Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 19, 1999
PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE PRESIDENT, The East Room, The White House, Washington, DC, 19 March 1999
4:01 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, as all of you know, we have been
involved in an intensive effort to end the conflict in Kosovo for many
weeks now. With our NATO allies and with Russia, we proposed a peace
agreement to stop the killing and give the people of Kosovo the
self-determination and government they need and to which they are
entitled under the constitution of their government.
Yesterday, the Kosovar Albanians signed that agreement. Even though
they have not obtained all they seek, even as their people remain under
attack, they've had the vision to see that a just peace is better than
an unwinnable war. Now only President Milosevic stands in the way of
Today the peace talks were adjourned because the Serbian negotiators
refused even to discuss key elements of the peace plan. NATO has warned
President Milosevic to end his intransigence and repression, or face
Our allies are strongly united behind this course. We are prepared,
and so are they, to carry it out. Today I reviewed our planning with my
senior advisors and met with many members of Congress. As we prepare to
act we need to remember the lessons we have learned in the Balkans. We
should remember the horror of the war in Bosnia, the sounds of sniper
fire aimed at children, the faces of young men behind barbed wire, the
despairing voices of those who thought nothing could be done. It took
precious time to achieve allied unity there, but when we did, our
firmness ended all that. Bosnia is now at peace.
We should remember the thousands of people facing cold and hunger in
the hills of Kosovo last fall. Firmness ended that as well. We should
remember what happened in the village of Racak back in January --
innocent men, women and children taken from their homes to a gully,
forced to kneel in the dirt, sprayed with gunfire -- not because of
anything they had done, but because of who they were.
Now, roughly 40,000 Serbian troops and police are massing in and around
Kosovo. Our firmness is the only thing standing between them and
countless more villages like Racak -- full of people without protection,
even though they have now chosen peace.
Make no mistake, if we and our allies do not have the will to act,
there will be more massacres. In dealing with aggressors in the
Balkans, hesitation is a license to kill. But action and resolve can
stop armies, and save lives.
We must also understand our stake in peace in the Balkans, and in
Kosovo. This is a humanitarian crisis, but it is much more. This is a
conflict with no natural boundaries. It threatens our national
interests. If it continues, it will push refugees across borders, and
draw in neighboring countries. It will undermine the credibility of
NATO, on which stability in Europe and our own credibility depend. It
will likely reignite the historical animosities, including those that
can embrace Albania, Macedonia, Greece, even Turkey. These divisions
still have the potential to make the next century a truly violent one
for that part of the world that straddles Europe, Asia and the Middle
Unquestionably, there are risks in military action, if that becomes
necessary. U.S. and other NATO pilots will be in harm's way. The Serbs
have a strong air defense system. But we must weigh those risks against
the risks of inaction. If we don't act, the war will spread. If it
spreads, we will not be able to contain it without far greater risk and
cost. I believe the real challenge of our foreign policy today is to
deal with problems before they do permanent harm to our vital interests.
That is what we must do in Kosovo.
Let me just make one other statement about this. One of the things
that I wanted to do when I became President is to take advantage of this
moment in history to build an alliance with Europe for the 21st century,
with a Europe undivided, strong, secure, prosperous and at peace.
That's why I have supported the unification of Europe financially,
politically, economically. That is why I've supported the expansion of
NATO and a redefinition of its missions.
What are the challenges to our realizing that dream? The challenge of
a successful partnership with Russia that succeeds in its own mission;
the challenge of a resolution of the difficulties between Greece and
Turkey so that Turkey becomes an ally of Europe in the West for the
long-term; and the challenge of instability in the Balkans -- in
different ways, all those things are at stake here.
I honestly believe that by acting now we can help to give our children
and our grandchildren a Europe that is more united, more democratic,
more peaceful, more prosperous, and a better partner for the United
States for a long time to come.
I will say again to Mr. Milosevic, as I did in Bosnia, I do not want to
put a single American pilot into the air; I do not want anyone else to
die in the Balkans; I do not want a conflict. I would give anything to
be here talking about something else today. But a part of my
responsibility is to try to leave to my successors, and to our country
in the 21st century, an environment in Europe that is stable, humane and
secure. It will be a big part of America's future.
Thank you very much. Mr. Hunt?
Q Mr. President, as you mentioned, Yugoslav forces seem to be
mobilizing for war in Kosovo, despite the warnings of NATO air strikes.
