Bill Clinton photo

Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

August 14, 1995

The Briefing Room

1:10 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: The President today -- a couple of items here -- the President today named Donald A. Baer as Assistant to the President and Director of Communications to the President of the United States. Mr. Baer succeeds Mark D. Gearan, who was confirmed by the United States Senate last week to be Director of the Peace Corps, an event that caused great tumult here at the White House as person after person rushed to wish Mr. Gearan well in his new position.

I deny -- there's a rumor going around that we have -- that the President is announcing today that the office of Peace Corps is being elevated to Cabinet rank. (Laughter.) I specifically deny that.

Mr. Baer is currently the Assistant to the President for Speechwriting. As many of you know, he joined the White House staff in April of 1994 as Deputy Assistant to the President for Speechwriting and Research, and prior to coming to the White House he served seven years at U.S. News and World Report, a distinguished news organization, first as a reporter covering the Justice Department, the White House and national politics, and then as assistant managing editor. Before moving to Washington in 1987, he was a magazine writer and a lawyer in New York City, something that we will not hold against him.

Item the second, 13 state attorneys general have issued a statement in support of the President's announcement of restricting tobacco sales to youth. They say in their statement, as the chief law enforcement officers of our respective states, we applause President Clinton's proposals to help prevent another generation of American kids from dying tobacco-related diseases. Good news. Support --

Q: Democrats or Republicans?

MR. MCCURRY: Two Republicans on the list of 13.

Q: Item the third -- we're cleaning out the in-box here. Today the Clinton administration is granting waivers to two more states, Maryland and Wisconsin, for welfare reform experiments. The administration has now given two-thirds of the states freedom from federal rules to implement their own welfare reforms. As the President indicated, welfare reform will continue while Congress dithers.

Q: Does doing Wisconsin add a state to that list? Because, I mean, haven't they gotten the waivers before --

MR. MCCURRY: This is the third welfare reform waiver the Clinton administration has approved for Wisconsin. There are 33 states total. But now numerous specific experiments that have been authorized by the administration, they examine different aspects of welfare reform. Sometimes states will come in after initiating something in time for limited assistance, or work requirements, or for child support enforcement, or for new measures on parental responsibility -- they'll come in with some new ideas they want to advance. And the President is anxious and, as he indicated, flexible in giving states the type of authority they need to proceed with these experiments.

Q: Was that 33 waivers or 33 states?

MR. MCCURRY: Thirty-three states, and I believe the total waivers is up 40-plus something. We can get you that exact number.

Q: Where are you putting out details of this? Here?

MR. MCCURRY: Department of Health and Human Services has got the full details on both states waivers. So you guys can take a pass on it if you so choose. But I wanted to point that out because I think it's interesting news.

Okay, that's mine. What's yours?

Q: Does the President support changing the peacekeeping operation -- or transferring it to a NATO run operation rather than the U.N.?

MR. MCCURRY: The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, in former Yugoslavia?

Q: Yes.

MR. MCCURRY: The President supports the existing mandate for the U.N. mission in Bosnia. We believe it's an important one. It's keeping people alive and helping to curb the conflict. And the work that we are doing diplomatically is designed to strengthen the existing U.N. mission.

Q: Has he heard from Lake yet or is coming --

MR. MCCURRY: He's been getting regular reports from the Deputy National Security Advisor, who's in touch with Mr. Lake. Mr. Lake's probably somewhere over the pond as we talk and will report in to the President later today or tomorrow morning.

Q: There has been some reaction from over there. I think President Izetbegovic says no way he'll give up Gorazde. Can you respond to that?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't think it was part of any presentation made by Mr. Lake that demanded giving up Gorazde.

Q: Well, there was talk of a trade.

MR. MCCURRY: The parties will be meeting very shortly with Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Richard Holbrooke, who will go in some greater detail through the various ideas we have been developing in contact with our allies and friends as a result of Mr. Lake's mission.

Q: What do you think of the Russian idea to hold an international conference on Bosnia, or the former Yugoslavia?

