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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 20, 1998
                           PRESS BRIEFING
                           BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

2:30 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: We'll let the travel pool depart.

Q Where are they going?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President's going to go sneak in a little golf before he returns here.

Q It's cold out there.

MR. MCCURRY: Not cold enough.

Q Is the President going to see the Prime Minister again?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll see. If that develops, I'll let you know.

Q What was the question?

MR. MCCURRY: If we would see the Prime Minister again today. You want me to run through what we've done so far, a little process -- when you're not talking substance, it's always good to talk process, as a general proposition.

The President met -- well, you were all there for the exchange of the two waves of the pool in the Oval Office. Once the pool departed, the President suggested to the Prime Minister that they should meet tete-a-tete. And the conversation continued with the President, accompanied by Secretary of State Albright, Prime Minister Netanyahu, accompanied by his cabinet Secretary Dan Naveh.

They met for just over 90 minutes and had a clear engagement across a wide spectrum of issues related to the peace process, as well as some discussion of regional security issues as well. I'd describe it as a meeting in which both leaders did serious business in a congenial atmosphere.

The good atmosphere continued as the Vice President met, for approximately 45 minutes in his office, with the Prime Minister. And then the Vice President escorted the Prime Minister to lunch. They met over -- I forgot to get the menu, Nanda had it -- a flounder filet in mushroom risotto -- for about an hour. And then the Vice President had a short private
meeting --

Q Was it in the White House mess?

MR. MCCURRY: It was in the Ward Room. And then the Vice President met for a short while with the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has now departed and he's off to see the Secretary of State at his hotel, I believe. His schedule for the balance of the day remains to be determined.

Q Was his pull-back proposal sufficient to meet the President's --

MR. MCCURRY: No, not -- as you heard the Prime Minister say when he met with all of you, he is not and we are not going to delve into the substance of the discussion. It was -- they've had good, positive exchanges today on the range of issues that you all know are fundamentally imbedded at the process at this point. And this is only the first of a series of meetings, including the meetings with Chairman Arafat that will occur this week and we'll be quite circumspect about details as those meetings are in progress.

Q Did he make a pullback proposal or is he just fishing?

Q I wasn't asking. I wasn't asking for specific numbers. All I'm asking is did the Prime Minister go far enough?

MR. MCCURRY: They certainly discussed the issue of further redeployment, and they will continue to discuss that issue.

Q Mike, as you leave the door open for them to get together again, are you talking about today, tomorrow, or is there still a possibility that he might bring Arafat and Netanyahu --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any plans to meet in any trilateral format.

Q What about again with Netanyahu?

Q Yes, what are you saying about the possibility that --

MR. MCCURRY: I think that you heard the Prime Minister say that he was open for additional discussions today, and we'll see how that develops.

Q So you're saying the President might meet with him again today?

MR. MCCURRY: I was very careful not to say that, but I certainly left the door open, as Peter said.

Q -- or was it policies and principles, or was it maps and numbers?

MR. MCCURRY: It was good, substantive, detailed discussion of the relevant issues.

Q -- numbers.

MR. MCCURRY: The Middle East Peace Process F-7. (Laughter.)

Q To what extent does the situation in Iraq complicate U.S. efforts to persuade the two leaders in Israel to make some sort of accommodation?

MR. MCCURRY: They discussed a range of regional security issues. Iran and Iraq were certainly on the agenda. But they are of sufficient vital interest to both the United States and the government of Israel that one would anticipate them being on the agenda and a subject of discussion at a time in which both countries have been very much a part of the thinking that goes into the foreign policies of both the United States and Israel.

By the way, that was a subject of dominant focus in the discussions with the Vice President as were other regional issues: Turkey, proliferation concerns, the effort to build on the record of support and engagement on the issue of counter-terrorism. All of these issues reflecting the United States' long-felt interest and concern about the security of Israel were part of today's dialogue.

