THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:50 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry I was late. I was standing in line at the local 7-11 to buy Powerball tickets. (Laughter.)
Q What would you do if you actually won?
Q Stay right here with us.
MR. MCCURRY: Sam, I think you could effectively conclude my service here at this podium would come to an abrupt end. (Laughter.)
Q You mean your effective service?
MR. MCCURRY: Or my less than effective service would come to an end. (Laughter.) That's something to contemplate. You get on a plane, start flying. Where you'd end, no one would know.
All right, what all do you want to know about today? Mr. Blitzer, yes. Fire away.
Q Mike, would you care to respond to Newt Gingrich's call for a special committee now to investigate these latest allegations that Chinese money went from Johnny Chung to the Democratic Party and may have resulted in the lifting of satellite technology restrictions on China?
MR. MCCURRY: That sounds like a mouthful. Sounds like a mouthful. I'm not sure that any of that has been established at all. I'm not even sure --
Q Well, I thought they were allegations.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not even sure that those are allegations in some respects. I think those are suspicions, but no one has made those allegations. The Speaker apparently believes that people should know more about this, and so do we, and the Speaker may want to be in contact with Chairman Gilman because he may inadvertently be undercutting the work that Chairman Gilman and the International Relations Committee is already doing with respect to that matter, or he might not be aware of the extensive work we've done to try to help the committee understand those matters.
Q Trent Lott is also announcing a committee in the Senate.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he, I guess, didn't want to be left out.
Q Well, but will you cooperate with these committees?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got -- we are already cooperating with the committees that are looking into this. We've given members and staff briefings on these matters, and by the end of the week, as Mr. Ruff notified both the Speaker and the Majority Leader today, we'll be producing documents to help the House committee understand the matters that they have been pursuing.
Q Who notified them?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Chuck Ruff has written to both the Speaker and the Majority Leader today saying essentially that -- well, saying, first of all, that these decisions were made purely in the best interests of the United States, consistent with policies that have long been the policy of the United States; consistent with determinations made as far back as September 1988 by President Ronald Reagan; that we are acting and carrying out a policy that has long been recognized by the United States government and by President Clinton's two immediate Republican predecessors that there is interest in having the United States participate in commercial -- or the launch of commercial satellites using other nations. In the case of China, that requires a waiver, because of Tiananmen Square. And as did President Bush, President Clinton has granted waivers for launches of commercial satellites. The reason why is abundantly clear to everyone today. We need --
Q Did he just send that letter out?
MR. MCCURRY: That letter is going out today to, and we can get a copy.
Q Going out today?
Q But in this case it's a matter of record --
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's gone out. We can get a copy if you need it.
Q In this case, it's a matter of record that the President overruled his own Justice and State Departments in this matter.
MR. MCCURRY: That's just simply incorrect. That is incorrect. That is not correct, Sam.
Q Secretary Christopher did not argue against it?
MR. MCCURRY: The State Department initiated the request for the Loral license in 1988.
Q In the case of both the Hughes and Loral, you're telling us that --
MR. MCCURRY: You're confusing, Sam, a separate issue. There's a separate issue going back to 1996 that involves who has jurisdiction for what's called the munitions list versus the dual use list. We're talking about commercial satellites, the kind of satellites that help people get pages and help you all transmit your reports around the world.
That was deemed in 1996 by a decision of the President to be something that ought to be regulated by the Commerce Department, which regulates so-called dual use technologies. The State Department regulates things that are on the munitions list under a separate aspect of federal law.
There was an interagency discussion back in 1996 about who should be responsible in our government for the launch of commercial satellites. And it was a pretty heavily debated interagency bureaucratic issue back and forth. The decision was ultimately made to transfer the regulation of those launches or the satellite launches themselves to Commerce, where the President believed they properly belonged because of the nature the technology involved -- at the same time, preserving an extensive interagency review process, so anytime you do one of these launches, there is a very thorough review of that by all the affected agencies.
Now, that's a whole separate matter from the question of a specific license for a specific launch in 1998. So go back and make sure you separate apples from oranges.
Q What about munitions?
MR. MCCURRY: The munitions list is regulated by the State Department and that involves a host of things that are regulated consistent with -- what's the name of that group, Eric? The Zangger Group.
Q If he didn't overrule State and the Pentagon, what about Justice who was doing an investigation on --
MR. MCCURRY: We appropriately inquired Justice's views and they submitted them. The Justice Department can tell you more about that.
Q So he did overrule Justice then?
MR. MCCURRY: They, to my knowledge, did not take any position in opposition of the granting of a license.
Q What persuaded the President to grant the licenses in the Loral deal?
MR. MCCURRY: What persuaded the President was the argument that it would be in the best interest of the United States and its people for us to be able to engage in satellite launch commerce with other countries, including China, irrespective of sanctions in place because of Tiananmen Square. It's the same decision, same argument, same rationale used by George Bush nine times.
