THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Cape Town, South Africa) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release March 26, 1998
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Civic Center Cape Town, South Africa
6:41 P.M. (L)
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm here to serve no useful purpose -- because I was going to tell you about the President's meeting with Deputy President Mbecki and since the Deputy President and the President told you about their meeting, I'm not sure there's a lot to add to that. But I just thought I'd check and see if there's any clean-up we need to do.
Q Why was he so concerned about swapping aid for trade and -- can you address that?
MR. MCCURRY: The question is about the issue of trade versus aid. I think the President put it well when he responded to that direct question himself. He said it's, for us, a question of trade and aid. We foresee substantial reason to believe that assistance from the United States will be necessary to help economies in Africa, and particularly sub-Sahara Africa to achieve their potential.
But as the President has said often on this trip, the best way for the United States to render help is to help those who are actively engaged in helping themselves. And the purpose of our trade initiative and the work we're doing with the legislation pending in Congress now is to build that type of relationship in which both sets of economies can prosper and can enjoy the mutual benefits of commercial relationships that involve exchange of goods and services between our two economies. That holds the best promise for the 21st century.
And even as we will need to address both humanitarian concerns and concerns related to sustainable development into the future, the President would elect to put emphasis on the importance of building strong, vibrant, growing economies in Africa that will help create a new economic quality of life for the citizens here.
Q Any idea why there were so many missing members of Parliament today, and who they were?
MR. MCCURRY: The question was about the missing seats. I asked some of the people who work in the Parliament and so did some others. We're not aware that there was any organized protest. Our understanding is that this is the last legislative session before the Parliament's Easter break and, not unlike our own Congress, apparently some members elected to go back to their districts as soon as they finished business earlier today.
Q On the Jonesboro, Arkansas, shooting, is the President planning on doing anything about that?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, as you know, has instructed the Attorney General to take a serious look substantively at what we can learn about various episodes we've seen, including the killings in Jonesboro.
Obviously, because he is very familiar with that community and knows so many people in Jonesboro, he's been personally troubled by what the community is experiencing. His heart is with the victims and their families. And I imagine that he will be doing some additional telephoning back to Arkansas either in the course of today or tomorrow, which we can tell you about after it happens, just to touch base with community leaders and others who are struggling to deal with this tragedy.
Q Mike, do you know if Mrs. Clinton has made any contact with people in Jonesboro as well?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know whether the First Lady has, but I can inquire of her staff on that.
Q Why didn't the President make some reference to the U.S. policy in the '80s and early '90s known as "constructive engagement," that many people criticized, and I believe the President as a candidate may have been among them as being one that aided apartheid rather than breaking it down?
MR. MCCURRY: President Clinton, as he has throughout this trip, has pitched his remarks and his thinking into the future. He's talked about the importance of building a new partnership with the governments of this region, including the government of the new South Africa. And he elected not to dwell on U.S. government policies of the past, but to build on the very constructive partnership that we now enjoy with governments in this region, especially the government here in South Africa.
There are so many different ways in which we're actively working to expand this partnership -- through the work of the binational commission and the other ways in which we have fostered a closer working relationship with the government of South Africa. And for the President, the future and the possibilities of the future are far more compelling than a recitation of the past.
Q Well, may I just follow it up? He dealt with slavery and he dealt with his own policy which he made clear he thought was wrong on genocide in Rwanda.
MR. MCCURRY: I know he did, Sam, and I think in the case of slavery he had ample reason to do so because that was a very unique scar in American history. And I think as far as promoting --
Q I think it's proper for you to make fun of my question, if you wish, or the way I ask it --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not making fun of the question, I'm making fun of the way you asked it. (Laughter.)
Q All right, I think it is proper to do that, because I thought it was pretty funny the way I asked it. But let me just ask you to give me a serious answer.
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's a serious question and I want to treat it seriously. There is much to be said about the history of U.S. relations with Africa, going back not only decades, but centuries. But the purpose of this trip is to underscore the fundamentally new opportunities that exist because of the transformation occurring here in Africa. And, not surprisingly, the President wants to keep a focus on those things that can build a brighter future for the people of South Africa and all Africa that will inure to the benefit of the countries here and, of course, to the people of the United States, as well.
