Bill Clinton photo

Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

May 04, 1995

The Briefing Room

3:05 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: I'm going to add just one or two personal points from the President as he prepares for the summit. The President is satisfied that -- the President is satisfied that he will have a good meeting with President Yeltsin. They have previewed some of the issues that will be discussed at the summit. As you know, the President talked to President Yeltsin recently, had a good conversation, one that was described as a -- the President described as being warm in tone and congenial, although the President -- both Presidents, I think, recognize that while their personal chemistry is good and they've now been through a series of these working meetings, they do have some differences in the bilateral relationship that need to be addressed.

The President is especially conscious of the need to speak to the Russian people about the magnitude of the sacrifice they made during World War II. I think he's been specially struck, in doing some reading and doing some of the preparation for the summit, the enormity of the sacrifice of the Russian people during World War II. With 25 to 30 million dead during that conflict, there's hardly any Russian family that doesn't have painful memories of that conflict. And I think the President does have some desire to make clear that we understand the nature of that sacrifice. And on behalf of Americans, when he addresses the people at Moscow State University, he intends to speak specifically to that point.

He's also noted that President Yeltsin has, in his own way, been reaching through our media to the American people in a news magazine interview and, we suspect, with some other interviews that he will grant, and the President thinks that's significant and thinks that's important. It shows a sign of President Yeltsin attempting to reach out to the American people to explain the nature of some of the political dynamic that exists within Russian political culture.

I think with that, I will just see if there are any other questions, maybe, on any other subjects around --

Q: On the same topic -- the Russian political leaders other than Yeltsin, who will Clinton meet with?

MR. MCCURRY: He will -- we don't have an entire list available to you yet. I suspect towards the end of the visit, and perhaps Thursday morning or so, he will have an opportunity at Spaso House to see a cross section of Russian political life. The President did that when he was last in Moscow and found that to be a very useful and interesting way to touch base with a wide segment of the Russian political spectrum and he intends to do that this time.

Q: Has Yeltsin been told that?

MR. MCCURRY: The Russian Federation is well aware of our planning.

Q: Because remember the experience of Nixon.

Q: Is that the only -- is that the only time he might meet someone other than Yeltsin or is there anyone that he has scheduled time with outside of --

MR. MCCURRY: He will have numerous occasions to see people along the way. There will be some private visits, but he also looks forward to seeing some of the students, faculty members and other academics when he's at Moscow State University, and, of course, there will be some meetings outside the context of the formal bilateral meetings that will occur in that setting.

Q: Why can't you say a few words about the level of expectations and urgency in the Rabin-Clinton's meeting Sunday, especially when everybody agrees that the clocks are ticking and the election is coming? What are the -- what is the agenda and what is the priority during the meeting?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President sees that meeting on Sunday night as a good opportunity to touch base with the Prime Minister to review current issues in the Middle East peace process, which are difficult, but which are not insurmountable. He will discuss, obviously, developments as they relate to the Palestinians through the Declaration, through recent events in the territories. But then he will also discuss with the Prime Minister the discussions on the Israel-Syrian track. We don't expect this to be a meeting in which there is significant developments, but it's one that is important because it is an opportunity for the President to reaffirm the United States's strong interest in making progress in the peace process.

Q: Well, will he also bring up the confiscation of Arab land in East Jerusalem?

MR. MCCURRY: There have been discussions of those issues, I believe, have been briefed at the State Department already.

Q: Is the President going to meet with Mr. Kovalev during the session with Vice President Gore that's going on now or has already --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe so, but I'll double-check and make sure that he did not.

Q: The North Korean -- (inaudible) -- Americans not to cross over military demarcation line at -- (inaudible) -- Panmunjom the day before yesterday. Did President Clinton get any report about that matter, or if he did, what's his response?

MR. MCCURRY: He is very well aware of that. It was certainly among the developments in the world that he was briefed upon. There is not -- there has been a pattern of activity related to the armistice and the Armistice Commission that this is similar to, in some respects. The President continues to believe that honoring those commitments and discussing that through the dialogue that should exist between and the parties along the armistice line is proper and necessary.

Q: This morning you said that tomorrow's speech had been ratcheted up in emphasis by the President. Can you give us any more on that? Have you had a chance to see any of the work in progress --

MR. MCCURRY: I have not had an opportunity. We've been doing some other briefings. The President has been thinking a lot about the speech tomorrow. I think he has a very strong interest in saying to the graduates of Michigan State that this is a very hopeful, exciting time in which to live, and that the opportunities that will exist to them in the world that we now live in are extraordinary. And we've seen some of the evidence of it here today -- the cooperation that now exists between the United States and Russian, the end of the Cold War, the denuclearization and, in a sense, the dismantlement of some of the arsenals that once threatened the people of the United States, is all part of the hopeful and change that will affect the lives of these university graduates.