Q And that extended to helping the Chinese work out their guidance system problems?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Under these licenses, the licenses specifically prohibit you from transferring any technology whatsoever that assists a country's launch vehicle capacity. That's not even the allegation. You all are very confused about even what has been alleged.
Q Well, you are saying that no such technology transfer occurred from Loral?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that there are -- the Justice Department is examining the question of whether Loral may have transferred technology information, but that's irrespective of the licenses that have been granted under the export control act provision that we're talking about.
Q Just to follow up and put a button on this, it was not the President's intention that that kind of technology be transferred to China, if indeed it was?
MR. MCCURRY: The President wouldn't even dream of it because it's specifically prohibited by law. And all the licenses that we grant are consistent with -- have built into them protections and restrictions that specifically prohibit that kind of technology transfer that would allow another country to --
Q You're saying the President didn't change his policy or this administration's policy in this regard? Is that what you're saying?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that this administration has pursued the exact same policy pursued by the Bush administration. We made one change which is where should properly these transactions be reviewed within our government, who should have the lead in doing the review. And in 1996, it was transferred from the State Department to Commerce after a very lengthy consideration that was largely about where best these kinds of transactions should be regulated.
Q So that was what State argued against, the transfer of the control?
MR. MCCURRY: They will be able to tell you more about their views, but if you go look back, they obviously have within our bureaucracy having responsibility for that type of commerce. They wanted to keep it. There was a good argument that they ought to go, like other dual-use items, over to Commerce. It was an interagency bureaucratic squabble.
Q Well, in 1996 you transferred this from Warren Christopher's State Department to Ron Brown's Commerce Department?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he transferred it from the State Department to the Commerce Department; the individual arguments or identity of whoever was Secretary at the time had little to do with the argumentation that was presented about where they best should be regulated.
Q Well, the President's critics will certainly --
MR. MCCURRY: I know exactly what the President's critics will say, and they are wrong.
Q -- point out that Ron Brown came from a political background.
MR. MCCURRY: Warren Christopher was Bill Clinton's campaign manager and transition director. So I don't know how you would make that argument.
Q Are you saying that Warren Christopher and Ron Brown are equivalent in their political orientation?
MR. MCCURRY: In this discussion, for purposes of who best should handle policy on commercial satellite launch, they were equal. They were both Cabinet members making an interagency argument on behalf of the views of their department.
Q But you're not saying that funds from a Chinese lieutenant colonel to the President's campaign was proper, are you?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- I don't believe anyone has alleged that anyone in the White House or in the administration even knew that's the source of the funds. The presumption was the funds were given by Johnny Chung and Johnny Chung --
Q Why didn't the President look into the sources of funds?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, that's a question that goes -- we've answered now more than a year ago.
Q Why didn't you?
MR. MCCURRY: Because we had very lax vetting procedures for contributions, and we've acknowledged that now more than a year and a half ago -- 18 months ago. And we spent a considerable amount of time and millions of dollars in looking into the source of these contributions, and they were returned. If, in fact, it's true -- and I have no idea whether it is true or not -- that the source of the funds that Johnny Chung used was from this woman who was an aerospace executive, then that money has long since been returned. In any event, it had absolutely no impact on the President's thinking, since to my knowledge no one at the White House even knew that was the source of the contribution.
Q Are you saying, Mike, that after that Chinese missile exploded, destroying a $200 million U.S. satellite, neither Loral, nor Hughes gave the Chinese any technology to help them --
MR.MCCURRY: I am not saying that. I'm not saying that, Wolf, because that is precisely the question the Justice Department is looking at. I'm not going to comment on their investigation in to that subject. The allegation is not that anything done by the administration led to that technology transfer.
Q Let me just follow up. Did the U.S. government authorize Loral and Hughes to provide China with some technology that would help them avoid the kind of explosions that destroyed that $200 million U.S. satellite?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I am aware of. The only information I have available is that the actions taken were consistent with what the law requires with respect to the licenses granted.
Q In the course of that, the Justice Department is investigating Loral and Hughes for possible violations of licensing procedures in the course of the investigation of the missile failure. Loral two days ago admitted that they give information to the Chinese before giving it to the State Department, thereby violating at least their own corporate policy.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to comment on any of that because that all goes to the heart of what the Justice Department is looking at. I'm just not going to comment on that.
Q If that's factual background, the President then, earlier this year, grants another license to Loral for the same type of export, thereby, in Justice's view, apparently undercutting their investigation.
MR. MCCURRY: That is not Justice's view, and it's unfair to suggest that that is Justice's view. They'll tell you what their view is. They expressed concern and they did not do anything to take steps to prohibit the transaction that I'm aware of. And in the letter you get from Mr. Ruff today to the Speaker and to the Majority Leader, we make very clear that the specific provision in law allows us to go ahead and grant that license, absent any kind of indictment that's arisen from a criminal investigation.
Q Why grant a license to a company that is under investigation for possibly violating the procedure --
MR. MCCURRY: Because we don't presume guilt, we presume innocence. You may have heard of that sometime ago. I know we don't acknowledge that principle very often.
