PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
Radisson Plaza Hotel
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, any questions on any other subjects? Yes?
Q Joe, do you know anything more on what the administration knows about the cause into the crash of Egyptair?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any more specific information than what the President reported to you all earlier today. I think for those of you who had the ability to watch the press briefing from Admiral Larabie, I think he brought -- the press corps gathered where he is up to date on what the Coast Guard, in conjunction with the Navy, is doing as far as moving to a search and recover operation.
I think the NTSB will be in a position to do a briefing in the next couple of hours as far as what they have learned. But we are still in a situation here where the President's words from this morning are quite up to date as far as not understanding at this point the cause of the crash.
Q Does uncertainty about the cause of the crash have any effect on the talks here?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so. I think that the President made clear yesterday when asked that same question before departing that it should have no impact, and I don't believe there has been any sense that anything but the issues at hand have been discussed here in the context of remembering the slain Prime Minister Rabin.
Q Joe, the airline has confirmed now that there were 106 Americans on board the aircraft. Given that new information, is the President planning on making any statement of condolence to the families?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President spoke directly yesterday that -- both to the American citizens that were on board that and the citizens of other countries. He did it directly when he spoke to President Mubarak, that our thoughts and prayers as a nation are with these families, the families of the victims, those who have been impacted by this tragedy. And we are working very hard, I think, as Admiral Larabie indicated, as the NTSB has indicated, to work with the families to provide them with up to date and accurate information, and that is something that I think you all know is a very high priority for the President and for everyone in the administration.
We've worked very hard at improving the system of dealing with the families and getting them the best and most up to date information.
Q Joe, has any additional security measures or any additional precautions been taken here because of the plane crash?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, as you know, it's our longstanding practice not to comment on security issues involving the President, so I will comply with our longstanding practice.
Q Can you explain to me what Clinton time is, that he's always arriving so late? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Can we go back on background? The President had a very full schedule, as you know. He flew through the night to come here. We had a full schedule for the day. I think we -- the meetings, the bilateral, the meetings this evening, ran a little bit long. Given the spirit in which these meetings have been put together, as far as commemorating the Oslo Accords, Prime Minister Rabin, it is certainly worth the extra time as we work through the many issues that can take us to a final status agreement.
Q Joe, why was the President ten minutes late this morning?
MR. LOCKHART: Why was the President ten minutes late?
Q For King Harald.
MR. LOCKHART: Because the car getting to the palace was ten minutes behind schedule.
Q But what caused his car to be ten minutes behind schedule?
MR. LOCKHART: Because he got into the car, here at the hotel, ten minutes later than the schedule indicated.
Q How was it that he got into the car 10 minutes late?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, he left the suite ten minutes beyond where the schedule told him to leave, to go down -- (laughter.)
Q Wait a minute. Can I roll back further to the airport? It took him about ten minutes to come down. Was there a reason? Was he making some sort of a phone call?
MR. LOCKHART: No. He was getting changed.
Q Okay, sorry.
Q Joe, another softball question. (Laughter.) Is there a reaction to Louis Freeh's letter to Ken Starr, in which he praised Ken Starr lavishly?
MR. LOCKHART: I think those are probably two subjects that I'm best advised to say nothing about, so I'll say nothing about.
Q Joe, how concerned is the President about developments in Chechnya?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President is quite concerned about the escalating violence. We've made quite clear at all levels of the government, most recently the President's National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, talking to the Prime Minister about the escalating violence, particularly some of the indiscriminate use of force on innocent civilians, the refugee problems. So I expect the President will take the opportunity tomorrow to express that concern directly to Prime Minister Putin, as well as a number of other issues.
Q Maybe you could elaborate a little bit on what the background briefer said. As you probably know, Arafat and Barak live about ten miles apart, but they have to come here to talk. Can you give us just a better sense of what role Clinton is actually likely to play, not just now but in the months ahead?
