View Header


                     Office of the Press Secretary
                      (Armagh, Northern Ireland)
For Immediate Release                                  September 3, 1998
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                        Omagh, Northern Ireland  

4:40 P.M. (L)

MR. MCCURRY: Hello, everyone. Can you hear us? We have no way of knowing whether you can hear us, but we're assuming you can hear us. Here is what we're going to do. Joe Lockhart is going to provide a little bit of color on the session that the President and the Prime Minster are now having with the families and some of the victims from the terrorist bombing here in Omagh. And then Jim Steinberg, Deputy National Security Advisor, is going to give a readout on some points of the day. We're trying to work out a way in which we can get a return signal from you all if anyone down there has questions. We will repeat the questions asked by your pool here -- they're standing with us in the filing center here.

Mr. Lockhart.

MR. LOCKHART: Hello, everybody. The President, the First Lady, the Blairs and several members of the traveling party, including Ambassador Lader, Senator Mitchell, Mo Mowlam, and others went in to meet with about 500 people who were members of the immediate families who suffered either deaths in their families or injuries.

They met in a school -- we're at a leisure center here in Omagh, and the room they met in was a gymnasium with a full basketball court. Set up around at the front of the room was a very small riser with a podium where the President and the Prime Minster spoke from. And then out on the court, about halfway through the gymnasium, were square tables with five or six people sitting around them. Behind that were just audience-style seats and people had sort of -- were sitting there and had sort of filled in around the tables.

The Prime Minster spoke first, speaking for about five minutes. My understanding is we're going to get transcripts for you on that. And also when he was done, the President spoke for about seven minutes. While the President was speaking, the room was very quiet and people listened very intently. The only sounds were a couple small children who were alternately laughing as they were talking with other members of their family, and a crying baby or two. When the President finished, people stood and gave him a very warm round of applause.

Once the President finished speaking, the President, the First Lady, the Blairs, Mo Mowlam and George Mitchell and Ambassador Lader went into the crowd and for, now, roughly 20, 25 minutes, they have been walking around from table to table talking to people. The President went first, stage left, to the corner, and spent a few minutes with a 14-year-old girl who was blinded in the bombing, and met with her and her mother. Her mother is a radiologist at the local hospital and was actually on duty the day that this all happened.

That's, I think, about what I have. Does anybody here have any questions?

Q Names?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have a name.

Q What did the President tell the crowd?

MR. LOCKHART: I do not have a read on what he said, but we're going to get you a transcript so you'll have the words.

Q Anything on the President's reaction to what he heard from folks?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's ongoing, so to the extent we can get something, we'll get that for you later.

Q Can you give us an idea of what's going to go on out on the streets?

MR. LOCKHART: He's going to lay a wreath and then spend some time talking to some of the rescue workers that were involved the day of the bombing.

Q From the radio pool, there was a question about, can you relay anything you heard the President say while you were inside?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I can't, because I wasn't inside and just got a report. That's why I'm going to rely on the transcript. We were not in. The President only brought in his National Security Advisor. Most of the staff was left out. The President, I think, brought in only his National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, and he gave me a sense of the mood, and that, again, the room was still and silent while the President spoke. He described it as a very eloquent talk to these families. Again, we'll get you the words as soon as we can.

Okay, we're going to now give you to Jim Steinberg, the Deputy National Security Advisor, to talk about today.

MR. STEINBERG: Let me just say a few words about the events today, particularly the discussions that the President has had. This has been very much a working visit, beginning with the meeting that he had with David Trimble and Seamus Mallon and Mo Mowlam and Prime Minister Blair. They've been working on trying to look at the various aspects of how to go about both the work of implementing the agreement and generating public support for the agreement.

In the first meetings this morning, the two leaders of the new Assembly discussed their thoughts and plans about how to get the Assembly up and running. I think they both recognized a need for a very focused effort. They talked about their efforts to look at the various structures that they need to develop and how they would go about trying to do that.

When the President met with a significant number of the members of the Assembly, all the parties to the Assembly were represented in his discussions. He spent about seven to ten minutes with each of the parties, largely in a listening mode, but also indicating that the United States continues to support the process and is eager to see the work of the Assembly go on. Talked a little bit about the kind of support that the United States is providing through AID and others to help the Assembly in terms of trading and assistance to the start-up of the Assembly.

He met -- after he left Stormont he went to Waterfront Hall where he had a chance to have a few moments with John Hume, who is obviously an important architect of this whole process and a leader for a long period of time for the peace process. The President not only had a chance to pay tribute to John, but to talk at some length with John and some business leaders from Derry about how we plan to try to help work in stimulating investment.

