THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
12:54 P.M. EST
Q How could you tear yourself away from Tariq Aziz?
MR. LOCKHART: I was watching Sports Center, because I was mentioned. I've now fulfilled one of the requirements in life, being mentioned on ESPN Sports Center, talking about the bet between the President and the Vice President -- football game this weekend.
MR. LOCKHART: When you are on Sports Center you will understand. (Laughter.)
Q Tariq Aziz is talking war and peace. He was flailing the United States government in no uncertain terms.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think what you saw today was someone speaking from a position of isolation. Tariq Aziz -- I presume he speaks for Saddam Hussein -- believes that somehow the United States and the United Nations is responsible for the situation we're in. They singly subscribe to that view in this world. The rest of the world takes a different view. The rest of the world takes the view that it is Iraq that is responsible for their flagrant violations of their responsibilities with UNSCOM and U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Just today, the closest neighbors of Saddam Hussein made a clear statement that he is in violation and he must change his course, and that he alone -- Saddam Hussein alone is responsible for the consequences of non-compliance. So I think what you heard was a lone voice that is completely isolated.
Q Although -- to kind of follow on that same line, why is this threat of military action basically a U.S. threat? I mean, we're kind of a lone voice in that, no?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we have talked to allies around the world, the U.N. has spoken clearly about the need for Saddam Hussein to change course, and we, as we have in the past, have, in the application of our diplomacy, felt that the threat of force is both appropriate and may be required.
Q Well, wouldn't be even better if this was an allied threat of force?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think what -- the best outcome is for us to be able to move forward with our policy objectives, which is reducing his ability to reconstitute weapons of mass destruction and deliver those weapons and threatening his neighbors.
Q Is the President going to wait to see whether Kofi Annan, the U.N. Secretary General, gets back into this -- makes some effort to mediate?
MR. LOCKHART: I think Kofi Annan has spoken pretty clearly about what his views on the subject are, that he believes Iraq is in flagrant violation. So I don't know what there is to wait for. The Secretary of State has spoken to Kofi Annan several times over the last few days. As we've said before, there's really nothing to negotiate here. The international community sent a strong, clear message to Saddam Hussein. The question is will he hear it.
Q Joe, you talked about the policy being the degradation of his ability to reconstitute weapons of mass destruction used to threaten people. Why such limited policy goals? Why isn't the policy to get rid of Saddam completely?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, the international community, the United States looks forward to a day where there is an Iraqi government that respects human rights, that respects international law. We are not in that place right now, and, therefore our policy is to limit his ability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction and his ability to threaten his neighbors.
Q What would it take to get to that point?
MR. LOCKHART: We have worked in the past with opposition groups -- as you know, the President had signed legislation recently that will expand that effort. Until then, we need to concentrate on trying to move to a situation where UNSCOM can do the important work that they've been assigned to do, and if they are unable to do that work, look at the options for pursuing our policy.
Q Joe, Tariq Aziz made the case today that it would be the U.S. policy that as long as Saddam Hussein is in power, we would never acquiesce to the lifting of the oil embargo against Iraq. Is he wrong?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it is -- Saddam Hussein has the ability to demonstrate that he wants sanctions lifted, and he can do that by allowing UNSCOM to do the work. If you look at over the last year, UNSCOM, in delivering a plan in the middle of the year, gave them a sense of how they can get out from underneath sanctions. There was within the last months some discussion of -- with cooperation and full cooperation for UNSCOM -- a comprehensive review of sanctions at the United Nations, which the United States supported under those conditions. So I think he knows how to deal with the issue of sanctions, and he is working in a way that couldn't be more counterproductive.
Q Let me just put this another way. What Aziz asked for -- and I'm not suggesting that you ought to do this -- but what he asked for was for the U.S. to say affirmatively, if you, Iraq, comply with the mandates of UNSCOM, we will lift the oil embargo. He says that that's what Iraq has been waiting to hear for seven or eight years, and they haven't heard that.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, all I can say is the U.S. position on sanctions review, relief, lifting is very clear and hasn't changed. For eight years, what you have seen from Saddam Hussein is him trying to evade at every point in the road complying with what he agreed to. Remember this, all started when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. There is a history here. He knows what he needs to do. And he has tried, using a number of methods, to get out from under doing what he needs to do because he clearly wants to keep the ability to reconstitute his weapons. And the international community is saying they're not going to let him.
Q Well, might Saddam now change course and avoid military action or has time run out?
MR. LOCKHART: That's a question for Saddam.
