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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 13, 1998
                          PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                            MIKE MCCURRY 

The Briefing Room

2:05 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Thanks to all my colleague briefers who have been out here today, and a special thanks to Professors Joseph, Ottaway, and Lyons, who were very enlightening -- the part that I saw, and I intend to go back and read the transcript. I know those of you who were here appreciated it, and so did we.

Q Why isn't he taking any of them to Africa, instead of Jesse Jackson?

MR. MCCURRY: He's taking a lot of -- there will be a considerable delegation going to Africa that includes a lot of people that are smart, knowledgeable and have got a great deal of wisdom from experience on Africa, including Reverend Jackson, who is our Special Envoy for the promotion of democracy in Africa.

Q Is he taking a delegation of businessmen?

MR. MCCURRY: There will be some business leaders I think accompanying the President as well.

Q Vernon Jordan?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard of Vernon going.

That's it. So we're done?

Q Mike, does this administration consider or regard Saddam Hussein as a war criminal?

MR. MCCURRY: This administration has not formally joined in any such charges, but especially in light of the Senate resolution that has passed, that is certainly -- you certainly could make a good argument that he deserves that designation. And we are going to study the resolution passed by the Senate carefully.

Q So you support the resolution?

MR. MCCURRY: I said we're going to study it very carefully.

Q Will the President had no comment on the Paula Jones depositions that are going to be released this afternoon?

MR. MCCURRY: He will not. He will rely on his attorney, Mr. Robert Bennett, to do so, and I understand Mr. Bennett will be available in California later this afternoon.

Q Well, were here.

MR. MCCURRY: He's there.

Q Did he discuss -- does he know what's in all of this that's going to be discussed by Bennett and so forth?

MR. MCCURRY: Not precisely, because they are releasing it apparently later this afternoon.

Q Do you know why this second White House intern that we hear about has been summoned before the grand jury?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that a second White House intern has been summoned, but in any event, Mr. Starr's office would have to answer that question. I can't.

Q Well, I understand, but her attorney says it's quite a story there. And I don't have any idea what he's talking about and I wondered if you did.

MR. MCCURRY: Neither do I.

Q Gerry Adams --

MR. MCCURRY: He will be -- I believe he's coming to town today, if I am not mistaken, with some other participants from Sinn Fein and some of the deliberations that will occur around here. The President, during the course of the day on Tuesday will probably meet with most of the leaders of the parties that are here. He certainly plans to see John Hume, David Trimble, Gary McMichael. There are other leaders of some of the groups that have been active in and around the search for peace in Northern Ireland, and he will be meeting with them as well.

Q Gerry Adams is on that list?

MR. MCCURRY: Adams will be on that list and I expect that during the course of the day we'll see him. We'll know better on Monday exactly how we're going to sequence the visits, and then, of course, they will all be here for the reception Tuesday evening.

Q Those will be separate meetings or --

MR. MCCURRY: He'll meet with them separately. And they will have other sessions while they're here. I imagine they're going to want to see Mr. Berger and Mr. Steinberg, as well.

Q Mike, does the President have any reaction to Joe Kennedy's announcement?

MR. MCCURRY: I expect very shortly the President will have a statement in his own words, but I know it will pay a tribute to Congressman Kennedy's 12 years of really incredible service for the people of Massachusetts and the people of this country. He has in his work in the House demonstrated a commitment to the needs of working families and how their lives can be improved. He has been especially vigorous in leading on questions related to the provision of low-cost energy in parts of the country where that is especially important. He's been, of course, a member of the House Banking and Financial Services Committee, and has done a great deal to expand the availability of credit to working Americans so that they can buy homes and open businesses. He's -- really through his efforts, I think it's safe to say that he's provided hundreds of thousands of people in this country the opportunity to enjoy the American Dream of home ownership. He's been a member of the Veterans Committee and has worked for a stronger, more effective veterans health care system.

