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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 17, 2000
                             PRESS BRIEFING BY
                      JAKE SIEWERT AND DAVID LEAVY

                  The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:37 P.M. EST

MR. SIEWERT: I cannot guarantee this will be as exciting as the Russian newscast we've all been enjoying this morning. One announcement, and then we'll start. The President will travel to Philadelphia and New York City next Thursday. He will leave Andrews at 1:30 p.m., travel to Philadelphia, where he will deliver a speech at the University of Pennsylvania, at the Irving Auditorium. And that's going to be an inaugural lecture in a series that I think will be called the Granoff Lecture Series. And I would expect that speech to focus on the new economy.

The President has given an important speech there in 1992, in April of '92, I believe, where he sort of outlined his own economic vision, in contrast to that of the Bush administration, and he will take stock of where we are and talk about the success and where we need to go.

After that, he'll go to New York and he has some fundraising dinners there. I don't have much detail on those, but we'll make that available as we get them.

Q Are any of them for the First Lady, do you know, or are they for --

MR. SIEWERT: No, they're both DNC fundraisers, and he'll return to D.C. late that night. That's what we expect at the moment, probably getting back around midnight. And we'll post a sign-up today for that trip.

That's all I've got.

Q Is he going to New York this weekend?

MR. SIEWERT: He doesn't have any plans to, but we'll let you know.

Q Jake, is he going to do anything Monday -- it's Presidents Day -- does he have any events --

MR. SIEWERT: Not that I'm aware of. At the moment, that's down time. We'll do that in a week ahead, we'll give you any updates. But at the moment, that's a day off for everyone.

Q Any more WTO meetings this week?

MR. SIEWERT: He had two this week. I know they were trying to schedule one today. I think, with the congressional calendar and the House members leaving town, I think they're going to postpone it until when the House returns.

Q When they come back the following week?


Q Jake, there was a report that the President has grown frustrated with the IRA. Is that correct, or how would you characterize the administration --

MR. SIEWERT: I don't know how I'd characterize it. It sounds like a Mr. Leavy question.

MR. LEAVY: Nice jacket, Randy. (Laughter.) Sorry about that.

Q Do you mean you don't mean it? (Laughter.)

MR. LEAVY: No, it's quite a jacket, Randy. (Laughter.)

I don't think there is any truth to those reports if you are referring to what was in the British press today. I think, as the President said pretty eloquently yesterday, that it is not the time for finger-pointing or recriminations, but a time to get the peace process back on track. We've been working this very, very hard, both at the presidential level and also Mr. Berger and Mr. Steinberg here at the NSC will continue to do that. David Trimble's coming to Washington on Monday. I think Mr. Berger will see him. So we remain engaged and, hopefully, that we can get this back on track and try to seize the moment to implement all aspects of the Good Friday Accord, and, as the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland voted overwhelmingly last year, to try to bring peace to the province.

Q Can you characterize the Berger meeting? Does he have a message for Trimble?

MR. SIEWERT: No, I think it is just another element of our engagement on the issue. I know Mr. Berger has talked to both Mr. Trimble and Mr. Adams several times over the last few weeks. We have been engaged both with the parties, but also the governments, the Irish and British governments. So this is another meeting in that vein. I don't have any specific agenda items, but I am sure they will talk about where we are in the process.

Q Are there plans to receive Mr. Adams?

MR. SIEWERT: I would look forward to seeing Sinn Fein leaders in Washington in the near future, but I don't have any specific dates at this point.

Q Did David Trimble ask for the meeting, or was --

MR. LEAVY: I don't know if we asked him to come or vice versa. I can check on that.

Q Mr. Ivanov is what -- Sandy's counterpart?

MR. LEAVY: Yes, yes.

Q Can you talk a little bit about those talks they're having and the significance of them?

MR. LEAVY: Yes. Mr. Ivanov is Sandy's counterpart, roughly, as Mr. Putin's National Security Advisor. Sandy invited him the come over here to address really a broad range of issues, both strategic issues, arms control, nonproliferation, certainly bilateral issues where we agree and disagree -- Chechnya being first and foremost on that. They're meeting today and tomorrow, I think two days of meetings, and at the conclusion of that we can give you a better readout.

Q Is arms control -- does the President want to achieve another breakthrough on arms control before he leaves?

MR. LEAVY: Well, as you know, we have a pretty comprehensive arms control agenda with Russia. We're pushing hard for the Duma to ratify START II, to lock in what the Senate did several years ago on that piece. We've laid down a framework for START III negotiations. The President and President Yeltsin agreed to that framework back in Helsinki in '97. We're still in the process of talking through that. We'd like to see further reductions, but it's got to be in the overall context of arms control.

