THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
12:50 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. Let me give you, since we didn't see each other this morning, a brief readout of the President's morning, before we get to your questions. As some of you have already reported, the President had about a 15-minute conversation with President Boris Yeltsin this morning. It was a very good, positive conversation. Both leaders -- President Clinton, on his behalf, he thanked President Yeltsin for the constructive role he and the Russians have played in the diplomatic process involving trying to bring a peaceful solution to Kosovo. Both leaders agreed that we needed to move forward with implementation of the Chernomyrdin-Ahtisaari agreement. They both acknowledged the work that the G-8 leaders have done -- have completed this morning in Germany.
The President then had the two meetings with the Hungarian President, President Goncz. The primary focus of those discussions were on Kosovo, were on ensuring a Serb compliance with the Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin agreement. There was some discussion of what Hungary can do as far as their commitment to helping KFOR. They made some commitments as far as police and engineering units for their commitment to this effort.
Q Did the President discuss a bombing pause with Yeltsin?
MR. LOCKHART: There was some discussion about how this will all play out and sequencing. The President reiterated our view, which has been our core position for some time now, that in order to pause the bombing, we need to see the beginnings of a verifiable withdrawal of Serb forces.
Q Did Yeltsin ask affirmatively for a bombing pause?
MR. LOCKHART: President Yeltsin has made his views quite clear from the beginning that he thought that a bombing pause -- that we should pause the bombing. But I think our views were equally clear and were made.
Q But the question, Joe, is did it come up in the conversation today?
MR. LOCKHART: As I said, the sequencing of how this will all play out came up in the conversation.
Q Joe, when has the President mentioned that he doesn't expect Russia to veto it, since it has been a very constructive partner in this, but how about China? Could China veto this arrangement?
MR. LOCKHART: It's our expectation that China will not stand in the way of a peaceful solution to the conflict in Kosovo. They have made quite clear their views and their efforts to see the air campaign come to an end and reversing the ethnic cleansing. So it is our view that they will not stand in the way of this.
Q What does the President mean by moving forward? Does he have a plan for a step-by-step --
MR. LOCKHART: There are a number of things that are moving forward as we speak -- things that need to happen. For instance, the U.N. now has tabled the draft resolution. They have gone into -- will go into a session within the next few minutes. The military-to-military talks will resume soon in an effort to try to reach a technical agreement so that the Serb troops can begin the withdrawal, and begin them on a timetable that will allow the bombing to be paused. There is also activity within NATO, activity to move toward an ACTORD to authorize KFOR to go in and do the work that they will need to do in Kosovo, as far as providing security.
So these are all events that are ongoing. There is a certain degree of synchronizing these events, but what's important for the U.S. government, as the President articulated this morning, is we need to see a verifiable beginning of a withdrawal before the air campaign will be paused. That's our bottom line position; that's what we need to see.
Q Have you seen any evidence --
Q Have the Yugoslavs agreed to come back to the military-to-military talks?
MR. LOCKHART: I would -- I'd ask the question over there. It's my understanding that they are expected to come back sometime later today. I don't have an exact timetable.
Q Does it matter to you whether the United Nations Security Council goes ahead and votes, or do you want the withdrawal to start first? Talk about sequencing.
MR. LOCKHART: I think, as far as sequencing, different people have different priorities for what needs to happen. Let me just repeat what our bottom line position is. We need to see this verifiable withdrawal before we'll pause the bombing. And that is our bottom line position. Other things can happen, synchronized or sequenced in a variety of ways, but that's our bottom line.
Q Joe, when the President said today that he didn't expect the Russian peacekeeping troops to report to a NATO commander, he thought that it would work like in Bosnia, is he meaning that they report to an American general who is not a NATO commander?
MR. LOCKHART: I think what the President indicated is two things -- one is that this will be a force that is a single force with a unified command, with NATO at its core. Secondly, we're looking forward to talking to the Russians about their participation. Bosnia can be an example here of how we're able to do that and still have an effective force.
I think as we indicated, Strobe Talbott will be traveling to Moscow to talk about this, to talk about their participation. So I can't tell you exactly how this will work.
