THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR OF GREAT BRITAIN IN PRESS CONFERENCE The East Room
11:08 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: First, let me say that it's been a real pleasure to welcome my friend Prime Minister Blair here to Washington with the entire British entourage. It continues a great tradition of partnership between our nations, anchored by common values, driven by common vision, eager to meet the challenges of this new age.
Today we'll pay tribute to that heritage to the FDR Memorial. Earlier in this century President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill led the community of free nations that prevailed in world war. Now, on the eve of the 21st century, the Prime Minister and I seek to shape the peace in a world that is rich with possibility and promise but still not free from risk.
We have a very similar outlook on preparing our own countries for the future. And if I might just take a moment to talk about the latest economic news, the strategy we are both working is to prepare all our people for the information age and the global economy. Today, we have new evidence that that strategy is working here. In the last month, America had 358,000 new jobs -- over 1 million in the last three months. We are approaching 15 million new jobs in the last five years with the lowest unemployment in 24 years. Wages are rising, inflation is low. The role of government has changed. We have the smallest percentage of these new jobs in the public sector, and the highest percentage in the private sector in the United States since the 1920s.
By maintaining fiscal discipline, opening more markets, investing more in our people, we will continue to expand opportunity and promote prosperity. We also share a common view of the changes that are occurring in the world and a belief in the importance of working together to harness them to the benefit of our people. We've reviewed our progress in building an undivided Europe; welcoming Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland in the NATO; forging strong relations with the new democracies there, including Russia and Ukraine; helping the parties in Bosnia to fulfill the requirements of the Dayton Peace accord.
Both our nations agree we should take part in a follow-on security presence when the SFOR mission ends in Bosnia in June. We reaffirmed our determination to combat modern cross-border threats like terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
On Iraq, we stand together. Saddam Hussein must know that we are determined to prevent him from threatening his neighbors and the world with weapons of mass destruction. The Prime Minister and I would both prefer a genuine diplomatic solution.
The best way to stop Saddam from developing an arsenal of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them is to get the inspectors back to work with full and free access to all relevant sites. But let me be clear: if Saddam does not comply with the unanimous will of the international community, we must be prepared to act -- and we are.
On Libya, ten years later, we haven't forgotten the victims of the bombing of Pan Am 103 in the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland, or their loved ones. We will not rest until Libya complies with the requirements of the world community and surrenders for trial in the United States or Scotland the two Libyans accused of that brutal crime.
We addressed our commitment to advance the cause of peace, and I welcome Britain's efforts as president of the European Union to spur greater cooperation in the Middle East peace process.
I also commend the Prime Minister for his courageous steps in cooperation with the Irish Government to promote a climate of confidence and hope in Northern Ireland. The multiparty talks provide the best chance for a real solution to that conflict. I urge all the parties to show the vision and the forbearance and the determination to succeed. I unequivocally condemn the recent sectarian killings and beatings and threats. Nothing worth having in Northern Ireland can be accomplished through violence. I told the Prime Minister that we will continue to do all we can to advance the cause of peace and, of course, I asked for and received his advice in that regard.
The recent financial crisis in Asia demands action form the international community. On our increasingly interconnected planet, trouble in the far end of town can easily become a plague in our own neighborhood. We agree that every affected nation must take responsibility for implementing tough reforms and that other nations, when they do that, when those nations that are affected do their part, other nations should support helping them through the International Monetary Fund.
We also looked at ways that we could work together to benefit our people at home. As President of both the European Union and the G-7, the United Kingdom will host two important summits in Birmingham this May. The Prime Minister has told me he wants these summits to take action that really will make a difference in our people's daily lives, that lift their horizons and their dreams, stepping up our efforts to combat drug traffickers, and helping every child to grow up in a safe community.
Shielding our planet from the threat of global warming and bringing our people the benefits of a growing economy and a clean environment are important to us as well. It's also important that we give our people the tools to make the most of their lives through world-class education and training; help people to move from welfare to work -- and I applaud the efforts that the Prime Minister is making on that; give them access to the wonders of the Information Age -- that's something we talked about yesterday at the Montgomery Blair High School in Maryland; and dealing with the question of how to provide greater security in the retirement years when the baby room generation retires.
