THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:50 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: I apologize for being late, everyone. I think some of you know that Secretary Cohen's press briefing in Brussels just concluded a short while ago, so I wanted to get an update on Kosovo before I came out to speak to you. And if you have not seen reporting on that, I can enlighten you if you need to be enlightened.
Before I get going, I want to start with some personnel matters. We all need to say a fond farewell to Eric Rubin, who has done an extraordinarily good job at the NSC press office for -- how long have you been over there -- a year and a half now. He has been part of a team that really has done a great job on foreign policy related matters, and as good career foreign service officers sometimes -- as sometimes happens, they get bigger and better career opportunities. He's going to be going back over to State to help Under Secretary Tom Pickering, and I think he will really be in a position to use some of the experiences he's had here to really help one of our country's most talented diplomats.
So a talented diplomat helping another talented diplomat. And we're delighted that Nyda Budig from the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, who I worked with at the State Department and who is a very fine public affairs officer, will be over here on detail through the summer, helping out in the NSC Press Office.
So, Nyda, welcome.
Q How do you spell --
MR. MCCURRY: At the point that she's ready to go on the record, she'll spell her name. (Laughter.) She's learning the mysterious customs and ways of the White House press before she ventures out into the domain of being on the record.
A couple of other announcements. I'm pleased to announce the second and third bipartisan Social Security forums that we've been running, sponsored jointly by the AARP and the Concord Coalition. Actually, I'm trying to con you into believing that something the Vice President has already announced in one case is something new, which I'll get to in a minute.
The first of these forums, you'll recall, was the one the President attended in Kansas City. The process of looking at the long-term needs of the Social Security system and how we develop the proper response will build up through these regional forums that we're conducting to the White House conference on Social Security that will be held at the end of the year. And, obviously, the President hopes this lays a solid foundation for a bipartisan approach to solving the problems of Social Security.
Interesting to note, at the Saver's Conference recently, both speaker Gingrich and Majority Leader Lott complimented the President on some of the bipartisan work that we've done in these settings to look at the questions of long-term solvency for Social Security, and we acknowledge and appreciate those tributes.
Now, the second AARP-Concord Coalition Forum will be attended by Vice President Gore on July 1 in Providence Rhode Island -- that's what I think he has actually referred to publicly already. And the President will participate in the third forum and that will take place on Monday, July 27, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
MR. DONALDSON: Hey! (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: So, Sam, plan a long weekend down in New Mexico.
He'll be preceded -- by the way, with the President, that will include a trip, just so you know, that will begin Saturday, July 25th, in Norfolk, Virginia, where the President's going to dedicate the U.S. aircraft carrier, USS Truman. And from Norfolk, the President will fly out West where he'll spend Saturday night and a portion of Sunday in Aspen, Colorado. He'll overnight Sunday in Albuquerque, and on Monday will attend the Social Security forum, returning home that Monday.
Q What's in Aspen?
MR. MCCURRY: Aspen -- I think they're doing a fundraiser, right?
And last, this just in -- some of you have seen this -- we are deeply concerned about the increasing evidence that the Congressional Budget Office is utterly unable to predict consistent and accurate future revenues or even the fiscal implications of changes in budget policy. Who said that?
Q Newt Gingrich.
MR. MCCURRY: Newt Gingrich said that. And you remember how often I stood here and you pestered me with questions about CBO versus OMB and whose assumptions we were going to use. And we said, here, look, we think we're on the right track. We think we are conservative in our estimation, and by the way, we think the OMB has been more accurate over time than the CBO in some of our projections. We appreciate to have that point of view validated now by the Speaker of the House, although we tend to think the CBO and their economists, many of whom know our economists here at the OMB, are fine people and work hard and sometimes just have somewhat different ways of looking at economic assumptions.
Q We explained to Janet Yellen why the Speaker doesn't like the CBO projections -- it doesn't comport with the idea of these huge tax cuts.
MR. MCCURRY: That's right. That's why good economic prognostication ought to be based on expertise, statistics, and the way good, well-trained economists look at the future, as opposed to what politicians may want in their heart of hearts.
