THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House to our daily briefing, our first daily briefing of the week. A couple of items to begin with today. Mr. Lake, Anthony Lake, the President's National Security Advisor, tomorrow will deliver an address defining missions, setting deadlines, meeting new security challenges in the post-Cold War world. That will be at the Best Theater at the Marvin Center at George Washington University, 11:00 a.m. tomorrow. Mr. Johnson here can give you further details on that illuminating address should you be so interested.
The other thing -- occasionally, I like to call attention to some things going on around about the agencies. I've got two items today of interest, and I want to make sure White House press folks know about. First is that Treasury Secretary Rubin and the Customs Commissioner are announcing today that they're going to bar imports into the United States of the drug Rohypnol, which is frequently called the date rape drug. It's one that has been associated with increasing use particularly in the South in border states among teenagers. They're going to walk through a lot of the reasons why they believe this is a necessary measure. There are other pharmaceuticals available that get the same medical effect, and this is a drug, apparently, being used for incorrect purposes especially by young people.
At the Transportation Department today Secretary Pena is reviewing some of the progress we've had over the last year with the government of Canada after the Open Skies agreement that the President and the Prime Minister announced last year. The agreement has done an extraordinary amount to promote more commerce and more air links between the United States and Canada. There are about 45 new routes back and forth between the United States and Canada. Fourteen cities now have non-stop service in the United States directly to Canada. And in all the agreement has pumped about $2 billion into our respective economies over the course of the last year. So they are highlighting that measure today. Both departments can provide you more details if you are interested.
That's my list.
Q Do you have any comment on McDougal's lawyer calling the President a hypocrite because he won't testify in person in Little Rock in court?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't believe it's necessary to call the President a name. What the President has done in a brief filed by the Justice Department with the court indicates his willingness to testify in that case pursuant to the precedent that exists for U.S. presidents when they're called to testify in legal matters of this nature. When it's necessary to an adequate defense of an individual to compel the testimony of the president, the president testifies in ways that don't pose any undue burden on his constitutional abilities to perform his office. And the Justice Department, in a very well-argued brief has set forth the reasons why the President ought to appear on videotape here in Washington, because it's consistent both with precedent and with the President's discharge of his constitutional obligations.
Q What is the stand in terms of the President's negotiations, or his lawyers' negotiations with the other lawyers in court as far as the deposition?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Mr. McDougal, if my understanding is correct, has filed a motion in the court that would compel the President's testimony in person. The response brief has been submitted today to the court by the Justice Department arguing on behalf of the President in his official capacity, and the matter now lays before the court.
Q Are you expecting any problem as China begin its maneuvers -- it supposed to be later this week on the Taiwan Straits?
MR. MCCURRY: Not everyone has been following this -- they have announced that they are going to conduct missile exercises in the Taiwan Straits. We have long felt that military exercises of that nature, specifically these types of missile tests, don't do anything to contribute to peace and stability in the region. We've suggested to the People's Republic -- in fact, we've also suggested to Taiwan, that provocative steps, provocative military exercises are not the best way to resolve the differences that exist across the Taiwan Straits, and indeed, the best way for them to address their concerns is in direct dialogue, direct cross-straits dialogue. That's the peaceful way to resolve issues of dispute. So in that sense, these missile tests are certainly not going to be helpful, and they are not going to do anything in our view to contribute to stability in the region.
Q Mike, yesterday we were told that sharing of intelligence was like a key thing that we could do for Israel. Is there any reason why that wasn't on the --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that I would make the assumption that that's not part of the steps that were announced earlier today.
Q Okay, but there wasn't anything in the five steps that mentioned intelligence.
MR. MCCURRY: That's not necessarily true.
Q Can you help us out with that? Can you tell us what the deal is?
MR. MCCURRY: The type of technology that exists, the type of personnel that are available who can provide some of the technical assistance referred to today are certainly people who are familiar with intelligence.
