Compilation of Weekly Presidential Documents - December 13, 1999 - The President's news conference

� December 8,1999



� The President. Good afternoon. Before I take your questions I have

a statement to make. We are at a pivotal moment in the Middle East

peace process, one that can shape the face of the region for

generations to come. As I have said on numerous occasions, history

will not forgive a failure to seize this opportunity to achieve a

comprehensive peace.



� We've made good progress on the Palestinian track, and I'm

determined to help Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat move

forward in accordance with their very ambitious timetable.



� We've also been working intensely, for months, for a resumption of

negotiations between Israel and Syria. Today I am pleased to

announce that Prime Minister Barak and President Asad have agreed

that the IsraelSyrian peace negotiations will be resumed from the

point where they left off. The talks will be launched here in

Washington next week with Prime Minister Barak and Foreign Minister




� After an initial round for I or 2 days, they will return to the

region, and intensive negotiations will resume at a site to be

determined soon thereafter. These negotiations will be high level,

comprehensive, and conducted with the aim of reaching an agreement

as soon as possible.



� Israelis and Syrians still need to make courageous decisions in

order to reach a just and lasting peace. But today's step is a

significant breakthrough, for it will allow them to deal with each

other face to face, and that is the only way to get there.



� I want to thank Prime Minister Barak and President Asad for their

willingness to take this important step. And I want to thank

Secretary Albright who has worked very hard on this and, as you

know, has been in the region and meeting with the leaders as we have

come to this conclusion.



� Before us is a task as clear as it is challenging. As I told Prime

Minister Barak and President Asad in phone conversations with them

earlier today, they now bear a heavy responsibility of bringing

peace to the Israeli and Syrian people.



� On the Palestinian track, Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat

are committed to a rapid timetable: a framework agreement by

mid-February, a permanent status agreement by mid-September. I'm

convinced it is possible to achieve that goal, to put an end to

generations of conflict, to realize the aspirations of both the

Israeli and the Palestinian people. And I will do everything I can

to help them in that historic endeavor.



� It is my hope that with the resumption of Israeli-Syrian talks,

negotiations between Israel and Lebanon also will soon bep-rin.



� There can be no illusion here. On all tracks, the road ahead will

be arduous; the task of negotiating agreements will be difficult.

Success is not inevitable. Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, and

Lebanese will have to confront fateful questions. They face hard

choices. They will have to stand firmly against all those who seek

to derail the peace, and sadly, there are still too many of them.



� But let there also be no misunderstanding. We have a truly historic

opportunity now. With a comprehensive peace, Israel will live in a

safe, secure, and recognized border for the first time in its

history. The Palestinian people will be able to forge their own

destiny on their own land. Syrians and Lebanese will fulfill their

aspirations and enjoy the full fruits of peace. And throughout the

region, people will be able to build more peaceful and, clearly,

more prosperous lives.



� As I have said, and I say one more time, I will spare neither time

nor effort in pursuit of that goal. Today the parties have given us

clear indication that they, too, are willing to take that path.

Peace has long been within our sight. Today it is within our grasp,

and we must seize it.



� Thank you very much.



� Terry [Terence Hunt, Associated Press]. Elian Gonzalez



� Q. Mr. President, on another matter involving a foreign government,

as a father, do you sympathize with the demand of Elian Gonzalez for

the return of his 6-year-old son to Cuba, now that the boys mother

and stepfather were drowned in a boating accident on the way to




� The President. Well, I think, of course, all fathers would be

sympathetic. The question is, and I think the most important thing

is, what would be best for the child? An there is a legal process

for determining that.



� I personally don't think that any of us should have any concern

other than that, that the law be followed. I don't think that

politics or threats should have anything to do with it, and if I

have my way, it won't. We should let the people who are responsible

for this, who have a legal responsibility, try to do the right thing

by the child.



� These decisions are often difficult, even in domestic situations,

but I hope that is what would be done, and it should be done without

regard to politics.



� Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International].



� Middle East Peace Process



� Q. Mr. President, did both sides make a lot of concessions to get

to this breakthrough point? And also, are you aware that Amnesty

International says that Israel is continuing the demolition of

Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem and on the West Bank, and also,

the expansion of the settlements? Are all these part of a package?



� The President. Well, Prime Minister Barak made a very important

statement about settlements yesterday, which i think was quite

welcome. And it's a good first step. As you know, we believe that

nothing should be done which makes it more difficult to make peace

or which prejudges the final outcome. But I do think that the

statement yesterday is a step in the right direction.



� As to your question about Syria, I think it's very important at

this point that we maximize the chances for success, which means it

would not be useful for me to get into the details. But the

negotiations are resuming on the basis of all previous negotiations

between the United States and Syria-I mean, between Syria and

Israel, and with the United States.



� I think it is clear that both parties have sufficient confidence

that their needs can be met through negotiations, or they would not

have reached this agreement today.



� Steve [Steve Holland, Reuters].



� Russia and the Situation in Chechnya



� Q. On Chechnya, you used sanctions to punish Yugoslavia and

Indonesia for repression; why aren't sanctions being considered

against Russia?



� The President. Well, there are two categories of aid here in

question-or, at leastlet's talk about the aid. A sanctions regime

has to be imposed by the United Nations, and Russia has a veto

there. But I'm not sure that would be in our interest or in the

interest of the ultimate resolution of the crisis.



� Let me just say, with regard to the aid, because I've been asked

about that, I think it's important to point out to the American

people that two-thirds of the aid that we spend in Russia is

involved in denuclearization and safeguarding nuclear materials. And

I think it is plain that we have an interest in continuing that.