Q So you're here to remind us of that.
Q So now are you going to follow the CBO numbers from now on?
MR. MCCURRY: We are going to follow the good estimations of the Office of Management and Budget, which has been, A, more accurate, and, B, erring on the conservative side, if anything. In fact, I just noticed this past week the new blue-chip forecasts are out, and they have actually bumped some of their GDB estimates and other estimates slightly up, but we are staying in a more conservative range. But that's the right place in the President's estimation -- this all being a matter of estimation anyhow.
Q Is there any chance the President or the Vice President will be stopping in Jasper, Texas, in connection with their western trips?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard anything to that effect. I think, as you know, we have announced the President will be going to Springfield, Oregon, as part of this trip, but I haven't heard anything on that.
Q Is the President aware that in Springfield there is some sentiment that he should stay away and let the town heal without coming in? There are some people who say that this is not wanted.
MR. MCCURRY: The President is always very conscious of the grief that a community goes through at a moment like this. And if anything, he has found that his journeys to places in which communities are recovering from tragedy have been helpful. I think the President has always been very respectful of families that are grieving and communities that are grieving, and I think by and large his presence has been a healing one when he has gone to these places. And certainly we expect that to be the case in Springfield.
Q Did somebody extend an invitation from the Springfield community?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not apprised of the details, but we can check on that. Do you know? That's right. Senator Wyden and Congressman Fazio.
Q Well, what do you have to say about the Brussels communique?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's a very good one and it now, I think as of just a short while ago, the Secretary of Defense has addressed it in some detail. Just to run through what they have done, for those of you who have not had access to the joint statement that Secretary General Solano has issued and that the Secretary has commented on. The NATO defense ministers today directed the military authorities at NATO to conduct an early and appropriate air exercise in the region. This would be in and around Macedonia and Albania. The exercise will demonstrate NATO's capability to project power rapidly in that region, in the Balkans.
Secretary of Defense Cohen indicated he expected that would happen soon, and others have said in Brussels that that would happen in a matter of days, not weeks. The defense ministers also directed NATO military authorities to assess and develop for further consideration a full range of military options. Those options would be designed largely to respond to actions by the Belgrade government. They would have the mission of halting or disrupting a systematic campaign of violent repression and expulsion in Kosovo.
That said, the defense ministers reiterated the importance of diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict in Kosovo, to encourage the dialogue that had begun tentatively between Kosovar Albanians and the Belgrade authorities. And if anything, this action today, in the view of the White House and the President, will help underscore the importance of Secretary Albright's participation in the Contact Group ministerial meeting in London tomorrow, in which further diplomatic pressure will be wrought by a wider community of interested governments on Milosevic. But that diplomatic pressure, now backed with this military presence in the region, should send the signal to Milosevic that it's time for him to cease and desist.
Q Does the U.S. have any estimate on how many people have been killed by this ethnic cleansing?
MR. MCCURRY: I have seen various assessments. It's more than the number who have been killed or the number who have been driven from their towns and their homes and who are now in refugee status, creating a huge humanitarian problem in the Balkans, and obviously, creating deep concern for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and for the government of Albania as well. And the numbers are easily in the tens of thousands of those who are in refugee status.
Q Can you say something about the reasons that the President chose a particular venue this morning for his address on China? It seems to me that such significant issue would merit perhaps him even going on television, prime-time, to speak to the American people on this particular issue, whereas now you're more reliant on how the press is going to pick up on what went on tomorrow.
MR. MCCURRY: You're suggesting that the press that covered the speech might not convey its importance and significance to the American people. I would take some issue with that, and we appreciate those news organizations that stayed with the speech in its entirety and broadcast it live. And as to the venue, the venue was an appropriate one and a good one, in part because you'll recall that at the National Geographic Society, the President spoke once before on the subject of global climate change, and in one aspect of the case he made today for our strategy of engagement with the People's Republic is the work that we do together on environmental protection. The fact that the facility was available on short notice may have had something to do with it as well, but it was an appropriate venue in any case.
