THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JAKE SIEWERT The James S. Brady Briefing Room
11:45 A.M. EDT
MR. SIEWERT: Today, thanks to our economic strategy and the hard work of the American people, we've reached another dramatic milestone in our unprecedented economic expansion. The unemployment rate has fallen to 3.9 percent, matching the lowest level in 30 years. Unemployment for African Americans fell to the lowest level ever recorded. And for Hispanics, it remains at historic lows. This is more good news for the American people, another reminder that those who advocate irresponsible tax plans that would jeopardize our fiscal progress are taking America down the wrong economic path.
Q Who would that be?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know, but I've noticed a lot of talk out there about big, big tax cuts that would threaten our fiscal discipline. And a lot of it seems to be coming from the Republican presidential candidate and his running mate.
Anyway, moving on. We've got some travel announcements -- we can save those for the end -- and the week ahead, if that makes sense.
MR. SIEWERT: Okay.
Q Jake, does the United States government now recognize Kostunica as the President of Yugoslavia?
MR. SIEWERT: We have said for some time that he is the democratically elected leader of Serbia. He is the President, and we look forward to working with him and his government.
Q What about sanctions, Jake? Are they going to be dropped this weekend, very soon?
MR. SIEWERT: Once it's clear that Milosevic is gone and that the democratic transition is complete, we'll move quickly with our European allies to begin to take the steps that are necessary to remove those sanctions.
I'll remind you that there are some sanctions that are directed particularly at Mr. Milosevic and his allies, his cronies. And those may need to remain in place so that he is not rewarded in some way for his own misbehavior. But, generally, we'll work with the European allies, the Secretary of State said this morning, to review the sanctions that are in place and to take some steps to remove those as quickly as we can.
Q Does the new government have to do anything to get these sanctions removed, or just simply come to power? I mean, do they have to meet any --
MR. SIEWERT: Well, that's what we'll be working with our allies to review. It's clear that we have -- we've been saying for some time now that if a democratically elected government assumed power in Serbia, that we would move quickly to ease sanctions. We'll do that. But we'll be working with our European allies to review our commitments. And we expect them to obey the rule of law, to honor the rule of law, and we'll take those as we come.
Right now our focus in on ensuring that the transition remains peaceful. So far, the security forces in Serbia have shown a great deal of restraint. We urge them to continue to do that, and we urge Milosevic to recognize that the people have spoken and that it's time for him to give up whatever reins of power he still has and to step down.
Q Has the United States had any kind of a readout on the Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov's meeting with Milosevic? What did he tell him? What did Milosevic say?
MR. SIEWERT: We have not gotten a readout yet. I expect the Secretary of State will be in touch with her counterpart and get a fuller briefing from him about that meeting. Obviously, we've seen the media reports. We're pleased that Russia has acknowledged that Milosevic was defeated at the polls and that the Serbian people have elected a new President, that that President is the rightful leader of Serbia.
Q There's a Reuter's bulletin that just moved that the Russian Foreign Minister says that Milosevic told him that he plans to continue a political role through his party in Yugoslavia. Would that be acceptable to the United States?
MR. SIEWERT: We would not support any continued role for Milosevic in Yugoslavia.
Q Would it threaten the easing of sanctions?
MR. SIEWERT: That's something we'd have to review. But we would not support any continued role for Milosevic in Russia.
Q Is it still the U.S. position that it wants to see Milosevic on trial in the Hague?
MR. SIEWERT: We believe that, obviously, Mr. Milosevic has been indicted and we believe in the work that the Tribunal is doing there. Our step right now -- he needs to be held accountable for his crimes. Our first step right now is to remove him from power.
Q Does that mean the U.S. is ruling out any support for any kind of asylum deal?
MR. SIEWERT: We are not proposing a deal; we are not encouraging a deal; and we would not endorse or support any such deal.
Q Jake, has there been any contact with Mr. Kostunica?
MR. SIEWERT: Not that I'm aware of. Obviously, at the appropriate time and place we may reach out to him. I expect that won't be in the too distant future, but I don't have anything new for you on that now.
Q And have we been in contact with governments, countries close to Yugoslavia on, for instance, asking them not to allow Yugoslav planes to fly over them?
