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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 16, 2000
                         PRESS BRIEFING BY
                           JOE LOCKHART

               The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:22 P.M. EST

MR. LOCKHART: Welcome to the White House briefing for Thursday. Questions?

Q Joe, can you give us a fill on the possibility of a Geneva meeting on the Middle East peace process?

MR. LOCKHART: I know that there are some reports moving on the wire services now. What I can tell you is that we have remained engaged with the parties to try to get these talks going --

Q Which ones?

MR. LOCKHART: Syria and Israel -- for some time now. That has been a constant since the Shepherdstown discussions. I think the President has been engaged in this, as we've told you at other times, since last summer. Those discussions continue, but at this point, it's not useful to discuss them publicly, so I don't have anything more to say -- we are engaged at all levels to try to get this going again.

Q Will there be a meeting? Can you say whether or not there will be a meeting or there's --

MR. LOCKHART: I can't say at this point anything more than we remain engaged in this process to try to get talks restarted toward a peace agreement between the parties as part of our overall effort for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

Q Well, we know all that. But are they any closer to meeting and are they going to meet in Geneva?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to speculate or discuss the substance of the discussions that are ongoing now, only to say that we are engaged with the parties.

Q The President said, when he talked to us this morning, that he'll have more to say in a few days on steps the federal government will be taking to try to ease the gasoline and oil high prices there. Would one of those things he is considering be a repeal of part of the federal gas tax?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the repeal of the federal gas tax was made a dead letter by Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. I think any time Speaker Hastert, Chairman Archer and Chairman Shuster come out solidly against something, it ain't going to happen.

Q So that's not on the table?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President -- he had a meeting this morning with his advisors, including the Secretary of Energy and his economic team. They reviewed the situation that, obviously, we're quite concerned about. You've seen a lot of effort on the diplomatic front, as far as dealing with the production problems; that will continue.

But I think -- they went through a series of ideas about both short-term and long-term initiatives that might provide some relief. And I expect that policy process to continue over the next few days. And when it's complete, I think the President will have more to say.

Q What about the plan for swapping? Have you heard of the swapping plan?

MR. LOCKHART: I have seen a number of ideas involving the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. I think we've had full discussion of a number of items that could provide some relief. There's been a lot of discussion of some of the long-term solutions, as far as energy efficiency. And it's certainly our hope that this spike-up in prices could get the Republican leadership to change their view. We've requested somewhere in the area of $4 to $5 billion for energy efficiency over the last four years, and have gotten less than 13 percent of what we've asked for --

Q Will the President have something to say on this before he leaves?

MR. LOCKHART: I expect if the process is complete by then he will. If not, we'll find a way to do it after that.

Q Joe, do these things include ideas like, for example, tax relief for some of the people who have been hit hard by this, or low-interest loans, things like that, to cushion particular sectors --

MR. LOCKHART: I don't really want to get into eliminating things so that by process of elimination you can try to get ahead of where the policy process is, so --

Q I haven't heard discussed here specifically, though, anything having to do with gas, gasoline or diesel prices, so -- about energy efficiency in homes, and this concern about overdependence on heating oil in the Northeast. Is there anything at all? You've got a protest in town today of diesel truckers --

MR. LOCKHART: I think what we're looking at now is what may be some short-term initiatives and also long-term initiatives. And when that process is complete, we'll have more to say.

Q Joe, is there any sense in these conversations that the rise in gasoline prices is at all too much, or there's any gouging going on within the industry, or that they're disproportionate to the actual shortages involved?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the energy economists have generally viewed the production and supply shortages as real. And that is why our main focus has been through diplomatic efforts to deal with the producers, to make the case, as the President has said today, that stable oil prices are in everyone's interests, both the producers and the consumers. That effort has been ongoing for some time, and it's certainly our expectation that the OPEC producing countries, when they meet on March 27th, will follow through on the public commitments they've made to increase production.

So that's been the main area. I think as far as the oil companies, obviously when they report their profits, I think people will watch that closely. I think what's important here is as production is increased that oil companies are very vigilant in passing on the savings to consumers immediately, and that there isn't a lag. Because I think those who are in town today have a very legitimate problem that we are quite concerned about, whether they be independent truckers or whether they be people who don't have the disposable income to deal with a price spike like this. The pain that it's causing individuals and parts of our industry is quite real, and that's why we've worked so hard on the diplomatic front, but also on the long-term front, of trying to promote alternative energy and --

Q But is it --

MR. LOCKHART: Let me finish please -- long-term alternatives of energy efficiency. So I think there will be close attention when production increases to how the lowering of the price of crude oil is passed along to consumers at the pump.