Q You said it wasn't on short notice.
MR. MCCURRY: I said it was not hastily arranged. I said -- short notice is not hastily arranged. (Laughter.)
Q What's the strategy -- if there is a tobacco bill in the Senate, what leads you to believe it will go anywhere in the House of Representatives?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because about two weeks ago one would have said, why on Earth would you believe that a tobacco bill is going to go anywhere in the Senate because there are plenty of people who say it's as dead as a door nail. The fact is, the American people want to see a comprehensive approach developed that protects children in this country from tobacco addiction, and they've made that clear to their Congress. And the fact is, a majority of Congress wants to see that legislation pass, too, and the leadership that is reluctant to move forward and the interests that are powerful that are attempting to block this legislation are, over time, giving way to the will of the American people and the will of a majority in the Congress.
So why do we think the House will eventually and ultimately act on this? Because it's the right thing to do; it's good policy; it will protect kids. Millions of kids, we hope, can avoid becoming hooked on tobacco and all the negative health consequences that arise therefrom as a result of this program. And so I think -- we are more hopeful today than we were two weeks ago that we're going to do the right thing.
Q Mike, the Congressman that covers the district of Jasper, Texas, where the tragedy happened this week has said that perhaps a federal hate crime statute needs to be looked at because perhaps the threshold is too high. Are you all starting to take a look at that?
MR. MCCURRY: I know that -- I want to be very careful because there are federal hate crime statutes on the books, and that has been one of the things that this administration and others have pressed as a way of responding to these horrific incidents. I want to be careful in saying anything because there are applicable federal statutes that can be examined with respect to the incident in Jasper. I prefer to send that question to the Justice Department because I'm sure they are in a better position to evaluate federal law and tell you of its applicability in this instance. And if there is a need for any review, they would be the place that would be able to suggest that better.
Q Does the President have any plans to go to Jasper?
MR. MCCURRY: That came up earlier, and I'm not aware of any.
Q What do you think of Pakistan's moratorium on further testing?
MR. MCCURRY: I think they are interested in doing what they can do to try to limit tensions in the subcontinent. They clearly are very conscience of what the government of India may do or may not do. I imagine that they are seeking and looking for ways to protect their own national security.
Now, we would like to take that interest and see if we can build that into a reasonable dialogue between Pakistan and India, but expressions that move in the direction of limiting tensions are certainly preferable and more helpful than steps or actions that exacerbate tensions.
Q On a new subject -- on this "doomsday clock," does the White House have any opinion of doing that? Does that just create a lot of nervousness around the world?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think that -- I'm blanking on the name -- the Federation of Atomic Scientists, I think, has over many years has drawn attention to the dangers and the risks associated with proliferation, with exactly those tendencies in the world that we have tried to curb through things like the Nonproliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the work that we've done to arrive at non-nuclear agreements in the Pacific and Africa and elsewhere. So I have to credit them for drawing in a very vivid way public attention to many matters that our government is quite concerned with and work on day in and day out.
Q I think they also had said diplomacy had failed, though.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, diplomacy in the sense that there was diplomacy behind encouraging both governments of India and Pakistan to refrain from testing, that's accurate -- it did fail. The question is how do we go from here to limit tensions and to move these countries back in a more positive direction. And by no mean are those efforts at a place that you would declare them a failure.
Q There was a wire report out that a senior Indian official named Jazwan Singh (phonetic) is going to be in town tomorrow. Will he be meeting with anybody at the White House? What will be the purpose?
MR. MCCURRY: His stop here in Washington is scheduled to be with Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. We have indicated a desire to engage at that level and also, presumably, at high levels with the government of Pakistan at appropriate times soon. There will be occasions in which high-ranking officials of both governments will be in the United States or in New York, specifically, in coming weeks, and we will, at appropriate levels, exchange views.
There is no -- we will follow that dialogue closely here. I'm not aware that that's a role indicated here at the White House. Our attention not only will be on that meeting tomorrow, but also on the work that Secretary Albright also does in London tomorrow as part of this G-8 ministerial meeting on India and Pakistan that's occurring tomorrow, where we think we've got a real opportunity to build on the statement that the Permanent Five of the Security Council issued last week.