Q While you're up there, what's happening with the Middle East and with the White House involvement?

MR. LEAVY: Nothing new. Nothing new. Is there anything specific that you're referring to?

Q I mean, is there any movement at all other than a downward spiral?

MR. LEAVY: Well, I'm not sure I would call it a downward spiral. We're at a moment where a comprehensive peace is at hand for Israel; it's been a long-term goal for Israel as well as the United States. Both tracks are at a point where we're going to have to make some very momentous and decisive decisions. We're engaged with both the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Syrians, and we're hopeful that we can push both tracks forward, and we'll continue to do that.

Q -- on the agreement between the Pope and the PLO? Does the administration take any view of it?

MR. LEAVY: Let me check on that. I certainly think that if the Vatican and the PLO have reduced their tensions that they've had in years past and are able to work together on areas of common concern, that's a good thing. But let me check to see if there's anything more on that.

Q What kind of indications have you received from the Saudis and the Venezuelans over the oil situation?

MR. LEAVY: None to report.

Q There has been no communication?

MR. LEAVY: Well, I think as Joe said yesterday, we talk to our allies all the time, but those conversations are better for private, as opposed to public, discussion.

Q Are you confident there's going to be some kind of movement?

MR. LEAVY: Again, let me stay away from that. I don't think it's useful for us to speculate in public about any discussions that may or may not be taking place.

Q Any movement to bring George Mitchell back into the Northern Ireland peace process, as the architect of the Good Friday Accords that now seem to be in very grave danger?

MR. LEAVY: Well, I'm not sure I'd characterize it as grave danger. I think all sides are committed to moving forward. There have been some important elements put forward. I think those deserve serious consideration and I think creativity and flexibility are needed as we move forward.

As Senator Mitchell said, we need to break through the decommissioning mind-set on this issue. So we're hopeful that we can get both sides to do that. I'm not aware of his own engagement. I'd refer you to his office, but I haven't heard if he's been talking to the parties. Certainly nothing in a public way.

Q Is the President going to be asking him to take more --

MR. LEAVY: I haven't heard that.

Q One more follow-up on Ireland. Is it now the U.S. position that nothing can happen unless the IRA decomissions? We keep going all around on this --

MR. LEAVY: Our view, as we've all said many, many times, and the President yesterday, that all aspects of the Good Friday Accords have to be implemented, including decommissioning. We're obviously at a point where that is the central issue, but there have been some creative positions put forward and we want those positions to be taken hold and debated and looked at. And we're hopeful we can move forward.

I don't want to get into, as I said earlier to Randy's question, a real public discussion on the technical aspects of what a way forward would be. That's not helpful here. So I'll leave it to the parties.

Q Does the White House have any comment on Greenspan's comments today about interest rates needing to rise to slow the economy?

MR. LEAVY: I'm going to leave that for Mr. Siewert.

Q David, can you talk just one second about Pakistan? The President laid down some guidelines yesterday on visiting Pakistan. Is there a cutoff by which it's simply logistically not possible to go to Pakistan? Is there -- do you have any head for this?

MR. LEAVY: Yes -- I don't think the President was intending to put any benchmarks or lay down any preconditions for his trip. I don't think he said that. There are some areas of concern that we've been talking to the Pakistanis for sometime -- terrorism, nonproliferation, restoration of democracy. We haven't made a decision on any other stops for the trip. I'm not sure if there's a deadline, per se. I think at some point it becomes logistically more difficult to do that. I haven't heard of a specific cutoff, though, John.

I would just take a step back and I think it is really important for all of you who are going to cover the trip or write about it to look at this as really an important milestone for the United States to go to the region. It will really deepen our engagement with India. It is a really diverse and important country for us, with many, many issues we deal with them on from security, nonproliferation, health, the environment. And this is going to be an opportunity to deepen those relationships, deepen those contacts. And I think the trip stands on its own as is, and I wouldn't look at it through the lens of whether or not we go to Pakistan, but whether we can accomplish the goals we are setting out for the countries we're visiting right now.

Q The President said he would be willing to mediate or the United States would be willing to mediate on Kashmir between the two. Did anybody take him up on that? Have we heard any nibbles?

MR. LEAVY: I don't think so. I think the President was restating our long-stated policy that we want a peaceful resolution to the issue of Kashmir. It is best done through bilateral channels and bilateral dialogue between the Indians and Pakistanis. If both sides want us to play a role, we would certainly be willing to do that. There hasn't been that kind of request as of yet. I don't think there has been anything since yesterday. So we will continue to hope that both sides can engage each other and try to make progress.

