THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
2:13 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Questions.
Q Is the President going to Asia tomorrow night?
MR. LOCKHART: As I told you this morning, the President very much wants to go to APEC. The important financial issues that I think the Secretary here touched on will be discussed there. The idea of bringing the heads of state in this group together is the President's idea. It's been going on now for -- four or five years? Five or six years. As I also told you this morning and throughout this week, we're watching the situation in Iraq very closely. And when and if there is a change in the schedule, I'll let you know.
Q Joe, all true, but is he going?
MR. LOCKHART: That's my answer.
Q Saddam Hussein apparently is now signalling that he would accept some initiative; he would welcome an initiative to settle this crisis. He apparently is quoted as saying he does not want to provoke a crisis.
MR. LOCKHART: I think from what we've been able to determine about what he said, there is nothing new in what he's saying. He's talking about an initiative based on his terms and based on his conditions. And the message that he needs to get is this has to be done based on the conditions and terms of the international community. The international community is demanding unfettered access for UNSCOM so they can do their work. And there is nothing new and nothing positive or productive in him recycling the conditions --
Q Is it a dodge?
MR. LOCKHART: As far as I can tell, this doesn't add to anything he hasn't done before over the last few weeks.
Q Joe, what would the administration accept then to call off the --
MR. LOCKHART: The administration is looking for Saddam Hussein to demonstrate that he's interested in allowing UNSCOM to do their work unfettered and without condition.
Q How does Saddam Hussein do that? How does he stop the clock?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't tell you precisely how he could do that. I can tell you that statements that came out today are not the way -- to take conditions and to say that the sanctions must be lifted and detail a number of issues which he knows are non-starters is not a productive way for him to use his time.
Q Joe, the President said today that Saddam Hussein still has it within his hands to stop this crisis. How much time does Saddam have in which to think about this?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he's had a clear statement from the international community, from the United States, from the United Nations, from our allies around the world, from his neighbors in the Gulf. He must reverse his course, allow UNSCOM to do their work, or he alone will be responsible for the consequences of noncompliance.
Q But does he have to act fast, is what I'm saying?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm just not going to get into any time line or deadline or ultimatum.
Q Madeleine Albright kept saying that the U.S. looks forward to working with a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. Would it be the U.S. objective, if there are additional air strikes, to see Saddam Hussein go?
MR. LOCKHART: As the Secretary of State said, and as I think you've seen in recent congressional action, we are willing to work with the opposition groups. We do look forward to a day when we can welcome Iraq back into the international community, an Iraq that respects human rights, an Iraq that has respect for international law. We are not there. And while we are not there, we will continue to pursue our policy that seeks to reduce his ability to reconstitute or deliver weapons of mass destruction or threaten his neighbors.
Q Secretary of State Albright set two conditions today for Iraq to get out of this crisis. She said that Saddam Hussein has to publicly rescind his noncompliance and then "take some action that would indicate a movement toward compliance." Why, even if Saddam Hussein does both of those things, would the U.S. believe that he had suddenly changed his stripes?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think you touched on the reason we need more than just statements. We need some demonstration that UNSCOM will be allowed to do the important work that they have been charged with.
Q But if I could follow up, Joe, I mean, that's what happened in March. We had an agreement, it was signed, he promised to cooperate, he started to cooperate. And then in August, and then in November, he said no. So I don't understand why, if he says I now publicly vow to cooperate, and here's a step toward cooperation, why that would be sufficient?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you're asking me to comment on something that hasn't happened.
Q No, you're saying that's your policy.
MR. LOCKHART: And he has done nothing to respond -- nothing to do anything that leads anyone in the international community to believe or to think that he's willing to deal with the conditions that have been laid down. So I'm just not going to go down a road of something that hasn't happened.
Q But the status quo ante, in other words the situation that existed in Iraq for the inspections before he announced he wasn't going to comply, that would be acceptable to you -- in other words, to go back to the situation that existed before he announced that he wasn't going to comply?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think what we're looking for is UNSCOM to be able to do the work that they need to do. And for some of this year, they have not been able to do that work.
Q So you're saying that you didn't have unfettered access before this crisis?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm saying we have a long history of -- UNSCOM has done important work over the last seven or eight years. But there certainly have been efforts -- if you go back over the history of Saddam Hussein doing everything in his power to obstruct and keep them from doing their work.
