THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:10 P.M. EST
Q Were you a winner or a loser on the Today Show?
MR. LOCKHART: That is for others to decide. I had the winning argument, though.
Q How statesmanlike of you.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, yes. The early returns, the early exit polls are good, though.
Q What does the President think?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't seen him this morning. I doubt he watched. He's not a normal viewer of morning television, he's more an evening television viewer.
Questions. I have no announcements. Jake? (Laughter.) Nothing from Jake today.
Q Any final word on the presidential trip and your trip to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect that later today you'll have the opportunity to listen to some experts in the field on India. And Thursday you'll have a chance to listen to some administration officials who will walk you through both the schedule and the rationale for the trip. So I'll save that for Thursday.
Q Is the President happy about the WTO report being put out?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think, traditionally, these reports are kept private while there are multilateral discussions continuing. And as everyone knows, the EU has yet to reach their agreement with China. But given the importance of this vote and given the interest that's been expressed, I think USTR and the administration concurred it made sense to release the report, particular since anyone who has seen the report will understand that you know everything that's in it, based on our fact sheets that we put out and the fact that these were made available to members of Congress sometime ago.
Q Joe, back on India and Pakistan. With the U.S. unable to persuade both India and Pakistan not to develop nuclear weapons, should the U.S. help both countries create safer mechanisms for the deployment of nuclear weapons and do it in a transparent way that builds confidence on both sides in both countries?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, obviously, we have talked at some time about our concern about the nuclear program in both India and Pakistan, but neither side has developed an operational deployed missile, and that's what we're going to work with both sides to make the case if they refrain from doing that. We want them to get -- to agree to NPT and to nonproliferation standards. And that's one of the reasons why we're going to go and make this trip.
Q Have you found out anything about whether the President is going to ease import restrictions on Iran so that it can sell caviar, pistachios and rugs in the United States?
MR. LOCKHART: Terry, one thing I can tell you, if we do that there will be no amnesty program for you to bring your rug in and get it --
Q Oooh -- (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: That wasn't nasty. I thought it was supposed to be funny. Mike doesn't think it's funny. Sorry, Terry. Let me just repeat what I said this morning -- that obviously we recognize the positive outcome of the elections in Iran in recent weeks. We are looking and considering ways to encourage a constructive dialogue with Tehran that includes all the issues that we have concern about, particularly terrorism, nonproliferation.
As far as looking at particular restrictions, I'm not going to get into specifics today. The administration will have someone speaking at the American Iranian Council on Friday and they will address that subject.
Q Somebody is speaking there, you mean?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
MR. LOCKHART: I expect it to be a senior ranking member of the State Department, and they will tell me when they see fit who that is.
Q A member of the Cabinet, perhaps?
MR. LOCKHART: Could be.
Q And is this when they are going to unveil some sort of --
MR. LOCKHART: I expect they will address this issue on Friday.
Q Joe, in addition to the ceremonial events surrounding St. Patrick's Day, will the President be calling in any of the principals who will be in town for any special meetings with him or the NSC folks?
MR. LOCKHART: Some weeks ago, in an attempt to put Good Friday Accords back on track, the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister agreed to a framework for discussions to try to put that in -- and that included the leaders being here for the Good Friday -- excuse me, for the traditional St. Patrick's Day celebrations. So I expect the President, over the course of Friday, will have a chance to sit and talk to the leaders. I don't view these as meetings where we expect any sort of breakthrough in the discussions, but they are part of the discussions that will continue when they return home.
Q Joe, I know you are going to have the experts talk later about this Human Genome Project, but just to kind of break it down for us laymen here, I am having difficulty figuring out what the hard news in this is. I thought that the Human Genome Project has already agreed to put out on the Internet stuff that it found out in terms of raw data, that this was not new, and you also are urging people in the private area to share their material. But is that the news, that you are urging private people to --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think -- and I will let the experts talk -- but I think it is a breakthrough that we have an agreement with the British government and the companies, some of the British companies, that they share our commitment to making this information available on an immediate basis to scientists. So, I mean, I will let the experts talk through how that all happened, but that's the news there.
