THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY The Briefing Room
3:45 P.M. EDT
Q Is the President pleased?
Q Does he know?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is pleased. The President was -- we were in the process of telling him as I was coming out -- or tracking him down. I think -- you caught him at the other event? Yes, as he left the DLC event he heard about it.
Q What was his reaction?
MR. MCCURRY: He had understood the importance of the legal arguments put forward on attorney-client privilege by White House counsel and obviously agreed with that and shares Mr. Ruff's assessment which you have now that the court acted appropriately.
Q Doesn't this mean more delay, and is that --
MR. MCCURRY: There is no delay. As the court filings made on behalf of the White House made clear, Mr. Lindsey, who is the government attorney in question, has no knowledge of an obstruction of justice or perjury, so there's no fact testimony here that could possibly be of any serious import to Mr. Starr. This is a technical, but important legal issue of whether or not the attorney-client privilege for government attorneys is a qualified privilege or an absolute privilege.
And there's no point in talking -- I mean, today is what -- day 1,400 of Ken Starr's tenure as an independent counsel at the rate of $30,000 a day of taxpayers' money. Now, if there is any delay, that's the delay right there.
Q Well, if I may, Mr. Lindsey asserts that he has no knowledge, but that's his opinion. It may be correct, but the point is doesn't the independent counsel have a right to ask his own questions to determine that?
MR. MCCURRY: They can ask questions and they have questioned Mr. Lindsey in the past. The issue on this is a matter related to whether or not government attorneys have attorney-client privilege and whether the President is entitled to that type of protection, as Mr. Ruff's statement indicates. And it's worth the court spending some time figuring that out. That's an important legal question, and there have been some rulings in other circuits that have called into question the attorney-client privilege.
Q Do you think Starr is stalling?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it took Ken Starr three years to figure out whether Vince Foster committed suicide. I mean, it's long past time for this thing to be over and done with it.
Q Who calculated the number of days that Ken Starr has been working?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, all you have to do is look at the day he was appointed.
MR. MCCURRY: It's the day you're appointed and then count forward from there.
Q Who did the math?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. Mr. Lockhart gave me that tidbit.
Q -- has asked for expedited consideration by the Court of Appeals. What in your view does that mean in terms of weeks or months?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have asked for expedited review in the Court of Appeals. My understanding is that the court will establish some schedule, and it moves expeditiously. I can't define expeditiously for you, but the court will.
Q Does the President want this cleared up clearly?
MR. MCCURRY: Of course. I mean, I think it's a very important issue whether or not government attorneys have got the right to consult confidentially with the people they work with. It's not only for the President, because of some opinions in other circuits, it really applies, in fact, to all government attorneys. And that is an important issue. It's important and the President, as Chief Executive of the Executive Branch, I think has a strong interest in that issue. And, of course, as President, since there is a matter pertaining directly to him, he's got a direct interest in it as well.
Q But isn't the wider interest clearing up the suspicion so that he then get on if, in fact, he's done nothing wrong, and have that clear?
MR. MCCURRY: The court has heard directly from the White House that Mr. Lindsey has no information that anyone committed perjury or obstruction of justice. So that matter is clear. There's not question about that matter because the White House has stipulated to that in the court documents that have been filed. So the only other issue, which the Supreme Court correctly is going to have the lower courts examine, is this question of whether or not the attorney-client privilege for government attorneys is a qualified privilege or an absolute privilege.
Q But does that prevail on a personal matter with an attorney paid by us?
MR. MCCURRY: That's -- yes. For all the arguments that -- for all the reasons set forth in the arguments that have been filed before the court.
Q Mike, you're not trying to suggest that all a witness has to do is say, I don't have any knowledge of any criminal wrongdoing, and thus they don't have to testify?
MR. MCCURRY: No. That has to be tested and can be tested appropriately when the prosecutor needs to under the circumstances that are appropriate. It's not appropriate to invade and impede upon the attorney-client privilege.
Q Mike, on many previous occasions when you've been asked about legal matters like this you've said you had no knowledge, are not participating in the meetings and haven't been briefed, and you've referred us to the ever-helpful Mr. Kennedy --
MR. MCCURRY: And I do -- and Mr. Kennedy is available to you. I'm helping Mr. Ruff. Mr. Ruff is --
Q Why are you answering so many questions today that you would never discussed before?
