THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:00 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: We're off to the races. What would you like to know about?
Q Yeltsin. Did the President speak with Boris Yeltsin?
MR. MCCURRY: The President had a conversation about mid-morning with President Boris Yeltsin to review President Yeltsin's meeting with President Milosevic. Obviously, the United States government appreciates the good work that President Yeltsin has done, convincing Milosevic to take those steps that have now been outlined in the communique that you have no doubt seen from Moscow. We believe these are steps that can work in conjunction with other steps that need to be taken to lessen the violence and begin a genuine dialogue. In that sense, I think the outcome of this meeting today, in the President's view, moves us in the right direction.
For those of you who have not followed either through Interfax or through other sources the reporting on the meeting today, just to recap, President Milosevic has pledged to allow free access by international monitors and humanitarian organizations and to help refugees return to their homes. Good things, close to -- not exact, but close to some of the things stressed when the Contact ministers met in London on Friday.
There is one important element of what the Contact Group had urged upon Serbian authorities that does not appear to be an outcome of the meeting today, and that involves some of the security arrangements that the Contact Group had sought -- the Contact Group had stressed to Milosevic the importance of withdrawing security forces that have been involved in the violence, some of the operations that have occurred along the border.
We believe that the Former Yugoslav Republic must immediately withdraw security units involved in civilian repression, without linkage to what today's statement -- arising from the meeting today -- calls the "stopping of terrorist activities." That's a linkage that would appear to be a loophole. There's no justification for continuation of the brutal campaign of violence by Serb security forces, and the withdrawal of Serb security forces is fundamental. The United States would join with other Contact Group nations in reiterating the importance of that element of what we see as the steps necessary with respect to Kosovo.
But President Clinton did thank President Yeltsin for the work today. They agreed that they would remain in very close contact as the international community continues to work on this very important issue.
Q Mike, I guess I'm confused by your sentiment, because on the one hand you're saying here are these fundamental things that have to be done -- for example, security forces that refugees presumably who want to return would be terrified of, and yet we applaud Milosevic for agreeing to allow refugees to return.
MR. MCCURRY: He's taken some steps and done some things that we think move in the right direction. But, clearly, we are concerned about this element and uncertain about the meaning of this statement with respect to terrorist activities. That's clearly something that could pose a problem and we'll continue to work on that.
Q -- U.S. diplomacy in NATO military preparations?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, NATO contingency planning is still underway because agreements are one thing, but we've long since learned that behavior with respect to Serb authorities is what you need to watch. So we'll be watching carefully to see what implementation of these agreements -- what now occurs in the aftermath of this agreement by Milosevic.
Q Where does that leave the need for a new U.N. Security Council resolution?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the Security Council is going to remain seized with the matter of Kosovo, and our understanding is that consultations are continuing. I don't want to predict what course of action might lie ahead on the resolution, but clearly, the United States will work with others in the event that further resolution is necessary.
Q But, Mike, is it still your position that you don't need the resolution to do --
MR. MCCURRY: We believe there is sufficient authority and historical precedent given NATO's interest in the security of Europe for us to do a variety of things and to proceed with the kind of contingency planning that NATO is undertaking.
Q Was there any part of that conversation that talked about Russia's economic troubles or the pending visit by the IMF?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that was reported to me, but as you know from my readout on their call yesterday, President Clinton spent a considerable time on that subject yesterday with President Yeltsin.
Q Did they talk about a summit meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: Didn't come up.
Q How long was the conversation?
MR. MCCURRY: It lasted eight minutes. It was just a brief report, and mostly it was President Yeltsin giving President Clinton his sense of the meeting and also encouraging the President to look closely at some elements of the statement that was being issued as a result of the meeting.
Q Mike, this demand that Milosevic immediately withdraw security forces, is there a timetable on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Contact Group, when it met on Friday, stressed the importance of taking those steps immediately.
