THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY
United Nations Building
12:11 P.M. (L)MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. Gene Sperling will be here in a moment and he can give you some further thoughts on the President's speech today on child labor and answer any questions you may have. Let me just do one quick thing, though, while we're waiting for Gene.
As you know, the President had a meeting earlier today with President Ruth Dreifuss. It was a positive meeting, discussed the situation in Europe, particularly Kosovo. The Swiss applauded the American leadership role in helping Europe stand together and also deal with the refugees, as well as the humanitarian efforts that are ongoing in the region. They discussed the need to begin the hard work of getting the refugees back home and the hard work of rebuilding Kosovo.
They had an extended conversation on democratization in the region. In particular, the Swiss reflected on their situation with both large numbers of Albanians, having settled in Switzerland, and Serbs living peacefully together. And they talked a bit about the joint economic commission that the Vice President talked about earlier.
That was that meeting. Any questions on anything other than today's speech, which I'll leave to Gene?
Q Did the matter of the retained funds for Holocaust victims and others come up?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so, no. That was not reported out to me.
Q Do you have anything on Cohen's meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: Don't have anything yet. I think that, if it has not started, it will start shortly. I think as we've said, we very much look forward to getting the details of Russian participation in KFOR. We believe they should participate, and as in Bosnia we believe we can work out an arrangement where they participate and we retain a unified command.
Q You'll be able to reach an agreement with the Russians at the Sunday bilateral meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I don't want to put a timetable on it. I think Secretary Cohen and Defense Minister Sergeyev are meeting today. Later in the week, Secretary of State Albright will meet with her counterpart. There are important issues to discuss. I expect we'll reach an agreement. I'm not willing to venture a guess on what the timetable will be.
Q Joe, what is the phrase "unified command" mean? Does that mean NATO in charge?
MR. LOCKHART: It means there's a single force with one command structure making decisions, which would be NATO.
Q Joe, can you confirm that NATO has given the Serbs 24 extra hours to get out of southern Kosovo?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, there's one particular zone. I think overall, we've found that the withdrawal has worked well. The deployment of KFOR has worked well. There's a lot of activity I think in one particular zone due to congestion on roads. They've had trouble moving some of the Serb forces out, so NATO has given them 24 additional hours to get out of that zone. I think it reflects the logistics of actually moving a large number of people and heavy equipment, rather than any reluctance on the part of the Serbs at this point to live up to the agreements they've made.
Q What's the status of Russian efforts to reinforce and resupply the troops at the Pristina airport?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there were some nine trucks that were brought in, escorted by the British forces there to resupply the troops, and that has been done.
Q Do you know what the policy is? Is there a policy from here on out about --
MR. LOCKHART: The policies will continue -- specific discussions like that with the Russians, as well as broader discussions about developing the overall role. And I think once the broader discussions are concluded, and concluded positively, specific discussions like this will become a matter of routine KFOR logistics.
Q Do you know what specific anti-gun measures the President was lobbying for on his two phone calls on the plane?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, he was looking for the House to take up the provisions that the Senate passed closing the gun show loophole and the other elements that the Senate passed forward.
I think he has recognized the very pervasive influence over the last few weeks of the National Rifle Association. They have bragged openly that they have written the House version, which waters down the Senate version and opens new loopholes. I think the President made the case, and will continue to make the case through the next couple of days through phone calls to members, that the public is expecting them to do the people's business, not the NRA's business.
And if you look at the last few days, we find that we're very much at odds among the parties -- or between the parties -- because while you have an effort to water down this sensible gun control legislation, the Republicans have also tried to zero out the COPS program, which is something that causes concern for the President.
So you have a situation where the Republican leadership is making the case for less cops and more guns, and the Democratic leadership is making the case for more cops and less guns. And I think that's a powerful message that needs to be articulated as we move towards the vote.
Q Can you confirm that the solution of the -- of the Russian presence in KFOR might involve a senior Finnish official?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't confirm that. The details of what they'll work out are happening in Helsinki, and I'll let Secretary Cohen do his work and his able spokesperson articulate what agreement they've come to.
Q Joe, forgive me if you went over this in the last day or so, but what does the President think of the House dividing the gun bill from the other juvenile crime issues? And is he happy with the juvenile crime bill as it stands, as it went through in the Senate or --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think what we're concerned about is that there is an effort to do this to try to kill the bill. And I don't know that he spends that much time worrying about the legislative tactics or focusing on that. He wants to make sure that what the Senate passed, at a minimum gets passed in the House.
