Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos
The Briefing Room
12:42 P.M. EST
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President spoke with the President Lech Walesa of Poland this morning. It was at President Walesa's request -- for about 15 minutes with translators. They discussed the upcoming summit with Boris Yeltsin, the economic reforms of Poland, and the President commended President Yeltsin for the achievements he's made. Also they discussed sending a delegation to the anniversary, 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising on April 19th.
Q: Why did the administration ask for a meeting of the Security Council tonight?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They're going to be working on, and right now we're working with our allies on a draft presidential statement that would call for a halt to the violence in eastern Bosnia; reemphasize that we need safe passage for all humanitarian supplies and call for all parties to return to negotiations. And there will be a meeting later today.
Q: Mr. Aspin said yesterday that the airdrops had freed up land convoys in Bosnia. Does the President share this opinion?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think, as the President said this morning, we want the operation to continue. We hope that it goes forward both on land and in the air, and we want all parties to do everything they can to provide for the safe passage. As Secretary of State Christopher said this morning, the situation did appear to worsen overnight. There were refugees on the road. The fighting had intensified and we feel it's important to continue.
Q: But do you know why Mr. Aspin said that yesterday? Do you know why he made such a statement about improvement?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't. Ask the Pentagon.
Q: George, can we talk about the new reinvent government initiative?
Q: Let's stay on Bosnia for a minute.
Q: Can we stay on Bosnia for a minute?
Q: Is there any chance that we would intervene militarily if it gets worse?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, at this point, we're focusing on the U.N. Security Council. We'd like to pass this new draft presidential statement. We hope that all parties come to the negotiating table. As the President has said in the past, he and the United States --
Q: That's not five minutes.
Q: And the mult was cut yesterday also.
Q: That's about two minutes.
Q: Let's start all over again.
Q: In mid-sentence, with "well."
Q: So there's nothing at the NSC meeting today which would push forward any -- policy?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Why don't you ask whoever just asked that question and I will answer it again. It was stopped right in the middle.
Q: My question was, is there any chance we would intervene militarily if it worsened -- the situation in Bosnia?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, we're working with all parties to try and get the negotiations on track. We would like the negotiations to be on track. We would like there to be safe passage for all the humanitarian supplies. We would like the violence to end. As the President has said in the past, he is prepared and the U.S. prepared to enforce an agreement that can be reached.
The Security Council meeting this afternoon has been planned for some time. It was planned for Secretary of State Christopher to give a report on his travels to the Middle East, for Secretary Bentsen to give a report on the G-7 meeting with financial ministers that he had last week. Obviously, they will also discuss Bosnia and other issues.
Q: said that the airdrops have, at least yesterday, they were fairly confident they reached their targets. In terms of the drops, yes; but in terms of the aid actually getting to the people, do you have any evidence that the aid is getting to people once it hits the ground? There's a lot of reports out of Bosnia that the Serbs are using the aid as a sort of a magnet to attract people to attack them. Beyond just dropping it, are you having any success getting the aid in that you can say?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's tougher to determine exactly who gets the aid. While we do believe we have had some success, I can't quantify it in any significant way. I would also say that we have no reports on last night simply because of the cloud cover.
Q: George, can you tell us what happened in this apparent disconnect between the Secretary and the administration, or, excuse me, the White House on whether this mission had been suspended or not?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I'm not certain that there was. I wasn't at the --
Q: Well, obviously, the White House would want to know, and must have found out what he meant and what you meant. What's the deal? What happened?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, we're not certain that it was -- what he said was exactly as it was reported. The operations were not suspended. We have always said that we would continually review the operation for its effectiveness, and it's under constant review. At this point, the current operation is going on. And this is what Secretary Aspin said today based on his morning briefings.
Q: Did anybody make any effort to find out how it came about that he said something that seemed so out of sync with what the administration position was?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I would refer you to the Secretary's statement. He said that he would have an assessment today on whether the current phase should continue. That assessment has taken place, and it is continuing.
Q: Well, if the assessment is whether it should continue, that implies that perhaps it's not continuing.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, it is continuing.
