THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:22 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Thanks to General McCaffrey for that. Where in the world do you want to start first?
MR. MCCURRY: Iraq.
Q What is the United States' reaction to Iraq's announcement that he will bar -- stop the rest of his team from carrying out their activities?
MR. MCCURRY: We have heard provocative statements from the government of Iraq on the constitution of U.N. inspection teams over and over again, and they have been made -- met with the same resolved response of the international community that has been expressed repeatedly by the United Nations Security Council.
Now, that said, what the government of Iraq says and what it does is very often different. And successful inspections have been conducted by UNSCOM and we will wait to hear from Chairman Butler as he reports to the Security Council what's actually going to be the status of inspections as they go forward. But we are clearly watching the progress that the inspection teams are making. We have a very significant force deployed in the region in furtherance of the President's determination to see that the United States can pursue its objectives in the region. And beyond that, I don't know -- I think it's a watchful period that we're going to be in as we see what happens as the inspections go forward.
Q When did Butler make that report?
MR. MCCURRY: He is expected, I believe, to report in coming days, and then if I'm not mistaken, he's scheduled to meet and Tehran with officials from the government of Iraq within the next week -- Baghdad, Baghdad. Tehran has been on our mind recently, too.
Q Mike, wasn't the Ritter team composed specifically to provoke a reaction from the Iraqis?
MR. MCCURRY: The Ritter teams is composed as the United Nations sees fit. They draw on scientific technical experts from around the world, and the United Nations really has to tell you how they make the composition of those teams up. They break into units from time to time. There is a significant U.N. presence in Iraq now, and they constitute their teams differently depending on what the circumstances of an inspection are. So you really have to go to the U.N. and let them tell you what -- how they conduct their individual inspections.
Q But the Iraqis have complained about Ritter bitterly for many months now. Isn't this a predictable reaction from the Iraqis?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe, as Mr. Ritter has indicated, he has been there for six years and has worked with many of these same people, and it's not quite clear what their complaints or their objections are based on.
Q Mike, you said that this is a watchful period as these inspections go forward, so it's your understanding and your belief that these inspections would continue to take place even if the Iraqis were, for example, blocking one team?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you've seen them try to provoke a response from the international community in the past. They have blocked inspections in the past. We've been there, done that. We'll have to see what kind of response we have in the days going forward.
Q But if I could follow up, what I'm saying is, if the inspections proceed with Iraq saying no to one team, aren't they dictating the terms of the inspections?
MR. MCCURRY: We've made it clear over and over again, and the United Nations has made clear, that the constitution of these inspection teams is not at the whim of the government of Iraq. The United Nations is the sole determinative of how those teams are constituted, and that will remain the case.
Q But you call these provocations; do these provocations continue? And is it your view that at the end of the day we will always get our way?
MR. MCCURRY: They continue, the provocations and the difficulty with which the United Nations has to conduct its operations continues. But that's been true really for years.
Q Do you think the American public will say that that's a policy that we should continue to pursue?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the American public is very supportive of the significant deployed force we have in the region, which is there to maintain options available to the President and to the United Nations.
Q But if I may just be allowed one more -- but you know there is some portion of the public that believes the administration is not acting firmly enough, that Saddam is getting away with murder.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he is getting away with willful violations and harassment of U.N. objectives there. And the U.N. has responded to that and we have pursued what we think is a concentrated diplomatic effort to address the behavior that we've seen, working with others and doing it through the U.N.'s authorized inspection team there.
But at the same time, the President has made clear that we are determined to see the objectives of the world community fulfilled there because those are significant U.S. interests as well, and he has never ruled out other options that may or may not be available.
Q Will the President be making any phone calls to world leaders to generate a unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution if it comes down to that?
MR. MCCURRY: He has been in contact with counterparts from time to time on this subject. I'm not aware that his foreign policy advisors have recommended that he do anything now in response to this, but we are watching very carefully the progress that the Chairman of the U.N. Inspections Committee makes as he both supervises the inspections that need to occur and as he conducts his own dialogue with the government.
