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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 27, 1999
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY
                             JOE LOCKHART

                           The Briefing Room

2:25 P.M. EDT

MR. LOCKHART: Afternoon everyone.

Q Who says it is?

MR. LOCKHART: I say it is. And I get to decide those things.

As I think we put the paper out already, the President, about 12:45 p.m. today, signed the request from the Secretary of Defense on the reserve call-ups, the reasons for which are stated in the paper. Other than that, you know from this morning what he's been up to today. And I'll take your questions.

Q Okay. Is it clear that the President wants to do this? I mean, I think you cast it this morning as almost as if he had acceded to the request from the Pentagon, as opposed to deciding himself.

MR. LOCKHART: Oh, no. I think the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs are in the best position to know, in the total force concept, how and when they'll use the reserve. He got the request this morning, he was happy to turn it around quickly in order to have the reservists available to continue to provide the necessary resources for this conflict.

Q So he agrees with it? It's not --

MR. LOCKHART: Absolutely.

Q -- just that he's going along because they have --

MR. LOCKHART: No, no. Absolutely.

Q -- superior military knowledge or something?

MR. LOCKHART: No. He agrees with it, and he's exercising his authority as Commander-in-Chief to make sure it happens.

Q Joe, when Air Force Captain Scott Grady went down and was rescued in Bosnia, you will remember, there was tremendous and well-deserved coverage. But the name of the pilot of the Stealth fighter that went down and was so quickly rescued is being concealed by the Air Force. And my question is, is this concealment due to his being actually rescued by Serbs who turned him over to the U.S. for ransom? And if not, why is there this concealment by Commander Clinton's Air Force? And I have one follow-up.

MR. LOCKHART: Well let me take the second part of that first. That's perhaps the most ridiculous of many ridiculous stories you've brought in here -- (laughter) -- but that one, I think, might take the cake.

Now, the first part of your question --

Q Thank you very kindly, Joe. I appreciate that.

MR. LOCKHART: Anytime. To take the first part of the question, my understanding -- I put this to the Pentagon -- is, I think this is a personal decision made by the pilot, that he doesn't want his identity known, because of all the ensuing publicity which would take place. And that's a decision we respect.

Q Do you know anything about a reported meeting of the Vice President with the President of Macedonia and George Soros to discuss mineral riches of Kosovo, including gold, copper, and bauxite?

MR. LOCKHART: I know nothing of that.

Q Is Strobe Talbott going to Berlin to meet with Kofi Annan, and also German leaders? Why is he doing that? What is the message he's bringing out of Moscow?

MR. LOCKHART: He's in Berlin now, as we speak. As I understand it, he will meet with the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Kofi Anan, as you know, is going to Moscow later in the week. He'll meet with German officials, I think. His itinerary also will include a stop in Brussels before he comes back for discussions with the North Atlantic Council members.

As he himself described the meetings in Moscow, they were intensive, constructive. It's part of an ongoing effort to make sure that the lines of communications with the Russians and the NATO Alliance stay open, because we believe they do have a positive role, constructive role to play in this process.

I'm not aware of any -- or I'm not able to report any great movement in the discussions as far as the Yugoslavs and President Milosevic's ability or willingness to move to meet NATO's demands. But we think it's important that we continue to keep lines of communication open, and that's what Mr. Talbott's engaged in.

Q Does this represent -- his meetings in Moscow, and his meetings in Berlin, and his future meetings in Brussels -- does that represent a higher level of diplomacy and intensification of diplomatic activity to find a solution to the war?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think it represents the President agreed with President Yeltsin that we keep lines of communication, we keep diplomatic channels open at the highest level, including to the two Presidents.

I think Strobe Talbott had a chance to spend time with the Foreign Minister, and with Mr. Chernomyrdin, to get a better sense of his discussions with Milosevic, and to once again restate and articulate the United States government's view, and the NATO Alliance view.

Q Will the President go to Littleton this week, or this weekend?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any information about any travel to Littleton for the President.