Q Why not wait until end of the investigation and then make a decision?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a good question. That's one of the reasons why we consulted with Justice on their views before we granted the licenses.
Q That seems like a legitimate question, though, because you say, why presume guilt, but the presumption is that you don't want to do anything that would transfer technology to the Chinese, even if --
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. There is no allegation that anything about the license that we granted transferred technology to the Chinese. Can you all please get that straight?
Q I think the point is, why give Loral another license in the midst of an investigation that they may have violated the law on sensitive technology?
MR. MCCURRY: Because the license had nothing to do with the proposed act that Loral was about to undertake with the Chinese, which was to take one of their satellites and put it on top of a rocket so it could be launched so we could get pager service and telecommunications.
Q -- a license --
MR. MCCURRY: Because they're required under the law to have it. The allegation that is being examined has something entirely different -- it has to do with the rocket itself that was launched and what the discussions were between the companies and the Chinese on the rocket, which is not something --
Q The allegation is that Loral violated the procedures under which they got their --
MR. MCCURRY: That is not true. That is not the allegation. You misunderstand what you think you're reading in someone else's newspaper.
Q Well, what are the allegations?
MR. MCCURRY: You can read it, and all I'm suggesting to you is sort out the basic facts before you attempt to write about this.
Q Mike, does the President believe that President Suharto of Indonesia should resign, as Madeleine Albright said today? And when did the administration take that view?
MR. MCCURRY: She did not say that, first of all. She said that President Suharto's statement that he was willing to launch a democratic political transition in Indonesia is a very important development, and that President Suharto now has an opportunity for a historic act of statesmanship that will preserve both his legacy, but also provide for the democratic transition that President Suharto himself acknowledges now is necessary in Indonesia. That's what the Secretary of State said today.
Q What do you mean by that -- he has an opportunity to do what?
MR. MCCURRY: He has an opportunity to proceed with the political transition he has now committed himself to undertake.
Q Meaning resign.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it could be any number of ways that you would effect that political transition. The people of Indonesia are going to have a lot to say about that, and we'll see how that develops.
Q She thinks it's a good thing if he leaves?
MR. MCCURRY: She thinks it's a good thing if he undertakes the political transition he suggested yesterday he would undertake.
Q What's the difference between that and him leaving?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are lots of different ways you can effect that transition. I don't know -- it doesn't necessarily -- one way or the other.
Q Does the United States think the era of Suhartoism should be over?
MR. MCCURRY: It appears that enormous and significant change is about to occur in Indonesia and is occurring because of the legitimate concerns being expressed by the people of Indonesia. That is why the United States government has called for a political dialogue between the government and the people of Indonesia, to effect the kind of changes that will promote the opportunity that individual Indonesians have for prosperity and for expression of their individual liberties and rights.
As part of that, President Suharto has now indicated that he has committed himself to a political transition that could indeed lead to a change in the nature of the regime. And Secretary Albright today said that that was positive. Secretary Albright speaks several languages. One of them is English. If she had said he should step down now, that would have been a declarative statement in English. She did not say that.
Q But, Mike, some of her aides did suggest that she was diplomatically signaling that he should step down.
MR. MCCURRY: Her spokesman, Mr. Jamie Rubin, I think at the State Department right now has made clear what I just made clear to you.
Q How quickly does the U.S. administration believe that Suharto should engage in this historic act of statesmanship?
MR. MCCURRY: We believe this historic act -- this opportunity presenting itself should be undertaken swiftly because the needs are great.
Q -- Suharto continue to do the work that the Indonesian people elected him to do, the important things to the country?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he has indicated that he believes the will of the people is for him to assist in the process of effecting the democratic transition. And we believe that that is a well-taken view.
Q Mike, is the United States endorsing what Suharto proposed yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: We're suggesting that what he supported or what he proposed is important. How President Suharto makes good on his promise to effect change is something that he should consider in dialogue with his people. And that is the dialogue we have suggested for several days now is very important to be undertaken immediately.
Q So people don't believe him. He has to support that statement with lots of tanks and soldiers and --
MR. MCCURRY: People are calling for change for many different reasons in Indonesia.
Q Should the IMF withdraw now its aid package?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the IMF has already made some -- in light of recent events, made some changes in its scheduled disbursements. It's obvious that they should be delayed in light of the current turmoil in Jakarta. The IMF itself had to evacuate its staff, so that's logistically another reason why they scheduled that delay. And our policy will continue to be guided by what we think is the best way to provide a favorable outcome for the Indonesian people.
Q Are U.S. citizens safe in Indonesia?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the State Department is the best place to tell you about that. They have been doing constant advisories to its update. The situation in Jakarta today, as I have been briefed on, it is relatively calm. There is access to the airport; the roads are open; people can get out. But it's still a situation of some turmoil and some danger as the State Department has acknowledged and so advise American citizens.