Q When he said it will work like Bosnia -- in Bosnia they report to -- there is a deputy Russian commander and --
MR. LOCKHART: There is certainly -- Bosnia should serve as a useful example for how it can work. I can't tell you that that's how it will work.
Q Can you describe how the Russians interact with NATO in Bosnia?
MR. LOCKHART: There is a structure there that I would have to get the details of, but they're easily obtainable. I think the important point here is that that is one example of how it can work. I'm not saying that that is how it will work, but it's one of the reasons why Strobe Talbott will travel to Moscow.
Q When you say NATO at its core, you still mean NATO in command?
MR. LOCKHART: NATO at its core -- led by NATO.
Q Joe, how would you describe the tone of the exchange on this idea of a bombing pause versus what you just described as the bottom line? What was the tone of that exchange?
MR. LOCKHART: Business-like.
Q Joe, have you seen any signs yet that the top Yugoslav generals are ready to return? Are the top Yugoslav generals ready to return to the military-to-military talks?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it's my understanding that those talks will resume sometime -- will resume shortly. But I don't know exactly when those will start.
Q But tomorrow is a lover level? The one that you talked about is a lower level?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think this will be at a level of authority to make and sign an agreement.
Q What's the practical effect of this? The U.N. resolution language doesn't weaken or change the agreement that Chernomyrdin got out of Milosevic last year. So what's the difference now? What will be different when those military commanders come back?
MR. LOCKHART: The practical effect of this is the international community is now united on Milosevic and the Serbs reaching an agreement to start this as soon as possible. The G-8, which includes Russia, has spoken. The international community, speaking with a single voice here, united, that the ball is in Milosevic's court, and if he wants this to end, he needs now to move and implement the agreement he made last week.
Q Joe, what kind of role will the U.N. and non-NATO countries will play in peacekeeping and also rebuilding in Kosovo?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, in peace-keeping, I think that, again, Bosnia is an example where you can have an effective command structure and an effective force that also brings in non-NATO countries. I think there have been a dozen or so countries from around the world that have already indicated their willingness and interest in participating in this force. That is obviously a very positive message and sign of hope for what this force will look like. But those issues, particularly having to do with Russian participation, there are still some open questions that need to be resolved.
Q In the photo op today the President expressed --
Q -- interested in a Kosovo peacekeeping model that resembled Bosnia? Haven't the Russians made clear they're not interested in repeating the Bosnia model --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I've seen various things reported. I think I'm not going to get out ahead of Deputy Secretary Talbott's mission. I think they've expressed an interest in participating. I think NATO, as an alliance, is very interested in having Russia participate. And we will work out the details.
Q Joe, at the photo op the President expressed some optimism that the logistical details could be worked out. On what does he base that optimism?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the logistical details can be worked out, but it is very much an issue now that rests squarely in the lap of President Milosevic. The Russians have made very clear what their view is, as far as agreeing to this U.N. text, that the Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin agreement should be implemented and move forward. And now President Milosevic will need to make the tough decision.
Q Just to follow up on that, was he trying to indicate some optimism, that there's some reason for optimism that the Serbs will come to an agreement?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, listen, I think you can spend way too much time talking about things like optimism, pessimism, what your hopes are. We need to see something. We've made very clear what we need to see, as far as a verifiable withdrawal. And what's -- in the wake of this morning's meeting, it's clear that NATO, the Russians, the international community as a whole, is now looking very closely at Milosevic and is now looking to see if he's willing to implement the agreement's he's made. Until we see and can verify that he's willing to keep those commitments, the air campaign will continue.
Q Joe, why does NATO want to delay a vote in the Security Council on this resolution? What is the advantage to NATO instead of having the vote now and then holding the resolution --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I think I've been clear on what our priority is. I don't know that NATO is trying to delay a vote in the U.N. Security Council. We need to see a verifiable withdrawal before we pause the campaign. That is the crucial part of the sequencing part here. All of the other things are ongoing and will happen in their own time.