Q Is it likely that he will go?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any information. If we do schedule a trip, I'll let you know.

Q But you have no information, or you have no information for us?

MR. LOCKHART: At this point, I have no information.

Q Period?

MR. LOCKHART: Period. If I have some at some point, that I have, that's not for you, I'll let you know that I have stuff that not for you. But right now, I have neither. (Laughter.)

Q Fair enough.

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. In the back? Sorry. Sometimes I confuse myself.

Q The physicians visited the three American soldiers, and what is their condition?

MR. LOCKHART: They had a chance, as we understand it, to visit them today. I don't know that we would describe this as a full medical visit. But they did visit them, and they said that they appeared in decent shape.

They also -- the ICRC officials were allowed to take letters from the soldiers for their families, and they also -- the Yugoslav authorities, encouragingly, have said that there is the ability for future visits. That is, again, the minimum under the standard of the Geneva Convention. And we'll remind you that there have been three visits to the Yugoslav soldier from ICRC. So we will continue to push for the standards of the Geneva Convention to be held and to be applied to these soldiers.

Q Where are they being held? Do we know where they're being held?

MR. LOCKHART: We do not.

Q So you don't have anything more on their health than what you just said?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't.

Q Can you tell us if you have gotten any further information or made any further judgments about any splits in the Yugoslavian government, whether Mr. Draskovic was speaking for himself or also for Milosevic? Anything, any of your thinking about what is going on in the Yugoslavian government?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think our view is that his comments over the last few days are a recognition of reality. It's a recognition of the reality that the Serb authorities have not been telling the truth to the people of Belgrade and Yugoslavia; that Belgrade is isolated -- there is no, despite their protestations to the contrary, there's no one in the international community that's on their side; that NATO is united, that NATO is going to intensify this effort and continue it.

I think it's a recognition that, as General Clark said today, the noose is tightening, and that we will continue to intensify and tighten that noose until we've reached our military objective. I think it's also a recognition that, at least from one leader in the political process there, that the time is coming to step up and meet NATO's demands. Now, as far --

Q But if you keep bombing the television station, nobody's going to hear it.

MR. LOCKHART: Now, as far as the legitimacy of his contacts with Milosevic, we can only read into it what he says, which is he believes he has President Milosevic's ear. But what we want to see is not so much words, but actions -- and actions coming from all of the Belgrade authorities, not just one member.

Q On the willingness to accept an international security force, there seems to be some talk by him and others to accept a U.N. force, but not a NATO force.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if you look closely at his comments, he talked about a U.N. force that included NATO nations. Our view, and as we've articulated many times, is that this needed to be an international security force with NATO at its core. As in other instances, we could bring in countries from the outside -- non-NATO countries to participate -- but this would have to be NATO at its core.

Q Are those two things that contradict? I mean, he said U.N. force that includes NATO. Is that different than --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not saying that he said something that we'd be willing to accept. I'm saying that we have -- at least with the Deputy Prime Minister, we have some shift from several days ago.

Q What does it mean, NATO at its core? Does that mean NATO commands?

MR. LOCKHART: It means that there be some sort of NATO command structure that the United States government and I think the NATO allies would be confident, and I think that the refugees returning we'd be confident of.

Q So it's still subjective? I mean, it sounds like it's negotiable.

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think our military leaders at the Pentagon and NATO know what NATO at the core means, and what they'd need to see.

Q Does it mean a majority of people have to be NATO soldiers? Does NATO have to form a majority?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into numbers of a force or the make of the force, only to say that we needs to see NATO at its core.

Q Do you have any idea of what it would look like?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think we're open to participation. I mean, we certainly know what a force would have looked like pre-air campaign in the context of the Rambouillet peace talks. But I think the President has made very clear, as has his national security team, that we'd be open to the participation of other countries, but it would need to be a force that our government is confident it, and that, in practice, would be one with NATO at its core.

Q If you have other nations participating, including Russia, that suggests that you would not be able to have a NATO commander, because Russia would be unlikely to respond to a NATO commander. So why not --

MR. LOCKHART: You're getting down the road into hypotheticals. I think we've been very clear on what we want, both on the command structure and on our willingness and desire for other countries to participate.

