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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 17, 1998
                            PRESS BRIEFING
                            BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

1:53 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, everyone. Let me start with one thing I want to call to your attention. The Secretary of Education, Richard W. Riley, coming up in the following hour is going to deliver his annual State of American Education address at Nathan Eckstein Middle School in Seattle, Washington.

Q Can't get there.

MR. MCCURRY: Probably can't there from here in time, but I did want to make that known to you. Secretary Riley's remarks this year will include a focus on the role middle schools play in preparing students for the demands of the 21st century. Those of you who follow education closely will surely be interested in securing from the U.S. Department of Education a copy of the Secretary's remarks -- good they will be, I'm sure.

I want to, on a personal note, also say that we were all very sad here at the White House to learn that Sondra McCarty, the long-time Deputy Director of the Press Office at the State Department, passed away over the weekend. She was an extraordinary person; for 25 years worked in the Press Office at the State Department and tutored many a novice Department spokesman in the intricacies of that building and the way in which you talk about foreign policy, and I think was an exemplar of fine and dedicated service by the career civil service that bring so much to the daily workings of what we in government do to talk to the American people about matters large and small when it comes to foreign policy. She personally tutored this student on numerous occasions. And from David Johnson and others that you all have known well, she was a very fine colleague and friend. I'm sorry to hear she's gone.

And on that sad note, anything else?

Q Well, I wanted to ask you about this story we asked you about this morning.

MR. MCCURRY: Which one was that, Sam?

Q This is the Chicago Tribune story.

MR. MCCURRY: Chicago Tribune?

Q And you know what the quotes are. I just wondered what you were trying to get across.

MR. MCCURRY: I think what I was proving was that only fools answer hypothetical questions. And I don't know that there's anything more to say beyond that.

Q Well, if you just clear up one point. The story seems to suggest that you are saying that the policy is to reveal the truth, but slowly, or in degrees or stages.

MR. MCCURRY: That's an observation I've made on other occasions that I applied inappropriately to this matter.

Q Are you trying to retract your interview?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I said what I said. I just shouldn't have said it.

Q Did the President tell you that?

MR. MCCURRY: No. I haven't talked to anyone else around here because all of them were too embarrassed to call to my attention the lapse in my sanity. Right, boys? (Laughter.)

Q You're supposed to be the spokesman. You're supposed to speak.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I know. You know, sometimes being the spokesman means shutting up.

Q Are you in the doghouse over that interview, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that they've told me, but I've put myself in my own doghouse for having answered questions that I shouldn't have answered.

Q Mike, do you think --

MR. MCCURRY: Because you can't --

Q But are the answers accurate? Do you stand by --

MR. MCCURRY: They're not based on any information, as you clearly know, so I should not have hypothetically speculated on things I don't know the answers to.

Q Do you think, though, that it will be a difficult explanation when the times comes?

MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea.

Q So that also was just speculation --

MR. MCCURRY: Speculation.

Q So you are not contradicting anything you've said in the past that you don't know anything about the relationship?

MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. And they were clearly not in the article, either. It clearly was all hypothetically derivative.

Q Well, in the article you say that you don't think that --

MR. MCCURRY: Wolf, don't read it to me again. It's painful enough. (Laughter.) I read it once already today, and that's all I'm going to say on it.

Q I don't mean to beat up on you unduly, but -- (laughter) --

MR. MCCURRY: Why not, Sam?

Q Let's move away from the article. I think one of the problems that you've discussed there and we've discussed here is when we ask questions you tell us quite honestly that you don't know the answer and --

MR. MCCURRY: That's correct.

Q -- suggest that you really think it would be inappropriate for you to be a fact finder. Then what is our recourse, if we can't come to the Press Secretary of the President, to try to get answers about it?

MR. MCCURRY: You don't have much of a recourse other than to do the kind of careful reporting that some of you attempt to do.

Q Have you been subpoenaed yet?

MR. MCCURRY: No, because there is nothing about the article that indicates anything other than I speculated about matters that I don't know anything about.

Q I'm not talking about the article.

Q Mike, Panetta remains a respected voice around here and you presumably are also a respected voice, and the burden of --

MR. MCCURRY: Maybe until today. (Laughter.)

Q -- the burden of your comments is, look, there's got to be an explanation. Is there any reason that -- do we know anything more about the timetable by when the President might be able to offer an explanation?

