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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 24, 1998
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                             BY MIKE MCCURRY

                            The Briefing Room

1:59 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Let me start with an anniversary. Two years ago today, President Clinton became the first leader to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which had been proposed by President Eisenhower over 40 years ago. In that time, 150 states have signed the historic treaty, including all of our NATO allies, Russia, China, Israel, Japan, and South Korea.

Twenty states have already ratified the CTBT, including Britain, France, Germany, Australia, and Brazil. And obviously the United States has been working very hard with the hopes that India and Pakistan will eventually join that list -- the President being well satisfied, of course, with the statement on that subject that's been made by Prime Minister Sharif, committing the government of Pakistan to adhering to the treaty by next fall.

We are going to be putting out a statement from the President that will strongly urge the Senate of the United States to give advice and consent as early as possible next year.

A little history on this, 35 years ago the United States Senate by a vote of 80-19, approved the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which President Kennedy considered one of his greatest accomplishments as President. The Limited Test Ban Treaty was signed in Moscow August 5, 1963, submitted to the Senate by President Kennedy for advice and consent on August 8, 1963. The first hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was held four days later, and the entire process from signature to approval on the Senate floor was concluded in less than two months.

Here in Washington, the Congress used to know how to get business done in a timely fashion. There has been a long, long time now in which the CTBT has been pending. It has strong bipartisan support from a range of former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs and others, and the President I think is quite correct as he argues in the statement we'll make available at the end of the briefing, that now is the time to ratify this very important arms control measure.

Other items in the news. Are you ready for this? This comes courtesy of Tony Coehlo. The Portuguese media has decided to restrict press coverage concerning the private life of the President of the United States. A group of news organizations have decided not to spread, as of today, aspects of the intimate life of Bill Clinton. They have voluntary taken a pledge to refrain on further coverage of this item.

Q Do you have copies of this pledge? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Copies duly translated by Karina in my office, our very bright intern.

Q When is that state visit to Portugal, Mike? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: No, it is not correct that Secretary Albright today proposed permanent Security Council membership for Portugal. (Laughter.) That did not happen, rest assured.

And lastly on my list, this just in from the General Services Administration, they have assured the White House press staff that they have put out the necessary traps to capture and exterminate the remaining rat lingering in the White House Press Briefing Room. Apparently they have been aware of him for some time, the presence of rats here in the Press Briefing Room. (Laughter.) It's a problem they are very familiar with, apparently, here in the Press Briefing Room. We have rats, dirty rats. (Laughter.)

Q Are you confirming it's a male?

MR. MCCURRY: They believe -- they used the male gender here. I'm not sure why. Maybe because there is only one. They hope they will get him out in a day or two, and we apologize to those of you who were offended by your encounter with that creature this morning.

Q Who had this encounter?

Q Who saw the rat?

MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Knoller of CBS News, Mr. Plante, had a close encounter with a rat here in the Press Briefing Room. I know the feeling. (Laughter.) Don't go there, Mike. (Laughter.)

Q Seven days and counting.

MR. MCCURRY: I'm a short-timer. What do I care? This is not live, is it? (Laughter.)

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to today's White House briefing. Mr. Bloom, proceed with your question.

Q Chairman Hyde said today that he plans a vote in early October; that he's in charge of this inquiry, not Speaker Gingrich; that he's not seeking to widen the scope of the inquiry. So on the face of it, it sounds like the Chairman is doing all the things that the White House wants him to do. Do you still claim that there is partnership about this process?

MR. MCCURRY: On the face of it, Chairman Hyde looked every bit the reasonable gentleman that he is, and I think the American people will hold him accountable to that very important standard he set today: to be fair, to be bipartisan if not nonpartisan, and to conduct these proceedings under the rule of law. Frankly, those who have watched these proceedings, and we who have watched these proceedings, do have some concerns, quite legitimate concerns about the way in which politics intersects with these proceedings. But we'll just have to wait and see, and ultimately the American people will have to judge whether that standard set out today by the Chairman is in fact consistent with reality.

