THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (New York, New York) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release September 22, 1998
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY Marriott Eastside New York, New York
1:30 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon. The President -- at the conclusion of the second wave of the photo op, Mr. Plante, you'll be happy to know he said, well, you can't blame ol' Bill for trying. So he tipped his hat to you.
Let me just run through timing, reminding you all that we will have the President's economic team and some of our foreign policy folks here at the conclusion of the working lunch, which is now under way, to give a more thorough readout of the President's meeting today with the Japanese delegation, with Prime Minister Obuchi.
I'll just tell you what's happened so far this morning. The President -- as Prime Minister Obuchi arrived for what was scheduled initially to be just a social visit, the Prime Minister and the President went into the President's suite and began a conversation that went on -- instead of the allotted 10 minutes, it went on for just over one hour.
And it's clear from the demeanor of the two that they struck up almost instantaneously a very positive working relationship. The President just a short while ago said that these conversations so far have been friendly and constructive. And that certainly was the mood and tenor of the discussions that occurred as the two delegations then met following your brief encounter with the two leaders at the pool spray.
Most of the conversation, not unexpectedly and by design, has so far focused on the global economic situation, the issues that you heard both the President and the Prime Minister address in the Q&A session with respect to internal Japanese domestic economic policy, and then macroeconomic policy and global international financial matters related to the work that all of us must do together -- Japan, Europe, the United States -- to encourage stability, growth and steady-as-she-goes economic policies globally.
A large part of the discussion so far has been exactly about that, and I expect you'll be able to get more detail from Deputy Secretary Summers, Mr. Sperling, Mr. Steinberg, and others when they're here in a short while. So I don't pretend to want to go through all that.
Q Could we turn down that -- I think that you're on a three-second delay.
MR. MCCURRY: It's always nice to watch yourself brief like that. (Laughter.) What a good looking guy that is there. (Laughter.) That's right, life imitating art or something like that.
Q Did they specifically talk about the legislation that's up for a vote tomorrow? Did the President push him on any specific steps, bailing out the banks?
MR. MCCURRY: Some of that I think that they answered. We obviously have our concerns about the reforms that we believe are necessary in the Japanese banking system, in its financial system generally. We expressed those concerns frankly and candidly. Prime Minister Obuchi recounted the discussions that he had as Foreign Minister with Treasury Secretary Rubin on that, and noted the very strong concern we have about that. The Prime Minister briefed the President on his understanding of what the situation is with respect to that legislation in the Diet. I will leave it to the Japanese delegation to provide their own response to that.
But I think it is true that both sides of this relationship understand that in the friendship that we have -- the respect that both peoples have for each other -- we can give good, useful advice to each other in the spirit of the friendship that we have and the alliance that we have, and that we can work together as friends to improve the conditions in the global economy. That was certainly the tone of this meeting and certainly the tone of all the conversations that the President and the Prime Minister had privately and that our delegations then had.
Q Did the President set any sort of deadlines for the Japanese to stimulate their economy?
MR. MCCURRY: No. It wouldn't be accurate to say he set a deadline. I think both sides understand the importance of moving swiftly to encourage the kind of stimulus growth demand that we want to see in the Japanese economy and move ahead with the necessary reforms that will restore confidence in the financial community and the future short-term and long-term prospects of the Japanese economy.
That's all I want to do on that subject and you've got a good briefing with some of our top economic people coming up on that subject in a short while.
Q In the remarks to the reporters, President Clinton stressed his understanding that Japan can only do what's politically possible. Does that suggest this is not as urgent as he expressed earlier?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's an effort by the President to help the people of the United States understand the difficulty that any Japanese government would have wrestling with these very complex issues. They have their own constraints internally, but they have also their own reasons and incentives for moving ahead now to try to do those things that will help their own economy. This will be in their best interest.
The flip side of that conversation was the one that the President had privately with the Prime Minister about why it would be manifestly in the interest of the people of Japan to move forward with these kinds of policies that will lift the quality of life throughout the region and make Japan a centerpiece of restoring stability and growth to the entire Asian regional economy.
That is a role a great nation can play and the President stressed often that Japan is not only a great friend of the United States, but also a great nation and has the capacity to be a great leader in this world economy.