He is especially to be commended for the work he's done on the Persian Gulf War health effects that many veterans of the war suffer. He has in the area of foreign affairs, been an outspoken and vigorous voice on exactly the issue we were just talking about, the search for peace in Northern Ireland. His leadership in Haiti, Germany and Armenia have all been things that we have appreciated.

Q Did the President talk to him before his --

MR. MCCURRY: I think that it's safe to say that the President has considered him one of his most loyal allies in the House. And I know the President and all Americans will miss his service in the House of Representatives.

Q Well, considering how productive he has been, does the President think it's a shame that the personal situation has caused Kennedy to leave?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he addressed his reasons for leaving and he did so eloquently. And I think his statement should speak to that.

Q Did he talk to the President about it beforehand?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check and see whether -- I know the President will certainly be talking to him, but I don't know whether they talked beforehand.

Q Mike, has the White House been able to confirm wire reports saying that North Korea has begun a wartime mobilization?

MR. MCCURRY: Every year at about this time they have an annual winter military exercise. And there are different patterns of activities that associate with those exercises. We're seeing a lot that is consistent with what they have done each and every year around about this time. I'm not aware of any particular cause for concern or alarm in our government, but as we always do, we monitor as best we can in a society of that nature -- we monitor as best we can the military movements that we do see.

Q Did you hear the President's answer on Russia today?

MR. MCCURRY: Sure did.

Q I couldn't tell whether he said that the Duma had to ratify the START II before he would go, or whether this is in --

MR. MCCURRY: He obnubilated just the way I did yesterday.

Q He what? (Laughter.)

Q You mean that he might --

MR. MCCURRY: He made it very clear that he's interested in seeing START II ratified. He made it very clear that he expects START III and further work at arms reduction to be a centerpiece of his next summit meeting. And obviously, I would say that --

Q Oh, so that means he won't go unless he get --

MR. MCCURRY: Obviously, it would be much to the advantage of the work the two Presidents are going to do in the area of arms control if the Duma has ratified START II.

Q Why don't you just say it? Why don't you just say it?

MR. MCCURRY: Because there may -- we're not necessarily ruling out the -- I mean we need to meet with Yeltsin and we need to continue the work that we're doing. But we certainly want to see the Duma ratify START II.

Q These are his words. He said, after the Russian Duma ratified -- and then he said, if the Duma should decide to do that. He seemed to make his future visit conditional on those two --

MR. MCCURRY: And for good reason did he address things that way.

Q But I thought he was fairly clear that --

Q Yes, I agree. He was saying very clearly.

Q He said the same thing in December.

MR. MCCURRY: That's right. Terry's right, he said the same thing in December.

Anyone going to this event, the escort is going to be outside that door right there.

Q Kosovo -- we asked this morning and you said you might have something on whether the United States would, as Secretary Albright suggested, actually use military force is Kosovo.

MR. MCCURRY: I checked into that and she did not actually suggest it. She said that as much as the President and others have said that there are other options we have not ruled out any options.

Q Also, on foreign, you said you might check and see whether China -- and since the President mentioned China last night that -- whether that is official now?

MR. MCCURRY: We are not officially going to announce the dates until we've got -- I mean, we're not going to officially announce the trip until we've got the dates nailed down, which I'm told we will probably be able to do by Monday or so. But, obviously, the President has indicated we are going in the time frame that's been suggested, late June. But we'll give you the exact dates on Monday.

Q And on Africa, the President last night mentioned he was about to leave for Africa. No President has ever made a serious trip to Africa. Does that include his Democratic predecessor?

MR. MCCURRY: No, no. He was talking about -- to my knowledge, no President has visited these countries that he will see in the sub-Sahara before.

Q That's what he meant by "nobody's made a serious trip"?

MR. MCCURRY: He did not mean to say that no President had made a serious trip to Africa --

Q Once the Paula Jones case is resolved and Ken Starr is no longer a threat --

MR. MCCURRY: Hallelujah. (Laughter.)

Q -- would you expect the President then to explain his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what to expect. I've addressed that question so many times here I'm getting tired of hearing myself say.

Q It's a serious question, Mike.

MR. MCCURRY: We will stand by the answer I have given over and over.

