Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
3:06 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, pilgrims. My tie? You're asking about my tie? I'm wearing this tie in honor of some very superb librarians who used to work for the Office of Technology Assessments Information Center. They are now no longer working there because the Office of Technology Assessment itself is no longer, and the assistant manager of the Information Center at the OTA library gave me this tie for Christmas.
Q: And they had to sell all their clothes? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Last Christmas. "She" being my wife, of course. I just thought that was apt commentary somehow or other.
Q: So it's the tie that binds?
MR. MCCURRY: That's the tie that binds.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you a little bit about how next week is now shaping up.
On Monday evening at 8:00 p.m. the President will address the nation on the subject of Bosnia. He wants to both help Americans understand the importance of the peace agreement that has been achieved now in Dayton and also help Americans understand the unique responsibilities the United States of America will have as a result of this agreement.
In many ways we alone are in a position to help these parties enforce this peace. Of course, we will work with our NATO allies, as we previously discussed with you. But we have some unique responsibilities given our leadership role in NATO, and given our commitment to the security of Europe and to the stability of Europe. In two world wars Americans have shed blood and for exactly those purposes.
And now we have an opportunity, at minimum risk of loss of life, to protect the peace there. That will be fragile but will need to be nurtured. And it represents, as the President said yesterday, the best hope of ending a tragic conflict that for three and a half years has resulted in the loss of life for 250,000 people. And he wishes to discuss that with the American people Monday night.
That, of course, will of necessity delay our departure for Europe. I expect the President will be here in the White House Tuesday morning for meetings, both with his budget negotiators and also meetings related to Bosnia. So he'll be departing later in the day on Tuesday for Europe.
He will arrive very early Wednesday morning in London, and then proceed with a schedule that includes a wreath-laying with Prime Minister Major, a meeting with Prime Minister Major followed by a press availability, a speech to both houses of Parliament, a meeting with Tony Blair of Labor, a reception for the American community that will be hosted by U.S. Ambassador Admiral Crowe. And then he'll have a dinner and a reception that evening with Prime Minister Major.
On Thursday he will depart for Belfast.
Q: No lunch with the Queen?
MR. MCCURRY: There's none now on the schedule. Thursday he will depart for Belfast. He plans to speak at the Mackie's plant, I believe as previously scheduled on Thursday. He'll have a roundtable discussion with tenants and managers of the East Belfast Enterprise Park. He will then fly to Londonderry for remarks to the citizens of Londonderry and for receptions. He will return to Belfast for the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony at City Hall, and have a reception that evening at Queens University.
On Friday the President will depart for Dublin, have a tree-planting ceremony with President Mary Robinson. He'll meet with Prime Minister Bruton, make remarks to the citizens of Dublin, remarks to the Irish Parliament, and then enjoy a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Bruton.
On Saturday, December 2nd, the President will depart for Germany. He will meet with U.S. troops stationed in Germany who will eventually be deployed to Bosnia as part of the U.S. contingent of the international implementation force. He will then, subject to further announcements as to place -- I don't know that we have identified exactly the place now. We're working with NATO and U.S. officials in Brussels and Mons to identify the location.
He'll then fly on Saturday evening to Madrid, have dinner with the King and Queen, and then on Sunday participate in both bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Gonzalez and then meetings of the U.S.-E.U. summit as previously scheduled, returning to the White House in time for the event at the Kennedy Center on Sunday night.
That is a thumbnail of the schedule as we now know it. Obviously, we are working very quickly to finalize details. We'll be here tomorrow, Friday and into the weekend working out the final arrangements as we can. Probably Friday or Saturday provide updated information on the President's travel and on how that affects the press charter travel.
Q: So what was basically dropped -- just most of the Tuesday morning --
Q: The first day, it sounds like.
Q: -- first day --
MR. MCCURRY: Some ceremonial events. Why don't -- I would like to ask, if you don't mind, ask the Deputy White House Press Secretary, David Johnson, to talk a little bit about some of the stops. Some of you had asked for a little bit of on-the-record material that you could use connected to some of these stops. And why don't I let David handle that.
Q: Before we do that, Mike, could I just ask a quick question? Is the President also planning on addressing the Joint Session of Congress on Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: There are no plans for that at this point. His plans for Monday evening are an Oval Office address to the nation.
Q: How long would that be?
MR. MCCURRY: We are not certain of the length, but I'll give you more guidance on that as we get closer to Monday.
Q: Who are the officials he's meeting with Tuesday before he takes off -- a Cabinet meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: He certainly wants to meet with his negotiators. Remember on Tuesday we will most likely begin some of the preliminary discussions with Capitol Hill folks to structure the dialogue about budget issues. And he'll want to meet with some of his negotiators on Tuesday morning. And as I said, we also holding the candle under -- open for meetings on Bosnia.
Q: Have you asked the networks for time for this speech, and have they given it to you --
MR. MCCURRY: We have notified the major U.S. networks of the President's intent to address the nation on Monday evening. Given the subject matter, given the importance of this subject to the American people and to the American Congress, I suspect that there's not really a need to request the time. I imagine it will be made available. But we have notified the networks of the President's intent to make that address.
Q: Do you know whether they have announced plans to carry --
MR. MCCURRY: It's -- just done that recently. I assume they have that under consideration now.