Q Joe, I'm unclear on a point regarding the Yeltsin phone call. Did Yeltsin express a view on when the bombing should end?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me be as clear again as I can and repeat myself again. He expressed his view that has been expressed many times on that.
Q So he did tell --
MR. LOCKHART: Scott, I don't know any other way to say it --
Q Joe, you haven't been clear on this.
MR. LOCKHART: I have been clear.
Q Forgive me for questioning, but I believe what you just said is that Yeltsin asked the President to stop the bombing -- is that correct?
MR. LOCKHART: Scott, I'm done on this.
John, you had a question?
Q Did Milosevic keep his end of the deal now in the short-term? Is it also clear that at least in the short-term, this would be a NATO-only peacekeeping force because no one else is prepared to go in in the next 72 hours or so?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know -- I would push the question over to NATO on how they will incorporate the many nations that want to participate in this. I think the initial force would be NATO as far as the enabling and the initial work that gets done. But I don't know the sequence of when other people commit.
Q No non-NATO countries, Russia included, are standing by ready to go in --
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q -- non-NATO countries --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, countries that have expressed interest are as far afield as the Ukraine, United Arab Emirates -- those ar the two I can think of -- Jordan -- gave you one more than you asked me for.
Q Joe, on reconstruction, the President mentioned again today his hope that Serbia could participate in the Marshall-type plan if they move toward democracy. Is he, in effect, asking for the overthrow of the Serbian government?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President was not breaking any new ground today. He has said many times and repeatedly that over the long-term for Serbia to enter 21st century Europe, a united and integrated Europe, they have to move away from authoritarian regimes that practice the policies of ethnic cleansing, like Milosevic, and move toward a democratic. And I think he's been equally clear that Serbia should not expect reconstruction help under the current regime.
Q So he would like Milosevic to institute these reforms, or what?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, democratic -- I think any student of that part of the world in Europe will understand that oftentimes democratic institutions don't rise from authoritarian regimes, they rise from the people.
Q Joe, what's the President's mood? He's not proclaiming victory, I know he wants to be very cautious. But the Washington Post today seemed to think he has had some major epiphany, transformation of character and so forth by this --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President, from the beginning, has understood what's at stake here -- what we were doing, why we were doing it, and he's been very determined. I think he's avoided some of the swings that you've seen in the newspapers, from the extremes. He understands who we're dealing with. So he remains cautious. There's still more work to be done. But he remains determined to continue to press this air campaign until we have the kind of verifiable withdrawal we need to see.
Q Joe, is the President contemplating a formal press conference before he travels to Europe for the G-8?
MR. LOCKHART: He's always thinking about it. He always wants to do it -- (laughter) -- it's just one of those things where if his staff lets him. We'll let you know.
Q When's the briefing on the trip?
MR. LOCKHART: The briefing on the trip?
MR. TOIV: Monday, I think.
MR. LOCKHART: Monday.
Q Joe, when the President asked -- after Littleton asked that access to violent films -- asked the entertainment industry to cut back, he asked movie rental stores to stop renting videos to -- why aren't they part of this announcement this afternoon?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think rather than focus on that, I think we should spend today focusing on how quickly and how remarkably effectively the theater owners have moved. They, in just a matter of weeks, have put together a plan where 65 percent of the theaters around this country, going into R-rated movies children will need to produce photo ID. And that's an important step.
I think we're going to continue to work with the remaining theaters. We're going to continue to challenge the movie-rental companies to enforce the ratings system that they have created. There's a number of efforts that are ongoing and still work to be done, but I think today is a day that the President will want to recognize a leading organization stepping forward, quickly and effectively.
Q And what are they agreeing to do that they did not agree to do when the ratings system was first introduced?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, what they're agreeing to today, and they will in just a short time, will tell you directly, is check potential underage customers with a photo ID, which is --
Q Is this an admission of failure on their part, because wasn't that a part of the plan originally?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I think what -- for our purposes, we think this is an important step forward in enforcing the ratings. Whether or not any of this could have been done in the past is a moot point because we do live in the present, and I think it's important that we focus on the important step they're taking. And it's our hope that other segments of the industry will look at this and see what they can do, too.