Q Back on the WTO and China. Critics of the decision by the President to press for the end of the yearly review of China's trade relations say that while human rights practices in China have gotten worse over the past 10 years, without the check of an annual review, they would be even worse. What is your response to that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, our response is that we will continue to press the case on human rights. As we do, we think that opening up China to both their market and to increased exposure to the West will have a positive effect. The President spoke about that in his speech last week.
As far as providing permanent normal trade relations, that is a requirement, as far as ascending into the WTO. So we want to make sure that we remove the barriers for their ascension into the WTO.
Q If I could follow that, how will you continue to press the case for human rights?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we'll continue to press at every level of the government, as far as how we deal with China as a country. And we think we have a better case, and a better platform to do it from when we're engaged, when we have an economic relationship, and when they are involved in international institutions and required to play by international rules, than if we isolate them and put them on the outside.
Q Joe, could I just clarify something you just said? You said that giving them permanent normal trade status is a requirement for China entering the WTO. I don't think that -- I mean, is that correct? Or is it that if we don't do that, they won't open the markets to U.S. businesses, but they can still go into the WTO?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it is -- yes. It is, in effect, a step we believe we need to take. Whether it's a -- a legal requirement is ascension. But I think we have made the judgment that it's a step that we need to take in order for this to move forward.
Q What did you think of Governor Bush's statement concerning name-calling in the gun --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that he missed the point. I think Governor Bush had a chance to repudiate some repugnant statements made by the NRA, and he missed the chance. And unfortunately -- he can describe why, but I think right-thinking Americans should take the opportunity, when people make outrageous statements, to call them as they see them, rather than trying to reduce it to a political battle.
That's not what the last couple days were about. This was about the NRA acting in a very irresponsible way, and acting in a way that illuminates why they're on such a fringe and have so few people in this country support them. And I think Governor Bush missed an opportunity yesterday.
Q Joe, he actually was asked -- the question put to him was phrased this way -- do you think the NRA should apologize for its comments? And what he said was, I think -- and I'm paraphrasing now, but he says -- he didn't say anything about apologizing, but he said, I think that people should carry on a discussion about this important subject without name-calling. So that was implied criticism of the NRA.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, listen, they made some outrageous statements. And those sort of statements should be repudiated, I think, by leaders, as part of and as a function of their leadership. And the way I saw it was the Governor saying that both sides should stop calling each other names. And that certainly, I didn't see as a repudiation. He had -- this gentleman made his statement, and it's gone unchallenged, as far as I can tell, by the Governor and by others.
Q What has been the reaction publicly to the White House? Has there been any?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't seen anything as far as calls and the normal correspondence. But again, that's not always the best judge of where the public is. I mean, the public overwhelmingly wants the things the NRA is trying to stop, whether they be closing the gun show loophole, whether they be the safety trigger locks, whether it's the import of the large ammunition clips or the children prevention programs that hold parents legally responsible when they recklessly leave guns that children can get their hands on. These are things that the NRA has opposed for some time, and I mean, that's where the public is. So I would expect, once again, the public to be in some state of disbelief about why the NRA would continue to say things like this.
Q What did you mean when you say the NRA's on the fringe?
MR. LOCKHART: They represent an extreme view that their chief spokesman thinks ATF agents are jack-booted thugs and compares them to Nazi storm troopers. They oppose things like outlawing cop killer bullets that the vast majority of Americans disagree with them on. They make statements about the President being willing to accept a level of killing in this country; that puts them outside the mainstream of discussion.
We have different opinions with members of Congress. There are some Democrats who do not support the juvenile justice bill that the President has put forward. But we don't do it in a way, and in the same way, that the NRA does, with their ad campaigns and with their statements that I think put them outside the mainstream of our political debate in this country.
Q And their criticism, Joe, that of the 400,000 or 500,000 people kept from purchasing -- felons and others -- kept from purchasing handguns by the Brady law, very few have been prosecuted --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, we can have an enforcement debate. Enforcement in this country has gone up 16 percent on gun crimes since this President took office; that's federal enforcement. Now, most of the enforcement is done on the local level. Now, that has gone up 22 percent since this President has took office. Crime is down. There is a reason crime is down. We've passed these laws, we've put more cops on the street, and enforcement has been more effective. We want to do more.
