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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release August 13, 1999
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                       BARRY TOIV AND DAVID LEAVY

The Briefing Room

12:30 P.M. EDT

MR. TOIV: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Friday.

Q I don't think everybody's here, Barry.

MR. TOIV: Come on in. We can wait.

Q This is not a comment on your --

MR. TOIV: Well, I'm happy today. I expect all the tough questions to go to David.

Just as I mentioned earlier today, we're going to have a briefing at 2:30 p.m. on the radio address. The subject has to do with clean water, and we'll have Carol Browner here again, making an encore appearance, as well as Elgie Holstein, who is the Associate Director for Natural Resources at OMB. This will take place at 2:30 p.m., but it will be on camera. It will be embargoed until 10:06 a.m. tomorrow, as usual.

Any questions?

MR. LEAVY: All right, thank you very much. Appreciate your coming in.

MR. TOIV: Well, thank you.

Q Well, a couple of them. One about the Pentagon, new policy for "don't ask, don't tell." Any comments on that?

MR. TOIV: Well, as you know, Secretary Cohen has been committed to implementing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy fairly. And the President agrees with him on that. The Pentagon, a little over a year ago, issued a report that said that "don't ask, don't tell" was working, but that there were a couple of areas where improvements needed to be made. I think today, the guidelines that they are issuing today are intended to address those issues. I would suggest you check over there for details of what they are announcing today.

Q I understand that China has not conveyed any explicit threats to the United States in regards to Taiwan. But can you characterize what has changed? Has there been any ratcheting up of the rhetoric of the implied threats, of the indications that you're getting that they may be more bellicose towards Taiwan?

MR. LEAVY: Let me just say, Bill, a couple of things generally. One, the peace and stability in East Asia and the Pacific is a fundamental national interest to the United States. We are certainly watching developments closely, have been in contact with both sides about our concerns and about reiterating our policy of resuming peaceful dialogue.

Just specifically on your question, it is my understanding that the intelligence community has not seen any extraordinary developments or signs that the PRC is mobilizing for military action in the Taiwan Strait.

Q Would you say that there has been a ratcheting up of the rhetoric in diplomatic channels? Are they trying to send signals?

MR. LEAVY: Well, I don't want to characterize, Kevin, other people's rhetoric, other people's statements. I think there has obviously been some increased tension in the Strait over the last several weeks. That comes as no surprise to any of us or anybody in this room. We've talked about that. But I think what we have to do is look forward, and we have communicated to both sides that there is a danger of escalating tensions, that we have to resume a dialog based on a One China formula. And we're going to continue to do that.

Q Specifically, there was one report that the embassy here had been saying that they are going to take action.

MR. LEAVY: I would steer you away from that report. As I said earlier today, we have not received any threats or ultimatums from the PRC. I checked about that again this afternoon, earlier this afternoon, and that was confirmed. So, I would steer you away from that report.

I would just say, though, generally, that there is nothing new in China's long-standing position. They have made clear that from their point of view Taiwan is an internal matter, and they hope that there is peaceful reunification, but they don't rule out military means. We have a long-standing disagreement on that. So I don't think any -- the context is not new.

Q Does the United States still have a commitment to go to the defense of Taiwan, should there be an unprovoked attack from the mainland?

MR. LEAVY: Our long-standing position -- this goes back many years, both Republican and Democratic administrations -- is that any effort to resolve the issue of Taiwan by other than peaceful means would be considered of grave concern to the United States. That position hasn't changed today.

Q How would you view a Chinese seizure of a small Taiwan-controlled island, or some smaller military action?

MR. LEAVY: See, that's the kind of hypothetical question that I want to avoid getting into. Again, the Taiwan Relations Act has been in place for many years. It has guided our relationship on this issue, our policy on this issue. And I don't want to change, or speculate on hypotheticals today.

Q David, is there concern that the U.S. might get drawn into something because of this rhetoric?

MR. LEAVY: Oh, I think there's concern that the interests of both sides won't be advanced. The One China policy that the President has advocated -- and that has been the foundation of our approach to this issue for many, many years -- has been successful for all sides. Both China and Taiwan have benefited economically. Taiwan's the sixth-largest economy in the world. Chinese economic growth has grown vastly over the last 20 years.

So the formula is a successful one. We don't see the need to change that, and we have no intention of changing that.

Q Let me follow, too. You said no one had contacted the United States with a threat. Has anyone from either side, Taiwan or China, contacted the United States with a concern over the rhetoric, a concern over the threat?

MR. LEAVY: Well, we've had a number of discussions, both at the State Department and with officials in China. As you remember, the State Department sent Assistant Secretary Stanley Roth and Ken Lieberthal from the National Security Council, several weeks ago, to Beijing to discuss our concern about the rising rhetoric, and a need to get back to a dialogue and to get back to the two parties talking about the issues. And so we have been engaged on this issue. And certainly, there is a concern that this kind of thing leads to accidents, leads to misunderstandings, and that we want to focus both parties on getting back to the table.

