The President's News Conference in Halifax
The President. I'd like to begin my statement with an American issue. I want to congratulate Salt Lake City on their successful pursuit of the Olympics in 2002. This will be an historic event for Salt Lake City—[applause]—there was good applause there, maybe a native or two back there. It's a great event for Salt Lake City. They sought the Olympics many times over the last several years, and I congratulate them. It's a great thing for the Western part of the United States and, indeed, for our whole country.
I want to particularly congratulate Governor Mike Leavitt; the mayor of Utah—of Salt Lake City, Dee Dee Corradini; and Tom Welsh, the president of the Salt Lake City Bid Committee, for their efforts and a job well done.
From the beginning of our administration I've worked hard to make the global economy work for the American people. We live and work in a global market. Our living standards depend upon our ability to compete and to keep one step ahead of economic change.
In the past 2 1/2 years, we have fought at home for a comprehensive economic strategy that would create jobs and lift the incomes of our people, focusing on reducing the deficit but investing in our people, in their education and their future. My new budget proposal continues to reflect these priorities.
At the same time, we have worked to open more markets around the world to our products in free and fair competition from others, through NAFTA, GATT, our work with the Asian-Pacific countries and with the countries of the Americas. We've also worked hard to encourage the global trend toward market democracy in the former Communist countries.
I am pursuing this strategy, above all, for one reason: to renew the promise of America in the 21st century. But I also want to preserve the leadership of America as a force for peace and freedom, for democracy and prosperity.
This G-7 meeting has moved us a step closer to these goals. We've taken concrete steps to strengthen the international financial system, something we promised to do last year in Naples. And let me give you one and perhaps the most important example.
Earlier this year, we in the United States were confronted with a serious financial crisis in Mexico. It posed a risk to markets throughout the world, and it certainly threatened our own economic health as well as our long-term relationships with Mexico, involving a number of other issues. We led the effort to stabilize Mexico, and from all signs, it seems to be working. President Zedillo and his team have worked hard to live within the discipline the markets have imposed and to move Mexico to a brighter and better future.
But we learned two important lessons in dealing with the Mexican crisis. First, the world clearly needs better tools to identify problems like this so that they can be prevented, and second, the international system must have a stronger way of resolving these crises once they do occur.
We were fortunate in the Mexican instance that the United States had access to a fund which could permit us to make some guarantees and move to put together an international approach to this problem. But the U.S. will not be able to be the lender of last resort in other crises of this kind. So here in Halifax, we have begun to forge the tools to deal with these kinds of problems in the future.
We agreed to create an early warning system that will sound the alarm when nations begin to encounter real problems, before the severity of the Mexican crisis develops. We call for early and full disclosure of critical monetary and financial information. We'll establish tougher reporting standards for nations so that markets will react more quickly and nations will be pressed to implement sound policies in a timely manner. This may be the best discipline for preventing future crises.
When these problems do occur, we must respond decisively. And leaders of the G-7 have taken crucial steps toward that end. We've called upon the International Monetary Fund to establish a new mechanism to ensure that we can act swiftly when one nation's economic crisis threatens the world economy. We propose to double the funds available for this purpose to more than $50 billion from those nations with a stake in a stable international financial system. That will require loans from the United States which must be authorized by Congress. I know a lot of you are thinking about that, but they are scored as cost-free to the American taxpayers, because they're viewed as risk-free because they go to the international institutions.
The G-7 leaders have also agreed that the international financial institutions, the World Bank, the IMF, and the agencies of the United Nations, must continue on a path of reform. These institutions have served us well for half a century. We will continue to support them, but they must adapt for a new era. We put forward new principles that will focus their work on addressing vital human needs: the alleviation of poverty, supporting private sector development, promoting sustainable development, environmental protection alongside economic growth. The resulting economic growth will bolster democracy and stability in developing nations and, of course, create future markets for American exports.
