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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 23, 2000
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY
                              JOE LOCKHART

The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:10 P.M. EST

MR. LOCKHART: Let me start with a couple of announcements. One is a personnel announcement. Jim Fallin, who all of you have come to know and respect in his many months here at the White House, is headed back eventually to Mexico, retiring; will finish his tour at the Pentagon while he clears things up. And he will be leaving us quite soon, and I know you will all find a way to thank him for his many efforts.

Those of you around -- and I see some faces who will remember Christmastime this year, when we had some very important stories. And Jim was on duty and was very helpful to many of you at very odd hours of the day and night. So we thank him.

Replacing him is Colonel David Stockwell, who joins us from the Secretary of the Army's Public Affairs Office. He has had other assignments, including spokesman for the Department of the Army, and spokesman for the United Nations Military in Somalia. So we are sorry to see Jim go, but very pleased to have Colonel Stockwell to replace him. And he's here now, so please avail yourself to his considerable expertise.

Statement from the Press Secretary: President Clinton to visit Germany May 1-2. President Clinton will travel to Aachen and Berlin, Germany, May 1 and 2. Chancellor Schroeder has invited the President to hold bilateral discussions in Berlin. The President will also take part in a Third Way conference on progressive governance, hosted by the Chancellor.

The President will also accept the Charlemagne Prize, which has been awarded annually since 1949 to international figures who have made a special contribution to European unification. Other prize winners include Winston Churchill, Conrad Adenauer, Vaclav Havel, King Juan Carlos, and Tony Blair.

Did I have something else? I didn't? Never mind. Okay. That was it. It's right here -- not very bright.

President Clinton and King Juan Carlos met for about 45 minutes in the Oval Office this morning. The President, for his part, recognized Spain for its leadership in Latin America, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. He expressed a special appreciation for Spain's contribution in the Balkans. The President encouraged continued Spanish cooperation with the United States in promoting human rights, political stability and economic development in Latin America.

The King noted that international solidarity was key and expressed appreciation for the President's concern and U.S. strong stance vis-a-vis terror and terrorism, as I think the King indicated in his opening remarks, which is something he's spoken out publicly about his concern about.

Other questions?

Q Joe, I wonder, the spokesman for the Chinese Embassy held a news conference today, talked about how the white paper pointed out, in his words, that unification with Taiwan -- with the motherland is the only way out for Taiwan, but also said regarding the U.S. involvement -- quote -- "It's better for the U.S. administration to stop interfering in China's internal affairs, because the Taiwan issue is an issue left over by a civil war. It is the Chinese people who have the right to decide how to settle the Taiwan issue." I wonder, your response to that.

MR. LOCKHART: I think the U.S. interest in this matter is well-known and is governed by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will continue to speak out where we believe it's appropriate and constructive. I think if you look in the paper this morning, you will find some comments from senior government officials that take a more moderate tone on the some of the issues that the white paper raised. But we will continue to make our point of view well-known. Our position is long-standing and well-known that we reject the use of force or the threat of the use of force to resolve the Taiwan question.

Q But you do see some good in this white paper, as well as some things that are troubling?

MR. LOCKHART: This is an 11,000-word document on a number of subjects and I -- to tell you the truth, except for the particular item that's raised itself in the press, I haven't read through it.

Q NATO said this morning there are signs that the disturbances in Mitrovica in Kosovo have been orchestrated out of Serbia. There's also signs of Serbian troop movements along the border, the Macedonia army is now on alert. What's the White House's view of the situation there?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't think there's any doubt that Milosevic has made clear that he believes it's in his interests to keep tensions high because he doesn't agree with an autonomous Kosovo. As far as troop movements, I'd have to refer you to NATO. I checked on this late yesterday and couldn't find any information, so I'd have to refer you over to the NATO spokesperson.

Q Joe, going back to China's comments on Taiwan, two senators, Senators Roth and Moynihan, indicated at a hearing this morning that those comments could hurt the administration's efforts to get Congress to agree to permanent, normal trade relations. Is the U.S. concerned about -- the administration concerned about these remarks hurting its efforts to get the deal?

MR. LOCKHART: We're very anxious to move forward with WTO because it's very much in our interests. To the extent that any side issue detracts from a real debate about how opening up the Chinese market is manifestly in our interests as a country. We certainly -- we'll have to look at.

I don't think, though, that right now the debate has really been sidetracked by this. I think we will continue to make the case as far as the President, the rest of the administration, on what the benefits to this deal are, and with each passing day, we think support will grow. And the President will speak to this tomorrow to a business group. I expect there will be a reference in his economic speech, although that's not the main subject of the speech, but certainly opening markets is a central part of his economic strategy. So we've got a lot of work to do, but we think we're making some progress and we're going in the right direction.

Q Joe, do you think China has stopped all the military -- missile relationship with Iran, Pakistan and other neighboring countries that they have been in the past as part of the WTO -- do you think?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that there's anything in the WTO that directly links those things, but we've worked very hard on nonproliferation issues not only with the Chinese, but with other nations, Russia in particular, and we'll continue to do so.

