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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 2, 2000
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                      AT VACCINE RESEARCH MEETING

                            The Cabinet Room

12:55 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, as you can see, I have a very distinguished group of leaders here in the White House today, and I thank them all for coming -- leaders of the international organizations concerned with the health of people throughout the world; Minister of Health from Uganda; the leaders of the pharmaceutical industry and biotech industry and the foundation community in our country who are profoundly interested in joining forces to fight against diseases that kill both people and progress in the world's poorest countries. Diseases like AIDS, TB and malaria, each of which claim over a million lives a year, and others as well.

We agreed that the solution must include the development and the delivery of effective vaccines. That's how we got rid of small pox and come close to eliminating polio. So today we're beginning a partnership to eradicate the leading infectious killers of our time, speeding the delivery of existing vaccines and getting to the heart of the problem -- the lack of incentives for private industry to invest in new vaccines for people who simply can't afford to buy them.

I have attempted to put a comprehensive package on the table so that the United States can do its part to change this -- a billion-dollar tax credit to speed the invention of vaccines; a $50-million contribution to a global fund to purchase vaccines; substantial increase in research at the National Institutes of Health.

I've asked the World Bank to dedicate more lending to improve health, and Mr. Wolfensohn has been very forthcoming here today and I thank him for that. The private sector is also responding to this challenge, and I want to thank them and recognize the commitments that have been announced here today. Merck is committing to develop an AIDS vaccine not just for strains of the virus that affect wealthy nations, but for strains that ravage the poorest nations as well. This is profoundly important.

It's also donating a million doses of Hepatitis B vaccine to those who need it most. American Home Products will donate 10 million doses of a vaccine to -- strains of pneumonia and meningitis in children. SmithKline-Beecham will expand its malaria vaccine program and begin new vaccine trials in Africa, and will donate drugs worth a billion dollars to eliminate elephantiasis, which is a painful and potentially very crippling and disfiguring tropical disease. Aventis Pharma will donate 50 million doses of polio vaccine to five wartorn African nations.

This is a very important beginning. It will save lives and make it clear that we're serious. But all of us agree there is more to do. We have to first build on the bipartisan support that now exists in our Congress to enact the research and experimentation tax credit, and the tax credit that we proposed for this specific purpose, and to get the funding increases through. I will go to the G-8 meeting in Okinawa this summer to urge our partners to take similar steps.

And so let me say I am profoundly grateful. Now, because this is my first opportunity to be with you when you can say something back today, the press, I also want to just say a word about the terrible shooting yesterday, which followed the killing of the six-year-old child the day before in Michigan.

These two incidents were very troubling, and they have individual causes and explanations, and doubtless will require individual responses. But they do remind us that there is still too much danger in this country, and that for more than eight months now, Congress has been sitting on the common-sense gun safety legislation to require child safety locks, to close the gun show loophole, and the background law, and to ban the importation of large ammunition clips.

I have said before, I will say again today, I'm going to invite the leaders of this conference down to the White House to talk about what we can do to break the logjam. I also think we should go further. We ought to invest in smart gun technology. We talked about investing the vaccines; we're not too far from being able to develop technology which could change all the handguns so that they could only be fired by the adults who purchase them. And that would make a big difference.

Apparently, the child who was killed was killed by another child with a stolen gun. If we had child trigger locks on all the guns, it wouldn't have happened.

And finally, I think that it's long, long past time to license purchases of handguns in this country. Car owners are licensed; all drivers are licensed, whether they own a car or not. I think it's time to do that.

So I hope that we will see some action. But the most important thing now, thinking about this child, is if we had child trigger locks on all these guns, we could keep them alive. So I hope Congress will break the logjam. And I'm going to invite the conferees down here to do it.

Let me finally say, again, this is a truly astonishing turnout of people around this table, and together, if we work on it over the next few years, we can literally save the lives of millions of people. And it couldn't be done without the presence of all these people. And I'm very grateful to them. Thank you.

Thank you very much.

Q Mr. President, if legislation was sent to you that included the riddance of ammunition clips and included safety locks, but did not include the gun show loophole, would you veto that?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't know. I think they'd have a very hard time explaining why they did it. Let me remind you, when I signed the Brady Bill and the NRA opposed it, they said, oh, this Brady Bill won't do any good now because criminals don't buy their guns through gun shops, they buy their guns at gun shows and these urban flea markets, or on the sly, one on one. They don't use gun shops. Well, come to find out, 500,000 people couldn't get a handgun because they were felons, fugitives or stalkers. And it's a safer country because of it.

