The President's Trip to Brunei and Vietnam

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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release November 9, 2000


The James S. Brady Briefing Room

11:06 A.M. EST

MR. CROWLEY: Good morning. I think, given the news of the day, this briefing clearly comes under the category you would describe as "in other news." But listen, today's the kind of day that the American people and the people around the world are asking the same questions, and we're not here to answer those questions. But, actually, as we go through this trip, I look forward to hearing you explain to your international press colleagues about the vagaries of exit polling data in that semi-autonomous region called Florida. (Laughter.)

But to business. We have a very important, historic trip coming up for the President next week, to Brunei and to Vietnam, with a brief stop in Hawaii. And here --

Q --

MR. CROWLEY: Want to see you declare asylum when we get there.

Here to talk about the President's agenda and his activities, we have the National Security Advisor, Samuel R. Berger, and the National Economic Advisor, Gene Sperling. We'll start off with Mr. Berger.

MR. BERGER: It's always nice to follow the warm-up act of PJ Crowley, who will be appearing in the Catskills next week. (Laughter.)

Good morning. I know that our upcoming trip to Asia is uppermost on your minds this morning. But even with the extraordinary events going on here, I think this will be a fascinating and in some ways historic trip.

As you know, the President leaves on Sunday for his final APEC Summit -- Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit -- in Brunei, which will be held on Wednesday and Thursday. And from there, he will be the first President to ever travel to a unified Vietnam.

Gene will speak to you about APEC and the issues that will be discussed there. Let me just add that while in Brunei, the President will also meet separately with several of his fellow leaders.

On Wednesday, he will meet with President Putin. This will be the fourth meeting they've had this year. They will continue their discussion of nonproliferation, regional security issues, strategic stability, and especially increased cooperation to reduce the risk of accidental missile launches. We'll have a chance to raise our continuing interest in democratic development in Russia, independent media, rule of law, as well of the case of Edmund Pope.

Later that day the President will meet with Kim Dae Jung, President of South Korea. In that meeting, and on Thursday with Prime Minister Mori of Japan, they'll talk, obviously, in both those meetings about bilateral issues, but I'm sure they will discuss at some length the efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula, which are inherently of interest to Japan, South Korea, the United States, China, as well as, obviously, North Korea.

Finally, on Thursday afternoon the President will meet with Chinese President Jiang. This will likely be their last meeting. That discussion will focus also on Korea, on cross-strait relations, on non-proliferation and human rights, as well as China's accession to the WTO. We will stress our continued expectation that both the PRC and Taiwan will enter the WTO as soon as possible.

After the APEC meeting, on Thursday evening, the President will leave for Vietnam, and begin his official schedule there on Friday. Let me say a few words about the visit, and then I'll go over the schedule.

This visit is a culmination of a process that the President began with Vietnam eight years ago. The cutting-edge of that process from the very beginning has been and remains today achieving the fullest possible accounting of our POW-MIAs. We have moved forward at each step of the way, from ending the trade embargo to normalization to the various stages in the evolution of this process, as we have made progress on that central issue that has been on our agenda, and in a way that honors those who fought and suffered during the war and that does right by the missing and their families.

We have done so with the constant involvement and support of veterans, of families, of members of Congress, especially Senator John Kerry, Senator Bob Kerrey, John McCain, Chuck Robb, and former Congressman Pete Peterson, now our Ambassador to Vietnam, all of whom were driving forces in this process over the last eight years, and deserve a great deal of credit for the evolution of the relationship.

We've made tremendous progress in this area in repatriating remains, in resolving last-known-alive cases, in conducting joint field exercise with the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese have turned over thousands of documents over the past several years. We have not finished this job. There remain roughly 2,000 unaccounted for. And this will be an ongoing subject of the discussions the President has there and an ongoing element of our relationship, as we encourage the Vietnamese to continue the cooperation that we've received.

But Vietnam should be seen not only as a war, but as a country. We are not closing a chapter here, we're opening a new chapter in the relationship. And this is an opportunity, as well, to focus on the future. We want the Vietnamese people to see that America supports their economic development, while encouraging those in Vietnam who have been willing to risk opening the country, both economically and politically. And in the process, we want to build a fully normal relationship that benefits the American people and the Vietnamese people.

