THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:33 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Hello, and I apologize for being late. I wish I could tell you it's because I had something important to tell you -- I don't.
Q Why are you late?
MR. MCCURRY: Mostly because I just was tardy in getting all my information today.
Q Well, I'm glad you have lots of information.
MR. MCCURRY: No. Mostly it was deciding which information I don't have, of which there is plenty of that and not much of the other.
We have now put out the official delegation list traveling with the First Lady going to Calcutta for the state funeral of Mother Teresa. And we can give you, if you have any questions about any particular individuals we can tell you more about them, or actually, I can direct you to people who can help you if you have questions.
Q Do you want to deal with that here or afterwards?
MR. MCCURRY: We can deal with it afterwards, if you're running down biographical information. Some of the people, the not readily identifiable, are people who have been associated one way or another with Mother Teresa's work here in the United States. And I believe there are some sisters from her order, yes, who are also members of the delegation.
The other thing I want to do -- there is a very good letter that the President has sent to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson about NATO expansion, who wrote a very good letter. So I'll turn around and compliment her. She posed a series, along with 19 other senators, posed a series of questions about U.S. policy towards NATO expansion, and the President directed the State Department and Defense Department to work together to provide good, comprehensive answers. And the President has sent her a cover letter and enclosed the Q&A that was developed in response to her letter. And I think it's a very useful review of our argument on behalf of NATO expansion, and so we'll make that available in the bins.
Q Do you know if the President is equally impressed with her op-ed piece today in which she expresses deep concern about U.S. troops in Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's certainly impressed with the detail with which she has addressed the issues and the lengths to which she's gone to understand the issue. And she has traveled there and I think has taken great pains to make her own assessment.
Her assessment is different from the assessment the President has relayed to him through his commanders on the ground and from those who are working to implement the civilian aspects of the Dayton Accords. And the President just fundamentally disagrees with the proposition that we should reward the aggression that occurred in former Yugoslavia, the genocide that occurred, and acknowledge the partition of the government. The formula developed painstakingly in the negotiations in Dayton that led to the Dayton Accords at least offer some hope of a restoration of civilian life that includes more multicultural aspects. And that is something that we are working hard to implement and it is difficult work, to be sure, but the President disagrees with the proposition that we should just cut and run.
Q The Senator from Virginia, John Warner, says the lack of a U.S. exit strategy from Bosnia puts the U.S. on the brink of disaster right now.
MR. MCCURRY: He is wrong that there is no exit strategy. We have a mission plan with clear mission objectives. They have been reviewed carefully by the Commander-in-Chief and adopted by the North Atlantic Council. The structure of that mission is clear. The orders that have been given in the field are clear. And the President, as he reminds people from time to time, says, do not focus on the exit; focus on the work we are doing today and tomorrow and the next day to successfully accomplish the mission. The exit strategy is to leave when the mission is successfully accomplished. And that's the work the President, the American elements of the SFOR are doing. We are taking steps even today to address some aspects of that, and I --
Q He hasn't promised for June?
MR. MCCURRY: He has made it clear what the exit date is and there is no change in our timetable. What he has said to you over and over again is, we have to concentrate on what we need to do today to assure that when we leave in June that the prospects for peace are strong and that the work that will continue in whatever form beyond, done by the international community, will continue to deepen the transformation that needs to take place as Bosnia-Herzegovina recovers from civil war.
Q How does the deployment of these three EC-130s to potentially jam Bosnian Serb broadcasts fit into this entire Bosnia policy?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I will leave to the Pentagon to talk about any operational aspects of a deployment like that. But we have, for some time, expressed deep concern about the ability of citizens in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republic of Srbska, in particular, to receive accurate and timely information about the nature of the transformation occurring in their country.
There have been deliberate attempts not only to propagandize, but in some cases to incite violence, and that is, of course, of zero utility to the people, the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is certainly detrimental to the interests of international forces deployed there, so the fact that we have moved to the theater some resources that are capable of dealing with the need to get timely, accurate information to the civil population is probably not a surprise. But I'll leave it to the Commander of SFOR to talk about whatever operational aspects they're going to use with that equipment.
