Bill Clinton photo

Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

March 28, 1995

9:50 A.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. This is a special early morning gaggle.

Q: How does the President feel about taking a week off?

MR. MCCURRY: Off? I wasn't aware that he was getting a week off.

Q: Traveling for a week.

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, you mean how is he feeling about traveling? He is very much looking forward to his trip down south today, and what will be a very exciting meeting later today with the Olympic Committee, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympic Games.

The President of the United States, in his capacity as the honorary president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, along with the honorary vice president of the U.S. Olympic Committee -- anyone what to hazard a guess as to who that might be?

Al Gore, come on. Geez, this crowd is slow. You guys stayed up watching the Oscars last night, right? That's what's going on here, I can tell.

Q: Did the President watch the Oscars?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen him yet this morning. It's possible.

Q: Who comes next?

MR. MCCURRY: The speaker. A local, home-grown product.

Q: Is he looking forward to the regional, economic meeting?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know whether he is. He may -- I don't know. I don't believe he is the honorary secretary-treasurer of the Olympic Committee -- or something like that. (Laughter.)

The Atlantic Olympics will be the largest peace-time gathering in history. And we'll celebrate the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympic Games. Two-thirds of the world's population is expected to watch this sporting event via television, reminding us once again of the global village in which we live.

Q: What's the date?

MR. MCCURRY: The dates of the Olympics are -- not on the piece of paper I'm looking at. (Laughter.)

Q: Is that from the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm telling you all of this because the only public event on the President's calendar today is a meeting with the Olympic Committee down in Atlanta when we arrive later today.

Q: Mike, would you tell us about the new U.S. initiative to impose a worldwide oil embargo against Libya?

MR. MCCURRY: You've all seen, I believe, the statement that we issued late last night. The National Security Advisor met late last night with families of victims of the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. He assured them of the Administration's unwavering opposition to Libyan terrorism -- I'm not doing this for broadcast, why do I have to do this? We've got a statement that's available.

Q: No, you haven't released it.

Q: You are announcing it then?

Q: Read through it.

Q: Good, I'm glad you didn't, because we weren't here, were we?

Q: This didn't come up until it was on the wires as I understand it. Why didn't you want to tell us about it?

MR. MCCURRY: What happened -- Tony met with the families yesterday. My understanding is that we were going to announce today in advance of what is likely to be U.N. Security Council's consideration of this issue, either tomorrow or the following day.

We were going to announce today a renewed effort working with other members of the Security Council to attempt to toughen the existing sanctions regime that exists on Libya as a result of the Lockerbie bombing.

Tony met with the families, I guess, late yesterday afternoon, and then several of them encountered reporters that they wanted to share the good news with. So we were dealing with this late last night as several stories began to break.

A little background -- sanctions have been in effect on Libya for three years. They initially involved just some curtailing diplomatic relations with Libya. We were calling on U.N. members to reduce the status of their diplomatic relations with Libya, banning air transport from Libya and banning arms sales to Libya.

Last year they toughened up the sanctions program by adding some restrictions on oil production equipment, and financial transactions. The outstanding issue has been, would there be any effort to move towards a total oil embargo from petroleum products from Libya.

We have raised that issue on occasion in the past with other members of the Security Council and other U.N. members. We've never received much favorable response to that, but the President has a commitment to the families, as the National Security Advisor outlined yesterday, to press the case vigorously because there has been no move forward in getting custody of the two alleged perpetrators of the crime who remain in Libyan custody and who are required by the United Nations Security Council to be presented for trial in either Scotland or the United States.

Q: Do you have any reason to expect that the reception for the idea is going to be any more positive now than it was before?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we want to make a case. We are under no illusion that it's going to be an easy effort, but at the same time we want to make a very persuasive case because there's been absolutely no progress in seeing these two suspects turned over as required by the United Nations.

We believe by even making the case and reminding our Security Council partners and others in the United Nations that there has been no progress, we will at least, perhaps, make them more receptive over time to the need to toughen these sanctions.

By the way, the review going on at the United Nations has to occur sometime by Friday, but I think -- how often are they reviewed? Three times a year they review the existing sanctions that are in place on Libya to -- for the United Nations to receive a report on whether or not Libya has complied with the terms of the resolution. Clearly they have not. Clearly, Libya has not complied, so there will be a review by Friday that will just suggest that the existing sanctions ought to be -- ought to remain in place.

And we, as I say, believe that they ought to be -- not only remain in place, but they ought to be toughened. And we believe that by making that case, at the time of this review, even if that is not a persuasive case this time, we at least have an opportunity next time to remind the other members of the Security Council and the world community that Libya has failed to comply.

Q: Well, on Friday, we formally ask the other members who -- for an oil embargo, a petroleum embargo?

