THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:37 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for allowing me a little extra time so I could report some updated news to you.
MR. MCCURRY: We'll get to that in just a minute.
Q Yeltsin phone call?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. You cannot stop Helen Thomas ever. I want to start with a couple of announcements first and then we'll move on to other news of the day. Tonight at 8:00 p.m. eastern daylight time the Voice of America will inaugurate VOA News Now, a new 24-hour all-news international radio service. And why are you looking at me as if VOA Director Evelyn Lieberman instructed me to tell you this? Is that what you suspect?
Q I thought it was Mary Ellen.
MR. MCCURRY: And Mary Ellen, too. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will do the initial interview tonight on the first edition of VOA News Now. News Now will feature international news, U.S. news, and regional news targeted to the region of the world where the sun is rising. So that would be daybreak in Beijing, daybreak in New Delhi, daybreak in Islamabad when the First Lady is being interviewed tonight at 8:00 p.m. on the first edition of VOA News Now. This will be the first change of format at the Voice of America in over two decades.
Q Who will be interviewing?
MR. MCCURRY: One of VOA's news anchors.
Q Is it a no-holds-barred interview?
MR. MCCURRY: VOA News Now anchor. It will be and we have no idea what they -- they can ask any question that they want.
Q Will they take questions by request? (Laughter.)
Q If only we could get that opportunity.
MR. MCCURRY: Sam, hearing of your interest in this important development in the life of Voice of America, I'm sure they would entertain any suggestions you have for them. They'd probably be delighted to have you on the program at some point. (Laughter.) Assuming that your contract with ABC allows for such things.
Q Carole Simpson interviewed the First Lady --
Q Are you going to be there?
MR. MCCURRY: That's good. Yes. I think our attendance has been compelled by those that we know and love there.
All right, on to other subjects.
Q Mike, is that going to be -- how are we going to know what's said?
MR. MCCURRY: It'll be -- if you call the Voice of America's Office of External Affairs at 619-2538 they will tell you how to connect to that.
Now, President Yeltsin of the Russian Federation called President Clinton today to report on actions Russia is taking to reach agreement with the International Monetary Fund and to ensure that Russia stays on a sound economic track. President Yeltsin affirmed his support for his economic team, their commitment to implement a solid budget, their efforts to invigorate tax reform, and steps the Russian government is taking to create a climate to attract investment. President Clinton reiterated his firm support for Russia's reform efforts, its commitment to reach rapid agreement with the IMF, President Yeltsin's unequivocal commitment to back Prime Minister Kiriyenko's government and his reform.
As you heard me say yesterday, the President believes that Prime Minister Kiriyenko has a very sound and strong economic team in place that have a very good idea of the types of reforms that they want to pursue, and while the Russian Federation clearly faces some economic potholes in the road, they know how to pave them. I think there is a high degree of confidence in the work that President Yeltsin's team is doing.
Clearly, both Presidents also discussed the seriousness of the situation with respect to the nuclear tests by Pakistan and the situation on the Indian subcontinent. They agreed they need to stay in close touch and work together to defuse tensions in South Asia, and both Presidents noted the importance of the work that Foreign Minister Primakov and Secretary Albright did today at the North Atlantic Council ministers' meeting in Brussels. There is an historic first statement by the Partnership Joint Council, which is the entity NATO and Russia jointly formed to deal with matters with respect to Russia's partnership with a NATO that issued a very strong statement on the situation on the subcontinent today. And both Presidents welcome that development.
Separately, Prime Minister Kiriyenko had a conversation with Vice President Gore today in which the Prime Minister reaffirmed his strong commitment to economic reform. We can get more details -- the Vice President's office can get you more details from that call.
Q Any talk about the President going to Moscow?
MR. MCCURRY: The subject of a summit did not come up in this discussion that I'm aware of. That was not reported to me.
MR. MCCURRY: -- ratification in the Duma?
MR. MCCURRY: We continue to have a very strong interest in START II ratification. I think, if anything, arms control and arms control issues are very much on the minds of both these Presidents, and the steps that Russia and the United States are taking to reduce their arsenals of nuclear arms.
Q Did it come up?
MR. MCCURRY: That subject did not come up today. It may have come up in Kiriyenko-Gore. We'd have to check on that. That was not reported to me.
Q Did the detonation of the nuclear devices in Pakistan seal the fate of President Clinton's trip to India and Pakistan in the fall?
MR. MCCURRY: Not necessarily. That trip is still under review, and the President has not made a decision with respect to it. There are strong arguments to be made for going to press upon both governments and others in the region the importance we attach to steps now to de-escalate and to lessen tensions in South Asia. But there clearly are some arguments against going, as a statement of our displeasure with both governments for steps, as the President said today, that move in the wrong direction, contrary to the tide of history that most of the world is celebrating.
Q What's the assessment now on the part of the U.S. government that both countries will now move to another step of actually arming delivery systems with nuclear weapons?
MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of steps that these governments could take that would be threatening to each other and would create greater instabilities in the region. There are also steps they could take that would be very reassuring to the world community at this point. First and foremost among them would be for both to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty immediately and without condition, to join the discussions in Geneva for a cutoff of fissile material production, and to refrain from any steps, any actions that would suggest deployment or weaponization of ballistic missiles, which would clearly be seen throughout the world as a very destabilizing and very dangerous development.
Q Mike, does the President have any reason to believe that Pakistan may do more tests in the next few days?
MR. MCCURRY: We will assess that and report on that as we can. The statement by the government of Pakistan was quite clear that they believe that they have matched the tests that have been done by India, but obviously we'll continue to monitor the situation closely.
Q Did the President have any reason to believe that from his last conversation with Sharif?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, to drop back a bit, he had a conversation that I reported to many of you around midnight last night in which he made the very strong case against testing, that the United States government and the President personally believes -- and believed -- was the correct course for the people of Pakistan to pursue. He made the strong argument of what would accrue to the benefit of the people of Pakistan if its government refrained from testing and noted that the severe consequences that Pakistan will now face as a result of these tests.
That argument, obviously, and the arguments of many others in the world did not sway the government of Pakistan, the Prime Minister -- the Prime Minister called the President just before he made his public statement this morning around 8:30 a.m. to note his decision and to express his respect and respectful disagreement for the arguments raised by the President.
Q Just for the record, this means that the F-16s that were held up because of the Pressler Amendment, that Pakistan can certainly forget about ever getting those F-16s?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are a variety of sanctions that will come in place and join those sanctions already in place, through the Symington Amendment, through the Pressler Amendment. There are a number of sanctions that have already -- were already imposed on the government of Pakistan. Those obviously remain in place. The serious consequences that result from the sanctions imposed by the Glenn Amendment, Section 102 of the Export Control Act, now come into place, and they will have a range of effects on our bilateral assistance programs and on the posture we take in international lending institutions.
Q So what can the United States now offer to India and Pakistan in an effort to get them to sign the treaty and forbear further testing?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, for one, that all these strict sanctions in place remain in place and cannot be removed until there are the kind of steps that would allow the President to go to Congress and suggest that sanctions should be relaxed. So to the degree that these sanctions do have an impact in these countries -- and there is a report in one of our newspapers today about the impact that sanctions are already having in India -- to the degree that that pressure begins to build on these governments and they see fit to follow the kind of course that we have suggested they need to pursue at this point, that would put the administration in a position to make a case to Congress if we were in that position to relax sanctions. We are a long way -- in the aftermath of this decision, we're not there at this point.
Q When they talked at 8:30 a.m., did the President take the call?
MR. MCCURRY: They -- Prime Minister Sharif had called earlier in the morning -- actually, I step back -- the government of Pakistan had called earlier in the morning and arranged the call, and it occurred right around 8:30 a.m.
Q What did the President say to Sharif when Sharif --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he expressed exactly what he told all of you in his statement: his profound disappointment, his sense that this was exactly the wrong decision for the government of Pakistan to make. He certainly understands the arguments the Prime Minister made. He understands the unique regional and domestic pressures that the Prime Minister felt he faced. But the President, nonetheless, felt that this was a very wrong decision and regretted the fact that the Prime Minister did not see the wisdom of the argument the President had carefully made.
Q Let me follow on the F-16s. Is the U.S. now obligated to return the money to Pakistan?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will have to review that. It had been the policy of our government that we had accepted payment for the aircraft, that we were looking for some way that we could arrange for some compensation for the aircraft. The Pressler Amendment was quite clear on restricting the delivery of the aircraft themselves. We'll have to assess now, in light of this development, if there's any relief that's available. There may not be any relief.
Q When do the sanctions actually go into effect?
MR. MCCURRY: They're being prepared now, and they could be issued as early as later today or certainly in coming days.
Q Mike, do you have an idea of the economic impact of this latest sanction?
MR. MCCURRY: The question is for a ballpark estimate and if you will accept this as really only a ballpark estimate, I can run through what we anticipate some of the implications of the imposition of Glenn Amendment sanctions under the Arms Export Control Act.
First, in the international financial institution lending that is done to Pakistan, it will now be the posture of the United States and its executive directors who sit on those lending institutions to oppose multilateral lending. The government of Pakistan has got a fairly extensive international financial assistance program underway. The IMF program there itself is, I think, a $1.6 billion dollar program. Now, that doesn't immediately get shut off. It's just the United States position in the IMF is that we would oppose that type of multilateral lending.
Estimated disbursements by other entities, the Asian Development Bank, is expected to disburse roughly $1.8 billion during 1998 to 2000. Estimated disbursements by the World Bank are about $500 million to $750 million annually. The next disbursement under the IMF program that was anticipated was expected to be $292 million toward the end of this year. Those are all disbursements that we don't control, but it will now be our position in opposition to those disbursements.
There is not much bilateral assistance to Pakistan that we have currently because of the Symington Act restrictions that are already in place, so there's not, for example, an AID program to cut off or anything of that nature because most of that was currently proscribed, as is international military education training, funding, IMET funding, not currently prohibited by law or defense, sales and export licenses, but those now, under Glenn Amendment restrictions, would be prohibited.