I'm sorry, Helen.

Q But his decision is not dependent, then, whatever he does in the next few days, on OPEC?

MR. LOCKHART: There are certainly things as far as a long-term energy strategy that are not dependent of OPEC. And that's the underlying foundation of it -- that we need to reduce our dependence. And I think it's certainly our hope if something positive comes out of this spike-up in oil prices is that the Republican leadership will change their position on energy efficiency and alternative fuels.

We've requested billions of dollars to fund these kinds of programs, and the requests keep coming back denied. And all of a sudden, you have people at a late hour, converts to reducing our dependence on alternative fuel. But I think you ought to go, the next time they show up at a gas pump, and say, where were you on the President's program for tax credits and tax cuts and reducing our dependency on alternative -- on fuel to alternative energy and energy efficiency.

We have a solid program, a solid energy program, and hopefully, again, if something good can come out of this, is that that program will get a boost from Republicans on the Hill.

Q The President also said that continued high prices and instability could end up cratering the economies of other countries, including ours. What did he mean by that, and how long do prices have to be unstable before our economy is hurt?

MR. LOCKHART: This is an economic argument that others and the President have made over the last couple months, that in theory, long-term production and supply shortages will have an impact of slowing economic growth in the consuming countries, thereby reducing demand for oil, thereby lowering the price.

Q Well, that means us, right? I mean, when does that happen?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me finish here. This is an economic argument about why it is not in the interest of the oil producers to have unstable and spiking oil prices. Our economy remains quite strong. I think the numbers are all fairly clear. But it is in the interest -- you know, we trade with a number of countries. You saw what happened in the slowdown in Asia, now two years ago. So it impacts -- it will impact our economy if other economies slow. That is the reason that we have made the case effectively to the oil-producing countries that it's in their interest to increase production. They have publicly said -- most of them -- that that is what their plans are. I think now we look to the meeting on March 27th to see what happens.

Q Joe, does the White House agree with those who say it's an act of disloyalty on the part of countries like Kuwait or Mexico that have received substantial either military or economic assistance from the U.S. to try to drive up oil prices?

MR. LOCKHART: I think we view it as an act that's counterproductive to their own self-interest. I think as the President rightly pointed out this morning, production, the oil price sunk very low because they increased production at a time where economic demand was -- economic growth was dwindling in certain parts of the world, and the reverse has happened now. Just as they increase production, economic growth, for reasons separate and apart from OPEC and the price of oil, was beginning to grow and demand for oil was growing.

So I think the argument that's real here is that it is not in their self-interest. I think countries move forward in a way that recognizes their own self-interest, and the argument we've made to oil-producing countries is that it is in their interest to have a stable supply of oil at a stable price. And it is counterproductive and not in their self-interest to have an unstable supply and a volatile price that spikes up, thereby reducing economic growth and demand.

Q The White House's view is that it's not relevant, to the extent that the U.S. has helped these countries in the past?

MR. LOCKHART: I think there's a lot of discussion right now that has less to do with how we solve this problem, and more to do with how do you take political advantage of what the problem is. Our focus here is not the politics of this. Our focus is solving the problem. And I think as we move down the road, and as these diplomatic efforts bear fruit, the American public will be glad that there were some people who were taking the politics out of this and were trying to get a solution to the problem.

Q Joe, the current accounts deficit figures were published recently. They show that the U.S. has a current accounts deficit of $338 billion in 1999, as against $200 billion in 1998. Now, that's a $100 billion increase in current accounts deficit, almost 50 percent. Isn't the administration worried that given the figures of the current accounts deficit, which is increasing, the increasing oil prices, the erratic nature of the stock market, that maybe these umpteen months of continuous prosperity may be coming to an end?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't think that there are signals out there that the economic expansion is coming to an end. I think that the current account -- let me answer the current account question two ways. One is, it's a reflection of the strength of the U.S. economy, relative to other economies around the world. Secondly, there is something we can do. We can convince Congress, we can vote soon on PNTR for China. We can open up a vast market that's at this point closed to most American business.