Q: One quick front-end logistical question, realizing a lot of this stuff is probably up in the air, but if he leaves late, late in the day Tuesday, I assume that means the press charter would probably leave Tuesday morning in lieu of Monday morning now -- that's the thinking, or --
MR. MCCURRY: That's a safe assumption, but the exact time we don't know. We would like to have as late a departure as possible on Tuesday for the press charter, but it would leave, to be sure, Tuesday instead of Monday.
Q: -- that's my --
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct.
Q: Are the budget talks now set to begin Tuesday instead of Monday as --
MR. MCCURRY: Why don't I come back to that. I think you -- several people have budget questions. We can get into that. Let me ask David Johnson to do a little more on the schedule.
MR. JOHNSON: I think Mike has covered much of the logistical side of the schedule. If it's helpful to you, I'll talk a little bit about what we hope to accomplish. The President believes this is an important opportunity to give expression to the strong transatlantic ties we have with the governments and the leaders that he will be visiting with while he's in Europe.
His first stop in the United Kingdom. This will be his first opportunity to visit London as President. He plans to meet with Prime Minister Major for full review of all foreign policy issues, concentrating on Bosnia, NATO and our efforts to craft a new European security architecture; talk, of course, about the Irish peace process; and also, because of our work with the United Kingdom and other regions of the world, also about the Middle East peace process.
As Michael mentioned, he's also going to take this opportunity to meet with the leader of the opposition, Tony Blair, something that he frequently does when he makes a visit abroad.
He will then go onto Belfast and be the first United States President to visit Belfast. He hopes and plans to affirm the administration's support for the United -- governments of the United Kingdom and Ireland's efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland. We continue to believe that the twin-track approach is the best process to pursue. And we believe that the governments are dedicated to pursuing peace through that twin-track approach. We'll be affirming the administration's support for those who are taking risks to support peace, like in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East.
We're also going to be celebrating the 15-month long cease-fire. We believe that there's been a radical change toward a normal life in Belfast and in Northern Ireland in the last 15 months; that there are people that are literally alive today because of the efforts that have been undertaken to pursue peace there.
And in the season of peace, the President wants to mark this visit by, as Michael said, visiting a plant where Catholic and Protestant workers work together, and also visiting some enterprises which reflect a new spirit of investment and the potential for prosperity that's there now because of the cease-fire and the efforts toward the peace process.
He's also going to participate as the guest of the city of Belfast to light their Christmas tree, which I understand will be coming from Nashville, Tennessee, their sister city.
In Dublin, he's going to affirm the traditional ties of the United States with a modern Ireland, take the opportunity to confer with Prime Minister Bruton on a broad range of economic and security issues, in particular Bosnia, the Irish peace process, and the new European security structures.
After visiting our troops in Germany, he will proceed onto Madrid and have an opportunity to have dinner with the King and Queen. The main purpose of that stop in Madrid is for a United States-European Union summit. He also plans to take advantage of being there to have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Gonzalez, where he will talk about security and economic issues, including Bosnia.
The highlight of the U.S.-European Union will be the unveiling of the Transatlantic Initiative and the new transatlantic agenda; also a United States-European Union action plan, which catalogs all the efforts we have underway between the United Stats and the European Union to pursue issues together, especially including the opening of markets in Europe for the products of the United States and to create jobs here.
Q: What is twin -- the twin track? That is England and Ireland?
MR. JOHNSON: No, that is the effort to get talks underway at the same time as we pursue decommissioning.
Q: I don't know if this is for you or for Mike, but what's the latest thinking on the President going to Paris, apparently within a very short time after he comes back from Europe?
MR. MCCURRY: On that there will be further diplomatic conversations back and forth around the alliance. There is work to be done on aspects of the agreement reached in Dayton yesterday. And they were reviewed with the President today for about 45 minutes by his national security advisers. The President attended a meeting, along with the Vice President, of the principals of the National Security Council. They had a very good discussion about the agreement reached yesterday in Dayton, a good briefing by Secretary Christopher, Ambassador Holbrooke and other members of the negotiating team. The President asked a number of questions about aspects of the agreement, about how the eventual deployment of the implementation force would be impacted by several of the conversations held during Dayton over the last three weeks; gave some very precise instructions to General Shalikashvili about efforts now being made to finalize the operational plan that NATO will use to guide the mission in Bosnia. And they did discuss what the sequencing is of discussions that will lead to the concluding of the peace agreement.
As Secretary Christopher said yesterday, we anticipate that by mid-December there will be a formal conclusion of the peace process with a signing in Paris. And we have active consultations underway now with European capitals about both the level of representation for that ceremony and the specific date. It is unlikely, in our opinion, that that will occur in a time that makes it possible for the President to attend any ceremony during his current trip. And then we'll just have to see how the schedule develops as we conclude these inter-alliance discussions.
Q: Mike, it seemed that the President was saying yesterday that he expected sort of one final, logistical briefing on how the troops would be deployed. Has he gotten that yet, and will he get it before he speaks to the nation on Monday?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he had -- he will have -- given the importance of the subject matter, he will have a number of briefings. He will -- he certainly asked a number of detailed questions today that were answered by General Wesley Clarke, who is Chairman Shalikashvili's representative during the talks in Dayton and who kept a hawk eye on the aspects of the diplomacy that might impact the military deployment eventually to come. General Shalikashvili, of course, offered his thoughts on aspects of the deployment.