After so many threats in the past, why should President Milosevic take
this one seriously? And is there a deadline for him to comply? And is
it your intention to keep pounding Serb targets until he agrees to your
THE PRESIDENT: Well, there are several questions there, but let me
say, I think he should take this seriously, because we meant -- we were
serious in Bosnia. And it was the combined impact of NATO's action in
Bosnia, plus the reversals they sustained on the ground in fighting,
plus the economic embargo, that led them to conclude that peace was the
Now, he says here that this is not like what happened last fall, that
this threatens Serbia's sovereignty to have a multinational force on the
ground in Kosovo. But he has put that at risk by his decade -- and I
want to reemphasize that -- his decade of denial of the autonomy to
which the Kosovars are legally entitled as a part of Serbia.
My intention would be to do whatever is possible, first of all, to
weaken his ability to massacre them, to have another Bosnia; and
secondly, to do all that I can to induce him to take -- it is not my
peace agreement. It was an agreement worked out, and negotiated, and
argued over, with all the parties' concerns being taken into account.
I will say again -- for the longest time, we did not believe that
either side would take this agreement. And the fact that the Kosovar
Albanians did it I think reflects foresight and wisdom on their part.
They did not get everything they wanted. And in a peace agreement,
nobody ever gets everything they want. We've seen it in the Middle
East, in Northern Ireland, everywhere else.
So it is not my agreement. It is the best agreement that all the
parties can get to give us a chance to go forward without bloodshed. I
believe, also, as I have said publicly to Mr. Milosevic and to the
Serbs, it is their best chance to keep Kosovo as a part of Serbia and as
a part of Yugoslavia. And so I would hope that the agreement could be
accepted, and I'll do what I can to see that it is.
Q And the deadline, sir -- is there one?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't want to discuss that. We're working on that.
I expect to be working on this all weekend.
Q Mr. President, how long have you known that the Chinese were stealing
our nuclear secrets? Is there any trust left between the two nations?
And some Republicans are saying that you deliberately suppressed the
information from the American people because of the election and your
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me try to respond to all those things. First
of all, the latter charge is simply untrue. We were notified -- Mr.
Berger was notified sometime in 1996 of the possibility that security
had been breached at the labs, the Energy Department labs where a lot of
our nuclear work is done, in the mid-'80s -- not in the 1990s, but in
the mid-'80s -- and that there was an investigation being undertaken by
Then, sometime in the middle of 1997, he was notified and I was
notified that the extent of the security breach might have been quite
extensive. So we had the CIA looking into that, the Energy Department
looking into that, and the FBI investigation continued with the
cooperation, the full cooperation of the Energy Department.
In early 1998, I propounded a presidential directive designed to
improve security at the labs. And as you know, Secretary Richardson's
been talking quite a bit in recent days about what has been done since
that directive was signed and what continues to be done today.
Now, I think there are two questions here, that are related but ought
to be kept separate. One is, was there a breach of security in the
mid-'80s; if so, did it result in espionage? That has not been fully
resolved, at least as of my latest briefing. The second is -- there are
really three questions, excuse me -- the second is, once the Executive
Branch was notified and the investigations began, was everything done in
a timely fashion? I am confident that we in the White House have done
what we could to be aggressive about this.
Look, if there was espionage against the United States, I will be very
upset about it, as I have been every time there has been. And anybody
who committed it ought to be punished, just as we went after Mr. Ames,
anybody else who committed espionage against the United States.
In an effort to ensure that there was an independent review of this, in
addition to whatever work is being done by the Senate and House
committees -- who have, as you know, received more than a dozen
briefings over the course of this investigation, going back to 1996 -- I
have asked Senator Rudman, former Republican Senator from New Hampshire,
and the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board to review the
chronology, to make an assessment, and to make any recommendations about
what further action also might need to be taken. So I believe that's
the appropriate thing to do.
Now, the third question is, what, if anything, does this mean about our
relationship with China? I don't believe that we can afford to be under
any illusions about our relationship with China, or any other country,
for that matter, with whom we have both common interests and deep
disagreements. I believe the course I have followed with China is the
one that's best with America -- disagreeing where we have disagreements;
pursuing our common interests where I thought it was in the interests of
the United States.