We need to continue to work. I mean, economic prosperity doesn't happen by accident. It happens by good fiscal policy, prudent monetary policy, opening up markets around the world. We need to continue to do that, and that's what the President's focus is on.

Q Joe, for a long time prior to this recent spike of energy prices, gas was fairly inexpensive in this country compared to elsewhere in the world. Is it the administration's view that energy prices, and gas prices specifically, can return to those levels and stay at those levels? Or does the President accept a certain higher level for gas prices and fuel prices generally?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, the gas prices in this country are, relative to most countries, cheaper. I mean, that's just a matter of fact. I think everyone considers now that because of the supply problem the prices have spiked to a high level. I don't know that there is anyone who thought that nine months ago, $10 a barrel for crude oil is sustainable, because it kind of reduces the incentive for oil-producing countries to produce it if it's only at -- I mean, the market will decide where the stable price is. It's not up to the President or through our political leaders to try to set what is the optimum price.

But, clearly, prices have spiked and have been unstable and are at a level that's very -- in relation to where we were a couple of months ago is much higher, and that's why we've taken the efforts we have. Secretary Richardson has traveled around the world, we have made the case -- we have made a very strong case and a very strong diplomatic case that production needs to be increased, and OPEC has made a number of public statements saying that they agree with that.

Q Joe, before the current energy situation developed, there were two issues on the Hill a couple of years ago that dealt specifically with energy policy. One of them, CAFE standards, the other one dealing with ANWR, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Is the administration considering asking Congress regenerating that debate about higher CAFE standards as a way of dealing with long-term issues of fuel economy and fuel efficiency, and can you state what the policy is to why it's not a good idea to open ANWR to exploration?

MR. LOCKHART: We don't believe, for environmental reasons, that it makes sense to open ANWR. And I think there is a general consensus in that country around that idea. I know that at least among the public and the things I've seen written and the surveys of the American public, they don't believe that we should take that course.

As far as CAFE standards, we have a process that's ongoing here, and when that process is complete, we'll have more discussion on it.

Q What process is that?

MR. LOCKHART: There's an OMB -- that's OMB, right -- CEQ interagency process that's looking at CAFE standards.

Q The investigation has wrapped up, a bipartisan investigation that lasted three years that said that people weren't targeting nonprofit organizations. They did find that in at least two incidents, White House officials did improperly ask the IRS for information on tax returns. Can you comment on that at all?

MR. LOCKHART: Sure I can, because I've been asked to comment on that a couple times over the last couple years when there were hysterical charges of conspiracy here at the White House, about targeting non-profit groups and the like, and the administration manipulating the IRS to go after our political enemies. And I hope all those people who made those charges will stand up in a public setting like this and say that they were wrong. Because they were wrong.

I understand that there are some cases that the Vice President's Office has described as routine inquiries that were denied. They have all the details, I'd ask you to talk to them.

But on the overall question, there were a number of irresponsible charges made over the last couple years, and you all know who made them, and you all ought to spend as much energy as you did back when you were writing stories about the prospect, or the idea, that maybe there was some wrongdoing, going after those people and getting to see what their statement is today now that a bipartisan group has taken a look at this and said the IRS is not engaged in this kind of behavior.

Q Just one quick follow-up. Are you aware of any other officials in the White House, other than the ones in the Vice President's Office, who have made such requests?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I mean, I think they took a long, hard look at this. And in an atmosphere where often the charge is much more important than the fact -- and I think you ought to go back and look at who made these charges, who railed against the White House on the floor of the House and made a lot of irresponsible statements, and just ask them what they think this morning.

Q This report apparently says that the White House Counsel's Office signed off on these contacts between the Vice President's Office and the IRS. Did they do that, and if so, why? It seems to go against White House policy.

MR. LOCKHART: The details here can be gotten from the Vice President's Office. I'd ask them that.

Q Joe, there are wire reports that the President's spoken in the last 24 hours or so to Prime Minister D'Alema, Chirac and Schroeder regarding the situation in Kosovo, and that there may be a contact meeting coming up. Can you relate anything on that?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know specifically about a contact meeting. I do know that the President did speak yesterday with Prime Minister D'Alema and Prime Minister Chirac. I think he had also spoken to Prime Minister Blair the day before.

