THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:35 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: He's not here. It's all I have. It's casual Friday. It's the only fitting way that we at the White House can deal with our terrible mourning and sense of loss we have, by dressing down. And that's -- I don't know how we'll ever get over this, but -- day to day, I guess. Day to day.
What's on your minds?
Q Joe, the Canadian gun sale issue -- the United States announced it would cut off all gun sales, future gun sales, to Canada. What's behind all that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me start with some facts, which were few and far between in that story. The United States has not cut off all gun sales to Canada. There is no action that has been taken against Canada.
Let me take a minute to explain what the process is. The United States has a system, through the State Department, of getting export licenses on munitions and also firearms. In the recent course of activity, the group that monitors this at the State Department noticed that there was a very large increase, surge in the requests for licenses for things like handguns and rifles and ammunition. Because this is what they do, they got in touch with Canadian authorities and queried them on the reason for the increase.
The Canadians were unaware, as only about a quarter of the request was for Canadian government and law enforcement, mostly Royal Mounted Police. At the request of the Canadian government, they asked that they continue to process the government requests, but they put a hold on the private commercial resellers of guns in Canada, while they got some answers on what was behind the surge of requests.
So the important thing here is that we have a system of export licenses that works. There was an increase; there was no apparent explanation on the face of it for those who process the licenses at the State Department. They, as they should, queried the Canadian government, who are now looking into it from their end. But these are licenses; these are not firearms that have already been shipped. They're just the right to ship firearms.
Q But as I understand it, the Canadian government did this because the United States was going to go ahead and cancel if they did not.
MR. LOCKHART: No -- well, I talked -- I just got off the phone with the person who runs this operation, and who assured me that this was a step taken at the request of the Canadian government. We process the licenses, and we have the authority to move them forward or stop them. But it's my understanding that the Canadian government very much wanted time to look at what was behind this large request. And it won't move forward while they look at those issues.
Q What's the big concern?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the concern I think is on the part of the Canadian authorities. I think they want to know why there's such a large increase in requests for export licenses from commercial resellers. And they have the right to look at that and see if there's any underlying concern.
I think from our point of view, this is an example, though, of a system that works -- that we're able to, before a product is shipped through an export licensing system, look at trends, look at something like this where there is actually a surge, and work with the government on whether it is -- we believe it's appropriate and in our interest and in the Canadian interest to move forward.
Q Just one more. Is there a concern that these guns are going into Canada and then back into the United States?
MR. LOCKHART: I talked to the State Department export control people who said they have never had that concern raised to them. I think as many of you know, the gun control restrictions are more restrictive in Canada, so I don't know the logic behind that concern, and it has not been raised at the State Department.
Q We've seen pictures now -- this is to change the subject -- we've seen pictures of tied and bound bodies, mass graves in Chechnya. Any comment from the administration?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I can't -- we're aware of the pictures and I can't authenticate those pictures, but there are certainly enough credible reports of human rights violations that exist that the Russians should move forward and answer the call of the international communities for a full and transparent investigation into human rights abuses. And that is never -- is as important today as it was before these pictures were seen.
Q There's a quote from a Russian general saying, we have the right to kill, but not to torture. The tied and bound bodies indicates that there may have been some torture involved.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there are certainly international standards, and Russia is bound by the international obligations for which they have signed. And that is why the international community has called for a full, thorough, and transparent investigation of human rights abuses, and that is why, whether these particular pictures are authenticated or not, that should be done.
Q Joe, is there a new shift or review underway of the administration policy on shipments of various materials, dual-use, to Iraq, under the sanction regime?
MR. LOCKHART: There is absolutely no shift in U.S. policy on sanctions to Iraq. We believe that Saddam Hussein knows what he needs to do to get out from under U.N. sanctions against his country. And there will be no shift until he understands that and acts on it.
We have, since 1991, 1992, been strong supporters of the oil for food program. We know that there is a humanitarian need in Iraq. We will continue to be supporters and we will continue to work with the U.N. and other organizations to look at ways to make that program more effective.
