THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. The President's productive working session with the Emir of Bahrain continues, and we'll have a long and lengthy readout of the meeting at the conclusion. How about that, and I'll spare you the rest? All right?
One other program update, for those of you who are planning to travel with the President of the United States tomorrow to Houston and Dallas. You will be returning here to Washington, D.C. tomorrow evening. The President plans on Wednesday morning to meet with Secretary Albright prior to Secretary Albright's departure for Geneva.
You may know, and it has now been announced at the State Department that the Secretary did successfully convene a meeting of her Permanent Five counterparts. They will be discussing the situation in South Asia and upon conclusion of that meeting, the Secretary will depart for Geneva. The President will depart as scheduled for Cleveland and pick up the schedule that he was to pursue in Cleveland.
Q So both will be day trips now?
MR. MCCURRY: Correct. Yes, Wednesday is out and back.
Q Why the urgency?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the situation with respect to India and Pakistan is a difficult one, is one that the President has instructed his national security team to pay very close attention to, which was the purpose of the meeting that the Secretary took part in organizing over the weekend. I also suspect, as you heard us say last week, that this meeting of the Permanent Five ministers will be a prelude to further work our international community will do with respect to India and Pakistan. And so I anticipate additional higher-level meetings in the coming days and weeks.
Q Higher level?
MR. MCCURRY: Additional high-level meetings.
Q That's in Geneva, the Permanent Five meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: Correct.
Q Do you have a departure time on Wednesday.
MR. MCCURRY: Don't have it yet. They're working on the logistics of how we make this change right now, so we'll advise -- the Travel Office will be able to advise you on what it means for your own travel plans.
Q Do you think the President would ask the leaders of India and Pakistan to come to Washington, as he has often had people like Arafat and Netanyahu come to Washington?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President of the United States would spare no effort in working to reduce tensions on the Indian subcontinent. I think that the President feels it's very important for both India and Pakistan to refrain from further provocative steps, to avoid steps that would exacerbate the tensions that already exist. The President would call upon them to ratify and join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty regime without condition. And certainly the President would want to see both governments join in efforts to stem the production of fissile materials.
All of that the President has conveyed and would convey. What additional kinds of meetings arise from the work that we begin with the meeting in Geneva later this week remains to be seen.
Q But Geneva might lead to such an effort, if you thought it was going to be productive?
MR. MCCURRY: If you wanted to speculate that that was a possible outcome you could only at this point say that that's speculation, because there's nothing that would indicate that the dialogue had moved in that direction. Clearly, it's the position of our government that India and Pakistan ought to resume the kind of dialogue that they have pursued in the past and that is important. But the work that will be done in Geneva and then presumably additional meetings to come will be designed to coordinate an international community approach to both governments as we attempt to get them to reduce tensions.
Q Why has the U.S. never acknowledged Israel's acquisition of the nuclear bomb and big arsenals?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have a longstanding U.S. government view with respect to the military capability of governments in that region. We strongly favor a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in that region that would allow the Middle East to become a nuclear weapons-free zone. We've made that clear. And our work and our diplomacy has been aimed at that end.
Q Well, what is your longstanding view of the military capabilities of -- I mean, who do you think has it and who do you think doesn't?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we don't talk about precise capabilities, but we have a dialogue and a fruitful dialogue with the government of Israel that includes matters related to proliferation-related concerns.
Q Does the White House intend to appeal the executive privilege ruling?
MR. MCCURRY: The White House counsel will file later today with the Supreme Court -- and I know that most of you in one way or another will have an opportunity to talk to the White House legal counsel, Mr. Ruff, about that. The filing will confirm the President will not appeal the District Court's ruling on executive privilege. The filing will also confirm the legal counsel's intention to appeal the ruling on attorney-client privilege, and Mr. Ruff will be discussing that and the pleading at greater length.
I did not intend to do that here because I think it's important for those of you who have to cover that story today to have the benefit of seeing both the pleading and understanding the argument.
Q That he is not going to appeal, and has he already filed that?
MR. MCCURRY: Just as I just said.
Q Was that a decision taken by the President himself?
MR. MCCURRY: The President had clearly instructed his legal team to work in that direction and he had an opportunity to review the final filing this morning.
Q Mike, is this because of the Watergate taint that he decided to take this course?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's because the law is clear and the District Court's judgment is clear as to the presumed privilege of confidential deliberations of the President's advisors and senior advisors. The opinion was a good one and the law is the law.
