THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART Presidential Hall
11:15 A.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Welcome to Presidential Hall, my new home.
Q Nice to be here.
MR. LOCKHART: I highly recommend the story on page A12.
Let me make a couple of announcements. President Clinton will meet with the President of Armenia, Robert Kocharian, at the White House on June 27th. The two Presidents will discuss regional issues, including the support of the United States for the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and the restoration of economic ties among the countries of the Caucuses. They will also discuss Armenia's efforts to strength democracy, reenforce the rule of law, and build a market economy.
While in Washington, President Kocharian will also attend meetings at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, as well as with Vice President Gore, other senior administration officials and members of Congress.
Q State dinner?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q It's not a state visit, right?
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
President Clinton today announced the departure, effective August 1st, of James B. Steinberg, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor. "For more than seven years, Jim Steinberg has been an indispensable member of my national security team," President Clinton said. "His insight, his intensity, his invaluable judgment, he has been a leader in shaping a national security strategy for the global age. We will miss him here at the White House."
Samuel Berger, his National Security Advisor, says, "Jim's contribution to American foreign policy over the last seven years, especially at the NSC, has been vital in every area. I am confident he will have a substantial impact on the direction of public policy for years to come."
Mr. Steinberg will become a senior advisor this fall with the New York based Markle Foundation, a private, not for profit, philanthropy foundation. You all know his career.
Two other things. At 3:00 p.m. today, Arturo Valenzuela, who is the Senior Director for Inter-American Affairs here at the National Security Council, will be in this room to provide an on-the-record briefing and readout of the President Zedillo meetings, which happen later this afternoon.
Final item. The President this morning had a 15-minute conversation with Russian President Putin. The conversation was a follow-up on the summit discussions. They discussed in general terms economics, arms control, missile defense, and other areas of U.S.-Russian cooperation that were all discussed at the summit. President Putin said he was looking forward to seeing Secretary Cohen in Moscow next week.
That's it. Open for questions.
Q Who initiated the call?
MR. LOCKHART: President Putin.
Q The President did not talk about Putin's visit --
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Speaking of missile defense, what does the President think about the fact that -- this story in the New York Times today -- that decoy missiles --
MR. LOCKHART: The story in The New York Times this morning is very similar to a story that ran some weeks ago, about a gentleman who has different ideas about missile defense than what the Pentagon is currently pursuing. The Pentagon -- he had written some two weeks ago or so to the President's Chief of Staff. The Pentagon is looking at the questions that he raised and will be reporting over here on that report. I don't have anything more detailed than that other than they're looking at this.
Q But does the President think that this raises serious questions, or invalidates the test?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President looks forward to letting the Pentagon look at the questions that they've raised, answer them in a process by which he plans to make some decisions on missile defense.
Q Has he discussed it with anybody?
MR. LOCKHART: Not in any great detail. I think, again, we're looking forward to what the Pentagon works up on this and sends over. And we'll have more to say once they've done that.
Q But is he aware of the concerns that some reputable scientists have that this has not been conducted in a way that --
MR. LOCKHART: He's certainly aware of the several stories that have been written in the New York Times.
Q So he hasn't dug any deeper, I guess?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I said that the Pentagon was looking at this and would be providing some analysis, and when that's done, I'll be glad to talk about it. I think that defines digging deeper.
Q Joe, is it true that Sandy Berger sent a recommendation to the President that he move forward a ground war in Kosovo at one stage in that conflict?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, as you all know from last year's conflict, our position was that no options were off the table. There was a series of contingency plans that were developed, that were discussed at the time with you -- I personally discussed some of the things that NATO were doing as contingencies. But as you also full well know, that those contingencies were not necessary since the air war, as we predicted, worked.
Q Why did Sandy's statement that he thought the President had agreed in principle to go forward with a ground war mean that --
MR. LOCKHART: I think Sandy believed, and I know the President believed, that we were going to do what was necessary to win, and if it meant that other options and other contingencies needed to be used, we would have done that. And I think we were clear about that. But, obviously, they were not needed.
Q Can you speak about of the President's plans to designate a national monument --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I can actually -- I forgot to make one announcement. George Frampton, who is the head of the Council on Environmental Quality will be here after I am done and will talk about the four new areas that the President has signed on national monument states. I'm going to leave that to George.
