Bill Clinton photo

Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

July 28, 1995

The Briefing Room

12:43 P.M. EDT

Q: Are you the only attraction today?

MR. MCCURRY: Am I the only attraction? Am I not attractive enough for you? (Laughter.) You're attractive to me. (Laughter.)

Q: Ooooh.

Q: I'm wondering whether to poise my pen, or not.

MR. MCCURRY: Your pen should always be poised, if not poisonous.

All right, two things to start with. First, to let you know the President today awarded Major Richard J. Meadows, United States Army, Retired, the Presidential Citizens Medal for his exceptional service in the United States Special Forces, for his extraordinary contributions after he retired from military service. The medal itself will be presented by the Commander in Chief of U.S. Special Operations Command tomorrow in Crestview, Florida, where Major Meadows is ill with leukemia.

He's an exceptional guy. We've got a little background on him and a statement from the White House on the award of this medal, but among other things, Major Meadows was involved in establishing the Delta Force. And his heroism and his bravery is widespreadly known throughout the military.

Q: What is the medal?

MR. MCCURRY: Presidential Citizens Medal.

Q: Does it detail some of the operations in which he was involved?

MR. MCCURRY: It does, including some heroic rescue efforts in Vietnam, among others.

Second, President Clinton and President Yeltsin talked by phone earlier today. They spoke for about 45 minutes. The President wished President Yeltsin a speedy recovery from his recent illness. The two Presidents discussed in considerable detail the current situation in Bosnia. They agreed that a lasting resolution to the crisis can only be achieved through a political process. For this to happen, it's essential that the Bosnian Serbs and their threats to U.N. established safe areas cease. President Clinton noted that if the Bosnian Serbs continue to attack the safe areas, NATO is resolved to take decisive action.

President Yeltsin described the trip that Foreign Minister Kozyrev took to Belgrade earlier this week. He expressed his belief that these and other discussions can improve the prospects for peace in Bosnia. President Clinton conveyed his appreciation for Foreign Minister Kozyrev's mission and underscored the importance that we attach to the promises the Serbs have now made as delivered via Foreign Minister Kozyrev. The two Presidents agreed that they would stay in touch on this issue.

They had a brief conversation about Chechnya. And the President indicated his support for the most recent efforts by the Russian Federation to reach a negotiated settlement.

Q: Was the Senate vote brought up, and, if so, what was Yeltsin's reaction?

MR. MCCURRY: The President described the current situation here in the United States as it relates to American understanding of the conflict in Bosnia in some detail. I don't recall them specifically discussing the vote in the Senate. But you do recall public statements by Foreign Minister Kozyrev in the last day or so that clearly reflect the Russian Federation's thinking.

Q: So there was nothing from Yeltsin suggesting they might arm the Serbs?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there was a discussion about how dangerous it is at this point to do anything that would escalate the conflict or add more weaponry into a region in which conflict is already, in too many places in Bosnia, raging.

Q: How did Yeltsin sound?

MR. MCCURRY: The President reports that he sounded very vibrant. They had a very extensive and detailed conversation on some of these points. It was clear that President Yeltsin had been doing considerable thinking about this issue. And on the subject of Chechnya, President Yeltsin referred to several meetings that he had held and discussions he had held in which it was clear that he had been very closely working on that negotiation.

Q: Was President Yeltsin -- did he give any feedback on the concept of sustained air strikes?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they discussed the role that air power can and cannot play. The President made very clear his understanding of the importance of the decisions taken by the North Atlantic Council, and the importance of close coordination between the United Nations and NATO as they address the conflict.

Q: And what was Yeltsin's response?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can't get into too much detail about a sensitive discussion at that level, but the overall tone of the conversation was that they agreed that their approaches were complementary and that they would continue to work together.

Q: Well, did he raise the usual Russian objections to air strikes?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it would be more proper for the Russian Federation to comment on their end of the conversation.

Q: Did they define a time beyond which the attacks would not be allowed to continue without decisive air strikes?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say that again.

