THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
1:55 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Helen, you have the first question today.
Q What does the President think of Prosecutor Starr's disenchantment with the Independent Counsel law and, while I'm at it, has he made a decision on the contempt ruling yet?
MR. LOCKHART: No, on the second question, as far as I know --
Q What was the second question?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, the second question, has there been a decision on the contempt ruling. So, no, I haven't been informed of any decision on that.
On the first question, I think as the President has said, the Department of Justice, the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General have laid out the administration's opposition to renewing the Independent Counsel statute, so I think there is some agreement between the President and the Independent Counsel now on the future of whether this statute should be reauthorized.
Again, I think the President in allowing the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General to go forward and give our position, rightfully stated, that anything that he said in injecting himself personally into this might detract from the real arguments here, given what we've been through here over the last years. But I'll repeat what I said this morning. Having seen some of the testimony, it is still somewhat difficult to see how you reconcile the investigation that took place with the constitutional views that he expressed today, but we are hardly objective commentators on this, and we'll leave it to more objective commentators and historians to draw their own conclusions.
Q The President did support its reenactment and so forth. What happened?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the Department of Justice has accurately reflected the administration's view. They've issued and in a number of hearings have talked about some of the issues of the excessive costs of some of these investigations, particularly starting from scratch, the jurisdictional problems that have arose in several of these investigations, some of the accountability issues that have been raised, and also the issue of whether this furthers public confidence in the judicial system or undermines public confidence. I think they took the view that at a minimum, it does nothing to further, and in a worse case, it tends to undermine.
Q Joe, the Germans say they have broad international support for their notion of a 24-hour bombing pause in Serbian Kosovo. Does the United States and the President in particular also support that?
MR. LOCKHART: I would reject the idea that there is some sort of proposal out there for a bombing pause, independent of anything else happening. Let's look at what this is. The foreign ministers of NATO issued now probably 10 days ago some principles and a statement about how we can bring this conflict to an end, what Milosevic needs to do. And those have been very clear and we've talked about them -- about getting his troops out of Kosovo, allowing them to return, allowing in an international security force to provide security for those who are returning and for those who are there, and moving toward a multiethnic, democratic Kosovo that has the autonomy that was stripped away in 1989. Those principles remain our principles.
What the Germans have done under the auspices of the EU is attempt to move from a statement of principles to a more detailed plan, looking at some of the details and modalities of how this will happen, how it will be sequenced. And the most important question of sequencing is what Milosevic needs to do before any things are considered, and they are to meet the conditions of NATO. They have to meet these conditions.
Once they have met the conditions, and importantly once there's some demonstration that they're meeting the conditions, there will be a more detailed discussion of how there will be a cessation of bombing. The work that the Germans are doing is very constructive. We need to work toward a further statement of how this will work. But the important thing to note here is there will be no cessation of this air campaign until the demands are met.
Q Milosevic essentially needs to capitulate before any of these other things can be put into motion?
MR. LOCKHART: You can put any word on it you want, but for this to move forward in motion, he has to meet the demands that NATO has laid forward. And if that's capitulation, then he needs to capitulate.
Q But do you think, Joe, that the German proposal might confuse the authorities in Belgrade that there may be some cracks in the NATO Alliance since the German proposal does talk about a pause or a cessation of the bombing?
MR. LOCKHART: Wolf, the only thing that would lead to confusion is if it's reported inaccurately, and I trust that won't happen.
Q But, Joe, you're not saying we sign on to the German proposal, you're falling short of that. It's unclear where you stand.
MR. LOCKHART: No, it's not unclear where we stand. I just did a long explanation. You may say because of one particular part in a plan that is moving and becoming more detailed and is being discussed within NATO within EU is something that I'm falling short. I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying this is very constructive work, moving from the statement of principles that were set forward by the NATO foreign ministers to a more detailed plan that goes into the modalities of how this will all work. We think this is very constructive work. It reflects the principles of the NATO foreign ministers statement.
Of course we're going to have to deal with questions of how, Milosevic having met the conditions that NATO -- how we cease the hostilities. Those are issues, it's important work to do and we'll continue to do it.