I can give you some sense of the value, if you're interested in that, of what those licenses approved for commercial arms exports to Pakistan in the last full fiscal year that we have data for was roughly $83 million. It's $60 million currently in FY97, which is the current data that we have available.
Q Mike, other than --
MR. MCCURRY: Let me just run through the rest of this, okay?
License for dual use commodities, the Commerce Department regulated items -- don't have the exact value but there are 11 current license approvals in effect, 21 that are conditionally approved. That all now, of course, is affected by -- could be affected by Glenn Amendment restrictions. It's not clear that they are automatically impacted.
There's no current foreign military financing program for Pakistan, but that's -- you would assume that's the kind of thing that the government of Pakistan has now foregone any possibility of as a result of this decision.
And then in the area of credit guarantees and credit loan programs that we unilaterally administer, we had just recently made some decisions about restoring OPIC lending to Pakistan. That all now comes under jeopardy, although that is something a lawyer is going to have to look at a little more carefully. The Ex-Im Bank had already placed Pakistan on "on cover" status and identified about $293 million for new funding, and that is now in jeopardy as well.
So, all told, I think you can see it's a very significant range of economic sanctions and a very heavy price for the government of Pakistan to have paid for what, in effect, the President today called the wrong decision.
Q What was the tone of Sharif's arguments or responses to the President this morning after rejecting what sounded like impassioned appeals that the President made on four previous occasions not to go ahead with these tests?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be most appropriate for the government of Pakistan to describe that, but I think it would be accurate to say that the Prime Minister clearly struggled with what was apparently, for him, a very difficult decision. He knew the costs, he understood exactly the President's argument. I think he had some sympathy for the argument that the right thing to do for the people of Pakistan and for Pakistan's place in history was to refrain from testing. But I think he clearly felt the pressure and the burden of both domestic political opinion and also the reality of the pressure he faced in the region because of the decision by the government of India. He sounded, in short, like someone who is very pained by a very difficult decision.
Q What does it say about the President's clout in international affairs that both India and now Pakistan have summarily rejected his advice?
MR. MCCURRY: It says that the United States of America, despite all of its wealth and its might, cannot control every event every place in the world, particularly in a place where, for five decades now, governments have fought wars and peoples have lived with incredible tension. And it just means it makes it all the more important and all the more incumbent upon the United States, given our unique role in the world, to work hard at doing the kinds of things we do.
We've just recently celebrated the success of a peace effort in Northern Ireland that took three decades in the making. And the India subcontinent is a place where we're going to have to work a lot harder to resolve tensions.
We'll do D.C. Control Board in a little while, Mark.
Q Well, how hopeful should we be about the chances that the U.S. can try to --
MR. MCCURRY: We have already undergone -- we've already undertaken urgent consultations. I mentioned the work that the Secretary of State is doing in Brussels already. By the way, in a short while, Deputy Secretary Talbott at the State Department will be briefing. He, of course, is our most recent highest-level diplomat to have been in Pakistan.
The work that we will have to do to try to encourage these parties to reach some understanding between themselves and to take the kinds of actions I described earlier with respect to CTBT, fissile material production -- the decisions they will have to make with respect to their own ballistic forces will be, we believe, impacted by the kind of diplomatic pressure the international community can bring to bear. And I suspect you'll see in coming days a real effort by the United States to join with other governments to address this.
Q What kind of pressure did the administration ask the Chinese government to exert in the situation, and are you satisfied with their performance?
MR. MCCURRY: We have had a very important exchange of views with the People's Republic and it would be better for the People's Republic to describe their role. We will certainly remain in close contact with them as we address a regional security issue that has always been of very keen interest to the government of the People's Republic.
Q Can you say whether or not they were helpful or cooperative?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I will leave it to their country. They've already said some things publicly and we are pursuing some other ideas as we exchange views with the Chinese government.
Q Other than offering India and Pakistan the prospect of removing the sanctions, going back to the status quo ante, which clearly wasn't enough leverage to get them to refrain, what kind of leverage does the United States have, other than that?
MR. MCCURRY: World opinion, which has turned very swiftly against the decision by the government of India and will no doubt bring some pressure to bear on the government of Pakistan as well, could have a very real impact. As I suggested earlier, there is some initial reporting that public opinion, which was initially enthusiastic in India, presumably will be enthusiastic in Pakistan, turns a bit sour when people begin to see the price they pay. You can read the reports today of power that's not available in New Delhi, the price that the citizens of India are going to pay for this decision by its government, by their government, and that will have some impact over time, we believe.
Q Have you seen any sign that either India or Pakistan are actually proceeding with the next step of attaching the devices to --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to describe that. That's an intelligence matter, and we are monitoring that very carefully.
Q Mike, what prompted the President's call at midnight. Was he aware that they were about to test and was he trying to talk them out of it?
