THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JAKE SIEWERT AND P.J. CROWLEY The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:25 P.M. EDT
MR. SIEWERT: Since the President's meeting with Chairman Arafat just wrapped up, I'll let P.J. begin with a readout of that. And I think he also has a statement by the President on North Korea. So we'll begin with that, and then since there's nothing happening domestically, I'll take whatever questions that are left when he's done.
MR. CROWLEY: Let me start -- we'll have a statement for you at the conclusion of the briefing, but I'll just read a statement by the President.
"The historic summit between President Kim Dae Jung and Chairman Kim Jong Il marks an initial, hopeful step towards peace and reconciliation in the Korean Peninsula. I welcome the agreements the two leaders reached on humanitarian and economic cooperation, and on a future summit in Seoul, and hope that both sides will continue down this promising path.
"I applaud Kim Dae Jung's persistence and wisdom as he has moved soberly and realistically to improve relations with the North. President Kim and I have consulted very closely on this issue. I look forward to supporting his future initiatives toward a lasting peace and full reconciliation."
I'm sure that many of your questions regard the meeting between the President and Chairman Arafat. Let me go through a little bit on that. He was obviously here for just over three hours. The first two hours were basically a one-on-one with notetakers. And then during the last hour, the two leaders were joined by their respective teams. On the U.S. side, that would include Sandy Berger, Secretary Albright, and Dennis Ross and Rob Malley.
I think we can say that these were extensive discussions between the President and the Chairman, very serious. They talked about both process and substance. They took note of the fact that the negotiations continue here in Washington. And I've got no decisions to announce at this point in terms of what next steps are.
They spent virtually the entire meeting talking about the Palestinian track. The Chairman did take note of the Assad funeral, that he had the opportunity, along with Secretary of State Albright, to attend earlier this week, and now the Chairman is at lunch with the Secretary of State.
Q Arafat said a number of things in Arabic that weren't translated to us, but apparently --
MR. CROWLEY: I can't help you there.
Q No, no, apparently he said that he's very upset that -- the Palestinians are very upset the Israelis are only offering the release of three prisoners. And he said that's an insult, and he said that he will declare a Palestinian state in September, the Palestinians will. He said it's out of his hands, the people want it. Is that what he meant when he said he wants America's help, he wants America's help to pressure Israel on the release and on the state?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, he has had America's help throughout the peace process. And the President, as he indicated to you all yesterday, will continue to make himself available as required, as he did today, to help move the parties through the issues, the hard issues that they're focused on, and to reach an agreement on all elements of final status issues. So we will be there. We will continue to work hard and work with the parties as they focus on the hard issues, and see what we can do to narrow gaps, and eventually to reach an agreement.
Q Was any progress made today on --
Q Does help translate into pressure? Does help translate into direct pressure?
MR. CROWLEY: Direct pressure --
Q On Israel.
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I remind you, this is about the decisions that the two parties in the case of the Palestinian track have to make. We are not in a position to pressure them. We are actually in a position to help one, as always, understand the needs of the other; help them define where the real issues are; and in many cases, at the right time work to provide a bridge that can help them towards a resolution.
So this is not about pressure that we are putting on either the Palestinians or Israel. This is about helping one understand the other so that we can continue to make progress. As the President said yesterday, progress has been steady, but we can't minimize the difficult issues that the two sides are confronting.
Q Chairman Arafat said that it's most important that the existing agreement be enforced. Does President Clinton agree that that's most important? And what is his view as to whether the troop pullbacks and the territory pullbacks that Israel has already agreed to ought go forward forthwith?
MR. CROWLEY: I'm not going to sit here and give a play-by-play. Suffice it to say that in the discussions that we've had this week, since negotiations have resumed here in Washington, we've been focused on both the so-called interim issues, and permanent status issues. And those negotiations are ongoing.
Q P.J., from this podium, after the last time that Chairman Arafat was here, you emphasized that the administration detected a willingness to work these things out, a definite energy, and a directness -- much more hopeful verbiage than we hear today. Is the lack of any of that reference today a signal that the administration is growing somewhat either exasperated or frustrated with the lack of progress?
MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn't say so, Major. I think it's just a matter of the hard work continues. I mean, the President met with Chairman -- met with Prime Minister Barak two weeks ago in Lisbon. He's had the opportunity to meet the Chairman here today. In the meantime, he's been on the phone with both the Chairman and the Prime Minister. And this is a marathon, and we have a process in place to help the parties work toward the finish line, which is an agreement on final status issues.
So, at any particular time, are they going to confront hills and obstacles? Absolutely. But we continue, at various levels, to work with them, help them understand where the gaps exist, and help to see where we can help them narrow the gaps so that we can ultimately see a final agreement.
Q To follow, P.J., does the administration still detect these -- this willingness, this energy, to work these things out? Or is that somewhat missing at this time?
MR. CROWLEY: I don't think that we've changed our assessment that both Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat are squarely focused on where they are. They understand where they need to get to. They understand that time is not on their side. These remain serious, intensive discussions at various levels from the leaders down to the negotiators. I don't think we have any quarrel with the firmness by which the leaders and their negotiating teams are working hard to see what can be done. We recognize at the same time that there is still work to be done.
Q Mr. Arafat said that "Mr. Barak lacks the desire to work with us to achieve a lasting peace in the region." Is that the view of the United States government, as well?
MR. CROWLEY: I don't think it's in any way constructive for us to sit here and try to handicap who is doing what in a particular time. I think we are satisfied that both leaders are very serious in their efforts to reach an agreement. These are hard issues. They're issues that are best left to the negotiators and to the leaders to work in private. We are not going to contribute to doing these negotiations in public.
Q P.J., is the President aware, and you aware, that among the 1,500 prisoners that have been there for years and are, in a sense, peace hostages, hostages to the peace process, that there are 10 Americans who claim in affidavits we have to have been tortured and confessions forced. I know the President was aware earlier about such American prisoners in Israeli jails --
MR. CROWLEY: That is not information that I know or am able to comment on here.
Q We'd be glad to share it with you.
Q P.J., would the President have asked Chairman Arafat once again to sort of hold off on the idea of statehood?
MR. CROWLEY: I think we haven't changed our view that unilateral steps by either party that are outside of final status negotiations are not helpful. We understand that he has made that statement before; we understand that there is a deadline that the parties have put in place for later in the year, and all the more reason why we think that they need to continue to work hard through these issues and see what agreement they can make.
Q P.J., are you able to say whether any progress was made on these difficult final status issues today?
MR. CROWLEY: I think there's always progress made. Just as the President said yesterday, there's still work to be done. When the Chairman comes here, his meeting with the President is always constructive, and it's always helpful when we can help them understand, okay, what are you dealing with, how do you see it; here's how the other side sees it; and there's a good exchange always at this level in terms of how to help one understand the other and discussion in terms of both the substance of the issues in terms of the process of where we go from here. All of that was on the table today for discussion between the President and the Chairman. I would always say whenever they get together there is progress.
Q Do you know if there was a narrowing of differences the President said yesterday was needed before he would call for a three-way Camp David-style summit?
MR. CROWLEY: I think that the President's assessment yesterday remains that there is still work to be done before we would consider that.
Q Will the President be sending Secretary of State Albright to the region again anytime soon to continue her work on this?
MR. CROWLEY: From this meeting I would say there were no decisions on what the next step in the process would be.
Q When did the President give that assessment? I must have missed it.
MR. CROWLEY: I think he gave the assessment because, as we have said --
Q In what forum?
MR. CROWLEY: It was yesterday in a brief pool spray that he had regarding a prescription drug event. But basically what the President said is, he has not taken off the table the idea of a three-way meeting; that is something that we will continue to consider when the time is right, when the conditions are right and we think that would be helpful in moving the parties along.
Q P.J., you just mentioned that we don't know the next step in the process, so does that mean just the working groups are going to be meeting now, for a while? What's happening over the next --
MR. CROWLEY: I think there will continue to be contacts at various levels, and in various fora. I think, for example, the negotiations here in Washington will continue, and then we will just continue to see, as we see progress made, how we can continue to contribute to that.
Q Does the President intend to contact Prime Minister Barak to report on the talks today?
