The President's News Conference With Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany in Milwaukee
President Clinton. Good afternoon. It's indeed a pleasure for me to welcome Chancellor Kohl back to the United States. He's now in his 14th year in office, the longest serving leader in the West. And not only Germany and the European Union but all of the West has been well served by his leadership, his devotion to freedom and to free markets.
He's a friend to whom three American Presidents have turned for support and wise counsel. And I am especially grateful for the relationship that we have enjoyed and the counsel he has shared with me. During his tenure, the relationship between our two nations has grown stronger and deeper than ever, and it has become a powerful force for positive change.
As Chancellor, Helmut Kohl has visited Washington 23 times. He knows the shortcuts through the traffic better than most of us who have come here more recently. We thought it was high time that the Chancellor saw another part of our great country. What better place than Milwaukee, a city that German immigrants helped to build, a city so rich in German heritage and culture that in the 19th century it was called the Deutsche Athens, the German Athens. It is also fitting that as Chancellor, as he approaches the mark for the longest tenure of all those who have held his office, he is visiting a city that his great predecessor, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, came to 40 years ago.
Today the partnership between our two nations has taken another important step forward. The two aviation agreements we just signed will strengthen our cooperation in this vital economic sector. The safety agreement will help us to clear the way to better, safer air traffic. The open skies agreement will create the largest fully opened bilateral market in the entire world of aviation, dramatically increasing opportunities for consumers and flexibility for our airlines. The Chancellor and I believe this agreement heralds a new era of competition in the overregulated aviation markets of Europe.
But these agreements are just one example of the work we're doing together to increase growth and prosperity for our people. As the world's two greatest exporting nations, Germany and the United States have a vital interest and are together playing a vital role in bringing down trade barriers and building the international marketplace of the 21st century. We helped to complete the Uruguay round, the most ambitious trade agreement of all time, which has already boosted the greatest export surge in our country's history. Our cooperation in the G- 7 has helped the global economy to keep moving forward for the benefit of people all around the world.
Today I also salute the Chancellor for his bold budget and reform program. Strengthening Germany's finances and its capacity to grow and generate jobs will not only benefit the German people but also its many trading partners. Our economic cooperate is also making a difference in the daily lives of our citizens, but it has succeeded only because it has been backed by our security partnership as well, especially our security partnership in NATO, which has provided vital safety and stability for our nations for nearly 50 years.
Today we reviewed the process of NATO's enlargement. We reaffirmed that it is proceeding in a predictable and clear and deliberate way. Much as it did after World War II in Western Europe, NATO can provide an important shelter for the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe that share our values and are ready to bear the responsibilities of allies.
The success of the partnership of NATO in the IFOR mission in Bosnia demonstrates how the Alliance is adapting to the needs of our time. I especially want to thank the Chancellor for the truly historic decision to deploy 4,000 German troops to support the Bosnia peace agreement. Germany is shouldering its security responsibilities in the post-cold-war world, and we are all grateful for that.
As NATO grows, it must also develop a strong and positive relationship with Russia. The seeds for that partnership have already been sown in the partnership of Russian troops alongside our NATO units in Bosnia, where they have served together and served well, and in the Partnership For Peace exercises involving Russian and American troops here in the United States.
This is a moment of extraordinary opportunity. Not since the emergence of the modern nation-state have the prospects been so great for a free and undivided Europe, a cause so many Americans gave their lives for in this century. We will do all we can to see that this vision for Europe is realized. But no one, no one, has done more to make that vision real than Helmut Kohl. For that, the friends of freedom throughout the world are in his great debt.
Mr. Chancellor, welcome again to the United States, and the floor is yours.
Chancellor Kohl. Mr. President, dear Bill, ladies and gentlemen. Allow me to thank you, first of all, for this very warm reception. I would like to thank the Governor. I would like to thank the citizens of this city who in the streets welcomed us so warmly. And it has already been said that this is our first meeting outside of Washington.