Q So does that mean that Bruce Lindsey would not be testifying anytime soon, they would continue to --
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Lindsey has already testified numerous times. It means that, presumably, the legal counsel wants the higher courts to examine the issue of the attorney-client privilege, is it an absolute privilege or is it a qualified privilege. And in any case, Mr. Lindsey is available and has been available to testify.
Q When you say higher courts, you mean appeals court? He doesn't want the accelerated procedure?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything from the Counsel's Office on Judge Starr's motion of last week, but presumably Mr. Ruff will address that later.
Q Would you oppose an application by the independent counsel for an expedited Supreme Court review of the appeal on attorney-client?
MR. MCCURRY: That's the question I just answered.
Q But didn't he include that in his motion last Thursday, Ken Starr, both an expedited process for executive privilege as well as attorney-client privilege?
MR. MCCURRY: Good question to pose to the White House legal counsel later.
Q Mike, give us if you would please a better sense of how much the President himself was personally involved in this decision.
MR. MCCURRY: I think that he has talked to his attorneys about it and reviewed it with them this morning. I don't know how long their meeting was. Maybe Mr. Ruff can help you on that later.
Q Who's in that meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know.
Q A decision was made in that meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's fair to say, since they were working on the pleading over the weekend, that they were working in a general direction that had been decided earlier. But I think they took the final decision after the attorneys had a chance to review the matter with the client.
Q Mike, how much of the shift came as a result of protocol analysis that you weren't going to win or you might not win, and how much --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't tell you, I don't know.
Q And how much is because of trying to protect the office of the presidency and kind of test the legal limits to what most Presidents --
MR. MCCURRY: Most of the concern I've heard the President and Mr. Ruff raise with respect to this matter is an institutional concern that relates to this President and future Presidents.
Q When will Mr. Ruff be available?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. You can work with Mr. Kennedy and his office and he'll tell you.
Q What is the thinking behind the President not testifying before the grand jury, or even on video?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that there is any thinking because I don't believe there's been any decision to that effect.
Q Well, the President hasn't testified thus far, why has he not?
MR. MCCURRY: That's incorrect. He's testified or given testimony to Mr. Starr on numerous occasions.
Q Mike, in the Lewinsky matter the President has declined repeatedly to testify to the grand jury. Why so?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that he has declined. I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that Mr. Kendall, his attorney, has had discussions and has ongoing discussions with Mr. Starr to that question. I don't know what the outcome of those deliberations are, but you should inquire further of Mr. Kendall.
Q Well, let me follow up this way if I may. The President pledged at the very beginning of this, back in January, that he would cooperate, more rather than less, sooner rather than later. Why has the President not testified thus far?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's -- that's a good question for Mr. Kendall.
Q The advanced copy of Newsweek saying that the Pakistani bomb will expand and -- or it will be given to the Arabic and the Muslim world. Do you think the Israelis will be worried about because Pakistan is calling it --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, both governments deny that they intend to do anything that would allow any of their technologies to be transferred. Obviously, that's not an expression that we take solely at face value and we will continue to monitor carefully the kind of work that they are doing with respect to their programs. It's our view, among other things, that both governments, by signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, by adhering to nonproliferation treaty norms, by coming under full-scope safeguards of the IAEA would take a long and good step in the direction of controlling the proliferation of that technology.
Q But Mike, if they haven't signed --
Q -- it was tested near the Iranian border and Iran has offered that maybe a billion dollars or like Qadhafi did several years ago.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the United States government is well aware of the interests of the government of Iran in acquiring technologies related to weapons of mass destruction. That's why we worked so hard to prevent the distribution, the proliferation of exactly that technology.
Q Well, since they haven't signed those conventions, what is the U.S. view of their proliferation record -- both countries, India and Pakistan?
MR. MCCURRY: It's actually mixed. There have not been indications that I'm aware of -- I'd have to check this -- that they have engaged in transfer of technologies related to their nuclear programs. But, obviously, it remains a source of concern.
Q Does the U.S. have any indications from India and or Pakistan that they are open to third-party-led negotiations?
MR. MCCURRY: We, as you know, have instructed our Ambassador to return to New Delhi and our Ambassador in Islamabad to remain there so that we could continue close consultations with those governments and we will determine their disposition on that question. I think that there's agreement in our government that working with others in the international community to form kind of a matrix of appeals and approaches to both governments makes sense. and that's the purpose of the meeting in Geneva later this week. We wouldn't be doing it if we didn't think that there was at least some chance that both governments would be receptive to that type of approach.
Q Well, do you think that the United States would be a good candidate to try to convene such a meeting between India and Pakistan?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's better said that the United States has been working with a number of other interested and concerned governments to coordinate a strong international appeal. That's what we're doing and that appears to be working.
