THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Buenos Aires, Argentina)
For Immediate Release October 16, 1997
PRESS BRIEFING BY
AMBASSADOR JAMES DOBBINS,
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INTER-AMERICAN AFFAIRS
AND MIKE MCCURRY
Sheraton Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires, Argentina
2:00 P.M. (L)
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We'll do a
readout of the President's entire schedule of meetings today, and then
I can tell you a little bit at the conclusion of that briefing about
the town hall, if you'd like some additional details on that.
But I'm delighted to introduce again Ambassador James Dobbins,
who's our Senior Director at the National Security Council for
Inter-American Affairs; and Assistant Secretary of State for
Inter-American Affairs, Jeffrey Davidow, who will both brief you
on the series of meetings the President had this morning and early
Mr. Ambassador and Mr. Secretary.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Thank you. Jeff and I were in some of these
meetings together, and in the first of them I was there without Jeff,
so I'll do the first part and then turn it over to Jeff and we can both
handle the questions.
The bilateral session with President Menem was in two parts.
First was a smaller session with a half a dozen on each side; and then
there was a larger session in which all the Cabinet participants who
came with the President participated in a similar group of about 16
or 17 people on the Argentine side.
The first session lasted for about 40 minutes. President Menem
began by briefly describing the strength of the Argentine economy and
the growing importance of foreign investment including, in particular,
American investment. The economy is estimated to grow over 8 percent
this year. And the U.S. is now the largest source of foreign
investment, with U.S. investments currently representing 33 percent
of the total foreign investment.
He noted that these results had been achieved as a result of
an aggressive program of privatization and support for market reform.
And at one point he noted that this privatization had included at one
of its earliest stages privatization of the media. The President picked
up on that to raise a theme that he has raised in the other countries we
visited and has also alluded to publicly in each of the countries he's
visited -- that is his desire to, his concerns, our concerns regarding
pressures on the press throughout the hemisphere and the desire to look
for ways to increase support for and protection of free press.
He suggested, as he has elsewhere, that we look for ways of
strengthening the OAS human rights mechanisms to encompass problems
of support for the free press. He noted that that OSCE organization
in Europe has recently adopted a new structure with the purpose of
protecting and advancing freedom of the press and suggested that this
model might be looked at by members of the Inter-American system to
see if it had some applicability.
President Menem noted that this was a useful subject for
discussion at Santiago, the upcoming Summit of the Americas, and there
was agreement that we should continue the dialogue among ourselves and
with the other partners in the OAS in order to see whether we could
advance this issue in Santiago.
The President also expressed support for the creation of a
hemispheric judicial training academy. And, again, it was agreed
that this was a useful item for discussion and possible decision
in the context of the Santiago summit.
The President confirmed, as he already had, of course at the
speech this morning that he has notified the Congress of his intent
to designate Argentina as a major non-NATO ally. In this connection,
he expressed his great gratitude for the consistent support which
Argentina has given for international peacekeeping, including a number
of international peacekeeping activities of great importance to the
United States. He said in this regard Argentina was a role model
which he hoped many other countries would imitate.
He noted that even with relatively small proportions of
national forces committed to situations like Bosnia from a number
of participants, if it was done at an early enough point, one could
have a tremendous impact.
There was some discussion of situations -- Haiti, where Argentina
was one of the earliest contributors. Algeria -- Menem was very
concerned about the situation in Algeria. He and Secretary Albright
discussed what might be done there. They went on to discuss the
environment, the issue of global warming. The President made a
presentation very similar to the one he had made with President Cardoso
and the one he also made in very similar terms at the press conference
in Brasilia about his vision of an agreement in Kyoto and the role of
developing countries in his view that there was no inconsistency
between developing countries reaching their growth goals and
participating in a process of emission limitations.
On that subject, Menem, like Cardoso, was very interested,
participated actively. Menem expressed general agreement with what
the President was saying. Our officials are going to be talking
further about environmental issues in the next few days and I expect
that environmental issues will also be a topic on which the President
and Menem will have more to say in Bariloche this weekend.
