View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 26, 1999
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                              JOE LOCKHART

The Briefing Room

12:45 P.M. EDT

MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon. I'm going to start with a not too brief statement, so indulge me a little bit. It's a statement by the Press Secretary on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. As we approach May 4, 1999, the date for the end of the five-year transitional period and for the conclusion of permanent status negotiations, the United States is taking several steps to promote the pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

First, the United States calls upon both parties to continue to adhere to the terms of reference of the peace process as defined in Madrid and Oslo. The objective of the negotiating process is the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, including land for peace and all other agreements under the Oslo process.

Second, the United States calls on the parties to continue to carry out all their interim period responsibilities, including full implementation without any further delay of the interim agreement and the Wye River memorandum, and continued cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government.

Third, the United States believes that the Oslo process was never intended to be open-ended; accordingly, the United States calls on both parties to engage in accelerated permanent status talks, status negotiations and to rededicate themselves to the goal of reaching an agreement within a year.

Toward that end, and in an effort to facilitate that process, the United States is ready to help launch those negotiations after the Israeli elections, and once the Israeli government has been formed, and to review and monitor their progress. The United States is also prepared, with the consent of the parties, to bring them together within six months to review the status of their efforts and to facilitate reaching an agreement.

Finally, if Israelis and Palestinians are to reach an agreement, it is essential that they do their part to create a serious, fair and credible environment for negotiations. In this regard, it is critical to the interest both sides share in enhancing the security of their people, and that the Palestinians continue their efforts to fight terror and the Israelis and Palestinians maintain their security cooperation.

Furthermore, Palestinians and Israelis must avoid unilateral acts and declarations that prejudge or predetermine issues reserved for permanent status negotiations. Indeed, negotiations and a credible peace process offer the only way to reach an enduring agreement on permanent status issues. Acting in a spirit of partnership and moving away from a zero-sum mentality, Israelis and Palestinians can work together to achieve a just and lasting peace.

Q Is the one year framework that you're talking about, Joe, is that a deadline?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think it expresses the view, and the belief, that this should not be open-ended, and this can be done and should be done within the framework of some time over the next year.

Q Well, the May 4th was a deadline, which has not been met. How can you have pressure to reach it within one year if you don't say that, then, is another deadline?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we certainly are opening up -- rather than trying to do it in an open-ended way, we believe it can be done within the next year. I'm not willing or able here to put a particular date on that, but we think the framework --

Q So that's your hope.

MR. LOCKHART: -- we expect and hope that within the year, these issues can be resolved.

Q Do you expect that Palestinian Authority President Arafat, now, and the PNC, will not declare an independent Palestinian state?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I will leave it for Mr. Arafat and the people there to express their own views. We have reiterated here our view that we don't believe that unilateral declarations should be made.

Q What kind of communications have you had with the Israelis and Palestinians regarding this statement?

MR. LOCKHART: We have discussed this with both of the parties. I also expect that the President will communicate, via letter, with Chairman Arafat.

Q What level of U.S. help are you anticipating in this announcement after the Israeli elections? You said the U.S. stands ready to help --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we stand ready to help at the highest level, including -- if it's appropriate and useful -- for the President to be involved in bringing the parties together.

Q You talked to both parties and you're sending a letter to Arafat?


Q Why not a letter to the Israelis?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that much of the discussion has been about what Arafat and the Palestinians would do post-May 4th. And the President will use the letter to reiterate the important work that Chairman Arafat and the Palestinians have done to get us to this point, but reiterate our view about how the United States government views unilateral declarations.

Q Whose fault is it that we've not reached this deadline?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think I want to be in the position of putting, laying blame anyplace. It's important that the important work that's been done over the last five years remains in place and that the parties work hard in the future to resolve the issues to get them to the final status negotiations.

Q Your fear, at this point, I gather, is that the Palestinians may decide the peace process is dead and go ahead and declare a Palestinian state.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I can tell you we are making the statement at this point because both parties have expressed concern about the possibility of a political vacuum post-May 4th. And we thought it was useful to make this statement now, to reiterate our view of the importance of changes being made with both parties dealing in negotiations, rather through unilateral statements or declarations.

