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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 29, 1999
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY
                              JOE LOCKHART

                           The Briefing Room

1:15 P.M. EDT

Q Can we have it quiet, please? A little respect for the Press Secretary for the President of the United States.

MR. LOCKHART: Thank you, Sam. Let the record show I very much agree with the sentiment the Mr. Donaldson just expressed to the group.

Q How long does that last?

MR. LOCKHART: Give me about 10 seconds. Let me do a couple of things that I failed to do this morning. The Vice President today at 2:00 p.m. -- I believe it's 2:00 p.m. -- 2:20 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room will be releasing a study on, once again, a reduction in the teen birth rate, decline nationwide. Excellent study. I'd like to call your attention to it.

Secondly, I think we've distributed a letter the President sent this morning to Henry Hyde requesting that either, in the context of legislation he's now moving forward in juvenile justice or at some date in the near future he will take up the President's legislation on gun violence that we talked about earlier in the week. So I call your attention to that letter.

Q Upon reflection, does the President have a more considered view of the House action yesterday on all the various bills and resolutions they took up?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I think with time -- I don't think time has given us any further insight into their thinking. As I said this morning, they have simultaneously voted against declaring war, expressed reservations about expanding into ground troops. They've talked about -- they voted against the idea of pulling out and they were deadlocked on the issue of the current air campaign. The only thing they did agree on, or they seemed to agree on, is the idea that they want to spend a lot more money than what the Defense Department has proposed to pay for a policy that they seem so confused about.

So I don't think there is any further understanding here. I think the message from the President is that we are going to continue to persist and we are determined and we will prevail.

Q Congress did not approve the current strategy?

Q Can I just follow this up? Having characterized it in that fashion, how seriously or non-seriously does the President take what appears to be a reservation about the present policies?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, it's hard for people here at the White House to understand the reservations. I don't think this was a clear message in any way, shape or form. It seemed to be a mixed message on all sides of this issue. The President is determined to see this campaign through. I think the public supports the campaign. We've had other expressions of support for this military, for this air campaign, and we're going to continue to persevere.

Q Joe, you've suggested that it's a mixed message and difficult to understand, but, simply put, Congress did not approve the current air campaign -- did not approve the President's strategy.

MR. LOCKHART: First off, that's not an accurate statement. The Senate has spoken strongly on this issue, Congress took four different votes yesterday and seemed to come out on every side imaginable that you could come out, without making a clear statement. The President believes that we have an imperative to move forward with this, he believes he has the support he needs to move forward, and we will continue to move forward.

Q Without taking them all as a package, all four votes, what do you make of the fact that Congress did not approve the air campaign?

MR. LOCKHART: Congress took four votes yesterday and I'm not going to take apart each and every one to try to get a message from someplace where I'm not sure that there is a message.

Q You lost 26 Democrats. Why? Has the President not explained his own policy to his own party?

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, what we did was, I think over 90 percent of the Democrats voted in support. I think there are some people who will have differences. I don't see this necessarily as something that should or does break along party lines, but the overwhelming majority of the President's party voted in support.

Q Do you think that the Congress is reflecting the confusion of the American people who are really not so supportive, or may be in doubt about all of the bombing?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I think if you look at the numbers that the independent media has done, in various polls, the American public strongly supports this effort. I can't decipher what is behind the congressional action. It is difficult to decipher only because it goes in so many different directions, because there were four different votes that sent four different messages. And I'll leave it to others to determine what it all means.

But the public does support -- the public understands the brutality of the Milosevic regime. They understand the imperative of returning a million people to their homes, of getting the brutal special police and military out of Kosovo, and persisting until we prevail.

Q Belgrade is suing NATO countries for the air campaign, saying that it violates international law. Do you expect that the U.N. court will take this up?

MR. LOCKHART: I have no idea. Let me just say that it is one of the latest examples of an absurd concept to try to divert attention from the real issue. The real issue is the atrocious acts of violence and brutality against Kosovar Albanians, who have been forced from their homes, who have had their towns burned, sacked. We've seen reports of mass killings, of rapes.

I mean, let me give you a sense just from a public report this morning. There was a report on one of the television stations this morning, talking to women who have just come out, who, despite how difficult it is to discuss these issues, have talked about the treatment, the rapes. And the Deputy Prime Minister of Yugoslavia, his response to this, after pushing to be able to respond, his response was, you can't possibly accuse us of rapes; only a blind man would do something like that to those women. That represents what kind of people we're dealing with, here. So it's an absurd idea that they would somehow try to sue us.

Q And do you have any more confirmation, any news for us, can you confirm the reports of the massacres of 100 to 200 refugees?

MR. LOCKHART: I have seen those reports. We are trying to confirm those reports. They certainly fall into the pattern of many other credible reports of killings, of separating men from the community, and these men never being seen again.