MR. SIEWERT: There has been some contact, but I don't want to detail that here from the podium. But we can give you an update on that. I don't have a full accounting of that.
In any case, the President, I should say, has been fully briefed by his National Security Advisor this morning. I expect that he'll return some of the calls and reach out to some of his allies in the region during the day, in Europe, and we'll let you know how those calls go. I know that he had received a call from the German government. We expect at some point that he'll return that.
Q Are we likely to see the President today?
MR. SIEWERT: I think it's likely. I would expect that we'll see him around 2:45 p.m., and we'll let you know about an exact time and place.
Q Could it be here?
Q On sanctions, do you plan to coordinate the lifting of sanctions with the Europeans --
MR. SIEWERT: Well, we'll work closely with the Europeans on that. As I said, we have some sanctions in place that the U.S. imposed unilaterally. But we'll work closely with the Europeans on the exact timing and shape of any lifting of sanctions.
Q Jake, what about U.S. contributions to reconstruction aid? In the past, you guys said not while Milosevic is in power.
MR. SIEWERT: We are ready to provide humanitarian assistance and to aid the process of economic reform and democratization there. But it's important now that we move -- we'll be moving quickly to reach out and engage the government, but we will need to do a little more work to ensure that Milosevic has relinquished power and that the democratically elected leader of Serbia has assumed all the reins of the government there before we begin that.
Q Jake, as part of reaching out to Yugoslavia, will -- Yugoslavia was removed from the IMF and the World Bank after the dissolution of the country because it refused to pay debts accrued prior to the breakup of broader Yugoslavia. Will the United States push for it be reintegrated into those international financial institutions as a way of bringing it back into the world economy?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, obviously, bringing it into the multilateral institutions is one of the steps that would be necessary to rejoin it to the family of nations. And that's something that we would review with our allies in Europe.
Q Does the United States now know exactly where Milosevic is?
MR. SIEWERT: No. We have no reason to believe that he is -- obviously, he's met with Foreign Minister Ivanov. We have no reason to believe that he's not where that meeting was held, in Belgrade.
Q How concerned is the U.S. that this is not over and that he may try to make a last stand, last attempt to reconstitute his power?
MR. SIEWERT: I think it's important that he makes clear -- it's becoming increasingly clear that the Serbian people in the military and the security forces and the church, are united against Milosevic. But there are pockets of resistance, I'm sure, to change in Yugoslavia. And we're going to continue to urge restraint on behalf of the security forces there, on behalf of the army. They've shown an admirable restraint so far, and there has been relatively little bloodshed. And we think that's important that we continue to do that. And we'll continue to urge restraint and urge all parties to accept the verdict of the Serbian people.
Q Can I follow just on that? How concerned is the U.S., though, that the opposition won't be able to get the majority in Parliament to present a new government?
MR. SIEWERT: That's something we'll keep on top of and monitor.
Q Jake, other than the restraint that the military and the security forces have shown, does the United States have any explicit acknowledgement from those forces that they do, indeed, now have allegiance to Kostunica?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't believe we've been in touch with the Yugoslavian army.
Q Jake, is it too early to ask whether the Middle East process is dead, or do you still want to stay with Yugoslavia?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I thought that was up to you. (Laughter.)
Q Actually, I have a Yugoslavia question. Does the Clinton administration take credit for what happened in Serbia yesterday, or is this purely a Serbian effort?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think it's important to recognize that we're in the midst of an historical transition in the Balkans, and that the President has been involved since he took office in trying to devise and develop a strategy to bring a united, peaceful and democratic Europe together.
What's happening in the streets in Belgrade and around Serbia is a victory for the Serbian people, but it's certainly a victory for the international community, as well, and a policy that stood firmly against Milosevic. Frankly, our abilities to bring stability and peace to the Balkans over the last decade have been stymied in some sense by Milosevic's intransigence, his violence, his war against his own people. And removing him from power will pave the way for a more integrated, peaceful and united Europe. And in that sense, that's a victory, clear victory, for a policy that the President put in place to bring stability there.