Q Joe, when you say, unilateral statements or unilateral acts, you're referring only to the Palestinian statehood issue, or are there any other issues like this that may come up?

MR. LOCKHART: There are certainly other issues that remain unresolved; there are other issues, we believe, as we have stated many times, that this must be done through negotiation between the parties, rather than unilaterally.

Q What are some of the others, besides the unilateral declaration of statehood?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that perhaps is the one that has been discussed and commented on from May 4th. There are certainly other issues that we believe should be done through negotiations. There are a series of final status issues. There's a series of Wye implementation issues. But I think this is the issue that has received the most attention.

Q Settlements included, Joe?

MR. LOCKHART: Settlements -- our statement remains the same, our position remains the same on our view on unilateral settlement.

Q Joe, there's now word that Reverend Jackson is not going to go to Yugoslavia because he --

Q -- the Middle East?

Q Joe, will the President elaborate on this tonight and how would you counter criticism by some in Israel who are going to claim this is interference in their elections?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I expect that given the forum that he's speaking in tonight he will touch on the Middle East and the Middle East peace process; but I would reject the view that somehow this is designed to meddle in the elections. It is designed to remain engaged in the process, in the peace process.

Q Joe, this is an effort to breathe some new life into a peace process that appears to be dead in the water?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I wouldn't accept that characterization at all. I think it's -- certainly the elections that are ongoing in Israel have brought some of the discussion to a halt. But I think it's important, as we look to May 4th, that we make the point that we should not lose the progress that has been made over the last five years, and that we develop a framework for moving forward, for a period for when the elections are over.

Q Joe, will you be releasing that letter, publicly, that you're sending to Arafat?


Q Is there anything -- there seems to be nothing in the statement you read that gives any sort of strength to Arafat about the outcome of this. I mean, they're looking for a very clear statement of U.S. interest in helping them move closer to their historic goal of sovereignty, which clearly you're not going to do. But there seems to be nothing, sort of, rhetorically in their direction.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have spoken at length -- both the President, the Secretary of State, Mr. Ross -- about the importance of moving forward through these, in the context of Oslo and the Wye Agreements. The President will speak directly to Chairman Arafat in this letter. But it'll be a private communication.

Q Joe, can I follow up? Is there a U.S. position on what the United States will do if the PLO does unilaterally declare statehood?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to speculate on a hypothetical. I can only restate what our position is, that these sorts of declarations should not be taken on a unilateral basis.

Q When you were discussing the position with the Israelis and the Palestinians, did you get any kind of response from them? And did anything the Palestinians say make it more necessary that you write this letter to Arafat?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. I mean, I think that we have had continuous discussions with both sides, but in the end this is an American statement of what our views are.

Q Joe, I wonder if you'd care to comment on -- the New York Times Sunday Magazine had an article yesterday about three Democratic political consultants close to the President working for Ehud Barak's campaign, the opponent to Mr. Netanyahu -- James Carville, Bob Schrum, Stan Greenberg.

There are some who suggest that they are so close to the President that there may be some interference in the politics of Israel by their being involved. Do they have any role, as far as you know, that the White House has encouraged them to get involved in the election?

MR. LOCKHART: I will tell you that those who make those suggestions are wrong.

Q So they're just trying to make money. In other words, they're just consultants making the cash, but there's no connection with the White House.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I mean -- pursuing your craft, and being compensated fairly for it is something that everyone in this room understands -- (laughter) -- Sam.

Q Going back to Reverend Jackson --

MR. LOCKHART: Hold on a second. I must --

Q I have a retort, but I'm not going to state it. (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: I think you deserve a raise, though, so let's listen. (Laughter.)

