THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:24 P.M. EDT
Q I told Secretary Shalala I would personally brief CBS and NBC and CNN on what she had to say, because I think it's important.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, thank you, Sam. It is important. There are millions of people, millions of -- there are millions of lives affected. We talk about a lot of stuff here day in and day out and some of it matters and some of it doesn't. But millions of people moving from welfare dependency into work situations and the struggle to make welfare reform real and to provide employment opportunities that are meaningful and to help these people stay in the work force so they don't go back to being welfare dependent is a big story of the transformation that's taken place in this country. But whether or not you pay any attention to that is up to you.
Q Have you been struck by the fact that other members of the Gingrich delegation are standing mute as he tears into the Secretary of State?
MR. MCCURRY: I imagine many of them, knowing the delicacy of some of the matters that the Speaker is addressing are electing not to associate themselves with the things the Speaker is saying. I think that's probably for good cause.
Q They're reluctant not to associate?
Q But how are they not --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know, I'm not there. She's asking a question why aren't any of them saying anything, and my guess is because they want to clear a little distance between where they are and where the Speaker is.
Q Well, they could say something, couldn't they?
MR. MCCURRY: They may be. I don't know. Obviously, what the Speaker has been saying has been much more newsworthy.
Q He's running for President, apparently. He's testing the water.
MR. MCCURRY: Is he, Sam?
Q Well, that's what everybody says and he's saying these things --
MR. MCCURRY: You know, on Sunday mornings people tell him stuff that they don't tell the rest of us. How do you know? (Laughter.)
Q This line of crack thinking has gotten me where I am today, here. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Speaker Gingrich is running for President, according to Sam Donaldson.
By the way, just a side note. We had an issue recently that some of the transcript services have raised of whether or not we have to declare filing breaks here, and my understanding here is that you all are filing contemporaneously as the briefing occurs, unlike the State Department.
Q People can carry it live?
MR. MCCURRY: People can carry it live, although I frequently provide good reason why you shouldn't.
Q But quite seriously, don't you think, in talking about why he's doing this, that that clearly is at least one of the reasons why he is saying the things he's saying?
MR. MCCURRY: What I do know is that his suggestion that he is coordinating with us to try to help the peace process is a little misbegotten, because we would choose to express a common view on some of the delicate issues he has addressed in a much different fashion, and do address them much differently.
Q Well, what type of coordination is there between the White House and --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we had made a request -- which he has said publicly, and we acknowledge was true -- with regard to some aspects of his program while he was in Jerusalem, and we did coordinate on that and we do try to make sure that he is current as we do with any delegation traveling, current on issues with respect to what they might encounter as they exchange views with leadership when they travel. I don't know what degree of briefings he had or whether he --
Q But other than your public comments, have you, in these private communications with him, encouraged him not to do the things that he is doing?
MR. MCCURRY: We have encouraged -- we encourage everybody to refrain from saying things and doing things that unilaterally prejudge the difficult issues that the parties themselves have identified for their own deliberations. That is true of us, true of leadership here in our country and true of the parties themselves. We encourage them not to say things that preempt some of the delicate negotiations that they will have to have if they are going to resolve these issues.
Q Have Gingrich's comments preempted delicate negotiations? In other words, your comments about him haven't stopped. I'm wondering if you are seeing some kind of negative effect on the peace process.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm reluctant to say that because we have our own direct contact with the parties and will continue to have that, and they know our thinking and we presumably know theirs. There have been reports -- I incorrectly said yesterday The Wall Street Journal, it was actually The Washington Post -- been some reports about the degree to which senior Israeli officials have been surprised by some of the things the Speaker has said. And I can only refer you -- I can't vouch for that reporting, but I can say that that certainly provides at least some answer from the reporting that they've done to that question.
Q Right. But is that the only evidence you have, is something that was in the newspaper? I mean, don't you have people all over the administration in touch with people in the Middle East to discern this for yourself?
MR. MCCURRY: We've had direct contact with the parties, yes. And what they have said publicly in response to some of the things the Speaker has said have been mild compared to what they've said privately.
Q Well, meaning that --
MR. MCCURRY: Meaning that they have felt that it has not been helpful to the process.
Q Does he have a State Department official with him?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know the answer to that. It's a Co-del and I would not be surprised if at least their embassy in Tel Aviv they've got an escort, but --
Q I'm not sure I understand your answer to Mara. I mean, somebody in the administration has gotten in touch with the Speaker since he said these things and said, well, will you please knock it off?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm suggesting that in response to her question don't we talk to the parties, don't we know what they think about some of this, the answer is, yes, we do and we have heard from representatives of the parties and this has not had a helpful impact.