Q Joe, given that the Senate rejected a patients' bill of rights again yesterday, where does that leave the issue? Should they try to bring it back again? Is there any hope of this conference?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there is always hope. We saw yesterday once again the Republican Party frustrating he vast majority of Americans' desire to have a real patients' bill of rights. We had four Republican senators cross party lines yesterday; we're hoping we can build on that. We have a large majority in the House that believes that Norwood-Dingell is the only way to go forward here. And we are going to keep working in committee. I think Senator Daschle and Senator Kennedy are committed to keeping this issue on the front burner and keeping the pressure on to make sure that sometime during this session we get a real patients' bill of rights.
Q What about the Senate vote on the Section 527? What's your reaction to that? Are you encouraged?
MR. LOCKHART: Certainly, I think there's a real desire in this country for campaign finance reform. I think McCain-Feingold covers a broad spectrum of issues. This was a particular piece of -- trying to close a particular loophole, or at least make the information disclosable for certain kinds of campaign spending. And I think yesterday's vote in the Senate indicates that it's getting harder and harder to play keep-away on this or to hide on this.
You had a number of Republican senators who have previously tried to frustrate campaign finance legislation coming out and voting for it. I think, slowly, the Republican leadership will get the message that there is a reason a majority of the House and Senate are for campaign finance reform; there is a reason a majority of the American public is for campaign finance reform, and the price steadily goes up for blocking that.
Q Is the action of simply requiring disclosure sufficient progress for you, for this year on campaign finance?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it's certainly a step in the right direction, but I wouldn't call it sufficient progress. I think we have -- when you have a situation where the public, the House and the Senate majority all want something along the lines of McCain-Feingold, and the leadership can effectively block it, then it's not enough and we need to do more.
Q Would the President sign it if it passed?
MR. LOCKHART: This particular piece of legislation? I mean, I think it will come down in the context of defense; we'll have to look at what's in the defense authorization bill. But it's certainly something we support strongly.
Q Joe, but a number of groups, I think maybe even including the NAACP, have concerns about being forced to turn over a list of all their donors. Is that something the White House is at all concerned about, or you have no qualms about it?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we believe that disclosure is an important part of cleaning up the campaign finance mess we have in this country right now, and that's why we support it.
Q Would you support it even if unions were also included in that, in an effort to include them, as well?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we support it. It's not something that I'm going to dissect. We support it because we support it. And we will support it.
Q Joe, in the phone call this morning, did President Putin add any details or share his thoughts on missile defense --
MR. LOCKHART: It was not a very detailed conversation. They did have some discussion about missile defense and President Putin's ideas. But it was a 15-minute call that covered a wide range of subjects. So I would hesitate to portray it as a detailed arms control discussion.
Q Given that they met so recently, do you know why President Putin initiated the call? Was there some unfinished piece of business?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't. But I think it fits into the conversations that we have been having. I think before we went to Moscow we tried to portray this as an ongoing conversation. They'll meet four times this year. This was the first time when we were in Moscow and we expect that dialogue to be active between now and the end of the year.
Q Joe, does the President have any reaction to the judge's ruling on Microsoft?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we have refrained from expressing views on that because it's ongoing litigation. I know that Microsoft was in court yesterday or today as far as appealing this, so I think we'll stay where we are.
Q Is Secretary Cohen -- technology of missile defense to try to answer the Russian concerns?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he's prepared to lay out what the President's thinking is, where the Pentagon is. Obviously this is a decision that has not been made yet, based on the four criteria that the President has laid out. But I think Secretary Cohen is in a good position to allay any concerns the Russians may have.
Q Can you talk a little about Zedillo's comments I guess yesterday that the U.S. needs to do more to stem the flow of drugs north, that is do more on the demand side? Do you feel there is an additional role that we need to be playing, either working with the Mexicans in Mexico, or working here in the United States to reduce drug demand?
MR. LOCKHART: We have been doing a number of things on demand. I think General McCaffrey would talk to you at length and would be quite willing to go through all of the different things we've done on demand. But this is a two-prong attack. We have to attack both supply and demand, and the transport in between. And I think that that is one of the reasons why the President was out a couple days ago expressing his deep concern about the lack of progress on the supplemental -- and the damage that can be done, and in some ways is already being done, by the lack of progress in freeing up the funds for what we think will be a very effective program at getting at supply in Colombia, which will have an effect throughout the region.
