Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
1:30 P.M. EDT
MR. BERGER: Good afternoon. This morning the President's national security team met with him for, roughly, an hour to discuss both the operation yesterday and the overall effort to combat terrorism internationally.
In terms of assessing the impact or damage that was caused by yesterday's attacks, we know first that the so-called pharmaceutical company in Sudan was functionally destroyed. With respect to the terrorist camps in Afghanistan, the assessment of damage has been hampered by poor weather conditions in the target areas. There are some parts of these camps that are not visible by national means. But to the extent our military intelligence people can make these judgments at this point, their conclusion is that the camps which comprised the Khost complex has sustained moderate to severe damage. The attacks have significantly disrupted the capability to use these camps as terrorist training facilities. We will have, obviously, in the next few days more and more refined information with respect to those camps and with respect to what impact of the strikes yesterday were.
The President also has made, as has the Secretary of State and others, a series of phone calls to foreign leaders. The President has spoken to President Mubarak, Prime Minister Blair. He spoke this morning to Prime Minister Sharif, Prime Minister Netanyahu. And the Vice President and the Secretary of State have spoken to quite a number of other foreign leaders.
As I said, we also talked about maintaining an intensified effort to combat this threat of terrorism. We have been building that effort for some time in a number of respects. The President, as you recall, has spoken about it at the United Nations, spoke about it at Annapolis last year, tried to raise this issue to the top of the international agenda. We have strengthened a number of our laws with respect to terrorist organizations. We have intensified our intelligence capability, our counterterrorism capabilities in other areas.
In the last five years we have apprehended about 40 terrorists that were around the world and brought them to justice -- some after periods as long as 12 years. So we will continue that effort and continue to carry on this battle against the scourge of terrorism.
Q: Sandy, what do you know about Osama bin Ladin, his whereabouts and if he was anyplace near those targeted camps yesterday?
MR. BERGER: I cannot confirm his whereabouts.
Q: What about Yeltsin and opposition --
MR. BERGER: The question about Pakistan -- the Pakistani government just issued a statement saying the they retracted an earlier statement that they were -- I'll read this exactly from Reuters -- Pakistan retracting an earlier statement, said there were no casualties inside its territory after overnight U.S. air strikes against the border region of neighboring Afghanistan. That certainly is consistent with our understanding.
Q: Sandy, the attack, we were told, was based on -- the timing of the attack, we were told, was based on a meeting of many of bin Ladin's lieutenants.
MR. BERGER: I said that was a factor, yes.
Q: Right. Any information today that that meeting was actually occurring? Do you believe that you've killed any of bin Ladin's top lieutenants?
MR. BERGER: Well, as I say, we will have increasing knowledge as the days go by. We certainly have, I think, done considerable damage to this training facility, which, as I said to you yesterday, is one of the largest terrorist training facilities in the world. It's trained thousands of terrorists. I think we clearly have done considerable damage to those who were there, terrorists infrastructure of bin Ladin. Precisely the numbers, I can't tell you.
Q: But, Sandy, to follow up, do you believe that the meeting was actually occurring?
MR. BERGER: We have monitored the activity at that camp over the past several weeks and we had reason to believe that there was a gathering that was taking place.
Q: Do you believe that today, following the attack?
MR. BERGER: Well, we don't have any further information today. As we do -- obviously, as we collect information with respect to what happened on the ground, we'll have more to say about that.
Q: Do you think the American people are ready for the consequences of this sort of stepped-up war on terrorism? And does the President plan to speak out in any more comprehensive way about what he intends to do and the risks associated?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think the American people need to understand that this systematic attack on the United States already began. It began in Khobar. It began in Riyad. It began in Nairobi. It began in Dar es Salaam. This is not something that we have initiated. Clearly, groups like this -- and this group in particular -- has targeted the United States. And what the President said yesterday was that we are certainly going to do everything we can to defend ourselves, but we're also going to be on offense, as well as on defense.
So I think the American people need to know that we live in a world where, by virtue of America's leadership to some degree, by virtue of a degree of fanaticism of some people, we will be targeted. But I think they can also be assured that we will not accept that without consequence.
