For Immediate Release May 7, 1997
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Mexico City, Mexico)
PRESS BRIEFING BY
J.W. Marriott Hotel
Mexico City, Mexico
10:22 A.M. (L)
MR. MCCURRY: We've got, I think, what is a reasonably good
advance text that you can follow along with. He'll amend and revise as he
goes along. Obviously, the President will give a speech today that puts out
the particulars of his vision of the U.S.-Mexican relationship, which is being
redefined in very positive ways as a result not only of this meeting, but the
ongoing relationship that we have with the government of Mexico.
He will today say in his speech that we seek a peaceful,
prosperous partnership filled with respect and dignity. He will talk about
the enormous benefits on both sides of the border that have resulted from the
NAFTA agreement and the impact that that's had on our trade relationship.
He'll talk a lot about the work that we've done over the last two days to
develop cooperation on issues related to migration and fighting drugs, and on
balance, the speech will be a real, I think, positive statement to both the
people of Mexico and the people of the United States about the benefits of
this very important bilateral relationship.
Q Is it a NAFTA speech, or is it broader?
MR. MCCURRY: It's broader than that, but I think a
centerpiece of this speech is where he makes the economic argument that free
trade is bringing benefits to both sides of this border. The President's
intent is to remind the American people that the Mexican economy which,
because of the peso crisis, really had a setback, has now prospered, come out
of that setback, and the benefits to the people of both sides of the borders
are growing almost daily because of the steps we took to
encourage free trade.
Q How long will some of those in Mexico who have
not felt the improvement have to wait?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, economic modernization, economic
liberalization is a long-term process. And one of the things the
President is keen on seeing now are the benefits of economic
liberalization pushed down into the streets of Mexico so that the
people who are at the lowest income levels begin to see the
results. Now, some are, but we need to see continued progress as
economic growth takes hold and as modernization takes place.
Q Is NAFTA a good model to use when discussing fast
track trade with other countries? Shouldn't we be looking at
MR. MCCURRY: Well, a structured free trade
environment is a good model. And the President, among other
things today, will say that opening up more markets to free trade
is important to the people of the United States; that people of
the United States run the risk of losing the benefits of
liberalized trade in this hemisphere if we don't act quickly to
establish free trade agreements in this hemisphere. And
obviously, there are some countries in which we can press forward
with sooner in achieving those agreements.
But the President again today will reiterate that he
will seek fast track authority from Congress and will work
closely with Congress to achieve that this year.
Q When is he going to do it? When is he going to
MR. MCCURRY: He'll do that in the course of this
year. We've got consultations going on with Congress about how
best to press forward on this agenda. It's important for us not
to overload the circuits on Capitol Hill. At the moment, we're
working hard to codify the balanced budget agreement recently
reached between the White House and key members of Congress. And
as we work through those issues and get in to later on this year,
we'll be able to structure the dialogue with Congress about
seeking fast track authority.
Q Mike, since the economy or economics is the focus
today, why did Bob Rubin rush home yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: He just went back because there were
-- his work here had been completed in the context of the
Binational Commission meetings. There were some matters that he
wanted to attend to at the Treasury Department. But they were
the routine press of business at the Treasury Department, no
alarming developments that I am aware of that sent him home. He,
I think, just judged -- he came down with the President,
participated in a lot of very productive meetings with his
counterpart and with others who were here from the Cabinet and
elected to go home just to get back to work at the Treasury
Q Mike, on The Washington Post story today, was the
White House aware of that before? And if it is true, does this
give the President any pause in U.S.-Israeli relations?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not going to comment in any
way, shape or form on that article. It contains information that
you know that we routinely do not comment upon in any setting.
The National Security Advisor, who has had discussions at senior
levels of our government, is confident the President has the
information he needs to conduct foreign policy.
