THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
1:42 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Let me start with a couple of personnel issues. It is the last day of two of our most highly valued and respected members of the White House staff. I'll start with someone who is not here first. I went back and had the research done and for the first time since early 1996, starting Monday the White House will be Lanny-less.
MR. LOCKHART: Lanny-less. I know that's hard to believe, but Lanny Breuer's last day is today. I think many of you know that Lanny had one of the most difficult assignments that any White House employee could have, dropping in here in 1997 in the midst of some congressional investigations. I think he has earned a well-deserved reputation for someone who is a straight-shooter, who works well under extremely complicated circumstances, managed to stay on friendly terms with Chairman Burton and much of his staff, which -- (laughter) -- somehow, I didn't manage to do, so he's a better man than me for that.
Lanny is going to go back to his law firm. He's going to take some time off with his family and move back there sometime in the next --
Q Where is that?
MR. LOCKHART: Covington and Burling. He is not going to be directly replaced, but a good friend of his -- I don't know how he convinced him -- he has convinced a good friend of his, Steven Reich* to come in and work in the Counsel's Office. I'm sure you'll all want to get to know him and use him as a resource as you did with Lanny, and he has agreed to go by the name of Lanny Reich, if that makes you all feel comfortable. (Laughter.)
On to someone who is here, who is sitting to my right, who I plan to now embarrass profusely. It's Amy Weiss's last day here at the White House.
Q We were hoping it would be Leavy. (Laughter.)
Q Say it ain't so, Joe.
MR. LOCKHART: That remark was completely uncalled for. Who said it? (Laughter.) I first got to know Amy during the 1996 campaign, when the Clinton-Gore campaign that I worked for and the DNC worked very well together. We worked very closely together toward the end of the campaign, and I think that's where Amy, for a lot of you, made a reputation as a valuable resource and someone you could go to and trust to get straight information, even in difficult circumstances. That's a recurring theme here; White House staff, difficult circumstances.
She then moved over, at the urging of Mr. McCurry, myself and some others, to handle all of the administrative work and the regional press operation that we run here out of the White House, and then when I came on, agreed to come downstairs. And I think you all know what a terrific job she's done and what an asset she's been to the President and to you all who have come to depend on her.
She's going off to greener pastures, emphasis on greener. And she's going to be over at Burston-Marsteller and will remain in touch. And we wish her all, as the President did just before he came out, wish her all the best of luck and thank her for her service. (Applause.)
Q You're giving her a party, right?
Q She promised us a party in the new digs --
MR. LOCKHART: There will be a party, but at the risk of having everybody in town show up for it, we'll tell you some other time. (Laughter.)
Okay. On to more serious subjects.
Q Are there any moves being made on Kosovo to offset the military -- I mean, are any leaders going to see him?
MR. LOCKHART: I think you've seen the reports of the leaders that have gone. Off the top of my head, I know that there's been a Russian delegation, a delegation from the government of Ukraine. I cannot report to you any progress they've made here today. We have said from the beginning and I will repeat, that President Milosevic knows what he needs to do in order to stop this campaign against him. He needs to recognize and provide for autonomy and self-government for the Kosovar Albanians and allow for there to be the ability for them to live free of repression.
Q And has there been any contact with the government in terms of the three soldiers?
MR. LOCKHART: My understanding is Secretary Albright has spoken to her counterpart in Sweden and they have spoken to President Milosevic and the Serbian government. So we believe that the messages that we have been laying out publicly are getting through privately, also.
Q What are you hearing back from the Serbs? Anything?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any confirmation or firm information that they have decided to move forward with the trial. I've seen reports recently that indicate that perhaps they've decided not to. Clearly, that would be the right decision if that's the way they're going to go.
Q Are they saying anything at all to you?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, they're not saying anything directly.
Q I mean indirectly, through the Swedes?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm going to leave it for Jamie at the State Department to lay out the conversation the Secretary had. I'm not privy to all the details of it, but we have -- as of now, we don't have a satisfactory response or conclusion to this.
