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Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

November 30, 1995

Europa Hotel

Belfast, Northern Ireland

11:08 P.M. (L)

MR. MCCURRY: I'm going to be very brief because everybody is working. Let me -- I'll start right at the top by saying the President intends to have -- the President has just finished his last meeting of the day with one of the representatives of Northern Ireland's political parties, and he will now go back to the room. I expect him to have a conversation in a short while with Chief of Staff -- I expect to have a -- he's going to have a conversation with Chief of Staff Panetta in a short while, and I will know more after that conversation about the DOD appropriations bill. The President wants to hear from Chief of Staff Panetta about how his conversations went today on Capitol Hill. So I have nothing for you on that right now.

Q: Will you come back?

MR. MCCURRY: I will come back when I've got something to say on that.

Q: What about Senator Dole's decision to support the deployment?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we understand that he indicated today that he would be introducing a formal resolution that would provide the expression of support that the President has sought. Obviously, the President would welcome that expression of support, and he's gratified for the way that both the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker have encouraged members of Congress to keep an open mind and have worked with the administration to address our serious responsibilities to participate in the implementation of a new and fragile peace in the Balkans.

Q: Don't you have a little more feeling about this in view of the fact that you have the support of the major spokesman --

MR. MCCURRY: We believe it's important. I think that it's clear that Senator Dole indicated that he had some reservations. But we've had very good and forthright conversations with the Majority Leader on those issues. We believe we can address those issues and reservations that the Senate might wish to state in a resolution of approval. And we're gratified that the -- at least the initial conversations about the text of this resolution have been very productive.

Q: May I have a follow-up? Do we have mission creep here now? You've gone up to 25,000 troops and you've raised the ante to $3 billion instead of $1 billion -- whatever -- $1.5 billion.


Q: Well, why are you going to keep increasing everything?

MR. MCCURRY: The size of the force -- look, this is a very large and complicated deployment. And most of the discussions we've had have addressed the issue of what force would be present on the ground in Bosnia, and there have been operating in theater already for some time efforts like the no-fly zone enforcement and other efforts associated with some of the U.N. humanitarian relief.

Now, I'll have to check with Pentagon folks on what they're saying on the numbers, but they may be calculating the numbers that are related to overall theater operations and providing information on that. I don't have anything further on that. There have been in the last -- over a week ago, the discussions about some of the other support activities in addition to troops on the ground. The troops on the ground are roughly the same.

Q: You haven't announced a new number, you're essentially still saying 20,000?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm just saying that the force on the ground implementing the peace, doing the activities that are essentially described in the Dayton documents related to the IFOR are roughly and approximately those that have been discussed in the past -- hopefully, 60,000, of which a third is U.S.

Q: Can you walk us through the meetings tonight with the leaders?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I can. One way or another, today throughout the day, the President has had good opportunities to encounter the leadership or representatives of the leadership of virtually all of the major political parties in Northern Ireland. He just this evening had privately, in addition to the encounters he had tonight at the reception, one-on-one meetings with Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein, with David Trimble of the Ulster Unionist Party and with the Reverend Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party.

Each of those meetings, or the President's time with each of those three leaders was roughly about 20 minutes together, and the conversations were an opportunity first to review the peace process as it stands now and for the President to say in private and very candidly to each of these leaders much of what he has already said publicly, encouraging them to make use of the process that has been designed as a result of the Major-Bruton initiative to encourage them to use that process to address the differences that do exist, and to, in that process, raise the issues that have proved to be intractable in the past as these parties seek a dialogue that could lead to peace.

So a lot of the specific issues that you've heard each of the parties talk about publicly, the President's view is this is a process that can accommodate those different points of view, and all of those points of view can be heard and all sides can be listened to because, as the President pointed out in one of his meetings tonight, if you're not talking together and building on the momentum of this process, the only alternative is a far worse alternative, which is a return to violence. And if there is one thing that the President is confident he has heard over and over again from the people of Northern Ireland is they do not want to return to violence and to Troubles.

The President's firm belief is that a peace process in which there is a dialogue is the way to keep the momentum moving forward towards peace, because in that type of dialogue, parties that now are suspicious and distrustful with each other can certainly gain better understanding, common ground and can gain confidence in each other.

And that is the point in private that he made in one way or another to all three of the leaders that he saw tonight, and, indeed, to everyone he saw today. He saw John Hume from the Social Democratic and Labour Party earlier today. In East Belfast he spoke, so I think you're aware what he said. John Alderdice was at the East Belfast Enterprise Park, the leader of the Alliance Party, and the President also had a good opportunity to chat with him tonight at the reception. David Irvine of the Progressive Unionist Party was at the reception, as was Gary McMichael of the Ulster Democratic Party.

And in one way or another today, I think the President has reached out and touched base with each of these parties vital to the political life of Northern Ireland, and in each case has sought their views on the peace process and the future of the peace process and sought their perspective on how the process could be used to address the issues that are of very real and specific concern to each of the parties.

Q: If you back up to Paisley, did Paisley change his view that he doesn't want to attend any meeting with Sinn Fein until the arms issue is settled? And did he give Clinton a letter in some way protesting the way the peace talk negotiations have been handled so far?