Q Secretary Daley mentioned that, without naming
Brazil directly, suggested that certain key elements of the free
-- the hemispheric immigration process would like to turn it back
or weaken it. How much ground has the administration lost absent
fast track in letting Brazil consolidate and slow the pace down?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because of the aggressive export
promotions of Mercosur export promotions of Mercosur, we are
losing some opportunities. I think that, quite wisely,
governments in South America have taken advantage of the
liberalized trade environment and are pressing ahead with their
own free trade agreements. The European Union has moved swiftly
to take advantage of new market opportunities and new trade
opportunities, and the United States is concerned that we will
miss an historic opportunity to expand trade throughout our
hemisphere if we do not move forward on free trade agreements.
Q Mr. McCurry, is there enough political capital
to put forward for the fast track, and then also to negotiate
something along the lines of changing the certification process
as has been hinted with Congress?
MR. MCCURRY: These are very difficult issues, to be
sure, and there are different points of view in Congress. But we
are pledged to work closely with our Congress on both of those
issues to make sure that U.S. interests are advanced both
economically and in our fight against drug trafficking, and doing
it in an environment of respect for the dignity of the sovereign
governments that we work closely with.
Q You're saying that you will look for the fast
track this year. When and if you will be looking for a new
certificaiton process, more respectful of other countries?
MR. MCCURRY: It is too early based on our
discussions with members of Congress to predict timing on either
of those issues. But the President does intend to move forward
with fast track authority and certainly will continue
conversations about how best to reflect our own concerns about
fighting drugs as we look at the legal process that's used
annually for certification.
Q If I can follow up on that, there's been a lot
of hand-wringing about the delay or at least the fact that fast
track has not gone up to the Hill yet, and the business community
says this is going to be a tough fight, so we've got to get it up
there soon, and if we don't get a bill up until the fall, there
won't be enough time to do it and then it will be an election
year. Do you share that analysis from the business community?
Do you have to get it up really soon?
MR. MCCURRY: We've also had consultations with the
business community on this issue and we understand their desire
to move quickly because, as I said a moment ago, many in our
business community feel like they are missing opportunities that
they want to see available to pursue their own economic
transactions. We have to do this in a way that is careful, that
judges what pressure will come to bear on Congress as the debate
unfolds, and we'll do so in a way that we think maximizes our
opportunity to get the authority by the end of the year.
Q Mike, the Central American countries originally
wanted NAFTA priority. They have told us many times now that
they would like to enter into a free trade agreement separate
with the United States. What is the position of the U.S. on
MR. MCCURRY: Well, first and foremost, we need the
authority to negotiate those types of agreements. And that's
where our effort has to concentrate. Without fast track
authority, it would be impossible to enter into those type of
agreements. But we have had some discussions, as you know, with
various governments, including the government of Chile, and we
will continue to examine how best to advance our interests using
the success of NAFTA as a model for how we proceed.
Q But what would be the answer of President Clinton
-- response of President Clinton during this visit?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our answer during this upcoming
visit will be the one that I just gave. He will reassure his
Central American counterparts and by indirection, of course,
those throughout the hemisphere that he will seek fast track
authority. He recognizes the important gains that will occur to
all countries in this hemisphere if we continue to liberalize
trade arrangements. And he will tell them that it is a high
priority of his to obtain that authority from Congress this year.
Q One last question on that part of the trip. The
Central American countries also would like the United States to
give some amnesty to the illegal immigrants of Central America in
the United States. What is your position on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has addressed that
himself. We are aware of concerns that arise from the
immigration bill related specifically to the cap that exists for
some of the countries that are most noticeably affected --
Nicaragua, Guatemala, in particular. And the President's view is
that immigration must be governed by the rule of law, that legal
immigration and the confidence that we can proceed with orderly
legal immigration must be the predicate for dealing with existing
Now, on deportation issues, I think the one thing
that the President will seek to do during his trip in the next
several days is to reassure the governments of Central America
that there will not be some hysterical effort to engage in mass
deportations; that's not foreseen under the immigration bill.