MR. MCCURRY: We have already begun, if not last night, today begun consultations with members of the Security Council about support for toughening the existing sanctions. So we will be doing what Tony indicated to the families we would be doing, which is consulting with the families, or consulting with other U.N. members about toughening the sanctions.

Q: Do we have unilateral sanctions on Libya? What's our policy on oil sales involving U.S. companies?

MR. MCCURRY: We have a much stricter program of sanctions in effect because Libya is a declared state sponsor of terrorism, but Calvin can get you some more on what the unilateral sanctions are like.

Q: If I could follow up. Is there any more to strengthen or change the U.S. sanctions in connection with this?

MR. MCCURRY: They are pretty stringent already, as I understand them, but I'll take that question on and refer it to Calvin who can work some up later in the day.

Q: Are there other sanctions that might be more relevant than an the oil embargo under consideration -- that might be more workable?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are a variety of things. There are -- you know, a complete oil embargo, which would be probably the toughest sanction imaginable.

Q: That's not going to happen.

MR. MCCURRY: Right. You could take a percentage of oil revenues from Libya, through controls on Libyan financial transactions and put that into some type of escrow account that would benefit victims of terrorism and their families. You could tighten current oil equipment sanctions to affect Libyan oil production and exploration more directly. In other words, really restrict their ability to extract petroleum by getting at their equipment capacity.

And, again, as I say, you require Libya to develop some type of compensation fund for the victims. These are all within the realm of possible sanctions that could be explored, and we'll be consulting with other governments on exactly these types of measures.

Q: Are we getting uncomfortable with our good- Kurd/bad-Kurd policy, with our support of Turkey's invasion of another country?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've been very measured in what we've said about the government of Turkey's incursion into Iraq to eradicate what it represents to us as known camps harboring terrorists. And we've indicated several times and we've talked to the government of Turkey about it, our concern is related to innocent civilians and property unrelated to terrorist activity.

Q: And what is the response out of Turkey --

MR. MCCURRY: You'll have to check with the State Department, they've been talking about that over there and following it there very carefully. Check with your colleagues over there.

Q: Anything new on the two guys being held in Iraq today? Any word?

MR. MCCURRY: No, nothing new. I checked to see if there was anything overnight that developed on that and there is not. We continue to work in a variety of diplomatic channels to secure their release.

Q: At the five year anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing, the President, in a memorial service, said that he considered the Pan Am bombing an attack against America. Now, some people view that as an escalation of the rhetoric, if nothing else. Does the President believe that by calling it an attack against America that raises the stakes? And what does he think ultimately is the appropriate response?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it indicates, among other things, why we are being so persistent in making the case for the type of toughened sanctions that Mr. Lake was talking about with families of the victims yesterday.

Q: Right now, sanctions is the only route to take?

MR. MCCURRY: That is the one that we are pursuing at the moment.

Q: Does the President accept or will he go along with a financial control board for the District of Columbia?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll take that one on. Rivlin's got some stuff that we can make available later on today, I think, on the D.C. control board, if the legislation goes up today. I think it is scheduled to go up, according to Congressman Davis.

Q: Libya says it's willing to let these two suspects be tried be tried in a third country.

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, they have tried persistently for many, many months a variety of ruses aimed at avoiding their obligations under the U.N. Security Council resolution that requires the delivery of the two suspects to either Scotland or the United States for prompt trial. There is no escaping their obligations under the U.N. Security Council resolution, no matter how hard they try through a variety of public relations maneuvers that don't fool anybody.

Q: Can you say when the affirmative action review will be complete?


Q: Can you tell us anything more about it?

MR. MCCURRY: No. It's still in progress and the status is the same as indicated by the President when he took the question last Thursday.

Q: Has Turkey told us it's staying in Iraq permanently?

MR. MCCURRY: We have had a variety of diplomatic discussions with Turkey on the scope of the mission and, again, I refer you to the State Department, they have been briefing on that almost daily, I believe.

Q: Well, is the President involved at all?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he has been briefed on the discussions that are underway by the National Security Advisor following this development, as he does most foreign developments.

Q: He hasn't talked to the Turkish Prime Minister?

MR. MCCURRY: He has not, since he talked to Prime Minister Ciller, maybe 10 days ago, or so. I'm not aware that he has had a subsequent conversation with her.

Q: Did he ask Hussein to intervene in any way for the Iraqi --

MR. MCCURRY: He hasn't been on the phone with Saddam Hussein recently.

Q: I don't mean that Hussein, King Hussein.

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, you mean the King? In the readout that you got on King Hussein, did they get into the Iraq situation? No, I don't believe that they did, based on what I heard.

