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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 2, 1998
                           PRESS BRIEFING
                           BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

1:44 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Hello, everyone. I want to add -- this morning when I talked about the President's remarks tonight at the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation event, I mentioned he would be talking about the administration's Millennium Project, the President's support of the arts, and the tradition of support for the arts that so flourished under President John F. Kennedy. One thing I also want to note is he will pay tribute tonight to President Kennedy's work to establish the Peace Corps.

Tomorrow is the first annual Peace Corps Day, in honor of the anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps 37 years ago. Tomorrow there will be 5,000 returned Peace Corps volunteers from various places where they've served, who will be around the country in all 50 states doing classroom teach-ins, helping get people both interested in the work of the Peace Corps and then hopefully encouraging young people to consider serving in that capacity or another capacity through things like AmeriCorps or other volunteer local organizations.

The President, by the way, when he visits Ghana later this month, will be meeting with participants in the Peace Corps program in Ghana. That's the first place that President Kennedy sent Peace Corps volunteers to in 1961, and some of you will recall that participants in that original Ghana Peace Corps mission in 1961 were here two years ago when the President celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Peace Corps. So there will be, obviously, a tribute to the Peace Corps, to President Kennedy's leading role in founding the Peace Corps tonight. And if you would like more information about all the activities that the Peace Corps has got going on tomorrow in honor of Peace Corps Day, please call Brendan Daly over at the Peace Corps office. He works for Mark Gearan.

Any other subjects today?

Q Mike, do you have a reaction to the court case on drug testing?

MR. MCCURRY: No. I haven't seen that. I know that the Counsel's Office is trying to get -- has been looking at the opinion, and they'll work with Justice to see if there is anything further to say.

Q What is the policy in the White House? Is there random testing?

MR. MCCURRY: We have random testing for all employees.

MR. TOIV: Yes, yes, everybody here.

MR. MCCURRY: All passholders. These guys can tell you more about it.

Q You were going to try to find out whether there was any bid for executive privilege.

MR. MCCURRY: Say again.

Q Executive privilege?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything new on that subject.

Q Well, did Sid Blumenthal assert executive privilege last week?

MR. MCCURRY: He may have, as he indicated, had areas that he declined to answer. But any proceedings involving executive privilege would be under seal by the court at the district court level and, therefore, I would not be in a position to talk about it.

Q Could you tell us a little more about the actual mission or mandate that Mondale has in going to Indonesia, and whether it was maybe on the request of Soeharto or the President felt for some reason a special envoy was needed?

MR. MCCURRY: The President clearly has asked him as personal emissary to convey the importance we attach to the economic reform program that President Soeharto has pledged to promulgate in Indonesia. Mr. Mondale will stress our belief that strong demonstrable commitment to full implementation of the economic reforms agreed to by the IMF offers the best prospects for restoring financial stability and economic growth in Indonesia.

Q Soeharto says he wants more money. What do you think of that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, what we think is that President Soeharto should place his full authority and the full authority of his office behind the economic reforms that he has agreed to and exert political will to ensure sustained implementation the program that the IMF has encouraged. That is the way in which you can restore economic stability and thus strengthen confidence in the Indonesian economy. That, to us, is certainly the preferred outcome.

You just had Dr. Summers here and he's talked to you on many occasions about the trouble we see with the currency board concept, the necessary inflexibility that a mechanism like that has. And that's why our preference has been with full implementation of the IMF program.

Q Mike, why send Walt Mondale? Why not an administration official? Does that show that the previous trips by administration officials had failed to get the message across?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it was important for the President to convey that he is personally engaged -- you know he has been personally engaged with President Soeharto -- in sending someone who has the wealth of background of former Vice President, former Ambassador Mondale. Someone with his ability to communicate personally on behalf of the President was in the President's opinion a good way to get the message through.

Q Did he go to convey a message that there would be a penalty if he doesn't or we won't support a bailout?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to describe whatever personal message he is conveying, but he clearly is there to advance the dialogue that we think is critical on the status of the Indonesian economy and what can be done to restore stability to it.

Q What's his official capacity?

MR. MCCURRY: He has no official capacity, he's there as a personal emissary on behalf of President Clinton.

Q When are you expecting to hear back from Mondale?

