THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam)
For Immediate Release
November 16, 2000
INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT
BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Aboard Air Force One
En route Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam
November 14, 2000
12:40 A.M. EST
Q Why don't we start with the election. Do you think either Vice
President Gore or Governor Bush is going to be able to govern effectively
in a situation as divided and increasingly embittered as it is now?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it's too soon to draw that conclusion. I
think the American people are pretty good about uniting around a President,
particularly if the President gets a certain grace period. And I don't
think that the circumstances are as rife, or ripe, for discord as they were
in '93, where Newt Gingrich was in control and - the Republican apparatus
in the Congress and had a certain theory about what he was trying to do. I
think now the country may be quite sobered by this and the Congress may be
somewhat sobered by it. You might well find that there is a real
willingness to work together.
The fact that the American people were closely divided on the
candidates for President, and would have been closely divided even if Ralph
Nader weren't in here, the Vice President would have won the election
probably, what, 51.5 to 48.5 or something. That indicates that the
American people - I don't think that means that they don't believe there's
a dynamic center that can be achieved. And I think that's what they will
want from the next President and from the next Congress. So I think it's
too soon to say that bitterness and partisanship will paralyze the next
President; we don't know that. And I hope it won't be the case.
This is actually, if you think about it, while it was a hard-fought
campaign, there wasn't a lot of personal criticism in it. Some from the
Republican side against the Vice President, but not nearly as harsh as
we've seen in some campaigns of the past. And even less from the
Democratic side against Governor Bush. There was some, but not much. I
think on balance it was an election fought out over two different
approaches to the country's challenges and opportunities and different
positions on specific issues. So I don't think we are necessarily doomed
to four years of stalemate and partisanship, and I hope that won't be the
Q People are talking about the - some people were even saying the
election is being stolen and there's all this bitterness, suits. You don't
think that that poisons the atmosphere?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that depends on what happens in the next
few days. And so far what I've tried to tell the American people is they
have spoken and we're trying to determine what they said. I think there's
another million or so votes to be counted in California, New York and
Washington State, maybe even a little more. I guess still the - some
prospect of asking for a recount in Iowa and Wisconsin by the Bush people.
And then there's the attempt to resolve all the questions that are out
there about the Florida vote. And I think we just - you know, the process
is underway. Both sides are clearly very equally represented. And I just
think we ought to let the thing play out. It will work itself out in some
way or another. We've had this happen before. In 1800, Thomas Jefferson
was elected in a very divisive, highly partisan election and went into the
House of Representatives - I think he even had to vote on the fitness of
the electors - he was a sitting Vice President.
You know, he gave a very conciliatory inaugural address, saying we are all
federalists, we're all republicans, and led to a whole new era in American
politics, out of what was an exceedingly divisive election. He was
reelected and Mr. Madison was elected, served two terms; Mr. Monroe was
elected, served two terms. It was actually probably the most stable period
in our country's history, in terms of leadership, borne out of an
exceedingly divisive election in 1800.
So I think it depends upon whether the people believe that this whole
thing plays out in a fair way. So that's why I've encouraged the American
people to just relax, take a deep breath, recognize that a result of this
kind is always possible in a democratic election that's hard fought. And
that the most important thing is that when it's all said and done that
people believe that all the issues were resolved in a fair way and that the
people - franchise was protected and the integrity of the process was.
It's unfolding, we just - and I think as long as it - I just think that's
what we ought to keep in mind here.
There's lots of time, you know, the Electoral College is not supposed
to meet until December 18th, inauguration is January 21st, it's a very
stable country and they're working through it and we'll see what happens.
Q Are you comfortable with the courts being as heavily involved as
they're becoming? Should a judge decide whose vote counts and whose
THE PRESIDENT: I think in some of these cases there may not be any
alternative, because the right to vote is protected and defined in both
state and federal law. There's probably no alternative here.
Now, in the first case, I understand today the judge actually declined
to get involved, isn't that right?
Q Yes, she would not stay the hand-counting.
THE PRESIDENT: I think that the courts probably will be reluctant to
be involved as long as they believe that nothing - there's been no legal or
constitutional infringement on the franchise. We'll just see what happens.
Q The Vice President has gone back to court against the Secretary
of State's ruling that it has to be done by 5:00 p.m. tomorrow.
THE PRESIDENT: Like I said, I've done my best not to comment on the
process, but just to say it's unfolding, both sides are well represented;
they're arguing their points strongly. We should not expect either side to
do anything less than to make their strongest case, that's what they're
supposed to do.