Central to these efforts is the U.S.-Vietnam trade agreement, which was signed this year, in which both of our countries now must ratify and implement. The debate in Vietnam about signing the agreement was very much like the debate in China over joining the WTO, and it captures well the central dilemma Vietnam is facing -- whether to maintain a command and control system and shut out the world, or build prosperity by loosening controls and joining the world. That's a choice Vietnam is making, but the President can and will encourage it to continue its reforms, strengthen its respect for human rights and for religious freedom.

In terms of the itinerary, very briefly, the President will begin the visit Friday with a meeting with the Vietnamese President, President Luong, and the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Khai. That afternoon, he will describe our vision for the future of our relationship in a speech to university students at Hanoi National University, the generation born after Vietnam's wars.

Indeed, it is interesting to realize and recognize that more than half of the people in Vietnam were born after the end of the Vietnam War. It may also be true of the United States; I'm not sure, in terms of the demographics. Probably close to being true. More than half of the people of the United States are certainly younger than I am; that's for sure.

On Saturday morning, the President will visit an MIA excavation site at a village outside of Hanoi. This is a spot on a hillside rice paddy where we know an American plane went down during the war, and where work has been underway for about two weeks now to find the remains. The President will observe the operation work and speak with the people who are undertaking it, acknowledging the efforts of our servicemen and women on the scene, and the remarkable support we've received from ordinary Vietnamese.

There have been 62 of these joint field exercises since 1988, and 41 since 1993. During the period since 1993, 283 sets of remains have been repatriated.

That afternoon he will tour an exhibit back in Hanoi on land mine awareness. About 2,000 Vietnamese are killed or injured every year by mines and unexploded ordnance, and we are providing assistance for demining education and rehabilitation. He will also meet that afternoon with Party General Chairman Le Kha Phieu, one of the three top Vietnamese officials.

Finally, on Saturday evening, the President will participate in a ceremony marking the repatriation of the remains of several American servicemen as they are sent to Hawaii for identification.

On Saturday evening we will travel to Ho Chi Minh City in the south, a dynamic city where incomes are higher than the national average, foreign investment is concentrated. He'll have a roundtable discussion there with young Vietnamese active in everything from business to journalism to NGOs. And he'll also visit a container terminal on the Saigon River, a modern facility that Vietnam has established to ship both to and from the country. He'll speak there about the benefits of trade and investment, and the importance of creating a climate in Vietnam in which both Vietnamese and foreign enterprise can thrive.

With that, let me turn this over to the Gene, to talk more about the part of the trip that will be devoted to APEC.

MR. SPERLING: In terms of this not being the hot issue of the day, those of you who have been around for a while know I was the guy who got to brief directly after Mike McCurry did his briefing on Dick Morris and the Star magazine. So this is really not that bad. (Laughter.)

Q That was a good briefing, too.

MR. SPERLING: Yes, thank you. It was on the welfare-to-work tax credit, for those of you who remember the details of the Star report more -- the Star magazine report. (Laughter.)

As I think many of you know, APEC started in 1989, but the actual notion of the leaders, themselves, the heads of states participating really was at the initiation of President Clinton in 1993, at Blake Island. So the President comes today to -- will come to APEC and Brunei, making his final APEC meeting in a forum, a leaders forum in which he initiated back in '93.

Since then, we feel that it has been a positive forum for the process of liberalization -- global liberalization -- and overall economic liberalization. In 1994, in Indonesia, the Bogor goals were set with the goal of this region having free trade and liberalized trade among the developed countries by 2010, and among the developing countries by 2020. That goal has continued to inform the work that's been done through individual action plans, through work with the business communities.

As we go into this right now, we certainly go into much stronger and more stable Asian economies. Two years ago, when they met in Malaysia, they faced a year where Indonesia had lost -13 percent growth, Korea had been -7 percent growth. You look at dramatic turnarounds in most of these countries where now they are looking at their second year of positive growth.

But many issues remain and there is much debate that goes on about what the future should hold. As we go into this APEC, the President will be very much focusing on reinforcing the benefits of an open global economy, both for the recovery that's been since the Asian financial crisis, and that the better economic news should not be a cause for complacency in terms of structural liberalization.