MR. MCCURRY: I do not know.

Q And do Panetta's comments have any, as far as you know, have any impact on the debate about that subject?

MR. MCCURRY: I missed them myself, so I don't have any comment on it.

Q He said at some point he thought the President would need to come forward and give an explanation of what his relationship was, whatever it may have been, with Monica Lewinsky.

MR. MCCURRY: I imagine I've said pretty close to the same thing here at some point.

Q How's he feeling?

MR. MCCURRY: The President? You saw him earlier today. He's very concentrated on the work that we're doing in the Gulf region and he's feeling very good about where we are and --

Q Well, he doesn't object if the Secretary General goes to Baghdad?

MR. MCCURRY: He has concern that we all in the international community deliver an unambiguous message to Saddam Hussein that the time has come for unfettered access by the United Nations to those sites that can help us understand better what capacity Saddam Hussein has when it comes to weapons of mass destruction. And I believe, and the United States government believes, that that message in a variety of ways has been delivered in unambiguous fashion to Saddam Hussein.

Q What is your sense of what can be accomplished now by an Annan trip to Baghdad?

MR. MCCURRY: One additional moment in which the very clear resolve of the international community can be expressed in an unambiguous way to Saddam Hussein, so that hopefully he gets the message.

Q Are you fighting other members?

Q -- Secretary General could go in and not express unambiguous message?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that it's very clear that he will go and express that message in an unambiguous fashion. And what we are interested in achieving, once again, is free and unfettered access to those sites, especially those sites that have been declared off limits by the government of Iraq; and a fuller understanding of what they will do to uphold the integrity of an effort in Iraq, conducted by the United Nations that's been very successful in helping the world learn more about his capacity when it comes to biological and chemical weapons.

Q Would you characterize Annan's mission as an ultimatum?

Q Could you clarify what you just said, Mike?

Q Is the formulation of UNSCOM-plus or UNSCOM-wide acceptable to this administration?

MR. MCCURRY: There is a variety of formulae being talked about in New York right now by permanent members of the Security Council.

Q Mike, is it really worth putting lives in harm's way over this?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, for exactly the reasons the Commander-in-Chief described earlier today.

Q Mike, do you have any comment on the Russian-Chinese statement against the use of force?

MR. MCCURRY: Say again?

Q Russian and China had a joint statement today, according to Reuters, against the use of force.

MR. MCCURRY: I have not seen that statement, but it sounds like it's similar to statements both governments have made independently. And we, too, believe that force should not be the necessary resolution here because there is an alternative. The alternative is for Saddam Hussein to meet his international obligations so there can be a peaceful solution, even if it's one brought about by increased diplomatic pressure on Saddam Hussein. That is our preference to be sure, because no one prefers a military option, as you heard the President say earlier.

Q Are we having trouble with the other members of the Security Council in that mission? I mean, do they want to give him some wriggle room?

MR. MCCURRY: There's not any daylight among members of the Security Council when it comes to insisting upon full compliance with Security Council resolutions with regard to inspections.

Q So then he's on his way?

MR. MCCURRY: That remains to be seen. If my understanding is correct, the Secretary General meets with the permanent representatives of the permanent members of the Security Council at 4:00 p.m., or sometime later today, in any event.

Q If there's no daylight, then what's the apprehension about Kofi Annan going? How could the message be unambiguous --

MR. MCCURRY: Making it absolutely certain what message he carries and whether or not he will be in a position to gain any greater access to sites that have been shut off to the United Nations is the key question. And a lot of that has to be discussed in further detail by the Security Council.

Q Is that something you want to know in advance, Mike?

Q What would be the formula, Mike, for evaluating the proposal before the -- that are being discussed by the U.N. Security Council? And would the U.S. accept U.N. team of diplomats accompanying the UNSCOM?

MR. MCCURRY: The criteria is that that I just spelled out for you. It would be getting unfettered access to sites, especially those sites around the country that have been declared off limits by the government of Iraq, and knowing that the integrity of the U.N. Special Commission's work was being upheld and acknowledged by Saddam Hussein.

Q Is there any reason why this team of -- why an accompanying team of diplomats would make that unacceptable?

MR. MCCURRY: There are numerous, numerous modalities and details that might help accomplish that work and they are under discussion at the United Nations now.

