THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Immediate Release October 24, 2000
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:27 P.M. EDT
MR. SIEWERT: I have one introduction and then I'll take your
questions. One introduction, and I guess I'll give you one update.
We have a new National Security Council press spokesperson, Mary Ellen
Countryman, who is right here, a veteran of the embassies in Tokyo and
Milan -- I don't know how you get good assignments like that, but you must
be talented -- and also a veteran of the television news business. She
worked at Fuji TV, for those of you in the back there. So we're excited to
have her here, and she'll be helping out P.J. and Mr. Cruise.
Just a quick update on an issue that I got asked a little bit about
yesterday, which was these so-called "cookies," which a GAO report had
talked about. We've been in touch with the agencies that were mentioned in
that report. There were nine that had a problem, a specific problem. Six
of them are correcting the problem right now, and four have already done
so. We're going to keep working with the other agencies to ensure that
they are in compliance with our directive on this privacy matter.
The ones that do not have notice are all in the process of removing
them; the ones that do have notice, we're still working with them to make
sure that the notice complies with the directive itself. That's it.
Q Jake, what can you tell us about the President's meeting today on
the Middle East?
MR. SIEWERT: The President met with -- is meeting, is in the process
of meeting with his advisers. As you know, the National Security Council
principals meet from time to time to discuss issues of concern, and they
met this morning on the Mideast and they're meeting with the President now
to give him an update on the situation. As you know, he attended several
meetings in the last couple of weeks with those principals.
Q Does that cover the peace process and the Yemen bombing, or just
the peace process?
MR. SIEWERT: The meeting was focused on the Mideast peace process,
involved the people from State, like Dennis Ross and others who have been
integrally involved in the Sharm el-Sheikh summit.
Q Is this a decision-making meeting, or just --
MR. SIEWERT: I think it's meant to provide the President with an
update. Obviously, the President's been in touch with a number of the
parties in the last couple of days. He spoke to Prime Minister Barak and
Chairman Arafat over the last three or four days, and this is meant to give
him an assessment of where we are in the wake of the Arab summit, where we
are in the wake of Sharm el-Sheikh and assess where we go from here.
Q Based on what the President has seen happen in the Middle East
over the past week, since it was a week ago today that he brokered this
agreement at Sharm el-Sheikh, does he think that Sharm el-Sheikh has now
proven to be a waste of time?
MR. SIEWERT: No, we think that Sharm el Sheikh, the agreements that
were reached there, particularly on security, offer the best prospects for
restoring calm in the region, and that implementing those steps is still
the best way to cool tensions in the area. And we remain in touch with the
parties, and are working to have them implement those -- the agreement that
was agreed upon in Sharm el-Sheikh. If they implement those measures,
we'll be in a better position to begin to restore calm and eventually work
our way back to the political process.
Q Well Jake, what remains of the Sharm el Sheikh agreement as far
as implementation? The airport has been closed, there's more violence.
There seems to be less and less of the things that they agreed to actually
being implemented as each and every day goes by.
MR. SIEWERT: Well, as you know, some of the steps were taken
immediately after Sharm el-Sheikh, and there have been some meetings,
trilateral meetings on security. We're going to continue to do everything
we can to urge them to work together on security, to take the steps that
were agreed upon in Sharm el- Sheikh, because in the long run, there's no
other way to begin to restore some calm in the streets and reduce tension
Q Jake, just so that we understand, what are the specific steps on
security that you would like to see them take?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, they were outlined. I think the President ran
through them in Sharm el-Sheikh. We talked about re-arrest, we talked
about reducing points of friction. There were a number of different steps.
We talked about re-openings to restore some calm there.
But that was outlined for you at Sharm el-Sheikh. I'm not going to
try to itemize them all right now. And I think there were more -- there
were very specific discussions on that, led by the DCI in Egypt, and I
think both parties understand what was discussed and what was agreed to,
and where we could take action to reduce tension in the area.
Q Jake, there's a Boston Globe story today which seemed to suggest
that the Palestinians were disagreeing that certain agreements had been
made in Sharm. Do you have any response to that?