We finally know that our two nations must continue to work and to lead the world for security, prosperity, and peace. In 1942, in the midst of the Second World War, President Roosevelt sent a message to Mr. Churchill that said as follows: "When victory comes, we shall stand shoulder to shoulder in seeking to nourish the great ideals for which we fight." Today, on the verge of a new century and a new millennium, that prediction has proved right. America is proud to stand with the United Kingdom and with Europe and to work with its leader, Prime Minister Tony Blair, to build an even brighter future.
Thank you Mr Prime Minister. The floor is yours.
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Thank you, Mr. President. And can I begin by saying how grateful we have been for such a wonderful and warm welcome here in the United States of America.
As the President has just indicated, we discussed obviously a range of different topics. At top of the list, of course, was the situation in respect to Iraq. And what we agreed was that we had to do three things in particular. We have first of all to make sure that our own public opinion was properly educated as to why it's so essential that the UN inspectors are able to do their work. The amount of weapons that they have already uncovered in the six or seven years that they have been doing this task, and why it is therefore absolutely essential that Saddam Hussein is brought back into line with UN Security Council resolutions and the inspectors can go about their tasks unhindered.
We ourselves, a couple of days ago, in Britain, published a document where we listed precisely all the various weapon finds the inspectors have made. And when you go through that list and see all the various attempts there have been to try and prevent the inspectors carrying out their functions, then I think people can understand why it is so necessary, so important for us, to be prepared to take whatever action is necessary to ensure those inspectors can go back in and fulfill their tasks.
Secondly, though, in relation to Iraq, it is important that we stress all the time, of course we want a diplomatic solution, but it must be a diplomatic solution based on and fully consistent with the principles that we have set out. The question of whether there is such a diplomatic solution rests ultimately with Saddam Hussein. He has the choice. He can bring himself back into compliance with the agreements he entered into, and then that diplomatic solution can be fulfilled.
Thirdly, however, we have of course to prepare in case diplomacy cannot work. In view of the situation, we in Britain have been looking at our own military readiness in case a diplomatic solution does not in the end prove possible. We have decided to base eight Tornado GR-1 aircraft in Kuwait, with the full agreement of the government of Kuwait. These are ground attack and reconnaissance aircraft. Their deployment is a precautionary measure, and it will take place over the next few days.
So all the way through, in respect to Iraq, we've agreed that we must educate, we must engage in diplomacy, but we also must prepare.
In respect of Ireland, I want to place on record yet again my thanks to the President for all the support he has given us in searching for a lasting and peaceful political settlement in Ireland. As I've found when I've addressed many members of Congress, the Senate here in Washington, there is tremendous interest in the United States of America in this process, and there is a great much-appreciated willingness on your part to have that process succeed.
It isn't going to be easy; these things never are. But we do believe that we have the best chance that we've had for many generations to secure peace. And I wanted to emphasize yet again to you our total and complete determination and commitment to find a peaceful way through. With goodwill and with proper cooperation and with some trust on all sides, I think it is possible.
And I thank the President for his condemnation of those sectarian killings that have so disfigured the process over the past few weeks. And I say yet again, what we must ensure is that those random, brutal, unjustified acts of violence perpetrated by a small minority must not in the end frustrate the wishes of the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland to secure a peaceful and stable future for themselves.
We discussed, of course, the Middle East peace process and Bosnia and our commitment there. We discussed, as the President has mentioned a moment ago, the global economy, the Asian crisis, and what measures we should take in order to ensure that such crises are mitigated and do not happen again.
We also laid out for the President and his colleagues our strategy as President of the European Union, our commitment to ensure that monetary union is successfully launched, our commitment to the enlargement process bringing into the European Union those countries in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
And we discussed as well, and agreed, that it was important that Europe strengthen its relationship with Turkey and that we build a strong relationship with Turkey -- between Turkey and the European Union for the future.
As good and interesting as anything else has been also the possibility of exchanging ideas -- ideas about how government meets the economic and social and political challenges of the future. As I said in my speech this morning at the breakfast hosted by the Vice President, there is a new Britain being shaped today. It is a Britain of confidence, dynamism; it is a Britain that is proud of its past, but is not living in it, and is shaping a future of which we can be proud also. And I think in exchanging ideas and in seeing how much there are common themes and common ideas for government between us, we can gain strength in Britain and the United States from that partnership and relationship.