Q John Kerry has called for the administration to identify assets held by the Suharto family members, and I suppose for consideration of a possible freeze somewhere down the line. Would the administration be willing to take that first step in identifying?
MR. MCCURRY: That is something we could do only with authority of law, and I'll have to check and see. I don't believe there's any authority in law currently to do that. I don't know whether the Senator was calling for a passage by Congress of an act that would allow that kind of approach. But I'm not aware of any independent executive authority we have to do that. I'll check further at Treasury on that, though.
Q Can you address the President's view of the various amendments that have been offered to the McCain bill, particularly the question of price supports to tobacco farmers?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've got -- I think you heard the President today say that we believe the managers amendment in general makes this a much better bill. And as a general proposition, there are a lot of things emerging in the floor debate that we like -- obviously, the provisions concerning secondhand smoke; increased dedication of funding to health research; provision of funds so there can be counter-advertising against tobacco addiction, encouraging people to think about what the dangers of tobacco are. We have the provision on look-back surcharges, so that individual companies that fail to meet the targets for reducing youth smoking can be held accountable; some specific provisions that would make it clear and make it certain that a black market would not develop once the price increases take effect.
These are all good things that have strengthened the bill and led to the President's very positive remarks today. But we still have some real concerns -- the agricultural provisions chief among them. The concern we have about Senator Lugar's amendment is that it will blow the cost of the program out of proportion, and it will not concentrate the effect of the assistance on those that need it most -- those family farmers in those small communities that have been legitimately and honestly tolling at tobacco farming for years and years. That's why we have always assumed that the structure of the program of support for tobacco farmers would focus on those small farmers. Obviously, we've got some concerns remaining, but we think that they need to work ahead.
Q If I could follow up, is the Lugar amendment a killer amendment for the President?
MR. MCCURRY: It's certainly not satisfactory, but we'll see how we can make some progress on this bill. We're a long way It's certainly not satisfactory, but we'll see how we can make some progress on this bill. We're a long ways away from a veto threat because we're a long ways away from having a bill. But we generally believe the progress here has been favorable, not unfavorable.
Q What about Leahy and Gregg, what about the Gregg amendment?
MR. MCCURRY: The Gregg amendment the President would oppose if it is offered as a way of disrupting the balance that's in this overall bill now. We've told you all along that while we don't advocate liability caps, they are not necessarily deal breakers for us if they're placed in the bill in connection with other things that are consistent with the public health policy we're trying to enact here. We've now got -- there are a lot of things about the liability provisions that Senator McCain has worked out that are good. They've raised the cap, they've done some specific -- they've tied it directly to industry performance and what individual companies are responsible for. So I think they've done some things that we certainly consider improvements in the liability area, and we would not want to see a total removal of the liability if it jeopardized the overall bill, which it clearly would.
Q Jeopardize political support for the bill or --
MR. MCCURRY: Jeopardize support for the bill in Congress. Now, remember also that these liability provisions would require a buy-in by the companies to the overall approach so that they wouldn't litigate the legislation. So the other thing is that we'd end up with the provisions that have been worked out on liability now in a situation where you wouldn't have the companies going in and challenging us in court for years after. And they also have to accept advertisement restrictions in order to get the liability cap.
Q So you're saying that -- in the past immunity was in there because it was like a trade, the companies wouldn't take you to court on the advertising or the look-back provisions. Now they've left the table and they say, we don't like this bill, we're not going to play -- you're saying, if they don't come back and agree to waive their right to challenge you in court, then these provisions disappear?
MR. MCCURRY: The amendment is done from the assumption that there's going to be some interest by the industry in getting the limits on liability in exchange for all the commitments they would be required to make for those limits.
Q This just in -- Chelsea Clinton spent the night in the hospital?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything for you on that. You'll have to contact the First Lady's Office.
Q Do you know anything about it?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not.
Q Are you going to check into it?
MR. MCCURRY: I've checked already, and you should call the First Lady's Office.
Q Call the First Lady's Office?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Can I just follow this up? The story suggests that the President and Mrs. Clinton might fly there. Can you tell us --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any plans of that nature.
Q Mike, back on tobacco, a number of Republican senators today appeared to have started delaying tactics. I'm wondering if you're aware of that and if you're concerned by it.
MR. MCCURRY: I think they're trying to work out some agreements on the controversial aspects of these same provisions we've been talking about. Now, we certainly don't want to see this bill stopped in its tracks by a filibuster, but at the same time, it's a complicated piece of legislation and we know that they are working to clear off some of the disagreements they have amongst themselves about how to proceed on certain aspects.
Q On Loral, just a clean-up question. You suggested that this administration is cooperating fully with the Gilman investigation and say that if there is another probe that you'll cooperate with that one. Yet, the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate sent letters complaining about the slowness of the response of this administration on that very issue, especially regarding documents.