MR. SIEWERT: There was a specific set of discussions on security
issues. It's true that no one signed anything at Sharm el-Sheikh, but we
expect the parties agreed to a statement that the President read which
outlined very specific measures that could be taken to restore calm and to
reduce tension there.
Q Jake, can you tell us what North Korea pledged to do, pledged not
to fire -- did they pledge not to fire missiles at the United States? And
if so, how is that different from the previously-announced freeze?
MR. SIEWERT: I've seen those reports. We will wait for a more
thorough briefing from the Secretary of State when she returns before we
comment on those. She did have a full and thorough discussion of a wide
range of issues, including missile launches, and as you know, she's still
in Pyongyang and will be meeting with her counterparts in Seoul tomorrow
from Japan and South Korea. After those consultations, she'll be traveling
back to the United States and giving the President a fuller update. She
has been in touch with the National Security Adviser, and we obviously have
National Security Council staff on that trip.
So we've been getting regular updates, but I think before we make any
decisions or characterize where we are, I think we want to wait and hear
directly from her when she returns.
Q But we know you have been briefed on whatever has been said about
MR. SIEWERT: As I said, I think before we characterize those, that
any of the substance of those discussions, we want to give the President a
chance to get fully briefed before we brief the media.
Q Are you any clearer on Chairman Kim's proposal? I mean, after
Putin met with Chairman Kim, we seem to be unclear what he was offering.
MR. SIEWERT: Obviously, these meetings were designed to provide a
greater deal of clarity to the offer that he made to Putin. That was one
of the purposes of her going. So she obviously had a discussion on that.
As I said, it was a full and thorough discussion of the missile issue and
other issues. She will report back to the President, and at that point we
may be able to provide a little bit more detail on that.
But that was one of the reasons that she undertook this trip -- to
find out a little bit more, to hear firsthand from the North Koreans what
it was that they proposed to do.
Q Jake, there's some talk on the Hill of eliminating or cutting
back annual appropriations to the foreign operations bill for the
Palestinian Authority. Obviously, the Chairman of the committee, Mr.
McConnell is not for that, but some of the Republicans are. What's the
administration's position on that, and what effect do you think this debate
is having on issues?
MR. SIEWERT: I haven't actually seen that report, but we'll wait and
take a -- I'll check and get back to you on that. I just haven't seen that
report at all.
Q Jake, at the briefing yesterday, you seemed unsure as to whether
the President would sign the terrorism damages legislation.
MR. SIEWERT: Yes.
Q Is he going to?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, I had not made it to the back of my briefing book,
but we expect the President will sign that bill. The final version of that
legislation addressed some of the concerns that we had, and we worked very
hard with Congress to address those. We appreciate the work they did. And
this bill allows us to provide compensation for families of victims of
terrorism and does not compromise our national security or international
Q Jake, let me try again. Does the administration continue to
support the annual allocations now in the foreign operations bill for --
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know of any reason why our request in our own
budget would have changed. I just haven't seen what they proposed. I'm
just not aware of that particular report. I'll check on it for you.
Q Jake, Senator Stevens seems to be getting ready to offer a
package on all the remaining appropriations bills. I'm just wondering
whether you guys are closer to compromise with Congress on those bills.
MR. SIEWERT: No, there are still huge gaps between what we have asked
for and what the Republicans have offered. Those discussions continued
yesterday. The Budget Director was on the Hill yesterday and met with some
of the appropriators, but we have big differences on school construction,
which the President will be talking about more today. We need to see a
serious commitment to that school construction package, both appropriations
and the tax piece. We also need to see a serious commitment to class size.
There are a number of riders on that bill. The New York Times did an
excellent job detailing some of the riders that were in there today that
have been thrown on for particular special interests. And we're going to
take a hard look at some of those riders that are extraneous. We'd like to
see some progress made on the Mexico City language, and we'd also like to
see the immigration provisions attached to that. So we have vast
differences. In the end, the form isn't going to matter quite as much as
the substance, but we're up there talking about the substance now, but
there are pretty wide gaps between what we would like to see and what
Republicans have offered.