MR. MCCURRY: We have had -- I would describe as either very good or excellent information available to us about the status of the work being done at a technical level in Pakistan, but more importantly, the President had a very good sense of the way in which Prime Minister Sharif was dealing with this decision and he felt it was incumbent upon him to make what he knew would be, perhaps, a last-minute appeal to Prime Minister Sharif to reconsider, at least to consider the importance of the argument the President made. You heard him -- President Clinton earlier today talk about the price that Pakistan has paid for this decision. And I think President Clinton felt it would have been remiss of him not to make one last effort to remind the Prime Minister of that cost.
Q Does the United States give any humanitarian aid to Pakistan or India --
MR. MCCURRY: No. As I said, most bilateral assistance programs, because of the Symington Amendment, are in suspension in any event.
Q There is some talk floating around that the Pakistanis --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, there are some humanitarian and food relief programs that are not restricted and not covered by Glenn Amendment, but normal foreign aid, foreign aid assistance --
Q Humanitarian and food to both countries is still --
MR. MCCURRY: In both countries, humanitarian assistance or things related to drought relief, hunger relief, can proceed.
Q There is some talk of putting nuclear weapons on the missiles that Pakistan recently tested. Did the President get any assurance from Prime Minister Sharif that Pakistan would not deploy weapons if indeed they had them?
MR. MCCURRY: We will continue to press upon both governments, as I just said earlier, the dangers that would arise from any weaponization of the missiles they have or any efforts to nuclearize their current military forces. I think both governments understand how strongly the United States has made that argument -- or makes that argument, and they understand the consequences that would arise from that escalation. That would be taking a situation that is already very bad and making it very much worse than it is already.
Q But they didn't talk about that last night?
Q Were there any assurances?
MR. MCCURRY: They have had discussions about that and both governments are well aware of our thinking.
Q Has the administration gotten any pressure from U.S. business groups to exercise restraint in punishing India and Pakistan?
MR. MCCURRY: From business groups?
Q Yes, from business groups here that might be worried that their business or trade will be affected.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the arguments that we hear from some in the business community, but not all -- some private sector enterprises, as you know, have been supportive of the imposition of sanctions, but we do hear from some in the business community that the effect of unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States is to put U.S. companies, who employ people here in the United States, at risk to those foreign governments that will not adopt similar sanctions and will go ahead and exchange commerce and goods and services with both countries.
That is the price we pay for the way we use sanctions as an instrument of diplomacy. That's true whether it's China, Iran, or any of the other places where we have sanctions policies in effect. But that is our law, and this administration intends to enforce that law.
Q Mike, why did the President decide to make his Pakistan statement during the patient rights event, rather than making it a separate venue and giving us a chance to ask him questions about it?
MR. MCCURRY: It was the venue available and, frankly, the first available. There was a lot of pressure on us to make the President available because all of you had very strong interest in hearing from him.
Q Is the Pakistani delegation still coming tomorrow, and who are they going to meet with?
MR. MCCURRY: They're coming next week, and I don't have any update on who or where they will be received here.
Q Does the President support Medicaid patients getting Viagra?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not an issue we have dealt with here. You have to ask the health care finance agency. We'll come back on it. Let's do anything more on this.
Q Even if you get India and Pakistan to de-escalate somewhat, the genie is really half out of the bottom.
MR. MCCURRY: Half?
Q Well, the genie is out of the bottle, maybe all the way, but even if you get them not to deploy, if you get them to sign the CTBT and everything else, they still have the nuclear capability, so we're living in a world where there are no longer simply these five nuclear powers and the unspoken nuclear capabilities in other countries. There would have to be a revamping of the nonproliferation architecture in some way to recognize that.
MR. MCCURRY: No, because we have faced situations where other countries that had acknowledged, or at least were suspected of having some form of a nuclear program, renounced those programs and came into full compliance. There are ways in which that can happen under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that's already been promulgated and is now in the process of ratification, but there are other ways that you can ensure compliance, too. The International Atomic Energy Agency has a full-scope safeguards program that either country could adhere to, and by becoming adherents, you would have some satisfaction that they were not engaged in a program that had any proliferation-related risks attached to it. That's the way we monitor compliance with the North Korea agreement that they made in Geneva in 1994.
So there are ways in which the international community can assure itself that those -- even those that have demonstrated some capacity with a nuclear program remain in compliance and are respecting international nonproliferation norms. So there are ways in which they can turn the clock back, and that's clearly what we will impress upon them the importance of doing.
Q Mike, when you spoke a moment ago about the serious consequences that the U.S. would see in either India or Pakistan weaponizing its missiles, did you mean by that the serious consequences just for the region because that would be inherently destabilizing, or that the U.S. would view that seriously and the U.S. would consider that provocative?
MR. MCCURRY: I was not suggesting that it would prompt any kind of military response, if that's what you mean. The former formulation is correct, though, that it would be inherently destabilizing on the subcontinent, it would lead to further tension, it would run the risk of escalating tensions that could be resolved diplomatically into military confrontations. So that clearly makes the situation much more dangerous.
Q Mike, is the United States now trying to get other countries to impose sanctions to go along?