Q Reverend Jackson is saying that he is not going to embark on this Yugoslavian trip unless he gets an agreement with NATO and Yugoslavia to guarantee his safety. As a private citizen, with a delegation of Muslim ministers and Serb ministers, can the White House guarantee his safety, and prod NATO to guarantee his safety?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we are not in a position, nor will we be in a position any time in the foreseeable future, to guarantee the safety of a private citizen. We have made very clear to Milosevic what he needs to do to bring this conflict to an end. He knows what those steps are and we have pledged, and I think the message of this weekend was we plan to keep the air campaign going and we plan to intensify the air campaign.

And that is the firm belief of all of the NATO allies, that we need to continue to strike at his instruments of repression and intensify those, rather than to let up and debouch.

Q So is it the White House view that Jesse Jackson really didn't have anything to add to help in this situation, at all? Because that's one of the reasons why you will not help guarantee his safety?

MR. LOCKHART: I think it's our view that the diplomatic -- what's necessary to bring this to an end is very clear to Milosevic. What he needs to do is start demonstrating that he's willing to meet NATO's conditions.

Q Joe, does the President endorse the use of force to enforce the oil blockade? And, if not, how can the blockade be credible?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the communique from the political leaders and the defense ministers talked about maritime activities. We are now looking for General Clark to come up with an operational plan which will be done on an expedited basis. I'm not going to prejudge the tactics and technique that he'll use, but we expect it to be something that is credible and it is something that will cut off oil supplies.

Q Well, the NATO spokesman this morning was saying that force would not be used, that that was off the table, that they would ask suspect ships if they would allow themselves to be boarded. But if they would not allow themselves to be boarded, there would be no force used.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I am not going to prejudge the operational plan that General Clark is going to come up with. That is something that's in the works now and that is speculating down the road to what the plan is.

Q Sandy made clear yesterday, didn't he, that force was one of the options. So it sounds like you are, it has been prejudged.

MR. LOCKHART: I stand by the statement I made 30 seconds ago. But to get into the details or what will be used and what won't be used, I'm not going to do because that plan is being developed.

Q You're saying that force could be used, Sandy articulated that yesterday, right?

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I just said something, now a minute ago, that indicates that I'm in agreement with the National Security Advisor.

Q Well, clarify that. Are you saying the NATO spokesperson was speculating?

MR. LOCKHART: I didn't see what the NATO spokesman said. I'm telling you, you are looking down the road at some details that I'm not able to look down the road to.

Q How do you interpret the decision by the Yugoslav government to allow the Red Cross to visit the three captive U.S. soldiers?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I interpret that 25-days late they've had a chance to review the Geneva Convention and have found a way to -- in however bare and minimum form -- start the process of doing what the Geneva Convention demands, which is regular visits, which are private visits, which this wasn't private; medical attention, which this did not provide. But the head of the ICRC did get 15 minutes today. He says that the three servicemen appear to be in good condition, which is obviously good news. He was able to deliver messages, as I understand it, from their families, which is also good news for the three servicemen.

It is our expectation that they will be seen by doctors in the coming days, and that there will be more full compliance with the Geneva Convention. But again, this is 25 days later in the process.

In contrast, the Yugoslav soldier was seen by the ICRC -- has been seen by the ICRC three times since he was taken. I think, to repeat, these servicemen, there was no basis for taking them, there's no basis for holding them, and Milosevic will be held personally responsible for their well-being.

Q Joe, Reverend Jackson wants to go to Belgrade to secure the release of the three servicemen. Does the administration have a position on that type of freelance diplomacy?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think there are certainly those who are moving forward outside the context of the United States government and NATO. We believe that, diplomatically, we've made very clear, and the Alliance has made very clear, what Milosevic needs to do. And the emphasis should be on continuing the air campaign and intensifying the air campaign until he demonstrates -- through both words and deeds -- that he's willing to meet the conditions of NATO.

Q Joe, has the White House heard back from Strobe Talbott? And what exactly does the White House want Strobe Talbott to be doing in Moscow?

MR. LOCKHART: I haven't gotten a report back from Mr. Talbott yet. But I think he went to try to get a better understanding of the Chernomyrdin meetings from last week. We are short on some of the details of that session. He was planning to go, and I think it made it all the more important, given the President's conversations with President Yeltsin yesterday, that he get there and get as much of a briefing as he could.