Q You said -- you made a point of saying that there were no extraordinary signs coming into the intelligence community of --

MR. LEAVY: Extraordinary developments or signs.

Q Right. Does that mean that there is something less than extraordinary -- or you're telling us what hasn't happened. Can you tell us what has happened?

MR. LEAVY: Well, I want to stay away from commenting on intelligence capabilities and what we do and don't know. I think that's a line we haven't crossed, and appropriately so. But, as I said earlier, it's our judgment, the United States government's judgment, that there aren't any extraordinary developments or signs that there is a mobilization on the PRC's part.

Q David, can you clarify just the conversations between the administration and the Taiwan and Chinese government? Have those conversations been stepped up in recent days? And at what level, if you can clarify, have these conversations been going?

MR. LEAVY: I don't think there has been a stepping up over recent days. Since this issue came to the forefront several weeks ago, we've had a number of discussions with the PRC and with people on Taiwan. There is nothing new in the last several days that I'm aware of.

Our general approach hasn't changed, though, and let me just repeat it again. The United States has a One-China policy. Our approach is based on dialogue between the two sides and a peaceful resolution of any differences. We've communicated that and we will continue to do so.

Q Let's put the intelligence community issue aside for a minute. If you look in the newspaper this morning, there are several people quoted on the record saying Chinese government representatives came to speak with them and made bellicose statements that there was some sort of imminent military action likely against Taiwan. Is that troubling -- those facts, which are known facts, are they troubling to the administration?

MR. LEAVY: Well, again, I don't think there is anything new in what we are hearing. China has a longstanding position that any -- that Taiwan is an internal matter, that they want to see it resolved peacefully, but they don't rule out the use of force. We have a disagreement with that. We don't think that's the way to go. We think there has to be a peaceful resolution to this issue. It has to come through dialogue. And so there is nothing new in that articulation of those themes. I don't think anyone from the United States government was quoted in those stories, and as I said earlier, no one from the administration has been approached about any particular threat or ultimatum.

Q But the analysts -- just to follow up -- these analysts who were quoted, who are respected China analysts, say that they did feel that there was something imminent, or that there was something new. The U.S. government just doesn't agree with that?

MR. LEAVY: No, I can't speak to that. As I said, we haven't been approached with any specific threat or any specific warning. And just the general notion that this is a new policy I would just push back on, because this is something that President Jiang and other Chinese leaders have articulated for some time. So the Chinese have not ruled out the use of military force. We disagree with them. We've made that clear. Our policy is peaceful dialogue.

Q The question goes, though, David to whether this is imminent or not. We know that that is their policy, but there seem to be signals that something may happen sooner rather than later.

MR. LEAVY: Well, I don't have any indication of that. And as I said earlier, it's our intelligence community's best judgment that there aren't any signs that there is PRC military activity underway.

Q What kind of activities, if any, is the President himself engaged in relative to this topic?

MR. LEAVY: Well, he hasn't been engaged over the last 24 hours. As you know, we will be seeing President Jiang at APEC in Auckland, New Zealand, the first week of September. That's going to be an important time for the two leaders to engage on this issue and a number of issues, including trade, human rights, non-proliferation, I believe that will be on the margins of the APEC Summit. So I think that will be the next opportunity for the President to sit down with President Jiang and go over the wide range of bilateral issues.

Q But he hasn't been consulting in recent days with his own advisors and what to do about this?

MR. LEAVY: Well Mr. Berger has kept him up to date. I believe he briefed him this morning, or he will early this afternoon. But he hasn't been engaged personally.

Q David, as far as the policy, how do you respond to Republican allegations that when it comes time to pressuring China and Taiwan on this issue, the Clinton administration has only been putting pressure on Taiwan to ratchet down tensions?

MR. LEAVY: I would reject that. The United States takes actions based on our own interests. We have had a formula that has managed this issue for some time that's been both Republican and Democratic administrations. As I said earlier, it has benefited all the parties -- Taiwan, the PRC, the United States. We're going to continue to do that. I think it's not for us to pressure anybody, but to make clear that both sides -- their agendas can be advanced, their prosperity, their security can be advanced by peaceful dialogue.

Q Last night the President told the Jewish leaders that he agreed that we should do more to start monitoring, if not infiltrating, some hate groups. Do you -- is there anything today? Any directive? Any review of how that would be done? Any stepping up?

MR. TOIV: I don't have any additional information for you on that, no. The Justice Department seeks to do an effective job of dealing with hate crimes, certainly, and they also monitor hate groups. But I don't have any information on additional work that's being done.

Q But Clinton said he would look into it personally, and said that he would do more.

MR. TOIV: And if he said that, he will.

Q Barry, it was a year ago that the President was preparing for his grand jury testimony. Any reflections about the atmosphere then, and how things have changed since then around here, and at the White House?

MR. TOIV: Nope.