Q Do you know, has there been any progress at all on the inspection of the Presidential palaces, irrespective of this current decision to block the --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you should direct that question, more appropriately, to the United Nations, but I suspect that's a subject that Chairman Butler wants to pursue in his visit.
Q Has the President heard anything, any report from his Asian delegation?
MR. MCCURRY: He has. Let me tell you a little bit about that. Mr. Bowles convened this morning kind of an update review of a team that's been meeting on and off during the period of our work on the Asian financial situation consisting of, among others, the National Economic Advisor, Gene Sperling; the National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger; Secretary Albright; Secretary Rubin; Dan Tarullo from the National Security Council working on international economic issues; and others.
They were able to get a phone report from Deputy Secretary Summers in Asia on the status on some of his work. He has been in Singapore and arrived this morning, our time, to Jakarta, and expects to begin his meetings with Indonesian officials probably late tonight, our time, which would be the beginning of the work day in Jakarta. This was reported to the President. When he arrived here, he got an update from some of the same members of that working group. And he's following very carefully and closely the work that the IMF is doing in region, and the work, obviously, that the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury is doing.
Q Sounds like you're very concerned if you have that high level a meeting.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's on an off during this period. We've had roughly that same contingent of officials monitoring this, sometimes in person, sometimes through there chief deputies, depending on what other subjects their covering. But it's a significant issue because the regional economic stability of Asia is something that impacts directly on the American people, with so much of our commerce directly tied up with the work that we do in that region, that there are millions of American families that are affected by economic conditions in Asia. Thus, it's very appropriate for the President and many of his key advisors to be involved in this.
Q How serious is the problem, the Asian money problem?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's quite serious. As you know, in some sense, the markets have been telling us. At the same time, we believe that a very strong and potentially effective program of response has been developed through the International Monetary Fund. And the United States will continue to work with other industrialized nations and with the IMF to address exactly the things that we think have led to instability in the markets because, ultimately, the program that they've developed, the reforms they've recommended, the economic changes that some of these nations will make and many have indicated they are willing to make, will be the source of a return to long-term economic stability in the region.
Q But does the renewed instability in Asian markets indicate that perhaps those initiatives aren't working?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it indicates that there's a lot of work that needs to be done by the governments that need to fulfill the obligations that they've rendered to the International Monetary Fund. And there's work that needs to be done by international monetary officials and then the governments acting independently to work with these governments to encourage them to implement the type of economic reforms that will lead to stability.
Q Is the White House concerned about Congressional opposition to U.S. participation in these bail out programs? Senator Faircloth is having a Wednesday meeting for congressional staffers against it. Senator D'Amato has made statements against it. Jim Leach is going out this week to the region to investigate.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we encourage members to explore for themselves the reality of what is happening in those economies and the significant interest we have in seeing the success of the international programs that have been developed carried out, because that is, ultimately, we believe, very important to the livelihoods of millions of Americans, certainly millions of constituents that many of those critics represent.
But at the same time, there will be a vigorous debate on this. I think members of Congress made that clear. And we will welcome being a part of that debate because we think the case for active involvement by the United States is a very good one. We have longstanding, deeply-held interests in that region that we have pursued very actively for many, many years now, and we're not about to give up what we think is the important sense of presence and strategic interest that we have in that region.
Among other things, in addition to having the Treasury Secretary in the region meeting with economic officials, as you know, the Defense Secretary is there now to remind governments in that region and the peoples of that region that we will remain engaged with them, and that the security of the Asia Pacific region is of vital U.S. strategic interest as well.
Q Mike, does Summers have any assurance from Soeharto, from any of the other officials in Indonesia, that they are taking the reform steps that the U.S. is demanding? And what is the level of concern here? As a follow-up, what is the level of concern here about social unrest in Indonesia and serious problems like that spreading even further to other Asian countries?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, without betraying the confidence of discussions that the President has had, he had a very good conversation with President Soeharto on exactly that subject. I think it's safe to say that we believe Deputy Secretary Summers' meetings would be constructive and useful. And we would not have believed that if there wasn't at least some indication that the government of Indonesia takes seriously the program of activity it has pledged to the IMF.