Q: -- yesterday that part of the reason for the timing of the attack was to disrupt or stop imminent threats of additional attacks against American targets. My question is -- sorry, I lost my train of thought -- do you believe he's done that?
MR. BERGER: I think what I said yesterday -- as long as I can phrase the question, I'll phrase the predicate. (Laughter.) The question was -- go ahead, I'm sorry.
Q: The question was, if that was your aim, how does that square with attacking targets in Afghanistan, considering that these attacks presumably would not have been launched from Afghanistan?
MR. BERGER: Well, we targeted the center of operations, in a sense, of Osama bin Ladin, whose network was, as we said yesterday, we have convincing evidence responsible for Nairobi, responsible for Dar and responsible for these other threats against the United States. We've taken action in various places around the world where we have some sense of possible risk to reduce that risk.
We can't guarantee that something like this will prevent further attacks on the United States. But I am absolutely certain that had we not done this we would have been the victim of other terrorist attacks in the not too distant future.
Q: Why didn't we inform President Yeltsin, and is he angry now?
MR. BERGER: As I mentioned yesterday, I think we believed that the operational secrecy of this campaign was extremely important. We did not particularly want -- in the days of cell phones it doesn't take too long for a message to get from any point in the world to a cell phone in Khost, Afghanistan.
Q: So no one was informed beforehand --
MR. BERGER: No foreign leaders were informed in advance. But there were many foreign leaders that were called simultaneously. There was advance discussion, as I said yesterday, with the congressional leadership.
Q: Sandy, after the attacks, the President and others in the administration have tried to build support overseas. Did he or you or anyone in the administration detect any reluctance, any hesitancy, any suspicion because of the timing of the attacks in conjunction with his personal problems?
MR. BERGER: None whatsoever. No. I would say that not everybody around the world has applauded this action, and there have been voices -- President Yeltsin and others -- who have disagreed with this. I think there's been a very high degree of support, both publicly from leaders around the world and in the phone calls that we have made. But there's been absolutely no suggestion of what you indicated.
Q: No impact at all from his personal problems, none whatsoever?
MR. BERGER: None whatsoever expressed by anybody that he's spoken to, or anybody else, as far as I know, has spoken to.
Q: At this point, have you received any kind of indication that these missiles may have struck unintended targets at all?
MR. BERGER: No. We had the report this morning on Pakistan which had -- which was something that we looked at. It would have meant a malfunction, obviously. I think the statement from the Paks suggests that probably was not the case and that, therefore, the missiles did strike their target in Afghanistan. With respect to Sudan, we don't have any definitive numbers, but my preliminary indications are that the number of casualties was relatively small.
Q: I'm talking about unintended.
MR. BERGER: Yes, I understand. We have no knowledge at this point of that.
Q: -- today that the Sudanese factory was actually involved in oil for food in Iraq.
MR. BERGER: Let me be very clear about this. There is no question in my mind that the Sudanese factory was producing chemicals that are used, can be used, in VX gas. This was a plant that was producing chemical warfare related weapons and we have physical evidence of that fact.
Q: Sandy, is there any reason to believe that terrorists anywhere in the world are prepared to use chemical weapons against U.S. interests?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think we know that there are terrorists in the world who seek to obtain chemical weapons. I doubt whether they're using them for their chemistry sets. I think the terrorists who are seeking to obtain these weapons are seeking to obtain them for either intimidation or use -- all the more important that we fight weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons, that we -- for example, Congress passed the implementing legislation on the Chemical Weapons Convention so that we can become an operating part of that operation, and through all means possible that we seek to combat this.
Q: Do you believe they possess chemical weapons today?
MR. BERGER: I don't know that we can say that for sure.
Q: How do you answer President Yeltsin --
Q: There are a number of terror groups that are in Osama bin Ladin's network. Either he finances, supports, one way or another. Which one of those groups or a combination of those groups was responsible for the East Africa attacks?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think I'd rather not go into that at this point. We are continuing -- in addition to the actions yesterday, there obviously continues to be a law enforcement investigation going on in terms of possibility of holding some people criminally responsible for those acts, and I think I'd rather not get into the details of that.
Q: How do you respond to President Yeltsin's rather harsh complaints about the U.S. action?