Q But just to follow up, Mike, what you seem to be saying is, if he does indeed follow through on this, then the White House is fine with the procedure that he has laid out.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know that we're fine with it. We have made it quite clear that we don't believe that the matters involved here rise to the level of an impeachable offense, so we did not believe that it was necessary to undertake this inquiry. But as a practical reality, the proceeding is going to go forward now, and the White House will conduct itself consistent with that standard that Chairman Hyde espoused to today.

Q But even if you don't believe that it rises to the level of impeachable offense, don't you believe that the process as outlined in the Constitution should go forward? Or would you rather see it short-circuited with the proposals that have been made over the last few days?

MR. MCCURRY: As Chairman Hyde made quite clear, there is in fact no process that is outlined in the Constitution. There is the allocation of constitutional responsibilities to the legislative branch in a proceeding of this nature, and there is some precedent. But we will conduct ourselves with the solemnity and the dignity that the process requires, even if we take some objection to the fact that the inquiry is going to be commenced.

Q I had a question about the visit of Crown Prince of Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz. Why the United States consider that the visit of Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz has an important impact in different issue, which can lead to the relief of tension of the Middle East?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, ever since President Roosevelt's initial meeting with the King of Saudi Arabia in 1945, the United States has considered our close relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to be one of the bulwarks of the search for a just, lasting, comprehensive peace in that region. We have enjoyed very close discussions, relations, with the kingdom.

In that time we have always sought to work together to support and bolster the Middle East peace process. We have worked together to address our concerns in that region -- the Gulf being one of the most difficult and tense regions on Earth. And the President wanted this opportunity to renew his acquaintance with the Crown Prince, to express his best wishes to the King, and to follow up on the suggestion made by Vice President Gore that to engage at this time with the Crown Prince on the matters that concern us -- both bilaterally and within the region -- is an opportunity well worth the conversations occurring here today.

Q Are you aware of any legal or constitutional problems with doing something short of impeachment once the Judiciary Committee has acted?

MR. MCCURRY: Am I aware of it? No. I mean, as a question of law, I'm just not familiar enough with precedent and with history to know. I think that's something that we would have to look at once the committee begins its process, begins to undertake whatever judgments it makes about how to proceed. We can't anticipate at this point what they will do. All we can do is understand the timetable that's now been suggested by Chairman Hyde and begin to work with it.

Q So you know of no legal impediments that would prohibit something short --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any, but one would consult the historians and others who are more familiar with precedent, I think.

Q What about the White House Special Counsel, Mr. Craig? Has he made contact directly with Chairman Hyde? Do you consider Chairman Hyde the full chairman, not the sub-chairman as he says he was referred to? And --

MR. MCCURRY: Well -- by the way, in fairness, Chairman Hyde himself is one who indicated that there was a higher authority that was making some of these calls. He's the one that put that notion in play; that didn't come out of thin air. And the Speaker himself had been quite outspoken and quite vigorous in explaining what he thinks ought to be within the parameters of this review. So I think in holding the Chairman accountable to what he placed on the table today, one will have to measure what his actions are and how they relate to what the Speaker has already said.

But to answer your question, yes, they had had some preliminary contact, as you know, I think, two weeks ago, with Chairman Hyde and Mr. Conyers. They've remained in touch by correspondence. We obviously continue to have contact with them. I'm not aware that anyone from the White House has done that today, but I wouldn't be surprised if they do remain in regular contact as they work through this process.

Q Specifically, has the White House through Mr. Craig given any advice on what kind of information -- tapes, documents -- ought to be made public? And when this morning you said that Ken Starr had stonewalled Dick Gephardt asking for information, do you think -- is that a place for Mr. Craig to enter in and ask for the release of --

MR. MCCURRY: No, that's a place where the Minority Leader had already indicated an interest in material, and that is something that it appears the Democrats in the House will pursue. But I don't think they're at a point -- having just gotten the schedule of the day on how the committee itself is going to consider the resolution, we're not at a point yet in which they're having discussions substantively that I'm aware of about the nature of the material that's going to be requested or the evidence that we might eventually want to put in, ourselves, or what other aspects of the proceedings might occur.

