THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:10 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Let me just run through the schedule real quickly since we did not see each other this morning.
Q That wasn't our fault.
MR. LOCKHART: I know. News got in the way.
As you know, we did our rural prescription drug event this morning. The President is doing his official working visit with the Argentine President de la Rua. We'll do a meeting in the Oval at 12:45 p.m., which will be stills. We will, at 1:05 p.m. expand that meeting into the Cabinet Room to a larger group, and at about 1:45 p.m. I expect them to walk over to the Residence for lunch. The pool will be well-positioned in the Rose Garden to watch that happen.
The President does the President's Service Awards at 5:45 p.m. He then has two receptions this evening -- one DCCC reception, sponsored by the Hispanic Caucus, and then a reception for Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Q What are the awards? What do they recognize?
MR. LOCKHART: These are awards that the President gives to Americans from around the country for service in their community. We can give you a list, but these are people ranging in age from teenagers to seniors who have performed extraordinary work within their own communities.
Q What are the outstanding issues with Argentina the President would like to discuss?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me get to that. Let me just tell you that we will have Arturo Valenzuela, the Senior Director for the NSC here at 3:00 p.m. to talk to you about that meeting. I expect that a number of issues will come up during the three different sessions, including our cooperation on international peacekeeping, promotion of human rights and democracy, open market economic performance of trade expansion, including the discussion of the free trade area of the Americas. I expect that there will be three agreements signed during this visit: an anti-corruption cooperation agreement; a satellite cooperation agreement with NASA; and a National Parks Cooperation agreement.
Q North and South Koreans summit meeting seems to be very successful so far. Do you have any comment on that, and don't you have any time schedule to re-sanction against --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I have nothing on the second question. I think that the fact that the two leaders are meeting is extraordinarily important, as far as direct contact and discussions between North and South Korea. We were heartened to see the warm welcome that President Kim received. As far as the concrete results that may come out of this session, I don't want to speculate in the first day of the meetings. But it is quite important that these leaders are now engaged in face-to-face discussions.
Q Joe, what is the President being told about what's going on at Los Alamos?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the President got a briefing, I believe it was June 5th on our trip, from his National Security Advisor -- the 5th? June 4th -- from the National Security Advisor. That's the day Mr. Berger was briefed himself.
I think what he's been told is roughly what the lab talked about yesterday in their communications with the public and the press. Obviously, the President views this as a serious matter that both the lab and the FBI is currently investigating. There is a number of troubling questions raised by this, but I think we need to let the investigation take place before we try to reach any conclusion about these issues. I think for the President's part, when he was briefed, he wanted to make sure that we briefed the Hill and made sure that we did a thorough look at the security implications of the situation.
Q Does he know nothing more than what's been in public?
MR. LOCKHART: He's had a full briefing on what we know. I think the lab did a good job of -- yesterday in their statement, of laying out the facts as they know them now. I don't know that -- I can't be 100 percent sure there aren't some other pieces of information, but I think the lab was fairly thorough and --
Q Joe, OPEC this morning said that they're not going to react like Pavlovian dogs to a rise in oil prices. Now, they've gone out of that price band they set, they've gone past the period of time that they said they needed to have to determine that they need to increase production. What is the U.S. going to say to OPEC at this point, because oil prices hit $31.80 a barrel in New York?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we have continued our discussions, our diplomatic discussions over the last few months, and our point has not changed, which is, we don't believe that oil prices at a too-low level can be bad for oil producers and oil consumers and prices at -- that are levels that are too high can be bad for consumers and producers alike.
This, as you correctly point out, is outside the band that they set, and I expect them to address that issue when they meet next week.
Q Are prices too high at this point? I'm sorry.
Q Yes, are they too high now?
MR. LOCKHART: We certainly have seen a spike-up in price at the gas pump, and we think as we suggested when we were talking with them some months ago that when you get to this level, the prices have gone to a level that are high.
Q So you would like to see more production, Joe?
Q You just said when they get too high, they can be too bad for consumers and producers. Is this a point where they're bad for consumers and producers?
MR. LOCKHART: We think at these levels, you run the risk of both reducing the demand so that it could potentially be too high for consuming countries and also producing countries. I would look to the band that they set when they last met and we'll see where they go next week when they meet.