The President also will look for an opportunity here from Secretary Perry, who will be in Brussels this weekend meeting with both U.S. officials and NATO military commanders. Secretary Perry, my understanding is, will have an opportunity to get a thorough briefing on the latest planning being done by the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, General George Joulwan, who is also the top U.S. commander in Europe, as you know.
He'll also have an opportunity to meet with other senior U.S. military commanders who would be expected to play major roles in any U.S. deployment as part of the NATO contingent. Now, that will give the President, I believe, a lot of confidence in the planning. There has been a great deal of work done already.
It's clear from the discussion the President had this morning that extensive planning and preparation has already been underway. We talked about that from time to time in the past, and we've actually been in a position to provide fairly specific information already to Congress in response to some of their questions. But there will be additional questions and details that we'll be looking for in the coming days.
Q: Is the planning complete, almost complete or still going on? I'm a little confused by this answer.
MR. MCCURRY: Very near complete. They briefed at the Pentagon yesterday. Certainly the U.S. elements of the force are well-known -- the planning about how they would work the initial deployment, how personnel associated with an enabling force would set up some of the logistics and advance requirements. They've had site survey teams in Bosnia, in and out for the past several weeks, looking for locations for headquarters facilities and measures like that. So the planning has been extensive, detailed and comprehensive. They are now in the process of finishing up that plan. I would really prefer to leave it to General Joulwan's staff to provide further information on his plan because he, as Supreme Allied Commander, will have to submit the plan to the North Atlantic Council for ratification by political authority.
Q: Just one follow-up. At this briefing today did the President specifically ask that the number was still 20,000, and was he assured that it was?
MR. MCCURRY: The number is important to the President, to be sure. But it's the mission, the precision of defining the mission, the conditions under which the forces will be deployed, and then the so-called exit strategy -- the way to measure to success, the way to understand when the job is done -- that the President devoted most of his attention to. The number in general terms hasn't changed much from the initial presentations we've made to Congress. The force itself on the ground in Bosnia is estimated -- estimated at this point at around 60,000, one-third of which would come from U.S. forces, the balance from NATO forces and perhaps other participating nations as well. But there are other aspects of any deployment of this nature in theater, not necessarily on the ground in Bosnia in separation zones, but in theater that have to be accounted to. And at the proper point, I'll have -- we'll be having military folks who can brief on the exact nature of those deployments. You're already seeing, I think, from some of your colleagues reporting out of Brussels a fair amount of detail on the nature of the deployment, some of the units involved. And, of course, the President early -- or, I guess, a week from tomorrow will have an opportunity to learn much more and see some of the young men who will be deployed and also see and talk to their commanders.
Q: When is he going to get some of this -- some of these briefings, especially the report from Perry? Does this change his weekend plans --
MR. MCCURRY: His weekend plans are the same. I think we are looking for a time on Monday, is my understanding, although since he will be here Tuesday morning, that's a possibility as well.
Q: Does he anticipate a meeting with the bipartisan congressional leadership on Monday?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on that. I wouldn't rule that out, but that would be subject to further conversations with folks on the Hill.
Q: Mike, some members of Congress have said since the announcement of the agreement that they're not convinced or persuaded that vital American national interests are at stake in Bosnia. Does this -- does the President intend to make that a focus of his address on Monday?
MR. MCCURRY: He will, just as he did as he announced the agreement yesterday. But we have been very gratified with the reaction on the Hill so far. I make -- just make one -- quote one member of Congress by way of an example: You can make a strong case that if we can't end the killing, if we have a good clearcut command and control through NATO, if we have the commitment of our allies, and if there is a good plan for us ultimately withdrawing, then it's a reasonable risk.
Q: Who said that?
MR. MCCURRY: That said by Speaker Gingrich yesterday as he encouraged members of Congress to keep an open mind on this and to hear the President out. We believe that's exactly the attitude that one should bring to these deliberations. And, of course, the President feels very -- very, very strongly that those are in a thumbnail sketch exactly the parameters of the mission. But the interests are those as he's defined it. These are -- it's enormously important to the security and stability of Europe, a continent upon which the United States has been willing to risk our lives in two world wars this century to protect and defend; it is enormously important to stop the killing and the bloodshed, which has, I think, horrified all Americans for the last three and a half years; and ultimately given the importance of our leadership role in NATO and in the enduring responsibilities that NATO will have to keep the peace in Europe, it is vital to our interest to participate in what will be one of the most important military undertakings that the alliance has ever attempted.
Q: Is there any concern that some of the Serb elements, the rebels and so forth, and the Muslims are not going to go along? I mean, was it impressed on the leaders who were Dayton that they should go back and bring them into line, and that the U.S. would probably not be able to --
MR. MCCURRY: It is a source of very real concern that rogue elements who are not under effective command and control might launch their own expeditions. And that has been a critical part of the training that U.S. and NATO forces have undertaken in Germany to prepare for that contingency. On the other hand, the President took with great satisfaction the observation by all three presidents yesterday that they would -- were committed to this agreement. They understood that they have responsibilities associated with this agreement. And they would exercise their own authority to ensure compliance with the terms of the agreement.
We take those commitments very seriously by all three presidents. And we, of course, will be doing what we can in some of the upcoming international conferences to ensure that they will be made good.