� The other third goes to fund democracy, the things that we

Americans believe would lead to better decisions. It goes to an

independent media; it goes to student exchanges; it goes to NGO's,

helping people set up small businesses. I don't think our interests

would be furthered by terminating that. And as of now, there is no

pending IMF transfer because of the general opinion by the IMF that

not all the economic conditions have been met. So that's a bridge

we'll have to cross when we get there.



� Yes.



� Middle East Peace Process



� Q. Mr. President, when Israel and Syria do sit down, they obviously

are going to have to confront the issue of the Golan Heights almost

immediately. How are they going to resolve that? What will the U.S.

role be? Will you see the administration-Secretary Albright,

yourself possibly-being a mediator? And finally, why isn't President

Asad sitting down with Prime Minister Barak at this point?



� The President. I think they're sitting down because they want to

make peace, and they have now concluded that they can do it on terms

and that will meet both their interests. You've asked good

questions, but any answer I give would make it unlikely that they

would be successfully resolved. Frankly, we all took a blood oath

that we wouldn't talk beyond our points today, and I'm going to keep

my word.



� Q. Sir, maybe you misunderstood. I was asking why President Asad is

not personally involved in the talks at this point.



� The President. Oh, he is very personally involved. I think that-I

believe that he felt it was better-and maybe you should ask the

Syrians this-but let me just say, he is very personally involved in

this. I think he thinks it better, for whatever reason, he's made

the decision that Foreign Minister Shara, who, thankfully, has

recovered from his recent stroke and is perfectly able to come here,

to do so. And I'm quite comfortable that this is as close to a

person-to-person talk that they could have without doing it.



� Yes, go ahead.



� Elian Gonzalez/Situation in Chechnya



� Q. Mr. President, can I follow up about Cuba and Chechnya? With

regard to Cuba, you said that politics ought to stay out of this

decision regarding the boy. Are you saying, sir, that you can

envision a circumstance where, in your mind, it would be appropriate

to return this young boy to Communist Cuba?



� Second question, regarding Chechnya: Given the fact that two-thirds

of the aid goes to denuclearization, a third to democracy effects,

do you envision no circumstances, sir, under which the United States

would cut off that aid? And how does that square with your statement

that Russia will pay a heavy price for its war against Chechnya?



� The President. Okay, the first question first. I do not know enough

about the facts, so you can draw no inferences to what I might or

might not do because it's not a decision for me to make. There is a

law here. There are people charged with making the decisions. I

think they ought to do their best within the parameters of the law;

do what seems to he best for the child.



� That is all I have to say, and you shouldn't read anything into it.

I don't know enough about the case, and I don't think that any of us

should interfere with what is going to be a difficult enough

decision as it is.



� Now on Russia, I have stated what my present view is, and that is

all I have done. I think Russia is already paying a heavy price. I

think they'll pay a heavy price in two ways. First of all, I don't

think the strategy will work. As I said, I have no sympathy for the

Chechen rebels; I have no sympathy for the invasion of Dagestan; and

I have no sympathy for terrorist acts in Moscow; and none of us

should have. But the people of Chechnya should not be punished for

what the rebels did. They don't -represent the established

government of Chechnya. They don't represent a majority of the

people there. And the strategy, it seems to me, is more likely to

hurt ordinary citizens than the legitimate targets of the wrath of

the Russian Government.



� So I think that-first of -all, I think the policy will not work,

and therefore, it will be very costly, just like it was before when

it didn't work. Secondly, the continuation of it and that amassing

of hundreds of thousands of refugees, which will have to be cared

for by the international community-we've already set aside, I think,

at least $10 million to try to make our contributions for it-will

further alienate the global community from Russia. And that's a bad

thing, because they need support not just from the IMF and the World

Bank, they need investors. They need people to have confidence in

what they're doing.



� They're about to have elections. And so there will be a heavy price

there. And I don't think there's any question about that.



� I think it's already-yes, go ahead.



� Elian Gonzalez



� Q. Sir, regarding the Cuban boy, you say you don't know enough

about the facts. A lot of people in South Africa think the facts are

pretty simple. They say that even though the boy's father's in Cuba,

this boy would be better off growing up in the United States than in

Cuba under Castro. What would you say to those people?



� The President. Well, I think the decisionmakers will take into

account all the relevant facts. But I don't think I should make the

decision. First of all, I can't make the decision under the law. And

I don't think I should tell them how to make the decision because I

don't know enough about the facts. I believe they will do their best

to make the right decision.



� Q. What about growing up in Cuba as opposed to growing up in the

United States?



� The President. Well, of course, I'd rather grow up in the United

States. But there may be other considerations there, and one was

asked in the previous question about it. So we'll just have to

evaluate it.



� You know, there are times in the United States when judges have to

make decisionsthe legal standard governing domestic cases is the

best interest of the child-there's a slightly different

characterization, I think, of what will determine the international

decision here. This is, you know, an unusual case for us. But even

here, sometimes it's very hard to say. You know, will children be

better off with their parents in America? Almost always, but not




� So you just can't-I don't think-I can't serve any useful purpose by

commenting on it, because I don't know enough about the facts of the

family life or even the governing law on this. I just know that I

think we ought to let the people make the decision, urge them to do

their best to do what's best for the child, and try to take as much

political steam out of it as possible so that the little child can

be considered.



� Yes.



� Federal Action Against Gun Manufacturers



� Q. Sir, on another legal matter, your threat of a class-action

against gun manufacturers, is this an attempt, sir, through either

coercion or, ultimately, the judicial branch, to get accomplished

what you couldn't get accomplished through legislation? And with the

difficulties that you've had recently getting some of your

initiatives passed in Congress, as you head into this last year of

your Presidency, is this the hint of a new tactic to get those

initiatives passed, when you can't get them through Congress?



� The President. Let's talk about the gun suit first, and then I'll

respond to the general question. The litigation, which is being

initiated by public housing authorities, has a good grounding in

fact. There are 10,000 gun crimes every year in the largest public

housing authorities. Now, they spend a billion dollars on security.