The President also raised his interests in electronic commerce,
his proposals for a global regime which minimized regulation and
maximized the growth of a free market on the Internet. Menem was very
interested in this and indicated this was something that he wanted to
continue the dialogue with us, work with us on these concepts and also
work within Mercosur to bring the Mercosur partners along in this
The President reaffirmed U.S. support for Argentine membership in
the OECD. And I think that pretty much concluded the smaller session,
and we then moved to the adjoining room, and Jeff Davidow, Assistant
Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, can brief you on that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DAVIDOW: At the larger bilat which was
attended by most of the members of the Argentine Cabinet and the
officials traveling with the President, the two Presidents reviewed
what they had discussed in the smaller bilat, and some additional
points were raised during that time. The basic point of President
Clinton was that the sea change in U.S.-Argentine relations that
we have seen over the last half-dozen years has been extraordinary,
and that we are appreciative of this.
The President talked -- our President talked about our attitude
toward Mercosur, a theme that he had raised in Brazil, making the point
once again that we have nothing against Mercosur and indeed, to the
contrary, Mercosur has helped the economic integration and growth of
this part of the world, and that we have benefited from that.
In relation to Argentina's membership in the OECD, as Jim said,
the expressed support for this. He also noted that we have continuing
concerns with Argentina about the protection of intellectual property
rights. We recognize that the government of Argentina under President
Menem has taken a number of important steps, but there are still others,
some of which are caught in the Argentine Congress, that would be useful
In the large bilat, the two Presidents also talked
about cooperative activities on the problems of crime, drugs,
counterterrorism; said that both agreed that we should increase
our levels of cooperation and increase the levels of cooperation
among all members for the Organization of American States.
That was basically the major points that were not mentioned in
the smaller bilat.
The President, I should say, also made the point that later this
afternoon there will be the first meeting on the Special Consultative
Mechanism, which is chaired on the American side by Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright, and on the Argentine side by their Foreign Minister,
and that that will discuss another whole series of topics of cooperation
and interest between the two countries.
After that meeting, the President met with five leaders of the
Argentine opposition. As you know, Argentina is going to have an
election on October 26th for about half the members of Parliament.
This meeting is consistent with the kinds of meetings the President
Clinton has had in his other trips in which he meets leaders of the
political community. The elections themselves, the campaign were
not -- repeat, not -- discussed in this meeting at all.
President Clinton began by talking about his vision of a
partnership for the 21st century that would bring prosperity,
protection of human rights, democracy, security to the entire
region. He noted the extraordinary responsibility Argentina has
undertaken in its participation in international peacekeeping,
and made the point once again that action by responsible parties
early in crisis situations can prevent greater disasters from coming.
There was considerable discussion on the part of the President,
once again, of Mercosur, the fact that the United States supports
Mercosur, and that we do believe that Mercosur is an important element
in the construction of the free trade areas of the Americas.
The opposition leaders responded by noting that the essential
basics of Argentina's policies vis-a-vis the United States, those of
cooperation, and domestic policies -- that is, support for the free
market, support for democratization -- are matters of state; these will
not change on the basis of any election. And they confirmed that the
relationship that the two countries have would continue whatever party
or parties may gain electoral advantage.
The President returned to a theme that he has discussed at great
length on this trip, which is how can societies which are progressing
economically ensure that all members of the society benefit from
globalization, from economic progress and change. And he noted,
as he has before, that no advanced democracy has really come up with
a perfect answer to this question.
There ensued a fairly lengthy discussion amongst the five
political leaders and the President about strategies for improving the
social compact. One topic that was discussed, for instance, was the
rule of small and medium industry in providing jobs. President Clinton
made the point that the best social program is a job, and that in the
United States we pay great emphasis on job creation.
There was some discussion of what has happened in Northern Italy,
where there has been a great development in small and medium industries;
discussion of such things as the Small Business Administration in the
United States, loan guarantees for small businessmen. The general
discussion focused on how to create employment and make sure that no
one gets left out of international globalization.
In that meeting which was extraordinarily pleasant in all ways,
the five members of the congressional delegation that are accompanying
the President as part of the official delegation participated. We went
from that meeting to a meeting with members of the Jewish community of
Argentina. The congressional members also participated in that meeting.
There were seven participants on the Argentine side. Several of them
represent organizations in the Jewish community; others are parents or
spouses of people who were killed in either the bombing blast at the
Israeli Embassy in 1992 or at the Jewish Community Center in 1995.
Also included was a person who lost her husband in the Israeli Embassy
blast, who is not Jewish.
The President made the point that these attacks were not only an
attack on the Argentine Jewish community, but attacks on civilization
around the world. There was considerable discussion about the need to
fight terrorism. The President talked about his efforts to isolate
terrorists and isolate those states that support terrorism.