We are again consulting closely with Congress about
some of the concerns that arise from the immigration bill to see
if we can address some of those specific concerns. I think there
are an estimated 400,000 cases pending in the United States and
we need to look carefully at each of those individually, but
we'll do so in a way that respects both the principle of the law
that was passed, but also reflects our desire to deal with any
consequences of that law that would run counter to our concerns
about individual human issues that arise in any immigration case.
Q Excuse me if you've answered either one of
these questions. Will the President be seeking parity for the
Caribbean Basin nations concurrently with fast track authority?
MR. MCCURRY: He will talk a little bit about ways
that we can build on the success of the CBI, but I'd like to hold
that and do that more closer to our arrival in Barbados. He
might generally discuss that and I don't want to rule out that
he'll discuss that with some of the Central American leaders that
he sees tomorrow. But in general, I think that will be an issue
that's more front and center for the President when he arrives in
Q The second aspect of that question is also,
will he seek labor and environment provisions within the central
fast track authority, or will it be like NAFTA and consider it on
MR. MCCURRY: We have said and repeatedly said that
concerns about workers' rights and concerns about environmental
protection have to be addressed within the context of expanding
free trade arrangements. How you best do that and how you
consider the concerns that many of the stakeholders in free trade
have is one of the delicate issues that we have to consult
closely with Congress about. We will do so, but we'll do so with
the goal of concluding arrangements with Congress that give the
President the authority he needs to strike the right type of free
Q Mike, in Zaire, can you tell us whether Mobutu
has left for good?
MR. MCCURRY: I can tell you that we've got -- he
has left for Gabon for meetings with Presidents Bongo, Lissouba
and Eyadema. His aides have indicated that he's expected to
remain in Gabon only until Friday when he is to return to Zaire.
We have not received any indication that President Mobutu has
decided not to return to Zaire.
Q -- Gabon instead of returning -- Are you trying
to put pressure on him for that?
MR. MCCURRY: We've continued our conversations
about how to achieve an orderly transition to a political process
that will lead to free and fair elections. Ambassador Richardson
has been engaged -- I think he's on his way to Paris, if I'm not
mistaken, where he will consult closely with the French
government on these issues. We'll continue our diplomatic
support of the efforts that are underway by the United Nations
and the government of South Africa to achieve agreements that
will lead to both the cessation of hostilities in Zaire and the
type of orderly transition to a new government that the
international community seeks.
Q Mike, would it help if Mobutu did not return,
if he stayed in Gabon --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on that. I
think we've received the indications I just suggested from the
government of Zaire and we will work in that context.
Q Getting back to NAFTA, has there been any talk
of the trucking regulations during this visit? Are we any closer
to having them implemented?
MR. MCCURRY: That's an issue that may have been
broached during some of the Binational Commission discussions
that occurred on Monday with some of the trade officials who were
discussing those issues. That was not an issue that the
President's attempted to resolve yesterday. We'll have to
continue our dialogue on that. Obviously, our safety concerns
are well-known to the government of Mexico and will use the
mechanism of the NAFTA process to address those concerns.
Q Has Erskine told the President that he'd like
to return to North Carolina soon now that the framework of the
balanced budget agreement is complete?
MR. MCCURRY: Erskine Bowles has said publicly as
late as over the weekend on one of the shows that he was on that
he's not a permanent creature of Washington. His heart is in
North Carolina because that's where his family is. He is, as he
describes himself, a creature of the private sector and his
interest is eventually to return to private life. But he has a
job to do, and he is very satisfied with the role he's been able
to play in reaching the framework of an historic balanced budget
agreement. But there's a lot of work ahead on that front in
codifying that agreement and turning it into authorizations and
appropriations, and Erskine intends to plow ahead on that work.