MR. MCCURRY: Because Mr. Ruff is out of town, and I'm helping your friends in the first row that need something on camera that they can fit into their broadcast tonight of some fashion.
Q Will he issue a statement on the other issue?
Q -- throughout to give you the knowledge --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I haven't. And that's all I have to say on the matter because that's all I know.
Q Will Ruff issue a statement on the Secret Service decision as well as the others?
MR. MCCURRY: No. You can go ask Treasury and Secret Service for a reaction on that point.
Q Mike, is the President asserting in his legal papers before the appeals court now a privilege that his communications with his private attorneys are also protected?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I'd refer you to Mr. Kennedy on that.
Q Is the White House expecting some relief, that this will lead to some relief from the 8th Circuit decision?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's one of the issues that presumably the Circuit Court can examine.
Q The Supreme Court asked the Circuit Court to review this expeditiously. The White House has filed similar papers. What is the reason that the White House wants this moved along as quickly as possible?
MR. MCCURRY: Scott, you came in late. We already answered that.
Q How does the President feel about the decision to also give the Secret Service protective privilege to the lower court?
MR. MCCURRY: We refer you to Treasury and to Secret Service on that point.
Q Wait a second. He's spoken about that here.
MR. MCCURRY: He's said some things on it, and I think you can deduce from that.
Q He spoke in the Rose Garden --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have a reaction from him on that ruling.
Q But I suppose he supports the Secret Service.
MR. MCCURRY: He's very supportive of the Secret Service. He thinks they do a fine job.
Q But he's explained at length why he thinks they should have a --
MR. MCCURRY: Mara recalls for your benefit that he's been out in the Rose Garden and has addressed that matter. So go to the videotape.
Q Why is it so sensitive you don't want to talk about that?
MR. MCCURRY: Because we are not a party to that litigation. We didn't participate in it. We didn't file pleadings in it. That was handled by the Justice Department and the Treasury Department and I'd prefer not to comment.
Q Has the President decided yet whether he will appear voluntarily and testify before Kenneth Starr?
MR. MCCURRY: Don't have anything new on that.
Q How does the President feel about the two new lawyers representing Monica Lewinsky?
MR. MCCURRY: He hasn't shared any feelings with me on that.
Q How do you feel about it?
Q Mike, last night Vernon Jordan was here at the event and the President and Vernon Jordan didn't seem to get together last night. Are they still friendly, is he still a kitchen cabinet member?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he, of necessity, has not been able to spend as much time together with the President as the President would like or, presumably, as he would like. But, yes, they're still friends.
Q Why not?
MR. MCCURRY: Because they are necessarily constrained in what they can talk about because they both have got a legal matter pending that they probably would want to avoid discussing.
Q Vernon Jordan was obviously away from the President. I mean, they don't even -- do they even communicate in public?
MR. MCCURRY: The President had Vernon Jordan here as his guest at this performance last night.
Q But they never came together.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know whether they did or not. I don't know whether they came together or not.
Q Does the President have some sympathy for Mr. Jordan -- all these times that he's been called before the grand jury and he's going to go back again?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure he does.
Q Mike, is there a relationship between the President and Nathan Landow, and if so, can you characterize it for us?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Nate Landow is the former chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party and a longtime Democratic fund-giver, has been since -- he was one of Mondale's top guys in the 1980s. So he's been a well-known, prominent figure in the Democratic Party for a long time. And I don't know the exact nature of the President's relationship with him, but I can't imagine any of us who -- all of us who have worked in national politics have known him.
Q Is he a friend of the President, is that fair to say?
MR. MCCURRY: He's a strong supporter, presumably, of the President and the Democratic Party, and a prominent fundraiser in the party and a former state party chair. So that speaks for itself.
Q Is the President giving any thought to firing Kenneth Starr?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard him give any thought to that in my presence.