Q Why couldn't that have been done with the Ambassador in Moscow? Why was it necessary to send Mr. Talbott?

MR. LOCKHART: Because I think the President, as he articulated to President Yeltsin, wants to remain engaged at the highest level here. And Mr. Talbott, as Deputy Secretary with a particular emphasis on his relationships in Russia, is well placed to go and have these conversations with Mr. Chernomyrdin.

Q Joe, back on enforcing the oil embargo. Where did the phrase "visit and search" come from?

MR. LOCKHART: Where did it come from?

Q Yes.

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I just started hearing it about a week ago. I don't know the origins of it.

Q I mean, aside from being a cute little phrase that sounds nonconfrontational, is this something that exists in diplomatic --

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think this is imbedded jargon for those who do something different than me.

Q But it sounds like it's such a nice version of "stop and search."

MR. LOCKHART: Well, it does have a certain hospitable ring to it. But those who deal in this, I think, you know, it has a particular meaning.

Q What is that meaning? I mean, it sounds like we're coming over to Sunday brunch. (Laughter.) What is the meaning that we should take from "visit and search"?

MR. LOCKHART: The meaning you should take from either that phrase or any other phrase is that General Clark is in the process of, in an expeditious way, coming up with an operational plan for how we can cut off petroleum, oil and lubricant imports so that the important work of the allied forces is not undone.

Q Not to ask a hypothetical question, because I know your aversion to that -- (laughter) -- what is it that NATO leaders told him, what parameters did they give him? Did they tell him that he could choose something that included the use of force, or did they tell him to exclude the use of force?

MR. LOCKHART: I think you saw in the communique what they've asked him to do and what the defense ministers have asked him to do. They've asked him to operationalize what the leaders want, which is to find a way to cut off any oil or petroleum coming in from the outside.

Q Just one more, I'm sorry. In the conversation with Mr. Yeltsin, should the two men talk about this? And what is the administration's view of some statements from Russian officials that they will continue to ship oil to Yugoslavia?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, they did not -- President Yeltsin did not raise the issue. We expect that -- or we believe to continue to expect Russia will stand by the statements that they don't want to get drawn into this conflict. And that stands.

Q And delivering oil to Yugoslavia would draw them into the conflict?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, you know, there is an embargo there now and it's our expectation that that will be honored.

Q Yeah, but an embargo is just an agreement not to send oil somewhere --

Q Please, proceed.

Q -- sorry -- the Russians aren't part of that. Sorry, Sam.

Q No, whatever time you require. (Laughter.)

Q This is an agreement not to send oil, the Russians aren't not a part of that.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, before we get down the road on this hypothetical, the operational plan is in the works, and we'll have more to say once it's been agreed upon.

Q NATO has apparently begun bombing the television facilities in Belgrade, to knock it off the air, but they keep coming back on the air. Has NATO made the point, or will it continue to make certain that every time they come back on the air, they're bombed off the air?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not going to get into any specific target, only to say that NATO will continue to hit at the various political and economic instruments of his terror, which includes some of his communication facilities.

Q But they keep coming back on the air. I mean, they can't rebuild the bridges immediately, obviously --


Q -- or their oil refineries, but they seem to have this facility to be able to get back on the air. Is it a losing game?

MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't necessarily draw any firm conclusions about who's going to win this game.

Q Joe, you mentioned one Yugoslav prisoner. Aren't there actually more? And is there anything in the works about a prisoner swap right now?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know anything about a prisoner swap. I also only know of one prisoner that NATO is currently holding.

Q Joe, Vuk Draskovic's comments yesterday? First, what does the White House make of these comments? And do they accept them as a clarification of Milosevic's position, or is Draskovic just considered kind of freelancing, out there?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I think, one, you risk trying to read too much into any one statement. I do think it's interesting that if I had stood here last year and said -- last week and said, you know, at the end of the NATO summit there would be division, you would have expected division within the NATO Alliance, not within the Yugoslav government.