Finally, I would like to say personally how tremendously grateful I've been, as I say, not merely for the warmth of the welcome extended to us here, but for the great comradeship and partnership between the United States of America and Great Britain that I know will strengthen and strengthen evermore in the future.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Now, here's what we're going to do. We're going to alternate; so I'll call on an American journalist, the Prime Minister will call on a British journalist. Of course you're free to ask whomever whatever you please. Helen.
Q Mr. President, despite the ongoing investigation, you've felt no constraint in saying what your relationship with Monica Lewinsky is not, was not. So it seems by logic that you ought to be able to say here and now what was your relationship? Her lawyer says -- called it "colleagues"; is that an apt description?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me first of all say, once again, I never asked anybody to do anything but tell the truth. I know about the stories today. I was pleased that Ms. Currie's lawyers stated unambiguously this morning -- unambiguously -- that she's not aware of any unethical conduct.
But this investigation is going on, and you know what the rules for it are. And I just think as long as it is going on, I should not comment on a specific question, because there's one, then there's another, then there's another. It's better to let the investigation go on and have me do my job and focus on my public responsibilities, and let this thing play out its course. That's what I think I should do, and that's what I intend to do.
Q Why leave people in the dark?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I am honoring the rules of the investigation. And if someone else is leaking unlawfully out of the grand jury proceeding, that is a different story. I am going to do -- I have told the American people what I think is essential for them to know about this and what I believe they want to know. What I'm doing is going on with my work and cooperating with the investigation. And I do not believe I should answer specific questions. I don't think that's the right thing to do now.
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Michael?
Q Is it not time, though, to drop the pretense that this is simply business as usual? Have we not seen with the allegations that surrounded the British Foreign Secretary but to a much greater degree yourself, Mr. President, that this does affect the conduct of public business. And far from dodging the point, as you did, Prime Minister, yesterday, when you were asked about the private lives of public figures, should you not both be saying that the public have the right to expect the very highest standard in the private lives of public politicians?
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Well, Michael, I hope we do that but what I would say to you is that what is essential is that we focus on the issues that we were elected to focus upon. And in the discussions that we have had over this past two days, we've been focusing on issues like Iraq, where we are considering if diplomatic solutions fail taking military action. We've been focusing on the peace process in Northern Ireland that gives the chance for the first time in generations, after centuries of conflict, for people to find a way through. We've been focusing on the problems of the world economy, that if they're not tackled could have a serious impact on the living standards of people here and people in Britain, as well as people out in Asia.
These are the important questions -- for me, schools, hospitals, crime, living standards, jobs that people want us to focus upon. And I believe that it is absolutely essential that we stay focused upon those things, and that we deliver for our people what we were elected to deliver. Now, that is what I intend to do and I think that that is, in the end, what the British people would expect me to do.
THE PRESIDENT: Terry.
Q Mr. President, switching to Iraq, the Prime Minister said that you had to educate the public about Iraq. But I think the American public is largely in the dark about what to expect about a military attack on Iraq. Are you talking about something that lasts a day or two, or something that lasts for weeks or months? And on a diplomatic note, you've got France and China and Russia opposing this. Boris Yeltsin says that it could lead to World War III. What gives Britain and the United States the right to go it alone on this?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you asked about five questions there in one. Let me try to unpack it. First of all, the most important thing, the best thing that could be done, what we hope will happen, is that there will be a diplomatic solution to this which will result in the inspection teams from the United Nations being able to return and have unfettered access to the appropriate sites, because -- the Prime Minister I think put out a paper just a couple of days ago pointing out the incredible work that's been done by the inspection teams. That's the best thing.
Now, whether there is a diplomatic solution or not is entirely up to Saddam Hussein. If he decides that he wants to continue to have the freedom to rebuild his weapons program, then I believe that the clear mandate for the world community, based on not only the resolutions of the United Nations, but the danger this would present to the interest and values of the United States, the people of Great Britain, the people of the region, is to do what we can to weaken his ability to develop those weapons of mass destruction and visit them on his neighbors.
