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Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

March 15, 1996

The Briefing Room

1:17 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the White House. It is Friday, and today will pass for St. Patrick's Day here at the White House, since St. Patrick's Day is Sunday and many of us will not be here.

I'd like to start with a statement announcing a presidential mission to Mexico. President Clinton and President Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico have agreed to establish a high-level contact group to work against the threat narcotics posed to both our nations. And President Clinton will be sending a high-level mission headed by the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, General Barry McCaffrey. The delegation will depart March 26th and will work intensively with its counterparts in Mexico through March 27th; then report its results directly to President Clinton and President Zedillo.

This meeting is taking place because Mexico and the United States are acutely aware that illegal narcotics pose serious threats to the health of our citizens, the safety of our streets and to the integrity of government institutions. We're convinced that each nation needs to take urgent and coordinated action.

The objectives of this first high-level contact group meeting are to review policies, enhance existing cooperation with Mexico -- the cooperation that has been ongoing between law enforcement authorities both in the United States and Mexico -- and to agree on new priorities and to begin developing a new plan of action as we combat the scourge of drugs.

We are committed to working with President Zedillo and his government to consolidate our bilateral cooperation mechanisms, strengthen our counternarcotics and antiorganized crime policies, and to succeed together in these common endeavors so important across our border. There will be a follow-up meeting of this working group that will take place sometime in the second half of 1996.

In addition, President Clinton in a short while will sign an executive order that creates a new Cabinet council on counternarcotics that will consist of 14 Cabinet members, chaired by the President. The Vice President will participate, as will General McCaffrey, obviously, and then individual Cabinet members as they are designated and called upon. The council itself will provide direction and oversight for the national drug control strategy that the President has authorized, including relating drug control policy to other national security interests and establishing rank order priorities within those interests that we pursue.

Secondly, the council will ensure coordination among all the departments and agencies of the federal government to make sure that we both implement the President's drug control strategy and make sure that that implementation is as effective as it can be. You all recall that the President had previously said that he would ask General McCaffrey to participate in National Security Council meetings and he's also announcing today a directive that formally makes General McCaffrey, in his capacity as Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a member of the National Security Council for issues pertaining to counternarcotics -- the war on drugs, as it continues.

Q: Was this mission decided on because of disappointment on the Hill that Mexico was not decertified when Colombia was?

MR. MCCURRY: No, this mission is a reflection of the fact that the cooperation we're having with the government of Mexico indicates that there's a willingness on the part of President Zedillo's government to work with us in achieving our mutual objectives related to drug trafficking and curbing drug use.

Q: China? Specifically, we seem to be getting some hopeful signals this morning, partly because they've stopped the missile tests. But in light of the continuing exercises now going beyond the election date, is this really something hopeful here?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't believe I would consider it hopeful. We take a very dim view of these exercises. We think they are unnecessarily provocative and we believe the issue of Taiwan ought to be addressed through peaceful dialogue. We've been critical, as you know, of the exercises themselves. We do note, however, that the Chinese have announced a formal end of their M9 missile test after conducting, I believe, four tests, which is somewhat less or fewer than the number of tests that we had anticipated or believed would occur.

The exercises, themselves, will continue. We have raised our concerns directly with the People's Republic about the nature of these exercises and encouraged utmost caution to assure that they don't exacerbate an already tense situation.

Q: Mike, has the United States been given word by Chinese officials that they do not intend to attack Taiwan?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have had very direct conversations with the People's Republic about the nature of these tests. We've encouraged them to pursue peaceful means to resolve the Taiwan issue. We have acknowledged the public representations of the People's Republic that they do intend to achieve the eventual reunification of China through peaceful means. And in our private dialogue, which will remain private, we have stressed our concerns. As to the response of the People's Republic, it's really more appropriate for them to address their response through spokespeople for their government.

Q: So you can't confirm the Defense Department statement yesterday that the U.S. officials have been told privately and publicly?

MR. MCCURRY: I cannot confirm that statement, no.

Q: Has the President signed the CR yet?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has just received it moments ago -- is it here now?

MS TERZANO: It's coming over here this afternoon.

MR. MCCURRY: We believe it will be here at some point this afternoon. I have not actually been told for sure that it's here, but he expects to receive it this afternoon and will sign it sometime in the course of the afternoon.

