THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
The Briefing Room
12:12 P.M. EST
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good afternoon. Immediately after my briefing we'll have a --
Q We'll have another -- (laughter).
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's right -- question. We'll have a briefing by senior officials of the Treasury and the -- Treasury Department and the comptroller's office to explain the President's proposals today on alleviating the credit crunch, and it will be in this room.
Q What is the President's reaction to Boris Yeltsin's narrow survival today?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President is, as you know, very supportive of President Yeltsin and all reformers in Russia. And he looks forward to continuing to work with the President on market and political reforms in Russia, and he's looking forward to the summit on April 4th.
Q Are you absolutely firmly convinced that Boris Yeltsin will still be in power when the summit takes place on April 4th?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has full confidence in President Yeltsin and full support of the reforms he's trying to institute.
Q Is there anything that can be done specifically between now and then beyond the broad incentives that you're going to unveil there to support him?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to continue to talk with the Russians, we're going to continue to talk with our allies -- our G-7 allies about taking appropriate action between now and the July summit in Tokyo to speed along the process of helping the Russians move forward on their reforms.
Q Do you think this adds weight or new urgency to some sort of G-7 meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As the President said yesterday, he believes that this kind of a meeting would be very useful. And we have to get a process in place right now to move forward on Russian aid.
Q George, what's the dimension of the package of aid that the President is thinking about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As the President said last week, he's working on that right now and he'll have more specifics to announce as we get closer to the summit.
Q He said that he was -- that money would be one of the things, though, that's discussed. I'm just interested in the magnitude --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Technical assistance, and we're also working with our allies on broader multilateral approaches.
Q But nothing beyond the $300 million -- the additional $300 million that we've already heard about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't necessarily get into the specifics on the numbers or exactly how the aid would be used, but the President is looking at a range of options right now.
Q George, George Bush was criticized for hanging onto Mikhail Gorbachev perhaps longer than some people thought he should have. A moment ago you just said, Boris Yeltsin and other reformers; are there other reformers in the wings who could step in and take Yeltsin's place?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's not it at all. I mean, right now the President supports President Yeltsin, supports the reforms he's moving forward on, and is looking forward to meeting with him.
Q And there's no concern that if Yeltsin should, in fact, be forced from power that he will have somehow damaged relations with the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. Right now he is the President. We are working with him on his reforms.
Q Does the President feel that Yeltsin is the best hope for democracy?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's said that in the past. President Yeltsin supports the reforms he's trying to move forward on and wants to continue that process. And right now he's supporting President Yeltsin because he's working in that direction.
Q What's the purpose and the scope of the defense conversion program that he's going to outline tomorrow, and why did he choose Baltimore to do it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President is looking forward to announcing a program that will assist both workers and communities on defense conversions both to help train and retrain workers and assist the communities that are hurt when defense contracts are lost or defense bases are closed. He will announce the specific numbers and the specific policies tomorrow. But as he's said in the past he wants to free up a major program over the next four years to provide training, to provide community assistance, to support the kinds of technologies that will help increase employment both moving from defense to nondefense employment.
Q And the setting tomorrow, is that a military --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's Westinghouse Electronics Systems, which will be a good example of the kind of conversion that can take place. They were previously producing electronic systems for the military and now they're adapting those for police use and other kinds of use.
Q How would the President go about supporting such a thing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, one way to support it would be to give community aid to the communities that are affected.
Q No, but you said -- I'm was talking about the technology.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Technology, you would make grants available through the Advanced Research Products Agency, for instance, that would go towards dual-use technology. And defense firms would be eligible for these funds.
Q Would you waive patent royalties and things like that on --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not certain about that. I think that's something we'd have to look into. I don't know that he's necessarily going to propose anything on that tomorrow.
Q George, if I can get in before the tape goes down, what can you say to timber industry officials who may be pessimistic that they will get any sort of what they consider a fair shake from you folks at the timber summit?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we hope to have full representation from the timber industry at the Forest Conference in April. And we're looking to come forward with a comprehensive and balanced approach that addresses a serious problem.
Q George, do you have anything today for us on the Middle East, on the peace talks?
Q This is a one-day conference?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, I think it is April 2nd.
Q No follow-on after that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I expect that there will be a great deal of follow-on, quite to the contrary. This conference is simply, first of all, to have the President and the Vice President and the Cabinet officials get a full understanding of the problems, scope of the problem, to start to establish the principles that we'll be moving forward on, and to develop a comprehensive approach over the course of the next several months.
