PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
AND JIM STEINBERG
Queen Elizabeth Conference Building
4:30 P.M. (L)
MR. MCCURRY: And just when you thought you had plenty of words to report -- more. There is not a lot that we have to add, but I've asked Jim Steinberg to at least be available if there was substantively -- anything you want to know more about any of the topics covered, he can tell you a little bit about that. And we can give you some sense of the flavor of the discussion, although I think you can pretty well tell from the chemistry that the Prime Minister and the President had during the press conference that it was a very amiable meeting.
And I'll wrap up if there are any other subjects you need.
Mr. Steinberg, welcome.
MR. STEINBERG: Thank you, Mr. McCurry. This is a far more capacious space than the last time I had the pleasure of talking to you all.
Q Do you know how to work --
MR. STEINBERG: We're in England now, we have no --I would just invite you all -- "words, words, words" was McCurry's Shakespearean allusion, and it was very elegant of him to do that.
Q I missed it.
MR. STEINBERG: Words, words, words -- Hamlet. (Laughter.) Okay, let's move right on to something that we all know something about. (Laughter.)
Q Is this McCurry's ghost or something --
MR. STEINBERG: Hamlet to Polonius.
Let me just give you a brief rundown on the topics and then I'll get into your questions. The two began with about a 50- to 60- minute meeting in what our British friends call "four eyes," that is, just the two of them. And the topics were largely focused on the Prime Minister having an opportunity to give the President his view of his job and what he's trying to do in his first months in office. And they had an extensive discussion of the economic issues that you heard a lot about during the press conference.
They then moved from there to a small group discussion, and the two issues in the small group discussion were on Bosnia and Northern Ireland. On Bosnia, the focus was on what they can do together to strengthen the implementation. The President made a strong case for a strong push for renewed efforts between now and 13 months from now when SFOR will leave Bosnia. He laid out for the Prime Minister the action plan that we've been developing and that will be discussed at the ministerial meeting in Portugal this week. And he made a particular emphasis on the need to strengthen the local police forces there. And you heard the President speak about that at the press conference.
They also talked about Northern Ireland and their sense that there was an opportunity to move forward here. The Prime Minister gave a sense that he wanted to see the process move forward, to bring Sinn Fein in if at all possible in the event that there is a cease-fire, and that they would be really trying to use the period in the time ahead to make that move forward.
They went from there to a larger group at lunch where halibut in chive sauce was served, and the focus there was -- I think the main issues had to do with NATO-related issues; in particular, plans for the Madrid Summit and moving forward. There was also a discussion of Britain's approach to the development of the European security identity within NATO.
They had a brief discussion on Iran, in which the President indicated that the United States remained of the view that we needed to see real action from Iran, but that we would be watching the situation very carefully in the months ahead. They had an extensive discussion on Hong Kong and reiterating in both cases their interest in making sure that the transition goes smoothly and that China lives up to its commitments under the 1984 basic agreement.
Prime Minister Blair gave an exposition on his approach to Britain's role in the EU and how it would approach the question of economic and monetary union. It was during the lunch that the President extended his invitation to the Prime Minister to visit the United States on an official visit this year, and the Prime Minister indicated that he wanted to do that. They also had a chance to talk about some personal issues, including children of senior officials, and that was pretty much it.
Q They talked about senior officials' children?
MR. STEINBERG: Their children. How it was like to have children growing up with the head of government and their attempts to make sure that they could have normal, happy, productive lives while still being in the public eye.
Q The President seemed to leave the distinct impression that June 1998 is not a hard date for SFOR to withdraw and that it really depends on how much progress is made in implementation.
MR. STEINBERG: I don't think he left that impression, nor is that his intention. I think the President made clear that our goal is to complete the mission of SFOR by June of 1998, and we're convinced that that can be done if there's a really effective effort. What he was addressing was the fact that there obviously have been a number of political figures who have raised questions about that, and what he is saying is that what we ought to do is focus on getting the job done. If we get the job done, then there won't be any disagreement about that because if we reach the conditions that he thinks can be done, there will be a consensus about the need -- about the appropriateness of pulling those forces out.
So, as he said, what wee ought to not be doing is talking about this hypothetical situation in the future, but the very real need to move forward now on implementation.