Q Is there any reason to believe Milosevic is beginning to get ready to accept the NATO conditions?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no specific reason to believe that he has changed his view, except since the last time someone asked me that he's had another day of NATO air strikes.
Q You're saying there's no difference between the U.S. position and the German proposal as it now stands?
MR. LOCKHART: The German proposal is something that's being talked about, and it reflects fundamentally what the foreign ministers laid out two weekends ago as far as what NATO has to do. As far as working in the details of that, there is going to be a lot of discussion between now and when we get to that point.
Q But at the level it now is, do you have any differences with it, or not?
MR. LOCKHART: At the level it is now it is not a full-fledged plan, it is a moving, in the process from principles to a plan. But it fundamentally reflects the NATO view that nothing is going to happen here until Milosevic meets NATO's demands.
Q Is there anything in the plan that's outlined so far by Schroeder -- is there anything in there that you do object to, that you want to see changed?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to go through an evolving plan line by line, which hasn't even been put down yet, and tell you that this is what we agree with, this is what we don't agree with. What I'm tell you is is what he's talking about, and what he's talked about in the context of the EU today fundamentally reflects what NATO foreign ministers laid down -- what the President believes needs to happen before the NATO air campaign is halted.
Q The idea of a pause in the bombing is something that you say is not --
MR. LOCKHART: I think you have to look at this in a larger context of -- we're talking about several things happening before there would be any contemplation of ceasing the campaign. One is the most significant thing we've been talking about, which is Milosevic accepting NATO's demands, and secondly, there being some clear demonstration that he was following through with that.
And that is all reflected in the discussions that the Germans have been holding today, within the context of the EU. I think that's reflected, in the context of the NATO foreign ministers, in their discussions. So we're having -- there is a discussion here of how -- once he meets the demands and demonstrates that he's meeting those demands, there will have to be some discussion of how we find some way to halt the military campaign. But that is well down the road. There are several important steps that come between now and then.
Q Joe, just to clarify, what you seem to be taking pains to stress is that this plan of the Germans is something that can possibility be implemented after the conditions have been met. But in the plan -- in the German plan it says that there would be a cessation -- a 24-hour cessation of bombing once Milosevic began to withdraw troops.
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
Q Is that the difference? It's not a question of -- you're calling for complete withdrawal before --
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think we're working through going from the principles to an actual -- how we move to an actual plan for how this would work. But it's important to look at the sequencing here. He has to agree to NATO demands.
Q Which includes total withdrawal?
MR. LOCKHART: Right. And then he has to demonstrate that he's doing that. I think if you look at the reality of the situation here you're not necessarily looking at attacking people who are withdrawing. But these are issues that are well down the road. What is important to note here is that these discussions are fully along the same lines as the principles that NATO supports and the United States government supports.
Q You don't object to a bombing pause as long as there are still some troops in Kosovo, as long as they're on the way out?
MR. LOCKHART: If we get agreement on the NATO demands, and there is demonstration that there is, we're going to have to find a mechanism for ceasing the NATO air strikes. And that's what all of this is working toward. The most important part of this, though, is the very first part, which has not been accepted, which is meeting NATO's demands.
Q Joe, are we likely to hear some more specificity from the President tomorrow in San Francisco as to how he feels, either about the German plan or his own ideas as to how these mechanics that you talk about would happen?
MR. LOCKHART: I doubt it. I expect the President to talk more about what -- the stakes that we have in this air campaign in Kosovo and Yugoslavia, overall the stakes that the United States has in the Balkans.
Q Do you expect the President to be talking about Kosovo in his remarks that are upcoming?
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't expect him to, no.
Q Can I just ask another question on the refugees who are -- the ethnic Albanian refugees still in Kosovo. What, if anything, can the U.S. government do to help these refugees who are still trapped in Kosovo?
MR. LOCKHART: I think first of all, we should remember why they're trapped there and who has trapped them there. These refugees have become virtual hostages of the Milosevic regime. And from all reports, they're being denied the basic necessities of human life. And it says an enormous amount about what he's willing to do based on what reports we have of what he's doing to them.