Q Mike, this is a different subject. Has the President seen the Army's report on sexual harassment, and what is his reaction to it?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has had a thumbnail sketch of it and will have an opportunity to get more of a briefing on it. A couple points I'd make about that -- the President clearly supports the expanded role that women have been given in the armed services and feels that's an important element of the transformation the U.S. military is undergoing. He views with concern all allegations of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct in the military. He expects the Department of Defense and the services to investigate all such allegations and to take appropriate disciplinary action when that is indicated, and to take further corrective steps to make sure it doesn't happen again.
The report of the Army senior review panel on sexual harassment and the actions the Army has taken in response to that report are good examples, the President believes, of how to prevent future occurrences of such harassment.
Q Did he approve of the reprimands that were given?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll leave it to the Pentagon, which I think P.J. is briefing as we speak -- they're going to talk about the disciplinary action and be as forthcoming as they can about that. And to my knowledge, that's a decision that was developed and made within the Pentagon. But how it was made I think I'll leave to the briefers who are underway now.
Q Mike, another subject. As the White House is trying to get America to be racially understanding, is the White House having some problems within its own complex to be racially understanding, especially in light of the situation with the Asian Americans coming into the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have, like any organization, we do have instances, and we hope they are rare and indeed believe they are rare, where we have some of our own misperceptions that linger. We have had a case that is reported today that I think maybe is reported in -- not as completely as it might have been, but an instance where someone made a bad judgment, quickly realized the bad judgment was made and corrected the mistake. And there have been some other instances that I think we need to explore and are being explored that deal with the policy Erskine Bowles mandated here in January of 1997 to tighten up on some of our access procedures.
We are dealing, as you know, with a problem that where we clearly had lax procedures for access to the compound here during the course of 1995 and '96 and we've taken steps to be much more stringent in how to deal with guests that are here. But no American citizens ought to feel unwelcome here at the house that they, after all, own. And no one, based on any criteria, ought to feel any less than welcome here. And I think the President and the First Lady take some pride that particularly during the summer months, up to 150,000 tourists a day go through the Executive Mansion and here at the White House itself -- monthly -- 150,000 people monthly go through the mansion. And in a typical month we clear 40,000 to 50,000 people who come here for scheduled appointments. The instances in which people encounter any difficulty we believe are exceedingly rare.
Q Have the people been reprimanded that did this?
MR. MCCURRY: The one instance that has been now looked at carefully -- there's someone who processed a computer appointment record who quickly acknowledged that they made a mistake. It's been identified by the Service. The individual regrets the error of judgment, and I'll leave it to the Service to describe whatever further steps they take.
Q But it was an error of judgment in the sense that the person saw an Asian name and said, no, that must be a foreigner, therefore they need an escort?
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. The person saw a series of Asian names and, incorrectly and in error, entered a notation that an escort was required. Now, it is required for foreign nationals who visit the White House to have an escort, but in this case these were U.S. citizens who could have been here under the circumstances that any U.S. citizen would visit.
Q When you talk about the lax procedures that you've attempted to fix, is it your sense that maybe the pendulum swung a little too far to the other side --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I go back -- I haven't had a chance to go back and look at what I said in January, but I think I recall saying in January when I talked about Mr. Bowles memorandum that we were putting in place new procedures and there would likely be glitches as we go along in implementing that. And that clearly -- it can happen, it probably happens from time to time, and it is always regrettable. But I think it also needs to be put in some perspective.
Q But, Mike, isn't it somewhat a slap in the face as the White House itself is saying, let's be racially understanding, and this happens?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think it demonstrates that the White House, like any human institution, is prone to error, and that those errors have to be corrected, they have to be minimized, and you have to strive for zero defects in your policy of tolerance, openness and diversity. And we do so. That's the President's clear mandate to all of us.
Q Mike, it was a series of Asian names, but in one occasion, not a series of occasions?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, the individual was scanning in what we call our appointment computer, the WAVES computer, a long series of names and saw a series of names that he thought ought to have some foreign escort and so designated on the entry log.
I'd want to make one thing clear. The information given to me indicates that there was no fault by the Uniform Division officer at the gate who was processing the entry of the group that came in. He responded as he was supposed to when he saw what came up on his computer, and I think the Uniform Division officers work real hard to make sure that people who come here to the White House for appointments or come here for tours feel very welcome. They do a pretty good job.
Q So it was the processor of the names who assigned that designation to all of the names in that series?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there were five names, correct? Five names --
Q It was, when they come they should have an escort?
Q But don't they either have to give a passport number or a Social Security number? If they give a Social Security number, they're obviously citizens or something.
