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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 12, 1998
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                             BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

11:23 A.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: We're going to shift change here before we go on to other questions.

Q It looks like you're in a hurry.

MR. MCCURRY: I am, because I've got to go catch the plane. I'm driving. Many of us just happen to realize that we were going to be gone on May 15th, so a lot of us, including the President and the Vice President, are just completing our annual financial disclosure forms. You've got those. Barry is available to answer any of the questions you might have on it.

Any questions?

Q Did the President get a letter, receive a letter from the Indian Prime Minister?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check on that.

Q In the last 24 hours?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check on that.

Q Can you say anything more about whether he might change his trip plans to India?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President is, as he just indicated, very concerned by the tests that's been conducted by the government of India. We certainly are going to have to assess that development as we consider his itinerary.

Q Can you tell us anything about the meeting the President had this morning about campaign finance and a response to Chairman Burton's letter that says if the President is truly interested in fighting international crime, he would try to seek better cooperation from the witnesses who have flown away to get away from his committee?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the issue -- the question is campaign finance reform, and the President had a very good meeting with Congressmen Meehan and Shays today, noting the importance of the debate that's coming up on campaign finance legislation in the House. The President pledged to be personally involved, probably making some calls and has asked others here in the administration to make some calls as well in furtherance of that legislation. That is a very important way in which we are going to be able to address the shortcomings that do exist in our campaign finance laws.

Q The Burton letter?

Q What is the answer to her question?

MR. MCCURRY: Congressman Burton knows full well that each of those individuals that are being sought have got legal counsel and we have encouraged and have encouraged foreign governments to be of assistance to those who are conducting legitimate inquiries here. Chairman Burton knows that; he's just trying to, you know, make some politics.

Q Legitimate inquiries. Are you implying that -- his is a legitimate inquiry, right?

MR. MCCURRY: The purpose to which the committee was appointed in the inquiry was certainly a legitimate one. Whether or not the Chairman has conducted that inquiry appropriately is something that the House is considering now.

Q Also, on India, the President's statement today, he was talking about he will follow the law. So that means that the administration is definitely deciding to impose economic sanctions?

MR. MCCURRY: Under the statute, the imposition of sanctions is dealt with almost as a certainty. We are examining exactly what that will mean and what the consequences are. We certainly are going to want to explore with the government of India what its intentions are at this point. We're very interested in the answer to some of the questions posed by the President today, or his admonition, really, that they immediately join the comprehensive test ban regime. We'll be quite interested in hearing what responses the government of India has to that and other questions that we intend to pose.

Q Haven't you heard -- you haven't heard anything yet from India?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll check. Eric, Helen had a question of whether we have gotten a letter from Vajpayee. I'm not aware of that, but we'll try to find out.

Q Mike, tomorrow the Congressional Black Caucus is going to determine what kind of steps they want to take against General McCaffrey and whether they want a no confidence vote or whether they want to send a letter to him, or whether they want to bring General McCaffrey in to meet with the whole Congressional Black Caucus membership. What is the White House's thoughts? Have you talked to Maxine Waters? Have you talked to Norton about this?

MR. MCCURRY: We've talked to a number of members of the Caucus and certainly spoken with General McCaffrey and know him to be someone who wants the leadership of that community and the elected representatives who serve that community in Congress to be a part of his effort and our common effort to fight drugs. I can personally say that General McCaffrey has been very anxious to reach out to members of Congress, to consult with them closely and I'm certain that will be his disposition with respect to the Caucus.

Q So this doesn't bother the President either way if they're going to vote no confidence for him?

MR. MCCURRY: Let's wait and see what they do. I think the President wants people to work together in the common fight against drugs, which pose such a danger to the young people of America.

Q What is the President's thinking on renewing the independent counsel statute when it expires next year?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with his thinking on that. I'd have to ask him.

Q Did the President feel that -- what did he feel about the appointment of an independent counsel on Alexis Herman? Did he feel the facts warranted it?

MR. MCCURRY: He made quite clear his feelings in the statement we issued last night.

Q Can you tell us what his feelings were?

MR. MCCURRY: It was in the statement.

Q Can you tell us, has the President changed his travel plans to India, and might he change them depending on India's commitment to stop testing nuclear weapons?

MR. MCCURRY: I think I indicated earlier that we certainly have to take into account this development as we assess his future itinerary.

Q Do you still have a chance to have President Arafat and Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House soon?

MR. MCCURRY: We certainly hope that the outcome of the meeting that Secretary Albright has with Prime Minister Netanyahu later this week is to find a way to proceed to permanent status talks. That is very important and we certainly do believe that it is worth the effort to see if we can't bridge the differences that exist so that we can move on to those talks.

Q These talks with India -- are they going to be going on? How is that going to be done? Is that going to be done via the embassy?

MR. MCCURRY: It will be done through appropriate diplomatic channels. I don't want to speculate at this point --

Q Do you think it's a matter of days before the decision is made about sanctions, or --

MR. MCCURRY: It's a matter that we are addressing with some urgency now.

Q Mike, who is talking to Pakistan, and which level of U.S. government are you having contact with Pakistan?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll have to see -- through the embassy there and here.

Q Mike, is it possible --

Q Have you filed a formal protest yet, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe we have communicated that. I'll have to ask the NSC to follow up exactly the form of the communication. Obviously, Ambassador Celeste we've recalled for consultation, so he was not the one who delivered the demarche, but I'm sure that it has been appropriately communicated.

Q The President -- that's a very strong statement.

MR. MCCURRY: It's a very strong statement and intended to be communicated to the government of India as a strong statement.

Q He surely would not go to India if we have sanctions against them.

MR. MCCURRY: I've answered that twice now.

Q Have you recalled the Ambassador for consultation?

