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Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

June 09, 1995

The Briefing Room

11:46 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: As soon as we get everyone settled down here, we'll keep going.

Yes, Leo.

Q: Is the Murayama bilateral on Thursday, the first day?

MR. MCCURRY: It is, I believe. What time --

MR. MITCHELL: I've not seen the time. It's afternoon.

MR. MCCURRY: It will be in the afternoon. I believe it's the first thing the President does when he arrives.

Q: Can you say anything more on Robert Vesco at all?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't. I know that the Cuban government has indicated to the United States government that he has been detained and through our interest section in Havana. We're attempting to learn more about that, but I don't have anything further on it at this point.

Q: Are there any negotiations underway -- are there any negotiations underway for his return?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: What do you think he is doing on this? Is it an overture, do you think, towards us?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on why they've done that until we have more information from the Cuban government.

Q: Have we asked for his extradition? Has that been out there for years?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. We have just asked at this point for additional details about the circumstances under which he has been detained.

Q: What's the latest on O'Grady coming to the White House?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard of any firm plans. The President is most interested in having him reunited with his family and making sure that his comrades and friends at Aviano and elsewhere in Italy have an opportunity to visit with him. But we will keep you posted if there's --

Q: But his mother was indicating, apparently, that the had said to her that he might be there in two to three days.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think we'll see what his -- his family is nearby here in Virginia, and I think the President's interest is first and foremost in seeing that he gets to see his family. And if he has got any other plans or if he would like to see the White House, I am sure that he is more than welcome here. But we'll let you know when that happens.

Q: There is no time?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know of any plans at the moment to have him here.

Q: I want to ask you about a couple of comments that Prime Minister Silajdic made on the driveway here as part of his pitch to lift the arms embargo. He says counter to what the administration has been saying, he's says we've been at it for three years, we don't need training, we just need weapons, we just need the embargo lifting. He's disputing the argument that you all have been making for not lifting the embargo.

How do you deal with that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is correct, and I think probably true to say that the effectiveness of the Bosnian government army has improved as a result of the experience now they've had in developing a more cohesive and coherent fighting force over the last two and a half years. But the fact remains that in order for them to successfully face the threat from a superior Bosnian Serb force, they would need additional armament.

In the view of the United States, if we were providing that type of armament, it would be of a type that would require training on behalf of our government for those who are receiving it, depending on the types of armaments involved and that, in the view of the United States, if we were unilaterally taking responsibility for lifting the arms embargo, we would feel a moral responsibility to make sure that the Bosnian Muslims were not slaughtered in the aftermath of a decision to lift the arms embargo.

Clearly, what happened in the case of the United States unilaterally abrogating a U.N. resolution sanctions regime is that the Europeans would, and most likely others -- in fact, most likely all of the troop-contributing elements within UNPROFOR -- would very quickly withdraw; and, remember that would be under circumstances in which we might likely have to commit ground troops to evacuate UNPROFOR based on our prior commitment.

So you would in that case have U.S. ground forces there in Bosnia in what would likely be hostile situations. But in any event, you would then have to proceed, as a result of that, with significant efforts to provide the armament to the Bosnian Muslims, and, in our view, air strikes, an air campaign to hold back the Bosnian Serbs so that they would not overrun the population centers, especially in eastern Bosnia that are now completely surrounded and isolated.

You can easily sympathize with the frustration of the Bosnian government that they would take even those horrible circumstances, because they are the aggrieved party and they have -- or the party that has accepted various proposals for peace settlements and the Bosnian Serbs are the aggressor and the intransigent party in the diplomatic discussions that have occurred in Bosnia.

But, nonetheless, as the President measures and judges our strategic interest, we see in our strategic interest no reason to commit U.S ground forces to take part in what would be a war between the Bosnian Muslims and the Bosnian Serbs, so that those who propose that we unilaterally abrogate this U.N. sanctions regime have an incumbent responsibility to explain to the American people what that entails.

It entails a significant escalation of the fighting. It means much more horrible killing, much more dying by, in most cases, innocent noncombatants in Bosnia, it means the significant expenditure of sums of money on the part of the United States government to get the arms that the Bosnian Muslims would need to have what is sometimes called on the Hill a "fair fight," and we believe it would also require an extensive use of U.S. air power, unilaterally, which entails all the risks to our pilots that we've seen in recent days.

