THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
11:10 A.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Let me just say, since we didn't gaggle this morning, but I think you guys have a sense of the President's schedule. He'll have the meeting with President Wahid of Indonesia at about 11:45 a.m. There will be a pool spray at the top of that. Then we'll have the financial modernization bill signing.
I think significant in that speech is the President will be directing his staff, OMB, Treasury and others to look at ways to take the financial privacy part of that bill and go further. He does -- as we've said in our statements of administration policy and from here, we think there are important privacy protections in there, but they don't go far enough. So we will be working on some new proposals from the direction of the President on how we can improve privacy provisions in that bill.
Q How about the CRA, Joe? Do you plan any initiatives to strengthen that?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think we worked very closely with members and leaders on the Hill to make sure that CRA was kept intact and the protections were there; and that, importantly, companies with poor community investment records would not be able to take advantage of the new opportunities that this bill provides. So I think it was an important bottom line principle for us and one that we protected.
Q Are you satisfied with the deal that was reached on --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I mean, obviously, as we move forward, if there are ways to improve it, we'll always look for ways to -- what's very clear from the debate that happened is how strong the President's commitment is to community banking and to investing in communities. But if there are ways to look at what we're doing and improve that, we're always open to ideas. But I think that this bill protects the President's commitment to CRA.
Q Is this new legislation he's going to propose on privacy, or can this be done administratively?
MR. LOCKHART: That's precisely what we'll look at -- to see whether there are any things we can do administratively or whether it will have to be done legislatively.
Q Joe, does the White House agree with Pakistan's assessment that bin Laden's group was behind this morning's rocket attack in Islamabad?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me say that, clearly, we condemn any kind of violence of this kind, but we are, from the early reporting, we're grateful that the injuries were kept to a minimum. It does not appear that any Americans were injured in these attacks. We don't know at this point who is responsible for these attacks. We will be continuing our efforts to gather as much information as we can. But at this point, we have come to no conclusion on responsibility.
Q Are there any indications that it was bin Laden's group? Pakistan seems to be pretty firm about that.
MR. LOCKHART: Again, we have not made an assessment on who is responsible for these attacks at this point, and when we do, we'll let you know.
Q You're going to make your own, or will you rely on what the Pakistanis are telling you, as well?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we will come to an assessment based on the information that we gather and that is provided to us.
Q Joe, on the radio this morning I heard what was a sound bite from there, someone saying that this was sort of a way of sending a message. It wasn't meant to actually probably kill anyone or anything else, this was a way of trying to send a message, perhaps to the United States, with this deadline coming.
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, it's a barbaric way to send a message if that's what it is. And what is clear is our resolve in fighting terror around the world, and our resolve to continue a policy of dealing directly, through sanctions, with those who promote terror.
Q Joe, are you satisfied or do you believe that these attacks were directed at U.S. targets?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I think -- we're looking at the information. Clearly there are international -- these went off in the vicinity of international organizations which include the U.S. So I don't know that you can be completely clear, given the proximity of many different kinds of organizations to where these things went off. But we're working on trying to understand the motivation and who's responsible for this.
Q Joe, can you tell us the status of the embassy, the U.S. embassy there? Is it closing to the public, or do you know?
MR. LOCKHART: I'd refer you to the State Department on the exact. I know that they're looking at making sure that their security situation is intact. And they're doing everything they can to make sure that Americans working there are protected, and they were today.
Q Joe, on WTO, Ambassador Barshefsky has reported no progress in three days of talks with the Chinese. Is that a negotiating position, or is that really a reflection that these talks are going nowhere?
MR. LOCKHART: No, it's a statement of fact. She's reporting that there's no significant progress at the end of the third day of the talks.
Q There's always been the stance not to comment on the negotiations or characterize them as they're ongoing. We've heard that probably a dozen times from you. What's the point of characterizing them now?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't think she's talking about the substance or the issues. They've come to the end of the third day. I expect them to come back to Washington tomorrow, China time, so they'll be back here sometime on the weekend. And she doesn't have progress or a breakthrough to report.
Q Joe, can you give us an update on the U.N. arrears and the abortion issue and those negotiations?
