THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||May 6, 1998|
PRESS CONFERENCE OF THE PRESIDENT
AND PRIME MINISTER PRODI OF ITALY
Room 4501:50 P.M. EDT
Old Executive OfficeBuilding
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Please be seated. Ihave very much enjoyed having this opportunity to welcome the PrimeMinister to Washington again. For more than 50 years Italy has beenamong our closest allies. Today we charted a course to strengthenour cooperation for the next 50 years.
We discussed our common efforts to build an undividedEurope at peace. We welcomed the Senate's recent vote on NATOenlargement and hope the Italian Parliament will also act favorablysoon.
I thanked the Prime Minister for Italy's contributionsin Bosnia, and more recently in Albania, where Italian troops playeda critical role in bringing an end to violent unrest. We alsodiscussed our deep concern over the situation in Kosovo. The absenceof genuine dialogue there is fueling a conflict that could threatenregional stability. We're working urgently to establishunconditional talks that can avert escalating violence. But we mustand will be ready to substantially turn up the pressure on Belgradeshould it keep blocking the search for a political solution, orrevert to indiscriminate force.
I congratulated Prime Minister Prodi on the historicstep Italy and other EU members took this past weekend on theEuropean Monetary Union. I admire the way he has led Italy on a pathof fiscal responsibility and genuine recovery. I'm confident that astrong Europe with open markets and healthy growth is good forAmerica and good for the world.
We discussed new ideas to reduce the remaining barriersto trade and boost prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic. I'mpleased that we've agreed to begin the next round of talks on an openskies agreement, with the goal of concluding an agreement as soon aspossible to bring greater choice and better service to our touristand business travelers alike.
We're also looking forward to the G-8 Summit inBirmingham, where we'll take the next steps in preparing our nationsfor both the opportunities and the challenges of the future.
As for the challenges, from terrorism to drugtrafficking, from international crime to environmental damage,threats that disregard national borders demand internationalresponses. Italy has been at the forefront of international effortsto fight crime. It has led in getting the G-8 to join forces incombatting crime rings that smuggled illegal immigrants for sweatshoplabor and for prostitution.
This will build on the work America and Italy have beguntogether to fight the horrendous international crime of traffickingin women and children. Victims are lured with promises of jobs,opportunity, and hope, too often to find themselves instead inconditions of virtual slavery and actual physical danger.
In Birmingham we'll announce a new joint action plan tocrack down on crime rings that smuggle immigrants, bring theperpetrators to justice, and protect the lives of innocent victims.This is not only about public safety, it is about basic human rights.
The partnership between our two nations is far-reaching.Our extensive collaboration in science, technology, and spaceexploration makes that clear. But the friendship is anchored inbasic values at the core of both our societies -- liberty, tolerance,love of family, devotion to community and country.
In closing, let me note that this is the 50th year ofthe Fulbright Program between the United States and Italy, a programthat has given generations of our young people the chance to livewith and learn from one another. As we celebrate all the ties thatbind us, we are looking ahead to the next 50 years, to an evenstronger and more vibrant partnership which will shape a brighterfuture for all our people.
Mr. Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER PRODI: Thank you. Very few comments toadd to your speech.
I enjoyed so much to exchange our views in what I cancall the magic moment of American-Italian relations. We have nopoint of disagreement. We have -- our goal is only to build up astronger relation and to bring them into the future.
In a moment that is very favorable that we did in thelast weekend, we concluded one of the most important achievements,never seen in world history, to put 11 different currencies together.And this will bring, I'm sure -- this is my firm opinion -- a newperiod of strong growth, very similar to the period that you did inyour country, President. And it's very rare to see eight years ofcontinuous growth without inflation, with decreasing unemployment, asyou did in your country. And to think that the Euro may give us thesame possibility for Europe. But Europe needs a renewed set ofrelations between Europe and the United States because the new eventneed a new organization of our relations.
So I am very favorable to the proposal of transatlantic-- new set of economic and political relations. To this new set, weshall start to work immediately and with a realistic program and witha long-range view.