Q Mike, I know you hate this question, but I feel I need to ask it anyway. Why aren't all the very passionate arguments that the President made today for engagement of a country with which the United States has disagreements applicable to Cuba?
MR. MCCURRY: The principal reason is there is no movement towards market economics, economic liberalization, and change, fundamental change, in Cuba that we see in the People's Republic of China. There is a world of difference between the totalitarian regime embedded in the doctrine of communism captured and captivated by command and control economics that breaks free and recognizes the reality of the world that we live in, the power of the global economy, the moving force of market capitalism in the times that we live, and makes a conscious choice to decide to move towards the right side of history. There's a huge difference between a regime of that nature, as politically repressive as it might be, and a regime that's just stuck in a time warp and is stuck in a backward view of history.
And another difference -- there is all the world of difference between Fidel Castro and a ruling leadership in the People's Republic that has recognized that they need to move toward market economics and we hope eventually towards political liberalization as well.
Q So it's economics that's the yardstick, and not --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I just gave a pretty good answer, I think, to the question.
Q Mike, Castro hasn't ordered the slaughter of hundreds of people the way they did nine years -- the Chinese did nine years ago.
MR. MCCURRY: You're right, there have been incidents as grievous as Tiananmen Square in the history of Cuba. If you look back over time, you don't have to look far to find instances of repression, suppression of political liberties, violence of a very gross and repressive nature.
Q But if commerce is one of the standards, why not lift the sanctions and flood them with American goods?
MR. MCCURRY: There is an argument that can be made for that point of view.
Q But not one that has success here.
MR. MCCURRY: That's not the premise of longstanding, bipartisan policy that has reflected a majority support of the American people, of our Congress, and of executive administrations, Republican and Democratic.
Q So you would dispute that there's any inconsistency in foreign policy between our policy of engagement towards a country like China and the isolation of Cuba?
MR. MCCURRY: I would suggest that apples are apples and oranges are oranges.
Q Mike, with the speech today, was the President hoping to turn around public opinion, which seems to be the majority of -- the polls show the majority of the people are against him going to China at this time? Isn't that --
MR. MCCURRY: That's not accurate.
Q It's not accurate?
MR. MCCURRY: Most polls show the majority of Americans believe he should go to China. And I think most --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, now. At least the polls I read in your newspapers. And I believe also that most Americans understand the fundamental premise of the argument the President made today, that it is in our interest as the American people to engage with China, a nation of 1.2 billion people who are increasingly in a position to buy goods and services from companies that manufacture and produce goods and services here, and a country that has shown a willingness to engage with us on many of the thorny issues that the President described today that we deal with.
Q Will he make another major speech about China before this trip, or is this it?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that he will make another major speech, but he'll have other opportunities in public settings to talk about the trip before he goes.
Q Do the forced abortions and sterilizations have any effect whatsoever on U.S. policy towards China?
MR. MCCURRY: I did a long recitation of that yesterday.
Q Mike, one thing you didn't make clear yesterday -- you said the President would bring this up when he went over there, but do you mean publicly or privately?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I made clear that we would, in one fashion or another, raise that in the course of our meetings there.
Q Right, but do you know if he's going to actually say something about forced abortions in public?
MR. MCCURRY: He will have a lot to say publicly there. I don't know whether specifically that issue will be addressed, but I do know they do intend to raise that in the course of our dialogue with the government.
Q Back to Kosovo. You want to send a message to Milosevic. Has any thought been given to the President calling him, saying you've got to stop this, blunt talk?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have spoken very directly with him in the presence of Ambassador Gelbard and, previous to that, Ambassador Holbrooke. I have not heard of any discussion of the President picking up the phone to call him.
Q There is no business delegation going to China, is that right -- with the President?
MR. MCCURRY: We have not announced the delegation going with him. I'm not aware of one. I don't have a delegation list in front of me.