MR. MCCURRY: No, foreign nationals can have Social Security number, but they have to present some sort of identification and there is an entry on the log -- you can either make an entry on the log saying that an escort is required or there can be a designation on the appointment log itself as to whether the individual is a foreign citizen, or not -- or a U.S. citizen or not.
Q Is an apology being proffered by the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe one was almost immediately offered on the spot, if I'm not mistaken. But I'd refer that to the Service because they're looking into it and dealing with the individual in question who is in their employ.
Q Was one of the individuals a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that's correct. I haven't heard anyone suggest that that was incorrect as reported.
Q Is there any new memo or directive that may strengthen --
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I --
MR. TOIV: The Service is going to try to find a way of making it --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they're doing -- the Service, in light of this incident, is doing a review of its own procedures. Now, they are also looking -- even before the article appeared in the Post today, they were looking into a complaint they had received regarding a group that wanted to take a picture out on the North Portico and, at some considerable length, I think, is looking into that concern that was raised by an American citizen who was here.
Q Mike, is there any concern that the Asian money in the campaign and the allegations of Chinese involvement in the campaign are contributing to a broader prejudice against Asian Americans?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely there's that concern. I've heard the President express it personally and I think that it's of concern to a number of people in the administration, a number of us who work here, that's there's an unfair stigmatization that has arisen because of the nature of some of the allegations that have been reported. And I think that is of concern to us.
Q There are reports that you'll introduce the fast track legislation on Tuesday. Do you have a firm grip on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I thought -- didn't Mr. Berman say that here yesterday? He said that here yesterday and a couple of other people have tried to give us wiggle room since.
Q Mike, on the Mother Teresa delegation, one question. There's one person on this list who's a longtime contributor to the Democratic Party, Ramesh Kapur. He donated at least some $87,000 to the party since 1991 and threw a fundraiser for $400,000 for the President. In addition to that, he has a number of products in his business which are energy concerns and medical products, which required frequent FDA approval. Does that raise questions of whether or not he should -- he's an appropriate member of the delegation?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because who participates in our political process and contributes doesn't exclude them from being part of an official delegation to go pay honor to someone who has died. And I seriously doubt whether this individual plans to do any business while he is a member of this delegation.
Q But what is his connection to Mother Teresa?
MR. MCCURRY: We can check on that and provide you. I'll take the question.
Q Mike, did the President show any direct response to the Asian access here?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, to the --
Q Asian American access to the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: He naturally wanted -- was quite anxious to hear what was being done about this matter and what the follow-up was going to be by the Secret Service.
Q Do you have any credential or -- from the Service or any related personnel on how to treat Asian Americans?
MR. MCCURRY: They should be treated like any other U.S. citizen, and they ought to be treated like any other guest here. They ought to be welcome to the house that is theirs.
Q Yesterday you said you didn't have a chance to look at the documents the Republicans released alleging that Al Gore should have known that some of the money he was soliciting was going to wind up as hard money. Have you had a chance to look at these Republican documents?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't, personally, but I know that those that have been working on this have and have responded to those of you who had questions about it.
Q A bill was introduced in the Senate today on targeted sanctions against China for human rights abuses and weapons proliferation. Does the White House support targeted sanctions?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with the legislation, and we would have to look at the legislation as written. We are very clear in precisely and with great determination implementing the requirements that we have under U.S. export law and the determination of sanctions which under law is delegated to the Secretary of State is one that the Secretary of State handles with great care and precision.
Q Is any thought being given to have Weld show up at this meeting tomorrow of the Foreign Relations Committee?
MR. MCCURRY: Governor Weld is today on Capitol Hill and, from the reports I've had, had very good meetings with various members of the United States Senate. He will be available to the committee to answer any concerns they have, and I believe plans to be at least on Capitol Hill so he can be nearby in case the hearing is in the offing.
The President believes, and certainly Governor Weld hopes, that a meeting of this nature could become a hearing or at least could lead to the fair hearing that the nominee deserves, but we'll just have to see how things develop when the committee holds t he meeting that it plans to hold tomorrow.
Q How do you gauge the way things are shaping up for that meeting tomorrow? What are the prospects?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it is accurate that not many senators seem to want to cross swords with Chairman Helms, and I think that's unfortunate because in this case we have a superior nominee available for an important assignment, so selected by the President of the United States, who has the authority to make a nomination. And despite what appears to be a majority sentiment in the Senate that he is a qualified individual to serve in that post, one senator is standing in the way of his ability to receive Senate confirmation. And that's not a complimentary comment on the democratic procedures that exist in the Senate.
