Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos
The Briefing Room
12:10 P.M. EDT
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, the President met with the principals of the National Security Advisors this morning. It was Secretary Christopher, Secretary Aspin, General Powell, Tony Lake, Sandy Berger, Leon Fuerth, the Vice President, Reg Bartholomew, Mack McLarty. As you know, Secretary Christopher gave a report on his trip, and he reported first of all that he believed that there was a consensus from his consultations on the need for stronger actions, and there will be continuing consultations over the next several days on what form those actions will take.
The President asked Secretary Christopher to do a round of phone calls to his counterparts, and he will talk to several of them today, tomorrow and beyond. And we will be working with them on ways to work towards the common action and the exact steps that it will take, and they will pursue as well Mr. Milosevic's offer to help insure that his border is not penetrated.
I think this is a chance to test Mr. Milosevic's sincerity in this regard, and that's one of the things that Secretary Christopher will be pursuing in his consultations.
Q: What does that mean exactly -- pursuing efforts on Milosevic's -- pursuing efforts in what sense?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, he's offered now to tighten up the embargo and really crack down, and we're going to be working with our allies on ways to move forward on that.
Q: Would that be, in other words, putting people on the ground at the borders?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that we necessarily get into that, but they're going to be talking to our allies about making sure that -- testing to see whether his offer is sincere and trying to make sure it works.
Q: And does that effort come first before the other U.S. military-involved plan would go into effect? In other words, does that put off a bit while you're working with Milosevic offer?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not necessarily. The consultations on the stronger measures are going to continue.
Q: Were the allies -- did they ask for more of a waitand -see approach, given the Milosevic offer?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not necessarily a more wait-andsee; I think clearly this is something we want to pursue and something we want to test, and something we want to make work.
Q: George, what kind of time frame do you have in mind?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think there's any hard timetable. The President has asked Secretary Christopher to make these consultations right now, and that's what he's going to do.
Q: George, a week ago Christopher came out of the meeting, he said he's going to go to Europe, consult with the allies, present them the proposals that the President made, come back and report to the President, and the President will take a decision on the precise military steps he intends to take. Did the President take that decision today?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has asked Secretary Christopher to call his counterparts on the consultations that are going on right now, on stronger measures, on building that consensus towards stronger measures.
Q: Call them about what? I mean, he's been consulting all week with them; we know that. Are you saying he called them just to consult some more, or did the President today -- just a simple yes/no -- did the President today take a decision?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, the consultations are continuing.
Q: If there's already -- if there's a consensus now, why do there need to be further consultations?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There's a consensus on the need to take stronger action. I mean, I think on the exact next steps we're still working on that.
Q: Might the closure of the border between Serbia and Bosnia -- might that forestall the need for military action? Is that what you're hoping?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't get into hope or anything like that. I can just say that we certainly want to test Mr. Milosevic's sincerity here. We certainly would like to make that tightening of the screws work.
Q: What about lifting the arms embargo?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What about it?
Q: Is that still on the table?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think, as President Rasmussen said yesterday, that nothing has been taken off the table, and we're going to continue to work on that.
Q: George, pursuing the Milosevic offer is the Sam Nunn option. And what it involves, according to Nunn, is putting U.N. observers on the border between Bosnia and Serbia as they now are on the border with Macedonia. Why are you being so vague about it? Isn't that what's involved here?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't have any of the specifics on how exactly it would work, but it's certainly one of the things we're going to be discussing with our allies.
Q: George, is the President planning on making any telephone calls himself? And will Secretary Christopher return physically? Will he travel back to Europe --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: First he's going to make the phone calls. I think the President is going to -- he's asked for a meeting with Senators Nunn and Warner and that delegation probably tomorrow evening. He's going to consult with them tomorrow evening.
Q: At the White House?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Probably. I'm not sure. It might be in the Residence; I just don't know. Nunn, Warner, Lugar, probably Bumpers. And he's going to try to meet with them tomorrow night.
Q: George, is it safe to say, then, that they've decided today to opt for this Milosevic option, as it were, in the meantime, and --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think that's right. I mean, I think that we're pursuing the same measures we've been pursuing all week, and this is now a new -- this is a dynamic situation that's been added to the table. We're going to pursue that as well. But it's not a substitute for it, it's along with the other measures.
