THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY CHIEF OF STAFF JOHN PODESTA, SECRETARY OF COMMERCE NORMAN MINETA, NOAA ADMINISTRATOR D. JAMES BAKER, AND NOAA DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, ROLLAND SCHMITTEN ON U.S. ACTIONS ON JAPANESE WHALING The James S. Brady Briefing Room
11:05 A.M. EDT
MR. DIRINGER: Good morning. We have a couple of announcements today about additional steps we are taking today in response to the expansion of the Japanese whaling program. We'll open with John Podesta and Secretary Mineta. And also here to take your questions, we have Jim Baker, Administrator of NOAA, and Rollie Schmitten, also of NOAA and the U.S. Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission.
MR. PODESTA: Good morning. I think as people come in, Ambassador Mary Beth West from the State Department also has joined us, if you have questions for the State Department.
Some of you, I'm sure, saw the report yesterday about the extinction of the African monkey called Miss Waldron's Red Colobus. Scientists believe the last of these animals is gone forever, making this the first recorded primate extinction in several centuries.
Because the colobus was a member of a primate order, the same order we human beings belong to, its extinction drew considerable notice. But the real story is that extinction is not a rare event; it's becoming more and more common, in fact. And scientists worry that by the end of the century half of all species on earth may be gone.
That is why the administration has worked so hard both at home and abroad to strengthen protections for threatened wildlife. We fought to maintain the tough protections of the Endangered Species Act while forging new and creative ways to make it work for business and property owners, too. We've cracked down on the illegal import of endangered species. We're working with other nations to strengthen international protections. And the Greening the Globe initiative in the President's budget would nearly double U.S. funding to protect tropical forests and incredible biodiversity they sustain.
One of the environmental success stories of the past few decades has been the recovery of many of the world's whale populations. Thanks to strong international cooperation, whale species, once driven to the brink of extinction, are making a strong come back. Some of you may have gone on whale-watching trips and seen the gray whales migrate up and down the west coast.
Last year, we were able to remove the gray whale from the endangered species list. The humpback whale is also making a strong recovery. And, recently, we adopted new protections for the northern right whale off the Atlantic coast, one of the most endangered.
Unfortunately, the strong international consensus that has been key to the recovery of whales worldwide, is being undermined by Japan's recent decision to expand its whaling program. The Japanese government undertook this course despite the objections of the International Whaling Commission and despite direct appeals from world leaders, including President Clinton, Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Clark of New Zealand.
Once the Japanese factory ships left port to begin their hunt, the United States joined 14 other nations in formal diplomatic protests. Last month, we withdrew our participation from two environmental meetings in Japan, and cancelled our annual fisheries meeting with the Japanese government.
Today, we are announcing additional measures to register our strong objection to Japan's extended whaling program. First, Secretary Mineta is formally certifying, under the so-called Pelly Amendment, that Japan's actions are undermining international whaling protections.
Second, on Secretary Mineta's recommendation, the President is directing the Secretary of State to inform the Japanese government that it will be denied future access to fishing rights in U.S. waters. Certification under the Pelly Amendment triggers a process for the President to consider trade sanctions against Japan, and to report to Congress within 60 days of any action he may take.
Accordingly, the President is directing Secretary Mineta, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of the Interior, and the U.S. Trade Representative to consider additional actions the United States might take, including possible trade sanctions, and to report back.
We do not take these steps lightly. Japan is and will remain a vital partner of the United States. But President Clinton feels strongly that we must act to uphold the international protections that have helped bring back some of our earth's most majestic creatures.
We're hopeful that the Japanese government will heed the protests of the international community and reverse its actions.
Secretary Mineta will now explain in greater detail the actions we're taking today.
SECRETARY MINETA: Thank you very much, John. This morning, I sent to the President my finding that Japan's scientific whale hunt is undermining the conservation program of the International Whaling Commission, which is the sole global authority for protecting whales.
Now, despite strong protests from the scientific community and from world leaders, including President Clinton, Japan has sent out its whaling fleet in mid-July. Its mission over the course of the year, is to harvest some 600 whales, including two new species -- the brutus and the sperm whales.
