THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
1:25 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: I have a couple of announcements, and one to start on, a very sad note. The President was very sorry to learn this morning of the passing of Meg Greenfield, and we will put a statement out to that effect. But let me say personally that many of us here at the White House share that sadness. She was one of the most eloquent, clear and powerful voices in this town for a long time, both at The Washington Post and at Newsweek. And our thoughts and prayers go out to her family and to the extended family -- her family at The Washington Post.
Now, a couple of housekeeping things. Let me call your attention to something the President will do tomorrow, I believe before he goes off to the West Coast. The first large group of refugees -- I think about 2,500 refugees -- will arrive tomorrow at Camp Hope in Albania. The camp was officially turned over yesterday to the CARE organization. This was the camp that will eventually take -- will eventually be part of the 20,000 that will be housed there.
I think some of the people who we met with in Germany were very involved in this. In fact, a group that I sat and had dinner with were the civil engineers who actually built the camp.
But the President will call General Hinton, who he talked to in Germany, tomorrow for sort of the formal opening and congratulate him on the work that the U.S. military has done there. And we'll try to provide you with a transcript of that telephone call, and I think there will be some coverage on the other end. So for those of you who want to alert your organizations who are covering events there --
Q When will that be?
MR. LOCKHART: Tomorrow morning.
Q Morning, which time?
MR. LOCKHART: Morning, our time before he goes. I'll get you an exact time.
A travel announcement. On Tuesday, May 25th, the President will travel to Yulee, Florida, for a few days of vacation. He will be staying at the White Oak Plantation, a local conservation center and retreat in Yulee. He will return to the White House on Sunday evening, May 30th.
Is that the only announcement?
Q Will Mrs. Clinton be going along on that?
MR. LOCKHART: I believe so.
Q Is he not going to Texas on the 25th?
MR. LOCKHART: He will. That's what I was looking for. I guess I don't have a Texas announcement here, but he will also travel, as he told you before we were ready to tell you at the event the other day, the empowerment conference.
Q And then go to Yulee?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Where in Texas?
MR. LOCKHART: Don't know yet. That's what I was scurrying around for. I think it's Brownsville, but I'll have to check to be sure. Do we know? Yulee is -- White Oak is near Amelia Island, I'm told.
Q And this is just a family vacation?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, the press will be staying -- yes.
Q Regular coverage?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. My understanding is, the arrangements is there will be a small group of people on the island, and then the bulk of the rest of us over on Amelia Island.
Q Will you be there and will you be doing briefings on a daily basis?
MR. LOCKHART: I will be there. I will be available. I'll make a decision closer to the time whether it's appropriate and necessary to do daily briefings.
MR. TOIV: Joe, we're not ready to announce Texas.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay -- (laughter) --
Q Will the press be on Amelia Island?
MR. LOCKHART: Did someone tell the President? Barry?
MR. TOIV: We don't have any specifics.
MR. LOCKHART: Gotcha. (Laughter.) Okay. Everything I just said about Texas -- strike. That was off the record. (Laughter.) Got it back there? Off the record.
Okay, now, that's all I have.
Q Tell your C-SPAN viewers as well.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. (Laughter.) To my C-SPAN viewers: those of you who don't like me, please stop writing. (Laughter.) I am very thin-skinned, and it really gets to me. (Laughter.) Guarantees about 300 next week. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, Strobe Talbott and Secretary General Annan are meeting in Geneva tonight. Do you know what that meeting is about? What to expect?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have anything looking forward. I know that the Deputy Secretary was in Finland last night for a meeting with President Ahtisaari; they had dinner. He spent the day back in Moscow; he had a two-hour meeting with the special envoy, Mr. Chernomyrdin. He met with the Foreign Minister, Ivanov. He met also with some Duma members -- basically just continuing the dialogue that had started in earnest around the time of the NATO summit, about the NATO conditions for ending this, and the work that Mr. Chernomyrdin's been doing to try to bring the Russian position and the NATO position closer together.