Q But we know the Speaker knows what you and Mr. Rubin said yesterday because he responded to it. So, clearly, you're talking to him through the press, if no other way.
MR. MCCURRY: I'll leave it to the State Department to tell you whether there have been any other direct contacts that he may have had.
Q Mike, speaking of unilaterally prejudging, do you think that the Speaker's comments have been even more unhelpful than Mrs. Clinton's?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that his comments on what are in fact final status issues -- and we very quickly owned up and said that Mrs. Clinton was not speaking on behalf of the administration for precisely that reason, because we don't prejudge the issues that the parties, themselves, have to address. I have not heard anything from the Speaker indicating that he believes that he should not have expressed a private view or that's not the thinking of the United States government or that -- he recognizes that there is a different way in which we are trying to attempt to approach these kinds of issues as we try to wrestle the parties into a position where they are dealing directly in trying to bridge the differences that exist. I haven't heard that kind of contrition from the Speaker.
Q Would you like to see an apology from the Speaker?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not a question of apology, it's a question of saying things, doing things that help the dialogue that we want the parties to have, that don't inflame and exacerbate the differences and tensions that exist already.
Q Well, was he asked not to bring up the Jerusalem issue in the manner that he did?
MR. MCCURRY: No, but he understands full well the sensitivity of that issue, he understands full well that the things that he said are consciously taking a position that one party would take publicly and that the other party violently disagrees with.
Q Can you explain the difference between that and what Congress has done as a matter of law? I mean, he was pretty much stating the fact that Congress has passed a law saying that the capital should be in Jerusalem. And what's the difference between that and him going over there and --
Q The House has, not the Senate.
MR. MCCURRY: Because in that law there is a waiver that specifically was sought by the administration for the exact reason that there needs to be some recognition of the fact that the parties themselves are negotiating these matters and it's not until under the Oslo format until May of 1999 that they expect to even complete that stage of their discussion.
Q Mike, you were referring before to contrition. I'm not aware of Mrs. Clinton herself having expressed any regrets over the remarks.
MR. MCCURRY: We've expressed lots of things on her behalf, and it's close to it.
Q If I could finish the question -- and Chairman Arafat has pointed to her remarks as proof that he's on the right path. And what I'm trying to understand is why you're being so critical of Speaker Gingrich and were so protective of the First Lady.
MR. MCCURRY: I think I was anything but protective of the First Lady. I think I made it quite clear that she didn't express the thinking of her husband or the views of the administration and that's usually not something that press secretaries are anxious to do here.
Q Came close to trashing her.
MR. MCCURRY: Sam says I came close to trashing her.
Q When do you think you will announce the China trip?
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect that we will be in a better position to do more on the final itinerary, the kind of itinerary that's good for planning purposes for you all after we complete the kind of back-and-forth discussions that we have in preparation for these state visits, which usually includes direct discussions that the National Security Advisor has with counterparts. And I do believe Mr. Berger is planning to go over that direction next week.
Q And how long does he stay there? He leaves on Sunday; is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: He leaves on Sunday and stays for several days, I believe.
Q And could you clarify -- there is an op-ed piece in the Post today that said that when you changed the policy moving the satellite waivers from State to Commerce, that a decision was made in March, but it wasn't publicized until November 5th. Is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: That goes back to 1996, and I can't -- I don't remember that. You're talking about the waiver, the granting of the waiver, or the transfer of jurisdiction?
Q No, the transfer of the licensing.
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to go back and look at the chronology. That was back in 1996. I do not know the answer to that.
Q Will Mr. Berger try to get the Tiananmen Square ceremony switched to some other place?
MR. MCCURRY: He's got many, many issues to address. I'm not sure whether that will be one or not. But it wouldn't be at the top of an agenda that will focus on the substantive work that the President intends to do with his Chinese counterpart.
Q Is the President going to meet with Martin Lee when he goes to Hong Kong?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. In fact I don't know why there was any report to the contrary, but the plan would be for him to, in some fashion during his brief visit there, to meet with those who were democratically elected to Legislative Council positions. And by the way, we do acknowledge and applaud the expression of democratic will that the citizens of Hong Kong were able to make through the elections in the past several days. The President would meet with those democratically elected representatives of the Legislative Council, and then I believe will have a private meeting with Mr. Lee as well.
