Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's Monday, and I hope you all had pleasant weekends, those of you who did not have to work.
Q: Do you have any news on the pilot?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't.
Q: Is there any change in the --
MR. MCCURRY: Unfortunately, I don't. There's nothing new to share. I believe, as General Shalikashvili said yesterday, they are doing everything conceivable to secure credible information about the pilot's whereabouts, but we don't have anything that is absolutely true.
Q: Has the picture in Bosnia changed at all?
MR. MCCURRY: No, the situation report from Bosnia is roughly as it's been. There continues to be shelling, sporadic instances of fighting. They've subsided somewhat since the heavy shelling just prior to NATO air strikes recently, but it's still not a good situation for the citizens on the ground and still all the more reason to try to bring this conflict to an end.
Q: Any new hostages released?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, but I would check with U.N. spokespeople and UNPROFOR on that.
Q: What are the sources of the conflicting information on the fate of the pilot? Is the Bosnian Serb government officially telling the U.N. or others that they have this pilot or that they don't have the pilot?
MR. MCCURRY: Conflicting statements have been made by General Mladic to U.N. authorities, but I would refer you to United Nations to get a detail on those conflicting statements.
Q: Is the administration or the President taking any steps today to consult with members of Congress just to bring them up to speed on the status of administration policy after the whole week and weekend of articulation?
MR. MCCURRY: I should check. There has been extensive consultation throughout recent days with Hill staff, mostly because members have been away in their districts for the non-legislative work period that Congress currently has. But the administration will be testifying in coming days on the Hill at special hearings that have been convened, I believe, both on the House and Senate side. So we do expect to have key administration witnesses before relevant House and Senate committees in a matter of hours.
Q: But any particular keeping abreast work today to sort of like now we're all on the same page?
MR. MCCURRY: There has been throughout this period consultation with staff and, in some cases, with members. And we'll continue to do that because the President believes it's important for Congress to understand and support the policy that he's outlined.
Q: Has he talked to any members personally?
MR. MCCURRY: I would have to ask him directly. He may have over the weekend. I'm not aware of any calls of that nature, but I should check with him first.
Q: Mike, is the administration leaving it to the United Nations to determine the whereabouts of this -- and fate of this pilot? Have any approaches been made to the Russians or to anyone else with influence with the Serbs or Bosnian Serbs?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to detail the efforts, but they are extensive as General Shalikashvili indicated yesterday.
Q: Well, is this the case of the Bosnian Serbs just now being forthcoming? It would seem that by now there would have been a --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate. I don't -- it would require speculation; I'm not going to do that.
Q: Do we know for sure whether or not he ejected?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not going to speculate on information concerning the fate of the pilot until we have concrete information that we believe is true that we can pass on.
Q: Do you have any information at all?
MR. MCCURRY: Not beyond that that's been provided publicly by General Shalikashvili and by others at NATO.
Q: Was there any electronic signals that indicated --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into any of that, Wolf.
Q: Different subject?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure.
Q: The status of the rescission bill -- has it arrived?
MR. MCCURRY: As of 12:00 noon today, I'm told by the clerk here that it has not arrived from the Congress. It passed some time ago and we are uncertain what the delay is in getting the enrolled bill here to the White House. I ask that you check with the congressional leadership and see what the delay is about.
Q: Mike, what's the deadline?
Q: you indicated that turnaround might be almost immediate, that it would --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have a -- obviously, the President knows what's in the conference report. He know that it is subject to a veto, and he has a very good idea how we could fix it and get on with the business of cutting spending and achieve the type of deficit reduction that is envisioned by the legislation. So as soon as we can veto it, we can get on with the business of passing a measure that the President can support and, presumably, the Congress can support.
Q: But do you envision, for instance, the President would veto it within 24 hours of arrival?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- it depends on when it comes here, when it arrives and how soon he can sharpen up the veto pen.
Q: Do you think it got lost in the mail? (Laughter.)
Q: What's the deadline for it to get here, Mike? Doesn't it have to be here in how many working days?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a -- why don't you ask -- when you call and ask the congressional leadership where is it, you can ask them that question.
Q: You don't know the answer, or you don't want to speculate again, or what?
MR. MCCURRY: I actually -- I don't know the answer. There's probably -- I think it's a certain number of calendar legislative days and I'm not certain what that is. But I can check.
Q: Why is the President and Vice President going on Larry King Live tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: To have fun and to celebrate Larry King's 10th anniversary.
Q: You mean they won't make any news?
