Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
3:14 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: Everybody should have the packet that we passed out, the background information on the economy and on the results of the President's tax plan and, actually, budget from last year. So at this -- there's not a lot new in there.
Q: Congressman Frank McCloskey says that Gorazde is falling, U.N. forces pulling out; that General Rose asked for air strikes and that Akashi denied them. McCloskey says he has asked the White House for some kind of help to put pressure on the U.N. Is this the case, and --
MS. MYERS: Well, we're clearly monitoring events in Gorazde very closely. I think our message to the Bosnian Serbs there remains the same: that if they endanger the lives of U.N. personnel on the ground in Gorazde we stand ready to take action. I don't know whether General Rose has requested additional air strikes. I certainly hadn't heard that until just now. And I don't know what Congressman McCloskey did in terms of contacting the White House. I'm unaware of any requests from him.
Q: To follow, your message is not being heard. I mean, the message of the air strikes were a message to the Serbs and the message from the President has been repeatedly that this show of force is to get them to negotiate, and that we don't have any --we're not seeking any advantage militarily.
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q: Their troops are moving, the government forces are crumbling.
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we're monitoring the situation there very closely. I think it's a little dangerous to comment on incomplete information at this point, but obviously, we're concerned about the situation. I disagree with your premise that this message isn't being heard. There's been a reduction in violence. I think our policy over the course of the last several months has been effective. We've seen a stop of the siege of Sarajevo, a reopening of the airport in Tuzla. I think there's been some other significant progress, and until the Bosnian Serbs started shelling Gorazde last week, there was significant progress toward a general cessation.
That clearly has stopped. We're very concerned about it. Our forces are on the ground in Sarajevo, including Ambassador Redman, are working very hard. Deputy Foreign -- Russian Foreign Minister Churkin has been meeting with the Serbs today. He's, I think, now briefing or has briefed Ambassador Redman about the results of those conversations. We need to evaluate that.
Clearly, we're concerned about Gorazde, and I think that the Bosnian Serbs should know that if they endanger the lives of U.N. personnel there, we stand ready to take the same action we took last week.
Q: Well, aren't they doing so right now?
Q: But if the U.N. observers are pulling out, they're endangering them right now.
MS. MYERS: Well, that is up to the UNPROFOR forces on the ground to make a determination about how to proceed.
I'm unaware of any requests from General Rose.
Q: You're unaware of it or --
MS. MYERS: I'm unaware of any requests. Last time I checked we didn't know of any.
Q: Has it been your understanding that there was none?
MS. MYERS: As of the last time I checked, we were unaware of any requests. That could have changed -- I haven't heard. But as of the last time I checked, there had been no requests from General Rose.
Q: This begins to look as though the U.N. is cutting and running, which is certainly not the intent of the policy, but then where are you?
MS. MYERS: Well, we'll have to wait and see at this point. Again, all I can tell you about Gorazde is that we're monitoring events there very closely and we stand -- if UNPROFOR commanders there and General Rose requests additional close air support, we stand ready to support them in that action, as we have over the course of the last week. I think the Bosnian Serbs should know that we stand prepared to take action.
Q: They apparently don't care.
MS. MYERS: I think that remains to be seen. Again, our objective there is a negotiated settlement. The actions that we're taking there in support of U.N. resolutions and previous NATO commitments are all geared toward achieving that result, which is a negotiated settlement and an end to the hostilities, and an end to the violence, and an end to the cycle of bloodshed.
Q: Do you think it might be a mistake for the President to emphasize, as he did both yesterday and today, that whatever military action may be taken by American and allied forces, that the Serbs should be comforted by the knowledge that we're not trying to change the military balance or to, presumably, turn them away from their military objectives. Isn't that a signal to them that whatever it's going to be, it isn't going to be that bad?