Q Is this as important as getting the House to pass gun legislation?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President has been pretty clear all along that there's no one simple answer to the problem of violence and children. Everyone has a role to play; everyone can be part of the solution; everyone has a responsibility. I don't know whether -- what sense it makes to rank these things in terms of importance. These are all important steps.
It is important that we don't stop this effort because we've achieved some success. It is important for the House to move forward and pass sensible gun control legislation, which the Senate has already passed. It's important that we don't allow the NRA to use their political clout to somehow try to water it down or find creative new loopholes that will make the bill essentially meaningless. So these are all things that are important.
Q Joe, the House Republicans are putting forward their own package of legislation to address the issue of youth violence, in some cases going farther than the President has gone. What does the White House think about that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we haven't seen any of it. I have seen some newspaper reports on some of their ideas and we look forward to working with them constructively. It's our hope that this isn't an effort by those who oppose these sensible gun control measures, that this isn't just an effort to try to sink those -- I don't know, we haven't seen them. We'll have to see. All I can tell you is we're willing to work constructively with members of the House, whether they're Democrats or Republicans. And I think the American public expects that.
Q Joe, do you think that bill should be considered in the Judiciary Committee or directly to the floor --
MR. LOCKHART: I think that's up to the leadership of the House, and I stay away from talking about the Judiciary Committee -- the Judiciary Committee commentator emeritus.
Q The Los Angeles Times reports today that the administration is preparing to loosen restrictions on sales of powerful computers to more than 100 countries. What do you know about that?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know anything about that. Let me check.
Q Is that true?
MR. LOCKHART: I just don't have anything on that.
Q I understand the President have -- both the Prime Minister of India and Pakistan on the conflict -- also, at the same time, Pakistan -- Pakistani Ambassador in Washington accused the U.S. on taking the other side. And also bin Laden has been now -- is number one of the most 10 wanted list, according to Attorney General Janet Reno. And he's the one who is sponsoring terrorism around the world --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me just say on the letters, I think we've reported here before that the President has written to both leaders urging restraint. This is an issue of getting the two sides to talk to try to resolve these differences rather than taking sides. We strongly support the invitation that's come from India for the Foreign Minister of Pakistan to visit -- to make a visit on June 12. We hope that that invitation will be accepted and we believe that the best way to work through these issues is for direct talks between the two parties.
Q The New York Times today had a detailed description of your Medicare proposal over the course of the year. Is it generally accurate in saying that premiums for drug covers could be $10 to $25 a month, and so forth?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, as you know, the President is -- we are nearing the final stages of the process to put forward a comprehensive Medicare reform package. There are some elements of it that have been discussed. I think the Chief of Staff was on television this weekend talking about a prescription drug benefit that would be universal. The President in the State of the Union talked about some of the key principles, and those remain the same. I'm not going to get into trying to preview what the final package will look like.
As far as the story goes, there were some things in there that are accurate, there are some things that were inaccurate. The one thing that I would point out is -- and that was in your question, I think -- I wouldn't put too much weight in the numbers they used on premiums. I think those numbers -- I'm not sure where those numbers came from, but I'm going to wait until the President is finished the process and is ready to announce the entire package.
Q Is that before or after Europe?
MR. LOCKHART: My guess is it's probably after. But we still haven't come to a final decision.
Q Joe, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States was reelected for another five years. What is your comment on that? And if the White House is pleased with that reelection, because he was reelected unopposed? I would like you to comment.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me do a little work on that, because I haven't spent much time on that issue. And I'll -- we'll come back to you with an answer.
Q Joe, President Clinton has asked those who market guns and violent movies to essentially help keep them away from children. He's also, in addition, asked the makers of guns to stop producing certain kinds of guns. But he hasn't asked the makers of movies to tone down the violence. Is he going easier on Hollywood than the gun makers because they're a major contributor?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think he has. He's asked them to stop marketing violent images, movies, whatever the product is, to young people. He's also asked the FTC and the Department of Justice to launch a very serious study about the marketing practices. So I don't think he's going easier on any particular industry. This isn't about singling out an industry or singling out individuals. It's about trying to find sensible and common-sense solutions to the problem and getting everyone to take responsibility.