The members of the Jewish community, all of the participants
there were appreciative of the President's interest. They expressed
some frustration about the fact that these two attacks here have not
yet been resolved in the sense that the investigations haven't resulted
in conclusive criminal proceedings. They expressed solidarity with the
victims of terrorism attacks all around the world, including in the
United States; stated that they would continue their efforts to find
justice for their loved ones who were killed in these attacks. They
are committed to keep this effort going and the President encouraged
them to do so as a matter of respecting their dead and as a way of
deterring further terrorist attacks both here in Argentina and around
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Let me just add on that, and then take
questions. This group was asking the President both to make sure that
the United States was providing what support and information it could
to assist this case, which he promised to do, but also, prospectively,
to work with Argentina, with other countries of the region to ensure
against this kind of attack. And the President was able to say that he
had discussed this both with President Cardoso and with President Menem;
that one of the themes that we had been pushing in both countries is
that we support increase in cooperation between Brazil, Argentina and
Paraguay, and that we want to be helpful as they try to increase the
attention that they're paying to counterterrorism cooperation.
Q Just to follow up on that, first, where was that meeting?
Secondly, does President Clinton share the widespread belief here that
President Menem has dragged his feet and isn't particularly seriously
concerned about getting to the bottom of it?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: The meeting took place at the Sheraton,
both of those meetings that we've mentioned. And, no, we don't believe
that this has been a case of foot-dragging on the part of the Argentine
government. The Argentine system places responsibility for these kinds
of cases with the judiciary, not with the government. In a sense, a
judge has to take charge of an investigation and draw on police
resources, but has responsibility.
The Argentine Constitution also puts responsibility for attacks
on diplomatic missions with the Supreme Court of the country. And the
Supreme Court of the country, because it doesn't have responsibility
for investigating other things, doesn't tend to have investigative
experience or resources. And one of the reasons that most people think
that the attack on the Israeli Embassy may have languished is because
of this peculiarity in the structure that puts a responsibility on a
body that's not very well suited to that.
As regards the other case -- the more recent, the judge who has
been investigating that has been to Washington, he's met with both the
CIA and FBI. He'll be having further meetings in Washington on the
subject and we are seeking to provide all the assistance that we can.
Q Did President Clinton inquire of President Menem about the
investigations? Did he say anything? I might have missed it, but
I didn't hear you -
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DAVIDOW: There was a discussion about
terrorism and cooperation on counterterrorism, the kinds of training
that we are providing in -
Q -- inquire about these two investigations, and what did he hear
back from President Menem?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: President Clinton expressed our continued
concern and support for progress in these cases and our willingness
to assist. He had raised this when he met with President Menem at the
Olympics, about six months ago now -- or whenever the Olympics were,
a little longer -- and given him a letter on the subject at the time.
And he renewed his interest and support for the investigation. And as
I said, we are cooperating with the responsible authorities in
Argentina and these investigations are under the judiciary.
Q How firm was the President on the question of human rights
here and the freedom of the media? And how long did it take up in
the smaller meeting?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think that section of what was a 40-minute
meeting probably took 10 minutes. There were a couple of ideas discussed
and they weren't discussed in exactly the same part of the meeting. One
was the idea of a hemispheric judicial training institute, which would
be funded by the Inter-American Development Bank and other international
institutions and would train hemispheric judiciaries and set standards.
And the other was the discussion of freedom of the press and the
possibility of strengthening the OAS mechanisms in the human rights
area to support and promote freedom of the press.
Q Could you address the criticism that at the same time there
is a trend toward great regional stability through Mercosur, the United
States is actually participating in a negative way because of the
special military status we're giving to Argentina, which has worried
its neighbors, and the F-16s that we're selling to Chile, which,
of course, has worried the Argentineans?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DAVIDOW: I think in part the President's
strong emphasis both publicly and privately is an effort to -- a
successful effort, I would say -- to counter that criticism. There
is a view that has developed in some sectors of the press and political
opinion in the countries of this part of the world that somehow the
United States is trying to divide the countries of the region, one from
the other, as part of some sort of maneuver to destroy Mercosur. That
is totally wrong. We have responded responsibly to new realities in the
region, and the President's great emphasis on our support for Mercosur
as an important element in building the free trade area of the Americas
is, indeed, a response to that kind of thinking, which is erroneous.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I might say that we heard nothing in Brazil
which would suggest that these kinds of concerns are taken seriously or
that, indeed, the grant of the status to Argentina is having a divisive
effect. But certainly the President's statements, both statements
explaining the decision with respect to Argentina and his support for
Mercosur and discussions he had in both capitals about the importance
of sustaining regional cooperation not just in economics, but in
political and security affairs -
Q -- did the F-16s with Chile come up in this conversation?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: No.