You know I never discuss operational plans; I wouldn't do that. I think the important thing is that you know that I don't want this; nobody wants this. We want a diplomatic solution. It's up to him.
The second thing I would say is, the Secretary of State has been working very hard in the last several days, has traveled, as you know, widely. I have been on the phone a lot. I believe there is more agreement than at first it appears about the necessity to push this thing through to the end.
And I will continue to talk with President Yeltsin and President Chirac and others, but consider the alternative. After all, this man is the only repeat offender around with chemical weapons. He used them on his own people. He used them on the Iranians. And I believe it's a very serious thing. And I think that the American people will understand that.
Q World war, as President Yeltsin said?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't understand what scene of circumstances would lead to that development. I don't believe that will happen.
Q On Iraq, you said we need to educate, Prime Minister. It isn't entirely clear what the objective military action would be. Is it intended as a punishment for Saddam Hussein? Is it intended as a substitute for the work of the weapons inspectors to strike? Or would it continue until Saddam said, all right, I'll let them in. And also you've announced the deployment of some aircraft. Is there any intention to deploy ground troops at all, British ground troops?
THE PRIME MINISTER: No, the deployment that we have made is the deployment that I have described of the aircraft. And in respect to the objectives, well, the objectives are very clear. That is to ensure either that the weapons inspectors can come in and finish their task, or that the capability that Saddam Hussein undoubtedly has and wants to develop for weapons of mass destruction is taken out. And it is absolutely essential that what we do is focus upon the best way possible that we can do that.
Now, obviously, as the President was saying a moment or two ago, it is not sensible or serious to start discussing the details of the military options available to us. But the purpose of this the whole way through, the reason we are in this situation, is because he has been developing weapons of mass destruction. The only barrier to that has been the inspectors. If the inspectors are prevented from doing their work, then we have to make sure by the military means of which we are capable that, insofar as possible, that capacity ceases. And that is the objective. And it's an objective that I think is fully in line, as I say, with the original agreements under which Saddam Hussein undertook.
Remember, he agreed -- he undertook to destroy any weapons of mass destruction capability, whether nuclear, chemical, or biological. Now, he's in breach of that. We've got to make sure he complies one way or another with it.
Q Mr. President, just to go back to the controversy that's been surrounding you lately. There have been various reports that in some ways have come to be accepted as fact. And I just want to give you an opportunity. One of them is that in sworn testimony to the lawyers for Paula Jones, that you changed your version of your relationship with Gennifer Flowers. And I just wondered if you can tell us. I mean --
THE PRESIDENT: Let me just say this, again, even though the judge's order has been routinely violated by the other side in the case, the judge has issued strict orders in the case that covers everybody, including me, not to discuss it. I can tell you this, and I'm confident as this thing plays out it will become more apparent in the future, if you go back -- I told the truth in my deposition, with regard to that issue, and I also did in 1992 when I did the interview, which I think was rerun the other night -- the interview that Hillary and I did on 60 Minutes.
You just have to know that, and I think it will become apparent as this case plays itself out that I did in fact do that, but I am not going to discuss that. The judge has given us strict orders not to discuss anything related to that case. The other side has violated it on a regular basis. I don't intend to do that; I'm just not going to do it.
Q Prime Minister, Mr. President, is it possible for you to launch an attack if you don't have on board the French, the Russians, the Chinese?
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: I think, John, you have to distinguish very carefully between what of course are, I accept, varying degrees of enthusiasm or commitment for the military option, with the complete unanimity there is in the world community that Saddam Hussein has to comply with the resolutions, and that his capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction must be halted.
Now, it is difficult for us to see -- and for me to see, quite frankly -- that if you take that as the position, how diplomacy, unless it is backed up at least by the threat of force, is ever going to work and succeed. But it would be wrong, I think, to think that either, for example, our French or our Russian colleagues were not absolutely insistent that Saddam Hussein comply with these resolutions, and they are making diplomatic efforts in order to ensure that that happens. I wish those efforts well, provided they are fully consistent with the principles that have been set out.