Q This standoff is now extended for several months, at least since the autumn. Why not set a deadline? Why not say, in two weeks open access or --

MR. MCCURRY: It's not about artificial deadlines. It's about assuring that those things the United States and the world community are insisting upon get achieved. And the President has addressed exactly the way in which we're going about doing that today.

Q The President used the word "soon" in talking about potential for military action. That has a meaning.

MR. MCCURRY: "Soon," it means soon.

Q Mike, might military action take place without Congress in town or without any congressional resolutions --

MR. MCCURRY: We've consulted very broadly with Congress. Congress in 1991 passed federal law that authorizes the use of force in the Persian Gulf, and we've long acknowledged, and members of Congress have acknowledged, that that provides necessary statutory authority for the President as Commander-in-Chief to take action. And under United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, we've been given -- all member nations have been given authority by the world community to act in furtherance of relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Q Mike, there's a report that the Saudis have put additional restrictions on the use of aircraft, U.S. aircraft based there. What do you know about that?

MR. MCCURRY: Without going into any detail, I will say that once again that work that we've been doing in the Gulf region and elsewhere leads the President to be confident that if he needs to take military action, that there will be support and assistance necessary for him to have confidence that we can successfully achieve the missions that he defines.

Q Have they asked that those aircraft remain there to defend them?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into our private, diplomatic deliberations.

Q You've been talking about making the case to the American people, and the town hall meeting tomorrow is about that. Is it also the town hall meeting and the decision to let CNN cover it, is that also about making the case to the international public? Do you feel that that --

MR. MCCURRY: Is this a self-interested question from CNN? (Laughter.)

Q I mean it as a video diplomacy question.

MR. MCCURRY: No, I think that we've worked with, as we have on previous occasions and other networks, worked with one network to figure out how we could get as large an audience, international and domestic, for this particular event. And there will be others covering it and I imagine other news organizations will cover the event in addition to those that are carrying it.

Q Well, while we're on that, I mean, it is restricted for a CNN live broadcast. Why was that decision made, since you want as much --

MR. MCCURRY: That's a decision that I'm told by lawyers, lawyers at CNN feel very strongly about, and the details of that you'd have to go to them and discuss.

Q Well, no, that's -- you made with CNN.

MR. MCCURRY: We had asked that it be transmitted for live simultaneous coverage so it would be available to everyone, but apparently that's something that CNN feels they can't do. But they've assured us that they're making it available in the fashion that people who want to cover the event will have plenty of access to the event so that it can be covered.

Q Wait a second. No, no, no, I'm asking -- this is part of your public --

Q But why did you go along with it?

MR. MCCURRY: We go along with different arrangements when we get help from news organizations that help us in carrying a conversation that we're interested in. We've done this with ABC, we've done it with CBS, we've done it with others from time to time.

Q You have given town meetings that are available for everybody to carry many, many times in the past.

MR. MCCURRY: Many, on exactly the same kind of circumstances I am told that CNN is making this available to all of you.

Q Is this a CNN event or is this a White House event?

MR. MCCURRY: It's a town hall that we approached CNN and asked of their assistance in setting up, and they were gracious enough to work with us.

Q Help me with this. The White House approached CNN and said, would you cover this, and CNN's response was, yes, if we have it exclusive? Is that --

MR. MCCURRY: No. They helped -- they're setting it up, providing their anchors, helping get the audience together, doing a lot of other things.

Q Who's paying for all the officials to fly out there?

MR. MCCURRY: They're traveling in whatever capacity they travel as public officials.

Q Yes, but why -- it just doesn't make any sense to me why the administration would restrict access.

MR. MCCURRY: They will do other -- they will do other discussions. We're not restricting access. They are making it available and they are making it available on their terms. Contractually, they can make it available, and my understanding is that you all are going to have plenty of access to it so you can cover it, too. If you've got some specific problem, let me know and I'll see if I can work it out.

Anything else?

Q It's strange, Mike. It's not the same thing as when -- you mentioned Peter Jennings and the Children's Hour or something else --

MR. MCCURRY: Or the Straight Talk with drugs that we did where ABC, I think, had exactly the same two-minute restrictions on the --

Q -- when the President did an interview with us on cancer. This is an international crisis that has to do -- you're talking about the American people.

