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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 23, 1998
                         PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                            MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

4:30 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: I know you're all anxious to get on with business. I don't have anything to add to what the President said, so we can make it short.

Q What was he really saying?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it was very clear.

Q Did he accept this deal, or not?

MR. MCCURRY: He was very clear in what he said.

Q He never said, I accept.

MR. MCCURRY: You noticed.

Q And none of us asked whether the bombing would be suspended.

MR. MCCURRY: Say again.

Q What are the details he wants clarified?

MR. MCCURRY: There will be a number of issues that will be raised in the course of the conversations tomorrow.

Q Like what?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to go through the whole list. One example would be diplomats accompanying the UNSCOM teams -- that would be one example of the kind of detail we're going to get into tomorrow.

Q Well, he said that Kofi Annan would appoint those diplomats. But did --

MR. MCCURRY: There will be a discussion of that tomorrow at the U.N.

Q Does the Iraqi government have a say in who those diplomats -- what countries --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure there will be a discussion of that at the U.N. tomorrow.

Q Who is in charge, the arms inspectors or the diplomats?

MR. MCCURRY: That's very clear that one of the things proposed, as the President said, is the unfettered, unconditional right of UNSCOM to continue its work in Iraq, which is a very important feature of the proposed agreement.

Q Are you sure that he got that from this deal -- that UNSCOM is still in charge?

MR. MCCURRY: Those kinds of questions we're going to explore in great detail, given the seriousness with which we want to explore the --

Q How quickly and how vigorously do you want UNSCOM to test the deal?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on that.

Q That doesn't seem to me to be a detail that needs to be worked out. That was one of the two unwaverable conditions of the United States. Are you sure you got that?

MR. MCCURRY: Nothing about the presentations that the Secretary General has made and that the discussions that we've had with other leaders about this would indicate that the United Nations had anything but the unfettered capacity to continue its work successfully as it has in the past.

Q The United Nations or UNSCOM?

MR. MCCURRY: The United Nations Special Commission, UNSCOM.

Q Are those diplomats only observers or will they have some functional role to play?

MR. MCCURRY: Good questions that we intend to pursue.

Q If the questions aren't answered satisfactorily, is it possible the President tomorrow or the next day will reject this as unacceptable?

MR. MCCURRY: I think you heard the President, you got his tone based on what he said on that earlier.

Q Yes, but he seemed to reemphasize the if Saddam does keep his word, suggesting he thinks there's

MR. MCCURRY: For good reason.

Q -- something there that if the word is kept will be acceptable.

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President was pretty clear.

Q How much time is involved here? How much time are they going to give him?

Q -- this agreement says --

MR. MCCURRY: I can only do one at a time.

Q What is your understanding of what the agreement says about possible relief of sanctions, sanctions relief for Iraq? And is that one of the details that will be discussed tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: I doubt that it says anything but what current U.N. Security Council resolutions say.

Q How long a period of time does the United States intend to allow for this to work, to be tested?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President stressed, as U.N. Security Council resolutions do, the long-term monitoring that has to be in place to assure that Iraq continues to meet its international obligations.

Q So we will keep our troops on station until we're satisfied?

Q Doesn't the U.S. have to vote tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: The President made it quite clear that he's keeping the forces deployed in that region for the foreseeable future.

Q Mike, President Reagan used to say "trust but verify." Does this apply --

MR. MCCURRY: No, the President said --

Q Does he have any trust -- that's the question.

MR. MCCURRY: No, the President said clarify, verify, and test.

Q Does the U.S. have to vote tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: Does there have to be a vote tomorrow?

Q Yes.

MR. MCCURRY: There is not anything to vote upon that I am aware of.

Q Well, Tony Blair says there should be another U.N. Security Council resolution codifying or accepting this deal to make it clear to the Iraqis that if they try to cheat one more time, that's it.

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure the views of Security Council members such as that will be pursued tomorrow.

Q You sound mad because there's an agreement.

MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm just think reflecting the tone the President had and making it clear what the President said about all that needs to be said today.

Q Over the weekend, Secretary Cohen sent over a request from reservists to be sent. Has the White House responded to that, or are you going to hold off on that?

MR. MCCURRY: We have viewed favorably all of the requests that have come. And I'd have to check and see if they made any operational decisions on that, check with the Pentagon on that. But we would view very favorably any requests from the Secretary of Defense of that nature.

Q You don't think that this deal will affect that request --

MR. MCCURRY: The President's already made clear that the military preparations that we had underway, have underway, and will have underway will continue.

Q Is he still planning to go to Stanford?

MR. MCCURRY: We will, as we said last week, assess day by day what his travel plans are. No change at this point.