Q But it's not a hypothetical situation. Is it the goal of the United States to be out by then, or will, under any conceivable circumstances, the United States absolutely be out by that date?
MR. STEINBERG: It is the intention and the plan of the United States --and it is the SFOR mandate, which ends in June 1998. The mandate ends in 1998, and that's when the SFOR forces will come out.
Q Jim, saying you have no intention and no plan, that sounds sort of like the formulation of the NATO-Russia Charter. That leaves you some wiggle room, doesn't it?
MR. STEINBERG: Well, I think the Russians were pretty happy with that. Let me make clear that we have a mandate for SFOR which ends in June 1998. It is the intention and the plan that they come out. That is the basis on which we're operating; that is the President's intention. What he would like his colleagues to do is to focus with him on creating the conditions so that when we reach that time there will be no question whatsoever that it's the right thing to do.
Q And what if there is a question then? What if you have not achieved the goals that the President has set out for Bosnia?
MR. STEINBERG: I think you can create all kinds of hypotheticals by all kinds of situations. We intend to get this done, and that's the basis on which we're moving forward.
Q Jim, it's not us creating hypotheticals. The President said, we're behind schedule. I mean, those were his words.
MR. STEINBERG: Absolutely. And the President also said that he's convinced that we can get on schedule if we do the things that we need to do, and that the surest way to make sure that we don't get these things done is to focus on an eventuality which the President doesn't intend to have happen, which is to have this fail. So the way to get this done is for everybody to focus on the fact that we've got 13 months to create the conditions that will make it the self-evident decision for all parties that the SFOR mandate has been completed.
Q What do you do, though, besides take this hortatory approach?
MR. STEINBERG: Well, there is quite a lot that we're prepared to do. The President, as he indicated -- we have just completed a very extensive review of Bosnia policy. We have identified a number of initiatives in six areas that ought to be taken. The Secretary of State is in Portugal right now meeting with her colleagues. There will be, as result of this ministerial, I think a common action plan that's developed to move forward on key issues like police security, refugee return, strengthening the joint institutions, making sure that the economic reconstruction generates benefits to real people. And we're convinced that if we can move forward with that, that we will able to create the conditions.
We have never believed that the conditions for SFOR to leave was that all the problems of civilian implementation be resolved; simply that there is sufficient security and sufficient momentum that the process will go forward. And we believe that with the plan that the Secretary of State is going to be discussing, with the new and strengthened team in Bosnia, that we can make that happen.
Q Does the European approach on Iran look a little more credible now? We heard the President; he said the usual about terrorism and all, but he also seemed to be keeping -- opening the door just a bit. What are you going to do about it? Are you going to attempt some sort of dialogue, directly or indirectly? Or are you just going to wait and see what kind of new government might ensue?
MR. STEINBERG: Barry, the President reiterated what has been the policy of the United States, that we are open to a dialogue with Iran, an authoritative dialogue on the issues that are of concern to us; and that if Iran is prepared to address those concerns on terrorism, on the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, on its opposition to the peace process, that we have been willing since the beginning of the administration to engage on those issues.
As the President said, we don't have a quarrel with the Iranian people, but we do have deep concern about those policies. And he both reiterated those concerns to Prime Minister Blair in the meeting and told you about them today.
Q -- intervene between the last --
MR. STEINBERG: Yes, absolutely --
Q -- it's a real thing now. And are you going to seize that opportunity or are you just going to wait for them to
MR. STEINBERG: Well, I think the question is whether they're going to seize the opportunity; that is, that there is a new leader there. Certainly on domestic issues in Iran, that leader has said some interesting things. He said a lot less about foreign policy, and it's a lot less clear about what his role is with respect to foreign policy.
While we certainly have concerns about the internal human rights situation in Iran as well, we very much feel that in order to move forward that they need to prepare to address these things which directly affect the vital security interests of the United States.
Q Does that mean that the United States is going to wait and see what Iran does, as opposed to starting to set something in motion to set up some communications with --
MR. STEINBERG: There are channels that are open and that have been available to the Iranians, should they take to avail themselves of it. As I say, from the beginning of the administration, we have said that we're open to authoritative dialogue. Those channels are available and all they have to do is say, we want to move forward. They know what the topics are; they know what the issues are. Up till now, they have declined to avail themselves of that.