MR. BERGER: Well, President Yeltsin -- as I said earlier, I obviously strongly disagree with what he said in this case. He indicated that it would be better to have talks before resorting to force. We look forward to the opportunity next week to point out to him that we have had many, many talks with the Taliban, including Ambassador Richardson's trip there, seeking to have them turn bin Ladin over to us or others. And those have not been successful. I don't think the talks with bin Ladin to suggest to him he should not target a fatwah against the United States would have been terribly productive.
Q: Two questions. Number one, given the far-flung nature of some of bin Ladin's terrorist organizations as you folks have described it, have you seen any evidence that they are now mobilizing to attack the United States or U.S. interests, number one, since the -- attacks? And number two, if we knew where Osama bin Ladin was, would we try to kill him, and if not, why not? I mean, are the laws alone the reason, or are there other reasons?
MR. BERGER: Well, with respect to monitoring and trying to ascertain to the best of our ability the activities of his network and other terrorist networks, that is an activity that has been ongoing and has only intensified. I went over a little while this morning to the CIA to thank the people in the counterterrorism center for the extraordinary work that they have done in terms of the intelligence side of this. We often only think of those folks in terms of something that goes wrong, but this has been a very, very substantial intelligence success in terms of what we've known. Bin Ladin, I think, like any other terrorist, should not rest easy.
Q: Can I follow on David's question? Does bin Ladin fall under the 25-year-old prohibition against assassination of foreign leaders? He's not a foreign leader.
MR. BERGER: Well, I'm not going to get into the legalities. We basically considered the Khost camp to be a military target, that our attack on that camp was pursuant to Article 51 in the United Nations Charter which permits self-defense, and pursuant to some 1996 legislation by Congress. We certainly anticipated there would be casualties in that attack, but I think it was both appropriate and lawful.
Q: You cited several other incidents that bin Ladin's group is allegedly responsible for. So the question is why has it taken so long to respond to these operations to try to do what you did yesterday?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think we responded in many ways over the past several years. I would remind you, starting in 1993, when we concluded that Saddam Hussein has tried to assassinate George Bush, we sent some cruise missiles into Baghdad. We have, as I say, intensified our efforts to find terrorists, to hunt them down and bring them back, and we've been quite successful in doing that -- seven in the last few years.
Obviously, the focus on bin Ladin has been one of longstanding, but it certainly intensified as the evidence became clear in the wake of the bombings in Dar and Nairobi that his groups were responsible for those murderous attacks, and I think they called for a response.
Q: You just said bin Ladin should not rest easy. Would you elaborate on that, and what is the U.S. message to bin Ladin?
MR. BERGER: No.
Q: Are you confident, Mr. Berger, that as a result of your actions yesterday that terrorism globally is going to cool down or escalate?
MR. BERGER: Well, I would not want to suggest to you or to the American people that what happened yesterday means there will be no more terrorism. All of this existed on Wednesday. Bin Ladin's network existed on Wednesday. Nairobi happened on the 7th of August; Dar happened on the 7th of August. He issued his fatwah in May. He went into the newspapers in London three days ago with a brutal comment that I won't even repeat. He said months ago that he will not distinguish between -- on, I believe, a CBS interview -- that he will not distinguish between civilians and military, they're all targets. That threat exists. We have to recognize it.
Let me finish. It existed on Wednesday. Now, we can either put our head in the sand and simply say we're going to thicken the walls and put up more barriers, or we can recognize that this threat exists and we can be as deliberate, active, and systematic as we possibly can be in trying to deal with the threat. But I certainly do not believe that we have seen the end of terrorism by any means.
Q: How much money do you think he and his groups have? Did we ever try in the past to confiscate any of his money? Because of the recent events, do you now think you'll have more success in freezing that money or making it in some way unavailable to him?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think that's a subject I'd rather not discuss at this point. He is reported to have several hundred million dollars that he inherited from his family.
Q: How important is it to dry up that stream of money?
MR. BERGER: Well, in this context, money matters.
Q: I've got a two-part question for you. One, are we finished retaliating for what happened in Africa? And, two, you said before we're going to be playing some offense instead of defense --
MR. BERGER: No, I didn't say "instead of." I said, "as well as."
