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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release July 15, 1999
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY
                             JOE LOCKHART

                           The Briefing Room

1:15 P.M. EDT

MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. Let me do one quick travel announcement before I take your questions. The President will travel to Lansing, Michigan, on Thursday, July 22, to hold a Medicare discussion forum with local residents. He will depart for Michigan Thursday morning and will return to Washington later that afternoon. That's my travel announcement.

Q What is the plan for tomorrow -- talking about travel? Does he have an event here before he leaves?

MR. LOCKHART: No, he will leave directly from Camp David at about 10:30 a.m. or so, go to Andrews and do his schedule in Iowa, returning after midnight.

Q For the record, can we repeat the business about the neutron bomb? China says it can now make a neutron bomb.

MR. LOCKHART: Let me see what I've got on that. The document that I think you're referring to, or the report, we haven't actually seen that, but we're aware of the reports. It's well-known that China has had a nuclear modernization program ongoing for many years. As the Jeremiah damage assessment concluded, China obtained by espionage classified U.S. nuclear weapons information that probably accelerated its program to develop future nuclear weapons. That's a quote from the report. The Jeremiah Panel also concluded that it could not assess the relative contribution made by the U.S. information as compared to China's own efforts and information China may have obtained from other countries.

In any event, we have taken strong steps to ensure that our nuclear secrets are protected and secured.

Q What did you say?

MR. LOCKHART: Our steps as far as the Department of Energy.

Q Does this violate any treaty or non-proliferation or anything?

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

Q Is there any more danger from a neutron bomb in China's hands than from other atomic weapons?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me make a general point about we know they've had a nuclear modernization program ongoing for many years, but China we know has less than two dozen long-range nuclear weapons. The United States has over 6,000. We have no doubt that our nuclear deterrent is strong enough to protect our national interests.

Q When you say long-range nuclear weapons, are you talking about the warhead itself, or are you talking about carrier -- the missiles?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm talking about their ability to send a long-range missile.

Q So, Joe, you think that they're saying that they used our secrets to build a neutron bomb -- is that what you're saying?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I think what I said is that China certainly, according to the Jeremiah report, obtained some nuclear secrets, but the Jeremiah Panel was unable to assess in specific cases what they developed indigenously or what they may have developed from information from other countries.

Q Why does the President feel the need to ascribe ulterior motives to those in the Senate that are against his version of the patients' bill of rights? What evidence does he have that they are bowing to pressure from the health insurance industry?

MR. LOCKHART: Because their legislation that they are promoting is strikingly similar in goals and specifics to what you see in the ads on television that the insurance companies are paying for. I think the President believes that it's only here in Washington that this is a partisan issue, that in the country when he goes out and talks to people, that the vast majority of Americans believe that the protections that are embodied in the Democratic approach are something that the public overwhelmingly supports. But there is a small, but powerful, lobby here in Washington that is seeking to protect their own interests, which is legitimate, and the Republicans have seen to take up the cause of this small, yet powerful, lobby at the expense of the American public.

Q Joe, the President has an explicit veto threat out on the Republican version of the patients' bill of rights. Why won't he do the same for a juvenile justice bill that doesn't have his gun control measures on?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think what the President says is there are certainly things in the juvenile justice legislation that we support and would like to see made law. I think the point the President is making is he want's to see the gun control legislation included in the juvenile justice, but he certainly doesn't want to see any gun control legislation weakened.

So we're going to work with the conferees once they're appointed, if they ever are appointed, to try to get what the Senate passed into the overall legislation. But there are certainly ideas that have nothing to do with gun control within juvenile justice that have merit.

Q Joe, you indicated this morning that the President probably would not -- or would not accept a bill that didn't include a right to sue. Aren't you, by the same vote, open to the charge that the President's being influenced by the trial lawyers?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think there's certainly a number of protections that make this real; one of them is adequate redress. And we're certainly willing to talk to people about how you do that, but there hasn't -- in the Republican leadership bill, there is not any adequate redress. And that's one of a number of issues that the President has raised concerns about.

Q With regard to the visit of Prime Minister Barak --


Q -- will the President consider again the release of Jonathan Pollard?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think as you know, the President asked his advisors, led by the White House counsel, Mr. Ruff, to conduct a review. They have collected information, but no final recommendation has been forwarded to the President. And as I think I said yesterday, I don't expect that recommendation to be forwarded in the near future.