MR. MCCURRY: As I said, the White House Counsel has sent a letter to both of them indicating that we expect to produce documents by the end of the week. One of the things we've been doing is to make sure, from the viewpoint of the Justice Department, that nothing that is produced would jeopardize any ongoing investigatory work that they're undertaking.
Q But to follow up on that, though, sir, is that cooperation -- would you consider it foot dragging, has there been foot dragging?
MR. MCCURRY: There has not been foot dragging. There's been cooperation and that is -- look, it's in our interest to cooperate because if they're interested in getting to the truth, the truth will demonstrate that this administration acted consistent with the best interests of the American people. So we welcome an inquiry that's legitimate.
Now, the problem we've got is so much of the smoke and fire emanating from the Speaker's direction sounds like it's politics as usual. This is a matter where we ought to stay very focused -- because the Speaker has made some serious allegations now, we ought to stay focused on the truth rather than making it appear that we're making charges and allegations for political purposes, which is what I think everyone in this room would agree is what it appears the Speaker is doing.
Q Well, the Speaker says that you're the Jerry Springer Show, he says you have a level of disrespect --
MR. MCCURRY: It's exactly comments like that that would make the American people say, well, this sounds like it's just more political mud-wrestling as opposed to a serious inquiry into a very complicated area of law, you know, the export control restrictions that exist in law on the launch of commercial satellites. You know, that's a complicated area of the law. The reasons why President Bush and President Clinton had granted waivers were very heavily discussed and debated within the administration, and both Presidents agreed to move ahead with the licenses that allow that for reasons that we have set forth very publicly in the past. But the Speaker is fond of making comments like that that sound like they emanate more from the direction of politics than from the direction of legitimate truth-seeking.
Q What is your position on the Defense Department report that said that there was -- the national security -- quote -- "was damaged"?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the report today is that the same agency at the Pentagon also then agreed to support the issuing of the license. So I would leave it to the Pentagon to address that, and I assume that they were addressing that today.
Q Mike, the President received a letter today from a rather diverse group including Kerry, Kennedy, Cuomo, Gary Bauer, Harry Woo, the AFL-CIO and many others asking him not to be received in Tiananmen Square when he goes to China. Is there any chance he would consider that?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, we're going to China for a state visit. They receive visitors in Tiananmen Square. To ask that we not received in the manner in which you would normally received at a state visit would do some violence to the idea that we are trying to work in a cooperative way to improve this relationship. It would be as if someone visiting here said, well, we don't really want to be greeted on the South Lawn of the White House even though that's where people are greeted when they arrive for a state visit.
So I don't believe we are going to make that argument. We are going there for all the reasons that the President has addressed in the past -- the need to put this relationship, which is arguably one of the most important bilateral relationships that the United States maintains with any country on the face of the Earth --we're going there, despite all the differences we have with the People's Republic, to try to work constructively to improve this relationship which is so important to billions -- literally billions -- of people.
And to go there and start the trip by saying, well, we're going to start the trip elsewhere and when we arrive in Beijing we're going to dis you in a very major way doesn't seem consistent with the purpose of the trip, which is to foster better relations between our countries.
Q Would the Clinton administration like to see China be Pakistan's security guarantor, in other words put them under a kind of iron-clad nuclear umbrella?
MR. MCCURRY: We would like steps taken by all governments in the region to enhance regional security and stability. And there are a number of ways that can happen and a number of ways in which we pursue our diplomacy in coming weeks and months, we'll try to make that happen, in light of India's test.
Q So is that one of them?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be lots of discussions about ways in which we can enhance security and balance on the Indian subcontinent.
Q Well, when would he be ready to present Pakistan with measures that you could take to improve their security beyond the F-16s, which they've already dismissed as being not good enough?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not previewing the kind of substantive discussions we've had with the government of Pakistan or others about ways in which in the face of the Indian nuclear test we can work to try to put the genie back in the bottle and to limit tensions.
Q Mike, was it a mistake with hindsight that the U.S. was so tough on terms of proliferation as far as the Pakistanis are concerned because now U.S. leverage in trying to convince the Pakistanis not to detonate a nuclear device is rather limited?
MR. MCCURRY: When we imposed sanctions on the M-11* transfer back in '94?
Q Or the Pressler Amendment and all of that -- not this administration, the U.S. government over a couple of administrations.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as most executive branches have, this executive branch has indicated some measure of disagreement with Congress when they tried to handcuff the executive branch in the performance of its constitutional responsibility to conduct foreign policy. And there has been some chaffing at that, yes.
Q There is something that transcends East-West parts of this house, and if something has affected the daughter of the President of the United States, I think you should not brush it off and say I don't know anything about it. You know something about it, and you should tell it to us.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not brushing you off. I have heard reports, had some inquiries from news organizations concerning this matter, and I attempted to get answers. I was not successful.
Q You couldn't get any answers?
MR. MCCURRY: I was not successful in getting information that I can share with you, so therefore I have none.
Q You mean they wouldn't even tell you?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not have any information I can share with you.