Now, we have made a very clear statement to them that they need to allow -- reverse their course, allow UNSCOM to do their work. If not, they face some consequences.
Q But what I'm trying to get clear is when you ask for unfettered access whether you thought that's what you had since Kofi Annan worked out the deal?
MR. LOCKHART: You certainly know the history of what's gone on since February. We had a time period where UNSCOM was in and doing important work. But we've also had time where Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis have kept them from doing that work. And we have a very simple message for them now, which is they need to be allow to go back in, do their work, allow us to pursue the policy that we've articulated, or they face us taking other steps and the consequences that come with those steps.
Q Joe, should the schedule hold, should the President leave tomorrow night, should Saddam Hussein interpret that as he's got a period of time in which he could breathe easy?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he interprets our behavior or steps at his own risk. We've made very clear what he needs to do. And should he chose to ignore that, then as his closest neighbor said, the results of defying the international community are his responsibility.
Q You said that he is ignoring that, that he said nothing new in his statement today.
MR. LOCKHART: That's correct.
Q So what are we waiting for?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, as we have told you over the week, we have -- there is both public and private diplomatic efforts. People are sending messages in a very public way. They're sending messages in private ways. It is our belief and our preference that we can work this out in a peaceful way that allows UNSCOM to return.
Q Has the President spoken to any more foreign leaders today?
MR. LOCKHART: The President made a few calls today. He spoke to the Crown Prince in Saudi Arabia, the Amir of Kuwait, and he has a conversation with Kofi Annan.
Q You just said it is our belief and preference that we can work this out. Did you mean that?
MR. LOCKHART: No, it is our preference. I'm sorry -- it is our preference. Let me be clear on this because I'm not expressing a belief.
Q I'm not complaining about anything you say, I just want to make sure what it is you intend to say.
MR. LOCKHART: Then let me come back to that. Let me come back to it, please, because it's an important point, because I am not expressing a belief, because only Saddam Hussein is capable now of answering that question. But our preference is that we work this out whereby UNSCOM can go in and do the important work they've been charged with --
Q How much time is left, though?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into a timetable.
Q What was the purpose of the President's phone call with Kofi Annan?
MR. LOCKHART: As I think I've detailed to you over the last few days, he has made now at least a dozen or more calls to consult with our allies and world leaders.
Q If the Russians want Kofi Annan to send a letter or have the Security Council send a letter to Iraq, some sort of final ultimatum, is the U.S. supportive of that?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll answer that question when the "if" gets taken out of the question.
Q Joe, did the President brief the leadership of Congress beyond Lott and Gephardt? Has he spoken to Newt Gingrich, for example?
MR. LOCKHART: Apparently, he has spoken to Gingrich. I believe he has some other calls he will be making. I'll let you know when he makes them.
Q What about Bob Livingston?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't believe he's spoken to him.
Q Joe, what are the public -- could you describe the diplomatic efforts?
MR. LOCKHART: I think you've seen them. I think you've seen -- I would remind you that some of diplomacy is making public statements so there's a clear understanding both within Iraq and around the world of where the international community stands. The President has spoken to this several times this week. Kofi Annan, the U.N. Security Council, has spoken to this. The Gulf states made a very important public statement yesterday about how they view this situation, about how they believe that Saddam Hussein must reverse course and that he alone is responsible for this situation.
Q But has anybody gone to see Saddam Hussein, had a direct conversation with him --
MR. LOCKHART: I think you have seen from reports people who have gone to see him. There are also people who are talking to him --
Q Not on our behalf?
MR. LOCKHART: Not on our behalf, that I know of, no.
Q Joe, by the administration's own count the U.N. weapons inspectors have been unable to do their jobs for eight of the past 12 months. Are some of the President's own advisors telling him that alternatives to UNSCOM should be considered now, that it might be better to deal with Iraq, to keep Iraq from rebuilding an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, using strictly economic sanctions and military force?
MR. LOCKHART: As I've said throughout the week, the President's national security advisors have sought to give him a variety of options that provide him the maximum flexibility, but I'm not going to get into what those options are.
Q Joe, the Russians have apparently refused to turn over to us their internal report on missing American POWs. Will the President now make good on his promise to bring this up with Mr. Primakov?