So I don't have any specific details, and would refer you over to the State Department for any agenda for that meeting this evening.
Q Is the White House pleased that the Secretary General is involving himself in this diplomatic effort?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I think we have always said that we think the U.N. and support from the U.N. is very useful here. I think the Russian involvement and movement can be very useful as we move forward in the context of the U.N. and the Security Council. So, again, there are many players who are involved here in trying to move forward and it is very useful that all of them seem to accept the basic conditions that NATO has laid down as the minimum conditions for finding a diplomatic solution to this.
Q Joe, the Russians, though, are now complaining that the U.S. needs to back off a little bit, needs to go for a pause in the bombing, and they seem to be threatening that they are going to quit playing a role unless the U.S. agrees to some sort of pause.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know that that sentiment is being expressed to the Deputy Secretary. I think he believes that the conversation and the dialogue has been quite useful and constructive. And we will continue that as far as trying to put some details on the broad conditions that were laid down by NATO. So I think Secretary Talbott will continue this work and he believes -- and he's the closest one from our government to the situation -- he believes that the conversations continue to be constructive.
Q Your sense is that those threats are not being conveyed privately and that the public message is a little different from the private message?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I think that we still believe that there is constructive work to do. Constructive work is being done here. The conditions are the conditions. There is a series of things we need to see happen for this campaign to be suspended, for it to stop -- significantly more than a 150-person photo op by a border checkpoint that I have to assume will not fool many people in -- many journalists, even if it does fool a few.
Q Joe, the President seemed to have relatively kind words for the supplemental this morning. What's the view of it now and what are some of the problems that you see that are still there?
MR. LOCKHART: There's still -- it's like any piece of legislation, you can't take a final view of it until it's in its final form. As I indicated this morning, there has been some scaling back, some provisions that have come out, but there is also still some environmental provisions that we need to review the language on to see if they are acceptable. We continue to make the point that this should not be loaded up. This is emergency spending. These are true emergencies, and however legitimate the other issues are, they should be debated and legislated in a different forum.
Now we have a whole different set of issues that are being dealt with today on offsets. Again, it's difficult to understand why humanitarian aid to one part of the world is an emergency and humanitarian aid to another part of the world -- or things here at home are emergency should be offset.
Now, these are issues that we're going to try to work through today. I think the sentiment that was expressed in the letter that went up earlier this week still holds. We hope they can send us something quickly; we hope they can send us something that is something the President can sign.
Q By the sentiment you expressed, do you mean the veto threat that was in that letter?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q The added military spending, which you're saying is not directly an emergency, should that also, should that be offset, potentially, or could that come out of the surplus and be considered emergency spending?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I mean, we sent up a request for about $6 billion. And, you know, that's what we think is needed to do -- to fund the ongoing operation. There are some extra things that members of the Senate and the House have added, and at this point, I don't know that they've sought any offset for that. I think it's our view that we should fund just what's necessary.
Q Do you believe, Joe, that the political instability, the firing of the Prime Minister of Russia, Yevgeny Primakov -- all of that will have an impact on Russia's ability to help come up with some sort of diplomatic solution to the crisis in Kosovo?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think it needs to have, or will have, a negative impact. I think the special envoy and Mr. Chernomyrdin have stayed very involved; the Foreign Minister has stayed very involved. We've had a situation where Strobe Talbott has been in the region for the last two days. He has not reported any adverse effect on the process here.
The Russians have played a constructive role here. They can play, and it is our expectation will continue to play, a constructive role as we move to, hopefully, some solution to this that meets the NATO demands.
Q -- come back to the 150-person withdrawal? Can I assume that this is not the broad-scale -- that you still don't see any sort of broad-scale movement on the part of Serb forces?
MR. LOCKHART: You can assume that.
Q Have you seen any other activity that would suggest further withdrawals are in place?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not -- no activity's been reported to me except for a group of journalists being brought to a checkpoint and being shown 150 smiling people heading home.