And again, let me say just one or two examples. I think if we hadn't
been working with China, China would not have signed the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention. They would very
likely not have refrained from transferring dangerous technology and
weaponry to countries that we don't believe should get it. I doubt if
they would have helped us as much as they have to try to contain the
North Korean nuclear threat, or that we would have had the level of
cooperation we had in trying to limit the Asian financial crisis, which
is a serious economic and security problem for our country.
And I think we should just take the facts as they come, and do what is
best for the American people. But I can say categorically that it never
crossed my mind that I should not disclose some inquiry being undertaken
by the United States government for reasons of commercial or other gain.
That is not true. I just think we should always pursue what is in the
interest of the United States. And if we think we've got a security
problem, we ought to fix it. Plainly, the security was too lax for
years and years and years at the labs. And a lot of important changes
have been made, and yesterday the Secretary of Energy announced some
I think that if anybody did, in fact, commit espionage, it is a bad
thing and we should take appropriate action. But in our dealings with
China, we should do quite simply what is in the interest of the American
people, and that's what I intend to do.
Q Mr. President, if I could follow up on this issue of alleged Chinese
spying, you just said that according to your latest briefing, you've not
fully resolved the issue of whether Chinese actually spied on the United
States. Are you meaning to suggest that you're not certain at this hour
whether there was, in fact, Chinese spying?
You also said that you've had the full cooperation of the Energy
Department. How do you explain, sir, then, that in April of 1997, the
FBI made specific recommendations to the Department of Energy about the
need to tighten security and those recommendations were not followed
through on for 17 months?
And, finally, sir, you mentioned the spying in the 1980s, or the
alleged spying in the 1980s. Can you assure the American people that
under your watch, no valuable nuclear secrets were lost?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you asked several questions there. Let me say,
first of all, it's my understanding that the Energy Department has fully
cooperated with the FBI in investigating the alleged breach in the
mid-'80s, including the person who was suspected. That is my
On the question of what recommendations were implemented by whom, when,
that's what I've asked for the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory
Board and Senator Rudman to review, to report to me on, as well as to
make further recommendations.
I can tell you that I have -- what I said about the espionage was that
it is my understanding that the investigation has not yet determined for
sure that espionage occurred. That does not mean that there was not a
faulty security situation at the lab. The security procedures were too
weak for years and years and years, for a very long time. And I believe
that we are aggressively moving to correct that and a lot of changes
have been made. I think Secretary Richardson has been quite vigorous in
The chronology about who did what, when, I think it's more important to
have an independent analysis of that, which is why I asked the Foreign
Intelligence Advisory Board to do that.
Now, you asked me another question, which is can I tell you that there
has been no espionage at the labs since I have been President. I can
tell you that no one has reported to me that they suspect such a thing
Q Mr. President, you met this morning with members of Congress. And
afterward, some of them came out and said that they had trouble
imagining how you could justify air strikes in Kosovo unless the Serbs
launched a new offensive first. In fact, Senator Nickles actually
suggested that it might take a significant massacre before such a move
would get public support.
In your mind, does the mere fact that the Serbs refused to sign a peace
treaty justify air strikes? Or do you think they need to -- if they
took military action, only then you could act?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, first, I believe they have already taken
provocative actions. And there was, in the very recent past, the
massacre at the village that I mentioned in my opening statement. Plus,
there is the long unquestioned record of atrocity in Bosnia.
So what we have tried to do along -- and, frankly, the Russians have
been with us in this; I don't mean that they support military action,
but they've been with us in the peace process -- is we could see that
the same thing that happened in Bosnia and that had happened to some
extent in Kosovo already, and had already produced tens of thousands of
refugees in Kosovo, was going to happen there. And it seems to me that
if we know that, and if we have a NATO action order predicated on the
implementation of the peace process, and the failure to do it triggering
reaction, that we ought to do what we can to prevent further atrocities.
I understand what Senator Nickles was saying -- I think he was saying
that the American public has not seen the sort of atrocities there they
saw in Bosnia, that that is not fresh in people's minds. But with all
the troops that have been massed, and what we know about their plans and
what they have publicly said about them, I would hate to think that we'd
have to see a lot of other little children die before we could do what
seems to be, to me, clearly the right thing to do to prevent it.
Q So you would act first then? I mean --
THE PRESIDENT: I don't think it's accurate to say we're acting first.
I think they have acted first. They have massed their troops, they have
continued to take aggressive action. They have already leveled one
village in the recent past and killed a lot of innocent people. I do
not believe that we ought to have to have thousands more people
slaughtered and buried in open soccer fields before we do something. I
think that would be unfortunate if we had said we have to have a lot
more victims before we can stop what we know is about to happen.