The leaders at Halifax are also discussing new security threats that no nation should face alone. And we'll have more to say about that tomorrow. But let me say we have agreed that the G- 7 must work together far more energetically and comprehensively to counter the growing dangers posed by terrorists, international criminals, nuclear smugglers, and drug traffickers. We must cooperate more closely to counter terrorism and criminal activities sponsored by states, groups, and individuals. These are among the foremost challenges of the post-cold-war world.
These are issues which affect the lives of the American people in a very direct way. How we deal with them, whether and how we strengthen the international financial system and reform its institutions and how we fight challenges like terrorism will in no small way determine our citizens' future prosperity and security, how they feel about themselves and the future their children will enjoy.
To create new high-wage jobs, to raise incomes, to expand economic opportunity, the United States must continue to lead, even as we work hard on these matters at home. We cannot—I will say again—we cannot walk away from our global leadership responsibilities. In Halifax we've taken another solid step along that road. It will make the economy work better for the American people, and I believe it will help us to prevent future Mexicos and to deal with those crises in a much more effective way when they do occur.
Q. Mr. President, the United States has told the United Nations that for budgetary reasons it could not be counted on to pay the lion's share for a rapid response force in Bosnia. My question is, can a rapid response force in Bosnia be effective without the major financial backing of the United States?
The President. Yes. I'd like to review for a moment how that decision was made, however. I want to begin by saying I strongly support the rapid reaction force. It will give some muscle, some support, some security to the United Nations troops there. It will be staffed primarily by the British and French, with contributions from other countries that are on the ground there. It will have the mission of preserving the integrity of the U.N. force, being able to rush in and help to redeploy them when necessary, to support them in fulfilling their mission, and to take the necessary action if they are under threat. This offers the promise of making the U.N. mission more effective. I strongly support it.
Because the financing of this would have to be, obviously, approved by the Congress, I consulted with the Senate majority leader and with the Speaker of the House. And because President Chirac was in Washington, he went by to see them as well. They sent me a letter saying that they supported the concept of the rapid reaction force and they understood why President Chirac wanted a vote in the United Nations right now, because things are pretty tense in Bosnia and because he was coming here, and that they would certainly understand if I voted for the resolution in the United Nations but that in the absence of appropriate and thorough congressional consultations, they could not agree to pay for it through an assessment.
So Ambassador Albright last night was able to get a modification of the resolution which simply leaves open the method by which the rapid reaction force will be funded, either through assessments or through voluntary contributions. We and others have made several voluntary contributions to the United Nations in the past for other important missions.
I believe the United States should pay a share of this. I will support that, and I will do my dead-level best to argue that case in Congress. This rapid reaction force gives these countries the power that they have lacked to protect their troops and to preserve the honor of their country and to pursue the U.N. mission in a way they have not been able to since they have become more vulnerable to being taken as hostages.
Q. Mr. President, how much are you hamstrung in the discussions on Bosnia here at the summit by the fact that you can't make a firm commitment on U.S. support for the rapid reaction force and the fact that the United States does not have troops on the ground in Bosnia?
The President. Well, I have made some firm commitments for support. We have promised some equipment. We have promised some strategic lifts. We have promised the kind of air cover which we have given to other U.N. missions.
The United States has spent a lot of money and provided a lot of support to the United Nations mission in Bosnia, through NATO, through participating in the humanitarian airlifts, which are now by far the largest humanitarian airlifts in history. I urge you to remember that not only has the death rate gone way, way down in the last 2 years, but there are now about 2.8 million Bosnians dependent upon the humanitarian aspect of this mission. Just because it hasn't succeeded in ending the war does not mean it has been a total failure in keeping people alive while we search for a political solution.
So I was able to make those commitments based on the resources we have now. And I have made it clear from the beginning that we would not be involved with ground troops in this U.N. mission. I have made it clear the circumstances under which we would help our NATO partners and our U.N. partners to withdraw or to help them if they were in a terrible emergency. And I think that everyone understands that and is more or less not only reconciled to it but supportive of it.