Q Do you agree with Senator-elect Clinton that the Electoral
College should be abolished?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I have mixed feelings about it. I think the
idea - first of all, it was established to some extent for practical
reasons, as you know, in the 18th century. And the practical reasons are
no longer relevant - you know, we know how people voted when they vote. So
nobody has to come tell us.
The other argument is that it gives some more weight to the small
states, because the votes are not proportional to the House of
Representatives, every state gets the two Senate votes, too, in the
Electoral College. And, arguably, it gets more attention from the
candidates to the small states.
Now, I think that ought to be examined. I'm not necessarily sure
that's so. For example, if you're a Democrat and you know you're going to
lose every state that's not on the Mississippi River, until you get to
California, Washington, Oregon and maybe Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico -
would you not go there, would you be any less likely to go there if there
were no Electoral College? Or might you take a run through the high plains
and stop in Denver and think that it matters what margin you lose by?
Because what happens is when these candidates have public funds, they
have limited funds, and limited time it affects not only their advertising
budget, but their travel budget. If you're a Republican and you know you
can't win New York, you don't go there. But if you knew that it might make
the difference in whether you got 35 or 42 percent of the vote - in this
case, if you're Al Gore and you don't think you're going to win Ohio, it
might make the difference in 46 and 49 percent of the vote, might you go.
So I don't - I'm not quite sure. Again, I believe how this plays out
will determine it - not only my opinion about it, but maybe a lot of
people's opinion about it.
Q Do you expect there to be a serious move? I mean, do you think
that there is -
THE PRESIDENT: I don't have any idea. I know that Hillary feels
strongly about it and it has really nothing to do with the fact that she's
a Senator-elect from New York now. But you can ask her why she feels that
I have mixed feelings. I think that, you know, certainty and clarity
of outcome is important, so I think it depends on - I think that a lot of
people's views will be determined by the sense they have about the fairness
and adequacy of this process over the next however long it takes to
resolve. And we'll just have to see.
Q Do you think it's appropriate at this point for either Governor
Bush or the Vice President to be planning a transition?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't think I should comment on what they do. I
don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on that.
Q Do you think that this is going to be resolved by the time you
get back to Washington next Monday? Do you think it should be resolved by
then? And at what point do you think Americans begin to lose faith in the
THE PRESIDENT: I don't know whether it will be resolved when I get
back. I don't have an opinion about that.
I think the important thing is that the process be resolved in a way
that is as fair as possible, meaning that the American people on both sides
of this have the highest possible level of confidence that the people who
went to the polls and voted - that the totals reflect, as far as possible,
a fair assessment of the people who went to the polls and voted.
And I think that, you know, there are lots of questions out there and
I don't think I should comment on it. There is a process in place; they
are both arguing their points strongly, as they both should; and I think
that's the most important thing - more than whether it's one week or eight
days or six days or twelve days or whatever.
Q Given how far we've come, do you think it's possible that we're
going to come out of this and people are going to think it was fair? With
all the angry charges that are going back and forth and the court
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, this is not just a matter of charges,
there are certain facts. And I think the facts will come out and be
established and then the disputes about how the factual situation should be
handled will be resolved and people will reach a conclusion about whether
they believe that or not.
I think it's quite possible that people will think in the end that the
matter has been fairly resolved - they may or may not, I certainly hope
that they will. But I think it depends upon what the facts are and then
how the facts are resolved.
But, again, I say, this process is still in play. I don't think the
American people should - and I don't think the press should rush to
judgment here and just conclude that no matter who is declared the winner
that the people who voted for the other candidate will think that something
wrong was done. I think it depends on how it is handled and what the facts
Q Sir, what's your outside time table and what's a reasonable
amount of time?
THE PRESIDENT: I just don't want to comment on it because I don't
want to prejudice the process. That would be unfair to both candidates for
me to say. I think my role now is to uphold the basic principles of
democracy and the integrity of the vote and to ask the American people to
give this process a chance to play itself out.
Q Moving on to your major stop on this trip, Vietnam. In 1969,
which was the last year an American President went to Vietnam, you wrote a
letter saying you hated and despised the war and had worked and
demonstrated against it.
Now that you've been in the position of making decisions of war and
peace, do you still feel that way about Vietnam?
THE PRESIDENT: What I feel about Vietnam is that thanks in large
measure to the bipartisan leadership of Vietnam veterans in the Congress -
Bob Kerrey, John Kerry, John McCain, Chuck Robb and Pete Peterson, when he
was there, now is our ambassador - the American people have been able to
look to the future and hope that a future can be built which opens a new
page in our relations with Vietnam. And hopefully one that will put an end
to the divisions between the Vietnamese people and the American people, and
between the American - within America, and within Vietnam and within the
Vietnamese people, including the Vietnamese who are in America, who
believed in what we were doing.