Q: With the town hall meeting last week, with Clinton going on Larry King tonight -- these seem to be echoes of the campaign of '92. Is the President now in campaign mode?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The President has indicated over and over again, there will be plenty of time for politics in 1996. Josh, the way it works here in the United States, we have presidential campaigns every four years. (Laughter.)
Q: That last four years. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: This is 1995 and by my astute observation of the calendar, 1996 is the presidential election year. So the President will have lots of reelection campaigning ahead in the next calendar year.
He's continuing to make his case to the American people about the important issues that face both the President and the Congress. He'll probably take this opportunity to talk about some of the more urgent issues that have been on the calendar of the President and the Congress in recent weeks, and advance his arguments in favor.
Q: Will George Stephanopoulos call?
Q: Random call.
MR. MCCURRY: Just on the --
Q: Why Dartmouth?
Q: Why is he going to New Hampshire?
MR. MCCURRY: To deliver a commencement address at Dartmouth, as you know.
Q: Is he making any other stops?
MR. MCCURRY: Other stops?
Q: Other events in New Hampshire?
MR. MCCURRY: As long as he's up there, he may talk to some other folks. (Laughter.) His calendar will not be as extensive as Speaker Gingrich's, I can assure you.
Q: Who is carrying the ball for the President's policy on Bosnia on the Hill? Who is going to be the lead on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, a variety -- it will be the foreign policy principals. I expect, if I understand correctly based on calls today, that both General Shalikashvili and Secretary Perry will testify. Secretary Christopher would like to testify, but is scheduled to depart for a very important mission to the Middle East. So depending on his travel schedule, he might also be available. If not, the Secretary or the highest-ranking official available on Bosnia from the State Department, I'm sure, and there may be others as well.
Q: Back to Dartmouth for just a second. What's the subject of the speech?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is still working on that, but it will be, again, a speech about America in the 21st century. There has been a series of commencement addresses and major addresses the President has made recently, and they all talk about where this country needs to be as we look at the challenges of the 21st century and what we need to do in order to get there. And he's commented from time to time on the very important debate underway here in the United States about how you prepare for that American future, and the different vision he has compared to those on Capitol Hill, especially the Republican leadership, that would go in a different direction. So I think it will continue to be an argument for his case about how this country can advance its objectives and prepare for the challenges that we will face both in the world and domestically as we look ahead to the next century.
Q: Is it foreign policy or is it domestic policy?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be, I think in the case of the Dartmouth address a little bit of both, but we'll have to give you more later in the week because the President's still working on the speech.
Q: Mike, what about the terrorism bill? At the end of the week last week Senator Dole sent that letter, and then yesterday he had some strong remarks about the President, how he provided no leadership other than public statements. What's your view about the status of that? Has the President talked with Democratic members about curtailing their amendments?
MR. MCCURRY: If I'm not mistaken, the President was very clear on that in his remarks earlier this morning, and we believe that measure could pass. It should pass by the end of the week. We believe there's no reason why it can't, and the White House has been working very actively with the Senate Democratic leadership to pare down the number of amendments, make sure that this legislation can receive the adequate consideration it deserves. And there are, indeed, some amendments that might be helpful in making it a better piece of legislation, but the President's view is that we could clear away some of the unnecessary amendments, move to final passage, and get on with passing a measure that he has deemed very important to fight international terrorism.
Q: Dole seemed to suggest this morning that while the President talked about it, he's not doing anything about it. Are you saying that you people are actively working up on the Hill --
MR. MCCURRY: That's right. He can walk across the hall and talk to this counterpart, Senator Daschle, and get a very good readout on how actively the President and the White House staff have been involved in paring down the number of amendments which would make possible the type of expeditious consideration that the Majority Leader seems to want. I don't think there's any disagreement between the majority leader and the President on the need to pass this legislation, to do it quickly and to clear the books so they can get on with the work of the Senate. They're just in complete agreement on this. I don't think there's any dispute at all.
Q: Does the President support some of those amendments, though, like the tagging?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, sure. There are some -- consistent with the legislation that the White House sent to the Hill, there are some things that we think could be done for the bill to make it better, to make the fight against international terrorism more effectively. Tagging is one. There might be some others as well. But I think we can -- the President believes we can narrow the number of amendments, address those that truly are amendments that can improve this legislation and get a final passage. There should be no reason why they can't do that this week.
Q: Getting back to Bosnia, is it your sense that the refinement of the U.S. policy as far as using U.S. ground troops is over with, there's not going to be any more refinement of that policy?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I wouldn't suggest that, for this reason: The President, as he had information available, brought it before the American public -- and remember, there are two things that affect the emerging Western policy on Bosnia. One, there are events on the ground, what the reaction of the warring parties are; two, in the case of the United States, what commitments are rendered by the Europeans. And we just saw a substantial new commitment of forces by European powers over the weekend at the meeting attended by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense, and that all affects the equation as we look at what type of commitment will be necessary from the United States.