This is something that the Europeans wanted to take the lead on and decided to take the lead on before I became President. And we have taken, I think, a very vigorous and aggressive position through NATO. But I do not believe the United States should send ground forces into the U.N. mission as it is constituted, and I certainly don't believe we should send our ground forces into some sort of combat situation in Bosnia.
Our vital interests, I will reiterate, are in keeping the conflict from spreading. That's why we do have forces in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. That's why we have worked very hard to see that Bosnia and Croatia have an agreement which has shut down a big part of the war. In minimizing the human loss, in supporting our NATO allies, and preserving the integrity of this operation, we have done everything we could to those ends. I do not believe that this is a situation which warrants the introduction of America's ground forces.
Q. You mentioned your budget, and it has been out for a little while now. It seems to be garnering more support from Ross Perot than some of your fellow Democrats. What is going on?
The President. First of all, I think that—I think there are two things going on. First, I think the Democrats are still in the position where the Democrats in Congress do not have to offer an alternative. And a lot of them could not possibly have had the opportunity to study this budget resolution in any detail. And frankly, there are some political feelings among some of our Democrats which are entirely understandable. I mean, they're—so what some of them are saying is, "Look, the Republicans won the Congress with a ‘just say no' position. They refused to participate in deficit reduction. They put forward a health care plan and then walked away from their own plan. And they were rewarded somehow as the party that was responsible on the economy and health care and other things with a ‘just say no,' organized, heavily financed attack, attack, attack, attack position. Why shouldn't we do the same thing?"
My answer to them is we may have failed to communicate to the American people that what we did was good for the United States in the last 2 years, that we would have a balanced budget today were it not for the interest we have to pay on the debt run up in the 12 years before I showed up, but our job is to do what's right for America. And the President, particularly, is in a different position.
I thought that I owed it to the country and to the Republicans to give them the opportunity to make their budget proposal first. I always said to the American people that we could not balance the budget without reducing the rate of growth of health care expenditures, but we ought not to be cutting services to elderly people who needed it. What we ought to be doing is reforming health care. My proposal reflects that. I think I have done the responsible thing. And I hope, as time goes on, I'll be able to persuade more and more Democrats and Republicans that I did the right thing. And I thank Mr. Perot for his support.
Q. Mr. President, back on Bosnia for a moment, sir. Despite your support for the peacekeeping forces, the U.N. peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, are you at all moved by the appeal made at the White House the other day by Bosnian President Haris Silajdzic, who called the arms embargo an instrument of genocide? How do you answer him when he asks, "Why won't the U.S. let the Bosnian Muslims defend themselves?"
The President. First of all, the arms embargo would be an instrument of genocide if the U.N. mission weren't keeping more people alive. In 1992, 130,000 civilians, more or less, died in Bosnia. In 1994, the best figures we have indicate that fewer than 3,000 people died.
When NATO was working with the U.N., we were able to create some safe areas around Sarajevo and the eastern enclaves which have since been eroded by the taking of U.N. hostages. But that's why the rapid reaction force is so important, to put some real steel back into the U.N. mission.
On principle, you know that the sympathies of the United States are with the Bosnian Government, and more strongly than some of our allies feel. But the question is, will this thing ever be settled on the battlefield? I think the answer to that is no. If that's true, shouldn't we support the Bosnian Government's position that it has accepted the Contact Group proposal, do everything we can to strengthen the U.N., keep as many people alive as possible, not allow an erosion of their territorial position insofar as we can prevent it, and keep pushing for a diplomatic settlement? That's what I believe is the best thing to do.
Lifting the arms embargo cannot be seen in an isolated circumstance. And I want you all to consider this. This is not an example where you can just kick the can down the road; this is the most complex problem in foreign policy today. If the United States—first of all, our European allies simply disagree with lifting the arms embargo. If we were to lift the arms embargo unilaterally, what would happen? The U.N. mission would immediately collapse and withdraw. We would have immediate responsibilities to send our people in to help them withdraw if they asked for it and needed it.
