Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

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Spoken by

William J. Clinton

The Briefing Room

1:37 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: I sit up here with no information to give, empty. Throw this thing away, this is useless. (Laughter.) I spent the whole morning running around, just like you guys do, running around trying to find somebody who knows something. And I found a whole lot of people who knew nothing.

Q: Now you know what it feels like.

MR. MCCURRY: So I tracked down thems that know, and they wouldn’t say. (Laughter.) Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, that concludes today’s daily briefing, and enjoy the rest of your day.

Q: What’s the TV rating of today’s briefing?

MR. MCCURRY: We’re going to be at PG-7 today. No, TV-PG. (Laughter.)

Q: — the ratings, is that the way it works?

MR. MCCURRY: I think there will never an attempt, never be an attempt to provide a label, a rating on this daily encounter.

Q: Did the President tell them that some restraint on their part in terms of horror and violence might be helpful?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has made that point to leaders in the entertainment industry on occasion, and in the course of these discussions we have said one of the values of this type of rating system is that it raises the sensitivity both on the part of those who produce programming and those who consume it, the families of America, as to issues related to violence and sexual scenes and issues like that in entertainment that’s available on broadcasting. So that will have the effect of raising sensitivity, and the President thinks that is a good thing, and he thinks that also it might, in fact, lead to the creation of more family-friendly programming.

Q: Mike, do you have any reaction to what Representative Linder is saying about Speaker Newt Gingrich, that he did give false information to the Congressional Ethics Committee, but it was due to an error by his former lawyer?

MR. MCCURRY: I have no knowledge of that situation, therefore, no comment.

Q: Mike, any comments on the President’s meeting with Liu Hauquiu?

MR. MCCURRY: We had — David can tell you more about it if you’d like to know. It was a meeting that reflected the constructive approach the United States and Chinese take to managing a very complicated bilateral relationship. They reviewed issues that there is common agreement between the United States and the Chinese side; also simultaneously reviewed some of those areas in which there is disagreement. The President, of course, raised some of our concerns about human rights, and I’d say there were indications from the meeting that our dialogue on that issue will continue. But it was a productive meeting because it reflects the determination of the United States to remain fully engaged with the People’s Republic as we manage a very complicated portfolio of issues that are of interests to both the Chinese people and the people of the United States.

Q: Mike, did the meeting move them any closer to setting summit dates, or will that wait until Gore goes —

MR. MCCURRY: No, that’s a subject that will arise in future discussions.

Q: Did the President mention at all the comments by Chi when he was here, suggesting that no one was killed at Tiananmen Square?

MR. MCCURRY: They did not review the history of that issue, to my knowledge.

Q: What does the President think of that?

MR. MCCURRY: Think of?

Q: General Chi’s assertion that no civilians were killed at Tiananmen Square?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we take dispute with that based on the information that was available at the time, as we indicated in a variety of settings when General Chi was here.

Q: Mike, what do you mean, though, when you say indications the dialogue will continue? Were other meetings set up other than at a summit level?

MR. MCCURRY: Not formally, but our understanding based on this meeting is that the Chinese understand that we will continue to raise this issue as a matter of importance in the bilateral relationship. They know that we will continue to express concerns and they as well have concerns that they will continue to press from their side as part of this dialogue. That is exactly the nature of this relationship.

There are areas in which we have agreement in which we pursue common purpose, and there are differences to be managed, and the importance of this dialogue is that we can manage these differences more effectively when we remain engaged.

Q: Well, what’s the main concern that they express, mirroring our concern on human rights? Is it WTO? Is it Taiwan? What’s the main thing they’re always talking about?

MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of concerns and they are willing to share those publicly with you.

Q: What about the trade and economic issues? Can you give us an idea of what they discussed specifically?

MR. MCCURRY: David, you’re on. They’ve got more interest in this than I thought, so — he’s a more valued source for you on this. I was just doing diplo-babble, but now we can turn it over to David Johnson for the real thing. (Laughter.)

MR. JOHNSON: The real diplo-babble.

MR. MCCURRY: You can get the diplo-babble from him.

MR. JOHNSON: Expect in some broad conceptual strokes, there wasn’t a discussion of commercial issues with the President. But yesterday, Sandy Berger spent about eight hours with Mr. Liu over at Blair House and part of that discussion did include commercial issues and issues of WTO accession and how that might come about and our desire for them to join and to join soon, but on a basis that is commercially viable and leads to greater market access.

Q: How much did weapons sales figure either in Berger’s conversation or today’s meeting?