Q The Republicans are also talking about a tax bill, about $260
billion over 10 years. That's similar to what the President wanted as far
as tax relief?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, but it's very different composition. So far that
discussion has been primarily a discussion amongst Republicans of what they
would like to see. They know what our tax priorities are. We outlined
them in the budget. It's not clear at all that they're incorporating much
of the President's suggestions on the tax -- on the tax side, but Secretary
Summers addressed some of this morning, over at Treasury.
We would like to see some tax relief. We'd like to see tax relief
that helps families pay for child care. We'd like to see tax relief that
helps modernize schools. We'd like to see tax relief that helps people --
middle class people. And we'd like to see that new markets tax legislation
that we've been working on with Speaker Hastert. But Republicans can't
simply pick a number and fill in the details and then ask us to sign it
because it's close to the number that we proposed in February. This needs
to be some sort of back and forth where we discuss something that's
Q But there are several things in the package's outline that have
broad bipartisan support. The administration has been favorable to the
Portman-Cardin IRA provisions, new markets is in there.
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, we'd like to promote savings through something like
the legislation that passed the House. We'd very much like the new markets
legislation, but right now we have Republicans basically meeting amongst
themselves and deciding whether or not --
Q But is there something specific in the package --
MR. SIEWERT: There needs to be --
Q -- that the administration dislikes and wants to see eliminated?
MR. SIEWERT: We'd just like it to be a balanced overall package, and
that is going to take some discussion between the White House and members
of Congress, and Democrats on the Hill.
Q Discussion or revision?
MR. SIEWERT: We haven't seen a package. They've just simply thrown
out a number and said that they've gotten to a number and they're all set.
Q On this breast cancer bill signing business, a couple questions.
Why isn't the White House permitting a public signing ceremony? What was
the First Lady's role, and did the First Lady talk to the President about
the decision not to have a public ceremony?
MR. SIEWERT: On the last question, I don't think so. On the first
question, we make decisions all the time about which bills to sign publicly
and which bills to sign privately. There were a couple bills just last
week that were very important. The Children's Health Bill and also the
Ryan White Act that we would have liked to have scheduled publicly, but we
weren't able to make it work on the schedule.
That's just a decision. We weigh a number of factors when these bills
come up, and we made a decision to sign this in private. I'm not aware of
the First Lady talking to the President at all about that.
Q Why, why though? Because it would seem awkward?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know that was the consideration. But I think
that whenever we make decisions about bills -- we have a number of --
probably a couple dozen bills awaiting the President's signature now -- we
always try to decide what the best forum is and what's not the best forum.
In the end, what matters to us more is the substance of these bills,
and this is an important bill. There's more than enough credit to go
around. A lot of people worked very hard on this bill, and in the end, it
does some good things for people who are suffering from breast cancer or
cervical cancer. And the President spent a lot of time working on this.
He did two radio addresses, addressed it a number of different times. But
as I said, their are bills as important as this, like Ryan White and the
Children's Health Care bill that we didn't sign publicly. So, it's just
something -- if we let you into all the meetings where we made all these
decisions, I think you'd see that this is not dissimilar to what --
Q How much of a factor is it that Rick Lazio would be here for the
MR. SIEWERT: As I said, I don't know how to calculate the various
impact that various considerations had in this, but in the end, we just
made a decision to do this privately.
Q Well, was it an attempt to deny him the limelight?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't think so, no. I mean, he certainly is free to
-- I think he is today -- spend some time talking about his role in putting
together this bill, and I think he's doing that very thing today.
Q Did the First Lady have a big role in helping get the bill
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, she was instrumental in helping
provide -- working with the President, working with Congress to get this
bill -- as you know, it was stalled on some very technical issues up on the
Hill. She spent some time on it; her staff spent a lot of time on this.
And the President ended up devoting two different radio addresses to it and
spending a lot of time on trying to get it done.
Q Do you know if her staff -- since you're talking about her help
-- do you know if her staff actually worked with any members of Congress on
this, getting -- can you be more specific about help here?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know in great detail. I know that Congressman
Eshoo from California was instrumental in helping forge the final
compromise on the legislation that was worked out, and I know that we
worked -- the White House worked very hard with her. I don't know
specifically who in the White House was doing that work.