And let me say that I immediately accepted the invitation to come to Milwaukee because this is, after all, a region that, as regards the history of the United States and the history of this State of Wisconsin, was in many ways one where German immigrants left their imprint. And I think it's a very good opportunity to be able to address the citizens of this State and of this region and to document once again how close the German-American relations have developed over the years. And let me say that I'm very, very pleased, and it warms my heart to be here.
The many talks that we've had this morning we will continue later on during the day and also later in the afternoon when we fly together to Washington. They document how close and intensive our relationship has developed. I think there are only few examples that I would be able to mention where politicians of countries meet so often, so regularly, where they exchange letters and phone calls, and where their staff members cooperate in such a close and coordinated way. And obviously, we also have a very close, personal rapport. As has always been the case when we met, we covered a lot of ground. We discussed many issues, and we shall continue to do so.
We signed just now the protocol amending the aviation agreement between the United States of America and the Federal Republic of Germany. I think that this is a very important step for the future, in order to be able to improve the liberalization of air traffic. And this opens up, after all, access of German airlines to all American airports, and the same goes for American airlines in Germany.
This is a milestone, indeed, in the relationship between our two countries, and you mentioned this, Mr. President. And what is also obviously very important for us and what we think constitutes a very important step forward as regards aviation safety is the conclusion of the relevant agreement that was signed today as well. After all, we've seen a history of air crashes just recently, and these are instances where we as leaders ask ourselves, have we really done enough in order to make accidents like that impossible?
Now, this also underscores that we have a common position as regards free world trade. We think that goods and services should move freely between the countries of the world.
Let me just, by way of a brief introductory statement, make a few remarks on NATO. I think we should have time for questions, so I'll keep my remarks short.
Also, in view of what the President said of the former Yugoslavia, we, all of us, wish that what was agreed upon for this year will come true. We hope that—in the discussion going on on the international scene that people assume right from the start that this will be a failure— I think we should, all of us, try everything in order to make this come true, to make the agreements that were reached become reality.
From a German point of view, we as Germans continue to be interested in NATO fulfilling its role and being able to fulfill its role in this changed world after the collapse of communism, of the Communist empire. We think NATO does have a role to play in order to secure peace and freedom for the peoples of the world. And I think that we should do everything— we should use prudence and farsightedness and wisdom, and to bear in mind also the changes in the world of today, and that we should pursue a course that bears these changes in mind and addresses them.
Now, first steps have been taken as regards NATO in Paris. I think that this is a very positive development. I think in the days and months ahead, also as regards to security cooperation in Europe and generally speaking in the world, we will hold necessary talks with Russia and the Ukraine.
So, in a nutshell, ladies and gentlemen, I'm looking forward to my talks with Bill Clinton that will go on during the course of today. I should like to thank all of you for the very warm reception that I have been given.
President Clinton. Paul [Paul Basken, United Press International].
Legislative Agenda and the 1996 Election
Q. Mr. President, in recent days and weeks you've been asked about your support for a series of larger Republican initiatives that have seemed at odds or were criticized at being at odds with your previous positions, such as the gas tax, despite your strong environmental quality; such as the Helms-Burton bill, despite concerns expressed within your administration; such as the Wisconsin welfare plan, despite concerns it might actually hurt children. Is this basically election year positioning, or is this something more fundamental?
President Clinton. Well, first of all, I dispute the way you characterized it. On the gas tax, what I said was that I far preferred that we spend our limited money in this budget to give tax relief to people for childrearing and for education but that if the Congress would pass a clean minimum wage that was tied to the gas tax, I would sign that. And I reiterated that.
What we have done to try to bring the price of gasoline down will be more effective in the modest release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and frankly, time will take care of this. We had a spike in the gas tax partly caused by the fact that we had a very tough winter and a lot of oil supplies were refined for home heating oil instead of gasoline.
Now, that's what I said on the gas tax. I reiterate that. I will do that; I will sign it if they will pass it with a clean minimum wage, and that's the price of getting the minimum wage increase in a clean way. But there are far better ways to get tax relief to the American people.
