THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
1:37 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: I have no announcements for you, so I'll be glad to go right to your questions. Yes?
Q Anything on the President's trip to Greece and why you degrade --
MR. LOCKHART: We're certainly not degrading the trip to Athens. The President is very much looking forward to making the trip. I think the Greek government made the determination that it would be more productive for us to come after our stop in Turkey, and we certainly agree with their assessment, and they're in the best position to make that judgment. But the trip is quite important, U.S.-Greek relations are quite important, and we look forward to the entire trip, including spending two days in Greece.
Q Without discussing -- without discussing -- why don't you go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q Would you please comment --
MR. LOCKHART: Terry's been here for a long time. We like to treat him with some respect. (Laughter.)
Q I got already his permission. May I?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Could you please comment on reports that you disagree with the Greek government about the trilateral meeting -- for the Greek -- difference over the -- in Cyprus, and also, on terrorist issues?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we certainly have a good working relationship with the Greek government on a number of issues. We've been working closely with them on terrorism, I think, as we've had discussions leading up to this visit to Greece on that subject, and if we have something to announce, we'll do it at the time.
As far as a trilateral meeting, we know that as part of the OSCE, there will be a number of leaders there. We expect we'll be meeting with them in a number of formats, and if there is the prospect for the leaders of Greece and Turkey to get together in a direct way or in a trilateral way, we'll let you know.
Q Joe, when the President of Panama urged President Clinton to attend the Canal turnover ceremony next month, The New York Times quoted the President as saying he is, "still thinking about it." If he and the Vice President are unwilling to be present at this ceremony, will he ask Maryland Senator Paul Sarbanes, who was the floor manager of the treaty, to represent the United States government?
MR. LOCKHART: We have not made a decision on who will lead that delegation to the ceremony on, I believe it's December 14th for the official turnover. The official turnover actually is at the end of the year, but I think they made the judgment that, given the millennial celebrations that will be going on around the world, that they would do it a little bit earlier.
But, certainly, someone of the standing and stature of Senator Sarbanes would be a fine representative of the United States government and we hope that if he has an interest in participating in that delegation that he will be able to do it.
Q Is there any chance that the President will disregard the concerns of law enforcement officers again by commuting Leonard Peltier?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to comment on any clemency or pardon process while it's ongoing. The Department of Justice has a process that they administer. The President makes his decisions and we'll let you know if he has got anything coming.
Q Joe, back to the Greek government -- had said it would be better to postpone this because it would be more productive later; why so?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that it will be a -- hopefully it will be a better environment. We've got a number of substantive issues that I think they believed we would be in a more constructive situation if it was done after Turkey. We've got a number of -- we have some concern on security that I've addressed before. We fully expect that there will be protests in the tradition of Greek politics, particularly politics on the left in Greece. I think there was some sense that going later in the week would be better.
Q Is it the case, as one report had it, that the President's motorcade route had inadvertently been publicized?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't exactly want to comment on the security.
Q I'm not asking you to tell me security. I'm asking you if that report, that it appeared in the paper, was a factor in worrying about security?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me just say this, that I'm not in the habit of reading press other than the fine newspapers that are delivered very early to my door here at the White House, which generally are published in this country. But having said that, and having not believing that I just said that -- (laughter) -- casting considerable doubt on the rest of the credibility of the rest of my answer, I'll move forward anyway.
Obviously, there is a lot of work, as you all know, that goes into securing the President's well being on trips like this but it makes no sense at all for me to talk about that in any way, shape or form.
Q Joe, why hasn't this administration done more to encourage Greece to reign in the November 17th Group and, in fact, encourage them to take more action against terrorism in that country?
MR. LOCKHART: We have worked closely with the Greek government, as we do with most countries around the world, in fighting terrorism. I expect that to be part of the agenda that we talk about while we're there.