Q A private meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Is the U.S. government ready to signal its support to the IMF, or has it signaled its support toward the IMF to resume the lending to Russia -- the $670 million --
MR. MCCURRY: The IMF is already in direct discussion -- if I understand correctly, direct discussion with Russian officials on the extended fund facility. There is a $670 million tranche of funding that is currently being discussed between the International Monetary Fund and the Russian government. They are discussing the terms of that. We think it's important that they proceed with those discussions.
To back up for a second, the President's economic and foreign policy teams have been monitoring developments in Russia quite closely. The President got a briefing from Mr. Sperling, Mr. Berger and Treasury Department officials earlier today. The President has a lot of confidence in Prime Minister Kiriyenko and in the economic team that he has assembled. They are committed reformers. The reforms that they want to proceed with seem to us to be the right reforms. Obviously it's up to the IMF to work directly with the Russian government to address some of the questions of credit and lending that the IMF will proceed with.
But as to the disposition of this government and this economic team, we think they are on the right track when it comes to the economic reforms that they are pursuing.
Q Beyond the IMF, do you see any need for any additional measures for the United States to support to help Russia overcome this?
MR. MCCURRY: IMF is addressing through the work it's doing on the extended fund facility it already has in place, the question of the current credit needs of the central bank. Obviously those are important discussions and they will proceed.
Q Did you ever straighten out the question of the Pakistani delegation?
MR. MCCURRY: It's apparently a group of legislators from Pakistan. There had been some discussions of a trip by them previously. Obviously the question of current security balance on the subcontinent would likely be a topic of consideration. But I'm not aware that in any way the arrival of this delegation or its meetings would be seen by the United States government as an authoritative way to communicate our views on their testing.
Q When are they coming?
MR. MCCURRY: We have found the appropriate channels to do that, although we would look forward to a full exchange of views with these -- we expect them to see either Mr. Berger or Mr. Steinberg when they are here.
COLONEL CROWLEY: They will be here next week. I think their schedule is still not completely set.
MR. MCCURRY: And they will be here next week. The schedule is not completely set, be here sometime next week.
Q But this delegation was not invited by Clinton, when he talked to --
MR. MCCURRY: That's not my understanding. Stewart asked that earlier today, and I couldn't find anything to corroborate that.
Q Mike, in an interview the other day, Primakov called for de-linking the Russia summit from START II passage. Is the administration giving any thought --
MR. MCCURRY: We have not directly linked them. We have said very simply as follows: the work that President Clinton wants to do and the work that President Clinton and President Yeltsin agreed to do at their next full summit, going back to when they met in Helsinki, would focus in large part on what follows on after START II in the arms control agenda that we pursue with them. They have even set out some of the initial parameters that would guide a START III round.
That presupposes ratification of START II by the Duma. The work that President Clinton wants to do clearly will proceed in a much more fruitful environment if START II has been ratified. That's not ruling out the prospect of the two of them meeting without ratification. There are, in fact, a broad range of things that need to be done. But it clearly is a much better meeting, much more useful meeting if the Duma has proceeded with ratification of START II.
And with respect to that, the President is encouraged that President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Kiriyenko have moved very directly to encourage swift action by the Duma.
Q They might meet in July then?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard any further discussion of a date. I know the Russians are interested in a date, but I haven't heard any decision making on our end with respect to a final date.
Q Well, the President normally goes on vacation in August; is that correct -- along with the Congress and all that?
MR. MCCURRY: He enjoyed taking a nice, long, extended August vacation last year.
Q I'm not begrudging him -- I'm trying to get the time interval here.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, August follows July, and then September follows August.
Q Yes, but between the end of the Beijing trip and the August vacation there's about three weeks. During that three-week period, unless we go in September, is when he would go to Moscow.
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything that heads us to Moscow in July.
Q Any plans for Ireland?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything about travel there. I know Senator Torricelli was talking about that today, but I haven't heard anything here about that.
Q What do you hear about the summer vacation?
MR. MCCURRY: That as Mr. Donaldson indicates, it's a good idea. And we'll probably do one. And we don't know location. It may be perhaps more than one location.
Q Mike, with Pakistan on the brink of capability to test, are there additional efforts by the administration now to persuade them not go to forward?