The President has a $280-million proposal to put 1,000 new prosecutors in to do gun cases, 500 more ATF agents. I wish the NRA would get behind that; they haven't. But we have a solid enforcement record, there is more to do, and that's really not what the debate is, it's what the NRA would like to change the debate to, because they're afraid of losing the real debate that's going on on Capitol Hill.
Q What does the White House think of Project Exile, which is the specific proposal to take felons caught with guns and put them in the slammer for five years?
MR. LOCKHART: The administration has supported Project Exile in Richmond. This administration has supported Operation Cease-Fire in Boston. There are a number of innovative ways that communities have worked to fight gun crime. The administration has been there with government resources to help those programs through. The NRA seems to be having a debate with itself, and it's not the debate the country's having. We have increased enforcement; we have reduced crime by almost a third in this country. We've reduced gun crime to, I think, a 31-year low.
But it's not enough. There's more to do. We ought to get Congress to do something. The conference ought to meet. It's been almost nine months now since they've met. We're not telling them exactly what they have to do, but they ought to at least meet, and that's where the real debate is.
Q Joe, what's the status of last week's meeting with Henry Hyde and Orrin Hatch?
MR. LOCKHART: I think Congressman Hyde and Congressman Conyers thought that there was some basis for bringing the conference together, but Senator Hatch has not yet called a meeting. And he is the chair of that committee. The House tomorrow, in a very important vote, will seek to instruct the conferees to meet. I think that's a very important message that the House will send, and we hope the House will support it despite the NRA's efforts to pressure members to vote against the conferees.
It kind of defies common sense when you have an interest group out there telling members that they might hold it against them if they vote for a conference to meet -- not do anything, to actually get in a room and talk. I think that goes to the question of how far out of the mainstream they are.
Q Joe, I'm not an expert on nuances. Was the NRA telling the truth when they said they met every demand except the 72-hour waiting period?
MR. LOCKHART: No, they were not and they were not supportive of this. And they're the classic perpetrators of revising history. And, no, I don't think that people take those claims seriously.
Q Joe, back on Iran. Some Iranian officials accused the U.S. of double-talk yesterday after the announcement of the extension that Clinton signed, in comparing it to a possible easing of trade sanctions, which everyone is talking about for this week.
MR. LOCKHART: I am not going to comment on what we may or may not do later in the week. And as far as their comments, they are entitled to their view. We look to enter a constructive dialogue. We look to be able to work with them and we will do it -- we will continue work on that in due course. But I am not going to have any announcements for today.
Q On Cuba, former prime minister of Russia mentioned yesterday that Russia is willing or looking for some sort of mediation to solve or improve the relationship between Cuba and United States. Have you received any offer like this or do you think that will be welcomed by the U.S.?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know of any offer. I think anyone who can take a message that human rights should be respected and democracy should be respected is welcome.
Q Do you think in some way Cuba will be in a position to hear more from -- do you believe Russia can put some pressure on Cuba in order to make them respect human rights?
MR. LOCKHART: I think only the Cuban government can answer that question. Again, anyone who wants to take a message that promotes respect of human rights, the promotion of democracy, and gets that message through, then they should do that.
Q Joe, can you tell us specifically how the administration is going to try to persuade India and Pakistan not to move to a deployable system in the nuclear weapons arena?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have been working with the Indian and Pakistani government for some time now on our concern about their nuclear program. We will make the case, both in terms of nonproliferation and in making the case on CTBT. While we are there, the President will meet with both leaders and make the case directly.
Q Joe, one more on the trip. Can you tell us what is the reason that this administration is at last paying attention to South Asia? And also, can you discuss the relations between India and U.S. today and also whether any change will occur after the visit?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we --
Q One more. That you may have, on behalf of the President, any message for the two leaders of India and Pakistan to solve the problem and how peace can come in that area?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I will leave that for the President, because we will be traveling there next week. As far as last minute, I think the President has expressed for some time a desire to go to India and Pakistan to both deepen the relations that we have with countries in the subcontinent. Our first time frame was changed because of events in the region, and I think the President now is very much looking forward to it.
Q Just to follow one more, that two countries in the region, especially Nepal -- got left over. Why the trip was not made in those countries since part of South Asia?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, as much as we'd like to go to a number of places, there is a limit to where we can go. We think Bangladesh offers an excellent example of reform in government, of things that the President has talked about as far as programs of microcredit and things. So there are a number of positive reasons to go there, and we thought that given the limited amount of time, that was a good place to stop.