MR. MCCURRY: He has been recalled for consultations. Yes.

Q Where is he now?

MR. MCCURRY: He was en route to New Delhi and has returned to Washington for consultations.

Q Mike, the IC law and re-upping that is a pretty important public policy question, but in the past the President's begged off when we've asked him about that. Does he feel or do others in the administration feel like they're somehow recused from discussion on that?

MR. MCCURRY: John, I indicated earlier I'm not familiar with his thinking on it, so I can see if he's got anything he would like for me to share on that point.

Q Mike, on India again, is it possible that the administration will go beyond the congressional mandates and sanction India further?

MR. MCCURRY: We're looking at the full range of sanctions that are contained in the act that are law. They are quite stringent and as Senator Glenn wrote them, he meant them to be quite stringent, so we are looking at those now and seeing what their applications are and seeing what the practical effect will be.

Q Celeste was on his way out to India and just did a U-turn?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe that's correct. I think he had been here and was headed back at the time of the tests and he turned around and came back. That's my understanding. That's correct.

Q Mike, currently the level of direct assistance from the United States is less than $100 million and arguably only about $40 million.

MR. MCCURRY: The level of direct assistance, that's correct, but there are a number of implications in the act. If you look at it carefully, including IFI lending and other issues that I think would have significant impact on India.

Q But do you think that the reduction of U.S. aid over the last few years does have an impact on U.S. influence when things like this occur?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it's not only aid; remember, there are a full range of assistance programs and support that the international community renders to India, including lending through the World Bank, that is suggested in the act as conceivable responses. We're going to look very carefully at all of that.

Q Mike, is it true that there was no indication at all to the U.S. government by India that they were going to do this?

MR. MCCURRY: As I said yesterday that we certainly didn't receive any notification in advance, and the subject of how much we knew about it is certainly something that we'll be looking at carefully.

Q Will this be a topic at the G-8 and will you ask Japan to curtail its aid since it's the biggest donor?

MR. MCCURRY: Very possible that it will be a subject at the G-8. It wasn't formally on the calendar, but given the significance of the development, it's conceivable the leaders would want to address it.

Q There's been a flurry of diplomatic visits to India; Ambassador Richardson was there and I think Ambassador Pickering after the election, and the issue of the testing had already come up when a new government was elected. Was this a topic of discussion and what response did the Indians give to U.S. concerns with regard to this?

MR. MCCURRY: Our proliferation concerns generally have been on the agenda. The disposition of the government of India towards the Comprehensive Test Ban is one that we've explored regularly with the government. I can't suggest that that was specifically a part of Ambassador Richardson's agenda when he was there, but I know that it has been raised at high levels when we've exchanged visits with the government of India in the past. Of course, this is, as you know, a new government. I'm not sure; our most recent high-level meeting with them was probably Ambassador Richardson's. I just don't know whether it came up in the context of his meeting.

Q Mike, what did you mean when you said "the subject of how much we knew is something that we'll be looking at carefully"? Do you think there might have been some intelligence on this that didn't get communicated?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it's safe to say that given the significance of the event, we'll go back and look and see how much we knew and how we knew it.

Q Mike, speaking of Ambassador Richardson, is there an announcement planned this coming week on the new Secretary of Energy?

MR. MCCURRY: There's nothing planned during the period that the President will be out of the country that I'm aware of.

Q Mike, you said that -- dealt with almost as a certainty. Is there any possibility that India could make some of the commitments that you suggested and then avoid sanctions?

MR. MCCURRY: It would be very important to hear from the government of India what they would want to do to address the concern that's now been expressed by the international community. Whether or not Congress would take that into account as it considers the avenues that are available would remain to be seen, depending on the level of commitment made by the government of India.

Q Is the President disturbed -- he surely must be -- that his administration has had seven investigations? The first time in history?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that the President is certainly concerned about the application of this law and what the law requires. I think the shortcoming is not in the performance of the people who serve the administration, the shortcoming is in the requirements of the statute.

Q I thought you said you had no knowledge of him having thoughts on that. I mean, he's concerned, or you don't know his thoughts about --

MR. MCCURRY: John, he suggested that in the statement last night, as plain as day. Your question is about what --

Q So he's given no thoughts about how his concerns about how it might affect the future.

MR. MCCURRY: How to address those or how it might affect the extension of the act, I just haven't talked to him about that. Now, whether or not he's thought about it, I'm just not familiar with his thinking, I have to say again for the third time.

Q Are administration officials at least wanting to reform the act, to rewrite it if --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on that.

Q The Crown Prince Sheik Khalifa will meet the President today. What are you going to discuss with him?

MR. MCCURRY: The President very much looks forward to the meeting with the Sheik, which is currently underway. It is obviously an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to Gulf security and our desire for a closer partnership with the Emirates. The President intends to stress the need for the international community to remain quite firm in its approach to Iraq, including strict enforcement of U.N. sanctions, and they'll obviously exchange views on regional security issues, other matters of bilateral concern, and I think they also plan to talk about a matter that the Vice President will address publicly later on in the afternoon.

Q What about the peace process?

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I'm sure that they will also exchange views on the Middle East peace process at what is obviously a critical moment for that process.

Q And the arms deals?

MR. MCCURRY: That's the matter that I think the Vice President will probably want to address, so I don't plan to steal his announcement.

Q Have there been any new troop movements noticed by either India or Pakistan? Is the situation calm?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't checked our assessment of that.

Q It sounds like India was very successful in being able to cover up against our satellites and so forth versus previous occasions. I'm not putting it well, but --

MR. MCCURRY: That would appear to be the case, but as you know, that's not a matter I can discuss here.

Okay, we'll see you all when we return from Europe, those of you not going, and happy journeys to those of you who are.

Q Don't forget to write.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 11:36 A.M. EDT