Q Barry, I want to go back real quick to David about Ethiopia and Eritrea. What is the new development on the White House side in that conflict?

MR. TOIV: Okay. As you know, the United States has actively worked for a peaceful resolution of the dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea over the past year, and continues to work in cooperation with the OAU to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

As you know, Tony Lake was appointed as the President's special envoy to this conflict over a year ago. He has traveled there, I think, close to six times. There has been encouraging movement on the peace process over the last few weeks. At the Organization of African Unity's summit in Algiers in early July, the OAU proposed -- excuse me, the modalities for implementation of the OAU's framework agreement, both Ethiopia and Eritrea have now accepted the framework agreement, and the modalities for its implementation. We will continue to engage to move this process forward.

Q A follow-up. Jesse Jackson has been very pivotal in breaking tensions with other factional peoples on that continent. Is the White House thinking at all of bringing Reverend Jackson into this situation, or is he involved at all?

MR. LEAVY: I don't think so. As you know, Reverend Jackson did extraordinary work to bring about a resolution of the conflict in Sierra Leone. He deserves great credit for that. He saved a lot of lives and prevented a lot more violence. I think Tony Lake has the portfolio on Ethiopia and Eritrea. He as well has spent a considerable amount of his own time traveling there, I think, close to half a dozen times.

So I think between Tony Lake, our team at the State Department, Susan Rice and our team here, led by Gail Smith, have been quite engaged and quite successful. So I don't see any need for Reverend Jackson to come in.

All right. Have a great weekend, everybody.

Q Barry?

Q Hold on.

MR. LEAVY: Oh, Barry, I'm sorry.

Q Week ahead?

Q Barry, I've got one question for you before you go away. Black Navy veterans have asked the President to dismiss mutiny charges against black sailors who refused to load ammo on the ships after the 1944 Port Chicago disaster in California. Does the request have merit and, if so, what is the President doing about it?

MR. TOIV: Well, until recently, there had not been a request for pardons for any of these individuals. Now, a few months ago, a request -- such a request was made. It's being considered under the usual process at the Justice Department, and obviously the President will give careful consideration to that.

Q Is the President well aware of the situation?

MR. TOIV: I believe he is.

Q Any time frame?

MR. TOIV: I don't have a time frame for you, no.

Q Barry, back on the gays in the military; as a candidate, the President said that he would end discrimination against gays in the military, "don't ask, don't tell" falls far short of that. Has the President given up hope that during his term in office he'll end discrimination against gays?

MR. TOIV: Well the President believes that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy has worked effectively. And I expect that that will be the policy throughout his administration.

Q But you concede it doesn't end discrimination -- that if you admit you're a homosexual in the military, you get thrown out?

MR. TOIV: Well, I will concede that it is a policy that has worked, and is the best policy that can be workable at this time.

Q Yes, but if it's worked, why are they changing it?

MR. TOIV: Well, no, it has worked. As I said before -- I'm not sure if you heard what I had to say about it before, but there have been a couple of areas that improvements were needed. And in fact, that's the work that's been going on that has led to the guidelines that are being issued today. And so -- I said it worked. I didn't say it was working perfectly.

Q Barry, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported this morning that during a fundraiser on Saturday, several members of the Secret Service lined up to obstruct camera view of the President as he greeted Mrs. Arkansas in the ropeline, and that they later apologized for doing that. Do you know if that happened, or if it's common for the Secret Service to be used in that way, to interfere with press coverage of the President?

MR. TOIV: The answer to the second question, which is the fairer question of the two questions to be asking me up here, is I don't believe so.

Q Well, what's the answer to the first one?

MR. TOIV: The answer to the first question, of course, as you know, I've no idea, since that's the first time I'm hearing of that.

Week ahead?

Q Yes.

MR. TOIV: Let's see. I have to do this one by heart. Monday, the President is traveling to Kansas City, where he will address the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. And he will speak about foreign policy issues there, and I think I'll need to leave it at that for now.

MR. LEAVY: I can do a little bit more, but that's fine. I mean, if folks want, I can talk afterward.

MR. TOIV: Yes, David will fill you in a little bit more. I think he's going to focus to some degree on our obligations overseas. And that's the only event planned for that trip. He'll be back late afternoon, I believe, or maybe early evening at the latest.

On Tuesday, the President will announce some new PSAs relating to school violence. With kids starting to come back to school, obviously, this is a subject that is on a lot of people's minds, particularly with the incidents that occurred during the last school year. And there are going to be some new PSAs that are unveiled at that time.

Also on Tuesday, we have the visit from the NCAA champion Tennessee Vols, the football champions. They'll be here on Tuesday.

Wednesday, the President is down. And then Thursday, he heads to Martha's Vineyard for a well-deserved vacation.

Any questions?

Q Is he going to say anything on the way out today?

MR. TOIV: Is he going to say -- no.

Okay, thank you. Have a good weekend, everybody.

END 12:50 P.M. EDT