Q You know that makes it sound much more serious than perhaps it is.
MR. MCCURRY: I advise the First Lady's Office that when you don't have answers people will leap to the worst conclusions when there may be is a simple conclusion, and they are aware of that. But I don't have any information for you.
Q Can we go back to the chaffing under the handcuffs of these laws? Do you consider Glenn, D'Amato, Helms-Burton, and Pressler to all be examples of what you're talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that all -- this is an area for a large debate that we don't need to do here and now, but we have a lot of economic sanctions law on the books, which when we enforced the laws we are required to do by Congress, often puts the United States in a position of shooting ourselves in our own foot because they jeopardize the economic interests of American firms and sometimes inadvertently give an economic advantage to our foreign competitors.
And I think that is a serious issue; it's the exact discussion the President had with the Europeans over the past, the last couple of days as we tried to work through our disagreements over ILSA and Helms-Burton and other issues like that. So the general question of using our economic might as a tool of diplomacy is one that has got to be done very carefully and needs to be reviewed often so that we get it right. And we have said that in the past and we're dealing with some of the individual applications of that general premise now.
Q Mike, can I do satellite follow-up --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I've done enough on that. All right, one more.
Q On the commercial satellites, is the administration looking into the possibility there could have been sabotage involved in this, or was it a pure mistake? I'm talking about the commercial one that went out last --
MR. MCCURRY: I assume that someone somewhere is looking into -- in fact, I think that's exactly why Loral was engaged in trying to find out more about what happened to the rocket that blew up, that they were trying to determine a cause, but I refer you to other agencies.
Q No, I'm not talking about the satellite last -- commercial satellites that went out last --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I refer you to other agencies on that. I haven't heard anything to that effect.
Q Could you check it please and look into whether they --
MR. MCCURRY: If we have anything here that we need to pass on, we will, but I'm not aware of anything.
Q On the China trip, is the President going to do anything to acknowledge the Tiananmen Square massacre, honoring the students, to make any kind of gesture?
MR. MCCURRY: He will, as we have regularly with the People's Republic, acknowledge the sacrifice in the spirit of the democracy movement and the events in Tiananmen by pressing very hard for progress on the human rights concerns that we have, as we have done every time.
Q But is he going to do anything public?
MR. MCCURRY: He may very well make some -- find an appropriate way publicly to make some remarks on the trip.
Q Have you decided yet?
MR. MCCURRY: They're still working on that. They haven't nailed that down yet.
Q On the China documents that you're going to produce later this week, where will they be sent? To Gilman or --
MR. MCCURRY: Sent to the committee that asked for them, which is the House International Relations Committee.
Q Do you have any reaction to the record trade deficit?
MR. MCCURRY: A couple things to say about that. First and foremost, what we see in those numbers are what some of the byproduct of the economic instability in Asia. Obviously, those economies have been struggling and they've been buying fewer goods and services from the United States and thus exacerbating the deficit numbers we have. I think that adds up to one big argument in favor of the kind of support for the IMF that we need to get from this Congress so we can get those economies back on their feet and get them growing again, get them prosperous enough that they are buying the things that we make and export around the world.
Q On tobacco, is the White House sending up to the Hill today the letter that expresses the President's concerns about the Lugar provisions?
MR. MCCURRY: Are we doing that?
MR. TOIV: Today or tomorrow we'll probably send a letter up --
MR. MCCURRY: We probably are sending in the next day or two some communication that sets out our views in some greater detail.
Q Turkish President Suleyman, using exactly Hitler's vocabulary, stated -- the other day that Turkey is in a position to destroy Greece and that the war in the Aegean is not a clean-up act, but a vital need. As a matter of principle, Mr. McCurry, and since Turkey is a U.S. ally and a NATO member -- could you please comment?
MR. MCCURRY: We have often urged that both our close allies, Turkey and Greece, refrain from comments that exacerbate tensions between them. We have worked hard, we believe, to try to limit the kind of rhetoric and the kind of attacks that can cause friction between these two close allies.
I don't want to comment specifically on that comment; I'm not familiar with it. But, in general, we've tried to encourage them to limit the tension and the conflict that exists.
Q Please elaborate more on the proposed package by President Clinton -- London for the solution of the Greek-Turkish difference over the Aegean site?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again.
Q President Clinton proposed a package the other day in London for a solution to the Greek-Turkish difference over Cyprus and the Aegean.
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I am aware of. I know that we had discussions both bilaterally with Prime Minister Blair and then within the context of the European Union-U.S. Summit about the situation in Cyprus, and we noted the work that has been done by Ambassador Holbrooke with respect to trying to get the parties to address their differences. But I believe it was a review and a status report, not a discussion of the elements of a new initiative, as far as the information that was given to me.
Q Mike, the Russian Duma has decided to take up START in September. Does that mean that a summit wouldn't happen until the fall or later?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not clear that they have decided that. There have been discussions within the committee structure that some of that be postponed. There also have been comments by both Prime Minister Kiriyenko and President Yeltsin indicating that the Duma needs to act sooner rather than later with respect to START II.
