Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
1:52 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: The statement here: Over the last five days the United States has undertaken a massive relief effort to bring water, medicine and food to refugees from Rwanda. The President today has asked Secretary of Defense Perry and General Joulwan, Commander of U.S. Forces Europe, to travel to the area this weekend for a brief inspection of operations at Goma and Entebbe. They will report back to the President immediately upon their return.
Since July 22nd the United States has delivered 1,300 tons of humanitarian goods and water purification equipment, and has put 750 people, including medical personnel, logistics teams and engineers, on the ground in affected areas. The first five sets of water purification equipment arrived yesterday and began immediate operation. Additional purification units are on the way with some scheduled to arrive today.
In response to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees' appeal for assistance in dealing with refugees who have died, the United States has begun to move additional equipment and engineers into the refugee camps. Limited airport runway and ramp space, however, continue to create bottlenecks and block the delivery of supplies. To remedy this problem the United States and the United Nations are examining opening additional airfields in Rwanda, including one in Kigali. No decisions have yet been reached.
The United States is also working closely with the United Nations to establish conditions to allow the refugees to return home. Our Ambassador to Rwanda, David Rawson, has had several positive meetings with the representatives of the new leadership in Rwanda. He has made clear our views about the need for the leadership to establish a broad-based government, bring about the rule of law, and fulfill its commitment to pursue national reconciliation.
Let me just add quickly that Secretary Perry has scheduled a briefing for roughly 2:00 p.m. at the Pentagon to discuss the details of this trip.
Q: Will they be going to Kigali --
MS. MYERS: They're going to Entebbe and to Goma.
Q: Will they meet with anyone from the new Rwandan government, any representatives?
MS. MYERS: I think I'll let Secretary Perry talk about the details of his trip. They're still working on it.
Q: What arrangements have you -- has the United States made with the Rwandan government for either the safety of the 12 who are already on the ground in Kigali, or with whom you would discuss the potential of putting more Americans into Kigali to open an airfield there?
MS. MYERS: We've had several discussions with them at a number of levels, including our Ambassador, David Rawson, who has been in the region and has had several meetings with the leaders of the new government there. We'll continue to have those conversations.
Q: What have they told you about the presence of Americans in the capital?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think they've made several public statements that have been generally receptive to the ongoing humanitarian effort, both to our help and the international community's help in establishing a safe environment for the refugees to return to -- and certainly in providing additional humanitarian aid, particularly in Zaire.
Q: There seems to be some kind of discrepancy between reports coming out of how many U.S. troops are going over there and what the White House is willing to acknowledge. Is this just sort of a game that you're playing, we're really sending them in but we're not going to say that we're sending them in?
MS. MYERS: No. The final decisions have not been made. Certainly there's a lot of planning going on. The Pentagon has been working very hard at it. We're looking at a number of things. At this point, there is an assessment team on the ground in Kigali -- it's a small team, there are four people there today. There are an additional 52 that are scheduled to arrive tomorrow. Among other things, they will be looking at how the Kigali airport and other facilities there could be used to both ease the humanitarian crisis and perhaps help facilitate the return of the refugees to Rwanda.
But at this point, again, no decisions have been made, and I think, certainly, Secretary Perry and others will reiterate that.
Q: Dee Dee, a U.N. convoy came under intense fire today. NATO planes buzzed over, but were not involved in air strikes. Does the United States support air strikes? And do you have any comment about what happened there today?
MS. MYERS: Obviously, we deplore the resumption of violence in Sarajevo and other parts of Bosnia, and we're very concerned about it. We certainly continue to believe that the U.N. and NATO should act with respect to the authority that they've been granted through existing U.N. resolutions.
As you recall, before there's air strikes or any additional action, it would have to be requested by commanders on the ground. I know there are some reports, yet unconfirmed by us, that there have been some calls. But certainly, we would support the U.N. and NATO's right to enforce existing resolutions.
Q: So we would support Akashi approving the request if, in fact, General Rose has made such a request?
MS. MYERS: We absolutely support the U.N. and NATO's right to exercise existing authority, certainly.
Q: And what position will Secretary Christopher take during the Foreign Ministers' meeting of the Contact Group regarding steps to be taken, tougher steps to be taken now that it's clear that the Serbs have rejected the plan?