Q This just in, the Indians say that they are prepared to sign the CTBT within the year.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the plan comes together. (Laughter.)

Q Does this mean that the President will be visiting the subcontinent?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I think that -- I was not aware of that report. There had been significant diplomatic work done by the United States with the government of India and the government of Pakistan with respect to the CTBT, which is why I opened on that subject. Certainly if that report bears out, we would welcome that just as we welcomed the statement by Prime Minister Sharif. We're going to work hard so that both governments understand the positive effect that adherence to a comprehensive test ban regime would have in the region, and we certainly will be pressing that argument.

As to the President's travel in the fall, that is still under review and remains under review, and we'll alert you if the status changes.

Q Is it your understanding that they're signing as nuclear powers like the other five?

MR. MCCURRY: There was no indication of that in Prime Minister Sharif's statement, and since I've just heard of the statement of the government of India, I'll have to inquire further. But our understanding was that they recognized that would be contrary to the intent of the test ban regime itself.

Q Mike, why is the First Lady telephoning Democratic members of Congress regarding the impeachment proceedings?

MR. MCCURRY: I presume because she loves her husband and she supports him. But you would have to really contact her staff to get a better answer.

Q Mike, given what Chairman Hyde said about any plea bargaining or working something out before the committee timetable, does that end any efforts to try to negotiate some sort of a penalty less than impeachment hearings?

MR. MCCURRY: We are going to remain in contact with people on the Hill as we try to find a resolution of this matter that is in the best interests of the country. I will just leave it at that.

Q Mike, while Chairman Hyde also said the committee didn't want to be a catch-all for anything, he didn't rule out the possibility that they would have to look at any other referrals. How does the White House feel about that?

MR. MCCURRY: If they want to take on the rat problem here in the Press Briefing Room, they can do it. No, he indicated today that there are some boundaries to the subject matter that he thinks germane in front of that committee with respect to a possible impeachment inquiry. And I think that's the reasonable outlook one would expect from the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Q Mike, will Mrs. Clinton address the Democratic Caucus, as the caucus says it has invited her to come up? And is the President -- considering the President has once before asked her to do health care, has asked her to go on foreign trips, does the President want her to become a more active part of his contacts with Capitol Hill?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't think the President is in a position to make that request of her, but he would gratefully accept that assistance if it's rendered. As to whether she will schedule the kind of appearance that you mention, I think that's entirely up to her, and you would have to check with her staff.

Q You mean, he would feel uncomfortable asking her to --

MR. MCCURRY: I think he's in no place to request that. I think that is something that she -- being gracious as she is -- volunteers to do. It would be consistent with who she is and what she's about.

Q Mike, the meeting of President Clinton with the Russian Foreign Minister Designate Ivanov -- did they deal with Kosovo?

MR. MCCURRY: They did, and there has been a lot on that subject today as you probably know. The President, by the way, met with Foreign Minister Designate Ivanov at the request of President Yeltsin. They talked about, first and foremost, the economic difficulties that the Russian Federation is experiencing. Obviously, they reviewed the Security Council Resolution on Kosovo passed yesterday. The President thanked the Foreign Minister Designate for the role that he played in the deliberations.

President Clinton emphasized the importance of sustaining the momentum that was generated by our recent visit to Moscow as we work together to address all the questions that Russia and the United States work together to address. And beyond that I didn't get -- P.J. -- I don't get any other read on -- they talked a little bit about global economic issues, the President's speech in the Council of Foreign Relations.

It was primarily a courtesy call opportunity for the President to say hello to the Foreign Minister Designate. Obviously, he's having extensive meetings elsewhere. Oh, he's now foreign minister -- he's been ratified.

COLONEL CROWLEY: They talked about START II, getting that debate started next month.

MR. MCCURRY: P.J. reports that they also got into the issue of START II, the ratification of START II pending in front of the Russian Duma.

Q I want to go back to the peace process since you talked about that in the context of the Crown Prince visit. Is the President personally involved in the peace process? And did he get a readout from Madame Albright from New York about her meetings? And are you still working on getting Arafat and Netanyahu to Washington next week probably, or --

MR. MCCURRY: The answer to the question is the President has been following the work that Ambassador Ross has done in the region quite closely. He's already had a report today on some of the conversations that Secretary Albright has had in New York, principally with the Prime Minister. Is he directly involved? Yes, and I suspect that by the end of the day you'll see him even more directly involved.