MR. JOHNSON: There was a discussion of bilateral issues yesterday and some multilateral issues involving nonproliferation, some areas where, I think, we’ve done quite a bit of good work — on areas related to CTBT and the Chemical Weapons Convention — but also some of our concerns about nonproliferation. We’ve got a continuing dialogue at the expert level on there and we’re going to have a continuing series of discussions on that. We believe that we’ve made significant progress over the last several months on that issue, but we’ve got a good deal more work to go.

Q: Specifically on China’s weapons sales to Iran and Pakistan — was that discussed?

MR. JOHNSON: I’m not going to get into specifics on what exactly was discussed, but I think it’s clear that an arms race in that part of the world is not in our interests, neither is it in the Chinese.

Q: Excuse me, did you say that Mr. Berger spent eight hours with him?

MR. JOHNSON: I did.

Q: What did he do? (Laughter.)

MR. JOHNSON: Well, there was —

MR. MCCURRY: Tell them about the first Tony —

MR. JOHNSON: Okay. Yes, just to give you a little background, this is the third in a series of these meetings. Tony had the first one of these — Tony Lake — back in March of last year at the Harriman Estate out in Middleburg. It was an effort to try to describe our broad concerns and put the relationship on what we’ve since described as a strategic framework. We weren’t looking at individual issues individually, but we were looking at them as a collection and looking at the relationship as a whole. That was followed up last summer in Beijing with a couple of days of talks, again, with Tony as the principal. And this meeting was, again, an opportunity to review the entire relationship. And that’s the reason for the length.

The other thing, as you might appreciate, it’s done by consecutive translations. So an eight-hour meeting automatically becomes a four-hour meeting by the time you — in terms of getting the work done. It was also an opportunity — at some point during the day they showed Mr. Liu the residence there which the Chinese head of state will enjoy when he comes for his state visit.

Q: David, did they talk — did the President raise the issue of the large U.S. trade deficit with China?

MR. JOHNSON: That was one of the aspects of the discussion of the relationship yesterday, in terms of our commercial interest — and needing to have a sound commercial footing for WTO accession, but also to maintain the kind of support for the entire relationship and the commercial aspects of it that we think is appropriate, and the market access that our manufacturers and our workers need to China.

Q: Set any date for a summit?

MR. JOHNSON: I think Mike just addressed that question.

Q: Isn’t it unusual for someone at Liu’s level to meet with the President? I mean, isn’t that —

MR. JOHNSON: I wouldn’t say that, no. He’s a ministerial-level individual. He’s nominally China’s National Security Advisor. It’s not common, but China is a very important country. I think you’ve heard the President say several times that how our relationship with China develops over the next several years and the partnership that we’re able to develop is going to be very important for security and stability and prosperity in the world, and it’s something that he personally is paying a great deal of attention to.

Q: Any specific agreement?

MR. JOHNSON: No, that’s not what this was headed toward. As I mentioned, this is about a dialogue on the entire relationship and not aimed toward specific agreements on specific issues.

Q: Is Deng Xiaoping alive?

MR. JOHNSON: Yes.

Q: — China join the WTO soon, can you define soon, because —

MR. JOHNSON: No.

Q: — it’s my understanding that the Chinese state industry needs breathing room before it can begin to compete in the market.

MR. JOHNSON: I think we’ve made clear that we need that accession to take place on a market basis, on a reasonable market basis, and we need some better ideas before we’re able to move forward. But —

Q: What are we talking about, a decade or —

MR. JOHNSON: I’m not going to do — I mean, that depends on what’s possible under the negotiations.

Q: Let’s go back to the —

Q: So what’s new on Peru?

MR. MCCURRY: I’ll stick with where the President was earlier. I think he was circumspect in describing our conversations with the governments of Japan and Peru and I’ll remain where he was earlier.

Q: Mike, actually just one question, but it’s more of a clarification. Secretary Christopher talked about the security team that went down and if I understood it correctly, he seemed to be saying that that team was looking at the question of security at the U.S. embassy. Could you tell me a little bit more specifically what they’re doing and also who comprises that team? Is it FBI? Is it —

MR. MCCURRY: I’ll really leave it to the State Department to talk about that. But in any situation of this nature, U.S. diplomatic posts assess their own security and make adjustments as necessary. I don’t want to comment specifically on any personnel involved in that in connection with this episode, but we always take steps any where in the world at a moment in which there is conflict or a situation like this to measure out and study the security arrangements that exist for U.S. personnel and indeed for American citizens that live in country as part of the American community in a country.

Q: But also, will they be used also in either advising —

MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely no comment on anything like that.

Q: Are the President’s vacation plans changing?