Q I'm asking whether the President will even at this late hour --
MR. LOCKHART: We have said all along and continue to say that the President and the international community prefer a peaceful resolution to this situation. We prefer the circumstance where UNSCOM is allowed to do their work -- an aggressive and intrusive UNSCOM -- to go in and look and do the work that they were sent to Baghdad, to Iraq, to do, and that sanctions remain in place until there is compliance.
Q You say you prefer a peaceful resolution, but all signs suggest that time may have run out to achieve one. And I'm asking whether that's the case, or whether there is some time left?
MR. LOCKHART: As anyone who's watched this week, we are not getting into timelines, we're not getting into deadlines, we're not getting into ultimatums. UNSCOM is not doing the work they need to do. As the President said yesterday, this is a matter of months, not years, potentially to reconstitute. This cannot go on indefinitely. But I'm not going to go any further than that.
Q But Joe, as you scan the scope of diplomacy statements that you've heard today from Iraq, and you say that the President prefers a peaceful resolution, do you see any prospect at all for that occurring?
MR. LOCKHART: I am not in the prediction business. There has been very public diplomacy. You heard the President yesterday make it very clear what Saddam Hussein needs to do. You've seen what the GCC has done today. There is private diplomacy where people are delivering messages which -- delivering that same message to the Iraqis. The question is, will they hear that message. I can't answer that for you.
Q I'm not asking you for a prediction, Joe. I'm asking you, do you see right now any indication that this can be resolved peacefully?
MR. LOCKHART: This can be resolved peacefully if Saddam Hussein listens to the international community and takes the steps he needs to take.
Q Joe, how many times can the U.S. keep sending planes and ships and soldiers to the Persian Gulf at huge cost and not getting the job done, I mean as far as getting either Saddam to comply or getting rid of Saddam?
MR. LOCKHART: We have a policy which we're pursuing here and I don't see the utility in going down the road beyond where we are right now.
Q Joe, in terms of reversing course, what would satisfy the United States, simply a statement from Saddam Hussein that he's reversing course and will allow the inspectors back in? Does that stop all of this?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the United States and the U.N. and the international community has made it very clear that he needs to reverse course here and allow UNSCOM to go in in an unfettered way and do the work they were sent there to do.
Q But he's done that many times before, Joe. It's cheat and retreat over and over again. Is the United States willing at this point to settle for simply his word that he'll allow UNSCOM to come back in?
MR. LOCKHART: We would need to see that UNSCOM will be able to do the work they need to do.
Q What's the President's current thinking as to the advisability of going to Asia at this delicate moment?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, as I've said to you all week, the President is very much looking forward to this trip. It was the President's idea for APEC leaders to get together once a year to work on the important issues of trade and international finance. The President is scheduled to go on the trip. Clearly, the situation in Iraq is being watched closely. If there is some change in the President's schedule, I'll let you know.
Q Do you foresee any further presidential meetings with his national security team?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I don't have any information, but I did tell you this morning that if he made some calls, I'd let you know. He's made a few calls. And these are under the category of consulting with our allies. He spoke to Chancellor Schroeder of Germany, Prime Minister Dehaene of Belgium, Prime Minister Kok of the Netherlands, and Prime Minister Persson of Sweden.
Q Joe, did you say he is not meeting with his national security team later today?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any information. He obviously gets his daily brief from his National Security Advisor, but I have no information on a planned meeting this afternoon.
Q They're not going to be here at 6:00 p.m.?
MR. LOCKHART: His advisors, as I told you this morning, are meeting on an almost daily basis, and I expect that to continue. But I don't have any information on the President.
Q When the President talked about Saddam Hussein being able to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction within months, not years, does he think that in the eight months or so that the inspectors have not had the kind of access they wanted, that those weapons have been reconstituted? What about the --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think he was speaking into future. I'm not aware of any evidence that that has happened.
Q But how do you know if you haven't had unfettered access?
MR. LOCKHART: Based on our ability to know these things, which I'm not going to detail, we don't believe that that's happened. But without UNSCOM in there at all, we believe that this is -- there is a possibility that over months rather than years, he could reconstitute, which is one of the reasons that we have said that the situation with UNSCOM being out cannot persist indefinitely.
Q Joe, Senator Spector has written the President a letter which he's made public, asking for the President to convene a special session of Congress so they can authorize any military action if it be needed. He also seems to say that he thinks that he would get the approval if the President is considering calling Congress in.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have been consulting with congressional leaders throughout the year, actually, on the situation in Iraq. We continue that consultation. It's very important for the President and his team to stay in close contact. We believe the President, with his duties as Commander in Chief, has the authority to do this, and particularly given the resolution in the wake of the Gulf War. But we will continue to work closely and consult with Congress.
