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Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers

March 01, 1994

The Briefing Room

1:48 P.M. EST

MS. MYERS: A couple of brief announcements here. First of all, tomorrow, we've added an event. It is President Clinton will take part in a conference call with citizens in eight cities across the country to discuss the impact of the Clinton health care plan on long-term care benefits. That will be from the Oval Office with primary care-givers for a member of their families who need home care services. They will be hooking up with people from eight different communities, including Langhorne, Pennsylvania; Omaha, Nebraska; Jonesboro, Arkansas; Fresno, California; Blacksburg, Virginia; Ozone Park, New York; Wheaton, Kansas; and Houston, Texas for those of you with --

Q: What time is it?

MS. MYERS: That's 10:30 a.m. tomorrow, from the Oval Office.

Q: How long is it?

Q: What's the coverage on it?

MS. MYERS: It will be pooled. And how long? It will probably take 20 minutes, half an hour, something like that.

Q: What else is he doing tomorrow?

MS. MYERS: That's the only major public event. Let me -- I can go through the schedule for the rest of the week if you guys want.

Today at 2:30 p.m., as you know, we have the Dallas Cowboys. Then tomorrow, again, at 10:30 a.m. the conference call on long-term care. He'll tape an interview with CBS This Morning, which will air during their usual slot on Thursday morning -- and that will be health care related.

Q: What time is that?

MS. MYERS: That tapes around 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon. But, again, it will air on Thursday morning between 7:00 a.m and 9:00 a.m.

Thursday he has lunch with the Vice President, no public events. And on Friday, he has President Kravchuk in. It's a usual working schedule. President Kravchuk will come in sometime around 11:15 a.m. They'll have a series of meetings, lunch, followed by press statements. Saturday, he'll give the radio address live; and that's the only event currently on the schedule for the weekend.

Q: Why does Kravchuk get this kind of treatment and Major didn't, in terms of a press -- full-scale press conference?

MS. MYERS: Well, Prime Minister Major's been here before, as you know. The President met with him several times at multinational forums; they've spoken on the phone a number of times. And I think President Clinton wanted a less formal opportunity to talk with Prime Minister Major to discuss a number of issues; to simply get to know one another better. They had a very successful visit, which concluded, as you know, with breakfast this morning in the solarium. They had, I think, a very good exchange and it was a very productive meeting.

Q: Why does any of that preclude a press conference?

MS. MYERS: Well, I think they then went downstairs and took a number of questions. Each gave a statement and took questions, consistent with past practices; but I think we chose to do it in a slightly different form.

Q: So you're saying they had a press conference, but it was more informal than most, is that what you're saying?

MS. MYERS: I think the whole meeting was somewhat more informal than the usual working business, which I think is something that President Clinton thinks is useful.

Q: Well, they were talking on very important subjects and three-quarters of the reporters couldn't hear it.

MS. MYERS: I think clearly there was a logistics problem -- unintentional -- something that we'll resolve in the future. I think there was somewhat -- and it's our fault and I apologize for that. It was not intentional. I think it was an effort on our part to make sure that the Prime Minister and the President had an opportunity to answer your questions and to make a brief statement about the substantive discussions that they had this morning.

Q: Dee Dee, I'd like to ask you some questions about the Roger Altman briefing that occurred here several weeks ago. Number one, Treasury officials have been quoted as saying that they regret -- or Mr. Altman regrets coming over here. Does the White House regret having him come over here?

MS. MYERS: I think Mr. Altman made a statement about that. What we've said is that the meeting -- nothing was inappropriate, nothing inappropriate took place. I think some members of Congress and others have tried to make political hay out of this, which is unfortunate. But, as you know, the entire issue is being investigated by the special counsel, and we just have no further comment.

Q: You don't regret his having come over here -- the White House doesn't?

MS. MYERS: I think there was nothing inappropriate about it. But, again, the whole issue is being investigated by the special counsel and we're not going to discuss it.