Q: But, Mike, that only really works if Milosevic controls Karadzic and Mladic. I mean, how confident are you that he does?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, since August, it's -- your -- let me spend a second on that question. Since August, President Milosevic has made clear that he is authorized to speak on behalf of the Bosnian Serbs. And that has not been disputed by the so-called leadership of the Bosnian Serb movement in Pale.
Now, I would remind you that there are many crosscurrents in the political dynamic that now exists in Serbian-controlled Bosnia. And Karadzic and General Mladic both as indicted war criminals will not play a future in the political -- it will not play a role in the political future of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as the agreement yesterday made clear, unless, of course, as indicted war criminals they submit to orders of the international war crimes tribunal, which I believe would require their appearance at The Hague.
Q: You and the Vice President and other administration officials keep throwing out the term "minimal risk." What does minimal risk mean? Minimal risk of anybody getting hurt over there? Do you really think --
MR. MCCURRY: No, there's no -- there is no deployment of this nature that is risk-free. And this is a part of the world that has seen enormous bloodshed and the most horrific atrocities of the 20th century since the Holocaust. But that being the situation, what the President and the military command of the United States stresses is they are taking steps and have taken steps throughout the course of this negotiation to minimize the risk that exists for those forces participating as part of this deployment. That's exactly the detail that went into the design and the structuring of the negotiations around the separation zones. That's why every hill, every valley was carefully mapped and discussed, not only between the parties but by U.S. military authorities that participated as part of our peace team.
There is not -- the American people will have to understand that -- and they, I think, are -- they are -- bring a lot of common sense to that type of discussion. You can never say there won't be casualties. You can never say that this will be a situation in which U.S. forces will not encounter hostility. But at the same time, we are confident that we have got two things going for this agreement. One, the commitment by the leadership, given by the three presidents, to do everything within their authority to ensure compliance; and, two, a very tough, precise, disciplined approach to the military planning that has gone into this deployment. And that --
Q: What's a minimal amount of casualties that you estimate that we can get away with?
MR. MCCURRY: It is no -- that is not something you define in numbers. You define in what the nature of the mission is and what the perceived risk is, and how you minimize that risk and ensure that commanders have the right type of rules of engagement to respond to any perceived threat.
Q: But historically that kind of thing has been defined by numbers before -- before deployment.
Q: -- casualty estimates --
Q: Have you not defined that --
MR. MCCURRY: We are not -- that's not something you define in nature of casualty estimates. That is -- and that -- in any event, the planning that goes into that type of work is something that is done within the province of the military.
Q: Mike, will the President make clear to the public on Monday that they should be prepared to have some troops die? And in the words of a news magazine cover this week, will he make the point that Bosnia and policing a peace agreement there is a cause worth dying for?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it is incumbent upon the Commander in Chief to make that case clearly, because everyone is well aware of the test that's often called the "mother test" -- what do you say to the mother of a young man who's lost his life in the pursuit of this peace agreement. But that is a risk that this President believes is well worth taking because of the enormous consequences at stake here. And one thing the President would remind people is the enormous horror of this war over the last three and a half years and the fact that over a quarter million human beings have lost their lives as these parties have allowed this conflict to rage out of control.
We now have the opportunity to bring peace, and we have the opportunity to see the peoples of Bosnia live in a civilized society if this peace agreement works and if it's fully implemented by the parties. That's an enormous undertaking, but it's one that is filled with an enormous amount of hope. And one thing the President is gratified is he's seen the comments coming from some of the young people who would be part of this deployment is how they're proud of taking on this mission because they know it's worth risking their own lives for.
Q: Mike, you've spoken positively of the commitment expressed by the three presidents yesterday, yet right off the bat the Bosnian Serb members of the Milosevic delegation refused to sign all the documents and, as a matter of fact, were very critical and indicated their part might not go along with this peace agreement.
What happened to Holbrooke's assertion right from the beginning that there was the patriarch letter that he received from Milosevic, witnessed by the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch committing these Bosnian Serbs to, in effect, follow the orders of Milosevic? If he is so committed and has both the legal and moral right to dictate to the Bosnian Serbs, why could he not yesterday in Dayton obtain their assent?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, President Milosevic made clear to U.S. negotiators that he has the authority to represent the Bosnian Serbs and that he would, at the time of the conclusion of this process and the formal signing of this peace settlement, be able to have the document witnessed and signed by proper, competent authority from the Bosnian Serbs.
You have to remember that this is a time of enormous political change undergoing in that Serb-controlled portion of Bosnia. They are now subject to a new constitution. They face the prospects in several months of free and fair elections. And the people who have been associated with the past political and military leadership of Bosnia -- of the Serbian-controlled part of Bosnia are no longer going to be part of that future.
So there is some uncertainty and there is some political dynamic that suggests, I would say confusion in the ranks of those Serbs who are now in Bosnia over who is in command. But that's why I think it's all the more important that President Milosevic, who is in a position of authority and who we know does have a great deal of authority over the Serbs in Bosnia, to carry out the commitments he has made to the United States.
Q: But did you see yesterday's nonsupport by the Bosnian Serb element as at all a disturbing sign about how much you can rely on Milosevic?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we saw it as an example of the political changes that are about to happen in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a result of the agreement reached yesterday.