Q Joe, you talked about public opinion. How extensively does the administration or the White House poll on this, and what do your polls show?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any polling on this for the White House. I haven't seen any.

Q You're not aware of any polling on behalf of the White House?

MR. LOCKHART: Correct. I haven't seen any, and I generally see most of the stuff we do.

Q Which is to say the White House -- forgive me for putting too fine a point on it -- you say you're not aware of it; what you're telling us is the White House isn't polling --

MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm saying I'm not aware of it. If the White House does --

Q Well, there is a difference.

MR. LOCKHART: There may be. I'm not aware of it.

Q And that would include like the DNC?

MR. LOCKHART: That's the only stuff -- the DNC does, the White House does not.

Q What you're saying, Joe, is if there were these polls, you would see them.

MR. LOCKHART: I normally see them.

Q Joe, how about the meeting Talbott has been having with Chernomyrdin? What did the President -- get any feedback on how are they're going?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're continuing our effort. I don't have any news to report. I think the Deputy Secretary of State had a press conference today in Brussels, so I don't have anything to report in addition to what he said to reporters there. We continue to restate the conditions that we need to see this conflict come to an end, and we continue to believe that it's important to engage the Russians, that they may play a constructive role.

Q Dennis Hastert said yesterday -- and he was actually on the side of the White House on these resolutions -- was that at the very least, this shows the President needs to do a lot more explaining of the policy to the American people. And in terms of the public polls that you cited, most of them show, in addition to strong support for the war, some confusion about why we're there and also a feeling that the President doesn't have a clear strategy, but that he's muddling through day to day. Do you think the President needs to do more to explain what we're doing over there?

MR. LOCKHART: I think that it is an ongoing effort. The President has gone to great lengths to explain both what we're doing, why we're doing, what our interests are, and he'll continue to. I don't think you can ever say in a situation like this that you've said the final words, but we will continue to do it.

Q And to those Americans who tell pollsters that they don't think there's a clear, long-range strategy for this, that it is kind of day by day, what message do you have for them?

MR. LOCKHART: That we do have a clear, long-term strategy, that we have an interest there, we have an interest in a stable, free, democratic Europe. We have an interest in making sure as we move into the next century a dictator cannot act with impunity, and the President will continue to make that case.

Q One quick follow-up. Yesterday, Olympia Snowe said one of the things that she and others are frustrated with is the incrementalism of the air strikes and she says she's eager to see them reach maximum intensity. I'm wondering when will that happen.

MR. LOCKHART: I think as the President said yesterday and they've said at the Pentagon, we are continuing to intensify. I'm not going to get into the actual target or operational details, but we will soon be at a period where we're going around the clock, at a very intense level, that I think will get President Milosevic's attention.

Q Will that be Phase III?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into putting a number on it.

Q Phase V?

Q Joe, on Russia, how confident are you that Russia can influence Milosevic to accept all the conditions to your satisfaction?

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I think there are historical ties there. There's reason to believe that there's influence there, and that's why we think it's important to engage them. I'm not going to stand here and say we're confident that that can happen, but it's important to keep that line of communication open.

Q Joe, on Russia, the Vice President's office says that Vice President Gore and Chernomyrdin spoke after he met Schroeder, and in particular, they talked about the question of the makeup of an international security force. Is there any softening in the U.S. position that NATO must be the core, the nucleus, whatever, of such a force?

MR. LOCKHART: No, there's no softening. NATO needs to remain at the core of this force. But there is room, as there was in Bosnia, for other countries to become involved. So there's certainly things that you can discuss on how this will be made up. But there's no softening in the U.S. government's view.

Q Joe, you said earlier, in discussing those votes in Congress last night, that there was no clear message, that it was a muddle. But to those in Belgrade, that may be a message in itself, that this policy is misunderstood, it's controversial, it's not supported by half of the Congress. Should they, Slobodan Milosevic and his lieutenants, take comfort from the fact that the President hasn't been able to persuade his own Congress?

MR. LOCKHART: Let me say as clearly as I can, if Slobodan Milosevic or anyone in Belgrade takes this as some sign of comfort, they'll be sorely mistaken. The President is determined to see this through. We have a military campaign that will meet its military objectives. As General Clark has said, the noose is tightening and we will persist with this until we prevail.

Q At the very least, the House is not resolute in support of your policy. Why isn't that a cause of concern here, and why wouldn't it cause you to step up your efforts with them?

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, our efforts have been -- I think, on a level that I haven't seen before, we have consulted with the House on this. This was the fourth time in a month that the President has hosted both House and Senate leadership in the residence to discuss, and there's a lot of stuff going on between the staffs, between the national security team and the members.

I think this may say something more about what's going on in the House and what's going on and how they view these things and how they view their role. We believe that the President has support for the effort and that we will continuing moving forward with this effort.

