Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
Hilton Hawaiian Village
10:13 A.M. (L)
MR. MCCURRY: Let me do just a couple of points. This will be my only opportunity to see most of you before we take off for California. And given deadline pressure, I thought I'd tell you what I know, which ain't much, as usual.
First, the President began his last day here in Hawaii with a delightful sunrise swim with wife, daughter Chelsea, and Rebecca, at 6:30 a.m. this morning.
Q: Who is Rebecca anyway?
MR. MCCURRY: First Friend.
Q: Where does she come from?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. (Laughter.) If those of you who were in Jackson Hole haven't figured that out by now, I don't know why you'd put that tough question to me now.
There's a couple of other points, too. I did not have an opportunity to tell you that on Friday night the President had about a six or seven-minute call with Secretary General Willy Klaas of NATO to review the status of NATO operations in Bosnia, to review the discussions that have been occurring between the UNPROFOR commander in former Yugoslavia, General Janvier, and the Bosnian Serb commander, General Mladic. They had a good discussion. The President expressed his gratitude for the fine performance of NATO in recent days, and they reviewed the various discussions that have been underway.
I think you know also that there's been, today -- today in European time -- a 13-hour meeting between General Janvier and General Mladic, and on behalf of the United Nations and the international community, General Janvier has made clear those conditions that attach to further measures that NATO would be prepared to carry out as we attempt to wind down the conflict in Bosnia and protect the Sarajevo safe area.
Vice President Gore had a conversation this morning in Washington time with President Izetbegovic of Bosnia Hercegovina. They also reviewed the status of U.N. discussions with the Bosnian Serbs, the efforts that are underway by Assistant Secretary Holbrooke, and generally reviewed the minute-by-minute situation on the ground, particularly within Sarajevo. The Vice President once again restated the international community's determination to see that any further attacks on Sarajevo and other safe areas in Bosnia be -- cease and desist.
Lastly, Lisa Caputo is in the back, but I think there is some interest in Mrs. Clinton's trip. We've got copies in the press room of Mrs. Clinton's weekly column in which she really sets out very nicely, I think, her goals and objectives for the conference in Beijing. We continue to get very complete reports from our delegation that is already in Beijing. Currently, Under Secretary of State Timothy Wirth is there as the head of the delegation. He will, obviously, be joined by Madeleine Albright, the Chair of the delegation; and the First Lady, the Honorary Chair, as they make their way to Beijing. Madeleine Albright has, I believe, just celebrated wedding of her daughter and is connecting with us here -- meeting up with us here before they take off for Beijing.
So I think you'll see from the First Lady a good description of what she would like to see addressed and covered in the sessions in Beijing.
That's it for me. What about you?
Q: Is the Vice President aware that, apparently the second spot in the ticket was offered to General Powell in 1992, according to the book?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President, as you know, had a very thorough search process for a running mate, came up with a running mate that he considers to have been a spectacular choice. He has forged a very close working relationship with the Vice President and looks forward to being reelected with the Vice President next year. As to all the rest, I believe it's accurate to say all the rest is ancient history.
Q: But not necessarily untrue?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again.
Q: But not necessarily untrue?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, those -- many here in this room covered the vice presidential selection process in 1992, and I think you know that the President cast a wide net as he was searching for a running mate. It is not secret that President Clinton has very high regard for General Powell, as do many Americans.
Q: Was there ever any personal conversation between Governor Clinton and General Powell about the job?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I am aware of. I don't believe so.
Q: Mike, there's also a suggestion in the book, according to Newsweek, that on two occasions the President personally asked Colin Powell if he'd be interested in replacing Secretary of State Christopher.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you recall back in January, we had a discussion about Secretary Christopher's status, and I reported to you at the end of last year the President had had some discussions with Secretary Christopher about his status. They reviewed frankly what the Secretary saw ahead for his service. And they had good conversations, and the upshot of those conversations, as I reported to you in January, is that the President expressed his enormous confidence in Secretary Christopher, and Secretary Christopher expressed his enthusiasm about remaining in his position and pursuing assignments. And, if anything, the President's confidence and his faith in his foreign policy team in recent weeks and months has grown as they have very effectively addressed a myriad of problems that we face around the world.
Q: But getting back to the first part, did the President ask Vernon Jordan to personally sound out Colin Powell to see if he would consider being the vice presidential running mate.
MR. MCCURRY: Again, back to the first question about 1992, I'd say again, all of you covered the selection process. You know that the President, as he well should, cast a very wide net and considered a variety of people as he searched for a running mate. He's confident he found the one that has made an enormous contribution to the life of the American people.