Q: What are you going to do, Mike, just put a statement out?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll put out probably a written statement when he does this, so you'll know.

Q: What happens next now on the budget?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll come back, Helen --

Q: Mike, on appropriations, what's the outlook here at the White House to what's happening in the Senate? And what do they have to do to make this bill acceptable so that the President would sign it?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they know fairly precisely, based on the conversations that Mr. Panetta has had on the Hill what they need to do to address the President's priorities specifically with respect to Medicare, with protecting the environment, making sure we don't add to the tax burden of lower income working families in this country and making sure, most importantly, that we make necessary investments in education and technology that will help the economy grow in the future.

The House passed bill just doesn't cut it. It is unacceptable to the President. The Senate bill, while they are making some steps in the areas of education and environment designed to improve the bill or move it closer to the President's view, has not yet -- that bill has not yet reached the acceptable point. So they've got some more work to do. We are following the deliberations very carefully and we fully expect the conference committee, when it eventually meets, to resolve the differences between the House and the Senate view will take the President's strong concerns and priorities into account. They better do that.

Q: Specifically on the Senate bill, what do they need to do to make it acceptable? Is it the amount of money?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have a very good idea, based on the conversations we've had with Chairman Hatfield and also with Chairman Livingston exactly those areas that they need to address. We spelled it out in abundant detail the $8 billion that we see as necessary to put some measure of support back into those areas that the President considers very high priorities for the American people.

Now, they've cut -- that's just adding back $8 billion out of cuts of $30 billion that they've already made. We don't think that that is an unreasonable request. We're asking for less than a third of the amount that they cut from the FY '96 budget request that we submitted added back in so that we can make sure we protect the environment, that we can have the kind of support for education that will help kids grow and earn better incomes in the future, and that we will maintain the kinds of commitments that we ought to maintain for our nation's elderly.

Q: So if by next week all you get is $4 billion, that is not enough?

MR. MCCURRY: They will be doing work on this bill all through the course of next week, and our view is that by the time we reach this point next week they will produce a bill that is much more to the satisfaction of the President. They know they have to do that. They know that that ultimately will be necessary work if we're to get full funding for the federal government for the balance of this fiscal year. And given how long they've delayed, we can't imagine that they will postpone this necessary piece of work much longer than next week.

Q: Why are you so optimistic?

Q: What do you offer on the offsets for coming up with the $8 billion?

MR. MCCURRY: We offered -- we gave them the $8 billion and told them how we would pay for it from other places of the budget. I don't have the detailed list of offsets in front of me, but they do and they know that we pay for that without adding any incremental effects to the budget deficit.

Q: But you can't go through those numbers?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have them. They've been publicly reported in the past. I mean, that's been out there for a while.

I'm sorry, Helen.

Q: Why are you so optimistic that by the end of next week they'll come around?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, because we detect within the Republican leadership of the Congress some desire to get on with business. They've shut the government down twice. They don't want to do it again, apparently, and they know the President will stand very firm on the principles that he has publicly articulated over and over again. And they, I think, understand that there's a balance of power under our Constitution, the President has a right to insist on his priorities, and that they be addressed in some reasonable fashion.

What we've asked for is not unreasonable. They know that, and we believe as they reflect and think about this in the course of the coming week, they will finally get around to writing FY '96 appropriations measures that are, in effect, acceptable.

Q: Dick Armey said this morning that he would not support a line item veto for the President until the President signed a balanced budget. Do you have a White House reaction to that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President supports a balanced budget agreement and Congressman Armey has participated in those discussions that could get us to a balanced budget if we just go back to where we were when he last left the White House discussing that subject. He knows exactly where the President would go to get the necessary elements for a balanced budget agreement. So do the Majority Leader, the Speaker and the other participants in those meetings, and they ought to do that. They ought to give the American people a balanced budget that the President and the Congress have said that they deserve.

Q: Do you see a problem with his linking the line item veto and the balanced budget?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the line item veto, if I recall correctly -- you might want to ask Congressman Armey -- I think that's something that was in their Contract for America that they campaigned on. So I would imagine he would want to make good on a promise that they were so strongly articulate in espousing in 1994. Now, maybe they've had some change of view on the importance of the line item veto. The President hasn't.