That's what I think. Now, when we look back on it the most important
thing is that a lot of brave people fought and died in the North Vietnamese
Army, the Viet Kong and the South Vietnamese Army and the United States
Army; our allies, the Republic of Korea and other allies who were there. A
lot of people still bear the wounds of war in this country and in Vietnam.
And the best thing that we can do to honor the sacrifice and service of
those who believed on both sides that what they were doing is right, is to
find a way to build a different future, and that's what we're trying to do.
Everything I have done for the last eight years has been premised on
that, starting with trying to obtain the fullest possible accounting for
the POWs and the MIAs. And none of what I have done, as I say, would have
been remotely possible if it hadn't been for John McCain and Chuck Robb and
Senator Bob Kerrey and Senator John Kerry and Pete Peterson. They
literally made this possible, they and the veterans groups and the
Vietnamese living in America who all supported the American position in the
So I think - I don't see this so much as coming to terms with the past
as moving forward into the future.
Q Were there ever points when you were grappling with some of these
questions in the past eight years, when you thought about Lyndon Johnson
facing those things, in that very troubled period and having to make those
decisions, which at the time you very much disagreed with?
THE PRESIDENT: I see now how hard it was for him. I believe he did
what he thought was right under the circumstances. Let me just say
parenthetically, I'm glad to see that there is a reassessment going on
about the historic importance of President Johnson's term of office, the
work he did for the civil rights movement, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting
Some people are even beginning to acknowledge that his war on poverty
was not a total failure, that in fact poverty was reduced. In fact we just
this year finally had the biggest drop in child poverty since 1966, since
Lyndon Johnson was President.
And I believe that - you know, these decisions are hard. And one of the
things that I have learned, too, is when you decide to employ force, there
will always be unintended consequences.
Q You talked about all the losses on both sides, 3 million
Vietnamese losses, 58,000 Americans. Were all those lives wasted?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I don't think that any person is
fit to make that judgment. People fight honorably for what they believe in
and they lose their lives - no one has a right to say that those lives were
wasted. I think that would be a travesty.
Every war is unfortunate and when it's over you always wish it could
have been avoided. But I think it's a real mistake to look at it in that
way. I think what we have to do is to think about what we can do today and
tomorrow and in the years ahead to honor the sacrifice of the people who
believed in what they were doing. And I think that for eight years that's
been the policy of this country. And as I said, it had bipartisan support
and absolutely critical support from leading veterans in the country -- in
the Congress and in the country.
Q Do you think the United States owes Vietnam an apology for its
involvement in the war?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I don't.
Q The MIA/POW question is very crucial to us and obviously has been
through these eight years. Do you have any feeling about the Vietnamese,
who have many, many more people never accounted for after this year. Is
there anything we can do to help them come to terms -
THE PRESIDENT: I think if there is anything that we can do to help
them, we ought to do it. Of course, their people mostly died there, in
their country. I think that we should always be in a position of doing
whatever we can to help them get whatever information or records we might
have to resolve anything on their front.
They have let us look at tens of thousands of pages of archives and
other pieces of evidence which have helped us to identify hundreds of
remains and return them; and we're still working on it. And I think this
is something we ought to keep doing together. I think this effort we have
undertaken is what made it possible for the veterans groups and the
families of the people who are still missing to support this step-by-step
advancement in our relationship. And I think it ought to be a two-way
Q Do you have any reason to believe that any Americans remain in
captivity in Vietnam, after the last American POWs were released in 1973?
THE PRESIDENT: We have no evidence of it. I know there are people who
still believe that may be the case. And all I can say is that every time
we've gotten any lead, we've done our best to run it down completely and we
will continue to do that.
Q Nothing has panned out in any of these reported -
THE PRESIDENT: Nothing has panned out. You know, I'm like every other
American, I think. I've always hoped against hope that a few of them were
still there and still alive and that somehow we could find them. But so
far all the rumors and all the leads have turned up dead-ends. But I would
never close the door on that. If there is ever any indication of anything
else, I'd be glad to look into it, and I think any subsequent American
Q How would you describe Vietnam, in terms of its relationship with the
United States? Where are we now? Friend? Partner? How would you
describe the relationship?
THE PRESIDENT: I would say that our relationship is evolving. I think our
work on the POW/MIA issue has been quite positive and has improved. I
think the interviews that they have done of the people we've asked to be
approved for relocation to the United States, they've improved that quite a
bit in the last couple of years.