That's the judgment of the President. We are sympathetic to the views of the Bosnian government. We understand their frustration. But we respectfully disagree because, at the end, we would like to see the killing and the dying ameliorated, and we don't believe the answer to the conflict in Bosnia is to escalate the war.

Q: Silajdzic also said that the arms embargo has become an instrument of genocide and of failure. Moments later he denied he ever said that, actually, but --

MR. MCCURRY: That's a strong statement from people you can easily understand would feel strongly about the conflict that they have now had to suffer for close to three years.

Jill, I'm going to have to wrap up with maybe only one or two more questions, because my understanding is the President's going to come on and WHCA needs to be able to feed the President's comments.

Q: Could you just explain your statement this morning that Bosnian Muslims actually would prefer war or want war?

MR. MCCURRY: I meant what the Prime Minister then said to many of you. He said, we need to have the arms embargo lifted so that we can defend ourselves. If that means war, so be it. I believe he said that to many of you. That's what I meant and I believe he confirmed what I said just shortly later.

Q: Where is the policy going, actually? There seems to be such a -- and now the allies are indicating by fall they, too, will pull out. I mean, is it just sort of a holding pattern for the summer? There doesn't seem to be any fix on where --

MR. MCCURRY: No, it's real clear what our objectives are. Our objectives are to try to keep UNPROFOR in place so it can conduct its mission more effectively. That has been difficult; there's no doubt about that. But we believe that we need to support and strengthen the U.N. mission so they can carry out its mandate because we believe the presence of U.N. personnel in that mission on the ground is an inducement to the parties to avoid the escalation of fighting that will lead to many, many more deaths in Bosnia.

So, our policy is premised on the notion that we need to do everything possible to try to limit this conflict and to try to limit the dying. And that we will continue on that path. Now, if we reach the end of this summer and our European allies are indicating they're withdrawing from UNPROFOR and we reach a point where our Congress mandates through legislation a lifting of the arms embargo, it may well be that lifting the arms embargo proves unavoidable as a last resort. That is the formulation that the Contact Group has always acknowledged, is an eventuality as a last resort, but every American should understand that is a horrible formula for more dying in Bosnia. And as long as we're honest about that, so we know where we're headed -- at the moment, we're headed on a path doing everything possible to try to preserve the fragile possibility of diplomacy that might result in the peace settlement.

But make no mistake -- the course that the Congress seems intent on adopting is a formula for more dying, for more killing, for more deaths among Bosnians, and we believe for the involvement of significant U.S. ground forces in this conflict, entering the war on the side of the Bosnian Muslims.

Q: Will the President veto, and can he sustain it?

MR. MCCURRY: The President will veto a measure if it's along the lines adopted by the House last night and based on the vote, as you know, we have a margin sufficient to sustain that veto.

Q: In terms of UNPROFOR --

Q: On Vesco, did the administration ask Cuba to arrest Vesco?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any conversations that occurred prior to Mr. Vesco's detention by the government related to his detention.

Q: And your understanding remains, although it's a little unclear, that whatever he was detained on had to do with things he did there and --

MR. MCCURRY: We are attempting to determine on what basis he is being detained.

Q: Mike, in some of the rationale that you gave for not lifting, it sounds almost paternalistic that if he Bosnian Muslims are saying we can handle it --

MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not. They have a right to their own judgment, their own assessment of what the will of their government and their people is as they approach this conflict. They have every right to believe that the answer lies in attempting to fight their way back to some coherent boundary for their country.

We recognize that right. But we're saying our interests, the interests of the United States government and the United States people are not sufficiently engaged to enter that war on their behalf. And they are suggesting -- the Prime Minister seemed to suggest, well, we're not asking you to commit yourself to the war on our behalf and to commit your ground troops and your own resources, treasure and blood, but just let us "get the arms from our friends," and that there would be many experts who would suggest that would open the door to the involvement in this conflict of many people whose interests are not most likely consistent with those that have been recognized by the United Nations through the resolutions that they've passed. They are not friendly members of the international community that would then want to go into that conflict, to establish a presence in the Baltics.