And I think it's important that the American people know they're not

asking for money from the gun manufacturers; they are seeking a

remedy to try to help solve the problem.



� They want, first of all, more care from the manufacturers and the

dealers with whom they deal. Senator Schumer released a study, you

may remember, that said that one percent of the gun dealers sell 50

percent of the guns involved in gun crimes. Now, if that study is

accurate-and he believes it is-that is a stunning fact. And there

ought to he something done about that. And if there is a way that

the court could craft a resolution of that, that would be a good

thing, I think. The second thing we want to do is to stop

irresponsible marketing practices. You all remember that one company

advertised an assault weapon by saying that it was hard to get

fingerprints from. You know, you don't have to be all broke out with

brilliance to figure out what the message is there. And the third

thing they want is some safety design changes.



� Now, let me hasten to say that we have a lot of gun manufacturers

in this country who have been, I think, immensely responsible.

You'll remember the majority of the gun manufacturers signed on to

our proposal for child trigger locks. I still would like legislation

to cover them all. But this should not be viewed-if you look at the

nature of the release, they're not trying to bankrupt any companies;

they're trying to make their living spaces safer. And I think it's a

legitimate thing.



� Now to your general question, I think if you go back over the whole

reach of our tenure here, I have always tried to use the executive

authority in areas where I thought it was important. We're doing it

on medical privacy. We're doing it on-yesterday we had the press

conference on prevention of medical errors. We're doing it with the

paid family leave initiative we offered to the States. We did it

when we set aside the roadless areas in the forests. So I think this

is an appropriate thing to do.



� But I would also remind you at the end of this legislative session

from the Congress, we got 100,000 teachers, 50,000 police, 60,000

housing vouchers to help people move from welfare to work. We passed

the Kennedy-jeffords bill to allow people with disabilities to move

into the workplace and keep their medical care from the Government.

We passed the Financial Modernization Act, which will dramatically,

I think, improve financial services, grow the economy. And we've

protected the Community Reinvestment Act. We doubled funds for

afterschool programs. We provided, for the very first time ever,

funds to help school districts turn around failing schools or shut

them down.



� So I'm continuing to work with Congress, and I will do so

vigorously. But I think this was an appropriate thing to do on the




� Yes.



� Seattle Round



� Q. Mr. President, some of your critics have suggested that the

reason that you pressed the issues of the environment and labor at

the WTO meeting in Seattle is to benefit the Presidential candidacy

of Vice President Gore, knowing that there might he a backlash from

thedeveloping nations. How do you respond to that?



� The President. That's wrong. And I would like to make two comments,

one on the WTO ministerial meeting and, secondly, on that general




� The Uruguay Round was launched in 1986. The trade ministers started

trying to launch it in 1982. It took them 4 years to get it off the

ground. The fundamental reason a new round was not launched here

had, in my judgment, very little to do with my philosophy of trade,

which I'll talk about in a moment. There were the big blocks here

were the Europeans and the Japanese, on the one hand-the United

States and the developing nations, we all had positions that

couldn't be reconciled. The Europeans were not prepared at this time

to change their common agricultural policy, which accounts for 85

percent of the export subsidies in the world. The Japanese had their

own agricultural and other issues to deal with.



� The United States was not prepared to change its policy on dumping,

because-and I think the recent Asian financial crisis justifies

that, I might add. Even though we did finally move under our dumping

laws, and we had to move, to try to keep our steel industry, which

took down 60 percent of its employment and modernized during the

eighties and the early nineties, we still bought 10 times as much

steel during that crisis as the Europeans did. The recent WTO

agreement we made with China protects us from surges and unfair

dumping. We have the largest trade deficit in the world. Now, we get

a lot of good out of it: We get low inflation; we get goods from all

over the world. But there has to be some sense of fairness and

balance here.



� And the developing nations, for their part, felt that they had not

yet gotten enough benefits from the last trade round and the entry

into the WTO. They think that we and everybody else-the Europeans,

the Japanese, everybody-they think we ought to have more open

markets for agricultural products, which doesn't affect America so

much, and for textiles, which does affect us. That's the big issue

being negotiated still with the Caribbean Basin and the Africa trade




� So it's very important that you understand that there were real

differences that we thought we could bridge, unrelated to labor and

the environment, which we couldn't and which I think would have been

clearer but for the backdrop of the demonstrations in Seattle over

these other issues.



� Now, to your second question. When I ran for President in 1992 and

the big issue being debated was NAFTA, I said that I wanted to be

for NAFTA, I would fight hard for it, but I felt strongly there

ought to be provisions on labor and the environment in the

agreement, and those provisions were included. I have always had

what I guess you would call a Third Way position on trade. I think

the position of Americans, including some in my party, that trade is

bad for America and bad for the world is just dead wrong.



� I think that the world is more prosperous, and I know America is

more prosperous because of the continuing integration of the world's

economy and the mutual interdependence of people and people being

able to produce what they produce best in a competitive environment,

including costs. And I think we benefit, not just from our exports

but from the imports. That's what I believe. I believe we will have

both a more prosperous and a more peaceful world if we have more of

the right kind of globalization.



� I read-one of the many, many articles that's been written in the

last several days in the aftermath of Seattle pointed out that many

of the world's most troubled places, the Balkans, the Caucasus,

Africa, to some extent the Middle East, suffer because they have too

little economic interconnection with the rest of the world.



� I believe, even though I'm proud of the role that we've played and

especially proud of the role George Mitchell played in the Irish

peace settlement, I think it is unlikely that we would have done

that if, also, Ireland didn't have the fastest growing economy in

Europe and Northern Ireland weren't growing and people didn't

imagine that they could have a totally different life if they just




� go of what they've been fighting over.