Q This equipment that's going over there today, why would that not have gone last year or the year before?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Israeli government has got fairly extensive antiterrorism procedures and mechanisms in place that they, for good reason, have some confidence in. Very unusual, outrageous incidents of the last week and a half accelerate their concern about their ability to combat terrorism, and this type of equipment, which had been under discussion at various points between the United States government and the government of Israel, took on, I think, a new sense of importance in light of the incidents that have occurred. That's why the President responded very quickly to the suggestion that we provide this type of assistance.
Q Could you tell us specifically what the equipment that was aboard the C-141 was this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: I can tell you it was very highly sophisticated bomb detection technology. Beyond that, I think it's best not to describe in any elaborate detail what type of capacity the system has.
Q Is this equipment owned by the United States, or is it from a private contractor?
MR. MCCURRY: It is U.S. government hardware produced here in the United States by a private company.
Q Could you give us the agency it comes from and what the cost is?
MR. MCCURRY: That's the United States government.
Q And the cost.
Q Is this only in government use, or is this in private use anywhere?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure exactly for what private sector use is made for this type of technology, Brit. I'd have to check on that. We can probably get you --
Q Would it be unlikely that it be much -- is this sufficiently specialized that it --
MR. MCCURRY: They sufficiently specialize them, and my guess is -- I don't know this for a fact -- my guess is sufficiently expensive. It's probably not widely available, but it is available to our government.
Q Was it on loan, is it a gift, did they buy it?
MR. MCCURRY: We are providing it given the urgency of the President's concern that we do everything possible as Americans to assist both the Palestinian Authority and the government of Israel as they combat terrorism. This is being provided right now just to get the job done.
Q As a gift?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have an extensive bilateral assistance program to Israel, and this can fall either within that framework or we can sort that out later. The important thing in the President's view is to get the technology to Israel as quickly as possible.
Q You said, Mike, get the job done. What exactly is the job?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this is technology that we believe, as Israel confines crossings from the territories into Israel at certain checkpoints, it will be useful at those checkpoints.
Q Are you able to put a ballpark figure on the total value of the package?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't in light of the fact that we most likely will provide additional forms of assistance and training and it would be sort of a misleading figure in any event.
Q Mike, since you're only sending six pieces of equipment now, isn't this largely --
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it's seven palettes that are on the plane that's on its way to Israel.
Q But isn't this largely psychological and symbolic as a support measure?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it will presumably have some practical use to the government of Israel. The government of Israel wanted this equipment. But it certainly will have, we hope, some symbolic value in that the people of Israel know the people of the United States stand with them as they deal with this extraordinary threat of terror.
Q Contact with foreign governments -- which governments, what are they being asked for?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, as I've already told some of you, has contacted President Assad of Syria. He's had correspondence with Chairman Arafat; expects to see King Hussein later this week. We have corresponded with other governments in the region to communicate our concerns about these new incidents, to -- I can't identify all of them, I don't have a full list, but there Arab governments within the region that we routinely communicate with on matters related to the peace process because many of them have been making their tentative steps forward in that process, which we have strongly encouraged.
We'll also be communicating at various diplomatic levels with the G-7 countries related to economic support for the Palestinians as they endure what we hope is a bump in the road in the progress forward towards peace. And we will certainly do everything necessary to work with other members of the international community to combat the threat of outrageous terror.
Q Are these countries being asked to do directly anything -- directly against Hamas?
MR. MCCURRY: We are encouraging all countries to take those steps that would be helpful in breaking down the infrastructure of support that exists for this well-known terrorist organization.
Q One thing that the Israelis seem to think is that if Iran is further isolated because of its support for Hamas that that would make a difference. But they say countries like Japan and Germany have not really been willing to isolate Iran. What's the U.S. doing about those countries?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it has been for years now a central tenet of our arguments to those countries that there is no way that economic contacts with the government of Iran can moderate the behavior of a state that is so clearly outlandish in its support of terrorism. We make the argument frequently to those who suggest that somehow or other economic contact with Iran will moderate behavior that there's just no proof at all that that is the case; indeed, we've seen some evidence that their support for terrorist activities worldwide has accelerated during the period in which some nations have had those types of economic contacts with Iran.
