THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release August 24, 1998
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
Edgartown Elementary School Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
11:55 A.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: The President, a short while ago, had an update from the National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, about a number of things. They talked, obviously, about the internal developments in Russia, talked about that in the context of the President's coming trip. Sandy began briefing the President a little bit some of the aspects of is trip that will deal with the economic situation in Russia, and clearly that is impacted by some of the political developments there that have occurred in the last day or two.
The President got an update from Sandy about just the aftermath of the attacks on Thursday. With each passing day we are growing more confident in the preliminary assessment that we gave you as to the damage assessment, and the President -- he passed on a few other items related to that.
And let's see -- what the President is planning to do for the rest of the day is, in a short while I think he's going to go over to Vernon Jordan's for lunch. Today is a day that one of Hillary's friends, Kelly Day*, had organized a luncheon of some of her friends and some of Hillary's friends, so the ladies are going out on a boat and having lunch. And the President will go over and have lunch with Vernon. And since that will be a private conversation, the best I can do is give you the menu. They will have Icelandic Salmon, asparagus, potatoes, and choice of island-baked pies.
Q Whose menu is this, him or hers?
MR. MCCURRY: That's his. I don't have anything on hers.
And beyond that, Doug went out to talk with the President before they left and he'll probably get an update on what other things we might expect in terms of what they might do for the rest of the week or so forth. So, Barry, who takes over for me at the conclusion of this briefing, will have more to tell you about in the days ahead.
Q Mike, on the subject of increased confidence in the attacks, our colleagues who are in Sudan have gone to the site -- there appears to be no evidence of any nerve gas component. Does your statement about increased confidence apply to the drug company that was destroyed by U.S. missiles?
MR. MCCURRY: The target that they aimed at was hit; the damage that was done was extensive. And as Mr. Berger indicated yesterday, our confidence that that facility was manufacturing chemical weapons precursors is quite high.
Q Why can't you identify what they are? Sudanese officials deny it; our reporters over there see no evidence of it; the company denies it. Isn't there an obligation to explain what it was that we were targeting?
MR. MCCURRY: I will check -- I'll pass that question to Mr. Berger. The nature of that information is classified now. I'll pass that request to Mr. Berger.
Q Sudan has called for a U.N. investigation. Would you support that, or would the United States --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we acted fully consistent with international law and U.S. law. But if we receive any notice of any formal inquiry we'll certainly consider it.
Q Mike, you only acted within U.N. and U.S. law if there was a military threat there. If there wasn't a military threat, then this was illegal.
MR. MCCURRY: We are confident, again as I said, in the quality of the information that convinced us that was the right target.
Q How is the situation in Russia assessed? Is it considered worse because of this change? And also, are you discouraged by the fact that one of the key reformers, has already said that he's not going to join on --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it will be a matter of days before we know how Acting Premier Chernomyrdin intends to form his government. For us, it has always been true that policies matter more than personalities. That includes from the highest level on down. We have been strongly in support of reform in Russia and reformers, strongly in support of the transition occurring there away from communist command and control economics and to market economics and to democracy. Now, we would strongly -- or certainly hope that strong supporters of those policies are those that are chosen to form the government that Premier Chernomyrdin will put together.
Q Will the President's message that these reforms must be taken now be intensified because of these moves? I mean, already they're talking about a coalition government, the communists, Chernomyrdin saying we might slow it down.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will continue to press that message vigorously. The Vice President in his calls with both Mr. Kiriyenko and with Chernomyrdin yesterday stressed that the financial crisis requires urgent steps and that we intend to stay focused and we hope they stay focused on those things that the Russian government can do to both give confidence to the international financial community and also to begin the steps necessary to right that economy and put it back on a path towards growth.
Q -- the trip would be delayed or postponed?
MR. MCCURRY: I've not heard any consideration of a delay or change in the trip.
Q What can the President accomplish in the summit with no government underneath Yeltsin?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's a lot of work that we continue to do, and with President Yeltsin obviously in place, working with his government, we have all aspects of the bilateral relationship in which we need to have discussions work, continue to make progress on some of the things that we have been dealing with the on -- ranging from our work together on national security matters, foreign policy related issues, to those things that we do to give support to their economic transition.
Q -- some rumor that Gore might go instead to meet with Chernomyrdin. Can you rule that out?
MR. MCCURRY: I can rule that out. I don't rule out that -- as you know, Vice President Gore and Chernomyrdin have a very good relationship growing out of the work they did together on the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission. And the likelihood that they would pick up and continue that working channel is quite high -- not, obviously, prior to the summit.
Q Mike, is Clinton going to talk to Yeltsin today?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule out that the President might talk to President Yeltsin. I don't think it will happen today, but if it happens, I'm sure Barry will pass it on.
Q How has the shake-up changed the approach of the President to the summit?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's a reminder of the volatility that exists in Russian domestic politics. We are well aware of that. That is one of the factors that is just there automatically as we deal. We've known for a long time that President Yeltsin faces a very complicated internal dynamic. He deals with that; that's really between him and the Russian people. But the work we do has to be cognizant of the fact that it is a complicated environment in which President Yeltsin pursues policies.