MR. MCCURRY: I don’t think we’ve announced anything about his plans. I think I’ve given some people a sense of how they plan to spend the holidays and I haven’t heard any change in that.

Q: Mike, can you say something about the President’s meeting with the mayors yesterday — discussion?

MR. MCCURRY: I’ve heard a little bit about it.

Do you want to take it away on that?

MS. GLYNN: There’s not too much to say.

MR. MCCURRY: Not too much more beyond what we said yesterday. It was a review of a variety of our community empowerment initiatives — obviously, an opportunity for the mayors to express their concern about subjects like welfare reform and infrastructure investment, the needs of American cities; good dialogue that will be useful to the President as he moves into final deliberations on the FY’98 budget.

Q: There are wire reports that President Clinton has chosen Janet Yellen to head the CEA.

MR. MCCURRY: There are? Is that on the wire already?

Q: Yes.

MR. MCCURRY: Who’s putting that out?

Q: Bloomberg.

MR. MCCURRY: Bloomberg? Who broke it?

Q: AP.

MR. MCCURRY: AP.

Q: Ahh. (Laughter.)

Q: Clean sweep.

Q: Oddly enough, Fornier’s byline was on it.

MR. MCCURRY: Fornier. He has a field day this time of year, doesn’t he? The Press Secretary, declining comment on those matters, said, of course, the President would expect to address some matters like that if he, indeed, proceeds to make some announcements to his second term administration tomorrow.

Q: And when will that be?

MR. MCCURRY: He has been advised by his Press Secretary that the morning hour is preferable, given the departure plans of several journalists who wish to escape for the holiday.

Q: So what time is it?

MR. MCCURRY: We haven’t set it yet. I’m pressing that we do it in the morning.

Q: And then so advised, does he care? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. The well-being of the journalists in residence here is of primary concern to him. And, by the way, he told me today he really enjoyed the last couple of days of festivities around here, enjoyed seeing a lot of you and yours.

Q: Why? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Because you, in particular, he enjoyed seeing. (Laughter.)

Q: Since he’s so concerned for our welfare, could we get a release of the photo with Trie?

MR. MCCURRY: Of Trie? Who?

Q: A release of the photo with the President and Trie?

MR. MCCURRY: I’ll look and see if I can find that. I won’t make any guarantees.

Q: Could we, in light of the stories over the past few days on campaign finance reform and money contributions, could we revisit the question of access to the White House for big donors? Has the President had any second thoughts in view of all of the controversy over contributions about the propriety of allowing large donors, for example, to stay in the White House in the Lincoln Bedroom?

MR. MCCURRY: No. I mean, he has made a conscious decision to extend his hospitality to those who are supportive of the party. I think every President in one fashion or another has done that. Now, he has suggested to you that the amount of time and energy and effort that that consumes is one argument for campaign finance reform. And what the President is successfully doing now I think is bridging some of the gaps that exist within the reform movement on how you would address the situation legislatively and, as you know, he’s going to press hard in the next session of Congress for legislative changes that will minimize the influence of money and politics.

That’s ultimately going to be the answer here. All these stories head in one direction, which is an overpowering argument for campaign finance reform, and that’s already the subject the President indicates he’s intends to devote energy and attention to next year.

Q: You know, this whole argument of no unilateral disarmament, no unilateral — just because other Presidents did it, it still had a taint to it. Why can’t he take the steps and why did he wait so long to put this kind of perception on the White House?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President guessed and was right that he and his party would be outspent by the Republican candidate n the Republican Party in the course of the last election. And we were and we were significantly outspent. Now, there are other reasons why the election ended up not being close, but in a close election, having resources available to get your argument to the American people can make a real difference. And that’s why, among other reasons, he had to devote attention and energy to having that kind of money available.

Q: The ends justify the means?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, you have to run elections — we have a system of campaign finance in this country that clearly doesn’t work very well and needs to be reformed. But under the rules that exist, consistent with the law, the President went about getting the resources so he could conduct a campaign. He still had, if you think about it, insufficient resources compared to those available to his opponent.

Q: How can you argue that?

MR. MCCURRY: Because we were significantly outspent, both at the congressional level and at the national level.

Q: That’s only if you lump in the congressional spending, isn’t it? You weren’t outspent in the presidential election, were you?

MR. MCCURRY: You go back and look at the figures. I think you can argue, if you look at the work of the national party committees, I think we were. That’s my understanding, anyhow, from the figures I’ve seen. But you can ask those who are more expert in campaign finance reports.

Q: Mike, on this issue of the hospitality, has the President ever said anything to you about — he’s kind of singularly situated among modern Presidents in not having a private home of his own. Every other one in recent memory has. He has no other place to offer hospitality to anyone, friends or contributors. Has he ever said anything about wishing he had such a place?