� So the people who don't believe that trade is good, I just think

they're wrong. Now having said that, I think that as the world grows

more interdependent, it is unrealistic to think that there will be

an international economic policy with rules unrelated to an emerging

international consensus on the environment and an international

consensus on labor. That does not mean that I would cut off our

markets to India and Pakistan, for example, if they didn't raise

their wages to American levels. I know that's what the sort of

stated fear was.1 never said that-I don't-believe that.



� But I think that-let me give you an analogy. Several years ago, the

Europeans did this, and I applaud them: They were actually the

impetus for protecting intellectual property more than the United

States was. And people debated that for years. Why, intellectual

property has no place in trade bills. Who cares if people are

pirating books and selling them for 60 cents apiece when they cost

$20 somewhere else? And now, we just take it as a given. And it's a

good thing for the United States.



� You think about all the software we're exporting, all the CD's

we're exporting, all the things-intellectual property is a big deal

to us now. It was just as alien a subject a few years ago to trade

talks as questions of labor and the environment are today.



� So I think I've got a good position here. it has nothing to do with

this campaign. It's a position I've had for years. And I believe the

world will slowly come to it. We do have to be sensitive to the

developing countries. We cannot say that, you know, you're out of

here because you can't have the same labor environment we do. But we

also have to-all we ask for was to start a dialog within the WTO on

trade issues. On the environment, all we ask is, is that the

decisionmaking process not degrade the environment when countries

have environmental policies and interests, and just blithely

override them because there's an immediate, short-term economic




� I think that's right. And I believe that 10 years from now,

somebody will be sitting here, and we'll all take it for granted

that we've come a long way in integrating trade and the

environment-I mean, trade and labor. That's what I think, and that's

what I believe.



� Man of the Century



� Q. Mr. President, I'm afraid this is in the pop-quiz category of

questions, but I'll try to make it easy for you. Every year, this

time of year, we pick a Man of the Year. Maybe one day it will be

Person of the Year. I'd like to know what your pick of the Man of

the Century would be-and note that I'm not asking you for the




� [Laughter]



� The President. Well, if it were for the millennium, it might be

someone different. Well, this century produced a lot of great men

and women. But as an American, I would have to choose Franklin

Roosevelt, because in this century our greatest peril was in the

Depression and World War II and because he led us not only through

those things and laid the building blocks for a better society with

things like Social Security and unemployment insurance, which was,

interestingly enough, first recommended by his cousin Theodore

Roosevelt when he was President, but he also looked to the future,

endorsing the United Nations and a lot of the other international

institutions which were subsequently created under President Truman.



� Finally, I think Roosevelt was an example to Americans of the

importance of not giving up and of the dignity inherent in every

person. And when Franklin Roosevelt was first elected, Oliver

Wendell Holmes was still in the Supreme Court; he was 92 years old.

And President Roosevelt was taken to see Oliver Wendell Holmes who

was still reading Plato in his nineties and all that. Holmes was a

pretty acerbic fellow when he said, after meeting Roosevelt, that he

thought he might not have had a first-class mind, but he certainly

had a first-class temperament,



� And he did. He understood that reality is more than the facts

before you; it's also how you feel about them, how you react to

them, what your attitude is. That was the advice that-"only thing we

have to fear was fear itself' was much more than just a slogan to

him. He had lived it before he asked the American people to live it.



� So for all those reasons, if I had to pick one person, I would pick




� Yes, sir.



� Colombia and Venezuela



� Q. Mr. President, I'd like to ask you two questions on two very

important South American countries that are vital to U.S. foreign

policy, Colombia and Venezuela.



� First of all, on Colombia, sir. President Pastrana has been

extraditing people, and they're still waiting for the help that he

is expecting from the United States. Will you fight, will you go to

the mat for this, starting in the year 2000, for President Pastrana?

That's the first question.



� The second question



� The President. You're all asking two questions. That's pretty

impressive. [Laughter]



� Q. We're just following the others.



� You met President-elect Chavez when he first came to Washington,

and then you met him as President in New York. He will beVenezuela

will be holding a very unique plebiscite a week from today, which

has polarized the country. Some people that back President Chavez

thinks it's great; others think it will cause damage to democracy.

I'd like your opinion on both subjects, sir.



� The President. My opinion on the second question is that I'm not a

citizen of Venezuela, and I think that they ought to make their own

decisions. But I'm glad that they're getting to vote on it.



� My opinion on the first question is, I should point out-remember

now, Colombia is already the third biggest recipient of American

aid. But I do think we should do more. And President Pastrana has,

number one, extradited drug criminals to this country, which is

important; number two, is facing a terribly difficult situation

where he has both a longstanding civil insurgency in Colombia and

all the problems of the drug cartels and the possible interrelation

of the two. It's a terrible situation.



� Colombia is a very large country. They've been our ally for a long

time. They had a long period of steady economic growth. They have

suffered terribly in the last couple of years. And I think we should

do more.



� I had a talk with Speaker Hastert about it, who is also, by the

way, very interested in this, when we were together in Chicago

recently. And I hope that early next year, we will have a proposal

to provide further assistance to Colombia that will be substantial,

effective, and have broad bipartisan support. That is my goal.



� Ken [Ken Walsh, U.S. News & World RePort]. Vice President Al Gore



� Q. Vice President Gore has made a point of saying that his

candidacy for President now will take precedence over his duties and

activities as Vice President. I wonder, how has his role diminished

in your administration, and how much has he missed? And does a

diminished role by a Vice President in your administration hamper

what you're trying to do in any way?