Q: Does the President have in mind a time beyond which he will not allow Serb attacks on U.N. safe havens to continue without --

MR. MCCURRY: The President's view of that is consistent with the statements made by the Secretary General of NATO, which reflected the consensus of the alliance on the nature of the threat that is now in place.

Q: Did they discuss the fact that Croatian troops are now getting involved?

MR. MCCURRY: They did discuss the current fighting in and around Bihac, the Bihac pocket and the Bihac safe area itself. The President expressed his concern about the possibility of escalation, and did indicate that we had urged restraint by all parties to the conflict in and around Bihac.

Q: Mike, does the President expect any improvement in the situation in Bosnia as a result of the talks with Yeltsin?

MR. MCCURRY: I think he feels that there is closer coordination now between the United States government and the Russian Federation. The United States values the Russian Federation's participation in the five-member Contact Group. And we believe that our views are harmonious and we can continue to pursue a negotiated peace settlement to this conflict, which remains the objective that we all have in trying to bring this very troubling conflict to an end.

Q: Could you elaborate a little bit more on Bihac? Is the U.S. calling for Croatia to not cross the border, if in fact they've already crossed? And also, is this complicating NATO plans for air power over the safe area of Bihac?

MR. MCCURRY: Two questions. As I've said, we've urged parties to exercise restraint. We are aware of the federation agreement between the government of Croatia and the Bosnian government, and aware of the fact that the Bosnian government has requested assistance from the government of Croatia to address the fighting in and around Bihac.

On the second point, NATO military planning will continue urgently as Secretary General Klaas indicated to address fighting in safe areas other than Gorazde.

Q: The reason I asked that is the U.N. Commander in Brussels is saying today that this fighting further complicates it for -- and he's calling for a delay in any NATO air power to protect the safe haven of Bihac. Not Bihac itself, but the safe area of Bihac.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have -- I've said to several of you and reflects our view that the conflict in and around Bihac, which is in western Bosnia, is much different in its complexity than the fighting in and around the eastern enclaves of Bosnia. In the case of Bihac, you actually have a separatist group of Muslims fighting with Serbs from the Krajina, the so-called Krajina Serbs.

They also are facing offensive action from the south from the Bosnian Serbs. And the Bosnian government, in this case, allied with the government of Croatia has apparently been attempting to address that conflict.

So just the nature of that conflict, as I just described it, is clearly much different from the Bosnian Serb assaults around the civilian enclaves in the east. So we acknowledge that there are some differences there.

Q: So what does that mean? That it's something that we think the Croats can take care of by themselves or -- I mean, yes, it's more complex. But Bihac is also strategically more important in some ways than the eastern enclaves. I mean, what does that mean?

MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. We acknowledge both of those points.

Q: But what does it mean in terms of -- is the U.S. -- let me just try to press it further. Is the U.S. still hoping to have NATO air power used on the safe haven of Bihac?

MR. MCCURRY: The statements of the Secretary General of NATO are quite clear. Planning is now underway urgently to address the question whether the formula in place for protecting the safe area of Gorazde can be employed at other safe areas. And that planning does include Bihac, as Secretary General Klaas indicated.

Q: Does that require a NAC meeting,though?

MR. MCCURRY: It would. It would require, if they were to put in place other arrangements, some other Gorazde arrangements or other safe areas, it would require a meeting of the North Atlantic Council. But such a meeting, in our view, could be easily convened.

Q: Did President Yeltsin go into any appreciable detail about just what ails him or did they discuss it?

MR. MCCURRY: No, he did not other than to say that his convalescence was going well and that he was feeling good and regaining his strength. And from the tone of the conversation, that seemed apparent.

Q: Are you able to elaborate on the one-word denial the President gave the pool earlier today about this Washington Post report? Is the U.S. doing anything to assure its allies that it is in compliance with the embargo and not engaged in any machinations to circumvent it?

MR. MCCURRY: Am I able to elaborate on the one-word denial? No. (Laughter.)

Q: What was the one-word denial?

Q: Did that come up in the phone call with Yeltsin?