Q Is the White House concerned that to get a tobacco deal you might have to give up what the President would like to spend the money on and put that into tax cuts?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q He's willing to give it up?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I mean, the President is confident that there remains strong bipartisan support for a comprehensive approach to the tobacco settlement. They're working through difficult issues and a strong desire by a lot in Congress to attach their fondest desires to that legislation because it looks like it is going somewhere. Obviously, some would like tax cuts attached to it. There are others that would like even stronger anti-smoking provisions attached. And so it's becoming a vehicle for a good debate on some of those policy matters. But that, we believe, will all be resolved in time.
We've been talking to people about how best to resolve some of the underlying amendments that are still germane, and we'll get on with final passage, we hope, soon.
Q Mike, to get back to us on your thoughts and the White House's thoughts on the marriage penalty proposal.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we don't believe that the decision that is currently pending on the tobacco bill is the way to provide that kind of tax relief. We've got our own ideas on tax relief, separately -- you've heard us address that in the past. But some of the tax relief provisions that are being suggested as part of the current bill would suck money away from the public health programs, the programs that are designed to protect kids, and prevent some of the investments in families and individuals that are an important part of the comprehensive approach to tobacco that's been proposed now by the President and has been incorporated in Senator McCain's bill.
Senator McCain's got an amendment that is a good way to go when it comes to some of those questions, but some of the proposals we've heard would do violence, particularly in the out years, both to fiscal discipline and to what needs to be available for investment in some of the priorities that have been identified up on the Hill.
Q Can I follow up, please? Senator Daschle said he doesn't like it, either, but he knows how to count votes.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's correct. He knows how to count votes and he's good at it. And there will probably be a lot more discussion of that issue before it's finalized, but we want them to aim in the direction of getting this historic piece of legislation complete. We want them to have available the kind of money that will make this program work, that will protect kids from tobacco use and accomplish the public health objectives that are identified in the bill, and in the principles the President has brought forward during the long consideration of this issue. And we hope and believe that because of the hard work they're doing on this bill that they are going to get to the finish line.
Q Well, Mike, are you open to supporting what some of the Democrats are trying to work out with Gramm's marriage penalty tax cut, but much, much smaller and less costly than his?
MR. MCCURRY: There's a lot going on and we are in discussion with a lot of members and sharing our views on different aspects, but I'm not going to share a public opinion until we see finally what they come up with.
Q Mike, there was an actual funeral, memorial service protest in front of the White House a couple hours ago. Do you think -- does the White House administration, the Clinton administration feel that this was a dramatic action to say that the President is not taking seriously the fight against AIDS?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it clearly was a dramatic action, but the President takes very seriously the fight against AIDS. Remember, the President himself is one who called for an expedited effort to develop an AIDS vaccine. And on a day in which, tragically, the death of this prominent AIDS activist is being noted, we are seeing the encouraging news about trials for an AIDS vaccine that's been developed.
This administration has devoted considerable resources, has called for increasing resources to be available for the fight against this disease. We have successfully made progress in a lot of different ways with respect to finding a vaccine and finding ways that we can assist those who are afflicted with HIV/AIDS. This President has fought hard for provisions that provide health care coverage under Medicare and other health insurance programs, privately provided, for those who are victims of the disease.
Of course, there are some critics who believe he hasn't done enough. The record shows that he has done more than any of his predecessors.
Q But, Mike, some are saying that the President isn't fighting enough, especially with the fact that he did not want to federally fund needle exchange programs, especially when the AIDS Czar said that she felt that should be happening.
MR. MCCURRY: I think our views on that are pretty well known. We addressed them at the time that what we want to see is local support for their exchange programs develop and that we are encouraged by the fact that because of the position we have taken, many local communities that want to have that available as an option, as part of a treatment effort, and as part of a comprehensive approach to drug rehabilitation are, in fact, going out and building the local support and finding the funding necessary to develop those kinds of exchange programs. That's exactly what we had hoped would occur.
Q Mike, the ambassadorial nomination of Jim Hormel apparently has picked up another Republican, bringing to 59 or 60 the senators who want a vote. What can you do to break the logjam, and why do you think it continues to be held up?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we continue to make the argument that he would be a fine ambassador. He's got a record and qualifications that suggest he would be a superior representative of our government overseas, and we strongly suggest that the only opposition to him is because of his sexual preference. And I think that by making that case very clearly, we've asked gently the question whether or not there's prejudice in the hearts of some who are opposing this nomination. And I think a lot of people are thinking seriously about that question, and that's why were gratified to see increasing numbers of senators coming out and saying publicly that they support his nomination.