So I think President Zedillo's comment, although I didn't see them word for word, address -- and we agree -- that this is a problem that has to be attacked from both sides.
Q Do you anticipate any further commitments from the President today to do something further --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm certain that a counter-narcotics strategy will be an important part of the discussion, but I'll leave it to the two Presidents to have their discussion and we'll let you know afterwards.
Q Do you know whether the two Presidents this afternoon will discuss at all current oil production levels?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I know that they do have some discussions planned on a maritime agreement that I think has gotten a little bit of attention. As far as production levels in the context of overall oil production around the world, I'm not certain. But it's certainly a good question to ask once it's done.
Q Estate tax? Is there not much future --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, this is one that could use a little truth in labeling, this bill. Let me give you a couple facts on the estate tax. This is something that's going to cost $50 billion a year once it's phased in. There have been a lot of people talking about its impact on family farms and small business. Less than one percent of family farms are subject to estate tax. Less than one percent of small business are subject to estate tax. Less than two percent of Americans are subject to estate tax.
Let's turn it around and see what happens to people who get the estate tax break. On average, those who will get estate tax relief will get a tax break averaging $800,000 a year. That's like taking the median income in this country and multiplying it by 20 and saying that for two percent of Americans, we're going to pass a nearly $1-trillion tax cut that gives $800,000 a year. It violates our responsibility as far as fiscal discipline; it violates the fairness test that I think has to be applied to these; and it also completely, in its sort of packaging and sales, obscures what this is all about. This ia providing a very small number of Americans a $800,000 a year windfall. And that's why we're against it.
Q So he will veto it?
MR. LOCKHART: That's a nod yes.
Q Is the President considering any actions against Peru?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're going to continue to work with the OAS on Peru. I don't have anything to announce here today, but obviously we have deep concerns about the process and the election, and do not believe that they were free and fair. But we're going to continue to work with the OAS on next steps.
Q Okay, I have one more question. What should we expect on the Middle East peace process --
MR. LOCKHART: A couple things. I expect early next week, the negotiators will resume discussions here at the Dennis Ross level. That's an important development coming out of Secretary Albright's trip to the Middle East. I also expect Chairman Arafat to be here in Washington to meet with the President, as part of the President's ongoing effort to keep this process moving toward a final settlement by September.
Q And does the U.S. have any reaction to the Israeli Knesset --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that that's obviously a matter of internal Israeli politics that we'll stay out of.
Q Joe, can I go back for one second on Microsoft? Didn't the lawyers from Justice come over and brief the President's economic team a few weeks ago? And what came out of that? Did the economic advisors have any view on whether breaking Microsoft up would damage the U.S. economy?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the lawyers came over and briefed them. But the briefing that they had was done about a day or two before their announcement of what they were going to do was put out. So it was not like there was a lot of inside information. I think while this is under litigation, we're going to refrain from commenting on it and when and if we have something to say, we'll say it.
Q What's the venue for the discussions at the Dennis Ross level?
MR. LOCKHART: That is being worked out by the State Department; both the time and place is yet to be determined.
Q And what will the President's involvement be -- any?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect the President's involvement will involve meeting with Chairman Arafat, but will not be involved at the negotiator level.
Q Tomorrow, is it not the last of the commencement speeches the President is going to give?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Anything special planned for that?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President will use this last commencement to talk at length on a subject that's very important to him, which is education and breaking down the barriers of educational opportunity in this country. He will talk a little bit, looking to the past about things that we've done, and then look to the future on the great investment we make in our own lives and our own prosperity by investing in education and breaking down barriers, particularly to higher education in this country.
Q Any specific proposals?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think this will be a more thematic speech, looking at -- I think the speech will include a report that goes to educational opportunities, but mostly it will be the President speaking to a subject that he thinks is vitally important to this country to a group that I think understands it completely.
Q What's the radio address on?
MR. LOCKHART: The radio address -- let me check on that and I'll come back to you.