MR. MCCURRY: We are in very close consultation with other governments. As we saw with respect to the government of India, there is limited appetite in the world for the kind of economic sanctions that we impose as a matter of U.S. law, but there very clearly is sentiment to take steps that express the accumulated displeasure that many in the international community feel with these developments.
There have been consequences that India has faced even as recently as yesterday at the World Bank and the decisions governments are making about lending and about other types of economic activity.
Q Yes, a follow-up on that question. What kinds of steps -- what other steps, besides sanctions, would we be looking at from other countries?
MR. MCCURRY: A lot of governments expressed in the wake of the test by India their own unilateral decisions. Canada did, Japan did. Some of them have assistance programs that they have suspended or forms of bilateral aid or bilateral lending that they put in suspension. Several European nations took action with respect to India. So that type of response I imagine you will see with respect to Pakistan as well.
Q Mike, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, one of his arguments was that he found the response of the world community very tepid.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they made that argument at time of the G-8 meeting, and our argument in response was that the consequences that over time the government of India would feel would be significant. And as I say, there is some telling evidence that that is beginning to be the case.
Q But the U.S. has taken steps, but most of the other world powers --
MR. MCCURRY: A number of other nations have taken significant economic steps -- the steps for them, since this is contrary to the way they normally use economic leverage as a tool of diplomacy, contrary to what has been their norm. So that's just not true.
Q What you're saying, the rest of the world had a limited appetite --
MR. MCCURRY: -- for the kind of unilateral economic sanctions that we invoke as a matter of a law; that's correct.
Q Is part of that responsible, do you think, for Pakistan going ahead and testing?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't personally believe that. I think, based on the understanding that we can gain such as we can gain it from the conversation the President had with the Prime Minister, I think much more significant was domestic political opinion and regional security.
Q Can we just nail this thing. You listed a number of dollar amounts in various world lending organizations that you said --
MR. MCCURRY: These are eyeball estimates.
Q That's right, I understand. That the United States will oppose.
MR. MCCURRY: Right.
Q The U.S. opposing it, does that mean they are going to be cut off or restricted? Or are you simply saying that they could continue even though we oppose it?
MR. MCCURRY: That we do not have in those lending institutions -- don't have controlling votes. Now, as you've seen at the World Bank, with respect to India, we have a great deal of influence on the outcome. But how we exert that with respect to Pakistan, if future decision making is done, we'll have to see how that develops.
Q So, we don't go out automatically and say to --
MR. MCCURRY: To your viewers they are going to cut off all that. That's correct.
Q That this is going to be cut off.
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct.
Q It may or may not.
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. Although there has to be some question mark put next to it.
Q Mike, there's going to be a lot of people who say that Pakistan is less than culpable than India. First off, they didn't go first and there wasn't the element of deception that apparently there was with respect to India. Is it really fair that they get the same degree of punitive consequence?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as a matter of law, the Glenn Amendment sanctions are automatic with respect to both governments. The tonal quality of the way we have addressed this decision by Pakistan, I'd suggest you is different, and we would acknowledge that there's a difference in the way these two governments have dealt with the United States with respect to this test. Prime Minister Sharif was honest and straightforward in the description of the decision that he was wrestling with and in his own internal deliberations. And the government of India was manifestly not.
Q So what does that get them? I mean, in other words, what substantive difference is there in the way we --
MR. MCCURRY: We will have to assess that in coming days and see if there are different ways in which we could clearly express displeasure with what we think is a wrong decision, but clearly acknowledge that there is some difference between the respective decisions.
Q Mike, it's been widely reported that Chinese companies, including China Aerospace, helped Pakistan get nuclear technology. To what extent do we think China shares the blame for Pakistan's nuclear capability?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the assessments of possible Category 1 or Category 2 MTCR infractions by China and Pakistan is a matter that is under U.S. law delegated to the Secretary of State and they can provide you the best update. There has been no determination of a sanctionable event that's been made under MTCR restrictions. And beyond that, I don't know I have anything to add.
Q Has the President conferred with any members of the Congressional leadership since Pakistan tested its weapons?
MR. MCCURRY: Has the President conferred?
MR. MCCURRY: No, the National Security Advisor has been in contact with several -- I don't have a full list of all of them -- but we will be in contact with Congressional leaders and others.
Q What's the point, just to describe --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we want to make sure first, because Congress is not in session, that we can brief those that we are able to brief or need to brief. Second, advise them to the steps that the President is taking, including invoking sanctions.
Q Mike, the President said today that Pakistan missed an opportunity to actually strengthen its security by foregoing the tests, which is obviously something Nawaz Sharif disagreed with. Can you explain how Pakistan would have been more secure?
MR. MCCURRY: In the very direct conversations we have had government to government, we've made it clear that we understand the security threat that Pakistan and its people would face because of the decision by the government of India to test. We understood that both in terms of conventional arms and in terms of security assurances, the government of Pakistan would need to be able to say to its people that they had, if refrained from testing, taken steps to compensate for what had been done by the government of India.
Without detailing private diplomatic exchanges, the United States government clearly indicated that we would understand that reality and there were discussions about the need to enhance Pakistan's security in the course of making the argument to Pakistan about the reasons why it should not test.