Q Mr. Talbott and Mr. Steinberg are in China this week. Any readout on their meetings so far? Any sense that there is any tension developing between the two in the run-up to the Taiwanese elections?

MR. LEAVY: No, this is a trip that Secretary Talbott is heading with Mr. Steinberg, Mr. Slocombe of the Defense Department, Joe Rallston, who is the Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs, who is leaving to go take up his post at NATO. The delegation went both to Tokyo and to Beijing -- important issues with the Japanese in the run-up to the G-8 Summit in Okinawa this year, also general alliance issues with the Japanese. They went on to meet with the leadership in Beijing, again, to talk about broad strategic issues as well as bilateral issues.

I haven't got a readout of exactly what's been on the agenda and what's been talked about. I think they are going to be there through tomorrow and so we can, when they're done, have a little bit more of a readout.

Q On the Mideast, does the administration think that the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon will either help or hinder the Syrian peace talks?

MR. LEAVY: Well, you know, it's an issue for the Israelis to decide. I think we would like to see a withdrawal from Lebanon in the context of an overall peace agreement, one that brings in the Syrians and the Lebanese, but, of course, that's a decision for the parties to make.

It's been tragic over the last several weeks, as we've seen violence escalate there. I think all of us have a tremendous amount of sympathy and grief for the victims of violence, both the Lebanese people, who have undertaken years of pain and destruction, and for certainly the Israelis who have been killed in this. And we have stated very often from these quarters that there should be restraint and all parties who have influence on the region to bring that restraint to bear.

Q You don't think one way or another -- the administration has no opinion one way or another whether that would help or hinder the process right now?

MR. LEAVY: I can't judge whether that would help or hinder, but, again, our position, though, has always been that if we can get a comprehensive peace that brings in the Syrians and the Lebanese, that would enhance Israel's security, and certainly withdrawal has to be part of that context or should be part of that context.

Q During his speech today, President Clinton said that Africa probably needs better government and also an end to some of the ethnic tensions that have caused problems on the continent. But, on the other hand, during his opening remarks, he also welcomed President Moi of Kenya, and one of the hallmarks of the Kenyan government is corruption and Mr. Moi political party has also been fomenting tension in the Rift Valley in which over 1,000 people have been killed. Why did he do that? Did that just undercut his message?

MR. LEAVY: I don't think so. And Gayle Smith, who is our senior director for African Affairs, will come out shortly and give you a little bit more of a readout. But one of the key messages for the President, he is going to meet with President Moi after -- he met with him after the speech and he delivered a very stern message about the need for constitutional and economic reforms to move forward. I believe President Moi is scheduled to step down in 2002. And we have made anticorruption a key pillar of our Africa policy, as the President referenced, and he will certainly be delivering that message to President Moi in private.

Q Do you know what his reaction was --

MR. LEAVY: No. Gayle is going to come out in a couple minutes following us, so she can give you a better readout.

Q Can we do some domestic questions?

MR. LEAVY: Yes -- do you need me?

Q Yes, on the Middle East. Can you say that there has been any progress made toward getting the talks restarted between Syria and Israel?

MR. LEAVY: We continue our engagement. I don't have any news to announce today, no.

MR. SIEWERT: I think I've got the question. Having spent a lifetime -- not a lifetime, but some time -- counseling others to avoid commenting on Mr. Greenspan's comments on interest rates, I think I will do the same.

On fiscal policy, we certainly appreciated Mr. Greenspan's comments that he thought the surpluses should be dedicated to debt reduction. And that's exactly what the vast bulk of the President's plan does, is use the surplus to pay down the debt, and that creates a more conducive climate for a good economy.

Q Jake, Vice President Gore has encouraged senators to vote against Bradley Smith's confirmation. Would the President encourage senators to vote against Bradley Smith, and force the Republicans to come up with a different nominee?

MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think the President pretty much covered that one yesterday. I mean, this is someone --

Q He didn't say specifically about how he would like to see the senators vote.

MR. SIEWERT: Well, I'll check. I'll check with him. But I don't have anything really to add to what he said yesterday. I mean, he said that the Senate plays an important role in appointments, it plays an important role in confirming those appointments. And at the same time, we respect the Senate's role in selecting appointments, particularly when the majority party of the Senate is charged with selecting Republican nominees.

Q But a majority supports McCain-Feingold, so you could imagine that a majority could vote down this guy.

MR. SIEWERT: I don't know whether this is -- if this is a test for McCain-Feingold, they're not -- I can't speculate about what the Senate -- how individual senators are going to see this vote. I mean, the President could not have been clearer yesterday that he wants to see an up or down vote on McCain-Feingold, and frankly, we've had some senators who have blocked that for years now, when there is a clear majority for that.