Q Is it unusual for this trip not to include U.S. business interests along on the trip?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I mean, at some times when the President travels he does include delegations that are composed of people with business interests. That was the case recently when we went to Africa. But there are other times when he travels that we don't include an element like that within the official delegation. It really depends on the nature, scope, purpose of the trip.
Q Since you just were stressing market economics and transition there in China, and trade, why would the President not include a business delegation?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's a big difference. In the case of Africa, which we are really -- we're launching new opportunities and starting a new Africa trade initiative -- we were introducing people and getting them -- hoping to make connections between U.S. private sector interests and their counterparts in Africa. In the case of China, there is already an extensive presence of U.S. private sector interests in China; there's a very active American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing that I assume we will see. In effect, we don't need to take them there because they're already there. So that's the big difference.
Q In his speech today, he dealt head on with a lot of the controversy -- the Tiananmen Square visit, the technology -- alleged technology transfers. But I don't think he made any reference to the alleged funneling of Chinese campaign money into the Democratic Party -- did he?
MR. MCCURRY: He didn't because -- you used a very important word there -- allegation, alleged. I don't think there would be a reason to address that at this point is nothing more than an allegation, and in any event, is being properly investigated by the Justice Department.
Q And on a previous issue. Even though there isn't a business delegation going, do you see any benefits accruing to U.S. businesses interested in China as a result of the President's trip?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, of course. I mean, the work that we're doing to engage with them constructively can have the byproduct of smoother relations when it comes to trade and commerce. It can create more opportunities of certainty, better understanding by Chinese authorities of those things that our economic interests look to when we make investment decisions and pluralism and respect for human rights and freedom of expression and freedom of information so that markets work more effectively in very fundamental principle when it comes to why we believe market economics works best and why those are the features of economies that produce the best investment opportunities for those who are investing. So that's all by way of saying that's an important part of the powerful argument that the President can make for political liberty as well as for economic engagement.
Q Mike, this is the Chinese political contributions are only alleged. Does that mean the President will not raise it with the Chinese?
MR. MCCURRY: He has raised it before and if there's something new to raise, he'll raise it again. I'm not aware there's been anything new to raise.
Q Can you preview the Oceans Conference tomorrow.
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Lockhart can do that. Anything else?
Q Do you have anything to say about Pat Robertson's attack on the city of Orlando for its position on gay rights? He says it might be visited by hurricanes and maybe even terrorists attacks.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with what he had to say on that subject. Doesn't sound like it's any more peculiar than other things that he says.
Q Mike, do you know anything about a decision the President needs to make on whether to use Iranian assets to satisfy some judgments that have been brought against the Iranians for terrorists acts? I think there's a young lady from Brandeis who had killed and her family's holds some kind of judgment against the Iranian government. The President's supposed to be considering it.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know anything about that, but I can have some of these guys look into it.
Q Is the President doing anything to moderate the impact of the sanctions against Pakistan on northwest wheat farmers? And is he supportive of moving Congress to change the sanctions law to exempt agricultural export credits?
MR. MCCURRY: I know our Justice Department has been looking closely at that question because there may be, by a virtue of the Glenn Amendment, sanctions against Pakistan, things that affect the Department of Agriculture's GSM export program with respect to wheat. I know that that question had been looked at, and the Justice Department was I think coming to the conclusion that our law might be fairly inflexible with respect to the imposition of those types of sanctions. But I think we'll need to do more work and sort out where that issue is.
Q But that would be the National Congress in other words. He hasn't found any flexibility that he didn't know about before in the law.
MR. MCCURRY: I imagine that they're seeing what kind of flexibility exists. But the answer may be not much.
Q A federal judge down in Little Rock released some letters yesterday, a couple of which indicated that Paula Jones considered selling an affidavit she had written about her encounter with the President. Does that give you folks any more information about what the purpose of her suit was or --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with that affidavit. Check with Mr. Bennett, see if he has anything to say.
Thank you. Oh, Joe -- Oceans.