Q Mike, just a procedural thing. When they talk on the phone, do they get simultaneous translation, or do they have to wait and then -- how does it work?
MR. MCCURRY: Consecutive translation.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q And as far as the Russian government's position, Yeltsin's position, the U.S. has no complaints as far as what Russia is trying to do right now?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we remain very closely involved with them. They clearly are, based on their own concern of the situation in the Balkans, doing what they can through their diplomatic efforts to reduce tension and to encourage an end to the violence. And we obviously are working closely with them towards that end.
Q Mike, who initiated the call, Clinton or Yeltsin?
MR. MCCURRY: At the end of their call yesterday, they both agreed that they would be in touch following the meeting today.
Q Has President Clinton decided to send Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers to Tokyo to meet with finance officials to discuss the problems --
MR. MCCURRY: We have a range of ideas that we are exploring. We continue to monitor both here at the White House and through the Treasury Department the situation in Asian markets and economies quite closely. But I'm not at a point where I'm going to speculate on what further steps we might take. Obviously, sending some people to work closely with their counterparts there is one possibility that is under consideration.
Q How concerned is the U.S. about a devaluation in Russia?
MR. MCCURRY: With respect to further comments on currency matters, whether they are Asia or whether they are directly or indirectly related, such as the question of Russia's currency, I'll refer you to the Treasury Department.
Q The reports are that Mr. Summers --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm aware of the reports; I just answered that.
Q Excuse me, but I mean --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm aware of the reports, and the answer I just gave you is the answer.
Q You don't want to tell us --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to go beyond what I said.
Q -- it's under consideration --
MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of steps under consideration.
Q Is there a concern that Japan may be seeking some other method than the U.S. prescription of demand-led growth to revise its economy?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have, in commenting on the fiscal stimulus package the Japanese government has put forward, we have applauded some of the steps they've taken, but we've suggested that they could work in concert with other steps to produce the kind of economic performance that would restore some stability to the Asian regional economy and lead demand-led growth for imports in the Japanese economy.
Q Without getting into currency devaluation and talking -- speculating about currency, you realize, of course, that China is under great pressure to devalue its currency because of the yen's precipitous drop over the last several weeks. Will this be an issue that, given the ramifications of a possible competitive currency drop, will this be an issue that President Clinton will discuss with the Chinese government when he's there?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that between now and the time the President is there, there will be numerous developments on this subject, and we'll have to see what the status is when we are there. But you've heard the President address exactly that question. The President has applauded the People's Republic for restraint with respect to currency valuation. He said so in his speech last week, as you recall. And it's obviously something that we watch and monitor closely.
Q But when you say there's no doubt going to be developments, do you expect the Chinese currency devaluation before he goes there?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I expect there to be a lot of market activity between now and then.
Q Is the President concerned that Japan may be letting its currency devalue --
MR. MCCURRY: Beyond that, with respect to other currency-related comments, I refer you to the Secretary of the Treasury.
Q Does the White House have any response to North Korea's final admission that they have been selling missiles and they want an end to U.S. sanctions and --
MR. MCCURRY: I can refer you to what has just been said at the State Department. They've covered that and I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that Secretary Albright had, in her testimony today had some comments on that as well.
Q Mike, how important would it be for Chinese and the U.S. to agree to a non-detargeting of their nuclear missiles at each other in the course of the visit to China?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have always been of the view that that is something that lends some measure of stability to the concept of deterrence, and in that respect, is something that enhances the security of both sides. That's the reason why we negotiated just such an agreement with the Russian Federation. And, as you know, we have sought such an agreement with China, but I'm not going to speculate on whether that becomes one of the outcomes of the upcoming summit.
Q Do you have a negotiating team in Beijing working on it now?
MR. MCCURRY: We have our Senior Director for Asia there to go over last-minute preparations for the visit, that's correct. They're discussing a number of things.
Q Is the U.S. prepared to accept the non-first-use pledge?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to try to write the agreement for you here.