I think it's a testament to how firm the Alliance has stood together in trying to intensify this conflict. And, perhaps, some breaking within the Yugoslav political structure and some recognition of those who know the reality, who know the truth, who don't believe the propaganda and the lies that have come from the Serb government on what the final resolution of this needs to be.

Q Joe, can I just ask a question? It has to do with oil, but not with Yugoslavia.

MR. LOCKHART: Venezuela.

Q Venezuela, right. They're our number one oil supplier, they had a very important referendum yesterday. What is the opinion of the United States, and the White House, on the results yesterday?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the important point for the United States government is that the process of reform there moves forward in a democratic fashion. Yesterday's vote to elect the Constituent Assembly to look at constitutional reform was done democratically. We don't prejudge any particular idea that may be put forward, only to say that we believe it's in the best interests of Venezuela that this be done in a true democratic fashion.

Q Joe, getting back to Vuk Draskovic, are you suggesting that you're now beginning to see cracks, you're beginning to see Milosevic start to blink?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, that's not for me to judge. You've seen various reports coming from both the NATO spokespeople and the Pentagon spokespeople about problems they've had in recruiting and resupplying.

We know that every day this campaign goes forward, the price Milosevic pays gets higher and higher. And he needs to understand that, particularly coming out of this very successful weekend here in Washington, NATO's resolve is stronger than ever and the price that he has been paying is going to be intensified, and it's going to get much higher.

Q Joe, is one of the goals of this campaign to degrade his forces enough so that the KLA would have a better opportunity against the Serb forces?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I mean, we've always said that this can end in one of two ways -- that he changes his calculation, and he believes the price is too high, or the balance of power on the ground changes.

Q So, wait a second. So that's a yes, that we would like the KLA to have a better opportunity to --

MR. LOCKHART: One of the ways this could end is the balance of power on the ground would be changed. I'm not going to go beyond that.

Q Does the President have any plans to say anything, or do any other activities, related to the shooting in Colorado? And also is he or the First Lady planning on going to Colorado?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any travel plans for either the President or the First Lady. I can tell you -- and this is not directly related -- but tomorrow, we will hold an event here at the White House at 12:45 p.m., the President will unveil the administration's most comprehensive package of gun-related proposals to an audience of members of Congress and gun-safety-related organizations.

This is a follow-up of the remarks the President made in his State of the Union about introducing a new Omnibus Crime Bill this year that seeks to build on the important work we've done over the first six years.

Q Will this have new provisions --


Q -- stemming from the shootings?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, this is something that has been in the works for several months, so there are new provisions in here that we haven't discussed with you. There will be some provisions we have, for instance, the Brady Bill extension, which the President has talked about.

The President has also talked about some legislative provisions to increase the penalties for adults who are found responsible for transferring weapons and firearms to minors. So I think some of the things that are in here we've talked a little bit about, but there will be some new items that have been in the works since the State of the Union.

Q But anything specifically inspired by Littleton?

MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't say specifically inspired. This work has been going on for six years. It's been going on intensively this year, from before the State of the Union. I think there's important work that needs to be done here, and which we were going to do this week, regardless of any other event.

But I think given the situation, and the shootings in Littleton, it brings more of a focus on the immediacy of moving with this kind of legislation.

Q But is there anything that would specifically have prevented Littleton, in your view?

MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I don't think anyone can be in a position today, based on where the investigation is and what we know -- and, more importantly -- what we don't know, to answer that question.

Q But is the roll-out date related to Littleton?

MR. LOCKHART: We had planned to do this, this week. This is this week. So, I mean --

Q For how long? For how long had you planned to do it? -

MR. LOCKHART: Several weeks.

Q Joe, will the President also be dealing with the school safety measures that he talked about in his radio address on Saturday, tomorrow?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure of the answer to that question. If not tomorrow, he'll have an opportunity sometime soon to do that.

Q Does the President have any thought on what sort of legal responsibility the parents should bear in instances like this? Certainly the law enforcement officials out in Colorado have been suggesting as much.