Q To follow on that, was the F-16 issue -- was that an impediment to making that case?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it was --
Q It seems like we're less credible when we shafted them on that deal.
MR. MCCURRY: It was -- having been used as a stick at one point, it then became a carrot. (Laughter.)
Any more on this before we do D.C. Control Board?
Q Could I just follow on your response? Were there U.S. security guarantees involved in those talks or were there talks about military transfers or --
MR. MCCURRY: I just gave an artful answer that preempted that question. (Laughter.)
Q Are you in a situation where all your carrots now are just the absence of sticks? I mean, in other words, the only thing you can offer them is to not do the bad thing that you --
MR. MCCURRY: I think there are other things growing in the vegetable garden. (Laughter.)
Okay, what else? Anything else? D.C. Control Board.
Q The President has waited until the very last moment. On June 6th the Control Board will go out of existence. There won't be a Control Board, and no one will be in control. Why has it taken the President so long to make these appointments, and who are the appointments, and when will they be made?
MR. MCCURRY: Obviously, we are aware of the time line, and we obviously are aware of those who are critical of the President for not having made selections earlier. Most who are familiar with decision making about District matters know that we have to consult very closely and carefully with the United States Congress and especially with those members who have got unique responsibilities with respect to the District in order to do things that are going to get the kind of approval in Congress that allow the system to function.
We're committed to picking the very best people for the Control Board, consistent with our view that it's the mission of the Control Board to maintain the District's fiscal health and to build on the foundation that will return the decision-making power to the elected officials of the District of Columbia. That is a primary commitment that this President is pursuing, and as you well know, Mark, that is sometimes at odds with the sentiments of some on Capitol Hill.
Working through those differences and arriving at personnel decisions that are fundamentally affected by policy and by what we see as a vision of the future for the District of Columbia is proving to be hard work, but we're determined to do that. We are very respectful of those who have a somewhat different way of looking at affairs for the nation's capital city, and we'll continue to work hard and consult closely with them.
Q So when will the appointments be made?
MR. MCCURRY: There are three people whose terms expire midnight Saturday, two more who expire on June 5th. It's our intention to have the issue resolved in a fashion that responds to those deadlines.
Q So all five -- and my final question is, when you talked about being sensitive to congressional people, I think that is translated into Congressman Davis and Senator Faircloth and Congressman Taylor. Do they have veto power over the presidential appointments?
MR. MCCURRY: They have a strong interest and it would be, as a practical matter, very hard for the White House to proceed if we did not take into account in some fashion their views. They don't have veto power in a constitutional sense, but they certainly have got an enormous say in what practically the outcomes are.
Q There are no plans to keep over people if they can't get all five?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to -- we are focused on appointing of the best possible board members, and I think beyond that I'd like to decline to speculate.
Q And what about the law with Rivlin, with Rivlin serving -- the law stipulates that she must devote all of her time to the Federal Reserve. Does that require a separate law?
MR. MCCURRY: The view of White House Legal Counsel is that she could serve in both functions if that's the President's disposition, that the law would allow that. But we would welcome a clarification by Congress that would make it clear under law that she could do both.
Q Mike, does the President or other officials here at the White House believe that his ability to conduct domestic or foreign policy has been impaired by the Lewinsky investigation?
MR. MCCURRY: I would point you to what we -- now is very thankfully, at last, a public argument made by Mr. Ruff and others, that there are a range of constitutional obligations the President has that can be affected by other matters, including the litigation of both the Jones matter and the investigatory work that the OIC is doing. I think if you read Mr. Ruff's memorandum, it's very clear the argument he makes is all these things do have an impact and do have an impact on the performance of the President's official duties. I wouldn't want to add much more to what he argues pretty forcefully there.
Q He said it would significantly affect the President's ability to conduct domestic policy, but I thought the White House had been arguing just the opposite.
MR. MCCURRY: The President has -- we are demonstrating today and certainly demonstrated over the course of last night and this morning, continues to do the work he needs to do to protect the interests of the American people. The question is whether that is somehow or other impeded or interfered with by the work it's doing, and I think the argument of Mr. Ruff makes it clear.
Q What evidence would you point to that his ability to conduct those policies has been impeded?
MR. MCCURRY: That I'm standing here on a day that we need to focus -- and this is literally part of what the whole question of executive privilege was about, as we respond to your questions -- that I have to take time on a day that we are focusing on a very real question of the balance of forces on the Indian subcontinent and a matter in which the United States government has a keen and real interest, we are distracted in this very room at this very moment by this matter.
Q Well, what about him? I mean, he's --
MR. MCCURRY: That's the -- the argument that they make is that he faces the same kind of distraction.
Q But, Mike, the President says that he's not affected and his lawyer says he is affected.
MR. MCCURRY: The President has said that he will remain focused on the work that he was elected to do by the American people, and he does that. There's nothing contrary suggested by the argument made in court.
Q There have been discussions with the President's lawyer and Starr -- Starr's office -- on the President testifying on way or another. Do you know what his feelings are?