As to the internal political situation in Indonesia, that's really a matter for the people of Indonesia and for the leaders of Indonesia. They have elections scheduled in March, and it's up to them to make those determinations. But the conditions upon what they would be able to exercise their judgments and make those kinds of decisions are certainly enhanced if there is a return to economic stability in the region, which is in our interest and ultimately in their interest.
Q Are Asian governments moving too slowly to implement the kinds of reforms --
MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of different governments in the region that have made different sets of arrangements with the IMF and we are working case by case to address many of those situations. The Deputy Treasury Secretary will be in a number of places other than Indonesia, and we will work all those governments in the region to fulfill the kind of program that we think has the maximum chance of success.
Q Is the administration working on a fall-back position if the pace of reform is not satisfactory?
MR. MCCURRY: You've heard the Treasury Department describe what is sort of a second line of defense that is available, but at the moment we are encouraging people to make use of the IMF facilities that have been constructed and that are available.
Q Mike, with regard to the IMF facilities, it wasn't enough in South Korea. The United States agreed to put in another $1.5 billion because of their liquidity crunch. Is the United States standing ready to provide more funds from the U.S. Treasury for any of these countries that fail to proceed?
MR. MCCURRY: Do you want to see if I can move markets around the world? I can't answer that other than to say that we are in a position to work through the IMF and with other countries to address the type of economic market conditions that come about when there is a lack of long-term economic stability. But I think we've been pretty clear that we can't talk about specific commitments, but we can talk about the type of work that has been designed by the IMF and by the governments involved.
Q Over the weekend, Bruce Babbitt's interview with the Times, I think it was, was published, in which he said, "I've made a lot of mistakes" in this Indian casino business. Does the President still have complete confidence in him? And does the President believe that Babbitt handled the matter properly?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, and yes, although he did instruct the Chief of Staff to explore the matter further and to get a better understanding. I would also point out over the weekend the Secretary of the Interior was applauded for his management of difficult water issues in the West, and he continues to do extraordinarily good work in addressing the nation's environmental resource management questions, even as he handles some of these other issues that have been raised.
Q Well, help me out. Is this old that the President had instructed the Chief of Staff to explore the matter further?
MR. MCCURRY: That happened quite some time ago. We reported on it here.
Q May I just -- when is the Chief of Staff going to report to the President, conclude his investigation?
MR. MCCURRY: It happened some time ago.
Q Why can't he ask that?
Q Mike, is there any concern at the White House --
Q I'm unclear, Mike --
MR. MCCURRY: The point of what we told you back a couple months ago was that the Chief of Staff did explore this, did talk to the Interior Secretary, and did report back to the President. I think we covered that in some detail.
Q So your answers did not come after the Babbitt interview, this was something that came before?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no. This came up quite some time ago, and we --
Q So after the Babbitt interview, the President is still satisfied with the situation?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't talked to him specifically about the New York Times interview, but I'm not aware of any change in his thinking.
Q Mike, is there any concern at the White House that this devastating ice storm in the Northeast may just be a precursor of a totally wacky weather year that's going to throw all the budgeting of emergency assistance funds --
MR. MCCURRY: You mean, with the arrival of El Nino and we've got a front coming in over this -- look, it's hard to talk about how isolated meteorological effects reflect overall climate changes. But we do know that there has been significant overall climate change and that is a source of concern. It does take us back to the need to pursue the kinds of regimes we talked about with other members of the world community.
A little update -- as you know, I think the President declared several counties in upstate New York disaster areas. And while we haven't received any official requests from the governors of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, there are some preliminary damage assessments that are being done by FEMA in those states now that develops the kind of material that could be in support of a request for disaster assistance if one came, and we're working very closely and cooperatively both with the state government in New York and then with the governors and emergency response officials in the states that have been affected.
I believe also we've got some FEMA presence out in the Pacific Northwest, too, that's been looking at some of the storms there.
Q But the question was, are you sure that FEMA has enough money to deal with whatever might happen for the rest of the year?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they've had a difficult year, but they've been able to, I think -- they got a supplemental, didn't they, Barry?
MR. TOIV: No, not for this fiscal year.