Q: Did your statement the other day about the CIA and Guatemala encompass the knowledge that the U.S. Ambassador at the time, and the wife of Devine had about the potential involvement of Alpirez when -- the Times story today, what they say appears to contradict Studeman's statement about having no contemporaneous knowledge.

MR. MCCURRY: You'll have to ask at the CIA about that.

Q: Was the station chief of Guatemala transferred to Langley or fired on the spot?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't normally discuss here at the podium the movements of CIA station chiefs. You can check at the agency.

Q: Do you remember what you said that the President is going to do if he found out he has been lied to?

MR. MCCURRY: That's right. There is an inspector general's inquiry underway at the agency, and the President has instructed the National Security Advisor to review the results of that report when it is available.

Q: So the threat of firing on the spot is in abeyance until the IG's report comes?

MR. MCCURRY: No. If anyone delivers to us information that indicates there was a deliberate effort to withhold information from the President or the White House the order stands, they will be fired promptly. To my knowledge there has been no such information delivered to the White House.

Q: Do you know if the administration has taken a position on the alternative regulatory moratorium that is on the Senate floor, the 45 day lay over?

MR. MCCURRY: There were some discussions underway on the 45 day rule, but I'd have to check on that. I'm not sure whether we -- I don't believe we have taken a public position on it.

Q: In terms of the Americans in Iraq, is it true that the U.S. has ruled out any direct contacts with the Iraqi government on the subject?

MR. MCCURRY: No, because we have had direct contact with the diplomatic representative of the Iraqi government at the United Nations, as I reported to you before. That is our principal avenue by which we can have that type of discussion. We also are represented in Baghdad by the government of Poland through our protective arrangement.

Q: Since the two Americans were detained, has a U.S. official met with Nizar Hamdoon?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe Madeleine met with him, but they talked by telephone at least once. Since the detention they have talked at least once that I'm aware of.

Q: What was the outcome?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we obviously expressed our concern and asked for additional information about what proceedings would be conducted against the two who were apprehended.

Q: If it seems that the Senate is going to accept the House Welfare Bill, with maybe some changes, what is the President's attitude?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President remains very concerned about a welfare reform bill that does not adequately protect children. And that concern is shared by a number of Democratic Senators who will be working with their Republican counterparts to try to modify this bill so that it provides an adequate safety net to children, who through no fault of their own, are born into poverty.

At the same time, as we have told you often, we believe that the House-passed bill should be strengthened to make the requirements to move people from welfare dependency and to work more stringent. Those modifications the President is very anxious to see made in the Senate, and we'll be working with individual senators as the bill develops and to see if we can't get those changes made, because the bill in its present form, as we've indicated, is unacceptable.

Q: What Packwood said yesterday was that the block grant idea is what he's willing to accept. Is there something intrinsically wrong with block grants, or could you work with that concept?

MR. MCCURRY: Giving states more flexibility has been a goal that the President shares with a number of Republicans in the Congress. They talked about that when they met here at the Blair House. The concern has been that if you turn programs back to the states in block grant form with no accounting for increases in costs of programs or in any rise in tough economic times, with an increase in indigent populations, you'll end up lopping off people who need assistance, specifically children.

So there has been a great deal of concern about what the ramifications of a block grant approach are, and what the funding mechanisms would be. We, again, believe that there need to be some protections guaranteed for children, especially, who are innocent victims of the poverty that remains in this country.

Q: Wouldn't those contingencies be built-in to the amount of block grant given to each state?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they could be, but it's not clear that there is any guarantee there. And that's one of the concerns we have as we look at that whole question of block granting.

Q: Well, if there is no entitlement, then there is no automatic increase. And you can't even build it in if there is no --

MR. MCCURRY: Call it an entitlement, call it a safety net, call it adequate guaranteed protection for children, whatever the nomenclature, the President wants to make sure that children are protected in the process of reforming the welfare system as it exists today.

Q: Does that mean that he wants the federal government to have control over the standards that are involved in welfare?

MR. MCCURRY: It was broad agreement on the Democratic side that there would need to be some standards in place to achieve the objectives of protecting children and make sure that we --

Q: While money was being withheld?

MR. MCCURRY: That what was being withheld?

Q: The block grants, the money.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's a question that goes to the heart of how you structure the block grant and it's one of the things that we are watching most carefully as the Senate takes up the bill.

Q: Could the President accept something that made aid to children entitlements, but other aid to others not entitlements?

MR. MCCURRY: It depends on exactly how that was structured.

Q: Well, how much involvement does the President have in trying to move this legislation in the right way?

MR. MCCURRY: We've had considerable involvement already by hosting the meeting here at Blair House, by having ongoing contact with the Senate and individual senators. It has been a subject of very keen interest to the President, he has been working on it a great deal.

Okay, everyone, we're off.

END10:05 A.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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