THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
1:30 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. Let me give you a sense of what the President has been up to since you saw him down here. He's made a series of calls, both domestically and to some of his foreign heads of state in Europe. In general terms, in these calls the President has stressed how important it was for NATO to remain united and unified throughout this conflict and the obvious benefits that resulted in NATO unity.
The President stressed that this is both a great day for Europe as far as achieving long-term peace and stability. It's clearly something that is in the interest of the United States and the international community. The President also cautioned his fellow leaders that there remains a great deal of hard work to be done to make sure the Kosovar Albanians can return home safely to their homes and can begin the process of reconstructing their lives, their communities, and rebuilding the institutions that help them to achieve security and substantial self-government.
Let me just go very quickly through the calls that have been reported to me. The President talked to Tony Blair early this morning in a wide-ranging conversation covering the importance of the success we've achieved and the challenges that we face as KFOR deploys. The President made the point that it's important that we get a civilian administration under the U.N. up and running as quickly as possible. They also talked briefly about other issues that will be discussed at the G-8, and the Prime Minister took the opportunity to update the President on the situation in Northern Ireland.
The President then talked to General Wes Clark. The President took the opportunity to congratulate General Clark for the outstanding military effort that he led over the last almost 80 days. General Clark told the President that he knew we would win this and that he knew that the President would win it. The President said that the future is what we need to concentrate on now; it's important having secured this victory that we also secure a victory in the peace and get the Kosovar Albanians home quickly and safely.
The President just before coming out here spoke to the Secretary General of NATO Javier Solana, thanked him enthusiastically for the great work that he's done as far as leading the NATO Alliance, keeping the Alliance together, and getting us to a position where we can see a withdrawal of Serb forces and look forward to the safe return of Kosovar Albanians.
The President talked -- as soon as he left here, went back to the Oval Office and talked to President Boris Yeltsin of Russia, thanked President Yeltsin for his leadership, including appointing the special envoy, Mr. Chernomyrdin, for the very constructive and crucial role he played -- President Yeltsin played and Russia played -- in finding a positive solution to this crisis. President Yeltsin commented that the United States and Russia worked well together, even though the issues that faced us were very difficult.
The President then talked to Prime Minister D'Alema of Italy. The Prime Minister was at Amendola Air Base, surrounded by Italian and NATO pilots. The President asked, in addition to thanking him for his important role in this process, asked the Prime Minister to convey to the pilots his deep appreciation.
The President then talked to President Chirac of France, said that this was very important for Europe and European unity. This was a chance, now, that we -- this was a moment that we'd look back on as very important for Europe, 10 or 20 years down the road, and this would be seen as a great day. President Chirac saluted the American people and the French people for remaining solidly behind the operation throughout -- who's it for?
The President talked to President Aznar of Spain. The President thanked Spain for their support and their solidarity within NATO, and the President reiterated how much hard work we have to do, and how much remains in front of us.
He then spoke to Prime Minister Chretien of Canada, talked about the great success we've had in working together, and how a unified and united Europe is in the interests of the United States and Canada.
I expect this afternoon he will speak to Prime Minister Kok and Chancellor Schroeder. He also talked to the leaders, Democratic and Republican, in the House and the Senate, briefed them on the situation over the last couple of days and talked about the issues that face us as we move forward.
Let me give you a little detail on tomorrow. The President will travel to Whiteman Air Force Base tomorrow. Whiteman is the home where the 509th Bombing Wing and was the staging base for B-2 sorties to Yugoslavia. The President will depart the White House at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow. He will arrive at the base about 10:00 a.m. local time.
Q Where is it located?
MR. LOCKHART: Near Kansas -- Knob Noster, Missouri, which is near Kansas City. At the base he will tour -- he will take a tour of the B-2 planes, meet with pilots and address base personnel. I expect he will depart the base about 2:00 p.m. and be back here at the White House about 5:00 p.m.
On a couple of domestic issues, I expect some correspondence to go up to the Hill shortly on two issues. The Chief of Staff, Mr. Podesta, will be communicating with Senator Lott on the Hormel nomination. He will, in his letter, detail the great cooperation that's gone on as far as recess appointments and urge Senator Lott to use his influence within the caucus to have the Republicans reverse their wrong-minded approach to Mr. Hormel and to blocking all of the nominees that they are currently blocking.
