THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JAKE SIEWERT The James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MR. SIEWERT: I understand that today is Mr. Bazinet's birthday. For the 82nd year in a row, he didn't get what he wants for his birthday. (Laughter.) But PJ assures me the Red Sox will be back next year. So happy birthday, Ken, and welcome to the briefing room.
I don't have anything for you, so I'm sure you have questions for me.
Q Jake, what do you make of the 300 disability protesters chained to the front fence out here? They claim that Clinton sold them out by shifting money from community health care to nursing homes.
MR. SIEWERT: They met with Secretary Shalala this morning, made her available for a meeting. I understand it was a constructive meeting, so we'll wait to hear back from her with any recommendations she may have, having heard them out on that issue.
Q Will the President meet with them?
MR. SIEWERT: There are no plans for the President to meet with them. Secretary Shalala did meet with them this morning.
Q How long are you prepared to leave them there? Or the police likely to take action --
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know, you'll have to check with the police on that.
Q Mr. Milosevic said today in a televised address that he fully intended to take part in a second round, and making clear that he had no intention of conceding defeat in the first round. What's your reaction?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, we think, obviously, that there was a clear victor in the first round. The Serbian people have spoken and we think it's time for the government to recognize that they lost in the first round and that the opposition has prevailed.
The opposition has made a decision to boycott the second round, that's their decision to make and we'll support them in that decision.
Q Jake, how can the West be so sure that the opposition got more than 50 percent in the first round?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, even the Federal Election Commission, which is under Milosevic's complete control, concedes that they came within a percentage point of winning -- and that's a tally that we have no reason to believe is accurate. There were many reports of fraud and every independent, credible election monitor that was on the ground there believes that the opposition prevailed.
Q Jake, what is the procedure if Milosevic finally steps down? Is he to be arrested immediately and brought to the Hague?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, our position is clear, that we believe he belongs in the Hague; he belongs out of power, out of Serbia and at the International Tribunal. We'll do everything we can to make sure that he makes his court date there.
Q Along that point, Jake, Mr. Kostunica has today criticized the U.S. for emphasizing that desire for Milosevic to go to the Hague, saying that that is an emphasis he wished were put aside and more emphasis on trying to help him and the opposition obtain the victory he believes he won at the polls.
MR. SIEWERT: We're very focused on that. That's exactly why -- on ensuring that the opposition prevails. That's exactly why the President spoke to Mr. Putin over the weekend. And we are working with our allies in the region to ensure that the opposition prevails. That's why Secretary Albright has been discussing that with her counterparts in Europe today. And we're going to continue to make the case that Milosevic lost and that he ought to step down.
Q Is there any more leverage the administration, or the U.S. government could exert to help the opposition?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think we've made clear that a change in regime in Yugoslavia would lead us to review all the sanctions that we have in place, and that the opposition, if it were to prevail, would enjoy some of the benefits that come from such a review. And we've made it perfectly clear that they have many incentives to do so.
Q Jake, would the United States be against any arrangement in which Milosevic would be granted asylum or exile outside of Serbia and would not have to stand trial at the War Crimes Tribunal?
MR. SIEWERT: We believe he belongs at the War Crimes Tribunal; that's our position and we don't see any reason why he shouldn't be held accountable for the crimes he committed.
Q Is that what the President discussed with Vladimir Putin over the weekend?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't believe that came up in their discussions.
Q Can you tell us what did?
MR. SIEWERT: They discussed the results of the election and a way to resolve the impasse. I think that they share the concern that the will of the Serbian people ought to be met in this case. And we're working with the Russians and our counterparts in Europe to ensure that the will of the Serbian people is honored here.
As you know, the Orthodox Church in Yugoslavia has now indicated they believe Kostunica is now the rightful victor. And we're continuing to work with the Russians. They have an important role to play in the region, given their longstanding ties to the people of Serbia.
Q In the Middle East do you see any sign that anybody is heeding the President's call for an end to the violence?
MR. SIEWERT: It's unclear at this point whether there has been any abatement of the violence on the ground. We remain -- the President is very concerned about the situation on the ground. We believe that both sides must do everything in their power to stop the violence and restore calm there. And we remain in close touch with both sides to try to help the parties defuse the tension there. The President spoke to both Arafat and Barak over the weekend; Madeleine Albright has spoken to both leaders; and Sandy Berger, Dennis Ross and some of the other members of the team have been in touch with their counterparts in the region.
Q Today? Have there been any calls today, that you're aware of?
MR. SIEWERT: I'm sure there have been calls. We can detail them -- the President has not made any calls today on that issue.
Q Jake, in all of these contacts, do you have any sense of the perception on the part of the Palestinians or the Israelis that the violence has rekindled their desire to try to negotiate an agreement, or to the contrary, do you get the sense that the violence is making it even harder to bring them together?