Q Tell me about the follow-on.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, again, I can't predict exactly what the follow-on will be at this time, but we will be developing a comprehensive policy to address -- this problem, as you know, there are several court-imposed deadlines for developing a policy and developing an environmental impact statement. And we'll be moving towards -- in that direction.
Q Would the participants be involved in the followon ?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would expect that a lot of the participants certainly would be, yes.
Q George, the House and Senate budget resolutions are expected to be finished and through conference before the President actually presents his budget. Since they've decided to come forward with a budget resolution that will have a lower FY '94 spending ceiling than you all had originally contemplated, will the President's budget that he submits on April 5th conform to that lower budget ceiling, or are you going to stick with your existing budget numbers?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: At this point, we're preparing a budget that will conform to the numbers that we've set forward. I mean, we hope that the budget resolutions are completed as quickly as possible, and through the conference, and we'll be working with the committees on that. But we're proceeding on our own plan at this time.
Q But if the committees act and come out with different numbers and Congress has voted on it, are you going to then put forward a budget with numbers that don't conform to what's already been voted?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we'll look into that and see what the committees have come forward with and make the appropriate adjustments. But at the same time, the budget resolutions will become the vehicle for instructions to the Appropriations Committee, we'll also submit our budget, which gives a sense of the President's priorities, and he wants to maintain those priorities and the investments that he's supporting.
Q George, can you explain how that squares with the idea that the President's publicly prepared to accept another $55 billion or more in cuts? If the President said he's prepared to do that, why doesn't he specify where he thinks those cuts should be?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that is for the appropriations committees to do, and we'll be fighting for our priorities through that process. But this is technically the job of the budget committees and the appropriations committees.
Q When the President agreed to these additional cuts at the request of Congress, did that include any kind of agreement to -- that Congress would pass the stimulus package intact? And if not, do you think that there's any -- that you're in trouble on the Hill with the stimulus package?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President is a strong supporter of the stimulus package this time. He's pushing for passage, and we are going to continue to push for passage because we believe that we have to do everything we can to make sure that we -- make sure that this recovery creates jobs. At the same time --
Q But was there kind of an implicit deal that if he agreed to these additional cuts, that the spending part of the stimulus package would be --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think there's any deal, but we're going to keep on fighting for the stimulus package.
Q Do you think it is in some trouble?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so. I think that as the Congress hears the President's arguments on the need to create jobs -- investment in the short run to ensure that this recovery continues, we're going to end up being successful.
Q What would the President be willing to do to accommodate the senators who came in last night who are concerned that they didn't want -- they wanted something more than the budget resolution to be able to vote on before the stimulus funds are voted so that it looked to their constituents at least like more of a sure thing that the cuts would actually occur. What's the President willing to do there?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we can continue discussions on this subject and figure out the best sort of legislative vehicle to move forward on. I don't know that there's anything specific in mind at this point.
Q Well, there are several proposals that people who were in the meeting yesterday said were offered; one of them being that you would hold up all or part of the stimulus package until the reconciliation measure was passed. What did the President say to those proposals?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President wants to get approval of his full stimulus package. Now, certain parts of the stimulus package may spend out at different rates, and we want to make sure that we get --
Q And at different times.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And at different times, and at different rates. And we want to make sure that we get the money that is needed for the summer into the field as quickly as possible. But that -- they do spend out at different rates.
Q So is it possible that the President would go along with holding off on the actual expenditure of some of the monies in there until after the reconciliation measure were adopted?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we'd be willing to look at a proposal like that. I don't know that he's made a decision at this time. But the important point is that he wants to get full approval of the full stimulus package as quickly as possible.
Q George, Senator Boren had suggested the possibility of approving the stimulus, but making actual spending of some of the money contingent on passage of reconciliation. Would something along those general lines be --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that general approach -- that was discussed yesterday afternoon and it's something that we want to explore further.
Q George, can you give us any enlightenment on why the President is focusing so narrowly on aid to Russia and not the Ukraine, Georgia, some of the other republics?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think, first of all, that Russia is a little bit farther along on the reforms right now, but that isn't to preclude the possibility of aid to the other republics. And, as you know, the Lugar-Nunn legislation did contemplate aid to the other republics as well. And that is still going forward.
Q But it's the focus on the reforms. They must --the reforms.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Exactly. It's the reforms. I mean, aid follows reforms.
Q Is there any consultation directly going on with any of those republics about specific targets they must meet?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I assume we have consultation going on through normal diplomatic channels. I don't have anything specific on that.