Q: Just a follow-up on Gene's question. if you're not going to pursue it by imposing U.N. observers on the border there, how does one pursue --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not saying that we're not. I'm just saying there's no decision yet. We're going to consult on how to do it. I don't want to lead in a direction either way.
Q: George, can you describe American contacts with Milosevic at this point?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have anything on that exactly. I can try and take the question and get back to you.
Q: I'm curious if you could just find out when our latest -- if we've had contact with them, when it was and whether it was increased.
Q: And, George, also is there still, then, a significant amount of doubt about his sincerity in all of this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that we don't know yet. We want to wait and see. We certainly would like to make this work.
Q: George, a few days ago you said that you expected an Allied consensus and some action, some additional action against the Serbs before the referendum. Is that still operative, that expectation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that we're certainly working towards -- we don't put much stock in the referendum. Obviously some others may, but we don't.
Q: But the question is whether you now still expect Allied consensus and some action before the referendum.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're certainly working towards that and we're going to continue to work toward that. But as I said, we don't put much stock in it, even though others may.
Q: George, does Secretary Christopher report to the President on any consensus from his trip? Was there agreement on anything from his trip?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes. I think there's an agreement that we need to take stronger action. I think that's the consensus.
Q: Was there consensus on any single specific action?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't get into the specific actions. I can just say that there is a consensus on stronger actions. I'm not going to get into it.
Q: You don't have to tell us what specific action --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not going to get into it. I think there is a consensus on stronger action, absolutely.
Q: Didn't we have that consensus before he left on the trip? What he was looking for on the trip was consensus on the specific U.S. plan.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: This is a continuing process. It is not over yet and he's going to be calling his counterparts today.
Q: So there is not consensus yet on the U.S. plan that Christopher carried with him?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, Christopher carried several options of stronger measures. We are continuing to consult on all those measures.
Q: So Christopher failed, then, to get a consensus on this trip? He's got to make more phone calls now?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's going to make phone calls. At the same time, I would say nothing has been excluded. You saw that from Mr. Kozyrev -- all of them agreed that nothing has been taken off the table.
Q: But they haven't accepted anything?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That this process is not done yet.
Q: Which -- it demands -- to a failure, in fact?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There is a consensus for stronger action. Not at all, no.
Q: How long was the meeting this morning, George?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It was in about two sets. It went from about 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., and then the President came back, I would say, probably for another 40 minutes.
Q: Are they going to meet again today?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: George, do you think you can still have some sort of announcement sometime this week about the U.S. plan? You were saying early in the week or midweek?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think there's anything firm on an announcement. We're going to continue the consultations.
Q: The fact that the President went golfing -- is that an indication that he thinks everything is okay and there's no need to -- no urgency here?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President met on this for over two hours this morning with all his national security advisors. I think that is an indication that he takes this seriously. At the same time, he did his work.
Q: But there's nothing more he could do then? There's no reason for him to make phone calls to his counterparts?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's instructed Secretary Christopher to make the phone calls, and that's the appropriate action.
Q: How do you know whether Milosevic is being serious about his offer, as you mentioned?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to test it and see if we can lock it down.
Q: George, for those of us who were here last Saturday and you were, yourself, it seems that this is slow. Is that just a wrong impression, or --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: This is what?
Q: that this is taking a while to get this all tied up. Do you think there's a chance we'll be here next Saturday? I don't mind working weekends, but -- (laughter) --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I do. (Laughter.)
Q: I'm not trying to be personally impatient, I'm just trying to get a sense -- is this thing more complicated than the President realizes?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Obviously it's a changing situation. We had intervening events this week. Between last Saturday and this Saturday there was a signing of the Vance-Owen agreement in Athens, and then a rejection of it by the BosnianSerbian Parliament. It's a dynamic situation that continues to change, and we're going to continue to consult on the measures that we'll take.
Q: Is this the consensus the President was talking about yesterday, that the -- the allies are going to reach in the next few days?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think so. I think there's a consensus on stronger action, yes.
Q: So what he said that this -- he wasn't predicting something more was going to come up in the next few days?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: George, what did they talk about in this meeting if they decided only to pursue what's already been pursued?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, they talked about a lot of things, but this is the direction the President gave.
Q: But did they review all the possible options? Is that --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it was a general review of Secretary Christopher's trip. The bulk of the meeting was a report on his trip, and then a decision on the next steps.