Q The Cuban that's been ordered out of the country, the diplomat, his people say today he's not going anywhere tomorrow. What's the U.S. response going to be?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not -- I don't want to telegraph either for you or for the Cuban government what we'll do, but we have a number of legal remedies that will become available to us after the deadline passes tomorrow afternoon and we will pursue an appropriate course based on the legal remedies that are available to us.
Q What are some of the remedies that we have?
MR. LOCKHART: There is a legal system here that his immunity will be no longer valid based on international conventions. There are certainly remedies available through the Immigration Service. So we have a number of ways to go at this. We, for today, are going to continue to make clear to the Cuban government that this gentleman should leave.
Q Do the resignations of John Sweeney and other labor leaders from -- making it even harder for the President to persuade Democrats to vote for NTR for China?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so. Our trade representative, Charlene Barshefsky, has written to Mr. Sweeney and asked him to reconsider his decision. I think the President takes the advice of Mr. Sweeney and other labor leaders very -- and believes it's very important in crafting our overall trade policy. His help and assistance and advice has been invaluable in the past. This group is an advisory group and we believe that it is quite important that those voices are heard within this group, so we hope he'll reconsider.
As far as making the case on WTO, we are going to continue to make that on the merits and we believe that, given time and appropriate debate in the House and Senate, it will pass.
Q Joe, back on Iraq for a second. How does the administration respond to criticism from someone like David Bonior who called the sanctions regime "infanticide masquerading as a policy" and others who are concerned about the elevated number of children's deaths?
MR. LOCKHART: We certainly take those views quite seriously and we understand that there is suffering in Iraq. We have worked very diligently with the United Nations and NGO organizations to find a way to get relief to the Iraqi people. The problem is who is standing in the way, and it's Saddam Hussein who has consistently stood in the way of either taking the steps he needs to relieve overall U.N. sanctions and even stood in the way of oil for food. He has decided that it is in his interest, his cynical, political interest, to inflict suffering upon his people. But, having said that, we are going to continue to work in ways as innovative as we can to make sure that humanitarian relief gets to the people of Iraq.
Q Back on the WTO advisory panel, does the President agree with Sweeney's contention that the panel is not addressing issues of concern to labor, that it is only looking at the China thing and not at issues of labor and environment and trade?
MR. LOCKHART: Overall as a panel?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. I think the panel has, particularly in the lead-up to the WTO meeting in Seattle, worked very consistently across a variety of different viewpoints, as far as trade goes, and worked very cooperatively. And that was quite a useful process. So I think it is certainly our hope that we can continue that process and Mr. Sweeney and some of the other leaders who have chosen to leave will come back so that their voices are heard.
Q Also on China, the Europeans and the Chinese failed to reach an agreement this week. How big a setback is that and -- it's none at all, I can say?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I don't think it's a setback because we've made a deal which we think is very much in the U.S. national interest. If the European Union, in their negotiations, wrestle another market-opening concession from the Chinese, well, that's all the better. But what's important is that we believe that we've made a very good deal. We end the one-sided trade arrangement we have with China by going forward with the permanent NTR, allowing China into the WTO. And that deal stands on its own as a good deal.
Q My question is really toward the timing. Congress is not going to take up permanent NTR until the Europeans finish their business. Isn't this delaying it?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, Congress -- listen, I can't speculate or predict what will happen between Europe and China as far as -- between the European Union and China, as far as their negotiations. As you know from watching our negotiations with China, these things never go precisely in a straight line. And just when you think things can't come together, they come together, and the opposite at times.
Congress, I think, should make a decision based on what is in our national interest. And they should dictate -- decide when to vote, how to schedule this vote, based on our national interest. And there is no reason that -- should those talks go slower than expected, there is no reason in the world why we can't have a vote here.
Q Even without the European deal being completed?
MR. LOCKHART: Sure. Sure. We have made a deal that, on the merits of the deal, is manifestly in our national interest. And if the European Union and the Chinese work through the year to work out some issues that are important to them on a bilateral basis, there's no reason why we can't have a vote here.
Q Joe, you said there's no change on the administration's policy towards Iraq. But in that article, they mentioned that the U.S. did lift a hold in $80 million worth of dual-use electronic goods earlier this week. Is that, in fact, true?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure of that. I'll check on that. But I can tell you that we haven't changed our sanctions policy, and that any movement is designed, and intended, to work through the context of the oil for food program and provide humanitarian relief for the people of Iraq.