Q Does the U.S. insist that it be under NATO command?

MR. LOCKHART: The U.S. would insist that it be NATO at its core. I mean, this is similar to what we see in Bosnia, something that would have our confidence.

Q Joe, you said that no other country is on NATO's side in the international community. How about Russia?

Q Yugoslavia's side.


Q You mean the Yugoslavs.

Q Yes, I'm sorry.

MR. LOCKHART: The Russian government has clearly articulated their opposition to what Milosevic has done, as far as pushing a million refugees out of Kosovo, as far as their desire to see Milosevic pull his troops out, let the refugees back in. We have a difference on the issue of an international security force, and that's well-known. But I wouldn't believe the rhetoric and the propaganda that's been perpetrated on the people of Belgrade that, somehow, Russia backs Milosevic.

Q Joe, what does the President think about $13 billion instead of $6 billion for the emergency supplemental? And also, can you tell us if that will come up tomorrow, and who's coming to meet with him tomorrow, and when?

MR. LOCKHART: My guess for tomorrow is, the President will meet with the kind of rough leadership group that have been coming down -- this is, will probably be the fourth of these meetings -- over the last month, a couple prior to, and some since, to update. We haven't seen the final details of what the Republicans plan to put forward. I assume that the supplemental will be an issue on the agenda.

Let me say that we put forward a supplemental bill that the Defense Department believes will provide sufficient resources to enable the U.S. military to execute the air campaign. Our concern with adding to that is that anything that gets added is mission-related, and it represents a real need to this mission. Some of the things that have floated around may be good ideas, but don't necessarily fit in to the context of what's needed for this mission and what's emergency spending.

Q Right, but what is the President going to do when faced with a $13 billion? I mean, is he going to try to veto it or what?

MR. LOCKHART: We're going to make a decision on what we'll do when we see something. We haven't seen what they've planned. But again, we'd stress that this is not the defense budget. This is not a wish list. This is about providing mission-related needs for the Pentagon, and giving them what they ask for.

Q When is the meeting tomorrow?

MR. LOCKHART: 10:30 a.m.? Mid-morning.

Q What else is on the agenda tomorrow?

MR. LOCKHART: I think on the agenda is, the President wants to give them an update coming out of the NATO Summit, and an update on the air campaign debate, and some of the decisions that were made at the summit to intensify.

Q Purely, purely Yugoslavian --


Q Joe, Sunday's New York Times had one-half a page on the selling of 535 black slaves in Sudan to Christian Solidarity International, for $50 apiece. And my question is, has the President ever spoken out on actual slavery today in Africa, or does he want to avoid embarrassing his allies, Jesse Jackson and Kweisi Mfume, who have been virtually tongue-tied on the issue of black slavery today in Africa?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know of, and no.

Q He has not spoken on this? Why not, Joe?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know enough about it. Let me look into it.

Q You don't know enough about it? It was half a page in --

MR. LOCKHART: Lester, when I say I don't know enough about it it's because I don't know enough about it. Let's not debate it.

Q Joe, there was a lot of discussion back and forth about Social Security over the weekend. Why would that not be a subject at tomorrow's congressional meeting?

MR. LOCKHART: Because this is a group that has been sort of self-selected on Capitol Hill, of people from leadership and from particular International Relations or Armed Services backgrounds, to discuss Kosovo, and this is the group that basically represents both Houses of Congress. They've come down, now -- it's a group that runs about 50-60 people, depending on the meeting. And we've done these exclusively on Kosovo.

Q Joe, on the supplemental, if they add in things like for a pay raise or something that you were anticipating doing down the road in defense increases anyway, couldn't you just subtract that amount from your future budget increases for defense spending?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, is the proper answer to a hypothetical a "could"? I'm not going to answer that.

Q But you -- that is something you could legally do, right? You could just drop it from your next request, if it had already been funded?

