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Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

March 24, 1995

The Briefing Room

1:41 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: And a happy Friday to everybody. Welcome to the White House for our daily briefing. I apologize for being tardy, but I wanted to get all the latest on every subject that you might be interested today. And where would we like to begin?

Q: Mike, do you have any reaction to former Governor Casey's decision to consider challenging the President for the party's nomination?

MR. MCCURRY: Say that again. It sounded like a political question. Do I have any reaction? The President has made it clear to all of us, and I believe to all of you, that there will be plenty of time for presidential politics during calendar year 1996. And so I would find it hard in any event to muster a lot of enthusiasm for a comment on something insignificant anyhow. I'll just leave it at that. (Laughter.)

Q: Don't you think that he has -- does this open the door for other --

MR. MCCURRY: No, my point would simply be, given the record that Bill Clinton has compiled over the last two years plus, it's very hard to make a persuasive case that he ought to be challenged for either the presidential nomination or that you can make a successful case to challenge him during the fight for his reelection. But there will be, as I say, plenty of time down the road to talk about that, and the President, I believe, is focused on other matters at the moment.

Q: This is an insignificant development?

MR. MCCURRY: I said -- you've got -- someone has indicated that they are putting together an exploratory committee. I don't consider that earth-shattering news -- that's correct.

Q: Well, does this hurt the President's political chances?

MR. MCCURRY: No. (Laughter.) Okay, what else?

Q: Is he distraught? (Laughter.)

Q: What can you tell us about the physical?

MR. MCCURRY: Okay. The President of the United States underwent a routine physical examination today at Bethesda Naval Hospital. This is the second annual physical exam for the President. He was evaluated by a panel composed of both military and civilian specialists, headed by his physician, Dr. E. Connie Mariano, who is a general internist.

Dr. Mariano said, "We are pleased to report that the President continues to demonstrate excellent health and vigor. His examination included a hearing test; eye examination; exercise treadmill test; routine chest x-ray and consultation with ear, nose and throat, allergy, sports medicine, dermatology and health food specialists. The President, 48, who continues to jog and exercise regularly, weighs 216 pounds. He is 6 foot 2 inches tall. I believe there's no change in that category. His blood pressure was 128/80. His pulse was 55, and his total cholesterol level was 203." Ends the statement from the doctor. I believe that's down from last year.

Q: Cholesterol?


Q: Is that good cholesterol or bad cholesterol?

MR. MCCURRY: For those of you who keep tabs on it -- I don't know if those are the good ones or the bad ones. I asked the President what he liked about his exam. He said --

Q: The copter ride home. (Laughter.)

MR .MCCURRY: He said he loved the treadmill. I asked him what he hated about the exam. He said, use your imagination. (Laughter.) I said, do you have any other talking points for me? He said, yes, they are three -- ouch; aghhh; and huh, huh, huh. (Laughter.) What else do you need to know? Actually, one of the doctors said to him at the end, he said, you've got at least three good days left. And the President, said, good, I better space them out over the next six years.

Q: Did he learn anything new about allergies?

MR. MCCURRY: Sarah McClendon, happy birthday. It's a delight to see you here today.

Q: That's a little preview, that notice.

MR. MCCURRY: That's a little preview notice. It is tomorrow, is that correct?

Q: No, not until next July. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Well, you've got a very good publicity agent then, who is on top of the news and ahead of it -- more ahead of the news than I am, to be sure.

Q: I thought maybe the doctor might have given him some clue about allergies that he could share with us.

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't. I asked Dr. Mariano, as I said, I understand from past reports that he does suffer from environmental allergies, and she indicated that is the case. But there was no change in the status of that this year.

Q: Mike, that listing of the specialist that you mentioned -- were those all of the specialists that were involved in this?

MR. MCCURRY: That's all that were indicated to me by the doctor, yes.

Q: By this sports medicine consultation mean that he's having some problem jogging with his knees or anything?

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't acquire on that. Did you get anything further on that? I didn't either.

Q: What was the health food specialist?

MR. MCCURRY: Just a health food specialist, presumably inquiring on nutrition.

