THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EST
Q Are we going to get Sandy Berger at some point?
MR. MCCURRY: He's going to brief tomorrow. Secretary Albright spoke at 11:00 a.m. today out at Fort Mason and gave you a good overview of African policy. How many people need something today on Africa and can't wait until tomorrow? Why don't I just utter some words here that will hold you until you can hear a real briefer like Sandy Berger tomorrow?
The President is, obviously, looking forward to this trip to Africa, which will certainly be an historic one. It will be the most extensive trip to Africa ever by an American President. He will be the first sitting President to visit each country that is on the itinerary -- Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Botswana, and Senegal.
The key focus of the President's trip is really to celebrate the renaissance that is the African Continent today. It will spotlight the changes that have occurred there over the course of the last decade -- democracy spreading throughout the region, economic reform empowering a growing private sector, providing opportunities for Africa's citizens to enjoy the prospects of a higher quality of life; leaders and citizens now making real progress in addressing what remains very vexing social and economic problems.
In the 1990s, the number of democracies in sub-Sahara Africa almost quadrupled, and now half the region's 48 countries freely choose their leaders. As countries have embraced economic reform, opening markets, privatizing enterprises, stabilizing currencies, growth in sub-Sahara Africa has more than tripled since 1990. I think the figure for 1996 and 1997 is now roughly 4 percent average economic growth in sub-Sahara Africa. And because of that, we believe that the region of sub-Sahara Africa represents one of the great vast potential markets for goods and services exported from the United States.
Obviously, in the view of the President, it would be much better to have economic partners in Africa rather than depending on relationships that go one way and primarily through economic aid. I think most Americans are familiar with the work we've had to do in the past to deal with compelling disasters like famine or the results of natural disasters in Africa. Those humanitarian missions are always costly, and far preferable would be an economic relationship in which we are heavily engaged with the growing entrepreneurial class in Africa to build a self-sustaining economic base while continuing to support those types of development and assistance programs that are necessary for the livelihood of those who can't immediately share in the benefits of a growing economy.
There are nearly 700 million people south of the Sahara, and because of the commerce we already have with them, U.S. trade with Africa grew 20 percent -- or is already 20 percent larger than the trade we have with the states of the Former Soviet Union. So the potential is there for an economic relationship that could be one of the most important relationships we have as we look ahead to the 21st century. The average annual return on investment in Africa exceeds 30 percent, but far from the full potential that we've got. We currently only supply about 7 percent of what Africa imports. So the obvious conclusion is the United States has every reason in the world to be much more heavily involved.
While the President is in Africa, because of the enormous potential that exists there, his remarks and his presentations will focus on programs that can both support democracy and prosperity. There will be a lot of discussion about the President's trade initiative in which you've heard administration officials talk about in the past, but clearly the President will be echoing that during the trip. There will be initiatives on education, the rule of law, food security, trade and investment, aviation and conflict resolution.
Obviously, the portion of the President's trip that falls in Uganda and Rwanda will deal very directly with those conflicts that could potentially threaten the prosperity and progress that we see in Africa. He will visit Rwanda to meet with survivors of the genocide in the Great Lakes region and to convene in Uganda a meeting of the region's leaders to advance cooperation on conflict and prevention, democratic participation, human rights promotion and economic integration.
Then he goes on to the balance of his trip, which Mr. Berger will brief you on in greater detail tomorrow as he kind of lays out the objectives for each stop. But you will quickly see that the overall goal of the trip is to foster what could potentially be one of the most important new relationships we have in the world as we think about America's presence in the world in the 21st century.
One final note: People here in the United States -- and there is a keen interest in this trip, particularly among schoolchildren who study Africa or have Africa as part of whatever curricula they're pursuing -- there will be an opportunity to follow this trip on the Internet and you can reach real -- sort of follow the President's progress on the map, real time, at www.whitehouse.gov/Africa, which is our Web site for the President's trip. There will be posted on there the President's schedule every day, copies of speeches he's given.
The White House photographers, Bob McNeely, are going to arrange to have some of the pictures of the President's trip posted up there so people can follow it. And there will be background material and resource material for teachers who want to use that site to incorporate materials in the classroom as they study the individual countries that the President is going to.
We're going to launch this web site, by the way, tomorrow here locally at an elementary school, the Margaret Amadon Elementary School in Southwest Washington. There are kids who are in a sister school arrangements with kids in Dakar, Senegal, and they are going to actually travel to Africa at the end of the President's trip and link up and be a part of the President's event when he's in Dakar.