Q Mike, did they refer at all to the lack of a meeting last November and to the widespread perception of the distance between the two men and their governments?

MR. MCCURRY: There was no need to dwell at any sufficient length, and I think they both laughed about the implausibility of the President and the Prime Minister in meeting in anything but a very cordial environment.

Q Jamie Rubin said that Secretary Albright, when she met with him today, talked about the need for a significant and credible pull-back. Is it safe to assume that the Secretary talked about that, that the President talked with the Prime Minister as well?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it's safe to assume that those issues have been the focal point of the Secretary's dialogue with the Prime Minister, on Ambassador Ross's agenda as he's moved in the region and met with the Prime Minister were also of concern to the President and also reflected in the discussion.

Q Did the President lay out a plan to get the peace talks back in process?

MR. MCCURRY: The President exchanged views, ideas, in a very detailed and substantive way with the Prime Minister. Beyond that, I'm not going to get into the substance of the dialogue.

Q Well, what about the talks today makes you want to leave the door open to another meeting this afternoon?

MR. MCCURRY: Because it's very, very hard work and it's very important. And both leaders are very committed to pursuing this process because at stake is peace in a region that people of the United States hold dear and obviously the people in the Palestinian community and the citizens of Israel hold dear.

Q Speaking of the region, President Khatami has made a speech in which he accused the UN of global arrogance, roughly reversing his earlier soothing words. What's the reaction --

MR. MCCURRY: Our reaction has been all consistent, which is that speeches are fine, but what actions are pursued by the government of Iran are what counts. And there clearly are differing viewpoints on the issue of dialogue within Iran. And I think you hear inevitably some of the differing viewpoints emerge as different leaders, and sometimes the same leader, discuss some of the same issues sometimes in somewhat different ways.

But all along we've said that what counts is action and we await a demonstrable action that reflects some of the more soothing words.

Q Does Prime Minister Netanyahu have a specific proposal that will be presented to Arafat this week?

MR. MCCURRY: It would not be for me to say on his behalf.

Q Someone said that you or someone here had put out the word that staffers should not be allowed to log onto the Drudge Report. Is that true?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't discuss that subject.

Q What, whether you ever put out a word they can't log on?

MR. MCCURRY: I think calling it a "report" is too generous.

Q Well, whatever you want to call it is fine with me. But have you forbidden people to actually --

MR. MCCURRY: No. It's a free country and people can do what they want to on the Internet.

Q The President has said on the Middle East that both the Prime Minister and Chairman Arafat would have to move in order to get the peace process back on track. Was there progress today for getting the peace process back on track?

MR. MCCURRY: There was hard work on the peace process. A lot of hard work remains. And it will be important for both the Chairman and the Prime Minister to face some very difficult questions and make some difficult choices if there's to be progress. We didn't anticipate the heavens to open today; we anticipated exactly what happened -- good, hard, substantive work on all the issues that are fundamental to the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians.

Q You said they exchanged ideas. Did the President present any kind of a comprehensive proposal of his own?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it would be misleading to say yes to that, but they clearly had a comprehensive review of the relevant issues.

Q Mike, does the President have any feeling about the desirability of having Yasser Arafat visit the Holocaust Museum?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President feels that that is such an emotionally powerful place and lends such understanding to what is the common experience of the Jewish people that it would be wonderful if the Chairman had that opportunity. And I think he hopes he does get that opportunity.

Q And what does he think about how they handled it?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to comment on that. I think the museum director has addressed that.

Q Now that you're on the record, will you address whether there was pressure from anyone at the White House on the museum to reverse its position?

MR. MCCURRY: Pressured -- "pressure" is not a word we're using in any context today.

Q Appeal?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that there have been some discussions between the administration and the museum. And if I'm not mistaken some of the people who work on the peace process within our government are directly involved with the museum. So that would not be a surprise.

Q So will you call it "appeal," do you appeal to the museum?