Q Could you just explain how this meeting came to pass today? Was it -- I was hearing over there that it was Mr. Clinton who wanted to come see Mr. Blair on his way through Europe. Is that true?
MR. STEINBERG: Yes, I think that's a fair statement. I think that he felt that there was an opportunity to take advantage of the fact that we were making this trip which had obviously previously been scheduled, in connection first with the 50th anniversary, and then, as we succeeded in getting the NATO-Russia agreement, adding the event in Paris, to have this discussion.
He knew he was going to see the Prime Minister during this trip and thought, rather than have a kind of quick bilateral on the margins of one of these meetings, that we really ought to take advantage of this. The United States and the U.K. are two very close partners, and I think the President felt that there's nothing more important to the United States than getting this off to a fast and constructive relationship. And the meetings today really reflected that.
Q It seems like they obviously had good chemistry, but is there any practical effect -- these two men seeming to enjoy their company on issues that come up between the two governments? And secondly, are there any concerns that Prime Minister Blair's statement about a generation of leaders might come off as arrogant to other people around the world?
MR. STEINBERG: With respect to the first, I think that at the core of the relationship between the United States and the U.K. is sort of the commonality of interests and values, and that remains constant regardless of who is the head of government. And the President made clear in his remarks today that we had a very productive and extraordinarily good working relationship with Prime Minister Major.
At the same time, there's no harm in having a good personal relationship as well as a good commonality of interests. And I think one of the things that we've seen over the last three days is that the President's close relationship with a broad range of European leaders really gives him an ability to move forward on our common agenda with these leaders. And you saw it with Chancellor Kohl and President Chirac. And so, I think that, regardless of the age or generation of the leader, that the President's own engagement on these issues and the chance that he's had over the past now four and half years to work with them is clearly an asset. And I'm sure he wants to get that same kind of basis for moving forward with Prime Minister Blair.
Q And about the generation statement --
MR. STEINBERG: I think that, as I said -- I think what he sort of suggested was that generation is sort of in the mind rather than the chronological age. He talked about Wim Kok and how he saw him as a leader who was taking his country and Europe into a right direction. I think what was interesting about the illustrative list that President mentioned is that it had older and younger, from different parties. But I think it's more a shared set of objectives about trying to make government work for their people, about trying to make the world a safer and more prosperous place. And I think it's that perspective rather than age or party that really is what he was talking about.
Q Jim, going back to Bosnia for a moment, the President specifically mentioned shortcomings on refugee return effort and on economic problems that linger there, and that's where the impression comes that he's using those specific areas as a reason -- that's not yet building a case, but is using them as a reason to continue the presence there longer than mid-1998.
MR. STEINBERG: I would draw the exact opposite conclusion, which is, what he is doing -- by drawing attention to these things, he is trying to generate momentum and support for taking what he called the hard choices that are necessary to get the job done -- that these are tough issues; that they are going to take a real determination both by the parties and the international community; and that if we don't call attention to them, if you didn't start talking about them, then we would not get the kind of success and momentum that we need.
And I think it's precisely why, both in terms of the action plan we're developing and the very clear public discussion that the President is trying to stimulate and the Secretary of State is trying to stimulate, is to make clear that these are real issues and that they won't get solved by themselves.
Q At what point between now and that deadline of the middle of next year is the moment of truth on these two issues and the others that are going to decide whether the troops do come out?
MR. STEINBERG: I don't think there's -- there's not a decision about whether the troops will come out or won't. The mandate will end in June of 1998. What we want to do is maximize what we get done between now and then.
Q Did the British kind of push for a more open-ended commitment?
MR. STEINBERG: There was not a particular push in these discussions. There have been a variety of discussions about this issue. But I think their focus mostly on this -- was a concern that the conditions not lead to a problem in June of 1998, but what they both agreed on was that rather than talking about the what-ifs, that they should do about what-now, and that that what-now is to get the implementation job done.
Q Back to the personal relationship for a second. The question on the effect that personal warmth has on the agenda today, that while NATO and Northern Ireland were certainly discussed, there was a suggestion in the British press that because of the interests of these two men and what they share, that you had much more interest in domestic matters, job creation, education, and so on than has ever been the case in a U.S.-British meeting of this type.