MR. MCCURRY: Not for this year. Last year, in the period when they've had to deal with floods, earthquakes, fires, they've had difficult taxing of their resources, they've been able to get the kind of supplementary appropriation from Congress that's helped them do the work that's so important.
Q Can we go back to Iraq for a second? You folks have insisted for many months now that Saddam Hussein is in a box, and yet you just said a minute ago that he's getting away with willful violations and harassments of the U.N. weapons inspection team.
MR. MCCURRY: I did not say that. I said that we would be watching very carefully to see what he does. He has from time to time failed to fully comply --
Q You did say that.
GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Well, he's failed to fully comply with the stipulations that have been placed on him by the U.N. That's been true now for six years.
Q Right, so how is he -- I don't get how he's in a box.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he is motivated we believe in part by a desire to escape from the effect of the economic sanctions that are still placed upon him. Those sanctions remain in effect and there's absolutely no indication that there's any change in the posture of the world community to keep those sanctions in effect.
Q Let me follow up if I may. To the extent that the American people care whether or not Saddam Hussein is in a box, they care because of the threats that you folks have articulated about weapons of mass destruction --
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely.
Q So how is it -- has anything changed since late October until today in terms of our ability to find out what he's doing in chemical or biological weapons?
MR. MCCURRY: In a sense, yes, because -- I don't know the exact number, but at the time in October he had expelled certain U.N. inspectors from Iraq that had led the United Nations to withdraw the entire inspection team. We were in the middle of a significant problem at that point; inevitably Saddam backed down, the teams went back in, they've done hundreds of inspections since. But they are continuing to work on a problem that has not produced all the answers that they want or that they find sufficient. And there is going to continue to be that effort and they're going to continue to be pressed. And no doubt when Chairman Butler reports on his meetings, at that point we're going to have to make some assessments about what other steps need to be taken.
Q If the American team is pulled out, if the American team is kicked out, is it the position of the United States that all the teams should leave again?
MR. MCCURRY: The position of the United States is at that point supportive of the United Nations. When that's happened in the past, the response of the United Nations and of the Chairman of the U.N. Special Commission has been quite swift and quite appropriate in our view.
Q Mike, the Iraqis allege that Scott Ritter is a spy.
MR. MCCURRY: He has said that is ridiculous and so have many others. And the United Nations has made clear that he is hired because of his technical background. He is someone who is indisputably and expert. And he works for the United Nations. He's not -- he is a U.S. national, but he works under the direction and the supervision of the United Nations at this point.
Q And does not work for U.N. intelligence at any level?
MR. MCCURRY: He's very clear that he does not. He has said so himself and others have said so as well.
Q Mike, to what degree was the White House aware of complaints from gay rights group about a legal loophole in the '86 Privacy Communications Act where a sailor was essentially outed from the don't ask, don't tell policy and AOL apparently violated its own privacy standard by giving information to naval investigators which led to --
MR. MCCURRY: Chip, I saw that story this morning and I have to confess to you I failed to make an inquiries at the Pentagon about what their reaction is. I can -- we can see if we can take that and see if the Pentagon has said anything on that today.
Q On a totally unrelated matter, what is the White House position on Senator Kennedy's proposal to raise the minimum wage?
MR. MCCURRY: The Senator has made a number of interesting and important proposals and a number of them are being looked at at this point. You know, historically, this President's commitment to seeing that the minimum wage is a meaningful wage for people who are working. Very often -- people are working hard and very often doing so and staying off forms of public assistance, and we have had an interest -- we've successfully achieved an increase in the minimum wage, but at this point that's an idea that we have to be looking at carefully and have to be thinking about as we think of other things that we are pursuing with respect to macroeconomic policy.
Q If I could just follow up, do you anticipate that that would be something that's possibly going to be included in the President's State of the Union?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm only anticipating at this point that it will remain under review.
