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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release June 23, 1998
                            PRESS BRIEFING
                             MIKE MCCURRY

MR. MCCURRY: Thanks to all of our briefers for the assist. You didn't divert all the questions. This is our abbreviated version of today's gaggle so let me go through a couple of schedule points. I think you all know the President has completed his main public event of the day, which is the bill signing you saw earlier. The President is now getting the excellent briefing that you all got last week from Dr. Harding and Dr. Lardey. That's underway now in the Cabinet Room. The President will have some additional briefings from Secretary Rubin, Secretary Albright, Sandy Berger, other China experts in our government who will continue the briefing after the President hears from the two outside experts.

I expect the President to name a new FDA Commissioner later today before leaving. And we will have paper on the nominee, who is someone that has been widely speculated on and someone that we will welcome warmly to the administration back to the FDA from her current posting.

I also expect the President to return to Congress later today H.2709, the Iran Missile Proliferation Act, and we'll have a veto statement available on that.

Q Which one?

MR. MCCURRY: It's the Iran Missile Proliferation Act, the Russian Iran Missile Sanctions Act.

Q What's his argument on that? Why --

MR. MCCURRY: The argument is it's a very -- well, twofold and please look at the whole argument. But, essentially, there is no flexibility in the Act passed by Congress that allows the President to work through problems. There is no recognition of the fact that we have made some progress working with the Russian Federation on exactly this issue. And in a sense, by tying the President's hands now we wouldn't be able to continue our successful diplomatic work with the Russians on exactly this problem. Third, that the threshold set for imposition of sanctions is so low that you could conceivably have situations in the future in which the United States Government might improperly or incorrectly impose sanctions, which then would cast out on the credibility of all the sanctions regimes that we maintain. And lastly, and very importantly, that these sanctions regimes generally, because they are efforts by Congress to micro-manage and legislate outcomes without regard for the facts at the time that we are dealing with the problem, produce hopeless shackles on the Presidency as he conducts the conduct of this nation's foreign policy. That argument will be spelled out in greater depth in the statement.

Q But in this case the burden of proof, part of your question, you know, that it could be improperly imposed, the sanctions, there is no question in this case though, right?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are lots of questions. We have, you know, raised at very high levels with the Russian Federation our concerns about missile technology proliferation and we have gotten good commitments from them to work on this issue with us. This has been a chief working item on the agenda of the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission now the Kiriyenko-Gore Commission.

Q Mike, since the President --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, let me, before we get off to what will surely be an entertaining digression, let me do some other work. I want to make everyone -- since this is our last occasion here make sure everyone knows that before the July 4th celebration you know the following. That pavilion that's been out there on the lawn for a long time now requires the grass that was under it to be reseeded, so that area is going to be roped off and they're going to grow grass on the south lawn again. It means that there's going to be less space available for fireworks on July 4th.

Now, we're going to send out invitations as usual but I want to warn everyone it's going to be very crowded. A lot of people make that a family occasion and bring down their kids and everything, but just be advised that we're going to be packing many more people into smaller space. Space has been reduced by a third so you may want to plan ahead accordingly.

Second, the President of the United States will travel to Atlanta, Georgia and Miami, Florida on Thursday, July 9th. In Atlanta the President will launch an anti-drug media campaign aimed at our nation's youth and parents, and following the event he'll attend a luncheon for the senate campaign committee. He then goes on to Miami for a dinner for the House campaign committee and then returns to Washington.

Q On the trip --

Q Who -- what is --

MR. MCCURRY: Let me --

Q Oh, are you still making announcements?

MR. MCCURRY: One more. Let me do one more. I want to do a readout. The President had a very warm, successful, and productive meeting with President Mary McAleese of the Republic of Ireland, the first meeting that the President has had since she became President of Ireland in October of 1997. They had a substantive discussion on the political situation in Ireland. President McAleese expressed a great deal of confidence in the Northern Ireland peace process, the implementation of the Good Friday Accords, the process that you see underway now daily in the campaign period that is currently underway.