MS. MYERS: No, I don't think his message was as you describe it. I think what the President was communicating was that we don't intend to enter this conflict on the side of any particular combatant. What we intend to do is enforce U.N. resolutions and other rules that have been laid out there. One of them was to stop the siege of Sarajevo. It doesn't matter who's violating that, we stand prepared to enforce it, to protect the UNPROFOR personnel. It doesn't matter who's in danger, we stand ready to protect UNPROFOR and its mission.
Q: Doesn't that indicate that the air strikes on Monday maybe backfired? That instead of getting the Serbs to back down, that they're, in fact, advancing and that this safe haven is going to be lost?
MS. MYERS: I think it's too soon to make that kind of a conclusion. We have said that we would use force to protect the objective, to protect the mission of UNPROFOR forces there. We clearly meant that, and we're pursuing that. At the same time, we're pursuing a diplomatic solution, which has been an up and down process over the course of the last several years. This is not an easy process and it doesn't lend itself to easy solutions. There have been ups and downs throughout this.
But I would emphasize that over the course of the last few months, we've made progress; albeit a difficult and up and down road. But we're going to continue to pursue that policy -- we believe it's the right policy.
Q: better understand the policy. If the U.N. troops are withdrawn, removed or evacuated, does that remove the premise for General Rose calling in any air strikes, since our justification has been that we were protecting UNPROFOR forces?
MS. MYERS: It certainly does in -- yes, we have been operating under U.N. Resolution 836, the objective of which is to allow us to protect UNPROFOR forces on the ground. There is an additional U.N. resolution which allows for the protection of safe havens. I think that the chain of command on that is a little bit less clear, but I wouldn't rule out that the U.N. or that NATO would take additional action to protect the safe havens. I wouldn't rule out additional action. And I don't think the Serbs should interpret it that way. If the -- and I don't know whether UNPROFOR forces are pulling out of Gorazde. I don't have any information to that effect; I know that there are some wire reports to that effect.
Q: Does the United States now believe that some additional action needs to be taken to protect that safe haven?
MS. MYERS: I think that's something that we have to review. We've taken action to protect UNPROFOR forces on the ground. There is an existing U.N. resolution which allows -- which calls for the protection of safe havens. But the steps from there are, I think, not quite as clear.
Q: Well, would it be possible for the President and this administration to set that process in motion?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to take that question. I believe it would take clarification through coordination between the U.N. and NATO. That was something that was previously worked out for UNPROFOR protection.
Q: Are you concerned that this process now may be so cumbersome, this multinational process, that it does not allow the kind of response in a battlefield situation that might save a place like that?
MS. MYERS: No, I think that the activities of last week prove that that is not true. Action was taken very quickly. The coordination between UNPROFOR and NATO went exceptionally well. I think both UNPROFOR and NATO forces were encouraged by that. And I think that there is evidence that this process can work.
Q: Yes, but the activity up to today suggests the contrary, Dee Dee. You seem to be behind the information curve.
MS. MYERS: No, I don't think that's true.
Q: Everything that we're getting out of the field suggests that there is much more trouble here than you're prepared to acknowledge.
MS. MYERS: I'm not suggesting that there's not a lot of trouble. I'm suggesting that the broader -- you want to say that the broader -- this has conclusive evidence that the broader policy's not working. And I'm saying, absolutely, that is not true.
I mean, I think -- I'm not denying that there are problems on the ground; I said that we're monitoring that closely. Obviously, we're concerned about UNPROFOR forces on the ground; obviously we're concerned about the safe havens and the civilians that have been caught in the bloodshed. That's why we're involved in that country to begin with.
What I'm suggesting is that we're pursuing a policy that has made progress and that that progress has often been interrupted, but that if you look at the course of the last few months, there has been progress. We've stopped the siege at Sarajevo. We've opened the airport at Tuzla. We have a functional agreement that is actually being implemented between the Croats and the Muslims.
Now, I'm not suggesting that there are no problems and that the situation in Gorazde isn't serious -- it is. But I'm not willing -- the United States government is not willing to abandon its policy.