At the same time, we've also seen the painful evidence of what violence and what misunderstanding can do in the days since Oklahoma City, part of this new world that we do live in. And I suspect the President will address both of those subjects -- the change in the world, the hopeful nature of the times in which we live, but also the need to deal directly with the type of violence that has caused so much suffering in just recent days.

Q: impression that he is going to take on the militia types more directly tomorrow than he has in the past. Does that still hold?

MR. MCCURRY: I think he wants to address some of the subjects that he has been thinking about this week. You've heard him talk this week several times about those who espouse violence and those who would even suggest violence directed against federal employees. And I suspect he will touch on this subject tomorrow.

Q: forward to the Monday -- to the Monday speech at all since you -- doing speeches, the Monday VE Day speech?

MR. MCCURRY: It will be a setting in which appropriately the President will talk about the sacrifice of Americans as we brought the war in Europe to a conclusion. I think it will be directed at that, but it will also look ahead into the collaboration that the United States enjoy with Russia as an ally during World War II previewing his trip coming up to Russia.

Q: Do you have comment on reports that Bruce Lindsey has now become an official target in the Whitewater --

MR. MCCURRY: I have no basis upon which to comment on that report.

Q: Does the President still have full confidence in Mr. Lindsey?

MR. MCCURRY: As I said yesterday, yes.

Q: Mike, in the Clinton campaign when people at the State Department in the Bush administration became targets of a special prosecutor, the President, George Stephanopoulos and others said that no one who's target should serve in an administration, that it's unconscionable. So can you find out if that's the case and then tell us --

MR. MCCURRY: I am not aware as we are here now of any official statement coming from the prosecutor indicating who is and who is not a target. So you're telling me your information that you have access to, but I do not have access to.

Q: The President is stressing to improve the capability to counterterrorism. Somewhere, somehow missile defense is fitting into that kind of picture. Is it necessary to redefine your position on missile defense to do -- (inaudible) -- and perhaps more than -- (inaudible) -- missile defense? And how -- that blend into this ongoing dispute between you and the Russians --

MR. MCCURRY: It would be only be appropriate to say in connection with theatre missile defenses that the United States attaches great importance, obviously, to the ABM treaty. We know that there are those who would seek changes in the ABM treaty to make it possible to develop strategic missile defenses and similar to Star Wars. But that is a matter, as the administration has said often, that we think was settled in the 1980s and does not need to be reopened at this point.

We believe that within the framework of the treaty, we can make the type of highly effective, highly targeted changes in theater missile defenses that the President has recommended and that the Pentagon has been pursuing.

Q: What's the status of the Attorney General's effort to find a way to reverse the practical effect of the Supreme Court ruling on guns --

MR. MCCURRY: We checked at Justice, and we understand that the Attorney General intends to stick to the timeline that's been developed, and that we do expect something in the next day or so.

Q: What is the current threshold on tort reform as far as a veto? What would the White House hold out for in the final package?

MR. MCCURRY: There is a good statement from the President, Brian, that has come out. And he's indicated that the legislation -- they're at a very critical moment now in the Senate consideration of tort reform. They have made some changes to the House bill, but unfortunately they've done something that's in effect turned that bill into a drunk driver's protection act, in fact protecting a lot of those who have committed violent crimes against both the environment and against other individual Americans. And the President finds that objectionable, thinks that they have not shown enough interest in protecting those who are victims in our society, and indicated today that he would veto the measure if it rested in its current form.

I think he has also suggested that's a very good reason to hold the debate open in the Senate so they can make some modifications and changes in the bill that would make it much more possible for the President to consider approving that legislation.

Q: Would he talk about Russia on Sunday night, and if you could just talk about that speech a little?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I suspect on Sunday night, within his remarks to APEC, he will at least frame for everyone who has do a broadcast on Monday morning, at least --

Q: Pipe that into the press plane --


Q: Are you going to pipe that into the press plane?

MR. MCCURRY: No, we are going to try to -- we're going to try to get -- I know a lot of you have to depart early on Sunday for Moscow. So what we're attempting to do is to at least take that portion of his remarks that will deal with Russia, make that available to you before you go. And then there will be brief coda that deals with Russia that is in that speech -- as the current plan now stands.