� The President. Well, obviously, he's not around as much. We don't

have lunch every week, and I miss that terribly. But he was there

all day today. He had the meeting with President Kuchma. He knows

that the future of Ukraine is very important to our interests and to

what we're trying to accomplish in that part of the world. And he

came to our meeting was over, he ran a whole series of meetings for

several hours after that, So in his critical functions, he's still

performing them. them.



� And I would say, first of all, I strongly support what he's doing.

I think he has the right to run. I'm glad he's running, and you know

I think he'd be a great President. But he even having said that,

whenever there's an important decision in an area that he's been

very active in, I always call him; we still talk about it. And his

role is probably still larger than that of any previous Vice

President, even though he's out campaigning. But it's just less than

it used to be, because he's not here all the time.



� But I have no criticism of it. I think he's doing what he ought to

be doing, and I think it's in the best interests of the country for

him to do it.



� Mara [Mara Liasson, National Public Radio].



� Accomplishments and Disappointments of 1999



� Q. You're ending a tumultuous year that began with impeachment and

closed with tear gas in Seattle. Could you tell us what you're

proudest of this year, and what events or accomplishments of yours

that you're the least proud of?



� The President. Well, I'm very happywhat I'm proudest of is that it

turned out to be a very productive year. If you look atI'll just

mention them again. I did before, but we wound up-after a year in

which almost nothing was accomplished in the Congress, we wound up

with a recommitment to the 100,000 teachers, to the 50,000 police.

We passed the financial modernization bill. We passed an historic

60,000 housing vouchers to new people from welfare to work. We

passed the bill to give disabled people the right to take health

care into the workplace. We doubled after-school funding. We passed

this fund that I've been pushing hard for, for a long time, to help

the States turn around or shut down failing schools. We had quite a

lot of accomplishments.



� On the foreign front, we had the ChinaWTO agreement; progress with

the Middle East peace; the Northern Ireland peace agreement; Kosovo,

which I am very, very proud of I still believe our country did the

right thing there. And we've got talks starting on Cyprus now. We've

got a Caspian pipeline agreement, which I believe 30 years from now

you'll all look back on that as one of the most important things

that happened this year. We had the Conventional Forces in Europe

agreement with Russia, which will result in the removal of their

forces from Georgia and Muldova. We had the debt relief for the

poorest countries in the world, something I'm immensely proud of and

deeply committed to. We made a big dent in our U.N. arrears issue.

And we have worked with North Korea to end their missile program. So

I'm very proud of what happened this year.



� What I'm most disappointed in is what still got left on the table.

I'm terribly disappointed that we still haven't passed a Patients'

Bill of Rights, that we still haven't raised the minimum wage, that

we still haven't passed hate crimes legislation, that we still

didn't pass that commonsense gun legislation, which was crying out

for action after what happened at Columbine-and we had another

school incident this week. I am disappointed that we didn't pass the

school construction bill. I'm hoping we will pass the new markets

initiative next year. If we don't do something now to bring economic

opportunity to the areas of this country which have been left

behind, we will never forgive ourselves. And I'm profoundly

disappointed that we still haven't done anything to take the life of

Social Security out beyond the baby boom generation and extend the

life of Medicare and add a prescription drug benefit.__



� So my only disappointments are what we didn't get done. But I'm

gratified by what was accomplished.



� Q. Do you blame yourself for that, that you didn't put forward a

plan on Social Security, to make it more substantive? Is there

something you're-[inaudible]



� The President. No, I gave them-first of all, I asked them-there's

no point in putting forward-look, I tried it the other way with

health care. I put forward a plan. And everybody said, you put

forward-I remember Senator Dole saying, "You put forward your plan,

then I'll put forward my,plan. We'll get together. We'll agree, and

we'll pass a plan.And so, you know, I've had experience with that.

That didn't work out too well.



� So I had all these meetings on Social Security. You remember, I

worked very hard on it, and I asked if we could get together and

work out something. I still haven't given up on that, by the way.

And I know the conventional wisdom is that these things are less

likely to be done in election years, but in some ways they may be

more likely.



� And I did give them a plan which, if they had embraced it-which

would simply require them not only to save the Social Security

surplus but to take the interest savings from paying down the debt,

with the Social Security surplus, and if you just put that back into

Social Security, you could take Social Security out beyond the life

of the baby boom generation. And I offered to do more with them.



� But in order to pass something like that, we've got to have a

bipartisan process. And I will do whatever it takes to get that

done. But I worked as hard as I could this year to keep working in a

very open and collegial spirit with not only the Democrats, without

whom I wouldn't have passed any of those things I just mentioned-and

all of you know that; they hung in there at the end; we got those

things done-but also with the Republicans, with whom I began to

have, I think, some real progress there along toward the end of the

legislative session. And I hope we will continue it.



� Yes, go ahead.



� Russia and the Situation in_Chechnya



� Q. Mr. President, on Chechnya, it seems as though the Russians

don't feel they will pay a heavy price, and perhaps they don't care.

I'm wondering if between now and Saturday's deadline you plan to try

to directly contact President Yeltsin to once again convey your

feelings on this matter.



� The President. Well, I haven't decided what else I can do. I do

think-first of all, they may believe that because of their position

in the United Nations and because no one wants them to fail and have

more problems than they've got, that they can do this. But most of

life's greatest wounds for individuals and for countries are

self-inflicted. They're not inflicted by other people.



� And I will say again" the greatest problems that the Russians will

have over Chechnya are--one is, I don't think the strategy will

work. I have never said they weren't right to want to do something

with the Chechen rebels. But I don't think the strategy will work,

and therefore, it will be expensive, costly, and politically

damaging, internally, to them.



� Secondly, it will affect the attitude of the international

community over a period of time in ways that are somewhat

predictable and in some ways unpredictable, and that is a very heavy

price to pay, because it works better when everybody's pulling for

Russia. it's a great country, and they have all these resources and

talented, educated people, and they need to-and yet, they've got a

declining life expectancy as well as all these economic problems.

