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Remarks on the 1998 Budget and the International Agreement on Greenhouse Gas Emissions and an Exchange With Reporters

December 01, 1997

The President. Today we are planning for the future, and we're working on two issues I wanted to mention briefly.

First, we are about to start a meeting, as you can see, with the economic team, planning for the 1998 budget. This will be the sixth year of our economic plan of invest in our people, cut the deficit, expand America's ability to sell abroad. And as all of you know, the deficit has gone from $290 billion when I took office to $23 billion today. Our economy is the strongest in a generation. And what we are going to be doing now is looking to continue this strategy within the confines of the balanced budget. Keep in mind, we have a balanced budget plan, but we don't have a balanced budget yet. We have to keep that uppermost in our minds.

The second thing we're going to be doing is continuing to work on the challenge of climate change, with the Kyoto conference in Japan opening this week. The conference begins today. I've asked the Vice President to go to Kyoto early next week to present our approach, which is both environmentally strong and economically sound. All of you know that I believe that global warming is one of the great challenges that America must face over the next few decades, and we must begin now. The challenge is not imminent in the sense that most people can't feel it now, but it is clear, and it is very profound. It is a danger that the world community would ignore only at its peril.

There are still significant differences between the parties on key issues at the conference. The question before us is whether the nations of the world, both the developed and the developing nations, can put their rhetoric aside and find common ground in a way that enables us to make real progress in reducing the danger of global warming. And this can be done, I firmly believe, without undermining the capacity of the developing countries to grow or, for that matter, the capacity of the developed countries to grow.

We have set forward a plan that is both aggressive and achievable. It represents our commitment to do what we promised to do and to work very hard to avoid promising to do something that neither we nor others can do.

The Vice President will lay out the essence of our plan, explain its central goals: a strong target, a vigorous domestic program, reliance on market mechanisms to reduce the cost of cutting emissions, and meaningful participation by the developing countries, because the progress that we need to make cannot be made and, indeed, the problem cannot be solved unless all countries are involved. This is a global problem requiring a global solution.

I'm pleased the Vice President is going to Kyoto to present our position. It shows that we consider this to be a profoundly important issue, and we have taken it very seriously. We have worked very hard on it. An outstanding negotiating team, led by Under Secretary of State Stu Eizenstat, will conduct the negotiations. And I believe that if we all work hard, this will be viewed as a landmark meeting on our way to making progress on this critical challenge.

International Agreement on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Q. Mr. President, does that mean your position is negotiable, and will the Vice President be able to negotiate? Or is he simply stating your position?

The Vice President. Can I answer that, Mr. President? I'm not going to be the negotiator. Stu Eizenstat is going to be leading the negotiations. And I would like to make it clear that, as others have said, we are perfectly prepared to walk away from an agreement that we don't think will work. And so it should be crystal clear to all the parties there that we're going to present the U.S. position forcefully and clearly. Mr. Eizenstat has the President's authority to negotiate, but the principles the President laid down earlier will be the ones that have to be met in order for the U.S. to participate.

Q. Sounds hostile.

The President. No, we're not hostile. We're going there in good faith, committed to negotiate within our principles. But I think it's very important that we not do something that appears to be politically palatable but that won't produce the results.

We have a good framework here; we've worked very hard. I personally have spent a lot of time talking to world leaders about this since I announced our position. We spent a lot of time talking about it when I was in Canada at the APEC meeting. I spent a lot of time when I was in Latin America talking to leaders about it. I spent a lot of time on the phone talking to others about it. I talked to President Jiang when he was here.

We're certainly going to negotiate in good faith. But we have to negotiate within the framework of our principles, and our principles are not inconsistent with what others say they want to achieve. So I'm very hopeful.

Attorney General Reno's Decision

Q. Mr. President, have you heard from the Attorney General about her decision regarding an independent counsel?

The President. No.

Q. When do you expect to hear from her?

The President. I don't know. I have not heard anything.

International Agreement on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Q. Mr. President, returning to Kyoto, the United States is proposing one of the more modest proposals of the summit—at the meeting, I should say. What factors led the administration to back away from its earlier proposal to cut greenhouse gases more dramatically?

The President. We didn't have an earlier proposal, that I'm aware of. The Government of the United States in '92, before I became President, signed on to the Rio conference. And we were attempting to come up with a proposal that we thought we could actually meet within the tools available to us and within the realistic options available to me as President and consistent with our desire to maintain our rate of growth but to change the energy basis on which we grow our economy. So we reached a decision we thought was best not only for the United States but that we thought was achievable, and therefore it was responsible, for the world.

I think it's very important—keep in mind, we want to set targets that we can hit. At Rio, I think the world did set some targets in good faith, but there was no real system, no mechanism set up, country by country, to implement that. I'm going to do a much better job of that for the United States now. That is, we're going to have a program to pursue our course, and we're going to do it whatever happens at Kyoto. We're going to really work hard at this now. But I think it's important that we have a goal that makes sense. And I've evaluated where the Europeans are, in fact, with their efforts, where the Asians are, where the Latin Americans are, and what I think we can achieve here.

