Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
2:22 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: Chapter two.
Q: Could you tell us what he just told us, but tell us on camera.
MS. MYERS: Can I just point out that there -- today the -- a group of presidential libraries announced the formation of a support group of prominent citizens on NAFTA that -- on NAFTA. I just want to put that out there so you guys don't miss it. The President has a statement on it, which we'll put out in just a little while.
I think the main points are that this is a group of prominent citizens that includes people like Lee Iacocca, Jim Baker, Paul Volcker, Barbara Jordan and former Speaker Tip O'Neill. It is cosponsored by three presidential libraries -- Ford, Bush and Carter. It's something that we hope will help to persuade members of Congress and the American people that this in fact will create jobs and help us move this forward. The vote is tentatively scheduled for November 17th, so we're working on about a five-week deadline.
Q: What about Reagan?
MS. MYERS: He's the chairman. But his library, I don't think, is participating. The Carter Center can probably tell you why. He's the honorary cochairman.
Q: Are there fundraising implications to him getting involved in a specific legislative issue for those libraries, do you know?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what their fundraising implications are.
Q: Well, you know what I'm -- you can see what I'm getting at.
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: Well, I mean that it be a -- not for the purpose of lobbying. I just wonder whether their tax status is affected by that.
MS. MYERS: You'd have to check with them. I don't that we've -- that I --
Q: Can you speak to the issue of Haiti -- it was a very important foreign policy goal of this President. And now it seems that this carefully negotiated settlement is coming apart. What can and will the United States do?
MS. MYERS: Well, the United States remains committed to the imposition of the Governors Island Accord. And we're going to continue to hold the leaders in Haiti accountable for the agreement which they signed. We have said that should that agreement fall apart, we're going to ask the U.N. to reimpose economic sanctions, which will strike hardest at the people who are now screwing around with the agreement. So we're going to continue to do that. (Laughter.) A vernacular thing. (Laughter.)
Q: U.N. term.
Q: Well, is the United States now going to the U.N. and saying it's time to put these sanctions back on?
MS. MYERS: The U.S. has spoken to -- is in contact with the U.N., and we've said that if -- that we have advised the U.N., that we'd like to see the sanctions reimposed.
Q: Secretary Christopher said that the military police leaders, Cedras and Francois, would be personally held accountable, that they personally would suffer and have to pay the consequences for this unraveling. How do you make sure that they personally will be held accountable?
MS. MYERS: First of all, they signed the agreement. They were signatories to the agreement, as was President Aristide. As we said, we're going to ask the U.N. to reimpose economic sanctions, those which strike hardest at the individuals who are now holding up the process. Those include things like restrictions on travel, freezing overseas assets and an oil embargo.
And I would like to point out that those were the sanctions that were imposed at the end of June, the U.N. requested and passed resolutions which tightened sanctions on Haiti; and it was shortly thereafter that the various parties came to the table and signed the Governors Island Accord on July 3rd. So we do think that those had an impact. And we think that those are a serious consequence to the leaders in Haiti now.
Q: Aristide's advisers here are asking for a blockade. Is the U.S. willing to go that far?
MS. MYERS: At this point we're looking at the reimposition of sanctions.
Q: Do you think that the weakness that some people feel the U.S. displayed in Somalia had an effect on the mob yesterday in Haiti and on the willingness of the military leaders there to put us to this test?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that the process in Haiti has always been difficult, this is something that the President has been working on for eight months now, something that he's committed to, something that we've made great progress on. And we feel the Governors Island Accord was a good agreement. There were roughly 10 steps involved -- we implemented about five. We always knew that this process would be difficult, but it's proceeding on its own track, and the President remains committed to it.
Q: Well, I think the American people would like to know if American troops are going into Haiti, or whether the Harlan County ship is being pulled back, and whether the new ship will not go in. It's supposed to go in tomorrow or --
MS. MYERS: Well, first of all, as Sandy pointed out, the President does not intend to let the troops sit on the ship offshore indefinitely. I would refer you to DOD for the specifics of that.
What was the other part of your question?
Q: There was supposed to be another ship going in.
MS. MYERS: I think the same thing applies, that part of the Governors Island Accord said that there will be a permissive environment for the international troops -- that they're going there at the invitation of the Haitian leaders, they're going there to participate in civic action and to train the military and police forces to act independent of politics, which we believe is an important element in the creation of democracy in Haiti. Unless there is an environment that is permissive that is secure, our -- the international forces will not go in. The President's made that clear.