I would say that the trade agreement is a very good thing, for the same
reason I thought it was a good thing for us to make the trade agreement
with China. It's not as extensive, and it requires year-by-year renewal,
and will do so until they meet all the terms of becoming members of the
World Trade Organization. But it's a very positive thing.
I hope that we will continue to see some progress there on the human rights
issues. There are still political prisoners, religious prisoners that we
feel should be released. And I hope they will continue to do that. We've
had some - seen some movement there in the last year of the release of some
of the - Protestants and some Catholics from prison. And I think we have
to just keep working on that.
And then I hope there will be an opportunity for some educational
exchanges. And eventually I hope that some of the Vietnamese living in
America will become part of our ongoing development of relationship,
because I think that's kind of the next big step, I think, from our point
Q What do you mean, that the Vietnamese community would become a bridge
to their original home or - what you mean?
THE PRESIDENT: I think that a lot of the Vietnamese living in America, as
you know, or as I said, were basically people who were strongly supportive
of the position the United States took in the Vietnam War, or their
children. But the younger people also want to build a new relationship
with Vietnam, they want to see Vietnam modernized, they want to be I think
eventually reconciled with their relatives or the people that lived in
And I think that over time we'll see some more contacts there and that will
Q Do you ever reflect on what it means for an American President now to
go to the place that symbolized and distorted our politics? You know, for
much of a generation - I mean, if you look at Watergate, Watergate could
almost be traced to Vietnam. So much happened because of Vietnam. Is this
a new chapter? Is this a closing of that door, do you think, in any way?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it's a new chapter. The thing that makes
America work over time is our ability to visualize new futures and achieve
We don't need rose-colored glasses here; we still have differences with the
Vietnamese about the form of government they have. But we've decided to
approach them, the same way we've approached China, the same way we deal
with other countries with whom we have continuing differences.
But I think there's a strong sense that it's time to write a new chapter
here. This is, after all - this country, the 12th or 13th biggest country
in the world. They have about nearly 80 million people; and 60 percent of
them are under 30; an enormous percentage of them under 18.
Q So they know of the war, but they didn't experience it the way we did.
THE PRESIDENT: What they know of the war is what they hear their parents
talk about or what they'll learn in history books - the same way that our
children do, those of us that are of that age.
I think that what we want to do is give them a chance to - the Vietnamese a
chance to find some greater prosperity, the global economy, and we believe
it will bring greater openness to their society and a whole different
future for them - a different relationship and a different relationship
that will involve the Vietnamese who've come to our county and, on the
whole, have done so very well in America and enriched our nation.
Q I was going to ask you if there really is anything left to be done in
the Middle East, whether diplomats can now cause what's happening in the
streets to stop happening?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it depends on whether we can reduce the violence to
the point where it's possible to resume negotiations.
Q Can you do that?
THE PRESIDENT: The unbelievable irony of the present situation is, with
this level of violence is unfolding in the aftermath of the first serious
discussion, official discussion that the Israelis and the Palestinians had,
which occurred at Camp David on the serious, difficult final status issues
of the Oslo agreement. And, I might add, after Camp David they continued
to talk in informal ways. And they know that while there are still
differences between them, they are agonizingly close to a resolution of
these fundamental issues.
I think they also know that violence begets violence and that in the end
they're still going to be neighbors, so they're either going to keep
killing each other at varying rates with one side feeling beleaguered - the
Israelis; and the others feeling oppressed - the Palestinians. Or they're
going to come to grips with this and complete the process they agreed to
complete when they signed the agreement on the White House lawn in
September of 1993.
So that's the frustration. The answer to your question is, yes, there's
more that can be done; but I do not believe it can be done with this level
of violence going on. I just don't think that's possible.
Q How do you get control of that - Sharm el-Sheikh, you weren't able to
do it there. You've had these -
THE PRESIDENT: The Sharm el-Sheikh agreement was perfectly fine, it just
hasn't been implemented. So that's why I saw Arafat and Barak this week,
and I think within, in this coming week you'll see whether there is going
to be any kind of effort to change course.
You know, somebody has got to quit shooting. And I think the
demonstrations in the daytime have gone down among the Palestinians; but
the nighttime shooting hasn't. I think everyone understands now that it
may not be possible for Chairman Arafat to control everything every
Palestinian does immediately. It may not be possible for Prime Minister
Barak to control everything every Israeli does immediately.
But this thing can be reduced dramatically if they want to get back to the
negotiating table. I think the Israelis will respond in kind if the
Palestinian shootings will diminish now.
You know, we had a rough day today and the Palestinians said it was in
retaliation for the shooting of the resistance leader the other day. We'll
just have to see what happens.