Q: George, is Bosnia the primary subject of the NSC meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the meeting is, first of all, called to have a report from Secretary of State Christopher on the Middle East meeting; also on Secretary Bentsen's. Bosnia will also be one subject, but I wouldn't necessarily say it was the primary or sole subject.
Q: What's the draft presidential that you're talking about? You mentioned it twice now.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The draft presidential statement of the President of the U.N. Security Council.
Q: Oh, I see. You're not talking about a Clinton --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They're discussing that now up in New York.
Q: Do you expect some kind of statement from the President on Bosnia today after this NSC meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not necessarily, no.
Q: George, what about these reports of a massacre of Muslims in eastern Bosnia that followed these airdrops?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I have not seen those reports. I'll have to check.
Q: You say the President is prepared to enforce an agreement that can be reached. Do you mean guarantee the safety of both sides if that happens?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We've always said that we would help -- we would contribute to a U.N. multilateral force to enforce the agreement.
Q: Multilateral force, not unilateral?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, we've always said we would work with our allies.
Q: George, in view of what's happening now in eastern Bosnia, do you think the time has come to get tougher on the Serbs?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The time has come for both sides to go to the negotiating tables, for everybody to comply with the U.N. resolutions, and for the fighting to stop, and for the negotiations to continue.
Q: What's your assessment of the attitude of the Serbs on the ground? How do you see their attitude in this new offensive?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The aggression is not helpful.
Q: How do you plan to stop it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We are right now working with the U.N. Security Council. We have continued to press both sides. We will continue to tighten the embargo. And we expect the sides to negotiate.
Q: How would you characterize the White House view of Boutros-Ghali's statement -- I guess it was this morning or yesterday -- that it is, in fact, time for the U.N. to consider a military response?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the U.N. Security Council is meeting this afternoon, as I said. We are working with our allies now on a statement.
Q: What position does the United States take into that discussion?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The United States takes in the position that we want the fighting to stop, and we are prepared to work with our allies and discuss the best way to make that happen.
Q: So we -- so are we somewhat more open, given the activities of the last two days with the Serbs' aggression? Would you say that we are in any way more open to the possibility of a U.N. military response than we were prior to that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that I would say that, no.
Q: You said a minute ago "continue to tighten the embargo." Is there some new steps in that regard --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's something we're always looking at. I don't have anything specific in mind right now, no.
Q: What did -- when John Major and the President spoke about tightening the embargo -- has anything been done along those lines?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would have to check. I don't know any specific actions.
Q: But, George, is there a feeling that maybe it will take more one day than talks about tightening the embargo to force the Serbs to change their attitude and their policy?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, we're working right now --we would like the fighting to stop. The aggression is not helpful. We believe that the only productive way right now is for the negotiations to go forward.
Q: George, is Russia's role in this more than simply not blocking U.N. Security Council action? And if so, what would it be?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right now we're discussing with the Russians the possibility of sending over a team to discuss how discussing with the Russians the possibility of sending over a team to discuss how they're going to help with the mission.
Q: Sending a team where?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's going to go to Moscow. We're going to send a five-person team to Moscow to discuss how they're going to help.
Q: This is concerning the airdrop?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: So they're not involved now?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we're discussing the involvement.
Q: Are these Pentagon people?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe they are, but I'm not positive.
Q: And at what level is this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have the level. I just know that we're sending over -- I believe it's a Pentagon --
Q: Have they gone already?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe they're going today.
Q: So discussions are not going on at this time?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, no, there have been discussions. There were first discussions with Secretary of State Christopher and Foreign Minister Kozyrev last week.
Q: Well, why is it necessary to send a team to Moscow if discussions are ongoing at this point?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, there are constant discussions at several levels. This will be a technical team that will figure out exactly how the operation can continue.
Q: that they would have aircraft involved?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe that one of the items under discussion is the feasibility of using transport aircraft.
Q: George, given the events of the last few days, the American participation in the airdrop, the continued calls for the negotiations to continue and the apparent deterioration within the last 36 hours, perhaps major deterioration of the situation, is the administration concerned that its efforts so far may be seen not only as futile but perhaps even impotent?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't believe so at all. I believe we feel we've had some success in getting the food through. That is not to understate at all the seriousness with which we view the situation. It is obviously very disturbing, as the Secretary of State said this morning. We are watching this. We believe the situation has deteriorated. We are concerned about the refugees on the roads. We are very worried about this and we're following it very closely.