Q -- are you trying to get Arafat and Netanyahu for a meeting in Washington --

MR. MCCURRY: We are, without speculating on the modalities, we are certainly working with both parties to see if we can't get them to bridge those remaining but difficult positions that remain in their positions that exist. We have made a lot of progress, as Secretary Albright reported yesterday, but as you get closer and closer to agreements, the difficulty of the issues becomes greater. That's the way any negotiation proceeds. And they are at a moment in which the difficulty is great, but the possibility of an agreement is quite apparent.

Q What do you mean by the end of the day? The end of today? What's he doing --

MR. MCCURRY: If the President gets on the phone later today, we'll report that to you.

Q Congress is considering whether or not to release Linda Tripp's tapes that started this whole mess. Does the White House have a position whether they should be released or not?

MR. MCCURRY: Really, it's going to be up to the House to wrestle with that question. Chairman Hyde indicated today that they are taking some steps to try to spare the country the lurid and the unnecessary. I think that that is welcome news.

Q Does that mean all the tapes, or just the lurid and unnecessary part?

MR. MCCURRY: He didn't specify how they were applying that editorial standard, but presumably they'd do it carefully.

Q U.S. oil company executives will be visiting or meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince this weekend; one of the topics to be discussed possibly urging Saudi Arabia to open up its energy sectors to more foreign investors. Is the administration going to encourage Saudi Arabia to do that in any way?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't want to get too specific about the course of action that we would suggest that they undertake. I'll say that we will certainly stress the importance that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia plays in the world oil market. We will recognize that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia must be a secure and reliable supplier of energy resources, especially to the United States, and must continue in that status. But I don't think we will be in a position to suggest specific regulatory policies.

It's not surprising, though, that executives from that sector would raise those concerns in discussions with the Crown Prince.

Q -- exact issues being discussed between President Clinton and the Crown Prince --

MR. MCCURRY: At the conclusion of the luncheon -- it's still underway, or scheduled to conclude -- probably is being concluded now. Both sides are, if I understand correctly, negotiating a joint statement that we will be able to make available to you. But the topics are exactly those that you would anticipate. I indicated that the status of the Middle East peace process, comparing our respective views and exchanging views on the work that's being done to achieve a comprehensive, just, lasting peace consistent with Resolutions 242 and 338 would certainly be a valuable part of the discussion between the President and the Crown Prince. I expect that they also discuss concerns that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has about the peace process and about the United States role in it. Those are concerns that we always respectfully hear.

I'm sure they discussed the situation in the Gulf; policy towards Iran; policies of the new government of President Khatami; the situation in Afghanistan; the current situation in Kosovo, which has been of enormous concern to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; and the status of the international economy and the turbulence that the international global economy is experiencing. And then I think there will be more detail on that as both sides negotiate the joint statement which is under preparation.

Q -- Vice President Al Gore, he'll discuss different issues or the same?

MR. MCCURRY: The Vice President was going to have an opportunity with the Crown Prince to work through a range of other issue, including the issues I just mentioned that the President is going to raise. They were also going to address other aspects of the bilateral relationship, other issues that are a part of -- of the bilateral relationship, other issues that are part of the very vibrant dialogue we have with the Kingdom that were not covered in the meeting with the President.

Q Do you know anything about Monica Lewinsky taking copies of letters that the President wrote to third parties?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know anything about that. I'm not sure whether that comes from the evidentiary material that's being released and she has testified to that, or if it comes from some other source or witness.

Q Would it be against any White House rule --

MR. MCCURRY: It would certainly be contrary to our procedures here to make copies of correspondence sent by the President for personal use.