After the speech the President had an opportunity to spend a few minutes talking to David Trimble in a, more or less, one-on-one situation, again to talk about plans ahead and particularly the efforts beginning next week to bring the parties together to discuss moving forward on the Assembly.

He then went, as you all know, to Springvale, where he made remarks and did a ground-breaking ceremony. He also spent about -- a period of time afterwards talking to the VIPs who were there. It included four members of the Assembly from the area, as well as the IFI representatives who were there. The President spent about 10-15 minutes talking to Gerry Adams, again stressing the need to move forward on the process and to see the work of the Assembly and the work of implementing the agreement more broadly, on issues like the equality agenda, security.

We then come here to Omagh and Joe has given you a readout on the events here. So let me take questions, and I'll start with the pool out here.

Q Jim, what are the prospects for a meeting between Trimble and Gerry Adams?

MR. STEINBERG: I think that there is a good expectation that a meeting will take place next week. There is certainly every indication that Mr. Trimble is going to bring together all the parties for a meeting, and I think that there is a reasonable expectation that that will include individual meetings as well.

Q How important would such a meeting be?

MR. STEINBERG: I think, as the President has said and we have made clear all along, that it's extremely important for all the parties, particularly those who are committed to the peace process, the signatories to the agreement, to work together effectively. They obviously have very serious differences that need to be worked through, but as the President said, the issue now is using dialogue and the new political processes to resolve those differences rather than resorting to violence.

And so we think that the more direct and intensive the engagement between the parties, and particularly among the leaders who are going to be necessary to make this process work, the better.

Q Jim, was the President -- what was his reaction to the more subdued tone of Mr. Trimble's speech compared to Mr. Mallon's speech?

MR. STEINBERG: I haven't had a chance to get to, and this in the questioner's words, the "more subdued tone" of Mr. Trimble's speech compared to Mr. Mallon's speech. I haven't had a chance to get any particular reaction from the President to the individual speeches except I think the President is very impressed, particularly in his private conversations, with the seriousness of purpose of all of the leaders.

As I say, when he met with Mr. Trimble and Mr. Mallon at the beginning of the day it was a very focused discussion on what needs to be done. Each of them are political leaders who have to decide how they best want to present their case, but I think, for us, what is important is seeing the process move forward, seeing the Assembly put in a position where it can begin to work effectively, seeing all of the aspects of the agreement be reached.

Any other questions from here?

MR. MCCURRY: They wanted me to do the update on the crash.

Q (inaudible.)

MR. STEINBERG: I would say in terms of what the President was thanking Gerry Adams for, he was thanking him specifically for his statement this week concerning the end of violence and the decision of Sinn Fein to appoint Martin McGuiness in connection with the decommissioning commission. As to whether he considers this a definitive, I think the President has made clear that he expects that it's definite and he takes those words to mean that that's their intention.

Q The two countries are drafting antiterrorism laws that some consider too draconian. What is our view of those laws?

MR. STEINBERG: The President's view and our view is that we support the efforts of the two governments to make clear that they're going to have an effective campaign against the terrorists, and we hope and expect and have every reason to believe that the two governments will implement them with real sensitivities to civil liberties concerns.

MR. MCCURRY: P.J. says people there want to hear me run through what I've already put out to the pool on Swiss Air 111. We have been in very close contact with Canadian authorities, particularly the Canadian Transportation Board which is now investigating the crash. The following U.S. agencies have been in contact with Canadian counterparts: the National Transportation Safety Board, the FAA, the Coast Guard, FBI, State Department and Department of Defense. We have indicated the resources that we have available to Canadian authorities if they need them. I'm not aware of any requests made so far by Canadian authorities for help, but if they need any we've indicated to them what we have that can be made available.

In terms of what we know about the crash, I think most people are aware of the call from the cockpit -- that's been reported by FAA. That has led the NTSB and the FBI together in consultation to conclude that the National Transportation Safety Board should be the lead U.S. agency coordinating with Canadian authorities for the investigation. That would be consistent with the view that it's not likely it was a catastrophic event because the pilot was in a position to phone in a request for an emergency landing.

Beyond that, they are continuing to sift through information. There's an extensive effort underway to learn more about the flight, about the handling of the cargo on the flight, a little more about the origin of the flight in Geneva into New York and then New York back to Geneva. And the President has been getting updates as they are available from National Security Advisor Berger. That's about all we have on this end.

Q How did we learn about the Trimble-Adams meeting?

MR. MCCURRY: We've had extensive contacts with the parties in recent days and were aware of some of the developments reported in the paper today. But we think it's best to leave it to the parties to make whatever public comment they want about the meetings that they're going to have and what they set as their own expectations for those meetings.

Okay, thank you. Thanks everyone.

END 4:58 P.M. (L)