MR. MCCURRY: We believe that is a constructive idea and, of course, we welcome constructive efforts to bring about a peace settlement in the Balkans. We'll study the Russian proposal, and I believe, as a result of the meeting between Mr. Lake and Russian Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev, the Russian Federation will be looking more closely at some of the ideas we are developing.

Q: Have all the parties agreed to see Holbrooke -- all the warring parties?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if there's any official confirmation from all three, but we do expect him to see officials in all three capitals -- Zagreb, Sarajevo, and Belgrade.

Q: Are you encouraged by what you've heard so far from Lake's mission?

MR. MCCURRY: We are encouraged that the international community seems to be coming together around an effort to stimulate the diplomatic dialogue that could bring the conflict to an end. We remain of the view that negotiation and dialogue by the parties is far preferable to killing each other. And we will be pursuing the ideas that we've developed in recent days, and continuing to press the parties for resolving their differences at the negotiating table.

Q: I don't think anybody in the administration said that giving up Gorazde was a demand of the United States, but I do believe that several people have said that that was one possible scramblings of the map to try to reach a diplomatic solution. Is there, in fact -- I mean, how would you describe this map proposal? Is it a set of a variety of different ideas on reaction to the military situation on the ground?

MR. MCCURRY: The only map, per se, that is before the parties is the map developed as a result of the Contact Group deliberations, reflected in their proposal. And as we've said repeatedly, adjustments in that proposal would have to be made by the parties themselves.

Q: Aren't you proposing some adjustments for them to look at? Of course they have to make them.

MR. MCCURRY: We've explored, as I've told you, several ideas with our allies and friends, and will now be presenting those ideas to the parties.

Q: That's the '94 plan, last year's Contact Group?

MR. MCCURRY: Last year's -- August '94 Contact Group proposal.

Q: Some of the allies are saying that the U.S., at this point, seems more committed to the entire process? Would you say that that's the case?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, I missed --

Q: Some of our allies are saying that suddenly the U.S. seems more committed to being involved and finding a solution. Is that the case?

MR. MCCURRY: I'd say that based on the President's direction, we are taking steps to try to stimulate the dialogue and accelerate the dialogue to bring about an end to the conflict, if that is in fact possible.

Q: What specifics might cause them to say that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not going to pretend to try to get into the specifics of what are obviously sensitive discussions that will have to be held with the parties.

Q: Mike, what is the overall climate -- political or otherwise -- encourages you to think that there's some possibility of diplomatic settlement down the road?

MR. MCCURRY: It's a combination of factors that have changed the environment and the landscape in Bosnia -- the fighting; the significant losses by both sides; the sense that both sides are nearly exhausting themselves in a conflict that has now raged on for far too long.

Q: What would -- if the veto were overridden, or if the arms embargo was lifted on the Bosnian government, which seems to be a last chance, would the President support Dole and Helms in wanting to give $100 million to the Bosnian government for arms?

MR. MCCURRY: We remain of the view that unilaterally lifting the arms embargo is a bad idea. But as we have repeatedly said, unilaterally lifting the arms embargo would thrust the United States in a position where we would bear unilateral responsibility for the consequences of lifting the arms embargo. One of those consequences we've suggested in the past would be taking on the responsibility of paying for the training, paying for the arms, being much more aggressive in inserting U.S. personnel into the theater to help protect the Bosnian Muslims as they became better equipped to deal with aggression by the Bosnian Serbs.

In that sense, the proposal by Senator Dole and Senator Helms to spend $100 million extra in providing arms is at least coherent in the logic that goes with unilaterally lifting the arms embargo. It represents the first of what would likely be many future steps that would further Americanize the conflict. And in that sense, both Senator Dole and Senator Helms are being honest in telling the American people that we will pay for and very likely sacrifice some of our treasure, if not lives, in furtherance of the policy that Congress has now adopted.

Q: Isn't it correct to say that you're proposing some revisions to the 1994 Contact Group map?

MR. MCCURRY: It's clear that we're suggesting specific new ideas that could help break an impasse. The impasse arises because the Bosnian government has accepted the Contact Group proposal as a basis for a settlement; the Bosnian Serbs have not.