Q Mike, you said yesterday that a part of the future of South Africa has to -- of Africa has to rely on justice. And he was particularly struck by the people who were victims of the genocide. What about those genociders who are in countries like the United States? Is President Clinton going to look into why they are still in the country and do something about bringing them to justice in Rwanda?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's a good question, and --start with a little bit of history. The question was about those who are believed to have participated in acts of genocide in the Great Lakes region and elsewhere, who ought properly to be brought to justice who are currently residing outside of Africa, even in some cases in the United States.
There was a case recently of one such individual that was addressed by a court in Texas. And, of course, in some cases there are judicial proceedings in whatever country that have to be respected and honored, as we've indicated we would do in that particular case.
But at the same time, there are 120,000 individuals who are believed connected to acts of genocide in the Rwanda episodes of 1994, and many of them are now in a position either to be incarcerated or dealt with in some fashion. Our focus has been on those who have been identified as leaders, particularly those that were connected to guerrilla factions in the Interhamwe. And I think, properly, we've put our stress on working with governments that are trying to get the organizers or the planners of such genocide dealt with first and foremost.
But through the work that the International Tribunal has done, the Bosnia/Central Africa Tribunal, there are opportunities to bring additional individuals to justice, and we can pursue those consistent with the judicial proceedings that exist in countries like the United States in which some of those individuals may be involved.
Q I want to get back to his treatment of history. It does seem that in some unscripted moments he has expressed regret or contrition for slavery, for U.S. Cold War policy -- what was the other one? Genocide. Can you talk a little bit about his thinking? Yes, the truth is supposed to be oriented toward the future, but it does seem in his unscripted moments he is thinking in terms of contrition or regret.
MR. MCCURRY: What the President had to say about genocide in Rwanda was far from unscripted -- that was deliberately planned. With regard to his comments on slavery, remember he addressed those as much to the people of Africa as the people of the United States. I mean, obviously, it has resonance for people to understand -- in the United States who understand that history, but I think it's particularly resonate here in Africa. And the President felt departure from his planned remarks to make that observation in the context in which President Museveni raised the issue was the proper way to address the issue.
Q The genocide comments, we're told that he, himself, ad-libbed the line about people like me sitting in offices, and now you're saying it was scripted.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he personalized the speech based on what was a very emotional experience, but it did not differ in any substantial respect from what he was prepared to say.
Q Back in Washington, the Republican Chairman said that this trip shows that Air Force One is up for sale again because of the people who were on, specifically, Maurice Tempelsman. Any reaction?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the plane that they took, that brought the delegation to South Africa last night -- may be some who traveled on it wish that it would go up for sale, based on the experience they had last night.
This is a large delegation that reflects two things: First, the very strong emphasis on this trip in trade and investment opportunities that exist, so it, of course, includes a large number of people from the private sector who are involved in commercial transactions with Africa. Obviously, some of them are political contributors. Some of them contribute to the Republican Party in excess to what they contribute to the Democratic Party. Some of them are strong financial supporters of the Democratic Party. But, regardless, they are all, in one way or another, involved in business transactions with Africa that will build a better future for workers and working families in the United States and, obviously, the people here in Africa as well.
Second, we've got a large number of members of Congress because there's considerable interest in Congress, particularly in the Congressional Black Caucus, in U.S.-South Africa relations. Third, the President wanted to make a very clear statement by including high-ranking African American members of both his Cabinet and his White House staff, to send the message that he talked about very overtly that in our country, as we have dealt with our history, we have now empowered people of minority backgrounds to be in authoritative positions and policy-making roles, decision-making roles, and that that sends a signal to the governments in this region and the people of this region about how seriously we take diversity.
So I think for all those reasons we have a delegation that is ample, but it is also a delegation that sends an important message.
Q How big is it?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. We gave you the delegation list, so however many that were on it.
Q The criteria you just outlined, how does Ron Burkle, the L.A. grocer --
MR. MCCURRY: He's involved -- take a look at a lot of the work that they do here, and he's also a contributor to the party. I mean, we make no bones about that.
Q He does work here?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe so. I can check further on that, but I believe that's the case.
Q Mike, the President keeps walking right up to the edge of apologizing for slavery. I mean, all of these words everybody is interpreting as, in effect, an apology for slavery. Why isn't it that he just won't do it? I mean, what's the big deal?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that that debate has become a distraction from what the purpose of the President's remarks and work is, which is to look ahead to the future and not to dwell unnecessarily on the past. He's addressed that matter sufficiently and directly and in a way that I think very few would quibble with, that slavery in America as an institution was wrong, and its impact not only in our own history, but on the history of this continent is profound and was woeful. And I think the President feels that having been sufficiently addressed, he now would like to move on to what we do to build the kind of future he has been talking about.