Q What time is Berger briefing tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: He will -- do we have a time tomorrow -- 11:00 a.m. tomorrow.
Q Is there any relationship between the President's trip and his race initiative?
MR. MCCURRY: There is directly. One of the things that the President stresses in the race initiative is economic empowerment and the need for Americans to recognize the incredible opportunities that come from opening doors to people who have historically been left out or discriminated from opportunities for leadership in our private economic here.
You've heard the President a lot talk about diversity and what diversity means to our presence in this world as we look ahead to the 21st century. By that, the President thinks of the kinds of opportunities that will come when we see African-American CESs here in the United States or African-Americans who have worked their way through the corporate ladder, going to Africa, engaging with their counterparts as part of this new effort.
It is uniquely, the President believes, a possibility for America that we can help lead this global economic revolution by using that diversity, that we are -- as we reach out to these regions of the world that are beginning to expand, beginning to emerge from the shackles of underdevelopment and economic impoverishment that they have suffered for generations. So in that sense, there is a real connection.
Q Can you give us an idea of the congressional delegation or those that are going to accompany -- I mean, is the President's secretary, Betty Currie, going to be going with the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to the second. I know that they are finalizing the delegation list that will certainly include members of Congress, members of the administration and leaders from the U.S. business community who are part of this effort to engage economically in Africa. We expect to have the delegation list by the time Sandy briefs tomorrow, if not sometime later on today.
Q Now, why hasn't he been able to go there before now, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's had -- every year we have extensive travel commitments depending on the series of annual summits we do -- APEC, the G-7/G-8, other things we have done in connection with NATO, the President's series of meetings with President Yeltsin and others. He's never had, quite frankly, the opportunity to do a serious, substantive trip to Africa, and the President has often said that he regrets that in the first term he wasn't able to go. I think he thinks it's all the more important because of the serious potential that Africa represents to try to make this trip one in which Americans come to understand better the enormous potential that exists on the Africa Continent, and certainly in the sub-Sahara.
Q Does the President take part in that web site launching tomorrow? Does he go to that school?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We'll have some -- probably some Cabinet-level folks will be out there to participate.
Q On another foreign policy story --
MR. MCCURRY: Let me do one more -- just one other on my dime before we move on.
The President will -- as far as tomorrow, he does want to do something to mark the importance and significance of the debate now underway in the Senate on NATO expansion and ratification. He will have an event in the East Room tomorrow at about 12:30 p.m. which will include members of his national security team, the Diplomatic Corps, members of Congress, probably a number of others. And the President wants to take that opportunity to put his own personal message of importance or attach his own measure of importance to the historic opportunity that exists to expand the frontiers of democracy and freedom in Europe by engaging with our three new potential NATO allies.
Q Isn't that pretty much a done deal, I mean with Jesse Helms on board?
MR. MCCURRY: It is perhaps a done deal and certainly the indications from the Senate are that this major initiative which the President now has patiently pursued for four years is going to come to a successful result very soon. Regardless of that, given the historic significance of expanding this treaty alliance, which is arguably the most important treaty alliance in the history of the human race, given the importance of that moment which we take on three new allies, the President wants to address it prior to his departure.
Q There's a story on AP that Madeleine Albright is recommending the President permit direct flights to Cuba to resume to expand delivery of humanitarian relief.
MR. MCCURRY: In the wake of the Pope's visit, there has been a lot of consideration in our government about how we can address some of the real humanitarian needs of the people of Cuba who have suffered under the yoke of totalitarianism for far too long, even as we try to bring about the sort of peaceful change that we foresee as part of our policy towards Cuba, which will remain unchanged.
We will, and do, strongly believe that the basic elements of our policy to promote a peaceful transition are those which have the best prospect of bringing about the kind of change that we want in Cuba. And that includes economic pressure, including the embargo on the Libertad Act, support for the Cuban people, an independent civil society and multilateral efforts to bring about democratic change, including working with others who, even if they disagree with some aspects of U.S. policy, including the embargo, certainly share the objective of a democratic regime in Cuba committed to the principles of democracy and market economics.