MR. LOCKHART: I will leave the particulars to what the background briefer, who just left here, said. I mean, the President has always said that the United States stands ready to play whatever useful role it can in this process -- as a facilitator, as an honest broker -- and will continue to do that as appropriate.
Q Joe, back on Chechnya for a second.
Q Was this whole meeting the Norwegians' idea? Or did we say to the Norwegians, did the United States say to the Norwegians, wouldn't it be a good idea to have us all back to Oslo, to kind of jumpstart this process?
MR. LOCKHART: No, my understanding is that the idea was generated from here. They invited us sometime ago and we made the decision that this was a useful forum and a productive way for the President to engage in this process.
Q Joe, back on Chechnya for a second, when was the call between Berger and Putin? Was that recent, or was that --
MR. LOCKHART: I believe that was the 30th, which was Saturday. Saturday, thanks.
In the back.
Q Joe, you said that the President would take the opportunity tomorrow to express his concern to the Russian Prime Minister. Are there any concrete steps that the administration is considering to get their message across to the Russians?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the President will make clear in the meeting tomorrow, as has been done by others in our government, that we are very concerned about the escalation of violence. We believe that it poses an increasing threat to the region and the stability of the region; and that we very much don't want to see a repeat of what happened in 1994-1995, where a military solution was -- there was an attempt to impose a military solution.
We will make clear that we believe strongly that the Russians need to engage in a political dialogue, be proactive in that effort, as a way of finding a political solution.
Q You know, the Secretary of State, several times -- Mr. Berger, Strobe in Moscow -- you know, they say -- at least the Secretary does, straightforward, that they're not taking my advice, they're not taking the U.S. advice. Where do you go with this?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't want to prejudge what comes out of tomorrow's meeting. I think the President looks forward to the meeting; he will make his points directly to the Russian Prime Minister, acknowledging the serious concern that we have.
Q On that same point, do you consider the bombing of that refugee column, where five Red Cross vehicles, plainly marked, were hit and the killing of people in the process? Was that a war crime under international law?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that is obviously something that I cannot determine. That is something that investigators will have to look at. I think it does serve, though, as an example of the concern we have over the escalating violence and the indiscriminate use of force against civilians.
Q Just to follow up Chechnya. Is the U.S. not concerned that the CFE treaty has actually breached now several times by the number of troops that the Russians have actually put into Chechnya? This is a CFE treaty which has been long negotiated and worked hard for.
MR. LOCKHART: And that work is continuing and I expect the CFE treaty, the adaption of the CFE treaty and the compliance, or noncompliance, to be a subject of discussion. The Russians have been quite transparent in the fact that they have not come under the limits, due to the situation in the Caucuses.
We have been working with them. I expect this to be part of the discussion tomorrow. I expect it to continue as we move forward. I think many of you saw the Prime Minister's statement today, talking about their intention to come under these limits and that the situation that's in place now, they view as a temporary one. But we expect to address that directly tomorrow.
Q Couldn't this be -- induced by other states, if they can breach the ceilings and then go back under or go back over?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I think that we've worked long and hard on the CFE agreement. They have been quite transparent in what they say is the temporary inability to come under the limits. We'll talk to them about that directly tomorrow.
Q Joe, might he say an extra day if he finds -- again, on the Middle East -- if he finds his meeting, his trilateral and other meetings --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't want to artificially rule anything out, but I expect we'll stay to our schedule.
Q Joe, how do you see the current situation in Chechnya? Do you agree with the President and the Prime Minister that this is an anti-terrorist operation, or do you see this as a return to the repressive Soviet tactics of the past era?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we certainly recognize Russia's sovereignty here, but we've expressed at many levels of our government increasing concern over the escalating violence and have made it very clear that a military solution cannot work here and that there has to be a political dialogue. And I think the message the President will send directly tomorrow is that the Russians should be proactive in engaging in that political dialogue.