MR. MCCURRY: I know that there hasn't been any decision made and I know that Mr. Kendall has been representing the President in those discussions back and forth with the Office of Independent Counsel.
Q Do you know what the stumbling block is?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not.
Q But you are aware of reports that the President, or someone representing him, has declined on a number of occasions to come forward and testify?
MR. MCCURRY: I am aware of those reports and I don't have anything for you on that.
Q But you're not denying that they are accurate then?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't -- don't know whether they are accurate or inaccurate.
Q But you said no decision has been made, and if an invitation or request for the President's testimony has been rejected, that's a decision, is it not?
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. And that's -- my understanding is that's -- what I'm telling you is that there has not been a decision made and that there are ongoing discussions between the President's attorney and the OIC.
Q Have these requests by Mr. Starr just been for interviews or have they been for testimony?
MR. MCCURRY: That is a question you'd have to direct to Mr. Starr. And to as to what our disposition is, you'd have to inquire of Mr. Kendall.
Q Do you have any understanding as to when there is either a deadline or a point at which a decision will need to be made?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any understanding of that, but you would have to contact Mr. Starr on that.
Q Can he be compelled? I mean, is there anything that would force a President, short of impeachment --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he would have to be subpoenaed, and the subpoena would have to be resisted by the President's attorney, and the OIC would have to make a motion to compel testimony, and that's a lengthy legal process. And I'm not aware that any of that has occurred.
Q Why would it have to resisted, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: She's asking would there have to be something to compel him, and I'm just describing what the process is.
Q Mike, to understand better what you were talking about earlier, the United States is not unduly concerned that the examples of India and Pakistan will prompt others to go the route of nuclear test because it has confidence in IAEA safeguards and monitoring?
MR. MCCURRY: No, to the contrary. There are a number of regimes that are not within IAEA full-scope safeguards, and other nations that are not adherents to MTCR, to nonproliferation treaty, other countries that have indicated no desire to conform to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty requirements. All of those things suggest that there are countries -- rogue nations -- that are pursuing nuclear programs. And one, among many reasons, that we deplore the decision by the government of Pakistan and India to test is because of the impact that might have on the thinking of other nations.
Q Is it still the President's position that he is cooperating and will cooperate with these investigators?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has had -- I mean, even today, has got people that work for him testifying or people he knows testifying. I've seen people marching in and out of the Federal District Courthouse all day long today, and I think that's what the President assumes that they should do.
Q I didn't follow your reasoning a minute ago. Chuck Ruff said specifically that the investigation has had a substantial impact on the President's ability to discharge his duties. You've said, over time, that there is no distraction. Why isn't that?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I've said that there is a distraction, that the President makes it a minimal one, as best he can by trying to keep his focus on the work that he was elected to do. I've said several times here that there is a distraction. I've acknowledged that.
Q But it doesn't sound minimal the way Mr. Ruff described it. It sounded like it's --
MR. MCCURRY: I described it in a way that I think is accurate.
Q Had it been mischaracterized to by other people?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe so.
Q Does the President want to tell his side of the story to the grand jury in some fashion?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't talked to the President about that and don't have anything for you on that and would direct you to Mr. Kendall on that.
Q Mike, on a couple of occasions in the last couple of months, reporters asked the President if he could explain why executive privilege was being asserted or whether he'd authorize his assertion. He said he wasn't involved in any -- didn't know what was going on with it --
MR. MCCURRY: Josh, that is manifestly not fair and not true. He said that with respect to one matter which was something involving the First Lady which in fact he did not know about. On the Secret Service issue, he's not involved in that, and that's not an assertion of executive privilege, as you know. It was not asserted by the President, and we had no role in that decision. So it's just not fair characterization of what he has said.
Q So when he said the first time I learn about a lot of these legal arguments --
MR. MCCURRY: That was in response to a question about something -- someone had reported that the First Lady had asserted executive privilege, which you now can see from the argumentation that was made was not an accurate description of what had happened. The issue was whether or not the First Lady for purposes of privilege-related questions is a senior advisor to the President. And the President had no -- someone said the First Lady is making assertion of executive privilege because that was the news report that he was asked about when he gave that answer. He had no idea what they were talking about.
Q He also had no idea whether he had raised executive privilege although in fact when the question was asked his counsel had raised executive privilege according to the documents released yesterday, on a prior date.
MR. MCCURRY: That question was about how the assertion of privilege related to conversations White House staff may have had with the First Lady. I don't know the degree to which the President was that deeply into the circumstances under which the privilege was invoked. He knew it was being invoked for the purposes of confidential deliberations that his staff and senior advisors were having, because that's the law. That's what he authorized -- he authorized that argument to be made.
Q The question to which I referred was asked by Mr. Knoller, and it was about the President's assertion of executive privilege on his own behalf. He said he didn't know anything about that; he would have to check that with a lawyer.
MR. MCCURRY: That's not -- that's what I just asked with Josh. That was not what you asked about. You asked about this issue related to the First Lady, because I remember the question.
Q I asked him if he had invoked it, and he said I would have to ask people who dealt with it back in Washington.