Q But there is a standing policy that the United States does not agree to a no-first-use pledge on nuclear weapons; is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: That is correct. I'll refer you further to NSC for exactly the way they state that.
Q It would be fair, though, if there is an agreement you would want it to be --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate.
Q -- the same kind of an agreement that the U.S. has with Russia?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be similar to and it would be designed for the same purpose.
Q Are there American missiles targeted at China now?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to discuss our targeting posture and targeting doctrine, but we live in a world of deterrence.
Q What is that purpose, Mike? Is it merely confidence building? Does it go beyond --
MR. MCCURRY: It's partly confidence building; it's partly -- I mean I think the experts correctly point out that you can quickly change the targeting structure and guidance structures of ICBMs. But at the same time, it's a commentary on what your doctrine is with respect to use when you've negotiated such an agreement. And in that sense, it enhances the security and the belief of most experts.
Q Mike, did you mean to leave the impression that no first use is on the table?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I didn't mean to comment on ongoing discussions about a detargeting agreement in way, shape, or form.
Q Mike, how was the detargeting a comment on your doctrine with regard to the use of nuclear weapons?
MR. MCCURRY: Because if you're not targeted, you're not on the so-called hair trigger, and you're not in that mode of response, anticipating first strike.
Q Well, you're not anyway because the Chinese have a no-first-use pledge, right?
MR. MCCURRY: There's some of might try to make that argument.
Q On the King family visit, why now? What's the purpose this afternoon? Can you give us an update on the progress of the request that's been made --
MR. MCCURRY: I can tell you that the Justice Department has -- subsequent to the President's initial call with Mrs. King and to the meeting between Mrs. King, her family, and the Attorney General -- been reviewing this matter. They have not come to any conclusion or made any recommendation that I'm aware of. And the President's meeting today is just to maintain further dialogue with the family and done as a measure of courtesy and respect for Dr. King, his family, and the contributions they've made to our nation.
Q Any kind of rough time frame on when Justice may decide?
MR. MCCURRY: They're assessing that question. I don't have any update from them on when we expect an answer.
Q Mike, the Uniformed Division of the Secret Service is planning a demonstration outside the White House tomorrow, accusing the President of not living up to his pledge to help them get collective bargaining rights with the government. Is the President going to deliver on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think he will. And I think the truth is that the President has enormous respect for the Uniformed Division. They do a spectacular job of protecting him, his family, and all of us as we're here, but those that have reviewed on the President's behalf the executive order, the national security exemption that is in place, have not found sufficient cause to recommend overriding that. And that's -- I think the President regrets that, but that's the situation based on the expert review that we're in.
Q What specifically changed the President's mind on that point?
MR. MCCURRY: The review done by his experts. The recommendation of the Treasury and the look at the law done by the Counsel's office -- executive order.
Q But help me understand, at what point in the review, what tangible outcome were they concerned about?
MR. MCCURRY: The exact -- the exemptions made for National Security in the executive order signed in 1979.
Q But Mike, why did he -- why wasn't the review done before he promised to --
MR. MCCURRY: That's a very good question.
Q Well, do you know the answer to it?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Can you find out?
MR. MCCURRY: I mean, he didn't have access to national security information and other things.
Q Well, when was his pledge made?
MR. MCCURRY: I think prior to his election.
Q Oh, so it was before he --
MR. MCCURRY: May have been -- or it may have been early on, yes. Check with those who were here at the front end of the administration.
Q They said it was September '96 they obtained such a pledge.
Q September '96 -- reelection. I mean, before he -- MR. MCCURRY: I'll check into it further. Q Well, is there any concern about angering heavily armed people
around the White House. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Look, they know that the President's advisors worked this issue very hard. They know that there were a number of people very sympathetic to their desire to bargain collectively and who argued strenuously that they should be given that right. And they know that sometimes you don't win every argument you make.
