THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Immediate Release September 15, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
IN PHOTO OPPORTUNITY WITH
PRIME MINISTER ATAL BEHARI VAJPAYEE OF INDIA
The Oval Office
10:42 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Let me just briefly say, again, how very pleased I am
to have the Prime Minister and his party here in the United States. He
went to the United Nations; he was up on the Hill yesterday, talking with
the leaders of the Senate and the House. It's great to have him here in
the White House.
I think we have worked hard together to move our relationship from one
of too little contact and too much suspicion, to one of genuine efforts to
build a long-term partnership that is in the interests of the people of
India and the people of the United States. And I'm encouraged and I'm very
appreciative of Prime Minister Vajpayee's efforts to lead this
So I want to welcome you again and thank you for that, sir.
PRIME MINISTER VAJPAYEE: Thank you very much, Mr. President. I am
grateful to you for your kind words and warm hospitality. The parade was
really very impressive. But now we have some work to perform. With your
visit to India, a beginning has already been made. We have to pursue that
path. Administrations have been working on different issues and I
understand that some agreements have already been arrived at.
As we discuss this, I'm sure differences will be reduced and a common
ground will emerge. The Millennium Summit was a wonderful idea. But the
only regret is that the speakers had only five minutes. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Although, if they had longer, we would still be up
there; we wouldn't be down here talking. (Laughter.)
PRIME MINISTER VAJPAYEE: -- only of summit of religious and spiritual
leaders were also good idea. Have them come together and discuss things
and find out that there are more things in common than the rituals.
Q Mr. President, can you say that you have written a new chapter in
the U.S.-India relations to -- in this Oval Office during this visit of the
Prime Minister of India?
THE PRESIDENT: You could say that; I'm not supposed to say such
Let me say, what I hope we have done is moved our relationship in a
new direction. It began, I think, with the great opportunity that the
Prime Minister gave me to come to India, to speak in the Indian Parliament
Building, which is one of my most memorable experiences as President; and,
obviously, to see your country and its people. I thank you.
But I think that we should look at this as a long-term effort that --
I can speak for myself -- I hope very much goes well beyond my presidency
and our service together. I don't think it should be another 20 years
before an American President goes to India. I think we should have a
regular, sustained partnership; we should identify our common interests; we
should be forthright about the places where we still have differences and
we should set about trying to resolve them in a very matter of fact, open
and honest way.
But if you look at the way the world is going, it's inconceivable to
me that we can build the kind of world we want over the next 10 to 20 years
unless there is a very strong partnership between the United States and
Q When the next President is in the Oval Office in November,
there's a great deal of concern that the kind of milestones that you have
achieved, Mr. President, with India -- what about the continuity, either if
Mr. Gore comes in or if Mr. Bush comes in, in terms of Indo-U.S. relations?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, the way our system works, the election
is held in November and then about nine and a half weeks later there is a
formal transfer. And there is a period of transition there where we have a
chance to talk to the new administration. It certainly will be a priority
of mine to make the argument that this should be continued.
Now, since the Vice President has been a part of this administration
and an intimate part of all of our foreign policy decisions, I know how he
feels about it and I know he will support it. But I would hope this would
become an American commitment that would go beyond political parties, and I
believe it will.
Q Mr. President, you said last week in New York that oil prices
were too high and you raised the prospect that they could trigger a
recession somewhere in the world. There have been protests across Europe
about these high prices. And here at home, Americans are facing fuel bills
30 percent higher than last year.
What's the economic risk to the United States and should Americans be
worried about a recession here?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think in the short to medium term, the answer
to your second question is, no. We have worked very hard over the last 25
years to be a more diverse economy and a less energy intensive economy in a
lot of our production. So we have withstood this oil price fight very much
better than we did when it happened before. That's in the short term.
Now, what we need to do is watch the situation closely. The market is
still sorting out what to do with the recent OPEC announcement. And I
think there will be an evaluation of what the production schedules are, who
does what in the various countries how quickly. And that will have an
impact on what happens to the price and whether we can get it down.
Meanwhile, I'm spending a great deal of time on this, keeping all my
options open, looking at the specific problems of various regions of the
country and the general problem of the oil prices. I hope that before they
go home the Congress will reauthorize the strategic petroleum reserve. I
think that's quite important.
And I will say again that I've had blocked in Congress for a few years
now my proposals for tax incentives for businesses and individuals to buy
energy conservation or alternative energy products, which I believe would
dramatically accelerate our energy independence. So I hope that that will
pass, as well.
But we just have to watch this. The OPEC announcement and the actions
that have been taken since then are not enough, I think, for the market to
fully sort out what it's going to do. But I assure you, I'm spending a lot
of time on it and I will do everything I can to minimize the impact of any
adverse impact on the American people.
Q Mr. President, if you always had doubts about whether Wen Ho Lee
should be in jail, why didn't you share those with us until yesterday? And
what do you say to Asian Americans who are concerned that his ethnicity may
have played some role in the fact he was detained for so long?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I don't believe that. I don't think
there's any evidence of that. Let's look at the facts here.
He has admitted to a very serious national security violation. And
the most important thing now is that he keep his commitment to the
government to work hard to figure out what happened to those tapes, what
was on the tapes, to reconstitute all the information. That's very
In America, we have a pretty high standard, and we should, under our
Constitution, against pre-trial detention. You have to meet a pretty high
bar. I had no reason to believe that that bar had not been met. I think
the fact that in such a short time frame there was an argument that he
needed to stay in jail without bail, and then all of a sudden there was a
plea agreement which was inconsistent with the claims being made, I thought
-- that raises a question not just for Chinese Americans, but for all
Americans, about whether we have been as careful as we ought to be about
And that's something that -- you know, in a government like ours, that
was basically forged out of the concern for abusive executive authority, we
sometimes make mistakes, but we normally make mistakes the other way, where
we're bending over backwards. So that was my narrow question. Our staff
has talked to the Justice Department about it. I'm sure I'll have a chance
to talk to the Attorney General. It would have been completely
inappropriate for me to intervene. And I don't believe she intervened.
This was handled in the appropriate, normal way.
But I want you to understand, there was a serious violation here. He
has acknowledged that. We have to get to the bottom of what was on all the
tapes. But the narrow thing that I want to illustrate here is that when
the United States, whenever we hold anybody in prison who can't get bail or
who is interned for a long period of time before being charged and
convicted and sentenced, we need to hit a very high threshold. That is the
specific thing I wanted to focus on. And I think that there ought to be an
analysis of whether or not that threshold was crossed, in light of the plea
But the American people shouldn't be confused here. That was a very
serious offense and we've got to try to reconstitute what was on the tapes.
That's the number one thing we have to do for the national security now.
Q Mr. President -- on the Middle East. Is there any reason for
THE PRESIDENT: I think my answer to -- specific answer to your
question is you should wait, we should all wait and see. Everybody is
working hard; no big breakthroughs; no reason for hope, no reason for
despair. They're after it. They know they're on a short time frame and
they're working it. But I have nothing to report and I'm staying up with
it. But we're working on it.
But you should be encouraged only by the fact that they are working.
But there are no breakthroughs, no reason for hope, no reason for despair.
END 10:55 A.M. EDT