Q Mike, the fact that slavery is wrong was pretty much established with Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. I mean --
MR. MCCURRY: And the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments might be cited as well. You're correct. In our history this is an issue that I think Americans have dealt with, have come to terms with. And we detect very little interest among those who are interested in the kind of future the President has been talking about on this trip in dwelling on that question. I refer you to Reverend Jackson's remarks the other night. I think Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice gave a very good answer, too.
Q But he has already said -- he said before that slavery is wrong. What's new now?
MR. MCCURRY: You got a good question -- a good answer from Susan Rice the other night on that.
Q Can we go back to the delegation question for a moment?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q As I recall, when Secretary Daley came in, he instituted some new procedures, a review of how trade delegations would be chosen. Do you know for a fact that those procedures were followed in this case?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this is not a Commerce Department trade mission, so I don't think those rules necessarily apply to what is a presidential mission, but I think that the members of the delegation were carefully chosen. There was a lot of competition for available places, there were a lot of people who wanted to go who were not able to go. The President I think feels we've got a balanced, representative delegation who is here.
And we make no apologies for the fact some of them are political supporters of the President. That's not unusual, and that's been a practice in past White Houses. And we make no apologies for the fact that we brought a large number of White House staff -- sometimes people who are maybe stepping in to fill roles that they don't necessarily play at the White House, but they're here because the President thought it was important to acknowledge the presence of senior African Americans on his staff.
I'll give you one example. The Deputy Counsel to the President Cheryl Mills is here. She's clearly not here to do any work as a White House lawyer. She's here because she is filing the slot that normally goes to a person from the Staff Secretary's Office. Thus, you witnessed her shuttling the communique back and forth between the leaders yesterday. But she wanted to come, and the President wanted her to go, and we filled that role for her.
People who are here, each of them, have some role that they are playing in connection with this trip, and the President is proud that he was able to bring a good sampling of the White House staff here.
Q Is the same true for Betty Currie?
MR. MCCURRY: She's here as she has traveled on previous foreign trips -- she alternates frequently with Nancy Hernreich. There is usually someone from the President's Oval Office staff who is here, and among other things she tracks what gifts are presented to the United States by the foreign governments and keeps track of the President's itinerary and other matters, as they would in the Oval Office.
Q At the arrival ceremony today, the U.S. delegation and the South African delegation looked very similar. Both were mostly black. In some ways, does stacking the deck in putting so many black officials here look a little misleading about what the U.S. government really looks like?
MR. MCCURRY: This was not a delegation assembled by quota. This is in part a delegation assembled by interest. And there was very substantial interest, as I mentioned earlier, on the part of the Congressional Black Caucus in this trip, and many of them wanted to come and, frankly, the President wanted them to be here, as he wanted African American members of his own Cabinet and his staff to be here. I think people know of the composition of our government and they know the work that the President has done to make it more diverse and more representative of Americans from all walks of life.
Q Are we finished with this?
MR. MCCURRY: Let's finish with it all, if we can.
Q There seems to be a crisis in the tobacco settlement, the legislation. Is this a do or die period right now?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we're getting to the point as the number of working days in this Congress dwindle where legislation, if it's going to come together, needs to come together. And I think we're down to -- we're probably down to just under 60 working days. We should get a little calendar up there and mark off the days. It's not a bad idea.
But we have I think, through the President's reiteration of the principles that he has brought to these discussions, laid a very strong foundation for Congress now to codify and bring to fruition a public health policy that will protect literally millions of American children from tobacco addiction. And the prospects for such legislation, if you look at all of the work that is being done on the Hill, the work that the bipartisan co-sponsors of legislation, they've been doing, that Senator McCain has indicated that he is prepared to do suggest that the opportunity is quite ripe now for comprehensive legislation.
We will continue to press very hard to try to get Congress to zero on exactly those things the President identified as being fundamental to a comprehensive bill. We think there are good prospects for that type of bill to be written. We think it has strong support on both sides of the aisle, both Houses. We think it has very strong support amongst the American people. And we think they can do it, and they can do it now.
Q How important is it to the President that the legislation give the FDA the regulatory authority over tobacco?
MR. MCCURRY: The jurisdiction that the FDA needs to continue to protect the American people from tobacco addiction is one of the five principles the President articulated in August of 1996, and they represent one of the fundamental aspects of what comprehensive legislation can achieve. It's hard to imagine that we'd be able to enact a regime that would protect America's children in the comprehensive way the President and members of Congress have suggested without clear regulatory authority by the Food and Drug Administration.