Q The Serbs, on Serb television, said today that the military tribunal has begun its investigation. Do you know what that means?
MR. LOCKHART: I honestly don't know what that means. I think, as the President said yesterday and said here, there's no basis for this, there's no basis for them being held. Any kind of trial like this would be in clear violation of the Geneva Convention and the minimum standards for soldiers that are being held, and we think it would be a mistake.
Q In at least a week, there will be no let-up in the bombing.
MR. LOCKHART: Correct.
Q And the President will be here.
MR. LOCKHART: Correct.
Q Easter weekend, I'm saying.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. Are we here this weekend? Camp David? Yes, off to Camp David on -- tomorrow.
Q For the whole weekend?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, he'll be back Monday.
Q Joe, when the President was here, he said that the essential elements of the Rambouillet plan, i.e., the protection force and autonomy, would have to be implemented even if it weren't a permissive format. Envisioned under Rambouillet is how I translated that.
MR. LOCKHART: That's certainly not how I translated it.
Q How did you translate it?
MR. LOCKHART: I translated what he said is that we needed for a peace, a just peace for the Kosovar people -- what we've been saying now for nine days.
Q You mean in other words, even after bombing, it remains contingent on Slobodan Milosevic saying, yes, fine, they can come in?
MR. LOCKHART: We believe we can reach our military objective here that will increasingly up the price that he has to pay until he's willing to provide for the autonomy and self-government that he stripped from the Kosovar people and provide them to live free of repression.
Q So it's contingent on him ultimately, as the price gets progressively higher, ultimately saying yes, you're not envisioning any scenario in which you'll implement Rambouillet even if he says no?
MR. LOCKHART: We're not envisioning -- we're envisioning continuing on for whatever time it takes with the military campaign that's been launched, and increasing the price he pays.
Q What happens at the end of this if Mr. Milosevic raises his hand and says he's paid a high enough price and is willing to talk, and the Kosovar Albanians say they don't trust him anymore and they won't sign an agreement with him? Then what happens?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't answer questions that are hypothetical and down the road. I'll only tell you that we're going to continue on this military campaign in order to reach the military objectives that the President's laid out.
Q Joe, the President expressly said that there will be -- some kind of international force will be needed to secure the return of the Kosovars. And then he said, he followed that up by saying, and then some kind of agreement will have to be reached, under which they can have their self-rule.
MR. LOCKHART: No, that is not how I heard what was said in the room here. He was talking about the need, which has always been the need, has been part of the Rambouillet accords that there is going to be the need for an international force led by NATO that allows people to live with the security they need to live freely, and that hasn't changed.
Q Two questions. Has the Red Cross had a chance to visit these three men?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any information on that.
Q Also, I have information that there are actually U.S. Marines in Kosovo. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no such reports on that, and I would refer you in any area of deployment and operations to the Pentagon.
Q Regarding this post-bombing scenario under Rambouillet, are you considering some modification of the autonomy provisions in that? Because it seems if a pogrom is going on right now, as the State Department has called it, it seems very unlikely that you could then have sovereignty retained by Serbia over Kosovo.
MR. LOCKHART: What we're doing is we're going to give this military operation time to work. We've just passed the first week of it. This is going to take time. As the President said, it's going to take determination.
We've also laid out what we think is necessary to bring this military campaign to a conclusion, which is an agreement that includes the elements of what the Kosovar Albanians and others agreed to at Rambouillet, but the Serbs did not. So we are going to continue to move forward with the military campaign that, as we said, is now just over a week in duration.
Q The President said that more countries beside Macedonia and Albania should be helping out with the refugee situation. Is he asking for some of these refugees to be moved to other countries?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm not aware -- I think the President knows and appreciates all of the work that NATO is now doing and all of the NATO countries, and I think there have been responses from other countries. I think there are teams there now that are assessing what the best way to deal with this, what the best way to get aid to the people who need it the most, and the U.S. government has been encouraged by the response of both NATO and non-NATO countries.
