Briefing by Senior Administration Official

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William J. Clinton

The Briefing Room

2:20 P.M. EST

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right, on BACKGROUND as a senior administration official, I just wanted to state what is perhaps obvious, that we elected not to make the President available to talk about Peru. He had actually had some interest in coming out and talking a little bit about the Erskine’s team, but we elected not to make him available on the subject of Peru based on the very strong recommendation from the government’s senior counterterrorism experts and from the President’s national security team — for obvious reasons I don’t think I need to explain. That’s all I wanted to say on background.

Q: What about sending help or rescue teams?

Q: Whose government, our government or their governments?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There have been a lot of discussions back and forth about how to address the situation. Our understanding is the government of Peru believes they have sufficient resources in place right now to deal with the situation. But we are monitoring it very, very carefully. So are other governments. There are a number of other governments who publicly said some things about who they believe might be currently held hostage. We have declined to do that, again upon expert recommendation, because we’re not sure, precisely sure what information is available to those who are currently holding the hostages.

Q: Are these expert — this is the recommendation of U.S. counterterrorism experts or Peruvian?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: These are recommendations of our own senior counterterrorism experts.

Q: I’m having a hard time hearing you. Did you just address the question as to whether or not there are Americans being held hostage?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I just explained why we have declined to address that.

Q: So you’re still not addressing it, even on background?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I’m not —

Q: Nick Burns said in his briefing that we are prepared to help Peru. What do you mean by that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, just as I said earlier. I said we’ve had discussions back and forth; if we received a request for assistance we would be prepared to help, and we’ve talk within our own government about what resources we have available. But, to my knowledge, there has not been a request from the government of Peru for any assistance.

Q: Can we assume that is also the same reason why he’s not appearing with the mayors — you just didn’t want him to be in a position to have to answer a question about it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, in part, yes. Look, we did not want him to fail to address the matter, if asked, but, at the same time, we also had a very strong recommendation that we don’t want to say anything publicly for reasons that I don’t think I need to explain to any of you.

Q: Any plans to send Bill Richardson —

Q: That it’s an ongoing —

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, because of what the effect of a presidential commentary — the same reason why we have not put him directly in play yet. It’s just the correct way to manage through a very delicate situation.

Q: It’s a little bit difficult to hear what you’re saying — you may have addressed it a second ago. But why is it that over here, you all are extremely reluctant to indicate how many Americans are in there when apparently officials at the State Department are giving not only numbers, but the agencies that the people work for?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If they had done that, they are klutzes and they’re idiots. And believe me, the people I’ve talked to over there have not done that. But it’s a building that’s got klutzes and idiots in it because I know that for a fact. (Laughter.)

Q: Unlike this place which is a klutz and idiot-free zone?

Q: When you came here, was there one less klutz or one less idiot? (Laughter.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One less klutz when I came here — actually Mary Ellen came with me — two less.

Q: The White House seems to be responding to this situation as though the hostage-taking is in Richmond rather than in Lima. I wonder, are we making the problem in Peru our problem?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. And the way we are handling this publicly ought to demonstrate to you that we’re very sensitive to that concern. We’re trying not to, and we’re hoping that those of you reporting on it won’t either.

Q: Can you just explain — at the very beginning when you were talking about what the U.S. senior counterterrorism expert had suggested — can you tell me, is there something different that they are suggesting than is normal U.S. policy?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. What they are suggesting, in fact, is fully consistent with U.S. policy.

Q: There’s no new wrinkle in what they are suggesting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That’s correct.

Thanks. See you all.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:25 P.M. EST