Now that we want to extend the background check to the gun shows, they say the people -- they say the criminals don't use the gun shows, even though five years ago they said they did. There is no logical reason to let these gun shows off the hook on the background checks. And the technology is there to do it, without causing a total breakdown. And I suggested if they're worried about the inconvenience to the buyers and the sellers, they could always -- and they have these things out in the country somewhere -- they could always deposit the weapon with the local sheriff's department while they're waiting to do the background check.

There are all kinds of fixes for the alleged problems here, and there's no reason to do the -- the Brady Bill is saving people's lives and keeping guns out of the wrong hands. But we do need the child trigger locks. That child would be alive today if that gun had had a child trigger lock on it that the other six-year-old child could not have fired. And we just need to -- we've got to have it. We've got to have it.

The accidental death rate of children by guns in this country is nine times higher than the rate of the next 25 biggest industrial economies combined. I mean, that's something that -- if you forget about the intentional crime, just look at the accidents, we've got to do it, and we need to do it tomorrow. We need to do it as quickly as we can.

Q Mr. President, what are your specific objections to the German IMF candidate, and what do you expect to happen from here?

THE PRESIDENT: We've handled that in the appropriate way, I think, through Secretary Summers. Let me say, I want there to be a European director of the IMF; I will not support an American candidate, even though I have enormous respect for Mr. Fisher. And I'm gratified that the African nations expressed their support for him. He's an enormously able man. But we have a naturalized American over there leading the World Bank in a great way, and I think the Europeans should lead the IMF. And it would suit me if a German led the IMF.

I don't -- nobody is playing any games here. We went through a terrible crisis in the late '90s in Asia. We in the United States went through a terrible problem with our friends in Mexico when their economy was on the verge of collapse, and causing others in Latin America and, indeed, far beyond Latin America, to teeter. We think the IMF will become even more important in the years ahead.

We want the strongest possible person in the world to head it. It's a big, big, important job. But I am completely committed to having a European head of the IMF. And it would suit me if the person were from Germany. I'd like to see Germany play a bigger role in all these international institutions.

Q Mr. President, how do you feel about Senator McCain's remarks about the leaders of the religious right? Would you care to associate yourself with his description of what's wrong?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, they've been a lot rougher on me than they have on him. (Laughter.) I thought it was rather interesting that he was -- you know, they weren't for him, and I understand that.

Look, let me say what I think is the -- I think that people of faith who believe that their faith drives them to certain political positions should be able to pursue that, their political views, whatever they are, in American politics. I just don't believe they ought to say that people who disagree with them are somehow unworthy of receiving the same consideration they expect to receive in the political arena.

And so I don't want to -- I think that for the last 20 years we've all been too focuses on harsh rhetoric and the politics of personal destruction, and I don't want to contribute to it today. But I've been the recipient of some of their venom and I don't want to respond in kind. What I want to make is, I think most people who take positions in politics take them not because they're the prisoners of interest groups, but because that's what they believe. And there are plenty of differences that ought to be debated, and then the voters should make their judgments.

And I think any attempt to demonize or, in effect, perform the first plastic surgery on these candidates, and to treat them like they're not even people, is wrong, whoever does that. So I don't want to contribute to that. I welcome the members of the religious right into the American political community, and I welcome their right to vote against me at every election. (Laughter.) I do. It's part of what makes America a great country. I just don't think they should be condemning of other people, particularly in ways that may not be true, and certainly in ways that are almost cruel.

I think what we need to do is to tone down the personal destruction and turn up the focus on the big challenges facing the country, and we'll all be better off. They ought to be into politics, but we ought to just tone it down a little bit.

Q Mr. President, last night senators were here meeting with your Joint Chiefs of Staff, where they were asked for another $2.6 billion in supplemental aid to Kosovo. One of the main concerns these senators had was whether or not the allies were pulling their fair share. Do you believe that the allies are contributing equal portions that the U.S. is putting into this?

THE PRESIDENT: The EU, the European allies, will pay the big majority of the continued costs of maintaining order and building the infrastructure and the future of Kosovo. We are being asked to pay a minority of the money that I think is more or less in line with our fair share, and in line with the fact that we paid the majority of the costs for conducting the military campaign that brought the Kosovars home.

But I know it's difficult for Congress to come up with this money, and they'd rather spend it someplace else. But just like we're talking about this vaccine issue and how if we spend money here it's good for Americans, as well as for the people around the world.

It would be a good thing if we can prove that we can end ethnic cleansing and slaughter in the Balkans, and nobody else has to be drug back there to fight in another war, or we don't have to figure out how to handle and take care of a million refugees who will have their health problems and their other problems. And so, as expensive as this is, as General Shelton always says, the cheapest peace -- the most expensive peace is cheaper than the cheapest war.

And so I hope the Congress will go along here. But it is a minority share, and it should be. The Europeans are shouldering the lion's share of the burden.

Thank you.

END 1:05 P.M. EST