Q Joe, what are your latest hopes on getting the money for, you know, the Wye Accord? Are you getting anything back from Washington on the budget?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think most of what the House and Senate have been working on in the last couple days is the labor, education and health care appropriations bill. There have been some discussions. We've made it very clear with the Republican leadership, their appropriators, that this is a commitment that has to be met and we're going to continue working with them until we get to a point where we can meet our commitments.
Q Which will be the other issues in the meeting between the President and Mr. Putin? And do you expect the Russians to take a more involved role in the peace process in the Middle East?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that, in addition to Chechnya and the CFE discussions, the President will also take the opportunity to deal with some of the arms control and nonproliferation issues that come up when we talk directly with the Russians -- particularly the START II, START III discussion, the ABM treaty in the context of the national missile defense work that's going on in the United States.
Q Joe, did the President and First Lady go to closing on their house today?
MR. LOCKHART: My understanding is that will be done by close of business East Coast time today. When it is complete, Mr. Kennedy will put out some word that it is done so that everybody knows that.
Q How long did each meeting last, and is there any specific reason why they went on longer than scheduled?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think -- I don't have a precise time, because I came down here on the meeting with Chairman Arafat. But I think the meeting with Prime Minister Barak went just over an hour. So it wasn't significantly longer than scheduled. But we ended up putting the two together, being a little bit behind our schedule.
Q Why did he especially want the meetings to be one-on-one without any aides there?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President looks forward to the opportunity to speak directly. I think he wanted this to be a productive session and made the judgment that it was best to move forward on a one-on-one basis so he could really get a chance to talk directly and openly with the two leaders. They will meet, as you know, together later tonight, and then the three parties will get together tomorrow.
Q Will it just be the three of them tomorrow, or will it be with aides?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what the arrangements for that are. I can check.
Q Joe, we keep hearing, as Barry, I think, pointed out that Russia should listen to the United States' warnings on Chechnya not to repeat the disasters of 1994 and 1996, not to take these actions on civilians. What will happen to Russia, what can the United States do if Russia continues to fail to heed those warnings?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into speculating from here on what steps may or may not be available. I can tell you that the President looks forward to his meeting tomorrow when we'll make the points that I've outlined here directly to the Prime Minister.
Q Do speculations that Mr. Putin might be the next president of Russia have an influence on the meeting tomorrow with the President?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think the internal political situation as far as the electoral politics of Russia will be a factor in tomorrow's meeting.
Q Do you know how it came about that Barak and Arafat decided to have their one-on-one meeting tonight, how that originated? Because it wasn't in the schedule.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't. I know that it was reported in probably the middle of the afternoon here, but I would suggest that you go to the two parties to try to find out the origin of that.
Q Could you elaborate a bit more on the kind of channels Washington may be having with Damascus?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think I'll leave it to what the previous briefer said or did not say on that subject.
Q I know you're sick of legacy questions, but this is an issue that the President has dealt with throughout his presidency. The Oslo Accords came out the first year of his presidency, and I wonder if you could talk in some way about how important it is to him to conclude it also during his term in office?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President, as well as the team that's worked so hard on this, has an interest in seeing a positive outcome here of seeing a long-lasting peace agreement reached. I don't think that the President is focused on the calendar in the way that the question suggests. It was the parties who set an aggressive schedule based on their interests in trying to find an agreement, and the President wants to be helpful in this process in any way he can. But it's ultimately up to the parties to reach -- to bridge the differences, to make the tough decisions, and they have moved forward with an aggressive schedule, and it's based on their interests rather than any other outside interests.
Q Joe, I don't know if you had a chance to notice, but despite all that's going on in Chechnya, border openings were opened for refugees to pass through. I wonder what you think of that, but is that something the President might try to build on tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: I hadn't seen that report, but we have been quite concerned, have made the point that there were a number of refugees being sort of held in a no man's land situation somewhere near 200,000. So I think it's important that people are given free access. That's a point we've made, and to the extent that that's being done, that is something that is positive.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 8:00 P.M. (L)
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