Q: When you say specific new ideas, you're talking about rearrangements in the amount of territory given to each --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm being very careful to not describe the specific new ideas, as you can tell.

Q: -- the basic structure of this new deal you're having in mind, basically --

MR. MCCURRY: Basically, it involves a combination of incentives and disincentives for the parties to encourage them to reach a peace settlement.

Q: What are the disincentives?

Q: Bombing?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into the specifics. Asked and answered.

Q: Is Mr. Deutch briefing the President on the situation in Iraq today and what you may have learned from the defectors?

MR. MCCURRY: As I indicated to some of you earlier, he's getting together with the Director of Central Intelligence today. He plans to do that on a regular basis and this was good occasion before the President departs for his vacation to see the Director of Central Intelligence. He'll also be seeing the Secretary of State later on today. And he may, depending on Mr. Lake's travel schedule, see the National Security Advisor, as well.

Q: I don't think you answered that question, Michael.

MR. MCCURRY: I sure didn't. I don't talk about intelligence briefings the President gets.

Q: The actual map on the ground, if you look at what's happening in Bosnia, the groups -- the ethnic groups now are coalescing in different spots in, let's say, a cleaner fashion. You have Serbs moving to Serbia and Croatians in one area. What is the U.S. position overall on how the realistic map has worked and would it make it, even though it may be distasteful, would it be easier to work toward a peaceful --

MR. MCCURRY: I cannot give you a real politic analysis of the situation on the ground. Your statement is roughly correct, but due to absolutely tragic and horrible consequences, there are areas that Serbs now occupy because they've been ethnically cleansed of Muslims. By no means is that a neat solution to what is a tragedy, an unspeakable tragedy. But the question is there are steps going to move forward at this point to bring the fighting to an end so that there's not further tragedy, and obviously, that's what our diplomacy is aimed at doing.

Q: Despite your answer to Ann, are you able to say whether the United States is getting substantial information from Jordan about their debriefings of General Kamel --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything to add beyond what I said Friday on that subject. I think I answered it as much as I can answer it on Friday.

Q: Are you able to say whether there's been any discussion of granting asylum to any of the Iraqi's in the United States?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm just declining to get into specifics on that. I'm not aware of any requests for asylum and I indicated on Friday that we are in contact with the government of Jordan and do have information concerning the two defectors.

Q: If there were information coming from Jordan, would it be going through the CIA to get to the President? Is that the right channels it would go through?

MR. MCCURRY: That's not a good thing for me to speculate on here publicly.

Q: Can you say whether or not, generally speaking, that the new proposals that were being offered by Tony Lake involved less territory for the Bosnian Muslim government?

MR. MCCURRY: I can say in general they flow from the Contact Group which remains, we believe, a basis for a future settlement.

Q: Does that maintain the 49-51?

MR. MCCURRY: That is -- the formulation of division of territory in the Contact Group proposal was 51-49, and as we always indicated, that could be adjusted by agreement of the parties.

Q: Is Mrs. Clinton going to China?

MR. MCCURRY: I do not know.

Q: Neither do we.

Q: When will the decision be made.

Q: Have you asked recently?

MR. MCCURRY: I asked today; I'm not aware that there's been any final decision made today.

Q: Is there a deadline for a cutoff?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. As I indicated, prior to the conference.

Q: -- to ask President Clinton to declare child abuse a state of emergency. Has the White House thought about that, and if so, how do you --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President is very really concerned about the status of children in America, has talked about it as recently as last Wednesday. Child abuse directed against the young Americans is something that he is deeply troubled by and has worked to combat. And we will certainly look at the proposal that's been made carefully.

Q: When you are talking about a window of opportunity, how big is it, until when and where --

MR. MCCURRY: It is really up to the parties to see whether at this point they wish to move into a negotiating track as opposed to attempting to do on the ground through further fighting what thus far they have not been able to achieve at the negotiating table. How long that might last is anybody's guess.