Q Mike, how does the change in government help the speed with which the U.S. feels Russia needs to implement some of these reforms? Does it not cause some delay?
MR. MCCURRY: It does not change our view that they need to move urgently to implement the reforms they've indicated they would undertake, the package that they are pursuing, together with the IMF. But it is an acknowledgement that the difficulty of implementing those policies is there, and it represents a challenge to those that undertake to implement the policies. I think we understand that, but it doesn't lessen our sense of urgency that they need to move forward.
Q While you say that it's not personalities, it's policies, given the fact that under Chernomyrdin a policy was a go-slow approach, isn't it cause for concern that he's been the one to be reappointed?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, again, how he will address the question of economic reform, how he will undertake the kinds of changes necessary to restore strength in the Russian economy and restore confidence in the Russian economy remains to be seen. We will have to see what policies he pursues. We will certainly urge him in a variety of ways to pursue exactly those policies that I have described.
Q Mike, will there be background briefings on Russia up here prior to departure?
MR. MCCURRY: We're working that out. I understand by late in the week, maybe Thursday or Friday, we will have some kind of pre-trip briefing, and I think we'll probably have to do it with people who are in Washington and pipe the sound in here. But that worked the other day and I anticipate something like that.
Q Has there been any further planning or a decision about off-island travel this week for the President?
MR. MCCURRY: No. There's been some talk about it down in Washington, but they're going to check with the President. No decision yet, and I don't anticipate anything before later in the week.
Q Mike, is there any indication that Afghanistan has told bin Ladin to lay off the United States?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check on that, Carl. I'm not directly aware of anything that would confirm that. But I'd have to do some more checking before I'd say that we either know or don't know that.
Q Mike, is the White House aware of whether Osama bin Ladin has been indicted in a sealed indictment in the United States?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything for you on that. I'm checking on that right now, about what is public domain on that. I don't know at this point.
Q Mike, last week you said that this talk about resignation calls and that type of stuff wasn't serious enough to pay attention to. Has it reached that level yet with some of the stuff that was said yesterday by Nunn and others? What's your react to what's going on?
MR. MCCURRY: I think our general reaction is a lot of different people are saying a lot of different things on this subject, and the President's on vacation and he will continue to do his job.
Q Mike, James Carville spoke yesterday about the need for the President to address the nation again on the subject. Are there any plans --
MR. MCCURRY: We are well aware that many people have many views on that subject.
Q But are there any plans?
Q Is the President getting advice from --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure -- he's stayed on the phone from time to time and he's talked to people who are up here --I'm sure he does get advice on that, and people have opinions.
Q What does he think about it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, when he has something to say further about it, he'll make it very clear -- if he does, if he chooses to.
Q Mike, Speaker Gingrich made some comments in interviews about it would take more than the Lewinsky matter to move Congress toward impeachment. He'd like to see more evidence --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the Speaker was indicating how seriously he would take that type of report, that type of process, and was certainly suggesting that he would ensure that the House of Representatives and Congress, generally, treat that with utmost seriousness, and that's very proper.
Q James Carville said yesterday that he expected that at some point the President would readdress the Monday night address, would go father than he had gone then, and probably apologize. Is there anything like that in the works?
MR. MCCURRY: He's one of the President's advisors and has rendered some advice and it's usually pretty good advice, but the President hasn't made any decision of that nature that I'm aware of.
Q What would be your response to a censor resolution, if that were to --
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't respond to something that's hypothetical in any event.
Q Do you take the Speaker's comments as outreach to the President at all?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because when they have to deal with business together, they deal very directly. The President and the Speaker of the House have done a lot of work together and they know how to work together effectively. I think, again, what the Speaker said was just reflecting the seriousness that he would attach to that type of process, and I think that's a very proper observation to have been made.
Q Is there any concern that Mr. Starr's report be just limited to the Lewinsky matter?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into speculating on what is or is not in the report.
Q What can we construe from the fact that the First Family didn't go to church yesterday and the President hasn't set foot on a golf course of yet this vacation?
MR. MCCURRY: That they were enjoying their time -- well, they were spending time together, they were spending time together as a family and they preferred to be in private rather than public.
Q Mike, you said the other day that it was your sense that the healing process was not completed yet. Any update on --
MR. MCCURRY: I stand by my prior assessment. With each day, we are getting more confident in that assessment. (Laughter.)
Q Confident in the assessment that it's not done?
MR. MCCURRY: It's going to take time. It's going to take time and they need to work that out, and they are choosing to work that out in private, and that's probably good for them, as human beings. And thank you for laying off of them. I mean, we appreciate the fact that they've been able to have that time together without having it intruded upon.
Q Is there a sense of how we'll know when that happens? How will we know?
MR. MCCURRY: Life will go on and this story will go on, too. So you'll know, one way or another.