Now, the Japanese assert that this hunt is needed for research, but the Whaling Commission's own scientific committee has repeatedly criticized the basis for this hunt, and the Commission itself recently called on Japan to stop killing these animals.
Now, Japan has no reasonable scientific justification for its whaling efforts. And we are deeply concerned that the real aim of this large hunt is to pave the way for an outright resumption of commercial whaling, something that the international community banned in 1986.
Now, putting it plainly, Japan is killing whales in the name of scientific research to satisfy a demand for whale meat in a few high-end restaurants and gourmet boutiques. By killing whales in defiance of the scientific advice of the International Whaling Conference and the clear expression of the majority of the IWC members, Japan is undermining the ability of that body to achieve its mission.
Now, our response must be clear and must be decisive. We have taken several diplomatic steps and certified Japan under the Pelly Amendment and the Packwood-Magnuson Amendments. Further, to my certification, I believe it is imperative that within the next 60 days we develop options for actions for the President's consideration, including appropriate economic measures as warranted by developments in Japan.
In the meantime, I am recommending that the President obtain an assessment of the economic activity in Japan relating to whaling. Further, I believe that the President should take all steps that are necessary to ensure that existing prohibitions against trade in whale products are fully enforced both in the United States and internationally.
And, finally, I strongly recommend that the President immediately inform Japan that it will not be eligible for fish that may become available for harvest by foreign vessels in U.S. waters. Now, over the past several weeks we have already informed Japan of several initial steps that we were taking in response to their action, including canceling a fisheries bilateral meeting and canceling our attendance in an environmental meeting that was being held in Japan.
Now, our concern over Japan's whaling is not partisan and it is not limited to America. A strong majority of IWC member nations voted for a resolution this last summer, asking that Japan abandon its plans to go forward with its whale hunting in the north Pacific. Now, most recently, in a very strong and unprecedented action to dissuade Japan from continuing with their program, 15 countries, led by Ireland, sent their ambassadors in to see the Japanese Foreign Minister on this issue.
Now, I am not the first Secretary to cite Japan for whaling violations. President Reagan's Commerce Secretary, William Verity, cited Japan for starting its lethal research in 1988. And then Secretary Ron Brown cited Japan again in 1995 for expanding this program.
Because of the seriousness of Japan's continued defiance of the IWC, including its unacceptable expansion of its whaling efforts, I have recommended this very strong and unambiguous response outlined to you today. I believe that we can stop this needless killing, while addressing Japan's scientific needs. And so I have instructed our Department of Commerce scientists in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to repeat their offer of assistance to Japan for the implementation of a safe, humane whale research program.
Also, as I have said before, Japan and America both share a whaling tradition. In former whaling communities here and around the world, people are reaping the benefits of whale watching, instead of commercial whaling. Now, while we stand ready to help the Japanese call upon this experience, it is also my sincere hope that the government of Japan will do so.
Now, I believe you will find in my letter to the President the legal basis for our findings and recommendations. Specifically, the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen's Protective Act requires me to certify any nation engaging in whaling operations that diminish the effectiveness of an international fishery conservation program. Likewise, the Packwood-Magnuson Amendment to the Fishery Conservation and Management Act authorizes me to certify a nation that is undermining the IWC's conservation program and to deny it fishing privileges in U.S. waters.
Now, at this point I would like to ask Commerce Under Secretary and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrator, Dr. James Baker, to detail the history of this issue and the current situation with Japan's whaling fleet. Jim.
ADMINISTRATOR BAKER: Let me just say, because I know we're short of time, we're prepared to answer questions, but our scientists do stand ready to work with Japan to try to develop within the international context with the other countries a scientific program that is non-lethal but still meets the needs that the Japanese have identified. We're prepared to do that; that's an offer that we're making and we're looking forward to working on an international basis with the Japanese scientists. And I think we're all prepared to take questions.