Q Have you settled on a way to brief us about the Barak-Clinton meeting later this afternoon?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. As I said this morning, we'll have a few senior administration officials who are highly knowledgeable on this subject down here probably 5:30 p.m. or 6:00 p.m. to talk to you.

Q -- the President and Prime Minister getting to know each other better?

MR. LOCKHART: I missed the top, I'm sorry.

Q What do you expect out of the talks aside from the President and the Prime Minister getting to know each other better?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it's very -- I think the personal relationship is very important. So I think the President does look forward to spending a good bit of time, both this afternoon and this evening, especially this evening in a relaxed setting to get to know the Prime Minister better. I think it is an opportunity to listen to the ideas the Prime Minister has brought as far as the peace process, and to exchange ideas about the vision that both the Prime Minister and the President have for the future of the peace process.

Q Are you familiar with this Chafee alternative on redress? Is that good enough if they sue just in federal court for actual damages and not punitive damages?

MR. LOCKHART: I think there are some -- there are some deficiencies in the redress functions that have been put forward in the so-called Chafee-Graham proposal. And those would need to be strengthened in order for the President to support that. I think it is indicative, though, that there are only one or two or three members of the Republican Party and none of the members of the leadership who are even willing to come that far. But as written, it is not sufficient.

Q Joe, I think you said the President -- I think you used the word vision, that they would speak of their vision. The President has given some insight into his vision, speaking of the rights of Palestinians to live wherever they like, speaking of the support for Palestinian aspirations to a homeland. That's I guess part of a vision. Will he put that in concrete terms in these several meetings with the Prime Minister -- and if he feels Palestinians can live wherever they like, how about Israelis who live on the West Bank? Can they live wherever they like?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not going to pre-judge the discussion and I will be glad to talk about it at length afterwards, but I think his views on certainly a Palestinian homeland are well-known.

Q Joe, why was the President so defensive about his comments about George W. Bush yesterday?

MR. LOCKHART: Why was he so defensive?

Q He sounded very defensive out there.

MR. LOCKHART: I hardly think he was defensive. I think he was quite pleased with himself. (Laughter.) That's certainly the impression I got.

Q On the subject of Governor Bush, does the President have a view of the report that Governor Bush owned a home at one point that had racial --

MR. LOCKHART: You know, I have not discussed that with him. I can ask him about that, but the only thing I know is from what I've read in the newspaper, but I haven't really talked to him about i

Q Can you ask him, please?

MR. LOCKHART: I could, sure. Sure.

Q What about the announcement that -- not going to take matching funds?

MR. LOCKHART: Let me ask him about that. I mean, I think, obviously, there's some implications there on the legitimacy of the campaign finance system, but again, I haven't talked about that with him. But I'll take both of those and try to talk to him the next chance I can get.

Q Prime Minister Barak has already met with President Mubarak, President Arafat and King Abdullah. Has the President talked to any of the three of them before his meeting today? Do you know if he's had any private conversations?

COLONEL CROWLEY: He talked with Mubarak here.

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, Mubarak was --

Q After that.

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think -- I don't know of any phone calls since the meetings. But as you know, since the election he's met with President Mubarak, he's met with -- talked to Assad, talked to King Abdullah.

Q I just wanted to know --

MR. LOCKHART: No, nothing in the last few days.

Q -- President called anyone, talked to anyone, been updated by any of the parties?

MR. LOCKHART: Not in the last 24 hours, as far as I know. He's been actively engaged in this over the last two or three weeks, talked to all of the leaders there. I think he, at the event today, indicated his concern about the activities over the last 24 hours and his commitment to trying to keep this process ongoing and getting the Good Friday Accords implemented.

Q Has he been asked by anyone to intervene? Does he plan to make any calls in the next 12 or 24 hours?

MR. LOCKHART: If he does make some calls, we'll let you know.

Q Is Sarajevo still on?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have anything to announce on that today.

Q Joe, Secretary Richardson announced a plan today to compensate people who work in the nation's nuclear laboratories -- nuclear laboratories and nuclear production facilities. Does the President support that, and is it true that the White House was the one that insisted that if be limited only to workers that handle one particular substance, beryllium, and not all the --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm only familiar with the beryllium action. Obviously, the President supports Secretary Richardson's announcement today. This is a case where some contract workers with the Department of Energy decades ago came into contact with this substance, and because they were contract employees they did not have access and was not available to them what the Department of Energy employees had as far as benefits. So the President does support it. I'm not aware of any other restrictions. This is, as far as I know, particularly the case on this beryllium.