Q: George, the administration, or the United States has credible evidence that the Iraqis tried to kill George Bush in Kuwait last month. That's an act of war. What's the President going to do.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's work back from your question. (Laughter.) As you know, these are serious charges, these are serious allegations. An investigative team has been sent to determine if there is credible evidence to back up the allegations. That investigative team is working right now.
Q: And they're going to recommend something to the President when they come back?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know about recommend, but they're certainly going to give their findings?
Q: When are they expected back?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I have no timetable on that at all.
Q: Who is on this team?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: FBI/Secret Service team.
Q: Some people in this White House say there is credible evidence at this point that the Iraqis are --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The investigative team was just on the ground this Monday, I believe. And they're still in the process of the investigation. They're still in the middle of the investigation. Clearly we take it seriously, clearly we take the investigation seriously. It's a serious investigation. At the same time, it has not been completed yet.
Q: Did this come up at this meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Briefly.
Q: Have they had access -- did the investigators have physical access to the suspects?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't speak to the details of the investigation.
Q: Has the President spoken to Mr. Bush about it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge.
Q: George, back to Bosnia. Is the President going to seek a resolution from Congress and if so, at what stage in the process will that happen?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think that the President -- we don't know what the final -- what form the resolution would take at all. He's not ruling that out in any way. And there's been a lot of advice from the Congress that we would certainly need a resolution of some sort in the debate. And I think that we would probably welcome that but we just don't know anything about form or anything like that at this time.
Q: George, is there any comment about the statement by the French Minister for Foreign Affairs who asked yesterday the U.S. to send troops to help enforce this safe havens -- five safe haven zones called by the military --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have anything on that. We're going to continue our consultations.
Q: George, any reaction to Ross Perot's statement that the President would like to get a little war started to detract from other problems?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I put out a statement on that yesterday. Yesterday evening. Clearly, the Bosnian situation is a very difficult situation about which patriotic Americans can disagree about that. But for Mr. Perot to suggest somehow that the President would involve American military officials in anything -- any kind of an action for political reasons is outrageous and absurd. And it demeans the debate.
Q: George, the President yesterday, you know, less than 24 hours ago, was far more bullish than you are today on prospects of Allied unity on Bosnia.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's Saturday, Leon, I want to get out of here. (Laughter.)
Q: He says specifically that -- he told us this thing is pretty well wrapped up -- there are only a few things on the edges that need to be tied down. You don't seem to be saying that at all. Was the President ahead of the curve yesterday?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, the President said that there was unity and I think that that's exactly what I'm reporting today. We believe that there's a consensus on the need to take stronger action. And we're going to continue the consultations on that.
Q: But that's not what the President said yesterday. The President implied or said --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure that's exactly what he said.
Q: that there was more than just unity on the need to do something. He seemed to say, we've got a package that's almost tied down -- in the next few days we're going to tie down.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's been talking about a package of stronger measures. We're still discussing those stronger measures and there's a consensus on the need to pursue those stronger measures. The exact form is not done yet, and the consultations are continuing.
Q: How does the Milosevic thing change your plans, your consultations? What new element does it add? How might it change?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It adds another measure to pursue. And something we will want to test -- a real locking down of the border. But it doesn't rule out anything else.
Q: George, how will you test it again?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to work with our allies on how to pursue it, on what exactly we can do to make sure it sticks.
Q: Is that what these phone calls are about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's part of what they're about. They're also going to following the range of measures before our allies.
Q: What are the possible ways to do that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just can't get into that.
Q: When you say that to test the border -- to test whether it will stick, is there any thought to send U.S. troops to see that it sticks?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're not contemplating sending U.S. troops at this time at all. No, there's nothing new on that. He had made an offer, we are going to pursue that offer.
Q: What is so significant about this offer if you find in a couple of days that the borders have been tightened, nothing is getting in? They have so much surplus there to continue the war that really
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: All I would say on that is, is that's exactly the same things you all were saying about the sanctions against Serbia three weeks ago, and the sanctions did tighten down on Milosevic and he did move, or at least appeared to move, and he has been tightening up on the Bosnian Serbs. Clearly, if the border is closed to a more significant degree that will have an effect on the Bosnian Serbs.
Q: Has the President asked Christopher to call on the Iraqi Ambassador?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge.
THE PRESS: Thank you. END 12:28 P.M. EDT
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/269319