Q: But was Al Gore his first choice?
MR. MCCURRY: No, Gore was his first and only choice.
Q: Did he consider Bob Kerrey?
Q: Mr. McCurry, what about the reports of the French -- possible French underground explosion in --
MR. MCCURRY: We are aware of those reports. The National Security Council staff is looking into them. If we have anything to say further about that, we'll probably do so in a written statement later today.
Q: Mike, did Governor Clinton directly or indirectly offer the number two spot on the ticket to General Powell?
MR. MCCURRY: He offered the place on the ticket to the individual who accepted it, Al Gore, who has performed admirably in his role as Vice President.
Q: Mike, is the United States protesting any further about the treatment of women at the conference, the surveillance, the incident that happened today?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we very much regret the restrictions on free expression and association which have been occurring in Beijing. We believe those are wrong and they are counterproductive to the work of a very important international conference. We've been making clear to Chinese officials for some time that there should not be limits on freedom of expression and association during the course of the international women's conference. And we have also had direct discussions between Ambassador Albright, Under Secretary Wirth and others, with both U.N. officials and Chinese officials to register our concern.
The United States delegation currently in Beijing has been working on this problem. And we believe ultimately it will be the U. N.'s responsibility, working with Chinese officials, to seek solutions to the problems that delegates and representatives of nongovernmental organizations have been encountering. But we hope certainly that they can clear those matters up. And the First Lady especially hopes that those matters will be cleared up prior to her arrival.
Q: Your saying it's a U.N. responsibility to clear up the situation?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have expressed our concern. I think many delegations participating in the work of the conference have expressed their concern. But this is a United Nations conference, and the United Nations certainly has expectations of a host country, as they do at all international conferences. And we hope that the United Nations officials and Chinese officials will work through any of the logistical and security problems that delegates and other representatives of nongovernmental organizations have been experiencing.
Q: Prior to the meeting at the end of last year in which the President and Christopher talked about the Secretary's future, did anyone in the administration sound out Colin Powell to see if he might be interested in that job if the conversations with Christopher had gone the other way?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be prudent for you to imagine that if the Secretary had had some concerns about whether or not he would stay in place that the President might have inquired to several people about their interest in that position. So I don't think that should come as surprise. At the time, at the end of the year and early this year, we were very candid in saying that the Secretary had had these conversations about his assignment with the President. But the upshot of those conversations are exactly as I reported to you in January, that the President retained complete confidence in Secretary Christopher, and Secretary Christopher, frankly, had found new enthusiasm about his assignment and about the work that lay ahead this year. And he's been addressing that, as you know, very effectively.
Q: Are you denying what Powell said in the book?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that sounded like a denial.
Q: With whom did the administration discuss the Secretary of State's position besides Colin Powell?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to -- I decline to get into any speculation like that. Obviously, these are very sensitive personnel discussions, and, apparently, General Powell has felt free to write about that. That's his right as an American. But, again, I'd stress that the President, as is obvious, has very high regard for General Powell.
Q: How concerned are the President's political advisors about a possible Powell candidacy as a Republican --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that the President has had any discussion with his political advisors on the question, and I'm not aware that the political advisors have themselves had any discussions of that nature.
Q: Do you think General Powell will run for the presidency?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no way of knowing.
Q: If General Powell had said yes, would Warren Christopher still be Secretary of State?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's accurate to say that any conversations of that nature never advanced to a point where that was a live prospect.
Q: Mike, during this time in Hawaii, has the President spoken to Prime Minister Major or President Chirac about the events in Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. The only conversation I'm aware of is the one I reported to you earlier with Secretary General Klaas. And, certainly, we have had very good working contacts with the British government and the French government as together we work through the very difficult situation in Bosnia. But, together with other members of the international community, we remain quite resolved to see that the conflict as this point draw to an end and that we pursue the pathway towards peace as being advance by Assistant Secretary Holbrooke and his delegation.
Q: What is your response to the report that the Bosnian Prime Minister threatened not to go to Geneva unless the Bosnian Serbs were brought to heel?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not fully aware of his statement. And the first thing I would want to know is whether that was prior to or after Vice President's conversation with President Izetbegovic. I suspect, as a result of the Vice President's conversation with President Izetbegovic, the Bosnian government understands much more clearly the determination the international community has, the resolve of NATO in addressing this very difficult conflict. And I would imagine that the Bosnian government's pronouncements would reflect the very good and productive tenor of that conversation.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 10:25 A.M. (L)
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Mike McCurry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/270083