So as events happen, as things affect our overall thinking on Bosnia, we will report them to you.
Q: Why not an admission then, with all the people who spent the weekend saying that the Clinton Bosnia policy is an oxymoron, that this may well defy what we've all come to know as the hard and fast rules of foreign policy?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't understand that question. Try again.
Q: We used words like refinement and emerging, and yet there's an effort on the part of the White House to say this is our policy, we're not backing away, we're not changing.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the President's policy on Bosnia, the fundamentals of it have not changed, and have not changed really for over two years -- no ground troops in Bosnia on behalf of the parties that are in conflict. In other words, not entering that war on behalf of the Bosnia government, the Bosnian Muslims; and two, no ground troops as part of the continuing U.N. peacekeeping mission there.
That said, strong support for the NATO efforts to help enforce existing U.N. Security Council resolutions and a commitment to our allies to do those things that help them remain and participate in UNPROFOR and to make the mission of UNPROFOR more effective. That's the broad parameters o f a policy that has not changed. Now, a lot of you have focused on the nuances of that policy as events on the ground change and as the deliberations of our European allies change.
Q: The thing about that policy statement is that nowhere is mentioned an outcome or a goal. It's all about means.
MR. MCCURRY: No, that is not true. The President on Saturday --
Q: The points that you just cited, none of the them mentioned an outcome or a goal.
MR. MCCURRY: The goal, the outcome that the West would like to see in Bosnia is the one that's been codified and expressed over and over again and reaffirmed over and over again by the United Nations through United Nations Security Council resolutions -- they want the parties in conflict to achieve a peaceful settlement of their dispute, to stop the killing, to stop the dying, and to get on with reconstructing Bosnia Hercegovina, which is a nation state recognized by the U.N. Security Council.
That is the ultimate goal. It's real clear what the goal of this policy is -- to limit the dying and the killing. And as the President suggested to you on Saturday, we have been successful in doing that. There are over 100,000 people who died in the Bosnia conflict, in fact, in the former Yugoslav conflict in 1992. The number who have died is less than 3,000, I believe, in 1994. That reflects some measure of progress. Is that perfect progress? No. Is there -- can you point to anything that says that these parties want to make peace instead of war? It's hard to find that. Both sides seem determined to try to address on the battle field those issues that we believe can only successfully be addressed at the negotiating table. But ultimately, the goal is to get these people to stop killing each other.
Q: Is there any chance that the administration might at this point revive, perhaps in a somewhat varied form, the idea that it tried in '93, that is lift and strike? You're hearing it in various forms from other quarters now.
MR. MCCURRY: I heard over the weekend a variety of -- there are a lot of critics of the administration policy. And I've said to some of you it is easy to criticize this policy in Bosnia because it's not neat, it's not perfect, and sometimes it is ugly. And I'd have to be candid in saying that. But on the other hand, on the other hand, nobody has presented an alternative that provides any more hope to the people of Bosnia than that suggested by the President, or that arises with it complications that go well beyond the issues we have discussed the past several days.
And let me take, to answer your question, the example of lifting the arms embargo. All right, there are lot of critics of the President who say let's just lift the arms embargo and let them have a war and we can wash our hands of the whole mess. Now, how do you lift the arms embargo without taking -- finding the resources necessary to provide the Bosnian government some measure of support to head off what would likely be a major offensive by the Bosnian Serbs in the interim? And do we use U.S. air power to bomb Bosnian Serbs while they hold off and try to equip and train the Muslims? If we do that, our military commanders tell the President that there's no guarantee that bombing is necessarily fully effect; you might have to consider at that point ground elements that would keep the Serbs at bay while the Muslims train and reequip. What do you do about the Eastern enclaves where the Serbs would most likely move very quickly on them -- Srebrenica, Tuzla, Garazda. Those civilian centers where there are people exposed would likely fall or face onslaught from the Serbs.
So those who propose lifting the arms embargo unilaterally -- because there's no prospect here of a multilateral lift of the arms embargo -- take on the responsibility of explaining to the American people how they would use U.S. military power, including ground forces, to accomplish the job of putting the Muslims in a position where they could have "a fair fight," as I've heard some of them say over the weekend. And I think those are fair questions.