MR. MCCURRY: There have been good, solid discussions.

Q Were there any breakthroughs today, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: I think there was good, hard, substantive work that are fundamental to the process if the process is to move forward.

Q But you don't want to use the word breakthrough?

MR. MCCURRY: I said that it's serious business in a congenial atmosphere. And the congeniality of the atmosphere reflected the seriousness of purpose with which both leaders addressed the issues.

Q Mike, the Prime Minister in the driveway talked about a package that was being discussed --

Q Why aren't you writing this down?

MR. MCCURRY: -- heard it before, Sam.

Q The Prime Minister talked about a package that was being discussed between himself and the President. Is that a package that was being discussed between himself and the President. Is that a package that's authored by all three parties, or by the United States or by whom?

MR. MCCURRY: He spoke of a package of goodwill. I think he was referring to the ways in which you could address substantively some of the various issues that are now critical to the dialogue between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He indicated that he was attempting to put together a package of goodwill and that clearly would -- if it was to succeed, would have to reflect the views of Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, as well as the government of Israel.

And, of course, we lend our thinking and our substance and our support to their efforts to put together that package. But it's -- we are a far ways away from saying that that package is complete. It can't be complete in any event until we have dialogue with and exchange views with Chairman Arafat, who's input is vitally important if there's to be progress.

Q Where does the Administration stand at this point on this question of the Palestinian covenant? It seemed that under the Rabin administration that had been -- that had been taken care of and now it's on the front burner again, according to Netanyahu.

MR. MCCURRY: Our view is that the 1996 declaration by the Palestinian Assembly was critical. It revoked the element of the covenant that reflected disdain and hostility towards the government of Israel. And that's been reflected since in the work of Chairman Arafat and the Executive Committee of the Authority.

Q So is it your position that the Palestinian Authority need not do anything else to resolve this because Netanyahu keeps saying that they haven't met his condition?

MR. MCCURRY: Given the concerns of the government of Israel, that would be an impractical point of view.

Q Just a logistical question. Earlier today you were talking -- people here were talking about either a Dennis Ross read-out or some kind of Madeleine Albright-Netanyahu appearance later in the afternoon. Is there any --

MR. MCCURRY: We'll keep you posted.

Q The President today said that if there is an opening in Cuba the United States will respond. Isn't the fact that the Pope is visiting Cuba and that he will be guaranteed, so they say, free speech, an opening? And would that justify a change, and if it goes well, the advantages --

MR. MCCURRY: It's certainly a positive development that the Holy Father will be able to express his faith in Cuba, in the freedom to which the Holy Father is entitled. It is a wish of the United States government that all people in Cuba have that opportunity day in and day out. And we hope his visit will help hasten the day in which human rights, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and other important fundamental human rights are fully respected in Cuba. They are not now today, and that remains the source of friction between our government and the government of Cuba.

Q But you don't consider this an opening?

MR. MCCURRY: We consider it a positive development that the Pope will be allowed to express his faith freely and openly, and hope that all people in Cuba can continue to have the opportunity to do so in the aftermath of his visit. And if his visit can lead to that positive kind of change, then it would be correct to say that that's an opening. But so far we have to await the trip and see how the trip goes.

Q So the trip is essential to review a possibility -- a possible review of -- the results of the trip?

MR. MCCURRY: It's not the trip. The trip is -- the trip that the Holy Father will take. It is the aftermath of the trip and the policies pursued by the government of Cuba, which would be the serious criteria that one could use to evaluate any prospects for change in Cuba.

Q Jamie Rubin has just said that the rejection to invitation of Fidel Castro to the President of the United States to visit the island, it wasn't in a serious manner. And the White House and the State Department have said many times that they see a change in the government of Cuba, it will be a reciprocity from Washington. Do you consider if Fidel make the invitation seriously as a change of his policy?