Q -- U.S. missiles --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the government of Pakistan made it clear that that initial report was in error several days ago.
Q But there have been some -- today --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check that, but I suggest that you go to the Pentagon for better information on that.
Q Mike, are the Clintons staying on this private schedule because they are working on this healing process you talked about, or is it because they just --
MR. MCCURRY: They just feel like being together and doing what they're doing. They've been out once or twice and they may go out some more. We'll see how it develops.
Q Mike, one more on the Moscow summit. In cases like this, is it sometimes gratuitous that if a summit's coming up where the two leaders can work one-on-one together -- or there are other people making the case it's the absolute worse time to go to the summit -- what's your view?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, we have had summits at different points in the relationship, at different points in the personal ups and downs of the leaders involved, but they are always good and useful because they bring us back to what is an important, extensive working agenda that we have with the Russian Federation. We do a lot of business together in this world, and the two Presidents do a lot of business together personally, and then both as a matter of their responsibilities as leaders of their country. And I think the President sees this as an opportunity at a critical moment for Russia to really fully engage with President Yeltsin and other members of his government about the changes that need to occur there to place Russia where it should be in terms of its dealings with the West and with the rest of the global economy.
Q How much of a security risk is it, if it is one at all, that the President is not out and about? Is it a threat to crowds around him? Is that a concern at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is always very well protected whenever he goes anywhere.
Q Mike, can you give us a sense of what it's like in the house? Have you been around with the two of them interfacing together, the three of them --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to intrude on their privacy, but they are spending time together, doing all the things that I've been telling you about. They've been talking, they've been relaxing, they've been reading, they've been walking, and they've been dealing with what is a personal private matter.
Q Mike, is that the chief reason that the President has not left the Friedman compound, the healing process, or --
MR. MCCURRY: He has left and gone out once, and I just told you that he's leaving to go out for lunch shortly. So the answer is no.
Q But he hasn't ventured out as often as he has previously on other vacations.
MR. MCCURRY: I think the answer to that is pretty obvious.
Q Has the United States communicated to Sudan any kind of message that the country itself is not a target, that --
MR. MCCURRY: We've made very clear publicly and would have no need to send through whatever channel a message that would be different from the one that we've said publicly about the nature of the mission, the intent, the certainty with which we attacked that target.
Q Mike, do you have any comment on the decision to try the folks in the Pan Am 103 case in the Netherlands?
MR. MCCURRY: I will say about that only that, obviously, the President has been following that matter for quite some time. Considerable work was done within our government in a number of different agencies leading up to the announcement that Secretary of State Albright made a short while ago. The President had worked at various points on this, asked for certain aspects of it to be explored, and then gave the go-ahead for the announcement the Secretary of State made today last Friday when he was down in Washington.
Q Mike, who is Kelly Day? You said it was a friend.
MR. MCCURRY: A friend of Mrs. Clinton's, wife of a prominent New York investment person, I think.
Q And they're going out on a sailboat or -- can you describe anything on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any details on it. They're just going to go out on a boat and have lunch.
Q Where are you going?
MR. MCCURRY: Back to Washington, in the last dog days of August.
Q To what extent is the Pan Am 103 latest offer the result of diminishing international support for sanctions against Libya?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, what this is is a determined effort to bring to justice two suspects in the case. And we have for over a decade now looked for ways to bring them to the kind of justice that the U.N. Security Council resolution requires, and as the Secretary said, we believe this is a good approach to do it and a good test of whether or not Muammar Gaddafi is being honest when he says that he will deliver them for justice.
Q Do you have any strategy for getting the suspects or forcing --
MR. MCCURRY: You saw it today -- a direct challenge to Libya to produce them for trial.
Q But if they deny that challenge?
MR. MCCURRY: If they deny that, then the U.N. Security Council will have to consider that defiance of its own resolution.
Q Mike, is there any reason the United States would hesitate in making public the evidence that we have that this was a chemical weapons precursor plant?
MR. MCCURRY: I said I would pass that question on to Mr. Berger.
Q Perhaps --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they'll have to make an assessment of that, and then I'm sure you'll hear more about it later.
Q In other words, you don't really believe he'll tell us anything.
MR. MCCURRY: Knowing that the information is classified, knowing that in our government there's great concern about protecting sources and methods, I doubt that it will be. But I certainly will pass on the request.
Q Mike, just to follow up, if it's not released, then what essentially you're saying to the American people and to the world is you've got to trust us on this one.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not saying anything to the American people and the world on that, I'm just taking a question and passing it on.
Okay. Very good. Thank you. Be nice to Barry; don't make him go on camera unless you really need him. You guys don't need this on camera. We'll see. We'll see what Barry wants to do and how he wants to proceed. It would be nice if he puts an early lid, huh? That's what we'll do. Barry, brief at 11:00 a.m. We will try to move it until 11:00 a.m. I would have been more timely today if it had not been for Secretary Albright's announcement, which was also at 11:00 a.m.
END 12:25 P.M. EDT