We certainly would encourage the Duma to ratify this important arms control agreement. It sets the necessary predicate for further conversations with the Russian Federation about arms reductions, significant arms reductions that would be a part of the START III discussions foreseen by President Yeltsin and President Clinton in Helsinki.
And with respect to the summit, I think you know our thinking on the summit. The summit in some respects will be much enhanced by a discussion of the future of arms control, and we can't get to the future until we deal with the present. And the present is the ratification of START II.
Q Has the White House nominated Alice Rivlin the chair the D.C. Control Board?
MR. MCCURRY: We haven't sent a nomination forward yet. I think they are working to see if that's possible and consistent with law. We think she's got outstanding qualifications to serve as control board chair, and we're pleased that she has expressed a willingness to serve. We want to send some legislation up to the Hill that would clarify the situation that we believe exists currently in law, but just to make it absolutely clear that it would permit federal employees to serve in a capacity as control board chair. We believe that Ms. Rivlin can serve under existing law, but clarifying the situation for the future would be a wise thing to do.
Q You're saying so she can stay on the Fed, she wouldn't have to change --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we believe existing law would allow her to do both jobs if the President, in fact, determined that's what we wanted to do, but we think it would be helpful to have legislative clarification to that effect.
Q Back to Speaker Gingrich. Can you tell us the current state of the President's relationship with the Speaker? Are they still friends?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the President made it quite clear that regardless of what he says, and regardless of how irresponsible it might be, he is the Speaker of the House and we have an obligation to work with him, because that's what our Constitution requires. So the status of their relationship is that he is a necessity. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, back on Indonesia for just a second. Rubin is not really briefing today because they're out of the city. Could you just clarify -- Albright -- you said earlier she was speaking English, but nonetheless it is some of the strongest comments yet from the administration. Is the administration hinting that he should step down?
MR. MCCURRY: The administration is not hinting at anything at all. We are saying in a very direct way that there is a historic moment here where President Suharto could demonstrate his statesmanship by undertaking exactly the transition to democracy that he has pledged himself to undertake. And that should be meaningful, and it should be real, and it should be conducted in dialogue with the people of Indonesia, who apparently desire change.
Q Has there been a decision yet on whether to use the military for evacuations? They're standing by, but is there any imminent decision?
MR. MCCURRY: There is some contingency planning that the Pentagon is doing, and they have, by coincidence, some assets available in the region because of an annual, scheduled exercise, but the Pentagon can tell you more about what's involved. There has been no need that I'm aware of to implement any of those contingencies.
Q Mike, John Kasich is about to unveil his budget proposal --
MR. MCCURRY: It was already declared dead on arrival by Senator Domenici, so it would seem to be an unwise use of his precious time, because the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, his Republican counterpart in the Senate, has said that his budget is a mockery because it doesn't deal seriously with the issues, and to the degree it makes projected cuts, it takes us right back into the kind of debates we had in 1995 and '96 that led this town to a dead-stop gridlock. And Chairman Kasich should be more responsible than to do that -- to march down that road again. But I think Senator Domenici has made that clear, and so for the moment we'll leave this to be what it is, a spat among Republicans who can't agree about where they stand on budget issues.
Q Mike, just to clarify one last time on Albright, You seem to be embracing what Suharto has already called for. Are you also --
MR. MCCURRY: He called for -- what we are embracing is his call for a transition. How they effect that transition is something that President Suharto should be in dialogue with his people about.
Q You're not embracing his timetable?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm embracing his call for a democratic transition, and it's quite clear that the people of Indonesia take that need for transition seriously and want to develop it.
Q Mike, Arafat is continuing to use Mrs. Clinton's Palestinian statement to bolster his own agenda. And he said in an interview today that he thanked her from the bottom of his heart for supporting him on this. Is the President concerned that Arafat's continuing to do this, sort of manipulate the statement, and is he looking at doing anything stronger? And what's the status Malcolm Hoenlein's letter?
MR. MCCURRY: Chairman Arafat is well aware of U.S. policy with respect with final status issues, and it has been reiterated to him when necessary. And he knows that the importance the United States attaches to him moving on those issues that could lead to a direct dialogue on exactly and that type of question.
Q What's the status of Malcolm Hoenlein's request for meeting with the President and for the President to issue a stronger statement publicly?
MR. MCCURRY: Given our close working relationship with him and with the conference, I know that there has been discussions, briefings, consultations quite a bit recently, given the delicate stage that the peace process is at, but I'll check further to see if they're planning any kind of meeting.
MR. MCCURRY: Do we have the veto statement yet on Coverdell? There's one coming in writing.
Q Can you give us any idea when -- is it a 7:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m. thing tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we'll try to get it done earlier than that.