Q There is a theory being talked about on Capitol Hill that Republicans want to rub the President's nose in this war because of the fallout of the impeachment investigation and outcome. Do you think there's anything to that?

MR. LOCKHART: I think all Americans should hope that no member of Congress would think that way.

Q -- that the President has support, do you believe that the President has congressional support, based on those votes?

MR. LOCKHART: The President has, as you all well know, the Senate voted, and it made a clear statement, about their view on the air campaign. The House, again, took a series of votes that it's hard to find a conclusion to, since they seemed to take all sides of the issue without taking responsibility for promoting one policy.

So I do believe the President has support in Congress, has sufficient support in Congress. And, as importantly, the President has support among the American people.

Q But weren't the votes yesterday a disappointment, to some extent? Wouldn't you have liked to have seen a --

MR. LOCKHART: I think I stood here yesterday and said I wasn't sure we needed to have these votes. But we've had them. I don't think they send -- if there's a clear message in them, someone needs to explain it to me, and to speak very slowly and to use small words, because I don't get it. (Laughter.)

Q But before the votes, the President said, we have to speak with one voice --


Q -- or else that could send the wrong signal. Well, the United States hasn't spoken with one voice. It sounds like you have sent the wrong signal to Slobodan Milosevic.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me just say, let me repeat, then. If Slobodan Milosevic gets a message from this that somehow the NATO Alliance, the American -- the United States government -- the American public, is not going to persist until we prevail in this war, he is mistaken.

Q Joe, you were suggesting yesterday, I thought, that even debating these issues sent the wrong signal. Not even the vote, but just the fact that they were up there hashing out what the President could or couldn't do, what he should or shouldn't do --

MR. LOCKHART: Let me try it a different way, which is -- you know, I've now been out here for 10, 15 minutes, and we've gone round and round on this subject. We haven't talked about what Milosevic has done; the million people who are in refugee camps, now, because they've been violently expelled from their home. You haven't asked about the efforts, the humanitarian efforts.

There is a very high priority in staying with this, and sticking with this, and showing determination. And I can't tell you that I can find a good reason to be going through what we're going through here right now. But that's just the way things are.

Q Well, Joe, it's possible that we understand the point you just made, and that we don't understand the other point.

MR. LOCKHART: Say again?

Q I said, we understand the other point. We don't understand the point you're trying to make about -- that you seemed to suggest yesterday that even debating this would send the wrong signal. And so I'm just asking you now if it --

MR. LOCKHART: No, no, I talked about -- that wasn't the one piece of -- the one resolution about ground troops because I thought it was such a hypothetical, and you always run the risk of people taking a signal from something. And there's not much we can do except make sure that we articulate as often as we can that they should not.

Q The President thought it was serious enough to write a letter to the Speaker expressing his views.

MR. LOCKHART: That's right.

Q So to him, it was not some aside.

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not suggesting it's some sort of aside. The President spent two hours with the congressional leadership yesterday. They discussed this, and one of the things they discussed and the President agreed with the leadership was that he would, if the policy were somehow to change, seek their support.

Q But is it clear that he is simply pledging to seek their support? He is not pledging to abide by their decision.

MR. LOCKHART: What's clear is what's written in the letter.

Q Has he consulted with any former Presidents, or all of them?

MR. LOCKHART: I know he has and I know -- yes, and I know that there's been some conversations both with the President, the Vice President, the National Security Advisor. I don't -- I haven't checked recently about any recent presidential conversations.

Q Joe, you're saying it's confusing because, on the one hand, they're not quite voting to back the air campaign, but on the other hand, they're voting to add money to the Kosovo supplemental. But you, yourself, said that the money they're trying to add to the Kosovo supplemental is not related to the Kosovo campaign. So what's the confusion?

MR. LOCKHART: What they're trying to do is say that we need to go and double the efforts. And some of it, they claim, is what they believe is needed for this mission. We will rely and continue to rely on what the Pentagon leaders tell us. But, again, there is a certain disconnect in the logic between the two.

Q But you don't believe their claim, though, that it is related to the Kosovar --

MR. LOCKHART: We believe that the supplemental bill that we sent up at $6 billion covers the mission-related costs through the end of the fiscal year.

Q Joe, another question on Russia on a different matter. Reuters is reporting today that Yeltsin has signed a decree committing Moscow to develop and deploy tactical weapons. Is this something that the West should be concerned about, or do you think he's just sending an internal political message?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not familiar with the report, so I'd have to check into it.

Q Speaker Hastert has said that part of the problem is the President has failed to spell out his objectives. Could you state for us what the definition of victory is, and specifically whether it includes or does not include the removal of Milosevic and independence for Kosovo?