President McAleese stressed the importance for Ireland and the United States staying involved in the peace process. President Clinton, in turn, said that he will continue to be helpful in any way he can. The United States Government would remain committed to this peace process. They noted in brief passing the recent trip of the Secretary of Commerce to Northern Ireland and the productive work done by a delegation that included business leaders who are making investment in the people of Ulster and all the Irelands. A good meeting.

Q Did he discuss sending the name of the new ambassador?

MR. MCCURRY: With the President, she is head of state, not head of government, and it would be more appropriate to raise issues of agreement with the government, not the head of state.

Q Since the President has just expressed his regret over Beijing's exclusion of three Radio Free Asia reporters, you may remember the instance when an entire planeload of French reporters bound for Saudi Arabia learned that one of their number was to be refused entry because he's Jewish, and they all said unless he's cleared none of us will go either and the Saudi's relented. And my question is do you think that the accredited reporters for Radio Free Asia might not suffer the Beijing blacklisting if the White House Press Corp were to emulate the French Press Corp and say unless this exclusion of three accredited reporters is revoked, we're all pulling out and saving our companies honor as well as their money?

MR. MCCURRY: That would require me to predict your behavior and the behavior of the Peoples Republic of China, and I'm willing to do neither. I will tell you that my understanding is that the carrier charter, Cathay Pacific, has indicated to us that they are going to abide by international aviation requirements which state that you have to have a valid visa in order to board the aircraft. So they don't plan to take off with those three individuals aboard.

Q Is it possible then that accommodations might be made to carry them on Air Force One?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are working right now with the Government of China. As you can imagine, we consider this a highly objectionable decision by the Chinese Government. Yesterday we protested the Chinese decision both here and in Beijing through the respective embassies. We're continuing to encourage the Chinese Government to reverse this decision. We're working the issue, even today, with the hopes that we can get these accredited journalists access to the story they wish to cover.

Q Will we revoke the credentials of three Red Chinese reporters in retaliation as has been done on other occasions?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure we have accredited any journalists from the Peoples Republic for any particular activity.

Q What reasons were given for the decision? What reasons were given?

MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is there has been very little rationale provided. In fact, that's one of the things that makes us consider this a regrettable incident. The Chinese have granted an unusually high number of visas to international press and US press covering the President's visit, clearly indicating a desire to open up the country for more varied and wider press coverage. And a lot of that goodwill that they otherwise would have earned will now be significantly undermined by this decision, which is one reason why we think it makes very little sense.

Q Do you think it could be linked to the decision to -- or moves to start increasing funding for Radio Free Asia?

MR. MCCURRY: I am not going to speculate on what rationale the Peoples Republic might have for a decision that we don't think makes sense to begin with.

Q Will the President bring it up personally?

MR. MCCURRY: The President will surely, in his discussion of individual freedoms, things that we cherish in our democracy, be talking about freedom of the press and no doubt this situation will figure into the President's discussion. Hopefully it will be resolved amicably by that time.

Q We know that the White House is working on it. Can you give us a little bit more specifics about what is the President doing or some of the behind the scenes?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President is right now getting briefed on many elements of the trip and the itinerary he will follow, the various discussions that he will have. But we are working in the meantime diplomatically to see if we can't resolve this particular situation.

Q Through the embassy?

MR. MCCURRY: Through the embassy. The Deputy National Security Advisor is now en route to Beijing to do some last-minute work before the President's arrival and we'll continue to work at that.

Q In regards to the ongoing drama --

MR. MCCURRY: By the way, Helen, we do have the delegation list is now ready to be issued, correct? Correct.

Q In regard to the ongoing drama over tobacco, can you comment on the appeal in Florida that reversed the decision for the award in the tobacco settlement?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the effort to provide the kind of public health protection for America's children that the President wants is going to be a sustained commitment on his part and is going to involve not only the effort to secure legislation in Congress but also the regulatory work that's being done by the Federal Food and Drug Administration to impose a regulatory system of jurisdiction on the industry and to regulate cigarettes as a delivery device for the addictive drug nicotine. That work will continue. That is not affected by litigation except for litigation no doubt the companies will bring to challenge the authority of the FDA to regulate tobacco.

