THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:00 P.M. EST
Q Is Annan still coming this week?
MR. MCCURRY: He plans to come later in the week. We're still finalizing whatever itinerary he will have both here and -- we understand the Secretary General's Office is working on their itinerary elsewhere.
Q Is he still welcome?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, absolutely. We work very closely with the Secretary General.
Q Annan says that he thinks the United States needs to come back to the Council -- required to come back for consultations, whatever that means, before taking any sort of military actions.
MR. MCCURRY: Consultations are consultations. If we got to the point where there were serious questions about the government of Iraq's willingness to honor the Memorandum of Understanding, we would, of course, be consulting with members of the Security Council. The Security Council has already indicated they will remain seized of this matter, and I would expect urgent deliberations to occur if there was any abrogation of the agreement.
Now, so far, this past weekend we've had several inspections that the United Nations has conducted. They can tell you more about them, but they have proceeded according to the UN satisfactorily.
Q But is it the President's view, as previously stated, that the United States has from previous resolutions adequate authority if he decides that he wants to move in an armed forces way.
MR. MCCURRY: That is exactly our position, although that does not preclude consultations with the Security Council should there be need to consider a new course of action.
Q So you're saying now, Mike, that they would go to the Security Council first before initiating military action?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that nothing that we have ever said would have precluded us from continuing to consult with the Security Council if the situation there became more urgent.
Q But, Mike, I thought the whole upshot of this last round with Iraq was that the Security Council was -- all were singing off the same page more than they used to. As it turns out not only did you not get the resolution that you wanted but now they're telling you that if you want to take military action you have to go through the same things you've done in the past, come to them and --
MR. MCCURRY: You're misreading what the Secretary General said. He said simply that he expected the United States would consult further in the event that there was need to take additional action there and if there were abrogation of the agreement of understanding between the United Nations and Iraq. And we have prior to that stated that we would so consult.
Q He used the word "required"; that's the problem.
Q France, Russia and China still are opposed, so what I'm asking you is it doesn't seem like you've gotten any more support for military action than you had before this last --
MR. MCCURRY: I think, as the Secretary General said yesterday, if there were any abrogation of the agreement with -- in the current circumstances, he suspected that the disposition of Council members with respect to use of force would be much different than it's been in the past. We concur.
Q He used the word "required" in talking about his view that the United States needed to consult.
MR. MCCURRY: Sam, I -- we don't attach any particular meaning to that other than that the Secretary General's suggestion that there would be further consultations in the Security Council in the event there were, you know, clearly a need to have consultations, we clearly would do so.
Q Mike, UN officials say that Congress is once again trying to tie the payments of UN arrears to anti-abortion legislation. Do you concur with that, and what's the White House view on that today?
MR. MCCURRY: Do we concur that there is some effort to tie the U.N. arrears question to Mexico City language? Yes, we do see some willingness in some parts of Congress to link those issues, and we would strongly suggest that they not be linked, that they are separate questions. We have indicated -- Secretary Albright has indicated a willingness to discuss international family planning issues with members of the Congress, but that issue in no way connects to what the obligations of the United States are in the United Nations to pay off the debt that we owe.
Q Mike, this morning you were asked about Annan's comments and you said that we, the United States, have differing views. What views differ there?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the question posed to me this morning, as it ended up -- I wasn't completely familiar with the Secretary General's remarks -- the question was posed that some how or other we'd be required to go there for an additional resolution, and I was indicating that we have a different view on that. But that, as it turns out, not what the Secretary General said.
Q What would the White House do if the during these consultations Russia, for instance, refused to go along with any talk of military force, military action against Iraq? What would you do? Would you just --
MR. MCCURRY: We have had very high level consultations with all the members of the Security Council. If there were an abrogation of this current memorandum of understanding by the government of Iraq, our judgment is the disposition regarding use of force would be much different than it has been in the past.
Q Can we move on to Senator Lott's comments saying that the President should now come clean finally and tell the American people and Kenneth Starr the exact nature of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky?