Q Mr. President, there has been a lot of people in New York State who
have spoken with your wife who seemed to be pretty much convinced she
wants to run for the Senate seat next year. A, how do you feel about
that, do you think she would be a good senator? And as part of the
broader question involving what has happened over the past year, how are
the two of you doing in trying to strengthen your relationship, given
everything you and she have been through over this past year?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, on the second question, I think we're working
hard. We love each other very much and we're working at it.
On the first question, I don't have any doubt that she would be a
magnificent senator. She told me -- oh, I don't know -- over a year
ago, and long before this ever occurred to anybody, long before we even
knew Senator Moynihan wouldn't run for reelection -- that she thought we
should move to New York when I left the White House, knowing that I
would spend a lot of time at home in my library and with the work there,
but that we would also establish a home in New York. I don't have any
doubt that she would be -- she really would be a terrific senator. She
knows so much about public policy, she cares so much about the issues,
especially those that have a particular impact on New York, including
the education and economic issues that would be very important to the
But I also have to tell you, the people she's talking to must know more
than I do because I literally don't have a clue. If you ask me today
whether I thought it was more likely or not that she would run or not
run, I could not give you an answer. I just don't know.
She's doing what I urged her to do, and what I think her instinct was,
which is to talk to a lot of people. I think she was, at first, just
immensely flattered that so many people wanted her to do it, but she
couldn't really believe it. And I think now she's decided to take a
look at it. But I don't have any idea what she's going to do. If she
wants to do it, I will strongly support it. But I do not know and
really have no idea what decision she will ultimately make.
Q Mr. President --
THE PRESIDENT: Sarah? (Laughter.)
Q Sir, will you tell us why you think people have been so mean to you?
Is it a conspiracy? Is it a plan? They treat you worse than they
treated Abe Lincoln.
THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. You know, one of my favorite jokes --
you know that story about the guy that's walking along the Grand Canyon?
And he falls off, and he's falling the hundreds of feet to certain
death, and he reaches out -- he sees a little twig on the side of the
canyon, and he grabs it. He takes a deep breath, and then all of a
sudden he sees the roots of the twig start to come loose. And he looks
up to the sky and he says, "Lord, why me? Why me? I pay my taxes. I
go to work every day. Why me?" And this thunderous voice says, "Son,
there's just something about you I don't like." (Laughter.)
Who knows? Let me say this. Let me give you a serious answer.
Whatever happens, I have been very blessed in my life. Most of us leave
this life further ahead than we would be if all we got was justice.
Most of us get a fair share of mercy, too. And I wouldn't trade
anything for having had the opportunity to be President and do the work
I've done. So I feel very good about all that.
Q Mr. President, when Juanita Broaddrick leveled her charges against
you of rape, in a nationally televised interview, your attorney, David
Kendall, issued a statement denying them. But shouldn't you speak
directly on this matter, and reassure the public? And if they are not
true, can you tell us what your relationship with Ms. Broaddrick was, if
THE PRESIDENT: Well, five weeks ago today, five weeks ago today, I
stood in the Rose Garden, after the Senate voted and I told you that I
thought I owed it to the American people to give them 100 percent of my
time and to focus on their business, and that I would leave it to others
to decide whether they would follow that lead.
And that is why I have decided as soon as that vote was over that I
would allow all future questions to be answered by my attorneys, and I
think I made the right decision. I hope you can understand it. I think
the American people do understand it and support it, and I think it was
the right decision.
Q Can you not simply deny it, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: There's been a statement made by my attorney. He
speaks for me, and I think he spoke quite clearly.
Go ahead, Scott.
Q Mr. President, it seems you're on the verge of committing U.S. forces
to combat without a clear definition of your threshold for doing so. In
January, Serb troops massacred 44 civilians. You called it murder and
demanded that the Serb forces withdraw. They did not. Last month, you
said it would be a mistake to extend the deadline, but the deadline
passed. Last week, your administration said atrocities would be
punished, and then after that a bomb went off in a Kosovo market and
killed numerous children. What level of atrocities, sir, is a
sufficient trigger? What is your threshold?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you've just made my case. I think that the
threshold has been crossed. But when I said that the deadline should
not be extended, Mr. Pelley, what I said was that those of us who were
trying to shepherd the process should not extend the deadline. When the
parties themselves asked for a delay, that's an entirely different
kettle of fish. The rest of us can't be so patronizing that we can't
say to both sides they had no right to ask for a delay. They asked,
themselves, for a delay, and I thought it was the right thing to do. I
still believe that it was the right thing to do. And it did lead to one
side accepting the agreement.