MR. MCCURRY: He will -- his work begins I guess, probably tomorrow or -- meet tomorrow and he returns on Wednesday. But we will get updates as we can from his effort.

Q Who is the President playing golf with?

MR. MCCURRY: Two congressmen I believe. I heard Congressman Hefner and Congressman Murtha. Make sure you check with your pool on that.

Q Mike, the U.S. embassy in Pakistan issued a warning that there are threats again to Americans in Pakistan. Also, at the same time last week the President refused to certify that Pakistan is not producing drugs or marijuana or whatever. At the same time the U.S. gave a waiver, what they call national interest waiver. So how seriously is the drug problem in South Asia and Pakistan --

MR. MCCURRY: I could recount for you but don't feel it's necessary to the elaborate briefing given at the State Department on that in some detail. The certification determination made by the President were discussed and we've got a good both written explanation and then also the briefing given by officials over at the State Department that covered exactly that topic, among others.

Q This morning you said that the President and others were not aware of Terry Linzner's work on behalf of the tobacco companies against Jeffrey Wigand. Now that it's been in the papers for several days --

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say that, Mara. I said I hadn't checked with it and didn't know anything about it. And I don't.

Q Well, could you check and see what their reaction is to sharing a private investigator with the tobacco companies, especially in the case of Jeffrey Wigand?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll see if they have any opinion that they wish to put forward on that.

Q What about the apparent dispute between Hamdoon and Butler over who is in charge of these special inspections? Is the U.S. confident that Butler will be in charge as opposed --

MR. MCCURRY: That was a dispute I think only on CNN that had the good fortune of having them both together on the same program. But it was certainly no dispute in the eyes of the United States government. And Mr. Butler spoke quite authoritatively on the interpretation of the memorandum of understanding. He's made it quite clear what the lines of authority are as the U.N. Special Commission conducts the work that it needs to do in Iraq, that the government of Iraq has pledged to cooperate with. And of course, the question will be whether or not the government of Iraq lives up to the obligations it has under the agreement it has signed.

Q Are you concerned that the Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations is in fact raising questions about Butler's being in charge?

MR. MCCURRY: You know of our concern about the intentions of the government of Iraq with respect to this agreement because the President has made it quite clear that we will remain skeptical until we see full implementation of the agreement as it's been reached. And we will keep a significant force deployed in that region in the interim.

Q Have you heard any statements since then from the Iraqis that have made you feel reassured?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any statements. I'm going to have to check and see if there's been any further contact at the United Nations or elsewhere. The United Nations is very actively pursuing this and there may have been further contact up there. I haven't heard of any, but you might want to check there.

Q Mike, there seems to be a difference in the language the United States and Great Britain want compared to what China, France and Russia want in the Security Council. Will the U.S. buy their version?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that they have a version. I know that the Security Council is debating a tabled British resolution and that discussion is underway now and we're fully engaged with other members of the Security Council on that text.

Q Had you heard that Kofi Annan wanted to postpone his visit to Washington because Trent Lott didn't want to see him?

MR. MCCURRY: No. We had heard that Kofi Annan, the Security General, wanted to postpone his trip down here to Washington to, among other things, see the President because he was concerned about this deliberation in the Security Council on this draft resolution that the British have put forward, and he thought it was very important for him to be there in New York as the Security Council deliberated. We certainly concur.

Q Has it been rescheduled?

MR. MCCURRY: Hasn't been rescheduled that I know of.

Q But the fact that Trent Lott wouldn't schedule a meeting with him is not an issue?

MR. MCCURRY: The Security General has many purposes in coming here, not only seeing members of Congress, but pursuing things with the administration as well. But, quite correctly, he wants to be in the Security Council as they deliberate this very important resolution that comes in the aftermath of the agreement between the United Nations and Iraq.

Q Senator Lott today is again bringing up this idea of trying Saddam Hussein as a war criminal. What's the view of that here?

MR. MCCURRY: We have an interest at this moment in pursuing the steps necessary to see that Saddam Hussein fully complies with Security Council resolutions. That is our focus, the administration's focus, on the work that the United Nations will do to see that he does not have available to him weapons of mass destruction. I'll look at the other question -- to my knowledge, we've not put forward any formal view on that question.