MR. MCCURRY: No, it did not. From time to time, on that story, I mean, this has been an ongoing theatre of the abstract or has been charges from time to time by various Europeans, usually unnamed Europeans that there is somehow or other assistance being provided, either directly or indirectly, by the United States to the Bosnian Muslims. And the United States continues to deny that very rigorously, including in meetings that we've had with them.

Why they would be resurfacing these types of allegations at this point is not entirely clear to me, although I note in the Washington Post story on this,they actually, in the course of this story report an eyewitness account from one of their other reporters that contradicts the thrust of the story itself. So I think that the eyewitness accounts there indicate that the types of allegations that there's widespread provision of munitions by the United States to Bosnian Muslims are clearly in error.

Q: Well, are you suggesting they're looking for excuses to pull out?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not suggesting anything about their motives.

Q: What about the suggestion that there is possibly widespread distribution of arms from third countries that may be surplus U.S. arms?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have -- we know of those allegations. We don't have any independent evidence that third countries have supplied Bosnian government forces with U.S.-origin military equipment. But I point out that we've got retransfer restrictions that exist on or own original transfers of equipment to other countries.

So if a third country -- or if a country was attempting to transfer U.S.-origin military equipment to a third country, that would require explicit permission from the United States government and we have never given such permission for any countries to transfer that type of material into Bosnia.

Q: What is the U.S. saying to the Islamic Conference? What is the U.S. saying to the Islamic Conference which has said that this arms embargo is illegal and should be ignored?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware if we've had any direct contact with them. And publicly we have urged the -- we have stressed the importance of the existing embargo. You all know from our public comments here how dangerous we view a unilateral lifting of the arms embargo by the United States.

And our concerns are, while different in some respects because our concerns are, in fact, prompted by our own concern in the White House that unilateral lift of the arms embargo would require the presence of U.S. ground troops in Bosnia, we continue to believe that the erosion of that embargo right now at this moment when there is conflict on the ground might present real hazards to the Bosnian Muslims.

Now, we have always said, and would say to the OIC, as we have said within the Contact Group and as the Contract Group itself has adopted, we would say that a multilateral lifting of the arms embargo could be an unavoidable last resort at some point. And that has been our position for quite some time.

Q: Did this become a sore point in the London conference? How big a sore point is this among the allies?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they -- I can't assess for you among the allies how strongly they feel about this. Some of them have talked about it. Obviously, some of them have shared their own assessments with news organizations. So they feel strongly enough to do that. But at the same time, they know from our direct contacts with them that we are not engaged in activity that would represent a violation of the arms embargo.

Q: Is it possible that U.S. arms have been sold or given or transferred to the Bosnian government without U.S. permission?

MR. MCCURRY: It is possible. But if that had happened, it would have been done without permission from the United States government and in violation of existing agreements that we have with those countries to whom we transfer U.S. military equipment.

Q: And does the U.S. have any evidence that that, in fact, has or may have occurred?

MR. MCCURRY: We do have information about transfers that occur into Bosnia. Those most usually are sensitive intelligence reports that we have, and the application of the Nunn-Mitchell amendment passed last year in the Senate prohibits us from sharing some of that information in certain circumstances with those who are enforcing the embargo.

Q: Well, in keeping with the spirit of the law, what can you share with us about what the U.S. knows about the transfer of U.S. weapons to the Bosnians?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't share anything that is specific enough that would represent a violation of my duties as a federal officer to protect classified information. I can tell you that it is a widespread assumption, based on the types of armaments that are being seen used in this conflicts, that there are arms transfers taking place to the Bosnian Muslims, as a general proposition.

Q: Is the U.S. making any effort --

Q: U.S. arms?

MR. MCCURRY: No, not U.S. arms. There are arms transfers occurring. We're talking about a Washington Post story today. As they point out, most of the equipment that -- the small arms that are being used in the conflict right now are of Eastern origin.

