THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JAKE SIEWERT The James S. Brady Briefing Room
6:07 P.M. EDT
Q Can I ask, the President been focused all day on this? Does that mean that somebody else is focused on what's going on in Yemen?
Q Good point.
MR. SIEWERT: No, the President has been focused on this, as well. I said that he had been briefed as early as 7:15 a.m. this morning about the situation in Yemen. When he went to the Situation Room, he was briefed by Secretary Cohen and some of Secretary Cohen's staff about the developments there.
You heard about as much as we know from Secretary Cohen. There may be a little bit more information and when we're more certain of that, I'm sure you can find that out from the Pentagon.
Q Jake, the President canceled his appearances tonight in Washington. What about the trip that's supposed to begin tomorrow morning?
MR. SIEWERT: That trip is still on at the moment, but I think for those of you who are planning on traveling, we'll let you know if we have any change.
Q Will he make departure statements, do you think?
MR. SIEWERT: I expect the President to be in the White House for the rest of the day, and we'll let you know if tomorrow changes.
Q At what time tomorrow is he supposed to leave?
MR. SIEWERT: He's expected to leave around 9:15 a.m. from the White House. We'll either let you know tonight or first thing in the morning if that situation changes.
Q Are there American hostages in Ecuador?
MR. SIEWERT: We have received a report from the embassy that there was an abduction in Ecuador. We've been in touch, through the State Department with both the citizens of -- the families of those American citizens, and the companies they work for. Our embassies in the region, in both Quito and Bogota, are working with the respective host governments to figure out the facts and try to bring a quick resolution to this.
Q How many Americans?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't have the exact number. It is reported to us through the embassy, but the information is a bit sketchy, that there were five American citizens working for two separate U.S. oil companies. As this information has been coming in -- I'd just say that its been reported to us. I wouldn't ascertain it.
Q How will the President be spending his evening?
MR. SIEWERT: He'll probably be, as he has spent most of the day, he's probably made a dozen phone calls today just to various leaders in the region. He'll probably continue to do that, and to meet with his team.
Q He's not going to address those events that he's not going to attend?
MR. SIEWERT: No.
Q Is the Vice President joining him in any of these phone calls?
MR. SIEWERT: The Vice President returned to the White House shortly before 5:00 p.m., I believe, or at least he was scheduled to. He was being briefed by Secretary Albright and Sandy Berger. He's been kept abreast of these matters by his own National Security Advisor, Leon Fuerth, who's been in all the big meetings today, and the President is meeting with him, I think as we speak. It may in fact be over. We'll try to get a photo out of that. But the President and he were going to talk. In fact, the President did speak with him over the weekend, too, about the process, I think Saturday or Sunday.
Q Jake, the Vice President has been absent from the White House for so many months, does it really matter whether he's on the scene or not?
MR. SIEWERT: He's been an integral player in the Mideast peace process throughout the administration. He's traveled to the region at least four times. The President values his advice, and trusts his judgment. As I said, they talked about it just over the weekend. They talked about this U.N. resolution. The Vice President supported our position, and you heard him talk a little bit about that in the debate the other night.
Q Jake, was he summoned back, or did he come on his own?
MR. SIEWERT: He was scheduled to come back into town this evening in any case, and he just came back a bit early to meet with the national security team, and to get an update on what had happened.
Q Was this the first time they have actually met person-to-person since they --
MR. SIEWERT: I'll have to check. The last time that I can remember them seeing each other was in Michigan, the day after the convention. But they talk on the phone all the time. They talked last night, in fact, after the debate.
Q What's the situation with Iraqi troops?
MR. SIEWERT: On Iraqi troops, you had one of the world's leading experts in here a moment ago on that -- (laughter) -- and you didn't ask him. But I will tell you that --
Q Well, we have P.J. (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: There are -- we've seen the movements. We're watching them very carefully, and there are a variety of possible explanations for this, including training, deployment or defensive deployment, as they did in February of '98. As we all know, Saddam Hussein is capable of stooping to any level, and he has demonstrated he will try to capitalize on the violence in Israel and the territories to try to advance his own agenda.