Q I'm not sure if that particular question has been put to you.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's the same question asked in different ways that I've answered many times.

Q I'm trying to eliminate the things that we believe prevent him from speaking to the issue now.

MR. MCCURRY: If you can eliminate those things, well to your credit. Thank you. (Laughter.)

Q At the risk of adding to the aforementioned fatigue, do you see any possibility that the President might clear up some of these lingering questions before he embarks on his trip to South Africa?

MR. MCCURRY: I think he has cleared up the questions that are central in the minds of most Americans and addressed them already. I don't know that there -- I think there are lingering questions that you have, but I know of no plans that the President has to address the matter in any greater detail.

Q But he said he would. He made the promise in the Oval Office.

MR. MCCURRY: Look, we've been through this many times. I don't have anything new on that.

Q What, am I wrong? Did he not say it?

MR. MCCURRY: We've been through this same issue many times before.

Q Because he said he was going to --

MR. MCCURRY: We've been through the same issue many times before.

Q But, Mike, the difference is that you're not changing your answer.

MR. MCCURRY: I'll come back, David.


Q Does the White House have any role at all on the reassignment of Ms. Tripp at the Pentagon?

MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. I'd have to look into that.

Q The difference is that you're not changing your answer. You're saying, we have answered the questions that we need answered.

MR. MCCURRY: Get the transcript for me, and I'll give you the same answer I've given to this many, many times before.

Q Is that the answer, that you have answered?

MR. MCCURRY: We've probably not a day and a half goes by where we don't go into the same sequence of questions and you hear the same answers from me.

Q Because you never answer.

Q You don't deny that the President said he would?

MR. MCCURRY: I've given you the same answer over and over again.

Q The President said sooner rather than later.

MR. MCCURRY: Please revisit my transcripts, I've addressed this over and over.

Q On today's legal filing, does the President feel any discomfort or even dread by having some of his deposition released?

MR. MCCURRY: He's a human being and he has a human reaction when we reads stuff like that, sure.

Q What are those reactions?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to detail it further.

Q Mike, can you tell us if there was a meeting this morning with Erskine Bowles and --

MR. MCCURRY: The conference?

Q No, no, no, Rockefeller and Slade Gorton on the product liability --

MR. MCCURRY: He did. Senator Gorton and Senator Rockefeller were here. They met with Mr. Bowles, Sally Katzen, the Deputy at the National Economic Council, and a number of others on product liability issues. I'm not aware that they resolved any of the issues that they've been working on, but they did work. And we will continue to work closely, especially with Senator Rockefeller, who's been an outspoken and tireless advocate for reform.

Q Mike, since this Lewinsky story broke, the President has been at Camp David five weekends of the last eight. Why?

MR. MCCURRY: He likes it up there.

Q Well, it's a new liking.

MR. MCCURRY: You've asked in the past. He started going up to Camp David prior to this episode, as you all know, and he has been going up there because he enjoys spending time up there. They didn't have many opportunities to go up when they had a teenage daughter here at the house with them, and there's not a great deal for a teenage daughter to do at Camp David. So they enjoy going up there now that they can go up there and they enjoy entertaining up there and they tend to have their friends and others up there.

Q What does he do up there?

MR. MCCURRY: Whatever Presidents do up at Camp David. I've never been there.

Q Mike, this Paula Jones response apparently mentions 14 Jane Does. I mean, does the President resent this kind of rampage of his personal --

MR. MCCURRY: The President's attorney will have a statement at 4:30 p.m. for you.

Q Mike, could you just tell us where that is? It's in California, but where is it?

MR. MCCURRY: It's in California. Joe's got the address if you need it. It's at the Skadden, Arps office in Los Angeles.

Q Mike, could you tell us a little more about the reason for King Hussein's visit this coming Thursday?

