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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 22, 1998
                          PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                            MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

4:05 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Batting clean-up, the Press Secretary, Mike McCurry. Do you want me to do the week ahead? I'll do the week ahead, if you're interested in that. First of all, at the conclusion of this briefing we'll have a full lid for the evening, aside from the President's departure, for Camp David. The President and the First Lady intend to spend the weekend up there. They'll leave sometime early evening. And they will return either Sunday night or Monday morning for the traditional Memorial Day activities here -- the breakfast with veterans groups, beginning at 8:30 a.m. Then the President goes over to Arlington National Cemetery for the wreath-laying ceremony at 11:00 a.m.; comes back here to the White House. And that's the day.

On Tuesday, we're holding open the opportunity of talking about economics and budget. So if we did that we'd probably do it sometime late morning.

Wednesday, there will be an event to note the progress we're making on welfare to work and some of the things that are happening there.

And on Thursday, the President will want to dig in a little bit on the Patient Bill of Rights and talk about some of the progress we're making on that issue -- health care quality. That will be at 10:15 a.m. -- site to be determined.

Friday he meets with Kosovo Albanian leader Rugova. They are also considering some possibility of a domestic policy event that day.

Saturday, the President will do his radio broadcast live, and then later in the day have a reunion -- 30th anniversary reunion of his class at Georgetown. That's what the big structure emanating on the South Lawn is all about.

Q He said something out here about answering questions about the school shooting after his radio address. What was he talking about?

MR. MCCURRY: I think he was just referring to the fact his radio address tomorrow will talk more about the way the nation is coping with this tragedy in Oregon. The President will review some of the things we've been able to do, some of the things that government can do, but will also note that there's not a government program or government initiative that can solve a problem that sometimes requires individual attention and early intervention by parents, by schoolteachers, counselors, administrators, and those concerned in the community about the welfare of kids who clearly, when they are disturbed, can do some very disturbing things.

Q So we won't see him tomorrow even to react to the vote in Ireland?

MR. MCCURRY: No. He's pretaping the radio address now. He'll be up at Camp David and I suspect that the reaction that we render tomorrow will be a written statement. That's what I've heard, that we would most likely do a written statement in response to the vote.

Q Mike, the President said that this ruling today will have a chilling effect on the conversation Presidents have, on the work they do and the way they do it. Is he speaking of himself, particularly?

MR. MCCURRY: No. He was making an argument generically, I think, that the Treasury Department in its briefs argued. I mean, obviously anyone can foresee the merit of the argument that the Secret Service has made and the argument that President Bush made.

Q Mike, will this change the way this President acts around the Secret Service?

MR. MCCURRY: It may very well. And there's no way of predicting that. One would hope that it won't -- and for all the reasons that the Secret Service indicated, but the President will, presumably, like future Presidents, will have to be mindful of this decision.

Q Does the White House hope this will be appealed?

MR. MCCURRY: That's up to the Treasury Department in consultation with the Justice Department. We won't play any role in that decision.

Q Mike, the President obviously had very strong feelings on the subject, judging from what he said today. Why didn't he address this matter before, and why did he feel this juncture was appropriate to address --

MR. MCCURRY: Just because the matter arises in a specific issue involving him, he thought it was best for him to stay out; so did the White House legal counsel, and so, presumably, did the Justice Department, which did not seek our views after it was contacted by the Treasury Department and asked by the Secret Service to intervene in the case. And I think the President felt it was proper for him to keep a distance from what was largely an institutional argument that was best carried by those who know professionally the requirements to provide the security they are required to provide under law.

Q But why did he think it was appropriate to address the matter now?

MR. MCCURRY: He was asked a very specific question about what the effect would be and he answered it generically, not related to himself, but just generically.

Q Do you know what he means, in practical terms, by a chilling effect? Is it that it chills relations with him and his aides, or does it chill relations between him and the agency?

MR. MCCURRY: If there is some matter of sensitivity that the President wants to have a conversation with someone about, and doesn't want a third party overhearing it, as the Secret Service argued, you have to ask for some distance. And the Secret Service has raised the reasons why they are concerned about that.

Q But Mike, you say he was just addressing it generically, but why aren't these comments tantamount to calling for an appeal in describing the decision as wrong-headed as he did?

MR. MCCURRY: He's not calling for an appeal. He didn't say that. He was asked that and declined to answer. And he clearly wants the Justice Department and the Secret Service to continue to handle this matter as they have handled it, acting on what they think is the best judgments that they can make on their professional opinion. That's the reason why we've stayed out of this from the beginning. But it would be ridiculous to imagine he doesn't have some thoughts on a subject that President Bush has expressed himself on and that those who are very familiar with what executive protection is about have expressed themselves on.

He has refrained from saying anything while it was pending before the judge, but you've asked him repeatedly about it and he just happened to answer today.

Q Mike, you said the President may change some of his actions now with the Secret Service. What kind of actions would he change?

MR. MCCURRY: I just described that.