Q But typically when the United States really wants to move ahead with action on terrorism it will threaten or apply sanctions, but that hasn't been the case here.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that that's typical. We work very well, we have a very good bilateral relationship with Greece. They're an important ally to the United States and we work closely with them on terrorism.
Q Joe, are Ambassador Barshefsky and Mr. Sperling making any progress in Beijing?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, when they checked in, I guess about an hour ago, they had a session -- one session already today and were going into a second one. We obviously are -- we believe this is useful that they are engaged in direct talks; but as far as the substance of those talks; I think we'll leave it at the negotiating table and not comment on where we think it is at any given moment.
Q Is there any possibility -- just to finish up -- that they may stay, or any of them may stay longer than the two days?
MR. LOCKHART: What I know is that they were planning to stay for two days. I haven't been informed that their schedules have changed.
Q Joe, what is your response to a Pakistani military envoy saying to senior U.S. officials that a presidential visit to India and not Pakistan would cause a rise in anti-Americanism in that country and maybe create some problems? I realize there can't be a visit there until they make some moves towards democracy, but is there sort of a risk --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to comment on the hypothetical musings on our schedule from anyone, only to say that we listened to input from many places, and I'm glad that he's expressed his view.
Q This morning, the President said on the departure statement that we might have read of budget talks around 12:00 p.m., 1:00 p.m. Do you have a read on how they're going?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I think as the President indicated, we're making progress in a number of areas, but there still are some stumbling blocks. Jack Lew and the team went in on what's become the most difficult issue -- fulfilling our commitment to put 100,000 teachers in the classroom and reduce class size. They went in this morning, and despite some indications from leadership that they want to get this issue resolved, Senator Specter remains somewhat entrenched in his position of opposing the President's proposal.
They took a break, they've gone back in within the last 10 minutes, so I guess there's some hope that as they come back i, we can find some movement. But we remain in the same position right now that we have been for some days -- that we don't have an agreement to fulfill the requirement of putting 100,000 teachers in the classroom, so we're going to be sticking around and having more discussions until we can get there.
Q Can you give a read out on the phone call between the President and House Speaker Hastert and Mr. Lott?
MR. LOCKHART: Not in any great detail. Only that the President, the Speaker and the Majority Leader agreed that we should try to get this done, we should try to get it done as quickly as we can. They raised the expectation that this could be done very quickly in the next -- today, perhaps staying very late this evening. Again, there is a clock ticking, in a calendar sense; but there are issues that are bottom-line positions for us that if we cannot work out this afternoon or this evening will require more discussion.
Q Who made the phone calls? Who initiated this process of discussion?
MR. LOCKHART: I know that the President put calls into both of the leaders yesterday. He had a number of issues, some budget, some non-budget issues that he wanted to talk to them about and they got back to him this morning.
Q What are the other issues? Any progress on the U.N.? The Interior bill?
MR. LOCKHART: We're still working on U.N. arrears. There are still some rider issues on Interior. I don't know what the state of play and discussion is, but there are still some issues on D.C. that need to get worked out.
Q Another CR, where are we at?
MR. LOCKHART: We expect one later today. I think it goes through -- I think it's another week, to the 17th. So I expect when the President comes back he'll sign that. I don't know if it's come down yet. But we'll obviously get that done before the end of the day.
Q What kind of involvement would the President expect to have himself while he's on this trip?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President has remained very engaged, both with our team and reaching out to the leaders, so if this is not resolved before we leave on Sunday I expect that we'll be ready to stay in touch, whether it's the President talking back to his team here or talking to Senator Lott and Speaker Hastert daily by the telephone.
Q Joe, we were told he talked to Lott a second time.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. One of the reasons he was calling Senator Lott, and Senator Lott in particular, was he wants to make sure that we move forward on Africa trade and CBI, the bill that was passed last week, I believe, to try to move forward on that this year; get to conference quickly and see if we can't get this done this year.