You have made another point, which I did not make in my remarks, but I
would like to make, based on the factual statements you made --
everything you said was right, all the factual things you've cited --
which is that there are, basically, two grounds on which, in my
judgment, NATO could properly take action. One is the fact that we have
already said that if the peace agreement were accepted by the Kosovars,
but not by the Serbs, we would take action to try to minimize the
ability of the Serbs just to overrun and slaughter the Kosovars. That's
the first thing I said.
The second thing, what you said is quite right. While our threat of
force last year did result in the drastic reduction of the tension and a
lot of the refugees going home, it is absolutely true that there have
been actions taken since then and forced movements since then that would
trigger the other NATO action order to use force. The reason that has
not been done, frankly, is because the peace process was going on and we
knew that if we could just get an agreement from both sides that we
could end the violence and we wouldn't have to act under either ground.
So from my point of view, as I made clear to the Congress today, I
think the threshold for their conduct has already been crossed.
THE PRESIDENT: Sir, if I might follow up -- with the OSCE monitors
leaving tonight, if Serbian forces move into Kosovo, will that trigger
THE PRESIDENT: I've already said, I do not believe that -- I think
that whatever threshold they need to cross has been crossed. I think
that, in view of the present state of things, it would be better if I
did not say any more about any particular plans we might have.
Q Sir, George Stephanopoulos has written a book that contains some
tough and fairly personal criticism of you. Earlier, Dick Morris had
written a somewhat similar book. How much pain do these judgments by
former aides cause you? And do you consider it a betrayal for people to
write books on the history of your administration while you're still in
THE PRESIDENT: Well, like I said last night, I haven't read it. So I
have absorbed no pain, since I haven't read either one of the books, but
I -- or even any articles about it. I don't think that furthers the
commitment I made to the American people to focus on their business and
What I will say is that I very much value the loyalty and service I
have received from the overwhelming majority of the people who have
worked here in the White House and in the Cabinet and in the
administration, often under positions of almost unprecedented pressure.
And I think that very often that kind of loyalty goes unrecognized, but
it is not unappreciated by me.
I remember once, in the difficult days of early 1995, a scholar of the
presidency came here and said that I was a most fortunate person because
I had enjoyed the most loyal Cabinet since Thomas Jefferson's second
administration. It took my breath away when he said it, but the more I
thought about it and the more I read about what had happened between
this time and Mr. Jefferson's, the more I realized he was probably
accurate. All I can tell you is I am profoundly grateful for the
service and the loyalty that I have received, that our cause has
received, and I think the American people have benefited quite richly
Q Mr. President, I understand that you don't want to speculate about
what your opponents might do now, after the impeachment struggle is
over. But I wonder what your feelings are after some period of
reflection on the impeachment process -- how you were treated, and if
you feel resentment, relief, and how you think people will deal with
this and see it 10 or 20 years from now.
THE PRESIDENT: I think it's best for me not to focus on that now. I
think it's best for me to focus on my job. I have nearly two years to
go. I have an enormous amount to do. I am trying to convince the
Congress to adopt what, if they do adopt it, would be the most ambitious
set of legislative proposals yet in my tenure, probably even more
ambitious than the economic reforms of '93, or the balanced budget of
'97, or any of the other things that were done -- to save Social
Security and Medicare for the 21st century, to pay our debt down, to
secure our economy for the long run. And it seems to me that anything I
say or do, or any time I spend working on that will detract from my
ability to be an effective President. And I owe that to the American
people, and so that's what I'm going to focus on.
Q Mr. President, with the Dow crossing the 10,000 mark, the stock
market is trading well above any traditional benchmarks. Meanwhile, the
personal savings rate has dropped below zero, largely in part, perhaps,
because of rising stock prices. Are you worried that the U.S. and the
world economies have become too dependent on a stock market that may be
overvalued, and if so, is there anything the administration can do about
THE PRESIDENT: I think what the administration should do is focus on
the economic fundamentals at home and focus on fixing what appears to
be, in my judgment, the biggest remaining obstacle to continued growth
around the world on which our growth depends. I think that the savings
rate, the aggregate savings rate of the country is very important for
the long-term economic health of America.