I also expect some correspondence. I'm not sure who it's going to be coming from. Do we list this? Got it back? There we go. I'm not sure at this point when it's going to go out, but there will be some correspondence to the House Republicans seeking a modification in the approach they've taken to gun legislation. Included in this will be a detailed side-by-side, which we will make available to you later today, on how the current legislation before -- that the House Republicans have put forward has reopened many of the loopholes that the Senate legislation closed just a few weeks back. So those two things will go up today and we'll make them available to you once they've been received.
Q That is a letter to whom?
MR. LOCKHART: It will go to the House, probably to the Speaker's Office, but I'll let you know.
Q From who? From the President?
MR. LOCKHART: We'll let you know.
Q When he spoke to the Republican leaders did he thank them for their cooperation? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President focused --
Q How they all stick together?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes -- I think the President focused on how this was a very good day for America and it was a day where we should honor the courageous and outstanding work of our service people; and talked about how it is important to stay focused on the task at hand in the future.
Q Did he say he would get funding, the kind of funding he needed? I mean, did they discuss that at all?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know in what detail they discussed. I think the President is confident we will get the funding we need to have a KFOR force that will be effective. As many of you know, there have been those who, as recently as today, talked about trying to de-fund KFOR. You know, it strikes many as a classic -- trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But I think the President is confident that we will have the funding we need, and the Congress, a majority of Congress, looks forward to building on the success of the air campaign with a robust KFOR force, with appropriate American participation.
Q Why is he so confident -- if I can just add one more question.
MR. LOCKHART: I think when the American public reflects on today, they will reflect on an important victory, on the important work in front of them, and I trust that Congress will reflect on what the American public thinks.
Q Joe, the vote of the U.N., China's abstention, how does the White House view the vote?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that China articulated well their views on these issues. I think, as I've said from here over the last few weeks several times, we do not expect China to stand in the way of a peaceful resolution. They did not.
Q The purpose of the address tonight from the Oval Office is what -- to prepare the Americans for ground forces in Kosovo and the risks, even though, I assume, they're not calling this a non-permissive environment.
MR. LOCKHART: No, this would be a permissive environment. I think the purpose is -- the President spoke some 78 days ago to the American public about why we had launched the air campaign. That air campaign has been suspended on successful terms. I think he wants to honor those who have contributed to this, recognize the importance of the support the American public has shown for this operation, but also talk a little bit about what faces us in the future, risks to American servicemen who are going into this peacekeeping function, and to discuss how he views that process unfolding.
Q On Hormel, when do you expect him to be sworn in? And apparently, Inhofe is saying that he might pull back if the President writes a letter claiming he won't make any more recess appointments. Is the White House --
MR. LOCKHART: The President has no intention of writing a letter saying he will make no recess appointments, nor should, I think, any president make a pledge like that. Again, it is not surprising to me that he now wants to couch this into procedural terms, but if you look at what one of his own colleagues, Senator Smith of Oregon has said, this isn't about procedure, he said quite simply this is about whether we're going to enact employment discrimination. So let's not lose sight of what this is about. Whether the Senator is seeking some sort of tactical retreat or not, I don't know. It's important that we move forward. We had conversations.
What you need to know here is, by and large, the vast majority of recess appointments, there's been consultation in advance. There's been very judicious use of recess appointments by this President. We are certainly willing to work with the Senate leadership on issues of consultation; if they have issues they want to raise, we're willing to work with them on that. But the two points is, the President is not going to take a pledge of not using this because he has used it judiciously, and I think Senator Inhofe has his beliefs. He should state them clearly and not hide behind some procedural argument.
Q When is he going to be sworn in?
Q -- Finance today scheduled a hearing on Summers' nomination. Do you read that as a sign of progress in working through this dispute?
MR. LOCKHART: As long as the hold remains on these nominations, people are not going to be confirmed. So we are in a situation right now where Republican senators, for their own ideological purposes, are holding up all nominations. That's where we are, that's what the public needs to understand, that Republicans have taken the position that no nominee should go through, whether it's the Secretary of Treasury, whether it's United Nations ambassadors, whether it's the deputy assistant sub-secretary of the department of who knows what. They shouldn't be confirmed in their job. And we think they should re-think that position.
Q Joe, yesterday you blamed only Inhofe, and today you're talking about all Republicans.