MR. LOCKHART: Could. (Laughter.)

Q Budget tests don't work that way.

Q Is the military pay raise that would be -- that they're characterizing as a morale booster over there, is that something that the White House would look at --

MR. LOCKHART: If I understand it properly -- and again, I haven't seen all the details -- the pay raise that they're talking about is exactly the pay raise that we put in the budget. And I think if we can make a commitment to do this under the budget rules, and move forward -- and I think if the Republican leadership and Democratic leadership get up and say we're going to do this, and we get the budget done on time this year, that would be a morale booster.

Again, it is our view that the supplemental emergency spending should be mission-related, but we will continue to work with Congress, and we look forward to seeing the final ideas of the leadership on the Hill.

Q General Clark said in a briefing today that using force would have to -- that would be a necessary part of any oil embargo against Yugoslavia. And he's forwarded these recommendations to the North Atlantic Council. Do you know what the North Atlantic Council will make its decision and do you expect them to accept his recommendations?

MR. LOCKHART: My understanding of the process here is that it's gone to the military committee, and from the military committee it goes to the North Atlantic Council. If the military committee approves -- so they have it, and I think they got it this morning. So this is going forward on an expedited basis. But I can't tell you with any precision when it will move out of committee and to the NAC. Or they may request some revisions and it may go back to General Clark and he may have to make some adjustments, but I don't know with any precision.

Q You don't expect NAC to accept General Clark's recommendation in general that force will have to be used if --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm certainly not going to pre-judge the rules of engagement. Only that General Clark won't put something forward that he doesn't think is going to work. And it's my expectation that the North Atlantic Council is looking for an operational plan that will work.

Q General Naumann, who is retiring, made some remarks yesterday or the day before, about how he and other military leaders have told the political leadership of NATO over and over again that they were not convinced, or there was no guarantee that air power alone could achieve the political objectives in Kosovo. And I'm just wondering why is the administration so much more confident about the effectiveness of air power than NATO's own military leaders?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think you've misrepresented General Naumann's words. I think what he said is that there is always the possibility that Milosevic will allow his country to be bombed into rubble. But we don't believe that will happen. We believe the noose is tightening and you're seeing things as a result of that noose-tightening. And what we know about Milosevic is that he covets his power and the instruments of oppression that allow him to keep that power. And we are day by day, week by week, grinding those down. And we believe that either he will change his calculation, or the situation and the balance of power on the ground will have changed.

Q But again, Naumann and other military leaders have expressed less confidence in the use of their power than they have.

MR. LOCKHART: I saw exactly what Naumann said, and I think I've answered that question. There are some who are trying to hype his words into a meaning that he didn't mean. I saw what he said, and I think that answered the question.

Q Joe, will the President be in a position tomorrow to tell the congressional leaders how much longer it's going to take and how the military goals will be achieved?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think he has discussed publicly how -- and General Clark made clear today that he believes that this campaign is moving forward and the noose is tightening. Can we give any precise for when this will end? No, we can't. It will end when we've met our military objectives.

Q Will he go into specifics with the congressional leaders into how much more of a reserve call-up is going to be needed, how much more -- how many more additional forces are going to be needed?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think he will have his military team there with him, and they will give them a briefing, which I imagine will cover reservists and the additional equipment requests that have come from Brussels.

Q Joe, General Naumann also said that a visit and search regime does not include the use of force, and diplomatic experts say that visit and search missions are merely to find out what is on board a ship, not to alter its course or to tell them they can't take it where they're intending to take it. Would you like to dispute General Naumann's characterization of that?

MR. LOCKHART: What I'll do is stick with what General Clark said today.

Q So you're not embracing General Naumann's --

MR. LOCKHART: I think if you look at what I said yesterday, and you look at what General Clark said, you can draw your own conclusions.

Q Do you know anything about the Cox Committee report and when do you estimate it will be out? And what are you prepared to do about it?

MR. LOCKHART: I understand that there are very few issues that still remain in the declassification process. The President met with the Chairman and the ranking member of that committee last week, and the final report will be ready soon.