Q But, Jake, does the President feel that Milosevic, having lost the war in Kosovo, largely due to American actions along with NATO, and with the sanctions which were pushed by the United States in concert with the allies, these tipped over the balance of the scales against Milosevic, convincing the Serbian people to rise up against him?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, the Serbian people have taken action, and they're clearly fed up with his leadership, of a decade of despotic rule. On the other hand, the United States has been at the forefront of international efforts to remove Milosevic from power, to stop his aggression against his neighbors, to stop his aggression against his own people. In that sense, the United States, the President has won a victory here. The President been forceful from the very beginning in standing up to Milosevic's efforts to destabilize the Balkans, and if we can remove him from power and stop the aggression and bring stability, reduce tensions in that area, that's a clear victory for the Serbian people, but also for the international community.
Q Were they motivated at least in part to go to the streets because of American actions including sanctions?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. You'd have to ask them. But like any historical transition, there are a number of forces at play, but I think the President has clearly played a role in standing up to Milosevic and encouraging people to stand up to his aggression, his despotism.
Q But it looks now as though the United States government is wary of embracing Kostunica too warmly, possibly for his own sake. Is that right?
MR. SIEWERT: Boy. (Laughter.) Kostunica has pledged to reduce tensions in the Balkans. He's pledged to restore some stability and peace in the Balkans, and he's promised to create a democratic Serbia. Those are all goals that we support, and we support him wholeheartedly in those efforts.
Q Are we done with the Middle East now? Can we go to --
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. It's really up to you. I don't ask the questions.
Q What kind of contact did the U.S. have with the Russians before today's meeting? Did the President -- we know he talked to President Putin. Did he also send a letter to the Russian President? And how much did these contacts did the Vice President know before his debate Tuesday night?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, actually, I think there's been some very -- the President has been engaged in talking, obviously, to President Putin over the weekend. There may have been some correspondence, I can check on that. And Secretary Albright, obviously, and Sandy Berger have been in touch with their counterparts as well throughout this process.
What the Vice President said is something the President fully agrees with, which is that the United States did not support any role in which Russia would mediate between Milosevic and Kostunica. The election results were clear. And what we have said all along in our communications with the Russian government is that it is important that we recognize that the Serbian people spoke and that it's time for Milosevic to step down. That is clearly what the Vice President said the other night, which is that he didn't see any role to mediate in this dispute for Russia, and that's absolutely clear.
At the same time, we've always said that Russia can play an important role in speaking to the Serbian people and helping the government of Serbia, and Milosevic himself, recognize that it's time to step down and the Serbian people have spoken. But there was no need to mediate the results of this election; Kostunica won it fair and square.
Q Jake, there's an agreement by negotiators on the Ag bill on the drug reimport legislation. Have you all seen that now and do you like it any better than yesterday?
MR. SIEWERT: We have not seen all the details of that bill yet. There were some disturbing developments in two areas in that bill in that we seem to have moved away from a bipartisan compromise on drug reimportation and gone to a Republican effort that is riddled with loopholes that would mean that this provision is worth very little to the people it's designed to help.
What they've done is, they've sunsetted the provision, so that it's not permanent. There are some provisions that we've singled out that would make it less meaningful -- provisions on labeling and on contracting that would mean essentially that the pharmaceutical companies could thwart any efforts to reimport the drugs. And it's not altogether clear whether the money they've given to the FDA doesn't come out of the FDA's money budget elsewhere.
So we're going to take a close look at those provisions and see whether this is meaningless or whether it actually does some harm, and we'll let you know as we take a closer look at that what we think of it.
Q What about Cuba sanctions? Have you now got a position on that?
MR. SIEWERT: The Cuba sanctions language is something that we haven't had a full chance to review. But it's clear that -- again, we're going to have to examine it in more detail, but it's going to have to strike the right balance between actually doing what it's says it's going to do in terms of helping American farmers export to Cuba, a goal that we've supported. There are financing provisions in there that might make it very difficult, particularly for smaller farmers to actually export their goods and that it prohibits them from working with domestic lenders.
There are also provisions in there, frankly, that undermine the President's authority to conduct diplomacy in this area and the people-to-people contact we think has been very helpful in giving the -- creating the kind of people-to-people contact that we think is important and there are some provisions in there that would limit that people-to-people contact. And we're going to have to take a closer look and see how those work before we make a final decision on the overall bill.