MR. LOCKHART: The last time I checked on this was yesterday and I believe there were some discussions going on in Moscow. I would suspect if that situation is not worked out, it will be raised in the meeting with the Prime Minister.
Q Joe, yesterday we asked you if the President had the legal authority to call for an attack outside of the U.S. territory -- I'm not saying he will or won't. Is that a valid point? He can order it from wherever he is, if he decides to do so?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any reason to believe that he can't.
Q In his call to the Crown Prince, did the President seek permission to use Saudi airfields to launch strikes?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into that kind of detail.
Q Does the U.S. have a preference as to any particular opposition group taking over and does the U.S. still have the fear that Iraq might split into three places, three different countries if Saddam falls?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me just say broadly that we have been and are willing to work in the future with viable opposition groups as we look forward to an Iraq that does not abuse human rights, an Iraq that respects international law.
Q How do you define "viable"?
MR. LOCKHART: That is a theoretical question that on another day, with much more time, I could --
Q Joe, has the White House responded to Senator Lugar's suggestion that the time has come to target Saddam Hussein for assassination?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Do you know if the President has signed any document that would waive the laws that prohibit such an action?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Joe, there's been a suggestion in the Security Council that Kofi Annan send a letter clarifying the Security Council's position -- do you think that would be --
MR. LOCKHART: My understanding is the Security Council is meeting in roughly a half hour. I think we can all wait to see what they do and then comment on what they do, rather than what people speculate they might do.
Q Can you fill us in on what role the White House may be playing in the labor dispute at Fed Ex?
MR. LOCKHART: At Fed Ex? I'm not aware of any role at this point. I've seen from news reports there's contract negotiations. I'm not aware that we have any role to play in that situation as of now.
Q Joe, has the Clinton administration authorized a media black-out of coverage of any military action?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q And if the Pentagon decides to go ahead with that, would that be at the President's -- I mean, would that have to come from the President?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what you're referring to.
Q So your knowledge is that if there's any military action the media would travel with troops and aboard ships, like we normally do, right?
MR. LOCKHART: You're asking a question that's better put at the Pentagon.
Q No, we want to put it here.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay. Well, my answer is my answer.
Q How about you checking to see, because we've had lots of trouble in the past in terms of Gulf War and so forth.
MR. LOCKHART: I will raise it with my counterparts.
Q And policy comes from the top. It doesn't come from the Pentagon.
MR. LOCKHART: Very good. Thank you for that good piece of advice.
Q You're welcome.
Q Joe, getting back to the issue of toppling Saddam Hussein, years ago when Bush dealt with Hussein, there was public sentiment that Saddam should be gone. Is the administration, this current administration, taking that into account, that we wouldn't be having these problems with Saddam Hussein -- of sending forces -- if Saddam were in jail or gone, meaning dead?
MR. LOCKHART: Our policy is based on limiting his ability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction and reducing his ability to threaten his neighbors. And I'm not really -- I don't see the utility in speculating beyond that to questions like the ones you're asking.
Q Joe, Bob Livingston just said that he has been briefed by Cohen, and he's also talked to Sandy Berger about this. But he said that, on the Iraqi situation, he said he would hope that the President would come to Congress and explain the situation to the members of Congress. Is there any plan for him to do anything like that?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that as we've said, we're doing close consultations with the leadership in Congress, both from the President's Cabinet secretaries to the President's National Security Advisor. The President, himself, as we've detailed, has talked to a series of members. And I think he probably should stay pretty close to a phone because the President, I'm certain at some point, will talk to him.
Q But there's no plan to do anything formal?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think that we're -- the consultation process we're pursuing is appropriate.
Q Well, are they getting an acquiescence to all this? This isn't consultation, is it?
MR. LOCKHART: We are keeping Congress informed and consulting.
Q Are you asking their opinion?
MR. LOCKHART: Certainly, that's part of the consultation process.
Q Senator Specter's idea about calling Congress back, which you talked about yesterday, that's still a non-starter?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm where I was yesterday.
Q Could the President possibly call congressional leaders down to the White House for a meeting before he leaves?
MR. LOCKHART: He could.
Q Well, do you think he will?
Q Joe, can't the U.S. change policy if it wants to and openly target a foreign leader? I mean, it's just policy, so it's up to the President to change it.