Q Do you think the Vice President might reschedule his trip to South Africa this week, or is that still a definite postponement?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything to that effect.

Q Also, other countries are -- in effect to U.S. troops. Are they likely to stay on indefinitely also?

MR. MCCURRY: Other countries?

Q New Zealand, Australia --

MR. MCCURRY: I think it is important to note the broad based international coalition that brought military force to bear to marry with the diplomatic effort. The Secretary General made it quite clear that diplomacy can only go so far, but diplomacy matched by force can have significant impact. And over 25 nations indicated their willingness to participate in the Gulf in deploying resources as part of this international effort. I think that's all appreciated. I think many nations will, as the United States will, continue to keep their forces deployed.

Q You mentioned the diplomats as one example of the details that have to be worked out. Are there others?

MR. MCCURRY: I have no doubt there are many others.

Q Such as?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to cite any other examples.

Q So why do you --


Q It took a number of weeks for the November deal to unravel, in other words, for you to realize that it wasn't being upheld. Is that the same kind of process that you --

MR. MCCURRY: I think that's the same question you asked before on when you might test --

Q I'm trying another --

MR. MCCURRY: -- and I'm not answering that question.

Q With the indictment last week of Maria Hsia, the indictment of Charlie Trie and a Gore ally, Peter Knight -- two Justice Department investigations, is there a concern that campaign finance scandal is not only hurting the President, but dragging down the Vice President before he gets his own presidential campaign off the ground?

MR. MCCURRY: Our principal concern here is that the Senate do everything possible to pass the McCain-Feingold legislation tomorrow. We're down to the critical period in that vote and the President has written to members of the Senate encouraging them to do everything to keep that campaign finance legislation on track. It's very important to the President, to the Vice President and to everybody else in the administration that we move on and reform federal campaign finance laws, which is clearly what needs to happen. And we hope the Senate will take that step tomorrow.

Q Mike, do you have any sense of how much it's going to cost to keep the military deployment in the Persian Gulf and how much of a supplemental will the administration request --

MR. MCCURRY: Those are good questions that OMB Director Franklin Raines has been reviewing in great detail. He has been participating in some of the discussions the President has had with his national security advisors, and I'm sure you'll be hearing from him in the near future on that.

Q In other words, you think there will be a supplemental, you just don't know how big?

MR. MCCURRY: There will be a supplemental request, and the degree it affects our current deployments in the Gulf will be something we have to address at a future date.

Q Mike, besides the diplomats, is there anything else in the agreement that Saddam Hussein could claim he got some adjustment on?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't pretend to know what he will claim.

Q Mike, would you still welcome resolutions of congressional support for military action if necessary?

MR. MCCURRY: I think if the Senate or the House proceeded to address this matter and gave support to the young men and women in the Gulf who were certainly part of the reason why we are reaching a discussion of this potential agreement, I think that would be very welcome by the President.

Q Besides the diplomats, is the President convinced no other concessions were made by Annan?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has had a good conversation with the Secretary General and he has had numerous conversations with the Secretary of State and he has spoken to that issue directly himself.

Q Some analysts say that this confrontation cost Saddam Hussein nothing, that it cost the U.S. a lot. It got Saddam Hussein a lot of attention and showed that he can make the U.S. respond to his provocation, and that the end result leaves him stronger, not weaker. Could you respond --

MR. MCCURRY: I know that in your business you like to tote up the scoreboard quickly and declare winners and losers even before that is apparent. I think the President has made it quite clear to you that there is more work to do in this situation. I think it will be some time before we would attempt to make any final analysis of that kind of nature.

Q Do you know if Kofi Annan offered Saddam Hussein or gave the Iraqi government any reason to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel as far as sanctions are concerned?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that there are any discussion other than stating what U.N, Security Council resolutions already state on sanctions relief.

Q What's the U.S.'s next role in this if you're not going to say you endorse --

MR. MCCURRY: As the President said earlier, we will have a thorough discussion of this at the Security Council tomorrow.

Q Then you have to decide whether you accept it or not?

MR. MCCURRY: The President addressed all of that, and couldn't have been clearer on that question.

Q No, he didn't.

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he was.

Q The President has spoken to Tony Blair, spoken to Boris Yeltsin, Jacques Chirac. Is he trying to talk to Jiang Zemin or Li Peng in China?

MR. MCCURRY: He certainly intends to have a highest level of communication with the President of the People's Republic, yes.

Q Has he talked to anybody in Congress today after he's had these conversations that you know of?

MR. MCCURRY: We've had some conversations with the Hill, and I wouldn't rule out the President would be in contact further with congressional leadership.

Q Do you think this situation will make the Congress more likely to pass its allotment of U.S. dues for the U.N.?