Q Can I follow up on a major non-NATO military status for
Argentina? Which other countries in South America have that status and
what does it practically mean for Argentina? What will they be able to
purchase now in terms of military equipment from the United States that
they couldn't have purchased earlier?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DAVIDOW: To answer your question, Argentina
is the first country in the world, actually, to receive this status on
the basis of its participation in international peacekeeping efforts.
We hope that other countries in the region, including countries that
are also quite active in international peacekeeping, could also obtain
the status. It is not a strategic alliance with Argentina. It is not
a -- it does not denote any mutual defense obligations, nor does it
make Argentina eligible for the purchase of any material that it would
not otherwise have been eligible for.
It does have some benefits in terms of cooperation, in terms of
training, in terms of research and development, all of which we hope
will help Argentina continue its participation in international
peacekeeping. It is, and has been acknowledged by the Argentine
government and by our government, as a largely symbolic gesture on
our part, recognizing Argentina's new status as a very active member
of the international community.
Q Do any other countries in the hemisphere have it?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DAVIDOW: No. As I said, it is the first
country in the world to get it in the post-Cold War era. We would
hope that other countries would also express an interest in it,
Q Is there any opposition in the U.S. Congress to this?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: We've notified the Congress, now, I guess
it must be about 10 days ago. We've had no expressions of -
Q I was under the impression that Israel has non-NATO military
status as well.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DAVIDOW: He's talking about the hemisphere.
Q The hemisphere. So there are other countries in the world,
but Argentina is the first country in the hemisphere?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DAVIDOW: That is correct. There are seven
other countries in the world that have this status -- Israel is one,
South Korea, Jordan, Australia, New Zealand, and there may be some
others. But as you can see, those are countries, in some cases, that
are in parts of the world that are far more conflictive than the
Western Hemisphere. The designation of Argentina should be seen as
a new approach for this designation and one which is entirely focused
on international peacekeeping.
Q What did Argentina do to acknowledge its acceptance of this
status, and does it come with any obligations on Argentina?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: It's not a reciprocal arrangement, it's a
designation. It's not an agreement, it's a unilateral gesture, and
it imposes no obligations.
Q Is it something the they requested?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: They did request it, yes.
Q Can you give any concrete examples on the kind of research and
development and training cooperation that they'd be eligible for that
they're not -
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I honestly don't think that they requested
this status with a view to anything specific beyond the recognition
that it implies that they had fundamentally changed the nature of their
relationship with the United States, which had been antithetical for
three generations, to one that was cooperative and collaborative.
And they were seeking recognition for that through this designation.
Q That wasn't my question. The question was, can you give some
sort of -- something specific to hang it on so we don't just say, in
terms of research and development and training -
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DAVIDOW: Okay. Under the MNNA law, there
is the possibility for countries which have previously received this
and it would apply to Argentina, for research and development on
defense issues. I can't give you anything more specific, but let me
give you this specific thing. We engage in joint training with the
Argentine military on a variety of issues, but largely focused on
peacekeeping. This will enable us to give even more training,
participate in even more exercises with them on this particular
issue. The Argentines are also doing a lot of training, cross-training
activities with their neighbors. This will help promote their ability
to engage in international peacekeeping, as they are right now, and can
be even more effective.
Q Could you explain what -- isn't the President, on of his
concerns regarding -- can you talk about specifically what problems he
sees in terms of the press -- Argentina and what he wants Menem to do
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Threat? No. I think -- I'm not sure what
they're referring to when you said "threat."