MR. MCCURRY: When was that? I only heard that he was calling on Starr to wind things up.
Q No, he said this morning --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, he had something new to say. He must have had a meeting with his caucus. (Laughter.) He must have heard from members of his caucus.
Q He said, "So I say to the President today, do it now, Mr. President, don't let this drag out any longer." Stop the attack --
MR. MCCURRY: That's what he said to Mr. Starr over the weekend, so apparently he has had some change of heart. I imagine that has something to do with what he heard from his colleagues. But we'll take version one as preferable to version two.
Q Well, he said, tell the truth, whatever it is. You certainly agree with him on that, wouldn't you?
Q Well, they're not mutually exclusive. Why shouldn't both of them --
MR. MCCURRY: The President already has.
Q The President's already told the truth?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q But he called on him to say what the relationship was with Monica Lewinsky.
MR. MCCURRY: You've heard me on that subject. I don't have anything new for you on that.
Q He's already told the truth on what?
MR. MCCURRY: On the two fundamental issues that he's addressed before.
Q What Trent Lott is saying is that until the President explains what kind of relationship he had with Monica Lewinsky, the nation's business, the legislative priorities, the work of the Congress and the American government are going to be distracted because of the President's --
MR. MCCURRY: What do Monica Lewinsky and Ken Starr have to do with scheduling business in the Senate? That's Majority Leader Lott's responsibility. That doesn't have anything to do with this current matter. That doesn't make any sense.
Q He said the current matter is distracting the public's attention from the real important priorities --
MR. MCCURRY: It hasn't distracted the President. And I'd be surprised if the Majority Leader admitted that he and the Senate have been distracted by a matter that doesn't concern them. That would be a pretty surprising admission.
Q Speaking of scheduling legislation, the President came pretty close today to calling Congress a do-nothing Congress. Was that his message? I mean, he got right up to the line there.
MR. MCCURRY: Well -- he got right up to the line. They haven't done much yet. I mean, I think they've renamed a lake and they've renamed an airport. (Laughter.) They can get on with business, there's plenty more to do. And the President's point, if I guide you to it, was that time is running down now and they need to get serious with some of the matters that are on the nation's agenda.
Q Well, usually the do-nothing charge starts rather later in the season. (Laughter.) Is he telling them that if they don't get going that he's going to move up the schedule for this kind of warfare?
MR. MCCURRY: Part of our concern is that they don't have many working days scheduled between now and the end of the year. I think it's less than 70 days now, so we want them to get going.
Q You lost Lott, but you gained David Brock. Have you seen Mr. Brock's public letter to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen that.
Q Well, he did Troopergate and he --
MR. MCCURRY: Call Mr. Kennedy, he might have a reaction for you.
Q What is your comment about it? Because he apologized, in a sense, to the President.
MR. MCCURRY: I have not a clue. Please call Jim Kennedy, and if there's any response it will come from him.
Q You don't even want to test David Brock?
Q Mike, in Senator Lott's comments he talked about how Washington, in general, has been distracted by the Starr investigation. And my question to you is, has the White House at all been frustrated that the President's ability to use the bully pulpit to push his initiatives has been in any way diminished by all of our attention on the issue and all of Washington's attention on this?
MR. MCCURRY: Your attention has remained pretty single-minded. But we have been able to talk with the American people about other issues that we're pursuing, as the President did today with respect to health care. And he'll continue to do so and hope that eventually more of what he is talking about in terms of what he's working on, how he spends his time, the issues that he's been focusing on comes through to the American people. Some of it does. We'll just kind of keep working harder doing the people's business.
Q All your comments in the last couple of weeks indicate that the President doesn't think there's any further explanation needed. Is that the view?
MR. MCCURRY: No, you've heard me on that subject. I don't have anything new on that.
Q No, no, I mean really.
Q Were you able to find out anything about immigration in the context of Medicare reform that the President mentioned?
MR. MCCURRY: I asked a few people on it and, frankly, thought it was going to come up when you had our experts here a moment ago, so I didn't pursue it anymore. But we can do some other checking with them.