The President campaigned on it in 1992, wrote about it in his book, Putting People First. He wants the line item veto so he can use it to cut wasteful spending. He'd like it today, and like it without the incumbrance of having it linked to other legislation. But since it's part of the goal of a balanced budget and reflects the desire of the President to trim unnecessary federal spending, and since the President already supports the goal of a balanced budget in a time certain, maybe they can be linked. It would give the American people and this President something that both want and support -- use of the line item veto and a certainty about a balanced budget.

Q: Do you expect anything significant to come out of the meeting with Prime Minister Bruton today, any new developments, new announcements?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, as I told some of you earlier, this is a significant meeting. The Taoiseach is here at a time when there is enormous possibility for the peace process related to Northern Ireland. We believe that through the consultations that have occurred with the parties, through the discussions that the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland are having directly, there is enormous hope as we look towards the date of June 10th and the likely start of all-party talks.

The President has been doing some work on this; the National Security Advisor has been intensively working through contacts with the parties on how we could best use our own influence to encourage all parties to make progress towards the goal of peace in Northern Ireland. This meeting with the Prime Minister occurs in that context, as did the President's discussion with Prime Minister John Major on Wednesday in Egypt.

So it's a critical moment for the peace process, a moment in which we've got a lot of hard work to do, in addition to celebrating, as we always do at this time of year, the traditional ties between Ireland and the United States.

Q: Mike, does the United States have any reason to believe from any of its contacts the IRA will bow to pressure from this government, from Dublin, and from elsewhere and restore the peace, the cease-fire?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have contacts, but not directly, with the IRA, and those contacts lead us to believe this is a moment of possibility with respect to the peace process. But it requires hard work and it requires a commitment by all parties to moving forward with the process aimed at bringing peace. And, of course, it requires in the case of the IRA a dedication and resumption of the terms of the cease-fire.

Q: Yes, but that doesn't get to the question. You say it's a moment of possibility. Are there any indications that the IRA will restore it?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we wouldn't call it a moment of possibility if we didn't have reason to believe that there are possibilities that present themselves at this time.

Q: I'd like to go back to a question that was put to you this morning and see if you could flesh it out just a little bit. The President has been doing a good deal discussing of terrorism during the course of the last few days. I'd be very curious as to why you all would feel that the IRA should not be treated in the general, overall terms the same as organizations such as Hamas, Islamic Holy War, or any of the other organizations that advocate that type of terrorism.

MR. MCCURRY: I need to look at law. I think that they may -- there are restrictions that apply to fundraising activities by those organizations, and there may be some similarities under our law between the fundraising restrictions that attach to those organizations. But I would caution against drawing any sweeping comparisons of Northern Ireland, the difficulties of the Troubles there. The history is different, the nature of the conflict is different. The dialogue between the parties in that case is different. And the history of the Middle East and particularly representation of the Palestinian community in the territories is much different and much more textured history, diplomatic history.

You can very often draw false parallels by trying to compare apples and oranges, and I don't think it's wise to do that.

Q: In terms of the end result, is there a great deal of significant difference between organizations both of which utilize bombing of civilians?

MR. MCCURRY: As you clearly saw at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt on Wednesday, there is very intense interest throughout the international community in discouraging the sources of funding to those who use terror as a weapon, as a weapon against the peace processes that could mean much in Northern Ireland or the Middle East. And there's some commonality in viewing ways that the international community could come together to restrict that type of source of funding. And we do that -- certainly through the President's executive order, we do that with respect to Hamas, and we've had other efforts that are aimed at curbing support for terrorism in Northern Ireland as well.

Q: Have there been or are there going to be any face-to-face meetings between Adams and administration officials?

MR. MCCURRY: There will be no meetings here at the White House with Mr. Adams. But, as I said earlier, we continue to have contacts with the parties.

Q: Does that mean that there could be what they call an off-campus meeting?

MR. MCCURRY: We will continue to have contacts with the parties.

Q: Will you have contacts with them during Adams' trip this time?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll continue to have contacts with the parties.

Q: Is that a yes?

MR. MCCURRY: Broken record there -- you got it.

Q: The Commerce Department -- has said a lot of pro-business activity between the U.S. and Ireland. Is that on hold at all or rolled back?

MR. MCCURRY: To the contrary. We have an announcement that will be made later today related to some work the Commerce Department is going to be doing in September. Are they making that announcement? We've continued through the work that Senator George Mitchell is doing, who is our Special Representative for Economic Development in Northern Ireland, we've continued to support the work of the International Fund for Ireland, continued to do those things that are changing the quality of life for the people of Northern Ireland, particularly in the six counties that are the focus of the work of the fund.