There will be ups and downs in the litigation as to liability and tort claims. We have seen times in which the tobacco industry has lost, we have seen times in which they have eked out a win in the courts. That will continue. But for the President, who has to protect America's public health, we'll continue to do the work both through the regulatory system and in Congress that he deems necessary to protect kids.

Q On that subject, Senator Hatch is going to re-introduce his bill on tobacco. It looks like it's approximately the settlement plus about another $60 billion and maybe some other changes. Does that look -- if you don't maybe support it at this point, but does it look like an appropriate vehicle from which to continue this discussion?

MR. MCCURRY: One of the values of having a set of principles that the President brings to this discussion is we know how we can measure any proposed legislative remedy: It has to match those principles the President has outlined. Does it achieve the reduction in use of tobacco by young people that the President suggests is necessary? Does it do the things necessary to ensure that the Federal Government can regulate tobacco and protect America's public health?

All of those things are the principles by which the President would evaluate propose legislation. We'll have to see how that measure or any other measure measures up. We had a good bill that was the result of a lot painstaking work in Congress that had passed the Senate committee with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, 19 to 1. And that seems to us to be the best place to turn to to look for good legislation.

Q So the Hatch bill hasn't been evaluated according to the President's principles?

MR. MCCURRY: We will evaluate it as necessary but we've got a desire, first and foremost, to see something that is as good as if not better than the McCain bill come forward.

Q Are members of Congress sending up three items they say that represent democracy in America -- the flag, the copy of the Declaration of Independence. Will the President be taking those? And, also, what was his specific reaction to Gingrich's call to take these journalists on Air Force One?

MR. MCCURRY: The specific reaction to take the journalists I've already covered because we're working hard to get that done. The work that we are doing now to advance and promote our interests across the spectrum reflect the degree to which this Administration, this President, and our nation cherishes those fundamental instruments of our democracy, and there should be no question of that.

Q Last night the House of Representatives passed a resolution approving of Operation Casablanca in Mexico and saying that we should not extradite to Mexico any of the law enforcement officials involved. Any comment?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that there was any effort by the Government of Mexico to extradite those individuals.

Q On tobacco for a second again. Over on the House side, the speaker is calling for reduction in the capital gains rate from 20 percent to 15 percent and maybe putting it in a House version of the tobacco bill. Would that be acceptable?

MR. MCCURRY: I would have to look further into that legislation and maybe check with our national economic team.

Q On the VX gas story the President commented on just a moment ago outside, he seemed to be confirming the story but then saying he had not seen the report. Can you clarify for us what's going on with that?

MR. MCCURRY: I think we, the United States Government, is reluctant to say anything about the work that the UN Special Commission has done in Iraq until Chairman Butler reports tomorrow to the UN Security Council on the issue. Obviously, it appears from the report -- and you have all seen it and the President is certainly aware of -- that there has been a successful effort to once again unmask deceit by the Iraqi government. That's why we've supported strongly the work that the UN Special Commission, UNSCOM, has done in Iraq. That's why we believe the sanctions should remain in place. But further comment by our government would be more appropriate after Chairman Butler reports further.

Q Some of the critics of the President's trip have said that the White House made a mistake by -- they used the term "kowtowing to the Chinese" in agreeing to be greeted in Tiananmen Square. How would you answer the argument that what's been done to these three journalists now shows that we should have stood up tougher before?

MR. MCCURRY: There will be not only this incident; there will no doubt be other incidents. Those who have travelled on behalf of our government to China have seen exactly in practice some of those policies of this government that we strongly deplore and that we have engaged in firm dialogue with the government about.

That should come as little surprise to those who understand the nature of that regime; that we do have disagreements about things as fundamental as freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom of people to believe what they want to believe, freedom of people to practice their own religion as a matter of faith. All of those things are precisely why the President is going to China, to engage with this country that contains so many people to see if by opening to them and opening them to the concepts that we cherish they might change behavior over time. That's the purpose of our strategy of engagement with them.