Q Mike, let me try the question this way. Why shouldn't they have collective bargaining rights?
MR. MCCURRY: Because in 1979 the executive order signed indicated that for some national security reasons there would be exemptions on the right to collective bargaining that would apply to certain law enforcement officials of the United States government. And based on the review done, that override is going to remain in place.
Q Are you saying the reason is a state secret?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm saying -- get a copy, we'll get a copy of the EO signed in 1979. I think it sets forth there that the issue is overcoming the provisions of that EO and that the argument made was not sufficient to overcome the stipulations made in the 1979 EO -- which I don't think is a classified document, so we should be able to provide it.
Q So what you're saying, Mike, basically, is the President made a mistake and he's sorry for that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I didn't say -- I said something different than that.
Q Mike, did President Clinton meet with the Crown Prince of Qatar?
MR. MCCURRY: He did. The Vice President met for some time, had a scheduled meeting with the Crown Prince and the President dropped by that meeting. It was an opportunity for both the President and the Vice President to compliment the heir apparent Crown Prince on the bilateral relationship with Qatar.
The President and the Vice President both applauded the defense cooperation that we received from the government. They talked about regional security issues, with an emphasis on Iraq. In both conversations at various points they assessed other developments in the region. The President obviously asked the Crown Prince to convey his best wishes to the Emir and said that in the time since the President met the Emir last year at around this time there has been a great deal to be proud about and to take satisfaction from the way that this relationship has blossomed and grown and become a fundamental part of our approach to security and cooperation in the Gulf.
Q Mike, speaking of presidential campaign promises that haven't been kept, in 1992 the President was quite emphatic that if he ever caught anybody in his administration leaking sensitive personnel file material that person would be fired forthwith --- no investigation, no nothing. Ken Bacon has acknowledged leaking stuff from Linda Tripp's personnel file -- why hasn't he been fired?
MR. MCCURRY: He has not rummaged through people's personnel files and dumped them out on the streets. He was asked a specific question and responded to a specific question brought to him by a reporter. That's an entirely different matter, and the 1992 statement does not arise.
Q Mike, it's not a different matter than the President's --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll come back to you if you need any more, Debra.
MR. MCCURRY: What does President Clinton think when the Senate Majority Leader describes homosexuality the way he did in an interview yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: He thinks that the American people understand how difficult it is to get business done in Washington sometimes when you're dealing with people who are so backward in their thinking. For over 25 years, it's been quite clear that sexual orientation is not an affliction. It is not a disease. It isn't something that is part of defining one's sexuality. And the fact that the Majority Leader has such views, apparently, consistent with some who are fairly extreme in his party, is an indicator of how difficult it is to do rational work in Washington.
Q Well, wait a minute. How does this relate to -- this is stopping what kind of work? Does this relate to the tobacco bill or --
MR. MCCURRY: It's on a wide variety of matters. The views of Gary Bauer and James Dobson define the approach that many take in the Republican Caucus and that puts, at sometimes, the Republican Caucus and its leadership in the Congress to the extreme point of view in American political life. And it makes it hard to do business with people who want to --
Q But is there any specific piece of legislation that this kind of view is holding up?
MR. MCCURRY: One would argue that the whole State Department authorization bill is being held up for exactly, that reason. There are probably other examples, too.
Q Back on the Uniformed Services --
Q Can we just finish that gay issue for a second?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Lott says he'll oppose the nomination of James Hormel to be ambassador to --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, exactly. You can see -- why would they oppose someone who is otherwise well-qualified to be a U.S. ambassador other than the prejudice that exists in their minds against people who are gay and lesbian? And that's such a clear example of why. I mean, now you understand why. It's because they have views that are, to put it charitably, quite out of date.
Q But he says that that's because Hormel has advocated the gay lifestyle.
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Hormel has more than adequately addressed that in his confirmation hearings. And that's not the reason. They're refusing to move forward on that nomination because he's gay. That's quite plain and simply the case.