So that is why a central objective of our foreign policy has been to try to discourage that type of contact, try to further contain and isolate Iran so that it is clear that it remains an outlaw in the international community.
Q It sounds like you're just going to do more of the same that hasn't worked.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I believe there's been a pretty tragic and awful series of arguments now coming from Israel that underscore the importance of our case and dramatically prove our proposition that there's no way that this support for terrorism should stand.
Q Would any of this bomb detection equipment help with the bombs that keep going off in Great Britain, and is there any thought of sending similar stuff?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I don't know whether this type of technology is available to the United Kingdom, or not.
Q Are you talking about technology similar to that in use in some U.S. airports to detect explosives?
MR. MCCURRY: It's similar in the sense that it's aimed at the same effect, to see if they can detect explosives. But it's more sophisticated than that that routine commercial air passengers might encounter at a U.S. airport.
Q Is it something that bags, objects go through on a conveyor belt type thing at a checkpoint?
MR. MCCURRY: It's something that helps scan those that might be going into or coming out of checkpoints, and it might be useful in other applications a well.
Q The G-7 countries -- are you talking about trying to get them to give more aid to the Palestinian Authority or speeding up existing promises?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, many of them are already supporters dating back to the October, 1993 support conference here in Washington for the Middle East peace process. Many of them have made their pledges and their own donations to that peace process. We're encouraging them to be steadfast in their support, to recognize that the Palestinian Authority itself is now going to encounter more difficulty in trying to promote and stimulate economic growth within the territories of necessity, obviously, and we believe that the international community, working together, can help further stimulate economic growth, reconstruction, some of the types of development activities that we have supported with our own financial resources in the territories.
Q Did the President get any response yet from countries like Syria that allow Hamas and other groups to have offices in their capitals? Has he gotten any promises that these countries are going to actually do something to break down the infrastructure?
MR. MCCURRY: None that I'm aware of, but I believe it's safe to say that those governments understand the importance the President attaches to the suggestion that they reexamine those types of associations.
Q For those who weren't there when you mentioned it, what was the nature of the President's contact with Assad? Was it direct phone call today, or what?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he corresponded with President Assad over the weekend; on Sunday, specifically.
Q Getting back to the intelligence question, I was a little unclear as to what you were saying. The people who are involved, the personnel who are going over you said are familiar in some fashion with intelligence. Are they, themselves, intelligence operatives, or is there some --
MR. MCCURRY: They work for the United States government. That's where I'm going to leave it.
Q And is there an overall attempt, or will there be an overall method of giving Israel intelligence information separate from those people?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have a good, cooperative arrangement with the government of Israel when it comes to sharing intelligence data, and we'll look and see if there are other things we can do in that context that will support the fight against terror.
Q Is it about to get better?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q Cooperative intelligence-sharing -- is it about to get better?
MR. MCCURRY: It's good already. The question is whether there is something that can specifically be useful when it comes to combating terrorism.
Q Mike, are we looking at anything else to do, long-range?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, long-range, we just have to -- you know, I think the most important thing is understanding the extraordinary change that has occurred in that region as a result of the peace process itself. Israel now enjoys better contact with governments in the region, including those that are Arab governments. There's been extraordinary change for the people of Israel as they've seen some of their contacts deepen with Jordan, with -- as they've seen the initial, tentative development of relations with other governments in the region. We want to encourage that type of progress because that's what makes a difference, that's the antidote to terror in the long run, where people see that there is a dividend for peace, that the quality of life has improved and that they can live their lives in greater security.
Q But I mean in terms of more technical assistance, long-range.
MR. MCCURRY: We are looking at anything that can be helpful. And there will be, as you know, now within Israel an extraordinary effort to protect the citizens of Israel. They may require types of -- we were talking earlier about more routine types of devices like X rays or magnetometers, the types of things that U.S. citizens are more familiar with. We might look at excess inventory that's available to us that we could share with them in these extraordinary circumstances. So all of those things will be actively in the review in coming days.