If he does intend something more menacing, we've made it very clear that if Iraq threatens its neighbors, or U.S. forces, we maintain a credible force in the region and are prepared to use it at a time and place of our own choosing.
Q You're on the record on that, right?
MR. SIEWERT: You can use that on the record.
Q Do you have any comments that Saddam Hussein had been invited by the Arab leaders --
MR. SIEWERT: Excuse me?
Q Saddam Hussein has been invited by the Arab leaders for a summit?
MR. SIEWERT: I had not heard that report.
Q October --
MR. SIEWERT: Oh, the Arab summit. Yes, as I've said several times about that meeting, we're focused on what we can do in the short term to stop the violence and defuse the tension in the area, and that remains our posture today.
Q What are the prospects of the President actually taking this trip to North Korea? When would that be, and what would the purpose of that trip be?
MR. SIEWERT: As you know, Secretary Albright announced today that she would be traveling to North Korea in the short term. I believe it could happen as early as this month. We thought the events over the last -- over the meeting with General Cho were dramatic in many ways, and the renewed engagement has led to some positive developments. We are going to -- during the meeting that he had with the President, he extended an invitation by Kim Chong-il for the President to visit Pyongyang. Secretary Albright will travel to the region. And we'll asses whether, in her trip, whether a meeting between President Clinton and Kim Chong-il would be productive in advancing some of the areas of concern that we have regarding North Korea.
Q Is the likelihood that this would be added to the Brunei-Vietnam trip?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't have any news on that. We're going to have the Secretary travel to the region, assess what might be accomplished if the President and Kim Chong-il were to meet, and we'll let you know if we think such a meeting would be useful.
Q Early next week the Prime Minister of Bangladesh will be here in the White House, meeting with President Clinton. Any special agenda or any --
MR. SIEWERT: I'll check on that. Wednesday is a follow-up to the meeting they had in Dhaka, and I'll let you know if we -- tomorrow if we have anything specific that we --
Q On Yugoslavia and the sanctions, my understanding is that one set of sanctions that remains in place is the bar on IMF lending to Yugoslavia. What would Yugoslavia need to do to get the United States to remove its objection to renewed IMF lending?
MR. SIEWERT: What we call the outer wall sanctions will remain in place and we're going to review those sanctions as Serbia makes its democratic transition and meets its international obligations. We're not going to make a judgment on lifting those sanctions in the short term, we'll make them as they finish the transition. And it's going to depend on a lot -- on an overall judgement of how that transition and how its effort to address its international obligations are going.
Q Could you explain what factors go into that decision?
MR. SIEWERT: We'll be looking at their cooperation with the War Crimes Tribunal, and how they handle the Dayton Accords, and how do they handle some of the issues we have with Kosovo. But we're not creating a specific test here. We're going to have to take a look at the larger picture, and make a judgement on whether it makes sense or not to move on those sections, as well.
Q Jake, one last specific related question. There had been some suggestion of trying Milosevic in Serbia. Is that thoroughly objectionable to the United States?
MR. SIEWERT: We would expect a new government to cooperate with the War Crimes Tribunal and the Hague, and find an acceptable resolution, not only to question Milosevic, but also the other indicted war criminals who were in Serbia. And it's not for us to say what's satisfactory. We'll leave that to the tribunal itself.
Q Does the administration see the fine hand of Osama bin Laden behind the explosion at Cole?
MR. SIEWERT: I think Secretary Cohen says we're going to get the facts on that, and we'll make a judgement when we have all the facts.
Q Jake, did the White House confer with the Gore campaign about the locations that the President is going to in the next four days?
MR. SIEWERT: Probably, but I don't know specifically. I can check on that. Whenever we schedule political travel, frankly, we talk to the Democrats who are running in the House and the Senate, and we talk to the Vice President's campaign. As we schedule the President's travel, we try to make it worthwhile for as many Democrats who are running for office. But I wouldn't -- again, it's a judgement we make after talking to various campaigns.
Q Today is the first military coups anniversary in Pakistan. Do you have any comments on that?
MR. SIEWERT: No, I don't. Ask me tomorrow, and we'll give you an assessment of how that year has been.
MR. CROWLEY: We want to see Pakistan move back towards a civilian government.
END 6:16 P.M. EDT