Q: What exactly is Reno working on? Will she have a legislative proposal to circumvent the Supreme Court ruling on guns in school zones? I mean, what is she coming up with?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't answer that question, Helen. I just -- I don't know precisely how -- I know they've got some things -- I'm told they have some things in development, but it was not indicated to me what the nature of it is.

Q: You said in a day or so she'll have something?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, they've indicated to me that they hoped to meet the deadline, and it would be within a day or so, so you might --

Q: Will that come out of Justice or --


Q: Deadline for what?

MR. MCCURRY: -- it will be in Justice, so you might want to check with them.

Q: Deadline for what?

MR. MCCURRY: That they had initially said they were going to try to do something this week to address the court ruling.

Q: For those of who weren't here yesterday, could you just restate one more time the President's position on Bruce Lindsey, more than one word?

MR. MCCURRY: It's in the briefing from yesterday.

Q: Other loose ends, the Iran executive order --what's the status of that?

MR. MCCURRY: The Iran -- in development. Calvin Mitchell from the NSC just made this motion which means -- (laughter) -- it's either circular -- it's being circulated. It's out. I think the final draft of the order is being circulated for final comment, and they should have a sign-off on it very shortly.

Q: A couple of personnel -- CEA or Fed before he leaves -- any chance of appointments?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. I indicated to you yesterday that they had not -- there was a news account yesterday that said they were moving -- that something had already moved to the President on the Fed. That was not true yesterday.

Q: Is it true today, therefore?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything personnel other than to tell you that Mickey Kantor is negotiating with the Japanese and reminds me often that he doesn't have a lot of interest in 1996 politics for those of you who keep erroneously reporting otherwise.

Q: Can I follow up on that? There are reports that the President has scheduled a meeting for Saturday -- his senior aides have scheduled a meeting for Saturday to discuss trade sanctions against Japan if the Vancouver talks produce nothing. Is that correct?

MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. The intent was to give the President the day off on Saturday before he makes a long trip to Russia. So I wasn't aware of any meeting, but I'll double- check on that.

Q: Can you give us a readout on the budget meeting with the Senate Democrats? They didn't have much of a chance to talk.

MR. MCCURRY: Because they had to vote, didn't they? You know, I went -- I only caught a little bit of it because I was doing some other preparation. In general, the tone of the meeting seemed to me to indicate that the President and Senate Democrats were very much together on the approach that we must take as the budget debate develops a little momentum; that we need to continue to insist to the Republican majority that it is very difficult to make decisions critical to the future of the American people when there's a lack of specificity coming from their side and what the budget would like.

We've laid down our budget, and we've said over and over again, it's now incumbent upon them to lay down theirs, and it makes it hard to deal with some of the other issues we've been talking about during the course of this week until we some specificity from them on the budget. And that view was clearly shared by a large number of the Democratic senators who were there. There seemed to me to be a great deal of support for the President's public articulation of his views on Medicare and others coming from some of the senators, and a great deal of interest in Democrats in the Senate and Democratic presidents staying together as we work on budget issues with the Congress.

Q: But Daschle mentioned that there plans to make amendments to the Senate budget resolution. Can you elaborate on what those amendments might be --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the problem is, at the moment, I don't think there's a resolution itself. I mean, there's been nothing coming from the Republican side that you could amend, I don't believe. I mean, that's part of the problem at the moment.

Q: Mike, just -- I just want to make sure on something you said about the Whitewater and Bruce Lindsey before. Are you saying as far as you know Bruce Lindsey has not been notified that he's a target --

MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm saying that -- I'm saying I'm being asked a question about information that you would suggest to me that you possess that I do not possess. And as we often have said, the best place to check with that are those who represent Mr. Lindsey. They would be in a much better position to tell you what they know about it. I just don't know myself here, and nor -- nor do I know if anyone at the White House knows.

Q: Mike, in Moscow, the President is talking about the sacrifices of the Russian people during the World War II years. Is he mentioning the -- (inaudible) -- of the Soviets for the outbreak -- (inaudible) --

MR. MCCURRY: He -- I haven't seen anything, any of the drafts of his remarks that talk about the Ribbentrop Pact or -- I haven't seen anything that would suggest he is going to go into that history.

Q: Why not?

MR. MCCURRY: Because I think interest is in commemorating the sacrifice of the Russian people who heroically struggled against fascism and were instrumental in defeating Nazi Germany during the course of World War II.

THE PRESS: Thank you. END 3:25 P.M. EDT

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

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