Q Joe, in the Dan Rather interview, the President said that he was using his words carefully on no intention to send ground troops.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q And then today, he kind of appeared to indicate that this might be a possibility. Is it correct to interpret this --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President uses his words carefully because there are many who would like to twist them around and turn them upside down. His words are his words, the policy is the policy and hasn't changed.
Q A second question, also. Both NATO spokesman and James Rubin at the State Department said there are concerns about the government of Montenegro, whether Slobodan Milosevic would try to overthrow it. Why are you concerned whether the signs that you're seeing --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into any specific details, but I think if you've watched, particularly at the State Department, there are concerns and the Secretary of State and the Assistant Secretary have made strong statements about the need to preserve the democratic institutions there and they should not be -- Milosevic and the Serbs should not use what's going on on the ground in Kosovo and Serbia as an excuse to undermine those institutions.
Q Can you also say what the consequences if he did to so would be?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into any specific consequences, only to repeat what a mistake we think it would be.
Q What do you mean if his words are his words, what he said in response to the question about ground troops is, I still believe we have a good possibility of achieving our objective. That doesn't rule out the use of ground troops.
MR. LOCKHART: And those, in fact, were the words he used in the interview, and those are his words and those are his sentiments.
Q It wasn't exactly like that in the interview. I'll go back and get you the transcript.
MR. LOCKHART: Go back and get the transcript. I think you will find that it is --
Q You're saying that this does not represent any kind of shift in position?
MR. LOCKHART: It does not represent any kind of shift, and let me be as clear as I can about this, so when I wake up tomorrow and read that it is a shift, I can be on the record as saying that it's not. The policy is the policy; it has not shifted.
Q What is it specifically that you mean when you say that the NATO operation will continue as long as it takes? Does that mean a return of the refugees to Kosovo?
MR. LOCKHART: No. We have military objectives here, and we're going to pursue the military campaign until those objectives are reached.
Q Joe, at this stage in the operation, are there any second thoughts? Is everybody in lock-step on this policy?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of anyone who doesn't believe in the leadership here in the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, that we've taken the proper steps here, that we need to continue, we need to show determination to stay with this for whatever amount of time it takes, and so, no.
Q What about the constantly recurring reports, leaks from the Pentagon and so forth, that the military people did not think this was viable?
MR. LOCKHART: I can only tell you that the leaders from the Pentagon, from the Secretary of Defense to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, would dispute that with great vigor.
Q Joe, one thing that's hardest to understand is that since the goal from the outset was to try to prevent him from doing what he did in Kosovo, why we didn't attack sooner in Kosovo?
MR. LOCKHART: I think you've over-simplified the goals, but let me go to the second part of the question, which is, this is a military campaign that was phased, a systematic assault on Serbia, but was phased. And the early part of this naturally was concentrated on air defense for reasons I think the Pentagon has done a more-than-adequate job of explaining. And we have followed the plan, there are outside factors beyond our control, including the weather, that has been much less than ideal, but we will continue to follow the systematic plan until we've met our military objectives.
Q That essentially means that we didn't go in Kosovo earlier because we were worried about casualties.
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think any military planner will tell you that in a situation like this, in a campaign like this, you want to approach this systematically. You want to reduce the risk as much as you can to Allied pilots and to those involved in this, and you don't walk in and do what is not part of your systematic plan.
Q Joe, the President said that we have quite a good chance of achieving our objectives. Is that an acknowledgement that there's a chance that we won't achieve our objectives?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me address this in a more broad way. This isn't a situation where you have an ideal choice and a choice that you're absolutely, 100 percent certain will work and one that absolutely won't work. These are difficult decisions and difficult situations.