All the central basic elements of our policy are going to remain in place. But as Secretary Albright has said in her conversation with the Pope recently, we were deeply impressed by the Pope's expression of concern for the humanitarian suffering of the people of Cuba and there have been some efforts underway in our government to address that. I expect that there will be some decisions to announce on that shortly.
Q Do you think that will be announced tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule that out.
Q And basically, are you confirming that this has been the recommendation of Secretary Albright to resume the direct flights?
MR. MCCURRY: There have been a number of recommendations from the Secretary and a number of ideas considered here at the White House in the interagency process, and there will be several things that I think that the President will address tomorrow.
Q Will he do that at that same NATO event that you're talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he's not -- I'm not sure that he will do that in person. In fact, I think Secretary Albright because she has been so directly engaged, will be most likely the person speaking to this.
Q Is this one of the options under consideration?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into the specifics of the recommendations that the President might move forward with.
Q If he does allow direct flights to resume, does that mean that the incident where they shot down the U.S. plane -- that that's over with?
MR. MCCURRY: That tragic murder of innocent civilians by the Cuban government has been the impediment to more productive and fruitful relations with the government of Cuba and remains and impediment. It is the basis in some part for the policies that I just described to you a minute ago, including those efforts like the Helms-Burton Act and the embargo, which were designed to bring further economic pressure to bear on this regime that is so callous and so brutal not only to others, but to its very own people.
Q What does this do to Helms-Burton and the embargo, can you tell us anything?
MR. MCCURRY: There's nothing about the Cuban Democracy Act or Helms-Burton that would preclude some of the ideas that have been under consideration.
Q Mike, today the Russians have said that they would not support sanctions against Serbia. Doesn't this make it difficult to use the sanctions weapon to get Milosevic to cease and desist in Kosovo?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have expressed themselves on the ideas that have been under consideration partly as a result of the deliberations of the Contact Group. The Contact Group will meet in Bonn on March 25th at the Minister's level, chaired by Secretary Albright, and there will be a thorough opportunity to review compliance or lack of compliance by President Milosevic with those obligations that have been presented to him by the international community and conveyed by the unanimous decision of the Contact Group.
The Russian Federation can speak for itself on the utility of certain types of sanctions, but I think our thinking is well known, and some of the steps that were predicted and foreseen when the Contact Group met early in March certainly could apply if there is continued refusal on the part of the President of Serbia to meet his obligations.
Q Mike, back on Cuba. You indicated, or at least the sense was that if the Pope had not visited Cuba we wouldn't have seen this movement. Is that true?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that that's necessarily the case, but I think that it's certainly the case that his trip brought into sharper focus some of the concerns that we have here in the United States and others in the world community share.
Q Mike, what's the White House reaction to these plans by Hyde and Gingrich to make arrangements to visit Starr and see this material?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's premature -- would be a gentle way of expressing some mystification of why they would leap to that process. There's so much work for this Congress to be doing at this point that one wonders why they don't set up a committee to convene immediate discussions about the President's child care initiative, why they aren't taking seriously the efforts to deal with classroom size, investments in higher education, why aren't they moving forward immediately on some of the proposals to expand health care opportunities, Medicare availability for people. There's so much on this nation's agenda that this Congress has not directly addressed.
And since in any event, the speculation is months and months until this becomes a real live question, why not work on the questions right now that are front and center that are of direct concern to the American people.
Q Yes, but isn't it prudent for them to prepare?
Q Worse than that, Mike, would the White House view it as a scouting party going up there, going to Starr's office, as interference with an investigation that's ongoing?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I don't want to characterize that. And I think House Republican leaders who have addressed this matter need to answer that kind of question themselves, and so does Mr. Starr. Our interest is seeing if we can't get that kind of anticipation and that kind of interest in moving forward directed to some of those things that the President put front and center in the State of the Union address that we think Americans are expecting action on -- and action on in this Congress and soon.
Q Campbell and Stevens' request for information on the funding of the Counsel's Office, et cetera, why didn't the White House send up the information? And what is your response to their threat to withdraw?
MR. MCCURRY: They have. If I understand correctly, Mr. Ruff has sent a very lengthy review of that to -- who did he send the letter to -- to Senator Campbell. It goes through in some detail the staffing pattern in the White House Legal Counsel's Office which has not changed from FY97 to FY98. It is roughly the same that it's been -- 34 regular slots, additional detailees to bring to a total of about 49 professionals. And it's not just lawyers; 49 professionals who work in that shop. That is still significantly smaller than the 65 who worked in that office during the height of Iran-Contra for President Bush. So, if anything, we are doing more with less than the previous administration. That has all been outlined in some detail in the letter that Mr. Ruff has sent to Senator Campbell.