MR. MCCURRY: We would certainly hope so.

Q Senator Lott has now said that he talked to the President -- the President called him before this -- and he still worries that in the long run that the President doesn't have a strategy. The question, what will the U.S. do in the long run, is that a question that the President can try to answer to Senator Lott's satisfaction?

MR. MCCURRY: The President already answered that question very directly moments ago.

Q Did the President talk with Kofi Annan after he left Baghdad? Has he spoken with him yet? It sounded like the phone call was before he left.

MR. MCCURRY: I believe it was when he was still in Baghdad.

Q So he hasn't had another phone conversation --

MR. MCCURRY: The President has not, but there have been other discussions that the Secretary General has had.

Q Who did he talk with?

Q Who did Annan talk to if not Clinton?

MR. MCCURRY: He has had numerous -- as I said earlier -- numerous conversations with the Secretary of State.

Q Is he going to mention Iraq tonight in his speech? Or what's he going to talk about tonight?

MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule out that he would mention it, but it wouldn't be to go beyond what he has already said today.

Q Does the White House at all know anything about these reports that it is encouraging investigations of some of Ken Starr's prosecutors?

MR. MCCURRY: I think we dealt with that over the weekend and made it very clear that we don't retain private investigators to go snooping around about prosecutors, reporters, or Joe diGenova. I don't know why anyone would report that in the first place. It's ridiculous to report something that there is no basis of fact in.

Q You said that you haven't authorized or hired any private investigators. Can you say that you are not benefitting from any information that is being --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't think -- I think the statement that was issued on my behalf over the weekend yesterday was abundantly clear on that point.

Q At the NGA meeting this morning, did the administration indicate any willingness to change its views on how the tobacco revenue or highway trust fund revenues should be apportioned?

MR. MCCURRY: Each governor ought to speak to that individually. There is a great deal of concern that they have about the revenue stream that comes out of tobacco legislation and tobacco litigation. And I think the President and administration officials have sought to reassure governor that the revenue that would be available as a result of comprehensive legislation would work to the benefit of all states; certainly would give states discretion on how to spend some of funds, even if some of the funds are earmarked for federally supported efforts.

Q Has the President done anything about the tornados in Florida?

MR. MCCURRY: The President got a brief update from the Vice President, who had had an extensive briefing from James Lee Witt, the FEMA Director. The President is quite concerned by the report. It is a very awful situation for the citizens of Florida that have been affected. Obviously, the President and the First Lady extend their thoughts and prayers to those who have been affected by the tornados and the weather in any fashion.

I expect there will be more the White House has to say later in the day, pursuant to some of the disaster requests that we're hearing from the state of Florida and from Governor Chiles. Governor Chiles and James Lee Witt were in a position to tour together some of the damage, and it really is quite awful and there's a very compelling reason for a swift response.

Q Do you know whether they formally put in the paperwork for a federal disaster?

MR. MCCURRY: They are developing a state request, and I'd have to check with FEMA to see exactly where they are. So I wouldn't rule out that we might be doing some more on that later today. If I understand correctly there is a previous opening of a window for some federal assistance. I think that FEMA has indicated that they can amend that previous declaration and include some of this weather, as well.

Q I know Iraq is occupying the attention, but this is the certification week, the date is almost on top of us. When do you expect to have an announcement on certification or decertification?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have an expectation yet. I'll have to check further with the State Department. I know they are in final stages on that.

Q But March 1 is the deadline.

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate.

Q How soon do you expect the inspectors to be back on their job --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate about that. That will be up to the U.N. Special Commission and Mr. Butler.

Q What is the President going to talk about tomorrow when he addresses the Jewish Women's group?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. You have to check with one of the folks here. I haven't looked into that event.

Q Maybe I'm not getting it, but I still don't understand what you all are doing to make sure we're not going to be in this position two, three, four, six months down the road.

MR. MCCURRY: I think that's the very first question the President got and he answered it very well.

Q Vice President Gore made some comments on the IMF legislation at the top of the meeting with the governors. Did the President address that with the governors and has he talked to Trent Lott or other Hill leaders about it?

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't hear him address that, but I know that Secretary Rubin strongly urged all of us who were meeting with the governors or their representatives while they were here in town to point out the importance and necessity of that legislation. A number of us have done that just because in so many states the import export activity that involves commerce with Asia could be very directly affected by any lack of funding authority for the work that IMF now is doing in the region. So I know that in one way or another here at the White House and throughout the administration, we've been stressing to governors the importance of that legislation. And perhaps some governors are going to share that thinking with members of their own congressional delegation.

Okay, see you tomorrow. Thanks.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 4:48 P.M. EST