Q: Is the U.S. making any effort to go to those allies to whom it has supplied arms to assure -- to gain some assurance that these transfers or sales have not been made to the Bosnians?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't answer that question specifically, with respect to some of the countries mentioned in the article we're talking about. I can tell you as a general proposition, in our military to military contacts, we stress the importance of honoring those agreements on arms transfers that we have in place with those countries with whom we do that type of exchange.

Q: So there were no winks and nods going on here?

MR. MCCURRY: There are no winks and nods that I am aware of.

Q: Mike, is the President prepared to call the Congress back in special session if they leave without making sufficient progress on the budget?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard any plans by the President to do so. The President has indicated publicly that he is prepared to work with this Congress if it should stay in session during the month of August. If they want to accelerate the work on the necessary appropriations bills that would allow this country to do its business in an orderly fashion, he's prepared to stay here and work in August as well. But his understanding of the disposition of Congress from the meetings he's had with them is there's not much sentiment for doing so in the Congress.

Q: Is Leon Panetta raising the specter on the Hill?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. I know that there have been some -- was some speculation on that. And my understanding is that he indicated, just as I did, that the President was willing to work here during the summer if the Congress wanted to stay here and stay in session.

Q: Well, he pointed out at least in the Congress daily interview that the President has the constitutional power to call them back. It does quote him as saying that's not on the President's desk. But is that any kind of recommendation that's being developed or being considered at any level?

MR. MCCURRY: That is not a recommendation that's been made to the President nor being considered by him as far as I know. But the Chief of Staff is correct that it is within his power to do that.

Q: House Majority Leader Armey this morning said in reference to this that they plan to August 4, that they've done their work.

MR. MCCURRY: He's anxious to go on vacation and has told the President that.

Q: He says that they've taken care of 12 out of 13 bills and there has been no input from the administration.

MR. MCCURRY: I can go over and check in the clerk's office, but I don't think there are 12 of 13 appropriations bills that have showed up here at the White House. They are far a ways from done as you know.

Q: Is the House taking care of 12 bills?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the House has taken care of appropriations measures, but you can see reported in the newspaper today the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee saying that they've messed a lot of them up. And they're going to have to be worked over in extensive detail which indicates to the White House that Congress is a long ways away from finishing its important work on these appropriations measures.

Q: Mike, is tomorrow's radio speech on Medicare going to go any further than what he said earlier this week or is it mainly a ceremonial thing pegged to the anniversary?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is the 30th anniversary of the signing of Medicare. It comes in the context of some fairly outrageous and dishonest claims being made by the Republican National Committee. And he will add some new information to the argument about the impact of Medicare cuts on the elderly of America. And it is very clear what's going on here -- the Republicans are scrambling. And because they intend to use these cuts in Medicare to pay for a tax cut for rich folks, not to protect the solvency of the Medicare trust funds.

They're making an argument about the solvency of the Medicare trust funds when in fact it's only this Democratic President working with the prior Democratic Congress that did anything about the solvency of the trust funds. We extended their solvency. And the President now has a proposal for a balanced budget that would extend the solvency of those funds further without attacking Medicare beneficiaries.

So the issue here is the Republicans trying to scramble away from their central premise in their budget, which is the use of Medicare cuts to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy; and not, I would say, to address the solvency of the trust funds. Someone should go ask Haley Barber right now -- you've got this ad in the newspaper today, why are you proposing that you take the savings that you would generate in your Medicare cuts and apply them to the solvency of the trust fund and make sure that they don't get spent elsewhere. If he says yes, we'll have a whole different conversation I guess.

Q: Is that the way he's going to frame it tomorrow? Is he going to call them dishonest, as you have twice today?

MR. MCCURRY: I doubt it. (Laughter.)

Q: Is he going to find common ground?

MR. MCCURRY: He's going to find -- he believes there is common ground on the 30th anniversary of Medicare. It is a program in place that has enjoyed widespread support among the American people, and will continue to enjoy support if we make those structural changes that are necessary to carry that program well into the future. The President wants to make sure that we keep that program going well into the future.

He believes it's entirely possible to find common ground with the Republican majority in Congress, but not likely with Mr. Chairman, Haley Barber.