Q: Could you define that environment a little bit? What are the specific conditions that must be met?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think again, it has to be a permissive and secure; we have to have the sense that the military and the police forces are willing to cooperate with this. That didn't happen yesterday. That's a concern to us. It is an obstruction to the Governors Island Accord, something that we take quite seriously.
Q: What's the President's mood about this? How does the President feel?
MS. MYERS: He's concerned about it. And obviously he's paying close attention to it. This is again something that the President's been working on and something that affects U.S. interests. It is in the Caribbean, it is in our backyard. And if democracy fails, I think we could have another humanitarian crisis on our hands. And that's something the President is committed to avoiding.
Q: Cedras signed the Governors Island Accord with the people of Aristide. But Colonel Francois, who's supposed to be as strong if not stronger than Cedras, we never heard him signing onto anything. Did you embassy in Haiti advise you whether Francois was in accord with what -- signed or -- because he seems to have his own little army.
MS. MYERS: Cedras did sign it. We expect to hold all of them accountable. I don't know the specifics of what Francois's involvement is, and I'm happy to find that out.
Q: question asked during the background briefing. Since the secure environment was theoretically to be provided by the military, which is supporting those keeping them out, does this now raise the bar in terms of setting up a secure environment or change the President's thinking in terms of arming those soldiers that would be going in there?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think what the President has said is that -- will not send U.S. forces in there unless they're able to protect themselves in the environment. But he won't send them into an unsecure environment, either. Without the participation of the military, without the cooperation of the forces who -- the international trainers are going in there to work with, the agreement can't succeed. And so I think what Sandy said and what our feeling is, is that there has to be signs of cooperation from the military and the police in order for this agreement to succeed.
Q: So now you're going to be looking for a lot more proof.
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we're going to be looking at the situation carefully. We expect Cedras to live up to the agreement that he signed. We're going to hold him accountable. And as we pointed out, if that doesn't happen, we're going to -- we have asked the U.N. for the reimposition of sanctions.
Q: What this would seem to indicate is that it's going to be quite a while before we would consider sending these troops back in there.
MS. MYERS: Well, we'll see -- I don't think we have timeline on it. But obviously we're going to be watching it carefully.
Q: Before this ship sailed, there was much discussion among the State Department, the White House and the Pentagon about whether this was a wise mission. The Pentagon had raised some concerns that maybe American troops would not be safe there. Does this confirm that perhaps the Pentagon's concerns and hesitation over this was correct in the first place and the White House should not have overruled them?
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't -- the White House didn't overrule anybody. We worked with the Pentagon and with the Statement Department throughout this process. The President has made it clear he doesn't intend to send any of our forces into Haiti unless they're adequately able to protect themselves. I think the Pentagon raised some questions and that those questions have been answered. You should check with Secretary Aspin because that's what he's saying. Those questions have been answered.
But the point is that the President isn't going to send them into an environment that is not secure, that is not permissive, and that does not meet the standards that we set up to go in there and work in a cooperative environment. So far we're not there, that's why the troops haven't --
Q: Given Haiti's response so far, what constitutes a secure environment?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think one where the military and the police forces are working with us to make sure that the troops can land in a peaceful environment, that there aren't people there trying to keep them out. As you know, yesterday the police and the military stood by and allowed the situation on the ground to develop. I don't think that's a very good sign.
Q: Do we believe these guys?
Q: Dee Dee, could you answer the question of, doesn't it look as though we cut an ran when a couple of thugs made noise on a pier in Haiti?
MS. MYERS: Absolutely not. This was not a peacekeeping mission. This is part of an ongoing process. Our objective now is to get that process, created over the last eight months, and particularly with the Governors Island Accord back on track. That is our objective now. In order to get that process back on track, we're going to the U.N. and asking for the reimposition of sanctions. We have not given up on the process in Haiti. We expect to press forward with it.
Q: Do you think that Father Aristide can go back in on schedule now, or has his return been delayed?
MS. MYERS: We'll have to see how things work out in the next few days.
Q: Dee Dee, can you believe Cedras and Francois? Supposed they say, yes, we'll work with you, the U.S. advisers get in there, things are quiet for a day, and they come under some kind of attack? What is it about them that would ever make the United States trust anything they say?
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't think we're taking their word for anything. We created a process that had several steps. We've expected them to live up to each of those steps as the time has come. We're not taking their word for it; we're looking for their actions. And we'll continue to judge them by their actions. One of the actions is that Cedras has to resign and that Francois has to resign. We expect that to happen. That's part of the process. Those are not words, those are deeds. And we're going to continue to look for deeds.