There was strong support for it in both the Senate -- overwhelming support in the Senate, strong support for it in the House. There was some indication that it was going to slip until next year. He wanted to make the case directly why he believes it's important we get it done this year. We'll just have to see where that goes. It was a non-budgetary issue. And I think the reason he talked to him a second time was -- this morning they spent their time talking about budget, then Senator Lott had an appointment to keep and said that he wanted to call him back to talk specifically about this issue.
Q Joe, there is a report this morning that since she worked as a volunteer in the '96 campaign -- could you tell us specifically what was the President's relationship to Naomi Wolf?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware that he has a relationship -- whether he knows her. Naomi Wolf is married to David Shipley, White House speech writer, so I think he knows her. My understanding is -- I worked on the '96 campaign and never worked with her there. But I think Mr. Morris has talked about how he used her as a sounding board for some ideas. That's all I know about it.
Q That's all? No inappropriate relationships?
MR. LOCKHART: How would you define "inappropriate"?
Q The same way he did. Describing Monica -- I think she's certainly better looking than Monica, don't you, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: Lester, I think if you have a question, or you have an allegation, you should make it. If you want to just throw a little garbage around, there is the door.
Q It's not garbage, it's just hypothesis.
MR. LOCKHART: There is the door. Use it.
Q Am I being thrown out?
MR. LOCKHART: No. Use it if you can't act in a responsible way.
Q Joe, does the White House have a view on --
MR. LOCKHART: Do you understand what I mean?
Q I'll profit from your example.
MR. LOCKHART: Good.
Q Does the White House have a view on this report that there are two major units in the military that are not prepared to fight a war? What does the White House --
MR. LOCKHART: I think what people should understand and know is what Secretary Cohen and General Shelton have said repeatedly, which is, the military is ready. This is the finest-equipped, the finest-trained military in the world, which is something that was just shown in the recent conflict in Kosovo.
What we have in this report is, it's a kind of a technical change in the way they measure readiness, and they have a scoring system. And in these two divisions, they have significant numbers of the troops who are involved in peacekeeping -- thereby, not being technically available, should some full-scale warfare break out immediately.
Now, what's important to note here is that these two divisions would not be the first to be deployed. So on real -- you know, the standard of readiness of what people should be concerned about, the military is ready. Now, readiness is something that the President is quite concerned about. It's why he proposed spending more than $100 billion additional dollars over the next 10 years in improving our readiness, addressing concerns.
So I think some of the discussion of this is, I guess, somewhat distorted -- what the measure is supposed to indicate. And some of the members that we hear from, from time to time on Capitol Hill who are antagonists of the President, and at times antagonists of the leadership of the Pentagon -- but overall, our readiness is sharp, the military is ready. But we have a challenge in front of us, which we have the money budgeted to meet.
Q Joe, the President this morning singled out the workers' incentive bill as well as African trade deal as something that he was hopeful would be enacted this year. But there is still talk of linking the extenders package to that bill and -- so could that possibly be a poison pill? Are you concerned that --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President believes that the Kennedy-Jeffords, in particular, is something that should go through. There's very little opposition to it. But we have a reason to keep to the standard of fiscal discipline of paying for things; and it certainly is hoped and we're making the case that if they do link those things, or even if they don't link those things, that the extenders' package needs to be something that can be paid for.
Q If I could follow up on the Army question, there are some folks who aren't even quite antagonists who say that we need to put even more money into readiness than we've envisioned. Is it fair to say the President is not convinced of that?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President believes very strongly that the people who are in the best place to give advice on this and to keep the military at razor-sharp readiness, is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense and the leadership at the Pentagon. We've worked very closely with them in expanding the resources that will be available to them over the next 10 years, because we have considerable challenges facing us on readiness. And that's why we've worked with them and worked closely with members of Congress to make sure the resources were there.