Q: As well as. And special teams, too, we can be sure. Does that mean that the United States will take offensive action as it sees fit without having to retaliate for something specific like what happened in Africa?
MR. BERGER: I think that we will do what we think is prudent and wise and deliberate and necessary in each context. Each situation is different. I think what the President has said is that we just simply have to face up to the fact -- in the '80s we had a series of hijacking that preoccupied us and very much chilled us in terms of air travel, and we took a number of steps, a number of measures around the world. That problem still exists, but it has diminished.
We now face I'd say a higher degree of threat from these groups, these fanatical groups that not only target the United States, certainly others have been targeted -- the Egyptians have been targeted, the Saudis have been targeted, the Europeans have been targeted. But we are a particular target. And in each situation we will make a judgment as what the best action is.
Q: Specifically, sir, Osama bin Ladin is still at large and he is considered by the United States to be a military target. And we find him, do we target him whether he takes any specific action or not?
MR. BERGER: Well, I'm not going to speculate about what we might or might not do.
Q: Yesterday you said that none of the major members of the national security team were traveling to be with the President, not to divulge -- or create suspicion. Now that this is an open thing, who will be traveling back with the President?
MR. BERGER: Captain Cosgriff will be in Hyannis --
Q: Martha's Vineyard.
MR. BERGER: Little flashback there. (Laughter.) Excuse me, let me finish this question. Captain Cosgriff, who works for General Kerrick, will be with the President in Martha's Vineyard. Obviously, the phones work very well on Martha's Vineyard, including the secure phones. I anticipate that I will talk to the President frequently there, as I have over the past several days. If there's a need for someone else to go up there, they will. It doesn't take very long when you can get the Army to give you a plane. And if, obviously, there were need for the President to come back down here, he would.
Q: By blowing up that pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, is there any fear that toxic agents could have endangered civilians living around that plant?
MR. BERGER: First of all, it is something that we were concerned about. The particular chemical that is in the plant itself, if released, would not have a toxic effect. But we did a number of plume runs, plume analyses of different scenarios in the event the there were other things in that facility that we were not aware of, and had calculated this in a fashion that would have minimized collateral damage.
I should say that we have no -- now that there are people on the ground, including some of your colleagues, we have no evidence that there has been any release of any chemical weapons.
Q: A follow-up, please, on the executive order. Now that we have declared war against terrorism, is the President considering revoking that executive order? And how difficult would that be, what's the mechanism in doing that?
MR. BERGER: I don't believe that there is a consideration of doing that. I don't believe it would be a wise thing to do and I don't believe it is a necessary thing to do.
Q: The order does just cover foreign leaders.
MR. BERGER: I've said all I'm going to say on that.
Q: Given the fact, sir, that Mr. Yeltsin is a little irritated with the United States right now over this and here the President is about to go there, is it going to interfere with anything you hope to accomplish during that meeting?
MR. BERGER: No, I don't believe so. There are a number of things that we disagree with. The Russians disagree with us and we disagree with them on various issues. But we also have an enormous degree of common business to do, from security matters to regional issues -- Bosnia, Kosovo, the Persian Gulf -- to, obviously, our concerns about the economic situation there. So the fact that there is a disagreement on this particular issue I don't think will affect the summit at all.
Q: Mubarak has not given a ringing endorsement to the strike -- he talked about terrorism, being against that; we've heard nothing about, atta boy, Bill Clinton, ordering the strikes. Do you give Mubarak a free pass because of his sensitive situation?
MR. BERGER: We had a very good conversation with President Mubarak.
Q: Would you like to see something more in public?
MR. BERGER: No. We had a very good conversation with President Mubarak; we're quite satisfied with that conversation.
Q: Sandy, when you describe moderate to severe damage at the suspected terrorist base camp there in Afghanistan, can you be a little bit more -- can you elaborate on that more?
MR. BERGER: I can't. I would think that perhaps at some point early next week we would try to have the Defense Department do something more in terms of elaboration.
I would go back and point out what I said in the beginning, which is that there is a fairly substantial cloud cover and so there are parts of this facility that are not visible and other parts that are hazy. This is the assessment they have based on the information they have. I think they would prefer to have a few more days to collect some more information.