MR. MCCURRY: I think you're well aware that the President has been directly involved with Prime Minister Sharif, with others. He has worked with Prime Minister Blair and others in the international community to encourage Pakistan to see that it can address its security needs and the needs of its population without joining the nuclear club. And we continue to make that argument strenuously. I'm not going to detail the nature of the diplomatic conversations we're having, but we are continuing to press that case.
Q Do you have anything from the Hill to show the willingness to move on the F-16s or compensate them in any way?
MR. MCCURRY: As Mr. Berger indicated more than a week ago, our consultations up there certainly indicate to us that a conscious decision by Pakistan not to test would produce a very favorable, much more favorable environment for the consideration of relaxation of the Pressler Amendment, the Symington Amendment, other issues with respect to our bilateral relationship. It's not to say that it would be a done deal, but our consultations indicate it certainly would improve the climate for consideration.
Q Any initiatives planned to reflect that change of climate?
MR. MCCURRY: We have clearly been pursuing with senior members of Congress what their attitude would be in an environment in which Pakistan made a conscious decision not to respond to India's test by testing itself.
Q Will Sandy Berger be talking with his Chinese counterparts on enlisting further Chinese assistance in putting pressure on the Pakistanis to that regard?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure that they will review the situation in South Asia, yes.
Q Mike, did you just say that Pakistan would have to affirmatively say we are not going to test before any movement on Pressler could occur?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying it would clearly be more -- if such a debate were to advance, the climate for considering it would be much more favorable if they clearly had made a decision not to pursue testing.
Q So they need a proactive sort of commitment.
Q As opposed to merely not having had tested.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you need some indication of what their disposition is.
Q Back to vacation. One of our learned colleagues observed this morning that the beginning of the Lewis and Clark Trail was now an oil refinery. He's not going to vacation in an oil refinery, is he?
MR. MCCURRY: I would tend to doubt it, although I'm sure the oil and gas industry could introduce you to many spectacular and scenic oil and gas facilities.
Q Someone said he's going to go on the Lewis and Clark Trail.
MR. MCCURRY: That's a long trail. (Laughter.)
Q It sure is.
Q A journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step.
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect that there are more scenic parts of that trail. It's a long trail.
Q Is there any credence to that? Any credence to that?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything that leads me to believe they've made any final decision.
Q Your friends are also saying that.
MR. MCCURRY: I can imagine they are.
Q Monica Lewinsky is giving samples of her fingerprints.
MR. MCCURRY: CNN's got a strong interest in that story, having broken it.
Q We do. And so what does that signal to you? And also --
MR. MCCURRY: I have not a clue.
Q Will the President testify before the grand jury?
MR. MCCURRY: Ask Mr. Kendall.
Q Mike, with all the criticism of the China trip, is the President giving any thought to making some major speech before he goes, explaining why he's going, addressing the criticisms?
MR. MCCURRY: We would normally, before a major foreign trip, find some way to publicly state our goals, remind people of our policy, talk about the utility and progress we were making as a result of our policy. So I certainly wouldn't rule that out.
Q You haven't had a discussion of moving that up or doing it now since there's so much --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything, don't have any speech to announce, but certainly wouldn't be surprised if we did something like that.
Q In regards to Operation Casablanca and the U.S.-Mexico relations, do you think there is enough transparency in the exchange of information when it comes to counter-narcotics operations? And if there is, why did the United States not inform the Mexican government that Operation Casablanca was taking place in their territory?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as I indicated yesterday, President Clinton expressed his regret to President Zedillo that we were not in a position to provide prompt notification of the operation. Both governments have been in a position to review our counter-drug efforts. Secretary Rubin met with Secretary Gurria just this past weekend, and among the things they exchanged views on were the procedures we jointly undertake to fight the drugs which attack both our peoples, and our close cooperation with the government of Mexico will continue.
Q That answer itself wasn't as transparent as it might have been, though. (Laughter.) Is he saying that there should have been notification and was not? Or is he saying, look, I know you would have liked notification, but, sorry, we couldn't, we weren't going to do it?
MR. MCCURRY: I said that the President indicated that he regretted the fact that we were not in a position to provide advance notification.
Q What does that mean, not in a position? What sort of position were we in?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just the guy who passes on guidance. (Laughter.)
Q But, Mike, do you expect transparency in the future from the Mexican government when it comes to this kind of operations?
MR. MCCURRY: I expect a continued close cooperation between our governments on an issue of great mutual concern. I cannot anticipate or foreshadow decision making that the government of Mexico might undertake. That's really their business to communicate.