MR. MCCURRY: Not to me, but he enjoys having people over. I mean, he has offered — and the First Lady have offered — to entertain some of the people who are departing the administration, before they leave town, before they go back to their private lives, to spend time with him. They are sociable people, and they enjoy entertaining. And they entertain — they do, I would include Camp David as a place where they enjoy entertaining friends, and we allow them that freedom. And do they entertain people who have been politically supportive, financially supportive of the party? Yes, they do. They consider it in some ways a gracious way of saying thank you for people who had made an effort to help them have the resources necessary for the President to conduct his political activity.

Q: But, Mike, doesn’t that make the White House look like, instead of the “people’s house,” the “rich people’s house”?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, listen, if you want to see what the house is about, go stand outside right now, in this holiday season, and see the thousands and thousands of people who are coming to see the White House at a time of year that it looks spectacular. It is the people’s house and it belongs to everybody. But it’s also the President’s home. It’s where he lives. And, I think, all of us enjoy entertaining friends and family and relatives and others in our home.

Q: But it seems to have been at a price.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it seems to — on occasion that hospitality was extended to people who were supportive of the President. I don’t think that’s surprising.

Q: In a big way.

MR. MCCURRY: Is he supposed to invite his enemies, his opponents to come visit?

Q: No, but there shouldn’t be a price tag.

MR. MCCURRY: Do you want to come visit?

Q: Sure. (Laughter.)

Q: But it shouldn’t have a price tag on it.

MR. MCCURRY: Look, it did not have a price tag on it. Did it go to people who were supportive and who contribute to the President? Yes. Should there be less of that in American politics? Yes. The President has made that argument.

Q: Well, then why doesn’t he just do it without having the —

MR. MCCURRY: Well, look the President will continue to be gracious and express gratitude to people who were supportive of him. That’s only — it’s also called good manners.

Q: Mike, the U.S. Conference on Mayors issued a report recently saying that hunger and hopelessness — hunger and homelessness, excuse me — is going to be on the increase as a result of the welfare reform bill. Have you gotten any further in fixing what is wrong with the bill as has been alluded?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I’ve told many of you several times, our concentration right now is on implementing successfully the law that has been passed. I think the President has kind of a different psychology about this. This is a historic opportunity to change the welfare system in America as we know it. And if everyone works hard at the state level, if the federal government does its part, if we can get the private sector to create the kind of employment opportunities that are needed, the dire predictions about the impact on children may not, in fact, be true. And he’s concentrating his energy on seeing what we can do to make it a success. And we — just recently, as you know, he addressed the question; he said some of the welfare reform experiences by states that have been granted waivers is generating positive results. We are moving people away from welfare dependency and into gainful employment, and children are being protected.

Q: But didn’t he promise in the campaign to look at a couple of sections?

MR. MCCURRY: He’s got two specific concerns that will be addressed by proposals from the administration. But let’s remember that the large effort here is to successfully implement the bill. The bill is about breaking the cycle of dependency and moving people from welfare to gainful employment. So that’s what his work is about and that’s what his attention is being put to. He obviously will have to deal with some of the consequences of the immigration provisions that he has already expressed dissatisfaction with. And we know that, and we’re working very hard with state welfare agencies and with local community groups to identify exactly how we would go about doing that.

Q: But you do have an idea for making a new proposal?

MR. MCCURRY: We’re developing an idea of how you would actually address some of the problems that do exist in the bill. But we’re also simultaneously, and more importantly, figuring out how we’re going to make it work.

Q: Do you know, is there — for the dinner for 250 last Friday that the DNC sent the list over, is there — I assume there is some index, some cutoff point that they use that that list is based on people who raised $250,000 or more, or $175,000 or more. There’s some financial index they use to generate those lists; it’s not just a random alphabetical list or a list of —

MR. MCCURRY: I don’t know if that’s true or not. I know that a list was addressed — or was compiled by the Democratic National Committee, and it included some White House aides, it included some Clinton-Gore ’96 aides, but I don’t know if there was a specific threshold level for participation.

Q: Mike, the folks who were looking into contributions to the President’s defense fund for the Associated Press have two specific questions. The first is, they assert that on February 6th, Mr. Trie was among those invited to a DNC coffee in the Residence at the White House. The questions are, did he, in fact, attend; what was the purpose of that coffee; and who else was there. And that is the first of two questions.

MR. MCCURRY: Look, you know how we’re handling this, and I think your reporter has already posed those to Lanny Davis, so you can spare all the rest of us the time on it now, because they have posed those questions and they’re working at getting the answers if they can be gotten.