MS. MYERS: Well, as you know, the Russians met with the Serbs yesterday in Belgrade; there are continuing conversations there. We continue to urge the Bosnian Serbs to accept the Contact Group's plan, which we think is the best potential for peace in the region. We think a negotiated settlement is the only way for lasting peace. That continues to be our position.
We made it clear that there were both incentives and disincentives for parties -- incentives if the parties would sign on to the plan, disincentives if they failed to do that. We've been pretty specific.
Q: What are the disincentives?
MS. MYERS: That's been something that's being discussed by the Contact Group. But it includes both extension and enhanced enforcement of the exclusion zones, expansion of sanctions; and, as we've said and as our allies have said, potentially the lifting of the arms embargo against the Bosnian Serbs -- I mean, against the Muslims.
Q: But are we going to give any allied support?
MS. MYERS: The Contact Group -- this is something that's been worked out by the Contact Group. That includes the Russians and our key European allies. And, again, this is something that will be discussed on Saturday. Secretary Christopher plans to depart Friday morning for Geneva, and the Contact Group will meet at a ministerial level for one day on Saturday.
Q: Do you agree with Boutros-Ghali's contention that if the Contact Group does recommend increased sanctions of any kind, that it's time for the U.N. peacekeeping troops to be pulled out?
MS. MYERS: I think that the Security Council discussed that yesterday and agreed that UNPROFOR continues to have a role in Bosnia. That is a decision that the Security Council will make. The Security Council discussed that yesterday and agreed that UNPROFOR continues to have a role in Bosnia. That is a decision that the Security Council will make.
Q: Did the President discuss this yesterday with Yeltsin? And do we think that the Russians are still on board if we have to fire upon the Serbs or anything?
MS. MYERS: Well, the Contact Group continues to be united in this. Again, they continue to talk to the Bosnian Serbs, and we're hopeful that they will change their minds or change their position and sign on to this plan. We believe it's the best means for peace in the region. But, again, the ministers will meet on Saturday to discuss this and we hope that they'll change their position before Saturday's meeting.
Q: Did the President and Yeltsin talk about this?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. When I'm done Nick Burns will brief on the Estonia settlement from yesterday and he can talk about the details of that call.
Q: Back on Rwanda. If we did establish a base in Kigali, would that, in effect mean we would be taking on peacekeeping duties there to make it safe for refugees to return?
MS. MYERS: I would just point out that Tony Lake and others have said throughout this process that our role there is humanitarian, that we don't have any plans to participate in the peacekeeping.
It's getting dark in here.
Q: Dee Dee, has anyone in the administration made any attempt to get in touch with this North Korean defector? Do you plan to try to talk to him? And already some Republicans in Congress are saying this defector is saying exactly what we feared and that is that this new round of talks is just a tactic so that they can continue to work on their nuclear program.
MS. MYERS: First of all, we're in discussion with the South Korean government about this. We have not yet established that he had access to the information that he claims to have. As you know, it has been our view, something that we've repeated, that the North Koreans have enough nuclear material that they may have one or perhaps two bombs; we're not sure. But at this time we're trying to establish exactly who this individual is and whether or not he had access to the kind of information that he claims to have.
On a broader note, as you know, the third round is scheduled to recommence on August 5th. The North Koreans continue to honor their commitment to freeze their nuclear program during talks. That is important to us. We think that we need to talk through these issues and we're going to go into the third round and try to resolve the nuclear issues with North Korea.
Q: And do you feel it's verifiable that they've actually frozen their program? Because he seems to be saying the opposite.
MS. MYERS: Well, again, we need to establish that this individual had -- who he is and that he had access to the kind of information he claims to have had. There are -- part of the agreement is that there are inspectors on the ground there in order to verify. Yes, it is important that the freeze be verified. That is an important component of our agreement to go forward with the third round.
Q: This guy supposedly defected in May. Have we known prior to this about his existence and his allegations?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to take that. I'm not sure what we knew and when we knew.
Q: You've already said that you thought they had enough plutonium to make two bombs. He's saying five. Do we think that they had enough to possibly make five -- whether they did or not, whether they could have?