Q Joe, can I go back to the spending bills for a second? On Interior and the riders, does Senator Byrd's mountaintop mining rider apparently being linked to Senator Craig's mining rider make it harder to persuade the Republicans to drop that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I mean that's a question for them. You know, we've made our views known on -- given the stay in the court decision, that we don't believe there needs to be a legislative remedy at this point. Our goal right now is to try to strip these riders out of the Interior bill and get a bill down here that the President can sign.
Q Joe, is the NSC or the White House exerting any influence over the NTSB about the release of information from the black box on the Egyptian Air crash?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q You don't know if anybody has told the NTSB that the White House wants to know what's in there first before it goes out?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Joe, Stephen Flatow testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee when his daughter, Alisa, was murdered by Iran-supported terrorists in Israel. President Clinton very thoughtfully telephoned him and promised to help him find the killers, and also invited him to the White House a year later when the President signed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996. But when Flatow won a court judgment, $247 million against Iran, whose assets are here, he noted that his efforts to collect have been strenuously opposed by Clinton administration lawyers. Why is this, Joe, given the President's promise?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the President did promise to do what he could on the case of Mr. Flatow and his family. This is a complicated issue, and it's something very difficult, because there's clear humanitarian needs that the President deeply sympathized with the family. But, again, there are some complicated and broader national security issues here.
What happened here -- to just run through the chronology a little bit -- in 1996, they passed the anti-terrorism law. There was a provision in there giving standing to those trying to seek judicial redress against foreign governments, which we found problematic, we objected to at the time. But that passed.
Q And you signed it.
MR. LOCKHART: And we signed it, yes, as part of -- remember the timing of this, this is 1996. We'd been working since 1995 as part of a broad anti-terrorism package, which received much more attention after Oklahoma City. There were many, many provisions that have helped fight terrorism around the world. This provision did provide standing. It's something we did object to, but became law.
Given that, we worked with the family, providing documents and assistance in order to make the case that they were trying to make. In 1998 there was an additional law passed that allowed them to not only -- that built on giving them standing in the court that allowed them to go after blocked assets. That is again something that we have a problem with. Within that law they provided the President waiver authority for national security concerns. We believe that, in this case, it is not in our overall national security interests to allow going after these blocked assets for several reasons. One, I think it diminishes our leverage with foreign governments, it also, I think, puts our diplomatic property and assets at risk.
We are working with the family, though, in a way to try to find some redress to their legitimate claim. Including trying to help them identify non-blocked assets, non-diplomatic assets including -- there are some assets in this country from, I believe, Iranian banks. So we will continue to work with them and try to help them. We understand their case. We understand the point they're making. And it's a difficult balancing act, but it's one in which we believe there are some broader national security questions and we are working hard to try to find a way to both protect our interests abroad and provide some relief to the family.
Q He exercised the waiver, in other words? He has exercised the waiver on Iran only?
MR. LOCKHART: Well this is the case we're talking about.
Q I see. So it's for this case he exercised --
MR. LOCKHART: There are other cases -- there is the case of the Brothers of the Rescue, which is covered by a different underlying statute, where we were able to find $1.2 million to pay out to families. So this is clearly something that the President understands and sympathizes. And we've worked hard to try to find a way to help. But there are some broader national security interests, we believe, that complicate this matter.
Q Both Senators Lautenberg and Senator Mack are working on a law that would address the situation in which they claim that the administration is not only not helping but is actively blocking those families from separating real diplomatic facilities from other assets of the Iranian government. And they're about to push a new legislation that would, in fact, limit the President's ability to get involved in these things precisely to make the distinction that you were suggesting the administration has already made. I'm a little confused.
MR. LOCKHART: There are -- I mean, I think I know the state of play of this legislation. And the legislation remains something that we can't support, and precisely for the reason that we think it'll make vulnerable our diplomatic assets around the world.
Q But are you claiming that the State Department is not -- is helping these families as much as possible?