I don't think there's any question that the savings rate dropping to
zero or negative in the last quarter of last year is in part due to the
fact that people feel that they have more wealth. Now, that is not a
bad thing that they have more wealth. One of the things that I'm really
pleased about is that through retirement funds and other things, there
is a more broad sharing of the wealth in America.
But I would like to just say the two things I think I should be working
on, and this is something I ask all of you to watch as we debate the
specific proposals on Social Security and the specific proposals on
Medicare. Because, keep in mind, I carefully made the Social Security
and Medicare proposals I made so that we could fund them and pay down
the debt, because if we pay down the debt we increase savings, aggregate
savings, in America. And when we do that, we assure the long-term
stability of our economy. Lower interest rates mean higher investment,
more jobs, more businesses, lower mortgage rates, lower home loan rates
-- excuse me, lower car loan rates, lower college loan rates, lower
credit card rates, the whole nine yards.
I think that is very, very important. At a time when we have such a
low personal savings rate it is very important that we get the
government debt down.
Secondly, it will help us to do what we have to do in the rest of the
world. If you look at Asia, they have -- their situation in a lot of
those Asian countries is more like what we went through in the 1930s;
that is, they have a collapse of demand. They need more liquidity.
They need more funds. They need more investment. They need more
If we are not taking money out of the international system, but instead
paying down our own debt, then there will be more funds that will be
able to flow into that part of the world to get the economy going --
into Latin America to keep the economy there from sinking under the
weight of the Asian problems. So this is very important.
The second thing I'd like to say is, I'm doing my dead-level best to
build on the work we've been doing for the last two or three years to
try to fix some of the problems in the international financial system.
Keep in mind that one of the things that caused such great burden in the
Asian financial crisis is, these countries didn't get in trouble the way
we were used to countries getting in trouble. We were used to countries
getting in trouble where they had great, big deficits and enormous
inflation and everything got out of control.
What happened in these countries were, there were problems with the
financial institutions, problems with the rules and transparency and
making loans and making investments. And we're trying to make some
changes that we'll try to ratify this summer when we meet in Germany
that I think could go a long way toward ensuring that this sort of thing
will not happen again in the future.
Now, the markets will determine what happened to the markets. What I
think I have to do is give the American people good, sound fundamentals,
pay this debt down and try to get the financial architecture of the 21st
century straightened out.
Q Mr. President, your administration has come out against the extension
of the independent counsel statute. And yet, when you signed a
reauthorization of it five years ago, you called it "a force for
government integrity and public confidence." Do you think now that you
made a mistake when you signed that reauthorization five years ago? Do
you disavow those comments? And if so, do you feel that way because you
were the target of Ken Starr's investigation?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, because of that, because I was the target, I
think it is better for me to refer you to the conclusions reached by the
American Bar Association that had the same change of heart, and by the
Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General. I believe that their
views should be given more weight since they were not the subject of
such investigations. And the Bar Association and the Attorney General
and the Deputy Attorney General have spoken clearly and have said
anything I could say.
Q Mr. President, your Vice President has recently been ridiculed for
claiming the he invented the Internet and spent his boyhood plowing
steep hillsides in Tennessee. I'm wondering what you think of those
claims and what advice you'd give him about how to brag on himself
without getting in so much trouble. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, he came a lot closer to inventing the
Internet than I did. I mean -- I will say this about it. First of all,
you remember he was talking about the Information Superhighway 20 years
ago, and he did have a lot to do with supporting the development of it
and supporting the government research that led to these developments.
Keep in mind, I think when I became President in 1993, there were still
only 50 or 60 sites on the Internet, and now there are millions and
millions. So what I would like to say is, I don't know exactly what he
said or exactly how it's been characterized, but he has been, for 20
years, one of the major architects of America's progress in technology,
and he deserves a lot of appreciation for that. The Telecommunications
Act, which I signed, he was heavily involved in the negotiations of our
administration's positions. I talked to an executive the other day who
said he was absolutely convinced at least 200,000 new high-tech jobs
have already been created in America as a result of that act.
As far as his boyhood home, I think -- I know what you're saying.
You're saying, well, he went to St. Alban's and his daddy was a senator.