Q: Can you give us some idea about what the President's plans are as far as work while he's in Wyoming and as far as liaison in dealing with these foreign policy issues?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he will have access to all the communications technology that he needs. He's very well equipped when he travels. You've heard White Houses brief on this before, but through the latest marvels of satellite technology he can have confidential and classified briefings with his national security team back here in Washington if that's necessary. I wouldn't rule out that he will need to do that in connection with developments in Bosnia, but we have a very good sense of where the discussions are at this point and a very good sense of what the next steps are as we continue to try to stimulate and invigorate diplomacy.

The President sounded to me like someone who is looking forward to a vacation. There will be a -- Calvin points out there is a National Security Council contact who will be with the President on the trip who can facilitate any briefings that he might need. But the President sounded like someone who was looking forward to vacation. He plans to hike and camp and raft and --

Q: Camp?


Q: Camp, like how?

MR. MCCURRY: Like camp.

Q: Like overnight in a tent?

MR. MCCURRY: Like go pitch a tent with Chelsea and Hillary.

Q: Secret Service agents dressed as bears?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll see.

Q: Will there be pool coverage?

MR. MCCURRY: He's looking forward to horseback riding. The President reports that since he was young he used to like to visit national parks; in fact, he used to kind of get in the car and go visit some on his own. He hasn't had much of an opportunity to do that as President. In fact, to my recollection he hasn't been able to visit any national park as President, and he's looking forward to doing so. He's taking with him a big stack of books to read, including Pat Conroy's latest novel. And he plans to have a very relaxing time in Wyoming.

Q: Is there anybody coming in to talk to him in terms of budget, or is he taking any senior NSC types?

MR. MCCURRY: He's not planning any -- as I am aware right now, and as his schedule now stands, I'm not aware of any briefings or meetings that he plans with any of his staff. We'll have a limited staff operation out there, more designed to take care of you than him.

Q: Is he taking up The New York Times on their suggestion today about some environmental work up there?

MR. MCCURRY: The Yellowstone question?

Q: Yes.

MR. MCCURRY: He talked about that recently in Billings. He's been fairly briefed on the proposed mining venture, and he remains very supportive of Senator Baucus' plan for an environmental impact statement that would assess what some of the long-term future uses of the area adjacent to the parties should be.

Q: Mike, internal elections in Haiti don't seem to be satisfying too many people. How does the White House feel about it?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we understand that, once again, Haitians were able to vote at sites across the country without fear of violence or intimidation. And that represents a great step forward. The complications that existed with the election before were logistical, primarily logistical.

They seemed to have addressed some of those shortcomings in the vote that took place yesterday. We regret of course that the anticipated turnout was lower than it had been projected. We're also disappointed that more of the competing parties did not participate fully in the reruns or the run-off elections.

Q: What kind of -- while he's having all that fun out there, what sort of domestic issues will be on his mind? I know Jill asked this morning if he'd be kept awake nights by this --

MR. MCCURRY: He's going on vacation, Claire. If he's a lucky guy, he won't have a lot of that on his mind. He'll be worried about the budget; he'll be worried about the fact that when he comes back this fall, there will be very complicated discussions with the Congress to try to avert a crisis. But he's going to be on vacation, and he's not going to pretend otherwise. Thankfully, this is an opportunity for him to get away from all of that.

Q: What kind of coverage are the reporters going to have? I mean, how much access are they going to be able to see?

MR. MCCURRY: Traditional and customary. (Laughter.)

Q: Will there be a pool at the Rockefeller house every day?

MR. MCCURRY: The coverage opportunities will be designed to afford those who are there to cover the President plenty of time for their own relaxation and vacation. (Laughter.)

Q: If any bears approach him will they be around?

MR. MCCURRY: Do you have any preferences where the Bosnia negotiations should take place?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, in the immediate future they're taking place in the three capitals -- in Sarajevo, Zagreb, and Belgrade. And that seems reasonable to the United States.

Q: When does he leave tomorrow?

Q: You're not answering many questions.

MR. MCCURRY: I've heard around midday, but we're going to try to pin that down for the benefit of those of you who have to travel. I'll try to do that later on today.