MR. MCCURRY: I do not believe he gave the President a letter. He did present him with a brochure that he described as being a summary of points of view of people in his community. But it was a rather large, printed blue brochure. It didn't seem to be a letter.

As to the first party of your question, I believe it's fair to say that Reverend Paisley stated to the President many of the views that he has shared publicly.

Q: Mike, did Paisley go into the reception after his meeting with the President? Do you know whether he was in the room with Gerry Adams at the same time?

MR. MCCURRY: He was not. He was -- the room in which the President met privately with each leader was just adjacent to the room where the reception was. The President met with Reverend Paisley and his son, Ian Paisley, Jr. And Ian Paisley, Jr. did attend the reception and was there with the leaders of the other organizations.

Q: -- ahead of time?


Q: Mike, so they were both in the room at the same time -- Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams?

MR. MCCURRY: No, there's -- the room in which the President met with Reverend Paisley was just off of and adjacent to the meeting.

Q: When he went into the reception were they in the same reception?

MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. I believe that Reverend Paisley exited and his son went to the reception.

Q: Mike, did Adams indicate any willingness to accept the agreement or show any goodwill that --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say --

Q: Did Adams indicate any willingness to accept the agreement?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has a good discussion of the process and was very encouraged by Mr. Adams's response. I'll let Mr. Adams speak for himself, as I believe he is publicly tonight. But the President was encouraged by his response and felt that there was -- while not getting into a specific endorsement of the Bruton-Major proposal, which the President did not seek at this meeting, it was clear that Mr. Adams has a very continuing and positive attitude towards the peace process itself.

Q: Mike, you didn't say that he was encouraged by the response from Reverend Paisley. Would you say he was discouraged by the response?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I think he listened very carefully and very respectfully to Reverend Paisley's views and then, in turn, encouraged Reverend Paisley to think about the utility of the only process available at this point to advance the interests of those who prefer peace to violence. And he made the point that if he understood anything about what Reverend Paisley has said publicly is that he eschews violence.

Q: What about Mr. Trimble? Did Mr. Trimble indicate his willingness to accept the process?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe, again, the President was very encouraged by the session that he had just now, just completed minutes ago with Mr. Trimble. There was -- it was clear that there was a willingness to continue discussions, but I would not want to speak for that party and indicate any formal endorsement of the twin-track process.

I believe all of these parties in one way or another are still wrestling with the dynamic that now exists after the announcement by Prime Minister Bruton of Prime Minister Major. And what the President thought it important for him to do tonight was to encourage all of them to think about the ways in which that process could be used to address their specific concerns and those issues that have proved intractable in the past. And that is exactly what he did. And I would not suggest that the President used his opportunity privately with any of these leaders to make substantive points or to pressure them or to try to ask them to do things beyond thinking about the utility of the process itself.

Q: Can you preview tomorrow, and explain if anything that the President heard or saw today will influence --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, I can't. I'll ask Mary Ellen to come up and do that because I'm still trying to figure out what's going on today.

Q: Mike, I'm sorry, was it 20 minutes for all three or --

MR. MCCURRY: No, each -- he had, roughly, 20 minutes separately with each of those three, plus the time in the reception in which he was able to have private discussions with a good deal more of the leadership of the parties.

Q: Just so I understand you correctly, you're saying it would be two positive responses and one negative; or one noncommittal?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I think I was so careful and adroit and bouncy as I dodged all those types of questions that you could not characterize me that way.

Q: Is the President going to stay up until midnight to handle this defense thing, or will --

MR. MCCURRY: One would hope not.

Q: Just for the record, the Republicans sent you their balanced budget bill that they passed today. Is there any question at all of what the President will do?

MR. MCCURRY: There's no question at all what he will do, but I'll have to confirm back at the White House that they have actually received it.

Q: Mike, did the President meet with any of the Unionist leaders who have ties with the paramilitary?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that would be an interpretation of what you consider ties. I told you exactly who --

Q: Some are more closely associated.

MR. MCCURRY: I went through -- I mentioned -- I gave you the list of all of those parties that I met with, and I think you know who they are.

Q: The President will veto the defense bill?

MR. MCCURRY: No, the question was about reconciliation.

Anything else? I am going to try and get an answer to your other urgent question quickly.

Q: Was that the first meeting with Paisley?

MR. MCCURRY: It was. The President did indicate it was the first time met him. He said that he has known of Mr. Paisley since -- Reverend Paisley since he was first in the United Kingdom as a student back in 1969, and remarked on the fact that this was the first opportunity he had ever had to met him face to face.

Q: -- met Trimble before?

MR. MCCURRY: He had seen Trimble at the White House on prior occasions and had met Adams at the St. Patrick's Day reception in the receiving line.

Q: Did he find Paisley more reasonable or less reasonable than he expected?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't think he found the views as expressed by Reverend Paisley surprising because, as I said, they were very similar to some things that he has said publicly.