Q: How would you characterize your policy other than continuing call for negotiations?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we want to continue to do everything we can to get the supplies to those in need, to get the land convoys moving with food.
Q: Why do you say a negotiation is the only option at this point? It hasn't apparently done anything for you yet in terms of either supplying humanitarian effort or easing the conditions on the ground.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we're going to continue to press.
Q: George, how long before you -- how long can you do this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Security Council's meeting this afternoon.
Q: Under that framework are you willing to -- is the administration willing to contemplate using force to bring the negotiations around or protect the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't get into that.
Q: Is the team going to Moscow limiting itself to discussions of Russian participation in the airlift?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe so, yes.
Q: There will be no investigation, for example, of reports that Russians have been providing arms to the Serbs?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not that I know of, no.
QQ: George, are you concerned at all that this Aspin disconnect, as Brit described it, could fuel any public perception that the administration is having a hard time speaking with one voice?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. I think that what you see today is the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the President all saying that this operation is continuing because of the situation in Bosnia.
Q: Let me follow. I had asked earlier when you mentioned the team, what role Russia could play in this. Has Secretary Christopher pressed Moscow to press the Serbs? Is there a broader role than participation in the airlift, a role that Russia can play in limiting the violence or ending the violence there?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're open to any help that any of our allies or any of our friends can give. I wouldn't want to get into the details of the discussion between Christopher and Kozyrev.
Q: Well, can you tell whether we are asking, whether we are appealing to Moscow to put pressure on the Serbs to stop?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if there are any specific appeals. We would like everybody to do everything they can to get both sides to stop the aggression and to move forward on negotiations.
Q: Let me try and get a clarification on what's happening this afternoon. What is the aim of this Security Council meeting, to make a decision on how next to act in Bosnia or simply to condemn what's been happening?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's basically to consider this draft statement and to issue the statement. I don't know of anything beyond that.
Q: So at this point you are not moving forward -- this country or any other countries -- with efforts to halt the deterioration of the situation there. You're just looking at condemning that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I think that the condemnation of the statement is a powerful statement of the U.N. Security Council. It could be helpful. But it's my understanding that that is what the meeting is about. That's what it's limited to.
Q: How could that possibly be helpful when all the efforts of the United Nations and every other country in the world has accomplished nothing at this point?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We will continue to press.
Q: Is it an ultimatum?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know whether I'd characterize it like that.
Q: George, the President made it pretty clear he was willing to go ahead with the air drop without the help of allies invited to help. It sounds as though you're saying, however, that the United States would not use force without being in concert with its allies. Is that true?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We want to do everything in concert with our allies. I don't know that I would say that we've gone forward with the airdrop without our allies. We've had continuous consultation. We have several of our allies working on the land convoys. And we are hopeful we will have participation with the Russians on the airdrops as well. So we are working with our allies on that part of the mission, and we intend to continue to work with our allies on the other parts of the mission.
Q: But the President had said, I believe, when he was announcing the airdrop that other countries might participate, indicating that other countries might participate in the actual airdrop. And when no one else joined in, he still went ahead with it. But are you saying that the United States would not go ahead with any use of force without it being part of some U.N. --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We have always said that we would be prepared to use force to enforce an agreement as part of a multilateral force. I just can't go beyond that at this time.
Q: Is this the first official meeting of the National Security Council in this administration?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe it is.
Q: Will there be any way that we could have a photo?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll check. I'm not sure, but I'll check.
Q: Which room will it be in?
Q: A White House still photo?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure.
Q: What time will the escort take us in? (Laughter.)
Q: Or a White House still photo?
Q: Or total access.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll work out something.
Q: You just said we've always been willing to be part of a multinational force. You don't mean to -- you don't mean a peacemaking force, you mean a peacekeeping force?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. It's always been to enforce an agreement that is reached by the parties.
Q: So you're ruling out military action outside of being part of a force that enforces --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm saying that no decision has been made on military action. And the only time the President has made any -- has discussed military action is part of a multilateral force to enforce an agreement.