Q: So are you saying the U.S. then won't send the military in until Cedras and Francois have actually resigned?
MS. MYERS: No, I'm just saying those are the kind of actions we're looking for to determine that they're complying with the Governors Island Accord. I don't want to set up a cause and effect.
Q: You say you're not interested in motivations, but does anybody know why this agreement has been broken? I mean, does Cedras put new demands forward, or did he just say I'm not going along with it, or was anything --
MS. MYERS: I don't know that he said anything. There may be something that he said on the wires that I'm not aware of, but we, again, it's not what he says, it what he does. We expected them to provide a secure environment for our forces. That didn't happen. The military police forces stood by --
Q: But nobody has wondered why and nobody's asked the question of why?
MS. MYERS: Ambassador Caputo's down there now, I think, trying to get answers to those questions to determine how committed they are to this process before it goes forward.
Q: You say you're not setting up a cause and effect, yet you said that the United States is prepared to go back into Haiti after certain things have happened. Isn't that --
MS. MYERS: I just didn't want to mean with that particular step. I'm not going to try to hogtie things that happen in the next few days.
Q: We're wrong in assuming that what Sandy was getting at is that what has to happen is that Cedras and Francois have to leave office?
MS. MYERS: They do have to leave office. I'm just not going to set that up as a precondition for ship landing. I'm just not in a position to make that judgment at this point.
Q: Have the President's experiences last week in Somalia made him more cautious about deploying U.S. troops this week to Haiti?
MS. MYERS: No, I think that attention to Haiti would have been the same regardless of whether or not things had happened in Somalia. As you know, this is something that the President has worked on very hard over the past eight months, something that he was concerned about; the terms of the Governors Island Agreement were carefully negotiated; and so far all the parties have lived up to the terms of that agreement. But I think that under any circumstances, we would have been very careful about making sure that all the parties continue to live up to it.
Q: What's the possibility for unilateral action if this unravels? You've mentioned that we have very important regional interests there.
MS. MYERS: At this point there aren't any plans for it. And we're going to try to get the process back on track. That's our primary objective.
Q: Dee Dee, considering the events in Haiti this week and the events in Somalia earlier this month, does the U.S. -- is the confidence of the U.S. in the U.N. to work out these sort of multinational agreements shaken at all? Isn't there a reason to doubt the U.N.'s ability at this point to work out effective multinational agreements?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that the President laid out some of that in his speech in front of the U.N. He said that he still believes that there is a role for international peacekeeping in multinational efforts, that those have been successful in places like Cambodia. I don't think there's any question about that. But that because there are so many demands from regions all over the world for U.N. peacekeepers, that we have to ask the tough questions. Those are mutually reinforcing positions. And that's the President's policy.
QQ: But these new events haven't changed anything?e or
MS. MYERS: I think it's difficult, and clearly there are -- we're in sort of a new phase in the post-Cold War world. I think we've learned lessons from that over the course of the last few months. But the President still believes that there's a role for multinational undertakings. Again, they've been successful in a number of places around the world, but it's important to ask tough questions. The President laid those out at the U.N. speech, and I think we'll continue to do that.
Q: Dee Dee, normally, when we send a technical assistance mission, we send it to a country where you have a government in charge and likely to stay in charge. And so the government requests the mission and the government welcomes the mission. In this case, we're offering technical aid to folks who don't like us and who are on their way out.
MS. MYERS: First of all --
Q: Let me finish my question. My question is simply whether it was perhaps naive from the beginning to put the arrival of the technical mission at this stage of the Governors Island process. Shouldn't it have made more sense to wait for the restoration of democratic government in Haiti and then see what happens on the ground? And if Aristide is effectively in control, then provide technical assistance to retrain his army and his police force? Why not wait until after he gets -- and have that evidence before you, before sending American troops in?
MS. MYERS: Part of what we're doing is helping Haiti to make the transition to democracy. And one of the ways we're doing that is giving them help in building an economy, by building roads and bridges and schools, other vital elements. And one of the other things we're doing is training the military and the police force to be professional, to be independent of politics, and we believe that that is an important ingredient of democratization.
Let me also point out that we were invited there by the leadership of Haiti. We wouldn't have gone otherwise. This has all been carefully negotiated at the invitation of the parties on the ground, and with the support, I might add, of the Haitian people. And we believe that the Haitian people continue to support this mission.
Q: But don't the events of the last 24 hours persuade you that before all these other conditions, you need political will demonstrated on the ground to receive American technical assistance folks, and that the only political will that can really welcome the United States is the new government? The old government will never provide you that.