MR. MCCURRY: It did not appear to be a serious invitation. If it had been, it would have been pursued in the diplomatic channel that we have established to have diplomatic conversations with the government of Cuba. If Fidel Castro was really prepared to open his media to a debate on human rights, democracy and free enterprise, that would be a positive development and it would also be helpful if he'd stop jamming Radio and TV Marti. That would be an indication of seriousness of purpose which we have not seen to this point.

Q Chairman Archer today proposed a $200 billion tax cut and a cap on federal taxes as a share of GDP. Is that a constructive proposal as far as the White House is concerned?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll be awaiting the details, given the Chairman's important role in the debate. But we are very leery of tax cut proposals that are not accompanied by a serious and credible indication of how they would be paid for. That would return us to days of bow-in-the-hole deficits, which we are not inclined to return to because they would undermine the strength of the policy that has helped lead the strength in the U.S. economy and has kept us on a very disciplined course towards a balanced budget, which we are now going to reach sooner than we had anticipated.

Q Mike, there's a significant -- the President's budget doesn't seem to contain a significant debt reduction component. Can you characterize the importance that he places on that?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President takes very seriously the obligations this generation has to the next. That is something that the President is going to want to address more fully when he talks about the budget. And I think you'll see in the budget a variety of ways in which the President expresses his confidence that we will maintain fiscal discipline and also begin to meet the obligations we have to future generations.

Q Can you give us a preview of the President's speech tonight as he hits the five-year mark?

MR. MCCURRY: The President will review some of the accomplishments of the last five years and point ahead to the work that lies before us as he continues in his second term.

I think you'd expect the President to say a number of things on the fifth anniversary of his inauguration to his first term: first, that the U.S. Economy is the strongest that it's been in a generation; that we've had the longest period of decline in violent -- longest period of decline in violent crime in 25 years; that we've been working hard to strengthen America's working families in providing them tax relief that helps them both take care of families, take care of opportunities they would like to seek for education and training; that we've got the largest drop in the welfare roles in history; that in health care, we have been increasing access for millions of Americans to health care, particularly those who are most vulnerable in society -- poor children and uninsured children; that in the environment, there are new standards to protect our environment for future generations and that we have steadfastly resisted efforts to turn back the clock on the environmental progress that we've been able to make in the last generation; that in foreign policy, the United States remains the world's strongest force for peace and freedom on earth and will continue to remain so; that in education, we've made the largest investment in education in 30 years; and that in science and technology, we have to think about those ways in which we can invest in the future progress this nation will see. In short, the President will celebrate five years of a remarkable record.

And, Terry, I'm so delighted that you asked the question.

Q People are paying $10,000 to hear this? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: All of these neatly summarized in this little palm card, which everyone carries here in the vest pocket so they can recite that record proudly at the drop of a hat.

Q How much is he bringing in tonight?

MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. I think the DNC is putting out a release on that.

Q Has President Clinton had any contact with the Pope recently, prior to his trip to Cuba tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has not directly communicated with the Pope, but as we often do with the Holy City, we have had a very positive exchange of views with them in advance of the trip in which, on behalf of the President, the Administration has communicated our support for His Holiness as he makes this journey, and our fond desire that the trip results in the kind of peaceful change that we all desire to see in Cuba.

Q Mike, why didn't the President have lunch with the Prime Minister?

MR. MCCURRY: Because the Vice President was having lunch with the Prime Minister.

Q Mike, at the beginning of the meeting, the President expressed agreement with Netanyahu's criticism of Arafat reviving talk of the intifada. Does the President feel that it is an obligation on the part of the Palestinians under Oslo and Hebron to refrain from incitement to violence? And is this one of the points that he's going to remind Arafat about on Thursday?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, their commitments with respect to violence are clear in the Oslo Accords. I doubt and we doubt that the Chairman intended an incitement to violence. He may have been speaking of the practical consequences of failure to make progress. But in any event, as the President indicated, this is a time in which the parties should remain resolved and upbeat in their assessment in the work that lies ahead and not cause people to become pessimistic or to fear for what the future of the peace process might bring, because it is entirely possible to make progress in the view of the President.