Q: Is that a dietician?

Q: Broccoli man.

Q: Did they give him any advice on what to eat or --

MR. MCCURRY: Not that the President indicated to me.

Q: Is he on any kind of special diet?

MR. MCCURRY: No, although he has been keeping an eye on his calories.

Q: But his weight is roughly about what it's been?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe it may be up slightly, and what we don't have yet is a body fat measure. So it might be true that he is become somewhat more muscular in the last year -- and good, he will need every bit of it.

Q: Did he have his medical test today in order to be sure he could submit to the rigors of meeting with the New Zealand Prime Minister on Monday? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: I think that's a good one where don't confirm and don't deny would be the proper answer.

Q: What about that meeting?

MR. MCCURRY: What about that meeting? I haven't had -- I don't have a work-up on that. He is meeting -- he is here on Monday. We have been having a series of meetings with the New Zealand government at a fairly high level, including, I believe, the most recent the Secretary of State's meeting in Jakarta with the Foreign Minister. That is setting the way for a discussion that we continue to have, that we have advanced a variety of bilateral issues, but there remain some issues of which we expect to have further consultation with Prime Minister Bolger on Monday.

Q: Do you anticipate that the United States will accept once and for all the nuclear policy of New Zealand?

MR. MCCURRY: I expect that there will be a discussion of that on Monday and appropriate comment at that time.

Q: What is the status of our relations with New Zealand?

MR. MCCURRY: Go get me some stuff on that. We've probably got a paper on that already.

Q: Mike, there's a report that Polish diplomats have met -- have seen the Americans held by Iraq. Can you confirm that?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we can confirm that the Polish Embassy in Baghdad, which represents our U.S. interests in Iraq under the protective agreement that we have, met yesterday with the two Americans who are being detained there. We're glad to know that they're in good health and that they have been permitted counselor access. But it remains our view that this situation is the result of an innocent mistake on the part of these two Americans and no purpose can be served by prolonging it or trying to link it to other unrelated issues -- that is, the question of their detention and their release.

Iraq should now resolve this matter by releasing the two Americans on humanitarian grounds. We hope this will occur in the near future. Any delay will simply raise questions as to the motives of Iraq.

Q: Did they say anything about putting these people on trial or prosecuting them?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they've -- in the past in a similar situation, there has been a legal proceeding. That probably would not be unlikely if that were to occur this time. Our concern, among other things, is that while they've been permitted some local counselor access, they do not have legal representation, as far as I know.

Q: Do you think that they should hire Baghdad, Iraqi attorneys to represent them?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are concerned among other reasons about what level of justice they can get in a situation in which they're not given legal representation.

Q: How active are the Polish diplomats in serving as a go-between? Are they actually negotiating, or are they just there --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have been our intermediaries, given the status of our diplomatic relations with Iraq, and they have been there pressing our arguments. We've also been using every avenue available to us that we can think of to press the case for the release of the two Americans.

Q: Well, are there talks going on between Iraq and Poland and between Poland and us?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they are our diplomatic -- in a sense, our diplomatic representatives for purpose of contact, and obviously they have been in contact.

Q: Do you know when they will go back to see them the next time?

MR. MCCURRY: No. I don't have any information.

Q: Have the Iraqis asked for direct communication on this?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I know that there has been at least one direct exchange via Iraq's representative at the United Nations that we've reported earlier.

Q: Now that Secretary Christopher is back from Moscow what's the general assessment of relations with them? And a specific question along the same lines -- what does the White House think the prospects are for some kind of agreement with them on this Iran reactor sail issue?

MR. MCCURRY: The Secretary spoke very directly to that. At the conclusion of his meeting with Foreign Minister Kozyrev he did a review of both the meetings he had and the status of Russian relations. And I would commend his statement to your attention. He reviewed in it the issues that we still have outstanding with Russian Federation. There's clearly a lot of work that will lie ahead as both governments prepare for the summit in May, and we do expect Secretary Christopher to meet at least once again with the Russian Foreign Minister in advance of that summit.