Q Joe, there's a group of school kids here from Colorado this week in Washington. They've started this campaign against slavery in Sudan and are raising money to free slaves, something like $50,000 worth. And at a press event at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday, it was said by someone on the program that these kids have done more to address the civil strife in Sudan than the entire U.S. government. Would you agree with that assessment?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think that we have been firmly committed on this issue and been out front on what needs to be done as far as the abuses, that include slavery, forced relocation and military attacks on civilian targets in Sudan. We're meeting today, people in the administration, with the children, and we certainly welcome their efforts and their activities to draw attention to this. But I would reject the idea that somehow this administration has not been vigilant on this.
Q What time are you meeting on this?
MR. LOCKHART: It doesn't say here. I don't know.
Q Will they be seeing the President at all, or --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't expect they'll be seeing the President, no.
Q Joe, do you have any development on the U.S. sanctions against North Korea? Do you have any time scheduled --
MR. LOCKHART: No. We've been working on this since -- was that October, September, in the aftermath of the talks that were held in Berlin with Ambassador Kartman and his counterparts. I expect that that work is finishing up and we'll have more to say on that sometime in the next couple of weeks.
Q Joe, there are various efforts underway on the Hill to deny the Justice Department the ability to secure funds for the tobacco lawsuit. Could the President foresee signing an appropriations bill that sought to interfere with that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're obviously very concerned about the influence of the tobacco lobby on members of Congress. Take the Pentagon, for example, who spends tens of millions of dollars a year dealing with -- or the Pentagon, the VA -- the aftermath of those who have smoked. And we believe it's in our interest to move forward. And we believe it's quite short-sighted to try to tie our hands and keep money away from the litigators who are moving forward in what we think are the national interest, in our view, for the benefit of a narrow, special interest.
There are a lot of different ideas and a lot of different places some Republicans said they plan to put this. We'll see what they do, but we obviously oppose this. I can't tell you, not knowing where it's going to be, that there will be a veto threat on this, this and this, or not on that. But it's obviously something we strongly disagree with.
Q Will Sandy fill the Steinberg vacancy?
MR. LOCKHART: No, Sandy has a full-time job. (Laughter.) Yes, I have no announcement to make on that, but I would say that I wouldn't dispute reports that I've seen in published and reputable newspapers.
Week ahead? Saturday, the President's weekly radio address will be broadcast at 10:06 a.m., which he records today. The President will depart to Minneapolis at 6:30 a.m., and address the 126th Carlton College commencement at Carlton College. Can anyone in this room name two prominent alumni of Carlton College?
Q Paul Wellstone.
MR. LOCKHART: There's one.
Q John Harris.
MR. LOCKHART: John Harris; thank you, there's two. Paul Wellstone, too. He was a professor there -- did he graduate there? I'm not sure he graduated there.
Q He went to UNC.
MR. LOCKHART: But there you go, thank you. Thank you. God, and Knoller's not even here.
Q Is the President -- (inaudible.)
MR. LOCKHART: Probably. Very good.
Q But, he is listening.
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I thought I had it in my contract that I didn't do OEOB either. But it wasn't quite there.
He would later attend a DNC fundraising luncheon, and a New Leadership Network Reception at the Fine Line Club later that afternoon. Depart to Minneapolis at 5:10 p.m., arriving back here at 8:00 p.m.
No public events for Sunday. On Monday, the President and the First Lady participate in a Millennium Event at the White House, on Monday afternoon. At 2:30 p.m., the President will attend a fundraising 25th Anniversary Gala honoring Senator Chris Dodd at the Mayflower Hotel.
Tuesday, the President will welcome the Argentine President to the White House at 12:45 p.m. The President will recognize the recipients of the 2000 President's Service Awards, and that evening he will attend a DCCC Hispanic Caucus Fundraising Reception and a reception for Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Wednesday, the President will meet with Chairman Yasser Arafat at the White House, 9:15 a.m. That's it for the day.
Thursday, the President will participate in a White House Strategy Conference on Hispanic Education. Will later attend a reception for Mayor Williams here in Washington, and then depart for Chappaqua.
Friday, the President will do an interview with the Today Show, and participate in a VH1 Save the Music Campaign Event at a school in New York. I understand the Today Show is doing things with VH1 all week, and this will be the finale of their week on this.
The President will attend a fundraising reception for Congressman Ed Towns later in the day and then return home.
Q Will that be a lunch fundraiser, or --
MR. LOCKHART: No, that's 7:30 p.m., so he'll probably be back around 10:00 p.m. or 11:00 p.m. Friday night.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 11:39 A.M. EDT