Second, we analyzed our bilateral relations, and thiswas the easiest chapter because there are no fundamental problems ofdissent. But we also analyzed the hot point of the regionaldifficulties in the Balkan and Mediterranean area. In this, we havenot only to act together, but to have the continuous fine-tuning ofour action. Kosovo is a source of worry for us. But Bosnia is stillthere, with all the problems, and with these long-term solutionsthat, briefly, you have indicated that we are executing together.
But another point that we analyzed is the Mediterraneanarea -- not only the Middle East, that is, of course, theobject of our attention, but the pivotal problem of Turkey, theGreece-Turkish relation, Cyprus and all of that. In the end, theenlargement of the European Union to the East and the consequencethat this enlargement will bring in world politics.
This has been the agenda. And I'm so happy that wecould discuss this not only in deed, but with a strong, strong commoncommitment.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Terry, would you like to go first? We will alternate --I will call on an American journalist; the Prime Minister will callon an Italian journalist. We'll just go back and forth.
Q Mr. President, while the matter remains under seal,lawyers familiar with the case say that a federal judge has deniedyour assertion of executive privilege in the Monica Lewinskyinvestigation. Do you intend to appeal that decision? And what'sthe difference between your case and Richard Nixon's effort to stopthe Watergate investigation?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, as you pointed out,the matter is still under seal. And as I've said in all these cases,at least one party in every case should follow the judge's orders,preferably -- it's better if both do. So I can't comment on it. Butlet me remind you, I have asked for the release of the briefs and thepleadings in the case so that you and the American people canevaluate my position and any differences that exist between thatwhich we have asserted in previous assertions of executive privilege.I would also remind you that the facts are quite different in thiscase.
Q How so, sir?
Q Mr. President, would you consider the four Europeancountries part of the G-7 as the more natural counterpart to theU.S., even more so now that there is a European central bank -- not acentral political authority in Europe? And do you subscribe to thework of President Prodi for the launching of a new transatlanticnegotiation for a new marketplace?
And for Mr. Prodi, the French President was resisting atransatlantic negotiation. Will you take a leadership with thatagainst his position?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the answer to your second questionto me, would I support the launching of new negotiations to broadenour partnership, the answer to that is yes.
I think the proper answer to your first question is thatfrom the day I took office, I have supported increasing unity withinEurope and any specific step that the Europeans might decide forthemselves to take, including a common currency. And what I want isa strong, united Europe that is our partner in dealing with thechallenges and in seizing the opportunities of the 21st centuryworld. That's what I look forward to. I think that is one of thelegacies I would like to leave when I leave office in 2001. So, forme, this is a positive step, these things which are happening now.
Q I'm sorry, on the G-7, Mr. President, I mean, thereis no counterpart to the central bank --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, on the G-7 we all -- in the G-7,we operate by consensus, so it's not like -- we do everythingtogether anyway.
PRIME MINISTER PRODI: On my side, it's true that theFrench oppose it at the present time, the negotiation. But theydidn't oppose the general idea. They opposed the specific proposaland we decided to go on. We decided that we must make a veryconcrete, step-by-step approach. We have a lot of things that we candeal with unanimity now, but we have decided that this is one of themost important issues -- not because of Far East crisis, but becauseof the future of humanity. We think that the relations betweenEurope and the United States are still the foundation of the worldpeace. This is what we told, and so we will have to accompany themwith increasing economic and political relations.
From the point of view of the transatlantic negotiation,we shall find concrete steps to start immediately for thenegotiation. I can't take the initiative alone, because I am part ofthe European Union, but I am happy to start this type of pressure inorder to convince all my colleagues to have a quick starting of thisnegotiation.
I want to express also my gratitude -- I already havedone in another interview -- to President Clinton, to the Americanpeople, for the attitude they had during this process of monetaryunion. It's completely infrequent to be so clear, so transparent,not to put any obstacle, any suspicion in this -- such a big change-- it will be a change also for American policy. This is enormouschange in the world economy. And this is, I think, the real meaningof what is a long-term friendship.
THE PRESIDENT: Lori.