Q: Mike, Bosnia obviously is going to be one of the big topics in Halifax. Does last night's vote in the House hamper the President in his discussions with the other leaders in Halifax in terms of giving an uncertain signal of what the United States ultimately might do?

MR. MCCURRY: The President will go to Halifax in a position where he makes an argument to his European counterparts that this administration is committed to internationalism and to our obligations on the world scene.

It frightens many members of the G-7 that an isolationist trend is now appearing within the United States Congress that would require the United States to pull back from any of the obligations that the G-7 has sought to coordinate and to foster. And we've heard that from many European visitors here, from many European governments, and there is great concern among other industrialized nations about whether or not the United States is going to live up to its global commitments and, certainly, that concern will grow as a result of the vote in the House of Representatives last night.

Q: What can you tell them as to his intention to stand up to Congress on these matters?

MR. MCCURRY: He will make it very clear that the type of isolationist legislation that the House adopted -- and heaven forbid that that should become the final version of this legislation -- but he'll make it clear that he is willing to exercise his constitutional authority as President to veto that type of isolationist legislation so that the United States can live up to its global responsibilities for leadership.

Q: How disappointed is the White House in Japan's decision not to back the trade sanctions on Iran? And, secondly, is this a sign that the trade sanctions and the economic friction between the two countries is finally spilling over into the security agreements?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, to take the second part of the question, we still believe that we can deal with these trade issues and economic issues and keep them from affecting the balance of the relationship. We have done that successfully by reaching 14 other agreements with the Japanese government, and one thing I believe the meeting between Prime Minister Murayama and President Clinton will make clear is that there are remaining a range of issues upon which we cooperate closely, and we will continue to operate closely.

Q: What's the political component of the President's trip to New Hampshire?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's primarily going there to deliver a commencement address to the students, faculty and parents at Dartmouth College. As I indicated to some of you earlier, that is going to be very much a commencement address and very much not a political address. But it is New Hampshire and we are approaching 1996, and he will probably see some people he would like to have as supporters when the New Hampshire primary occurs.

But the principal reason for the visit and the principal reason that the trip is on his schedule is for the commencement address which is decidedly not a political speech. It wouldn't be appropriate in that type of an occasion.

Q: So, what's their disappointment in the decision by Japan on Iran?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, I forgot the first part of your question. We'll continue to press our concerns about proliferation issues with the Japanese. We enjoy a lot of cooperation from the Japanese government as we address security issues and proliferation issues specifically. The Japanese have been very helpful and supportive as we work to implement the agreed framework on the North Korean issue, so they are well aware and very helpful in many instances on our overall approach on nonproliferation and we'll continue to work with them about our concerns concerning Iran.

Q: Is it retaliation?

MR. MCCURRY: You should ask the Japanese government that, not me.

Q: So you don't view it as that?

MR. MCCURRY: We view it as a disagreement not unlike that we have some other governments about how to best press our proliferation objectives as they relate to Iran.

Q: How is the counter-budget proposal doing?

MR. MCCURRY: The counter-budget proposal -- I'm not aware that there is one.

Q: The alternative budget proposal.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President, as I've said often, is working with his advisors to develop some suggestions that would be helpful to the Congress as the Congress moves forward with its budget process, and the timing of the President's intervention with those suggestions will be up to him.

Q: In the past, the Senate --

MR. MCCURRY: Happy Birthday. 60 years. Jacoba -- sixty years old and 30 years in journalism and plenty of awards to show for it. Happy Birthday!

I think that's the end.

Q: Oh, nice aversion, Mike. (Laughter.)

Q: You sounded like a State Department spokesman today.

MR. MCCURRY: It's unfortunate -- not doing my job very well.

Q: There is a different hat. You wear a different hat.

Q: The Senate in the past has always moderated some of the things coming from the House side. Does the President expect them to make changes to the foreign aid bill that he could accept and not veto?

MR. MCCURRY: Based on the discussions we've had within the Senate and the testimony that we've given there and our understanding of the disposition of many senators. We do believe it's possible to make changes in this legislation.

THE PRESS: Thank you. END 12:01 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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