Q Okay, the Middle East now. Is the Middle East process completely dead?
MR. SIEWERT: We don't think so. We think that we have spent the last several days urging all parties to stop the violence, to restore calm in the area. Secretary Albright was able to work with the parties in Paris toward some understandings that would allow -- and they made an effort with her to reach out to their security forces and their police to urge them to restrain -- urge restraint and try to stop the violence there. We're going to keep monitoring that situation and working with the parties.
The situation there, obviously, remains tense and difficult and we're going to expect both leaders to do what they can to restore calm.
Ultimately, as I've said before, we think that these are -- differences need to be resolved at the negotiating table, not in the streets. Right now, our focus is on restoring calm in the streets, but sooner or later, both parties are going to need to sit down and decide the tough issues and decide them at a negotiating table.
Q In retrospect, does the President feel that the failure of the Camp David talks this summer was tragic because it could have prevented or would have prevented what's going on now, the violence?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, there's no doubt that we would like to resolve some of the final status issues. We believe the Camp David process was important at helping narrow some of those differences. But we didn't finish up the work and that's something that, ultimately, is incumbent upon both countries* to recognize that they have serious differences, those differences remain -- but they need to be resolved at the negotiating table. But we believe that the Camp David process was critical in identifying those issues, and that's something that needed to be done before they could move on to resolving the most final and most difficult issues.
Q Is there any sense, Jake, that this happened because the outside world tried to force a peace agreement on the Israelis and Palestinians?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't think so. I don't think anyone would say that the efforts to restore peace and try to bring calm to that region and try to resolve some of the differences between the parties is not a worthwhile one. What the President said from the beginning is that there are longstanding historical tensions there that need to be resolved, and we're going to do everything we can to resolve them.
Q On the drug reimport bill, could I just be clear -- if the money comes out of the FDA budget, that's not a good thing, it should be separate money?
MR. SIEWERT: This is money that obviously was not anticipated earlier this year and it needs to be provided so that these provisions can actually work. If they don't have the money to work them -- if they don't have the money they need to actually enforce this bill, and if it comes out of the rest of their budget, then that's going to undermine their efforts in other areas.
Q Okay. You don't seem to like that legislation, but it's something. Even if you don't like it --
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I said we'll have to examine it more closely to see whether it's meaningless or whether it's actually counterproductive.
Q Well, it sounds like you have a pretty detailed knowledge of it. Could this bill --
MR. SIEWERT: Based on -- we are able to read reporting in Congress Daily and the like -- (laughter) -- that provide us with some knowledge, and we're waiting to see the actual legislative language.
Q We made most of that up, so don't -- (laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: Okay. Well, we do here, too. (Laughter.)
Q We know. (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: I'm sure you do.
Q But could that legislation cause you to veto the entire Ag bill if you determine you don't like it?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I say we look at every bill in its entirety. There are some parts here that we have to take a closer look at, the language, the reimportation language, and, frankly, just the core agricultural issues, and we'll take a look at those and make a final judgment. We'll let you know when we do.
Q On the Ag bill, what is the administration's view on the Byrd amendment?
MR. SIEWERT: I'm not familiar with that, but I can get back to you on that.
Q Jake, let me ask you about Asia. The President is going to meet with a top North Korean official next week. Are you looking for any concrete progress in improving the relations with North Korea?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, this is -- it's on the 10th, PJ? The 10th. This is an historic meeting, the highest level contact between the President and a North Korean official in decades. And we expect that we'll be able to discuss some of the issues that are confronting our countries. We want to lower tensions on the peninsula, and obviously take stock of where we are in the missile talks. There have been some talks in the region and we're going to do everything we can to try to get a better understanding of the North Korean proposal on missiles, and we'll see what we can do.
But we'll wait for those meetings to actually happen, and then let you know, but we obviously see this as an opportunity to follow up on the historic summit that was held this spring between the two leaders, and we'll be -- the President will be meeting with him on the 10th.
Q Is there any consideration being given to adding Korea as a stop on the Asian trip?
MR. SIEWERT: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Is there a real possibility of the President meeting with Mr. Kim Jung-il at some point while the President is in office?
MR. SIEWERT: Not that I'm aware of. I don't know of any such plans.