The morning session at APEC will focus on globalization and the new economy. One of the issues that will be looked at is certainly taking these principles towards more of the e-commerce issues, and when one looks at what it means to create an environment for e-commerce, it is broader than just the goals that may seem as directly applicable to the Internet.

For example, any international e-commerce is premised on the notion that you can deliver goods easily. E-commerce would be meaningless in the United States if you did not have a system through FedEx, through UPS, et cetera, through the mail, of delivering. If there is not cargo, if there is not airline liberalization, then e-commerce between different countries will be meaningless in areas where actual goods have to be transported. So that will be one of the areas that will be looked at.

We will be, obviously, seeking to continue our view that there should be a moratorium on custom duties over the Internet. The President will also focus, as he has in Okinawa, on the digital divide. What's more interesting in APEC, in a sense, as opposed to the G-8, is that in G-8, all of the countries were on one side of the digital divide. APEC includes a very diverse group of countries. Indeed, there is one Australian study coming out that says that when you look at half of the countries in APEC in the year 2005, half of them, the average number of people connected to the Internet will be 3.8; in the other half, it will be 72 percent. So when you talk about a growing global digital divide, it is a very real phenomenon, and whatever can be done to stop that -- that is not uniform. Korea, right now, has 30 percent to the Internet and is expected to be at 72 percent themselves. Singapore has very high rates. So one of the focuses will be on not just having action plans, individual action plans, but electronic commerce individual action plans for the countries.

We will also be focusing on issues in terms of the environment for e-commerce, things like software piracy. The rates of piracy in software in these countries is extremely high -- 80 percent to 90 percent at times. Yet, without confidence that software can happen and be produced and sold without these rates of piracy, these countries will be denying themselves the foreign direct investment and high-wage jobs that we are now experiencing so much in our own country.

The President will also, to the best degree possible, continue to push his development agenda on AIDS and basic education. The afternoon session will focus on the WTO and regional trade agreements. And clearly, part of that will be a carry-over on the electronic commerce issues that we've talked about.

Our basic goal, the WTO principles of liberalization, should apply to all e-commerce issues as they would apply to all areas of trade. But there also will probably be interesting discussions about the prospects for launching a new WTO round, and what the relationship is between the regional trade agreements and the multilateral liberalization, and how they can be harmonized, and whether those kind of regional trade agreements are building blocks for a more multilateral open trade system, or whether they're obstacles, and what are the standards and principles that we should look for.

Clearly, APEC has been a forerunner of trade liberalization -- on the Information Technology Agreement of 1996, the agreement by APEC to support that was seen very much as a launch. In 1999, at Auckland, we came together in a similar agreement for launching the new WTO round. Well, obviously that did not prove to have the force to overcome the obstacles at Seattle. Nonetheless, the agreement on eliminating agriculture export subsidies and other areas were certainly helpful in forming consensus in many of those areas.

The President, in terms of Vietnam, Sandy told you about one of the events he is doing at the container site, which is a computerized container site. And then he'll also be speaking at the end of a U.S.-Vietnam commercial forum, which is certainly the most significant U.S.-Vietnamese commercial forum that has been held since the war there, and includes significant participation from our businesses.

As the President talks and discusses things with Vietnamese officials and to the Vietnamese people, certainly we will talk about the bilateral trade agreement. It's important. We also are having productive conversations in areas from labor to science technology with them. We're hoping to have more progress on some of those areas by the time we're there.

But clearly, Vietnam, as Sandy said, has important choices to make. Because Vietnam cut themselves off more from the world economy, their fall was not as great during the Asian financial crisis. They saw their growth go from perhaps 9 percent to 3 percent. But the downside of cutting themselves off from globalization, from showing that they are a place for foreign direct investment, is hurting them right now. They have rebounded far less than the other countries, because there is significant doubts remaining about their ability to reform from their state-owned enterprises, very much the types of questions that we talked about with China.

The state-owned enterprises have significant losses, bad loans, take up significant amounts of capital that could be available to entrepreneurs in Vietnam who could be creating growth and adding value and being part of trade. Our hope is that these conversations and that the bilateral trade agreement will be part of a process in moving them forward and in strengthening our relations with Vietnam.