Q Mike, the government of the United States -- the Mexican government and the banking system -- if you say yes, why is the United States taking unilateral steps in the fight against money laundering as the Casa Blanca operation showed?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check further on that. I think that we -- the Justice Department, I think in Attorney General Reno's press conference, addressed some of those questions. I think we are working very cooperatively with the government of Mexico to address money-laundering issues. The government of Mexico has been a steadfast ally of the United States in supporting our mutual efforts to eradicate international crime and crime that transcends international borders.
Q Mike, if that's the case, how come they weren't informed until the arrest took place?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I will leave that to the Justice Department. I can't tell you.
Q That was a surprising parallel you drew a few minutes ago between Tiananmen Square and the South Lawn of the White House. Is it really the White House position that the potential affront to Chinese sensibilities of the President's not appearing there would outweigh the affront to civil rights and human rights quarters in China and here? And was there no effort made to change the venue?
MR. MCCURRY: It is our view that we are going to the People's Republic for a state visit. That is the location at which every state visit head is received in China. And to, as a sign of protest, make some change in those arrangements would be sending a signal contrary to the purpose of this trip, which is that we believe we can make progress on issues like human rights by engaging constructively with the leadership of China.
Q So there was no attempt made to change the venue?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. I can check further on it.
Q Mike, amid the Powerball frenzy I'm wondering if there's any concern on the part of the President or the administration that maybe Powerball or these other lotteries attract people who can least afford to play?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't talked to the President directly about Powerball and the current round. But that has been President Clinton's long-stated view, going back to the time that he was governor of Arkansas and opposed statewide lottery plans when he was governor, I believe. I'll go back and check that, but I think he has always been concerned about the regressive nature of income derived from state lottery programs.
Q Is there a review then --
MR. MCCURRY: There's not any federal review that I'm aware of in this particular deal.
Q Mike, can you tell us about -- South Korean President coming for a state visit to the United States?
MR. MCCURRY: The President looks forward to receiving President Kim Dae-jung in June. And we have significant issues that are on our bilateral agenda that include all the matters related to regional economic security that we've been discussing. We obviously will review very closely and consult very closely with the President on issues related to denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula.
We have a number of bilateral issues that arise from our work together in the Asian Pacific region that the President will look forward to exploring. He also will enjoy the opportunity, his first since the President's election, to meet personally and exchange views.
Q U.S. oil companies endorsed the permanent waiver for Total on Monday. Then they called for the U.S. to reconsider domestic sanctions on American oil companies, as well. Is that something you all plan on doing? And also, what's the administration's reaction to the Republican opposition to relaxing ILSA and Helms-Burton?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, on the second question, the President addressed why it is in the interest of the United States to proceed with the sanctions waiver that he has issued. We receive from the Europeans significant commitments with respect to our work together to counter the threat of terrorism and to work together to ameliorate the behavior of so-called rogue nations. And with respect to Cuba and expropriation, the progress that we made on property seizures and the work the Europeans will do in concert with us to prevent that is very, very important.
On the question of domestic sanctions on the oil industry, I don't have anything on that, but we can check further.
Q Mike, can you talk about --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I can't. I don't even know what we're doing.
Q Do you expect to have the nomination of the FDA Commissioner soon?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything that would indicate -- are we doing, do you guys know, FDA Commissioner, when we're doing that.
MR. TOIV: Soon.
MR. MCCURRY: Soon. And what's the other -- the NATO event tomorrow?
MR. TOIV: Mike, I wouldn't anticipate it this week.
MR. MCCURRY: I think tomorrow the President wants to take the opportunity to note the significance of the historic vote by the Senate to ratify the addition of three additional members to the NATO Alliance. I think having just come from Europe and seeing the strength of that Alliance, to talk about how we are continuing to transform that Alliance for the future will be a welcome opportunity the President will seize and use profitably.
Q July in Moscow? Yeltsin says it.
MR. MCCURRY: Yeltsin -- first of all, I don't know for a fact that he said that. I know that President Clinton and President Yeltsin reviewed the status of a pending summit, and I know President Clinton made quite clear that we hoped to build part of the program of the next summit around a discussion of arms control and that would best be done in an atmosphere in which START II is already ratified. I think the Russian Federation knows that full well. There was no agreement at their meeting about a summit date.
Q So no July?
MR. MCCURRY: There was no agreement on a summit date.
Q Do you think that the Casa Blanca operation will affect in some way tomorrow's hearing for the nomination of Mr. Davidow to be the ambassador to Mexico?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure it will be raised as an issue, and I'm sure that the nominee, Assistant Secretary Davidow, will address it in a very forthcoming way consistent with our policy.
Can we make this the last one?
Q Can you explain why the White House prefers the Ford -- provisions over the --
MR. MCCURRY: I think to the degree that I can, I did that earlier in the briefing.
Q Do you think it's better --
MR. MCCURRY: The point I made earlier was that we believe in targeted assistance that goes especially to small family farmers. We have concern that the effect of the Lugar program would be to skew the benefits of assistance away from the small farmers and small communities that most need help.
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