Q: Would you explain why it was appropriate for him not to do it again, to say -- to recuse himself?

MS. MYERS: I think Mr. Altman made a statement about that -- recused himself, and I'll let his word stand.

Q: Was that appropriate?

MS. MYERS: I think, again, Roger made a statement about that, and I'll let his word stand.

Q: Why is Bernie Nussbaum handling this business, rather than Mr. Kendall, the private attorney? Why is it being done on tax-dollar basis? Why is he the lawyer?

MS. MYERS: Well, I think that, again, the briefing was simply informational. It was information that was available to members of Congress and others. Mr. Altman has addressed that, and I have no further comment on it.

Q: But I'm asking you about Mr. Nussbaum, not about Mr. Altman's role.

MS. MYERS: Again, I think we -- there was nothing inappropriate about that briefing, he was simply passing on information. We continue -- I have nothing to add to that. There was nothing inappropriate about it.

Q: But Mr. Nussbaum doesn't defend, or isn't the lawyer on this case. Mr. Kendall is.

MS. MYERS: I think, again, they were simply passing on information about issues that I think are relevant and important. But beyond that, we have no comment on it.

Q: What would Harold Ickes or Maggie Williams do with that information? What would their role be that they would use that information?

MS. MYERS: I'm not going to comment any further on the substance of the meeting, other than to say this whole thing is being investigated, we're cooperating fully, and we have nothing more to say about it. I would add one point -- we're not going to jump every time somebody tries to make a political issue out of Whitewater. We're cooperating fully with the investigation, and we have nothing more to say about it.

Q: Why is this a political issue?

MS. MYERS: I think there are a number of people who are trying to make it a political issue, who try to raise it. And I think we're not going to react every time they do.

Q: Just to get back to Mark's original question, though, is the White House saying that this was appropriate, or is the White House not? And do you share the belief that Mr. Altman said that it shouldn't have happened?

MS. MYERS: I think our view is that nothing inappropriate happened at the meeting. As Mr. Altman --

Q: But could this happen again --

MS. MYERS: -- Mr. Altman made a statement in recusing himself. I think he made it clear that he was taking steps to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. That is appropriate, and I have nothing more to say about it.

Q: Nothing inappropriate happened at the meeting, but was the meeting itself appropriate?

MS. MYERS: I'm not going to comment on that. I have nothing more to add.

Q: Are you going to answer the question, is Bernard Nussbaum handling the Whitewater issues for the President?

MS. MYERS: As you know, a number of -- this involves a number of issues across the board. It's being investigated by a special counsel. It is something that, as the Commander in Chief, the President is obviously forced to deal with. So occasionally, it's something that obviously has relevance here. I'm not going to get into the specifics. It's being investigated; we are cooperating fully with that investigation.

Q: Well, I'm not looking for specifics. I'm just looking for a yes or no -- is he handling Whitewater issues for the President?

MS. MYERS: And I just answered that.

Q: I didn't hear a yes or no.

MS. MYERS: I'm not -- I said that this is something that obviously involves the President and, therefore, there are issues that you can't separate it completely from -- he's the President.

Q: Also, since the Treasury Secretary has recused himself, why shouldn't Nussbaum? Since most of these issues deal with things that happened while the President was governor, why shouldn't he recuse himself, because he's essentially the President's lawyer here for things that happen now?

MS. MYERS: He's the President's lawyer, period. He deals with issues that affect -- I'm sorry, not the only lawyer --but he works for the President and these are all -- you can't separate issues that deal with the President now and before. I think it's -- you can't make that distinction and we're not going to try. But I think Mr. Nussbaum handles his responsibilities in accordance as the White House Counsel, and he'll continue to do that.

Q: Dee Dee, is there any indication that the Ames case may have compromised some CIA agents? We understood that there were 10 Soviet agents that may have been compromised. Did it involve compromising --

MS. MYERS: I have no information for you on that.

Q: Do you expect an agreement today between the Croats and the Muslims?