Q Joe, the father of one of the journalists who was killed in the Belgrade bombing has written a letter to the President, asking also that the letter be made public. I was wondering if the White House has issued an English version --
MR. LOCKHART: I was not aware that any letter, such letter had been written. I'll check into it.
Q Will the White House respond --
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't seen the letter, so I can't make any commitment.
Q The former Speaker of the House was in Washington yesterday; he was speaking to a group of Republican women. And he criticized the administration on two fronts -- one saying the very people who were opposed to Vietnam are now bringing us a European Vietnam. And he also said that the killings at Columbine High School are a wake-up call that the experiment in secular liberalism has failed. Do you have any reaction to this?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me take the second one first; and I think we're all well-served by the demise of the Gingrichism. I mean, I think that's one of the most ridiculous things I've seen in a long time. There is a number of issues here. This is a complex problem that need to be dealt with in a serious way that gets beyond sort of silly partisan statements that I think the former Speaker is guilty of here. It is a complex problem; we need to go at it as many different ways as we can find.
The President talked today about how disappointed and how difficult it is to understand why the Senate took a position that they took last night on closing a clear loophole in the background check for gun shows. They also, yesterday under the Craig* amendment, created a new loophole for people who -- for felons who take a weapon to a pawn shop and them redeem it. There was a background check for redeeming that they, through yesterday's amendment, created a new loophole. So not only are we not closing through sensible, common sense legislation, loopholes, we're creating new ones.
I think on the other point, I think the former Speaker is entitled to his views, but I think the President articulated quite well today what our mission there is, what our interest there is, and the moral imperative for moving forward, and standing against and not standing and turning a blind eye to ethnic cleansing.
Q Joe, the President this morning said -- once again mentioned this Marshall Plan for Southeast Europe. If Milosevic actually meets NATO's five demands, would Milosevic be a recipient of any of this --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President also talked about -- for the behavior of the government of Serbia would have to change very markedly for them to reenter the European community. So I don't think he can sit there and think that he's going to cash in by simply meeting the demands.
Q Along those lines, last week the President said --told foreign journalists that he could imagine Milosevic remaining in power if he meets the five demands. And this morning he put the responsibility for ethnic cleansing and for the atrocities in Kosovo again on the political leadership and on Serbia and Milosevic. Is there some inconsistency here? I mean, where exactly is --
MR. LOCKHART: No. No, I don't think so. I think if you look at -- our first goal here is to stop the ethnic cleansing, return -- get the troops out that have been committing these brutal acts, return the refugees home with an international security force to provide them with the kind of peace of mind and security and autonomy that they enjoyed before 1989. I think longer term, the President talked about what Serbia, what the government, how they would have to behave, how they act, their policies, what they'd have to do to reenter what he called "the new Europe." But those are two separate issues. We have a goal here of getting people back home, and that is what the NATO conditions are designed to meet.
Q He also mentioned the war crimes tribunal again. Is he in a position or is it his role to actually call on the war crimes tribunal to actually indict Milosevic?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think -- but we are in a position to take whatever evidence we've gathered and others have gathered and forward it to the War Crimes Tribunal so they can make the most reasoned decision that they can.
Q You mean that on Milosevic himself?
MR. LOCKHART: We're doing -- we certainly hold Milosevic politically responsible for this. Whatever evidence we have, no matter who it relates to, will be transferred to the War Crimes Tribunal and they will take the appropriate action.
Q And you said he also talked about what Yugoslavia would have to do to re-enter the new Europe. Is that the same criteria as getting reconstruction aid? In other words, do they have to be a democratic country to get the reconstruction aid, or is re-entering the new Europe something else?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, long-term, to be integrated in the Europe that the U.S. and NATO sees, a democratic trend would certainly be a positive.