Q In this present situation, which congressional leaders are you consulting with and how are you doing it -- face-to-face briefings, phone calls?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have a list, but I would guess -- my understanding is it would be some combination. Some members have been seen; some have been talked to.
Q Who is doing the briefing in the White House?
MR. LOCKHART: A combination, but I think it's being done under the auspices of Mr. Berger's office, but I don't have the details of who and when.
Q Has the President talked to any congressional leaders?
MR. LOCKHART: The President has talked to -- I don't know whether on the phone or in person, but he has had some conversations.
Q Who and when, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into that.
Q The Chinese government has been harshly critical of the President for recent actions relating to Taiwan and to Tibet, and also, apparently, is getting ready to test a missile that could actually hit United States territory. What's the White House view of Chinese actions and statements recently?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm personally not aware of the comments on either front, so let me check with the NSC and we'll come back to you.
Q Anything on the theological school of -- is going to see later today here at the White House, Mr. Podesta.
MR. LOCKHART: I understand that that meeting will take place. My understanding is he may come to the stakeout afterwards, so either later this afternoon, we can give you a readout, or if you want to come back tomorrow, I'll be glad to talk to you about the meeting.
Q And on the Aegean, the Greek Foreign Minister, Theodhoros Pangalos, stated that any Turkish claim over the Aegean Sea now should be addressed to the international court -- since this is the desire of President Clinton from the -- crisis, do you have any comment on that?
MR. LOCKHART: The United States is working to help achieve a peaceful Eastern Mediterranean, where the potential for conflict is eliminated, and the peoples of Greece, Turkey, and their neighbors can cooperate closely to the region's benefit. In this context, we hope that Greece and Turkey will establish a process to resolve bilateral issues, including those pertaining to the Aegean, peacefully. The ICJ, or similar mechanisms, could be appropriate avenues of dispute resolution.
Q Senator Specter, referred to earlier on another subject of impeachment, has suggested that the impeachment process be dropped in favor if there is sufficient evidence of indicting Mr. Clinton after he leaves office and having him stand trial in a common court. Is that a course that the President might endorse in any way?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't heard any discussion of it in this building.
Q Joe, is the President still reviewing the Pollard case? Is there incentive for the United States to let him at this delicate time when it will upset so many people in this country?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I mean, in the context of the Wye agreement, as we told you, he has agreed that there be a review. I don't have any of the details on how it actually will work. There is the work going on to develop a process for that, but I don't have anything to report to you now.
Q Joe, what's the significance of Clinton following the likes of the leaders of Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden? Is he working his way down a list?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it's important in this situation that the President touch base with our allies in Europe, in NATO and in the region. And he's working through that process now.
Q What is his message to them?
MR. LOCKHART: His message is one of consultation. And I think what we hear in these calls is a united international community, united around the idea that Saddam Hussein has to change course and change his behavior.
Q Does he have reason to think that some of them or some other leaders will come forward and join the United States in a statement -- more forceful statements against Iraq?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there have been quite forceful statements from all around the world on this subject.
Q Joe, would it be imprudent for the Judiciary Committee to have its impeachment hearing next week if the United States is at war?
MR. LOCKHART: I honestly think anything I said there could not be seen as anything that would be valid. That's clearly an issue for the Judiciary Committee. I'm trying to do this without sending a signal of any kind, way, shape or form. It's a decision they need to make. I don't believe that there's anyone in this building who will try to dictate to them whether that's proper or improper. It's a decision they'll need to make and we'll abide by their decision.
Q If the military strikes would happen in Iraq, is there concern that some of the U.S. missiles could wind up hitting some bunkers with anthrax and VX, and if so, is there some kind of neutralizing chemical that could be used?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not going to get into the actual targeting of any military operation except to say that great care and attention is given to all of these issues. But as far as the specific question, I don't have an answer to that.
Q On the budget meeting this morning, what was discussed with respect to Social Security?
MR. LOCKHART: I think Barry, who attended, said that it was a -- can be described as kind of a planning session -- helping prepare the President on a variety of issues pertaining to Social Security, preparing him for the December 8-9 White House conference.
Q When President Clinton spoke to Mrs. Gore on the phone, he said he was looking forward to her report on her trip to Honduras and Nicaragua. She's back already. When is he meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have a precise time. I don't think it will be today, but I think Mrs. Gore will brief both the President and the First Lady, as the First Lady will be in the region next week, I believe -- yes, Monday. And they're both very much looking forward to a firsthand report of the devastation there and the relief effort.