MR. CROWLEY: They had an extensive meeting last night. I would assume that they would continue their contact, but I do not know if anything is scheduled at this point. I'm sorry, I'm sorry -- you're right -- they had about a 40-minute phone conversation last night, and I'm sure they will remain in regular contact. I just don't have anything to announce at this point in time.
Q P.J., the President mentioned yesterday, as you did today, that time is running out. It may be a marathon, but time is running out. Can you share with us any more of how you decide at what point you need to just get these guys in a room together, lock the doors for a couple of weeks, and get -- and make it happen?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, and again, we will consider that as a step when the time is right.
Q Going back to North Korea, are you going to announce the lifting of sanctions next week? And also, can you outline the sanctions? And also, was Agricultural Secretary Glickman's announcement today of sending over 50,000 tons of wheat a sign of further aid to North Korea?
MR. CROWLEY: I am not specifically familiar with what Agriculture has announced today. Usually those kinds of announcements are based on our work with the World Food Program, in terms of what is required on a humanitarian basis, in terms of the situation in North Korea.
We have said that we are prepared to -- let me go back -- the President made a decision last fall, in the aftermath of the North Korean decision to establish a missile moratorium that we would work towards an easing of sanctions. We indicated to the North Koreans, I think publicly at that time, that it would be a several-month process to rewrite the regulations to put -- to implement the President's decision. That work is ongoing, but is nearing completion, and we will have an announcement on that very soon in the form of a Federal Register publication.
Q So what will be announced will be based on what was talked about last fall?
MR. CROWLEY: What will be announced -- what will be published in the Federal Register in the coming days will be the implementation of a decision that the President took last fall.
Q So, P.J., the decision about the food aid should be viewed separately from whatever developments arose from the historic Koreas' summit, and it's strictly sort of a bureaucratic thing worked out --
MR. CROWLEY: These are things that are in train extensively over time based on the humanitarian situation in North Korea.
Q P.J., what can you tell us about the recommendation from the lawyers that you could proceed with missiles without violating the ABM Treaty?
MR. CROWLEY: We have not made any kind of determination as to when work on the ABM radar in Alaska would violate the ABM Treaty. We do not need to confront that issue at this time. The treaty, itself, does not provide a definition of what constitutes a so-called "breach," but it's prudent for us to examine what the possible interpretations of the ABM Treaty would be as we continue with our development effort. There are a range of interpretations available, but we have made no decision.
Q Is that what this letter was -- this was a discussion of the potential --
MR. CROWLEY: This is not a new issue. As we have worked towards the development of an NMD capability -- and I remind you that the President has not made any kind of decision on deployment and will not do so until he gets a recommendation during the summer from the Pentagon -- but we have, as -- and it remains our goal, first and foremost, to try to develop an NMD capability within the bounds of the ABM Treaty. We think we can do that while preserving the ABM Treaty. And that is the context by which we have had extensive discussions with the Russian government on this.
But it is prudent for us to work through a legal analysis of just, as you work through the stages of what you would need to do to potentially build an NMD facility -- as we worked through the architecture over time, we've also been exploring the legal implications of that. So this effort is actually not new.
Q P.J., to some people, this would sound like a way to allow the President to punt the final and ultimate decision about creating a missile defense program into the next administration. Is that the purpose of this legal analysis?
MR. CROWLEY: Let me remind you, Josh, of what the timetable is here. We are -- the President has the four criteria that we have mentioned many times in terms of threat, cost, technical feasibility, and overall impact on national security. As we have identified an emerging threat from multiple countries -- North Korea being one; Iran, Iraq, down the road -- this timetable has been driven by a need to potentially field as system as early as 2005. Once you back up the potential construction timetable, you get to the point where sometime this year we would need to make decisions so that the contracting process could get underway that would lead to construction sometime next year in order to field that capability in 2005.
So the legal analysis has been accompanying this -- as you work through the architecture and understood here's where you need to do certain things in order to get to 2005, there's been an accompanying legal analysis in terms of how this process would affect the ABM Treaty.
Q Just to follow up, when you say "later this year," do you mean that this decision could potentially be made after the election, so this could be taken out of the electoral --
MR. CROWLEY: This process is driven squarely by the need to potentially field a capability by 2005. It is not geared towards the election or any other consideration.
Q The deadline for a decision is when?
