The President. Thank you very much. Thank you. Please be seated. Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I'd like to join the Vice President in thanking Eric Goosby for his work as the Acting Director of the Office. And thank you very much, Patsy Fleming, for the fine job that you've done. We miss you. Thank you, Scott Hitt and all the members of the council, for the good work that you have been doing, and thank you especially for the meeting we had together not so very long ago and the candor and passion of your recommendations.
America has not beaten AIDS yet, but we are getting closer, and we remain committed to the fight and to winning it. More than ever, we need a strong advocate for people with AIDS, and of course that's why we're here today. Let me begin by reiterating our goal: We want to find a vaccine against the AIDS virus and a cure for those who have the HIV infection. They have eluded researchers so far, but we are committed. The work goes on, and it will go on until we are successful. Until that day comes when HIV and AIDS no longer threaten our people, we must continue to do all we can to hit the epidemic hard with a coordinated effort of research, treatment, and prevention.
When I took office, I established the Office of National AIDS Policy because America had been turning its head away from the problem. Many Americans had not come to grips with HIV and AIDS and their consequences. Now we're learning AIDS strikes in the best of families, and from this disease no community has immunity, gay or straight, black or white, male or female, old or young. Anyone can get AIDS, and if we're going to win this fight, we must begin with the acceptance of that fact.
It was clear 4 years ago, as it is now, that it is only with an aggressive campaign against AIDS that we will win the battle. That is what we have begun. In the first 4 years, we increased overall spending by about 60 percent. In FY 1997 alone, $167 million will go to State AIDS drug assistance programs which provide access to medication, including protease inhibitors for low-income individuals with HIV who don't have prescription drug coverage.
We speeded the time needed to approve drugs to treat AIDS, leading to the approval of 8 new AIDS drugs and 19 for AIDS-related conditions. This has allowed many people simply to go on with their lives, to live with this disease, not worry-free but not in despair either.
We should all take heart that for the first time there has been a marked decrease in deaths among people with AIDS. With new treatment therapies, we hope to see even greater life expectancy. And with education and prevention, the number of estimated new HIV infections has slowed dramatically.
In our war against AIDS, the Office of National AIDS Policy plays an important role. The Office is charged with coordinating all our Federal policy and programs regarding AIDS. It also builds our partnerships with other levels of government and with private-sector communities and organizations. Our Office is charged with keeping us on track in treatment and in education and to keep our focus on research for ways to prevent and cure this disease. An AIDS vaccine could save millions of lives around the world. And we must help those who are already infected. Make no mistake, a cure has been and always will be our very first priority.
The Director of this Office must be an individual with a clear understanding of AIDS as a disease and as a social issue in America, someone who knows the scientific front as well as the human center of AIDS, someone who knows how to fight to cut through redtape to get the job done.
I have found that person in the woman I nominate today to fill this office, Sandy Thurman. She is no stranger to those who know this issue. She's a member of our Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS. She's worked on the frontlines in the AIDS epidemic for more than a decade. She's been an advocate and a catalyst at the State, local, and national levels. She transformed AID Atlanta, the oldest and largest AIDS service organization in the South, into one of the most successful projects of its kind anywhere in the country. As executive director from 1988 to 1993, she tripled its size, beefed up its budget, and made it a directservice agency with a staff of 90 workers and 1,000 volunteers.
Her experience in running a large communitybased organization makes her especially wellequipped to build the partnerships we need throughout our country, for beating the AIDS epidemic will take this kind of teamwork everywhere. I am pleased that she has agreed to serve as the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. I've worked with her, and I can attest, she tells it like it is. She speaks the truth unvarnished. She won't hold back in this office. [Laughter] She is passionate. She is committed. She is difficult to say no to. [Laughter] And I have already assured her that she will have the support and the resources she will need, including my personal support, to succeed in this all-important task. My door is open to her.
And now I'd like for us to all hear what she has to say.
[At this point, Ms. Thurman thanked the President and made brief remarks.]
The President. Thank you very much.
Q. Mr. President, how do you see this czar being different from your two previous czars?
What would you like to see changed? And have you given up on the so-called Manhattan-style project that you promised in '92?
The President. Well, first of all, I think if you look at—let me answer the second question, first. If I had told you in 1993, in January, when I was inaugurated, that we would have 8 new AIDS drugs, 19 new drugs for AIDSrelated conditions, that the number of AIDSrelated deaths would be going down, and that the quality and length of life expectancy would expand as much as it had, you would think that we had put a pretty good amount of effort in here with a 60 percent increase in our investment.
So I think we're moving forward. What I would like to see is to rely on the President's Advisory Council and the AIDS Office even more heavily to mobilize even more people to have support for the work we're doing in research to find a cure and also to do more at the grassroots level and to tie the efforts at the community level to what we're trying to do nationally. And I think that Sandy will do a very good job of that because of her personal experience in Atlanta.
Q. Mr. President, when you read——
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, do you think you've made any progress, sir, in your meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu? Do you think that you've been able to move the peace process closer to being back on track, as you put it earlier?
The President. Well, we had quite a long meeting, as you know. What are we, an hour late starting here? [Laughter] And I apologize to you for that, but it was necessary that we continue the meeting. It was a long and very thorough meeting. Now it's important for us to visit with the Palestinians, and we'll try to get this thing up and going again.
But you know how these things are—it's— I need to say not too much about it and work very hard on it. And that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to do my best to get it back on track.
Q. But Mr. President, Mr. President, did anything—part of the Palestinian frustration is that the Prime Minister says he wants to speed up final status talks. His position, according to them, appears to be final. I was wondering if you saw any change in that position?
The President. Well, I'm—again, I think the problem is the more I comment, the more I undermine the chances of success. We had a very specific, frank, candid, and long talk. And now we're going to talk to the Palestinians and see whether there is something we can do to get this thing going again. And we'll do our very best, and I'll do my best. That's all I think I should say right now.
Q. Thank you.
The President. Thank you.