MR. LOCKHART: Let me say this one more time, and we'll save ourselves all some time maybe. I'm not going to get into options that have been put before the President. And I'm just not going to get into a theoretical discussion of what we might do, or when we might do it.
Q This administration has -- I mean, for months if not years, this administration has specifically said to us, from this podium, it's against U.S. policy, it's illegal to target a foreign leader. And that's still the case, right?
MR. LOCKHART: That is still the law. But I'm not going to get into a side door way of getting into what options are before the President.
Q But it's not law though, it's policy, right? Is it law --
MR. LOCKHART: It is the law.
Q Does the President feel he's done an adequate job of explaining to the American people what his policy is and why he may be pursuing certain options? And does he have any plans to add to what he is saying?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he has done an adequate job. We've been talking about the threats and the real risk that Saddam Hussein and Iraq and weapons of mass destruction pose to the region and to the world. And I just don't have any more information about anything he might say in the future.
Q There is one story, at least, that says the President, if he decides not to go to APEC, would send Vice President Gore. Is that one of the options?
MR. LOCKHART: That's two "ifs," and I'm just not getting into hypotheticals.
Q There are still no plans for the Vice President to go, though, is that right?
MR. LOCKHART: I refer you to my first answer on this question, which covers --
Q I can't remember what it is. What is it again?
MR. LOCKHART: The President really wants to go to APEC. Do you remember it now? (Laughter.) I can do the whole thing if you don't remember.
Q Why can't you answer it flatly?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm giving you the answer to the question and I'm sorry if it doesn't fit with how you would like it to be, but I'm providing you the best information I can.
Q Joe, the President has ordered military strikes on Iraq twice before. What makes him think that another military strike will be any more successful than the others have been?
MR. LOCKHART: You're asking me to provide commentary on options that are before the President, which I'm not going to discuss.
Q Is there any read out yesterday's meeting between Greek officials -- and Mr. John Podesta for the ecumenical conference --
MR. LOCKHART: I did not get a read out of that meeting, as I promised to do, and I will get you one. But let me come back to it.
Q One more question.
MR. LOCKHART: Certainly.
Q The leader of the Kurdish National Liberation Front, Abdullah Ocalan -- has been arrested in Italy and asked political asylum. Any comment?
MR. LOCKHART: We understand the Italian authorities have detained Ocalan, I refer you to them for further details about the circumstance of his detention. We welcome the detention, which is an important step forward in the global fight against terror. The U.S., as you know, has designated the PKK as a foreign terrorist organization under the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.
Q -- from Italy?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any information on that.
Q Will the U.S. be doing anything to try and push for his extradition?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have anything beyond what I said.
Q Joe, the State Department has issued warnings or advisories to American travelers abroad. Are there any plans or has the federal government issued any additional security measures within the U.S. territory?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any. None have been brought to my attention.
Q Joe, can you tell us, the phone calls he had that you mentioned, did he initiate them or were they initiated by the other person?
MR. LOCKHART: My understanding is that he initiated these calls, yes.
Q Forgive me for coming back to the trip, would the President feel any hesitation in issuing orders from aboard Air Force One en route to Asia, or on the soil of any of the countries he's visiting?
MR. LOCKHART: You're asking a speculative question which I'm just not going to answer.
Q Well, I'm asking --
MR. LOCKHART: You have a legitimate right to ask it and I am exercising my right not to answer it.
Q Do you not know whether the President is going to go or not, personally?
MR. LOCKHART: I am telling you --
Q I'm not asking you to tell us whether he is or not, I'm asking do you know --
Q Just nod. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I feel highly confident that I know what I need to know.
Q Do you know what we need to know? (Laughter.)
Q Well, as the President's Press Secretary, wouldn't you need to know that?
MR. LOCKHART: I've laid out to you the best way I can the answer to that question. I'll be happy to -- if you want to spend the rest of the afternoon going through it, we will -- but it's not going to change.
Q But your answers have holes in them.
MR. LOCKHART: Thank you. It's not the first time. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, any attack on Iraq would undoubtedly bring some number of civilian casualties. Can you tell us to what extent the President has thought about that issue and perhaps what his thoughts are?