Q The conventional wisdom has been he's not going
to stay here for a full year, but maybe by the end of the year he
might decide to leave. Does that still appear to be --
MR. MCCURRY: I think Erskine Bowles is someone who
has got an exquisite sense of timing and also an exquisite sense
of duty, and he will make his timings in the best -- he'll make
his own personal decisions in the best interest of the President
and furtherance of his own personal commitment to achieving a
balanced budget and to doing the work that the President has laid
out for a second term.
Q His departure is not imminent?
MR. MCCURRY: His departure, to my knowledge, is not
Q Mike, the President looked kind of beat last
night at the state dinner. Is the altitude here taking its toll?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think it's the hours of work
that are probably taking a toll. I think it was a late evening
last night, but the President thoroughly enjoyed it. He had a
wonderful tour of the National Palace, which is an extraordinary
building, and the dinner ran late because the President was
enjoying the conversation and decided to stay at the dinner a
little bit later on. But this has been a fairly grueling
schedule and he's having a good time at it, but I think all of us
take our wear and tear on these trips.
Q Mike, can you give us a little bit of a sense
of the relationship between Zedillo and the President on this
trip? They seem to be getting along well. Can you give us any
insight into how that's going?
MR. MCCURRY: Not only the two Presidents but the
two First Ladies as well have really struck up a very familiar
way of conversing. They do so with, I think, a lot of affection
for each other, but they do so with respect for the important
purposes that attach to the leadership of both countries.
We have been able to work through a number of
complicated issues on this trip and I think that the ability to
do so reflects the good working relationship that's developed
personally between President Clinton and President Zedillo.
But our long-term interests are not predicated on
personal relationships. They're predicated on advancing the
interests of the people of the United States. And in each and
every case on this trip -- whether it's migration, whether it's
economic and trade issues, whether it's the fight against drugs,
whether it's protecting the environment -- both Presidents have
been able to find ways to accommodate their own national
interests and do so in a way that expands opportunities for the
people on both sides of the border.
That's what has made this, I think, such a
successful visit to Mexico, because there is great respect for
the sovereignty of both peoples and yet a common ground and
certainly a great deal of cooperation in resolving questions that
would be important for both peoples as we plow ahead in our
Q Did the President agree to meet more, more
MR. MCCURRY: The President, both here in Mexico,
and I think you'll see him reaffirm to the leaders in Central
American tomorrow, will reaffirm the importance of these types of
high level exchanges.
Tomorrow will be the first time since 1968 that an
American President has met in Central America with his
counterparts, when President Johnson was in the region -- not the
first time in the region; of course, the President saw these
leaders, I think in 1993. And the value that attaches to these
types of exchanges as we take full benefit of the changes
occurring throughout Central America and throughout all of this
hemisphere are certainly enhanced by following up on the kind of
working relationships that we've established.
The Summit of the Americas in Miami leading to the
next Summit of the Americas in Santiago sketch out a framework of
high-level working relationships that are very important if we
are going to take advantage of the enormous changes occurring in
If you think about the incredible change that's
occurred in Central America since the 1980s when we were dealing
with the residue of Cold War, when we were dealing with conflict,
a lot of economic, political instability, when we were dealing
with military authoritarianism, a change that's occurred as these
countries liberalized both politically and economically is really
remarkable -- and that's one thing the President will certainly
celebrate during his visits tomorrow -- but it's a process of
change that the President seeks to nurture and deepen with some
of the ideas he advances.