Q Did the First Lady make phone calls or lobby members personally,
or get involved in the nitty-gritty?
MR. SIEWERT: I'll check. I know she worked -- I'm almost certain she
talked to members of Congress about it, personally. But I'll have to
check. I could probably give you a full inventory of her involvement on
Q Mr. Lazio is also sponsor of a bill that's coming down on wartime
violation of Italian-American Civil Liberties Act. Do you know if there
will be a public signing of that bill? (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: I don't, actually, but we'll check and I'll get back to
Q Oh, good. Today?
MR. SIEWERT: Today? I don't know. Is it here yet, do we know?
Q I don't think it is.
MR. SIEWERT: Okay. Well, we'll check and see.
Q Jake, on Thursday Diwali, the Festival of Lights -- it's like
Christmas for India -- now, the Indian-American community in America is
calling on the President to fulfill his promise which he made at a
fundraiser in California that the White House will celebrate --, or at
least he will issue a statement. Any idea if he can issue a statement on
Diwali from the White House so the hundreds of --
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. I'll check on that. That's the first
I've heard of that issue. But --
Q Jake, did the White House have any influence on the CIA's
decision to release documents surrounding the period of the coup that
brought Pinochet to power; that decision reverses Tenet's earlier position
in August that he would withhold those documents.
MR. SIEWERT: I think our role in the press reports was somewhat
overstated. The system worked here and the DCI and the National Security
Advisor agreed to a further review of the documents that were withheld in
August. Based on that review and discussions that he had with Mr. Berger,
the DCI decided to release additional documents. Those documents have now
been redacted to protect intelligence sources and methods, and so we'll
have a final release of those documents on Monday, November 13th. But in
the end, the DCI made the right decision, we think.
Q Was it Mr. Berger's position that additional documents should,
indeed, be released?
MR. SIEWERT: I think as a result of the review that we undertook by
the NSC staff, the State Department discussions within the entire team
there, the DCI made a decision to release those documents. I'm not going
to characterize all the decision-making that took place there.
MR. CROWLEY: It's close collaboration by the DCI and the National
Security Advisor, both to extend the review and then we'll reach this
Q Jake, the President has seen The Washington Post editorial, the
endorsement for Vice President Al Gore. How much in the open the President
going to come out in the next week or 10 days for the Vice President, like
The Washington Post?
MR. SIEWERT: That was an excellent editorial. We've read it.
(Laughter.) The President underlined a number of passages that he thought
were particularly forceful and cogent. We could probably make that
available if any of you want to reprint it. (Laughter.)
I'm not certain that we have anything new to announce in terms of the
President's plans. He continues to work on behalf of Democratic
candidates. In fact, he's, I think, as we speak, on his way to an event
for a state party. We don't have any new travel plans to announce, but
we'll continue to consult with the Gore campaign about how the President
could be most useful. I expect he'll be engaged in -- I think I told some
of you that he's been doing -- taping some, as the Gore campaign said, some
radio ads and some radio scripts that will be helpful in terms of
energizing Democratic voters. We may do some of that today. And we'll
continue to talk with them about how he could be most useful in helping the
Vice President and other Democratic candidates win in the fall.
Q Does the White House have any reaction to Morocco severing
diplomatic ties with Israel today, and will the President be talking to
King Abdullah about that?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know that he'll be talking to him specifically
about that. He'll certainly be talking to King Abdullah about what we can
do to restore calm in the region, to implement what was agreed upon at
Sharm el-Sheikh. And as you know, the King was an important player, played
an important role in Egypt at those discussions. The President met with
him a couple of times and he was helpful in trying to forge some common
ground between the Israelis and Palestinians. So that's -- the general
topic of how to move forward and how to restore calm will certainly come up
in the discussions, but I'm not certain that that's specific diplomatic --
Q Does the White House have any reaction?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. I'll check.
Q Oh, and one more thing. Yesterday you said you didn't know
anything about the potential summit in November. But wasn't that discussed
at Sharm el-Sheikh?