MR. MCCURRY: Look, maybe we could have approached others or done it through a pool. We didn't. This is the way we're putting it together. We are appreciative of CCN for helping. Next time around, we'll ask ABC or CBS or someone else who's got those same kind of resources.

Q Mike, a few questions on Iraq. First of all, the President today changed his stated goal for an attack on Iraq, to diminish rather than to deny. How has that changed? How has that policy changed and why has it changed?

MR. MCCURRY: I think, as the President has watched the diplomatic discussion wind down because a diplomatic solution has not presented itself, the precision with which he is addressing the possible use of military force has increased. And I think that he had a very precise way in which he talked about the capacity we have; it was based in part by the kind of briefings that he had today and that we've been getting from military planners; when we understand better what military capacity can bring to bear. And I think the President feels it's important to be as precise as possible in articulating what goals and objectives and planned military force would be.

Q If I could follow up to that. So when the President made the State of the Union address he was not fully apprised of what the military could accomplish?

MR. MCCURRY: I think he was both talking about the goals and objectives of our diplomacy, talking about what we would like to try to achieve as we work with others in the world community, and now as we're getting more specific about contemplating a possible use of force he's being very precise and sending as clear a message as he can about what the purpose of military action might be.

Q What was the President told in his briefing today? What did he learn?

MR. MCCURRY: He learned an awful lot. He asked a lot of probing questions; he got a very good report on the status of forces deployed and the projection of our force posture in the region. And he and the Vice President both had some very particular probing questions that they asked of their senior military commanders.

Q What didn't they know?

Q -- make any decisions about force --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to substantively -- I'm not going to get into the nature of the briefing.

Q But there were major questions about the deployment of forces that they were not --

MR. MCCURRY: There was a lot of discussion about scenarios and different outcomes and how one thinks ahead so that once you put a right foot down you know where the left foot is going.

Q Do you have an end game yet?

MR. MCCURRY: We've got a very good, clear idea on how things might unfold under multiple levels of scenarios.

Q Switching gears a little bit. President Clinton talked to President Soeharto on Friday night to urge him to implement economic reforms. President Soeharto then fired the head of the Central Bank in Indonesia and the central banker who was fired actually favored the U.S. position on such matters as the currency board. Do you think that was constructive?

MR. MCCURRY: The President did discuss the currency board among other topics. As you know -- you've heard from Treasury officials who have probably talked to you directly -- that there are a lot of complexities and technical issues that have to be addressed before we think a currency board would be feasible. And I think it's safe to say the President made it quite clear that vigorous and sustained implementation of the reforms in conjunction with their IMF program lends the best prospect of some type of restoration of confidence that would increase regional economic stability.

We don't comment on the way in which other governments populate their senior ranks, but I think I'm making it quite clear that the President stressed to President Soeharto the importance of making a sustained effort that would lend credibility to the work the IMF is doing in the country.

Q Will they be denied a bailout?

Q When was the last time the President received the kind of full national security briefing on Iraq that he got today with all of the players --

MR. MCCURRY: Last week.

Q Last week?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I mean, it's been virtually daily, but I think having -- to be in the Pentagon? Well, certainly with General Shelton, General Zinni, Vice Chairman Ralston, he's had within the last week at least one occasion to meet with them and get a detailed briefing and this was the latest in a series of those briefings.

Q You mentioned this morning that he was going to use other opportunities to talk about this. What else is planned?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I mean, this going to be a subject that will be very much a part of the President's focus in the days ahead and he will likely and see and take other opportunities to address the matter. I'm not going to speculate at this point. Nothing is scheduled at this point. I'm not going to rule out the prospect of addressing the nation in a more formal way from the Oval Office. All of those things are conceivable, but nothing planned at this point.

Q Why was a decision made not to do today's speech in an evening address if you're trying to reach the people and educate them as to the --

MR. MCCURRY: Maybe the President thought the message he was conveying today, both to the American people and globally, was sufficiently accomplished at this setting.

Q Mike, the President said in his address today that one of the purposes for all of this was to protect Saddam's neighbors from attack from Iraq. But given the fact that today Bahrain and Qatar have joined Saudi Arabia opting out, doesn't that undermine that argument?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not sure that we have made the same conclusion about the statements by the government of Bahrain that you have. We've had high-level contact, including the highest-level discussion with them over the weekend and we have not jumped to the conclusion that you have jumped to.