Q Mike, the Northern Ireland peace talks resume today in Belfast. Do you think they have any chance of success given the recent violence there? And secondly, do you foresee any direct U.S. involvement in the talks in the weeks and months ahead?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, do I see any prospect for success? Yes, because the peoples of Ireland are so manifestly committed to peace and are so upset about the tragic return to violence that they've seen. At the same time that there has been violence and there's been a return to the kind of troubles that people in both families lament, there has also been very determined work by the government of the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland to advance common thinking about how progress can be made at Stormont. And the United States government applauds the work that both governments are doing to table a proposal. We think that that demonstrates the seriousness of purpose with which they take the talks, and we encourage the parties themselves to make best use of this inclusive process to address the issues that members in all sects face.
Q Mike, The Washington Post had a story this morning that it's being said that Mack McLarty is going to leave the administration after the Summit of the Americas. Is there anything to that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you know, Mack has extended his stay here at the President's request and done an extraordinarily good job as an ambassador and envoy in that region. The President knew that 1997 would be a very significant year for our policy in Latin America and I think, using his powers of persuasion, encouraged Mr. McLarty to remain here so that he could help lead the agenda that we pursued last year Now, that was all about preparing -- doing the work that we did in the President's travels through a lot of our other diplomacy last year to prepare us for the second Summit of the Americas in Santiago coming up in a few months.
What Mr. McLarty's plans will be beyond that will be up to him. But I know that he probably yearns for the life that he thought he was going to get after the end of the first term and as the President managed to subvert by getting him to stay.
Q In other words, he's leaving. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I think I said that very elegantly. (Laughter.) You'd have to check with him.
Q Speaking of the President's powers of persuasion, has he had any luck convincing Senator Feinstein to run for governor of California?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he thinks very highly of her. But if they talked recently and had a conversation about -- talked to her recently and had a conversation about politics in California, I imagine that he would want me to keep it between the two of them.
Q But were she to run, his efforts out there would be pretty --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that people who know politics in California say nothing but that she would be a very strong candidate.
Q How about Panetta?
Q Can you confirm that the President's deposition with Paula Jones' attorneys will not be taken here at the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't say anything about that subject.
Q Well, if the President were to travel from the White House grounds on Saturday, am I correct that a travel pool would necessarily go with him?
MR. MCCURRY: Usually, when he tries to travel around here people know about it pretty quickly, so I imagine they would.
Q Mike, one loose end on Iraq. If the American team --
MR. MCCURRY: Without necessarily saying that's what is going to happen. I don't, frankly, know the answer and I'm not even sure that there is an answer at this point. But the court would be the only one who would properly determine what kind of public comment can be made.
Q Well, our information is flatly it has been decided it will not be here at the White House.
MR. MCCURRY: You're giving out the scoop in public? What are you doing?
Q This isn't a big scoop. It's not like a big huge story -- don't you think?
MR. MCCURRY: I personally don't think so. But I'll leave you to make your own judgment. (Laughter.)
Q Has the President seen or talked to Bennett lately?
MR. MCCURRY: He's talked to him from time to time. I don't know -- I mean, they've had to have talked during this discovery period.
Q But doesn't he have to prepare for a deposition?
MR. MCCURRY: Normally, if you're going to give a deposition, you prepare with your attorney. I can't imagine the President wouldn't.
Q How did the President react to being in the same room with Paula Jones?
MR. MCCURRY: His attorney has addressed that. I don't really have anything to add to what he said.
Q Did you find out if Robin Williams was at Camp David with the President this weekend?
MR. MCCURRY: I do believe that's true. And I think they were up with some of the other cast members. And the President and the First Lady are going to be doing some more entertaining and socializing up there. So I wouldn't be surprised if they go up from time to time.
MR. MCCURRY: The main reason is they want to use -- they want to make more use of Camp David. They found it hard go up there when their daughter was still here because she'd be away from her friends and they didn't use it as much as they'd like. But they like being up there. I imaging they'll go up there more often.
Q Do you know what other members of the cast joined Robin Williams?
MR. MCCURRY: No, and I'm not -- to be honest with you, I think the President is entitled to invite who he wants to go up there to be his private social guests and I don't intend to report on the guest list on such occasions.
MR. MCCURRY: Because I think it's just good -- I mean, they do -- they have during -- when they screen movies and do stuff over at the residence all the time and we don't pester them about it and I don't intend to.