Q Mike, what can you tell us about the possibility -- or if there are any talks under way between the Hill and the White House, the possibility that the President at some point might go down to the Judiciary Committee and talk to them?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the President was asked specifically during the photo op about Senator Kerry's suggestion, and we appreciate Senator Kerry's desire to find a constructive solution to this matter and to bring this matter to some kind of closure. But I think you all recall that I said yesterday that what we want to do is work with Congress to find a course of action that is the correct one, that will have bipartisan support, that the people of Congress together agree is the right course for our nation and that the people of the United States of America will support.
It would be highly inappropriate for the White House to try to suggest exactly what that will be. We have been talking to a lot of people. A lot of people have got ideas. We will continue those conversations because this President, as he demonstrated to all of you today, is determined to continue to do the important work that we have to do in this world, the important work we have to do at home to address the needs and concerns of our citizens.
So he will continue to have the conversations he's been having and certainly will listen carefully to the kinds of suggestions that White House staff and others working with the White House have been receiving from others.
Q Well, Mike, is that option under discussion?
MR. MCCURRY: There are many, many ideas under discussion, Bill.
Q Mike, newspapers and editorials and analysts overseas are expressing horror at yesterday's events and suggesting that the President has been seriously politically weakened. And their concerned about a vacuum in U.S. leadership. What's your reaction to that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think if they looked carefully at the way the events of yesterday were assessed here in the United States -- since this is an internal matter -- they would see that most people believe that this matter is going to move forward. The assessments here in the United States of the events of yesterday were quite different from what you just described, and I think they also would take some comfort in what they see both yesterday and today: the President of the United States of America doing the work that he must do as the leader of the preeminent power in this world to address concerns of a global nature that affect all the people of the world and to defend rigorously the interests of the people of the United States of America, as we conduct a major bilateral relationship, as we deal with all the kinds of issues that have been the focus of the U.N. General Assembly session here in New York.
So I think that they will be -- take some comfort as they see us deal with this own internal matter.
Q Your formulations about Japan seem to be -- I guess the best way to describe them would be kinder and gentler than in the past. Is that because there's some sort of recognition in the administration that the harsher formulations before were causing some backlash, or is it because the Japanese situation is so desperate that you don't want to kind of pile on?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there will be plenty of people that will be able to interpret things. And you'll also hear some nuance from people within our government who have to deal on different types of issues at different times with the government of Japan. We have very real and strong concerns about the condition of that economy. We have very real and strong concerns about our trade imbalances. Those concerns don't go away, and our need to address them vigorously does not go away.
But at the same time, we need to stress over and over again that this is a positive working relationship that is built upon friendship and built upon the alliance that we have with Japan, so that there's no misunderstanding either in our country or in Japan about the degree with which we respect each other as we search for common solutions.
Q What's your response to the generally favorable public opinion polls as a result of the videotape release?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not that surprising to us that there would be that kind of reaction, given the demeanor of the President as it was during the testimony. But as I said yesterday, it's really not up to us to render judgment on these matters. It's now a matter for the House of Representatives to address.
And I think one thing that is abundantly clear from yesterday's testimony by the President and from the release of other evidentiary material is how grossly unfair the Starr report was in presenting a very one-sided account of the evidence that the Office of Independent Counsel had collected.
In a 445-page referral, the Office of Independent Counsel found room for hundreds and hundreds of salacious details that titillated this country and embarrassed this country and the world, as we just said, but it didn't find room for one sentence from the testimony of Monica Lewinsky, quoted today. I would just like to say that "no one ever asked me to lie and I was never promised a job for my silence" -- exculpatory evidence that was not mentioned by the Office of Independent Counsel.
That is a grievous wrong to the President, and that is going to be addressed by a letter that the President's legal team sends today to the Judiciary Committee and we'll make it available later.
Q Mike, has the President considered going to the Judiciary Committee and speaking candidly --
MR. MCCURRY: Asked and answered.
Q -- only in the context of an arrangement that also took care of other issues, like impeachment proceedings?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything to add to what I already said on that.