Q So wait a second -- the President has nominated somebody for a post, but you're not sure if he wants the Senate to confirm that person, or not?

MR. SIEWERT: I mean, the individual question, I'll check on that. But the President said very clearly that he thought that Bradley Smith was a Republican choice for that spot; he does not -- it would not have been his choice. He could not have been clearer. But I don't think he'll be making a lot of phone calls on that one, but I can't imagine that -- I assume the Majority Leader probably will have the votes to approve Mr. Smith.

Q The aid to Colombia seems to be getting into a lot of flack in Congress. Is the President doing anything about it, just letting the process --

MR. SIEWERT: Dave may want to take that. I know that the appropriations bill is moving forward. I heard the Republican leaders say that they wanted to move very quickly on that. I know that we've had some discussions with the House leadership on putting together that package, and actually, there may be some debate over the size and composition of the supplemental, but actually, I heard some very encouraging -- read some very encouraging words from the House Republican leadership on moving that bill quickly yesterday.

Q Do you have a time line on the Leahy emergency supplemental?

MR. SIEWERT: It's the same supplemental. We're hoping that they will fold that money into the supplemental. We want to move very quickly on that and make sure that that money is available as soon as possible. And at the same time, we're taking some aggressive measures to follow up on what the President said yesterday. Obviously the governors will be here in two weeks; the President wants to meet with them. But in the shorter-term, we're taking some steps to let the Republican and Democratic governors throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic know about the measures they can take to make this money available more quickly.

And frankly, there have been some problems in the past, people not aware of their eligibility for this. And we need to do more to increase the awareness of the heating assistance, and we're going to work aggressively with the governors and with the delegations from those states to do that.

Q Can I follow up on that? What is the mechanism for an ordinary person -- particularly someone who might be afraid of dealing with the government or doesn't speak English?

MR. SIEWERT: Well, it varies from state to state, but these are state-run programs. A lot of times they're administered by not the state itself, but by local government, or sometimes by cooperatives, non-profit cooperatives that work particularly with low-income families. But we're going to have some suggestions. We may have something tomorrow, a little more concrete, about some of the best practices for states to move forward in making their citizens aware of just what they can do to get this money, and how they can move to make that money available more quickly.

But the program is administered by states and the practice of it varies quite significantly.

Q The $600 million that you're requesting, is that money that you intend to disburse immediately or will that just sort of replenish the coffers --

MR. SIEWERT: It's designed to replenish the coffers. As you know, we've now released about $300 million over the last three weeks to states that have been affected by this crisis. And we will work with Congress on the purpose and use of that money.

Q The President said yesterday that the $600 million was for the winter and through the summer, for high utility bills that could be experienced in the summer in hotter regions. Is that -- is it fair to conclude from that that he expects high energy prices to last through the summer?

MR. SIEWERT: No, I think that he's just indicating what the LIHEAP fund is designed to do, which is to help in the winter, help low-income families pay their heating bills, and in the summer -- we used it last summer, if you remember, during the heatwave to help low-income families deal with some of the air-conditioning and difficult pressures that they faced during some of the heatwaves during the summer in, I know, Illinois and Texas, and some other places.

Q There is a newspaper story this morning saying that the Vice President has told labor unions that he would, if it were up to him, attach labor and environmental conditions to the China trade relations vote. Does that undercut the President's efforts to pass this this year?

MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think there's less there than meets the eye in that story. I know the Vice President is talking to the unions today, and I think they'll probably have more to say on that today. But I know the Vice President supports China's entry into the WTO and he has urged Congress to grant China permanent normal trade relations this year. And I think in the past he's done that, and I think he'll continue to say that.

Q Back to this LIHEAP stuff, just by doing the arithmetic here, it seems like it's about $300 million that was appropriated for FY 2000 in LIHEAP funding -- is that correct? You said that this is the last bit of it, that he's used it up.

MR. SIEWERT: Yes, essentially, we've released the entire appropriated amount --

Q Which is about $300 million?

MR. SIEWERT: Well, I'll have to check and see if there were any disbursements in the fall. But, in essence, we released what was left in the fund for this year, and we will need -- the $600 million is a request that is meant to replenish it for whether it's heating emergencies or heatwave emergencies next summer.

Q But doesn't that indicate, if you're requesting $600 million, that the program is woefully under-funded? I mean, your emergency --

MR. SIEWERT: We'll have to check. There may have been some disbursements in the fall. I'll just have to check. You may want to check with OMB on that.

