THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
BY MIKE MCCURRY
Tamanaco Inter-Continental Hotel
5:09 P.M. (L)
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon and welcome to Venezuela. General McCaffrey is right now having a meeting with his counterpart and he will be here to provide part two of the set up briefings that we've given you for tomorrow. Secretary Pena, as you know, already talked to you about the energy aspect of the bilateral meeting that we'll have tonight. And General McCaffrey will talk a little bit about our cooperation with the government of Venezuela on countering narco trafficking.
And I can do whatever you want me to do. Do you want me to do the readout on tonight's bilateral now? Might as well.
Q Are you going to do any kind of readout on it later?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. What we'll do -- at least Jim Steinberg, if not others, will brief the pool. But why don't I tell you a little bit about what we expect to cover in the bilateral meeting, assuming that some of that will be consistent with what is in the readout.
I think, first, the President will take the opportunity to praise President Caldera's life-long support of democratic change here in Venezuela, and take note of the significant progress that has been made toward democratization and economic liberalization during his service.
He will certainly encourage the government of Venezuela stay focused on economic liberalization, on judicial
reform and efforts to support the hemispheric move to free trade here. We are strong supporters of efforts to open markets here in Latin America and a large part of the economic growth that this hemisphere experiences -- North and South -- is because of trade liberalization. That is an important message of this
entire trip, that commerce with these countries, between these countries and with the North is a positive thing for the peoples of this entire hemisphere. And that's a message I think you'll hear the President reinforce.
He certainly will spend some time, as Secretary Pena indicated, talking about ways in which we can promote the use of clean, renewable sources of energy. Venezuela's importance as the number one supplier of oil to the United States is so significant the all aspects of the efforts we're making to cooperate in energy research and development are likely to be a critical part of the conversation tonight.
The President will also talk about the improved counternarcotics cooperation that we've seen with the government of Venezuela. There's really been a turnaround there and a much more aggressive effort to work together to combat drug trafficking. This is -- as I think many of you know, Venezuela is, while it's a significant, although minor, originator of drugs that are in international commerce, its importance as a transit point is where we focus our cooperative efforts on counterdrug trafficking.
And they will probably talk about other regional issues, regional security issues, preview all those things that were on the agenda at the Summit of the Americas in Miami and that are part of the work plan that we are pursuing together with other democratic governments in this region as we think ahead to Santiago in 1998.
Those subjects and more to be covered in tonight's bilateral meeting and to be reported to you live in a briefing to your pool sometime after 8:00 p.m. tonight.
Q Mike, one on domestic matters. Does the White House have any particular reaction to the Attorney General's comments today, particularly where she -- it was in response to a question when she said she might take the investigation as far as interviewing the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the Attorney General indicated she might want to pursue those conversations. Certainly if she did, the President, through his attorney, David Kendall, would respond consistent with the cooperation we've extended to the Justice Department in pursuing the matter.
Q Did the President read the text of what she said this morning, or did he see it?
MR. MCCURRY: He has not. I think he got a very brief synopsis from people back home that watched it relayed as were in route here.
Q So does that mean if she asks for an interview
of the President he would grant it?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it would depend on whether she does. She didn't indicate she would, she said she might. We would certainly consider it, consistent with the cooperation we've extended to her investigation.
Q So you're basically saying this probably would work out if it needs to?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't make and announce a decision that the President and his attorney would likely pursue, but I think I'm giving you some sense of what the spirit of the consideration of the issue would be.
Q It's open to question --
MR. MCCURRY: I think I gave you a pretty clear statement on that.
Q Do you know when the next batch of videotapes is going to be released?
MR. MCCURRY: No, but I think they want to do it swiftly. And I expect that they've been working all weekend long on it and will work on it tomorrow, even though it's a holiday. And we'll see where we are Tuesday when business opens up.
Q Mike, did you see the letter that Secretary Babbitt wrote saying that he had been inaccurate or simply made it up before when he said that Ickes pressured him not to intervene in the Wisconsin casino issue?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't see it, I saw the reporting about it. It looked like the Secretary was trying to make sure the record was correct, and it's important for him to do that.
Q It sounds like he just made it up before, though. Is that of any concern?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you can characterize things like that; I don't.
Q But didn't he admit that, Mike? That's in the reporting. He said that he had just --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the letter speaks for itself.
