THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (St. Louis, Missouri) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release January 26, 1999
PRESS BRIEFING BY COLONEL P.J. CROWLEY Filing Center St. Louis, Missouri
3:33 P.M. CST
COLONEL CROWLEY: I can give you a little bit as long as you promise not to ask any hard questions. The private meeting with the President and the Holy Father lasted for about 20 minutes. They were then joined by the First Lady, and after that they went through a series of delegation photos, with the Pontiff introducing his delegation to the President, the President introducing his delegation to the Holy Father.
The President indicated in their private meeting that the Pope started off with a very interesting formulation that, historically, you think about -- or in the 20th century, the later half of the 20th century, you think about the United States in terms of its relationship with what used to be the Soviet Union. But now that the United States is the only remaining superpower in the world, he wants to be sure the United States continues to be engaged in the world.
And the President was very receptive of that message; in fact, he encouraged the Holy Father to stress that in his remarks while he's here in the United States, that the United States does, in fact, need to be involved in the world.
In terms of regional issues, they touched base on Africa. Both the Pontiff and the President during 1998 made respective trips to Africa. The Pontiff's message to the President was the developing world -- the United States and other countries need to do more to help Africa. And the President certainly agrees.
They talked about the Middle East peace process. The Vatican has been very, very supportive of the Wye Accords, and both leaders agree that we need to continue to push towards the resumption of final status talks.
They talked about Cuba and the difficult progress that has been -- or the lack of a lot of progress, but some progress in Cuba since the Pope's visit there a year ago. And the President outlined some of the aspects of our recent steps to increase aid to the Cuban people.
They did talk about Iraq and they also talked about -- the Pontiff gave the President his perspective on his trip to Mexico. They touched on disaster assistance to Central America. Obviously, that will be a message, an aspect that will be a major element of the President's trip to the region in a couple of weeks.
Any specific questions?
Q Did the Pope complain about U.S. missile attacks in Iraq?
COLONEL CROWLEY: I don't know the particulars of what they talked about, Roger. I know the subject was discussed. I think the President was prepared to outline what we tried to accomplish last month with Desert Fox and the most recent action, and that we continue to need to contain Saddam Hussein. I just don't know the particulars of what they talked about.
Q Did the Lewinsky scandal or any of its manifestations come up?
COLONEL CROWLEY: It did not.
Q Did they discuss abortion at all?
COLONEL CROWLEY: The Pontiff's views on the respect for human dignity and life are well-known -- it did come up in passing.
Q In what way?
COLONEL CROWLEY: Again, I know it was briefly mentioned, I think within the context of promoting human dignity throughout the world.
Q -- the death penalty?
COLONEL CROWLEY: I'm not aware that came up, no.
Q The President tends to be at pains when he travels not to interfere too much in domestic policy in the countries he visits. Does he feel it's appropriate for the Pope to give a message like he gave today on abortion?
COLONEL CROWLEY: I think we have the greatest respect for the Holy Father, and the message that he brings around the world, and the leadership that he shows on a lot of issues around the world. I don't think we're surprised by the message he brought to the people of St. Louis today.
Q Did the President say how he felt about the meeting? He felt it was interesting, gratifying, inspiring? Nothing? Zip?
COLONEL CROWLEY: He expressed that he enjoyed the meeting very much. He was intrigued by the formulation that the Pope used in trying to convey, now as we approach the new century, what the appropriate role for the United States in the world should be. And he certainly agrees with the Pontiff's views on that. So he was intrigued at the way that the meeting started.
Q The Pope certainly seemed less vigorous than he has in some of the past meetings. How would you characterize his --
COLONEL CROWLEY: George, I'm not in a position to characterize -- I hope to be as vigorous as the Pope when I'm his age.
Q What was the Pope's response to the steps that the President presented him toward Cuba? Did he emphasize again that the embargo should be lifted?
COLONEL CROWLEY: I think they both agreed that the progress to date has been very hard-fought and very small, and that we need to continue to press to try -- to press the government of Cuba on human rights, and find ways to kind of bolster civil society, humanitarian systems to the people of Cuba. I think the President outlined the specific steps that we have taken, in terms of travel, economics and other ways of helping the Cuban people, while keeping the pressure on the Castro regime.
Q Yes, but what was the response of the Pope to that? Did he say anything else?
COLONEL CROWLEY: I don't know. I don't know.
Q Did they speak in English?
COLONEL CROWLEY: The Pope speaks English. As far as I know, Liz. We did not have any translators --
Q No translators.
COLONEL CROWLEY: -- or equipment in there, so -- the Pontiff speaks several languages; I believe he spoke in English.
Q I'm sorry, did you say how long it lasted?
COLONEL CROWLEY: 20 minutes.
Q P.J., what was the President's response to the Pontiff bringing up the abortion issue?
COLONEL CROWLEY: I think it was just among issues that came up in passing. I don't think the President had a response.
Q P.J., anything about religious freedom in China?
COLONEL CROWLEY: I think that religious freedom is a theme that the Pontiff has stressed and is very pleased with the prominence that religious freedom plays in our foreign policy. I don't think the specifics on China came up.
Q There was a chunk of speech that the Pope did not give today. Was the U.S. government in any way involved in that not being --
COL. CROWLEY: No. I asked the Pontiff's spokesman that very question on your behalf, and I understand that it is not unusual for him to, depending on time pressures or other things, to skip through elements of his speech. So, as far as I know, that was a time thing that the Pontiff himself decided just to bridge from one part of his speech to another.
Q Was he happy about the fact that he --
COL. CROWLEY: I don't think that we have any reaction to that. Obviously the words were his own.
Q Was the Pope aware of the speech that the First Lady gave about abortion on Friday?
COL. CROWLEY: I don't know.
Q Did he mention it?
COL. CROWLEY: Not to my knowledge.
Q Could you just characterize for us -- the President talked about the role the Pontiff played in Central Europe and the former Soviet Union. Is the President trying to say he was a Cold War or spiritual hero of some sort? Can you characterize it?
COL. CROWLEY: I think if you -- as we approach the end of the century, when you look back over the confluence of events that took us through the Cold War, clearly, I think, historians will reflect on the Pope coming to reign in 1978 and being a powerful force that helped open up Central-Eastern Europe and eventually led to an environment that certainly helped lead to the end of the Soviet Union and the repression and coercion that the people of Central and Eastern Europe had experienced over the years.
So I think that will be an historical fact. That's really for historians to think about, but it's clear that he played a prominent role in creating the conditions that brought us to where we are now.
Thanks very much.
END 3:40 P.M. CST