Q Mike, up until now, the industry seems to have been supportive of this legislation. Do you think Phil Carlton's letter to Bruce Reed last night is a setback?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have known all along that there would be disagreements, strong disagreements with the tobacco companies. We have always expected them to fight very hard for their economic interests. At the time we identified shortcomings in the proposed comprehensive settlement, we knew that some of those disagreements would strike directly at interests of the tobacco companies.
But in the end, Congress has the ability, and should have the responsibility, of enacting public health policies designed, first and foremost, to protect America's children, irrespective of what that does to the economic interests of tobacco companies.
Now, there are ways in which surely this legislation can be written and enacted that makes the prospects of compliance by the tobacco companies easier to imagine. And I think people are well aware of what the features of the legislation might -- what they might be. But at the end of the day, the way we will judge this legislation is, first and foremost, and practically only, how it will go about achieving the public health objective that the President identified.
Q Mike, getting back to the delegation accompanying the President, just for the record, does the government pick up all hotel, meal expenses? Just to what extent is their tab paid for by the taxpayers?
MR. MCCURRY: I certainly believe that travel expenses are included, but I'm not sure whether or not they have any per diem compensation that they get by virtue of being a member of a delegation. I'll have to check into that. Eric tells me that the congressional members who travel, travel as part of the legislative appropriations budget and travel on the congressional budget.*
Q -- and the private individuals?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check on that, Peter, and take that. We'll see if we can find out more.
Q To go back to the plane, can you just describe in a little more detail about what that incident was about?
MR. MCCURRY: Eric, do any of you guys -- it was just described to me as a mechanical difficulty, and they had something that needed to be repaired on the engine that took several hours to repair, I believe in Ghana. They landed in Accra and then continued, landing here I guess sometime well after midnight.
Q The one that was retired --
MR. MCCURRY: This was the plane that with much great fanfare had been retired the day before from the Special Air Mission fleet of the 89th Air Wing.
Q Not a second too soon. (Laughter.)
Q It was the 707, right?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, it's the Kennedy 707.
Q Is this the last flight, for sure? I mean, is this the last --
MR. MCCURRY: Are we going to mothball it after this? I don't know. I know that one set of problems with those planes, and one of the reasons why they are going to be replaced over time with the 757s coming on line is because the planes are so old -- they are in good condition, because they don't have comparatively as many flight hours as most 707s of that vintage would have, but they practically have to custom-make any repair parts at this point for those planes.
So, whatever the problem was last night they were, thankfully, able to fix it. But we'll see -- do you know anything further about what kind of mechanical problems they had?
MR. LOCKHART: They had failure of one of the engines and an oil leak in another engine. So they put it down and fixed it.
MR. MCCURRY: They had an oil leak in one engine and some other problem with another engine and they were able to fix it.
Q Mike, usually on overseas trips the President has a couple of news conferences, or one in each country. Why is tomorrow morning's the only -- is tomorrow morning's the only news conference?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's been engaged with you, as he was this afternoon following his meeting with Deputy President Mbeki and made a significant statement following the summit yesterday, and looking forward to the press conference tomorrow.
Q Tomorrow's is the only one scheduled for the 10, 12 day trip?
MR. MCCURRY: I guess so. I'm not aware of another one, but I think you'll have other opportunities where he takes Q&A from the press.
Q Tomorrow night South Africa wants to give President Bill Clinton the Order of Good Hope. It's an honor he'll share with Libya's Muammar Qadhafi. Is that an example where American and South Africa interest diverge?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think the President would see that as an honor bestowed by President Mandela, the highest honor that -- it's the highest honor, I believe, civilian honor, that is bestowed by the government of South Africa. It has gone to a range of individuals. The President will accept that in the great spirit that it's given.
And, Joe says that apparently that the private individuals who travel do pay their own way, but let's see if we can nail that down.
Q The air transport or the --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll find out that. I want to make sure it's all -- if that's everything. We'll find out and we're going to double-check that.
Anything else? Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. See you tomorrow. Actually, I don't imagine we're going to need -- we'll do the press conference tomorrow, and I'm not anticipating any -- aside from readouts that we give to the pools, I don't think we need any additional briefings. We may do a readout on the bilateral at some point, although the press conference will occur after that. That may constitute a lot of the readout that we do on the bilateral meeting.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 7:05 P.M. (L)