MR. LOCKHART: I think he's spoken to that in the past, and without regard to this particular incident -- because we don't know what we need to know, and I don't think it'd be appropriate to inject ourselves in that question -- but the President has spoken to, and will speak to tomorrow, the importance of adults -- and adults includes parents -- and their responsibilities, and their responsibilities to minors, whether they be their children or other people's children, and how in some instances they are criminally responsible.

Q Joe, given this Congress's track record on gun control legislation, what do you think the prospects are for passage of any or all of what he's going to announce here tomorrow?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the prospects are good. I think, unfortunately, oftentimes, it takes tragic events to catalyze work here in Washington. These are an important set of legislative proposals that will go to dealing with the fact that we've got too many weapons, too many guns, that are in circulation and that we need to do something about them.

Q You're saying that you think that Littleton has improved the process --

MR. LOCKHART: I'll leave it to members of Congress to talk about what impacts their ability to move something forward or to block something. I think the country is focused on this problem now and we should move quickly to do the best that we can, knowing that we can't solve all problems here in Washington.

Q Over to the President about the Social Security matter and the Republicans' apparent opposition to the idea that it can be reformed this year.

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, we spoke a little bit about this yesterday and Saturday, too, because there were various remarks. The Republican leadership seems to be divided. Some of the leadership believes that we can get something done, some of the leadership believes that it's not politically advantageous to the Republicans, and this should be left for post-2000.

That, we take strong issue with. We believe that we have an historic opportunity this year. The President has put forward ideas that will extend Social Security to 2059, and the Republicans may be divided, but the country is not. The country believes we need to get Social Security fixed, and we should do it this year.

Q Well, Joe, aren't Democrats also divided on that? I mean, Breaux, Moynihan and Kerrey have put forward plans that the President has yet to embrace. Isn't there also division in the Democratic --

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the Democrats are, by and large -- while there may be some differences in the approach, Democrats have said let's get this done this year. And the President's proposal is basically reserving 62 percent of the surplus for Social Security and extending the life of the Trust Fund has basically framed the debate here.

There are certainly ideas that will come from both Republicans and Democrats on how best this can all be implemented, and we look forward to working with them to see -- and how we can do it beyond 2059. But I think the Democrats and the country believe that it would be wrong for political purposes to put this off somehow. We need to get this done this year.

Q Senator Lott says that the President has not shown leadership. Lott says he agrees with the lockbox proposal for 62 percent of the surplus to be locked up. But that's not reform; reform is how do you then fix the fund by changing the law as to beneficiaries or age or whatever.

MR. LOCKHART: Let me take issue with a couple of things there. I would argue strenuously on the idea that the President hasn't shown leadership. The President has made this part of the political debate here. When I first started looking at Social Security as an issue, it was the third rail of politics that no one wanted to touch.

The President, by doing what he did last year, in saying save Social Security first and what he's done this year has put this front and center, and has got Democrats and Republicans -- some Republicans -- debating this and hoping to get this done this year. On the lockbox, it's another one of those ideas that sounds good and has a sort of gimmickry ring to it, but doesn't necessarily do anything to extend the life of Social Security.

Under the Republican plan, the lockbox doesn't extend Social Security by a day; and it really, through a gimmick of debt-ceiling limits, can in the future actually undermine Social Security and the benefits that people pay. Rather than actually saying let's do the work now, like we've done on deficit reduction -- you remember there was a debate as recently as four or five years ago about whether we should do the work to reduce the debt or whether we should have a balanced budget amendment.

Well, the balanced budget amendment was around for 10 or 15 years, and that didn't do anything to reduce the deficit in this country; getting the work done did. And I think the same applies to Social Security. We can get the work done now, we can work in an honest, straightforward way with Democrats and Republicans, or we can rely on some sort of gimmick that, somehow, sometime in the future may create problems that make today's problems look simple to resolve.