Q So if I can just follow up, there are some provisions in the juvenile crime bill, like mandatory minimums for 13-year-olds and trying young teenagers as adults. Do you know if the President has any objections or if he was fine to sign on to the Senate version of that bill?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we certainly talked about the Senate bill as passed as something we could support.
Q What was the response to the two Congressman after he called them? And was one of the reasons he called Lampson because his predecessors -- one of his predecessors -- Jack Brooks lost in part because of his vote on assault weapons?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into the response of any particular member; they can do that for themselves. But the President fully recognizes the political nature of this kind of vote. He believes that these are sensible measures that the public demands. But he also remembers quite clearly that there were members of Congress that suffered because of the influence of the NRA and other groups like that.
But I think the President believes that the country has shifted on these issues, and it's important that people stand up and take sensible steps and, in addition to being the right thing to do along policy, that you can make a very effective case to your constituents on why this is the right vote.
Q Do you have any information on what the President's thoughts are as Al Gore declares for president today?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, very obviously and clearly, the President values the relationship and the incredible work that the Vice President has done over the last seven years as his partner. He has been at the forefront of the economic recovery, of the reinventing government, our commitment to education, our foreign policy and our commitment to the environment. These are all areas that the Vice President has played an enormous role in, and I think will stand to his credit as he stands up today.
I think, also, the President believes that it's time for the President to get out and make the case, let the country know who he is, where he wants to take the country. And he takes an important first step on that journey today.
Q Does that mean even if Gore wants to separate himself from the President's agenda?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President's agenda on things like the economy, education, the environment will prove to be a very successful platform for the Vice President to run from.
Q Joe, there are reports that the Russians are pressuring the Eastern European governments to reverse course and let them transit through their country, to send troops into Kosovo. Can we confirm those reports, number one? And, number two, if those reports are true, does it disturb --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of the reports.
Q Bob Woodward writes in his new book that the First Lady once said to Mike McCurry a series of rhetorical questions, have I been embarrassed, have I been humiliated, et cetera. Have you talked to McCurry about that, or anyone at the White House?
MR. LOCKHART: I have not talked to Mr. McCurry about that. I don't think I've talked to anyone at the White House about that particular episode.
Q You can't tell us whether it's, from your standpoint, correct that that happened?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I think there were only two people involved in that conversation.
Q Have you had any indication -- to try to find out whether Mr. Bennett breached the lawyer-client confidential --
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't spent any more time on that subject since the last time we spoke about it.
Q Well, I mean, isn't that important?
MR. LOCKHART: There are a lot of things that I think are much more important and take precedence.
Q Joe, the White House fought so hard during the last year to preserve its legal privileges. It seems strange that the President would now just roll over and say, well, it doesn't matter if all this privileged information --
MR. LOCKHART: And I don't think anyone's indicated the President has rolled over and said any of those things. I'd suggest if you want to report this story, you start by talking to Mr. Woodward and Mr. Bennett and establish the facts.
Q Well, Mr. Woodward clearly is not going to reveal his sources.
MR. LOCKHART: Why don't you start with Mr. Bennett who, if you've all read your Washington Post this morning, will see that he says he did not violate attorney-client privilege.
Q Mine wasn't delivered.
MR. LOCKHART: Some of us have our sources.
Q Well, if Bennett didn't violate attorney-client privilege, who would have said that? Because as you pointed out an earlier question, there might have been only two people in the room.
MR. LOCKHART: Sam, maybe you should have Mr. Woodward on your program on Sunday and ask him that question directly.
Q The book says that Bennett said, you know, to the President, certain things. Was the President his source?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm telling you -- that, I can help you with; the President did not talk to Mr. Woodward.
Q Well, it had to be Bennett, then, or else Woodward made it up.
MR. LOCKHART: I'd suggest you ask Mr. Bennett the circumstances of how Mr. Woodward may have acquired that information, and then maybe to Mr. Woodward on how he acquired that information.
Q Do they still talk, the President and Bob Bennett, for any reason? Are they still friendly?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Joe, do the Russians stand on the peacekeeping operation, you said earlier today that you expect this matter to be resolved. On the basis of what, why do you expect it to be resolved?
MR. LOCKHART: Because NATO and KFOR believe that the Russians have a role to play in this peacekeeping operation. We want them to be involved; they want to be involved. That's the basis of saying I expect this to be worked out.
Any sight of Gene yet? Oh, I'm sorry. Gene.
Q Maybe Sperling was the source. (Laughter.)
END 12:25 P.M. (L)