But our efforts to consult closely with them on these matters will certainly continue. They are a major part of the agenda that we pursue in a very sophisticated, binational agenda -- it's part of, in fact, our binational commission agenda itself is formed in part on our efforts on law enforcement and money-laundering, counter drug-trafficking, all the issues that we address together. And we'll continue to do so respectfully with special sensitivity to the sovereignty of the government of the people of Mexico.
Q And would you say Operation Casa Blanca was really a success for the United States government?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that those -- as it was described and as we indicated, those that have been apprehended and those that have been charged and steps that the government of Mexico and its own law enforcement agencies have taken, I think you would have to say it is a success, if you care about the fight to eradicate drugs and drug-trafficking, particularly across our mutual border.
Q Was the President, yesterday, when he said that he was not opposed to tax increases in the future under certain circumstances, really signalling that next year, tax cuts -- forgive me -- next year, if there is a Social Security fix, that he will then sponsor a broad-based tax cut?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he was saying that Social Security comes first, the surpluses that you can foresee need to be reserved for that purpose, but if we successfully deal with the long-term entitlement issues that we face, we then will have the luxury of -- if we continue to project surpluses, to decide together as a country what to do with them. And I think the President was indicating, to especially those who are strong proponents of tax cuts, that he would not rule out a discussion of that, provided that Social Security had been addressed first, but there will be a lot of people with a lot of ideas what to do with that kind of money.
Tax relief is a good thing. We favor tax relief. We've provided it, we've looked for ways to target tax relief in the President's budgets that he has submitted. But as the President reiterated yesterday, Social Security does come first for us. We believe that we'll be in a position hopefully early next year to have some long-term solutions to the question of Social Security solvency, and then we can deal with other budget issues as people present ideas.
Q You're saying he'll talk about it then, but he does not pledge himself to support it?
MR. MCCURRY: He wanted to signal that he was not ruling out something he knows is important to many members of our party, many members of an opposition party and it's something that he, himself, has some interest in, in having proposed it as part of his budgets.
Q Does the President favor a reduction in the marriage tax penalty? Would he favor one this year?
MR. MCCURRY: We have presented our own ideas for tax relief in our fiscal '99 budget proposal and it does not include a reduction in the so-called "marriage tax penalty." Treasury has looked at that issue; they can probably tell you more about what our analysis is.
Q But does he favor that as -- in principle, favor that type of --
MR. MCCURRY: In principal, what he favors is exactly what he put forward as tax relief in his proposed budget.
Q Where are we on the list of Fed nominees? Have they gone to the Congress?
MR. MCCURRY: Dina, I've checked, and they told me that there is no real vacancy, there is only an anticipated vacancy, so we were anticipating what we would do in case that there was an opening. Is that right?
MR. TOIV: Yes. We don't have a name yet.
MR. MCCURRY: We don't have a name yet for that anticipated vacancy, but we're looking. Right now the only vacancy is a prospective one and we're working very hard on that, nothing to report at this time.
Q You had said before that you expected to put a list to the President by June. Has that slipped?
MR. MCCURRY: No, she's departing, if I understand correctly, at the end of June. So they are thinking about that.
Q Mike, can you clarify something that came out of the documents that were released Friday? Does the White House acknowledge that the President was aware of the financial problems for Loral -- that it did not get the waiver?
MR. MCCURRY: The what problems?
Q That Loral stood to lose millions. Was the President aware --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if the President, himself, was aware of that, but certainly the administration and those that were familiar with the decision making were aware of that, even before -- a representative of Loral has indicated they were attempting to press upon the administration the importance of making a timely decision because, in part, they were losing money. But the decision memo that had been drafted and approved by Mr. Berger for forwarding to the President had even gone forward to the President prior to that.
But anyone familiar with the way in which these aerospace contracts are structured would know that any delay in time would probably result in some kind of penalty.
Q Are you saying that you're not sure that the President got the memo?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know whether the President, himself, knew specifically that they were going to lose a lot of money; but I can't imagine that anyone familiar with this and the President is relatively familiar with, would not understand that any delay in a contract for a launch would result in some penalty that could cost a company money.
Q Ambassador Richardson was here today. Has there been any decision about him changing positions?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. He was here for a meeting that the President's foreign policy team was having on some of the matters we've discussed earlier.
Q Like what? You mean Pakistan?
MR. MCCURRY: India-Pakistan.
Q Thank you.
END 2:53 P.M. EDT