Q: Are you going to brief tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe so. At the moment, I don't plan to because the President, we hope, will be long gone by the time of our customary briefing. I will, of course, meet with you in the morning early for my last gaggle of the month of August.

Q: Who's going out?

MR. MCCURRY: Ms. Terzano, our very capable Deputy Press Secretary, will be there to handle your questions during the period the President is vacating. (Laughter.) And there will be an NSC staff contact person there and some advance people, but beyond that I'm not aware of any other senior staff that are traveling.

Q: Mike, what is the status of the conversations about Mrs. Clinton's trip and will any decision be made on that -- about whether or not she should go before she returns, since the conference begins on the 4th of September?

MR. MCCURRY: There will be some decision made on that relatively shortly I'd imagine, just giving the need to put together the logistics of a trip if Mrs. Clinton does, in fact, decide to go. I'm not aware that there have been any final decision made by the First Lady.

Q: What's relatively shortly?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, within coming days.

Q: Was her plan always to go to Hawaii with the President, or not?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not certain that I know the answer to that. Do you know? I believe -- I'm told by the noddings of the head over here she had planned to go to Honolulu.

Q: Mike, I know you don't want to talk about the train wreck coming, but just one last thing. (Laughter.) Could you tell --

MR. MCCURRY: There's a train wreck -- (laughter) --

Q: I know and it's something to look forward to. (Laughter.) And that's why we are -- I wanted to know what's the status of specific planning? What happens if the government --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has met with his economic advisors to look at questions associated with what happens this fall if any number of scenarios take place -- if you don't have appropriations bills in place and you need continuing resolutions; if we run up against the debt ceiling limit, which hits around about October; a series of things then begin to happen that propel the government in the direction of crisis. And the President wants to understand thoroughly what those are. He has already taken steps to try to avert those by giving to the Congress reasonable and very common sense proposals on how we could make progress on the federal budget. And those, as all of you know, have been roundly ignored by this Congress.

So he is working on the issue. He continues to consider what steps will be necessary for the orderly functioning and transaction of business. I imagine that they're going to look very closely at former Attorney General Civiletti's opinion about who constitutes essential federal personnel if we get into a situation where there's a shutdown and only essential personnel are asked to continue their duties. So those types of things will be underway.

At some point, we will also have to consider whether or not we notify federal employees that there are likely going to be reductions in forces. All of those issues had been among those questions that the President has addressed with his advisors. He's given them some instructions so that they can follow up in an orderly way. They are in the process of doing so now.

Q: Are all military exempt?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the scope of the essential order. That was actually codified. My understanding is his opinion as Attorney General, which dates back to the 1980s was codified by Congress in 1990. They actually passed a law that stipulated who essential personnel should be and so deemed them.

Q: There was also some memo by Weinberger back then about complaining about OMB micromanaging Defense at the time that this happened before. I just wondered to what extent --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, whatever the precedent, past experience in precedent is of those situations. They are being looked at carefully by administration officials now.

Q: Mike, is there anything you can say about the latest on the defections of Iraq to Jordan?

MR. MCCURRY: Not beyond what I've already said, Trudy. I've indicated that, of course, it reflects what we believe is the deterioration of conditions inside Iraq. It reflects the incoherent lack of leadership that Saddam Hussein is now responsible for by those who were closest to him in his inner circle. It represents an unmasking of the truth that the world has long known, which is that he is not capable of civil leadership of the people of Iraq.

Q: Do you have James Lee standing somewhere on the East Coast waving at Felix to tell it to go away?

MR. MCCURRY: A variety of federal agencies are carefully monitoring Hurricane Felix.

Q: Is he stopping anywhere on the way home after Hawaii, like California?

MR. MCCURRY: It's possible. Yes. Can we announce that, Calvin? Yes, we expect him to visit Monterey, California, September 3, remain overnight in Monterey -- surprise, surprise. And on Monday, September 4, which is Labor Day, he will be speaking at Cal State University in Monterey Bay. The rest of the schedule we will announce as we determine it.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:36 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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