MR. LOCKHART: Those discussions have been ongoing for some time. Clearly, we have an obligation to pay our dues, and our back dues to the United Nations, to continue our leadership around the world and to keep us from becoming put in the same category as countries like Iraq and Sudan, who the U.N. has dealt with quite harshly.
We don't believe that a side issue of international family planning should hold up U.N. dues. There is a faction of the hard right in Congress that has held this up for several years. We are working to try to find a solution that allows us to pay our dues, but also allows us to keep our commitments on international family planning.
Q Would the Secretary of State be willing to reach out to abortion rights group if, indeed, you do decide it's necessary to give up this funding?
MR. LOCKHART: You'll have to ask the Secretary of State that. I don't have any information on that.
Q But, Joe, on that point, is the U.S. position non-negotiable, or is the U.S. willing to compromise a little bit on this issue?
MR. LOCKHART: We are talking to the leaders on the Hill involved in this issue to find a way to pay our dues and accommodate their concerns. But I can't predict where that will go.
Q Can I just get back to something you said a moment ago? Do you expect that Ambassador Barshefsky will come back from China tomorrow empty-handed?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect her to come back tomorrow. I don't know what will be in her bags, but --
Q What's the next step?
Q Is there a further meeting on that?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Beanie babies. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I kind of walked into that one, didn't I? (Laughter.) Let the record note that there were a bunch of you who were thinking it, John said it first. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, can you give us a comment on President Wahid's comment that he would be inclined to pardon his predecessor, President Soeharto?
MR. LOCKHART: I think from the United States government's point of view, it's very important that Indonesia take dealing with corruption seriously. It's important for their democracy and also for their economic future. As far as a particular judicial move on any one person, I think that that's an internal matter for their courts and for the President.
Q To follow up, is this going to be one of the topics that they're discussing in this meeting, and what are some of the other things on the agenda?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me take a look here. I expect the primary focus of the meeting will be the President welcoming President Wahid and congratulating him on his election and Indonesia and the remarkable transformation to democracy. I think we recognize the many challenges he has in consolidating the democracy and reviving the economy. We believe very strongly, the United States does, in a strong and prosperous Indonesia and we want to work with them in any way we can to promote that.
Q Does the U.S. have any viewpoint on the separatist movements, for instance, in Aceh and Irian Jaya in regards to Indonesia? Because the separatist movements have gained steam after East Timor.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we believe that East Timor, in itself, is a unique case, with a colonial history that's unique to East Timor. But I think we will express support for President Wahid's efforts to achieve a peaceful political settlement in Aceh. And on the issue of whether there ought to be a referendum like there was in East Timor, that's something for the Indonesians.
Q Do you have a fear that Indonesia may become Balkanized with these provinces trying to split off from the center?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's -- we believe it's important that we recognize the moves they've made towards democracy and we'll be working with them to promote and strengthen democracy within the ground. Beyond that, I don't have anything else.
Q Joe, on Medicare -- health community announced an agreement a few days ago, costing about $12 billion over five years. Where is that money coming from?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we've come to some agreement and conclusion on what we need to do as far as the give-backs, but there is some work that remains on how that gets paid for. So that work is ongoing.
Q Joe, on the budget, do you pick Jack Lew to be talking to any lawmakers today?
MR. LOCKHART: I think Jack will do most of his talking by the phone today. A lot of members are back home for Veterans Day celebrations. I think some of the leaders and appropriators are here in Washington, but I think he'll confine himself to talking on the phone today. There are a number of outstanding issues from U.N. arrears to Interior and other particulars on bills that still need to be worked out. I think it's important that we use the time between now and the middle of next week, when Congress comes back, to consolidate the important agreements we've made, and to guard against any sort of back-slipping on these agreements.
I think, as you saw in the paper today, this is kind of crunch time for lobbyists all looking for the special provision, and people trying to sneak things in at the last minute. It's very important that we stick to the agreements, get the business of the people done, and set ourselves up so we're in a position, by the middle of next week, to get this thing done.
Q What's the problem on the Interior bill at this point?
MR. LOCKHART: There's a number of anti-environmental riders that remain. We have made it very clear that they're unacceptable. We still have some more work to do to try to fix that problem.
Q Is Byrd's problem addressed -- Senator Byrd's problem?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I mean, his suggestion of finding a way to legislate what the court is doing now is something that we don't support.