Q Did Mrs. Clinton persuade the President to go to Pakistan, especially after she had a fundraiser given by the Pakistani Americans?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me address that for a second, because I think some people think they can put on their newspaper that even after they were told that there was no influence and that there was nothing improper, that, well, in some cases it might have been, or the suggestion -- or someone might make a suggestion. The decision was made by the President in consultation with his foreign policy team, based on our interest in the subcontinent, our interest in that part of the world, without regard to anyone's politics, including the First Lady's. And I think people --
Q She never talked to him about it?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. There was no influence or no input from anyone outside the foreign policy team. And it was made based on foreign policy rather than for political reasons. And I think the kind of innuendo that sometimes shows up in the newspaper is grossly unfair to people who are charged with making these decisions.
Q But she did -- was she misquoted in saying that she wanted him to go, at this Pakistani affair?
MR. LOCKHART: She was quoted as saying that she wanted to go and that he wanted to go. And that's something that he has said publicly, and you've seen him say publicly for the last three years. And any suggestion that that had something to do with a fundraiser is wrong, and is without basis, and shouldn't show up in the newspaper unless you've got some reason to print it.
Q But, Joe, do you agree with one thing, that it was a really very tough decision for the President whether to visit Pakistan or not, especially meeting the General while the Prime Minister, elected Prime Minister is in jail? Even within the administration, a number of agencies, they were against --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I think I've said it, others have said it. This is a tough decision, based on the circumstances there. We have a real interest in that part of the world. We have real concerns about the lack of democracy and the suspension of the constitution in Pakistan. But it is ludicrous, absolutely ludicrous, for someone to make the claim that it had something to do with politics. And there's no basis for it.
Q Will the President go to see Sharif in jail?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have the President's itinerary. I would expect that on Thursday, that we'll go through it all, but I wouldn't expect that to be on the itinerary.
Q This past weekend the Mexican authorities arrested one of the members of the most powerful drug cartels in Mexico. And it's our understanding that the U.S. government has already requested the extradition of that narco-trafficker. Is that correct?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I'd go to -- I don't have any information on that, but I think we can check, or you can go to Justice for that.
Q On Iran, do you know if Iran has changed its position at all on Israel or on support of Hezbollah?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any change of position. Obviously, it's a concern of the United States, as far as their support for terrorism, their opposition to the Middle East peace process. And I'm not aware of any change.
Q Joe, since you brought up the line about jack-booted thugs, are you aware that the first person to say that in public was John Dingell, on the floor of the House of Representatives? At other times, House Democrats have talked about NRA blood money being the reason that Republicans vote against gun control? Isn't that a -- do you ever get the sense that the whole argument about gun control sometimes gets too inflamed on both sides?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think sometimes there's a -- that the interest groups try to inflame it because they want to obscure the real debate. And the real debate is, here, whether we're going to close the gun show loophole; whether we're going to have trigger locks; whether we're going to have a ban on this importation of the large ammo clips. These are sensible, modest measures.
If you watch the TV commercials that are on the air now, you would think that the Second Amendment was being taken away. It's not the case. But I think the NRA has sought, over the last 10, 15, 20 years to inflame the debate in order to obscure the public's will. And it's not our intention to have a debate with this organization, it's our intention to get something done. And that's why we're going to continue to press Congress.
Q Joe, there have been proposals by NGOs to change the way that the World Bank and the IMF are giving their loan programs to some countries. They are claiming that they only give a lot of money to countries like Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil, that have a lot of corruption problems. Has the President taken a look to these proposals, to change the way that the IMF and the World Bank is giving loans --
MR. LOCKHART: I think that the Secretary of Treasury laid out a reform proposal in a speech he gave in London some months ago, and I'd look to that proposal was going to be addressed in some of those issues.
Q What does the U.S. like to see Cuba before getting a better relationship?
MR. LOCKHART: I think what we've looked for has not changed for some time now. It is, respect and restoration of human rights, democracy and a change in the system of government.