As I reported to you yesterday and I think as the President talked to, NATO is looking at a variety of different ways to see if we can't get help to them. We have not come up with a workable solution to this problem. I think as the State Department said today, there are some NGOs, particularly working with the Greeks, and that's something that NATO will continue to pursue. But we have to remember that in addition to all of the people displaced who we do see now on a regular basis as we tune into TV in the evening and the horrors of being displaced from their homes, there is another group of people who are being kept there.
Q Joe, NATO is acknowledging that it struck a convoy of Kosovo. The Serbs say 70 Albanian refugees were killed in that attack. Do you have any more information? Can you shed some light? Do you have reason to believe these people are being used as human shields?
MR. LOCKHART: First of all, I have no information that leads me to believe they struck a convoy with refugees. I will remind you -- and maybe this should be a daily reminder or note of caution -- that the people who tell you these things look at you with a straight face and say they haven't forcibly removed anyone from Kosovo, that they haven't killed anyone, that they haven't burned any villages, that somehow NATO has done all that.
And when you turn on your TV every night and watch Serb TV, two or three planes a night are shot down. And if you are an editor of a newspaper that questions their authority, you're not alive anymore.
Q Well, NATO acknowledged they hit the convoy, but only the Serbs so far have said that they're refugees.
MR. LOCKHART: The Serbs have indicated that this was a civilian convoy, and I have no information that leads me to believe that this was -- at this point, that this was a civilian convoy. And I would again caution you to accepting without the ability to check this, without the ability to go in and actually see what's going on --
Q Do we have any contact with Belgrade at all?
MR. LOCKHART: No, we have no direct contact with Belgrade.
Q Do you know -- was it a military convoy?
MR. LOCKHART: I will leave it to the Pentagon to talk about their targets. But I have seen this report and I have checked and I have no information that backs up what the Serbs have reported at this point.
Q Joe, going back to -- displaced people, I think at the NATO briefing today they said there may be as many as 750,000 inside of Kosovo who have been driven from their homes. That's a humanitarian crisis of a tremendous proportion and the war was started to prevent a humanitarian crisis. Do you feel any pressure because of this pending crisis to change your strategy away from an air campaign to perhaps using troops to bring in relief?
MR. LOCKHART: I would question the foundation of the question that somehow leaves with NATO the responsibility for what's going on. NATO did not ethnically cleanse a million people out of the country. NATO did not close the border and force them back in, for whatever reason only Milosevic can explain. And I think if we allowed this to go on with impunity these and more unspeakable horrors would occur.
Q Well, how is that an answer? I mean, NATO is not responsible for the refugees that went across the border either, and we're doing everything we can to help them.
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
Q Why doesn't it argue greater for ground troops if there are nearly a million Kosovars who are refugees within the country?
MR. LOCKHART: All I am saying is we are looking at what we can do to help these people. But I will remind you once again who is holding them hostage, and it's President Milosevic.
Q I never made the premise that this was NATO's fault, but this is a reality that does exist. My question was simply how do we deal with this reality.
MR. LOCKHART: I think I've answered the question.
Q Joe, talking about the return of refugees, many Afghans are complaining that it's been 20 years, after 20 years they are still refugees in the U.S. and in Pakistan. When are they going to return home?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of the statements that have been coming out of Afghanistan so I really can't address the question.
Q Anything on the reservists?
MR. LOCKHART: I think as I told you yesterday, we have an expectation that there may be a request forthcoming for some reservists from the Pentagon. I don't have any information that that will be today. It's an issue that they're still working on. But I think the President has made clear he is determined to make sure that the Pentagon and that the NATO operation has the resources they need to conduct this campaign.
Q Has Bob Bennett called you, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: Not today. Has he called you?
Q No, not yet. So you still have no information about whether or not the President will appeal?
MR. LOCKHART: I will leave it where I answered Helen's first question.
Q Back on the contempt order, how do you answer those who say that this vindicates the House Judiciary Committee and Ken Starr?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't. Next question.
Q Why not?
MR. LOCKHART: Because I don't.
Q You have no quarrel with that?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I just said I'm not answering them. We've been through this before and I'm not interested in revisiting that old ground.
Q Could you just talk about the trip tomorrow, a little bit why he chose this particular place to make the speech?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, obviously, this is an important issue and it's important that the President continues to make the case, both on a day by day basis about what's going on in the military campaign, but also more broadly about what our interests are, what the history is, what the American interest looking forward in the Balkans is. And I think the chance to speak to newspaper editors who, on a daily basis, speak to their readers back home, offered us a unique opportunity to go and make the case.