Q But, I mean, is this going to remain as part of the debate over the Interior bill?
MR. LOCKHART: That's a question you need to put to the Senator.
Q Joe, there is a report that one of the pilots of the EgyptAir plane expressed concern to his family prior to the flight. Does the White House know anything about that? And are you troubled by the report at all?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not familiar with the report, so -- I hadn't heard it, so it's hard to express any reaction, beyond saying that the people who are doing the investigation have reached no conclusions about what the cause of the flight is. They are looking for the voice recorder now. They've got the data recorder, as you know, and the federal investigators are looking at all possibilities with nothing ruled in or nothing ruled out.
Q Joe, Russia is now apparently considering flying nuclear-capable bombers to Cuba and Vietnam early next year.
MR. LOCKHART: I've seen the report, but I have nothing to indicate whether that report is accurate or not.
Q Would that be a provocation or --
MR. LOCKHART: That's a hypothetical based on a report that may not be correct, so I'm not going to answer that.
Q Joe, on Chechnya, Russian Defense Minister Sergeyev, in criticizing the United States -- and let me read the quote here, so I get it exactly right -- said "it is in the national interest of the United States that a guided armed conflict smolder constantly in the territory of the North Caucasus region." Is that a fair characterization of this administration's policy?
MR. LOCKHART: No, it's a misguided characterization of this administration's policy on Chechnya. The President has spoken to Prime Minister Putin. President Yeltsin will continue those conversations. They know quite well what our position is and what our interest in this case is.
Q Joe, are there any reaction to the fact that tobacco lawyers are suing Microsoft, and is it the government's case, as evidenced in that?
MR. LOCKHART: I saw a newspaper report on that. I have no comment on that, one way or the other, and no knowledge of it one way or the other.
Q It's being reported that Republicans are still considering some across-the-board spending cuts, although to a much smaller scale. Is the administration at all open to that idea? If not, first of all, are they open to any --
MR. LOCKHART: We've made pretty clear that we find their proposal as is now unacceptable. I don't know that they've made any new proposal; I haven't heard or seen anything about that. But we believe that budgeting is about making choices, making priorities, and doing cuts in an across-the-board fashion is the wrong way to go about it.
Q So you're not ruling that out?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what a new proposal is. The proposal that's on the table we've issued a veto threat on. So that's pretty clear.
Q That's the 1 percent?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q But the discussion is for something half that amount.
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I don't know where that discussion stands, but I haven't seen a proposal like that, so I'm not --
Q On principle, is the administration against any --
MR. LOCKHART: On principle, the administration believes that across-the-board cuts are the wrong way to go about budgeting; that governing and budgeting is about making tough choices and setting priorities and making those choices, not about cutting across the board.
Q But if you don't go along with that and neither side is willing to support dipping into Social Security, then isn't the only thing left creative accounting techniques?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, we've spoken at length on that subject from here. I'm not aware of any new proposals, so I'm not going to get into hypotheticals.
Q On the issue of pay-fors, did the administration give a new offer today, and how far apart are the two sides on that?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into the detail of pay-fors, only that we've made clear that the spending needs to be paid for. Let's remember where this started. We put forward a budget that made critical investments in our priorities; it was fully paid for and protected Social Security. They put forward an $800 billion tax cut that wasn't paid for. We've come a long way since that point. There is still some more work to do, but we're going to work with them in a constructive way to make sure that we pay for our spending.
Q Does this administration agree that Arafat's comments yesterday were part of that inflammatory rhetoric that the President had warned the Palestinians and Israel against using?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the remarks that were made yesterday were inconsistent with the spirit of the agreement the leaders made to provide for a constructive and positive atmosphere to move forward in this peace process.
Q Did the Palestinians have a legitimate beef that years of teargas use might have led to some sort of medical problems?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any basis for those allegations.
Q Did the administration convey that to the Palestinian leader, what you just said?
MR. LOCKHART: I think you can assume that discussions have gone on with all the parties, as they do constantly.
Q Does the budget, as it's emerging, tap the Social Security surplus, in the administration's view? Does the budget use the Social Security surplus?
MR. LOCKHART: We're not through with this process. We're going to move forward over the next few days, and work very closely with the leadership on both sides to pay for the spending. And that is our goal.