Q: If I could follow up, was there a decision made at the last minute not to provide, like, intelligence photos and that sort of thing? Because we had heard that perhaps you were contemplating doing that.
MR. BERGER: No, I think that General Shelton and Secretary Cohen made the decisions yesterday with respect to what they felt was advisable to say and release publicly. Those were decisions made by the Defense Department.
Q: Sandy, just to follow up, could you give us an idea of how sophisticated this training center is? I mean, is it more than just a shooting range for terrorists?
MR. BERGER: It's a very large group of camps. I think that General Shelton showed some pictures at the briefing there. It contains training facilities, it contains communications equipment, it contains other kinds of facilities. It is basically a training camp. It is -- as I said before, it is, if not the largest, one of the largest terrorist training facilities in the world.
Q: Would it be something relatively easy to replace?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think that would not be a terribly wise decision for them to make. I think when I said earlier that their camps have been significantly disrupted, I think that is both because of the physical damage to the camps and because of the obvious vulnerability of those camps.
Q: Sandy, now that you've recognized bin Ladin as being responsible personally for the bombings in East Africa --
MR. BERGER: We have said consistently bin Ladin and his network. This is a network of organizations affiliated in various ways with bin Ladin, but which go beyond him as well.
Q: Do you want U.S. law enforcement authorities -- the FBI -- now to arrest, to find bin Ladin, arrest him, put him on their most-wanted list, for example? Is he wanted by U.S. law enforcement authorities?
MR. BERGER: I would think that U.S. law enforcement would certainly like to have an opportunity to talk to Mr. bin Ladin, yes.
Q: Who are Mr. bin Ladin's bankers and what can the United States do to seize his checkbook?
MR. BERGER: Well, he has his own resources and I think the financial issue is one I don't want to particularly get into.
Q: Sandy, the Sudanese are complaining that the plant that was bombed there was producing a drug to treat malaria. Was it also doing that, or is the chemical that you went after used in the production of that drug?
MR. BERGER: Well, there may have been other things produced in this plant beyond the chemical that I have referred to. We know that chemical was produced. We know it is at the very last stages of the process of developing VX. It does not appear to have other commercial distribution. And as I have indicated, we have physical evidence to indicate what that is.
Q: What was that chemical? What was the name of that chemical?
MR. BERGER: I can't say it or pronounce it.
Q: Sandy, is it fair to say the President would not be going back to Martha's Vineyard if there were -- to use some of the language you and the Secretary used yesterday -- any more imminent threats to Americans, any specific targets, et cetera?
MR. BERGER: Well, I'm not going to speculate as to what may happen. I think it's certainly appropriate for the President to go back to the Vineyard.
Q: Sandy, polling today, various polls today indicate that somewhere around 40 percent of the American people believe that the air strikes were designed to coincide with helping the President with his personal legal problems. What is your definitive word on that?
MR. BERGER: They're absolutely wrong. Let me say with as much conviction as I can possibly summon, that the only consideration that was brought to bear on this decision by the President, by Secretary Cohen, General Shelton, myself, Secretary of State, Director Tenet, was what is in the national interest of the United States.
This was a proposal that was developed by the President's national security team, including the proposed timing of that proposal, and was presented to the President, who approved it. And I think that the American people can be absolutely sure that this had only one criteria, and that is our best judgment of what was in the national interest of the United States.
MR. MCCURRY: All right, any other subject before we knock off?
Q: -- see the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't anticipate that today, no. I anticipate the President will depart here around 4:30 p.m. or so, depending on how the rest of his afternoon goes.
Q: You say depart here --
MR. MCCURRY: Depart here at 4:30 p.m. and head back up to Martha's Vineyard.
Q: Are there any public events on the President's schedule in the next several days?
MR. MCCURRY: There are none at this point, but day by day they make their own plans as they're on vacation about what they want to do up there.
Q: Does he have any plans --
MR. MCCURRY: He plans just to return to Martha's Vineyard.