Q: Dee Dee, if NATO took additional action to prevent the stop of Gorazde, would it be consistent with the President's claim that NATO is not taking sides in this war?
MS. MYERS: Yes, because the U.N. resolutions declare safe havens. And anybody who violates the U.N. resolutions --anybody who endangers UNPROFOR forces is subject to NATO action under the auspices of U.N. authority.
Q: Should U.N. personnel leave Gorazde, as Andrea mentioned earlier?
MS. MYERS: Those are decisions that will be made by --
Q: If additional action were taken, which you said is a possibility, would it be consistent with U.S. policy?
MS. MYERS: Decisions about activities of UNPROFOR forces on the ground are made by UNPROFOR commanders, not by the White House, as it should be.
Q: Dee Dee, what is your current information about the situation on the ground?
MS. MYERS: Just that there have been -- we have had some initial reports of increased hostility in and around Gorazde. And we didn't have -- we, the government, didn't have anything conclusive as of a little while ago. Obviously, we're monitoring it.
Q: With the actions today and over the past few days this week, would you deny that there is a concerted effort by the Serbs to push the U.N. and to push NATO and basically just test it once again?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think you'd have to talk to the Bosnian Serbs about what their intentions are. I think we stand ready to deal with their actions. We've made it clear that if they endanger the lives of UNPROFOR forces, that General Rose and UNPROFOR forces on the ground can all in close air support, which they have done.
I think if you look at what happened, there was a -- the Bosnian Serbs did stop shelling Gorazde, at least temporarily. Those hostilities appear to be reignited. We're watching that closely. At the same time, we're working very hard in Sarajevo with the Russians, with the UNPROFOR and U.N. personnel there to work toward our broad objective, which is a negotiated settlement. This is not an easy process and it doesn't lend itself to easy answers. We'll see what happens.
Q: What's was the President's involvement in this this afternoon or today?
MS. MYERS: Well, he met this morning for 90 minutes, as he said, with his foreign policy team. And he's been kept updated on the situation throughout the day.
Q: Does he have another such meeting planned tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: Right now, I think he had some -- I don't know what he's doing right this second. He had some meetings in his office and some previously scheduled photos, which I think he's going forward with.
Q: Does he have another session with his foreign policy team set for tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: Nothing is scheduled at this time, other than the daily security and intelligence briefing. But I certainly wouldn't rule out the possibility that that would be added.
Q: Dee Dee, General Rose, for the past several days, has followed a policy of trying to not respond to Serb provocations, not try to break the blockade around U.N. forces that were hemmed in and other things, in the hope that if he doesn't respond, that they would stop doing this and move back to negotiations. To what extent was that policy that Rose followed taken in concert with the administration? Was this something that he discussed with people back here through the chain of command, or was it something done solely on his own?
MS. MYERS: No, again, the decisions on the ground are made by UNPROFOR personnel there. The commander there is General Rose.
Q: So you're relying on his tactical judgment pretty much exclusively on how to run that operation?
MS. MYERS: That's the way the system is set up.
Q: I'm just a little bit curious and I may be confused. I hear you talking about the safe havens, and repeatedly talking about the U.S. concern for UNPROFOR forces and warning about action that might be taken if UNPROFOR forces are hurt or attacked or anything. I don't hear anything about the people of Gorazde who are still in there, or other safe havens around there. Is it a case where it's only the UNPROFOR forces being attacked that will trigger some sort of action, and nothing happens if the people are --
MS. MYERS: The U.N. authority under which we were operating was U.N. Resolution 836, which allowed for air strikes, close air support to protect UNPROFOR forces. Since UNPROFOR forces were in Gorazde and threatened by attacks on the city, which were also attacks on civilians, what Secretary Christopher said and Ambassador Albright said this week was that there was sort of a distinction without a difference. As long as there are UNPROFOR forces in Gorazde and other safe havens, attacks on the safe havens will endanger the UNPROFOR forces and thereby potentially trigger U.N./NATO response.