Q Right. But you're not saying that they have to do that -- you're saying there are two things. One is to get the refugees back; that's the first goal. But then, the longer-term goal, rebuilding Southeastern Europe --
MR. LOCKHART: What I'm saying is, short-term, we've made very clear what they need to do. Long-term, we have had a long-term policy of promoting democracy within Serbia. We will continue to.
Q Right, but where's the reconstruction aid? Is that short-term or long-term? In other words, what do we have to get, to get part of the Marshall Plan?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, we're not going to get into the specifics right here and now of what they may need to do for their own internal reconstruction.
Q Okay. One other question, also, about the War Crimes Tribunal. I mean, without putting it in so many words, the President has made pretty clear that if Milosevic was indicted, he might even help him get indicted if you're forwarding evidence. How is it -- why is it okay for an indicted war criminal to remain head of Yugoslavia?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, he's not an indicted war criminal right now. I'm talking about what are the challenges to us right now, which is getting refugees back with security and autonomy. And that's what we're working toward.
Q Well, why help the War Crimes Tribunal indict him, if you want him to stay as the President of Yugoslavia?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not saying we want him to stay, and I'm saying that we're going to pass whatever evidence there is -- and if there's evidence concerning any particular political leader, it will be passed, and the War Crimes Tribunal will take the appropriate action.
Q Joe, the President said today that we must not get refugee fatigue, and he recited a list of very compelling, sort of vignettes of atrocities over there. Is he at all concerned that public support for the air campaign might start to slip now that we're into day 50, and that he has to shore it up?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think that the President believes that it's important to continue to make the case. And I think he mentioned something that is just a fact of life, which is, Milosevic has not allowed all of you into Kosovo, so you haven't seen or been able to report on a regular basis to your listeners, readers, viewers, what's really going on there. He has taken -- using his propaganda machine -- to other places that tell quite a different story.
And it's important that we continue to put faces and voices on these atrocities. The President did that last week in talking to the recent refugees, and he told many of the stories again today, because this is very much what this fight is about. And until people can get into Kosovo and actually see and hear more closely what's gone on there, we're going to continue to need to listen to those who have come out and tell their stories and repeat their stories.
Q Joe, is the White House concerned that among the general public, not to speak of intelligence professionals, the story is being given out regarding the embassy in Belgrade that they were using three-year-old maps is simply not credible.
MR. LOCKHART: What we do is we pass along -- we're in the business of passing along credible information as opposed to some others who I've just spent some time talking about here. When there is more information to pass along, Secretary Cohen and others have committed to passing that along. But right now, you have the information that is the best information we have and is credible information.
Q Joe, on the situation on the ground in Kosovo, there have been pictures of Serb soldiers, apparently Serb soldiers, dug in, in their bunkers. How are the allies going to get them out without having a very bloody land campaign?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into operational detail, but I think if you've watched what has been discussed at the Pentagon and at NATO in the last couple days, they've been very effective. They've taken out much of their air power, they've taken out now a good portion of their land, whether it be armored personnel carriers, tanks, trucks, and they're going to continue to do it, and this -- the abiding message for Milosevic is this is only going to get harder, it's not going to get easier.
Q Joe, what's the status of the Apaches? Does the President have to give any further authorization for them to actually be used in combat?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't add more to what Secretary Cohen and Shelton said yesterday. He does -- there is one final approval on this. When the training is done and the SACEUR decides to employ these helicopters, the decision will come and we'll move quickly.
Q Do you expect the Apaches to eventually see combat action?
MR. LOCKHART: That's a question for the SACEUR to answer.
Q Can I switch you a bit to China? The Admiral that you're intending to nominate, can we talk a bit about him, and is the fact that he is an Admiral and played an important role in the Taiwan Straits issue, is that part of your thinking?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not from here going to talk about who the President intends to nominate for a particular post. I can tell you there's been someone who has been speculated about who is an excellent leader with experience from the region, who served in the military. I wouldn't guide you away from some of the speculation, but I'm not going to be confirming it today.