Q Mike, do you have anything further on the efforts to keep the Israel-Syria contacts going at a different level now that the talks have been called off for the moment?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Ambassador Rabinovich suggested yesterday that in the long-term, a just, comprehensive peace throughout the region is still the goal that all must seek -- those who are pledged to seek the peace, who, even if there is a temporary suspension of the dialogue at the Wye Plantation that we have been encouraging, we continue to believe in the long-term that the best interests of security for the people of Israel are dependent upon achieving the type of progress on the Israel-Syria track that we've done so much to foster.
There likely will be a period now where that will have to be in suspended animation, but suspended animation doesn't necessarily mean that everything has ground to a halt. We'll continue an active contact with the parties to make sure that they don't move backwards even at a time when they can't realistically make much progress.
Q Is anybody from the White House attending the memorial service at the Israeli Embassy tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect that a number of members of our government, some well-known to you, but mostly in their private capacities, will be going.
Q What was Syria's response to the President's approach over the weekend? Were they noncommittal or positive, or what?
MR. MCCURRY: They've taken note of our views, and they very often express their views in their own public-controlled media.
Q So Assad hasn't responded directly to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that there's been a direct response from President Assad.
Q Has there been a response in their own directly-controlled media?
MR. MCCURRY: They have, in response to the incident nine days -- ten days ago, had one of the first ever implicit criticisms of an event of this nature, and I believe there's been some additional editorial comment in the Syrian Times today. But I'd want to go back and check that.
Q Mike, you've been critical of Senator Dole for suggesting that --
MR. MCCURRY: When?
MR. MCCURRY: Today?
Q Yes -- with regard to his suggestion that Congress might hold off economic aid to the Palestinian Authority until they really show that they are willing, able, and ready to crack down on terrorism. What's wrong with asking, first, better performance from Arafat before further is delivered?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has already urged Chairman Arafat everything possible needs to be -- already suggested to him everything possible needs to be done to combat terror. I was not speaking specifically with respect to Senator Dole today, but I did suggest that those who say we should just cut off all forms of assistance to the Palestinian Authority now are missing a very important point: A, Chairman Arafat is working as an ally to the government of Israel in trying to fight this war against terrorism; and, B, he needs to demonstrate to his constituency, to his people, that there is a reward for taking the risk associated with moving towards peace. And the whole premise of our policy of support for the Palestinian Authority has been that we need to encourage the kind of changes that people see on the ground that will give them confidence in the process. That's the way people resist the siren call of those who espouse terrorism.
So, anyhow, so we -- that's the context in which we believe we've got to continue to move this process forward and continue to help the Palestinian Authority engender changes in the life of the Palestinian people.
Q My question goes to what comes first, or what should come first.
MR. MCCURRY: What is coming first already is a determined effort by Chairman Arafat to fight terror. And he's taking steps already --
Q But the President himself has said that he expects Arafat to do more. That implies that he hasn't done enough. And Arafat has had a mixed record with regard to perfunctory arrests of suspected terrorists who are then let go a few days later. He went to pay his condolences to the family of the engineer. Your own administration is urging Arafat to do more. My question is why not wait until he does more to resume economic aid to the PA?
MR. MCCURRY: We have suggested to Chairman Arafat that like our own government, that the strenuous efforts that have been made to fight terrorism need to be intensified. And we believe that's exactly what he is going to do now and he is -- most importantly, the assistance that we are in a position to provide to the Palestinian Authority will be there to help combat terror, which is important.
By the way, on another matter --
Q So you're bottom line, then, is that you're generally satisfied with his record to date?
MR. MCCURRY: Nobody can be satisfied with the events that have transpired in the Middle East over the last 10 days. There has to be an intensified effort by all parties to combat terrorism.
On another matter, you should know the President did talk to the Speaker earlier today for about 10 minutes to brief him on some of the steps he's taking today. And he does intend to speak later today with Senator Dole, if he hasn't reached him already.
Q Can I just get an answer to the question as to whether the President is satisfied generally with what Arafat has done to date in regard to terrorism?