MR. MCCURRY: And that was about this issue related to the First Lady, as I recall it. If you got a different recollection, you can help me.
Q At least can you tell us about the First Lady, she shifted it then to that ground.
Q But Mark's question was about the President --
MR. MCCURRY: He couldn't -- at that point, he couldn't have told you any of that, because it was all under seal. That was the whole point of this.
Q He couldn't have feigned ignorance, though, which is what --
Q Which is what he did.
MR. MCCURRY: I'll go back and look at the transcript.
Q Ruff states in that filing that at the President's direction, he claimed executive privilege. The filing is dated March 17th.
MR. MCCURRY: I'll go back and look at the transcript. My recollection is we were talking at that point about something I believe the President was unfamiliar with, which was how the argument related to the First Lady in her capacity, now acknowledged by the court, as a senior advisor to the President.
Don't miss the point here -- the legal argument made by the President and by the President's attorneys was fully acknowledged by the court and judged to be the correct argument as a matter of law, and the argument made by the Office of Independent Counsel was dispensed with as being in error.
Q Nobody's arguing about that; we're asking about --
Q What is your position on the fact that the judge --
MR. MCCURRY: And the inability to talk about it -- you've heard the President, several times, say that he was anxious for a time in which he could talk about it more openly because when it's under seal, you can't talk about it.
Q What is your position on the idea that the judge took the Independent Counsel's assertion privately without the President's lawyers present, on which she apparently made her decision that the OIC's need overrode what she then said in the rest of her document was a privilege the President enjoyed.
I thought I'd never get to the end of that sentence.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I know that in her opinion, which makes it clear that the balancing has to be done by the court to determine whether the need for the testimony sought by the Independent Counsel outweighs the presumed privilege, that balancing test has to be done by the court. Whether or not it should be done in a fashion in which there can be argumentation and litigation about it, is something you have to ask the lawyers about.
It was done ex parte. She made a judgment that the testimony was needed. I suspect that the President's attorneys have to look at that argument and see what they think of that argument. But I can't stand here as a matter of law and say it was not the right decision.
Q I don't know what they argued, obviously, but there's some suggestion --
MR. MCCURRY: No, we don't know. We have no idea what the argument was that they made.
Q There's some suggestion that one of their arguments was that the President had said he would not himself come and answer questions, and therefore they needed to talk to his aides.
MR. MCCURRY: I have no way of knowing that because the President was not represented at the session in which the OIC made that argument to the court.
Q Do you have any reaction from the President about the ruling that is now public?
MR. MCCURRY: He shares the expression made by Mr. Ruff last night.
Q Mike, some of the information in the papers released yesterday was redacted. It had to do with the President's -- a request to the President for his testimony. Do you know who asked that those portions of those letters be redacted about request to the President for his testimony?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not.
Q Mike, this brief was filed two months ago. What's the current state of play of distraction? Does Mr. Ruff's description of the amount of meetings that have to involve the President, discussions of all these issues -- does that description still hold true?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's an accurate description of what the President has to contend with as he faces what are, as Mr. Ruff says in his memorandum, impossible demands on his time.
Q Mike, does the administration have any plans, if Yasser Arafat unilaterally declares a Palestinian state, would the United States recognize it?
MR. MCCURRY: We would see that as an unfortunate development because that would be a unilateral decision by one of the parties preempting the work that the parties need to do to resolve what are clearly final status issues. That would be contrary to the agreements that the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis have reached on how they're going to deal with these matters. So we would not only most likely not join it, we would consider it a setback in the effort to achieve comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the region.
Q You said you would not only most likely not join it. Are you suggesting there's a possibility we would recognize this state?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard or seen -- beyond Chairman Arafat's public statements, which sometimes the parties make and sometimes parties make statements in connection with the negotiating that they're doing, I haven't seen anything that suggests that that's imminent. But our view very clearly is that that is a step that runs contrary to the process that the two parties have divined for themselves as a way of resolving what are very difficult issues to begin with. And that would be a step that would move in the wrong direction if it pertains to trying to reach agreements that will deepen the peace between the two parties.
Q You're not flat out saying you would not recognize such a declaration?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a moot point because there's no pending declaration.
Q Will Gerry Adams be here tomorrow? And what kind of event are you planning?
MR. MCCURRY: He's going to be here to see Mr. Berger, and we'll advise you tomorrow if he sees anyone else.
Q And what about the Kosovo, the Albanian leader --
MR. MCCURRY: Dr. Rugova is here -- tomorrow morning, to see the President. What time? 9:50 a.m.
Q And do you plan any coverage of that? And what's the purpose of the meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: You can check with staff here. I don't know. Check with the State Department. I think they had something they were going to say over there on it.
Q Any further word on when the ISTEA signing will take place?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not yet. We have to sign it by June 8th --
MR. TOIV: It's June 9th now. We got the bill today.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I thought we had it yesterday. We have to sign it by June 9th; it's not clear whether we will sign it here in Washington or perhaps on the road.
Q Thank you.
END 3:30 P.M. EDT