Q Sir. Israel's Prime Minister says he won't acceptU.S. dictates in the Middle East peace process. What will you do ifIsrael rebuffs the U.S. proposal for a 13 percent withdrawal?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't believe Israel or anyother country should accept the dictates of the United States in apeace process. We cannot, and we should not attempt to impose apeace on parties because they have to live with the consequences.What we have tried to do for a good year now is to listen to bothparties, look at the situation on the ground, understand theirrespective concerns, and come forward with a set of ideas that webelieve are most likely to get the parties to final status talks.
Keep in mind, they're supposed to finish these talks ayear from this month, by their own agreement. Now, the ideas weput forth, as Secretary Albright said, were accepted in principle byMr. Arafat. The Prime Minister said he was unable to do so, but heasked that he be permitted to go home -- not permitted, but that hebe given time to go home -- and talk through with his Cabinet whatmight be an acceptable position, bring it back to us and see if wecould bring the parties together. That is what we are trying to do.
And keep in mind what we are trying to do. We are nottalking about here a final settlement of all the outstanding issuesbetween Israel and the Palestinians. We are talking about asettlement of sufficient number of issues that will permit them toget into the final status talks within the framework embodied by theagreement signed here in September of '93.
And the first person to advocate a more rapid movementto the final status was Prime Minister Netanyahu. I have tried tofind a way actually to do what he suggested. He said, the facts havechanged, the government is different, things are different than theyused to be; let's go on and go to final status talks and try toresolve all this at once in a package.
I thought it made a lot of sense at the time, and I havedone my best for a year now to find the formula that would unlock thedifferences between them to get them into those final status talks.That's all I'm trying to do. There's no way in the world I couldimpose an agreement on them or dictate their security to them, evenif I wished to do that, which I don't, because when the agreement isover, whether it's in the Middle East or Ireland or Bosnia oranyplace else, they have to live with the consequences.
Q What do you -- (inaudible.)
THE PRESIDENT: What I expect to do -- first of all, weare working -- let's wait and see what, if anything, Prime MinisterNetanyahu come back with. Let's wait and see, and then see where weare. I hope very much -- I would like very much if we could get theparties together so they could get into the final status talks. I dobelieve if they could get over this hurdle, if they could demonstrategood faith to one another, and then they got in the final statustalks, and everything were on the table, all the outstanding pieces,then I think that give-and-take would be more likely to produce afinal agreement.
So I'm very anxious to get them over this hill so theycan get into discussing the final arrangements. That's one thing Ithought Prime Minister Netanyahu was right about, but I hope thatboth sides will help us get there. That's what we're trying to do.
Q President Clinton, you have been praising Italy asa faithful ally of the United States. Now Italy is also a majorcontributor of the United Nations. Do you think that your governmentwould support a reform of the U.N. Security Council which would giveItaly a bigger role?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we would support an expansion ofthe Security Council with the membership still to be determined. Idon't think we can dictate it all. And we would support otherefforts to give Italy a larger role, generally. First of all, let mesay that as long as I have been President, for five years, theItalians have been as forthcoming as any country in being willing tomake contributions to solving our common problems, whether it's inBosnia or the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or now inAlbania, where you took the initiative. And all we had to do, if youwill, was to sit on the sidelines and cheer you on and try to besupportive.
Then, in the government of Prime Minister Prodi, we seea remarkable strength and cohesion and singularity of purpose, whichhas led to a marked improvement in your economic situation, earlyentry into the European Monetary Union. So I think the prospects forgreater roles of leadership for Italy in many, many different forumsare quite good. And I would support that. I think that Italy canjustifiably say, we should be a part of more and more of thesedecision-making bodies because we're making a bigger contribution.And in general, I think that's a positive thing.
Q Mr. President, there are reports today that theUnited States has cut the level -- cut its aircraft carriers in theGulf from two to one. What does that say about the level of threatin the region and the state of U.S. relations with Iraq? And whatcan you say about reports that morale among U.S. troops there is atan all-time low?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we have sent -- the Eisenhower issailing on schedule, as you probably know. And there have been somespeculation about the timetable there, but I can tell you that I havenot -- Secretary Cohen has not recommended a final decision to me onthis and I have certainly not made one, and we've done our best tokeep all of our options open.