Q Does the denial of future access to fishing in U.S. waters specifically prohibit Japanese from fishing in U.S. waters? Or did I understand you to say, Mr. Secretary, that it also prohibits them getting fish caught in U.S. waters by others?
SECRETARY MINETA: Well, it will include both, in the sense that they will not be able to fish in those, nor be the recipient of the products from our U.S. waters that may be from other fishers.
Q How much of that goes on now? In other words, how much fish caught in U.S. waters now go to Japan, one way or another?
SECRETARY MINETA: Well, the main fish here are mackerel and herring, and they are a very large market for the international marketplace as it relates to mackerel and herring.
Q And does that prohibition take effect immediately or after 60 days?
SECRETARY MINETA: No, that's one that takes place now.
Q As of today?
Q What sort of sanctions do you have in mind --
Q Can you answer the as of today question?
Q Will you answer the as of today question, when that prohibition goes into effect?
Q Does that take place as of today, the mackerel and the herring?
SECRETARY MINETA: The proposal that we are giving to the President is that this is the action that be taken -- let me also correct a statement that I have made. That is that in terms of U.S. fishing waters, we have not had any foreign vessels fishing in U.S. waters for over a decade, so that in that sense, it only applies to U.S. fish or U.S. waters.
Q Will the President make his decision before the elections? Is that possible?
MR. PODESTA: Well, the inter-agency process is at work. They have 60 days to do it. As I said -- I had mentioned the people who were involved with that, and when we get a recommendation during that 60-day period, the President will go ahead and make a recommendation.
Q If he waits for 60 days, that will be after the elections.
MR. PODESTA: I think we'll wait and see what the inter-agency process produces. If they get their job done more quickly, then I think we could -- I think that's an outside deadline. We have -- that's correct, isn't it? We have up to 60 days, so if they consider this more quickly and present the President with a recommendation, then he'll consider it and he'll take an action.
Q Is the U.S. government telling the Japanese some of the sanctions it is considering, giving them a list of possible Japanese imports --
MR. PODESTA: I think we're trying to send a strong message today, as we have throughout the course of the summer and spring when the Japanese originally announced this expansion of their "research program," and I say that in quotes. And I think that, obviously, the President discussed this with the Prime Minister. We've sent a letter with Prime Minister Blair, we've had our ambassador in to see them, and I think this is another step along that route.
We've very concerned about this. We hope that the Japanese government will reverse course on this, but the 60-day clock is now ticking. The certification has been made. We have not discussed with them what possible actions we might take at the end of that, frankly, because the inter-agency process needs to work that question and we need to make a decision about that, which we have not done. But we're taking what we view -- we're, again, taking a strong step and we believe that this matter could be resolved with the Japanese government backing off of this expansion of the research program, especially into the take of the two additional whale species.
Q Given that Japan has been certified twice before with no economic sanctions imposed, why should they be the least bit worried this time that anything is going to be different?
MR. PODESTA: They'll have to make that calculation. But I will tell you here today that we're serious about this, we think that there is a fundamental problem, the world community is on our side on this. The Secretary described both the vote in the International Whaling Commission, as well as the strong actions that have been taken by a number of countries around the world.
I think they're ultimately going to have to make a decision about our willingness to move forward with economic sanctions, but the process is working, and I wouldn't sleep easy based on the past actions of the past two certifications.
Q But any measures you take are going to be a violation of the World Trade Organization. How can you do anything against the Japanese, given the WTO rules?
MR. PODESTA: First of all, we haven't taken any action, and I think that we'll consider that and we'll consider our WTO obligations in the context of that inter-agency review. But I think you're making a massive assumption there that could prove to be untrue.
ADMINISTRATOR BAKER: Could I just clarify one point. The Secretary's action today precludes any Japanese vessels from coming into our exclusive economic zone for fishing. We are looking into the question -- I think this is a point he wanted to make -- we are looking into the question about whether fish that are caught in our exclusive economic zone could be exported to Japan.
Q What does this mean? Does this mean they can buy U.S. fish today, tomorrow and next week? Or does it mean it's cut-off? Could you explain that?