But the ironic answer to your question is, every time I talk to them I come
away more convinced that we could actually have an agreement if they could
free themselves of this cycle of violence and get back to the negotiating
And I think if they - I think there's a way to do it and I'm going to try
to see what we can do this week. That's all I can say. I'll do my best.
Q A secret plan? A Clinton secret plan?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I don't have a secret plan. I just think the more I
talk about this sort of thing, the harder it is to do.
Q We wanted to ask you about also North Korea. Did the missile talks
fail in Malaysia, did they fail to give you what you wanted to hear? How
far apart is that and what's the prospect of a trip there?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we're making some progress, but we haven't resolved
it all. We think it's quite important to work out an arrangement with them
in which, one, we stop the missile development - they stop the missile
development and the sales of missiles. Now, they obviously need to earn
some funds from some other places and we think there are ways they can do
Secondly, we want to keep the North-South dialogue going. We strongly
support what President Kim Dae-jung did with Chairman Jong Il. We think
that was a good thing to do and we think it ought to continue. And we want
to also continue the agreement we made with them early in my term, which
ended the nuclear development program, which when I became President I was
told by my predecessors that it was the most serious national security
problem we were facing at the time.
So I wouldn't rule out or in a trip, if that's where you're going on this.
I just think the most important thing is that we're engaged with them and
we're making constructive progress. And I hope we can make more before my
tenure is over, because I think it will leave my successor an easier time.
Q What's your greatest personal satisfaction of your eight years, as you
near the end of them? And what's your greatest personal disappointment?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, that's hard to say - it's hard to say on both counts.
My greatest personal satisfaction I think is that our country is in so much
better shape than it was eight years ago. And not just economically. I
think it's economically probably the strongest it has ever been; but it's
also a more equal society. We have incomes rising at all levels for the
first time in three decades. We have a big drop in poverty. We have a big
drop in crime. We have the welfare rolls cut in half. We have fewer
people without health insurance for the first time in a dozen years.
Performance of our students in the schools is getting better. We have
more minority kids taking advanced placement courses and going on to
college. And I think in each of these areas we've had policies which have
contributed to this.
We also have a real - I think there is more social cohesion,
notwithstanding the division of this vote. We've got 150,000 kids serving
in AmeriCorps, more than served in the Peace Corps in the first 20 years.
We've had I think a real attempt to try to bridge the racial divide in this
country and deal with those issues and confront a lot of the problems that
still exist in America.
So I feel good about both the fact that the country is in better shape
and I think there is a lot of self-confidence, a sense of possibility in
this country. I think in part that explains how free people felt to debate
the issues in the last campaign and to make their choices. I'm very, very
grateful for that.
And I will leave office with that sense of gratitude, because I think
that's what every President wants to do. Every President wants to feel
that during his tenure of service, America grew stronger and healthier and
I feel good about where we are in our relations with the rest of the world.
I think we've basically been a force for peace and prosperity.
What is my greatest regret? I may not be able to say yet. I really
wanted, with all my heart, to finish the Oslo peace process, because I
believe that if Israel and the Palestinians could be reconciled, first the
State of Israel would be secure, which is very important to me, personally,
and I think to the American people; secondly, the Palestinians would be in
control of their own destiny; third, a peace with Syria would follow
shortly; and, fourth, the Middle East would not only be stable, which is
good for America's interests, and not just because of the oil, but the
forces of progress and prosperity - progress and reconciliation, excuse me
- would be stronger in all countries, including Iran.
And I felt that I really think this is a sort of linchpin which could lead
to a wave of positive developments all across the region. And I think
that's very important.
Most of the people in the Middle East are young, there are all these kids
out there. What are they going to - are they going to be raised to believe
their faith requires them to hate the Israelis and the Americans and
anybody else that's not part of their faith and politics? Are they going
to be perpetually poor, even if they have a fairly decent education? Are
we going to see that whole region being integrated into a global system and
these children having a whole different future, in which they're reconciled
with their neighbors in Israel and deeply involved in the world in a
positive way. Are they going to be using the Internet to talk to terrorist
cells about chemical and biological weapons or are they going to be using
the Internet to figure out how to grow new businesses and have new
opportunities and build new futures for their families and their children.
So if it doesn't happen I'll be profoundly disappointed; but I'll never
regret a minute I spent on it because I think it's very important for the
I have never bought the thesis - on an inevitable collision course with the
Islamic societies, or that the 21st century had to be dominated by
terrorists with highly sophisticated weapons, fueled by broad popular
resentment from people who are both disenfranchised and poor. I don't
think it has to be that way and I think if we could really make a big dent
in this problem it would give confidence to the forces of reason and
progress throughout the region.
Q Thank you very much.
END 1:20 A.M. EST