Q No, pressure. You used the word "pressure," pressures
on the press.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: No, he was referring to a problem throughout
the hemisphere as he has done in each of the other countries he's
visited, where the press -- for instance, where the press is either
under pressure, where there are disagreements with local governments
as there are in a couple of other countries in the hemisphere, between
the press and the local government about their appropriate role; or
where the press comes under direct threat from individuals, not from
governments, where they're threatened and where in some cases they're
I think the International Press Association, the hemispheric press
association has pointed to a number of instance where journalists have
been threatened or even harmed or murdered. And it is this general
concern, which is applicable in Argentina, but it is also applicable in
a number of other countries in the hemisphere, which the President was
Q Ambassador Dobbins, to follow up on that, what's the
administration's view of the widespread assessment in media
circles here and at home that the Menem government in many
cases encourages violence and pressure on journalists?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I guess -- the only instance I know in
which President Menem has been accused of encouraging violence was
one quote that he used from Benjamin Franklin for which he subsequently
apologized. There have been instances in which members of the
government in the sense of low-level policemen have been accused
of participating in abusing the press. This is a case of common
criminality and corruption at that level rather than conscious
President Menem noted that one of the first steps of his
government in their privatization campaign was to privatize the media,
and certainly the media in Argentina is very vigorous and very critical.
Q Back on the ally status, is it wrong to say, as has been
written here -- show Argentina priority access to American-made
weapons, ammunition and spare parts?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think that would be an over-generalization.
What is -- do you have a quote that you're citing from?
Q No, this is this is just the way it's been written.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think that would be too -
Q -- some priority access to this weapons and ammunition
and spare parts?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Not as generically as you're suggesting.
The legislation itself, in fact, carries some very narrow authorities.
Those authorities are duplicated in other legislation for other
purposes. So, for instance, you could grant something under that
authority, an access to excess equipment which had been deemed surplus
or a training program, but you could also provide that under another
authority for somebody who was cooperating in peacekeeping. Argentina,
for instance, already has access to excess American defense equipment,
as does Brazil and Chile, under the authority that goes with cooperation
This authority gives you another basis to do it. But it's
importance both for Argentina and for the United States is that it
symbolizes the change in its international orientation and a desire
to cooperate with the United States in international peacekeeping.
Q Does it provide any practical benefits for non-military
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: No.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: No. It's completely silent on that.
Q Going back to Brazil just for a second and proceed on the same
subject, is it correct that the Brazilian government did not raise the
subject when you were there?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Yes, it is correct that they did not raise
Q The subject was not an issue in Brazil in any way.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: No. I mean, it was -- you could it to have
been touched on in the sense that President Clinton made clear our
support for Mercosur for cooperation among these governments, including
in the area of security, that he was not asking any of them to choose
between their relations with each other and their relations with the
United States, as he said very explicitly. So in that sense you could
say that it was encompassed in those general statements. But it was
never raised by the Brazilian side in any form or by us.
Q Did the President raise the subject of corruption? And if yes,
what was Menem's reaction?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think it came up in the context of -- it
came up only implicitly in the sense that we supported the creation of
a hemispheric academy for training judiciaries. So in that sense there
was a positive approach to it. There wasn't anything else explicit
that I can recall.
Q The word wasn't mentioned?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I don't believe so.
Q On that subject, many Argentines are thinking that this new
military partnership between Buenos Aires and Washington might lead
up to a final settlement between the U.K. and Argentina about the
Falkland Islands. My first question is, is the State Department
worried about the reaction you might get from the British government?
And secondly, do you have any actual -- government regarding this
aspect now that Washington has promised them this new military liaison?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Let me answer part of the question, then let
Jeff do the other half.
The British government was fully aware of this and was fully
aware of it before we made the decision. We don't see any connection.
I don't think they see any connection to the issue of the Malvinas and
the discussions between the U.K. and Argentina and this designation
which, as I've said, is designed to support continued cooperation
But why don't you talk about the other issue?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DAVIDOW: Well, there is no connection,
period; absolutely no connection. The issue of the Malvinas was
discussed and the President -- President Clinton listened to President
Menem. No specific requests were made of the United States by the
government of Argentina in this regard. President Clinton expressed
our interest in seeing two of our very best friends continue the
dialogue that has been going on for some time and continue the
improvement in the relations, which are now excellent, between the
United Kingdom and Argentina. That was the nature of the conversation.
Q Could you explain how this military partnership is anything
more than a phrase? I mean, I don't understand it at all. You suggest
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DAVIDOW: It is not a military partnership,
okay. And I think we've explained it. The point is, it is a
designation to Argentina which we use because we have an existing
authority in legislation to do this to recognize that Argentina is a
major non-NATO ally. But that is not a strategic alliance or a mutual
defense obligation as other alliances are. It is a designation which
recognizes Argentina's involvement in international peacekeeping and
can be used to help Argentina and that involvement.