Q Joe, back to WTO. Will you be making additional attempts to reach an agreement before the Seattle talks?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, we've made it very clear publicly and privately that we believe that China ascending into WTO is very good for American business, very good for American families. There was a natural reason to try to do this in the context of the Seattle WTO meeting. But there's no artificial deadline here. This will be a good deal for Americans, whenever we can get a commercially viable agreement with China.
If you remember, at the root of this is a very open U.S. market to China, and a quite closed market for U.S. goods in China. So we think that we're going to continue working, because it is the right thing for this country. And there's no artificial deadline here on when that gets done, beyond --
Q But is it possible to do it before --
MR. LOCKHART: You know, again, it's --
Q You haven't given up?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think we ever give up on something so important. We're not tied to a particular calendar. We want a good deal, and we will get a deal when both sides are ready to make it.
Q When is Ambassador Barshefsky scheduled to leave?
MR. LOCKHART: Sometime tomorrow.
Q Has she reported -- since her statements that there's been no progress, has there been any progress made? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I think they've been sleeping. So unless they're all having good dreams, I don't think there has been any progress.
Q I know we're going to get a more detailed briefing later, but could you lay out the rationale for the President's upcoming trip, what he hopes to accomplish?
MR. LOCKHART: You will, and I will spare you a detailed briefing of this, because Mr. Berger will be down here later in the day. But this trip will be about deepening our ties of economic, diplomatic national security cooperation with important allies. We have an important OSCE meeting in Turkey. We have an important bilateral relationship with Turkey and Greece. There are important issues of regional security that will be discussed. And then we will also travel to Italy for a Third Way, an important conference on an emerging political philosophy that you see both here in the United States and in Europe. And then important stops in Bulgaria to celebrate what they've done in 10 years as far as moving and enriching their democracy and freedom; and Kosovo, which has been, obviously, something much more prominent this year as far as reversing the kind of ethnic cleansing that has ripped part of Europe apart for much of this decade.
Q Joe, this story hit just before the briefing. Do you have anything on that U.N. plane that's gone missing near Kosovo?
MR. LOCKHART: I've seen the reports, but I have no independent information on the whereabouts of that plane.
Q Joe, the Indonesian President come here for help and -- U.S. interest to respond. And that response would include the resumption of military assistance. Do you think President Clinton, after meeting with Abdurrahman Wahid, will reconsider his position to suspend military aid to Indonesia?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, as a general matter, the United States is prepared to resume military ties with Indonesia. But the pace and scope of that resumption will depend on the progress of military reform, accountability, as well as the continued cooperation with the U.N. in the context of both East and West Timor.
Q The question is that Pakistan's military Special Envoy was here, Mr. Yaqub Khan. And he met several top officials and also he said that President Clinton should not visit India, it will be very dangerous game the U.S. will play. At the same time, Indians are saying that U.S. is always to promote democracies and worst democracy has been ignored so far, as President's visit to Europe tomorrow. So he should -- several congressman called on the President he should visit India, not to wait for the government in Pakistan.
MR. LOCKHART: I have no scheduling announcements.
Q I mean, is he ready to visit only India if there is no -- government in Pakistan?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no scheduling announcements for future travel.
Q Can the President visit Pakistan unless there is a duly democratically elected government there?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no scheduling announcements.
Q No, but that's not a scheduling question, that's a policy question.
MR. LOCKHART: The President has indicated that he'd like to travel to South Asia. He would like to visit these areas, but there are things that need to happen before a trip like that would be viable. And when the conditions are right, we'll let you know.
Q What are the things? What things?
MR. LOCKHART: There are a number of things on the issues of nonproliferation, that we talked about last year in the wake of the testing in India and Pakistan. And there are number of other issues. I'm not going to get into a menu here. The governments, we have talked directly with the governments. I think they know what our feelings are. And when we're ready to announce a trip, we'll announce it.
Q Has there been a decision on whether the President will go to Panama?
MR. LOCKHART: No. We've made no decision on the delegation. There will be a high-level delegation representing the U.S. government. And when that's ready, we'll put it out.
Q Joe, do you have any comments on Yaqub Khan's statement that it will be a very dangerous game, visiting --
MR. LOCKHART: I commented on that yesterday. I refer you to my transcript. I can't quite remember all the way back to yesterday.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 11:35 A.M. EST