But it's also true that he is from east Tennessee and he did learn to do
all those things he did on the farm. I've been there, in Carthage,
Tennessee. I've talked to his mother, and his father when he was alive,
and other people who were there. And I think it's important that the
American people know more about the Vice President's background. I
think it's important that they know that he served in the Congress, that
he served in the Senate, that before that he was a member of your
profession, he was a journalist -- and served in the Armed Forces in
I think it's important that also that they know that he was a principal
architect of the major economic and other policies of this
administration. You know, you all will examine his claims and
presumably the claims of everybody else who would like to succeed me,
and make your judgments, and the American people will be as well. But
the Vice President is, by nature, a reticent person, when it comes to
talking about his life and his background. And I hope that he will find
-- for all of us, that's one of the most difficult things about running
for public office. You want to be able to share formative experiences
in your life or things you've been involved in that you're particularly
proud of, and you want to do it without seeming to toot your own horn
too much. And it's a challenge.
But I can tell you this. I'll be happy to toot his horn in terms of
the years that we've worked together because there's no question that he
has been integral to all the good things that have happened in this
Q Mr. President, many young Americans learn the importance of telling
the truth based on an allegory about our very first President -- George
Washington reportedly said, "I cannot tell a lie." What do you think
your legacy will be about lying? And how important do you think it is
to tell the truth, especially under oath?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it's very important, and I think that what
young people will learn from my experience is that even Presidents have
to do that. And that there are consequences when you don't.
But I also think that there will be a box score, and there will be that
one negative, and then there will be the hundreds and hundreds and
hundreds of times when the record will show that I did not abuse my
authority as President, that I was truthful with the American people;
and scores and scores of allegations were made against me, and widely
publicized without any regard to whether they were true or not -- most
of them have already been actually proved false. And it's very hard to
disprove every false allegation against you.
But we have had more success, frankly, than I was afraid we would when
we started. So I would hope that there would be a higher regard for
truth-telling by all people in public life, and all those who report on
it. I think it would be a very good thing.
Q Sir, you said on Kosovo that if we don't act, the war will spread.
That's very similar to what we said when we went into Bosnia several
years ago. Our troops are still there. How can you assure the American
people that we're not getting into a quagmire in Bosnia?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, first of all, in Bosnia we have brought about
70 percent of our troops home. It has not been a quagmire. I told the
American people we might well have some loss of life there, but I was
convinced we would lose fewer lives and do more good over the long run
if we intervened when we did.
I feel the same way about Kosovo. The argument that I tried to make
for our putting troops there, if we could reach a peace agreement, was
that we were moving in the right direction, the Europeans had been
willing to shoulder a much bigger share of the responsibility, we were
only going to be asked to put up about, oh, 15 percent of the troops.
But I don't want to get in the position in Kosovo that I was in in
Bosnia, where the Pentagon came to me with a very honest estimate of
when they thought we could finish. And we turned out to be wrong about
that. We were not able to stabilize the situation as quickly as we
thought we could. And this business in Kosovo is not helping any. Keep
in mind, there could be some ramifications in Bosnia, as well as in
Macedonia, where we have troops.
So I can just tell you that I think that we have tried to limit our
involvement, we have tried to limit our mission, and we will conclude it
as quickly as we can. I think that in all these cases, you have to ask
yourself, what will be the cost and the duration of involvement and the
consequences if we do not move. And I have asked myself that question
Again, I would say to you, I would not be doing this if I did not
think, number one, whenever we can stop a humanitarian disaster at an
acceptable price, we ought to do it. Two, I'm convinced we'll be
dragged into this thing under worse circumstances at greater cost if we
don't act. And three, this is, to me, a critical part of the objective
I brought to the presidency of trying to leave office with an alliance
between the United States and a more unified, more prosperous, more
peaceful, more stable Europe. And this is one of the big three
questions still hanging out there, as I said in my opening remarks, and
I'm trying to resolve this.
April. And then Mr. King.
Q Mr. President, for many years, civil rights leaders have called for
White House help in cases of police brutality and police profiling.
Now, civil rights leaders say more needs to be done, like opening old
brutality cases. Will you listen to those calls and expand your recent
proposals allowing that, and when will you receive your completed draft
of the Race Book?
THE PRESIDENT: Let me answer the second question first because it's an
easier question to dispose of. I have received and gone over a number
of drafts of the Race Book and I'm fairly pleased with where it's going.
And one of the things we'll attempt to address is this whole issue of
civil rights and law enforcement. And I would hope that it will be
ready sometime in the next couple of months. I hope we'll have it
finished, because we're rushing and we're trying to get it done.