MR. SIEWERT: Both leaders pledged to the President that they would do everything that they could to stop the violence. And that's the most important thing; and the focus of our work that's ongoing today and over the weekend, which is to ensure that they do everything in their power to stop the violence and to ensure that differences are resolved at a negotiating table and not in the streets.
Q Jake, if the violence continues, does that mean Barak and Arafat are powerless and the U.S. government is equally powerless to resolve or --
MR. SIEWERT: That's a hypothetical question. We have a lot of influence in the region, and we're going to do everything we can to exercise our influence and stop the violence, and work with both sides --
Q Well, obviously, the Israeli government has power over its own troops, who are heavily, heavily armed.
MR. SIEWERT: We think both sides need to do everything they can, everything in their power, to stop the violence.
Q Well, you can certainly stop the soldiers from the shootings.
Q A number of -- have called for a summit over the situation. Do you think it can help?
MR. SIEWERT: I haven't seen those reports, but the President will continue to consult with leaders in the region, and we'll let you know if anything comes out of those calls.
Q Is there any update on the Martin Indyk situation and do you think that's having any effect, since he is said to have been very close to Prime Minister Barak?
MR. SIEWERT: I'm not aware of anything new on that. Obviously they've taken some steps on his security, but he remains part of the team.
Q How is he part of the team? Can you elaborate on that? What is he doing? Is he back in Israel? Is he allowed to function?
MR. CROWLEY: He was in the region for the weekend, holiday weekend, with his family. He was not doing any business.
Q But can he function as ambassador? Do we have a functioning ambassador --
MR. SIEWERT: Not at the moment.
Q Jake, what sort of advice or suggestions or coaching is the President giving to the Vice President in preparation for the debate?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know that he's talked to him in the last day or so, but he remains convinced that the Vice President stands the best chance of winning if he can keep the debate on the issues, remain focused on the issues. And he said just this morning that he thinks if the Vice President can do what he did in the convention speech, which is lay out his vision for the future, his plans for the future, that the Vice President will prevail in those debates.
Q Jake, the President spoke to the Middle East leaders over the weekend and you said that there seems no visible sign that the violence has decreased. Any indication that the leaders are heeding the President's advice or call to end the violence?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think they've pledged to the President to do everything they can to stop the violence, and we're going to continue to work on that.
Q Jake, on whatever momentum may have been lost, do you now know whether Secretary Albright did intend this week to actually go to that region from Europe and present a bridging proposal?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. I know she's made clear that she doesn't plan to travel to the region this week.
Q I know that. But was there a plan for her to travel there before --
MR. SIEWERT: I don't believe so, but you should double check with State. I don't think so.
Q Jake, you said the President spoke this morning about the debate. Where did he make these comments?
MR. SIEWERT: We were just chatting.
MR. SIEWERT: Yes.
Q Establishing first-day access. (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: Exactly.
Q Jake, back on the Yugoslav elections. Reconcile this for me. Kostunica has said he's not interested, nor would he participate in making Milosevic available to the Hague if he became the President. The United States has said it wants Kostunica to be elected -- that election to stand, and would reduce or eliminate economic sanctions. How do you square these two? The number one priority of the administration, or a priority, is to have Milosevic sent to the Hague, and he doesn't want to do it --
MR. SIEWERT: We have several aims in there. We want to see Milosevic out of power. We believe he's been a destructive force for his own people and in the region, generally. We also want to see him out of Serbia. And we'd like to see him in the Hague. Those are all objectives that we're working towards and we'll continue to offer some promise to review sanctions if there is a new power in Serbia. But we'll have to balance that against any actions they take to bring Milosevic to justice.
Q Is making Milosevic available in any way a condition to receive a reduction of economic sanctions?
MR. SIEWERT: At this point, that's a hypothetical question. We're focused entirely on our efforts to ensure that the victor in the elections that were held in Yugoslavia prevail.
Q But, Jake, aren't you worried about the fact that every time you threaten to get Mr. Milosevic to go to the Hague, you're entrenching him further in power? What does the --
MR. SIEWERT: We don't think -- if anything, his power has ebbed quite a bit. The elections are evidence of that. And we think that the international campaign to bring pressure on Milosevic and his regime has worked, to a large extent, in that he's lost the majority of support of his people, he's lost the claim to have any backing from the church there, which is a powerful influence. If anything, day after day his power seems to ebb in that region.
Q I know, I understand that, but my point is he voluntarily won't --
MR. SIEWERT: And throughout the process we've said he belongs in the Hague. It doesn't seem to have helped him win the election. It doesn't seem to have helped him get more support from his people.
Q Right, but he also won't leave office at this point, and that's my issue.
MR. SIEWERT: That's what he said today, but we're going to keep up the pressure.