Q Is there any effort being made to approach these dozen or so Republicans and have them go to Lott to call for a vote?
MR. MCCURRY: We are working hard to try to get that nomination on the Senate's calendar, yes.
Q The head of Russia's Chamber of Accounts, which is the equivalent of the GAO in this country, Benjamin Sokolov, this morning made some rather startling allegations. He said that as far as his office shows, all loans that were extended to the Russian government by the World Bank and the IMF have been embezzled and stolen, and he likened making these loans to giving a fix to a dope addict. Do you have any response to this or do you believe to this allegation?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- I'm not familiar with those remarks. I think a great deal of care goes into the financial assistance programs that the international financial institutions have made available to the Russian Federation. We've been doing a lot of important work just in recent days as the Russian economy has weathered a difficult moment. And I'll refer you to the Treasury, those that work directly with the international financial institutions for any additional comment. I'm otherwise, not familiar with the remarks.
Q Kosovo is getting very critical. Apparently, the Albanian representative is not going to the talks in Belgrade.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's -- I don't believe that's -- my understanding is -- obviously, we are very concerned by the increased in violence in Kosovo. We have been very directly involved with Belgrade authorities, with the Kosovo Albanians to address their grievances, and we have encouraged that they resort to dialogue and not conflict as they mediate their differences.
Our Ambassador to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been directly involved in discussions back and forth between the Kosovo Albanians and the Belgrade authorities. My understanding was that they were arranging a meeting at a working level to occur tomorrow in Pristina. And, obviously, we have had a very urgent diplomatic effort underway on that, but it has also been a source of very detailed discussions at NATO, most recently at the ministerial meeting of the North Atlantic Council. And there are a number of steps that NATO has been taking to address the very real concern that the entire Alliance feels about the situation in the Balkans generally and Kosovo specifically.
Q Mike, is the President concerned at all about what White House aide Sidney Blumenthal could be telling the grand jury right now?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard any concern expressed.
Q Mike, there are a number of press conferences and protests going on around today relating to Tiananmen Square, and by extension, the President's upcoming trip to China. Later this afternoon the House will be voting on a resolution calling on the President not to attend -- go to Tiananmen Square during his visit. Is the President concerned that all of this creates a negative atmosphere ahead of the President's trip?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it reflects something that the President will be talking about in China, which is the value of spirited, healthy democratic debate. A lot of the concern expressed, I think, has to do with policies of the People's Republic that we have directly engaged them on and policies that we believe have changed for the better not only since June of 1989, but indeed, since last year.
We have engaged constructively with the leadership of the People's Republic of China and the result has been progress across a broad range of issues in which we have dialogue with them. The symbolic importance of the events in Tiananmen Square in June of 1989 will never be lost on this government, and indeed we have addressed them many, many times. But the value and utility of engaging that government at the highest levels and exchanging state visits has led to exactly the kind of progress that one would presume that these critics would want to see. So we find it a little hard to understand the nature of the logic behind some of the criticisms, although we certainly understand the emotion.
Q But not the symbolic importance of being received in Tiananmen Square?
MR. MCCURRY: You've heard me on this before. Since 1989 Prime Minister Hashimoto, former Prime Minister Major of Great Britain, just recently Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, President Chirac of France have all been received in the customary way that Chinese protocol establishes, which is a reception adjacent to Tiananmen Square in front of the Great Hall of the People. And it would be hard to imagine there would be any other way that the Chinese would do it.
Q Mike, quite often what the President goes to another country, he meets with human rights activists, victims of oppression, and so forth. Will he have that kind of opportunity in China?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll have an opportunity soon to give you a more detailed trip briefing. I don't have an answer to that right now.