Q What do you mean when you say there will no doubt be other incidents? You're expecting more incidents?

MR. MCCURRY: There have been anecdotal -- anecdotally people who travel there sometimes encounter the nature of a government that has a very strong and firm security apparatus and I wouldn't rule out we'll see some of that on this trip. I'm not predicting that and certainly I'm not hoping for that, but I wouldn't be surprised at that.

Q Has there been a decision on him addressing the Chinese people on television yet?

MR. MCCURRY: He's got, and there have been, a lot of opportunities that we believe his message will be carried to the American people. The Administration notes that large portions and important portions of the President's interview with Chinese news organizations were carried and prominently featured in broadcast and reporting in China and that's good. We want to see more of that and we hope there will be additional occasions like that during the trip.

Q Well are you still in negotiations to try to make a direct address?

MR. MCCURRY: There will be a lot of discussions and I don't want to anticipate that until we get over there.

Q Mike, why does China -- what do you think the President is going to discuss with the Chinese leaders over India and Pakistan nuclear tests or is he going to press them to transfer technology by Chinese to Pakistan or in the future?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there will be a considerable discussion on issues related to South Asia: our proliferation concerns generally, the work we have been doing with the Peoples Republic to address the insecurities that arise from the two tests that -- or two sets of tests that both of these governments have conducted. I think there will also be discussion about proliferation related issues and our concerns. They have proliferation concerns that they raised with us. That's the nature of the dialogue.

Q How do you feel about the nuclear plans to India?

MR. MCCURRY: We have in the past indicated to the government of Russia our strong concern about that and we continue to express that concern and we've had fairly recent discussions with them about it.

Q On the nerve gas report, the Republicans already using this as ammunition saying that the administration hasn't been tough enough on Iraq, that Senate Majority Leader Lott saying that it was failed policy towards Iraq. How does the Administration respond to the criticism that this has been ineffective policy?

MR. MCCURRY: It's a little mystifying how that charge is made given the way in which this information came to light, became available to the UN and given the work that was done strongly supported by the United States by the UN Special Commission. That criticism would appear to fly in the face of the facts of the matter.

Q I understand the President is still considering his trip to India and Pakistan and he may try the trip in November with APEC meeting?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything further about the timing of that trip.

Q Mike, will you talk about the bill signing tomorrow that the President is going to do?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll do a little advance around that. I can. I just haven't looked at it closely enough yet.

Q On the IRS reform bill, it's been reported that Archer wants to tie in a shorter capital gains holding period with that bill, and has there been any progress at all on the funding issue?

MR. MCCURRY: If there has been, you would have to ask our tax experts at the NFC.

Q Mike there has been a major political change in Columbia. The opposition won the presidency and candidate president Samper lost. Has the President of the United States sent a message of congratulations to president-elect? Has there been any contact?

MR. MCCURRY: You'll have to check with the NFC. I haven't heard of one but, obviously, we would hope that there would be a change in attitude with respect to the newly elected government that would allow us to make progress on some of the issues that we continue to believe are central to our bilateral dialogue, chief and foremost among them a commitment from the top down to do everything possible to counter drug trafficking.

Q Does the President -- did the President at any time give any consideration to telling his host that he would not go to Tiananmen Square, in the same way that Jiang Zemin demanded a full state dinner rather than the tent?

MR. MCCURRY: We've covered that subject in great detail in the past.

Q But, I mean, has he? Or he hasn't done this?

MR. MCCURRY: We've covered that question before.

Q Can you comment about the Clinton Administration position with the new elected Brazilian -- in Columbia how to join efforts to stop the crime and drugs in Columbia or Latin America?

MR. MCCURRY: I think I just said response that we consider that very important and we will be anxiously awaiting to see how committed the newly elected president is to maintaining a vigorous fight against drug trafficking and to work cooperatively with other members of the international community to stop narco trafficking.