Q Jake, House rules, looks like it's going to work on a CR that would take until the 13th or the 14th. Did the President sign that?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. I said this morning that we are inclined to sign an extension for another week to give them some time to do some work. They have a lot of work left to do -- minimum wage, patients' bill of rights, prescription drugs, immigration measures and the basic budget bills. An entire month came and went with them finishing no work on the appropriations bills. They had two of 13 bills at the beginning of the month, they have two of 13 bills today.
We're going to keep talking to them. Our negotiators are up on the Hill today and we're going to continue to see where we can find common ground. But they just haven't done their work. They'll need another week and we'll consider short-term measures after that.
Q You're leaving out interior. You did get an agreement on the interior --
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, we're very close, but we haven't gotten that bill today.
Q When are you expecting that, Jake?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. You'll have to ask them.
Q Jake, on Labor/HHS, if school construction is so crucial, why hasn't the President issued a veto pledge without that provision?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think we were very explicit over the weekend in the radio address that we think that school construction needs to be a part of the Labor/HHS bill. We have a veto thrown on the bill for a number of different provisions. The bottom line is that they haven't put any money in on school construction, they haven't put any money in on class size, they've shortchanged accountability measures, shortchanged after-school, shortchanged some of the mentoring programs we've supported.
They have a lot of work to do to fix that bill up, and we're not going to get into the minutia on it. But right now, they're approach seems to be to plus-up the money a little bit and not worry about the policy; but the policy matters there, and we're going to make sure that we have a bill that actually will work.
In the meantime, there's a lot of happy talk up there about education, and a lot of happy talk out on the campaign trail, but we haven't see any real action.
Q When will Indyk be able to take his post?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. You'll have to check with State on that.
Q He is overseas, though?
MR. SIEWERT: Indyk, is he back now, or is he --
MR. CROWLEY: I don't know what his travel plans are. He was here, cooperating in the investigation. He went back for the weekend to be with his family.
Q To where?
MR. CROWLEY: Back to Israel, to spend the holiday with his family.
Q But that was unofficial, he's not doing official duties?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes, unofficial.
Q One more follow-up then. Do we have an acting --
MR. SIEWERT: These are questions that are best --
MR. CROWLEY: The charge is in charge of the embassy in the absence of the ambassador.
Q Who is that?
MR. SIEWERT: I mean, the broader point, Connie, is that we are engaged -- we have been thoroughly engaged throughout this process. The President, Sandy Berger, Secretary Albright, Dennis Ross, some of the other staffers that have been working on this have been talking throughout the weekend and even today with their counterparts in the region. So there's --
Q But we don't know how far we are getting. We don't get any feedback.
MR. SIEWERT: This is a very, very difficult situation. I'm not going to say that the situation on the ground has improved. But we believe that everyone has an incentive to ensure that the violence stops and that we do everything --
Q Well, did you both have an incentive when he took a group in a very provocative way --
MR. SIEWERT: The Secretary could not have been clearer about that. She said today that that was counterproductive, and we agree with that.
Q It's such a delicate political situation because Indyk is so close to Barak. What are the Israelis saying about this situation right now?
MR. SIEWERT: You'll have to ask them.
Q Jake, on third world debt, do you think that you're any closer to getting the whole $435 million that you want for HIPC?
MR. SIEWERT: I hope so. I think we are seeing the beginnings of a coalition emerge on the Hill that really could pull together and get us the full amount of money, and that's exactly what the President's meeting is aimed at doing today. That's why we brought together this coalition, people on the far right of the Republican party, people on the more liberal wing of the Democratic party, and people that we don't typically work with, frankly. (Laughter.)
Whether it's Bono or Pat Robertson, these are not typically people that we've in the past worked with on these issues. But we feel as though we've put together a coalition that can help mobilize Congress and mobilize the American people in support of this effort. It's a worthy effort, and we hope we can reach an agreement.
This was very tough, as you remember last year, at the end of the congressional session, to get the money. But this year, Maxine Waters offered an amendment that actually put several hundred million dollars into the effort. It passed in the House, and we're going to keep plugging away.
Q As you know, the amount that she got, which I think was $225 million, is roughly half of what you asked for. And what's offered in the Senate is even less --
MR. SIEWERT: It was the full request for this year, but we haven't gotten some of the money that we asked for last year, and we're trying to match that commitment now.
Q It would seem like that's a best case scenario, though, for you. And my question is, if you only get the $225, do you feel like HIPC is going to be crippled?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I mean, the problem is now that even without the money that we put in last year, some nations -- nations like Bolivia and Honduras, which are eligible for debt relief -- are not getting the full relief that they need. And we've seen that debt relief works. It's helped some African countries that have been eligible begin to take money that would have been going to debt service, improve their education system, improve their programs on HIV/AIDS.