Q: Has Al Gore been involved in any of these plans?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. He's been thoroughly involved in both the briefings on this, he's spoken regularly with the President, with Mr. Berger, with others. Of course, he has his own national security advisor here on staff who has been part of the deliberations here. And he's also been in contact with some international leaders in connection with the action.
Q: When is he returning?
MR. MCCURRY: You'd have to ask his staff. I think it is next week, but ask his staff.
Q: -- need for him to come back and hold forth?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we're confidant that we have good ways of making sure we monitor developments, and the President will be well briefed, and we've got plenty of ways that we can keep track of what's happening.
Q: Will he be looking for a forum over the next week or so to discuss foreign policy again with the American people?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't anticipate that at this point.
Q: Will he be looking for a forum to address the Lewinsky case in more detail than he's already given?
Q: How does the President feel about comments like those made by Senator Dan Coats?
MR. MCCURRY: Senator Dan Coats stood out singularly as someone who suggested something that Mr. Berger just made quite clear is not true.
Q: Will he have another attempt to address the Lewinsky matter? Before yesterday's events there was the chatter that his speech --
MR. MCCURRY: It's August and things are flat and people are doing a lot of chattering. I don't anticipate any further addressing of that matter at this point.
Q: Are there going to be background briefings on the trip to Russia either up there or down here?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be, and that will be -- they will be working on that next week.
Q: Mike, you said that Senator Coats stood out singularly, but the fact of the matter is -- this was fairly consistent the last day that roughly a third of Americans say that they believe that the President might very well have timed this to distract attention. What does that say to you?
MR. MCCURRY: It says to me that it's a lot of reporting that reminded people about Wag The Dog and movies, but I think as they learn more, as they see the statements made by General Shelton, Secretary Cohen, Mr. Berger, as they see more of your good reporting on the nature of the threat posed, I think they'll be pleased that the President acted to diminish this threat to them.
Q: Is the President aware that there may be a diminishing of trust? I mean, is he concerned about it?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has confidence in the judgments of the American people and he accepts the judgments of the American people, and he'll do his job and let the chips fall where they do.
Q: Has the President received a request to make a return trip to the grand jury?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, but you should ask Mr. Kendall that.
Q: At any point during the preparations for the attacks, did somebody sit back and say, you know, even though we're sure we're doing the right thing, people are going to say it's Wag The Dog all over again? Did you know that was going to be coming at you?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Berger, the Secretary of State, General Shelton, Secretary Cohen, Director Tenet are smart folks, and the overwhelming, compelling nature of the evidence and the need to act and to act swiftly to protect American interests was the only factor they considered, as you just heard.
Q: -- with this Wag The Dog theory --
MR. MCCURRY: That's enough on that. Anything else.
Q: But wait a minute. Could you at least say that it is life imitating art, possibly, in some ways?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not a movie critic.
Q: -- and Pakistan helped Taliban to capture most of Afghanistan in the past, and you considered the Taliban, Pakistan, China, the United States friends, and now they're not helping you capture bin Ladin.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think Mr. Berger gave his assessment of Ambassador Richardson's discussions with the Taliban. They were not successful in moving us forward in our goal of disrupting bin Ladin's network. And so other actions, other options had to be pursued.
Q: Do you know how the camps in Afghanistan were in the system, were they used for -- against the Israelis --
MR. MCCURRY: That is a good question, and I am not competent to answer that. I only think I know the answer to that, but I know there have been some background briefings that have been provided particularly over at the Pentagon yesterday and I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that question was addressed.
Q: What is the status of the legal fees for the different White House staff members who have been called before the grand jury?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know, I don't keep track of that.
Q: Mike, are you building news reports for this sustained campaign against terrorism internationally?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are. The President has addressed this often. He gave extensive remarks on it yesterday from the Oval Office, as it was appropriate to do --
Q: What kind of response are you getting for this sustained campaign from international leaders?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, if you go back to the Sharm el-Sheikh conference and if you consider that a point of which an unprecedented effort was made to bring international leaders together to talk about the fight against terrorism, then plot back all the work that the G-8 has done since then subsequently to make terrorism a key focus of the work that they do at international gatherings, and when we have industrialized summit gatherings, for example, or when we do the work that we do in other international venues, you could say there has been a sustained effort to make this a key component of international diplomacy in the post-Cold War era. There's virtually no meeting of international leaders that occurs now in which the common effort to combat terrorism is not a major component part.