On the issue of Kosovo, there was general agreement that we need a robust KFOR force there. Italy and France have agreed to send an additional 1,100 personnel into Mitrovica. All parties agreed that there should be full funding for the U.N. mission and that there ought to be an increased number of civilian police.

Q Was there any discussion of an increased number of U.S. forces?

MR. LOCKHART: There was no specific discussion as far as I know. I know that KFOR, through NATO, is currently looking at an evaluation, but there has been no request at this point. We do have roughly 6,000 troops in Kosovo which makes up -- is it the single largest contingent -- it's certainly a significant contingent. And I'm not aware that there is any request to increase that force size.

Q Joe, on guns, last year the White House reached out -- there was some outreach between the White House and the gun manufacturers to try to come up with some compromises on gun legislation. I'm wondering if the White House has heard anything or has tried to reach out to the gun manufacturers this round, and have you heard whether or not they are agreeing with the NRA's contentions this round.

MR. LOCKHART: I think I'll leave it for them to speak for themselves. But we have been always very clear that there's no such thing as a uniform gun manufacturer. There have been some who have wanted to work with the administration to promote more responsible practices, particularly in terms of production and marketing. There have been some who haven't. And I don't want to get into the details of any discussions, but we always try to keep an open line of communication with gun manufacturers, because it is a very important issue.

If I can say one other thing, unprompted, we've gone around and around a little bit in the last couple of days in this debate about a lot of statements that have been made, about a lot of things that I think have been twisted, but I came across a letter today that takes the cake as far as outrageous now on Capitol Hill.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has written in a fundraising letter, Senator Mitch McConnell -- and remember the context here -- the Republicans on Capitol Hill and their allies in the NRA have argued very forcefully that this is an enforcement issue. If we'd just enforce the laws, we would be okay. Well, they've now said that the White House is bent on revenge and is pushing all sorts of new spending programs, including $280 million for gun control. Mitch McConnell says the President wants to spend $280 million on gun control, and if we only enforce the existing laws we wouldn't have a problem in this country.

Well, guess what, Senator McConnell. The $280 million is for enforcement. The $280 million is for putting a thousand new gun prosecutors on the local level; 500 new ATF agents out in the field; we are talking about taking a strong enforcement record and making it even stronger. And in the ridiculous world of rhetoric of people who oppose anti-gun legislation, Senator McConnell has proved once again that in order to raise a few bucks they are willing to say anything and do anything to obscure the real debate.

Q If I could follow up on that, I guess -- Governor Bush said yesterday that -- he echoed the line being used by other Republicans that the best solution here is to do a better job enforcing at the federal level gun prosecutions, bringing gun prosecutions. And your point on that?

MR. LOCKHART: I think he should stop reading off the NRA talking points and start getting in touch with reality. Enforcement is up 16 percent at the federal level since this President took over. Someone convicted of a serious crime with a gun spends two years longer in jail than they did under the previous President, under President Bush. That's a tough and a positive enforcement record.

More importantly, because most of this enforcement, as everyone knows, is done at the local level, at the local level enforcement is up 22 percent. We have put more cops on the street, more prosecutors to do this. We have been fought at every step by the Republicans who are now, all of a sudden, sounding like the NRA, saying, oh, no, it's a different argument, it's a different argument.

It's not a different argument. This argument is about whether Congress is going to do something -- if they're going to meet, or whether they're going to spend another nine months sitting and saying the conference just can't meet, or we should just do juvenile justice. The public wants sensible gun control. It's in this bill. We ought to pass it. They ought to stop waiting.

Q Well, on the question of background checks themselves, do you have hard numbers on the number of prosecutions that those in the federal government who monitor that actually carry out -- the people who illegally fill those out?

MR. LOCKHART: I actually don't have hard numbers. You should talk to Justice about hard numbers. I know that a very small number of the cases are actually federal. I know that there are prosecutions, particularly in the area of fugitives -- I think it was 2,400 fugitives were caught up, and a large number of those were tracked down. But I don't have the hard numbers on this.

Q Joe, the Independent Counsel has released -- is about to release his first report, final report, this one dealing on FBI files. And it finds there was no criminal wrongdoing on the part of the White House, but questions whether there might have been some negligence in allowing certain mid-level staffers to be in such highly sensitive jobs as --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I would actually love to know what you base that question on.