MS. MYERS: Well, I mean, that gets into a chicken and an egg debate that I don't think is a necessarily appropriate forum. But I think it is our belief that in order to facilitate the transition of democracy, we needed to do a couple of things. One was to help them rebuild their infrastructure in order to have a thriving and working economy, and the other was to professionalize the security forces. Those are two important goals that are covered in the agreement, and we're trying to move forward with them. But obviously there have been some obstacles to some people who aren't cooperating.
Q: But no thought is being given to reappraising the timing?
MS. MYERS: The conversations are ongoing now about what steps we'll take in the next few days.
Q: Dee Dee, I'm not sure I understand why you're referring us to the Pentagon on the fate of Harlan County. Did the President make a decision on the Harlan County, or is he leaving that up to Aspin?
MS. MYERS: I think the specific instructions will come from the Department of Defense.
Q: You mean --
Q: You won't deny that the President basically has called that particular mission off for the moment?
MS. MYERS: I would just refer to you for the specifics on the ship.
Q: But you said that the President doesn't want him --
MS. MYERS: That's going to come out of DOD.
Q: Well, a follow-up on that. Since there are Canadians on that ship, is the Canadian government involved in this decision as well?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what level --
Q: But you said the President doesn't want them remaining offshore. You said earlier the President does not want those troops. So the logical conclusion is that that ship is going somewhere.
MS. MYERS: I'm sure DOD will put out a statement on it this afternoon.
Q: As a policy decision, was the decision made here, or did the President leave it up to the Pentagon to determine?
MS. MYERS: It was certainly discussed here at a meeting in which the President did not participate. And I would just -- all I can say is that you have to go there for the specifics --
Q: Did he then make a decision at a subsequent session?
MS. MYERS: He's being kept informed of all --
Q: Wait a minute. You're not telling me that the decision-making on this mission is being made below him, are you?
MS. MYERS: Absolutely not.
Q: Well, then, he did make the decision as to what would be -- as a general matter, would be the fate of this mission?
MS. MYERS: As a general matter, he's making the decisions on this. I just -- this is an ongoing process, and I don't know exactly where it is, which is why I'm not answering the question specifically. At some point, a decision will be made in communicating to the Department of Defense, and since I am not sure where that is --
Q: Will be made, or has been made?
MS. MYERS: I don't know where it is in the process.
Q: Okay. That's all right.
Q: There was some conflict between something the briefer said and something that de Laski said. I had this clear impression from the briefer that all missions are off for the time being until we see what the situation on the ground is. de Laski said that the second deployment was still scheduled.
MS. MYERS: I don't believe that's the case. I will certainly take the question, though, and find out what the status of the second deployment is. Again, that's something that -- the specific instructions would come out of DOD, but I can get an answer for you.
Q: Dee Dee, was there an indication of a security problem prior to this, or did this action on the dock take everybody by surprise and was the first indication that the situation in Haiti was not secure for the landing of these troops?
MS. MYERS: No. We continue to pressure the parties in Haiti to live up to the obligations of their agreement. We continue that right up to the point that the Harlan County arrived offshore, and we're going to continue it right on through the point that this problem gets solved.
Q: The question really is whether you knew, or whether you were, to some extent, caught off guard by the fact that the berth was not empty and so on?
MR. MYERS: There have been obstacles throughout this process, and I think that we're aware that there's potential for obstacles throughout it. It's not an easy process.
Q: I just want to clear up one thing on the last briefer. When the question came up -- how are we going to see visibly that there is a permissive environment -- the answer came back: well, the next step is the division of the military and the police -- new heads of the police, new head of the military. Is that a condition for the U.S. believing that the advisors can go in?
MR. MYERS: That's clearly the next step in the Governors Island process that's supposed to happen on Friday. I think -- I don't know that he meant to set it up as a specific cause and effect; that is clearly the next step. And I don't want to rule out that there will be other ways that the U.S. might determine the seriousness of the Haitian officials on the ground.
We might be able to get you more on that later, but at this point I certainly don't want to rule out anything else.
Q: Are you expecting the President to say anything about this, this afternoon?
MR. MYERS: Nothing's scheduled. I suppose there's always a chance he'll get asked a question and maybe answer it.
Q: On Somalia, is the White House presenting a report to the Hill, as was required under the previous sense of the Senate resolution this week? And is the White House working with Mitchell and Nunn on a compromise to counter Byrd before tomorrow?