Q On the meeting on Hong Kong tomorrow that the President is going to have, what can you tell us? What is the purpose of this?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President wants to hear a status report on the transformation since the turnover. There will be a variety of issues that are both regional, security oriented, economic oriented, largely trade oriented, but first and foremost, how are things going in Hong Kong since the handover.
Q But what's your assessment? How are things going since the handover?
MR. MCCURRY: We have largely positive assessment that's been provided. There have been concerns that we have expressed through the State Department and elsewhere about the status of institutions of political life on Hong Kong and the way in which the rights and especially the individual human rights of citizens in Hong Kong will be protected. But I'd leave it to the State Department which has at some length addressed that, I think, last week, to comment further.
Q I'm sorry, what meeting is he talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: Tung Chee-hwa who is here. The President meets him -- what time tomorrow? At 10:00 o'clock.
Q Thank you.
Q Mike, another subject quickly. The President signed that executive order today on reference to rivers and cleaning up rivers, but there seems to be a problem with the Pfiesteria bacteria from North Carolina to Maryland, in the waters from North Carolina to Maryland. Is he looking at that issue, about the fish kills?
MR. MCCURRY: He personally is not looking at it, but he understands that the Environmental Protection Agency has made available federal resources to affected state and governments and to Departments of Environmental Protection in states so we can work in a coordinated fashion with state and local authorities as they address that issue.
Q Mike, last week the Prime Minister of Pakistan said that his country had nuclear capability, and also, according to reports that nuclear capability that have been built with the Chinese assistance. And when two years ago Prime Minister Bhutto came to Washington, she met with President Clinton, she also admitted that her country has nuclear capabilities.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our assessment of the nuclear capabilities of both countries is one that is long a matter of U.S. record. One matter that you raise has been a source of very real concern to us and that is allegations that there have been proliferation of weapons technology and contravention in the missile technology control regime. That has been an active concern of ours for some time and resulted not only in questions that we have posed to a variety of governments, but has been the subject also of some ambassadorial work that has been undertaken, most recently, by Ambassador Frank Wisner. And I'd refer you over to the State Department for further details on that.
Q Going back to the Mother Teresa delegation, on what basis is the list of delegates been prepared?
MR. MCCURRY: I would refer you to the First Lady's Office because they worked closely with the NSC staff and the State Department to select members of the delegation. But of all the hundreds and hundreds of people who were certainly eligible and would have been very worthy candidates to be included on the delegation, given the number of invitations that we received, they attempted to select a representative sample of people who would be able to express condolences on behalf of the United States government, the people of the United States, and also acknowledge the work that Mother Teresa did here in the United States by including some of the people who were most closely associated with her work here.
Q Is she meeting officially anyone related to --
MR. MCCURRY: I believe they are attempting to have some meetings while she is there, but I'll refer you to the First Lady's staff for further information.
Q This week in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein signed on officially to peace talks -- but today the IRA released a statement which seems to contradict completely the actions of Sinn Fein. Are you aware of that and does that --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm caught short on that; I was not aware of that. If we have anything on that -- we take as an authoritative comment, obviously, the one that was made by Mr. Adams on behalf of Sinn Fein. We'd be greatly concerned if there was any indication at all that any of the parties or those with whom the parties are familiar are not acknowledging the importance of Sinn Fein's signature on the Mitchell principles as rendered by Mr. Adams.
Q Did you say that the transformation of Hong Kong has been positive? But there are human rights questions --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I said that the reports we've received of how things are going have been mixed, but they have been generally positive. There have certainly been the troubles that have been encountered so far and ones that I've acknowledged and the ones that we've addressed at the State Department already.
Q Well, what about the press freedoms?
MR. MCCURRY: We are very concerned about that and have so said so and expressed that sentiment and I think will have some opportunities to do so in the coming day.
Q Mike, what's the status of the President's review of the tobacco settlement?
MR. MCCURRY: Unchanged.
Q Which means --
MR. MCCURRY: It hasn't happened yet.