Q: Is that the only condition under which he would authorize one?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Those are hypotheticals that I just can't get into right now. Right now the U.N. Security Council is meeting.
Q: Has he spoken to either the parties -- directly to any of the parties involved or people at the U.N. in the last couple -- as this situation has deteriorated?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think he's had any further discussions this morning, no.
Q: Further from --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Nothing new this morning, no.
Q: Well, last night?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, last night he did not speak to anybody.
Q: At 3:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. No.
Q: 10:00 a.m. yesterday morning?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: Did he walk into the meeting Gore had this weekend, by any chance?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not that I know of, no.
Q: Thank you.
Q: What was the purpose of the U.N. statement?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The U.N. statement would make it clear to the world that we expect the parties to stop the violence and to come to the negotiating tables, and that we will continue to do everything we can to provide safe passage for the humanitarian supplies.
Q: So it has been made clear to the world already?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We will continue to do it. It's important for the Security Council to speak.
Q: Is anybody confused about that so far?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure.
Q: This is on another subject, on the reinvention of government this morning. What was the purpose of the Oval Office meeting with Senator Krueger?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Krueger wanted to come by with Mr. Sharp early this morning and just help brief the President on what he had been doing, his efforts to cut waste in government, including his 1-800 number.
Q: So he's apparently got some legislation with recision authority. Is the administration supporting that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure if we support the specific legislation. I'm not saying that we don't. We'll review it. As you know, the President has been for line-item vetos and enhanced recision authority for a long time.
Q: Republicans are beginning to come up with what they call specifics on cutting the deficit. Brown gave those suggestions to the President yesterday. What does the President think of them, and what will the President do with those Republicans' suggestions?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He'll continue to review all the suggestions. The ones that we seen so far -- I don't know, we've completed review of Brown. Senator Gramm's proposal would be a 33- percent cut across the board in all government programs and it would still call for new taxes. And it does it only with the benefit of phony caps. I don't think it meets the test of specificity that we've set forward. We have not completed the review of Senator Brown's yet.
Q: If I could go back to Krueger just for a minute. He's had some fairly negative things to say publicly about the President's economic plan. Did the President talk to him about that? Do you think that if he were elected he would support the plan?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would note that this morning when we voted on the first portion of the President's economic plan in the Senate this morning, Senator Krueger voted yes -- voted with the majority. And we were very pleased with that vote; a vote that Senator Dole had called a watershed vote and we think so as well.
Q: happened after his meeting with the President. Was there anything being set in the meeting with the President?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think it came up.
Q: Do you expect that you'll have his vote on other potentially more difficult parts of the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We certainly hope so.
Q: Two questions on the reinventing government. How far does it go? I mean, we had in the campaign Kerrey suggesting that we start paring Cabinet departments and merging them down, I think, like five or seven or something like that. Are you talking about going that far?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I wouldn't want to rule it out, but first we want to make sure we just get into the departments and go through every program line by line, agency by agency, and see what kind of savings and efficiencies we can achieve.
Q: Second, in terms of the trying to get all this through Congress, even in Texas the Texas legislature cut half of it out of their program. Roth has suggested something along the lines of the base closing commission where its an up or down vote in Congress. They either take all of it or none of it. Would you be willing to support that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that we're at that point yet. Right now we want to make sure we complete the performance review, see what kind of savings we can come up with. Hopefully, there will be savings and efficiencies we can achieve without going to the Congress; things we can simply do through administrative order, and if we can we'll get them. But whatever we need to present to the Congress we will.
Q: Do you have any kind of idea of how much as a percentage that might be of what your trying to --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just can't say, the review hasn't started yet.
Q: Is this part of the 14 percent? Its unclear where this fits into every other cost cutting proposal we've heard from the White House.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, this is a means of implementing, number one. I mean, the Cabinet officials have to implement the 14 percent. We hope that this will come up with ideas that will go beyond the 14 percent, but this is a way to make sure we get started immediately on finding the savings and in finding the different ways we can change the way government works from the inside. It's not simply about savings. It's about making sure that government works better and serves the people better.