It's a major element of our discussions bilaterally with other governments. It would certainly, for example, be part of the discussion upcoming with President Yeltsin. So I'd say that the effort to make this a sustained focus of U.S. foreign policy and international foreign policy has been underway now for a number of years.
Q: Given the work of the G-8, you must be mighty disappointed in President Yeltsin's public reaction.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that reaction has now been complemented with a statement from the Foreign Ministry. We'll have an opportunity to have additional discussions with the Russian Federation.
Q: Mike, has the President talked to Yeltsin yet?
MR. MCCURRY: No, but they obviously anticipate a discussion at their summit upcoming.
Q: He's not going to call him today, Mike?
Q: He won't call him before that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any reason to think that they will call, given that the near approach of a summit. But I also don't rule out that there will be conversation, I don't rule out that there may be an opportunity for them to call. My understanding is that the President did send through diplomatic channels a written message to President Yeltsin. I can have the Security Council folks confirm that.
Q: Before or after Yeltsin made his comments?
MR. MCCURRY: If I understand correctly from our embassy in Moscow, that message was delivered before President Yeltsin made that comment.
Q: Is he going to tape the radio address?
MR. MCCURRY: It hasn't been taped yet.
Q: It will be?
MR. MCCURRY: He will, although, we don't intend to release that until tomorrow. And I believe the subject is our international efforts to combat terrorism.
Q: At the UNGA?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I was talking about the radio address right now.
Q: I'm sorry, I was talking about the General Assembly, the annual meeting next month and whether he will go there, as usual --
MR. MCCURRY: He's used that venue in the past to address terrorism. I can't imagine, given the prominence this subject plays in our foreign policy agenda, he won't do it again.
Q: Mike, talk to me about terrorism and about Indian authority have told the U.S. and with proof that Pakistan is also training terrorists and they have terrorist training centers in Pakistan and training terrorists across the border in India. Do you think, should India --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have discussions related to terrorism with a number of governments, including those in South Asia, and we can recount some of those for you, although I think you're aware of some of our exchange of visits on that. We also address our understanding of terrorist activities that emanate in that region, that we do that at our annual patterns of global terrorism report done by the State Department.
Q: Mike, now that Bill Richardson has been sworn in and the U.N. will surely play a major role with this latest event, when is Holbrooke going to go to the U.N. and when is Richardson going to take over Energy?
MR. MCCURRY: Confirmation is pending at the Senate. Ambassador Richardson I think you said is going to be sworn in or has been sworn in, unofficially. He'll have a ceremonial swearing in sometime no later in the fall. We await Senate confirmation for Ambassador Holbrooke, but we certainly anticipate it.
Q: Why has the President not called Yeltsin, given what President Yeltsin said? He's called several other world leaders.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have communicated appropriately through diplomatic channels the way we think is in the best way to proceed.
Q: Why is that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check. I don't know that we -- I'll check and see if there is a specific reason for doing it that way.
Q: If Afghanistan is such a haven for terrorists, why isn't it on the list of terrorist nations and is there a move to put it on there?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check. That's a good question to pose at State, since they maintain and run the terrorism list.
Q: What foreign leaders did the Vice President call?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check with his office and see --or you may want to check directly with his office.
Q: Mike, has anybody checked to see is there any other time when the United States has taken military action of such magnitude without consulting our closest allies, particularly British?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to go back and check and see. I believe that they're -- I can think of one or two possible precedents, but I'll check.
Q: How do you respond to issues being raised by the Arab League, many Muslim countries, issues of territorial integrity -- the United States did not act with regard to borders?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we cite -- you heard Mr. berger just a moment ago cite Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, nations having a right to act in their perceived self-interest when they perceive that kind of imminent threat. And I think that the answer very clearly is that when lives are at stake, when America is threatened we reserve the right to act unilaterally.
And we have approached each of those countries in diplomatic ways to address our concerns. And having not successfully gained cooperation to address our concerns about terrorism, the need to resort to military actions to us was quite clear.
END 2:16 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and Mike McCurry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/270880