MS. MYERS: It has been and continues to be our position that they have enough nuclear material to make one or perhaps two. Whether or not they have those we haven't been specific on.
Q: You don't think they really have five?
MS. MYERS: Again, we think they have enough nuclear material, based on everything that we know, to make one or perhaps two. But we don't know -- we have not said and do not know for sure whether they, in fact, have those bombs.
Q: Would a decision on sending U.S. troops to Rwanda be on hold until Perry and Joulwan complete their trip?
MS. MYERS: There's an assessment team, as I said, there today; additional people going in tomorrow. I don't think that there's any specific connection between Secretary Perry's trip and that decision. It may await their return, but that's not necessarily the purpose of this trip, although they will certainly assess the situation more broadly and report back to the President.
Q: Would the President make the decision about sending U.S. troops into Rwanda?
MS. MYERS: He would certainly be involved in that, yes.
Q: On the event this morning on the South Lawn, one of the members of Congress instrumental in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act was Bob Dole. Was he invited to this anniversary celebration?
MS. MYERS: I'm sure he was. I think we invited a broad -- I better double-check that, but we invited a broad array of members from both sides of the aisle and both Houses; people who were instrumental in passing that legislation and people who have been instrumental in helping to implement it.
Q: Can you tell us anything about the President's meeting with Senator Mitchell? And could you give examples of how the President has repeatedly reached out to the other side on health care?
MS. MYERS: Well, the President did meet with Senator Mitchell, as you know. They discussed among other things health care. As you know, Senator Mitchell is working very hard to meld the bills in the Senate into a package that he can introduce probably early next week.
What the President said today was that he certainly -- there were a number of -- 24 Republican senators who signed on to the Chafee bill last year, which included an individual mandate which got us universal care. Many of them have endorsed that or had at one point endorsed that as a goal, that that was something they believed we needed to do. I mean the President has continually tried to work with them and to meet the goals that they have laid out at different points in this process. But as he moves forward they move away, and I think he made that point today.
Q: What's the last thing he did to reach out to the other side?
MS. MYERS: I think he's continually put forward proposals in good faith, proposals that meet what they claim are their goals in this process. And I think that they have not been willing to meet him halfway. Now, we're going to continue to work on this. The President said today again, reiterated what his goals are in this -- universal coverage, something that preserves choice, guarantees quality, helps to contain costs.
That's something that's being worked on by both the House and the Senate. We expect to see bills on it very soon. Once those bills are introduced, the President will work very hard to get bipartisan support. He wanted this to be a bipartisan process. He's continually tried to fashion a bill that met their goals, which, again, two dozen Republican members of the Senate just several months ago said was universal care, which they agreed should be reached through an individual mandate. Unfortunately, they've moved away from that goal in many respects.
Q: Was there staff at their meeting, or was it just them?
MS. MYERS: You know, I don't know who all was there. Generally, as you know, there are a couple staff people in those meetings.
Q: also said that the 50-50 split is under serious consideration. Would that be an acceptable option for the President?
MS. MYERS: Certainly the President hasn't ruled that out. He has said that he wants to see the entire package and make sure it's something that would work.
Q: Dee Dee, since the President was willing to send troops to Uganda and Zaire, why is there this hesitancy about saying whether you've made a decision on Rwanda? Was there concern that there's no --
MS. MYERS: Because no decision has been made.
Q: Well, what's the hitch? Is there concern that there's not a humanitarian need there, or is there concern about the security situation?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think as was true certainly in Goma, there are security needs and that DOD is sending personnel to deal with that. And there are some paratroopers and others that are there to deal with the security issues.
Certainly, there are issues that we have to address in sending troops into Rwanda. ANd the first thing to do is to make sure that it will help us to meet our stated objectives, which is primarily humanitarian relief. But in addition to that, we're working with the UNHCR and UNAMIR on the ground to create an environment where refugees will be able to return to Rwanda, which is the only way to really alleviate the humanitarian crisis.
Q: the Republicans have assembled quite a line-up to bash the President in foreign policy. Does he think they ought to be maintaining a little bit more of traditional bipartisanship?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think certainly they're entitled to their opinions. I think there's been any number of occasions over the past years and decades where some of these same individuals have said that partisanship should stop at the water's edge. I think it's interesting, just as a footnote. But I'm sure that they will express their opinions. And we'll be happy to express ours.