The President has made the judgment with the unanimous advice from his national security team, his military team, that this was the optimum way to go after the military objectives that we have laid out, and the President has said we need to show determination and we can reach these objectives.
Q Joe, can I follow up on this question Mark asked a minute ago about our objectives? You said we have military objectives. the President just stood here a couple of minutes ago and said the refugees need to go back, they need to be secure, which implies some NATO force or some such thing, and they have to have autonomy, which implies some kind of peace deal. Can the bombing accomplish those things?
MR. LOCKHART: I think both of those imply that there's got to be some sort of political settlement, and that's been the case from the very beginning. You can't have a situation where you're talking about people living free of repression and it be real if you're talking about people who now live in a different country.
Q That's what I was asking when I asked about your statement that it will go on as long as it takes. Does that mean that the air strikes will continue until the refugees are back in Kosovo?
MR. LOCKHART: No. The air strikes will continue until we've met the objectives. And the objectives, as --
Q That's one of the objectives, isn't it?
MR. LOCKHART: No, the objectives as laid out is to get some sort of peace agreement -- let me finish -- some sort of peace agreement that embraces the main elements of the Rambouillet, or we've inflicted significant damage that takes away his ability to impose his will.
Q Is the refugees returning to Kosovo a requirement of U.S. policy?
MR. LOCKHART: As part of our policy is, the people of Kosovo can live free of repression, and that doesn't --
Q And we won't stop until they can come back?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no reason to believe that the military campaign will halt until the objectives have been reached, and I've laid out as clear as I can what those objectives are.
Q Joe, what you've just said, sort of one of two things will happen. Either Milosevic will recognize he's paying an unbearable price and seek a peace agreement, or the bombing will continue until NATO makes a judgment that his ability to degrade -- that his military capacity is degraded sufficiently that it's no longer a threat to Kosovo. Is that correctly stated?
MR. LOCKHART: I think our objectives that I have stated are clear.
Q I've correctly paraphrased what you just said, right?
MR. LOCKHART: Our objectives are clear. Our objectives are clear, and I'm not going to try to look whether it's one, two, three or four weeks down the road. Let's move on.
Q A senior administration official was also quoted as saying that this air campaign will, quote "last less than six months," and obviously, a week is less than six months. But that seemed to open up the possibility this could go on for months, which hasn't really been broached before.
MR. LOCKHART: You have not been listening to what people have said, you've not watched what the President said, which is, we have not tried to put a calendar timetable on this. It's a timetable based on the military objectives.
Q Can I try this one more time? Can this conflict end successfully, from the standpoint of the administration, if the refugees aren't back in Kosovo, safe with autonomy?
MR. LOCKHART: I think part of living free of repression is being able to live where you live, not someplace else.
Q I understand.
MR. LOCKHART: That's my answer, and I think that's as clear as I can be.
Q If in the end, that's not what happens, your policy will have failed?
MR. LOCKHART: The policy here is designed to allow people in Kosovo to live free of repression and to allow them autonomy and self-government. That is what we're pursuing. We have a military campaign set forth to try to reach military objectives that will allow that to happen.
Q Is it the case that you're trying to be very clear that giving almost a million refugees back to Kosovo is actually not a U.S. policy goal, but the President this morning seemed to indicate that that was a goal.
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I'm not trying to say that at all. I think what you're trying to do is, once again, find a way where I can set a marker where, at a certain point of time, you can say the policy has failed, and that's just not how we're doing this.
Q It's not bad for us to try to set a marker upon which to gauge whether or not this is worth it or not.
MR. LOCKHART: What you can gauge is whether we have met our military objectives at the end of this, and that's the judgment we should withhold until it's over.
Q Joe, this doesn't make a hypothetical leap too far in the future. All the question is -- once we've blown up all of the stuff that is at the root of his military control, then what do you envision happening to the Kosovars? Then what?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me restate what the policy objectives are, which is to allow them to live in Kosovo, with self-government, autonomy and free of repression.