Q Now, in that meeting, we're told that the President acknowledged that there has been espionage by the Chinese during his administration. Is that in fact the case?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.

Q You're not aware of what he told them, or you're not aware that that's true?

MR. LOCKHART: That sentiment was not communicated to me.

Q Joe, Reverend Jackson says he was going to go ahead with his plans to take his delegation to Belgrade. Any comment on that?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have anything to add beyond what I said yesterday.

Q Do you have any comments on the proposal or the statement the President made on the Middle East peace process yesterday? Has there been any response from Arafat or the Israeli government?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the response I've seen has been public -- and, again, I would just reiterate our view that this should not be an open-ended process and we ought to be able to get this done within a year; and restate our position on the value of negotiation and our opposition to unilateral actions or declarations.

Q Joe, on the gun story, that was a fairly emotional speech the President gave. Can you give us some kind of insight on what kind of personal commitment he's going to make to try to get this thing through? He talked a lot about how it's going to be hard and the American public would have to get out. Is he going to travel on this issue? Is he going to use the bully-pulpit?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, certainly, the President is committed to this. It was one of the main new elements in the State of the Union this year and it is the most comprehensive legislative proposal to go at gun violence in 30 years. So the President will be very committed. This is something that he has a long history on, as you all remember who have covered him from the beginning. There were some very difficult issues, some very tough votes and there are probably some people who paid a political price for voting on what we believe is the right side.

So I think the President is committed to seeing this through. I think there is bipartisan support for this on the Hill and the President will take whatever steps are necessary to continue to generate support for it and to work for the passage.

Q Well, there's also bipartisan opposition, including Senator Daschle, the Democratic leader in the Senate.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we think that there's support and as people see the real common sense elements of this and see what it does, that support will grow.

Q Is there a sense the that political tides on this issue have shifted or are shifting because of recent events?

MR. LOCKHART: I think it's probably too early to judge that. I think you can look in particular places -- you know, if you read the political situation in Colorado, there's been a pull-back in some of the concealed weapons legislation, in particular.

I think it's important that, as the President said, we focus on both the societal aspects of this and also on what the federal government's responsibility is. I think as we have a chance to make the case, whether it be here in Washington or around the country, that case will be heard receptively.

Q What about in Congress, is there a sense that it can be shifting --

MR. LOCKHART: I think that there's a sense that it's a challenge. It's a challenge and it's always a challenge to fight entrenched interests, but this is a challenge that the President is up to.

Q Joe, the President suggested that he might be making more in the coming weeks in the way of appeals to gun owners, themselves, to the people -- not just to people who agree with him on this, but to the people who have been part of what he described as the "other culture." Is he planning on some sort of campaign with gun owners, with NRA members to try to change their views?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't have anything in particular to report to you today. But I think one of the things that the President has been able to do over the last six and a half years is change the nature of certain debates, whether it be the economic package to reduce the deficit, or some of the other things we talk about -- fighting crime is one, welfare reform. And to change the calculus and the issues -- the basis by which these issues are debated.

And I think the President is determined to, given the challenge, despite all the things we've done, given the challenge that is still in front of us, to do everything he can in order to build support. And one of the ways to do that is to go into and deal with those who oppose you and try to make your case.

Q While the Congress is focused on Kosovo, how is the package of aid to Central America that the President has been asking for?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, it's not here yet. And it should be. We continue to work with the leadership on both sides of the aisle in the Senate and the House. It's important, this is urgent need. The devastation there and the need for reconstruction and rebuilding is great. And we need to move forward on this legislation.

Q Do you expect a decision by the President this week on the contempt order?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't anticipate any timing on that, except when I know I'll let you know.

Q What's the holdup? Is he just studying it carefully?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that he's had a chance to get with his team yet. When he does I'll let you know.

Q Is there a deadline for that?

MR. LOCKHART: There's a deadline that applies to the other side, that is coming up soon. And then there may be a deadline once that's reached.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:50 P.M. EDT