Q: But what you said earlier today was that you would not rule out further action regarding the safe havens even after the UNPROFOR forces were out.
MS. MYERS: The hypothetical question was, what if UNPROFOR forces are removed from Gorazde? And the answer --
Q: That's not so hypothetical.
Q: They seem to be on the way out.
MS. MYERS: Well, but it hasn't happened yet, so it is hypothetical.
Q: Our report is that it is, in fact, happening.
MS. MYERS: And I don't have any confirmation of that.
Q: I understand that Haiti was another topic in this meeting the President had today. Is that correct?
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q: Is there any change in the diplomacy over military policy? And is any thought being given to tightening the embargo on Haiti?
MS. MYERS: I think that the policy -- the policy objectives have not changed; which is essentially restoration of democracy and the restoration of President Aristide. We are currently reviewing the policy with an eye toward reaching those objectives. We aren't ruling out any options at this point. It was among the subjects discussed this morning.
Q: What about the embargo -- the status of the embargo? A lot of the critics of the administration's policy -- some of the milder critics are saying, at the least, tighten the embargo.
MS. MYERS: And that's something that's been under review at the U.N. and other places. It's on the table -- I mean, something that's been looked at. In the meantime, we're enforcing the existing embargo, working with Dominican Republic and other countries to enforce the existing embargo.
Q: Dee Dee, several labor leaders yesterday wrote a letter to the President charging that there were all kinds of loopholes in the Haiti policy -- that baseballs were being sold and bought by the United States government in Haiti; that women were being paid two cents an hour. Any response?
MS. MYERS: I think we'll do what we can to enforce the embargo; we'll continue to do that. I don't think that I would try to guarantee that it's leak-free. But I think we're doing what we can to work with the other countries to enforce the existing embargo; and additional sanctions is something that has been under review for some time.
Q: You said just before that you're not ruling any options out. Previously you ruled out the option of a military intervention to restore democracy and restore President Aristide. Is that still ruled out --
MS. MYERS: I think that our official position is that we're not ruling anything in or out. What we've pursued up to --what we've been pursuing are diplomatic solutions to the problem.
Q: Has that changed?
MS. MYERS: I don't think it's really a change. I can talk to you -- I mean, I think something I may have said earlier today may have suggested that we have ruled out options. I think that was incorrect.
Q: What you said earlier today was a restatement of the previous administration policy.
MS. MYERS: Obviously, we haven't chosen to use anything other than diplomatic initiatives at this point. I think we're continuing to pursue a diplomatic solution to this. But I think as a general statement of policy, we haven't ruled anything in or out long term.
Q: Are you considering the Obey option?
MS. MYERS: I think we're not ruling anything in or out. I don't mean to suggest a change in policy, I actually am trying to clarify what is existing policy.
Q: That does suggest a change in policy.
MS. MYERS: According to the policymakers here, the policy has been that we're pursuing diplomatic initiatives, but we have never ruled anything out.
Q: You have previously ruled this out.
Q: You ruled it out as recently as this morning.
MS. MYERS: I know, which is what I'm trying to clarify.
Q: But even before this morning -- what you said this morning, for me, was simply a restatement of administration's policy since it took office.
MS. MYERS: Yes, and I think the answer to those at this time we're pursuing a diplomatic solution to the problem. As a longterm statement of policy, we haven't ruled anything in or out -- haven't ruled anything out.
Q: You're saying that they never ruled it out even though we've always been told that they were ruling it out. It's a little Alice in Wonderlandish, is it not?
MS. MYERS: We're pursuing a diplomatic solution to the problem; we're continuing to review our policy with respect to our policy goals and --
Q: This is only important if it's come up again in discussion about --
MS. MYERS: I don't mean to suggest that there's been a big change.
Q: Or any change?
MS. MYERS: Any change -- I don't mean to suggest that there's a change.
Q: But it's being considered?