It is just that we take the view -- and I think experience teaches us that this is the only realistic view of Saddam Hussein -- that unless you back up whatever diplomatic initiatives you're taking with saying quite clearly, well, if diplomacy doesn't work, the option of force is there, then those diplomatic initiatives are unlikely to succeed. But it's important that we realize that it is in that area that any difference lies, not in the insistence of the world community that he must come into line with those UN resolutions.
Q Mr. President, your spokesman this morning described to us, in his words, a very dangerous environment following these alleged leaks. What's your own assessment of the legal atmosphere? And we understand that your attorneys are planning to take some action about this. What action do they intend to take?
THE PRESIDENT: I think you should talk to them. I don't want to comment on what they're going to do. They're fully capable of speaking for themselves and for me in this case.
Q And your comment, sir, on the effect of the leaks?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't have anything to add to what has already been said about that.
Q Can I ask the Prime Minister, you could have come here and simply talked about serious politics, but some people are being struck by the warmth of the personal statements of support that you've given to the President. Could I ask, have you ever considered that that might be a politically risky strategy? And could I ask the President, have you appreciated those comments from Mr. Blair?
THE PRIME MINISTER: To be quite honest with you, I've said it because I believed it and because I think it is the right thing to do. And I've worked with President Clinton now for some nine months as British Prime Minister. I have found him throughout someone I could trust, someone I could rely upon, someone I am proud to call not just a colleague, but a friend. And in the end, you either decide in politics when you're asked about people, you're going to say how you actually feel or you're going to make a whole series of calculations. And my belief is that the right thing to say is what you feel.
And I happen to think, whether this is my place to say it or not, that if you look at the American economy, if you look at the respect with which America is held right around the world today, if you look at the standing and authority of the President, it's a pretty impressive record for anyone.
THE PRESIDENT: You ask do I appreciate it? No, I -- (laughter). He should have come here and jumped all over me. (Laughter).
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Do you want me to come back in now? (Laughter).
THE PRESIDENT: Of course I do. But, you know, I think its also a testament about -- there's been a lot of people bandy about the word "character" in sometimes loose and uncertain contexts. I think, the people who stand up and say things that they believe when it would be just as easy to walk away show a certain kind of character that I think is essential in a public leader. And I'm very gratified that Tony Blair has done that -- not only for personal reasons, but because I think it will strengthen his authority as a world leader.
Yes, go ahead. Mike?
Q Mr. President, all these questions about your personal life have to be painful for you and your family. At what point do you consider that it's just not worth it and do you consider resigning from office? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Never. You know, I was elected to do a job. I think the American people know two or three things about me now that they didn't know the first time this kind of effort was made against me. I think they know that I care very much about them, that I care about ordinary people whose voices aren't often heard here. And I think they know I have worked very, very hard for them. And I think they know now, more often than not, the ideas I had and the things I fought for turned out to be right in terms of the consequences for the American people. I think they know all that.
And I'm just going to keep showing up for work. I'm going to do what I was hired to do. And I'm going to try to keep getting good results for them. The pain threshold, at least for our side, being in public life today has been raised. But to give into that would be to give into everything that I've fought against and what got me into this race in 1991, to try to run for President in the first place.
I have tried to bring an end to this sort of thing in our public life. I've tried to bring the American people together. I've tried to depersonalize politics and take the venom out of it. And the harder I've tried to do it, the harder others have pulled in the other direction. That doesn't mean I'm wrong. And I would never walk away from the people of this country and the trust they've placed in me.
Q This morning you said that the UK faced two painful years. Could you expand on what you meant by that?
THE PRIME MINISTER: Yes. As I was saying to people this morning, I mean, there are some very tough decisions that we have had to take in order to deal both with the structural budget deficit with the inflation that was back in the system that we inherited when we came to power, and with an educational and welfare system that, frankly, is just nowhere near where it needs to be for the 21st century. And making those changes is going to be tough.
Welfare reform isn't going to be easy. It will be unpopular in certain quarters. Taking the measures to cure the budget deficit has been hard when people want more money spent or more public services. And we're saying, look, we can't go on. We'd have a higher level -- debt levels and borrowing; we've got to act. So we've taken the action on interest rates and given the Bank of England independence. We've cut the structural deficit. A balanced budget is something we'll be able to talk about on the other side of the water as well, in a few years' time.