We looked at all those options when we went to the Europeans. We were told by the Europeans that lifting the arms embargo is something that they would not support. They continue to take that position. So lifting the arms embargo means doing it unilaterally. And you do that unilaterally, then what happens when some of our allies come to us and say, well, we're going to unilaterally lift some of the trade sanctions on Iraq because we're just tired of living with those. We don't have much ground to stand on then if we take that posture. These are complicated questions. These are not neat black and white answers. But the President, in his effort to try to help the Western Alliance deal with the problem of Bosnia, we're doing what we think is right, and we're not doing things that we think would be wrong.
Q: Does that statement of yours mean that Secretary Perry brought it up again at this meeting over the weekend -- the lift and strike policy -- and they again rejected it?
MR. MCCURRY: No. There has not been a change in the view of our fellow NATO allies and other members of the Contact Group on that question for some time. They will say that in the end of the day it could be unavoidable that you lift the arms embargo, but that usually is raised in the prospect of an overall collapse of UNPROFOR and a withdrawal of UNPROFOR, in a sense, a return to all-out war in Bosnia.
Q: Are we confident now that the Europeans have the will and the ability to do what we prefer, which is to stay in rather than to withdraw -- with just the help that we're willing to offer them?
MR. MCCURRY: We believe, based on the meetings this weekend, and I would say importantly, based on the commitment rendered by the President when he spoke at the Air Force Academy, that the Europeans have made that commitment. They are willing to keep UNPROFOR in place. There's no discussion now as there was maybe 10 days ago of a withdrawal of UNPROFOR, and there is, as you saw this weekend, the commitment of military resources on behalf of some of the European powers that would make UNPROFOR more secure. And it was very, very significant, the meeting that occurred.
Q: Did the comments that he made on Saturday, did they in any way undercut the message of reassurance to the Europeans that he had sent at the Air Force Academy?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because they followed extensive deliberations with the Europeans. They followed indications by the Europeans that they were grateful for that support that the United States would provide. There is no mistaking on the part of the Europeans what we had offered, what we were willing to do and what we were not willing to do. But the fact that we would be there in emergency situations should their forces face untenable situations was an important offer, and it made possible a lot of things -- I would argue it made possible a lot of the things the Europeans have now pledged to do in connection with the rapid deployment forces now been authorized.
Q: You probably, I'm sure, went over this very carefully over the weekend, but I'm still a little unclear on this point. On Wednesday at the Air Force Academy, the President said that he would consider using ground forces to help in a repositioning or a reconfiguration or a strengthening of UNPROFOR. He didn't use those words on Saturday in his radio address. Is there a backing away from the commitment to consider using ground forces in a reconfiguration?
MR. MCCURRY: The result of deliberations with the Europeans in the days following the President's speech indicated that reconfiguration -- the requirement for U.S. assistance in the event of reconfiguration -- could be limited to cases of emergency extractions and, as a last resort, because there was expertise and resources available from the European powers that could help accomplish that in a more orderly fashion if that was the scenario we were looking at. So we were able to narrow the likely contingencies in which there would need to be a U.S. ground commitment based on what, in fact, was a very positive response to the President's Air Force Academy address.
Q: If it does turn out that there isn't a need to send troops in for an emergency extraction or a last resort, would the President get Congress' approval first?
MR. MCCURRY: He indicated that he would consult very carefully with Congress on that.
Q: Not consulting, but does he view a vote by Congress as part of this process?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we -- they have looked at and, in some sense, will have to approve the changes that are made in contingency planning. The so-called NATO operation Plan 40-104 comes with a funding requirement, so it will have to be approved by Congress. So in any event, they will face, through the power of the purse, the right to approve. But we'll be willing to make that case, consult with them closely and argue forcefully for what we think makes a lot of sense -- that we won't leave our NATO allies and their forces in the lurch in emergency situations.
Q: Can you, on another subject --
Q: Can I ask a follow-up on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure, Mick.
Q: Senator Dole complained yesterday that the President has not yet consulted Congress on these matters. Wouldn't it make sense to get them on board on the takeoff here?
MR. MCCURRY: He just needs to check in with his own staff. We've been talking to them regularly. He's been busy, I know, but if he checks in with his staff, he'll find that we've been walking them through these questions as they arise, talking to them about the various diplomatic conversations we've been having with European allies. And at the request of the congressional leadership we've more than indicated our willingness to testify in these matters in the coming days.
Q: Are we struggling with a nuance here -- "informing" as opposed to "consulting" as opposed to "approval"? What's going on?
MR. MCCURRY: The Senate Majority Leader has very legitimate reasons to want to know precisely how the administration is moving on this. We're more than happy to provide him the information that he needs, in whatever variety --
Q: Is that your idea of consulting, that you're telling him what you're doing and then go ahead and do it?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, Brit, that's not what I said or meant. We are willing to consult with him on the steps that we will be taking within NATO to make good on the commitments that the Commander in Chief has the constitutional right to make.