Q And is that objective what you mean when you say that NATO operation will go on as long as it takes until that objective is achieved?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we've certainly said that we have military objectives here and we're going to continue to pursue them until we've reached them.
Q Joe, what is the level of contact within the administration with the Russians, and what are the answers back about -- talk from senior Russian officials about what they think about now arming Yugoslavia, the request from Belgrade for such aid? Who is in touch?
MR. LOCKHART: We are in touch with the Russians at all levels from -- the Secretary of State I think has spoken to her counterpart repeatedly since the beginning of this. I think the Under Secretary has also had conversations.
I have not, nor has anybody brought any evidence to me that they are arming. President Yeltsin has made public statements, the Prime Minister has made public statements that they have no intention of getting involved in this conflict.
Q What about us arming the KLA, is that a possibility?
MR. LOCKHART: As we have said, the purpose of the policy and the military campaign going on now is to try to demilitarize this area, rather than to adding arms. And that continues to be our policy.
Q What about getting humanitarian aid to the KLA? That was mentioned yesterday.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the Pentagon and others are looking at ways to try to do this. I think the risk here is we've spent a lot of time and effort trying to choke off supplies to Serb forces in Kosovo, and the last thing we want to do is resupply them in an attempt at humanitarian aid. So I think that's the challenge and that's being looked at.
Q Joe, the President has certainly spent much of this week explaining the policy that NATO is pursuing. But he also this week had defended himself on impeachment, today he came in and trumpeted how well the economy is doing. Is there any concern that these two things are going to be seen as unseemly or untimely, given what's going on in Kosovo?
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, we won't do any more interviews. That's fine. No, I mean, the President is the President. He's the Commander in Chief. He's also the leader of this government. We do not have the luxury of concentrating on one subject. We have excellent news on the domestic front, on the economy today, and I think the President -- it's very important to recognize that, but to also talk about the challenge domestically in front of us as we deal with the issue of how we're going to use the surplus.
As you know, the President has strong feelings on that, has laid out an aggressive agenda. The Republican Party has some other ideas. And we're engaged in that debate and we'll see how it comes out.
As far as other issues, I think it was important for the President to speak to the American people in a variety of different ways. I think you've seen that, and that includes doing interviews. It's my hope that we can continue to do that. And from time to time, I'm sure there are other subjects that are on your mind that will come up.
Q On a related matter, was it a concern to senior staff about the appearance of the President going to play golf on Monday, and did the President ignore recommendations from senior staff that --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me limit it to myself, and I'll tell you what I told the President, which is I had no doubt that there would be people from the sidelines who would snipe about that. I also had no doubt, personally, having watched for the last two or three weeks how dedicated he is to doing the job he was elected to do, and how that is a 24-hour-a-day job. And I think people here who have worked here for a while understand how valuable it is to allow him some time to himself, to get out and get away for a few hours. And so I think the answer is, I was under no illusions that there wouldn't be those who would somehow think that that would somehow -- there wouldn't be cheap shots from the peanut gallery. I was not disappointed, but I think it was the right thing to do.
Q And he solicited advice?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q He asked you how it would play and --
MR. LOCKHART: He asked me if I had a concern. He asked me if I had a concern, and I told him roughly what I just told you.
Q Joe, on the captured soldiers, do you have any sense of what impact that has had on public opinion, whether it has made them more reluctant to back U.S. involvement, or are they saying that -- are people going to now be saying that we should get more involved, perhaps even send ground troops --
MR. LOCKHART: I have no idea as far as the public opinion question goes. I think what I'd remind you of is that the President did say that this operation brought risk with it and he did say that we need to be determined to see it through.
Q Joe, on that subject, is the President satisfied with the explanation he's received from the military on what these guys were doing, their operation, why they went off by themselves, why they were so lightly armed, and did he ask them to do anything, to relay back any new orders to keep them away from this area?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President has gotten the answers that you have and believes that the Pentagon and the military leaders are right to look into this, to try to get answers to all these questions. And I don't think he or others want to prejudge the result of them looking into it.