Q Mike, the President says Congress isn't doing the people's business. The leader of the Senate says that's because of the Lewinsky case. You say he's not right. If he's not right, why isn't Congress acting, in your estimation?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's a good question to pose to the Majority Leader, how any of these matters that some have been preoccupied have stood in the way of them doing work. They could call up the Patient's Bill of Rights and start working on it tomorrow. I don't know of any reason why this other matter prevents them from doing their work.
Q Mike, David Brock says in his open letter, "I wasn't hot for the story in the interest of good government or serious journalism. I wanted to pop it right between the eyes."
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Donaldson already asked. Yes.
Q I didn't ask that question.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what Brock said and if we have any response you should call Mr. Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy will deliver it to you.
Q Would the like a copy of the Brock letter?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm really not interested in reading it.
Q Why not?
MR. MCCURRY: Because I've got other stuff to do.
Q I would like to demonstrate my organization's single-mindedness by referring back to Indonesia and the IMF. (Laughter.) Are you happy with the response you have received so far?
MR. MCCURRY: We believe that the government of Indonesia needs to demonstrate, through its actions and through the work of its leadership that it remains fully committed to the IMF program, that it understands the importance of promulgating and moving forward with the economic reform measures that have been a condition for IMF assistance, and we think there is considerable work to do and we will continue to urge the government to do that work.
Q -- distributing loans from the IMF to Indonesia if there is no progress visible?
MR. MCCURRY: We take seriously the IMF conditionality that attaches to the provision of loans and the government of Indonesia should as well.
Q Mike, why is the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia being brought back this week, and will he be meeting with the President or anybody at the White House? What's the next move on the U.S.'s part?
MR. MCCURRY: He's coming back for what I am told are routine consultations, but one should not over-read significance into his travel.
Q Mike, will the President go to Jim McDougal's funeral?
MR. MCCURRY: I have heard no plans to that effect. I am not aware of any plans.
Q Sinn Fein was allowed back into the talks today, but declined to do so, and interest seems to be shifting toward all the Irish politicians that will be here in a week. Will the White House do more than just have a little shindig with some green bagels or something along those lines, or will they take an active stance on trying to get the talks back on track?
MR. MCCURRY: Our annual celebration of St. Patrick's Day in recent years has become a much more serious endeavor and promotion of the Northern Ireland peace process. It has been an opportunity for us to continue the contact that we have with the parties, to have them engage at different levels with different people in our government, to hear more closely the views of all the parties participating in the process itself. And I suspect that this year's occasion will have that same degree of importance.
Of course, it's also an opportunity for the President to meet directly with one of the sponsors of the process. And he very much looks forward to his meetings with Prime Minister Ahern. But there will also be opportunities on the margins of that celebration for discussions with the parties to continue discussions that high-ranking officials of our government have had with the parties. And we will continue to encourage them to use this forum to make progress in their dialogue.
Q Will Gerry Adams be allowed to fundraiser when he comes on this trip starting on Thursday?
MR. MCCURRY: The discussions of that, I think, are best addressed by the State Department, whether there will be any restrictions attached to his travel or his activities while he's here.
Q Mike, this issue of the Iwo Jima and the Air Force Memorial has heated up again with Jay Carter Brown calling the Iwo Jima Memorial -- first of all, does the White House agree with his classification? And secondly, do you agree that the Air Force Memorial should be built on that present site?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we have gotten into that issue one way or another.
COLONEL CROWLEY: It's still before the planning commission.
MR. MCCURRY: I would have to talk to others around here. It didn't strike us that Mr. Brown's comments were apt or appropriate, but I'll check here and see if we have any reaction beyond that.