Q: When Tony Lake and others briefed, they were quite cautious, careful to say U.S. troops would not be sent to Rwanda. Now, with the consideration of putting them there, is it the belief that there is no longer hostile activity going on in Rwanda, no longer the threat of them getting involved in fighting between either of the two parties or --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we continue to assess the situation on the ground in Rwanda, and keep and eye on that. In addition, we continue to urge the new government there to move toward reconciliation, which they have continually pledged to do. And as of yet, there's no evidence to suggest that they are not.
I think at the time we were looking at creating an airhead in Entebbe which we are in the process of doing and using the airfield at Goma to deal with the humanitarian situation. Because of some logistical problems, we need additional airfield space to bring in the quantities of supplies that we think is necessary to deal with this and, again, to try to create an environment where these refugees can return.
So I think as the situation goes forward, we're trying to deal with it as best we can and to adjust to whatever the circumstances are on the ground.
Q: Well, if I could follow then, is it the logisitical problems and the need for additional airspace that leads us toward putting troops in Rwanda, or is it reassurance from the new government that they will be safer than we thought?
MS. MYERS: I think both things are necessary.
Q: And we are getting both?
MS. MYERS: Well, we're in the process of discussions, and I think we certainly have had favorable public response and favorable response in our meetings with the government, but we'll continue to assess those circumstances as we go.
Just in response to the ADA question, Senator Dole was invited but was unable to attend.
Q: Just to be clear on Wendell's question, is the main motivating force then the need for more logistical capability, or is it trying to create an environment in Rwanda that makes it attractive for refugees to return home?
MS. MYERS: I think both are important goals. I think it is -- that in order to solve the refugee problem, in order to deal with the humanitarian crisis there has to be an environment where the refugees can return. There's no other way to deal on a long-term basis with the situation. So we are working with UNAMIR and, again, the UNHCR and the new government to try to create those conditions.
Q: Do you think it's more likely that the African countries will send their U.N. peacekeepers in if the Americans go in first?
MS. MYERS: That is a question you would have to pose to the other African countries. But, again, the authorization is at 5,500, and we're hopeful that the African countries who have pledged troops will get those troops and expand the UNAMIR force that's now on the ground.
Q: Dee Dee, as the witness list expands to more White House staffers for the Whitewater hearings tomorrow, what is the strategy here? What tone will they be taking?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that the tone was set yesterday by Mr. Cutler. I think, as we've indicated all along, we've been fully cooperative with the House and Senate Banking Committees, providing them access to the witnesses and the documents that they've requested. We will continue to do that. I think Mr. Cutler did an outstanding job yesterday. As he indicated at the time that Mr. Fiske produced his report, he said he would do an inquiry, internal inquiry here at the White House. He did that. He issued the results of that or talked through the results of that yesterday and said that -- well, Mr. Fiske found that there were no criminal violations; Mr. Cutler added that there were no ethical violations yesterday.
So I think that as Mr. Cutler was forthcoming, straightforward and factual in his responses yesterday, I think the rest of the White House staff will follow suit.
Q: Well, how detailed do you expect them to be in responding to questions about their contacts with people at Treasury?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think they'll respond to any germane questions as Mr. Cutler did yesterday. I think they've been fully forthcoming in their contacts so far with House and Senate Banking Committee and staff, and that will continue. I think that they will provide answers to the questions as asked, as long as those questions are germane.
Q: There are some Republicans on Capitol Hill today that have questioned some of Mr. Cutler's testimony yesterday, particularly concerning when some White House aides first knew of the Treasury contacts or when they were first contacted by the Treasury about Madison. There are some Republicans saying that they were contacted earlier than Mr. Cutler said they were. Do you know anything about that, or is there any comment from the White House?
MS. MYERS: I sure don't. I'd just refer you to Cutler or those questions will be addressed in the course of the hearings.
Q: To what extent is tomorrow's testimony by so many of the President's aides making it difficult to cope with other major things that are going on -- crime conference, health care, just the normal work -- today, for instance?