Q Information about what's contained in the report that's coming out soon.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's really good, since that report hasn't been provided to the White House, and it involves the White House. Let me make a point on this, which is, this report, unlike other things that have come out of the Independent Counsel, is not going to the World Wide Web, or being released. It's going to a three-judge panel. The fact that they're willing to talk to you about it is -- people have to make their own judgment about it.

Those people who are interested parties, my understanding, will be allowed to view the report. They will not be allowed to have a copy of the report. They will be allowed to view their section of it.

Now, there shouldn't be much news in this, only because the Independent Counsel, Ken Starr, under oath before Congress told the Judiciary Committee some two years ago that they had completed their look at the FBI file, and there was no wrongdoing, and that that review had been done, had been finished some months ago. So I don't know why we've continued on this subject for another couple years, and why the report's coming out now. But it is not -- I can't really comment specifically on something that's not being released to the public.

Q Joe, today is the deadline for the President to answer the bar complaint. What is he going to do?

MR. LOCKHART: I expect the President's private attorney, Mr. Kendall, to have a piece of paper on that sometime later this afternoon.

Q You're not going to comment at all for here?

MR. LOCKHART: No. That's -- Mr. Kendall will have something to say.

Q What's on the agenda for the Mubarak meeting coming up?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have, as I said this morning, a bilateral economic relationship that the Vice President's been working on. But we also have a number of issues where Egypt plays an important role in the Middle East peace process. And I think we will use this not only to discuss bilateral issues that are quite important, but also to look at the peace process, a chance to take stock and look at where we are.

Q Joe, back on guns. The legislation that's pending from last year did not include the President's call for any kind of a registration system. Would the President like to see that included in any legislation that --

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President thinks that we ought to be able, given the fact that some Republicans have now come out for these CAP laws, which is child access prevention laws, that hold parents criminally responsible for negligent or reckless behavior as far as letting guns -- I think on licensing, there will be separate legislation introduced by members sometime in the near future, and that should move along that process. I think it's important that we get what we can get done right now, and then we debate and try to get the licensing done later this year or into the next session.

It's obviously something that's very important to the President. I think there's a lot of support for it. But we are at the point now where, in very short order, Congress can pass legislation that closes the gun show loophole, that provides child trigger locks, that bans the large clip ammunition clips and we ought to do that. And we shouldn't use any excuse for putting that off, and we should get that done.

Q Joe, the President, at the departure statement, said that the Republican budget cuts in the budget resolution come to nearly half a trillion dollars. By the way I looked at the numbers, it's $150 billion definite, and then a reserve of $90 billion, how did he come up with a half a trillion --

MR. LOCKHART: A half a trillion is what they've already done over 10 years.

Q Oh, okay, so that's over 10 years. That's not the five-year number.

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I don't know exactly what their five-year number is, but --

Q The five-year number is $150 billion, with a reserve is $90 billion.

MR. SIEWERT: But they've passed tax cuts separately that aren't in their budget that are higher than the reserve that's in their budget.

MR. LOCKHART: What they passed on the minimum -- I mean, they're obviously for something if the leadership comes out and says we're for this minimum wage providing an $80-billion estate tax cut, or the marriage penalty or all the other individual things done. So if you add them up, they are well beyond what they can afford, and then you're faced with a classic choice of whether you're going to dip into Social Security surplus or drastically cut into domestic spending on our priorities.

The other interesting thing is, even going where they were, they're not even in the same ballpark as the kind of program that Governor Bush -- I mean, they basically passed a piece of -- had a chance yesterday to say we endorse our party's leader, and they said we don't do it.

Q The tax cut's actually much smaller than Bush would prefer and not nearly as large as they sent last year. I'm just wondering if the White House thinks this is progress in any particular direction.

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure if you look at it over 10 years -- I mean, for instance, you can take a tax cut like a state tax, and you can, in the first five years, do it very slowly and then explode it in the last five years and just say, but we're only talking about five years here.

The message of what they've done up there is for them, it's tax cuts first, Social Security and Medicare last, and they're doing more than we can afford, but nobody's doing something as risky as what Governor Bush is doing. And when John Kasich and the House Budget Committee, dominated by Republicans, repudiate him the way they did yesterday, it ought to tell you something about his program.

Q Getting back to the registration --

MR. LOCKHART: Licensing?

Q -- the NRA has on its website a description of the President's gun registration proposal, and then a lengthy report linking that with a similar policy implemented by Hitler in the early days of Nazi Germany. Are you aware of this? Do you have any reaction?