And i think it's a bad thing for this to be the number one issue

both inside the country and in our relationships with them. So I do

think it's going to be a very costly thing.



� Yes.



� Panama CanaL/China and Taiwan



� Q. Mr. President, with China building a second short-range missile

base, allowing them to take Taiwan with little or no warning, are

you concerned about America's ability to defend that island,

especially with a Chinese company taking over the Panama Canal's

ports at the end of this month?



� The President. Well, let's talk about the Panama Canal, and then

I'll come back to Taiwan. And to be fair, I think I may have

misstated this earlier. It's important for the American people to

understand that the canal, itself, will be operated and controlled

entirely by the Government of Panama, through the Panama Canal

Authority. That is the locks, ingress and egress, access,

openness-the canal is completely and totally within the control of

the Panamanians.



� Now, the Hong Kong company which got the concession to operate the

ports will Te responsible for loading and unloading ships. They also

do this in three or four ports in Great Britain. It's one of the

biggest companies in the world that does this. The managing director

is British. Most of the employees will be Panamanian. So I feel

comfortable that our commercial and security interests can be

protected under this arrangement. That's the first question.



� Now, the second question is, China is modernizing its military in a

lot of ways. But our policy on China is crystal clear: We believe

there is one China. We think it has to be resolved through

cross-strait dialog, and we oppose and would view with grave concem

any kind of violent action. And that hasn't changed.



� There has been a lot of buildup of tension on both sides that I

think is unnecessary and counterproductive. If you look at the

amount of Taiwanese investment in China, for example-that goes back

to my Irish exampleif you look at the Taiwanese investment in China,

it's obvious that eventually they're going to get this worked out

because they're too interconnected by ties of family and,

increasingly, by ties of the economy, and the politics of neither

place should lead either side into doing something rash. And I hope

that this will not happen. But our policy is clear and you know what

I've done in the past. And I think that's all I should say about it

right now.



� Yes.



� Hillary Clinton's Senatorial Campaign



� Q. There is some confusion in people's minds about the First Lady's

plans for the coming year. She has referred to the new house in New

York as "my house" and indicated she plans to make that her primary

residence. I'm wondering if you could tell us how much time you

think the two of you will be apart in the coming year and how you

feel about this arrangement?



� The President. Well, first of all, I am happy for her, for the

decision that she made. She was encouraged to run by many people,

and she decided she wanted to do it. And if she's going to do it,

she's got to spend a long time in New York. So she'll be there a

lot. She'll be here when she can. I'll go up there when I can, and

we'll be together as much as we can. We always make it a habit to

talk at least once, if not more, every day. It's not the best

arrangement in the world, but it's something that we can live with

for a year. I love the house. We picked it out, and we like it, and

I'm looking forward to living there when I leave here.



� But I've got a job to do, and she now has a campaign to run, and so

we'll have to be apart more than I wish we were. But it's not a big

problem. She'll be here quite a lot, and I'll go up there when I

can, and we'll manage it, and I think it will come out just fine.

I'm very happy for her.



� Wendell [Wendell Goler, Fox News Channell.



� Responsibility for Impeachment



� Q. Mr. President, just a couple of minutes ago you said that most

of life's greatest wounds are self-inflicted. If I can paraphrase a

recent request by Ken Starr, sir, I wonder if now you can tell us

how much of the pain you went through last year was self-inflicted

and how much due to excesses by other people, political and Mr.

Starr's excesses himself, sir?



� The President. The mistake I made was self-inflicted, and the

misconduct of others was not.



� Yes.



� Golden Parachute8



� Q. Mr. President, in the case of--on the subject of corporate

golden and platinum parachutes, particularly in the case of mergers

and change of controlled packages, tens of millions, and more in

most cases, are awarded to corporate officers. Directors just

rubberstamp most of these sales to the detriment of other




� The President. What's the question?



� Q. I'd like to know, what can and will the administration do to put

a ceiling on this acrimonious alimony?



� The President. Well, first of all, unless it's an abuse of the

stockholders-and if it is, then we have Federal agencies which have

jurisdiction over it-there's nothing we can do. We have made some

changes in the tax laws-we did back in '93-that I thought were

appropriate. But I don't think beyond that there's anything else-we

can do.



� April [April Ryan, American Urban Radio Networks], and then John

[John M. Broder, New York Times]. Go ahead. No, April-I'll call on

all of you, but April first.



� Q. Okay. the Pei/ent. April first. [Laughter] That's the way I feel

up here sometimes.



� [Laughter]



� Q. It should be that way, though.



� [Laughter]



� Racial, Ethnic, and Religious Differences



� Mr. President, America is ending the century with resurfacing scars

of racism. And where does the issue of race, in terms of your agenda

for 2000, stand? And are you still prepared to release your book on

race by the end of your term? And what do you think about the

comments that there's internal fighting over this book in the White




� The President. There really isn't much. I have a draft now, and I'm

working on it. And I do plan to release it. And it will stay at the

center of my concerns not only now but after I leave the White




� I think that after the cold war and with the sort of end of the

ideological battles, you@ve seen, I think that the biggest problem

the world faces today is the conflict people have over their racial

and ethnic and their related religious differences. And I plan to be

heavily involved in it at home and around the world for the rest of

my life.



� Q. When do you think the book will come out, though?



� The President. I don't know. I've got a day job, you know, and I'm

not going toI've got a library full of books on race, and almost all

of them are quite good. But I don't want to put it out unless I

think it could make a difference, even if it just says what other

people have said, somehow it can make a difference. And I'm trying

to make sure how it ought to be done. I don't want to just put it

out because I said I would put it out; I want to make sure when I do

it, it at least achieves the objectives I'm trying to achieve.