Q Do you want them again to increase production?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we have made the case, and I'm not going to get into a daily commentary on the price of oil from here. We've made the case, and we agree with the decisions they made at the last meeting that they wanted to keep -- where they wanted to keep in a sort of band on prices, and that's what they will meet about next week.
Q Do you expect them to take action to bring the prices back within the band?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to try to forecast what they're going to do beyond what they've said publicly and they'll meet next week.
Q Going back to the Los Alamos situation, since this has been deemed unacceptable, is there some kind of -- I guess new measures that will be taken and put into effect because of this kind of breach, as well as the computer that was missing, or the State Department --
MR. LOCKHART: There were -- I don't think those two are necessarily -- fall under the same category. We have certainly taken very aggressive steps in the reorganizing and improving security at the Department of Energy over the last two years. We need to know more about this situation to know whether this was an isolated incident, or something we need to address in a more comprehensive way. But I can't draw any conclusion today, based on the information that I have.
Q But Joe, that is not an isolated situation. There are other facilities that the United States government has that has this same kind of situation where things --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, listen, there are issues unique to the Department of Energy and the labs that we have addressed over the last two years. And I think that part of what's going on now within the department is to figure out whether the steps they've taken have proven to be effective, or if there's more systematic issues that they need to look at.
Q Joe, with the meeting coming up with Yasser Arafat -- you said a couple of days ago on the plane, this has been a critical point for the peace process in the Mideast. But with Mr. Barak having difficulty in his government, and the Syrian government now going through change, isn't this sort of an awkward time to be pursuing a peace process in a grand hurry?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know that they're -- well, let me make two points here. One is that the time frame for this process is set by the parties. The Palestinians and the government of Israel have together looked at September as a deadline for trying to resolve final status issues. So that's something that the parties have put forward, and we believe that is -- in setting a deadline, that's a useful thing to try to resolve these issues.
As far as this being an awkward time, I don't know if you can ever look at any given time and say it's a good time or a bad time. There's always issues that are moving, there's always issues and events that will play into any sort of discussion or negotiation. I think the parties have identified this as an important time. Obviously, there's not much time between now and September, and I think, as evidenced by the fact that the parties are here in the Washington area discussing the issues, they take it very seriously.
Q How long will Arafat stay, and when does Barak get here?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any information on Barak. Arafat gets here, I think, late Wednesday, and I don't know that he stays much beyond Thursday.
Q Could you be more specific about what Senior Administration Officials are doing to ensure that you get the result you want when OPEC meets next week?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any specific information, except that we've had an ongoing diplomatic communication with OPEC that is something that is standard in our discussions with the oil-producing countries.
Q But on the last time around, Secretary Richardson seemed to be heavily involved, and was making a lot of phone calls and so forth. Why isn't something similar happening now? Prices are --
MR. LOCKHART: Because they're meeting next week, I think they certainly know where we stand on this, and we know where they stand based on their last meeting. And they'll meet next week to consider the issue of price and production.
Q Let me come back to Los Alamos. The folks up on the Hill have been told that there's every expectation to think these disk drives were just misplaced, that there's no evidence specifically of espionage. If that is the case, then what are the troubling questions that you say that the President was told were raised?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's troubling to have this kind of information not at your fingertips and not where it's supposed to be. And so, whatever the results eventually are, those questions have to be answered. And the fact that we don't know the answers is trouble.
I think that the Energy Department has made clear, as your statement indicates, that they don't have any evidence of espionage, but this isn't something we can rule out, which is why the FBI is involved, and I think we have to await answers.
Q Joe, can you go back to Korea for a second? Can you -- with this meeting going on, can you assess the state of U.S. relations with the two Koreas? And does this meeting, this summit in any way have the seeds of the start of normalizing relations with the North?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have worked long and hard on this issue, going back to efforts that began probably in 1996. And the emphasis and the logic behind our discussions, both in four-party talks and also in our discussions as far as the missile talks and other things, were to reduce tensions in the region and to ultimately do that in a way that brought the parties together, talking directly. I think what you see today is a culmination of that.
Now, overall, what we're looking for is a situation where we do reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula. It's impossible to predict at this point where these talks will lead, but it's obviously an important step and an important part of the process that they have been brought together in this forum to have discussions directly.