Now, that work is continuing. I believe the Commerce Department will, either today or shortly, be announcing some things that they're going to do to continue to encourage economic development in Northern Ireland, even at a time when we're working separately to nurture the peace process itself.

Q: And conditionality to that?

MR. MCCURRY: No, because we've always seen economic development in Northern Ireland as something that contributes to the peace process by showing them that for taking the risks associated with peace, of laying down the weapons and stopping the bombing, that there can be a quality of life that's improved. That's what's got the people of Northern Ireland so enthusiastic about the peace process itself. It's one of the reasons why public opinion in Ulster has changed dramatically in support of the peace process over the course of the last several years.

Q: Mike, could I just ask you, are people like Gerry Adams and Republicans, are they on trial in America right now in terms of their access to the administration? Is this the last bite of the cherry to have in the absence of the restoration of this cease-fire?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they are not on trial, but at the same time, the United States stands with those who support the peace. And we especially stand with those who have acknowledged the importance of the cease-fire which has changed the quality of life for the people of Northern Ireland.

At the moment, Sinn Fein and IRA are outliers because of the disregard for the cease-fire that had been in place. We have granted Mr. Adams a visa so that he could come here to the United States at a time of year when much of Irish America celebrates St. Patrick's Day so he could hear from the people of Irish America here in the United States how desperately we want to see support for the peace process and a resumption of the cease-fire, itself. So those types of contacts, we believe, will encourage him to understand the yearning that exists both here in the United States and certainly within Ireland for peace.

Q: Mike, back on the budget. What do you think accounts for the change in the attitude on the part of Republicans? The Republican primaries or --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I can venture a guess, but you could probably ask them and get some type of answer yourself. They were elected to run Congress. The American people put control of Congress in the hands of Republicans in 1994; they don't have a lot to show for it. This has been a very dismal Congress with respect to producing real results for the American people -- a balanced budget, reform of welfare, the kind of health care reform that will protect people that might lost health insurance when they change jobs, the kinds of investments in education and technology that will grow our economy in the future, protections for the environment that many Americans of both the Republican party and the Democratic party espouse.

I think the Republican leadership of Congress has been getting the message from the American people; they don't like what they're seeing out of this Congress because they haven't seen a whole lot. And I think that they want to get on with business now. There have been some statements from the leadership of the Congress that they understand they need to get to work, and certainly the President is encouraging that. The President remains open to have active discussions with them to pursue the goals that he and the Congress in many ways share. They just have different approaches about how they reach those goals.

Q: Has he heard from Dole specifically? I mean, Dole, on the campaign trail this morning, said that -- sort of made overtures on compromise and said, "If we don't accomplish anything, it hurts us both." Has he had any overtures from Dole?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we've had any overtures, but we have had some staff-level contact with his staff. Senator Dole has necessarily been out of town while he's been campaigning. The President certainly understands that. But at the same time, the President remains a President, Senator Dole remains Majority Leader of the United States Senate, and they've got constitutional responsibilities and obligations to the American people to get on with work, whatever the political outcome of a contest later this year. That's the President's attitude.

You know, there's plenty of time for politics much later this year. Frankly, the President doesn't think the American people would like to see a general election campaign begin tomorrow or today. He would much rather, and believes that maybe the Majority Leader would prefer, to get down and do some serious work in the time that exists between now and the real heavy resumption of campaigning this fall.

Q: Is Leon up on the Hill today talking about appropriations to the budget?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I have heard of. We can check. I wasn't aware of him doing anything up there today, but we can check.

Q: As long as you brought up Dole, when he makes a campaign stop --

MR. MCCURRY: I was asked about Dole. (Laughter.)

Q: When he makes a campaign stop at a place where he went for rehabilitation from his war wound and discusses his injury and his rehabilitation and his military service and then says to the campaign reporters following him that he's not comparing himself to Clinton, do you buy that?

MR. MCCURRY: I was out of the country. I missed that.

Q: Mike, is the President likely to sign the product liability reform legislation that's pending?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've got a lot of concerns on that. You're right that the legislation is pending. We're going to look very carefully at the specifics of that legislation. We are interested in acceptable tort reform. At the same time, we are also cognizant of the need to protect consumers. So we'll look very carefully at the specifics of the legislation as it develops.