Q Would you care to characterize this threat in any way?
MR. MCCURRY: It's politicizing an issue in which we could probably do with less politics.
Q How about releasing the letter?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check with Mr. Ruff and see if he has an interest in making that letter available. You might actually want to put that question to Jim Kennedy.
Q Have all the letters from Kathleen Willey from the White House been released, or are there certain letters that are not being released?
MR. MCCURRY: All of the letters that the lawyers were able to find in the correspondence records that would include the President's correspondence records have been released. The White House, whether or not she could have written to additional people or others at the White House, I imagine they will have to look through and see that. But in the short order in which they produced the letters that you have received, that is all that they were able to find, I am told.
Q Are the letters that go to the President's private zip code included in his correspondence records or is that a separate --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure how that correspondence is tracked and recorded.
Q The fact that the editor of the Star --
Q Can you find out?
MR. MCCURRY: I will see. I'm told that presidential correspondence management is a very large subject and there has been testimony on the Hill on it. I'll see if I can find that out. I don't know specifically how those directed to his own zip code are processed.
Q It's a straightforward enough request.
MR. MCCURRY: I just don't know and if there's anything I can find out about it, I will. Or, actually, why don't you see if Jim Kennedy can take that on.
Q The editor of the Star now says that he has had some on-again, off-again talks with Miss Willey about selling her story to the Star, but that didn't materialize, they couldn't agree on a number. What does that mean as far as her accusations against the President are concerned?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any knowledge of conversations that she may or may not have had with a tabloid to get money for that story and I just don't think it would be appropriate to comment.
Q Mike, on the subject of letters, William Ginsburg now says that he would welcome the release of letters or any correspondence between the President and his client. Does that change your thinking at all on this --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check with our lawyers and see if it does.
Q Do you have a reaction to that affidavit, Mike, from Julia Hyde Steele saying that Miss Willey asked her to lie?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Mike, Judge Lamberth, yesterday, in giving a pretty heavy sentence in the Espy case, said that he was trying to send a message, and he was clearly talking about Bob Bennett in the White House, that there should be a price to be paid for lying under oath, even in a civil case. Do you consider his comments appropriate, or do you think he went over the line?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that I can agree with your interpretation because I'm not sure who he was directing those comments to.
Q Ira Magaziner.
Q Howard Kurtz's book says -- quotes you as listening to reporters on the South Lawn on a hidden intercom. Do you do that very often?
MR. MCCURRY: No, you guys -- that's the squawk box. It's the stakeout squawk box that's on my desk that many of you listen to with me sometimes. I don't know why he described it as "hidden," because it's there in full view; you see it every morning. It's the same feed that you all listen to back in your booths.
Q Anything else on the book you want to dispute? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, any other thing? Yes.
Q On Northern Ireland -- how successful were the meetings here this week? Does the President feel he was able to bridge some of the gaps between the political parties?
MR. MCCURRY: The President felt very good about the response of each of the leaders that he talked to. He detected in them a real desire to try to bridge differences that exit and to get on with the business of making a peace. He also detected in them the historic differences that have made this so difficult. And to say that this is going to be a very complex, difficult series of discussions over the next several weeks is an understatement, but the President has enormous confidence in Prime Minister Blair, Prime Minister Ahern, great faith in Senator Mitchell's capacity as a facilitator in this dialogue and the President is quite hopeful. He thinks there's nothing that he heard that would indicate this will be an easy task, but certainly the President's conviction is that they heard him when he said that they need to do this now and they need to do it for the sake of the children of Ireland.
Q Do you have any reaction on the IMF bill?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't get anything, but I think that the NEC staff has got something that they can make available to you.
Q Mike, what's the meeting with King Hussein going to be about? Anything specific on the agenda?
MR. MCCURRY: It will be a discussion of the Middle East peace process and turning to another difficult and complex peace negotiation effort. It's a good opportunity to share the wisdom of His Majesty since he's here in the country and to get his personal assessment of what the parties can do at this point to get on with very difficult decisions that they will have to make if they are going to advance the dialogue critical to a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East.