Q On the price of gasoline, does the administration believe this is only a supply issue, or is there any particular sense that there is profiteering going on in domestic oil companies?
MR. LOCKHART: I think those of you who watched this yesterday will see that DOE and EPA is out in one particular market -- Chicago, Milwaukee, looking at the reasons that prices seem to be higher there. I don't know that they've reached any conclusion. And if there is any evidence that there is something beyond the a supply problem or a particular reformulation problem, the FTC, I know, is looking at this issue and that information will be passed there.
There are a number of issues specific to that area of the country that have played into this from a temporary disruption in a pipeline from the way they reformulate the gas, but I think it's proper for EPA and DOE to look at this to see if there is any evidence.
Q I don't know if you got a question on this yesterday, but on the subject of the death penalty, has the President given any deeper consideration or reached any conclusions about the Leahy legislation on Capitol Hill dealing with improving --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, we have -- I think it's interesting that I think Senator Hatch has now put forward some ideas. We haven't had a chance to review those, but obviously anything we do on this will -- should be done on a bipartisan basis. We have had some discussions on the staff level with Senator Leahy and his staff, looking at some issues of scope and how the legislation would actually work. I think the President supports the overall concept, but it's a question of getting some of the details together to find a common approach that we can support.
Q Did he find the Columbia University report particularly alarming, dealing with the exceptionally high incidence of overturning death penalty cases?
MR. LOCKHART: To tell you the truth, I don't know that he's had a chance to read that particular report, but we have had some discussions recently about some of the reports that have come from the states. And I think on the state level, the President believes it's very important that we take great care in administering the process that goes into the death penalty. I think as anyone who supports the death penalty understands, you have a special obligation to make sure that it's done in a thorough and fair way. And I think particularly the situation in Illinois raises some concerns that the Governor identified in calling for a moratorium in the state, and which were not only verified but expanded upon in the report that you mentioned.
Q Is this something the President is going to try to get done and accomplished during his presidency, dealing with this issue, wrestling with the changing federal approach in any particular way?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the federal approach is very much different than the state approach. I mean, we have not had a federal death penalty in, I think, 30 years. The standards by which a federal capital case is tried on are much different and much more stringent than they are in various states around the country. So I don't know that there's a real call for a thorough overhaul or review of the federal. I think there is a lot of work -- I think some of the things that Senator Leahy is working on and Senator Hatch apparently is working on address some of the issues in the state.
Q Speaking of Senator Hatch, how likely is it now that you're going to get a deal on a gun safety legislation, a juvenile justice bill, when according to this letter that Lew has written to the Appropriations Committee, the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill,it looks like Republicans have cut to a large degree funding for your gun enforcement initiative?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we have found in a very public way over the last day or so, just how hollow the arguments the Republicans make are. They argue that we don't need more gun safety legislation; all we need to do is enforce existing laws. Well, they had a chance to back that up, to put some money where their mouth was, and they failed miserably.
They are refusing any additional funds to put 1,000 state and local prosecutors to prosecute these cases. They have refused to fund the sort of anti -- the local media campaign like Project Exile that they often hold up as the example, an idea that came from this administration as how to do this. They've cut funding or refused to increase funding for smart gun research, and also the doubling of funding to make the Insta-Check faster and more effective.
Couple that with cutting funding significantly in the COPS program, which they try to do every year. We talked a lot about sometime ago the approach of we believe there ought to be more cops and less guns, and once again they have validated that their approach is more guns and less cops.
Q Joe, are you saying that you can't enforce the current gun laws effectively without these extra funds?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm saying that the states and localities where the vast majority of these prosecutions are done are overwhelmed. And if you're really interested in enforcing existing laws, and it's more than just a campaign slogan, or a way to sort of hide behind the fact that you're on the wrong side of this issue with the American public, then you'd be behind this. And I think this basically shows that the NRA position of enforcement not being important, and gun safety being off the table is a position that the Republican leadership is taking.
Our approach is that you can't solve this one way or the other. That you've got to attack it from both sides. That you've got to take sensible safety measures, and that you have to take aggressive steps to enforce the law. The Republicans have come down here and said they're not going to allow safety measures to go through, but when it comes to enforcing the law, there's no more money. This isn't a priority for them.