Q Mike, to what degree will the President be bringing up missile proliferation, and especially in South Asia, and China's cooperation with Pakistan's missile --
MR. MCCURRY: China's cooperation with the United States to address the issue of proliferation in South Asia will certainly be a subject of dialogue between the two Presidents. It's a subject of work that the Chinese Foreign Minister is doing with Secretary Albright today in Geneva. So, naturally, they will want to review proliferation issues generally.
The question of South Asia will be very much on the minds of both Presidents because of the importance they both attach to further steps to de-escalate the tensions that now exist in South Asia. And all of those issues will be first and foremost on the minds of the President. They will perhaps spend some time looking at the history that both the United States and China share when it comes to technology transfers on the subcontinent. But I think they will more likely want to look ahead to see what we can do now at this point to de-escalate tensions.
Q Does the President bring any proposals with him to deal with missile-type transfers between China and Pakistan?
MR. MCCURRY: We have a very good, vigorous, and detailed dialogue with them on the commitments they have made to us with respect to their willingness to abide missile technology control regime guidelines, MTCR guidelines. And we have had a very vibrant dialogue with the government of China on exactly that point. And I'm sure they will review in substantive detail that aspect of our bilateral agenda.
Q But, Mike, you're talking about this as if the transfers of technology to Pakistan are all in the past. Is that what you're saying? China isn't doing it anymore?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are technology transfers that occur, I mean, they're involved in a guideline -- they're involved in commerce, in goods and services and technologies, just as we are.
Q Right, but the kind of --
MR. MCCURRY: But the kinds of concerns that we might have with respect to nuclear programs -- I'm not aware that there are any current allegations that they are transferring technologies that would be restricted by any of the export control guidelines that we agreed back and forth bilaterally to honor, or that they, more importantly, have said that they would abide by internationally.
Q Back on the Tiananmen Square welcoming ceremony, given the bipartisan nature of some of the criticism -- both Democrats and Republicans are concerned with this -- did we explore with the Chinese any alternative to breaking with protocol in --
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Berger is -- as I told many of you this morning, Mr. Berger's work in Beijing focused on the substance of this relationship, how we can make progress on human rights, economics, trade, the work that we're talking about just now in controlling proliferation of dangerous technologies of weapons of mass destruction. We are interested in the substantive work that will go into making this a successful summit meeting. Protocol is always important, logistics are always important, but they were secondary in Mr. Berger's discussion.
Q So they didn't come up?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, we are meeting at the highest levels, with the President of the People's Republic of China, because it's the right thing to do in the President's opinion. And with that goes the protocol that is established by governments when they exchange state visits at this level. If the critics are questioning the utility of that policy, that's a healthy debate to have. But I don't think we should allow debates about protocol and style and symbolism replace what should be useful discussions of policy. If there is a disagreement on policy, let's have it. Let's debate the merits of whether or not engagement works. But otherwise, symbolically, I think we've addressed that issue and it's time to move on.
Q There is one debate on policy that is happening on the Hill ---- that's raising again the issue -- it's another human rights of using Chinese prison labor, harvesting organs to use in Chinese society. -- even though you got the question before about negative atmosphere, does this sort of thing interfere substantively with policy or proposals that you're discussing with the Chinese?
MR. MCCURRY: That is a concern that we have raised in the past because the allegations about that commerce have been made before and because we've actually had some success, as a law enforcement question, of impeding some of that type of commerce. We have raised this issue in the past with the Chinese government. They have law under their own legal system that prohibits that type of commerce, and they have acknowledged to us that they take also seriously the importance of trying to regulate and control and enforce laws, especially criminal laws, with respect to that type of commerce.
Q Mexico now says it intends to prosecute U.S. agents involved in Operation Casablanca. Will we extradite those agents if requested by Mexico?
MR. MCCURRY: We have a very good and important and useful dialogue with the government of Mexico on that point. I'm not aware that they have taken any steps with respect to that.
Q Their attorney general is quoted as saying as much.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm aware of the quote; I'm not aware that they have taken any steps that reflect that point of view.
Q You mean, you're not aware that they've asked specifically?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that they have taken any legal steps to carry out that point of view.
Q What would our position be if they do?
MR. MCCURRY: We are working very closely with the them to address concerns that they have, but that does not erode the fundamental importance that both governments attach to fighting drug traffic.