MS. MYERS: Well, Obey made a suggestion. I think obviously we'll take his comments seriously; he's a serious and thoughtful person on this. We're reviewing our policy with an eye toward reaching the same -- the objectives have not changed. We've said over the course of the last week and beyond, that we're reviewing the policy.
I don't mean to suggest any broad changes; I'm trying to clarify what the administration's view is overall, which is that we're not ruling out any policy objectives -- any policy actions.
Q: Were Congressman Obey's suggestions discussed during this meeting today?
MS. MYERS: I don't know.
Q: On the Supreme Court, is President Clinton taking a look beyond the dozen or so people that previously had been talked about as candidates? Does he want a more political-type figure? What's the status?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think his views towards what kind of person should be on the Supreme Court haven't changed over the course of the last year. It should be somebody with great intellect and a big heart; somebody who is ethically beyond reproach. He's looking at a number of people. As Lloyd Cutler said last week, a list of about 10 to 12 people would be presented to the President; that's happened. He actually had another meeting on it this afternoon to continue to discuss the situation.
Q: Are there more than 10 or 12 now under consideration?
Q: Or are they a different 10 or 12?
MS. MYERS: I don't think so. I think we certainly maintain the option of expanding that list or reducing that list. And I think beyond this, we probably won't comment on the numbers or certainly on the names.
Q: When was the meeting and who was there?
MS. MYERS: It was sometime earlier this -- recently, this afternoon, and I don't know all the people who were there. I mean, Mr. Cutler was certainly there; Joel Klein is a member of that team; Vicky Radd; Bruce Lindsey; the Vice President if he's available -- I don't know when he was leaving for California, I'm not sure what time.
Q: Have the individuals on that list been contacted?
MS. MYERS: Giving you a long list of phone calls to make when this breaks up. I'm sorry what was the question?
Q: Have the 10 to 12 people -- have they been contacted and asked, if offered, would you accept?
MS. MYERS: I think we're the process of perhaps contacting some of them. I certainly wouldn't suggest -- I don't know whether all of them have been contacted. And I think generally, we probably won't ever give specific comment about who's been contacted and what they've been asked for.
Q: How long do you think it will take for a decision? Could it be very quickly, or long --
MS. MYERS: I think we should start a pool on that, and I don't want to participate.
Q: What's the value of putting a political figure on the Supreme Court at this point?
MS. MYERS: I don't think I'm going to -- I don't think it's my place to make a case for what kind of person the President should select. I think a number of cases have been made for putting different kinds of people on the Court.
Q: What case is being made to him that he should consider a political figure?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to discuss that -- what kind of private advise he's getting, or what kinds of individuals he's considering beyond the general criteria that he's established.
Q: Was the situation in North Korea discussed in the foreign policy meeting today? And what does the administration make of some of the overtures that the North Koreans are making in interviews with CNN and HK and other networks, or other news organizations?
MS. MYERS: I don't know specifically if there was any prolonged discussion of North Korea this morning -- I'm just not sure.
Generally, I think what we're looking for from North Korea is action. We expect them to complete the IAEA inspections and to resume their dialogue with South Korea toward implementing the North-South agreement which was signed well over a year ago. And that will establish a nuclear-free peninsula. Those are our objectives. We need to see action.
Q: Dee Dee, can you give us a week-ahead on the President? Does it include an announcement on search policy and has he received a recommendation from Reno and Cisneros on it?
MS. MYERS: I think -- on the second half of your question, I think we are -- the administration is moving toward announcing a new policy after much work by Secretary Cisneros and the Attorney General. We'll have that soon.
Q: Does that mean today?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: The radio speech?
MS. MYERS: I won't rule anything else out. It won't come today. It could come -- but I expect it to come soon. The rest of the week ahead including the weekend, the President will leave here tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. to go to the Senate Retreat which is Kingsmill Resort Conference Center. There he'll attend a reception and a dinner, spend the night in Williamsburg at a private residence. On Sunday he'll leave there around noon and go to Charlotte for the 30th anniversary of the Mustang car.