MS. MYERS: They've made good progress over the weekend and over the course of the last couple of days, but we have no announcement for you yet. If we get any, we'll certainly let you know as soon as we have anything to announce.

Q: Is this something that the President would participate in, or how would that be handled?

MS. MYERS: Again, I think it's a little premature, but I don't expect that the President will have any additional stops on his schedule today.

Q: Dee Dee, is there any comment on the announcement by Moscow and the Bosnian Serbs that they would reopen the airport at Tuzla? Is this something that you expected, or did it come as a surprise?

MS. MYERS: Well, we've seen a number of wire reports and other things on that. Obviously, there have been a number of

conversations going back to the NATO Conference on how best to open the Tuzla airport for humanitarian purposes. If the Russians and the Serbs can reach an agreement that helps reach that important goal, that's something that we would support.

Q: You were not informed beforehand, you were not consulted by the Russians?

MS. MYERS: No, we weren't consulted --

Q: you learned by the wires?

MS. MYERS: Correct, we were not informed specifically before the Kozyrev meeting this morning. However, it's something that we've been working on, working on it on a number of fronts. And again, if it helps us achieve the goal of opening Tuzla airport, that's a positive step.

Q: What kind of consultations are there right now between you and the Russians? Because they take a lot of initiative and they seem to be doing their thing on their own. Are they consulting you?

MS. MYERS: There's a number of conversations at different levels. As you know, Christopher spoke with Kozyrev earlier this week. There's a number of conversations going on at different levels about issues relevant to both Bosnia and other areas in the world. So I think there's been very good discussions on that and we welcome their participation in this.

Q: Did Kozyrev alert Christopher to this new initiative with Karadzic on Tuzla?

MS. MYERS: Not that I am aware of, but I'll have to take that. Not that I am aware of, but we can take it and make sure that that's true.

Q: Here you have the President meeting with the Prime Minister today on this very subject, this range of subjects, without being aware that at the same time in Moscow there was --

MS. MYERS: Well, certainly, I don't think that one precludes the other. The President and the Prime Minister talked about a number of issues on both the peace track and the track on the ground. There are a number of things happening on the ground. We welcome the Russians' participation in this. We've had a number of discussions with people about how best to open the Tuzla airport. We said we would do that by March 7.

Q: But have you had discussions with the Russians about it?

MS. MYERS: We've had discussions with the Russians about it, yes. But I wouldn't say specifically about the initiative that they talked about today.

Q: But how do you explain that they did not tell you beforehand that they were trying to achieve that and that they did not even bother to call you to inform you afterwards?

MS. MYERS: Well, we certainly know that they've had a number of conversations with the Serbs about how to move the process forward in Bosnia. That's been, I think, the goal of their discussions there for several weeks now. And we have made it clear that we encourage and welcome those initiatives and hope that they will continue to play an active role in promoting the peace process.

Q: Do you really think that the Russians are trying to cooperate with this administration on Bosnia?

MS. MYERS: I think the Russians are trying to further the peace process, which we think is a good goal. And we've had a number of good discussions with them about this.

Q: I'm not trying to put too fine a point on it, but do you really think they are trying to cooperate with you on this?

MS. MYERS: I think they're trying to be helpful, yes.

Q: Moving to the Middle East. The PLO and Chairman Arafat personally have absolutely insisted that the United States directly intervene to support an international protection body for Palestinians in the occupied territories. Will we support such international protection?

MS. MYERS: Well, that's something that's, I think, outlined in the Declaration of Principles. It makes clear that -- it allows for an international presence which both Rabin and Arafat have supported. That's something that has to be worked out. Specifically how that moves forward is something that has to be worked out by the parties.

I would just point out that Secretary Christopher spoke with Chairman Arafat this morning. He agreed that he would send a representative here by the end of the week, before Friday, to discuss moving forward with the discussions which is a good sign.

Q: Was Arafat in Tunis?

MS. MYERS: I believe so, yes, when he spoke with Christopher.