Q Mike, you've been saying that when you refer to people who are so backward in their thinking, people who can't do rational work, and people who are prejudiced against the gay and lesbians, are you referring to Trent Lott?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm referring to people who reflect that point of view. And if that is the way in which he defines his approach on these issues, I guess it does apply to him. But he should maybe clarify that and explain how his views on sexual orientation are consistent with what every expert in the field has to say.
Q Do you think your views, Mike, might hurt -- the views that you expressed today might hurt chances for the tobacco bill?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q On the Uniformed Services issue then, are you saying that if this division was given collective bargaining rights, there's a concern that there might be a strike or work stoppage and that --
MR. MCCURRY: Apparently, that's the thrust of the 1979 executive order, which we're going to get a copy of. I haven't reviewed that, but that's the argument made there and that's the argument that had to be tested in the review of the issue, and it was not sufficient to override.
Q Mike, if you can't talk about devaluation of the ruble, can you tell us what the administration's position is on the stability of the Russian economy to the efforts by the IMF to shore it up --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I mean, I haven't done a general assessment -- I've done a general assessment of that fairly recently. There's a lot of work going on with Russian economic officials. We note with some satisfaction the work that Prime Minister Kiriyenko is doing with his economic team, which we think is focused exactly on the issues that can lend fundamental strength to the Russian economy. The IMF has assessed positively some of the steps that they are taking. Clearly, we want to see more progress in certain areas of structural reform and economic liberalization. But we believe that's a team that knows what to do and that they're moving in the right direction and that, therefore, the confidence shown by the International Monetary Fund is well placed.
Q Is it correct that one of the police officers involved in the school shooting in Richmond yesterday is going to be here this afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe Mr. Brown, Mr. Ron Brown, who was involved in apprehending the suspect yesterday will be here.
Q What's the status of the President's request that the administration look at the issue of school violence?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been a number of developments -- the President most recently addressed this in his radio address last Saturday and, as you know, instructed the Secretary of the Education to develop for use beginning in the next school year a set of guidelines that can help instruct school administrators, teachers, parents, even students, on steps that they can take to positively intervene at an early stage when we see an individual who is troubled, who we believe is at risk, and thus placing the community at risk.
There are other things that are following up on some of the meetings the President had. One of the things that you'll hear him talk about today is devoting some of the work we're doing through the community policing program into getting a better police presence when necessary on school campuses -- when local communities think that's appropriate; and through our COPS program some of the funding that we've got available can be directed to that purpose. And you'll hear the President talk a little more about that today.
Q Did you find more information? You were mentioning this morning that part of what he's announcing today is to spend $150,000 on counseling? It seemed rather low, and I'm just wondering if --
MR. TOIV: That was a ceiling, and this makes it a floor.
MR. MCCURRY: That used to be a ceiling for the program of counseling that exists through the Bureau of Justice, and now they've established that as a floor. But it's in the act, and maybe we can get some more on the act.
Q Per year, per person?
MR. TOIV: It's per year, and this is legislation that was requested by victims' rights groups.
MR. MCCURRY: It's per year and it comes as a request of the victims' rights groups. And Barry knows more about it.
Q Mike, did you have a readout on a visit to the White House of Lebanon's Prime Minister this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Prime Minister Hariri met with National Security Advisor Berger. They had a very good and comprehensive review of the Middle East peace process, talked about steps that can now be taken by all parties to advance our interests in a comprehensive, just, lasting peace in the region. The President stressed the importance of working together on all tracks in the process as we make progress. Clearly, that would mean both the Israeli-Palestinian track, the Israeli-Lebanese track, the Israeli-Syrian, for there to be progress towards that goal. They shared ideas and views on recent decisions of the Israeli government with respect to U.N. Security Council Resolution 425 and otherwise had a good review of next steps that might advance the process.
Q The President participated in that meeting as well?