Q Mike, you've said repeatedly in recent days that the White House is looking for some type of correct formulation to end this, to put it behind us, to have bipartisan support. If the House Republicans say, in essence, that can't happen until it goes to the Senate, as Chairman Hyde said yesterday, is that acceptable to the White House that it wait that long?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, practically speaking, if that's what the majority in the House decide, that's what they decide, and there's not a great deal we can do with that. But I think the American people would then wonder why are we, you know, going to be forced to go through this issue, this discussion for what would obviously then be a matter of months with no attempt to resolve it, to put it behind us, to move on, to deal with it. And Congress will have to live with whatever the American people make of that.

Q Well, Mike, it sounds like you're resigned to impeachment; you're just trying to avoid conviction.

MR. MCCURRY: We're just, practically speaking, facing the reality of what the numbers are in the House of Representatives. It doesn't mean that we like it; it doesn't mean we agree with it. But you all are realists enough to know that there's not much that we're going to be able to do with it, other than to sort of see if public opinion has some sway as the House deals with the matter.

Q Mike, to what extent does the timetable announced by Hyde today preclude reaching some sort of an agreement to avoid impeachment?

MR. MCCURRY: If there was a strong bipartisan desire in the House to reach some agreement on how to put this matter behind us and move on, I think it could be done in relatively short order. But it doesn't appear that that willpower is there.

Q What's new about Richard Holbrooke nomination? Is it still lingering?

MR. MCCURRY: Nothing new. One local newspaper here in town had, apparently, a copy of the anonymous letter that triggered the inquiry that's been talked about. But since that's under review there's nothing I can say about it.

Q Mike, the Starr report makes it --

MR. MCCURRY: Other than to say, obviously, the President is convinced that he is the right person for this job and just hopes that the issues raised can be expeditiously dealt with so we can move on with his nomination and confirmation.

Q The Starr report makes it a matter of public record that Mr. Lindsey, Ms. Mills, Mr. Breuer are all still asserting executive privilege to decline to testify before the grand jury. Is the White House willing to consider waiving those privileges as part of an arrangement to move this process forward?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, this process moved forward irrespective of any claim of privilege being made. The claim of privilege being made -- which I think is still under seal, so I'm not sure how much I'm supposed to address it publicly -- but nothing about any claim of legitimate privilege made by any of the President's attorneys prevented Ken Starr from sending 445 pages worth of analysis, argument, propaganda, to the House of Representatives.

So it didn't slow him down. So the notion that that somehow or other impedes the process is process is folly. That's just not true.

Q But if you're saying you want all the evidence out, wouldn't -- consistent with that -- the White House have to say, let's have these people testify?

MR. MCCURRY: If they had -- I'm not sure of the nature of the testimony that is being adduced from those witnesses. I don't know what the relevance is of that to the matter that's been referred by the Office of Independent Counsel to the House. I can't answer that question. I'm not sure what the relevance of the testimony is.

Q If impeachment proceedings do continue on for months, does that just lay the groundwork for the President to really focus on the international arena instead of trying to get anything accomplished on the --

MR. MCCURRY: No, no. We're doing some -- we've done work within the last 24 hours on clearing out this visa issue with respect to getting some workers in highly skilled sectors of the economy here. There's a lot of things -- life goes on. Work goes on here. Government continues to function on behalf of the American people, and there's a lot of work under way.

I'm preempting Gore, and Larry's come here to raise a concern about that. (Laughter.) We've got -- the Vice President has an event that's about to begin, so we need to feed his event, and this will be the last question.

Q When the House does take up -- if it does take up -- on whether to launch an impeachment inquiry, would the White House want Democrats to oppose that vote or just go ahead and go along and not --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the White House would want all members of the House -- Republican and Democrat -- to do what they think is the right thing to do. We think we made a very good, straightforward argument about why these matters do not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. We think it's a strong argument. We think that it is a persuasive argument. But this is a solemn obligation under the Constitution that members of the House have to undertake, and they have to do what they think is right.

Q But if the majority creates possibly a forgone conclusion, then do Democrats take a risk by opposing it, or do they just sort of like --

MR. MCCURRY: Look, there's risk in any aspect of this or any aspect of hard decisions that you have to make regardless of what your position is in Washington, D.C. And people have to live with the consequences of that all the time.

Thank you.

END 2:25 P.M. EDT