MR. LOCKHART: We're helping as much as we can within the context of our overall national security concerns. And there are non-diplomatic assets that may be available, that we're trying to work with them to see if they can -- if those can be attached. But when it comes to the blocked assets that are diplomatic, we believe that it puts -- it not only puts ours at risk, it violates international treaties that we've signed on the same subject.
Q Well, then, one last thing on this. In February of '96, the President urged Congress to pass a law to give people standing, saying it was legal under international law. And he urged Congress to move on this to allow people to carry forward these very suits.
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think -- listen, I don't have that speech in front of me. But what I do know, from talking to the lawyers and the people at the State Department who've looked at this, is we certainly were in favor of the bill, the anti-terrorism bill. But on specific provisions like this, I think we had a number of concerns which we addressed to the committees and to Congress at the time.
Q Joe, the President made a -- in his speech today, he outlined why the American people should support free trade. Why did he choose to do that today? Is he trying to prepare the ground for a possible U.S.-China WTO deal? Is it for the WTO in Seattle?
MR. LOCKHART: This is a long-scheduled trip and part of an overall effort to try to promote and enhance the President's free trade agenda, particularly in the buildup to the WTO ministerial meeting at the end of the month in Seattle.
Q Will you do -- any of the opportunities, take any other opportunities to build up trade before that?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we will certainly, as we get closer, find some forum to make this case. As you know, as of Sunday we'll be out of the country for about 10 days; but as we return WTO is right upon us. But I think we'll probably find at least one other way to make the case.
Q Did the President urge the DSCC to pay for Hillary Clinton's first television ad in New York? And is that square with the campaign finance laws?
MR. LOCKHART: Is there someone who is alleging that the President urged them to? I don't know anything about that. I know what I read in the paper this morning, which is that the New York Democratic Party made the case to the DSCC that advertising here would be useful and that they agreed.
Q Joe, is there any decision of when the President is going to finalize the package with Congress to help Colombians to fight the drug traffickers?
MR. LOCKHART: There is already significant amounts of money in the foreign ops bill for our counter-narcotics effort, particularly Colombia. I think there is -- if this bill goes through, I think we've got a deal on it. And it's a matter of just getting the conference reports voted on and down here so the President can sign them. But there is $78 million for Colombia specific. There is another $305 million for our global counter-drug efforts which will allow us to put some resources into Colombia. That's in addition to the $59 million already drawn down earlier this fall.
I think there is a recognition, though, that more needs to be done. The President had a good meeting with President Pastrana at the U.N. now about a month ago. And the President, in talking to the Cabinet yesterday, emphasized that we'll need to work closely in a bipartisan way with Congress when they return in January to work on an additional assistance package.
Q This amount of money will help Colombia, when they are requesting $1.5 billion to help --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the $1.5 billion was what they think the overall package is going to cost. A lot of that they're going to fund themselves. We will continue to work closely to see what kind of additional assistance will be needed. But I think the President is committed to very early next year finding some additional resources and additional assistance in this counter-drug effort.
Q Any idea how much?
Q February or January when the Congress --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, Congress comes back in -- generally comes back in, in January, but it's mostly pro forma until after the State of the Union. So I expect this to be January or early February.
Q How much? Any idea how much money?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have a number.
Q When is the President going to sign the financial services modernization bill?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect that will probably be Friday.
Q Joe, does the President -- you say the President never reads The Washington Times. Has he given up reading the Arkansas Democrat and Gazette?
MR. LOCKHART: No, he reads that regularly.
Q I have 12 pages from The Arkansas Democrat and Gazette which outline the raping and murder of Jesse Derkeising (phonetic). What's the President's comment on that?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't talked to him about that.
Q Could you ask him, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: If I get a chance.
Q Are you planning a singing ceremony for the banking bill, given --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not exactly sure what we're planning. We'll let you know tomorrow.
Q Joe, there has been a week of delay for the President to send the list, with the -- conference in -- Congress. When is he planning to send this?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm told that the list will go up today.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:07 P.M. EST