MR. SIEWERT: A potential --
Q Summit between --
MR. SIEWERT: We certainly talked, and in fact, the President said
that there would be some further consultations in the wake of Sharm
el-Sheikh, and I'll refer you to the State Department for how and where
those might happen. But the discussion -- there were obviously a lot of
different discussions and options put on the table at Sharm el-Sheikh. In
the end, what we agreed to was that there would be some further
consultations at a time that seemed appropriate at a lower level between
negotiators from each side.
Q Jake, the crisis in Peru isn't getting any better. The Vice
President resigned. Are you following that very closely here in the White
MR. SIEWERT: We're following it closely. In the end, what we would
like to see is that the OAS process that's been under way for some time now
between the government and the opposition move forward, and we're
supporting that process that we think offers the best prospect for a
peaceful and democratic transition.
President Fujimori said he would step down, and we want to do
everything we can to make sure that the elections that are held in the wake
of his resignation are free and fair and democratic.
Q Do we have any idea why he went back to Peru?
MR. SIEWERT: I am not in any position to assess his motivations.
I've seen some reports, but I'll leave it to others to sort that out.
Q Representative Burton is asking for White House sleepover
records. Do you have a timetable for that?
MR. SIEWERT: We're working with him on that. We received the
subpoena from the committee, and the Counsel's Office is in the process of
reviewing and collecting documents that are responsive to that request.
Frankly, if we --
Q Will it take longer than a few weeks?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. But the Chairman has a lot of requests,
and we do everything we can to respond to them.
Q Do you know how many requests he's had over the years?
MR. SIEWERT: It's certainly more than I can count on one or two
hands, but I don't --
Q Jake, a follow-up on That. There have been some Freedom of
Information Act requests to the White House. What's the official response
MR. SIEWERT: We've received those; I'll have to check with Counsel's
Office to see what the status of those requests is.
Q Excuse me if this has come up earlier in the briefing, but what
about the security alert in the Persian Gulf? What can you tell us about
MR. SIEWERT: I think the Department of Defense is in the best
position to answer those questions. We obviously maintain a large force in
that region, and it remains a high threat environment. If we learn of
specific threats against our forces, we take appropriate steps. For
security reasons we don't discuss those in any great detail, publicly.
Q Can you tell us which countries are affected? Because there are
some conflicts with different reports.
MR. SIEWERT: I think the Pentagon is briefing at 1:30 p.m., and
they're probably in a better position to fill out the exact details of what
Q Has the President expressed any concern about reports that the
Navy might have reduced security in Yemen and areas like that over the past
few years, prior to the Cole?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, we have a review underway that the Pentagon
ordered, and we'll take a look at a comprehensive review when we get it.
But he's being updated from time to time on what happened there and the
status of the investigation. But I think in terms of an overall
assessment, we'll look to the review that the Pentagon ordered.
MR. CROWLEY: But the genesis of your question goes to a specific
set of security measures for one ship visit, it's not related to an overall
pattern of ship visits to Aden?
Q The Middle East was obviously the number one topic, or you said
it was the number one topic at the principals' meeting. Was the heightened
state of security also part of the agenda?
MR. SIEWERT: I honestly don't know the answer to that because they
went straight from that meeting into see the President, and that meeting
was ongoing when I came out here.
Q There were some reports yesterday that there were discussions of
preemptive strikes against Osama bin Laden, also in connection with this
Persian Gulf issue. Are those reports founded on anything other than --
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know where those reports came from and who put
them together. It wasn't based on anything we've said here.
Q Jake, on the school construction tax credit, would the President
sign a bill that stripped the Davis-Bacon Wage Standards from that?
MR. SIEWERT: I'll have to check. Obviously, we think that's
important. I don't think so. I mean, I think we think that's an important
piece of that bill. But in the end, we're going to have to take a look at
an overall package -- we haven't seen one yet. We haven't seen anything --
so far, we haven't seen an indication that the Republicans are even willing
to consider a school construction package. But we think that the
prevailing wages standard is an important piece of that legislation.