Q That amount is twice the size of what you've used up until now. Isn't there any way we could look at that as an indication that high energy prices could be problematic for a good long while?

MR. SIEWERT: I think what you can read into that is that we want to make sure that we have the money to deal with any contingencies that arise through the rest of the year and into the summer. It's basically meant to get through the end of the fiscal year.

Q What influence are the Vice President's and the First Lady's campaigns having on the President's thinking on this issue? There have been criticisms that his decisions on LIHEAP and the Petroleum Reserve are electorally motivated?

MR. SIEWERT: Well -- none. The President has used LIHEAP in the past. We've actually fought Republican efforts to cut LIHEAP in the past. This is not anything that's novel. It's governed by law. The President is using the resources the federal government has available to help people who have been hit hard by a crisis. And as he said, we've done this in the past, used emergency supplemental legislation in the past to help farmers in the Midwest. We've used it to help earthquake victims in California. We've used it to help hurricane victims in South Carolina. But this is a fairly tested program, it is one we have used for a long time now, and this is certainly not novel or unique.

Q Speaking of farmers, there is some word on the Hill that some farm aid might also be put into the supplemental. Any particular objection or support for -- the various farm constituencies looking for help in the supplemental?

MR. SIEWERT: I haven't heard that. I'll have to check into that. I know we have done supplemental assistance in other years, but we haven't said anything this year to date on that.

Q Senator Byrd is apparently getting ready to introduce that mountaintop mining waiver that the President issued a veto threat over last year to the supplemental. Does the veto threat still stand if he introduces that this year?

MR. SIEWERT: Yes, we've said that that legislation is unacceptable to us. We proposed an alternative in some letters up to the Hill towards the end of the session. Given the time pressures, we were unable to work out an acceptable alternative, but our position on that has not changed.

Q What do you make of Greenspan's comments that it would be unwise to release oil from the Petroleum Reserve to fight high prices?

MR. SIEWERT: Well, I didn't see those. Secretary Richardson said much the same this morning, that the statute governing the use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is intended to deal with supply disruptions and not price disruptions. And I don't think I can improve on what Secretary Richardson said this morning, in that this is designed to deal with supply and not price.

Q There are some reports that Elian Gonzalez's father may very soon, if he hasn't already, request a visa to come to the United States. Would the President support that or oppose that?

MR. SIEWERT: Dave, do you want to handle that? I haven't heard that.

MR. LEAVY: I haven't seen those reports. We've said all along, if the father or any of the family members, like the grandmothers, wanted a visa to come here, we'd expedite those requests. But I am not aware of any pending requests.

Q One other question for David, actually. Watching the President's speech on the African Summit earlier, he made very few direct references to Rwanda, but he also talked about we no longer have the choice not to -- we either have the choice to act or not to act; we don't have the choice not to know any more. Is Rwanda the single biggest regret of his presidency, or why wasn't he making more direct references?

MR. LEAVY: Can we talk about Randy's jacket again? (Laughter.)

No, look, the President has talked about Rwanda when we went there back during his trip several years ago. I think he does regret how the international community reacted to the crisis in Rwanda. I think there are a lot of lessons that we've all learned, including the U.N. Kofi Annan put out a very honest and candid report several months ago about how the United Nations and the international community responded to that. I think there are a lot of lessons there.

What we've tried to do is learn from those lessons. One of the big initiatives and the big platforms in our Africa policy is what we call the ACRI, which helps -- the Africa Crisis Response Initiative -- which gives U.S. support and financing to indigenous African countries to develop their own peacekeeping and their own military capabilities to stop crises like we've seen in Sierra Leone and Congo. So we've tried to do that.

The President notified the Hill last week about our intention to vote for the peacekeeping mission at the United Nations for Congo. Trying to stop these conflicts before they reach the levels of genocide is an important lesson from Rwanda. So I think we've tried to implement the lessons into a policy framework. I don't think there is any intention to leave out Rwanda from his remarks, though.

Q What is our funding level, our particular U.S. funding level for ACRI?

MR. LEAVY: Let me check on that. I know that the Congo mission is going to cost about $40 million. I believe that is what we requested for that specific operation. But let me check on the overall funding for ACRI.

MR. SIEWERT: We will take one more, and the travel pool should gather at the side doors. I gather the President is going somewhere.

Q Bearing in mind that you don't want to comment on Greenspan's comments, what about his suggestion that interest rates will likely have to rise this year? Does the White House -- is it okay with that? What likely impact would that have on the economy?

MR. SIEWERT: I mean, I would just rather leave that one alone. We've done a very consistent job of giving the Fed lots of room to work on its own. We respect their independence and I'll leave it at that.


END 2:05 P.M. EST