MR. LOCKHART: The Oceans Conference has kicked off today actually. It's a two-day session. The Vice President is there today participating in a series of panels. The President will participate tomorrow -- it's jointly sponsored by the Navy and NOAA. Over the two days there will be four basic areas that they'll look at, but the overview is protecting the ocean as a resource. And they will be looking at the environment, with particular focus on how we prevent the dangers of overfishing, coastal political, and other threats; commerce -- the interesting statistic is one out of six jobs in this country are in some way related to the ocean, whether it be from the most direct fisheries to the jobs that require ports -- exploration and research, and those go to much of the research that's being done there having to do with new medicines, how we understand how the oceans regulate our climate, and the various marine ecosystems; and finally, global security, the national security items that the oceans impact on.
Q Aside from advocating good stewardship, are there some specific things the President is going to propose?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. The President has a series of initiatives he'll talk about tomorrow on a variety of these areas, in particular some on the environment. The Vice President also has a series of announcements he'll be making today. The other announcement is -- I'm not sure -- I believe at some point today the President will sign an executive order on protection of coral reef, which we'll get you that information when it's available.
Q Does he also plan to extend, as has been reported some places today, extend the ban on oil drilling off the California coast?
MR. LOCKHART: I can tell you that there has been an ongoing policy review here on the oil drilling, the moratorium on oil drilling off the California coast. And I expect that review to be finished by tomorrow and the President to have an announcement.
Q He wants to engage the oceans?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q What about the red snapper?
MR. LOCKHART: How do you like it prepared?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, Portland, the commencement speech, the subject there will be immigration. The President will talk about the importance of the strength of diversity in this country, and it will have some -- will be in some way sort of wound in with some of the things you've heard him talking about over the last year on his race initiative.
Q Is he going to draw attention to the first anniversary of that initiative?
MR. LOCKHART: He'll talk about it -- I don't know if there is a particular reference to the speech in San Diego, but I think you'll hear some of the themes he's talked about -- racial diversity as being a strength in this country and what makes this country great and how we need to craft immigration policies to reflect that.
Q But does he think this is an opportunity to say, give this initiative a chance, or to comment in some way on the perception that it hasn't yet delivered --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know that I'd agree with that interpretation. I mean, as we've said before, we don't really see this weekend as the end of the initiative. It's really -- the report will be working off the board, which will be in place until the end of September. But we thought this was a timely, a good place to address these issues.
Q Is he going to engage that perception himself? The perception that the race initiative is not exactly what he had hoped it would be.
MR. LOCKHART: If you travel around with us you know he talks about the initiative in many of his speeches. The distinction I want to draw here is this is not a speech about the race initiative one year after -- it's a speech about immigration. But there will be elements and themes that you've heard over the last year addressed within the speech.
Q Is there a reason why this theme makes sense for this venue, Portland State? Is there something about Portland State and immigration?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure on the actual venue. But as you know, we often use commencement speeches for more thematic approaches to big issues that we face, rather than policy pronouncements. MIT was an example of that. It's more of a thematic -- issues of where we're going.
Q So you don't expect new policy in this speech?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think -- the purpose of the speech is not to roll out new policy initiatives; it's more of a thematic approach.
Q Will it tie in with the radio address?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Is he going to tape the radio address before he leaves?
MR. LOCKHART: No, he'll do that tomorrow night, late. So you'll have it late tomorrow night.
Q What will that be about?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the radio address -- we're not ready to discuss that.
Q Do you know why we're advised to wear climbing boots to see a tidal pool tomorrow on the schedule?
MR. LOCKHART: Climbing boots?
Q That's what it says.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, because it's slippery rocks, so you don't --
MR. LOCKHART: Barry, you've been there haven't you, in Monterey?
MR. TOIV: Yes. But there's some tidal pool thing --
MR. MCCURRY: Anemones, sea urchins, tidal pools. You walk on the tidal pools, you want to have rubber soles --
Q You don't know any more about the veto of the Iran sanctions bill -- have you gotten it yet?
MR. TOIV: Yes, we got it today.
Q Should we expect it in the next couple of days, the veto?
MR. TOIV: The deadline is 10-plus days.
Q Thank you.
END 2:24 P.M. EDT