Q The President seemed to have a separate dividing line between what is incitement to violence and what is not. He said that if Arafat simply states that, you know, if there's no agreement it's going to be tough and a bad result, that's one thing; but to talk about a violent scenario at the end of any failure in negotiations, the President seemed to be saying that ought to be put off limits.

MR. MCCURRY: The President clearly wants both of these leaders to rise above some of the negative aspects of the dialogue that they've had and to overcome any sense of despair about the future of the process. That's precisely why he has them here in Washington this week to work with them, to lend encouragement to them, hopefully to restore some sense of confidence and optimism in them and between them so that they can make the kind of process necessary if we are to achieve the type of comprehensive, just, lasting peace in the region that we all desire.

Q This just in -- Netanyahu says he's coming back to the White House at 7:00 p.m.

Q Does the President presume -- to what you just said, Mike, then envisage an early Netanyahu-Arafat meeting after this week is over? Would he like that?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again.

Q Pardon?

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't hear you.

Q Does the President, therefore, envisage an early Netanyahu-Arafat meeting after this week is over, in terms of cementing that kind of renewed --

MR. MCCURRY: In a minute I'm not going to speculate on what the Prime Minister is doing at 7:00 p.m. tonight; so I'm certainly not going to speculate on what happens in coming days.

Q I'm asking what the President hopes will --

MR. MCCURRY: There are no doubt some tentative discussions of that. But as soon as the Prime Minister is finished with his discussions over at the State Department with the Secretary of State, we might have a better idea of the order of the program for the remainder of the day.

Q Does the administration want to spend more money on the EEOC in the coming fiscal year?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again.

Q Does the administration want to spend substantially more money on the EEOC in the coming year?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. You may have missed the Vice President's stirring and passionate remarks yesterday in which he said so. And we detailed, with a number of signs attached, exactly the types of increases we seek.

Q Could I correct the record, by the way? Wolf points out, without my glasses, it's Netanyahu's office that says he's coming back to the White House at 7:00 p.m. -- not the Prime Minister, himself. I beg your pardon. Will the President be back, one way or the other, from golf?

MR. MCCURRY: I certainly expect so.

Q Mike, some American supporters of Israel took offense at suggestions from this podium that the stalemate in the peace process and the Israeli contribution to that stalemate were somehow making U.S. diplomacy more difficult in presenting a unified front against Iraq. Is that still the view, that it makes is harder? And do you think that aspect of the problem was discussed with Clinton and the Prime Minister today?

MR. MCCURRY: I think there are a number of factors that go into addressing the very delicate situation we face in that region. I don't believe that was the direct suggestion that was made. I think the suggestion that was made was that advancing the peace process itself depends on the type of environment that you face in the region and the confidence that Arab governments in the region have in the peace process that can incorporate Israel as a good neighbor into the work of the region; and that simultaneously can result in governments in the region recognizing the right of Israel to exist and to benefit from a prosperous commercial relationship with other governments in the region.

That is impeded when there are moments of tension dealing with other countries, such as dealing with Iraq. And that was the suggestion. I don't think that there is direct linkage proposed by anyone on behalf of the government; but we certainly understand, respect the view of that have been expressed by the Prime Minister on that subject, and moreover, share with him the assessment that we make and that they make of the danger that Saddam Hussein continues to pose to the entire region and to the entire world, not just to the State of Israel.

Q Mike, prior to this meeting, the President had said he was looking forward to these meetings and he was excited about these meetings. Can you tell me --

MR. MCCURRY: His enthusiasm and excitement was well placed given the meetings to this point.

Q And superceded his expectations?

MR. MCCURRY: I would not raise any expectations nor lower any expectations. I would say there's a lot of hard work that lies ahead before there is anything that can be claimed as progress. We clearly are not there yet, but we didn't anticipate being there at this point and given that we have, you know, part two of this conversation to occur later in the week.