Q Would it be fair to say the policy is under review?
MR. LOCKHART: The sanctions policy? No.
Q The article made the point that there is a lot of dual-use equipment that's backlogged, or ordered. Is the United States, within the policy of maintaining sanctions, going to review releasing some of those dual-use technologies?
MR. LOCKHART: What I can say to you is we are working constantly on trying to use the oil for food program to provide humanitarian relief. We will continue to do that. We will continue to look at new ways to do that. We will not clear what we view as dangerous dual-use products to Iraq. That policy has not changed; that policy is not under review, as is our sanctions policy not under review.
Q On the gun suspension story again, is there concern that these handguns and rifles might be re-exported from Canada to a third country, and is this linked to concern that's been expressed by U.S. Customs officials on occasions in the past that Canada has become a trans-shipment point for more sophisticated weapons going to countries --
MR. LOCKHART: There has been some discussions as far as more sophisticated munitions and trans-shipment. I don't believe that's related on this case. This is a case where export licensing authorities noticed an upsurge in numbers and the Canadian authorities are now looking at what are the underlying factors for that upsurge. And what's important here is that those licenses will not be acted upon until the Canadian government is satisfied that they understand the dynamic and, more importantly, the U.S. government is satisfied we understand the dynamic.
Q What about the sanctions against Iran? Would the U.S. be willing to lift those in light of their election results?
MR. LOCKHART: We're only through step one in the Iranian elections. I think we have spoken about that and what it might portend. We have another step, at least, to go through. I think we're, at this point, more interested in engaging in a constructive dialogue and actually seeing progress on areas of concern, rather than analyzing election results. So I wouldn't try to see too far into the future on this.
Q On the same subject, what is the position of the administration on the -- sanctions that the Senate adopted yesterday on nonproliferation?
MR. LOCKHART: On the Russia -- Iran? Well, obviously, we have spoken out in opposition to the version that the House passed, because of the restrictive nature of that. There was an amendment, a manager's amendment passed on the Senate bill that went some way towards addressing those considerations, particularly in the context of allowing discretion in the imposition of these sanctions. So we're going to work with the conferees and we'll have to see what comes out of the conference before we can provide any real indication of whether the President can support that and sign it into law.
Q Does the President have any plans to personally involve himself in the debate in Northern Ireland?
MR. LOCKHART: The President has been involved at almost every point in the Good Friday Peace Accords and trying to find a solution to a longstanding problem. I think as you saw this week, you had a number of leaders from the Northern Ireland peace process here at the White House meeting either with the President or with senior officials in the government. We will continue to stay engaged and we'll continue to use the power and authority and respect that the President has with the parties in a way that hopefully can bring some progress.
Q Has the President been in touch with President Bush?
MR. LOCKHART: Do we know the answer to that? I don't know the answer to that. I'll check. I certainly know that he was informed of his hospital stay and is encouraged, as all of us are, in the press conference he held telling the country how good he feels and the fact that he's going back home and going back on schedule.
Q Joe, I guess what I was asking without asking was, would he consider acting as a mediator between these two sides?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President will provide whatever counsel he can here. But ultimately, this is up to the parties to make the difficult decisions, to move forward, to put aside whatever issues have kept them apart in the past, and to make tough decisions for peace. And we've made it very clear that we'll stay involved where we can, but we can't force people to make decisions and we can't force people to make tough choices. That has to be done from the parties.
Q Having consulted now with all the parties, do you feel that there is slight progress, slight movement?
MR. LOCKHART: I really don't want to get into trying to prognosticate on it. I think it's important work and the parties need to stay at it, because I don't think anyone will look back if they fail here and not see this as an enormous lost opportunity.
Q Joe, what is the reason behind the announcement the President is going to make about the fiscal year 2001 funding for Native American programs?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the Native Americans are in Washington for -- the leadership of the Native American community are in Washington for a three-day convention. Many of the administration officials have gone and spoken to them. The President looks forward to the opportunity to meeting briefly with them and then making the statement. It's just to highlight the overall budget initiative for what the federal government is doing for the community in increasing our commitment to meet the many needs of that community.