Q: Mike, Adams's party, Sinn Fein, has indicated that sometime around Christmas they'll probably have a response to the twin-track proposal. At this point, he's treating it somewhat coolly. If Sinn Fein rejects this proposal and will not move on this, will the White House rethink its policy of letting Adams into the country? Or if the -- also if the IRA cease-fire ends, will the White House rethink the policy of letting Adams in?

MR. MCCURRY: I think I indicated to you that the President made the case he made tonight to the leadership of Sinn Fein -- and by the way, in each case the leaders that he met with were accompanied by one or more of other leadership of the parties. But the President was encouraged by the meeting, and as I say he did use the meeting as an opportunity to encourage the parties to consider the utility of the peace process that's been designed and to use it as an opportunity to raise issues that they are concerned about. The President did not press Sinn Fein for any decision about their posture on the twin-track process, but they discussed the process itself. And as I said, the President found that discussion encouraging.

Q: Mike, what did Sir Patrick Mayhew do at the reception? Could you cover that?

MR. MCCURRY: He was formally the host of the reception, and the President expressed his gratitude to the Secretary for his willingness to host an occasion that was truly remarkable, if you think of the broad cross-section of political interests here in Northern Ireland that gathered together in one room.

Q: But did Mayhew himself sit down with anyone, or was it simply the President?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if he did. But I did see, as the President went through the ropeline, Sir Patrick Mayhew did as well, and had good opportunity to have private discussions with the leaders that I mentioned, including some that the President also saw.

Okay, Mark, one last one.

Q: Yes, the last one; this will probably end the briefing. Did the President actually inquire of the Air Force in gathering the information for the answer he provided the 13-year-old Ryan from Belfast -- (laughter) -- was holding extraterrestrials?

MR. MCCURRY: You're right, Mark, that ended the briefing. (Laughter.) Okay, I'll be back.

MR. MCCURRY: The President moments ago just completed a review of the budget discussions that have occurred back in Washington today and the status of the defense appropriations bill with Chief of Staff Panetta. They had a good conversation about some ongoing dialogue that Chief of Staff Panetta is having with Hill leadership.

The President gave Leon some pretty precise instructions on how to proceed depending on the outcome of Mr. Panetta's discussions. And given that, we will have the White House Press Office back in Washington at some point later on in the evening issue some formal statement indicating the disposition of the bill. I don't have anything further to say on it. We won't have anything further to say on it here tonight, so if you need to follow that from here, you need to remain in close contact with the Press Office back in Washington.

Q: We were given to believe that earlier that Panetta had left Capitol Hill and the discussions had broken off. Is that incorrect?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't think that was incorrect at that time.

Q: Were the discussions with Democrats or with Republicans?

MR. MCCURRY: He's pursuing some discussions that he's been having on and off during the day with a variety of people on the Hill. But, obviously, at this point to be of any use they'd have to be with Republicans.

Q: The President has told Leon to go back and talk to Republicans, either at the Hill or by phone?

MR. MCCURRY: No, he's reviewed the situation with Mr. Panetta. They have been reviewing this before. I think he understands what the status of the discussion is right now. I think he's pretty certain himself what the eventual outcome will be depending on some last-minute discussions that are underway.

Q: Is Panetta going to call the President when --before midnight to get a final approval?

MR. MCCURRY: No, he's got full authority from the President after reviewing it in detail with him to go ahead with a course of action.

Q: Was the President -- and veto or -- I mean, how do you work this?

MR. MCCURRY: The President -- we know how we will proceed, and the White House Press Office in Washington will let people know.

Q: -- veto it you have to physically get it back in Washington?

MR. MCCURRY: We've taken the logistical procedures necessary to preserve the President's options.

Q: -- restarting of the negotiations on DOD affect the budget negotiations that supposedly broke off --

MR. MCCURRY: You're incorrect to say "restart negotiations." I don't know what that meant. There are some ongoing discussions that are underway, and I have no idea whether or not that will affect the outcome of the President's deliberations on the bill.

Q: -- encourage he sign, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: I did not say that.

Q: Who is going to be in charge of the White House Press Office tonight at midnight?

MR. MCCURRY: At that time, it will be 7:00 p.m. in Washington, D.C., right? You mean midnight now or midnight tonight?

Q: Midnight -- several hours from now.

MR. MCCURRY: Ginny Terzano has been handling the calls back there, and Mr. Panetta has been talking to the Press Corps during the course of the day today, as you know from the reports that you're seeing there and others in the White House who have been following his budget bills are available.

Q: Who will handle the final disposition and call our offices?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll put out a -- however we do it, if it's the duty officer or whoever is on duty at that time.

Q: It will be in Washington?

MR. MCCURRY: It will be in Washington and we'll make sure the wires especially are taken care of.

Q: You say the President has done paperwork on either way, and that's why the White House can execute it?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I wouldn't suggest that. As this has developed during the course of the day, it's become more clear what the range of options are, and I think he's got a pretty good idea of what the outcome will be and he's working with Panetta.

Q: Will you take our question then?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not characterizing it any further, pretty clearly.

Okay, anything else? That's it? Good night. We're done from here.

END 12:03 A.M. (L)

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

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