MR. MCCURRY: He is in the country on a private trip. But, as he often does when he is here, and if he has the occasion to be in Washington, the President likes to spend time with him. They compare notes on the status of the Middle East peace process. They'll sometimes talk about matters specific to U.S.-Jordanian relations. The President always appreciates the King's very wise counsel, his assessment of events. And particularly at this time, when we are trying to encourage parties to make difficult decisions, the King's thinking on how we can best guide them to the wisdom necessary to make those decisions will be very much appreciated.

Q But let me return to this other subject. The President said quite clearly that the American people had a right to know the answers and that he, at the proper time, as he put it, he would address that, and he hoped it would be sooner than later. Now you're suggesting, wrong, he's got a different answer.

MR. MCCURRY: I've addressed that before, Sam, for the third or fourth time --

Q That's not an answer.

Q I don't think you have.

MR. MCCURRY: I've said that he expects -- I expect that he will address those legitimate questions at some point and I've said that to you over and over again. I just can't predict when. Wendell was trying to get into when, and I can't speculate for you. I don't know.

Q It's good that you repeated that.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's no different than what I've said at least a dozen times.

Q I'm not so much, Mike, trying to get into the "when" as I was trying to get into the "why not now."

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I have addressed that question, too. You know exactly why not now.

Q Is he prepared to go the remainder of his presidency without answering these questions?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't speculate when he might do it.

Q What signs of value does the President see in the Earth cam that Gore wants to hang in orbit?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Vice President will address that, and is addressing that, in Boston today. But among other things, there would be presumably some scientific usefulness and utility in that, as well as better understanding about weather conditions on Earth. And besides it would be awesomely cool. (Laughter.) Wouldn't you like to have that on your computer?

Q That's the answer.

MR. MCCURRY: That's the answer.

Q Screen saver?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Live from outer space, it's the Earth. (Laughter.)

Q Mike, should we construe that by his frequent visits to Camp David over the last couple of months that he just feels the need to get away from this place more than he had before?

MR. MCCURRY: I sure would feel that need, but I can't speak to that. I think they enjoy being up there and they like having their friends up there.

Q Does he read up there? I mean, do you know what he does?

MR. MCCURRY: I think he does all of the things that Presidents do up there. I have never been up there with him, so I can't describe it.

Q What are they?

MR. MCCURRY: They read, they walk in the woods, they hang out.

Q Besides Tony Blair, who has he had up there as guests?

MR. MCCURRY: I take the position when the President has got social guests with him he's entitled to privacy. And I've never released the list of people he has over at the residence for weekend stays. We did get into that when there was a particular need to do it with respect to campaign finance issues. But as a general practice, I give the Clintons their privacy. So whoever they have up there is their business.

Q On that point, Mike, that's the one place he can go where we have no idea who he's got up there. We have no way of monitoring. Does that have anything --

MR. MCCURRY: He has folks in here every single weekend to come visit with him and he entertains socially at the White House. And I don't advertise that and don't put it out because he's entitled to have those private guests that he wants to entertain.

Q Senate Democrats are ready to introduce a bill that is a little leaner than what the President has already offered, that will be unveiled next week. Senator Daschle said that the White House is supportive of the measure. Can you provide with any detailed --

MR. MCCURRY: I expect that we'll say more next week on that.

Q On tobacco?

MR. MCCURRY: No, this is health care, right?

Q This is the overall spending --

Q No, budget.

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, oh. No, this is the -- I thought they were doing the press conference today.

MR. TOIV: They did that today.

MR. MCCURRY: They did that today. The principles that are reflected in the budget alternative that they put forward today, if you look closely, are very, very consistent with the President's FY '99 budget proposal. And they reflect a lot of the same attitudes about the discipline, fiscal discipline that must go into the continued effort to keep our spending in check and keep the budget balanced. And I think it also reflects many of the priority values that the President drew up in his own budget.

Q How does the President feel about the transportation bill that passed the Senate, was it?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've obviously been working hard and testifying often on the Hill with respect the surface transportation bill. There's a lot more work to do on that bill. There are many things about the Senate-passed version that the administration would like to see addressed and remedied when it goes to the House. But there are a great number of things in the bill that we like.