Q But would we allow them to actually try our agents in Mexico?
MR. MCCURRY: My point is that that's an entirely hypothetical question.
Q Mike, still on Mexico, the Mexican government also mentioned that they are planning to negotiate with the United States next week during the bilateral meeting the extradition of these U.S. Custom agents. If the United States want the narco-traffickers to be extradited to this country, they have to extradite these U.S. Customs agents to Mexico. And the Foreign Minister of Mexico has just announced that, and says he met with Madeleine Albright and told her about it. Are you taking seriously this Mexican question?
MR. MCCURRY: We understand the strong views of the government of Mexico on this point, but they are aware of our concerns that we've expressed to them. You're right that Foreign Secretary Green has had some dialogue with Secretary Albright on this point. I expect that President Zedillo and President Clinton may have an opportunity to get together soon to discuss this and other matters. And you're right, there will be the annual meeting of the Binational Commission next week in which always law enforcement issues, counter-drug issues, matters like that arise. So there will be a number of venues soon in which we can have appropriate dialogue with the government of Mexico on their concerns and talk about our common agenda when it comes to fighting drug-trafficking.
Q How would the two Presidents meet? Where do you anticipate?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, as you know, on Monday is going to be addressing the United Nations Drugs Conference, and I believe that President Zedillo will be in attendance as well.
Q You're being very judicious here, but you seem to be leaving open the possibility that the U.S. might be willing to see its agents extradited. Do you mean to leave open that possibility?
MR. MCCURRY: I very clearly did not leave open that possibility by indicating that there's nothing pending that would raise that as an issue as I made quite clear.
Q You're not willing to say that we explicitly rule that out?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm willing to say that we have expressed our views very clearly privately to the government of Mexico.
Q Is it conceivable that we would allow our customs agents to be extradited, to be tried in Mexico on this charge?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that I have addressed the question in this setting as much as I'm going to address it.
Q Do you really feel that the Mexico-U.S. relation is still the same? Some Mexican authorities says something is going to change --
MR. MCCURRY: It is a profoundly important relationship and it often weathers moments in which, particularly in Mexico, people feel that there is an imbalance. And we work very hard and take very seriously our obligation to meet our obligations to the government of Mexico. And we take seriously the representations that the government of Mexico makes to us about the work that they will do with us to address concerns that we have on our side of the border.
Let me point to what we referred to earlier -- the meeting next week of the Binational Commission. There is no other bilateral relationship we have on Earth in which we have such an extensive and broad cooperation across a range of government agencies. It is an important aspect of our relationship. It's one in which we mutually and in equality address the concerns that two sovereign nations have. So we do take it very seriously and we don't --
Q What's the speech about tomorrow. Speech tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a long speech and we'll do that at the end.
Q Just to go back to this Tiananmen Square thing. You said that substance is primary and the logistics and the protocol are secondary. Does that mean that Sandy tried and failed to address the logistics, or he didn't try at all?
MR. MCCURRY: I addressed that question already and told you --
Q No, you didn't.
MR. MCCURRY: -- I gave you some sense of what Sandy's priorities were as he met with his authorities.
Q But I'm asking, on the secondary priority, did he try, did he discuss that, or did he fail to make --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that -- look, I told you that because this is a state visit and because there's protocol associated with a state visit, they reviewed that subject. But I'm not aware that there was any extensive discussion of changing what would be normal protocol practices by the Chinese.
Q Mike, on the substance side, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman recently has said that the U.S. and China have never cooperated so closely at the highest levels as they have recently over the proliferation question in South Asia. First, would you agree with that statement? And second, can you just give an overview of Sandy Berger's discussions with the Chinese on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I've already given you an overview of Mr. Berger's discussions. Obviously, I'm not going to go into much substantive detail because the work he was doing was setting the stage for the meeting that the two Presidents will have, and there will be a lot more to say after they meet. But I would concur that our work together on proliferation issues has been extensive and very valued, particularly at a moment when we are wrestling with the issues of South Asia that we were talking about earlier.