Q Joe, on the Commerce Department's numbers on the economic growth in the fourth quarter, two questions. Does it cause any concern about inflation within the administration? And number two, will it have any effect on surplus numbers for the 2001 budget year, as often times strong economic growth brings in a larger revenue stream?
MR. LOCKHART: You know, I think we have indicated, and the President as recently as yesterday indicated, that the fundamentals of our economy remain strong. Economic growth is strong, stronger in this report than even previously anticipated, in a somewhat favorable inflationary environment. I don't think there's any new concern this morning based on this number. But I think as the President indicated yesterday, you know, the Federal Reserve is looking at this and they'll continue to.
As far as how this might impact the surplus, I mean, clearly economic growth has an impact on it. But I don't know that anybody, based on one revision, has any sense of precisely what that impact might be.
Q Joe, has the President received in advance already the drug certification process from the State Department? It's due to come out any time now.
MR. LOCKHART: No, I expect that will not be before next week.
Q What's he doing this afternoon after the Baldrige Awards?
MR. LOCKHART: He has a top-secret staff event to attend. (Laughter.)
Q What is that?
MR. LOCKHART: And I think that's about it. Does he do the radio address this afternoon?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, does the radio address.
Q And that would be on?
MR. LOCKHART: That would be on the subject of education.
Q Joe, the House is back next week; WTO meeting early next week, you imagine?
MR. LOCKHART: We have I think two more scheduled for this month. I don't have the precise days. Let's see, I have the week ahead here. We want to do that. Maybe that will give me my answer. The week ahead and then I'll leave so you can go cover the President. Good.
Week ahead. The President's weekly radio address will be broadcast at 10:06 a.m. tomorrow. Sunday, the President has no public events during the day. In the evening, the President will host the National Governors Association dinner at the White House. Expect about 40 governors to be here.
Q Any coverage on that?
MR. LOCKHART: Pool press for toasts.
Q Will George W. Bush be there?
MR. LOCKHART: That's a good question. You should ask him. I haven't seen his name on any of our lists. He's welcome, though.
The President will participate Monday in a roundtable with the National Governors Association at the White House, 9:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. Pool press for the remarks. We will do this like we do it every year. They will do some stuff that's open at the top; there will be remarks; then we'll leave and they'll have a discussion.
Later that evening, the President will attend the annual governors dinner of the Democratic Governors Association at Union Station.
Tuesday, prior to leaving for Florida for the fundraisers, the President will make a statement on departure on health care. The President will then travel to West Palm Beach and Miami for fundraising events. In West Palm Beach, he will attend a DNC luncheon at a private residence in West Palm Beach -- that's helpful, twice. At 1:05 p.m., in Miami, the President will attend a fundraising reception for Elaine Bloom, who is running for Congress, and later attend a DNC dinner.
Q Do you know what he does in the big block of time in the afternoon, between 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're not finished until 2:00 p.m. We have to get to 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Then we have to get down to Miami. So I think in the down time, there will probably only be a couple hours of it, and we will probably be late -- so probably not much of anything.
The President will attend a DNC lunch Wednesday, March 1st, at the Hay Adams Hotel. This is actually a meeting with some Democratic fundraisers, it is not an actual fundraiser. Later that morning, the President will speak at an economic event. And it says here the details for this are still being worked out.
Thursday, there are currently no public events on the President's schedule. Friday, the President will travel to California. We will have an event in the San Francisco area on Friday morning, which I can tell you a little bit more about at the beginning of next week. And then we will have a California Victory 2000 dinner for Senator Feinstein at the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel, and then a California Victory dinner at a private residence for the same Senator. Later that evening, the President will attend a DNC dinner at a private residence; overnight in San Francisco.
Saturday, March 4th, the President will be down for the morning and will travel to Los Angeles, California, later in the day, arriving around 6:15 p.m. He will attend a DNC reception and a DNC dinner that evening, overnighting in Los Angeles.
Sunday, the President will travel to Montgomery, Alabama, to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the 1965 voting rights march in Selma, returning to Washington that night.
Thank you very much.
Q Any Chelsea time up in San Francisco?
MR. LOCKHART: Doesn't say anything about that on here. Okay, thanks.
END 1:57 P.M. EST