MR. CROWLEY: The President will have to make a decision later this year, if the judgment is that we need to have this capability in 2005.
Q After November 4th or --
MR. CROWLEY: There's no specific date out there on the wall that I'm aware of.
Q Do the developments in North Korea at all change the threat picture? I mean, we've got historic talks between North and South Korea, we've got a continuing moratorium on missile development. Is there any change in the U.S. view of the threat picture from North Korea?
MR. CROWLEY: Our determination to develop and potentially field an MD capability is based on an emerging missile threat that is not exclusive to North Korea. It includes other countries in the Middle East -- Iran, Iraq being two examples. And I would say that, notwithstanding the historic nature and the promising nature of the meeting in Pyongyang, by the same token, we will make our threat assessment based on actual capabilities and actions that North Korea takes, for example.
They still have a missile program. We have been engaged with them in trying to help them understand our concerns and eventually to see if they will abandon that program. We'll have missile talks that will continue at the end of this month. So -- but at this point, we still see -- we have not changed our threat assessment that there is still both a missile threat and a proliferation threat that exists within the North Korean program, and others that require us to look at the prospect of an NMD.
Q If I could just follow -- if North Korea somehow fades as a threat for political reasons, as the summer develops, the other states, according to the intelligence estimates, are they not much further away from a missile capability, right? Isn't that right, and wouldn't that change the whole --
MR. CROWLEY: I would not think that our -- first of all, as the President considers NMD later this year, he will get a revised threat assessment from the intelligence community. There's one underway, it's not done yet. By the same token, I would say that 50 years of tension in the Korean Peninsula doesn't evaporate based on one meeting.
Q P.J., in Berlin, President Putin said, in the speech, referring to the U.S. consideration of NMD, "this is a new spiral of armament, and very, very dangerous." He also said that the impact on Europe, should the United States proceed with deployment, could be, in his words, "painful." Your reaction?
MR. CROWLEY: I think the President had a very forthright discussion with President Putin in Moscow on why we -- how we consider the threat. There was a follow-up this week with Secretary Cohen in Moscow. So we continue our dialogue with the Russian government on both how we view the threat, and we will continue to discuss with them how we can potentially work cooperatively to deal with it.
So we have extensive discussions with Russia. We have extensive discussions ongoing with our allies. It's one of the reasons why, as the President makes his determination later in the year, one of those criteria will be the overall impact on national security. So this will continue to be a focus of ours. But we, again, made clear to President Putin this is not a capability that is directed at Russia; it is not going to alter the effectiveness of their strategic deterrent. And we'll continue our discussions with Russian on the subject.
Q P.J., back to the Arafat conversation for a second. I'm not sure I've heard here specific -- something specific coming out of these talks today that would give us reason to think -- (laughter) -- that gives reason for continued optimism, other than the fact that everyone is still interested in talking.
MR. CROWLEY: This is not a question of being optimistic or pessimistic. This is a determination on our part to continue to help the parties make progress and work towards an agreement on the final status issues. So it doesn't change our determination to engage on the Palestinian side, to engage on the Israeli side, to see how we can help them work through these difficult issues, and come to an agreement that is important to their respective people.
Q P.J., can I ask Jake a question?
MR. CROWLEY: You may.
Q Jake, has the Commerce Secretary informed the President that he's going to be leaving the administration?
MR. SIEWERT: Secretary Daley spoke to Mr. Podesta last night, the President's Chief of Staff, and told him that. And John Podesta suggested that Secretary Daley come by today to have a chat with the President. He came by, but as you know, the Arafat meeting was extended somewhat, so he met with John Podesta and Steve Ricchetti, the Deputy Chief of Staff. He then left, but spoke to the President on the phone shortly thereafter. And as I left, the President was trying to reach the Vice President to chat with him, since the Vice President also tried to reach the President during the Arafat meeting.
Q Well, did Daley submit his resignation?
MR. SIEWERT: Secretary Daley has let us know that he will leave effective July 15th.
Q Why is he doing this?