Q Mike, does the President have any reaction to the renewal of Prime Minister Hashimoto's premiership for two years and the appointment of his new Cabinet today, including a convicted participant in the Lockheed scandal?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything prepared for that. Do we have anything on that? The report I get from my NSC colleagues are that he's been so designated by his party. And, of course, that would await the judgment of the citizens of Japan.
Q Is the President happy about testing, right, and what happens now?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we are very encouraged by the cooperative bipartisan spirit that led to an amendment that will allow voluntary and national tests to go forward developed in an independent bipartisan fashion, in a way that is helpful to state and local authorities that have got responsibility for public education in America. And I think the President would cite the Senate example as a way in which we can all work together to address the need for education reform in America.
We'll probably soon have an example of the wrong way to do it, and that's what will happen in the House. And clearly we hope that the Senate's views will prevail as the measure goes forward and the House-Senate Conference resolves differences in the bill.
Q Do you think that's likely, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's very likely. And it's too bad because that's a harbinger of the past, and that's the way --
Q I'm sorry -- you think what is likely?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's likely that the House will strike funding for the President's initiative on testing. And they will not go -- not to attempt to develop the kind of reasonable approach that the Senate was able to work out in consultation with the administration.
Q In a word, is the President's initiative on testing as far as his legislative efforts go dead in the water?
MR. MCCURRY: No. No, it took a major step forward today. It took a major step forward.
Q But is it going to hit a brick wall now?
MR. MCCURRY: It took a major step forward today, and we believe it will prevail in the end.
Q What about -- there was also -- the Senate at the same time voted to repackage a lot of money as block grants to the states' education money.
MR. MCCURRY: Secretary Riley has spoken to that. That is, in effect, a back-door attempt to abolish the Department of Education, which has been from the far right wing of the Republican caucus one of their goals for a while. And it's too bad that sentiment prevailed, but we'll have ample opportunity to reverse that decision as the legislation goes forward.
Q Is there some contradiction between the President wanting people to build along rivers and there is so much flooding in this country?
MR. MCCURRY: Say that again. Was that a global warming question or was that a --
Q That's a very simple question.
MR. MCCURRY: No, but one example -- in fact, there are a whole range of federal resources that could be available to one of these American Heritage Rivers once they are designated. Among them are assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers or FEMA with some help on retaining wall constructions and flood control regimes. That's one thing that can be done to protect a river that's designated. They might get some assistance for flood control. As to the federal flood insurance program, I think -- I didn't come here prepared to brief on that subject today.
Q There continues to be a perception that after the Secretary of State has met with both Yasser Arafat and Bebe Netanyahu, that her public statements with Netanyahu were more sympathetic to the Israelis, their positions, their predicaments, and their concerns, than to the Palestinians and their respective concerns.
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to leave it to the Secretary to address her mission and what she is doing. But it's easy to understand that perception might arise because the Secretary does share one important, fundamental view that the Prime Minister has expressed, and that is there can be no substitute for a determined effort to protect the security of the Israeli people and to deal with the scourge of terrorism. That has to be first and foremost in the minds of the parties at that moment. We stand squarely with the government of Israel on that proposition.
Now, the Secretary has just gotten done, I think making a very good case of why that's not the be all and end all of this process at this moment, why the parties need to continue to work to address the differences that they have. But I don't think anyone should mistake our commitment to security and the way we share views that the government of Israel expresses on that point, that should not be confused with our determination to help the parties facilitate the dialogue they need to have, to our view that there needs to be restraint shown by both parties, including Israel, with respect to things that were antithetical to the peace process itself. And I think that the Secretary has made that case very persuasively today.
Q Do you have any readout yet on whether Arafat was reassuring on that regard in his conversations with Albright?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes -- I have to leave that to the Secretary's party to report on the dialogue that she's had.
Q What's on the President's schedule tomorrow, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: A surprise announcement around midday. And then --
Q In the briefing room?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I guess we'll probably do it in -- where are we doing that? Oval?
MR. TOIV: Yes, but I'm not sure what the coverage is.
Q What is that surprise announcement?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm want to give you something to do the rest of the day. No, he has a personnel announcement, and if that does not appear on the wire some time by the end of the day, I'd think Helen was asleep.
Q Does it concern you?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Hunt is correct that that occurred in April, but --
Q Would that be the Surgeon General?
MR. MCCURRY: Say what?
Q The Surgeon General?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't hear you. What? (Laughter.)
All right. See you tomorrow. Good-bye.
END 2:00 P.M. EDT