Q Well, just to tie up a loose end on that for interest of those who watch Show Biz Today -- (laughter) --
MR. MCCURRY: What time does that come on? (Laughter.) When's that on?
Q It comes on at 5:30 p.m. Eastern. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: At 5:30 p.m. Eastern. (Laughter.)
Q What time is that Central Time? (Laughter.)
Q Are you anchoring that now? (Laughter.)
Q No, I'm not. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: You never know, Wolf, they might have already announced it. (Laughter.)
Q To the best of my knowledge. Do they have a movie theatre at Camp David? Where do they watch these kinds of movies at Camp David?
MR. MCCURRY: They have -- I think they do. I defer that -- I'm sure they do because I think previous Presidents have very often gone up there and shown movies and that sort of thing.
Q The Republicans have proposed appropriating money to fund 100,000 new teaching positions and I'm wondering what the White House reaction to that is and why you haven't proposed that yourselves.
MR. MCCURRY: We're in favor of teachers and we are in favor of thinking about --
Q -- 100,000 new ones on the street?
MR. MCCURRY: -- thinking about ways in which we might do it. And, who knows. He's a very clever fellow, that Congressman Paxon. Maybe he caught wind of some things that we were thinking about.
Q Forget McLarty. Are you leaving anytime soon?
MR. MCCURRY: If you let me out of here, I will, yes. (Laughter.)
Q No, I mean in the White House staff.
Q Hold on. Can we just finish the teachers thing?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I dropped a hint there. You've got to pursue it on your own.
Q The race panel is headed to Phoenix this week where one of the things they're going to do is take up the concerns of Native Americans. There's been a lot of criticism that that's late in coming and incorporating them into the discussion. Can you comment on that?
MR. MCCURRY: There are many communities that the President has been reaching out and talking to. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, John Echohawk is one of the participants in the session that we're having this afternoon with the President. I think the President does see this effort to understand and embrace the diversities in American, one that extends to many, many different kinds of constituencies and communities. And while there are some unique aspects to race that involve the relationship between black and white America, I think we've said all along that the rich diversity that's going to be America in the 21st century requires an approach and a willingness to listen to and hear many, many other communities. And so the President's session today is one such opportunity, and there will be others.
Q Mike, does the President support the DNC's action over the weekend to allow non-citizen residents in the U.S. to contribute to the party?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he does.
Q Did he say during the campaign, though, that contributions ought to be limited to those who can vote in elections?
MR. MCCURRY: He sees, as the DNC said, I think, yesterday, sees these people as likely potential new voters soon.
Q Does he feel like he made a mistake a year ago when he endorsed the DNC's --
MR. MCCURRY: Presidents don't make mistakes, they have --
Q Mistakes are made. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: They have further thinking that is bought to a subject.
Q Seriously, Mike, he gave a speech and said --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think the President agrees with a lot of what was said yesterday, that the unintended consequences of that policy has been to make some communities feel like they are not worthy participants in the political process. And I think the President feels that was a bad outcome of a policy that was well intentioned. And when the DNC approached the White House about the change in the subject, I think the President understood the rationale.
Q How much money can he get from them?
MR. MCCURRY: The DNC can tell you more about it. I don't know.
Q The United States has had very little luck convincing the French and the Russians in the Security Council to take stronger action against Iraq. Is today's incident going to be something that the United States takes into the Security Council and uses as an avenue of argument to convince them to take stronger action now?
MR. MCCURRY: It will certainly be cited by the United States as reasons why we have to remain very firm and determined in dealing with the government of Iraq. That is not lost on the governments of France and Russia and others in the Security Council. They understand the provocations that Saddam has rendered, and they also have joined unanimously with the U.N. in supporting Security Council Resolutions 1134 and 1137. And that remains the stated position of those governments, and we will continue to work to pursue the objectives that are expressed in those recent unanimous declarations of the world community.
Q But isn't this exactly what the United States warned the French and the Russians was going to happen if they didn't take stronger action?
MR. MCCURRY: We've had a number of conversations with those governments stressing the need to remain resolved and united as we address this real issue.