On the Helms-Burton bill, I would remind you that the defense of freedom in Cuba is not a Republican issue. I came out for the Cuba Democracy Act before President Bush did in 1992. And I made it clear that we had some concerns about Helms-Burton, many of which were answered in the legislation, which gave me some flexibility there. And there was a big intervening event which gave us a clear signal about whether things had changed in Cuba or not. Two planes with American citizens on it were shot out of the sky in international waters. That didn't have anything to do with the election.
And finally, on the welfare issue, I don't see how any member of the American press corps could say that welfare reform is a Republican issue. Now, let me just give you a few facts here.
In 1980, when I was Governor of Arkansas— 1980—I asked for and was granted permission to be one of the first States in the first Federal welfare reform experiment in the modern era. I helped to develop the Governors' position in the mid-eighties and helped to write the Family Support Act of 1988. Let's come to the present day. I have granted 61 approvals for State welfare reform experiments. President Bush granted 11; President Reagan granted 13.
Three-quarters of the American people on welfare are now under welfare reform experiments. We have moved to stiffen child support enforcement. The results have been pretty impressive. The welfare roles are down by 1.3 million; child support enforcement collections are up by 40 percent. I don't believe welfare reform is a partisan issue. It's certainly not out there in the country.
If you look at the 21 States where the welfare caseload has gone down—or the 13 States, or how many—I think there are 13 where—there are 21 States where the welfare caseload has gone down by 18 percent or more, 13 are governed by Republicans, 8 by Democrats, almost the exact ratio in the Governors Association as a whole. The State with the biggest drop in welfare caseload is Indiana, which has a Democratic Governor. This is not a partisan issue.
Now, the Republicans passed a bill that I vetoed. Does that mean they're for welfare reform and I'm not? No. Look at the Wisconsin plan—you mentioned the Wisconsin plan. The Wisconsin plan does three things that I think are very important. First of all, it says you got to work immediately, but we'll give you a job and we can use welfare money to subsidize private-sector jobs or to create community service jobs. I asked every Governor in the country to do just that when I spoke at the Governors' conference in Vermont quite a long while ago.
Secondly, it says, if you go to work, we won't ask you to hurt your children; we'll give you child care and health care. Now, it seems to me that those are elements that we all ought to be for. Now that is not what was in the Republican welfare reform bill. It was tough on kids and easy on work, and that's why I vetoed it.
All this election year rhetoric and posturing and gnashing of teeth, if you look beneath the rhetoric, the Republicans are moving toward the position I have advocated all along. And I'm encouraged by that. In the country, this is not a partisan issue. This does not have to be a partisan issue in Washington.
When Senator Dole was here Tuesday, he said some things which it seemed to me were very consistent with what I have said I would be glad to support. He said that he wanted a welfare plan that had tough work requirements, that had a 5-year lifetime benefit, that had no welfare benefits to illegal immigrants except in extreme circumstances, that had tough child support enforcement, more responsibility for teen mothers, and greater flexibility for States to reform welfare on their own. They could require drug testing, or as Texas does, they could require immunization.
Now, I am for all of that. Yesterday the House Republicans introduced a new plan that abandoned most of their extreme proposals. And these proposals—both some of what Senator Dole said and the House plan seem much closer to the bipartisan bills that are in the Senate and the House—the Castle-Tanner bill, the Breaux-Chafee bill that I have supported.
So here's what I'd like to say about it. If we can rely on the common sense of America about this, we ought to still pass Federal legislation. Even though three-quarters of the American people who are on welfare are under welfare reform, not all of them are. Even though the scholar for the American Enterprise Institute says in this week's edition of Business Week that I can justifiably claim to end welfare as we know it—that's what he said—the truth is, we still need legislation.
So what I say is, this is Senator Dole's plan; I think what he ought to do is to pass this plan through the Congress before he leaves the Senate on June 11th, and I will sign it. And we will put this behind us. My attitude is, let her rip. If this is the plan, let's don't pollute it with a lot of poison pills. Pass this plan through the Congress before you retire on June 11th, and I will sign it. And it will be good for the country.