Q: Let me just ask you a question, if I may, on the mission. A lot of people on the Hill and elsewhere in the country, in reading the -- beginning to read the text of this peace agreement are asking the question, in terms of the mission of the GIs, besides patrolling the separation zones -- and that seems to be straightforward -- are they going to also have a mission to implement other parts of the peace agreement, particularly a return of refugees? What happens if a Serb refugee approaches a U.S. military unit and said, "Here's the peace agreement. I am entitled to go back to my village. Escort me." Will --
MR. MCCURRY: No, they -- that is not -- as we have already briefed members of Congress, as Dr. Perry has made clear, Admiral Owens, who participated in the briefing, he made clear -- that is not an aspect of this mission. That is the responsibility of the implementation force. The implementation force is handling the military aspects of separation of forces and then the patrolling of the exclusion zones of the separation zones themselves.
One aspect -- I encourage you to go through the agreement as it was reached yesterday because very detailed work was done on the question of refugee return, the right of displaced people to both vote in free and fair elections and to have a right of return to their homeplace. And the United States will now work with the proper international organizations to carry that out. There are discussions ongoing with humanitarian relief organizations that would help with that work.
Remember, the United Nations will still have a presence in Bosnia even with the rolldown of the UNPROFOR mission and the transfer over the international implementation force; there will still be a role for U.N. humanitarian organizations to play. And the agreement itself structures very specifically a commission on human rights that will address many of the questions related to the refugee population.
It's our view that is not a military mission assigned to the NATO forces that will be there to implement the peace, but it nonetheless is an important mission and it should be handled properly by the international organization.
Q: So the military mission is strictly limited to separation of forces?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's limited to those things that are properly defined by the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and that are approved by the Commander in Chief. And that -- some detail of that has been provided confidentially to Congress now. But the mission plan, as it's being well developed now, focuses on the military aspects of this assignment, not the humanitarian or the so-called nation-building parts of the exercise.
Q: What is the Bosnian situation now due to the -- to your efforts to craft a budget agreement? Can you fight two huge major battles like this at the same time, or do you need to slow down on the budget? What do you give up in either case by having the President overseas for a good portion of this whole debate?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, what the President will be doing on this trip, as we just told you, is very directly related to the effort to help the American people understand the importance of this deployment in Bosnia, I think that we gain by having him in a setting where he can -- with Prime Minister Major, with Prime Minister Bruton, with members of the European Union, with the Spanish, who have been so heroic in their own participation in UNPROFOR -- we can reaffirm the importance to Europe -- all Europe -- of peace and stability in the Balkans. And that will send, I think, a very powerful message to the people of the United States. I suspect some of these leaders will also say that they are not able to do this without the participation and contribution of the United States of America. And that point, I think, will be made clear, too.
But as to the premise of your question, the President is fully confident that his negotiating team, which, remember, will only be starting on Tuesday, the initial discussions with members of Congress, can carry forward his views as they go into that difficult negotiation. But he has, you know, no -- in fact, if anything, somewhat relishes the prospect of having two very important, major discussions with this Congress to carry out for the balance of this year.
On the one hand, we are having a very large debate about the role of the federal government and what it means to the American people and why we need it. On the other hand, we're having a very good debate about what it means to be a leader of the free world; what our commitment is to Europe; what the nature is of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; and why the future of Europe is an intense, vital strategic interest to the United States of America. Those are two large, profound debates. And if anything, I see the President energized by the prospects of making that argument, having that debate, answering his critics; and also, ultimately, in both the case of balancing the budget and bringing peace to Bosnia, having a successful outcome.
Q: Mike, when you said the President recognizes the risks involving in these rogue elements beyond command and control, but who's responsibility is it to deal with them should they act up, should they do something militarily? Is that the American responsibility?
MR. MCCURRY: If they are taking action that is direct violation of the terms of the agreement reached in Dayton, then it is the responsibility, in part, of the implementation force. But part of the agreement reached is the structuring of an international police force that would have law enforcement responsibilities as civil society is returned, we hope, to the people of Bosnia. So there are multiple responsibilities there, and, in fact, a great deal of detail in this comprehensive peace agreement to address situations exactly like that. But the enforcement of the military aspects of the agreement are the things that the commanders at NATO are focusing on, and that is their primary responsibility, and their primary responsibility to see that warring parties that have been in conflict, who are now committed to peace, honor that peace and honor that commitment.
Q: Mike, Speaker Gingrich has said Congress is going to start hearings on Bosnia next week. One, what information do you have on the willingness and readiness of the three presidents who were in Dayton to come testify to Congress, and what do you know about the content of the hearings and who will testify?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know much. I really -- they are congressional hearings, so properly, you have to refer to members of Congress. I can tell you today we have spent some time briefing congressional staff. We concluded that, based on who was available on Capitol Hill today, that we'd pretty much handle most of this with staff level calls between the legislative affairs operation here at the White House, the congressional affairs operations at the State Department and congressional affairs at the Pentagon.
They have been in contact with staff members on Capitol Hill. Sandy Vershbow, who's been our key NSC point person on the subject of Bosnia, has been up on the Hill today to brief the leadership staff in person. We have also distributed fact sheets related to the Dayton agreement. And I believe in a short time, the very thick package, which represents the agreement itself, is being distributed on Capitol Hill. Now, in most cases, a lot of the -- even the key legislative staff on Capitol Hill are not there. They're off for the Thanksgiving holiday. But we will follow up in coming days, beginning Friday and into next week, with those staff.