Q And just one last thing. Has the President previously ever met in person the Indian Prime Minister or the Pakistani Prime Minister?
MR. MCCURRY: He's not met Vajpayee, to my memory, nor Sharif, although, he's now had several conversations with Prime Minister Sharif. I don't know an opportunity he would have had to meet Prime Minister Sharif.
Q And has he had conversations with --
Q He met Sharif at the U.N. --
MR. MCCURRY: At the U.N.? We can check. P.J. can check on that for you.
Q We know he's had a lot of conversations with Sharif. Has he talked on the phone directly to Vajpayee?
MR. MCCURRY: P.J. can check on that and get the record.
Q When is the U.S. Ambassador going back --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know Ambassador Celeste's schedule. I know that he's been instructed to return.
Q Is the President's trip to India and Pakistan still be considered?
MR. MCCURRY: It's under review.
Q What's the likelihood that he'll go?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to predict.
Q When and how are you going to -- MFN's due on June 3, I think. Do you know what the process --
MR. MCCURRY: The President fully intends to make a strong case on why would should continue normal trade relations with China. He'll do that in a number of settings, but we will by the deadline send the necessary paperwork to Capitol Hill. It might even be in -- subject to the President -- the 3rd in Wednesday -- that might be a subject that the President might want to address later in the week.
Q Mike, the usual statement was released yesterday on Russia, by the President endorsing more IMF money to the Russian situation. Isn't there also concern now that reportedly the IMF has about $11 billion to $12 billion left to work with, that if there is a major meltdown the IMF will not have the funds available --
MR. MCCURRY: You mean the IMF or the Russian Central Bank, presumably?
Q The IMF, that the IMF would be bankrupt in the face of --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh. There is concern that the arrangements for borrowing needed by the IMF have to be replenished. And it is working to deal with the situation in Russia is difficult and as a reminder, we hope, to the United States Congress of the importance of replenishing the resources that the IMF has available as it deals with emerging markets and some of the financial difficulties experienced in Asia, and obviously, continuing the extended fund facility that's been available for Russia. But as to the specific needs in Russia, as you know, the President's statement cited the additional conditional financial support that might be available from international financial institutions as we continue to work the problem.
Q Are you any closer to a resolution in Congress?
MR. MCCURRY: That's best put to the Majority Leader and to the Speaker, but we think we've made a very strong and persuasive case and we think that certainly circumstances and current events are demonstrating the need for a replenished new arrangement for borrowing at the IMF.
Q Mike, do we know yet what set off the Indian bomb? Do we know about what crisis in the relationship between India and Pakistan that made them think they had a --
MR. MCCURRY: Do we know --
Q We don't know anything.
MR. MCCURRY: It's a complicated question. We know that those are two governments that have experienced tension for five decades and have fought three wars between them. And we know that domestic political pressures, regional insecurities and the desires --
Q But precipitated by what -- nothing. Why now? Kashmir has always been the --
MR. MCCURRY: Why now? Well, there was a change of government in India and a new Prime Minister whose political program included acknowledgement of what had long been believed to be India's nuclear capability. I mean, that's, simply put, the single most different indicator was the new government.
Q Do we know if there is any resistance, or any significant resistance to this fallout with the experimentation in that part of the world? Do we -- we don't know anything about what's going on there, do we, if we didn't even know they were going to set off --
MR. MCCURRY: We knew a great deal and, of course, a lot of it is transparent. There's been a very healthy and vibrant debate in the Indian Parliament over the last two days in which those questions were raised and addressed by the opposition to the current government.
Q Mike, India plans -- war by Pakistan in Kashmir, and also, what do you think from these nuclear tests, what is the future of Kashmir?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the status of Jammu and Kashmir is as it has been. They are disputed territories and have been for some time, and they have to be resolved taking in the concerns of the affected peoples. That's been our longstanding view.
Q Mike, can you explain why the White House would not want an expedited appeal on attorney-client privilege?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to attempt to, and you're all going to see Mr. Ruff so there's no need for me to anyhow.
Q Mike, has the President had any communications with the Pakistani leader, or has the U.S. sent any new messages since Saturday to India and Pakistan?
MR. MCCURRY: There's been diplomatic contact through our embassies, but I'm not aware of any exchanges at highest levels. I'll double-check that.
Q Any plans for a new presidential conversation with the Pakistani or Indian leaders?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we clearly -- as we coordinate our approach with other governments, the President's thinking will be reflected in the diplomatic work we're doing. But our focus now will be on the meeting coming up in Geneva.