Our chief concern is that it spends too much money. And the President wants to keep the final version of any surface transportation bill much more closely in line with his own budget proposal, which did call for an increase in spending even above the balanced budget agreement spending levels, but not nearly the kind of increase that they were talking about in the Senate.

Q Is he also concerned about the domestic programs that would be eliminated --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, one of them in particular -- we were very interested in getting money set aside for helping welfare recipients who are making that -- transferring to work situations, to give them some assistance with transportation needs. One of the things we know is that we have to be able to get people child care and we have to be able to get them to their place of work if we're going to help them get off of welfare and into work. So we surely want to work on that.

But there are a number of other concerns we have that have been reflected both in the testimony that we've given and also in the statements of administration policy that we've put forward, which we can get for you.

Q When will the President's embargoed radio address be made available?

MR. MCCURRY: Probably around 4:30 p.m., 5:00 p.m. -- in that neighborhood, would be my guess.

Q Mike, John Kasich has said, as far as the emergency spending bill, that every dollar should be offset with a dollar in spending cuts. What does the President think of that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they are moving to more direct accountability. There have been a lot of Republicans on the Hill that have wanted to spend money and not indicate where the money would come from, particularly in the tax cut area. But we have got our own, I think the moral equivalent of that, in our own FY '99 budget proposal in which we lay out where the money goes.

Q But this $2.5 billion emergency spending measure?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's emergency spending and that's subject to the normal budget rules. And that is not under longstanding budget policy -- correct me, Barry -- emergency supplemental appropriations are not offset under the pay as you go rules of the budget.

Q But every year the Republicans do what -- pay for the supplemental --

MR. MCCURRY: Why don't you come up, Barry, and you can address that. If you've got a budget expert, borrow him.

MR. TOIV: The Speaker and Majority Leader Lott, I believe, have both expressed support for doing these on an emergency basis.

Q Very good, Barry! (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: I called you up here for that? (Laughter.)

MR. TOIV: I was trying to yell it to you.

MR. MCCURRY: You were trying to prompt me there, so I could pin it back on Lott and Gingrich. Why don't you come back up and do the week ahead again? (Laughter.)

Q Mike, how long do you think it will take for the President to complete his study of the Senate resolution on Saddam?

MR. MCCURRY: I imagine that we will look at that, and given the significance of it, have some additional discussions elsewhere, too, on it.

Q -- Thailand looked to the U.S. to reduce its military spending in a way to strengthen its economy. Does the U.S. foresee any actions with other Asian countries as they resolve their economic difficulties?

MR. MCCURRY: I think we'd have to look at that on a case-by-case basis. I think there are specific reasons why, in the case of the FA-18s transaction, we could accommodate the government of Thailand and given their situation. But remember, one of the reasons was the determination that Prime Minister Chuan has had in promulgating and implementing his own economic reform program. That is something of a model. And to the degree that that attitude is prevalent elsewhere in Asia, and when there are regional economies that have those needs, that could be considered. But it would still, nonetheless, have to be case by case.

Q Well, does it turn out that we then build exactly the same planes for exports that we use for our own arsenal? I'm surprised to hear that the Marines are planning to use the planes that were going to be sent to Thailand.

MR. MCCURRY: No, they are equipped differently. P.J. can tell you more.

COLONEL CROWLEY: The FA-18 has a couple different models. We are actually using a newer model, but we still have the older model in our inventory.

MR. MCCURRY: As a general practice, we get a lot more gizmos in the ones that we fly. But they can -- what they can do is use them for a lot of different purposes. There are different ways in which you could use a squadron of that nature -- for training, for other types of flights.

Q Is it reasonable to assume that in the absence of this arrangement, we would be replacing the Marine planes with a newer model as opposed to the older model?

MR. MCCURRY: If we were going out to buy the F-18, we would be getting a different model.

COLONEL CROWLEY: The export model will have different aviatics and other electronic gear on board than the model that our own military -- but the airframe would be the same.

Q Are they built yet?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't think so. I don't think so. They were probably -- it was originally -- what -- a $325 million contract -- $400 million, in that neighborhood. So the package, the offset that we're giving them is worth about $250 million. So I assume some of it was in stream, but the Pentagon can tell you -- the Pentagon is the best place to go to get more on the transaction.