MR. MCCURRY: He dropped by very briefly the meeting that Mr. Berger had.
Q Prime Minister Netanyahu today said that he would not agree to further land withdrawals without knowing how much entirely Israel would be given up prior to final status talks. What are you doing about that?
MR. MCCURRY: The parties very often have comments that they make about some of the issues that they are addressing. We attempt to refrain from direct comment on comments they make in order to work together with parties to get them to bridge the differences that exist. And clearly, there are some differences, and clearly we are working very hard to try to bridge them. And as the State Department indicated yesterday, there has been some modest progress and we wouldn't be continuing this work and continuing these meetings if we didn't think there was reason to believe there could be some progress.
Q Do you want to help us understand why the White House Counsel, Charles Ruff, went to this meeting with Judge Norma Holloway Johnson last night?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know and I can't help you on that.
Q Since you've given your general views about the Russian economy, could you do the same with Japan?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I mean, I think there's been a lot done on that today. Japan has a critical role to play in helping to restore financial stability in Asia by stimulating domestic growth, strengthening its financial system, deregulating and opening its markets. We've said that before and continue to believe that that is a bulwark for the future of a strong Asian regional economy.
Obviously, the weaknesses that you see in Japan's economy are not healthful when it comes to restoring growth and stability in that they have an impact more broadly on Asia and could conceivably have an impact here in the United States, despite the strong fundamentals that we see even today in the U.S. economy.
But as we've said, the policies that are going to help restart Japan's economic growth and that are essential to reestablishing the confidence that we need at this point are imbedded in some of the steps that the government has already taken with respect to fiscal stimulus. That's why we've urged rapid implementation of those components. And we also think it's very important for the government of Japan to quickly resolve the banking system's bad debt problem and to move decisively on deregulation and opening of Japan's markets.
I wouldn't be surprised if our government remains very closely attuned to the developments in Asian regional markets. And on a day-by-day basis, we'll probably be addressing this matter.
Q Did Yeltsin say that Milosevic wouldn't budge on the security forces issue? Obviously, you tried to get him to agree to that. Is it a dead end?
MR. MCCURRY: That didn't arise today. I mean, he explained -- I think he explained where they came out on some of these issues and President Yeltsin's view clearly was that they had made some significant progress on each of the elements of the Contact Group communique.
Q He didn't think they'd failed on the key issue of stopping the violence?
MR. MCCURRY: To the contrary; they had made a significant measure of progress across the issues that have been identified.
Q Mike, when you describe Lott's statements as backward in thinking regarding homosexuality, are those the views of the President?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has made it very clear that he thinks that people who are law-abiding, contributing members of this community and this nation should not suffer discrimination because of their sexual orientation. And I think the President believes that there are a significant number of Americans that share that point of view.
Q Well, regarding social issues, the President has also shown respect, acknowledged that on various social issues there are different views because of convictions held, but is this the same kind of spirit shown by saying that he's backward in this thinking?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's true when it's a matter of conscience. This is a case in which, contrary to fact, contrary to statements of the medical community and those who are expert, the Majority Leader has taken an incorrect view that homosexuality is a disease. It is not. And that's an entirely different matter. That's not a position held as a conviction or a matter of conscience.
Now, the Majority Leader, as a religious matter, a matter of theology, may have views, and the President doesn't contest that. The President's is the President; he's not a theologian. But that's not the specific issue that the majority -- that I think aroused such profound concern in the community. It was the view that's now been strongly refuted for over a generation that homosexuality is a disease.
Q Didn't he say it was a sin?
MR. MCCURRY: He said several things, but the one that I am addressing is that one.
Q Mike, are we going to have the Berger briefing tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we're going to do -- Sandy Berger will brief on China tomorrow.
Q What time would that be, Mike?
Q Morning or afternoon?
MR. TOIV: We haven't set it yet.
COLONEL CROWLEY: Early afternoon is the briefing.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:30 P.M. EDT