Q You said that the President wants both leaders to rise above the negative dialogue, but Netanyahu's first speech here yesterday was full of defiance. Do you see any sign that that's going to change?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we saw today, and you heard the Prime Minister just a short while ago, pledge his good faith effort working with the President, working with the Palestinians to try to craft an approach to the process that will make progress. And that, I think, you have to take him at his word, as he so stated here moments ago -- that he remains fully committed to working with the United States and working with the Palestinian Authority to make progress on the relevant issues in this process. I think that's much more authoritative and reflects the tenure of the conversations that he's had with the President today.

Q Did he come in initiating a new proposal, offering a new proposal for redeployment?

MR. MCCURRY: I think we kind of have gone through as much of that substance, and I'm -- there's not much more I can offer up to you on that.

Q Mike, does the President honestly have no problem with Netanyahu meeting on his visit here with Jerry Falwell? After all, this is a man who put out a video saying the President may be involved in a murder.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think it would be sufficient to say that the Prime Minister is probably aware of concerns that the President might have on some aspects of that.

Q Did the President mention -- did the President make his concerns known?

Q What is the White House feeling to champion the confirmation of the President's nominee for Surgeon General in the face of sort of renewed opposition on the Hill that he presided over medically unethical experiments?

MR. MCCURRY: We are at a point now where David Satcher has gone through confirmation hearings in the Senate. Committee report has been given to the full Senate. Majority Leader Lott has said the responsible thing to do would be to bring this nomination up for a vote. And it's rather late in the day for some Republican senators to invent excuses to be against someone so superbly qualified to direct this nation's efforts to improve public health.

These charges this late in the process smack a little bit of politics -- probably smack a lot of politics -- and that has a lot more to do with the late objections to his nomination than anything substantive that has been raised.

Q Is there -- what can the White House do about it, though?

MR. MCCURRY: Hold Senator Lott to his word. He said Sunday that the responsible thing to do was to bring up the nomination for a vote and we expect him to do that shortly.

Q Mike, will the President announce this week his selection for American Ambassador to Mexico and will it be Assistant Secretary of State Davidow?

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I can't say.

Q You can if you want. (Laughter.)

Q Oh, come on and just say it, Mike. We all know it.

MR. MCCURRY: The President gets to announce ambassador appointments, I don't. But Assistant Secretary Davidow is very highly regarded and would make a superb Ambassador.

Q How about that announcement? Will it be announced this week?

MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is that the vacancy in Ambassador to Mexico was to be filled in very short order, but I can't guarantee it will happen this week.

Q To follow up on Harris's question, how was the Prime Minister made aware of the President's concern about this meeting?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into the substance of the dialogue. I've already answered that today.

Q Mike, going to Africa in March with the President, where is he expected to go? What is the --

MR. MCCURRY: When we've got an announcement on Africa, I'll make it from here.

Q Mike, can you comment on former Ambassador Seitz's claim that the White House leaked sensitive British Intelligence information to the IRA? And also if the President is concerned that that could damage his relationship with the Protestant majority there?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, first of all, the United States, if you ask officials of the government of the United Kingdom or the government of the Republic of Ireland, would be the first to say that the United States and this administration have played an enormously positive role in the process that's now unfolding in the all-party talks that are occurring in Belfast; that without some courageous decisions made by this President to help the parties break the ice, that we might not be at the moment in which there is the first realistic prospect of a negotiated peace in well over a generation. And I have not heard any official of either of the two governments to dispute that.

We work day in and day out with the government of the United Kingdom, including in the period of 1994 in which the former ambassador writes about, and we had very close working relationships with him. The President has full faith and confidence in Ambassador Smith. She has discharged her responsibilities as Ambassador with great energy, imagination, and diligence.