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think -- the hold is being put on by Senator Inhofe. He obviously will have to work within his caucus, and we hope the leadership of the Republicans will use their influence with him to get him to release his hold. I think it's important for Republicans in leadership position to use their influence, whether they be in the Senate leadership, whether they be leaders in the party. You've got a lot of people with influence in the party, influence in that caucus, who could be speaking out for -- against this sort of discriminatory practice, who have been silent.
Q When and who's going to swear him in?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have the answer to that.
Q Joe, the President spoke of the difficulties of getting the refugees back in, and the timing. Could you elaborate on that? And when does the President want to see the refugees begin to return?
MR. LOCKHART: The President wants to see the refugees returning as soon as possible, as soon as it's safe. I think, for more details, the Pentagon this afternoon will have a briefing, and they can provide some of the logistical aspects of how KFOR will go in and how they will function.
Q But he spoke specifically of logistical problems and things, and I'm wondering what he himself was thinking.
MR. LOCKHART: No, this is a huge task. There are some 50,000 KFOR troops who will go in and try to reverse the ethnic cleansing of well over 1 million people. There are still hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Kosovar Albanians. Logistically, this is a mammoth, massive task, which will require the effort of all of the NATO allies, as well as other countries that may participate. That does not mean that these -- any obstacles are insurmountable. They certainly are, and will be.
Q Joe, to follow on a little bit, is there any reason -- now, next week, next month, next year -- for Yugoslavia to expect any assistance from the West if Milosevic is still at the helm?
MR. LOCKHART: I think our message has been very clear: As long as President Milosevic is President Milosevic, Serbia should not expect reconstruction aid from the United States.
Q Is that including something as basic as electricity, or will they freeze next winter?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we have always separated out humanitarian aid around the world. You don't have to look far to find examples. So I'm not ruling out limited humanitarian, but we are not interested in participating in a reconstruction effort with President Milosevic.
Q Joe, in the past, the President has spoken a little more broadly and suggested that Yugoslavia couldn't expect help from the West if he stayed in. You're saying that Europe is going to shoulder the bulk of it anyway. If the U.S. doesn't participate, should they expect to get reconstruction aid from Europe?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't speak for all European countries, but every European government that I've seen who has spoken to this expressed a very similar to the United States.
Q Are you hoping for a rebellion by the Yugoslav people against Milosevic?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think we're hoping that the Serbian people come to the conclusion that their future lies in a united democratic and integrated Europe that does not have a place for someone of Milosevic's standing.
Q Joe, on all the calls to the President, it makes it sound as if the President sees this whole effort against Serbia as his policy and he's now calling to congratulate all the people who helped him pull it off.
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. I think these 19 countries have worked very closely together over the last 78 days and for some months before that. And one of the main reasons that we are talking about success today is because of their ability to stay in touch, communicate and work well together. And I think all of the NATO allies have a great appreciation for the work that all of the leaders have done together, and these calls are recognition of that.
Q Joe, would you call this agreement a victory for the U.N. or a victory for the U.S., or a victory for the President?
MR. LOCKHART: I would say that this is an important part of reversing ethnic cleansing, which is a victory for the international community -- most importantly, a victory for the Kosovar Albanians.
Q Joe, when you talk about people on the Hill maybe cutting off funding for the operation, do you mean existing funding, or that after the end of the fiscal year, the provision --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the provision in defense authorization as I understand it cuts off funding for FY2000, and that's something that's been -- we've gone back and forth on over the last several weeks. And there may be a vote today on that subject.
Q But the money you've got from now until September or August, or whatever, you still have that money --
MR. LOCKHART: There are certainly some money now. I think we'll be working with the appropriate people on the Hill to talk about how and if money is reprogrammed.
Q Well, now that you're not involved in the military effort anymore, I mean, how long do you think that money will last to cover the peacekeeping costs?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we will work with the appropriate appropriators on the Hill to work out how this will be funded.
Q How much do you think you need -- how much do you want to ask for?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have a number.
Q Joe, will these troops be initially responsible for civil administration? Will they be responsible for policing, and a lot of --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, they'll be responsible for securing the area of Kosovo, but the civilian administration will be done by the U.N.