MR. SCHMITTEN: The process for the first time since 1988, we have surplus in both Atlantic herring and Atlantic mackerel. What this means is that we will open up to foreign countries to come and actually fish on this surplus. This action will preclude the government of Japan from being eligible to harvest those fish.
The second issue is an issue that we have under consideration, and that will be whether or not those countries that qualify and actually catch the fish, would they be eligible to export the fish to Japan. That's one for the inter-agency process to examine.
Q So that will be decided at the same time as the -- in the 60 day process?
MR. SCHMITTEN: Within that 60 day process.
Q Do you have any way of assessing a dollar value on these actions, how much it's worth?
ADMINISTRATOR BAKER: It's one of our action items that the Secretary mentioned, is to do an economic analysis of exactly what the dollar value of all the things that we are looking at, at this point.
Q How would you stop a foreign vessel from exporting its fish to Japan?
MR. SCHMITTEN: Certainly, for the privilege of fishing in U.S. waters and, obviously, seeking that over a decade of not having that, it would be conditioned on the permit granted by the United States. So we'd simply condition the permit. Now, that is as long as it's legal, and that's the issue that we need to examine.
Q But, excuse me, how can you control once the foreign vessels take the fish out of U.S. water, where it goes? Do you have a control mechanism.
MR. SCHMITTEN: We track nearly all U.S. products throughout the world and -- it's usually through a certification process where they certify products caught, delivered are from a certain country and that's standard protocol for the U.S.
Q Two questions. First, a technical one. Obviously, the Japanese have a lot of buyers up and down Long Island, other places that are buying tuna every day and so forth, that are caught in the American economic zone. Would this also preclude American shipments to Japan, through American middlemen, through American buyers?
MR. SCHMITTEN: The answer to that is, no.
Q The second, and broader, question is, on the WTO question, even if you believe you have a weak case in front of the WTO, it would obviously take a year or two to litigate that. Would it be the administration's view that you would go ahead with these sanctions and let the WTO sort it out, on the assumption that in the time taken to litigate the case it would increase the pressure on Japan?
MR. PODESTA: Look, first of all, we take our WTO obligations seriously, so I think we're not -- we need to analyze that in the context of this inter-agency review.
Secondly, we have made -- obviously, that's just starting, we have made no final decisions about that. But I think if we -- whatever steps we take at the end of this process, we believe we'll be able to defend within the WTO process, as opposed to doing what you're suggesting, which is to do something which we believe is WTO inconsistent that just adds additional leverage on the Japanese.
I don't think we would follow that course, but I think that there are potential remedies available to us that we think will be WTO consistent and that we can pursue.
Q What would some of those be?
MR. PODESTA: Well, we're going to wait until -- it's premature to get into that. We're going to wait for the inter-agency process. I'll invite you all back here in 60 days and let you know.
Q How do you respond to critics' charges that the timing of this announcement is mainly designed to boost Mr. Gore and his campaign by burnishing his environmental credential, because a fleet went out in mid-July.
MR. PODESTA: Well, I noticed in Mr. Sanger's story today that the Japanese officials were accusing us of that, and I would say that's bad spin. The only fortunes we're trying to boost are the fortunes of the whale populations around the world. We've been working at this, as you know, throughout the course of this summer, into the fall. We were hoping they would change course. They have chosen not to do that and, therefore, we're taking this action today. And we'll continue to pursue it. The 60-day clock is running and we'll move on it.
ADMINISTRATOR BAKER: We're required to be timely on our actions. I was just going to add to that, that the Supreme Court has ruled that our Pelly actions must be timely after the action that we see. So we didn't have an opportunity to wait for a long time here.
Q Because I have a second question on another subject. Have you seen the reports that Hillary Clinton has been rewarding political donors with overnight stays at Camp David or the White House? Is there anything to these reports?
MR. PODESTA: I haven't seen the reports, so I'll defer on that and get back to you. I don't know specifically what you're referencing.
Q John, Japan's whaling fleet has almost finished their whaling, at least for this season. In other words, they're almost done. What can they do to prevent the sanctions from being imposed on them?