Q Can you give us a little more detail on precisely how we found out these journalists weren't getting visas, whether they are all American citizens, if you know, and also whether there is any thought that the President might refuse to go unless they're granted visas?

MR. MCCURRY: I will note for the record the commendable interest you have in the right of these government employees to freely report the news and next time we have issues related to VOA and USIA I will recall for you your attention to their sterling independence as reporters, but we are working with them now to try to resolve this situation and we'll see what we can work out.

Q They're all US government --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the details of what their nationalities are, those who are working, but they are US Government employees.

Q Again on that point, just to get back to my original question, one of the ways you could get around this is if you put them on Air Force One; is that not correct?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on whether that's going to happen or not.

Q Is that one of the options possibly being considered?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on what options are being considered.

Q Can you give us some more details about the Congressional delegation itself and some of the things they may do??

MR. MCCURRY: It's in the bins and we've passed it out.

Q Why are they all Democrats?

MR. MCCURRY: Because the Republicans have been expressing themselves very vigorously.

Q Pardon me?

MR. MCCURRY: Counter to the interest in the trip --

Q Were any invited?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll check and see. I don't know the answer to that. I assume some were.

Q You refer to these people as government employees. Do you refer to PBS and National Public Radio as government employees as well?

MR. MCCURRY: No, because they're not.

Q What?

MR. MCCURRY: No, because they're not.

Q They're getting money.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's a bit of a stretch.

Q Mike, there is apparently a butter shortage. Prices are up 70 percent, we're importing millions of pounds more despite a tariff of 80 cents. Friendly's and Ben and Jerry's have said they'll raise ice cream prices

MR. MCCURRY: That sounds like a "marginal" question.

Q You're dead in Wisconsin.

MR. MCCURRY: I'll see whether anyone has got --

Q Marginal.

MR. MCCURRY: Marginal question. I'll see whether anyone has got more to say on the issue. No doubt somewhere in our government we're working hard on it and we'll find out where and get the answer.

Q Are you going on this trip?


Q Who else is going from the press?

MR. MCCURRY: We've just posted the delegation list so you can see the full delegation. Anything else?

Q Can you give us any clarification on how -- whether it was just the visas came back and these weren't in the pile?

MR. MCCURRY: No. What I have heard is that through the embassy here we were notified that the visas had been revoked for the three Radio Free Asia travelers. They obviously -- we pressed immediately on the reasons why. We elevated it to the issue of the ambassador in Beijing and made a formal protest. The government, through the embassy here and through the contact that our embassy has had in Beijing, has not indicated any willingness to change their decision, has indicated that they will not honor those visas. And under international aviation requirements -- we've had discussions with Cathay Pacific which is the carrier, and they tell us they are obligated under international aviation requirements not to board anyone who doesn't have a valid visa. Obviously, that would send the --

Q The jet leaves this afternoon. You can't resolve it that quickly, can you?

MR. MCCURRY: It's not going to get resolved in time for -- no doubt for that departure but the trip goes on for nine days and we'll see what happens.

Q But, Mike, this was yesterday that you were informed?

MR. MCCURRY: Yesterday is my understanding, right. That's when I first heard about it.

Q And they originally had visas but they were revoked?

MR. MCCURRY: That's our understanding. They had been granted visas which were then revoked.

Q Suppose you persuaded all the press corp to pull out except Geraldo --

MR. MCCURRY: Why don't you take that one on.

Q How would you expect the new diplomatic relationship with the Iranian government after the soccer game and the President's speech about this issue?

MR. MCCURRY: We will see. I think that the game of football between the United States and Iran was an opportunity for both countries to have the kind of people-to-people exchange that both Khatemi and President Clinton have foreseen, but more important to us is the careful reaction that the government of Iran makes over time to the important speech that Secretary Albright delivered. Those are the kinds of things that we will watch to see develop.

Q Is there going to be a departure statement tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: I've heard conflicting things about that. There is not one planned at the moment.

Q Albright is going on to Tokyo?

MR. MCCURRY: She will have additional stops afterwards. I'm not sure what the State Department has announced as her itinerary. You can check with them. Thank you.