We're putting through a massive program of reform on education and welfare. But it will be tough, and it will take us some time to get it through. But as I said this morning, I am an unashamed long-termist. I believe in making sure that the decisions that we take aren't based on the next day's headlines, but are based on where we really want the country to be some years down the line.
And particularly when we're facing such enormous global economic challenges, we can't afford either to lose a grip on monetary or fiscal prudence or to leave our education and welfare system in the state they're in. So, yes, it will be tough, but it will be worth it in the end.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me just make one comment to support something the Prime Minister just said, when he said he was an unashamed long-termist. In a funny way, when societies change as fast and as much as our societies are changing today, when the pace of events and their variety make it more difficult to predict what will happen next week or next month, it is even more important to be oriented toward the long term, because you have to figure that if you lay in a structure of opportunity for a free people, they'll get it right and they'll overcome all these unpredictable developments in the meanwhile. That's why I think the approach that he has taken is so wise and so right -- not only for Great Britain, but for any other country as well.
Q I'm wondering if you could elaborate on something that the First Lady said recently about a right wing conspiracy who's working against you. Could you explain how that conspiracy works? And, specifically, are Linda Tripp, Ken Starr, and Monica Lewinsky part of that conspiracy?
THE PRESIDENT: Now, you know I've known her a long time, the First Lady, and she's very smart. And she's hardly ever wrong about anything. (Laughter.) But I don't believe I should amplify on her observation in this case.
Q Do you agree with her?
Q One of your common shared themes you keep on telling your voters is this matter of their rights go with responsibilities. Now, you, as elected leaders, have extraordinary rights and privileges, yet you seem to be saying that there's no extension of responsibilities as far as personal integrity is concerned. Is that what you're really saying -- if you're delivering on the job, the big picture, it doesn't matter what you get up to in your private life?
THE PRIME MINISTER: No, nobody is saying that you don't have obligations of personal integrity. Of course that's right. But what we are trying to say to you is the responsibilities with which we were asked by our people to discharge, those responsibilities are in the issues where we can affect them as leaders of the country.
If you go to Britain today and you talk to the British people -- and I do ask -- it just could be that sometimes you guys in the media are not in exactly the same place as a lot of public opinion in terms of the priorities people have. But if you go out there and you talk to British people and you say, what do you want this new Labour government to do, they will talk to you about ensuring we don't have boom and bust, but that we have steadily rising living standards. They'll talk about job security. They'll talk about the state of their schools. They'll talk about the national health service. They'll talk about the welfare system and the crime in their streets. They'll talk about security in old age.
They will talk about these things and they will care about these things. And they will expect us to deliver those responsibilities. And of course it's a great privilege for us to occupy the positions that we do. But in the end, the judgment that the people make of us is a judgment based on what we said that we would do and whether we fulfilled the promises that we made. And that's certainly what we intend to do.
And I do think also that people understand and want political leadership that addresses these fundamental questions in a way that means something to them. When I was at the Montgomery Blair High School yesterday with the President, and the President got up and addressed the young men and women and the teachers and staff and the parents that were there, and started going through the education program that he was unveiling and had formed part of the State of the Union address and everything -- some of those things in terms of class sizes and new technology in the schools were very familiar to the British contingent here as things that we're tying to do in Britain.
I mean, the enthusiasm and the delight with which those things were greeted, because those people knew that in the end that's what they elected their President to do, that's what they elected me to do. And those are the things that they want from us, and we've got to make sure, all the time, that we're focusing on that big picture. And, you know, whatever other issues come along and distract us, in the end, the judgment of history upon us will be pretty poor if those weren't the things that when we go to bed at night we're thinking about, those weren't the things that we're worried about and concerned about throughout the entirety of our society, because those are the things which really make a difference to their lives.
Q Mr. President, Monica Lewinsky's life has been changed forever. Her family's life has been changed forever. I wonder how you feel about that and what, if anything, you'd like to say to Monica Lewinsky at this minute.
THE PRESIDENT: That's good. (Laughter). That's good. But at this minute, I am going to stick with my position of not commenting.