Q Joe, does the administration believe that Senator Lott's decision to not expedite a vote on China WTO is being used as a bargaining chip in other matters, and does the administration consider that a breach of the bipartisan arrangement it thought it had gotten on this issue?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, obviously there's some talk up on Capitol Hill that there are some Republican leaders who think they can make Democrats' life more difficult by holding this vote up. This is an extraordinarily important vote. We went through a very good process in the House, where I think all sides had a chance to make their case. We had a very impressive debate on the floor of the House from both sides. And I think Senator Lott would be making a huge mistake if he decided to use an issue of this importance to play politics with.
Q Do you believe he's doing so?
MR. LOCKHART: Tell me when the vote is scheduled, and I'll make a judgment.
Q Joe, in Russia, the head of the largest independent media empire was detained by police, evidently on embezzlement charges. Does this increase your concerns about media freedom in Russia?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, this actually just happened, I think, within the last hour or two. It certainly was just reported. So we haven't had a chance to look at the specifics of this. But we do have a concern about press freedom in Russia, and that concern was expressed directly to President Putin in his meeting with President Clinton. We're going to want to take a look at this and understand the details. But we are quite concerned about some of the steps that have been taken against the free media.
Q Joe, what are the prospects, when the two Presidents meet today, to get anywhere on open skies or beef?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have anything on beef. I expect that the Open Skies Agreement that was signed last year will be discussed, and I will wait until 3:00 P.M., until they come out, to give you more on that.
Q Joe, does the President hold Secretary Richardson responsible for these security lapses, and does he retain confidence in him?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President has confidence in Secretary Richardson. We've done an enormous amount as far as changing the security culture at the Department of Energy, at the labs. But I think we have to wait and see, and get some of these questions answered to see what more we may have to do.
Q One of the issues raised on the Hill, Joe, was how long it took for the senior folks in the Energy Department to be advised. Is the President satisfied that there was prompt action, both at that end, and that he was briefed quickly on it?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he was certainly briefed quickly once this came to the Department of Energy here in Washington. I think the sequence of events in the reporting within the labs is something we're going to have to take a look at.
Q Joe, has there been any response from American allies on Putin's counterproposal for missile defense systems?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't seen anything, other than some of the press reporting that was done while we were there.
Q Joe, what are some of the main issues that President Clinton and President de la Rua will discuss today?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I did that.
Q Yes, he's already done that.
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, okay. It will be in the transcript.
Q Is Peru included in the agenda? Because the President has showed a lot of interest on the --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think that's certainly included in the -- and when I talked about human rights and democracy, both in our countries and in the region.
Q On Japan at the end of the month, what kind of leadership do you expect to see from the new Japanese government?
MR. LOCKHART: Whatever the voters decide they want.
Q Do you expect to see a continuation in the domestic economic policy in Japan?
MR. LOCKHART: Well again, I think this is an internal matter, but our views of what Japan should be doing will not change based on the fact that there is an election.
Q Back to the Korean summit. President Kim Dae-jung reportedly expressed the hope that this unprecedented trip to Pyongyang could lead to the eventual reunification of the two Koreans. Should that happen, could that also open the way for reduction of a U.S. military presence both in South Korea and Japan?
MR. LOCKHART: That is a double hypothetical -- (laughter) -- which, you know, if I stood in these lights for another hour I might be tempted to take, but not yet.
Q Joe, I know the administration does not want to get involved in the internal political disputes going on in Israel now. But does the administration have any sense at all as to whether or not that is changing the atmosphere for the Palestinian-Israeli talks in a negative way?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I think that despite any internal movement within the government there, the government, the Prime Minister and, most importantly, the people of Israel are committed to finding a deal for peace. And that I don't expect to change.
Q Does the administration have any view on the likelihood that Assad -- the late Assad's brother is now contesting the legitimacy of his son's accession to power?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that the internal workings of the ascension in Syria is, as stated, an internal matter and I don't think we'll express a view on it one way or the other.
Q Back to the oil prices. And if this question has been asked, I apologize. Has the President been involved in any of these diplomatic discussions that you referred to earlier?
MR. LOCKHART: The discussions have been ongoing and I'm just not going to detail who went or how or why. Did I forget any? Terry is saying, thank you.
Q Thank you.
MR. LOCKHART: Thank you, Terry.
END 12:33 P.M. EDT