MR. MCCURRY: I just answered that -- nobody can be satisfied with the events that have transpired there and we all have to do more. With respect to Chairman Arafat, the President believes that everybody -- the United States, the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority needs to do more to combat terror.
Q Are any of the antiterrorism experts being supplied by the CIA?
MR. MCCURRY: I already answered that. I said they worked for the United States government.
Q New subject?
Q No, no, no.
Q Mike, is any of this equipment going to Arafat or the Palestinian Authority, or is it going to Israel?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and their law enforcement entities are working together to see what they can cooperatively do to combat terror. Then, part of a technical assistance package that we are making available are things like communications gear and others that will allow the law enforcement personnel of both sides to work together more closely. So some of it will go -- this package is being provided to the government of Israel, but it will -- some if it, at least, will end up in a position to help the cooperative efforts that the Authority and the government are making together to combat terror.
Q If the President does reach Dole later today, is he going to ask him to clarify the remarks that you said you considered a mistake?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think he's going to make -- he will make the case, or is prepared to make the case to Senator Dole, look, this is not the time to suspend our assistance to Chairman Arafat when he's going to do more to fight terror and when he's doing a lot already to try to protect the economic gains that he wants his people to make as a result of the peace process. It's a time in which we ought to demonstrate our support for the peace process and not to call it into question.
Q But there were earlier reports today that the military wing of Hamas was going to listen to the political wing and stop the bombing. Does the U.S. put any credence to this?
MR. MCCURRY: Some of those same sources said almost the identical thing Sunday, and it didn't end up to have much truth associated with it. So we don't attach much truth to the announcement that they are going to suspend all such activity. I think that, prudently, the government of Israel is prepared to deal with any resumption of terror.
Q Speaking of that, when Israel declared war on Hamas did the U.S. seek any kind of explanation, understanding of what it is exactly they're talking about, and whether some of the steps that may be taken to combat terrorism could, in fact, violate the peace accord that's in effect?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Oslo Accords and within the framework of the Declaration of Principles there are provisions that address the failure of parties to do everything necessary to combat terror, or the extraordinary measures that might have to occur in order to deal with terror. Some of those are foreseen in the Declaration and certainly were discussed directly by the parties.
Now, we've had extensive contact with the government of Israel. We've not explored, necessarily, every step that they propose to take as they fight terror. But as the President said last night, we well understand their need to hold accountable those who are conducting this type of outrageous activity.
Q New subject? When the President talked to the Speaker this morning did they discuss anything else like the budget or appropriations --
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding was that conversation was confined just to the steps related to Israel, to sharing information about what we know at this point.
Q Do you see anything happening on appropriations from the White House today?
MR. MCCURRY: I forgot to check with Mr. Panetta's staff -- he's been having conversations with folks on the Hill. I'll check with him later. You might want to check with him later to see if he's having any additional conversations to follow up those that he had with Chairman Livingston yesterday. I'm not aware of any, but we clearly are anticipating no action on some type of omnibus continuing measure that will be before both the House and the Senate in the course of the coming week.
Q Is it your understanding that the legislation that they're thinking about moving would attach the contingency plan? Is that where they're going; is that your understanding?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again?
Q Contingency of the add-backs would be available only if it's in the context of a broader -- for appropriations?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not even sure I understand the question. Do you mean the offsets to our proposed -- the President's got a series of priorities in the area of education, technology investment, things like the national service that we want to see added back into a continuing measure. We've actually proposed ways in which that spending could be offset elsewhere in the federal budget. It's important to note that we would dispute any contention that it results in additional federal spending because we do propose offsets.
Now, we've gone forward and presented some of our concerns both to Chairman Hatfield and Chairman Livingston. They're well aware of what the President needs to see in that continuing resolution to find it an acceptable measure. But whether or not they produce a measure that is acceptable is far from clear at this point. We hear things that are not very encouraging on the House side. We hear things that are somewhat more encouraging on the Senate side. But we know that one way or another there is likely going to be a conference committee to resolve differences, and we'll continue to press the President's argument that we need to invest in those areas that he's identified as priorities because they result in economic growth for all Americans.
Is that it? Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:45 P.M. EST