After that happened, then what happens? There are a lot of people in the United States, including many in Congress in both parties, who say, "That is no concern of ours; all they have asked us for is to lift the arms embargo and let the arms flow in there."
But I ask you: If the United States—if the United States cratered the U.N. mission by a unilateral lift of the arms embargo and then the lift of the arms embargo did not produce the military results on the ground that the Bosnian government hoped and if, instead, they began to lose more territory and more and more people started to die because of our unilateral action ending the U.N. mission, what would we do then? The chances that we would be drawn in are far greater than that the United States could walk away from an even greater mess that we had created all by ourselves with our European allies pleading with us not to do it.
Therefore, I will say again, if the U.N. mission does fail, if our allies decide to leave, I would strongly support lifting the arms embargo. It's the best alternative at that moment. But I cannot in good conscience support a unilateral lift of the arms embargo when the British and the French and the others are willing to say, "We'll send more troops there; we'll stiffen our capacity to keep the peace and to work for the peace." I cannot do that.
Q. Mr. President, how can you push for a diplomatic settlement if every proposal that's been made, including the U.S.-backed proposal to give half the country to the Serbs, is rejected by the Serbs? What ideas are out there? There's nothing going on; there's no diplomatic initiative in the air right now. So what do you mean when you say push for a diplomatic settlement?
The President. There's nothing—there will never—they will not make peace, sir, until they get tired of fighting each other. I agree with that. Now, that is also true of Northern Ireland. How long has this war been underway? Four years. How long has this peacekeeping initiative been underway? A little less time than that. How long did they fight in Northern Ireland before they began to do what they're doing now? Twenty-five years. How long have they been fighting in the Middle East? Over four decades before we made the progress we're making now. You cannot simply say, given— how deeply rooted are the conflicts between the Bosnians of—that are Serbian, Croatian, and Muslim? At least, at least going back to the 11th century.
So I say to you, there is nothing great going on right now. What is the answer? To do something else that might make it worse? Or to try to minimize human life, ensure that it doesn't— the loss of human life—ensure that it doesn't spread, and keep working for what I think is, based on the historical evidence, the only way fights of this kind ever get settled, which is when they—people decide that's it's better for them to make a deal than to keep killing each other.
Q. Mr. President, it is the President of France who has pushed the hardest on the rapid reaction force, and he has described it in terms of, "We can't be humiliated." These terms sort of harken back to the Vietnam quagmire, if you'll forgive that word, and I was hoping that you could outline exactly what you think the mission is—would be of this force. Could you give it in the most specific terms possible? Because as many people have said, unless we know exactly what the mission is, there could be a disaster.
The President. Well, in fairness to the President of France, I thought that Americans might hear that in his rhetoric. But keep in mind, when the argument was made in Vietnam that we couldn't be humiliated, the argument was there that we had to do more to Americanize the war, that is, we were involved in Vietnam supporting the side of the South Vietnamese government in a conflict with the Vietcong and North Vietnam on the other side.
In this case, the French President is taking the position that the honor of the country is eroded when U.N. personnel in blue helmets can be taken prisoner at will and they have no capacity to defend themselves. So he is not suggesting that they should get involved in this conflict in a military way on one side or the other. He is suggesting, however, that they ought to be able to move on the roads at will, that they ought to be able to do what they're supposed to do under the U.N. mandate without being taken prisoner, being shot at, being victimized; and that the rapid reaction force is supposed to be able to get them out of tights if they get in it and to support them when they need the support. He is not suggesting that the rapid reaction force would increase the level of military conflict or that there would be any military initiative taken by that force.
Q. The British have said that you here at this summit have committed the U.S. to paying its fair share of that rapid reaction force. Since the Republican leadership has said that they don't want Congress to pony up the money, just what options are available to you to come up with that money? And secondly, by the Republican leadership doing what they did in advance of the U.N. vote, does it unnecessarily tie your hands in the conduct of foreign policy?