Q: What's the White House assessment on this Iran reactor issue -- the prospect of some resolution on that since they agreed to discuss it between them?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe it would be accurate to say that work lies ahead on that issue.

Q: Can I ask you about an issue that arose this morning in which you talked about -- that being the New York Times story this morning on the Harbury case, part of the gist of which is that it took at least three administration requests to the CIA for information on the case before final information on it was forthcoming; that each time there was another burst of information that came out, some of it under a different name for Ms. Harbury's husband? There were at least three requests for information. What do you know about that, and what can you tell us for the record about the President's attitude toward that?

MR. MCCURRY: I can tell you that there -- this case was one of deep concern to the United States, as I reported to you yesterday. I can't specify three specific requests for information because I can think myself of a good deal more than that -- occasions when senior ranking officials from our government pressed both Guatemalan officials, and obviously within our government we did everything possible to get additional information about the circumstances involving the death of Ephrain Bamaca.

Q: The thrust of the story wasn't at least three requests to Guatemala -- at least three requests to the Central Intelligence Agency.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there was a great deal of contact back and forth between the State Department, the National Security Council, the agency and other government agencies as we attempted to get all the information we could and collect it. That was for many purposes, including the meeting that was held here between the National Security Advisor and Jennifer Harbury.

I haven't looked closely at the article about three specific requests. I mean, there were -- as information became available -- I think it's important that the information that became available, the new information I was talking about yesterday during the briefing that came available to us in January was provided to officials here in Washington from the CIA. And that is obviously information we then pursued, looked into and returned directly to the government of Guatemala so that it could be pursued.

Q: Does the President have any concern that information was being withheld from him or has been withheld from him?

MR. MCCURRY: He's relying upon the statement from the Acting Director of the CIA, which was very clear on that point yesterday.

Q: Mike, yesterday you said, we have no reason to doubt that the CIA was forthcoming with the White House. Is that still your belief today?

MR. MCCURRY: It's still our belief today. We have no reason to doubt that they've been anything less than forthcoming, as the statement from the Acting Director indicated yesterday. I also indicated to several of you today that we are not satisfied with the information we have at this point, and I think -- I want to make it clear, that's because we don't have all the answers that we would like to have in order to convey to Jennifer Harbury. We'd like to be able to tell her a lot more about the status of her husband's remains and the circumstances of his death. And that's why we will continue to pursue it.

By the way, I want to make it absolutely clear --there's been, apparently, in Guatemala some misinformation on this point. There's absolutely no information that indicates in any way whatsoever that any U.S. government personnel either directly or indirectly ordered the death of Ephrain Bacama or Michael Devine. We can, obviously, continue to urge the government of Guatemala to pursue any available lead that might shed light on the circumstances surrounding the death of this American citizen and the spouse of an American citizen, including the information we've provided directly to the government of Guatemala in February.

Q: Mike, going back to something else you addressed this morning, what would the President have in mind if, indeed, it were determined that somebody tried to keep the White House in the dark, somebody at the CIA tried to keep the White House in the dark on details of --

MR. MCCURRY: There is no indication at all that anyone has withheld information from the President or from the White House. But as I indicated earlier, if there was any information withheld, as we attempted to resolve the fate of this spouse of an American citizen, any necessary information that should have been made available to us, then the President is determined to fire anybody on the spot responsible for withholding that information.

Q: Mike, you spoke of new information that was presented to the White House in January. How long did the CIA have that information before it shared it with the White House?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know precisely how long they had that information. I don't believe they had that information for any long duration or long period of time. I believe as it was developed in the field, it was then transmitted to Washington, and the information that came to us then required us to act very carefully in order to protect the lives of individuals that might have been assisting us with the inquiry. That does not say that -- not to suggest in any way that it involved anyone that might have been implicated in the death of Bamaca, but it did require us to proceed carefully to, as I say, to protect any individual who might have been assisting us. And we -- that information also, we had to be careful with as we provided it to Jennifer Harbury and then to the government of Guatemala so that we could ask them to pursue the information and to investigate any potential lead.