Q: And he talked by telephone to him?

MS. MYERS: Correct.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

MS. MYERS: I think the Secretary made clear that he wanted to see Chairman Arafat and the PLO follow through on the commitment that Arafat made to Christopher and to the President last week when they agreed to bring the talks here and bring the negotiators here. Arafat said that because of the outrage and the pain caused by the Hebron massacre that the timing was perhaps subject to change, but the basic goal of bringing the negotiators here was still solid. And so it was not a question of if, but a question of when. And Arafat agreed that they would send an envoy here sometime this week.

Q? On Bosnia, could you tell us about this civilian mission that Major mentioned -- how many Americans this would involve, how long?

MS. MYERS: It's a relatively short-term mission. It would involve mostly, I think, engineers from the U.K. and the U.S. going there to look at ways to get gas service, water service, electrical service back to restore some of the infrastructures, roads, bridges. We would welcome the participation of other countries, but I think, at this point, it's limited to Americans and the British.

Q: When does it start?

MS. MYERS: I don't have the specific dates or the specific size of the mission.

Q: Won't they be in danger?

MS. MYERS: Well, hopefully they'll be -- well, Sarajevo is protected. There's a cease-fire that's in effect. They will be working, I think, with UNPROFOR.

Q: And who would pay for this, and how will these people be volunteered or scripted or --

MS. MYERS: I don't have the specifics on who -- specifically where they would come from or how it would be paid for. But it is a U.S.-U.K. initiative.

Q: Can we get some details on this?

MS. MYERS: We can try to put some more --

Q: You mean, this was just these guys throwing out idea without any --

MS. MYERS: Yes, I think as they become available we'll make them available to you. I think they decided that it would be useful to send a civilian mission to help restore some of the basic services to the city. As you know, this has been discussed a number of ways to do this.

Q: There's been no staff work on how, when, who?

MS. MYERS: That's underway now.

Q: Mr. Major and the President discussed COCOM. Could you elaborate on that a little bit? Are both convinced that there should be kind of a successor organization when by the end of March COCOM is going out of business?

MS. MYERS: Yes, they agreed -- I'll have to get back to you with the details on it, but they agreed that there should be a successor to COCOM and it should be reviewed.

Q: What part should Russia play --

MS. MYERS: I'll have to get back to you on the details of that. I don't have them.

Q: Can you go into this COCOM issue a little more?

MS. MYERS: You know, I'm going to have a private briefing in my office after this for anyone who is interested.

Q: I want to ask you about the Middle East. Last week, President Clinton acknowledged that Arafat had accepted for the talks to continue in Washington. But you said today, the question is not if, but when. They are sending a representative here; is he going to negotiate the terms when they should return, or bid for time?

MS. MYERS: Yes, I think they will discuss the modalities, the logistics of the talks in an effort to move it forward and to get the negotiators back here as soon as possible.

Q: Didn't the President say last week, though, that both sides has agreed to actually discuss implementing the framework, and not just the logistics? Or are we talking about the same thing?

MS. MYERS: Yes. Both things are still operative. First, the PLO will send an envoy here to discuss the logistics of the talks. The talks themselves will be aimed at actually implementing the declaration signed here in September. So I think the --

Q: But were you under the impression last week that they had agreed to resume the talks here?

MS. MYERS: Yes, and that agreement still stands. And that was one of Chairman Arafat's points today, was that they are still committed to bringing the negotiators here and to working through the declaration.

Q: He did say that?

MS. MYERS: Yes, that this was a pause and not a break in the talks.

Q: Why are so many officials of our government, including a presidential commission, pushing to spend $30 million at least, a year -- maybe a lot more -- on an Asia-free Europe radio broadcast when we are already have adequate facilities for broadcasting and are indeed broadcasting already from USIA to Asia?

MS. MYERS: Well, as you know, we have a plan that would consolidate some of the radio services under the direction of USIA. We are shifting our priorities somewhat and I'm --

Q: why we are doing something different, putting something on top of it? They are already there.