Q The U.S. election is unsettled. Americans are in doubt about what's going to happen. There's probably going to be some legal challenges to the election outcome. What were the President's thoughts about going ahead with this trip? Did he ever give any thought to not going, to staying here to be a settling force?

MR. BERGER: No. I think the business of the presidency goes on, the business of America goes on. APEC is an annual meeting. As Gene indicated, it is a forum that he established back in 1993. It has been a very useful forum for the United States. It would be, I think, a loss to the United States if the President of the United States were not present there with the leaders of all the rest of Asia. And we can conduct business 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 360 degrees around the world.

Q Sandy, what are the prospects for some progress on the Middle East in the meeting today between the President and Mr. Arafat, especially in light of a senior member of Fatah was killed yesterday by the Israelis, and what effect that might have on the prospects of getting something going here?

MR. BERGER: Well, I expect that the President, in his meeting with Chairman Arafat early this afternoon and then again with Prime Minister Barak on Sunday, will focus very much on what's happening on the ground and how to break the cycle of violence which continues, the steps that must be taken to try to bring this down to a reduced level and eventually to bring the situation to calm. So that will be a very important part of what the President talks to Chairman Arafat about.

They will also be talking about how to resume a political process. This is something that both Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak spoke to the President about in Sharm el-Sheikh several weeks ago when we met there with President Mubarak. They basically not only undertook certain measures with respect to things that needed to be done on the ground to control the violence, but also to a process of discussing how to return to a political process. And that's what the President will be raising.

Q The Palestinians have talked about having some sort of U.N. peacekeeping force, supervisory force. The Israelis do not seem eager to do that. The United States does not seem eager to do that. Is that still the United States' position? And why would there be opposition to doing something like this?

MR. BERGER: Well, something like this can only be done with the consent of both the parties. That is, in this case both the Palestinians and the Israelis. At this point, the Israelis are not prepared to entertain the idea. So, in our judgment, it is -- to spend too much time on it right now just simply diverts us then from bringing the violence under control and resuming a political process. It can't be done unless both parties want it done.

Q Is there a reaction to the Israeli helicopter rocket attack today that apparently killed two Palestinians, including one elderly woman?

MR. BERGER: I don't have specific details about the situation that you've described. I'm aware of it, but, of course, I don't have all the facts and, therefore, can't comment on it specifically. Let me just say, violence breeds violence, and we must find a way to break this cycle. And it is important for people on both sides to do all they can to try to achieve that.

Q Do you expect the President to continue periodic meetings with Barak and Arafat right through the end of his presidency, and could this issue be occupying a significant amount of his time right through? Or do you see any kind of, you know, a pause or a break that the President will impose on this whole process?

MR. BERGER: I think that depends on the parties. This is -- only they can set the direction and the content and the pace of these talks. We've convened them here because, at Sharm el-Sheikh, they both indicated they wanted to explore whether and how to get back to a political process. Where we go from here, obviously, we'll have to evaluate after these meetings.

Q If I could just follow up on the APEC question, I didn't hear you rule out a cancellation and I just wanted to know -- I mean, the President does have a history of --

MR. BERGER: There are no plans to cancel. Pack your bags.

Q Sandy, can you tell us how the President views going to Vietnam in light of his own background as an opponent to the war in Vietnam and as one who went to some lengths to avoid military service during the Vietnam War?

MR. BERGER: The President over the last eight years has carried out a policy for the United States which I think has had broad support both bipartisan and from those who previously -- who served and fought in Vietnam, for those that didn't, those that supported it. That policy has been based upon, first and foremost, being true to the families and trying to gain the maximum possible cooperation from the Vietnamese in answering their questions.

I think the fact that we've achieved that -- that is, there is full cooperation now from the Vietnamese -- has laid the basis then for proceeding to normalize the relationship, which we did in 1995. Again, I think this has been a policy, as I indicated earlier, that's had the support -- and in fact, not only the support, it's really been very much a collective enterprise led by the President, but joined by people like John Kerry and Bob Kerrey, John McCain, Pete Peterson and others who served with great distinction in Vietnam.

