THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON SIGNING DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT 2000 The Rose Garden
9:50 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I want to thank Representative Norm Dicks and Representative Ralph Regula for their extraordinary bipartisan leadership. I thank Secretary Babbitt, NEA Chairman Bill Ivy, National Endowment of the Humanities Chairman Bill Ferris, the Institute of Museum and Library Services Director Beverly Sheppard, OMB Director Lew, Millennium Council Director Ellen Lovell and all the other many people who are here who have worked so hard with Chairman Regula and Congressman Dicks and Members of both parties in both Houses to protect the environment and strengthen our nation's artistic and cultural life.
I have just signed this year's Department of Interior Appropriations Act. It is a remarkable piece of legislation that provides a lasting legacy for our grandchildren by establishing for the first time a dedicated and protected fund that states, communities and federal agencies can use to buy and protect precious federal land -- from neighborhood parks to Civil War battlefields, to parcels of pristine wilderness. It doubles our investment in land conservation next year, and ensures even greater funding in the years to come.
While we had hoped to gain even more and will continue to work for these priorities in our budget negotiations, this new lands trust unquestionably represents a major leap forward in the quest to preserve our environment -- a quest begun by President Teddy Roosevelt a century ago.
This bill will also do much more. It will provide much-needed additional funding for health, education and law enforcement in our Native American communities, something that has been of particular interest to me. It will provide better funding to take better care of our national parks and deal with a lot of long pent-up maintenance needs.
It will increase support for firefighters in preventing forest fires -- something America has seen all too much in the last few months. It increases our efforts to combat climate change and to provide more energy security by increasing funds for research and to energy-saving technologies, including more energy-efficient buildings, and automobiles. It supports the Partnership For The Next Generation Vehicles which the Vice President has led, and strengthens our energy security through providing funding for the Northeast heating oil reserve.
The bill also increases support for arts and humanities, including the first funding increase for the National Endowment for the Arts since Congress proposed to eliminate it in 1995. The birds like it. (Laughter.) It will help to expand our efforts to bring the experience of art to children and to citizens not matter where they live, from inner-cities to remote rural areas. We're also pleased that the bill includes a third year of funding for the Save America's Treasure programs, the largest historic preservation effort in our nation's history, which the First Lady has led.
Just as important is the fact that the bill does not include contentious riders which would have damaged our environment. This legislation is proof-positive that when we sit down together and work in a bipartisan spirit, we can do things for the American people. And, again, I want to thank Mr. Regula and Mr. Dicks and all of the others who have worked with them to do that.
We still have a lot of work to do. We've got 10 appropriations bills to pass, an education budget that invests in accountability and what works, including the continuation of our 100,000 teacher program, funds to modernize and repair schools, an expanded after-school and college opportunity program, qualified teachers in every classroom, a criminal justice budget that gives us safer streets and stronger communities, a budget that enforces civil rights and ensures stronger efforts for equal pay for women, creates opportunities for all Americans to share in our prosperity through the New Markets Initiative.
I would also like to ask one more time for Congress to pass the patients' bill of rights, which passed the House of Representatives with a large vote exactly a year ago this week.
Unfortunately, it appears that instead of passing patient protections, legislation intended to restore reductions in the Medicare program is unduly tilted toward the HMOs who killed the patients' bill of rights, or have so far.
Last night I sent a letter to the leaders rejecting that allocation of funds. There are rural, urban teaching hospitals, community service providers, nursing homes, any number of other recipients of these funds that would be substantially disadvantaged if the present allocation goes through.
So I hope that we can put the needs of the patients ahead of the HMOs and do the right thing on health care. But let me say again: I think it is very important that the American people understand this is a truly historic achievement, achieved in a genuine, bipartisan spirit to create a permanent basis for preserving our natural heritage and advancing our common artistic and cultural values. I am profoundly grateful.
Thank you very much.
Q Mr. President, did your peace plan for the Middle East ever contemplate sovereignty for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the last thing I think we need to be doing now is talking about -- I think you know what we talked about at Camp David and what we've talked about since has been fairly well publicized.
Q No, it hasn't. I don't know what your plan is.
THE PRESIDENT: But I do not believe that any of us should be saying or doing anything now except focusing on putting an end to the violence, keeping people alive, calming things down, and getting back to the negotiating table.
And I do believe, by the way, that a plan to get back to the negotiating table is an important part of ending the violence in a substantial way. And so for me, that's what we're doing. That's what I've been working on for several days now, almost a week.
Q Do you think you will be traveling to the Mideast or elsewhere to meet with the leaders from -- Palestinians and the Israelis?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, as always, I'm prepared to do whatever I can to help. But I think the most important thing is that we all keep working to calm things down, keep them calm, and then find a way to get the peace process going again.
I think Secretary Albright or I might go; maybe in time we'll both go. I had a long talk this morning with Secretary General Kofi Annan, and we've been working together in an attempt to make sure we've got a substantial calm there.
I can do a lot here on the phone. I've been spending a lot of days and nights on the phone, and I hope that the United States is having a positive impact. But the first thing we've got to do is to get this situation calmed down and figure out where to go from here. But I do believe where to go from here must include a resumption of the peace talks because that's one of the reasons that we've had things so calm for so long, that we've basically had these talks going along, moving in the right direction.
We have to reach an agreement on this fact-finding effort to determine what happened and how to keep it from happening again, and I think we can do that. So we've just got to keep working on it.