Q Nothing -- from the White House?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q George, does the White House still disavow what Richard Armitage said about Boris Yeltsin's days being numbered?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q George, could you then define how the White House evaluates the political threat that the President of Russia is facing right now?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if I can define the threat; I can just define the nature of the support for President Yeltsin, and that support is strong. President Clinton believes that President Yeltsin is a reformer, believes that he is on a positive path of the reform, and continues to support that.
Q But is he in danger, political danger?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President hopes that President Yeltsin is able to work out the disputes with his opponents in a democratic manner, in a peaceful and democratic manner. He expects that that will happen, and he continues to support President Yeltsin.
Q The Palestinians are chilly on the next round of peace talks. How do you view the situation right now?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as you know, Secretary Christopher has issued the invitations earlier this morning. We remain hopeful that all parties will agree to come to Washington to accept the invitation, and we continue to be hopeful.
Q I think I just came at the right moment. I was going to ask whether or not -- how the President feels about Britain and Belgium upgrading the PLO just a few days before Rabin meets with the President in Washington?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I have not seen anything on that or asked him about it but I can get back to you.
Q May I ask one more question. How does the President feel now that he's President about a unified Jerusalem being the capital of Israel and under its sovereignty?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as you know, the President said that that should be a subject of the peace negotiations. His position continues to remain the same.
Q On the peace talks, the Israelis said today that they have reason to believe the Palestinians will eventually accept. Can you go that far or are you just --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We are very hopeful that all parties will accept the invitations and we expect to hear something on that soon.
Q Do you have some information or some indication that there is something that can be done or is being done?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, Secretary Christopher, on the basis of his negotiations, his consultations over the last several weeks, is very hopeful that everybody will accept.
Q Does that mean he did not consider Hanan Ashrawi's comments today a rejection?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so. I think there's been some confusion. We have the invitations out and we continue to hope and expect that we will receive a positive response.
Q Is the President going to announce his choice for FDIC chairmanship today?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't believe so, no.
Q Is he close to a decision on that, do you know?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I know it's being closely considered. I don't know when we're going to have the announcement.
Q The Irish Times has reported that Jean Kennedy Smith is going to be the ambassador to Ireland. Is that so?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There's no announcement out of the State Department yet.
Q I know. We know that. (Laughter.) If there were, she wouldn't have asked the question. So can you try that one again?
Q That's sort of less than a denial. That's kind of --
Q Wait until St. Patrick's Day.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There's just been no announcement, and I can't comment on announcements that haven't been made.
Q Do you think the announcement -- will it come before St. Patrick's Day?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure. That would be appropriate, probably. (Laughter.)
Q If the President is going to talk about defense conversion at his trip to Westinghouse tomorrow, what's the purpose of the trip on Friday aboard the aircraft carrier? Is that just a big photo op, or is he going to release some of the details on Friday?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, no, the President is going to show his support for the troops that are going to the Mediterranean. He's going to fulfill his responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief to inspect the ship and to meet with the sailors on the ship and to hear their concerns.
Q What will he looking for while inspecting the ships -- (laughter).
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He'll be talking to everybody on board, and wants to hear what they have to say as well.
Q Were you able to find out the other day whether the President has ever been on an aircraft carrier or a naval ship?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, I didn't take that back. I didn't get an answer. I will.
Q George, is there any connection between the trip Friday and these recurrent reports that have surfaced in several publications that some members of the uniformed military feel there is an antimilitary bias in this White House; and the various rumors, many of which you all have denied, of incidents in which uniformed military have been treated allegedly badly? Is there any connection with any of that and this trip Friday?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't comment on untrue rumors, and we're going to continue to work with the military. The President is Commander-in-Chief and he's going to continue to fulfill his responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief.
Q But was the decision to have this kind of an event occasioned at all by the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. We've been looking at a lot of these -- Secretary Aspin has come forward with a number of recommendations for the President we've been looking at for sometime.
Q When were they requested? Was the President asked for ideas on this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe it came several weeks ago. I'm not sure exactly when.
Q Had he asked Aspin to find out -- to suggest some possibilities, is that what happened?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if he personally asked him, but Secretary Aspin had some ideas. He sent them along to the President.
Q Might we expect the service chief announcements at the same time?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not certain of that, no.
Q George, does the President believe that the Navy still needs 12 carriers, as the Bush administration proposed, or can the Navy go down to nine or eight?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'd have to check back. I'd have to look back. I thought that we had a proposal for 10, but I'll go back to that and get back to you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:29 P.M. EST