Q I also wanted to see if the report yesterday you and I have seen and the whole world has seen about the President's performance and all that. I did a little survey among 1,000 people, and to me they're telling me that he is one of the -- among the best Presidents in 50 years America has ever had. It depends on who you talk, really, but his performance --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me, given that new information, let me amend my statement of yesterday and say that you actually can make a real judgment in real time about how great a President is. (Laughter.) And those 1,000 people, whoever they are, are invited to come here to the White House at any time and talk -- come up here one at a time and address this group and talk about how great the President is. In fact, we'll start that soon.

Q Any comment on AFL-CIO who is calling on the administration to make over 6 million illegal immigrants legal in this country, so they can join unions and their rights can be protected?

MR. LOCKHART: I actually have seen something on this issue. I know there was an editorial in a paper in the last couple of days. I don't know precisely that we've taken a position on that. I'll look into that.

Q Because now, these people are really exploited and taken advantage and they don't get anywhere.

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I know that there's been a good debate on that. But as far as where the administration and the President has come down, I don't have that here, but I'll look into it.

Q Joe, Senator Daschle and others are urging the President to go to Pakistan. Any decision on that and time frame for that?

MR. LOCKHART: No, we don't have any particular time frame on making the decision. I think the President was clear last week in the press conference that he has not made up his mind, and he will make up his mind based on what he thinks is in the best interest, what is in the U.S. national interest. But we have not tried to put an artificial time frame on it that we've got to decide by this day or that day, and I expect that if we come to a conclusion one way or the other, we'll find a way to let you know.

Q One more, Joe. Why has the President not included in his trip Nepal and Sri Lanka? They are both good friends of the United States.

MR. LOCKHART: I think if we went solely on who are our good friends as a criteria, and the criteria of where the President would like to go, we'd spend most of our time traveling. I think we've got to make some decisions -- I know the President would like to go a number of places; there are limits to our ability to travel around and continue to pursue and execute the President's domestic agenda. And that involves at times some tough choices.

Q Joe, what is the President going to talk about tomorrow? And is he concerned that there's no press charter going along with him? Is that raising any concern that the interest is falling off?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure that you can draw a direct line between no press charter and interest. Philadelphia is a fairly easy place to get to. And given the fact that that speech he's giving -- and then he goes on to New York, another easy place to get to and where he's doing fundraising -- I don't take it as a lack of interest. I think this is an important speech for the President.

He went to Wharton in 1992 to talk about his ideas for turning the economy around, new ideas for economic stewardship in this country. So I think he'll reflect in the speech tomorrow on the last seven years and how those ideas have been put into place and how they've worked, and also look to the future about what the proper role for government is in providing against stewardship for the economy, particularly in the areas of research and science.

Q Can you kind of capsulize what the President will say to these business leaders tomorrow, what's his message?

MR. LOCKHART: I think very simply that we turned around the way government works with the economy, things have gone well, we now have the longest expansion in our history. But there's still a lot of work to do and we shouldn't rest on our laurels. We need to continue to invest in our people, to invest in research and development, to continue to open markets. And if we do all those things with sound fiscal policies and paying down the debt, this expansion will continue.

Q Joe, on a food stamp question, actually, the event the President has later -- in December the President announced that a series of bonuses that would be paid to states that would sign up new clients for food stamps. A number of welfare reform advocates have come out against that, saying that they think that's a mistake, it's heading in the wrong direction. Why does the President think it's a good idea to sign up more people for food stamps?

MR. LOCKHART: Because I think there are people who -- there is a real need. And I don't think, particularly on this announcement -- I mean, one of the things that the strong economy has done is lowered the demand on programs like food stamps, but there are still people who we believe have a real need and who qualify for the program and should benefit from the program.

One of the things the President has tried to do in the last seven years is to try to eliminate these terrible choices that people on the lower end of the economic ladder are working hard to move up face. You shouldn't have to face the decision of whether to have a job, and in some cases, the only way to have a job as jobs move and migrate to suburban areas is to have a car, or be able to put the kind of food that your family needs to eat on the table. So those are choices we don't think we need to make.

There has been a lowering, significant lowering, in the cost of the food stamp program because there are people who have moved off and don't need it anymore. But there are certainly those who still do, and we think we should address that situation.

Q To follow up on that, what the critics say is that the bonuses actually encourage states to sign up people that aren't working for the food stamp program. Is that something the President thinks we need more --

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think that we would disagree with the critics.

Q Joe, WTO and China -- do you think, in light of some comments from Moynihan and Roth again today, that Vice President Gore's comments to labor leaders last week are still being misinterpreted up on the Hill and could hurt administration chances of getting a deal?

MR. LOCKHART: Again, I don't know, and I can't get into people's minds of who is interpreting what what way. What I know is what the Vice President said I know in the letter he sent to the National Association of Manufacturers a clear statement of support for this deal and a statement that he will work to get this deal passed.

Thank you.

END 1:25 P.M. EST