Q: I want to follow this. I understand the Senator has been busy, and that he's of a different party than the President and that he wants to run against the President. But is it too much to think that the President and Senate Majority Leader should actually talk about this face to face? This is pretty important.
MR. MCCURRY: No, not necessarily. There may well be an occasion where they would do that.
Q: Are there any plans to do that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any plans at the moment but I wouldn't rule it out.
Q: Is there a principals meeting today on this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we normally don't advertise meetings of that nature, but I'm not aware of any on the subject of Bosnia today.
Q: Can you elaborate on what the President has meant and Cabinet Secretaries have meant when they have threatened a veto of a welfare bill that does not protect children?
MR. MCCURRY: Let me come back to that. You had one more on Bosnia.
Q: Do you have anything to add on reports that U.S. efforts to revive talks with Milosevic have collapsed?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't. It would be proper for you to get that from the State Department, which will brief on Ambassador Frasier's conversations with President Milosevic. They're in the best place to give you a readout on those conversations.
Q: Mike, just so I understand the purport of your comments, are you saying that what the President announced on Wednesday stands, does not change? What has changed is events on the ground and the volition of the Europeans to move in with greater forces. My question is, then, if, down the road, two or three weeks from now, things get dicier on the ground than they are today --let's say their rapid deployment force runs into problems -- then the policy enunciated by the President last Wednesday would still be the guideline for how this administration would act -- is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: As I laid out just a short while ago, those overall parameters of our policy in Bosnia would remain in place and they would guide the response that we would make to any tactical developments on the ground.
Q: Mike, what is specifically related to what the President said Wednesday --
MR. MCCURRY: Right.
Q: is that still 100 percent operative?
MR. MCCURRY: That was a very clear articulation of the President's policy, what we are doing and not doing in Bosnia, and there's nothing about that that I can foresee changing, even given contingencies for developments on the ground. It's, again, a policy premised on the notion that the United States will not commit ground forces to Bosnia to either go to war on behalf of one of the parties, or to participate in the long-term U.N. peacekeeping mission in place.
Now, Peter, back on welfare reform, I don't want to go -- you've got very clear statements of policy from the administration that have been delivered by secretaries and others on where we are with welfare reform legislation, and it's very clear the President would be a in a position to veto the House-passed bill. We're trying to negotiate with the Senate to see if we can get a welfare reform bill that can pass.
Rather than suggest a veto is likely, you look more on the positive side and say we think at the end of the day as we work on these issues, we can come up with a measure that can be approved by the President.
Q: Well, are they going to put a finer point on it tomorrow, is he going to further --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President will talk in front of an event sponsored by the National Governors Association, will want to talk about the important role the governors have played in this debate and outline the types of responses that we think are necessary in order to reform welfare. He will address that.
Q: Is Moynihan's interpretation of what you all meant is the correct --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get -- there's been so much back and forth on that, and it hasn't changed.
Q: Mike, Congressman Mfume had a press conference on the Hill today and indicated that he thought affirmative action task force was just leaking out information, was trying to run out trial balloons, and he implied that Clinton was not showing strong leadership in the issue of affirmative action.
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President has showed strong leadership when it comes to those who have been leaking preliminary discussion drafts of the report. (Laughter.)
Q: Has there been a disciplinary action taken?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President's views on that subject have been made very clear.
Q: To the people --
MR. MCCURRY: To the various people participating in this review?
Q: What about the Congressman's assertion, though, that the President is not showing strong enough leadership to retain affirmative action?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has addressed this on a number of occasions and, to the contrary, I would suggest that he has been helping frame a public climate in which we can make those changes that are necessary, keep those things that are important in making progress in breaking down barriers, and make sure that this nation retains a fundamental commitment to equal opportunity and justice at a time when there are those that would abolish those commitments.
I think the President has made publicly a very strong case for that general premise, and the affirmative action review will contribute substantive support to that general premise. In that sense, I guess, I would just have to disagree with the Congressman.
Q: Besides Mfume's comments today, you have some Republicans who are already pushing legislation on affirmative action, and there may be some action on that either this week or in the coming weeks. There's no indication that the administration is close to being done with the affirmative action review. Are you concerned that Congress is going to step ahead of the administration on this issue? And what do you intend to do to --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can't predict the schedule on Capitol Hill, but at the moment, I don't believe the White House is concerned that the Congress is going to move to final consideration of any legislation that would preempt our own review of affirmative action efforts.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:44 P.M. EDT
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/270021