As to the hearings themselves, we are -- would welcome the opportunity to have a variety of our foreign policy principals testify in the appropriate settings. But to my knowledge, there have not been decisions made on Capitol Hill about the structure of those hearings. In any event, I'd have to refer questions about the timing of hearings and things like that to people on the Hill.
Q: Because of the Bosnian troop situation, does that mean the President is having second thoughts about the veto on the defense bill, and have you gotten the GOP budget here yet?
MR. MCCURRY: No and no. The President still, as I've said before, has the Defense Department appropriations bill. As we indicated prior to the Dayton agreement, that bill is being held and examined as we look at it in light of the overall budget situation we have. Now, that has to be an element of any eventual resolution of the budget discussions between the Congress and the President, and it is effected by Bosnia in the sense that the estimated $1.5 billion cost of a U.S. deployment, which we have told Congress about before, has to be considered in the context of whatever FY '96 defense appropriations exist. We then have to look at the issue of how money can be reprogrammed by Congress or, alternatively, how the administration might go about seeking a supplemental appropriation if necessary.
So all of that, I think, is part of a complicated budget picture that is affected by the coming negotiations. And one reason among several that the President has held that bill and will examine it as we make a decision between now and November 30th, which is the date by which he has to take action.
Q: -- if he vetoed that before you could get another bill or a supplemental, do you have sufficient existing funds to begin and start carrying out the Bosnian deployment?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. The importance of the mission that we must undertake here will not be circumscribed by funding. We have responsibilities to our European allies; we have responsibilities to the people of Bosnia. And in the President's view, first and foremost, we have responsibilities to the people of this country to do what is necessary to protect the national interests.
And the President, as Commander in Chief, will take those actions. And never has funding inhibited the ability of a Commander in Chief to do what he needs to do to protect this nation's national interest.
Q: Mike, I was struck a couple of times, you mentioned the U.S. role in two world wars. Is that specifically that sort of historical theme, something the President is going to touch on on Monday, and a be a theme of the administration's general --
MR. MCCURRY: He has touched upon it in the past. And every American knows that the first great world war of this century began in Sarajevo. But we have shed blood on the European continent for the sake of peace and stability in Europe. And the most proximate threat to that peace and security now is the conflict in the Balkans, which if it is allowed to ignite again, runs the risk of spreading elsewhere in the Balkans and thus affecting the interests of some of our closest allies and NATO. It would run the risk of becoming a wider Balkan, if not European, conflict. And for that reason the President does believe it is manifestly in the interest of the United States to take these steps to implement the peace agreement that has now been reached with a great deal of courage by the parties that have been warned.
Q: Mike, will Secretary Christopher be in Europe next week with the President? I ask only because Ms. Soderberg seemed to be -- hedged that a tiny bit --
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding was that his plans were to be there, but there are now a number of things happening in connection with the Dayton agreement, including the likelihood of a implementing conference on the civilian aspects of implementation and some of the humanitarian relief aspects I mentioned earlier in London early in December that might require the Secretary of State to juggle his schedule, too.
We are all committed to being deployed where we need to be in order both to make the case for this agreement to the American people and the American Congress and also to work with our European allies and the Russian Federation and others to make sure that it is properly implemented. So the Secretary of State might be instructed by the President to take on additional duties. Otherwise, of course, he'll accompany the President as he usually does.
Q: Just to follow up on your answer to Mike's question, in the past you've always maintained the President doesn't constitutionally need Congress's permission, but you have suggested that it wouldn't be possible for him to do what he did with the rapid reaction force, in other words, to scrounge up money on his own, but this time he actually would need some kind of appropriated funds for this. Now, are you saying that's not the case anymore, and he could get money on his own?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm just saying when the Commander in Chief needs to act to protect America, he's going to do so and will figure out how to pay for it one way or another. But that's not the issue. The issue here is, as we've already submitted to the Congress November 13th in the letter from the President, a precise statement about how we would expect to go about funding. It would depend on the FY '96 appropriations. We would then have to make the decision on whether or not to seek a supplemental. We'd be fully prepared to do that.
But, look, everybody here knows we're in the midst of a very large discussion about the federal budget with Congress, and one way or another, the issue of the DOD appropriation comes into play in that discussion.
Q: But what I'm asking you is certainly you will do -- you've determined whether you can get the $1.5 bill in that you'll need for this without congressional approval, just like you found whatever hundreds of millions of dollars you needed for the rapid deployment force. Have you determined that you can find the money -- the President has the authority to get the money himself?
MR. MCCURRY: I just said that we will -- if the President needs to act to protect America's interests, we'll figure out how to pay for it. Sure.
Q: Gingrich and Dole and Domenici and Kasich have sent a letter to the President saying that under the terms of the agreement that he signed onto he needs to provide them with a balanced budget plan. Have you gotten that letter and do you --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we -- look, we have received that letter and it's -- it's a little dispiriting. It goes back to, rather than the spirit that brought compromise and the resolution of a budget conflict that reopened the government, this is sort of back to square one in the rhetoric and the negotiating tactics.