� John.



� Heath Care Coverage



� Q. Mr. President, the number of Americans who are not covered by

health insurance has increased since you took office by about 7

million. Do you agree with Vice President Gore that Senator

Bradley's plan for covering most of those people is irresponsible an

unaffordable, even though we're enjoying the healthiest economy in




� The President. First of all, I'm not going to get in the middle of

the Gore-Bradley campaign-I know you want me to, but I'm not going

to do that for you-[laughter]because I want you to write about Syria

and Israel tomorrow.



� Let me say, first of all, Hillary and I said when the health care

plan went down that the number of people uninsured would go up. And

you would all draw the same conclusion. You would have drawn the

same conclusion back then if you spent as many years and as much

time studying it as we have.



� So what happened is exactly what we've predicted would happen.

Ironically, all those people who attacked me and said I was trying

to socialize medicine, which was a ridiculous charge, trying to have

the Government take over health care, which is a ridiculous charge,

they got their way in that debate, and the consequence is now we now

have a higher percentage of Americans whose health care is funded by

the Government than we did in 1993. But we also have a higher

percentage of People without insurance.



� Now, I'm not going to get in the middle of that, but I'll tell you

what questions you ought to ask. First of all, anybody who makes any

proposal, you have to make certain choices. If you want to cover

people who don't have coverage and you accept the premise that they

all can't afford it, you have to decide: Are you going to make them

buy insurance; are you going to make their employers to pay in? If

not, are you going to have the Government do it, or are you going to

have a big tax subsidy?



� All of those choices have problems with them. You know what the

employer mandate problem was. We couldn't pass it, because a lot of

people said it's too burdensome, even though we exempted small

businesses and tried to give them subsidies. If you give all

taxpayers subsidies, the problem is you have to give subsidies to

people who already have insurance, and it may operate as an

incentive for employers to drop people even faster.



� So there is no perfect plan. Let's start with that. There is no

plan without difficulty. If it were easy, somebody would have done

it already.



� Second question is, how much are you going-if you're going to have

the taxpayers involved, either in a tax incentive or expenditure

program, how much does it cost, and what do you give up? And I think

this is the way this thing ought to debate. People ought to actually

try to figure out what the consequences of these plans are and

evaluate them and decide.



� You talked about the prosperity of the country. That's true. We are

prosperous. But do we want to-how much do we want to spend on that

as compared with eliminating child poverty or continuing to improve

education? Are we willing to get into the Social Security surplus?

If we're not, are we willing to raise taxes for it? In other words,

I thinkwhatever the choice is, I think it's important that we be as

honest as possible about what it costs, everybody be as honest as

possible that there is no perfect plan. And then you be as honest as

possible about what else you're giving up if you do it. It's a very

complicated issue.



� I did my best on it. I am gratified that we finally passed the

Child Health Insurance Program. And we might get those numbers down

again. We've now-I think we're at about 2 million. I think we've

gone from 1 million to 2 million just in the last several months in

the number of people covered under CHIP. And if we can get up to 5

million, with CHIP and extra Medicare kidsand the States are really

gearing up, now; they're really trying, now-then maybe we can drive

that number back down some.



� And what the Vice President is trying to do is to target discrete

populations, on the theory that you can cover more people for

relatively less money. And that's his position, and he believes he

can pass that.



� Let me just say one other thing. It makes me proud to be a

Democrat. I am proud that, number one, that my party is debating

this. And as near as I can see, there is no debate going on in the

other party. And if they pass the size tax cut plan, they're talking

about, they not only won't have any money to help more people get

health care; they'll either they not only won't have any money to

get into the Social Security surplus, or they won't have any more

people get health care; they for either have to get into the

environment or anything surplus, That's they won't have any more

money first thing I want to say. cation or the environment or

anything else. That's the first thing I want to say,



� The second thing I want to say is, I'm grateful that my country is

doing so well that these kinds of issues can be debated in this way

and be seriously debated, but I'm not going to get into handicapping

the campaign. I can tell you what questions I think you should ask,

how you should analyze it. But there is no perfect solution here.

And I'm glad that the two candidates in the Democratic Party are

debating it.



� Yes, go ahead. I promised these people.



� Space Program



� Q. Mr. President, in the decade that's just closing, the American

people have seen around $1.5 billion of their tax dollars lost in

space-most recently, either up in smoke in the Martian atmosphere or

trashed on Mars, itself. Does NASA need better quality control or

better management? And sir, how do you answer Americans who say that

that money could be much better spent on more urgent needs here on

this planet?



� The President. Well, let me try and answer all those questions.

First of all, I think Dan Goldin has done a great job at NASA. He's

all those questions. First of economy measures all, I think Dan

Goldin has done for small and more discreet job at NASA. including

more adopted a lot of economy measures and think make for small and

more discreet missions, including more unmanned missions, that I

think make a lot of sense.



� Secondly, we all use the slogan, "Well this isn't rocket science."

Well, this is rocket science. We're trying to take a spaceship the

size of a boulder and throw it 450 miles into a very uncongenial

atmosphere and hit a target, and it isn't easy. I re et that both of

those things didn't succeed as much as we all-the first Mars mission

we got quite a lot out of-because I think it's important. I think

it's important not only for the American tradition of exploration

but it's important if we want to know what's-we have to keep doing

this if we ever hope to know what's beyond our galaxy. We now know

there are billions of them out there, and we know there are all

these big black holes in the universe. We know all these things, and

I think it's important that we find out.



� The third point I'd like to make is that we actually do get a lot

of benefits here on Earth from space travel. We get benefits in

engineering advances, in material science, in environmental

protection, and in medical science. We've made quite a lot of

interesting health-related discoveries. I remember going down to the

Space Center in Houston and talking to people who were from the vast

medical complexes in Houston about all the interesting joint work

they were doing.



