Is he going to go on television?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I think he would just -- he wants to raise this issue. I think it's appropriate for him to share the thinking on a topic so important so that people have an understanding of the direction we're headed.

Q Mike, could you preview the President's meeting later today with the farmers?

MR. MCCURRY: The best preview of that is the press release that Secretary Glickman has already put out. He has indicated some things that the Department will be doing for small rural farmers and others in the agricultural communities that are affected -- that are represented in the group that will be meeting with him. And the President I think looks forward to following up on those announcements that have been made by the Ag Department today, and also discuss further some of the concerns that the farmer have.

Now, specifically, access to credit and how credit is provided to small farmers is going to be a key topic, as will be civil rights and the discrimination and instances of prejudice that many small farmers, small black farmers particularly, feel that they have suffered.

The President will also talk about market access programs that USDA has available and will review the degree to which they are helpful to the small farmer communities. They will talk about next year's consideration of the tobacco deal because many of these farmers have historically been tobacco growers. And they will also talk about dairy issues because many of them will be disproportionately in the dairy industry.

Q Might the President set up maybe an expanded channel of access for these farmers? Many of them consider USDA as not exactly friendly territory.

MR. MCCURRY: I think that they at least give Secretary Glickman some credit for addressing these issues forthrightly. No doubt they will think that there is more that can be done, and we will continue to explore the issue. But I think some of the things that Secretary Glickman has developed and talked about today are going to be important to many of the people who are at the meeting.

Q Mike, in the wake of the President's race initiative, many of the black farmers are saying that they should have a meeting by themselves with the President in the wake of these alleged discriminatory acts perpetrated by the USDA.

MR. MCCURRY: We acknowledge the importance of the issues they have raised and that they have been dealing directly with the Agriculture Department on, and by no means understate the importance of those issues. But the President will address those. That will be a subject of discussion today, but there are so many other issues that impact them as well -- economic issues, the health of their communities, particular producer programs that I think are important to farmers whether they are black or white. But having a meeting that concentrates on the problems of small farmers, who are disproportionately minority, particularly in the South, is useful, and it ought to be an agenda that includes issues in addition to the civil rights concerns that these farmers legitimately have.

Q Does the administration give any credence to these allegations that Ron Brown might have been shot?

MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely none. And credence is only given to those reports by entities associated with Richard Mellon Scaife, and we are right back into another one of these chasing a story that's been ginned up by people who no doubt, for whatever reason, hate the President of the United States. And the Pentagon, I think, has very thoroughly and in very gruesome detail, and no doubt in ways painful to the Brown family, addressed this issue. And it's time to knock this stuff off. And I'm not going to talk about this further or take any further questions on the subject.

Q Mike, on the Haitian decision, is the President ready to allow Haitians some flexibility in staying here in the United States?

MR. MCCURRY: The President is considering the issue and has not yet received recommendations from a group here at the White House that's been working on that issue, but expects to receive some recommendations in the next several days.

Q And when do you anticipate that he would sign off on the recommendations?

MR. MCCURRY: In the next several days.

Q But is he inclined to go along with what's been reported now, that there should be some rarely used exemption to allow some 20,000 --

MR. MCCURRY: As he has said himself when we were in Central America and when he has addressed the issue, and as we negotiated with Congress on some of the relief that was provided to other groups, the President does believe the concerns of those Haitians should be addressed. But I'm not going to speculate what form that relief will take at this point.

Q Let me just ask you one other question on that. Is it his opinion that Haitians should be in the same category as refugees from El Salvador and Nicaragua, or in a different category?

MR. MCCURRY: That's just another way of asking the same question, Wolf.

Q Mike, you're still being very cautious about the story this morning, as you said in the gaggle, about The New York Times story on the Haitians. Are you moderating your position somewhat?

MR. MCCURRY: The only thing that was not clear to me this morning when I was talking to you was whether or not that is an issue that the President himself would address, because there was some discussion of that this morning indicating that may not be the case. I've checked further on it; the President will take up the issue and will address it and it will happen in a matter of days.

Q On the U.S. judge ruling on Cuba having to pay $187 million on the shootdown -- do you expect a check from Cuba?

MR. MCCURRY: We expect them to meet whatever obligations are indicated and warranted. But the State Department has been addressing that issue at their briefing and I ask that you go there for more thorough review.

Q Mike, has any member of Congress agreed to go on the Bosnia trip? Do you have any names?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any further details than those that I already shared with you.

Q Mike, back on the farmers. April asked if the black farmers should be given a separate meeting -- but there's already a lot of bad feeling due to an understanding that members of the Black Congressional Caucus have that they were already promised a separate meeting last month which didn't happen because of scheduling conflicts and that today's meeting is a morphing of that meeting into a larger one. And they feel that they were given a promise that has been broken. Did that happen?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know and I'll have to check into that.

Q Were you able to find out anything more about the appointment of a chairman of the Medicare commission?

MR. MCCURRY: Only that the discussion continues. I was incorrect this morning; I think that John Hilley has been doing most of the discussions with the Hill and not Mr. Bowles. We have got a candidate in mind that we have put forward and we are still seeing if we can't get some consensus around that candidate.