MR. SIEWERT: That's to put to him. But the President thinks he is a terrific choice to do this. He's been an outstanding Secretary of Commerce. He most recently led the successful effort to have the House of Representatives approve the permanent normal trade relations with China. But, more importantly, as Secretary of Commerce over the last three and a half years, he has been one of the President's most trusted advisors on the new economy. He has led the charge to make sure that we have a strong foundation for building electronic commerce in this country. He streamlined the agency, modernized it to meet some of the challenges of the 21st century economy, and he's been an outstanding advocate for free and open trade as a pillar of strength to the American economy.
Q Jake, some folks from Senator Lott's office believes that this suggests a diminishing amount of interest or at least a level of importance that the administration now places on pushing PNTR through the Senate. How would you respond to that?
MR. SIEWERT: That's absolutely untrue. The President is taking some time today to speak to the Business Roundtable, this evening at around 6:00 p.m., to underscore the importance of moving quickly on this. We believe that we need to have a vote as soon as possible. We have strong support for this in the Senate, and if we can get a date on the calendar, we think we can pass that bill and pass it quickly.
This has been a team effort from the beginning. The President's involved on this today. Steve Ricchetti, who worked very closely with Secretary Daley, will continue to play the central role coordinating the Cabinet's efforts and the President's efforts and the Vice President's efforts to get that approved. But that's something that we are actually going out of our way to make some time in the President's schedule today to underline the importance of moving quickly on this China vote.
Q Jake, would the President contemplate naming a new Commerce Secretary at this late stage in the administration?
MR. SIEWERT: Certainly, but we don't have anything for you today.
Q Jake, did the President ask the Commerce Secretary to go help out the Gore campaign?
MR. SIEWERT: This is the Vice President's decision, and I'm not aware that the President had any input.
Q Jake, is Tony Coelho going to play any role in the campaign?
MR. SIEWERT: I'm not here to discuss what role anyone's going to play in the campaign. Those are questions that are best put to the Vice President's staff. I should add, though, that the President feels that Tony Coelho has done a remarkable job as chairman of the campaign. He led them through a very rough primary season, a very successful primary season, and he's leaving the campaign in very good shape. It's well-funded, and the President expresses his personal -- his support for Tony Coelho as he goes through this medical --
Q Just to clarify, since Commerce had led the PNTR effort in the House, organized many of the meetings, pushed out much of the lobbying message, will that all now shift internally here to the White House, or will that continue to be --
MR. SIEWERT: No, it is a continuing team effort. I mean, the Commerce Secretary is staying on through July 15th. His agency will continue to be involved. Steve Richetti will continue to lead our efforts here. But this is also an effort that's bridged various parts of the administration. Secretary Albright's been engaged; obviously Charlene Barshefsky's played an absolutely critical role. And we'll continue to be engaged on all fronts.
But this isn't very complicated. We have strong support for this in the Senate. What we need is a vote, a date for a vote, and we will be able to pass that if we can get this on the calendar. But it's important to do it now and not to let this slip, and that's a point the President will be making this evening.
Q Does the administration believe at all that Senator Lott is trying to use the date for this vote as a lever on other matters, specifically appropriations bills?
MR. SIEWERT: I'm not in a position to judge his decisions about how to schedule votes. What I can tell you is that this is an important piece of legislation, it's important to get it done quickly, and we believe that the sooner we vote on this, the better off we'll be. There is obviously strong bipartisan support for it, and there's no reason to delay it.
Q Along those lines, do you believe you will get a vote by July 15th? I'm not even sure what Congress's schedule is.
MR. SIEWERT: There are obviously members of both parties in the Senate who have been building support. There was a letter that went from Senate Democrats to Chairman Lott, and there are Republican senators who are also engaged in the effort to schedule a vote before July 4th. And those are obviously -- those are senators who want to see this brought to a vote and want to see it voted on successfully.
Q To clarify something, Jake, did the Vice President get through to the President when he called during his meeting --
MR. SIEWERT: No, but the President -- they were trying to reach each other as I came out here. And I'll let you know if they have. I haven't gotten an update since I've been standing up here.
Q Will the President ask the Business Roundtable members who are here specifically to take his message through them to Senator Lott at --
MR. SIEWERT: He will certainly tell them to bring the message to the Senate that this is important to get done, that it's important to get it done quickly, and this is something that we think shouldn't be allowed to slip. It's a critical piece of our economic strategy and our national security strategy, and we don't think there's any reason to delay it, especially when we have members of both parties expressing an interest in seeing the vote happen soon.