MR. STEINBERG: I can't compare it to any other U.S.-British meetings. I think that it is true that if you look at the agenda, for example, of the Denver Summit, that the issues that leaders deal with are not just sort of classical foreign policy issues. I mean, we have an interest in these issues -- the United States hosted an employment-related meeting in Detroit a couple of years ago that came out of the -- what was then the G-7 process. So the economic -- the linkage between domestic and international, as the President always says is really a very blurred one, and the line is largely erased.
To talk about -- he talked about growth in Britain not only benefits the British people, it benefits the American people. And so, the way in which the leaders, particularly the leaders of the industrialized countries, work together -- they're working together -- for example, at the Denver Summit, they're going to be talking about the impact of aging on their societies. So it's more and more common to see in these discussions these kinds of issues be part of the discussion. And I think that that was what they were trying to get at -- particularly the positive coincidence of the fact that we will be chairing the meeting this year and then the summit will be in Birmingham next year. So there was a sense that they could kind of talk about continuity between the two.
Q To follow up on that, you just said what used to be the G-7 process. Prime Minister Blair twice called it the G-8. In Helsinki, we were told, it's not a G-8, that it's still the G-7, but some -- is it now officially the G-8?
MR. STEINBERG: It is the Summit of the 8. And those are exactly the words that President Clinton used in Helsinki.
Q So it's not the G-8?
MR. STEINBERG: It's the Summit of the 8.
Q Back to the relationship for a moment. When was the last time these two countries had leaders of such similar minds? And is the Reagan-Thatcher model an important parallel?
MR. STEINBERG: We all have an historian deep buried inside of us, but I think I'll just pass on that question.
Q Can either of you give us more of a sense of a personal interaction between the two men during the two meetings?
MR. STEINBERG: I think it was -- there was a very engaged discussion. I think they had a sense of a lot of common interests and common challenges and really looking forward to working together on dealing with them. There was just a real sense of back and forth, and, yes, we've got this, let's try to see what we can do together on that.
MR. MCCURRY: One measure of the comfort that the two of them had with each other is that they kicked everyone else out the minute they got together, and talked --
MR. STEINBERG: For almost an hour.
MR. MCCURRY: For almost an hour, just the two of them. That was not in the original plan, no. And there was a great deal of bantering back and forth and, as Jim suggested, the mixture of both the personal and the policy-related in the discussion.
Q What are they doing tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's plans for the afternoon are still unclear. He wanted to go back to the Ambassador's Residence and gather up the First Lady, and they planned to maybe go out and do some OTR-type things. Tonight, if I understand from the Prime Minister's troop correctly, they are going to go and quaff a pint at a pub and then go to a nearby restaurant for dinner.
Q Just the four of them?
MR. MCCURRY: Just the four, and then there will probably be umpteen hangers-on nearby.
Q How well do the two leaders, for all the commonalities, how well do they actually know each other? How much of this is getting acquainted, or do they really already have a strong working relationship?
MR. MCCURRY: One of Blair's aides told me that he was delighted to see that the President clearly had read things like the new Labor Party program. The President had, according to this aide, clearly read parts of the Queen's speech, although I'm ont absolutely certain that that's true. But the President follows international politics closely, and I think he's followed the presentation of the new Labor government's program to Parliament.
Q (Inaudible) --
MR. MCCURRY: They did not -- not that I'm aware of, no. They have met, of course, twice before, here in London and back at the Oval Office, and had very energetic exchanges each time they met, so I think they've already had some sense of each other. But this was a much broader and deeper stock-taking of each of the other.
Q But do you know what they were talking about during the Paris signing, when they had that animated conversation?
MR. MCCURRY: I know at least in part that they had a discussion about where they were going to go to dinner tonight, what kind of cuisine they might dine upon tonight.
Q -- what to wear?
MR. MCCURRY: No, there's a great anecdote, that somehow or other, the way officious advance people often are, it was suggested that the Clintons were interested in having an Indian meal this evening, and the Prime Minister apparently at one point reported to the President, well, we found this great place that's going to be exactly right, it will be wonderful. And the President, of course, said, where did you get the idea I wanted Indian food? So I gather they're not going to an Indian restaurant.