I can tell you from a staff level that we all listened quite closely this morning to the descriptions from Mrs. Gore's Chief of Staff in our senior staff meeting, and we're quite moved by some of the things that they saw and some of the work that's being done.
Q Joe, how is the President doing on the questionnaire Henry Hyde sent him?
MR. LOCKHART: We're working on it.
Q Do you think that it might be this week that he'll answer it?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't tell you. We've said we're going to try to do it in a timely way, and once I get more information I'll pass it on to you.
Q Has he been distracted by Iraq in filling it out?
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't quite phrase it that way. He has been busy, though.
Q What question is he up to?
Q Has the President seen it, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Seriously, has he actually spent time on this, or is this something that his lawyers have been doing?
MR. LOCKHART: As far as I know, it's something that his lawyers have been concentrating on.
Q He hasn't spent any time on it himself?
MR. LOCKHART: As far as I know.
Q Tariq Aziz said that only Kofi Annan can broker a peaceful resolution to this crisis. Would the United States be willing to let him have another shot?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that this may be something that Tariq Aziz has expressed or may want, but I haven't heard it from anyplace else. The French made a statement today that this is not even on the agenda or not in the cards, as far as what the U.N. is doing. What Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis and Tariq Aziz need to understand is there is nothing to negotiate. They have a simple choice: to reverse course or face the consequences of refusing to reverse course.
And importantly, you see from his neighbors and the GCC a clear statement today that he alone bears responsibility here and he alone is responsible for this situation and he alone can provide the answers.
Q Joe, would you consider -- just to follow up on that -- would you consider Annan or someone else entering in to seek a diplomatic solution as a delaying tactic or --
MR. LOCKHART: As we've said, there is a series of public diplomatic efforts, some private diplomatic efforts, those are ongoing; but they all come down to the same thing, which is that Saddam Hussein needs to get the message. And the message is clear and I don't see how it could become any more clear to him.
Q Russia has always been basically on the side of Saddam, and the President is calling a lot of prime ministers. Would he consider calling Boris Yeltsin or Primakov on this issue?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any information on that.
Q Has the President spoken to the Chinese or the French along the same line?
COLONEL CROWLEY: He spoke to President Chirac last week.
MR. LOCKHART: Last week, yes.
Q How about the Saudis?
MR. LOCKHART: He spoke to them last week, yes -- as did the Vice President, as did Secretary Cohen, obviously, from his visit to the region.
Q And on the Chinese the answer is no?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Joe, you say he needs to get the message, but he's never really gotten the message for the long-term. He's backed down and then he's gone back to his bad old ways. What's going to make the difference this time?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, I can't look into his mind and try to figure out he gets a message, but the message is there and the message is clear.
Q Let me get back to the trip the day after tomorrow. You've spoken of a range of options that have been given to the President, but do any of them, any of those options preclude his being out of the country? Or could he exercise them from anyplace in the world?
MR. LOCKHART: I am not going to get into talking in any way, shape, or form about the options that are available to the President.
Q But can he exercise all of them from anyplace in the world?
MR. LOCKHART: I am not going to get into what the options are or where he'll exercise them from.
Q The question --
MR. LOCKHART: I understand the question; I'm just not answering it. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, with U.S. forces now moving in that region on a war footing, isn't it already imprudent for the President to leave the country, where we are today?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President is in a good position to make those decisions, and my previous answer still applies for how we view this trip.
Q Will he be saying anything today about this in his event?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't expect so. I think the event today is on child care and the importance of after-school programs and the important work that the administration has done on that. We're going to take advantage of talking about child care, domestic issues.
Q But he has often begun those things by saying that this is only opportunity to meet -- he had no time to meet the press.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't expect him to do that today.
Q Did Ambassador Burleigh sign the Kyoto Agreement today?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect that that will happen this afternoon.
Q Why would the President not do this? Why is it being done at this lower level?
MR. LOCKHART: Because this is the protocol, and my understanding of the way this works is Ambassador Burleigh will sign the protocol. It will then be brought here. The President, at the appropriate time, will submit it to the Senate for their advice and consent. And then it will come back to the President.
Q Joe, on that, does that mean you won't submit it to the Senate until you get India and China and others to go into it?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into specifics, but the President has said that he will not submit the protocol to the Senate until there is meaningful participation among developing countries. So I'm not going to get into what countries have to be in. But I will tell you that there have been significant steps over the last few days, with Argentina being the first of the developing countries beginning to participate in a meaningful way. There have been I think a few others that have joined and others that may be about to. But the President has said that it will be sent to the Senate when he believes that there is meaningful participation.