I think their feeling has been that while we cannot forget history, while we cannot -- we must continue to be true to those who fought and true to the families of those who remain missing, and that needs to continue to be a central element of our policy going forward, that it's now 25 years since the war ended and it's appropriate that we build a new relationship with Vietnam.

Q Are any of those members of the Senate going along with the President?

MR. BERGER: I believe it's possible that one or more may. I don't want to single -- I don't know for sure. I think it's possible one or more may.

Q You said earlier that this is not -- this trip will not close a chapter, but open a new one. But do you think his visit will help heal whatever breach is left between the veterans and --

MR. BERGER: I think that process actually has been going on for some time. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Hershel Gober, who served as our emissary, in a sense, to Vietnam, led perhaps seven or eight delegations to Vietnam -- maybe six to eight delegations to Vietnam -- over the period of 1993 to 1996-97, always with veterans groups, always with family groups. As we have pressed the Vietnamese to help to work with us on excavations, to turn over now 28,000 documents and other archival material, to participate in assisting us in repatriation, all of that has been done very much with the participation of the veterans organizations. And I think most of the veterans organizations supported normalization of relations with Vietnam, and believe that one can look to the future without forgetting the past.

Q Can we turn to the Mideast just one moment? Has the President lowered his sights in terms of goals now? Would he like his legacy to be to help establish what you referred to as calm, so that when he leaves the White House, his successor, whoever that may be, can then proceed with serious progress toward a long-term peace --

MR. BERGER: I don't think -- legacies will be written by historians. The President is interested in what he can do over the remaining 11 weeks I guess of his presidency to try to reduce the violence in the Middle East and to resume a political process. A great deal has been accomplished over the last eight years in the Middle East. We have peace with Jordan. I think issues between the Palestinians and the Israelis have been raised, discussed, and in many ways defined in ways that they never have been before.

The Middle East has been a rocky road for 50 years. It's been a rocky road for many centuries. We've had periods of war followed by periods of -- spurts of peace activity. We're now in a very difficult cycle, in terms of -- part of the cycle, in terms of this violence. But I think the President is focused very much on what he can do in the next few months to try to reduce the violence and to resume a political process.

Q He no longer has the hopes that he did at Camp David this summer, does he?

MR. BERGER: It's up to the parties to define what they want to achieve. They will determine whether some kind of negotiated agreement is something that is within the realm of what they want to do, or not. We will fully explore with them what their objectives are, and how we can help them achieve those, consistent with ending the violence and promoting peace.

Q What does the White House hope to accomplish from the business communities' participation in Vietnam? Do you want some specific deals to be signed, or are you trying to lay the groundwork for a legal or regulatory reforms?

MR. SPERLING: There is some discussion on a couple transactions. I do not know if they'll happen. But I think that with the bilateral trade agreement, there is a chance for there to be better commercial relations. It's obviously all of our philosophy, as we often discussed in China, that that is not only good economically for both countries, but we think it has also more positive effects.

So I think we also are looking at also things in terms of education exchanges as well. But I think that the bilateral trade agreement is a major step and it shows their commitment. I think people will be looking very carefully now at their implementation and ratification of that.

But again, foreign direct investment has been fairly weak in Vietnam in the last couple of years. And what is probably disappointing for them is it was stronger in '96 and '97. In other words, there was greater prospects for Vietnamese -- for investment in Vietnam. People have higher hopes. There is a tremendous work ethic there. But now, people have become -- business has become a little more disappointed at the pace of reform. There are some improvements now. The IMF has pointed to some. The bilateral trade agreement is a positive sign.

I think the number of business people coming over shows that perhaps there is a greater prospect for investment there. But, as we always say, the ball is in their court. We can help bring people there. They ultimately have to impress them that this is a place they can invest and make a good return on their equity.

Q Can you talk about the President's sort of personal feelings, making history as the first President to go to a unified Vietnam and also in light of some of the positions he took 25 years ago? And also, if you can tell us just a little bit more about his visits to the excavation site and the repatriation ceremony. What does he hope to achieve by participating in both of those events?

MR. BERGER: I think in terms of the latter question, this has been a -- both these enterprises -- they're related -- have been a very big part of what we've tried to do together with the Vietnamese. That is, to engage in joint excavation to locate remains now with DNA testing. These remains go back to Hawaii and there is quite a sophisticated process for actually then being able to identify individuals, which obviously is tremendously important in terms of the families involved.