Q Also on China, is there any evidence that you can point to that the Chinese are interested in restarting negotiations, trade negotiations and other negotiations?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we've seen comments from government officials there that they are interested, particularly in the trade negotiations. So I think, again, we view that as a positive given it's so much in the self-interest of both countries that we move forward.
Q Can you clarify one point? Does Yugoslavia have to establish a democratic government in order to qualify for this post-conflict aid?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm just not going to go down the road and make decisions. I just can't imagine that as we look into the future, that the rest of Europe would be looking to work cooperatively with an autocratic regime that could perpetrate the kind of atrocities that have been done over the last several years.
Q Why do you say that? They're delivering oil right now. I mean, people have been willing to work with Milosevic all along. Why do you say that he would be --
MR. LOCKHART: He asked me a very specific question about a reconstruction plan for Southeastern Europe and the Balkans, and I am speculating about what we may or may not do in the future.
Q I guess at the State Department that Jamie Rubin said today the President is considering whether to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv.
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q That he would make a decision soon.
MR. LOCKHART: No, that is a -- whoever listened to that got that jumbled a little bit. There is a legislation about building an embassy in Jerusalem that has particular dates in it. The President has waiver authority on the building of it. There will be some decision on the waiver sometime in the near future, but there's no decision now.
Q He will go ahead and exercise the waiver and delay it for six months?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I just said there's no decision on that right now.
Q Can I get back to the question of the Chinese and the U.S. Ambassador to China? How important is this -- have you got news?
MR. LOCKHART: No. Some people about to go to the stakeout who are waiting for me. So can we hurry this up a bit?
Q How important of a position is the U.S. Ambassador to China?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, clearly from watching and listening to the President for the last six years, it's one of the -- U.S.-China relationships are one of the most important relationships we have around the world. China is the most populous country in the world. So, clearly, the head of the diplomatic mission there, the Ambassador is a very important position, and the President will look for someone with experience, leadership and someone that the President has utmost confidence in.
Q I had a follow-up question on that. When the President spoke earlier today about maintaining or developing what he called "a strategic partnership" with China -- what does he mean by a strategic partnership with China?
MR. LOCKHART: He means dealing with China, and engaging with China, on a wide range of issues, from trade to non-proliferation to regional security. We work with them on a number of issues, whether it's North Korea, or non-proliferation, in the region. These are issues that the President believes it's very important that we remain engaged, and that it is in both countries' interests to work cooperatively in the areas where we can find agreement.
Q Can I clarify something, going back to the war crimes issue? You're aware of the report in Le Monde on the heels of Chirac's visit, that he believes -- the visit he had in Russia. Le Monde has reported that Milosevic has in fact said he'll go along, accept the five NATO points, so long as he is given immunity from any war crimes prosecution.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I was not aware of that report. I'm also not aware that Milosevic has indicated in any significant way that he's willing to accept the demands. And given his track record of making promises and not keeping them, he's going to need to find a way to demonstrate his willingness to meet those demands.
Q Would conditions of any sort --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, this is not about negotiation. This is about meeting a minimum set of demands. He knows what he needs to do.
Q Is it safe -- to clarify, is it correct to assume that the five NATO points have to be no strings, no conditions attached?
MR. LOCKHART: They are written very clearly, and he knows what he needs to do.
Q The President acknowledged in his speech that Milosevic has been pretty successful in driving out most of the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. At this point in the military conflict, does the President believe, then, that Milosevic has been more effective than NATO?
MR. LOCKHART: You know, I've seen this speculation and discussion, that somehow he feels like he's gotten what he wants. And that just flies in the face of what the reality is. He may have lost touch with reality, but the reality is, he's driven out a lot of people, but we're sticking with them until they get home.
He thought he could crush the opposing forces, the KLA, within a week. And they're not crushed; in fact, they're emboldened. He believes, that somehow, that we will lose interest in this and walk away. And he couldn't be more wrong.
Q Thank you.
END 1:56 P.M. EDT