� So I think the American people get things out of it right now. I

think we have gotten a lot out of it in the past, and I think we'll

get more out of it in the future. So I have always been a big

proponent of the space program. They need to analyze what went wrong

and figure out how to fix it.



� But just think of all the problems we've had along the way with the

space program. This is too bad, but this is nothing compared to the

tragedy when those astronauts burned to death when their spaceship

was still on the ground. I'll never forget that as long as I live.

But they didn't quit, and America didn't quit, and I'm glad. And I

don't think we should quit now.



� Go ahead.



� WTO-China Agreement



� Q. Mr. President, one of the things left on your plate for next

year is pushing the historic trade agreement with China on Ca@itol

Hill. China's labor standards are clearly not what you and the world

community would wish for. And the question is, will it be difficult

for you to sell that to members of your own party in Congress? And

more broadly, what do you think are the prospects for Congress

approving the WTO accord with China?



� The Presdent. Well, in our caucus some are for it; some are against

it; and some have questions. We have a good deal of support for it

and a good deal of opposition to it, and then some have questions.

But I'm going and then some back to your labor questions. But I'm

going to make an all-out effort to pass it. And I'll come back to

your labor question in a minute.



� I think it is plainly in America's interest. We gave up nothing, in

terms of market access, to get this. It's very important that you

understand that. What we gave in this was our assent to China's

joining the WTO. What we got in return is much more market access on

everything from farmers to people in the telecommunications

industry. This is a huge economic benefit to the people of the

United States. Plus, we have a big and growing trade deficit with

China. We've got specific protections on dumping and antisurge

protections. So it is in the economic interest of the United States.



� Secondly, it is in the strategic interest of the United States. One

of the great questions of the next several decades, as China's

economy grows to match the size of its population, is whether China

and the United States will have a constructive relationship or be at

odds. I believe that, just as we worked together in the United

Nations, even though we sometimes disagree, we will work together in

the WTO. I think having China in a rule-based system for the

international economy is profoundly important. And I think it would

be a terrible mistake not to do it.



� Now, do I agree with all their labor standards? No. But we

shouldn't impose conditions on membership on China that we don't

impose on any other country to get into the WTO. What we should do,

in any judgment, is to go back to the American position. We ought to

begin a dialog on these labor initiatives within the WTO-that's all

we ask forand then we ought to get everybody to ratify the

International Convention on Child Labor and observe it and deal with

the other most egregious forms of labor abuses in the world. That is

the right way to proceed here.



� Last question.



� National Sovereignty and Internationalism



� Q. Mr. President, in future years, what do you see taking great

precedence, sir, national sovereignty or international institutions?

And how does the world prevent such slaughters as you've had

recently in the Balkans, in Africa, or East Timor, without violating

national sovereignty or interfering in international affairs?



� The President. -Well,- first of -all, at -leastfrom the

International Declaration of Human Rights, 50 years ago, the world

community recognized that sovereignty was not the only value in

human society.The Russians, even though they've criticized our

intervention in Kosovo-although now I might say the Russian soldiers

are doing a very good job there, working with all the other

Allies-recently acknowledged in their signing off of the new charter

of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, that the

internal affairs of a country can become the legitimate concern of

others, whether it's in East Timor-now, wait a minute.



� So what I think will happen is, national sovereignty is going to be

very, very important for a very, very long time. But countries are

becoming more interdependent, and they will still have to make

decisions about the kinds of internal systems they will have for how

their people live together and work together; they will still be

able to make decisions about when they will or won't cooperate

worldwide in many areas. But if you want the benefits of

interdependence, you have to assume the responsibilities of it.



� And we've all recognized that from the beginning of the United

Nations, nobody, no country in the United Nations, has given up its

sovereignty, even though some people still allege that's true. But

the more interdependent the world grows, the more likely we are, in

my judgment, to have more broadly shared prosperity, fewer wars, and

a better life for everyone. That does not require us to give up our

national sovereignty, but it does require us to act in our real

national interests.



� Q. Mr. President



� The President. Last question.



� Minorities on the White House Staff



� Q. Thank you. I have another question on the issue of race, and

it's on your record of appointing minorities to top-level jobs in

your administration. You've talked throughout your career about the

importance of diversity and inclusion, and, setting aside your

Cabinet and Federal bench appointees, the top seven West Wing jobs

in your administration have all been held by whites. Twentysix

people have had the jobs



� The President. I disagree with that. What are they?



� Q. Well, Chief of Staff, National Security, Domestic Policy,

Economic Adviser, White House Counsel, Press Secretary, Senior

Adviser, Counselor-all those jobs have been held by-not a single

person of color has held any of those jobs. And I wonder if you

could tell us why?



� The President. Well, first of all, you might be interested to know

there were a couple of people of color that I tried to get to do

those jobs but preferred other jobs in the administration. And they

had jobs they liked better. And I have-you didn't point out that a

lot of those jobs have been held by women, who also had never held

those jobs before I came along. And I think that-all I can tell you

is I have never not tried to recruit minorities for any job that was

open in the White House. And I have never followed a quota system. I

have had more blacks who have served in my Cabinet, more Hispanics

who served in my Cabinet, more people from Asia have been appointed

to my administration, than any previous administration by far. It's

not even close. So there was never a decision made. I now have a

Hispanic woman who is my Deputy Chief of Staff.



� So I never thought about those seven jobs to the exclusion of

others. I've tried to make sure that the senior jobs-my Political

Director is an African-American woman. Alexis Herman, before she

became Secretary of Labor, was head of Public Liaison. I was unaware

that those were the seven most important jobs in my Cabinet and in

the White House in the way that you said them.



� Thank you very much.


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