The main thing I want to reaffirm is our determinationto see the United Nations resolutions complied with and theinspection regime continue until it finishes its work. But no finaldecision has been made on that yet.
Q And the morale issue, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I can't really comment on that. I thinkyou should talk to Secretary Cohen about that to see if he agreeswith the assessment of it.
But one of the things that we recognize is that as weask more and more and more of our men and women in uniform, and theyhave longer deployments, we're going to have to work harder to makesure they get adequate support and their families back home getadequate support in order to keep morale high. I can't comment onthe specific assertion because I'm not sure that it's so. But I amsure that our men and women in uniform, because we have so manyresponsibilities in so many parts of the globe, are called upon to doquite a lot and be away from home base for extended periods of time.And that puts a bigger responsibility on those of us who make thesedecisions, beginning with me, to do everything we can to give themthe support they need and to make sure they're families are takencare of.
Q Prime Minister Prodi, are you satisfied with theway the American authorities are dealing with the accident in theItalian Alps?
PRIME MINISTER PRODI: Since the first moment when Icalled personally President Clinton, I found a very warm and promptresponse to the problem. And I have to thank Ambassador Foglietta,who is here, who -- he understood immediately how big was our sorrow,how deep was our regret. And the following evolution of the problem,they've always kept with a daily communication between the Americangovernment and the Italian authorities. So I am waiting for thefuture development of the case, but I've seen a deep involvement ofthe American political authorities.
THE PRESIDENT: I'd like to just make a brief commentabout that. This was a horrible human tragedy. I can't evendescribe how I felt the first moment I heard about it, and --
PRIME MINISTER PRODI: I do remember your call.
THE PRESIDENT: My regret is profound. Since that time,we have done everything we could both to cooperate with the Italiangovernment in the investigation into the case, and to handle thedisposition of the charges, as well as the treatment of the familiesof the victims in accordance with the agreements signed between ourtwo countries, and to be as faithful to it as we could. And we willcontinue to do that.
I regret terribly what happened. And I cannot bringback the people who perished, but I will do my best to make sure thatwe behave in a completely honorable way and a way that is completelyconsistent with the commitments we have made.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I wanted to ask youabout Cuba for a moment.
THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead.
Q Your former Atlantic Commander, Jack Sheehan, cameback from a visit to Cuba -- he spent a week there, spent eight hourswith Fidel Castro, and returned seeing an opportunities for somerapprochement with Castro. I wonder if you're now willing toundertake some steps to ease the embargo or take additional steps toprovide humanitarian relief in Cuba, and secondly, whether you'rewilling to undertake any steps to dismantle or ease the defenseperimeter around Guantanamo Bay as a symbolic gesture toward Cuba atthis moment.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the Pope's visit to Cuba, which Ihope would send the right signal to the Cuban people -- in the hopesthat it would help to support a move toward a civil society there.As you know, what further steps I could take are clearlycircumscribed by the passage of the Helms-Burton Act. Andfurthermore, there have been mixed signals coming out of the actionsof the government in Cuba since then about whether they really wishto have a rapprochement that is more than government to governmentand maybe trade to trade, but also includes what our real concern is.
Our real concern is for the people of Cuba: can we movethe society toward freedom and human rights and a democratic system.These things don't have to be done overnight, but then again, theyhave to be done. There has to be some clear signal.
I understand the desire of the Cuban government to keepits health care system, to keep its commitment to universal literacyto even its poorest citizens. That's a commendable and laudablething. But I do not accept, nor can I ever accept, some of theanti-democratic and, frankly, clearly anti-human rights policies ofthe government. So we have to have some basis for doing more,especially given the constrictions of the law. Now, nothing wouldmake me happier than to see some basis for doing more. I think allAmericans would like to be reconciled with Cuba because of our tiesof blood in this country and because of its proximity to us.