Q Mike, it's clear you don't agree with Senator Lott's reasoning for the Lewinsky matter interfering with the legislative agenda, but it is also clear that that is the way Senator Lott feels. Is the President concerned that his legislative agenda is not being heard on the Hill for whatever reason?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think we've had ample evidence that the agenda that we're discussing, that we're working on, is moving forward. Part of this is the normal deliberative structure of the calendar in the Senate. But from matters like highway funding to health care to child care to the work we're doing on IMF, which we've just been discussing here, there are a number of things proceeding on the Hill, and we're just encouraging them to move a little more swiftly.
Q Can you explain which of those is moving forward?
MR. MCCURRY: All of them, one way or degree or another. They're all at committee level, and they're all moving forward in one fashion or another.
Q Can you say what the President's doing today about the crackdown in Kosovo? Has he been briefed by Albright? Does he think that the steps the Contact Group took today have any teeth in them?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has received an update on the work that the Contact Group ministers did earlier today. We strongly endorsed the statement made by Contact Group ministers this morning in London, including the agreement on a range of actions to put pressure on the Milosevic regime to end the violence and engage in a genuine dialogue that addresses the rights and concerns of the Kosovo Albanian people.
We acknowledge that in the Contact Group there are discussions of significant steps that they are taking now. The weight of the diplomacy they're going to bring to bear through this special facility is that the OSCE and others, including the United Nations, can bring to bear. And it's clear that there are additional steps that are contemplated beyond those that were publicly identified today that might have utility. And so we will continue to be very highly engaged in a firm way in making the representations to the government in Belgrade that the Contact Group unanimously endorsed today.
Q Do you have any confidence that these steps today will have any impact?
MR. MCCURRY: In the past, the type of steps that were announced and taken today have had some persuasive effect on President Milosevic. We would hope they would do so again in this instance.
Q Mike, do you think the American troops will have to stay longer in Macedonia?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they're on a long-term monitoring mission there.
COLONEL CROWLEY: They're supposed to wrap up by August 31st --
MR. MCCURRY: But there is anticipation of that mission being extended by the United Nations, as it has been in the past. Every time it's come up for renewal it has been extended precisely because of the concern we have about Kosovo and about the status of tensions in the Balkans generally, some involving the --
Q So the answer is, yes, they'll have to stay longer?
MR. MCCURRY: It was anticipated that they would continue to stay, because that mission has routinely been continued in recent months.
Q Would you tell us what you think of the actions of your deputy, Joe Lockhart, in the release of the investigator statement? He released a statement, as I understand it, from the White House attorneys saying that neither the White House or any of President Clinton's private attorneys has hired or authorized any private investigator to look into the background of, et cetera?
Subsequently, it was discovered that Mr. Kendall's firm had hired Terry Lenzner. And in today's Wall Street Journal, Joe Lockhart is quoted as saying, in effect, it was his fault -- I didn't ask the right questions. What question should he have asked? Should he have said to the attorneys, is this statement the truth?
MR. MCCURRY: I strongly denounce the statement of my deputy press secretary --
Q Right. What did he do wrong?
MR. MCCURRY: -- who clearly should not have taken that burden upon himself.
Q But it's not his fault if the statement turns out to be, to put it in the best way, inaccurate?
MR. MCCURRY: There were a number of --
Q Who's to blame, then, if he's not to blame?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there were plenty of ways in which we could have done that differently and I'm not going to go through the whole episode here now.
Q Shouldn't the attorneys have drafted a statement that told the truth?
MR. MCCURRY: They did and their statement was the truth and it is the truth and --
Q They said no investigator was hired.
MR. MCCURRY: Your complaint, maybe it could have been that it was more complete, and we probably could have made it more complete, and there were lots of different ways that could have happened.
Q Come on, Mike, they said no -- it said he's not authorized or hired, the private attorneys had not hired one -- and they had.
MR. MCCURRY: I've addressed that as far as I am willing to. If you're not satisfied that's the way it is.
Q These lawyers have bent the truth.
Q Is the President concerned about the apparent theft of the papers at the State Department? Are you aware of what might have been stolen? Are you being briefed?
MR. MCCURRY: The White House is naturally concerned and we understand that it's being pursued by the State Department and by federal law enforcement officials.