MR. PODESTA: Well, I think that a clear signal from the Japanese government that they're reversing course on this would be a step in the right direction.
Q John, can I ask a budget question? The Republican leadership said they're under the impression that this idea of devoting 90 percent of the surplus, next year's surplus, to debt reduction, that they're getting a serious consideration from the President on this. Joe, this morning, called it a gimmick. What's the view of that? Is this a serious part of the negotiations, this idea?
MR. PODESTA: I think that, frankly, that remains to be seen. I think that the President's budget, as you know, devoted over 90 percent of the unified surplus this year to debt reduction. It was unclear, I think, from our perspective in the meeting yesterday whether this is just a one-year gambit to get out of town, or whether this is a serious reversal of course to get on a different kind of path towards paying off the debt by 2012.
I think that we'll have ongoing discussions to see where we are on that. You can jimmy the numbers, if you will, to meet a target in 2001, and still have a devastating impact on the ability to pay off the nation's publicly-held debt over the course of the next decade. And so you can backload the tax cuts as they are want to do. For example, the estate tax that they passed cost about $100-billion-plus over 10 years, but $750 billion over the second 10 years.
Again, you know the statistics well. Three thousand families would have received about a $7 million apiece tax break from that bill. So I think you can make -- if you only take a target of one year and say, well, we'll mark to that, you haven't really shown any commitment to long-term debt reduction. But if they have really reversed course, if they're abandoning the strategy of passing $2 trillion tax cuts, I don't know where that leaves Governor Bush in his campaign. But if they're making a serious commitment to real debt reduction, then I think that we want to take that seriously and see if we can work with them.
Q Mr. Baker, what are the scientific needs that would require you to kill a whale?
ADMINISTRATOR BAKER: We believe that most of the scientific research that you need to do to understand whale stocks, what we call "recruitment," the growth of stocks, how they move, can be done non-lethally. There are occasional pieces of research that require lethal studies; for example, the impact of pollution on whales is an example where you need to take enough samples, but it is almost always a lethal thing.
But as the scientific committee has looked at this, as our scientists have looked at this, the work that you need to do to understand whale stocks, how they're distributed, and even if you wanted to move eventually into a commercial whaling regime, most of that work can be done non-lethally. And we're calling for the Japanese to put together a non-lethal research program, which we would be very happy to work with them on, to stop the expansion of the lethal program and to move forward in that way. We think it's possible to do that.
Q John, one other on an unrelated matter. Has the White House received a copy of the lawsuit followed today by the assistant pastry chef accusing the President of failing to allow sexual harassment complaints to be reported?
MR. PODESTA: I don't know the answer to that, but I'll have our Counsel's Office answer it. I don't know whether -- I know that the -- I've seen the press report that the suit was going to be filed today, but I don't know whether we have actually received the complaint, and I think the Counsel's Office will answer it for you.
Q One more question on the budget. Senator Lott yesterday indicated that they will never give up on their attempts to eliminate the estate tax and marriage penalty, if not this year, then perhaps next. So, in that light, how can they be serious about an overall --
MR. PODESTA: Well, you may have answered the question in the way you posed it. I think that as we've said all along, that targeted tax cuts aimed at the middle class, including estate tax reform for small business and farmers and most of the people who pay the estate tax today, targeted marriage penalty relief, which would take everyone out of who pays the marriage penalty under the standard deduction, we could agree to today, as long as it's part of a balanced package that doesn't blow the surplus, that doesn't leave nothing for Medicare, for Social Security, for prescription drugs, for the important investments in education et cetera.
But that may be an indication of the fact that they just want to take a deep breath based on a strategy that we think would fail America, would lead to bad economic consequences down the road, and try to work that strategy for two or three weeks. If that's really what their game is, I don't know how we could possibly agree to that. If they're really committed to long-term debt relief, to paying off the publicly-held debt by 2012, then we've got to put some mechanisms in place to make sure that that's going to happen.
Q On the whaling, when does the 60-day period start? Today, or when? Thank you.
END 11:40 A.M. EDT