Q Mike, I'd like to come back to the Russia question. Does the White House feel it knows enough about how Moscow spends the World Bank money that we somehow are able to monitor it enough that we feel it's not being frittered away?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with the remarks that were referenced earlier. I know that we do a lot of work through international lending institutions to assist the Russian economy undergo the transformation that it's been making away from totalitarianism command and control economics into market economics. And a great deal of care is attached to monitoring the use of assistance that U.S. taxpayers provide, and there has been considerable effort to watch those dollars. And I believe that it is accurate to say that we monitor very carefully what the World Bank, the IMF, and other lending institutions make available as well. But I'm going to have to refer you to Treasury because I'm not aware of the allegations that were referenced earlier.
Q Is the President concerned, given the new NIH guidelines, that he now appears to be severely overweight? (Laughter.) As I am also.
MR. MCCURRY: We all are. That was the whole point. He's actually made a lot of progress on that front, particularly since his knee injury, and I think he's satisfied and his doctors are satisfied with where he tips the scales.
Q How much does he weigh?
MR. MCCURRY: His last annual checkup he was in the neighborhood of 200 pounds, something like that, which was down from where he was.
Q Is he still eating the greasy stuff, I mean the Big Mac stuff and the greasy --
MR. MCCURRY: Sam, that is part of the apocrypha of the presidential eating habits. I'm not aware that he eats anything but a pretty healthy diet, and that's one of the ways in which he has controlled his weight. His doctors take that seriously, and he follows his doctors' recommendations. I hate to -- no disrespect intended to McDonald's, Burger King, or others, but he just doesn't eat -- he doesn't eat their stuff.
Q Mike, what are the administration's objections to this freedom from religious persecution measure that's being voted on in the House?
MR. MCCURRY: The principal objection is that it is unnecessary because we have something precious called the First Amendment. The First Amendment entitles people to freely express their religious faith -- you're talking about the Istook Amendment, right?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, that's what he was asking about. And that is -- it's a cherished principle. The President addressed this in his radio address just recently. We take seriously the freedom to express religious faith that is protected and enshrined in the First Amendment. And the First Amendment allows on school campuses and appropriate settings a variety of forms of religious expression of faith. And one of the things that this administration has done is to help local schools and local administrators understand what they can, by law, allow their students to do as they seek to freely express their religious convictions.
So that's a matter we take seriously. We don't think we need to do violence to the Constitution by adopting a constitutional amendment because we think it's already protected by the First Amendment.
Q Tomorrow's speech?
MR. MCCURRY: At least I think I got Dick Morris off the air for a while anyhow.
MR. MCCURRY: MIT speech -- the President will be talking about opportunity in the Information Age and the importance of making universal technology literacy for all children an important national goal. And he'll talk about ways in which we can do that. And the President will describe his concern about the disparities that exist between wealthy communities, wealthy families and those with less wealth when it comes to acquiring the skills and the experience needed to deal with all the modern technologies in the 21st century global information revolution.
And then he and the First Lady go off to dedicate the Walden Pond together.
Q -- tuition prices at MIT? How about the tuition at MIT?
MR. MCCURRY: He's not going to talk about that as far as I know.
Q Does he talk about how to address these disparities?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he'll have some ideas about that and things that can be done to try to further the effort to make technology literacy a goal to help people achieve that goal and to ensure that the benefits of technology literacy are spread throughout all ranges of income levels in the United States.
Q Is that what's being called the Gore tax?
MR. MCCURRY: No, that's something quite different. That's the e-mail rate. That's the way in which school is related to that. It's the way in which because of the historic, low long-distance telephone rates that we have in this country -- in part because of the 1996 Telecommunications Act -- we now have the opportunity to get the resources we need to extend Internet connectivity to classrooms and libraries all across this great land of ours.
Q Are those resources going to come from the government or from private telephone companies that --
MR. MCCURRY: I think, it's, in reality, partly both, I think.
Q What about Monday's speech?
MR. MCCURRY: Monday's speech? I thought it was pretty good that I could do something on tomorrow's speech. That's pretty rare.
Q U.N. and drugs --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, yes, we're going to have a lot more to say about that, the ways in which we work together in partnership with other countries around the world, especially the government of Mexico, when it comes to fighting drugs.
Q Do you have anything more on that Walden Pond dedication?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:30 P.M. EDT