Q Joe, I think the Republican concern is that so far, the President has put forward proposals, but only politically popular ones. And I'm wondering if you could just answer a simple question. Does the President think that for Social Security to be reformed, that there need to be any changes that would limit benefits in any way --

MR. LOCKHART: I think that -- let me try to put that argument to rest, which is if you were looking for a politically popular argument, you'd stand up and say, oh, here's the surplus, let's have an $800-billion tax cut, which is the first proposal we've gotten from Republicans.

The President has, through the last two years, built a consensus for preserving and extending Social Security. He will continue to work with those. He has put forward a framework for extending Social Security to 2059, he will work with Republicans this year on reform questions, but I don't think that you can make with a straight face the argument that the President hasn't shown leadership on this, because he has.

Q But you can't say here now that he would endorse any type of proposal, even that would limit benefits even a little bit. This is their concern, is that they're going to get out there with such a proposal and then get --

MR. LOCKHART: Let me give you just a little -- let's rewind a little bit to this year. The President came forward with a framework for how to do this, and it was subject to lots of sniping from the right, from wherever. But we did that. And, today, we haven't seen much coming from the other side. We're going to continue to work, and the President stands ready to work with Republicans, Democrats alike, to reform, to go beyond 2059. But we have to be joined. And I think it undermines the effort to move forward when leadership talks about the fact that this can't be done, that it's too politically risky, and we should wait until 2000 -- and then just sort of wrapping that all up and saying, well, we have to do this because the President hasn't shown leadership.

Q Does the President intend to offer a specific plan of reforms for Social Security?

MR. LOCKHART: The President, as he's always said, will do what he thinks is in the best interest of getting -- extending the Social Security trust fund and reforming Social Security. We will work with Republicans. If they want to get this done this year, we'll get it done.

Q So he's not going to lay out his own proposal, absent some sort of effort by --

MR. LOCKHART: The President has already laid out a framework for extending the Social Security trust fund. We're now looking to work with Republicans and Democrats on the Hill.

Q Back to Littleton, how much does the President hold the gun lobby responsible for what happened?

MR. LOCKHART: I think, again, it is very difficult to -- knowing what we know, and what we don't know about this particular case. And I think it's premature to somehow try to assign blame.

I can tell you that -- let me try to answer it this way. There's been some debate about the NRA, and their holding their meeting in Denver next week. And there were some questions about whether they should or they shouldn't, and whether political leaders should call on them to do it one way or the other.

I think the President's view is that it's not so much where you hold your meeting, it's what your policies are. And the NRA should stop going around the country and spending money for open-ended concealed-weapons laws. And they should stop fighting us on things like the Brady Bill extension. And they -- you know, they fought with amazing stamina all of the President's efforts to date, whether it be on the Assault Weapons Ban or the original Brady Bill.

I think there is a consensus in this country that we need to do more. The President will propose doing more. And it's time for the NRA to get out of the past and get on the right side of this issue.

Q Thank you.

Q Joe, is there any intent on the part of the President tomorrow to also get into the issue of violence in the video games, and the Internet and --

MR. LOCKHART: I think tomorrow's issue will focus more on the bill that he plans to send up to Congress. I think he'll certainly have more to say on that subject, but he did address that in his radio comments Saturday.

Q Well, why isn't that assigning blame, Joe?


Q When he mentioned that, the video games and the movies, in his radio address, why wasn't that a case of assigning blame?

MR. LOCKHART: Because I think it just reflects the fact that from everything we know, from every study you can see, there is -- children are impacted by what they see, and the games they play. And we need to continue to look at whether we're doing enough on that front.

Q Thank you.

MR. LOCKHART: We'll take one more.

Q The Brady Bill, concealed weapons -- have made any difference in --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm sorry, say again? I was being compared to a very good spokesman, so I take that as a compliment. Yes?

Q You mentioned the Brady Bill extension and the concealed weapons issue as points that you disagree with the NRA about. How would either of those points have made any difference in Littleton's case?

MR. LOCKHART: I think I answered that by saying I don't think I can answer that now, based on what we don't know.


END 1:23 P.M. EDT