Trade With Terrorist Nations
Q. Mr. President, could you comment on the legislature put forward to sanction European companies trading with Iran or Libya, and how did the Chancellor react on that? And do you see on that case any link, probably just morally, with the U.S. secretly allowing weapons being shipped into Bosnia by Iran?
President Clinton. First of all, there is no linkage. Our Congress passed a bill at one point prohibiting us from enforcing the arms embargo against Bosnia. And if you go back and look at the facts, what enabled the peace to be made in Bosnia? What made the Dayton agreement possible?
I would argue that there were two things: one, NATO's willingness to attack through the air, the aggression, the second, the Muslims and the Croats and their Federation began to win military victories on the ground.
The arms embargo had a one-sided effect. We did not violate it. There's a difference in not violating it and being mandated to enforce it. So the two things have no connection.
Now, this legislation that is working its way through the Congress has some provisions with flexibility in it that enables the President to take into account the national interests of the country in implementing it. But I have to tell you, we believe that there are a few countries in the world that all attempts to reason with have failed. And that's why this legislation is moving its way through the Congress. We will do everything we can to implement it in a way that is sensitive to the partnerships we have with our friends and the honest disagreements that we have.
I believe that Chancellor Kohl is as good a friend of freedom and as strong an enemy of terrorism as any democratic country has anywhere in the world. I believe that. And we had a discussion about it today. We are working on a number of things, and I think that's, at this moment, all I should say about it.
Q. Mr. President, yesterday your Press Secretary said that you would sign a bill banning recognition of same-sex marriages. What do you say to those who feel that this discriminates against gays and lesbians? And how do you respond to the many gays who supported you who now feel betrayed?
President Clinton. Well, first of all, as I understand it, what the bill does—let's make it clear. As I understand it, what the bill does is to state that marriage is an institution between a man and a woman, that among other things, is used to bring children into the world. But the legal effect of the bill—as I understand it, the only legal effect of the bill is to make it clear that States can deny recognition of gay marriages that occurred in other States. And if that's all it does, then I will sign it.
Now, having said that, I do not favor discrimination against people because they're homosexual. And you asked me what I would say to gay Americans who may disagree with me about this issue; I'd say, "Look at my record. Name me another President who has been so pilloried for standing up for the fact that we shouldn't discriminate against any group of Americans, including gay Americans, who are willing to work hard, pay their taxes, obey the law, and be good citizens."
And let me just say, even though—I will sign this bill if that's what it does, and that's what I understand it does. This is hardly a problem that is sweeping the country. No State has legalized gay marriages. Only one State is considering it. We all know why this is in Washington now— it's one more attempt to divert the American people from the urgent need to confront our challenges together. That's really what's going on here. And I'm determined—this has always been my position on gay marriage. It was my position in '92. I told everybody who asked me about it, straight or gay, what my position was. I can't change my position on that; I have no intention of it.
But I am going to do everything I can to stop this election from degenerating into an attempt to pit one group of Americans against another. Every time we do that the American people make a mistake. We are a better country than that. We're a greater country than that. And we ought not to do it, and I'm going to do what I can to stop it.
Who else is there? Chancellor, do you want to call on somebody?
Q. I'd like to bring your guest, the Chancellor, into this discussion here and ask the two of you to give us some insight in how we should feel about what's going on in the Soviet Union. We have talked a lot about issues in our elections here. They have elections coming up there. They're very close to you, sir. How do you feel about that? How should we think about what is going to happen there? And what backing are you giving whom in that election?
Chancellor Kohl. Well, obviously, no one here is in a position to give any sort of safe, ironcast predictions as to what is going to happen. And I must say, I'm always a bit hesitant in such turbulent times—and I think if there ever were turbulent times in Russia, that is certainly going on now—I'm always hesitant in such times to rely on polls that try to make an attempt to clarify a little bit that sort of situation.