And, among other things, it contains statements that are just factually incorrect. The letter says that the President has not presented a balanced budget plan to Congress. He, of course, has. He did so in June they ignored it. If they had spent a little more time looking at the President's ideas in June, we could have averted a government shutdown that cost the American taxpayer we now estimate between $700 and $800 million.
And, even more discouraging, the Speaker of the House yesterday threatened exactly the same type of shutdown when he said that he's not going to wait; doesn't want the Clinton administration to believe that all you've got to do is say no to a balanced budget and somehow they have to give the President a lot of money on December 16th.
When he said that, he was more or less directly threatening to shut down the federal government again, and put us through all the enormous consequences of the shutdown that we just went through.
Q: Of course, in fairness did the President do the same thing in his remarks when he said, "I'll do what I have to do"?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, let me just detail some of the costs of that shutdown. The OMB has got some other information that's available.
The monetary costs that OMB have now estimated as a result of the shutdown run between $700 and $800 million. Approximately $400 million of that is payroll costs for the furloughed federal employees who will now be back paid. And the productivity and work from those employees is now, of course, lost.
I'd, rather than go through all the lists of things here that we've got -- I ran through as we began, went through the shutdown last week, what some of the consequences were. But they've now added it up and it's very discouraging.
You know, 400 individuals were delayed in enrolling in Medicare; the Social Security Administration had to turn away a lot of people who needed to have claims processed; 80,000 passport applications have now been delayed; 80,000 students and their families have now seen their student loan applications delayed; 10,000 home purchases have been delayed because people didn't get their FHA mortgage loans, and that's about $800 million worth of mortgage loan money.
Q: Why do you think they sent this -- what is the -- I mean --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is apparently -- it's apparently what amounts to another negotiating tactic to threaten the President with both -- either a shutdown or with some type of ultimatum prior to the beginning of discussions.
But as the President has said to them, both privately and publicly, he would prefer to get on with the good faith negotiations that will try to accomplish the objectives that the President and Congress have now agreed to. You know, they're coming back and saying, "Well, you're not going to accept our budget."
The President now cannot accept the budget that has been passed by Congress as a matter of law, because the test that has been put forward in the continuing resolution very specifically says that the President and Congress cannot agree to a balanced budget plan that doesn't provide adequate funding for Medicare, for Medicaid, that doesn't protect the environment, that doesn't have the right kinds of education investments for the future of our economy and that doesn't provide tax relief to working families.
So he of course, as a matter of law, has to veto the reconciliation bill. So, you know, its incumbent upon Congress now --
Q: -- this agreement with Republican leaders is not a matter of law, is it?
MR. MCCURRY: It's an act of law signed by the President the other night as he provided continuing funding for the government in the period between now and December 15th.
So they are actually -- you know, I guess if you wanted to be overly hyperbolic about it you could say they kind of asked the President to break the law here, and he can't do that.
Now, what he can do is to, in a good faith way, come forward, work with this Congress to do what they agreed to do. They agreed to balance the budget in seven years and protect all those priorities that the President set forth and that they agreed to acknowledge.
And, you know, that's the purpose of these discussions and we're going to be serious about it; we're not going to send silly letters up to the Capitol Hill and ask them to do things that they know aren't going to happen.
And, by the way, if you need another reason why you can't accept what they've done so far, take a look at the Treasury Department's study today of the distributional effects of the reconciliation act as passed by Congress. The top 12 percent of families with incomes of $100,000 or more are going to receive 47.5 percent of the tax benefits in the legislation passed by Congress. Okay? So, in other words, almost half of the tax benefits of that legislation are going to the richest families in the country.
Now, that just isn't -- those are the wrong priorities. And, you know, even worse -- you want worse news?
Q: Yes, please.
MR. MCCURRY: -- be thankful today.
Q: -- briefing --
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. The earned income tax credit, the Treasury estimates that the congressional -- the plan passed by the Republican Congress is going to raise taxes by $30.8 billion over seven years on the poorest working families in this country. At the same time they skew the other benefits towards the wealthiest families. That's just nonsense.
Now, that doesn't -- you know, if they're keen on reading the text of this agreement, you know, that they keep saying, well, we've got to follow the letter and spirit of this agreement; they just sent a letter to the President asking him to abrogate this agreement by accepting something that they know is not acceptable.
This document says that the balanced budget will adopt tax policies to help working families and stimulate further economic growth. The Treasury Department today proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this Republican budget plan would be ruinous for the economy.
So we've got to start over in some sense. This reconciliation bill is not going to be acceptable --
Q: What do you do next week?
MR. MCCURRY: What you've got to do is -- look, the President is going to -- the President will instruct his negotiating team in good faith to come forward with the members of Congress and do what they agreed that they're going to do. They're going to protect future generations. They're going to ensure Medicare solvency. They're going to provide adequate funding for Medicaid, for education, for agriculture, for national defense. And they're going to do that and balance the budget.
Q: Well, logistically, what --
Q: How about the coalition --
Q: What do you do? Do you -- do you have anything schedule?
MR. MCCURRY: We go through -- we've been spending our time, rather than writing snippy letters, we've been spending our time working through these issues and finding out exactly how we're going to address each of these items. We've been having serious discussions here about how we're going to protect Medicare solvency, how we're going to provide adequate funding for Medicaid. We've been working on the things that the Congress and the President have now agreed to do.