MR. SIEWERT: Why? Because --
Q It would be part of the Tax Code if it were written in as
currently suggested. It's never been in the Tax Code before.
MR. SIEWERT: Well, there are a number of different ways it could be
structured, but obviously, we think that school construction bonds that are
authorized ought to use the traditional Davis-Bacon standard.
Q Jake, are you able to say whether any progress is being made on
the President's pledge to track down those responsible for the bombing in
MR. SIEWERT: We don't comment on the status of investigations as
they're pursued, for obvious reasons. But obviously, the President is
looking to his team to do the best job that they can in tracking down the
people responsible for that bombing.
Q Jake, going back to security, a number of embassies were closed
two weeks ago. What is the future of now those missions and embassies in
Muslim and Arab countries? And if the President recalled any ambassadors
from those embassies.
MR. SIEWERT: I don't think we've either -- you should double-check
with State, but I don't think we've recalled any ambassadors, and I don't
think we have any embassies that are closed in that region, although I
think there's an unrelated closure somewhere in Southeast Asia. But you
should check with State. They're probably in a better position to give you
Q New threats, any --
MR. SIEWERT: Not that I'm aware of. I just talked to State before we
came out here and they said that they had reopened most embassies in the
region, although they've taken, obviously, some security procedures --
MR. CROWLEY: It is the ambassadors, themselves, that will make that
judgment, based on their own assessments at each individual post.
Q Senator Lott seems to think that they'll be able to wrap up the
appropriations process by Friday. Do you think that's a fair assessment,
and can you tell us the status of the CR?
MR. SIEWERT: I hope so. That would be good. We could all enjoy the
weekend. I have no idea. It depends on their willingness to entertain
seriously some of the ideas that the President is going to talk about at
2:00 p.m. and that we've been talking about here since February.
But so far, as I said, we haven't gotten a real willingness on the
part of Republicans to move forward on school construction, on class size,
on some of the anti-environmental riders, on hate crimes, immigration. We
have a long list. There's no reason why it couldn't be done quickly, but
it's going to depend on a willingness on their part to address some of the
concerns we have about the flaws of the current appropriations bills.
Q On foreign ops, Jake, how does the administration fell about
keeping the Mexico City restrictions in place until March and then ending
MR. SIEWERT: I saw a report on that. I'll have to check on that
specific proposal. But the language that's current in their Mexico City is
unacceptable. The language that was in from last year, which they've
recycled for this year.
Q The language you signed last year?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes.
Q Okay. It's unacceptable this year.
MR. SIEWERT: Yes. We didn't -- at the end of the session last year,
we wanted some money for -- obviously for the foreign operations of this --
we also wanted some -- the debt relief money that we're also seeking to
find this year, but that was one of the places where they weren't willing
to compromise last year, and we're not willing to this year.
Q What is the status of the amnesty bill which is in the Congress
-- part of the now, I think, budget on the Hill?
MR. SIEWERT: We would like to see that bill enacted. This is the
immigration amnesty, correct? We would like to see that bill enacted as
part of the Commerce/Justice bill. That would be the most appropriate
vehicle for that bill, and so far, Republicans have only offered a sort of
half hearted effort to fix that problem.
Q Jake, what is the administration's argument, because some people
have argued that this is rewarding law breakers by giving amnesty to
illegal immigrants that came in.
MR. SIEWERT: Congress has taken similar measures in the past, and I
noticed that there are Republicans as esteemed as Jack Kemp and others who
are firmly in support of this bill. So I don't -- there are obviously a
lot of different views on this, but this is something the Catholic Church
has said is important, pro-immigration Republicans have said is important.
We think it's important.
It's a simple issue of fairness. There are a lot of other people who
have gotten exceptions to this particular rule Congress has enacted this
year. And we've signed legislation that would expand opportunities for new
immigrants to come to the United States and work in high tech jobs. These
are people who have been here, oftentimes more than a decade, working in
the United States, and we think it's time to address some of the inequities
that the current system, the immigration system, has in place right now.
PRESS: Thank you.
MR. SIEWERT: Thank you very much.
END 12:55 P.M. EDT