So I think he wants to see that for himself and also to have the American people see what we are doing together with the Vietnamese there. I think that in terms of the President's feelings about this, I think that he -- I think he's proud of what we have accomplished in a very deliberate, step-by-step process towards Vietnam over the last eight years.

We've had a clear loadstar, a clear first priority here along the way, and that is accountability or accounting for our people. We have made very good progress. We now have full cooperation, and it's time now -- we now have moved to a bilateral investment treaty which begins to set the contours, as Gene said, of an economic relationship and define the dynamic of Vietnamese economic reform. So I think the American people generally should feel that this is an important transition that has been done with great fidelity to the values of the United States.

Q Customarily, where there is a new administration coming in, there are briefings as such -- classified briefings to help the transition team to get on board. I understand we're in a sort of awkward moment here. Can you say anything about what preparations or provisions you've made to begin briefing the next administration -- is that underway?

MR. BERGER: When there is an official president-elect, we will reach out, as has been done in every transition, in terms of intelligence and other briefings.

Q On the Brunei trip, is it true that the President will try to stay on a Navy ship outside Brunei, rather than designated hotel, because of the $30,000 a night price tag is too expensive?

MR. SPERLING: Excellent question. I'm fascinated by it. You've stumped me. (Laughter.) I'm going to pay attention much more at our scheduling meetings from now on, though. I'll have someone, Stephanie Streett or somebody to talk -- I just don't know.

Q Do you expect to take a decision on whale hunting by the 13th of November before the talks with Prime Minister Mori?

MR. SPERLING: I can't comment on the timing. I think it is likely to be an issue the President will raise, though.

Q Sandy, what are the chances this is going to be the President's last overseas trip?

MR. BERGER: You know the President. There are no -- no decisions have been made on other trips, but I wouldn't rule it out.

Q Ha.

Q I'd just like to follow up on Kelly's question for a second. Do you think --

MR. BERGER: I don't like your "ha." Wait a minute. (Laughter.) Let me recalibrate here. I wasn't trying to hint anything --

MR. CROWLEY: There may be a wager going on here.

MR. BERGER: -- I was just trying to not be called a liar later. We've made no decisions on any other trips, but there are 11 weeks to go and --

Q Can you verify that? (Laughter.)

MR. BERGER: -- places to see and people to visit and countries --

Q Do you think the trip represents the personal closing of a chapter for the President?

MR. BERGER: I would much rather see it in terms of the country. I think that this is, I think, as I said earlier, an important milestone on a journey that the United States has taken which, in fairness, began in the '80s, accelerated in the last eight years, which has transitioned, in a sense, from the past to the future, but I think done so, as I said before, with great fidelity to America's values and to those who fought and served.

Q Will the uncertainly over who the next president will be have any impact on these Mideast talks -- only because Arafat and Barak don't know who the President's successor is going to be, and does it make things just harder to gel in any way?

MR. BERGER: Well, we haven't had the meetings yet, so I can't answer for sure. I don't think so. Obviously, the President is in the final few months of his presidency. That is something that the parties are aware of. On the other hand, they certainly know that this is a President who has a deep commitment to the Middle East, to peace in the Middle East, who knows and understands the issues extremely well, and is a resource and asset to the process.

Now, that I don't believe will drive the timetable. Their timetable will be driven by their own considerations. But obviously the President is prepared to be whatever help he can be over this period.

Q If I could follow up on your talk about '96 and '97, is there any possibility of an extension of the '97 debt relief that Secretary Rubin did with Vietnam?

MR. SPERLING: I don't think that's been a topic that's been on the table or has even been requested.

Q Regarding future travel, the North Korean trip was something that was discussed as an add-on to this trip. Do you now rule out a North Korean trip during this presidency?

MR. BERGER: We're not going to North Korea as part of this trip -- I will tell you that. No, that decision has not been made. I think the President will make that decision over the next period, based upon his judgment as to whether such a visit would advance America's national interest, would contribute to security on the Peninsula, and whether something of value could be accomplished. He's not made that decision yet.

END 11:45 A.M. EST

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