Q One of the things that in Guatamala, Mexico
played a very strong role ushering in the peace process. Is the
U.S. counting more on Mexico as a partner not only in economic,
but in foreign policy for the region?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's a good observation. The
Guatemala peace accords were critical, I think, to really
symbolically demonstrating to the world that's occurred in
Central America in last decade. The role the government of
Mexico played was indeed key. And Mexico as it prospers, as it
changes can indeed become more of a significant factor in the
foreign relations of this hemisphere, and that, while there is
not any structured discussion of that, I think as Mexico emerges,
as its economy comes out of the Peso crisis, it's clear that
Mexico is poised to play a more important role in the region and
indeed many of these countries -- Costa Rica's is another example
-- have the opportunity to really demonstrate a leadership role
as we work together on many of the issues that confront the
Q You said that the administration is going to be
talking with Congress about alleviating some of the concerns
about deportation. And one of the principle things that you have
to deal with is a cap that was in put in on suspensions of
deportations limiting them to 4,000. Are you going to be urging
Congress to scrap that cap or raise that cap?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to go beyond what
Commissioner Meissner said here yesterday. I thought she
provided a good answer to that. It was delicately phrased. She
said we are working closely with the Congress to address those
concerns. We understand that the way we structure a law can have
a real human impact in individual cases, and we need to deal with
the consequences of that law, but do so in a manner that respects
the integrity of the reform of legal immigration that we achieved
in the bill that was passed.
Q Well, what she said was, she didn't want to
discuss it because to publicly discuss that might jeopardize the
chances of success. If this were a national security issue, I
could understand that. But it's a matter of immigration policy.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's also a matter of careful
discussions between the administration and Congress. It won't be
productive if we try to negotiate the issue in public.
Q Did Louis Freeh recommend that Janet Reno should
appoint a counsel?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't comment on that story other
than to say, as we have said consistently, that those decisions
have to be made by the Attorney General based on law, and she has
very carefully and very patiently, before Congress, explained her
reasoning. I don't have anything to add to what she said.
Q At least one of the opposition parties with whom
President Clinton met yesterday is not very committed to NAFTA.
Is there any second thought -- we were briefed yesterday -- was
there any second comment or any second thought about the meeting
with the opposition parties yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no follow-up on that other than to
say the President appreciated the opportunity to hear the views
of the political leaders he saw yesterday. He thinks that it is
important to recognize the political diversity that exists within
the political culture of Mexico. But our views of NAFTA are
those that President will articulate shortly in his speech.
Q Mike, do you have any color on the President and
the First Lady's tourism both today and while they've been here
prior to this?
MR. MCCURRY: Not yet.
Q -- honeymoon and that sort of thing.
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President will reference
his honeymoon in the speech coming up and he will talk about
their own enjoyment and enchantment with Mexico. The President
has talked a lot about his trip today to see some things that he
normally doesn't see. It's almost a regular complaint of the
President of the United States on foreign trips that some many
other members of the delegation get to see so much more of the
country than he does because he is confined, in many cases, to
hotel rooms having meetings.
And so the opportunity to visit a place that foreign
dignitaries normally wouldn't go to see a slice of average life
in Mexico, albeit a small one, and then to tour some of the
significant archeological wonders of Mexico is something the
President has very much looked forward to. Of course, he regrets
that he won't be able to climb to the top of the pyramid. He
would no doubt try if he could. But he is, I think, looking
forward to a day of really enjoying some of the splendors of
Mexico and also doing what the President often likes to do,
having more direct contact with the people of the country he's
Q Has the subject of Cuba come up between the
MR. MCCURRY: I don't recall seeing a specific
reference to it. I think there may have been a discussion
related to Helms-Burton, but maybe after I take off you can check
with David Johnson on that point. And I think there was some
general discussion about issues pertaining to Helms-Burton that
occurred yesterday, and certainly that is a feature of dialogue
that the Secretary of State has had with Foreign Secretary Gurria
in the past. So I can imagine that it did arise; I haven't heard
anything reported to me that it was a large part of their
Q Going back again to a question I did before, is
the amnesty part of the request of the Central American
Presidents out of the question for now, or is it something that
the President can consider?
MR. MCCURRY: Again, we have got to deal with the
issues that derive from the immigration bill very carefully
because there are strong feelings in Congress on this, and I
don't want to suggest that we would not hear those concerns. We
certainly will hear those concerns expressed by the governments
of Central America, we expect that, but we will also explain that
we are trying to resolve some of these concerns in our very
patient dialogue with Congress.