Q Would it be counterproductive at this stage of the situation?

MR. MCCURRY: What would be most productive is for all to encourage the government of Iraq to abide by its commitments under the agreement that's recently reached with the United Nations. We would encourage members of Congress to so state.

Q Does the President have any feelings about the testimony tomorrow of Vernon Jordan before the grand jury?

MR. MCCURRY: No. I mean, luckily someone will be in a position to testify who knows the facts.

Q Mike, can you explain how, on the one hand, the administration can pledge its complete cooperation with Kenneth Starr's investigation and on the other hand, how White House aides can refuse to answer questions on the basis of executive privilege?

MR. MCCURRY: I can recount for you generically the arguments that any White House would wish to make on the nature of the confidential deliberation process and the need for the President to have access to wise counsel from senior advisors. That's been acknowledged in the courts. And I think the best explanation that I can refer you to is the recent opinion by the D.C. Court of Appeals on exactly that subject, which sets forth very clearly what the courts recognize as the reason why presidents might not want his senior aides to testify about their confidential advice and deliberations.

Q If I could follow up, Mike -- Ken Starr's office has now said that it's willing to have the hearings on executive privilege opened up to the media. You said this morning that the White House would file a brief on that next week. But why wouldn't the White House just immediately embrace that?

MR. MCCURRY: To my knowledge, the Office of Independent Council has not set forward those views in a brief filed with the court. If they do, of course, we will look at whatever argument they make, just as we are considering the argument. And as I indicated, we expect it's likely we will submit our own thinking on that to the court sometime next week.

Q But you'd be amenable to opening it up?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't taken the position -- or the administration, the White House has not taken a position. They're reviewing that in advance of a pleading that they might make before the court.

Q Mike, you said that it was fortunate that Vernon Jordan was going to be testifying tomorrow. Do you expect him to testify in a way that's helpful to the President?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any clue as to what he will be asked, so I can't have any hypothesis on what he might answer.

Q Has there been an estrangement there between Jordan and the President?

MR. MCCURRY: Estrangement? No, they're very good friends, remain very good friends. I think they look forward to the day when they can be less circumspect with each other.

Q -- a party to the joint defense agreement that some of the other White House lawyers --

MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. You'd have to ask him.

Q Are you sure he can testify tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not sure of anything that happens in front of the grand jury. That's up to the Office of the Independent Council.

Q Does the White House think it was counterproductive of Lott to refuse to meet with Annan?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that the Secretary General is an imminent figure who just concluded an important agreement that any member of Congress would surely want to learn more about. And to talk to the person who negotiated it would present, I think, an excellent opportunity. Why someone would not want have that conversation is a little mystifying.

Q Mike, back on Iraq. Is the President happy at the appointment of the Sri Lanka diplomat by the Secretary General? And also, is his appointment -- Ambassador to the U.N.?

MR. MCCURRY: While I don't believe that the President personally knows the diplomat that has been appointed Special Commissioner and team leader, he is very satisfied with the response that's been given by Mr. Butler, who has indicated that he knows well the gentleman and can work very closely with him as they fulfill their U.N. mandates in Iraq.

Q Mike, I asked you earlier this morning, does the President agree with Rahm Emanuel that the Starr investigation has reached a dead-end, and it's time for it to come to a conclusion?

MR. MCCURRY: The President, I think, has refrained from publicly addressing that matter, but I'm sure that he doesn't have any quarrel with what Rahm said.

Q You said this morning that the last meeting you were aware of between Vernon Jordan and the President was last week at the basketball game, and you will check and see if there's any subsequent --

MR. MCCURRY: As far as I know, that was the last time they've had a chance to visit personally.

Q What did they discuss? Did they discuss his --

MR. MCCURRY: Basketball.

Q Did they go together? Were they together?

MR. MCCURRY: I think they ended up together in the same box, along with others.

Q They did not discuss his grand jury --

MR. MCCURRY: They are both lawyers and they would necessarily refrain from discussing things that would be improper for them to discuss.