Q There is a line of thinking that Saddam feels more ability to maneuver this month because of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. Would you disabuse him of that notion?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Well said. (Laughter.)
Q I'm just wondering after today if the President has run out of items to preview for State of the Union, or are they planning more --
MR. MCCURRY: No, we've got all kinds of boxes under the tree.
Q If you could tell us, is there anything more this week that he's going to unveil?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. What is the status of our leaks these days? (Laughter.) Let's go call Rahm and find out where he's -- no, I think there's not -- I'm not anticipating this week additional discussions of things that have budgetary impact. The President in the State of the Union is going to be talking about a lot of things that are fundamentally important to the country. He will be talking later in the week about race in America and the struggle for civil rights, and acknowledging some of the heroic leadership of those that are going to receive the National Medal of Freedom. And that's the kind of thing that in a sense previews parts of what I think he wants to lay before Congress in January.
Q I was talking about policy initiatives.
MR. MCCURRY: In policy initiatives, I'm not aware at the moment of any, but who knows? You're all good reporters.
Q On the budget, you said this morning you would look into the report about the division of the revenues from a national tobacco settlement --
MR. MCCURRY: What I got back on that was pretty much the same answer that I gave you when we talked about the general question of tax incidence that would be reflected in the budget. We really are not going to be in a position to get into the specifics until the budget is delivered to Congress in February, although we would say that we credit the states' attorneys general for the very important work they did in bringing litigation, and it would stand to reason that we would want to share the proceeds from any settlement with the states. But exactly what the percentage would be or how we would do that, we're not at liberty to discuss until the President unveils his budget.
Q So are you saying the Wall Street Journal is wrong, or just that you're not in a position to confirm --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I sort of said that we weren't going to confirm what they had.
Q Can I come back to the DNC for a second? Are you saying that the President no longer supports a unilateral ban on this, or any ban?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll direct you to the DNC on that. He is supportive of the work that they did over the weekend.
Q The President's position on the acceptance of money from legal aliens, it's one thing to say we no longer will unilaterally do it, but still support legislation.
MR. MCCURRY: Legal permanent residents, I believe is the term we prefer.
Q Okay. Does he still support legislation that would ban them, or he no longer supports that either?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that is part of the pending legislation that we've expressed support for.
Q He supported it in '96.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'll ask him what his views are on that specific question.
Q Mike, it's reported today that Dennis Scolabrini (phonetic), the FBI agent who testified on behalf of Billy Dale at the Travelgate trial says he was harassed by Clinton aides in retaliation. What is your response?
MR. MCCURRY: If I understand correctly, that is a sealed deposition and we'll honor the court's decision to seal whatever testimony he gave.
Q On to weapons of mass destruction and proliferation -- the conference committee has come out with a report talking about it, saying the problem is worsening, criticizing the White House, saying a lot of talking really hasn't backed it up. Has the White House been effective in this?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with the report. I don't know specifically what area of concern they raised. But we spent most of this briefing talking about the various extensive work that the United States is doing, including the hard work that 37,000 young men and women are doing in the Gulf to pursue our concerns about weapons of mass destruction. And I think it's fair to say that there's not a question in the post-Cold War pantheon of foreign policy that the President takes more seriously than efforts by countries that are outliers in the world community to acquire weapons of mass destruction. We've spent a lot of time on that issue here and the President certainly has done a lot of hard work on the issue. But I'll see if anyone knows of the report in particular.
Q Do you expect the President to address the issue of employer based pensions prior to the State of the Union?
MR. MCCURRY: Expanding retirement income security opportunities for Americans, which it increasingly in the next century is going to depend on shoring up Social Security, making sure the people have got a variety of private sector based employer provided pension arrangements, and encouraging Americans to make their own savings and their own arrangements for retirement. It's going to be a very real key part of work. We've already done a great deal to address and underpin the strength of the private sector pension insurance system and I expect in the -- that we will want to say some more on that subject. I wouldn't rule out that there will be a -- some focus on that in the weeks ahead, but I don't know whether prior to January 27th.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you, Helen.
END 1:58 P.M. EST