Q There must be other hazardous substances that people were exposed to.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, if there were other hazardous substances, I'm sure the Department of Energy is looking into that, but I'm only aware of this particular one.

Q Joe, President Clinton in your communique has praised Prime Minister Blair and President Menem of Argentina for starting conversations on the Falklands-Malvinas issue. Is the United States going to get involved there, trying to advance --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to speak to the U.S. involvement in this, but the President did believe and did praise the successful discussions that were held between President Menem and Prime Minister Blair as far as some of these confidence-building measures concerning the Falklands, Malvinas, and I think the President believes it's very important work that was done and completed yesterday.

Q Yesterday, the President said he was going to ask the Treasury Department to do an analysis of the tax cut -- do you know if he's asked for that and when that might be --

MR. LOCKHART: He has asked for that. I expect that in the next day or so.

Q Joe, the President had said shortly after the incident at Littleton, Colorado that he didn't want to politicize it, and yet, that would appear to be what he's doing today, using these kids to push gun control legislation that he supports.

MR. LOCKHART: I would strongly disagree with the premise of the question. I think the President was quite impressed with the articulate way these young people make their case to them who came -- to this group of young people from the Denver area who came to Washington to make a case about stronger gun controls. This isn't about politics, not about partisanship, it's about school safety. It's about being able to go to school and feel safe, being able to live their life and feel safe. They have made a strong case to the President, they are making a strong case to members of Congress on the Hill. I don't view that as politicizing the issue.

Q But it's about winning a political issue.

MR. LOCKHART: Sure it is, but it's about what, in the President's view and in the students' minds, about doing the right thing. And that doesn't need to be politicized.

Q But certainly, the youngsters are being used in a political manner for a political end.

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the youngsters are here because they have an important message to send to Congress. They've got personal experience about what happens or what can happen with the explosion and the availability of weapons. They have personal experience and reasons to believe and to push for tighter gun control legislation and they're here to tell their story.

Q How many of those were actually from Columbine High School?

MR. LOCKHART: I believe there was about 90 students altogether and six were from Columbine. But this was a Denver-wide area initiative.

Q Joe, the President met with the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates this morning. Can you tell us what --

MR. LOCKHART: I think that meeting is about to happen. But I think he will reiterate the importance of our relationship with the United Arab Emirates, thank them for their role in Kosovo, particularly in some of the investments they've made as far as helping the Kosovar Albanians. And also, I expect they'll talk about some regional issues including Iraq.

Q Joe, when the President came back from his international trip, there was word that he wanted to have some time for his race book put on the schedule. Has he had that time? Has he been working on this book?

MR. LOCKHART: I can't give you -- I can't quantify it, but I know he has spent some time talking with staff, trying to move that process along. I'm not sure when that will be done, but as the President I think has said to some people, he believes it's important to get this done right and he will take the time he needs to get it done right.

Q Do you have a timetable -- you said earlier he would be finished by the summer -- by the end of the summer, I'm sorry. Are you still hopeful that he will finish this book by the end of summer?

MR. LOCKHART: I believe -- I don't remember saying the end of summer. Okay, I said it. I will check on -- I haven't checked on this since we've been back on what the timetable is.

Q Joe, what will be revealed by a Treasury analysis of the GOP tax cut? Is this for cost and so forth?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we're very concerned. There's been some reports out already from some Washington groups about the exploding nature of the Republican tax proposal in the second decade. I think it's important since those who are proposing it don't really seem to know what it will cost that the American people, those who are trying to make decisions do know what it costs. I think we have a general idea that this tax, as far as the drain on the surplus, is incredible back-loaded, and that the cost of it will explode in the second decade. And that is all the more worrying because it is at that time that Social Security and Medicare will face the demographic changes that have brought us to the point where we're trying to strengthen the systems. So I think it's important to know just what the numbers are.

This goes back to some of the things we were talking about earlier this week, where -- in which they have said they wanted -- the Republicans have said they want to do a lot of things as far as Social Security and maybe Medicare and tax cuts, and maybe some spending, which we believe is all impossible to do given the numbers as they are. And I think once you put numbers on these policy choices, you understand the wisdom and some of the decisions that we've made here.

Q He asked for this yesterday, you said?


Q And you will announce it tomorrow you think?

MR. LOCKHART: We'll announce it soon.

Q Well, there's little doubt in your mind that this study will show that the GOP tax plan would be reckless in the second decade.