Q He did put those troops under NATO command, as I understand it from the letter he sent to Congress on the 29th.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q So it was a NATO commander who would have ordered them back to go back near the border.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's -- I'm not familiar with the operational details on the ground. That's something that I think the Pentagon can more adequately speak to. But again, there are issues here that need to be looked at, and they are being looked at.
Q Now, why did the President leave those troops in there? We know the history, about the Chinese veto and all that sort of thing. Why were they left there to begin with? What was the thinking?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that they were left there in a peaceful and peacekeeping fashion, as a peacekeeping force.
Q Well, they weren't part of the peacekeeping force, though.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me go and get from the Pentagon the actual details of the operation, because I don't know.
Q Has the President in the last 24 hours spoken with any world leaders on the Kosovo situation? That's my first. My second, has he talked with the families of the three servicemen that are captured?
MR. LOCKHART: He spoke to Chancellor Schroeder and Prime Minister Blair in the afternoon yesterday. As far as the families, I'm going to have to go and check on that for you. I don't know definitively.
Q What's he doing for the rest of the day? And the week?
MR. LOCKHART: The rest of the day he's got a meeting with his foreign policy and national security team that starts -- about now?
MR. LEAVY: Actually, it's running a little bit late.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, it will start sometime soon. Then he's got some additional meetings for the rest of the afternoon.
Q Joe, over the period of the last week, particularly since the broadcast of the NBC program, "Mutiny," calls have increased for a presidential pardon of those sailors involved in that incident. Will the President pardon those sailors involved in the Port Chicago tragedy?
MR. LOCKHART: It's my understanding -- and it's somewhat limited on this case -- that there is a process ongoing at the Justice Department, and I'd refer your calls to the Justice Department. I can tell you that, if a petition comes here, the President will give it every consideration.
Q Joe, the President said there's a good chance, he believes there's a good chance the plan will work. Is there planning for what happens if it doesn't work, or will you cross that bridge when you come to it?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think what we need to do now is focus on doing everything we can to make sure that it does work.
Q Is the radio address live tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I believe it will be recorded late this afternoon.
Q Do you know what he's doing?
MR. LOCKHART: I believe it's the situation in Kosovo.
Q Has there been further progress in the WTO negotiations with China, and what are your expectations for the possibility of an agreement next week, when Zhu is here?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I can tell you that our negotiating strategy is not based on the calendar, it's based on getting a good deal for American business, and based on our national interest. My understanding of the situation is, they've made some progress, but some significant gaps remain. We are going to continue negotiating. We believe it is in our national interest, as have administrations going back over the last 13 years, to get a good deal, but we're going to insist that it is a good deal.
Q Thank you.
MR. LOCKHART: Want the week ahead? We've got a lot of good stuff here. Okay. Yes. The President's -- let me do the week ahead. The President's radio address will be broadcast Saturday morning. He and the First Lady will depart for Camp David Saturday -- we'll get you the time once we know it -- and spend the remainder of Easter weekend at the Camp.
Q Is Chelsea in town?
MR. LOCKHART: She was here yesterday, so -- she came back with the First Lady last night, and I don't know what her travel plans are back to school.
On Monday, the President and the First Lady will host the annual Easter Egg Roll, 10:00 a.m., expanded pool press. No public schedule at this point for Tuesday. Wednesday, the President will hold an economic event. Thursday will be, Premier Zhu of the People's Republic of China will arrive for an official visit. The visit will include a bilateral meeting, a press conference, and an official dinner.
Friday, the President will travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to participate in a health care event. He will depart Philadelphia in the late morning and will arrive back at the White House early Friday evening.
MR. LOCKHART: Philadelphia. Pennsylvania.
Q Thank you.
MR. LOCKHART: Thank you.
END 2:13 P.M. EST