So it's already having an impact. Our failure to do as much as we could have last year is having an impact, which is why it's imperative that we do everything we can this year, to provide the full amount of money.
Q Joe back -- Jake, back on education --
MR. SIEWERT: I appreciate the compliment, though, thank you. I can safely report that he's resting at home, enjoying his time off. Couldn't have nicer weather. (Laughter.)
Q On education, you indicated that the rhetoric on the campaign trail has been in the direction of more efforts toward education. Do you think what the Republicans are doing on Capitol Hill is contrary to what Governor Bush is proclaiming on the campaign trail?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I'm not familiar with all the details of his proposal, but I do think that the -- that Congress has talked quite a bit about doing education and reforming education, but they haven't really put their -- put money behind programs that actually work. They seem content to load up a lot of these different bills with pork, but not really put money into programs that are effective and that are tried and true.
They had a radio address a month or so ago where Senator McCain went out of his way to single out the pork that was in the budget, and they designated him as their person to speak in the radio address. But they apparently didn't listen to that radio address on the Hill, and they continue to load up a lot of these bills with pork, rather then putting them into policies that have been proven effective.
Q Jake, October 1st was the implementing deadline for the Africa CBI bill.
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, we should have something today, something on paper, where we designate the countries that are eligible for that trade initiative. And we'll check and get it to you.
Q Jake, when the President asserted today that there is no education recession, has he been stewing all week about Bush's assertion that --
MR. SIEWERT: No, I think that's just a fact. We've seen some success in turning around schools, and it's just the kind of hyperbole and rhetoric you hear on the debate, but it doesn't serve the American people very well around the campaign trail. It doesn't serve the American people well. There are programs that are working. There are teachers and parents and students that are doing a better job. And the President wants to make sure they get the support they need to better our education system.
Q Is there a flood report? Did you get a flood report today, the President?
MR. SIEWERT: Not that I'm aware of.
Q No? Okay. And can you do a look ahead on the trip tomorrow?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't have the trip with me here. I know we've got some fundraising for Mrs. Clinton, some fundraising for the DNC.
Q Is there any official segment of this trip?
MR. SIEWERT: We'll probably do an event on Wednesday, focused around the congressional and legislative agenda.
I'm getting conflicting reports on when Secretary Shalala met with the protesters, so you may want to check with HHS to see whether it was today or Friday. I've heard two different things on that.
Tomorrow, the President will travel to Miami -- I know we didn't do the real week ahead last week -- where he will speak to a lunch in honor of Mrs. Clinton. I think there will be some money raised there
Q Will she be there?
MR. SIEWERT: No, I don't think so. And he will also do an event for the DCCC, to help Democrats take back the House. And I think that's about it for tomorrow.
Q What is he doing in the afternoon?
MR. SIEWERT: That is the afternoon. We don't leave until -- well, we leave fairly early.
Q He leaves at 9:00 a.m.
MR. SIEWERT: Yes. I guess there are two different Mrs. Clinton events -- or it's an extended event.
Q Is he pinch-hitting for her?
MR. SIEWERT: The President has done several fundraising events for Mrs. Clinton that she hasn't participated in, just as he's done several events for the DNC that the Vice President hasn't been able to do. And the President knows firsthand the pressure that fundraising brings to someone's schedule, and so he's been trying to help out the Vice President, help out the First Lady when he can, to ensure that they have as much time as possible that they need to spend in New York, in her case, or in battleground states, in his case.
Q Jake, how much has the President raised for his wife's campaign so far?
MR. SIEWERT: I have no idea. You'll have to check with --
Q Is this something you guys can track down?
MR. SIEWERT: It's probably pretty difficult, but I think her campaign would be in a better position to answer that.
Q Any plans for the President to go to Nebraska?
MR. SIEWERT: We are always looking for opportunities to go to Nebraska. (Laughter.)
Q For seven and a half years.
MR. SIEWERT: For seven and a half years. But I wouldn't be surprised if we were able to find something before the end of the year. But I don't know of anything that's scheduled yet.
Q Jake, departure statement tomorrow before he leaves?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't think so, but that could always change. At the moment, there's nothing scheduled.
Q Is he going to make time to watch the debate tomorrow night?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, he plans on watching the debate. We expect, if the schedule holds, that he'll be able to watch it at the hotel in Coral Gables.
Q Jake, do you know if he's done a fundraiser for the First Lady in Florida before?
MR. SIEWERT: Not that I'm aware of.
Q But he's done them in other states?
MR. SIEWERT: He has done them. We've done one in Philadelphia. We did one in California at the convention. She was at some of those, but not all of them.
Q A number in Martha's Vineyard.
MR. SIEWERT: We did some in Martha's Vineyard. We did one on Nantucket. We've done several in New York.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. SIEWERT: Thank you.
END 1:32 P.M. EDT