Q You suggested, though, that it implies additional exercises
beyond just peacekeeping type operations. Could you elaborate?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DAVIDOW: I think the focus is in what
we have said to Congress and what we have said to the Argentineans is
essentially on peacekeeping. That's why this is a new way of utilizing
this legislation the first time. We hope that there will be other
occasions in which those countries such as Argentina, and there are
some others in this region, maybe elsewhere in the world, who are
particularly active in international peacekeeping, will get a special
designation from the United States government.
MR. MCCURRY: Last question.
Q Did President Clinton make any commitment or any commitment on
behalf of officials to try to help the dialogue between the British and
the Argentine government along -
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: No, he said exactly as Jeff said, that we
regard -- this is a dispute between two of the best friends the United
States has ever had, and that we are pleased that relations between
them are improving, that they are in regular discussion, and that we
hope that they will be able to settle the issue between them.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DOBBINS: Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Thanks. Let me just very briefly tell you about
the town hall. We've given out some details on what this is. Have
you got enough on that already? Okay.
This town hall, which is being really produced by Univision at
their request but certainly with the encouragement of the White House,
is entitled "Voices of the Future: Face to Face with President
Clinton." The audience participating will be about 300 young leaders
from countries throughout the hemisphere. There are 125 that will be
in the studio audience here in Buenos Aires. They are from a mix of
countries -- Argentina, the United States, Mexico, Chile, El Salvador,
Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Colombia; I believe there are some from
Cuba participating in the audience as well.
The audience was selected, put together by Univision -- people
at the Univision public affairs operation can tell you more how they
selected the audience. There will also be, by a live satellite link-up,
75 young leaders in Miami, 75 in Los Angeles. The age range is roughly
17 to 32.
And we don't have any preconceived notions of what the questions
will be about. The President wants to make a presentation that's very
similar to what he has been arguing to the audiences he's seen here,
but he sees this as a great opportunity in front of a live audience
here and connected to an audience in America to portray in a very
visual way how our country and other countries in this hemisphere
All right, enough on that. The President has today used his
line item veto authority once again to cancel a provision of the 1998
Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act. He has acted to
strike a provision in that bill that was added at the very last minute
which would declare a new open season for federal employees seeking to
shift from the old Civil Service Retirement System to the new Federal
Employees Retirement System that was created by an act of Congress
several years ago.
This provision would have cost an estimated $1.3 billion over
five years because it, in effect, makes more generous some retirement
benefits available to federal workers. He struck specifically
$8 million in the 1998 appropriations. It would have been, as I say,
roughly $1.3 billion over the five-year period. We've got a statement
that provides further detail on that.
Q Who added that provision, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it was -- one of the strong sponsors was
Senator Stevens, if I'm not mistake. I'd like to double-check that,
but I believe that was the case.
The President believes this is an excellent example of why this
authority is important. This is a provision that was not debated by
either the House or the Senate. It was added during the House-Senate
Conference Committee on the appropriations bill, and at that, at the
very last minute. And the President believes one reason Congress gave
him this authority is to protect against those last-minute expenditures
of funds which need to be more carefully considered.
The President's main reason for acting here is this would have
been a considerable cost to federal agencies that have scarce resources
already that need to be devoted to programs. It would have required
those agencies to shift money from higher priority efforts to the
payment of more generous employee benefits for federal workers.
Q -- Senator Moynihan are filing suit, I think today, over the
line item veto of the New York Medicaid funding. Do you have any
comment on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think as you know, last week the
administration explicitly clarified that the state of New York is
not liable for over $1 billion related to regional provider taxes,
which is the underlying issue that provoked the Presidents line item
veto. We have also indicated our support for legislative provisions
that would give the Secretary of Health and Human Services authority
to give up all the current retrospective liabilities of currently
impermissible taxes that are charged by a variety of states.
We are trying to solve, as you know, a problem that existed
for a number of states, not only New York. The President and the
administration believe that the offer extended to New York was very
generous. I think it was almost two-thirds of the liability that
would have been covered by the clarification that we offered. But if
the state, with the support of law-makers, wishes to sue, the United
States government will make whatever proper decisions related to how
to contest that in course.
Q If I can just follow up on that -- does this effectively end
any further negotiations as far as the government is concerned? Would
the administration be willing to continue talking even while the suit
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we, as you know, have been in very close
consultation with the Governor's Office, with other members of the
delegation, and made what we felt was a good-faith effort to resolve
the situation and the clarification extended. But it was summarily
rejected by the Governor. We would always be open to having continuing
conversations if there's a desire by the state and by local officials
to attempt to resolve the matter.