Q: Will Mrs. Clinton be with him?
MS. MYERS: I believe she is.
Q: She's on the Mustang car deal?
MS. MYERS: She appears to be scheduled to travel with him, although I'm not 100 percent sure. He comes back here about 6:30 p.m. on Sunday evening and spends the night at the White House.
Q: Is he speaking at this car rally?
MS. MYERS: Do you guys know the answer to that? Is there a formal program? We'll try to get you a little more detail on exactly what forum he might be speaking in.
Q: Where is his Mustang? Is that still in storage?
MS. MYERS: His Mustang -- I was told today that he actually no longer owns it. It is in a museum somewhere in Arkansas, that he's donated it.
Q: Did he tax deduction on it?
MS. MYERS: He did not, which you will all see in a short period of time.
Q: When did he originally get the Mustang?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. He had it for a number of years. It was the 1965 convertible, turquoise. I don't know -- it might have had something to do with his driving skills he had to give it up. I have heard tales.
Okay, on Monday he's here until sometime after -- around 10:30 a.m. he leaves for Wisconsin where he'll do a health care event; come back and spend the night at the White House. We're still working out the details of that schedule.
On Tuesday he'll be here in Washington. At 11:00 a.m. he's at the Kalorama studio in Washington for the MTV Safe Schools Crime Forum which is a town hall with young people. On Wednesday we'll do a health care event on immunization here at the White House probably. And then at 3:30 p.m. he has the Austrian chancellor here for a brief meeting. And then he attends the DSCC-DCCC dinner at the Washington Hilton. You won't won't to miss that.
At 11:00 a.m. on Thursday he gives an Earth Day speech. We haven't established the venue yet. And in the evening he'll have a reception at Blair House with Prime Minister Papandreou of Greece. On Friday he has a working meeting with Prime Minister Papandreou here. I think it will probably be the usual schedule, which is an Oval Office meeting, an expanded meeting and lunch, followed by some kind of news availability. And that's it.
Q: One last quick question on Bosnia. I know you've been out here for a while, but now the wires are saying the Serb forces have taken all the strategic points in Gorazde. Had you heard that before you came in?
MS. MYERS: I had not.
Q: Can you find a way to update us on Bosnia.
MS. MYERS: Yes, if we have any more information we'll see if we can't find a way to update you.
Q: Is there a charter for Sunday, Dee Dee?
MS. MYERS: No. We put up a sign-up sheet and paged out yesterday and said if there weren't enough people signed up by 10:00 a.m. this morning, there would be no charter. There were not enough sign-ups and so there is no charter.
Q: Do you have a response to the L.A. Times story on Whitewater and the President's tax deductions?
MS. MYERS: The Clintons were personally obligated for some of the Whitewater loans. They made the interest payments on the loans for which they were personally obligated, and they deducted those payments from their personal income taxes. Therefore, the interest payments would not have been expected to show up on the Whitewater corporate tax returns.
Q: For -- Whitewater both?
MS. MYERS: I don't know whether they are. If you have additional questions, you need to either talk to Kendall or Podesta. But generally, that's the reason.
Q: Do you know the general topic on the radio address?
MS. MYERS: Crime.
Q: Tony Lake said last week that the President wants the American people to know just exactly what the peacekeepers would do in Bosnia. According to the wire services earlier this week, there was an agreement between NATO, the United Nations and the Pentagon that U.S. peacekeepers would disarm the Serbs. Could you tell us what that means? By force? What kind of weapons they had to take away?
MS. MYERS: That's the first I've heard of that. I'll have to take the question.
Q: The Pentagon has also agreed, according to that same story, that the first units to go in would be armored units from Germany, which indicates that they expect some combat --
MS. MYERS: That doesn't sound consistent with what we've said, but I'm happy to take the question. I'm unfamiliar with that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:41 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/269579