Q What was taken?
Q Can you characterize what was --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't characterize it and don't want to characterize it. There is an ongoing investigation.
Q One loose end on the Trent Lott -- he also called on the President to call off "the attack dogs" on Ken Starr.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any comment on that.
Q Mike, thank you very much for taking my question. The question is on the upcoming trip of the President to South Asia which will take him to Bangladesh -- incidentally I come from Bangladesh and represent the paper called The Telegraph. There are two questions here. One is when is the President planning to make his trip, and during the trip the bilateral relations between those countries in India, Pakistan, and in Bangladesh, especially the new government is about to be installed in India -- could you please give us the idea when he's going to make that trip?
And number two is that I have to make a notation here that my friends and peers sitting in this room are very free. My paper, the editor of my newspaper, has been charged with high treason for writing a report which it did not favor the government of --
MR. MCCURRY: You had raised this issue at the State Department the other day, did you not? And I saw that transcript, and I am aware that the State Department indicated through its Bureau of Human Rights that it was going to look into that situation.
As to the President's travel, we have not announced a date. But the President is very much looking forward to his travels. He believes that when we meet and have dialogue with the new government in India, which is in formation now, it certainly will include a number of bilateral issues -- the status of Bangladesh being one that we have explored in our other occasions of having high-level diplomacy. We look forward to that exchange.
Q But, as a follow-up to that, some of the U.S. companies like Chevron and Texaco has withdrawn -- from Bangladesh and the gas and oil exploration. Are you aware of that? Are you making any headway for the U.S. companies?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm generally aware that there have been some changes in the structure of oil and gas R&D investments there. But I am not enough familiar with that issue to comment on it here. I think you should really maybe try some of our other experts.
Q Is the White House going to propose a take-it-or-leave-it plan to Israelis for the West Bank withdrawal?
MR. MCCURRY: We were going to pursue the kind of careful, measured discipline diplomacy that we have pursued. And the Secretary of State has addressed some of the additional steps we might contemplate.
Q If we can go back to Kosovo for a moment, you said just a little while ago that some of the measures being contemplated -- sanctions, I presume -- had some persuasive effect on the Milosevic government. My memory is that those sanctions were put on Serbia in 1993 and the siege of Sarajevo wasn't broken until three years later, after NATO air strikes and NATO military action. Why do we believe that the situation will get any --
MR. MCCURRY: It's somewhat true, but the persuasive arguments about the role of the inner wall and the outer wall of sanctions and how they were brought to bear is believed by most experts to have at least have had some effect. There were certainly other compelling reasons for the government of Serbia proper to proceed with the Dayton negotiations and to sign the Dayton Peace Accords. And I think that history is pretty well familiar to everyone here. But the role the sanctions played as a useful form of persuasion on President Milosevic has been acknowledged.
Q Do you foresee the use of U.S. troops in a situation like this?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to discuss, hypothetically, options that may or may not apply.
Q I'm puzzled as to why you won't comment on the Brock article. It would seem to favorable --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't read it, Sam. I couldn't be clearer. I am not going to comment on something I haven't read. And if I read it and I have something to say, I'll say it. \put I suggest you call Mr. Kennedy. Okay? Is that simple enough?
Q Well, will you read it, so I can ask you tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll read it and if I have anything to say, I'll certainly let you know. In the meantime, if you want to pursue it, you may want to call Mr. Kennedy because he would be more likely to respond to it than I would.
Q Will he respond on the record?
Q Well, what about you?
Q The problem with calling Mr. Kennedy is he responds on background.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, if he's got anything to say, he'll say it.
Q But your assessment of the article about you is it's fair? Any point that you --
MR. MCCURRY: About who?
Q The article about you, yesterday.
MR. MCCURRY: Which article?
Q The big one in the --
MR. MCCURRY: It's from a book and there's nothing to say about the book. I've talked about the book.
Q In the book, Howard Kurtz indicates that the First Lady has been in charge of defending the President, as far as strategy goes in the past --
MR. MCCURRY: She tends as a loyal spouse to be defensive of her husband when she needs to be, sure.