MS. MYERS: Well, I think we're restructuring it and streamlining it, and if you want, I can certainly provide the details of how it will work under the reconfigured management. But I think the goal here is to make -- to create an efficient radio-free system that operates as cost-effectively as possible. And I can certainly provide the details of how that restructuring looks. I don't have them --

Q: They were extremely effective when they had that massacre over there in Tiananmen Square. Our facilities that we already had were extremely effective then.

Q: Does the President support the moving of the GATT starting date six months ahead?

MS. MYERS: They both agreed that that would be --

Q: They both agreed to that?

MS. MYERS: Right.

Q: And what is the reason for that?

MS. MYERS: Since the agreement has been reached, implementing it as quickly as possible is a good goal.

Q: Can I just come back to this issue of Russia and Bosnia? There has been a lot of criticism on the Hill that the administration is having kind of a fast one pulled on them by the Russians and Bosnia -- that they are going ahead in bringing in troops. He called for a summit; now we have the Tuzla airport. You just are dismissing that categorically and saying that the administration is totally comfortable that the Russians have been up front with them on this relationship, and that they have acted in the way that is useful for everybody here?

MS. MYERS: I think what we've said is that we think that the Russians are working to try to resolve some outstanding issues in Bosnia. It was certainly helpful when they weighed in with Sarajevo and sent some of their peacekeepers, which then operated under the command of -- under the control UNPROFOR. Their troops have been blue helmets, which is useful. And I think with their help, the ultimatum was successful in Sarajevo.

We've had a number of conversations with them about ways to move the process forward, both on the ground and through the peace negotiations, which have also been successful, or have been met with some success. So while we don't know every single thing that they have done -- obviously today is a good example -- I think that generally they've been helpful.

Q: Well, have you yet given a response on the proposal that was made last week for a one-day summit?

MS. MYERS: We have not. Again, we thought there was a lot of groundwork that needed to be done before the heads of state would sit down, and we don't think we're there yet.

Q: Is a cancellation of Team Spirit imminent?

MS. MYERS: As you know, the inspectors, the IAEA inspectors are in North Korea now. We expect them to resume -- we expect the inspections to resume tomorrow. The North-South dialogue also has to resume before we can talk about Team Spirit planning. They've agreed to do that Thursday; they've agreed to send representatives, working-level representatives to Panmunjom. That obviously has to happen before we can have further discussions about as third round of Team Spirit.

Q: There was an incident in New York today of gunning down of a group of Hasidic Jews. And there's a suggestion that that was retaliation for what happened in the Middle East Hebron massacre. Does the White House have any comment?

MS. MYERS: We've seen reports of that. I think Mayor Giuliani said there's no evidence to suggest that the crime was connected to anything else. Obviously it's a tragic, barbaric act. But I have nothing more for you on that.

Q: When the President was spelling out today his opposition to the balanced budget amendment, he made a point of saying how state government make a distinction between consumption spending and long-term investments. In that light, what is the President's position to the Reid substitute today, which does make that distinction?

MS. MYERS: The President's view is that we don't need a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. That what we need is a disciplined plan which he implemented beginning last year, and we've already seen a very good results from that. By fiscal `95 we will have reduced the deficit as a percentage of UDP by 50 percent. We've had increased jobs, low interest rates, consistently low inflation, and we think that that's the best route, through a disciplined program, to both bring down the deficit and to spur economic growth. So generally, he's been opposed to any constitutional amendment to balance the budget.

Q: By any chance, did the Attorney General drop off her recommendations on Pollard? (Laughter.)

MS. MYERS: I don't think so, but let me double-check. I don't believe so.

Q: For the declaration of principles and the international observers, one of the key sticking points is whether

they will be armed or unarmed. Does the U.S. have a position on that?

MS. MYERS: Something that has to be worked out by the parties.

END 2:08 P.M. EST

William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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