MR. LOCKHART: You know, just when you think they can't surprise you with a level of vileness, they do. It's hard to be surprised or disgusted by anything the NRA does, but this does. I think that kind of argument is just one more piece of the argument -- one more piece of the foundation of why they're on the extreme, they don't represent the views of responsible gun owners in this country. And it's time for the Republican leadership, their traditional allies on the Hill, to stand up and repudiate them and get something done on gun safety.

Q Well, the NRA website also reiterates their claim that the President has Ricky Birdsong's blood on his hands. Has anybody repudiated them? Have you guys heard from any outside organizations, any gun groups to say that they don't back the NRA on these kinds of statements?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I certainly saw on the television report that first made this claim last night a member of the NRA saying they were leaving the organization because of statements like that. So -- I mean, I'm not their membership director, and if what they do is designed to get members or get money, or lose members or lose money, that's up to them. But there is -- I think there is -- even in the reduced level of political discourse in this town that we've seen over the last -- there's still minimum standards. and they're not even close.

Q Joe, in addition to all the tax cuts that are already out there that you don't like, apparently the Republicans are also thinking --

MR. LOCKHART: There's a lot of tax cuts that we do like, and they're in our budget.

Q Well, they're also thinking of increasing the IRA contribution by $3,000. Could that in any way be acceptable?

MR. LOCKHART: I think we need to see what they do in some sort of context of what the overall tax plan is, how they pay for it. I think the process they went through yesterday didn't give us much confidence that they plan to work in a way much different from they did last year. We'll just have to wait until they decide to come clean.

You know, it's a shell game, where the Budget Committee's doing one thing, appropriators will do another, and the tax writers seem to want to give the store away. So we'll just have to see when it all comes together.

Q There are some people in Congress that are suggesting that we should reinstate the Alaska oil ban on --

MR. LOCKHART: You mean lift the --

Q -- exporting.


Q No, I'm sorry, exporting Alaska oil.

MR. LOCKHART: I know what you're talking about, yes, yes. The program that exports some Alaskan oil -- that exports some of it. You know, that is one of the ideas that members, particularly of the West Coast, California delegation has raised. It's certainly part of the discussion. I don't know if after looking at that, that that will have a real impact to go forward with it. But it's something that currently there's been some discussion about.

Q Joe, what's the drill on the Irish meetings tomorrow? Separate meetings with all the --

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think the President will take the opportunity to meet with the leaders who are in town, in addition to the traditional shamrock event that we do each year with the Taoiseach here. I should have a much better sense tomorrow of what the schedule is.

Q Joe, is there any comment from the President on Premier Zhu Rongji's speech, especially his paraphrase of the President's comments at Johns Hopkins, where he said there must be a shift from threat to dialogue across the Pacific Ocean? Whereas the President said, from threat to dialogue across the Taiwan Straits? What is the White House reaction?

MR. LOCKHART: Our view is to restate our position that we believe in a one China, and we reject the use of violence. And we promote dialogue between the parties. That has been our policy for 30 years. It's been supported on a bipartisan basis by Presidents from Reagan, Ford, Nixon, Presidents Carter, Bush. And that is our view and it is well-known in China.

Q Aside from the exact schedule for tomorrow, with the Irish leaders, do you see this as just a series of courtesy calls, or is the President going to try to accomplish something?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think that in Prime Minister Blair and the Taoiseach's attempt to develop a framework for discussions some weeks ago, they certainly saw Washington as an opportunity to have discussions. So I wouldn't -- I'd say that this is more than just courtesy, but I also don't anticipate any breakthrough. There were discussions scheduled for when they return home, and they will continue to try to find a way through to implementing the Good Friday Accords, as the President has said. It is the vehicle for getting to a lasting peace, and the parties have to find a way to implement them. So I expect the President will make that case to all sides tomorrow.

Q Gerry Adams, before even coming here, said the chances are so slim that, frankly, he'd rather be back in Belfast. He's only coming here out of a sense of duty.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, he's here. The other party leaders are here. The President will take the opportunity to make his case. And I expect when he gets back home he will continue the discussions.

Q On the timing for this energy plan, would it be putting the cart before the horse to put out any short-term initiatives before the March 27 meeting?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't want to get into speculating or critiquing policy decisions that haven't been made yet.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:57 P.M. EST