Q Is the Speaker still insisting on a litmus test for the chairman as well, the no tax pledge?

MR. MCCURRY: I do not know the answer to that. I would have to refer you the Speaker's Office.

Q Mike, what does the United States want the United Nations to do tomorrow vis a vis Iraq?

MR. MCCURRY: Listen carefully to the report of Chairman Butler.

Q Right, but what's supposed to happen immediately after Butler gives his report, I'm told, is there are going to be debates in the Security Council about where to go from here. So what's the U.S. position?

MR. MCCURRY: That they should listen carefully to Chairman Butler, listen carefully to what his assessment is of the status of inspections and the inspections necessary for him to determine information relevant to weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq.

Q But there's no dispute --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to tell you what happens during the debate or what the outcome of the debate will be; I don't know.

Q There's no dispute of the particulars. I mean, Tariq Aziz came out today and said, yes, they can't go to the palaces. The President said yesterday they have to have unfettered access. So what does the U.S. do at the U.N. now?

MR. MCCURRY: It is pretty obvious. We'll press the concerns that we have. We'll listen carefully to Chairman Butler and discuss with other members of the Security Council the proper course of action.

Q Mike, why do you need the buffering of Butler in this? As David has just said, the public statements are out there and you could react at this point. Why go through that bureaucratic step -- what's the value in that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the authority under which the world community is demanding certain behavior by Saddam Hussein is the actions taken by the Security Council, and it's proper for this agent of the Security Council, the head of the U.N. Special Commission, to report back to the Security Council, and proper then for the United States as a permanent member of the Security Council to address its concerns and respond properly to that report in that forum.

Q But you already know what Aziz has said.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is many reasons why it would be useful for the United States to continue to address this issue in front of a Security Council that has been united and unanimous in insisting on access to those sites by the government of Iraq, and that's what will happen tomorrow.

Q Mike, this morning in the gaggle I think you had the specific nice things to say about Gephardt's tax reform proposal. And I'm wondering if the President --

MR. MCCURRY: Oh. (Laughter.)

Q How did that slip out?

Q Well, I don't hear anybody else saying something nice and specific about it until the gaggle this morning --

MR. MCCURRY: Gene Sperling has been and others have been.

Q Anyway, does the President think that the Gephardt and Kennedy proposal --

MR. MCCURRY: My first opportunity to spread good karma.

Q Does the President think that the Gephardt and Kennedy proposal meets his four criteria that he laid out yesterday?

MR. MCCURRY: He is looking at many ideas. The Treasury Department is reviewing many ideas. The President has given you his criteria, and he has not endorsed any specific measures. He went at great, great, great length on that subject yesterday. I'm not going to add to it.

Q Okay. And just to -- not as lengthy as he did on some other subjects. But just to follow up on that, will the President make his own proposal on tax reform early in the year, or will he do what the White House did on IRS reform last year, which is wait for Congress to take the lead?

MR. MCCURRY: I think he said what he wanted to say on that subject yesterday.

Q He wasn't asked this question.

MR. MCCURRY: He made it real clear what he is doing and how he is considering tax issues, and I think he gave a very good answer yesterday.

Q Is the Vice President going to be in a meeting this afternoon with the Democratic congressional leaders?

MR. MCCURRY: I forgot to check that. Can you double-check that while we're in progress?

Q Does the President have any specific agenda in mind?


Q What is he going to --

MR. MCCURRY: He shared much of it with you yesterday, and that's what he's going to -- that will form the basis of his discussions with the leaders this afternoon, although obviously he'll go into considerably more specific detail with them, and we'll see where we end up at the end of the meeting.

Q Will he send them out on the Bosnia policy that he is going to announce tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: He's already had good discussions -- I can't remember -- I think both of them were at the leaders meeting that we had on Bosnia. I need to double-check that. But they have heard the President at some length on that subject and know his thinking on that, and he has had an opportunity to hear from them on that. They may review it, but -- and we will no doubt do some further congressional consultations. But I think they've already been in a position to talk at some length with the President on tt.

Q Have you talked to Republican leadership yet about this issue?

MR. MCCURRY: We have had some consultations and no doubt will be doing additional consultations prior to anything the President says.

Q What indications did you get?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll let them speak for themselves.

Q Mike, does the President expect the members of his Secret Service detail to keep private and confidential any things they may see in the course of protecting the First Family, and keep it private until their deaths?

MR. MCCURRY: The President expects those assigned to protect them to follow whatever procedures the Secret Service has.

Q Do you know if he is distressed about the revelations that members of the Kennedy detail have come forward with?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't spoken with him on that subject.

Q Do you know whether Lew Merletti consulted with the President prior to posting the directive to members of the Secret Service?

MR. MCCURRY: I do not know, but I have no reason to believe so.

Q Mike, you said a few days ago that you might give us a transcript of Friday's meeting on affirmative action. Is that your plan?

MR. MCCURRY: We're working on that. I shared some of that with folks in the gaggle this morning, and you might want to check with some of your colleagues.

Q So are you saying you haven't made a final decision on that?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that you can kind of talk with some of the people who were here this morning, Leo, and you'll get a good idea.