Q Bahrain supports military action, or does not?

MR. MCCURRY: The President talked to Amir Khalifa over the weekend and we've just had the Secretary of State there. And again, I will say, as a general proposition, we are confident in that region that if we get to the point where diplomacy is exhausted and we have to use military action to accomplish our objectives, we're confident we'll have strong support in the region, and assistance in the region to accomplish the mission.

Q You're going to have basing in Bahrain?

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say that. I said something that was a little more elliptical than that -- (laughter) -- that's based on conversations we've had at the highest levels.

Q You're going to have basing in Saudi Arabia?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to talk about individual governments. Individual governments can address those questions to your satisfaction, I'm sure.

Q What other leaders did the President talk to about Iraq over the weekend?

MR. MCCURRY: He talked to -- obviously, we talked to President Soeharto about the Asian economic issues. Late Friday night he talked to the Prime Minister of Denmark, the Amir of Kuwait, the Amir of Bahrain, the Prime Minister of Belgium, Chancellor of Austria, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the King of Morocco, and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Q Mike, would you characterize Kofi Annan's mission as the delivery of an ultimatum?

MR. MCCURRY: I would say that his mission will be designed to enforce the judgment and will of the international community as expressed in relevant Security Council resolutions that Saddam Hussein is presumably familiar with.

Q Not to open negotiations?

MR. MCCURRY: I've addressed that in a number of different ways already.

Q Mike, can I switch topics to the media conspiracy and this report over the weekend that this fellow Blumenthal has turned on his former employer? Are there efforts underway now --


Q He used to work for The Washington Post.

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, oh. That's was over my head. That conspiracy theory went right by me.

Q Any efforts to target reporters or anything like that going on here?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. I would be very surprised if there were such efforts, and I think I would know if there were.

Q Are folks working with David Brock on a Starr book, do you know?

MR. MCCURRY: You would have to ask David Brock what David Brock is working on.

Q Mike, the strongest backing for military action has come from Great Britain, and yet Robin Cook was one of the people who actually was pushing for Kofi Annan to actually go to Baghdad. Are the British getting cold feet, or are they trying to cover their bases for the --

MR. MCCURRY: Again, it's not who is pro and con on the Secretary General being engaged in diplomacy, it's to make sure the message is the right one. And the Secretary General is working very carefully with other members of the Security Council, including the United Kingdom, including the United States, to assure that the message is unambiguous and exactly along the lines that I've just described to you.

Q Mike, Sandy Berger talked about Saddam Hussein as an insidious dictator, and the President today talked about him as a tyrant. Should the American people conclude that he is rational and sane enough to be negotiated with?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the American people, given the experience we've had over time watching his behavior, seeing his conduct, seeing the lies and the manipulations, are in very good position to judge the nature of that regime and that leader.

Q Is he rational and sane?

MR. MCCURRY: That's a very good question and the answer -- we may learn more to the answer as we see how he responds in coming days to what is clearly going to be a very unambiguous message delivered.

Q What is the President -- with that?

MR. MCCURRY: We have a variety of ways of assessing that and I'm not going to share that.

Q Did the President make any decisions today about force deployment?

MR. MCCURRY: Most of the decisions have been made and were entrain. This is more by nature of receiving report on the status of forces deployed and the status of things that have been newly deployed in the region.

Q Are there additional forces being sent?

MR. MCCURRY: There have been a number that have been sent and they've been talked about at the Pentagon and they've given a pretty good status update, I think, over there.

Q Anything new today?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't think they talked --

COLONEL CROWLEY: They signed the deployment bill last night on the -- previously on the Army troops.

MR. MCCURRY: On the Army troops going to Kuwait to Camp Doha, right? Yes, that was the previous deployment that had been talked about both here and at the Pentagon. They did the deployment orders yesterday for that.

Q Did they discuss targeting priorities with the President today?

MR. MCCURRY: They discussed many different aspects of the military option if we need to pursue it.

Q Would targeting priorities have been one of those aspects?


Q That's a yes?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not commenting further.

Q Hopefully, this will be the last time you have to address this question, but what's the administration's stance on the cloning debate that's come back in, that the Scottish scientist may, in fact, not have cloned the adult sheep?

MR. MCCURRY: I hadn't heard that one.

Q Thank you.

END 2:17 P.M. EST