Also keep in mind, I think we need to be looking at this in terms of not just what happens in 2010 but where are we in 2020, where are we in 2030? What our objective has to be is to dramatically slow, freeze, and then reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the developed countries, and then get the developing countries to do the same thing, so that over the course of the next few decades we avoid what is otherwise certainly going to happen, which is a dramatic warming of the planet.

This is a problem that needs—it's a hard problem for democracies to deal with because we like to deal with things that have quick action and quick payoff. This problem has been developing over decades. If you read the Vice President's book and you look at his charts, you see how much worse it's gotten just in the last few years. But it can't be turned around overnight. And so I think we've reached the right decision.

The Vice President. Mr. President, if I could add just a word on this, I think it's important to note that the position outlined and presented by the President that will be presented formally in Kyoto represents almost a 30 percent cut in emissions that would otherwise take place here in the United States by around the year 2010. That would represent a huge change.

The second point, as the President has said, whether there is an agreement in Kyoto or not, the United States is prepared, under President Clinton's leadership, to unilaterally take the steps that we believe should be taken in order to deal with this problem.

Third point, we see Kyoto as the beginning of the process, not the end of the process. And whether the agreement is reached at Kyoto or not, we will work to make sure that the world community comes together over the next few years and follows a sensible plan to solve this problem. And I'm going in order to demonstrate the commitment of the administration to solving that problem, regardless of whether or not we end up being able to sign on to the agreement at Kyoto.

The President. Let me make just one other point about that to reinforce what the Vice President has said. The goal we have suggested for Kyoto would require a much greater effort from the United States than from the other developed countries in the next few years because we've had so much more growth in the last 5 years than the other developed countries. So that if you use 1990 as a base year, let's say, instead of 1995, 1997, or some earlier year, it's the year that most clearly puts the burden on us since we've had so much more growth than our other developed partners have since that period.

Now, I'm not complaining about that. We have the most to do; we intend to do it. But I think that to imply that our goals are more modest than others doesn't look at—you ought to look at who has to do what work between now and then.

Q. Your goal is more modest now, though, than it was in 1993, when you proposed a goal for the administration. Is it because of the growth? Is that the reason why you——

The President. Yes, we grew a lot more. Frankly, I don't think we have—if you want to meet something with market mechanisms and technology and you don't favor taxes and regulation, then you have to have a more sophisticated system with more, sort of, buy-in, more organized, disciplined partnerships than we've had by and large with the private sector. I think that I have to do a better job of having a disciplined, coordinated effort here, which we intend to do now.

Q. Why not have the Vice President head the negotiations?

The President. Because, for one thing, we need him to do other things over the next 6 days. Stu Eizenstat is a great negotiator. He's the perfect person to do this. The Vice President is going there to announce our policy and to be there and show how important it is. No other country has got someone at the Vice President's level doing the negotiating; that's not how you negotiate these treaties.

The Vice President. You can be sure that both the President and I will remain very active behind the scenes, but all of the negotiating will be done, as is traditional and customary, by the head of the negotiating team.

The President. Let me say, they're not going to run away with this; we'll get daily reports, maybe several times a day, on what's going on. Don't worry about that.

Assistance to the South Korean Economy

Q. [Inaudible]—United States and Japan are considering chipping in as much as $20 billion to the IMF-led—[inaudible]—for South Korea. Two questions. Are those numbers in the ballpark? And secondly, are you at all concerned about the moral hazard risk element of this— by persistently bailing out countries you end up leading to the possibility that they will pursue less prudent national policies rather than more prudent ones in the future?

The President. Well, I would be worried about that if that's what we had done, but that's not what we've done. That is, I favor a strong agreement with the IMF that would actually restore financial stability and confidence in South Korea. And if such an agreement could be made, then I would favor the United States participating along with Japan, much the same way we did in the recent matter involving Indonesia.

But if you look at what we did in Indonesia, if you look at what we did in Mexico, you see that the moral hazard argument doesn't come into play because we didn't agree to provide assistance and backup financial support until there was in place a rigorous plan that had a high likelihood of success in restoring long-term health and stability to the country. If you look at the results that were obtained in Mexico, they took a lot of tough medicine, they took a lot of hits to their economy, but it rebounded much more quickly than anyone thought it would, and they paid the money back to us ahead of time and at a profit. And if the plan that was adopted for Indonesia is vigorously implemented in good faith, I believe it will have similar results.

When our finance ministers met in Manila, we agreed that that was the formula that we would try to follow: that the country would reach a strong agreement with the IMF, and then if more funds were needed, at least in a backup situation, if the IMF fund should not be enough, then the United States, Japan, and others, in accordance with their ability, would be there to do that. I think we should be prepared to do that in the case of Korea if there's a strong agreement that has a high likelihood of restoring stability and confidence.

Internet Antipornography Agreement

Q. How do you regard the antipornography agreement—[inaudible]—Mr. President—[inaudible]——

The President. I hope it works. I encouraged them to do it, and I'm glad they're doing it. I wish them well.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:40 a.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House prior to a meeting with the economic team. In his remarks, he referred to President Jiang Zemin of China.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on the 1998 Budget and the International Agreement on Greenhouse Gas Emissions and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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