Q So the fact that it's signed today doesn't indicate an imminent request to the Senate?
MR. LOCKHART: It means that we've taken one step down the road, and it's not just an abstract step. There was important work done in Buenos Aires, particularly following the lead of Argentina in coming forward.
Q The President was once asked about the mental stability of Saddam Hussein, and I'm just wondering if the administration is confident that Saddam can make a rational decision on this matter.
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't heard any information that leads me to believe that he can't make a rational decision. I've seen a lot of evidence that he's not making rational decisions.
Q Joe, many people in the administration, including yourself and the President yesterday, have said that Hussein could reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction in months rather than years. Why do we think so, and specifically which kind of weapon of mass destruction are we talking about?
MR. LOCKHART: Without getting into any great detail, because it's beyond my limited ability to understand or explain the complicated issues of WMD and chemical weapons, we believe from both -- and also from what UNSCOM, the work they have done -- that is a matter of months rather than years. And it's not only an issue of reconstituting; it's also the issue of delivery.
And again, as I said on Tuesday, this is not an abstract threat about something down the road. We are talking about a leader who used chemical weapons on his own people, who fired Scuds at his neighbors, who invaded Kuwait. He has a demonstrated pattern of using the weapons that are available to him. So this is a serious threat.
Q If I could follow up, you said "delivery." Do you mean to say that his missile capability can be restored as months as well as his warhead capability?
MR. LOCKHART: Our concerns extend to not just including reconstituting, but also in delivery.
Q U.S. diplomatic personnel in Israel have been informed that their dependents there can leave with the assistance of the U.S. government if they chose. Do we fear there's going to be an attack on Israel?
MR. LOCKHART: We believe that the State Department takes this kind of situation very seriously. They believe, as they said yesterday, that tensions in the region make it prudent to take this step. And it is a reflection of their view of the situation in the region.
Q And if Saddam should attack a neighboring country -- Israel or any other country -- what would be the U.S. position?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to speculate on that kind of hypothetical.
Q Joe, speaking of Israel, what does the President feel about the parliament of Israel ratifying the Wye agreement, but with certain conditions added?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we, obviously, have said all along we believe that the agreement was in the best interest of both parties as well as the region. And we felt that both parties would move forward in implementation. And yesterday's vote was a step forward in implementation.
Q You don't think the conditions in any way caused problems for it as the Palestinians have suggested? You're not bothered by the conditions?
MR. LOCKHART: Which conditions, I'm sorry?
Q Well, there were a number of things, including he began work on a new settlement in East Jerusalem.
Q And I think of the time frame of it, too --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, again, that without getting into the specifics of it, we believe that this is something that's manifestly in the interest of both parties in the region and that we believe both parties will implement. Do you have more?
Q I mean, didn't Albright ask for a time out --
MR. LOCKHART: On settlements? Okay, on that specific issue, I can say that we are very disappointed by the government's decision on Har Homa. It is inconsistent with the spirit of the Wye agreement and with the need to create a positive atmosphere for permanent status talks. Clearly, this complicates the situation. We note, however, that it will be several months before action takes place on the ground. The focus of the parties now should be on implementing the Wye memorandum and on moving forward with the permanent status talks. For our part, we'll be doing everything we can with both sides to reach these goals and to avoid these kinds of steps in the future.
Q Is there anything in the guidance on conditions --
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Does the President still expect to go to Israel in mid-December?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Can you provide us with a sound bite on whether the President -- whether George Tenet threatened to resign over the Pollard issue?
MR. LOCKHART: How long do you need it to be? (Laughter.)
Q Eighteen seconds.
MR. LOCKHART: Eighteen? I can be expansive. No, as I told you this morning, I'm not going to detail conversations that senior administration officials have privately with the President, beyond saying that as this issue was discussed during the Wye agreement, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, as one would expect, expressed the views of the intelligence community.
Q Joe, what's the rationale for not giving Iraq a deadline?
MR. LOCKHART: We think that it's very clear what they need to do. We're not in a negotiation. They need to decide and we have patiently and diplomatically worked through these issues over the last year. But as we've said in the past, this cannot go on indefinitely.
Q On the Tenet answer, don't you also -- or have in the past added that the President never made a promise to Mr. Netanyahu that he would release Pollard?
MR. LOCKHART: That's absolutely assumed in my answer that he never did.
Q Well, the Israelis keep saying he did.
MR. LOCKHART: And the story didn't say that he did. Point taken, but that answer still works.
Q Thank you.
END 1:25 P.M. EST