The President. No, in this case, I think, what they did was to make it possible for me to vote for an initiative that they agreed with in principle but weren't prepared to say they would pay for. That is—let me back up and say— there are two issues here. One is, under our law, the President is plainly required to consult with the Congress before agreeing to a course of action that would require the expenditure of money. You don't have to agree with the Congress, but at least you have to consult with them.
President Chirac came in and said, "Look, timing is of the essence, and we need a vote on this, and we need it now." So I called Senator Dole and Speaker Gingrich, and I have no—we had a good conversation, and I have no quarrel with the letter they sent, because I said, "I don't have time to do the consultations if he is right and we need the vote now."
So the letter they sent to me said two things. But the most important thing, apropos of your point is, "You can do this, but our committee chairmen have very serious reservations about this mission, what its role is going to be, what its function will be, and whether we should pay for it. So if you do it, you have to know that we are not committing in advance to appropriate the money."
Now, what I told the British was, and what I told all of my colleagues last night was, that I would make my best efforts to secure funding for it because I believe it's the right thing to do.
Now, the second issue I want to say is, as you know, the leadership of the Republican Party disagrees with our policy. They favor a unilateral lift which would collapse the U.N. mission. That's what they think the right thing to do is. But they know that the President has to make foreign policy and that I have no intention of pursuing that for the reasons I have already explained.
Q. [Inaudible]—and funding——
Q. Mr. President——
The President. We're working on that.
Q. Since UNPROFOR is now unable to carry out its mission to deliver humanitarian relief to Sarajevo or to maintain the weapons exclusion zone around the city and Sarajevo is once again being strangled, why have you urged the Bosnian government not to use force to defend itself?
The President. Well, first of all, my sympathies are with them. I agreed to the statement that we all signed off on last night because the French and the British are doing their best to get more troops there through the rapid reaction force, which would permit the U.N. to fulfill its mandate which includes opening Sarajevo, and because I believe that has the best chance of opening Sarajevo without other adverse consequences to the Bosnians.
In other words, I tried to make sure that resolution was carefully worded to say, right now don't increase hostilities, because I don't believe this is a good time to do that when we are trying to strengthen the rapid reaction force and when, if we are successful, they will be better able to guarantee the openness of Sarajevo.
My sympathies with them are complete. They have a right to want their city to be open. And the Serbs have been shelling it on and off for 4 years whenever they could get away with it. So I don't agree with what's going on. But if the rapid reaction force works and the U.N. mission can work again and Sarajevo can be protected again, then I believe we're better off, and I believe, more importantly, they're better off if it can be done that way. I think there will be fewer casualties, and I think their political position will be stronger. That's why I agreed to support the settlement.
Q. [Inaudible]—lift the siege?
The President. I'm saying, no, that's not their job. Their job is to back up and protect the U.N. mission. But I think it will show that the U.N. mission will have a greater capacity to do what the U.N. has authorized it to do, which is to be able to get in and out of Sarajevo.
Now, that is not the same thing as saying they will take a unilateral military action to lift the siege, but then the Serbs and everybody else, for that matter, will have to think about the Blue Helmets in a little different way before they just say, "I'm sorry, you can't cross this road; I'm sorry, we're going to take you a prisoner; I'm sorry, we're going to treat you like dirt; I'm sorry, we're going to ignore the U.N."
That is what President Chirac and Prime Minister Major want to avoid having happen to their troops again. And if it is seen in that light, then I think at least we have to give them a chance to try to make the U.N. mandate work again.
Thank you very much.
NOTE: The President's 99th news conference began at 4:20 p.m. at Dalhousie University. In his remarks, he referred to President Jacques Chirac of France and U.S. Representative to the United Nations Madeleine K. Albright.
William J. Clinton, The President's News Conference in Halifax Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/221205