Q And is the line item veto -- how many line item vetoes has he
issued as of this point?
MR. MCCURRY: As of this -- I think we're up to -- this is the
fourth bill upon which he's acted. I think -
Q This is the 55th by my count, Mike.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you, Mr. Knoller, as usual. (Applause.)
There's a trick -- there's a little asterisk on that, though, Mark,
which is that the SR-71 provision that he struck, the funding for that
was actually two separate actions because it was contained two places
in the bill, but it was one project. I'll bet you Knoller did know
Q In your first two spending bills you made the point repeatedly
that what might be worthy projects, it's just a matter of -- is this
the first use against old-fashioned pork?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no. Look, it is not pork to provide good
quality employee benefit coverage to federal workers. That by no
means would the President consider that pork. He highly values the
professional service rendered by employees of the federal government.
But at the same time, we have a generous package of benefits that have
been structured. This would have added to the cost that agencies have;
it would have prevented some of those federal workers from having the
resources to devote to program activity that they carry out. And the
President, on balance, felt it was better to keep priority spending
where it's needed and to specifically cancel out an open season that
was not recommended in our budget, it was not recommended by the Office
of Personnel Management, it was not included in any discussions the
Congress had that I'm aware of.
Q How many people -- would this have affected all federal
MR. MCCURRY: It would have -- the provision could apply to over
800,000 federal civil servants and congressional staff, and over 300,000
postal service workers. These are people currently covered under the
Civil Service Retirement System who are not currently eligible to switch
over to the Federal Employees Retirement System, which covers most
new-hires to the federal work force.
Q It affects $1.1 million people.
MR. MCCURRY: It affects 800,000 federal civil servants and
staff, plus the 300,000 postal service workers.
Q So 1.1 million people are going to suffer as a result of
the President's line item veto?
MR. MCCURRY: -- 1.1 million people will continue to enjoy the
excellent benefits packages that they currently have as a result of
their federal employment; they won't have it added to.
Q Are there any other bills on which the clock is ticking on
MR. MCCURRY: The energy and water appropriations act, the Office
of Management and Budget has been very carefully evaluating that bill.
I believe the deadline for action on line item vetoes is Saturday.
Q Is that the one, Mike, with the certain dredging project down
MR. MCCURRY: That's the one that comes closest to oinking.
Q Did I hear you say that Cuba is participating in this forum?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe so, but we'll find out more about that.
You need to ask the Univision folks, who actually gathered the audience
together. I was given a list, and Cuba is included, but I'm not sure
how many or who.
Q I've got a question on -- the U.S. Maritime Commission
apparently said it's going to seize Japanese ships in the U.S.
because they refuse to pay -
MR. MCCURRY: That probably just broke. I know that federal
Maritime Commission has been meeting. We had asked them to try to
extend the time, because our negotiators are in a discussion with
representatives of the government of Japan on the underlying issue,
the cost of services at ports. We will attempt to understand better
what the decision of the Commission is. The President does have some
authority under law to review actions that are taken by the Commission
of that nature.
Q Do you expect him to override what they've said?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not predicting or speculating at this point.
We need to understand more carefully whatever decision has been reached
by the Commission. When I began this briefing, all I was aware of is
that they were currently meeting and I did not know that they had reached
Q Do you know if the global climate change -- came up today -
MR. MCCURRY: It did come up today. Just from the little I
gleaned from our briefers just talking about the meeting, I know that
President Menem and President Clinton talked about the issue and its
importance. They talked about the importance of coming to a common
understanding as we prepare for the Kyoto conference.
I think you know that the Presidents are going to be together
again on Saturday for a discussion of environmental protection. And I
think it's likely that they will have some more to say on that subject
at that time.
Q The First Lady today made a speech encouraging women to make
their voices heard, press for political change and elect more women
to office. Does this signal a change in her public visibility to -
MR. MCCURRY: I think she's been encouraging women to do that
for most of her adult life.
Q But she talked about subjects which were perhaps touchy in a
country like this, including family planning, and she even mentioned
abortion. It seems that she's taking a slightly higher profile than
she has in the recent past.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that's so. I think that she has,
very often when she's traveled to countries, been quite outspoken and
forthright in the issues that she's raised. I think it's not always
the case that she has as much press traveling with her, but some of
you who have traveled with her on trips know that she has been quite
outspoken on these trips.