Q: Is it correct that the administration now sees the budget deficit at $160 billion this year, rather than $192 billion?

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I've seen different numbers floating around, and I think sometime next week he'll get them for real.

Q: But, Mike, that's in the Wall Street Journal. Can you confirm at least that number of $160 billion?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I can't. If I confirm that number, then I should confirm all the other numbers that would go with the very extensive mid-session review. But it sure sounds about right. (Laughter.)

Q: Representative Archer said yesterday that he was going to go to the mat for a capital gains tax cut. Is Clinton willing to risk a train wreck, based on the capital gains tax cut is in the GOP budget that lands on his desk?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that would just be one of many cars on that train that would be about ready to wreck. I think there would be other reasons to imagine that we would reach an impasse over Republican budget goals. But that would certainly be one of them.

Q: Just to follow up, is there any wiggle room at all in this capital gains tax cut?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, a targeted capital -- an approach to capital gains that targets and incents small business growth and job creation is a discussion that I believe has been entertained by this President in the past. I would have to check on it, but I believe it has been. And it is entirely possible it could be addressed in the context of an overall solution on the revenue side of a budget. But I think they're talking about something here that represents a much more extreme approach and is going to make it harder rather than easier to find this common ground that's going to have to eventually be discovered, ciphered, mapped out, between the President and the Congress.

Q: What will be the President's message to the nation's governors on Monday?

MR. MCCURRY: The President is going to say we are slowly but sadly losing the opportunity for reforming welfare as we know it. And we have again a real opportunity here to do something extraordinary -- to reform welfare and make it work for those who need to make the transition from welfare dependency to work. And he's going to point out on Monday some of the ways we can do that, and he's going to compliment the nation's governors for working very substantively on that proposal. He'll have some new ideas to do it.

And he will be speaking several hours after the Senate Majority Leader addresses the same organization.

Q: Why is the opportunity slipping away?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, because there was consensus -- we had everyone over here at Blair House back at the beginning of the year, and we had real momentum behind welfare reform, and I think some common agreement on approaches that might work. But that seems to be slipping away now as we move farther and farther away from basic agreement on all the questions associated with reforming welfare -- from block granting to funding to ensuring that there's a continuation of effort when it comes to maintaining certain levels of assistance that are now provided.

Q: He's talking about the difference between his view of welfare reform and where the Republicans are headed, or the Republican internal?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's a good question. I mean, a part of the reason we're losing momentum here is the Republicans are all over the map on this. Republican governors are not in agreement with members of the Congress from the Republican Party. And Republicans in Congress are in widespread disagreement on how to proceed. They just don't have their act together. I think the President is going to suggest some things on Monday that say look, here's some ways that we can kind of reinvigorate this debate and bring us together on an approach to welfare reform that will work.

Q: -- make new proposals on welfare reform, he's going to make?

MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't say new proposals, but he'll have some new ideas.

Q: Is the President prepared to convene a summit --

MR. MCCURRY: He'll have enough new information that I can legitimately say there might be some news on Monday, and encourage your coverage.

Q: Are you sure that's what Dole's talking about?

MR. MCCURRY: Am I sure? No, I haven't heard the Majority Leader's office say what he intends to address. But I would think that in speaking in front of the nation's governors who are so intensely interested in that issue that he would want to address that in some fashion. I can't imagine he wouldn't.

Q: Is the President prepared to convene an AIDS summit, and does he feel like he needs to provide more -- does he need to provide more leadership?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he said to all of you earlier today that he does intend to speak out publicly on this issue. Now, I'll be honest, I didn't get a chance to check with the President following the discussion he had with his AIDS Advisory Council earlier today. So I don't know whether that subject came up. But maybe we'll check on that.

Q: Mike, has the President found some common ground on the tobacco issue, or when will he have his decision?

MR. MCCURRY: He's still working on that issue and has heard a variety of viewpoints. I think he feels it's important to address the issue, particularly as the evidence grows that the damaging health effects of tobacco use among the young is growing in proportion. He feels he needs to address that issue promptly, and I suspect he'll do so rather soon.