Q Mike, there are some reports out today that some of the tapes that would be forthcoming this week have the President congratulating John Huang and Charlie Trie for raising so much money.
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't be surprised because it's
the same clip that you all have been playing for months and months now -- if it's the one event I'm thinking of where he clearly did do that and which you have played over and over again for the benefit of the American people.
Q So you don't think there are more private events where he did the same thing?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't looked at all of those, but my guess is, at least in that one instance which you've already aired over and over again, we know of at least that one instance. So it wouldn't be a surprise to me if that same tape that your network pools have was captured by WHCA.
Q That's a tape where he thanks Huang, not Trie.
Q There was a story this morning in The Washington Post that talked about an oil pipeline that went across Northern Iraq. Is that a new pipeline or is that the old one that you were concerned with?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that was a discussion of proposed pipeline routes. I don't believe that pipeline exists at this point. But there have been various proposals on how to produce it or how to augment existing pipeline routes. And you know our position on that -- as the Caspian Field has developed, we believe there should be multiple pipeline routes that make sure that the investment in energy resource and development in that region does not become tied up in some of the regional conflict and instability that exists there -- the reason for multiple pipelines. Our position is there should be multiple pipelines.
Q Some of the media in Brazil are reporting that the President's trip is not necessarily all that welcome to Brazil, that he could get a chilly reception, at least from some quarters. Are you concerned that some of the folks in Brazil aren't all that happy about U.S. policy --
MR. MCCURRY: They have a vibrant democratic debate and they debate relations with the North much the way we in the North debate relations with this hemisphere. So we'll see what kind of reception we get when we get there.
Q What can you say about the book that was given to businessmen that had the reference to endemic corruption that has now been changed?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the State Department has briefed on that and indicated that they're altering the text.
Q Just a general question on the trip. When Bush came down here in '90, thinking there would be attention on the region and his policies and so on, they were surprised to see that
basically he had, as one person said, had disappeared for a week, that nothing was written about policy toward the region. How does the President counter that lack of interest in South America?
MR. MCCURRY: There's not much we can do to instruct all of you what to write, what to report. We're doing some significant work here in a region that has undergone extraordinary change, and the pace of that change has accelerated since 1990. And the importance of this region to the people of the United States has grown because of the economic and political change occurring here in Latin America. And I think a lot of that is probably apparent to people who were on that trip in 1990 and are going to be on this one with the President. Hopefully, some of that will be reflected in the reporting back home. There's already been some --
Q How do you explain the historical apathy toward the region on the part of the American people?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the American people don't often understand how dependent our lives are becoming on the types of changes that are occurring in an increasingly interdependent global economy. And one thing that we are doing on this trip is reminding the American people that when these countries accelerate in the changes that are making a material difference in the quality of life here, it creates opportunities for workers who export goods and services from the United States to countries like these that we are visiting.
Q Clinton is going to meet with members of the opposition and they are going to talk about corruption and lack of security -- what is Clinton going to say? What is going to be the message of Clinton?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, his message in Argentina will be that democratic processes are good and strengthen a democratic people. As you know, in Argentina they are in the midst of a campaign period; there is a very active opposition. President Menem's party will be contesting in bi elections and the elections coming up, I believe, in just over a week . And the fact that there is a vigorous political debate in Argentina is something the President will note and will say is a hallmark of an emerging democracy, which we consider a good thing.
Q Have you seen this open letter that a group of environmentalists have written here in Venezuela to the President urging that the United States cut back in terms of the oil development in this country for ecological reasons as well as the greenhouse effect potential?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not seen that letter specifically, but I'm aware that there is a debate here in Venezuela that mirrors the debate in our own country about the
degree we should enforce steps that would result in binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. That is an area in which there is a considerable dialogue between the government of Venezuela and the United States.
The President, if this subject arises tonight in his bilateral meeting, will stress to President Caldera how important we take the engagement of the developing world in any international regime to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our argument is that all countries have to be a part of the solution. And I think that an economy like Venezuela's that depends largely on export-driven oil exports will, of course, be concerned about what the economic impact would be.
So they have a debate here between those that rely on that fundamental element of their domestic economy and then those, simultaneously, who are concerned about the long-term effect of dependence on carbon-based fuels, what the impact will be on global climate change. It's a healthy debate that is mirrored in the debate that takes place in the United States.