Q Talking about press procedures, are you creating a new policy today, the way you handled the award ceremony -- not award ceremony, but the medal ceremony for the two astronauts? You invited only still photographers, and the President spoke for like eight minutes, with no TV, and then put out a transcript.

MR. MCCURRY: We are not establishing a new policy.

Q Can you explain why you did it that way, though?

MR. MCCURRY: So that you could have something -- if you wanted to cover that story, so you would at least have something better than a picture.

Q But did the families request that we be kept out?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. But I think that they were happy with the ceremony and happy with the way it was conducted.

Q Prime Minister Hashimoto announced a major tax cut yesterday in Japan. How does the President see that?

MR. MCCURRY: As he told the Prime Minister in his phone call with the Prime Minister last night, he welcomed that; he was encouraged by it. I think that Treasury Secretary has also made a statement. We are encouraged by efforts to create demand-led economic growth in Japan. It took some courage for the Prime Minister to come forward with that package, and the President acknowledged that. We also think there are other aspects of the package, financial package that have been announced by the government of Japan that are very important, and we hope that they will be fully implemented.

Q Do you think -- does the administration regard this as sufficient to spark domestic demand and reduce the increase in the Japanese trade surplus?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to comment on how this package will affect the Japanese economy other than to say it moves it in a direction that will certainly be good for the people of Japan, certainly be good for the regional economy of Asia, and in that respect it will ultimately be good for the people of the United States -- a valuable, important commercial exchange with enterprises in Japan.

Q Despite wanting a consensus, does the President have the right to pick the chairman for the Medicare-Social Security --

MR. MCCURRY: He doesn't have the right solely to pick it; he has to pick it in consultation with the Republican leaders.

Q "Consultation," but who makes the ultimate decision?

MR. MCCURRY: It has to be done by consensus, by Republican leaders and the President.

Q Who is the President's --

MR. MCCURRY: It has been widely reported that it's Senator Breaux, and I'm not confirming that it's Senator Breaux, or -- (laughter). I'm looking at Barry here. It's been widely reported by learned journalists known for their accuracy that we have advanced Senator Breaux's name. We think he would be an excellent candidate.

Q Why him?

MR. MCCURRY: Wolf went, Wolf's not here. We could ask him. He always knows these things.

Q Back on Bosnia, Senator Kay Hutchinson and some other critics say that the administration doesn't have a clear mission for the troops there, nor does it have a clear exit strategy.

MR. MCCURRY: That does a disservice to the people who are bravely serving there under superb military command, under the direction of a Commander in Chief who has repeatedly stated the precise goals and objectives of the mission, and does disservice to an alliance that has been very clear and precise on the missions of the current stabilization force.

Q Mike, on Senator Specter's visit this afternoon, the focus is on the Middle East. Do you expect to broach other subjects, such as the Bill Lann Lee nomination, since he's on the Judiciary Committee?

MR. MCCURRY: The indication given to me is the subject is the Middle East, given the Senator's pending travel to the region.

Q Mike, on the Secret Service report, can you at least confirm The New York Times story? The Secret Service isn't calling back when we call over there.

MR. MCCURRY: I cannot, and I don't have any reason to doubt the story, but it would be best to contact the Treasury Department or the Service public affairs staff.

Q The President had several questions about terrorism, but nothing was asked about whether he -- do you think, or does the President think the U.S. is adequately protected against foreign terrorism? And do you feel that recent budget cuts may have harmed our antiterrorism efforts both in --

MR. MCCURRY: Our efforts to combat terrorism have been repeatedly identified by the President as one major foreign policy challenge that we face, because it is an issue now in which we engage directly with other countries in protecting all the people of the world from terrorist activity. And we have -- this administration has devoted additional resources to the fight against terrorism, so I'm not aware there have been budget cuts. In fact, I think it would be true to say the exact opposite has happened, that we've actually increased some of our investment in counterterrorism programs within the government.

Q Mike, can you say why the White House thinks it's proper for NSC officials to tell VOA what it can and cannot broadcast?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's not what we did, and that would not be proper. What the President -- what the President's foreign policy advisor did do was to alert the Voice of America to foreign policy implications of programs they might be considering. But as I told some of you earlier today, anyone who knows Evelyn Lieberman and doubts that she is independent, you do not know her as well as we know her. And we would not make any effort to violate what is a very important principle -- the editorial independence of the Voice of America.

At the same time, it is perfectly appropriate for the Voice of America to understand what the consequences of some of its broadcasts might be from our perspective, looking at the foreign policy issues.

Q So it wasn't the purpose of the communication to persuade her not to air it?

MR. MCCURRY: It was to give her information so that she could make the independent editorial judgment that she alone makes.

Q Do you know, Mike, whether the same journalistic standards that apply to the Voice of America also apply to the USIA TV?

MR. MCCURRY: No, they do not, because the USIA is an entity of the United States government and is in a position to reflect the foreign policy thinking of the administration, so there is a difference in the application of editorial judgments given the difference between the two agencies.

Anything else? All right. Oh, Vice President Gore will be at the congressional meeting with the Minority Leader and -- the two minority leaders.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:10 P.M. EST