Q Mike, you said that regarding the executive privilege case that the opinion was a good one and the law is the law. Does that mean the President and his lawyers now believe that they were incorrect in asserting that privilege in the first place?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I mean, because as the judge ruled in the case, they were correct in asserting a privilege. The privilege was overcome by the information presented ex parte by the OIC.
Q And they are now persuaded by that argument?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, you've got a briefing coming up and there's a limit to how much I'm going to do for you here because you all are going to have an opportunity at some point to read the briefing and-or talk to Mr. Ruff.
Q Last year you had a tough fight to win MFN for China. Do you anticipate another tough fight this year, and do you think this satellite issue with China will influence the process?
MR. MCCURRY: It remains to be seen. If you would argue that the case was a hard one last year, the facts would suggest that because of the progress we've made, the argument for normal trade relations should be easier to make this year. But politics being politics, I suspect that we'll have to make the case. But at the end, hopefully, the facts will prevail.
Q Are you going to delay it, delay seeking extension for MFN until after the trip?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything and I think I, earlier in the briefing, indicated to the contrary.
Q Do you think that the '98 elections will play a role in the MFN fight --
MR. MCCURRY: I have no way of predicting what political issues will be salient in November.
Q Mike, to come back to the trip to India and Pakistan, last week it was, we're not talking about change, we have no changes; today you say it's under review. Is that --
MR. MCCURRY: I think I said under review last week. No change from the fact that it's under review. But obviously, being under review is different from what we said before.
Q Does the President have some specific instructions in mind to give Secretary Albright, or is this just a general conversation that he's going to have with her?
MR. MCCURRY: He's got some specific ideas that he will be sharing with her, yes.
Q I'm sorry, you just said being under review is different from what we've said before?
MR. MCCURRY: Right. Before we were sort of saying we haven't made any -- announced any change in the trip, and now we're saying we're under review, and obviously those are two different things that you could say. But we said, under review, last week.
Q -- time to make a judgment --
MR. MCCURRY: Right, plenty of time to make a judgment and plenty of ways in which we can continue our diplomatic efforts.
Q So what are the things that are under review?
MR. MCCURRY: What is the utility of a presidential visit to that part of the world, what could the President do to profitably advance the interests of the American people in such a trip, and whether or not such a trip could contribute to our efforts at this critical moment to deal with our proliferation-related concerns. A lot to think about and probably no decision would have to be made on that for quite some time.
Q Did you get an answer on whether he's met with the Indian Prime Minister before?
MR. MCCURRY: He met in September last year at the U.N. General Assembly meeting with Prime Minister Sharif, and he's spoken by phone March 20th with Prime Minister Vajpayee. But no meeting in person.
Q Mike, is one of the options cancelling the trip?
MR. MCCURRY: If a trip is under review that means there's no decision to go, so you either you go or you don't go. So that would be --
Q Not necessarily. Maybe the decision to go is under review. It still stands unless a review decides to reverse it.
MR. MCCURRY: It's under review.
Q Mike, do you think the President's trip depends on --
MR. MCCURRY: I think a lot of factors will go into making the decision about whether or not to go.
Q -- on high-level meetings in Washington --
MR. MCCURRY: Lots of factors will be considered.
Q On tomorrow's speech about sampling, does the President consider this a civil rights issue?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes -- well, it's a bunch of issues. One, it's a civil rights issue; it's a taxpayers issue because we don't want the American taxpayer to spend a lot of money for census that is bogus because it's not accurate. But it is a civil rights issue in that very frequently minority populations are those who are historically under-counted, and making sure that they are fully represented in decision-making and get the full benefits of what an accurate census brings about will be part of the argument that the President will make tomorrow.
Q Is the President at all inclined to convene some wise men in the nation to see what, if anything, can be done with the threat of nuclear war in Southeast Asia?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's accurate that the President and others in our government have consulted with a wide range of people who are knowledgeable and who have expertise related to matters of non-proliferation and the nuclear threat. That will continue. We've done so in the past; we have done so in light of these current events; and we certainly will continue that. Whether or not there will be some higher-level public session of that nature I haven't heard, but I know that we'll continue to talk to those who are knowledgeable expertise.
Q Mike, tomorrow California votes on Proposition 227, on bilingual education. What does the President feel about it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our views I think were set forth April 27th by the Education Department. We see that initiative as one that is not in the interest of any of the people of California, because it leads to divisions and greater tensions between ethnic populations that will increasingly need to learn how to live better together. And the President thinks there are other ways, other means by which you can promote the unifying effect of a common language. And the Department of Education, for all the reasons set forth April 27th, is working to do so.