Q: George, this is a standard opening gambit for virtually every new administration. Jimmy Carter had a civil service reform program. Ronald Reagan had the Grace Commission. What's different from this program from all the others that evolved -- achieved meager results that were quickly forgotten?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, first of all Bill Clinton's different and he's going to implement -- he's going to implement the findings of the performance review. I would also say that I think the times have changed. The people are serious about changing the way government works, about getting real savings in government. It was a constant theme of the President's campaign last year and it's something that we see the people continue to be interested in and we're going to respond to that need.
Q: George, every member of Congress who ever had a bill introduced about this subject has now dusted it off and said, see, we wanted to do it first. How do you reconcile what it is that you want to do -- certainly, all of it you can't do by executive order -- with what Congress thinks they already have in motion?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I mean --
Q: some people saying on the stage this morning?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right, we're going to look to them for all their ideas. We hope that a lot of the reviews that have been done by Senator Glenn, by Congressman Conyers, we can incorporate those and try and get some of the savings they've called for. Also try to get the performance reviews that they've called for with inspector generals implemented as well. We want to work with them.
Q: Incorporated in what way? Using what process, through executive order or using legislation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Whatever it takes.
Q: here or there?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Whatever we can do by administrative order or executive order we will do. If we need legislation we will seek it and we will seek to pass it.
Q: George, the Vice President implied with his supercollider example that there would not be any policy decisions made of this review, only process decisions. Are we correct?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes. I think this is more looking at how the programs work on the inside and seeing what kind of savings we can get from the programs. But I wouldn't want to rule anything out necessarily. It's just that we are focused on seeing how the programs work.
Q: You're not looking at policy decisions --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's not the specific charge of this group.
Q: Didn't the fact sheet, if that's what it was, say that you were going to try to, if these programs were not seen to be effective, whether they were needed? And isn't the possibility of actually abolishing maybe a program or two on the table or is --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I sure hope so.
Q: Well, the point being, though, that he said there will be no sacred cows. So when reporters asked specific questions about specific programs they found, for example, that the superconductor, supercollider, well, we're not going to do that and, well, the Head Start program, we're already all charged up about that and we think that's great, never mind those skeptical questions that some have raised about it. So how can it be that you're really serious about eliminating programs and yet there are some that are obviously going to get a lot more money whatever the status?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we're going to give more money, invest more of our resources in the programs we think work. And we're not going to invest money in the programs we think don't work.
Q: I know, but isn't it the purpose of this plan to find out whether programs work or not, or have you already --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: This is certainly going to look throughout the government and see which programs work and which programs don't. If we come up with evidence to suggest that some of the programs you mentioned don't work, we will try to fix it based on the information we discover.
Q: Aren't you prejudging them just by saying we're going to spend $15 billion on stimulus and these existing programs -- you haven't taken a fresh look at those programs.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we have taken looks at them and we're not saying that you have to rule out all of the studies that have been done in the past that show which programs work. Head Start works. Head Start saves money. Head Start prepares kids for school. Head Start saves money in the long run.
Q: That is in dispute right now. There are new academic studies --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We think it works.
Q: Which specific cuts did the President believe Congress would not go along with? And how did he get that impression?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know if I agree with the characterization that some of the participants in the meeting came out with. The President always want to get more cuts. I think that clearly we have to make sure that anything we propose has the possibility of making it through the Congress.
Q: Are there some cuts he'd like to make that he doesn't feel would make it through the Congress?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know of anything specifically, but we're looking at everything right now, and we're going to be working with the Congress to achieve more cuts.
Q: Do you have a summit site?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: George, in six months how will we know if Al Gore has done a good job or not if there are no figures?
Q: He'll tell us. (Laughter.)
Q: How does the public measure success in six months?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Look at the results. Look at what he recommends. The results will speak for themselves.
Q: medical plan needs a waiver that the past administration bogged down on. Where does that stand?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I will have to check. I believe it's probably in HHS, but I'm not sure.
Q: Did you get the list from OPM of the Bush, what do you call it -- bonuses?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have it yet. I'll check with the Counsel's office. I'd love to see it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:05 P.M. EST
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269203