Q Mr. President, you have spoken of the common valuesthat unify our two countries, but there is one big issue that isopening an ever-widening gap between the two countries, and it has alot to do with values, and it is the issue of the death penalty. AndI was wondering, because this issue is seen with tremendoussensitivity in our country, if you could give us a sense of what yourpersonal feelings are on this issue. And I hope Mr. Prodi might wantto add his own comment.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I do not believethat our different views on the death penalty drive a wedge betweenour two countries, since that is a matter of, essentially, domesticnot foreign policy, and since in our country, criminal defendants aregiven extensive procedural protections to avoid abuse, as well asextensive rights of appeal.
I support capital punishment under certaincircumstances. The law in our country is that for most casesinvolving murder, it is up to the states of our republic to decidewhether to have the death penalty. Some states do have the deathpenalty, and some states don't. It is a question of state law.There are a few crimes on the federal books for which capitalpunishment can occur. But it's, by and large, most of the cases, thegreat majority of the cases are matters of local law, state law, inour country. And unless the Supreme Court were to reach a contrarydecision and invalidate all death penalty laws, which it hasexplicitly refused to do, under our Constitution it would remain thatway.
PRIME MINISTER PRODI: From my point of view, I belongto a country which the death penalty has been abolished since a longtime. It is in the roots of our tradition, of our values, of oursociety, not to have it, and I stick on it.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. Prime Minister, Mr.President. Mr. President, since your last news conference, Ken Starrhas indicted Webster Hubbell and Susan McDougal once again. And asthe same time Congressman Dan Burton has released all these prisontapes involving Webster Hubbell and his wife and his lawyer andothers. I wonder how you would assess all of this in light of theproblems that you and your supporters are facing as thisinvestigation into the Monica Lewinsky matter continues to escalateand perhaps reach some sort of conclusion sooner rather than later.Obviously your thoughts on all of this would be interesting to all ofus. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it was clearly a violationof privacy of Mr. and Mrs. Hubbell for the tapes to be released. And
I think virtually everyone in America now recognizes it was wrong torelease selected portions of the tapes, apparently to create a falseimpression of what the whole record indicated.
On the other matters you mentioned, the parties havespoken for themselves about what they think was behind it, and Ican't really add anything to that.
Q Mr. President, did you discuss the eventuality tosend troops to Kosovo?
And to Mr. Prodi, is our country available to sendtroops to Kosovo?
THE PRESIDENT: I suppose the literally accurate answerto your question is we did not discuss that. But I have made itclear, and I believe we have made it clear between us, that, at leastfrom my point of view, no option should be ruled out. We do not wantanother Bosnia in Kosovo. Too many people have died there already inindiscriminate violence. And of course, it happened very quickly.Neither, however, do we want to get in the position where Italy hasto send troops to every one of its neighboring countries, and theUnited States has to send troops every time there's a dispute in thatpart of the world.
But I don't think we can rule out any option, because wedon't want another Bosnia to happen and we don't want -- both interms of the human loss of life or in terms of the regionalinstability. So I wouldn't rule out any option. But I think themost important thing is to keep the carrots and the sticks we have onthe table, and for a genuine dialogue to occur.
Look, this is not -- we have a saying in Americasometimes, this is not rocket science -- you've got a part of Serbiawhich is 90 percent Albanian, and they want some kind of autonomy andto have their legitimate concerns addressed. The Serbs don't want togive up a big part of their country, which they believe -- and islegally part of their country. So they obviously need to sit downand talk through how the legitimate aspirations of the KosovoAlbanians can somehow be manifest in giving them some measure ofself-government and decision-making authority over their lives withinthe framework of Serbia. There are 50 different ways this could beworked out in a humane, legitimate way. They do not have to killeach other to get this done, and they should not do that.
PRIME MINISTER PRODI: I completely agree, but probablythe question was not put in the right way. The problem is not tosend troops in the general way, but there is the problem of how toprotect the border in order to avoid in the short-term the problem ofsmuggling weapons from one side to the other one. Even this optionis dangerous, because in some ways, whenever you send troops, yousend hostages, potential hostages, to the situation.
But as President Clinton -- we didn't rule out anysolution. We are just making an effort to arrive to a peacefulsolution, and also we had a long conversation concerning thepossibility of helping the civilian recovery of Kosovo in thisdifficult situation, in which Kosovo has been abandoned in some ways.But, of course, you can't rule out anything now.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all.