Q: This Vietnam spy story, the FBI says it has evidence that since normalization of relations with Vietnam in 1994 there's been an increase in spying in this country by Vietnamese people in this country, particularly in high tech and chip makers and stuff. We've talked to most of the chip makers in this country who say they have no evidence of that. Their Vietnamese workers are great and doing the right thing. So I guess I've got three questions. One, how do you account for the difference in the point of view of the FBI and the chip makers and the high-tech industry people in this country? The FBI took out ads in Vietnamese language newspapers to try to recruit people to work on our side for this. And does that affect the administration's position on continuing normalization of relations with Vietnam?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the information I have provided to me by the Justice Department is, for good reason, the FBI's foreign counterintelligence program determined a need to place the kinds of advertisements you discussed in the Vietnamese community here in the United States. My understanding is that the ad that they placed generated 200 calls, approximately 30 letters, and the FBI has since been processing the information that it received pursuant to that. So they've found it helpful.

Now, I can't assess for you the relative merits of the information available to the FBI versus the private sector people that you describe, but we have confidence that the FBI, as it pursues as it should the protection of our national interests and the protection of the American people, takes these types of steps from time to time to make sure that they've got adequate information through law enforcement channels to those whose responsibility it is to protect the United States.

The Attorney General, I understand, has spoken to this issue and made it clear that there are good reasons for them to be pursuing this work, but it's not dissimilar from what we've done in some cases with respect to the Russian emigree community or the Chinese emigre community. We do actively protect the interests of the American people by seeking to understand those governments -- in two of those cases, communist governments -- that might attempt to penetrate the United States and gain access to information that ought properly be protected.

Q: Mike, can you tell us a bit more about Louisiana Monday?

MR. MCCURRY: Louisiana. The President is -- he's going to go down to Louisiana. Let's see, he is -- the first thing he's going to do is dedicate a new terminal at the Port of New Orleans. In 1962, President Kennedy dedicated the opening of a new terminal at the Port of New Orleans, which is America's largest port. And on Monday President Clinton will do likewise as they add a new port facility to the port itself.

That will be an opportunity for him to talk about the importance of trade in our economic strategy, the way in which this administration has worked to open up markets overseas to American goods, many of which go directly in and out of the that port.

The President then will go to Fort Polk, where he will link up with General Shalikashvili and General John Sheehan and they will participate in a recognition ceremony for some of the American troops that have now returned from Haiti, completing a mission there that has helped restore democracy to Haiti.

He's got some other things on his calendar after that. He's going to do -- the President is looking forward to going to a Pentecostal observance of Easter with the production of a program that's called the Pentecostal Messiah. It's kind of a -- the President describes it as being -- he's seen a lot of Broadway shows, but he's seen very little that is as good as this. He first saw this, I guess, in Southern Louisiana nine years ago. But we can tell you more about that on Monday.

Q: Is that a stay overnight, or is he coming back?

MR. MCCURRY: No, he's coming back very late -- I guess, very early Tuesday morning.

Q: Is this the first -- you said this is a -- Kennedy did a similar dedication. Is this the first since then, or have there been other terminals dedicated?

MR. MCCURRY: Doesn't say. The information I have doesn't have it here, but we can develop more of that for you on Monday. The port is also, by the way, celebrating its 100th anniversary. So it's part of an anniversary celebration of the port.

Q: Does he go back to New Orleans from Fort Polk?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. We can give you the travel details later.

Q: Mike, back on China for a second. You said you can't confirm that the Chinese have given assurances they will not attack Taiwan. But would you like to get such an assurance? Would you see it as easing of tensions in the Strait?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we would -- we would believe, both publicly and privately, the People's Republic ought to adhere to the stipulations it has made before, that it seeks a peaceful resolution of the issue of Taiwan.

Q: The Bosnian tax relief bill -- is the President still not expecting to sign that in the next week?

MR. MCCURRY: He is expected to sign it next week -- by Wednesday, I believe, is the day.

Q: What was the question?

MR. MCCURRY: The Bosnia tax relief bill. But I don't anticipate anything on that today. I think it will be sometime next week.

All right, you can all go back to the NCAA basketball playoffs.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

MR. MCCURRY: Good-bye.

END 1:45 P.M. EST

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

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