Q: Are you about talking about days, or weeks, or months the CIA had this before it shared --

MR. MCCURRY: It was information that certainly became available to us perhaps towards the end of the year or early this year, but certainly after Jennifer Harbury was in Guatemala at the time of her hunger strike in November.

Q: More broadly, in light of this episode and other recent ones involving the CIA, does the President trust the CIA to tell him and Congress the truth?

MR. MCCURRY: As I've said several times now, the President has no reason to doubt the statement that was issued yesterday by Admiral Studeman regarding this matter, and he enjoys a very cooperative and good working relationship with the agency and its officials.

Q: What's the effect of this on morale at the CIA? Part of the reason the President -- one of the things he mentioned when he chose John Deutch was that he expected that would raise morale over at the agency. What's the effect of this?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't imagine that this has been helpful to morale there. But at the same time, I believe that the nomination of Deputy Secretary Deutch, someone who is greatly admired and his prompt confirmation by the Senate, will do a whole lot to help improve morale there.

Q: Is his nomination going up today --

MR. MCCURRY: We're checking on that now. It has not gone up. It will be ready to go up shortly, I'm told.

Q: follow up now on the expectations of the New Zealand --


Q: (inaudible)

MR. MCCURRY: Why don't you see if you can get something so I can -- they want me to do something into the microphone on New Zealand. Okay, see if you can get something.

Q: Thank you.

MR. MCCURRY: What else have you got?

Q: Are you -- why aren't you providing the Senate or are you providing the Senate with the information needed for Foster's confirmation?

MR. MCCURRY: I am told that we've provided them with everything that was necessary. Let me check.

Q: Well, why would they be saying you haven't?

Q: It is sort of their call, too, isn't it?

MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. If they require any additional -- any information they require, we will be providing. We've provided an extraordinary volume of information already, I believe.

Q: Do you suspect the Senate is just doing this to delay this or hold it up or drag it out?

MR. MCCURRY: The Senate has to perform its own functions as it sees fit under the advice and consent clause of the United States Constitution. On the other hand, a speedy and prompt confirmation of Dr. Foster would be in the best interest of the American citizens because he is extraordinarily qualified and capable to address matters of concern to the public health of all Americans.

Q: Has the White House received any death threats or any -- things like that that might prompt extra security around Dr. Foster? There's been a report that he has security --

MR. MCCURRY: That he had extra -- you know, I meant to check that, and -- I saw that news report myself and I meant to check that, and I don't know. Do you know offhand? You'll check on it. Okay.

What else have we got? In the back.

Q: Do you have a view on a Turkish buffer zone on the Iraq border, as reported in the wires this morning --

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check on that. I mean, we are monitoring very closely the operation that is underway there. I believe that Provide Comfort has been in a sense -- Operation Provide Comfort provides something of a buffer zone. That's obviously more directed to Kurds who are suffering under the regime of Saddam Hussein above the 34th Parallel, but that U.N. mission there is, in a sense, a buffer zone of its own. I'll check further if there have been diplomatic contacts on that issue.

Q: On affirmative action, are you disheartened by the latest polls?

MR. MCCURRY: No. They're about -- I think they square with what common sense would tell you the American people think. But we're very heartened with the response to the President's update on the status of that review as he delivered it yesterday at his news conference.

Q: Do you have a subject for the radio address tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: It was changing when I last checked. We'll let you know later on, on that point.

One other thing I wanted to just call attention to the -- over at U.S. Transportation Department, Secretary Pena today and the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration announced a one level of safety standard for scheduled commercial flights on aircraft with 10 or more seats. This primarily affects small commuter carriers. The President on the promulgation of these regulations said these new standards are a bold and necessary step forward in improving air safety and an outstanding example of how government can and should work to address the concerns of the American people. Call your attention to that.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

Q: But do you -- can you just wing it on the other thing -- (laughter) --

MR. MCCURRY: I can, you know -- I'll talk to you later. I talk to you -- we've got at least two takers, and I can talk to you outside later.

Happy weekend everybody. See you Monday.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:03 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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