MR. LOCKHART: It does not. We have basically made our objectives very clear here. It's Milosevic's troops out, the refugees back in, an international security force to enforce this situation with NATO at its core. It does not include and independent Kosovo. That's not our policy. And it does not specifically endorse the removal of Milosevic.

Q If I can follow up, does that also mean that we foresee a possibility, despite everything we have seen in Kosovo and everything the President has said about Milosevic, that we could sign a peace treaty with Milosevic?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we foresee reaching an agreement. I'm not going to get into the hypotheticals of who signs it, how it gets signed, how it gets written. But our conditions are clear and they're not -- they should not be expanded or contracted.

Q -- given all of the reports now of the atrocities and the proof that NATO is compiling fast reaching a point where it's going to be morally impossible for NATO or the United States to --

MR. LOCKHART: As we've said on many occasions here, each day that passes makes it harder. But I'm not willing to make any further judgment than that.

Q Joe, in light of the House action yesterday, do you have any opinion or -- new opinion on whether or not there should be a vote on the McCain resolution that would authorize any means -- the President to use any means?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any specific view. I understand that at some point in the near future they'll take that up, and we'll offer a view on that at the time.

Q Joe, what do you make of the fact that two weeks ago you had what seemed like preponderance of views from members of Congress who were in town and speaking out on this, suggesting that you guys had been derelict in not planning for the use of ground troops and not moving faster to think about the prospect of that, and now you have a lot of members of Congress going the opposite direction?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I would suggest the House, in particular, is struggling to find their voice on this. and particularly -- to find their voice on this. And I know you all would like to put this in the box of whether this is supportive or not supportive of the President, or this is a blow to the President or not, but I think that your question accurately gets to the struggle that House members are having, articulating what their views are.

Q Joe, is the President considering a formal press conference anytime soon?

MR. LOCKHART: Always considering and I'll let you know when it gets on the schedule.

Q Where is he in his thinking about when you would go to Colorado?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have anything to report to you, except that we won't be traveling this weekend.

Q Any White House reaction to the selection of Okinawa for the G-7 in 2000, and also about Japan seeking a seat at the North Korean missile talks?

MR. LOCKHART: I can answer the first question, which is that we understand that they have selected Okinawa as the site for the G-8, and we look forward to attending and participating in that event.

Q But, Joe, this town of Nago has played center stage in the most contentious debate between the U.S. and Japan on security issues, namely what to do about the U.S. bases on Okinawa and the objection of the Okinawan people to having the big Marine Corps base there. Do you think that this was a logical place to hold such an international conference?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm never going to second-guess where a host country decides to hold their event, and again, we look forward to participating.

Q The Venezuelan press informed that President Hugo Chavez sent a letter to President Clinton, and according to the Venezuelan Foreign Minister, the letter was to underline that Venezuela wants the best relations with the United States and thanked President Clinton for the words he said to the new ambassador last week, and to accept the invitation that President Clinton -- do you have a reaction to this letter? Do you also have a date for that visit?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have a date for the visit. I'm not familiar with the letter, but I welcome the expression of our strong bilateral relations. I think the President has made clear that the value and importance of moving toward change in the context of the democratic process, and has -- I spoke just a few days ago of the importance of the ongoing constitutional change that's happening within the constituent assembly in Venezuela, happening in a democratic context.

Q Joe, just one more question on Colorado. Is the administration sending anyone to this Sunday memorial service? Will there be any representative --

MR. LOCKHART: I'll have to check. I don't know the answer to that.

Q Joe, can you tell us, if the International War Crimes Tribunal to indict President Milosevic, would that make it impossible to have any form of negotiation with him?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to answer a hypothetical. That is a process that will proceed on its own pace.

Q Wait. Joe, you're saying we could conceivably negotiate with a war criminal?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm saying I'm not answering that hypothetical. I think I've already answered a few from you.

Q On a much lighter note, can you tell us whether the President plans to attend the Correspondents Dinner on Saturday?

MR. LOCKHART: It's on the week ahead.

Q And does he have any discomfort, or do you have any discomfort with the awards that are going to be bestowed there?

MR. LOCKHART: I've got my own personal views, which I'm sure you're not interested in. (Laughter.)

Q The President was gracious enough at one of the past dinners to shake Jackie Judd's hand when she won an award.


Q Will he shake Mike Isikoff's hand?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have the slightest idea.

Q Joe, does the White House have any objection to Paul Jones's lawyers asking for a few extra days to calculate --

MR. LOCKHART: I haven't been involved in that. If Mr. Bennett has an objection, I'm sure he'll make it with the judge.

Q Are we likely to have a statement from the President or his lawyer on that anytime soon?

MR. LOCKHART: We'll have a statement when the President's lawyer is ready to make a statement.

Q Will the President have anything to say on any other topic other than Ed-flex this afternoon?


THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:43 P.M. EDT