MR. LOCKHART: I have no doubt about that.

Q Is the White House making any preparations for an overall budget conference, something to tie up all of these different loose ends?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think there's any -- I'm not aware of any budget conference. We continue to work with members in both parties to move the process forward. Clearly, the leaders in the House and the Senate have a lot to do. I think I heard Senator Daschle talking the other day about there only being something like 40 legislative days left in the session. So there's a lot of work to do. They have a lot of work to do on the process there, as far as both moving the appropriations process along and filling in some of the blanks on some of the policy proposals they've put forward this week. And they're going to need -- I think they've got some more work to do on their end.

Q Do you consider an increase in the standard deduction an unacceptable form of broad-based tax cut?

MR. LOCKHART: I think we will be working with -- let me put it this way -- I think the President has put forward what he thinks is the best way to cut taxes; one that takes into account the fact that we've got to do first things first, which is strengthen Social Security and Medicare. And then he's put forward net about $250 billion in targeted tax cuts that go to those who need them most and help promote retirement savings.

Within that context of getting Social Security and Medicare done first, there are certainly other ideas that are out there that we can discuss, we can talk about, but what is not open for discussion with the President is a kind of broad-based exploding tax cut that will put Social Security and Medicare at risk that the Republican leadership have put forward.

Q If this were included it would only probably go up to $300 billion range and you would not consider that an exploding tax cut?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we -- the President, you know, he's got gross something like $300 billion or a little bit more; net, $250 billion. But the numbers -- it's not like you take numbers out of the air. They have to fit into some context. And the context here is what the President said about first things first. We need to use this surplus, this historic opportunity to strengthen Social Security and Medicare. And that's what you need to do first.

We have a basic fundamental difference in how we've approached this budget and the use of the surplus. It appears that the Republicans have done the opposite of what we've done, which is, they've picked a tax cut and decided to try to fit everything in around that. And we just think that that approach is wrong.

Q But if you do the first things first, and then you end up with a $300 billion range tax cut that includes an increased standard deduction, you wouldn't necessarily have a problem with that?

MR. LOCKHART: The last thing I'm going to do is stand here and negotiate line by line from here what we're going to do. I'm trying to give you a broad, philosophical framework for how we look at this. The President has said there are a number of ways within the right context that you can cut taxes. He believes that those that he has put in his budget is the best way. But we will continue to talk with leaders, whether they be Democrats or Republicans.

You know, it is interesting, in today's paper you'll find Republicans in Congress now saying that they believe the tax cut that the leadership has put forward is too big -- Congressmen Castle and Ganske from Iowa. That's the important thing here, that we get Social Security and Medicare done, and then we can look at both the size and how you might do a tax cut.

Q So you're not ruling out an across-the-board tax cut, potentially that would be represented by an increase -- I mean, it's more the size of it that you're worried about?

MR. LOCKHART: The important thing is, first off, I think what we put forward is the solid proposal, and we're going to continue to push for that. But secondly, as far as the framework, what we absolutely rule out is trying to fit Social Security and Medicare strengthening and reform around the tax cut. That's got it backwards. We've got to get that done first, and then we can worry about the tax cut.

Q Joe, the President made a very strong-worded statement on the situation in Northern Ireland, expressing some degree of frustration. Could you characterize his mood on hearing what had happened in Belfast this morning?

MR. LOCKHART: I mean, I think he did a pretty good job himself. A lot of work has gone into this in the region, he's been very involved in this, and I think as he said before, it's hard to explain to the outside world, to those who are not involved in these talks on a day-to-day basis, how, with such a strong mandate for peace, that this could seemingly stall on issues of sequencing.

And he made that point to the leaders. They have not been able to resolve these differences. But I think his frustration is mixed with determination that we need to stay at this, that we've come too far in this process to allow it to collapse now.

Q Is his frustration aimed primarily at the Ulster Unionists?

MR. LOCKHART: I think, again, he said directly to all of the parties that the world wouldn't accept a sequencing excuse, and he believes that.

Q So he doesn't think they've collapsed?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the Northern Ireland Minister is now implementing a review. Clearly, this was a setback in the process, but he does not believe that the peace process is dead.

Q One last question about Barak. The Prime Minister has indicated that he would like to see the United States reduce the level of its involvement in the peace process. Is that something that he's willing to do?

MR. LOCKHART: I think I addressed this yesterday. I don't have anything to add.


END 1:40 P.M. EDT