MR. LOCKHART: I can tell you in the broadest, theoretical sense that that's something obviously the President would always think about. And the military planners presenting any option to the Commander in Chief take great care to minimize any risk of that kind of damage.
Q Can I go back to Albright's formulation again for how Iraq gets out of this. If Iraq gives the public signal and then the cooperation that the Secretary said we're looking for to end this crisis, why should we have any expectation that we won't be back to this same place a couple months from now?
MR. LOCKHART: I think because we are where we are; and because we are where we are, they need to clearly demonstrate and they need to convince the international community that they are serious.
Q I guess what I'm saying is, Joe, why should the serious demonstration that we were looking for months ago be given any more credence than the serious demonstration now?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not saying that that's something that's easy to do. Essentially what I'm saying is it's Saddam Hussein's problem. He needs to demonstrate clearly to the international community that he's serious about allowing UNSCOM to do their work.
Q When are we going to be allowed to ask the President about Iraq, which --
Q What benchmarks will you use to judge whether or not he's met them?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he needs to spend some time studying that issue and only he can decide how he can do that.
Q This is a good question, right here.
Q When are we going to be able to ask the President of the United States about Iraq? I mean, he makes statements, you make statements, but obviously you're not answering any questions.
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President has been available to you lately on several occasions. You've asked him questions. Next?
Q Do you remember those occasions?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Joe, does the White House or does the United States have any evidence to back up a report in the Financial Times of London that Tariq Aziz is on a secret committee that also hides the weapons?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any information on that.
Q Joe, what would have to change over the next 24-hours to cause the President to cancel his trip to APEC?
MR. LOCKHART: Next, please. (Laughter.) It's very clever but -- I'm sorry. Look, let me just tell you -- I'm being nice.
This just in re Fed-Ex. We're monitoring it very closely, and we've had some discussions with both the National Mediation Board and the parties.
Q Is that Bruce Lindsey? Would he be doing that?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know who was involved in that, personally.
Q Joe, can we expect to hear from the President on Iraq later today?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no reason to believe that you'll hear from him later today.
Q A departure statement tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know of.
Q No departure remarks?
MR. LOCKHART: I have nothing on the schedule right now that indicates a departure.
Q Might we hear from him on Iraq tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no information on tomorrow beyond the radio address
Q What's it on?
MR. LOCKHART: The radio address is an address on the situation in Central America and it involves both the President and Mrs. Gore, who has just returned from a trip there.
Q Joe, does the President plan to talk about human rights with Dr. Mahathir on Tuesday in Malaysia?
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't rule out a discussion like that. I think as you know there's no bilateral meeting, but I can't explicitly rule out that the subject won't be raised in some form.
Q But the Indonesian government has said publicly that any discussion of that case would be considered internal interference -- I'm sorry, the Malaysian government.
MR. LOCKHART: I think we'll reserve the right to express our opinions in the way that we will dictate.
Q Joe, on the black farmers on another issue, a couple of weeks ago, the Justice Department said that they were close to a proposal giving the black farmers a proposal. Has that happened or what's going on?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me try to bring you up to date a little bit. USDA is still involved in settlement negotiations in the class action suit, commonly called the Pickford (phonetic) case. The negotiations we believe are going well, although there's a trial date set for February of next year. The Secretary is optimistic that this case can and will be settled. As another point concerning black farmers, there's a waiver in the statute of limitations the administration has included in the omnibus appropriations bill. The waiver will allow USDA to settle old cases of discrimination which, without this waiver, many of these cases could not have been settled.
Q Who's going to be in charge when you're away, in terms of answering questions that are on the impeachment and so forth coming up?
MR. LOCKHART: We'll have the normal team. Amy will be here and the lower press team. In particular, on impeachment, you also have the benefit of Mr. Kennedy and the team from the Counsel's Office, that I know you all talk to on occasion.
Q Are the national security advisors meeting today again here?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect the President's advisors to meet later today, yes.
Q Do you know what time?
Q With the President?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know of.
Q Do you know anything about this AP news alert that Ken Starr has sent additional evidence to the House impeachment investigators?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know a thing about it.
Q Any likelihood that we'll get an answer on the 81 question today?
MR. LOCKHART: I would discourage you from thinking you'll get answers today. (Laughter.) Apropos of this entire briefing. (Laughter.)
END 2:36 P.M. EST