Q Is she playing the same role in the Lewinsky case?
MR. MCCURRY: You can judge for yourself. I think she's been public and outspoken when she's had something to say.
Q What about the American Spectator article on you? You're quoted in there -- the reporter said, "Do you want to know the truth?" and you replied, "God, no, no. If you know the truth, you have to tell the truth."
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any American Spectator article. I haven't read it.
Q Did you say that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with an American Spectator article. I haven't --
Q Did you ever make that kind of comment?
Q The Weekly Standard --
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q God, no, I don't want to know anything.
MR. MCCURRY: I think everything I have on this subject is -- I've said is identical to what I have told you in this room before.
Q Let me apologize to you and the Weekly Standard -- the Weekly Standard article is what I had in mind.
MR. MCCURRY: I just said you've all heard me on all these subjects before and I don't need to belabor it and go through it again.
Q Well, we worry about you. You're not talking to the lawyers, you're not talking to the President -- (laughter) -- what's going on here?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm talking to you.
Q Mr. Starr is already under pressure from some quarters, as Senator Lott said yesterday, to wrap it up and get to the conclusion of it. Do you expect that the death of Jim McDougal will increase those pressures, the fact that he now has --
MR. MCCURRY: I have absolutely no way of making any reasoned analysis of that.
Q The President isn't going to the funeral -- you've said that. But is he sending anything, flowers or something like that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check and see. I haven't heard that.
Q Mike, is there anything you can tell us about Viktor Chernomyrdin's visit here this week and what we can expect from it?
MR. MCCURRY: I can do a long read-in to the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission meetings and some of the issues they're taking up. They've got a lot of space cooperation technology issues, R&D proliferation matters they're dealing -- but the Vice President's Office I think is in a position to give a pretty thorough readout. And Jonathan Spalter and a number of people have already. They can tell you more about it. This will be the 10th meeting of the Commission. It's obviously a very useful forum for dealing with a lot of the bilateral issues we have with the Russian Federation. It has proved its utility in the past and we expect will again as we deal with a host of very complicated technical issues that are sometimes at dispute in our bilateral relationship.
Q On tobacco, there's a split in the public health community over exactly what is meant by immunity. Matt Myers and the National Children's Campaign says they're willing to accept limited liability in exchange for the legislation. Other say absolutely no immunity, we want nothing. What's the White House's definition of what immunity means and where do you stand on immunity?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we have set forth in the kind of specific detail you're looking for our exact views on liability. On a general proposition, we've suggested that liability is not something that we initially see as being central to a comprehensive approach to tobacco. We've said that if liability caps or limits on liability were included in any comprehensive legislation, we would look at it see if we had achieved our overall public health objectives before we would render any kind of endorsement.
Q Mike, the President asked Congress to pass this bill in 70 days and you're saying you don't even have a view on liability here at the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our view is, as the President has said, Scott, is that liability doesn't necessarily have to be a part of a comprehensive approach that would meet the President's public health goals. If it were included, we would have to judge and see how closely the remainder of the bill, or the other provisions of the bill, achieve the President's public health objectives.
Q To follow up on that, if I may, why is it reasonable to ask the Congress to pass such a massive piece of legislation in 70 days?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they've had far longer than 70 days to consider it, Scott. This has been the subject of hundreds of hours of testimony on the Hill, thousands of pages of testimony. We have -- there's been considerable scientific and public analysis that's been brought to bear on it. It's time to get on with passing the bill. It's not like we just sort of plopped this down and said, pass it in 70 days. This has been -- they've been at work at this for more than a year now.
Q Mike, a follow-up. Groups like the American Lung Association say any limit on liability is a deal breaker. Is that the White House's view?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Our views on that are, as we said before, it's not necessarily a deal breaker, although we don't necessarily favor it. We'd want to look and see in what context any liability limits were included in the bill.
Okay, see you all.
END 2:20 P.M. EST