Q The two talk on the phone with some regularity. Have there been any discussions on this topic recently between Senator Lott and the President?
MR. SIEWERT: Not that I'm aware of, but I'll check on that for you.
Q Jake, given the broad support for PNTR, what's the harm in waiting until you get appropriations done?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, the fall calendar tends to be a little bit unpredictable. We've seen that in the past -- Congress says it's going to leave on such and such a date and then doesn't, and says it's going to do such and such a bill and then doesn't. It would be a mistake to allow this bill, which is so important, which it transcends politics, to get caught up in that kind of wrangling in the fall. There's overwhelming support for it in the Senate. It's passed the House. It's a good bill. We ought to get it done.
Q Jake, what can you tell us about the status of the talks to lift the reformulated gasoline rates?
MR. SIEWERT: That is pending before the EPA. I can tell you that there was a meeting here at the White House amongst principals -- the economic team, people who'd been meeting regularly on this issue. It's something we've been keeping a close eye on, the overall issue of gas prices. And earlier this week, obviously, top officials from the EPA and the Department of Energy met with oil company representatives. And those people from the industry were not able to offer any explanation for why the gas prices were higher in Chicago and Milwaukee. And it's very clear that this is a problem that's particularly acute in that region.
So, coming out of the meeting today, we'll continue to consult with the EPA about this particular waiver and some of the other requests that have been made to EPA. And we've also asked the Department of Transportation to look at the supply problem, and see whether there's anything that they can do. And they've begun that work already, to look at making sure that they have all the facts, to see whether there's any sort of supply problem, and whether there's anything within the authority of the Department of Transportation that can be done to address those problems, if they exist.
Q Is the waiver on track?
MR. SIEWERT: I'll have to refer you to EPA specifically on that.
Q Is the President planning to meet with Bill Richardson?
MR. SIEWERT: On this particularly or --
Q On Los Alamos?
MR. SIEWERT: I'm not aware of any meeting that's scheduled. I know that Secretary Richardson has made some announcements over the last couple of days. I know he met with Senator Howard Baker and Congressman Lee Hamilton yesterday, who both agreed to proceed in a bipartisan way to get to the bottom of this. And, obviously, we welcome here the confirmation of General John Gordon as the new Under Secretary. I know
he's -- Secretary Richardson's dispatched him to one of the labs, and he's going to be focusing on getting some answers to this problem, as well.
Q Jake, going back to the gasoline issue, you said that the major gasoline people couldn't offer you an explanation of this price rise. Are you trying to get close to accusing them of price gouging?
MR. SIEWERT: I'm not -- I'm just saying that we need to get to the bottom of this, and that was something that was very clear at the end of this meeting -- that there is obviously a price spike in that area, and we want to understand more about it and we're determined to get to the bottom of that.
Q Do you think there's any other explanation after this meeting, other than price gouging?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, that's why we've asked some people to get some more facts, and find out what the supply problems might be and whether there are other problems that we can address as the federal government, and whether there's anything the private sector can do.
Q Jake, the Vice President, in his campaign, looks like he's about to announce tax relief worth about $500 billion over 10 years. Does that at all undercut the administration's ceiling of that $250 billion over 10 years?
MR. SIEWERT: I haven't seen that specific proposal. I don't think it's any surprise that his tax relief package is a bit bigger than the administration's. But I think that also includes -- that number you are referring to also includes some of the retirement savings account, which is similar to a proposal that the President made, the USA account, to build on the pensions that workers get. So we'll have to see the details, and then we'll have more of a comment for you.
Q P.J., back to Korea, if I may. In the wake of the two leaders' agreement to work together toward the eventual reunification of the two Koreas, is the United States open to any review of the size and the composition of the U.S. forces in South Korea and Japan?
MR. CROWLEY: The United States and South Korea have agreed that for the foreseeable future, we believe that the U.S. troop presence in the Korean Peninsula is important not only to security there, but also as a stabilizing factor in the region. So, at this point, we don't envision any change in the U.S. troop status.
Q P.J., just to clarify a comment from earlier, the change in sanctions that the administration is planning to go forward with has no relation to the meeting that took place yesterday?
MR. CROWLEY: No.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
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