Q Can I follow up on that for one second? A follow-up on that for one second? This is sort of a pointed question about the Middle East. At this point, if you're frustrated about possibly setting up a summit over there, do not the Israelis and the Palestinians at least owe you the courtesy of participating in such a summit, considering what you have tried to do to bring peace to the region?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes. I'm not worried about that. I think -- that's not what's at issue there. I think we can do that. But the main thing we have to do is, we don't need just another meeting, we need to know what we're going to do and how we're going to do it.
I wouldn't over-read the fact that there won't be a big meeting imminently in Egypt. I don't think you should over-read that as a reflection that either the Israelis or the Palestinians do not want to continue the peace process. This is -- I think everybody is shocked at how quickly and how deeply it got out of hand. And I think the most important thing now is to restore calm.
We've had a couple of pretty good days, people are really trying, and we're trying to put together a way forward, which will increase the chances that things will stay calm and more peaceful. So that's what we're working on. And I just have to tell you, it's very important to us to keep all of our options open, it's important that you know that I'm willing to do whatever I can to help, but these things have to take place in a certain way in order for them to make sense, and I'm doing the very best I can with it.
Q Some critics of the administration's policy blame some of the --
Q -- spoke of fact-finding as an agreement to return to negotiations, do you need to see those before you agree to go to the Mideast or send a representative?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, no. First of all, I don't need to see anything before I send representatives. We've been involved with them too long, and we have been already -- keep in mind, we've had people already in the region, and then Secretary Albright met with them in Paris, and now lots of others coming in.
I have been talking to them all for extended period of times, really since the beginning of the difficulties. So that's not it. The point is, everything that the United States does should be designed toward, number one, trying to preserve the calm, and number two, trying to restore the peace process. And so I will do whatever I think is likely to advance those objectives. So that's the only thing I was saying. We're in this for the long haul; we have been from the beginning, and we'll stay.
Q Are you disappointed at Mr. Arafat, Mr. President? Are you disappointed in Arafat's attitude?
Q Some of the administration's critics blame some of the violence on the failed Camp David talks and charge that summit was called too soon. Do you think that's unfair? What's your response to that?
THE PRESIDENT: I think if there had been no talks at Camp David, it would be worse now, because the pressure on the Palestinians to unilaterally declare a state would have been far worse, because their level of misunderstanding would have been even greater, because they had never -- in all of these seven years, they had never talked about these big, deep, underlying issues -- not in a serious, formal way.
So I think, certainly, the Israelis, I think, were disappointed that they were as forthcoming as they were and they thought more progress should have been made, but I think that everybody had a sense -- I announced that at the time.
But then after that, they continued to talk and everybody had the sense that they were moving forward. So I don't think that the evidence will support that conclusion.
Keep in mind, we were running out of time and the Palestinians, Chairman Arafat delayed the date that he had previously set for unilateral declaration. So the facts on the ground and the behavior of the parties do not support that conclusion.
The truth is, we got down to the tough issues where there were no easy answers. And I think that what this tells everybody is that after all these years of working together, there are still underlying different perceptions that have to be worked on. And we slid off into a sense where both sides felt as if they had been victimized and abused.
There is no alternative here but to get back together and to go back to work.
Q How would you like to live under military occupation for 50 years?
Q What exactly are you recommending on how to calm things down?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, they're working on that. They have worked together on that. They have common security understandings and a very detailed set of things that both sides have been doing, and they're talking about it some more. So I think first, you have to do that, and then they have to figure out beyond the security operations how they're going to get back together.
Q You are reportedly disappointed by Arafat and puzzled by his attitude. Are those reports true?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't think that anything I say that stirs this up is very helpful. I think that, look, there's a lot of people dying over there. We need to stop people dying. And there's been enough people saying enough things that have contributed to that.
My goal is to stop people dying and then get them back together. We can all have our judgments -- you have yours; they're somehow implicit in some of the questions you're asking -- but what I have noticed in these circumstances is, if they do good things, there is enough credit to go around, and if the wheel runs off and people start to die, then there's enough blame to go around.
This is not the time to be assessing that. This is a time to make a primary first commitment to end violence, to keep calm, to start the peace process again, and then they can establish some mechanism to evaluate what happened and why, and how to keep it from ever happening again.
Both of them have agreed to that. They haven't exactly agreed on the modalities, but they both agreed to that. So we can't lose sight of the fact that the most important thing right not is to stop people from getting shot and wounded and killed and to get the peace process back on track and to give a sense of safety and security back to all the people there.
When you get -- when things are most explosive in the Middle East, when both sides feel victimized -- and we were slipping toward that at a rapid pace over the last several days -- now both sides are feeling -- are taking responsibility here for moving out of this, and I think the statement that Prime Minister Barak made in the middle of his night-long cabinet meeting a couple of nights ago was very helpful in that regard, and a wise thing to do. And then he and Chairman Arafat have been doing some specific things here on this security front, and we need to support that and not -- look, there will be plenty of time in a calmer atmosphere for people to say whatever it is they've got to say in a political nature.
But we can't bring any of those kids back to life, we can't bring any of those young people back to life, we can't bring -- Lord knows how long it will take to reestablish some of the relationships that have been severed there, and none of us need to do anything to make this worse. We need to calm this down.
END 10:08 A.M. EDT