Q While relations with -- between Britain and the United States appear to be splendid right now, there is a darkening cloud over the relations with Italy. The Prime Minister, the President, the Defense Minister has issued some very harsh statements about the accident the other day when a low-flying Marine plane severed a cable and the car fell. There's a lot of anger. Some people in Italy are even asking for the closing of the Aviano base. What do you have to say to them?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, what happened was horrible. And when I heard about it, I was very shaken. As you know, there was a period of a few hours there where it wasn't clear how many people had died, and where there was another whole gondola suspended, where many more people could have died, and thank God they were rescued. The whole thing has been an agony for the people of Italy -- there were a substantial number of Germans killed -- and I'm sure for the pilot of the plane and for the people in our military based in Aviano, where I have been on more than one occasion.
I can tell you what I think should be done. I called Prime Minister Prodi, and I told him that I was heartsick about it, that I would make absolutely sure there was a no-holds-barred full investigation of what happened, that the Italians would be kept fully informed and be a part of it, and that we would work with them in every way possible to make sure that they knew that we tried to get to the bottom of it and to handle it in the appropriate way.
You know, in our military every year -- I say this to the American people all the time, but let me just say this. It is an inherently dangerous business. Now, we don't know what the facts are here; maybe somebody made a careless mistake. We don't know. I do not know what the facts are and I will not render judgment until I do. But we lose about 200 people every year in military service in America on training exercise or otherwise on duty. And those planes fly very fast. And I don't know what the description of the mission was. I want to wait until I see exactly what the facts are. But we -- it is inherently more dangerous than I think we think from time to time.
Now, I told the Prime Minister of Italy and I'll tell you: I will do everything I can to find out exactly what happened and take appropriate action and to satisfy the people of Italy that we have done the right thing. I understand why they are hurt and heartbroken and angry. And they are entitled to answers and we'll try to give them to them.
Go ahead, the gentleman in the back. I promised one more. Last question, go ahead.
Q Mr. President, do you believe that air strikes alone are going to remove the threat of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons from Saddam Hussein? Is that a fair thing to expect from military action, should push come to shove in the Gulf?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, there have been many thoughtful public pieces -- a lot of very thoughtful articles which have been written about the limits, as well as the possibilities, of any kind of military action. I think the precise question should be -- that I should have to ask and answer -- is could any military action, if all else fails, substantially reduce or delay Saddam Hussein's capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and to deliver them on his neighbors. The answer to that, I am convinced, is yes. I am convinced there is a yes answer there.
But you have to understand that those are the criteria for me. I've told you before, I don't believe we need to refight the Gulf War. It's history, it happened, that's the way it is. I don't believe we need to get into a direct war with Iraq over the leadership of the country. Do I think the country would be better served if it had a different leader? Of course I do. That's not the issue.
The issue is that very sharp question, if the inspection regime is dead and therefore we cannot continue to make progress on getting the stuff out of there in the first place -- and then keep in mind there are two things about this regime. There's the progress on getting the stuff out of there in the first place, and then there is the monitoring system, which enables people on a regular basis to go back to high-probability sites to make sure nothing is happening to rebuild it.
So if that is dead, is there an option which would permit us to reduce and/or delay his capacity to bring those weapons up and to deliver them? I think the answer to that is yes, there is an option that would permit that.
Q Prime Minister, as a man who understands the pressures of public life and also a friend and a religious man, I wonder what words of advice and support and comfort and sympathy you might have been able to offer personally to the President during these difficult times when he's under investigation?
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: That's what, in the British media, is called a helpful question. If I can -- I don't presume to give advice at all. All I think is important, which is what we have managed to do, is to discuss the issues that we set out and listed for you. And, as I say, I think we would be pretty much failing in our duty if we weren't to do that. And I've actually noticed since I've been here and I've talked to many people here that there is, of course, a huge concern at the moment at what is happening in Iraq. There's huge interest in Britain, in the new government, and what we're trying to do in Northern Ireland. And, you know, I think the best thing is for us to concentrate upon those issues for the very reasons I've given -- that that's what we were elected to do, and that's what I intend to do. And that's what President Clinton is doing, and I think he's quite right.
END 11:52 A.M. EST