Well, the Russian people will now decide in two rounds of elections. My position is a very clear one. I support those political forces that pursue reform, that wish to open up Russia to the rest of the world, and that consider that to be a basic tenet of their policy. And I would support those who are pursuing a policy to build bridges, build bridges after all of the horrors that we have experienced, bridges to Europe but also to the United States of America and to the people of America.
And I think one simply will have to wait for the outcome of this election. I'm not one of those who reveres either of the candidates or any of the candidates as a sort of icon. I observe closely what is going on there, and I do hope— the outcome of that is I do hope that the present President will win the election.
President Clinton. I would ask the American people and the German people to imagine how the world looks to the Russians. And I understand this has been a difficult period for them. They have freedom in a way they have never had it before. Their voice is controlling now in these elections, as it has been now in Duma elections and in one Presidential election already. But they have been through a traumatic experience, which has cost them great economic hardship. They have withdrawn their forces from Central and Eastern Europe, from the Baltics. They have downsized their defense dramatically.
So they are in the process of doing two things. They are in the process of stabilizing their democracy and regenerating their economy at home but also in redefining how they should relate to the rest of the world. And keep in mind, this is a country that not only has been through economic hardships but has also suffered in the 19th and 20th century two very traumatic invasions.
So the appeal of people who say, we can make it the way it used to be—even though I'm kind of with Will Rogers—do you remember what Will Rogers said about the good old days? "Don't tell me about them. They never was." But still there is that nostalgic appeal, and that's what's making this a tough, tight election in Russia.
The Chancellor and I have admired the way that President Yeltsin has continued to press forward to the future—and not always agreeing with us—trying to define a new system of greatness for the Russian people as well as trying to solidify democracy and bring back economic prosperity. And he and the other forces of reform in Russia, it seems to me, represent the future, and we hope the Russian people will vote for the future.
Brit [Brit Hume, ABC News].
Partial Birth Abortion
Q. Mr. President, thank you. I want to give you an opportunity to respond to Senator Dole. The Senator in a speech today accused your administration of being without direction or moral vision, citing specifically your veto of the partial birth abortion ban which he said, quote, "pushed the limits of decency too far." Would you respond to that, sir? Thank you.
President Clinton. What would Senator Dole say to those five women who stood up there with me? They're five women of several hundred women every year who are told by their doctors that their babies, severely hydrocephalic, often without functioning brains, sometimes without even a brain in their skull, are going to die right before they're born or during birth or right afterward and that the only way those women can avoid serious physical damage, including losing the ability to ever bear further children, is to reduce the size of the skull, the head of the baby before it's too late.
What would he say to the fact that at least two of those five women who were with me made it clear that they were pro-life, Catholic Republicans? That one of those women said she got down on her knees and prayed to God to take her life and let her child live? I am always a little skeptical when politicians piously proclaim their morality. He has to answer to those women.
All I asked the Republicans in Congress to do was to pass an exception for women who would face severe physical damage. And their answer was, "Oh, you want to give them exceptions so they can fit in their prom dress." That was the answer. Ads were run saying, "This is what the President wants. They'll be able to drive a truck through this exception."
Well, I know that those 500 or 1,000 women or however many there are a year—they're not many of them—they don't have an organized voice, and they don't have much influence at the election. And I know what appeal this partial birth abortion bill had because it appeals to me; I wanted to sign it. But the President is the only place in this system of ours where there is one person who can stand up for people with no voice, no power, who are going to be eviscerated. And two of those five women had already had other children. One of those women had adopted another child and was physically able to take care of it.
So before he or anybody else stands up and condemns the rest of us for our alleged lack of moral compass, he ought to say—he's looking at those women, and he said there was too much political support behind this; I did not want to be bothered by the facts; it's okay with me whatever—if they rip your body to shreds and you could never have another baby even though the baby you were carrying couldn't live. Now, I fail to see why his moral position is superior to the one I took.