Q -- that the President is going to Kyoto?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, I didn't intend to. I said, as we prepare
-- as the administration, collectively, prepares for the discussion in
Kyoto. There's been no decision, no change in our views on that. We
don't know what is to be accomplished at Kyoto and there's been no
decisions made by the United States government as to level of
Q Do you want to comment at all on these videotapes that were
released in Washington?
MR. MCCURRY: That's happened a hemisphere away and we've got
people back there -- you've had plenty of commentary from the White
House by those who are working at the White House on the issue.
We're not working on that in this hemisphere at this time.
Q Can you at least respond to Specter's assertion that one of
the tapes nails the President on the subject of coordinating campaigns?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware what Senator Specter has said;
I haven't followed his remarks.
Q There's a suggestion that on one of the tapes the President
seems to be basking in the fact that some of those -
MR. MCCURRY: Wolf, I haven't seen the tapes, so I can't react.
Okay, anything else?
Q It hadn't actually occurred to me before, but I heard it today
from somebody -- was that however well-intentioned this hemispheric
town meeting is, that it may contribute to a perception in the United
States that all these Latins are more or less an amorphous group, the
fact that different cultures, whether the Cubans or the Mexicans who
are going to be at the Los Angeles meeting -
MR. MCCURRY: I think that when the individual leaders, the young
people who are in the audience have a chance to ask their questions, I
don't think they will look like an amorphous blob at all. I think they
will be seen as interesting, engaged people, leaders of their own
communities who are interested in issues.
And one of the things the President has stressed here are those
things that we share in common with all the governments of this region
-- things like respect for the rule of law, the importance of democratic
institutions, the phenomenal success of market economics as a way to
create growth in this regions. And the enduring values that we share up
and down this hemisphere. And I think that, if anything, as you see a
very diverse audience engaged, you'll see some of the central themes of
this trip underscored, that we have a lot in common with other countries
in this hemisphere and that we need to work together to address our
common goals and objectives.
I think I'm done.
Q I was told yesterday that Steinberg is going to meet with
the press association, the Argentinean press association.
MR. MCCURRY: It was the intent of a couple of our staffers,
I think Mr. Blumenthal, maybe Mr. Steinberg as well, to meet with
representatives of the press here in Argentina, also to follow up
on some concerns that we have had expressed to us by the Committee
to Protect Journalists, which has raised some very serious concerns
about the degree of harassment and intimidation that members of the
media here in Argentina encounter.
You've heard the two previous briefers address that. That subject
did come up with President Menem today. But there is a great deal of
concern about the working conditions that journalists have, and we are
concerned by the concerns that they have raised as to what might be the
motivation of those who are suffering harassment and intimidation.
Q Mike, if I could just follow up on that. Given that there
is concern about journalists being treated here, about whether or
not this investigation of these bombings is being -- why would the
government -- why would our government be giving what seems to be
a boost to the Argentine military, when you share some of these
concerns? I mean, it seems counter.
MR. MCCURRY: Those are separate questions. There has been a
significant and dramatic change in the nature of civilian authority
over the military here in this country, as is abundantly obvious,
I think. But at the same time, our concern about freedom of the
press and the role that a free press plays in a democratic life
is very well-known and causes us to raise our concerns.
I've got to -- maybe take one last question, then I've got to go.
Q -- inconsistency between you and the previous briefers.
I thought when they discussed the matter of press freedom in Latin
America they were sort of saying that this is an issue that cuts across
several nations -- while they may -- but then just as -- just if I can
complete the thought, the fact that Steinberg and Blumenthal are going
to meet with journalists here, and from what you just said, suggests -
MR. MCCURRY: We need to double-check and make sure that that -
Q But that suggests the administration is -- or acknowledges that
the administration is particularly worried about press treatment in
Argentina, that it's particularly worried here.
MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of countries in this region
that have -- in which working journalists have reported these types
of concerns. That problem is not exclusive to the working journalist
community here in Argentina, and it's the reason why, as the previous
briefer suggests, we have suggested there might be within the mechanisms
of the Organization of American States a way to deal with the need to
cultivate and respect the institution of the free press.
Q But is the problem worse here than elsewhere?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to characterize it as being worse -
because there are situations in other countries that, if you talk to
some of your colleagues who do very good work with the Community to
Protect Journalists, they can tell you that there have been isolated
situations that have been more dramatic and more gruesome in other
countries than the reported instances that have occurred here in
END 2:55 P.M. (L)