Q -- the current status of the investment and tax figures which were supposed to have been signed on this visit but aren't ready yet?
MR. MCCURRY: They are under active discussion and we certainly will take the opportunity of the President's visit here to encourage the government of Venezuela to make progress in negotiating a bilateral investment and tax treaty.
Q Can you explain why it's better for the United States to be dependent on Venezuelan oil as opposed to Saudi oil?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think it's an either-or, or better, or less better situation. It is a fact and it's an important fact I think most Americans don't know. The Middle East is a region that has endured great conflict. The United States, within just a matter of years, was involved in a major military deployment there. So it is an area that is fraught with some of the questions of regional insecurity that we deal with in that region.
In contrast, Venezuela is here in the southern part of this hemisphere at a time in which there is growing respect for civil institutions, growing respect for military cooperation in the region, and important advances with respect to democracy, human rights. So I think it's significant that we do rely on Venezuelan imports, but the structure of the global oil market is something that not likely is going to diminish the importance of oil reserves that are imported from the Middle East.
Q Is McCaffrey still planning to go to Colombia after this to meet with President Samper?
MR. MCCURRY: General McCaffrey does have some additional stops after we depart on Friday. I believe Colombia is one of them. You may want to ask him. He should be by here in about a half hour or so. But I think he is planning to go to Colombia and he's got at least one or two other stops . He told me; I forget what they are now.
Q Mike, who rode up on the plane with the President today?
MR. MCCURRY: All told, let's see -- the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Energy, members of the congressional delegation that are accompanying us that were introduced at the arrival ceremony. I think most of our senior delegation introduced at the arrival ceremony were on Air Force One.
Q -- business leaders also?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I saw. I'll go back and check the manifest or maybe, Joe, can you check the manifest, too?
Q Does the President expect much protest and in the other countries on his change in policy of lifting the arms embargo?
MR. MCCURRY: There may be discussion of it, but I think that, since we have taken that decision and briefed on it some months ago, most governments in the region understand our policy and understand the criteria we will use on a case-by-case basis to evaluate proposed transactions. And while there has been concern expressed, I think that any concern that would flare up here and make that a major issue of these meetings is probably diminished.
Q Do you know if President Clinton has been to South America as governor or at any other point in his life?
MR. MCCURRY: Kathy, I'll have to check on that. He's -- not that I'm aware of, but I'll go back and ask him. He has not been? Joe says he had to ask him last week, and he said no. Not ever? Not ever. Prior to.
Q -- clear on the readout on --
MR. MCCURRY: McCaffrey will come and tell you about -- he will probably give you a better sense of some of the announcements we will make tomorrow on drug trafficking. And again, we will lay some kind of embargo around that to give you something to work with tomorrow. And if we get any sign that
those embargoes are not holding on the other side of the equation or for whatever reason, we'll consider lifting that if we need to. But I think that we're just trying to preserve that so everyone's got a leader for tomorrow. But he'll be here, and then we'll do something for the pool.
You guys aren't watching the game?
Q We don't get it.
MR. LOCKHART: One and one in the fifth.
MR. MCCURRY: One and one in the fifth. There you go. All right.
Q Will McCaffrey be here about 6:00 p.m.?
MR. MCCURRY: He told me -- his meeting was wrapping up at about 5:30 p.m., and he thought he could probably be here around 6:00 p.m. So we'll get him on as soon as he gets here. And then I guess that's -- one of the reasons, obviously, we're doing these sort of preview briefings tonight is because we're on such a clipped schedule tomorrow to get out. So if you will try to be around at some point -- I guess I'll try to be around, and Joe will be around at some point during the morning tomorrow to deal with anything we need to deal with.
Q -- the remarks for tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: His remarks will set the scene -- appropriately so for Columbus Day, about the important ideas we share. He previewed a little bit of that with the concept of a new world in the arrival statement today. But Columbus Day is celebrated here in Venezuela just like it is in the United States, and I think talking about the extraordinary possibilities that exist as we discover the new reasons to cooperate in the post-Cold War era and looking ahead to the 21st century and defining that and setting the scene for our engagement in this region is what the President would like to address tomorrow, with some specifics about matters that are important with our relationship to Venezuela -- energy being very high among them -- and also respect for democratic institutions and the nurturing and deepening of democratic institutions.
I just made that up, but it sounded pretty good.
Q I won't follow up on that. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: All right, see you later on.