And again, I'm telling you, why did this come up now in this way? Why wouldn't they accept that minor amendment? Why? Because they would rather have an issue than solve a problem. Some people live and breathe to divide the American people and keep them in a turmoil all the time. I work to calm the American people down, to lift their vision, to unite them, and to move them into the future. And I think when it's all said and done, that's what the American people will want to do.
Bosnian Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, Mr. Chancellor, what about a followup to IFOR, and will there be an American participation for a certain IFOR II next year? Thank you.
President Clinton. First of all, I think it's important that we stay on the timetable that has been established. One of the worst things that would happen is if we said that we were going to have an indefinite military presence there as it would slow down all the other efforts. It would slow down the effort to hold the elections on time. It would slow down the efforts to strengthen the Federation. It would slow down the reconstruction efforts and the efforts to create in Bosnia the conditions in which the refugees can return from Germany and other places.
And by the way, I want to thank the Chancellor and thank the German people for the extraordinary financial sacrifice they have undertaken in order to provide a decent home for those refugees who were driven out of Bosnia.
So, for me, it's important to stay on the timetable because otherwise the people involved in economic reconstruction or political reform and all the other aspects of the Dayton agreement will, I think, inevitably, be more likely to get off track. Now, we're going to watch this very closely and see the developments unfold. But I am convinced that we have to continue to try to work within this timetable.
One of the great tragedies of this whole endeavor, as you know, from the American point of view, was the crash of the airplane carrying Secretary Ron Brown and many American business leaders. We're reestablishing that trade mission now. We're going to go back to Bosnia. We're going to try to get some things going there sooner rather than later. And I think that ought to be the feeling that we all have. We should be driven by a sense of urgency to complete the tasks of the Dayton agreement.
Chancellor, would you like answer?
Chancellor Kohl. I would like to say very clearly at this point in time that I completely agree with President Clinton's position. I think it would be a very grave mistake, and it's something that you can see sometimes on the international scene, that people don't speak enough about what is necessary now, what has to be done now. People think too much about what we should do once the year is over and expectations have not been fulfilled.
But this is a very critical kind of challenge, a very crucial kind of challenge is obvious to all of us. And that we have to do everything in order to attain this goal that we have set for ourselves is equally clear. I think whoever thinks that problems will become smaller when we extend the timeframe, is under an illusion. We have assumed responsibility now. We have devolved this responsibility on the people there. Just think of the elections. And I think we to do everything in order to maintain pressure by the international community and to make it very clear to all of those in the country itself who want to shed the responsibility that we shall not allow this.
Let me at this point take up what the President said on the German contribution, and let me thank him for what he said on this. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm not complaining about the money that we have earmarked for this purpose, but in Germany right now we have 350,000 refugees from that civil war in former Yugoslavia, which is more than double the number that any other European country has absorbed. And the German taxpayer has paid about 10 billion deutsche mark over these few years in order to assist those refugees.
Now, I'm not talking about us wanting to have this money back, not at all. I only think it doesn't really make sense that this money that we have to spend for caring for these refugees should be spent in Germany. We should take it, I think, and use it in those villages and towns that have been deserted by the refugees, these villages and towns that are partly destroyed. And I think we should use this money in order to give them—to allow them to buy materials for construction, timber, bricks, cement, and give some of it also for free, so as to enable people to rebuild their home.
I must say I see it with great concern, every year, that these refugees are not able to return to their home. There is a certain degree of uprootedness that is spreading, particularly among the children of those refugees. And those people who, after all, have launched this terrible war and this terrible campaign and have waged a war of ethnic cleansing, that they should be proved right, that their achievements should, so to speak, come true in the end, that is an intolerable thought for me. And this is why I support the President and others in us trying to keep within the timetable and trying to achieve what we wanted to.
President Clinton. Thank you all very much.
NOTE: The President's 123d news conference began at 11:45 a.m. at City Hall. Chancellor Kohl spoke in German, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.
William J. Clinton, The President's News Conference With Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany in Milwaukee Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/222946