Q Will there be a supplemental bill needed to pay for this $250 million, or is this going to come out of existing Defense Department expenditures?

MR. MCCURRY: That's a good question, because the original transaction -- we'll have to check on the details here. P.J. can probably run that down for you very quickly.

Q Is the President required to do anything about the Saddam resolution?

MR. MCCURRY: It's a sense of the Senate resolution, so not technically. But we are going to look at it.

Q Along that point, are there political or foreign policy implications with this resolution that keeps the White House from saying, you bet Saddam is a war criminal?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, suggesting that someone is a war criminal in the name of the United States government requires us to do some very specific things at the International War Crimes Tribunal. We would have to take that argument to The Hague. It is a question of international law at that point. The Senate can pass a sense of the Senate resolution; it has no practical legal effect. But I think the United States government, to make that declaration, we'd most likely want to do it in concert with others. And that's why it deserves a careful review and probably some further diplomatic work before we do an off-the-top-of-our-head assessment.

Q You said a case could be made for trying him as an international war criminal earlier. Why is that?

MR. MCCURRY: Because of what Saddam Hussein has done to his people and to his neighbors. I mean, you've heard us over and over again about his use of weapons of mass destruction against his own populations. I mean, I think one could argue that he is -- his refusal for 18 months to even begin considering using the U.N. facility to sell oil so that he could provide food and medicine to his children is if not a war crime, is an unspeakable injustice and tragedy and deserves to be dealt with. And it has been dealt with firmly by our government.

Q Mike, earlier today the President said that this latest episode with this expanded sale by China to Iran and Pakistan was a triumph for the new relationship between the U.S. and China. If it was such a success, why did the administration take such pains to keep it secret until today?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we did. But if you look very carefully you'll see that some of it involves intelligence matters. And those of us who work in government take seriously our obligation to protect national security information.

Q Well, if that also affect our decision about what we do in Geneva next week?

MR. MCCURRY: There are a lot of different factors that go into that, and I talked a little bit yesterday about the decision by the People's Republic to sign the International Covenant -- that clearly is going to have a significant impact. We're at the final stages of putting together our instructions for the delegation in Geneva, and I think all of that will have an impact.

Q -- really went farther than you did yesterday and said the signature will affect our decision, clearly suggesting that you are getting ready to --

MR. MCCURRY: I concur with his statement. I agree with that.

Q -- military --

MR. MCCURRY: No, I haven't gotten anything on that. I don't know that we are in that dispute, nor intend to get into that dispute one way or another.

Q -- on the issue of whether J. Carter Brown --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that we are in that dispute one way or another.

Q At one of the DNC events last night the President said that no other President has ever made a serious trip to Africa --

MR. MCCURRY: We already did that.

Q Is declaring him a war criminal officially sort of make him a fugitive? I mean, does it indicate that the international community has to sort of call him before a court?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it has different applicability. I mean, you know exactly -- you've seen exactly how it works with respect to the indicted war criminals in Bosnia, but there are specific applications of the Dayton Accords that apply there. I think there are different when someone has been so declared by the tribunal or when they are sought for justice -- different procedures and ways in which they bring it. But you'd have to have -- P.J. points out you do have to have a specific resolution of the U.N. in order to pursue it.

Q If you pursue this --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think there are a number of issues you'd want to look at. That's why we're looking at it carefully.

Q But it's the U.S. position that it might be potentially damaging --

MR. MCCURRY: Just as there are obligations to those who are in leadership positions in Bosnia, despite the fact that they're still there, you don't become unencumbered of any obligations you have under international law, despite whatever status you have in front of a tribunal.

Q On the Italian tragedy, did we ever respond -- did you every respond to the government of Italy? Has the U.S. outright rejected their request to try the Marines there?

MR. MCCURRY: That issue is still pending and will be addressed at the State Department eventually, I think.

Okay. Thank you.

2:35 P.M. EST