MR. STEINBERG: That's not a comment on our foreign policy or relationship with India --
MR. MCCURRY: That is not a comment on our policy towards Southwest -- South Asia.
Q I'd like to follow up a little bit on the give-and-take and new generational politics. Could you give us an example of the type of domestic policies that these two could share? I mean, the Prime Minister mentioned welfare and education. What can the United States --
MR. MCCURRY: I tell you, we must not have gotten the press conference transcript done, because it's loaded up with those observations. One of the quintessential challenges in both of these industrial societies is maintaining labor productivity in the face of the shortage of time that workers feel as they try to balance out the needs of family life with work life and how you create that right now. The President talked very eloquent about that. That is something that certainly has generational aspects.
Now, one thing -- I'll part company a little bit with Jim -- remember, the Prime Minister has just come through an election period in which he made a generational argument in front of his electorate quite forcefully. President Clinton, as he ran for reelection, chose not to make that argument or cast it in that way, and there is somewhat of a difference there. It was interesting to hear some resonance of the difference in the way our two political cultures deal with those questions, because President Clinton as he sought reelection tried to make a broader argument about the community that he sees and the future he sees
for America. Not that we take any deep issue with the way Tony Blair presented that argument, but the President expanded it a bit and said he did not see it as a matter of chronological age.
Q Bosnia one more time. When you say that the mandate then is in the summer of 1998, do you mean to say by that we cannot keep the troops there even if we wanted to keep the troops there? We weren't intending to keep the troops --
MR. MCCURRY: As a technical matter, the North Atlantic Council would not have authorized any mission to be in Bosnia at that point. There would be --
Q So you have to have a reauthorization --
MR. MCCURRY: I think you'd have to have some action by the North Atlantic Council if they were to remain, but we are choosing to put the focus not on that question but on what we do to successfully complete the mission that they've been assigned, which we believe will end June 1998.
Q Mike, will the President go to Texas to look at the devastation?
MR. MCCURRY: On Texas, let me just, for you and your colleague there, the President got an update from Washington this morning. He's obviously been very moved by the tragic loss of life and some of what the families there are going through. He wanted to make sure that every step the federal government needed to take is being taken. He was assured by folks back in Washington that James Lee Witt has been in very contact with State of Texas officials. They are currently assessing the tornado damage, which, while it was quite tragic, was thankfully very isolated.
It was a very powerful storm that created an enormous amount of damage, but in a very concentrated area. So the state is now assessing what the economic and damages beyond the obvious tragic loss of life, and the state will then have to make determinations on its own about what they seek in terms of assistance. We're following that very carefully. There hasn't been any decision made by the President or the Vice President to travel to Texas.
Any other subjects?
Q What are you going to do tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to gaggle tomorrow. I'll be around. The President has got a down day tomorrow. Check in late morning on the question of briefing. I'll probably go out and brief early afternoon. But I don't see any need for a gaggle in the morning because we don't have any real schedule or anything tomorrow. Is that okay with everyone? Since you get back not much before the gaggle time, anyhow.
All right. Enjoy the rest of your evening. Take some time off. We'll probably -- this is -- I'm sure, as most social occasions are with President Clinton, there will be some substantive quality to the discussion he has with the Blairs tonight, but I think it will be more of a personal nature. We don't plan any extensive briefing on it, although we'll try to provide updates to the pool traveling with the President this evening on any interesting aspect of their social program. But we're not guaranteeing any exhaustive readout, just beyond little tidbits from dinner.
Q Mike, I may not have heard everything the President said. When he spoke of all of the problems with implementation, did he refer to the war crimes problem? I don't think he did. The question being, does he share -- I know you can say yes easily -- but does he share Albright's emphasis on economic and other things?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. Jim -- the President did not list amongst his list of things that he was concerned about with Dayton implementation war crimes, but within the action plan that we're developing and with the review the President has conducted based on the advice from his foreign policy advisors, certainly a more effective effort to fulfill the Dayton Accords with respect to war crimes is very much warranted along the lines that Secretary Albright has suggested in the speech she just made at The Hague yesterday.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
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