Q Well, Mike, has the White House made a determination that the President should not talk publicly about the charges against him?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has made the determination to do the work that he's been elected to do. He's going to do it; he respects your need to continue to press him on this matter. He's not angry about that; he doesn't take offense at that. But at the same time, he cannot afford, as we deal with the issues we were just talking about -- the global economy, terrorism, the things that we face in this world -- he cannot afford the luxury of being diverted by these personal matters, which he will have to address working with his attorneys in due course. He has got to do the work that we, the American people, elected him to do and he's determined to do that.
Q Mike, what's the point of a letter from the President's legal team to the House Judiciary Committee, which you've already said is very partisan in its handling of this?
MR. MCCURRY: Maybe this is a moment, particularly after what we went through as a nation yesterday, where members of Congress will want to step back and reflect their on responsibilities. Certainly, we are working hard to try to see if there is some way to proceed in a way that does what is in the best interest of this country, and that everyone, after the enormity of what we went through yesterday, stops and thinks about where we are and where we need to go.
And I think pointing out that we have now been dealing with, for days and days and endless news cycles, what is abundantly clear now is a one-sided account of the evidence, it might be useful to point that out and see if some people want to rethink where they have been already on this issue.
Q Following up on that, you said that you were asked the other day whether this had hit bottom yet. Has it hit bottom?
MR. MCCURRY: It's been stuck at the bottom for quite some time.
Q Mike, did the Counsel's Office look at the constitutional issues of the President going up to the Judiciary Committee, and are those part of the discussions with Capitol Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into the discussions. I've told you a lot of different ideas, a lot of different ways in which you could find a correct course of action. Anything that we say or do that suggests here's the way that we're going to proceed would likely be discounted, because this will have to be something that works for the House of Representatives, that works for the American people. We're not in a position to judge that under the Constitution. That's the responsibility of the House, and we respect that. And we can certainly seek out their feelings and learn more about what their own preferences are, but it really, ultimately, has to derive from a bipartisan willingness on their part to move ahead in whatever fashion is decided to be appropriate.
Q Mike, is censure and a fine among those "lot of different ideas?"
MR. MCCURRY: You all can report on that and decide for yourself.
Q You said that people at the White House are talking with a lot of different people. Are White House staffers talking with the bipartisan congressional leadership about exactly how we should proceed now?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what kind of leadership discussions there have been. I know there have been, at various levels, a lot of different discussions, and presumably some of those have been with leadership and leadership staff.
Q Different subject? There is a published report in a New York newspaper this morning that Secretary Albright has submitted her resignation and it was not accepted.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any reason to believe that's true, and given the strength and vigor of her participation in the conversations today, I can pretty well state for you that there's nothing to that, but I'll track that from the State Department.
Q If you find out that is the case, will you let us know?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely.
Q Have there been any developments, and what is the United States doing to prepare for any military intervention in Kosovo? Is there perhaps a force generation order that you're working on --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with what you're talking about. We've been doing all the work, the contingency planning, through NATO that we've told you about, and that contingency planning has proceeded and is certainly well known to members of the Alliance.
But we're also continuing simultaneously the work that Ambassador Hill has been doing and others to find the right kind of diplomatic solution. We have continued our conversations both with the Kosovar Albanians and with the Serbian leadership in order to find some resolution short of military action.
Q I guess what I'm saying is, are there moves under way to make all the military preparations necessary so that if there --
MR. MCCURRY: We long ago advised you of the contingency planning that we're doing with respect to other options if and when we have to pursue other options.
Q The Iranian President today said that he considered the Salmon Rushdie matter completely finished. Do you have a comment on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, given our own strong feelings on the Fatwa that was issued on Salman Rushdie initially, if that is carried through and rescinded or revoked, that would be a welcome development.
But again, what we've said often, actions, as we look at the policies of the government of Iran, speak much louder than words. And words sometimes come in many different voices when it comes to Iran, and we will be listening carefully in the days ahead. Again, our policy remains clear: we would like an authoritative dialogue with the government of Iran in which issues of concern to both sides could be raised and on the table. Our issues are well known: support for terrorism, the efforts by the government of Iran to undermine the Middle East peace process, their efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction --those are the issues that we would bring to that dialogue, but surely they would have issues that they would raise too, some of which I understand that President Khatami addressed today.