Q And when will that transition come?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the U.N. just passed their resolution within the last few moments. When they will actually begin exercising control over civilian institutions, I can't give you a precise starting date. But we're certainly going to push for that to be as soon as possible, because ultimately this is just a transition between civilian rule to self-government and autonomy.
Q Joe, the Kosovo Liberation Army has been calling for independence for Kosovo. Do you see this development as a win or a lose for them? And how will your relationship evolve, now, do you think, with the KLA?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that the KLA leadership signed onto Rambouillet, and this is Rambouillet plus, this is more than they got in that process. We've said -- we have articulated our policy clearly, and we are encouraged by the conversations we've had with the KLA about their willingness to cooperate and adhere to what they agreed to.
Q Can I just follow up on that? Do you expect there to be a vote at some point in Kosovo as to the future?
MR. LOCKHART: I think if you look at what's in the U.N. resolution, the U.N. authorities will have a process for determining the views of the people of Kosovo as they did in the Rambouillet Accords?
Q What's the plus in the Rambouillet plus?
MR. LOCKHART: Rambouillet plus is that they have that process, but most importantly, whatever happens, doesn't happen with the Serbs, they're all out.
Q To what degree does the trip next week become a victory lap, and what is the thinking on possibly adding any war-related stops?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have anything on any thinking on adding anything. I think while the leaders will certainly reflect on the success of the last several months and look forward to the important work to be done, there are many other issues -- financial architecture, international debt relief, some environmental issues -- that will be very high on their agenda, that we will be talking about on Monday in our trip briefing.
Q Joe, there's also some talk early on about demilitarizing or disarming the KLA. How has that been resolved, and what will the U.S. troops have in that process?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't speak to the exact -- what KFOR's function is, but in our conversations with the KLA, they have indicated that they are willing to demilitarize.
Q Which means as opposed to disarm? What's the distinction?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it has to do -- there's some distinctions in the kind of weapons that you're talking about. Disarming generally means every weapon that you might have -- demilitarizing -- weapons that would be involved in some sort of heavy weapons and some sort of conflict. So that is something they agreed to at Rambouillet, and it's something that they've indicated they're going to adhere to.
Q The question -- and will KFOR be the one to do that?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, and it's part of their mandate.
Q What's the latest on when the peacekeepers will go in, and more specifically, when American troops will go in?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think you've seen the American troops moving, landing in Greece today. They are moving forward. I don't have a precise timetable right now for when they will enter Kosovo, either the British leading the force or the American leading force.
Q Joe, how would you describe the -- by American troops going in. I mean, up until now, there have been no casualties in operations. Is there a greater risk now than there was when it was an air war?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure I'd say greater risk. It's a different risk. I mean, I think it is a remarkable story and testament to the efficiency and skill of the NATO forces, the American forces, the American pilots and all those who support them, that they were able to conduct some 35,000 sorties as efficiently and as safely as they did.
I think the President will remark this evening to make sure the American public knows that the KFOR troops face risks. It may be a different kind of risk; this is dangerous business. For instance, there have been a lot of land mines laid in Kosovo and that poses risks to peacekeeping forces. So there are risks. They are somewhat different, but they are just as real.
Q How long will the speech be do you think?
MR. LOCKHART: My guess it will be 12-13 minutes.
Q -- President also thank the Chinese authorities on their cooperation --
MR. LOCKHART: Contacted? No, I don't think he did, no.
Q Joe, this morning Secretary Rubin and Secretary-designate Summers came to the White House -- did they meet with the President?
MR. LOCKHART: No. There is a budget meeting that goes on here every day at 8:30 a.m. in the morning in the Chief of Staff's office, which the Secretary and the Secretary-designate are normal attendees at. Riveting stuff.
Q What leaders, congressional leaders, who did he actually talk to?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he talked to all four leaders, and Representative Bonior.
Q Joe, Elie Wiesel said yesterday that he doesn't think that given what has taken place over the last several months, that the ethnic Albanians and the Serbs can live together in peace in Kosovo. Does the President think otherwise?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President is committed, and he has spoken at great length about the importance of KFOR providing safety and security for both Kosovar Albanian and Serbs in Kosovo. That's what this force will be designed to do. And I think we believe that there can be a multiethnic province.
Q Any guidance on how long President Clinton will speak this evening?
MR. LOCKHART: I'd say 12-13 minutes.
Q Will there be an advance text? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Thank you.
END 1:58 P.M. EDT