Q: When?

MR. MCCURRY: When? I don't know.

Q: Some Southern Democrats are saying that if the White House proceeds with the "war" on tobacco that basically the President can write off the South going into 1996. What is the political implication of this decision for the White House?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, we're talking about protecting kids who get hooked on tobacco at an early age, the evidence now suggests. That is not a war on tobacco; that's a war on behalf of better health, especially for America's young people. The President believes you can do that and do that in a way that makes a lot of sense and that can enjoy support and from others. But whether that is the case, we'll have to see.

The President has been very sensitive to the views of those that come from tobacco producing states. He's been fully briefed on some of the discussions that have occurred here at the White House between Governor Hunt, Senator Ford, Congressman Rose and others. So we understand the sensitivities, and we respect the arguments that are being made. But the President is very concerned about the effect on health that comes from tobacco use. And that is now being documented in study after study.

Q: Did Senator Ford actually meet with the President?

MR. MCCURRY: He didn't. They met with the Chief of Staff and some of the others here on the White House staff. But Senator Ford has had one or two conversations directly with the President about this, and the President has been fully briefed on the presentations that have been made here. The President and the Vice President also had, as you know, a conference call with the American Medical Association leadership last week on this subject.

Q: Your comments about the impact on young people would suggest that the idea of regulating nicotine as a drug is not necessarily the issue that's in play here. Can you rule that out?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I can't. And I'm steering clear of trying to steer you in the direction of how the President's thinking is evolving on this issue. He'll be looking at that issue in great detail in the coming days and could have something to say, as I say, sooner rather than later. But I'll leave the timetable up to him.

Q: Looking ahead to Monday one more time, do you see the forum that both Dole and Clinton appearing at the same forum a chance to sort of draw distinctions between two possible -- the top presidential candidates?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President sees it as an opportunity to talk about welfare reform in front of a group of people, because of their own constitutional responsibilities as state officers, are expert on that subject. Whether that emerges as the point of contrast on Monday is really going to be in your hands not in our hands.

Q: Did the President initiate the call to Yeltsin? When did he make it?

MR. MCCURRY: He did initiate the call. He actually discussed with Chancellor Kohl earlier in the week Chancellor Kohl's own conversation with President Yeltsin and I believe the idea -- I'd probably have to credit Chancellor Kohl with the idea of calling President Yeltsin, but we did initiate the call, it did occur this morning from about 10:37 a.m. to 11:25 a.m. or so.

Q: And did Kozyrev go to Belgrade? Did I understand that?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. He was following --

Q: To report on the London --

MR. MCCURRY: That's correct -- following the London meeting went to Belgrade, met there with Milosevic, and I believe he saw General Mladic, too -- that's correct.

Q: He did?

MR. MCCURRY: General Mladic was in Belgrade and he then publicly said that the Bosnian Serb military leader had indicated to him that they would not conduct any offensives around Gorazde under certain circumstances. And, obviously, President Clinton said that that was good news as long as it ends up being true.

Q: Mike, for those of us going to Vermont on Monday, what are your plans for the mid-session economic review?

MR. MCCURRY: We are aware of the fact that since many of you are going to be with the President there on Monday, it might be better if we could do that some other day next week. And we're looking into that now.

Q: Isn't Rivlin testifying on Monday?

MR. MCCURRY: Tuesday. I'm told Tuesday.

Q: Mike, you mentioned the multilateral lifting of the arms embargo as kind of a last resort -- a last resort solution. When do you think they ought to go down that road and how would you approach it?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe -- it's our view that the unavoidable last resort that would lead us to think that the time had come to lift the arms embargo multi-laterally would come when it was clear that the U.N. mission could no longer perform its mandate effectively in Bosnia. And we have not reached that point. And to the contrary, we've done some things in recent days that would actually strengthen the ability of the United Nations to address its mandate in Bosnia.

So we are working under the presumption that, along with the British and the French, it's important to keep the U.N. presence in Bosnia and to make its work there more effective.