Q There was a sighting of Jesse Ventura, I think, out back.
MR. SIEWERT: I believe he was a guest of the President this evening -- last evening, at the White House. He was in town, and the President invited him to spend the night. So he was staying over. I think he left, and has some business in Washington today.
Q Did he give money to the First Lady's campaign? (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: Not that I'm aware of, but you could ask him, or check with the FEC.
Q Does the President plan to be in attendance for the debate on Sunday, the First Lady's debate, or will he watch that from Chappaqua?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. I think he's watching it from the home.
Week ahead, travel. By the way, we'll have digital photos to release from some signing ceremonies today. We're signing an executive order on disadvantaged businesses. We'll put that out. I think they'll be a stakeout afterwards. That's at 2:35 p.m. At 4:55 p.m., a small business export task force executive order will also be signed, and we'll have a presidential statement on that. And then he'll also sign the Intercountry Adoption Act at 5:05 p.m.
Travel. The President will travel to Missouri, Arkansas, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California, from October 13th to October 16th. That's next week. On the 13th he'll go to Kansas City, Missouri, where he'll make remarks at a New York Senate 2000 reception. That evening he will go to Little Rock, where he'll make remarks at a reception for Mike Ross for Congress, who is our Democratic candidate in a race down there.
He'll spend the night in Little Rock, traveling the next day to Denver, Colorado, where he'll make remarks at the reception for the Colorado Democratic Party and the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund. He'll then travel to Washington, where he'll make remarks at a reception for Governor Gary Locke, a dinner for Governor Gary Locke and Representative Jay Insley, and a New York Senate 2000 dinner. He'll spend the night in Seattle -- that's the evening of the 14th.
On the 15th, he'll travel to Portland, Oregon, where he'll make remarks at a reception for Representative Darleen Hooley, then travel to Los Angeles, where he'll speak at the Rainbow Push Coalition's third annual awards dinner. He'll spend the night in Los Angeles.
On the 16th, he will speak at a brunch for the California Democratic Party, and a lunch for Jerry Schipske for Congress. He will return to Washington D.C. that day.
Q Jake, what about the 2:45 p.m. event with the President? Do you have any other --
MR. SIEWERT: No, I think we'll just put a -- I've told you what it is. We're going to put a statement out, and we'll put a photo out as well. This is this executive order on increasing opportunities and access for disadvantaged businesses.
Q So we won't see the President in person?
MR. SIEWERT: Oh, I'm sorry. You'll see the President at some time. We'll give you more details on that when we have them. We haven't set a place, but that's the only thing, I think, outstanding.
Q But it is at 2:45 p.m.?
MR. SIEWERT: Roughly 2:45 p.m.
Q Is that likely to be open, or is that a pool situation?
MR. SIEWERT: It depends where we do it, but we'll try to provide as much access as we can.
Q What's the President's radio address on tomorrow, Jake?
MR. SIEWERT: The radio address is on a health care issue, cancer.
Q Is it live?
Q Jake, would he be meeting with us primarily to talk about Yugoslavia?
MR. SIEWERT: Primarily, although I expect today we'll sign the continuing resolution, and he may talk a little bit about what's going on or what's not going on in Congress these days.
The radio address will be broadcast tomorrow, I believe it's being taped today. The President will go to Ohio tomorrow and Indiana, and spend the night in Chappaqua. On Sunday, he will return to Washington D.C. from Chappaqua. He has no other public schedule. No public schedule on Monday. On Tuesday, he will make remarks at a reception for Representative Bob Wise at a private residence in Washington D.C. He will also attend a reception for Representative Joseph Crowley.
MR. CROWLEY: No relation.
MR. SIEWERT: Okay. On Wednesday he will travel to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Chappaqua, New York. In Pittsburgh he'll be speaking at an event for Ron Klink for Senate, and the Pennsylvania Fund 2000. He will also make remarks at a reception for Pennsylvania Victory 2000, spend the night in Chappaqua, return on Thursday the 12th.
On Thursday he'll speak to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Annual Convention at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, and make remarks at receptions for Representative John Conyers, Representative Xavier Becerra and the New York Senate 2000. And on Friday he'll leave on that trip I told you about.
END 12:10 P.M. EDT