Q To follow up on that, Joe, is it an issue of, if you start going after the content of movies, does that a perception of censorship, or does he not have a problem with the violence in movies today?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there are certainly issues that will ultimately be constitutional, there will certainly be issues of censorship. I think the President has expressed a real problem, though, with marketing any kind of violence or violent images to children. That's what he's paying special attention to.
Q -- the civil rights law enforcement roundtable tomorrow, does that have anything to do with this police profiling and police discrimination, as well as efforts for his race book?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know about the race book, but some of those issues are certainly part of the process that will be discussed tomorrow. But I'm not going to preview what he's going to say about that today.
Q Is police brutality and profiling, is that going to be a major focus of this tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, they have a series -- there are series of meetings, right? Yes. There are number of subjects that will come up. I expect those to be among them, and I'll let you know tomorrow what news he will make, if any.
Q Joe, most of the new movie theaters are being built in the country are multiplexes, where there is 14, sometimes even more theaters, with fairly few employees. How would the President or how would the theater owners propose preventing children whose IDs have been verified moving from theater to theater or going to a different movie than the one they --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think this is something that the theater owners are going to have to work through. But judging from what I've heard from them and judging from the speed in which they've come forward to try to tackle this issue, I think they are committed to getting it done and working with their theaters to make sure that there is not a way to get around the new process of checking young people coming into the theaters.
Q Joe, the movie theater industry came forward more quickly than the rental industry. I take it that's why we're seeing this portion of the announcement today and not affecting a photo ID requirement when you rent an R-rated movie.
MR. LOCKHART: That would be correct.
Q When are the talks going to begin again with the Serbs? Have they indicated a greater willingness to accept any of the conditions, or have they said they want to get back to the table?
MR. LOCKHART: We have remained willing to move these forward. We expect that with the text approved, that they will come forward and try to get this finished. I can't tell you that they will, but it's certainly our expectation.
Q They said they want to start talking again? Is that what you base the idea --
MR. LOCKHART: My expectations are based on the conversations from there, and it's my expectation that these talks will resume.
Q Have you seen any evidence yet, Joe, of any Serb troop withdrawals from Kosovo?
MR. LOCKHART: No, to the contrary. We've seen evidence that they've continued their campaign.
Q Joe, you said at the beginning that it was our expectation that China will not stand in the way. Is that based on Chinese public statements, or is there a firm understanding with China that they're not going to?
MR. LOCKHART: It is based on public statements and our diplomatic conversations.
Q So there is an understanding with China?
MR. LOCKHART: Based on diplomatic conversations, it's our understanding they will not stand in the way.
Q Joe, you want to comment on bin Laden being on the 10 most wanted FBI list?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it should come as no surprise that he's earned a spot on that list. I think we've made quite clear that he is a key sponsor and mover in the world of terrorism, and we've also made quite clear that it is only a matter of time before he's brought to justice.
Q Joe, Republicans are saying that they're going to respect their budget spending caps and go ahead and pass the budget that reduces spending and programs that the White House cares a lot about. Is the President going to do anything to try to avoid a last-minute showdown?
MR. LOCKHART: The President would very much like to work constructively with Republicans in Congress on getting a budget that saves Social Security, Medicare and invests in our priorities. I just don't know that it's constructive to be looking at 20 percent across-the-board cuts in key education programs, environmental programs, law enforcement programs, over two years the loss of 5,000 FBI agents. I think the list can go on. I don't think we believe that that's a constructive approach.
But we will continue to work with -- the President has a plan there, and it is our hope that we can avoid the kind of brinksmanship that we've seen over the last few years, moving to the end of the year, but only time will tell.
Q Joe, I want to make sure I characterize this properly. Is it fair to say that you don't want to comment on whether Yeltsin specifically asked the President to stop the bombing?
MR. LOCKHART: It's fair to say that I think that if one plus one equals two, and I've given you one and one, then it should equal two.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:18 P.M. EDT