Q: The second concerns an April 23rd meeting at the White House with “someone named Duncan.” Again, the question is, what was the purpose of the meeting; did he go anywhere else in the White House, visit anyone else; and did this meeting have anything to do with the delivery of $460,000 in money orders in checks on March 21.

MR. MCCURRY: Have they not been able to reach Mr. Davis. Is that the problem? I mean, what’s the — is there some problem in getting through to Mr. Davis? Have they posed the questions to him, do you know?

Q: This I do not know.

MR. MCCURRY: Okay. Well, we can spare everyone time if you just deal with him directly on those issues.

Q: On another subject, Erskine Bowles here said the other day when asked about legislative priorities that among initiatives would be a juvenile justice — and that was the first I had heard of it. What’s that all about, can you shed any more light on this justice theme that might be in the works?

MR. MCCURRY: That’s —

Q: He said it.

Q: Yes, he did.

MR. MCCURRY: I think I know what it is, but please allow me to go check a little bit further, because I don’t want to wing it on that. I think I know specifically what they have in mind on that.

Q: — administration position on deleting Article V of the NATO Treaty?

MR. MCCURRY: We’re looking into that. I don’t believe there is any effort to do that.

Do you have some more on that?

MR. JOHNSON: Yes.

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, David looked into it.

MR. JOHNSON: We’ve said before — not in specific response to this op-ed piece that you pointed out this morning — that we believe that Article V is the backbone of the treaty, and we don’t have any intention of making any changes in it.

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I think — Al, you raised it in the context of nuclear weapons this morning. It really is the mutual pledge — the guarantee of mutual assistance, which is the central feature of the alliance itself. And we have no interest in seeing an erosion of that central element of the most successful alliance in modern history.

Q: Mike, the Post story on the encryption — federal court decision on encryption software — can you say what that does to the government’s rule-making effort and its plans to —

MR. MCCURRY: I am told that folks at Justice are trying to figure that out. They’re analyzing the opinion now and seeing what impact it has. The preliminary read that I’ve got from them is that it should not have any impact on it because of the way the case is structured and the opinion was drawn. But they’re looking at it more carefully now.

Q: Mike, any comment on The New York Times report that the United States is cracking on war criminals in Bosnia?

MR. MCCURRY: We have long said that under the Dayton Accords we believe there should be an enhanced effort to fulfill the commitments with respect to the obligations that all nations have to the work of the War Crimes Tribunal. Now, there is a discussion underway — Secretary Perry has addressed that earlier today — how we can more effectively address the obligations that we have and that countries in the Balkans have to address those provisions of the Dayton Accords and, indeed, the responsibilities that have been placed on nations by the War Crimes Tribunal.

There are some ideas about how that could be done. Secretary Perry made clear today that is not a mission objective of the stabilization force that now, as of today, takes over some of the work that’s going on in Bosnia. But there will be additional discussion about how to make more effective the effort to bring to prosecution those responsible for war crimes.

Q: It sounds like you’re more open to this idea than you have been in the past because when this has come up in the past, it’s always been squelched like you weren’t looking for any way outside of IFOR.

MR. MCCURRY: No, it’s always — just as I did now, it’s always been ruled out as a mission objective for some of the deployments that are occurring either as part of IFOR or now SFOR. But there is — we have acknowledged a need for some type of enhanced effort to seek and prosecute those responsible for war crimes.

Q: Did say that the efforts to figure out what that other role might be or what those other effective means might be has now been accelerated?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it’s been underway and has been an active element of discussions in Brussels and elsewhere. Just recently in the Defense Ministerial meeting, this came up. It’s the reason why Secretary Perry addressed it. It came up at the defense ministerial that’s just been held in Brussels. And it was, I think, an element of the NAC meeting two weeks ago, too. This has been an ongoing part of the dialogue within Europe and within — specifically within NATO — how can they make more effective the effort to track down and prosecute some of those who have been identified and who have specifically been registered within the Dayton Accords as being people that need to be ruled out of the future of Bosnia if there’s going to be success in bringing a peace and a more stable civilian atmosphere to that country in the future.

Q: If not IFOR and SFOR, who else could do it?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that’s exactly the discussion and General Shalikashvili had some ideas about that. Secretary General Solana has responded to that now. Now there’s an active discussion of that of which we are one of many participants, which is encouraging.

Q: Thank you.

MR. MCCURRY: Thank you, Helen. See you all tomorrow. Maybe we’ll have some real news tomorrow for a change. (Laughter.)

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:05 P.M. EST