Q Mike, what's your assessment of Khatami's speech yesterday? And what's your reaction to the fact that the Iranian foreign minister did not attend the Six Plus Two meeting on Afghanistan?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, again, as I just said, much of what he said yesterday, which we would take issue with, underscores the need and the importance of having an authoritative dialogue between our governments in which these types of issues could be addressed the way nations address issues when they have that type of relationship.
We're not at that point. I think that we have suggested that we desire that, but we desire that in a way in which both sovereign nations can raise the issues that would be paramount in a discussion of that nature.
Q You talked about no exculpatory lines in this Starr report at all. At one point it does say that while the President did not expressly instruct her to lie, Lewinsky said he did suggest misleading cover stories. Does that not --
MR. MCCURRY: That is contradicted by her statement from her testimony that I just quoted to you, and the fact that that evidence was not balanced and tested and judged and measured against each other is one reflection of why this is an adversarial document that the prosecution put forward to support only one conclusion. It is not a reliable, authoritative assessment of fact. And I think it's important that the House understand that, and that's what our lawyers are going to reaffirm in their letter.
Q Did the President and the Prime Minister discuss the North Korean missile launch and the --
MR. MCCURRY: They were -- Warren, they certainly intended to do that. They may have done some of that in their private conversation. If not, they surely were going to do it during the course of the working lunch. It's a subject of paramount concern to both governments. And there have been, by the way, at other levels, very hopeful conversations between Japan and the United States as well as discussions with the Republic of Korea on that subject.
Q China said this morning that any such plan would just serve to destabilize the region and that they would consider it a threat.
MR. MCCURRY: Let me have my counterparts who brief later address that.
Q If I could just go over what time, which stage of the meeting -- just procedurally.
MR. MCCURRY: Just timing, we have a lot of our friends from the Japanese press here. They met -- they started right on time at 11:00 a.m. We had anticipated that they would have coffee and socialize a bit before the meeting began but, in fact, they did not only that but began very friendly and useful conversation that then extended for the full hour up until just after noon, when the United States press came in, had an opportunity to question them both.
They then sat down and continued their working meeting with both delegations present that went on for 45 minutes. And at the conclusion of that session, we caught up with the Japanese press who came back from having been up at the Rockefeller estate. The President apologized to them for the trip that they had to take but noted at least they got to see the place when the President and Prime Minister didn't.
Q How many Japanese prime ministers has President Clinton met with?
MR. MCCURRY: This was number six. But there's a difference between a constitutional system of government and a parliamentary system of government.
Q Will it be Obuchi who comes to the summit next year?
MR. MCCURRY: The President was pleased to invite Prime Minister Obuchi to attend the working visit that we will schedule for early next year. Whether or not he comes is a decision for the people of Japan and their elected representatives.
Q Was there a discussion of the President going to Japan?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no. We had -- if you recall, Prime Minister Hashimoto had been scheduled to be in the United States this fall -- or I guess this summer -- for an official visit. That did not occur for all the obvious reasons, and it was our strong desire, given the importance of this relationship, to seek an early opportunity to have an official visit, which is a state dinner -- a state visit equivalent with the Prime Minister of Japan.
Q Mike, I'm sorry, you said a state visit or working visit?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not a state visit because the Prime Minister is not a head of state. But it's an official visit, which is like when we visit with Prime Minister Blair or others. It's our equivalent of a state visit.
All right, we'll give you an update about --
Q -- in January?
MR. MCCURRY: No date set, early 1999. We haven't set an exact date yet.
Q Can you tell us who these religious leaders are the President's meeting with this afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, as he does from time to time, meets with leaders of the African American clergy. These are a lot of leaders from the major denominations that are active in the African American community. I think our staff may have a better list, but this is an event that he's done on and off over time. He was looking forward to an opportunity to meet with them, and he will be delighted to host an opportunity for them to see President Nelson Mandela, who will be at the reception this evening. President Mandela will be at the White House tomorrow to get the medal in the ceremony that we had previously announced to you.
Thank you. See you tomorrow.
END 1:54 P.M. EDT