MR. MYERS: We'd certainly like to see a Senate amendment that reinforces the President's policy, and we are working with leaders on the Hill to achieve that. The first part of --report on Somalia -- I don't expect that that's going to come in a written form. Consultations are ongoing on Somalia.
Do you have any more info on that?
MR. STEINBERG: Yes. We think there is going to be a written report.
MR. MYERS: A written report by Friday?
MR. STEINBERG: Sometime this week.
Q: Written report by when?
MR. MYERS: Soon. But I think -- the deadline they created was the 15th.
Q: Written report on what?
Q: Dee Dee, how urgent -- to redefine rules of engagement and deployment of U.N. forces and if there's action, what are you going to do about it?
MR. MYERS: To redefine the rules of engagement of U.N. forces -- just generally, or in any specific context?
MR. MYERS: I think it depends on the context. I don't know that there's any particular initiative in that direction.
Q: On another subject. When is the health care legislation going up to the Hill?
MR. MYERS: It could come as early as next week. We're working --
Q: It could come as late as --
Q: Another five weeks from now?
MR. MYERS: I think sometime in this term. No, I think sometime -- it could come as early as next week. We don't have a hard deadline on it, and we're obviously working very hard on it, and it's important to get it up there as soon as possible.
Q: Mr. Magaziner was quoted as saying that it would come next week.
MR. MYERS: He said he thought it would get up there by next week. But I would say it could come as soon as next week, it could be a little later than that.
Q: Could it be five weeks, as someone --
MR. MYERS: I think that's unlikely. I think it'll come sooner than that. There is a lot of urgency attached to it. We're making good progress --
Q: Did something happen?
MR. MYERS: No. We're making good progress on it, we're working through the final numbers on financing, things like that. I think people feel good about it. It just needs to go through all of the -- run through all the traps, and it better be good rather than quick.
Q: What does the legislation --
MR. MYERS: Yes, I'm sorry.
Q: Dee Dee, could you give us a little preview of the President's speech tonight, and could you also deal with the question of whether talking about security at a time when people are nervous about Haiti and Somalia is a bit of a contradiction of terms?
MR. MYERS: No, I don't think that people feel threatened physically by events, although they're deeply concerned about friends and family that might be in those places. I'm not sure that they feel that that is an issue about their personal security in the same way health care is. And I don't mean to suggest that that's not important. The President will touch briefly on it in his speech tonight. But I think this is an outgrowth of earlier speeches where the President talked about personal security, whether it's health security or freedom from fear of crime, or knowing that you have a good job in an economy that's working, that will allow people to make the kinds of changes they need in the sort of changing global environment. I think this builds on the speeches that he's given up to this point. (Laughter.) It's a nice thought.
Q: What's he doing tomorrow?
MR. MYERS: Tomorrow, he has a NAFTA meeting.
Q: Who with?
MS. MYERS: It's part of our ongoing meeting with undecided members of Congress. And I don't know whether we're going to do a photo in conjunction with that. I don't have a time --
Do you guys know what time that is?
MR. STEINBERG: It's in the late morning.
MS. MYERS: Late morning, another group of congressmen, and then in the evening he has a reception with the Hispanic Caucus. On Thursday, he has another NAFTA meeting with members of Congress. On Friday, he has a meeting with Prime Minister Ciller of Turkey, and a 1:30 p.m. press availability.
Q: Did you say it's a dinner with the Hispanic Caucus?
MR. MYERS: It's a reception.
Saturday, he has --
Q: And it's a reception at the White House?
MR. MYERS: Yes, it is.
Q: What date is the press conference?
MS. MYERS: The press conference is Friday.
Q: What time?
MS. MYERS: One-thirty p.m. Saturday he'll do the radio address live, and at this point he's scheduled to be down for the rest of the weekend.
Q: That's a press conference with the Turkish --
MS. MYERS: Correct. It's the usual. Each will give a statement and then take questions. Prime Minister Ciller.
Q: Coverage tomorrow night of this -- isn't there a reception --
MR. MYERS: Oh, the Hispanic Caucus reception? I don't know. We'll check. It's like 5:30 p.m. or 6:00 p.m.
Q: Dee Dee, on health care, do you know Deputy Secretary Roger Altman last week said that he didn't expect health care legislation until three and five weeks from now, probably more toward five weeks -- concern like the public opinion poll yesterday, or --
MR. MYERS: No. I think that Roger was being cautious in terms of timeline. This is a difficult process, but I think that things are going well, and we expect it'll be sooner rather than later.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END2:46 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269258