Q Joe, one more thing. According to the Indian Globe report, I don't know the feelings of the people in Pakistan, but I want to bring the greetings from the people of India and Bangladesh, including -- I have spoken here in this country -- that they are ready to welcome the President and his team with open arms and hearts and they want him to leave politics behind, but enjoy his trip and understand the reason -- the people's opinions and how the U.S. can help to improve the region.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President will certainly leave politics behind. There is a lot of tough work to do on this. It is an important part of the world. But I know from taking a look at the schedule, there will be ample time to get in touch with the culture, the people, and I am sure it will be an enriching experience for the President.
Q Are you going?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, of course.
Q See you in Delhi.
Q If I could go back to the genomes again, a non-scientific question.
MR. LOCKHART: You're going to test my knowledge here.
Q As you know, there is a private company, Celera, which is very close to putting together its own completed gene sequences, they said, which is what the old Human Genome Project has been around about -- Now, they were not able to work out a deal, these private folks, with the public folks, so they will apparently not be sharing their information. From reading the joint statement by the President and Prime Minister Blair, I would think that the President would want these folks to share their databases. Is that a fair statement?
MR. LOCKHART: It's a fair statement. I think this statement encourages a sharing with both private and public institutions. It also, though, recognizes the intellectual property rights of private companies to, as they develop what patent lawyers will call "utility out of sequencing," that they are able to move forward and develop products that they do have an intellectual property right to. But this does encourage, I think -- and it does not force private companies to participate, but they certainly are encouraged.
Q But Celera actually wanted an agreement, they wanted collaboration with the Genome Project. They insisted on exclusive commercial control over this joint database for a period of several years, and the public folks said, wait a minute, not several years, maybe a brief time. And I assume that reflects the President's thinking -- it may be a brief time, but not several years.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know how to define "brief time." I know the President's view, as he stated it in some interviews, which you can go back and look at, was that this -- his view is that this should be made available to all scientists for the good of science. But let me leave it to the experts who are involved in that to come and answer more fully.
Q May I ask one follow-up to the -- when he was applauding the decision, are you talking specifically about NIH? "I applaud the decision of the scientists working on the Human Genome Project" -- is that specifically the NIH?
MR. LOCKHART: That's specifically the -- there's a public-private partnership through the auspices of NIH. But, listen, I'm not going to take any more questions on this because we've got people down here to do that, so --
Q Joe, getting back to your complaints about the coverage of Mrs. Clinton and fundraisers, how can she build a firewall, if you will, between herself and people who might want to try to influence administration policy by donating money to her campaign?
MR. LOCKHART: Because she's going out, like any candidate is, and is talking about what she wants to do as a United States senator. Should people not go and raise money with Irish Americans because they're interested in the Northern Ireland peace process? I don't think so. Should they not be interested in other issues around the world? And she is going to make a case to the public of New York, as all political leaders do, on what she wants to do. There will be some who choose to support her, there will be some who choose not to support her.
Q But she's not just any political leader, as we knew going into this. How does she deal with people who might want to try to influence, think they can influence policy by donating money to her?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that those people don't understand the process and they don't understand that she's running for senator of New York, and the President is the President.
Q Have any Indian groups have fundraisers?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have the slightest idea.
Q The President, in his comments with Chancellor Schroeder in accepting Horsthe Koehler Director of the IMF also made some mention, as reported, that Koehler would be working with the team at the IMF. Does that indicate a desire by the U.S. and Stanley Fisher, who was also -- whose name was also put in nomination for director, will remain in his --
MR. LOCKHART: We certainly believe that there is an excellent management team. The Chancellor and the President agreed that they should remain, and that management team is run by Mr. Fisher, so it's certainly our hope that he will remain there in place.
Q Joe, do you have any idea who is joining the President of his immediate family, including like Chelsea or anybody else?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President will travel with his daughter. I'm not aware of anything beyond that.
Q Is the First Lady not going because she needs to be in New York campaigning?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll let her answer that question.
Q You mean, there isn't going to be an entourage?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, yes, there will be. I think the Secretary of State will be there for some of the trip. She's got another visit in the area that I think will keep her away for a day or so. But we will, in due course, put out the entire list, and you will know who is there and who is not.
Q Do you know, is Mrs. Rodham going?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know.
Q Have you got your shots?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't need them. I need them for this, not for Asia. (Laughter.)
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:40 P.M. EST