I want to correct one thing I said this morning in response to Sam. I did not mean to be cavalier about allegations of leaks of sensitive intelligence information. Obviously, we take those matters seriously, and if it's proper to pursue those, they get pursued.

Q But will you ask her? That was the question I really wanted you to address.

MR. MCCURRY: I think it would be proper for me not to comment any further on what I just said.

Q I don't mean you, personally, but will someone ask the ambassador if these charges are correct?

MR. MCCURRY: As I say, when it's proper for those types of matters to be pursued, they get pursued within this government because we take --

Q But you just now said this is proper to pursue.

MR. MCCURRY: -- we take seriously allegations of leaks about intelligence information. But I'm not the person and this is not the place to comment about intelligence matters.

Q I'm not asking you to comment about intelligence matters. Do I take it correctly, though, by saying you did not mean to be cavalier -- and I certainly accept that -- that in fact now this is being taken seriously and someone is looking into it?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it would be more appropriate for me to just say what I just said, that we don't comment on sensitive intelligence matters.

Q Mike, how does the White House view the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Speaker Gingrich before coming to the White House? Is that considered a breach of protocol or --

MR. MCCURRY: Entirely appropriate and something we would encourage that the Prime Minister, while he's here, has an opportunity to meet with the distinguished leader of a separate but equal branch of our government.

Q Mike, since you answered John's question about Falwell by saying you're not going to get into the substance of the dialogue, are we to take then that that was part of the dialogue and not that some White House aides or others expressed the President's concern to the Prime Minister?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I suppose you'll have to do some more reporting on that.

Q On future budget surpluses, if there are any, does the administration think that any such surpluses should be limited to either reducing the national debt or shoring up entitlement programs? Or do you think there might be room for cutting taxes?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll stick with the answer I gave earlier.

Q Mike, I wanted to pick up on something Al Kamen pointed out yesterday, that the President's Supreme Court argument in the Paula Jones case was that having that case take place while he was in office would seriously disrupt the presidency. You said the other day that it was sort of a minor distraction. Which is correct?

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say a minor distraction. I said it was a distraction, but it had not become burdensome. We worked hard not to make it burdensome. But at the moment that we were dealing with that -- the President was dealing with that matter, we were simultaneously dealing with the Northern Ireland peace process, statements coming out of Iraq by Saddam Hussein, preparation of the President's State of the Union and a whole host of other matters that otherwise would have engaged the President's time on Saturday.

Q With regard to the EU mission to Algeria, does the U.S. see itself at any point in the future sending some sort of mission to Algeria?

MR. MCCURRY: Asked and answered over at the State Department, but -- I'm looking for the answer here. Boy, what a bunch of gibberish they have over at -- (laughter). Please pose that question over at the State Department -- (laughter) -- get a comprehensive and detailed answer.

Q Okay. Then let me ask you a different question.

MR. MCCURRY: You're not asking about the EU troika envoy who's been proposed as a possible mission. But basically the long and short of this is we think the EU can best speak for itself on the mandate of the mission that they've empowered, kind of leaving it to them.

Q On Iraq, Mike, has the President begun running out of patience with Saddam yet?

MR. MCCURRY: When did he begin to run out patience? (Laughter).

Q I'm wondering what his latest feeling on the crisis is.

MR. MCCURRY: I think his latest feeling is that we certainly hope that Chairman Butler in his meetings today and tomorrow can make progress with the government of Iraq -- in furtherance of the required mandate of the world community that the government of Iraq open itself to the inspections that are necessary to understand what has been going on with programs related to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And we will anxiously await the report of Chairman Butler when he returns to the Security Council.

Q And what does the President think of the apparent increase in saber rattling on Capitol Hill?

MR. MCCURRY: It's easy to understand.

Q Why?

MR. MCCURRY: Because they're members of Congress and they have strong views on those subjects -- and, you know, rightfully do.

Q Thank you.

END 3:04 P.M. EST