Q Why is the DEA nowhere to be seen if yesterday
was devoted to this alliance? And after you leave today, after
all is said and done, who is going to be taking care of this and
who is going to be following it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, yesterday was devoted to a
considerable wealth of dialogue of which a large part was the
Alliance Against Drugs, but the administration's viewpoints were
effectively represented by the President and then by General
McCaffrey, who has responsibility for all the law enforcement
agencies in our government that contribute to his national drug
control strategy. He is the point man in working the interagency
process that brings so many agencies together in our fight
against drugs, not just the DEA but all of those that are
involved, from Justice to ATF to a lot of other agencies that
contribute resources to the fight against drugs. So it was
proper for him at this high level of dialogue to represent the
views. And as the General said yesterday, as a matter of
interagency commitment, all of the agencies of the government are
pledged to fulfill the commitments rendered by President Clinton
Q Has the President talked about the human rights
situation in Mexico to Zedillo or did members of the Cabinet talk
about the human rights in Mexico?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, that is a regular feature of our
dialogue. We report on it annually through the report of the
State Department, and the subject does come up regularly in our
Q But yesterday did they talk about it?
MR. MCCURRY: They did, and it was to reference the
concerns that we've expressed in the past to attach the
importance that we bring to the subject of human rights and
individual liberties as we advance our dialogue, to do so in the
environment of respect that we have for the views of other
Q Was Chiapas mentioned in that conversation?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check and see if Chiapas
as a specific issue arose. I know that we have inquired about
the status of conditions there and the status of any conflict
with rebel elements there in the past, I'd have to maybe go back
and double-check whether it specifically arose yesterday.
Q Unless I missed it, I don't think the
President's made any public comment about the human rights
situation in Mexico.
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to go back and look at
everything he said. I thought that he had, but I know that in
looking at the preparation for the presentations he was making
and others in our government were making, that they did devote
time to the subject.
Q Did Mexico sign off on William Weld as the next
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know for certain. I do not
believe that we have presented a name to the government of Mexico
for agrement at this point.
Q The President yesterday said this was his fifth
trip to Mexico. Do you know when any of the other trips were?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't. I know that, obviously, his
honeymoon was one of them. And I believe as governor of Arkansas
he came here. But I don't have the -- I can't enumerate them
Q His honeymoon was --
MR. MCCURRY: Trick question -- '74? I'd have to
check. Wait, I can answer that easy. It's 22 years ago. Do the
math for me, because I'm dim-witted.
Q How concerned is the White House about
opposition in conference to the growing opposition to NAFTA? And
are the Mexicans concerned about that, too? Have they brought
MR. MCCURRY: I think the government of Mexico
understands the complicated political dynamic that exists
pertaining to free trade issues in our Congress. They expressed
some concern about some statements that are made on our side of
the border about the free trade debate. But at the same time,
they recognize the fundamental merit of free trade, the
arrangements that we've reached. They appreciate the President's
resolve to press forward on those arrangements, and they
understand that the progress that the Mexican economy has
demonstrated over the last year is itself a strong argument in
favor of the free trade arrangements that have been achieved.
Q But how much of a threat is that in Congress?
How strong is it growing, and is the White House --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are strong points of view
in our Congress, but that's one of the reasons why we are trying
to work closely with our Congress to resolve concerns, to
establish the right formula to proceed with an expansion of free
trade, because there is no question in the President's mind that
free trade arrangements have benefited the people of the United
States, just as they've benefited the people of Mexico, the
people of Canada. They have created more net economic
opportunity for people on both sides of the border.
This will be the last question. The President is
getting ready to talk. I think we've done all the issues that
I'm aware of. We will try to get you a little bit of color from
the trip, although I think the pool will be in a position to do
some of that. And David and Mary Ellen will be around for the
balance of the day if you need them for anything. And I'm going
to go sightseeing. You looked shocked.
All right, thank you.
President Clinton's Tour of Mexico, Costa Rica,