Q Are you, given all the polling suggesting a majority of Hispanics support it, does that give you pause?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll see what the voters decide tomorrow. But our views are well known.
Q Did the President record messages for either 226, on behalf of 226 or 227 that have been played in California?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check. Not that I'm aware of, but we'll check. We can check on that.
Q Do you expect the court response before 4:30 p.m. and do you expect us to get it?
MR. MCCURRY: Do you know what the schedule is?
MR. LOCKHART: We'll pass it out as soon as it's filed.
MR. MCCURRY: As soon as it's filed we'll send it around. It hasn't been filed yet.
Q But not on an embargoed basis?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We'll try -- I mean, we have an obligation to make it, to clock it in at the court before we pass it out. But our intent is to do so as -- do both as fast as we can.
Q How much time did the President spend with his legal advisors this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. It was probably less than a half an hour, I think.
Q In the Oval Office?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Mike, on the India-Pakistan trips review, is the President's safety a factor that would be included in that area of high --
MR. MCCURRY: His security is an issue whenever he goes anywhere, but he's always well protected.
Q Mike, did you go through what are the ideas that he wants to give to Secretary Albright?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to spell those out, but it will be designed to -- how can the international community best promote and encourage the developments we want to see at this point. We think chief among them are demonstrations by both governments that they understand the dangerous situation that their respective decisions have provoked, and that they understand those things they could do to build confidence in the world community's understanding of their future intent -- that it is a non-military, non-threatening, non-escalatory approach and instead that it's one that understands the value the international community attaches to nonproliferation.
There's a number of things that they can do and certainly a number of things that we have in mind that we would like to see if other governments in the Security Council share and that's the work we'll do.
Q Mike, Lott today at his news conference said that the tobacco legislation as he saw it is teetering on the edge. Do you have any sense of what the President is going to do this week to push it the way he wants --
MR. MCCURRY: We already have been working strenuously with the sponsors to address concerns individual senators have and I wouldn't rule out the President will do some thing and say some things later this week that will be designed to encourage the Senate to pass what is historic and very needed public health legislation.
Q Could we just do another -- what does he think about an amendment that would use tobacco money to give tax cuts to people with incomes of under $30,000?
MR. MCCURRY: I've heard a little bit about the amendment that you're talking about, but I haven't asked and inquired around here whether we've taken a view on it. But I'll refer that to others.
Q On tobacco, is he pretty optimistic that some kind of comprehensive bipartisan bill will --
MR. MCCURRY: The President feels that the Republican leadership of Congress would have a very difficult time explaining to the American people why this badly needed legislation that has bipartisan support could not advance on their watch. And I think he will -- mindful of that, I think he feels, given the strong public sentiment and support, I think he feels that it's more likely than not that the legislation will move forward.
Q Mike, given the state of relations between the U.S. and Colombia in the past few years, has the President been apprised of the results of what turns out to be the first round of elections there?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's not much we can say about the first round of elections because, of course, the two top vote getters will have a run-off in July. We look forward to what we hope will be continued free and fair elections. It's worth noting that there was a high degree of interest and enthusiasm about the election. And the United States applauds the Colombian people for turning out in record numbers for voting in this first round.
We recognize the dedication and the commitment of all the candidates to participate in open and fair elections. We condemn the violent tactics that were adopted by armed insurgent groups who sought to deprive Colombian citizens in some areas of the country from exercising their right to vote and we hope that the violence is minimized in the remainder of the election period because the choice that the people of Colombia make is a truly important one. It is important to the United States to be in a position where we can work cooperatively and enthusiastically with a freely-elected democratic leader of Columbia. And one way or another, in August, there will be a new President inaugurated, and we hope it's a President that we can work closely with on what ought to be a shared agenda of mutual bilateral concerns.
Q Is it conceivable that the President could go to the subcontinent now that we've slapped sanctions on both?
MR. MCCURRY: Is it conceivable? There are a number of things --
Q He's still welcome?
MR. MCCURRY: -- that will go into making judgments on that. There are a number of reasons why you want to do that given what we're trying to achieve with both governments. But we had not planned to go, as most of you know, until very late this year. And it would be an awful lot that we'll have to consider and ponder before we make any final decisions.
Q Did you have a chance to find out about how the White House is going to be represented at the Goldwater --
MR. MCCURRY: I checked into it, Peter, and they are still wrestling. They've got an idea of how they're going to do it. The President will be represented and the First Lady will be represented by a group going from the administration, but they haven't quite finished the details of how they're going to work it out.
Q Mike, do you think before the President goes to China, the meeting of India and Pakistan is going to take place in Washington?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on that --hard to know.
END 1:55 P.M. EDT