Q Can you touch upon this a little bit more? Can you envision --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to go it any deeper. It's still in front of the courts. It's going to have to be appealed.

Q Can I ask the question.

MR. MCCURRY: Go ahead.

Q Can you envision a conversation that the President would have that he would not now have as a result of this ruling in front of the Secret Service?

MR. MCCURRY: Sure. I could imagine he'd want to sit and talk to his National Security Advisor about the conversation he had with the Prime Minister of Pakistan today without having a Secret Service agent who then would have to testify about it, overhear it. Of course. That's pretty obvious.

Q Mike, the polls are about to close in Northern Ireland with reports of a record turnout. Do you agree with party leaders in Northern Ireland that there needs to be an emphatic vote in favor of the agreement to give it a future? And second, given the amount of risks the President has taken for this process, is there a certain amount of nervousness in the White House tonight?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's not nervousness, because we have worked hard at making clear the viewpoints of the United States government about the opportunity that now exists for the people of Ireland. The President, I think, has forcefully argued why he sees this as an historic opportunity for the people of Ireland and why he hopes they seize this moment. It appears that, based on what we're hearing here, that there has been a considerable turnout. And that's to the good. It means that the people of Ireland and Ulster have engaged in this debate and listened carefully and have now rendered a judgment. And obviously it's not our place to second-guess whatever judgment they've rendered, but we certainly do hope that it will be a positive endorsement of the Good Friday Agreement.

Q When we get the final results, is it possible for you to put out a piece of paper on it?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I've already indicated that's what we plan to do.

Q Mike, Speaker Gingrich's office has said that the Clinton administration requested that he not visit the site of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know how or when that happened, but I wouldn't be surprised at that. That would be consistent with our views about the sensitivity of the embassy issue and consistent with what we've counseled others.

Q You don't know specifically who would have asked Speaker Gingrich not to do that?

MR. MCCURRY: I would imagine he had some contact or his staff had some contact with probably the NSC or the State Department.

Q Does this reflect any kind of request from the Palestinians?

MR. MCCURRY: No, this reflects -- this is what we would tell anyone consistent with our longstanding policy on Jerusalem.

Q Mike, did the U.S. use undercover agents in Mexico to conduct a sting operation?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't address that matter, but the Justice Department, if it chooses to, will.

Q Have we had any conversations with President Zedillo, who has complained rather bitterly?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has had a conversation with President Zedillo, and President Zedillo expressed many of the concerns that the government of Mexico has publicly raised, which we well understand. We will continue to work very closely with the government of Mexico in a cooperative fashion to address our common desire to reduce drug trafficking and to combat those things that have a negative impact on both our peoples.

Q Was the President able to satisfy any of his concerns?

MR. MCCURRY: They had a good conversation.

Q Today?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it was last night.

Q Mike, what does the administration think about some more measures that were passed today, I believe, on Russia, and Iran, and proliferation? Is there a sense that Congress is trying to tie the hands -- the foreign policy hands of this President?

MR. MCCURRY: There is that concern, and it is a real one, because we work hard on issues, especially related to proliferation. The President, at some great length, as you heard from Deputy Secretary Talbott, engaged President Yeltsin last weekend on the subject of technology proliferation, and Iran, specifically. And we made considerable progress, which the Deputy Secretary detailed. We'd hope that more members of the Senate would have been mindful of that as they cast their votes, but we'll see now what happens in the conference committee that addresses the matter.

Q Are you concerned about MFN and China next month?

MR. MCCURRY: There have been some indications by some in Congress that they want to review that issue. And that's one that -- our arguments on that have been well rehearsed. The reasons why the President decoupled the consideration of normal trade relations with China from the question of human rights was so that we could make more progress on human rights, and we have. We made considerable progress. And to revisit that debate at a moment in our bilateral relationship in which we've actually advanced the ball when it comes to achieving some of our objectives with respect to human rights would be a great surprise.

Revoking normal trade status with China is a statement of close and tantamount to breaking diplomatic relations. And if that is where members of Congress believe we need to be with respect to China, we have a serious policy disagreement with them. On this matter, generally, I think if we have a debate about policy that we need to have, we ought to have that debate. But increasingly, it appears what we have is a political dispute, and the President believes we ought to keep politics out of foreign policy and the conduct of foreign policy.

Happy weekend.

Q Is the President considering a drawdown in forces in the Gulf, and is there a decision that's expected, maybe even over the weekend, on that matter?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President has been examining the question of how we can maintain our readiness and maintain our ability to meet our international obligations in the Persian Gulf. To my knowledge, there's no change in our policy -- our policy of being in the position of where we can contain and deal with any threat posed by Iraq. But, inevitably, what kind of deployment is necessary is one that we examine often, and the Pentagon no doubt is looking at what our force posture is in the Pentagon and will make reviews and decisions accordingly.

Q Have we asked about the week ahead?

MR. MCCURRY: I did the week ahead.

Okay. Have a happy Memorial Day weekend.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 4:35 P.M. EDT