Q From the White House memo responding to the McCain questions about the tobacco deal, what do you conclude that the way the White House wants Congress to handle the situation regarding advertising by raising these questions about whether you could actually have a broad ban --

MR. MCCURRY: I think what the answers that we set forth that Senator McCain made clear is that the regulatory process used by the FDA when they looked at advertising restrictions took great care to avoid areas of constitutional peril. And we recognize, because of the Liquor Mart decision and others, there are certain applicable court decisions on freedom of expression. But those are not necessarily imperiled in the types of restrictions that were carefully considered by the FDA.

And I think we've reiterated to Senator McCain what other administration witnesses have testified to in front of Congress, that there are restrictions that certainly can meet the test of constitutionality under law, but there are some proposed restrictions that might raise constitutional issues. We walk that line very carefully and we are encouraging Congress as it considers comprehensive tobacco legislation to do likewise.

Q Mike, the OAS is celebrating 50 years this week. They're having a two-day meeting Thursday and Friday, they're having four ex-presidents, eight Nobel Prize winners of the hemisphere, many people. Will the President drop by to any of the events there that you know of?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to look and see. The administration is participating in a variety of ways, but we'll get you more on exactly what we're doing.

Q Mike, where does the President stand on the Puerto Rican plebiscite that may be voted on in the House this week?

MR. MCCURRY: He believes that the decision of the people of Puerto Rico to determine which of the three available options for their future they may wish to pursue is properly made by the people of Puerto Rico and ways in which they can find a way to express their views are to be encouraged.

Q And what about the amendment that would require it to be an English-only state if it were to become a state?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check and see. I don't think we've seen the text of that amendment; I'm not aware that we have formally stated a position on it.

Q Mike, I don't know if you've had a chance to read or skim the Howard Kurtz book, and if you want to comment at all on that book.

MR. MCCURRY: That's like -- people write books about the administration a lot, and sometimes they've got a lot in them that are interesting, a lot in them that one would quibble or quarrel with, and others that -- other items that the people who buy books have to decide whether there is any merit or not.

Q Are you misquoted?

MR. MCCURRY: In some places I'm misquoted; in other places my thoughts are pretty accurately reflected.

Q Mike, what do you think about the broader issue of reporters or an author kind of breaching this off-the-record discussion that you might have or other administrations might have at a social gathering?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that's really more of an issue for you. Certainly we'll have to adjust our behavior accordingly, but it's really your issue more than it's our issue.

Q Mike, is it accurate, as it was reported over the weekend, that the President is in a private, profound rage over Ken Starr's prosecutorial conduct?


Q How would you describe his reaction to the events regarding the OIC in the last few weeks?

MR. MCCURRY: I think his reaction is to stay focused on the work that he was elected by the American people to do. I think his greatest way of contending with any issues posed by the OIC is to work all the harder on the things that he knows are of great interest to the American people.

Q When he does reflect on it, though, he can't be pleased.

MR. MCCURRY: When he reflects on it, Scott, he reflects on it in private. When he does the American people's work, which is what he does most of the time, he is very engaged and very energetic and of very good spirit.

Q Are you denying that he's angry --

Q This is a real albatross hanging over the White House until it's cleared up. You mean --

MR. MCCURRY: I strongly disagree with that.

Q -- he's able to totally ignore it?

MR. MCCURRY: I strongly disagree with that.

Q Are you denying that he's angry, or you're denying that his angry has distracted him?

MR. MCCURRY: The article suggested a mood that I don't think was accurately portrayed. I think the President is of very good cheer as he does the work he was elected to do, and is gratified that he has the support of the American people as he pursues the agenda he has outlined for them.

Q But in the early days of the scandal, you said publicly that he was furious. Are you saying that that's not true anymore?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying whatever private thoughts he has I'm electing to remain private. What I'm talking about publicly is the work that he does on behalf of the American people, which is what I think most Americans want him to keep his focus on and probably want us to keep our focus on.

Q But the article didn't suggest that this mood necessarily affected his public work. What it said is that in private, when he reflects on this, he's furious.

MR. MCCURRY: If he has private thoughts, they're private.

Q You're not disputing the article. You're just saying it's none of their business.

MR. MCCURRY: I've exchanged private thoughts with him from time to time, too, and I like to keep those private as well.

Q How do you like Paul Gigot liking you?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure that was a valentine that he sent me. (Laughter.) Okay, we've run out of interesting questions, that's for sure.

Q About an hour ago.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:04 P.M. EST