You know, maybe I -- you know, in fairness -- look, I should be fair here. (Laughter.)
Q: Why start now?
Q: Take back everything you said now.
MR. MCCURRY: The Speaker, the Majority Leader, Chairman Dominici, Chairman Kasich are out of town. And they deserve it. They've been working hard. And they worked hard with this President and got a good agreement. And they've got staff people up there on the Hill, and so maybe the staff has been up to mischief. Who knows? (Laughter.)
Q: Do you think they sent it out unauthorized? Do you think this is an unauthorized letter?
Q: Would they send that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- it was -- because the letter had factual errors, we didn't take it so seriously as to call up to the staff and say, now, did you guys forge your boss's signature on this letter or what? (Laughter.) I'm being facetious, of course.
Q: That's a sound bite.
Q: Can I slip in a quickie, please, on another subject?
MR. MCCURRY: You've got the general drift where we are on the letter?
Q: We're a little confused here.
Q: That was pretty snippy.
MR. MCCURRY: No, look, look, this is negotiating tactics. I -- look, I assume --
Q: What, what you just said or what they -- (laughter).
MR. MCCURRY: Both. What I just said, what they're letter said -- I mean, how much of this can the American people stand? We'll have to respond to this. Look, this is a letter. They dropped this in our mailbox. We'll probably send them some letter and drop it in their mailbox. But the point is the serious discussions to do what Congress and the President said they're going to do have to continue.
That's what the President's focused on. And he's been working seriously with his folks on how we're going to get this work done, how we're going to balance the budget in the time frame set up because it's going to be hard. It's not going to be easy to get this done, and the negotiations themselves are not going to be very easy. But the President has pledged to do it. He told the Speaker the other night he would do it, and we're going to get on with it.
Q: Can I slip in a quickie, please, on the French nuclear --
MR. MCCURRY: Want a quickie? (Laughter.)
Q: Before Thanksgiving. (Laughter.) Yes, on the French nuclear test -- has the U.S. complained directly to Chirac? Is his state visit still on? And do you have any other original words to use other than --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think that they expressed what has now become the ritual condemnation or concern about the test. There have been discussions about this again. What we've said on each of the nuclear tests conducted by the French is they run counter to the environment necessary to achieve a major objective that the international community has embraced for next year, the comprehensive test ban. But, nonetheless, we acknowledge and we remain encouraged by the fact that President Chirac is committed to that goal of achieving that test ban.
Q: So why is being rewarded with a state visit --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have an enormous amount of work to do with the French, and --
Q: And you like his wine.
MR. MCCURRY: No. They are -- look, they are a key European ally. They are working closely with the United States on Bosnia. We have regretted the test, but at the same time we acknowledge that they remain committed to the fundamentally important goal of a comprehensive test ban.
Q: The CBO board of private economic advisers is scheduled to meet next week with June O'Neill with hopes of updating the August CBO estimates. If that's the case, if you can't get OMB -- (inaudible) -- assumptions, would an updated forecast from August be acceptable to the administration?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the letter that we got today, that I've now declaimed on at great lengths, says that they're not going to use the beneficial discussion at that meeting to update the statistics. It refers back to the August statistic. We think it's important to have outside consultations with experts that's required by the continuing resolution and the agreement. And to my knowledge, what I've -- I've heard our economists here say that the folks who are on that CBO panel are a respected group of economists who have opinions that matter and ought to be listened to.
And I hope the CBO folks will listen to them as we continue the discussion of how we get the right set of economic assumptions. That's what the Congress and the President are required under the agreement they've reached to get the right set of assumptions and they need to work to do that. I think it's encouraging that CBO is reaching out to outside experts. And at some point properly during these discussions, OMB and CBO will consult together about the right set of assumptions.
Q: Back on Bosnia, the exit strategy. About six weeks ago Secretary Perry was quoted as saying that a year is as long as the Bosnian issue should last. I believe you indicated at that time that that was the administration's thinking. Is it still the administration's thinking?
MR. MCCURRY: It is still the administration's view as set forth in the President's November 13th letter that is subject to his own judgment, based on the advice of his military planners that we believe that approximately 12 months would be adequate to accomplish the necessary tasks that are set forth to the implementation force, to allow the peace to become self-sustaining; although the President reserves the right to make a final judgment on that as he looks at the nature of the final mission plan as submitted to him by the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe; and as he measures very carefully what the details are in the requirements of the Dayton peace agreement.
Q: Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, let me -- one more. Mr. Knoller, you had one more. I'm having -- you know, I can't let you go.
Q: -- minutes, you mark an hour at the podium.
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't been up here an hour. Have I been up here an hour?
Q: Fifty-six minutes so far.
MR. MCCURRY: I've been reading -- my friend, Nick Burns, over at the White House, I think has been going an hour just about on routine -- State Department -- an hour over routine, and I never had to do that over there.
You had other --
Q: Would you expect the President, perhaps, to invite the congressional leaders over in advance of his address to the nation on Monday?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- we'll let you know further on that, if that develops. If we did so, we wouldn't want to spring that on the leadership, and we'd obviously have proper consultations with them in advance.
Let me say, with that being the last question, I am announcing a full lid. We are done for the day. And I wish all of you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 4:03 P.M. EST
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/270143