Q Was this scheduled before Kosovo, or not?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think it was probably about a week and a half ago. There was a longstanding request for the President or an administration official. We considered a variety of options, and probably about a week to 10 days ago we decided the President was the best choice.
Q What else is he doing? Is that it?
MR. LOCKHART: That's it as far as his public schedule; then go on and we'll get to Detroit very late.
Q Joe, why does the President think it's all right to start doing fundraising again on this trip?
MR. LOCKHART: That's Detroit and Boston. I think the business of this country is ongoing, whether it's talking about USA accounts, whether it's talking about Social Security, whether it's talking about Medicare, whether it's participating in our democracy, in the political process. The President is very much committed to doing what he can to keep the public informed on what's going on in Kosovo, to keep our alliance strong and together. He's spent an enormous amount of time on this, but domestic business goes on.
Q Domestic business is fundraising?
MR. LOCKHART: Domestic business goes on. Part of -- one of the things that any President does, whether it's a Democrat or a Republican, whether it's the '90s or the '80s, is, as a leader of the party, participates in party politics.
Q Joe, your estimate on the supplemental is still $3 billion or $4 billion? That still sounds --
MR. LOCKHART: There was an estimate yesterday that I said I thought was fairly realistic. The numbers are still being worked. They're not final, so I'll leave it to when we get -- we continue our consultation and we get a final number.
Q Anything new on when that will be?
MR. LOCKHART: Sometime this week I expect.
Q Why did the President cancel fundraising in the first week of the bombing, but now thinks it's all right to do it?
MR. LOCKHART: I think in the first week when this began, the President thought it was best to stay here in Washington to coordinate our efforts both at home and abroad with our alliance. I think the President is comfortable that he can do those things also while he travels. And again, the domestic business of this country goes on.
Q Do you think the supplemental could go as high as $7 billion or $8 billion?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not estimating where it will go.
Q I mean, you seem to be changing a little bit -- no?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I said I thought that number this morning was in the ballpark and I think it probably remains in the ballpark.
Q But, Joe, is it going to pay for operations up to this date, or for future operations as well?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect it to take into account operations we expect to do in the fiscal year, but I don't want to get into any more details on this because this is being worked out between OMB and the appropriate legislators.
Q Including humanitarian operations?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Joe, do you have any comments on the missile -- by India and Pakistan? Also, according to the reports, China is reconsidering redeployment of their missiles against India.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think as I expressed this morning, we're disappointed with both India and Pakistan. Although these may not violate any existing arms control treaty, they certainly do nothing to enhance the environment in which cooperation between the countries is enhanced. And that's the point that we've made publicly all along. So we are disappointed that both countries sought to do something that runs against the spirit of the -- summit which was only two months ago.
Q Any U.S. talks --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're going to continue working diligently to try to enhance the security environment, to work against any escalations in a nuclear or missile arms race, and that is one of the reasons why we have expressed some disappointment and concern over this.
Q Joe, if I could ask one more on the supplemental. If this is going to be for the spending for the whole year on this, would the presumption be that there would be no ground troops in this price tag that Congress is going to --
MR. LOCKHART: My presumption is that the supplemental will accurately and truthfully represent the administration's policy.
Q And does the President still have no plans to deploy ground troops?
MR. LOCKHART: He still has none. If he did I would have led with that.
Q The President is talking today about USA accounts. He mentioned this in the State of the Union address. It hasn't really seemed to catch a lot of interest with members of Congress at this point. Is he pushing -- putting a real hard push on this or is he going to consider other options members have filed like increasing the amount of IRA contributions that can be tax deductible?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me answer this two ways. One is I think the President's approach to Social Security and Medicare has very much captured the attention of Congress. If you look at where Congress was 18 months ago, as to where they are now, they've very much accepted the idea that the surplus should be used for Social Security. We still have a fundamental disagreement on Medicare.
The USA accounts has been something that Treasury has been working through the details. I think today's event and the details coming out will generate a good bit of excitement about the program and I think that will be noticed on the Hill.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:19 P.M. EDT