MS. MYERS: I think that work here proceeds virtually uninterrupted. I mean, people have had to spend some of their own time, their personal times on weekends and evenings preparing or providing information as requested by the committees, and before this as requested by Mr. Fiske. But I don't think it's had any measurable impact on our ability to get work done. It has required many of the staff members here to spend -- you know, a considerable amount of their personal time on it, and that's somewhat unfortunate. But I think the President made very clear he expected everyone here to cooperate fully, and people have bent over backwards to do that.
Q: Is it your understanding that under the law, someone has to have been a target or a subject of the inquiry in order to, once cleared, get reimbursement for legal fees?
MS. MYERS: I'm not sure what the rule is on that. I think Justice Department handles that.
Q: I wonder how it is the President can ask aides to spend personal time preparing for these hearings that obviously their job puts them in the line for.
MS. MYERS: I don't think he's asked them to, but I think people, in order not to interfere with their day-to-day responsibilities here, have taken it upon themselves to do that.
I think certainly it is connected to their jobs here, but at the same time, it's important that work here go forward. I mean, I don't mean to suggest that people haven't been forced to spend some time in meetings related to this, their own personal situations, and certainly we've had to spend some time here dealing with the implications for the President and the White House. But I think the majority of people have spent their own time dealing with most of this issue.
Q: Are there any such meetings today, Dee Dee? Are there any meetings with the aides today about the testimony for tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't think that -- there aren't meetings where this is discussed with people who are testifying. I mean, I think it's been pretty clear that nobody is to discuss the specific issues relevant to things that they might be asked about with each other. And people have also been very careful to observe the guidelines that Mr. Cutler laid out.
Q: Mr. Cutler one-on-one?
MS. MYERS: Well, he did that as part of his inquiry, certainly, yes.
Q: Are they doing it today?
MS. MYERS: I don't know exactly what his schedule is today.
Q: Does the White House have anything to say about Jesse Helms holding up the nomination of Mary Shapiro to the CFTC?
MS. MYERS: No, but I can take that question.
Q: Does the President have any health care meeting today? You said he would continue meeting.
Q: What was Mitchell here for?
MS. MYERS: Health care. And I think they talked about a few other things, but primarily health care.
Q: Mitchell was today?
MS. MYERS: Yes. It was after the ADA event.
Q: Any other meetings?
MS. MYERS: I think there are some additional -- well, let me check here. I mean I think you can just expect that he'll continue to meet throughout the course of the next couple weeks. He has the UNC Women's Basketball Team. I wouldn't rule out some additional members of Congress coming over here. And at 6:00 p.m. he has the California reception.
Q: Did her parents tell Chelsea that she could not go to Woodstock? There is a report --
MS. MYERS: I try not to get between Chelsea and her parents. I don't have any idea.
Q: Is the President going to go to Woodstock?
MS. MYERS: As far as I know, I've seen no plans to that effect. No, I don't think that he will.
Q: Bummer. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Tomorrow -- I'm with you man. Tomorrow there will be a crime event at the Justice Department. There is a group of police officers and other law enforcement officials who are gathering in support of the crime bill, particularly the effort to put additional police officers on the street and to provide resources for moving to community policing. And that's the only public event -- that's at 10:30 a.m. at DOJ. And then on Friday he will address the Unity '94 Convention in Atlanta by satellite at 12:20 p.m.
Q: What is that?
MS. MYERS: That's the minority journalists convention.
Q: Is he going to take questions at that?
MS. MYERS: I believe, yes. I believe that he will make remarks and then take a few questions. And then -- that's really it. Oh, he has Boys Nation at 4:00 p.m. on Friday.
Q: In the Rose Garden?
MS. MYERS: It's in the Rose Garden unless it rains, in which case it will be moved to the East Room. And then on Saturday he leaves here at 9:45 a.m. to fly to Independence, Missouri. And you have the schedule for that. And then on Monday we will travel to New Jersey for health care.
Q: Where in New Jersey?
MS. MYERS: We'll have more details on that probably tomorrow. Monday, day trip to New Jersey.
Q: Where in New Jersey?
MS. MYERS: We're working on the details.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:21 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/269604