Q Any chance of a readout on that meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: We will check with the NSC staff. Maybe we can get a few points. I don't anticipate anything lengthy because it's likely to be a conversation that the President is going to want to keep mostly private.
Q Is he going to go to the stakeout, do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't anticipate that.
Q How will you put it out? Will there be some sort of briefing available?
MR. MCCURRY: You can check with Anne, and the NSC staff will give you an idea.
Q Looking back on the 60 Minutes interview, do you believe it was a good piece of journalism?
Q I want to hear this.
MR. MCCURRY: First of all, I wish that CBS had -- I had asked CBS to try to make the full interview that Mr. Bennett gave to them available to news organizations that inquire, and CBS has declined that request. And I understand the reason. They say that they just don't make editorial out-takes available and they prefer to have the program speak for itself.
I think in this case that works against the interests of CBS News, because I think that the story as presented and the broadcast as presented perhaps didn't give viewers enough context to understand the full story.
Q Bennett can make a statement anytime he likes if he has something more to say on it, couldn't he?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that the nature of the questioning posed by Mr. Bradley and the information he shared would have been enlightening to viewers as they saw the full interview with Ms. Willey.
Q Why didn't Bennett record it himself? That's common with people who sit down with 60 Minutes.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I didn't think of asking that as a ground rule, and I didn't anticipate a problem getting the full transcript afterwards.
Q Do you feel that Bennett -- can you say why he said in August that there was -- the President had no specific recollection of the meeting with Willey, and then the President now remembers it vividly and has a clear memory of it?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't. I think it's important to get it in the context. He thought that that was a question about --
MR. LOCKHART: He answered it on Larry King, so there is a transcript.
MR. MCCURRY: There is a transcript on Larry King in which Mr. Bennett addressed that directly.
Q The White House Briefing Room web site hasn't been updated since last Friday. Any reason why your briefings haven't been made available this week?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea, no. Can we check on that?
Q It doesn't bode well for Africa, does it? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. They've been doing the Africa web site.
Q Mike, also, last Friday in the briefing you said that the announcement of the dates for the China trip would come out Monday. It's now Thursday. Is there a hitch?
MR. MCCURRY: It's these guys right down here. Them.
Q So what happened?
MR. MCCURRY: Soon, they say. We anticipate that very shortly.
Q Mike, did you feel there should have been questions on 60 Minutes about Willey's motivation?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to -- I think I would rather say, as I said, that additional reporting and going a little slower in checking things out always gives people more context in which they can present an accurate story to their readers, their viewers, their listeners. And sometimes in the kind of environment we're in, people rush to report things before they have a chance to do the kind of legwork that provides for better journalism. I think that's a gentler way of saying what I think.
Q Mike, without regard to whom Judge Lamberth was referring to, do you have an objection to his statement that perjury in civil cases should be taken very seriously in legal terms?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not a lawyer. I know that there's been a debate in the legal community about to what degree that is prosecuted, what the history is of prosecution. I'll leave it to legal experts to comment.
Q The letters and other materials that you released on Ms. Willey -- letters -- have they been subpoenaed now?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I haven't heard anything to indicate that, but you should probably double-check with Jim Kennedy on that.
Q Follow up on Wolf's question. Did you say that you were going to see if there were additional letters and other files?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know for a fact the legal counsel is checking to do a full document review. They may not if they have not received any requests for those kinds of documents from any investigative body. But they were able -- they're reasonably confident they looked and found anything that was direct back and forth from the President.
Q Given that the President now knows more than he did possibly last Sunday, is he still mystified at why Willey said what she did?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything that would change the President's initial characterization.
Q Mike, we never did get an answer on the question of whether the President played a role in having her shifted from the Correspondence Office. Can you check that, or have you? And have we gotten any correspondence --
MR. MCCURRY: If there's any answer to be given on that, Mr. Kennedy will give it. And I'm not aware that he's giving any answer on that.
Q Wait a minute, in terms of the correspondence, can we also rest assured that we have any correspondence that the President sent to anybody else at the White House about Ms. Willey?
MR. MCCURRY: I can only vouch for what they provided, and I'll check what and see what the Counsel's Office has put out.
Q Is the President going to Gridiron on Saturday?
MR. MCCURRY: He certainly plans to, yes.
Q On the Gingrich-Hyde agreement, is the President worried about the possibility of impeachment proceedings being launched in the House?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen him worried about that, no. Okay, thanks.
END 1:46 P.M. EST