But we have to -- as the President clearly said yesterday, we'll have to see whether that is in fact what happens now as the alliance and the United Nations and the international community attempts to address this crisis that has gone on for far too long.

Q: Yesterday he was as about as critical of the U.N. as he's ever been. And is he saying that, you know, if Bihac falls or Gorazde falls, that's it?

MR. MCCURRY: No, he didn't say that yesterday. He said that -- he said that there are -- he said that the performance in connection with Srebrenica and Zepa was not satisfactory. And I believe that sentiment is shared around the world.

Q: He said this is the last chance for UNPROFOR and that if they don't do what they say they're going to do --

MR. MCCURRY: The President has said that. The Secretary of Defense has said that. The Secretary of State has said that. I've said that here several times. I think that's very clear. We're at a critical juncture as Secretary Perry said recently, in evaluating whether or not the mission can stay in place and continue to do the important work its doing of keeping people alive.

Q: But you're saying another safe haven could fall and that still wouldn't make the President --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not saying anything of the sort.

Q: Mike, the President praised the Senate for passing Ryan White, but part of that passage included a 99 to 0 vote to kill the President's AIDS education program in several departments.

MR. MCCURRY: He didn't praise that particular part of it. (Laughter.)

Q: I mean, can you comment on that vote, first off? And does that send any signals to you that you might need to change that program?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will take the views reflected in that vote into account. We continue to believe that type of prevention effort, that type of education effort is a very necessary ingredient of addressing this disease.

Q: Mike, you've got a little protest going on across the street with a conservation group in the park.

MR. MCCURRY: Chain-saw massacre, I believe they're calling it.

Q: -- conservation groups, which are normally your allies -- the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society upset with the President's signing of the rescissions bill about the forestry business?

MR. MCCURRY: They are upset that the President accepted this measure that cuts spending, tries to move us towards deficit reduction, tries to achieve some of the reach towards more balance in the federal budget that the Congress and the President came together on when they agreed to the rescissions package.

The President, as he noted yesterday when he signed the bill, said that he's not happy with the language on timber salvage that is in the bill that he signed. But, he pointed out correctly that we fought for and won significant changes in that language, and we believe that we can now faithfully execute the laws, including the environmental regulation laws of the country and do it consistent with some of the forest management plans that we have in place.

So the environmentalists are understandably upset that this change in language was adopted and that the President did end up approving it. But at the same time, we know we can make good under our existing forest management plan on the commitments we have to proceed with some timber salvage, but do it in a way that meets our responsibilities for environmental stewardship. And the President's very determined to do that, and is not going to -- not going to turn sideways as they attempt to address the issue.

Q: The President one time said he was going to issue specific instructions to departments related to this issue about what they can and can't do within law, what he wants them to do. Is that forthcoming? Are we expecting to see some sort of directive?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, it's in a -- this is in a context when, I mean, they've got every right in the world to be out there and protesting this President. But this comes, ironically, in the context of the United States Congress looking at various measures that would eviscerate every environmental protection law that's been put on the books since the original Earth Day. And, frankly, we could use their help in conducting some demonstrations up on Capitol Hill at this moment because there are provisions developing -- look at the VA-HUD appropriations bill that's working its way through the House now. It eviscerates laws on the book to protect our environment. And that's where the real fight is going to come.

Frankly, the timber salvage issue -- the President believes we can manage it given the language we got. It's not great, but we can manage. We cannot handle, and cannot accept the type of gutting of environmental protection laws now coming forward in the measure under consideration in the House.

Q: Mike, are you already discussing with the British and the French the possibility to lift the arms embargo multilaterally?

MR. MCCURRY: No, not beyond the consensus that we have with the British and the French that's been reflected in the various communiques of the Contact Group.

Q: Given the President's views on the independence of Inspectors General, what does he think about the intervention and the investigation of Radio Marti?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't had an opportunity to ask him about it and what I know about the issue is basically what I've learned from following the discussion of this over at the State Department, which is the proper place to go. They've had some comments about USIA and some of the work the USIA is doing.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:20 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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