Now, on the question of reopening old cases, I have to be candid with
you and tell you that you're the first person who has ever mentioned
that to me. I know that there must have been something in the letters
about it. I will have to discuss that with our advisors and see what
the appropriate thing to do is. But I would like to make a general
statement about it, maybe to try to emphasize some of the points I
attempted to make in my radio address on Saturday.
I've been involved in law enforcement for more than 20 years now, since
I became Attorney General of my state in 1977. Even before that, when I
was in law school, and later when I was a law professor, I used to spend
a lot of time teaching criminal law, criminal procedure and
constitutional law to law enforcement officers. I think that the police
of this country know that I honor them and that I support them and that
I think what they're doing is profoundly important.
I am very proud of the crime bill we passed in '94, not only because it
was, along with the Brady Bill, it banned assault weapons, but because
it put 100,000 police on the street. And were ahead of schedule and
under budget on that goal. And my present budget called for putting
50,000 more out there in community policing in the highest crime areas
of the country.
But I think that -- and I am mindful of the fact that when you put on a
gun, no matter how well-trained you are, you have to be very careful
about being under great stress and fear and making mistakes. But it
seems to me that just as this administration has strongly supported law
enforcement in every way to try to give us a safer country and a country
where the law enforcement was closer connected to the community, we have
a responsibility to deal with these issues of brutality when they arise,
and the whole question of policies of profiling, of presuming that
people are more likely to be criminals because of their racial
background or some other characteristic.
And I hope that our administration, working with civil rights groups,
civil liberties groups and law enforcement groups, will be able to
really get a genuine debate on this and a resolution of it that is
satisfactory -- because we cannot have the kind of country we want if
people are afraid of those folks who are trying to protect them.
Now, but in terms of opening the old cases, I just have to look at
that. I don't know enough about the facts to give you an informed
Mr. King. And then Mr. Cannon. Go ahead.
Q Mr. President, the Russian Prime Minister will be here next week
seeking your support for another very large installment in international
economic assistance. Yet, leading officials in your own administration
say there has been a retreat, if not a reversal, in the pace of market
reforms in Russia. Are you prepared to support the new installment of
IMF funding? And are you on the verge of an agreement with Russia
regarding its nuclear transfers to Iran?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, first, let me say that Mr. Primakov is coming
here at an important time. And I have urged all of us in the
administration, our economic team and our political team, to be acutely
aware of the fact that the first thing he had to do was to try to
stabilize his own situation, when he took office.
In terms of the economic reforms that he needs to pursue, he needs some
help from the Duma. And I would be a poor person to be unsympathetic
with a man who is having trouble getting a certain proposal through a
Congress. But I think it is important, if we are going to help Russia
-- and we should; we should do everything we can -- that we do things
that are actually likely to make a difference, instead of things that
will undermine confidence over the long run in Russia, and in the
ability of others to invest there.
So I'm hoping we can reach an agreement which will permit the IMF
program to go forward, because I think that is important. But it will
only work if the money doesn't turn around and leave the country as soon
as it's put in.
In other words, that's what -- what we have to persuade the Russians of
is that we're not trying to impose some economic theory on them. We're
not trying to impose more -- I don't mean just "we," the United States;
I mean "we," the international financial institutions, of which the
United States is a part -- and that we want to see the back wages paid.
We want to see the standard of living of the Russian people rise. We
want to see more investment go in there.
But there have got to be some changes, some of which require
legislative action in the Duma in order for this to work. Otherwise,
even if we put the money in, it will leave. And so that's what we're
working on. And I'm hopeful that we'll also get a resolution of the
second issue you mentioned, and I'm optimistic about that.
Q Mr. President --
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I said Mr. Cannon could go next -- I want to honor
my commitment there. Oh, I forgot Wendell -- go ahead. Wendell's next.
Q We're jumping around a lot and I apologize, but I'd like to return to
China for just a minute. Officials with your administration have said
that China's size, it's so big, it's just difficult to ignore, that you
can't just pretend they don't exist. But in terms of human rights, that
merely underscores the magnitude of the problem. That's a billion
people who don't have freedom of worship, freedom of the press, the
right to peaceably assemble, the right to redress their government, the
right to form their government. And you often talk about values when
you talk about public policy. Does our relationship with China now
reflect your values?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I believe our policy toward China does. Our
relationship is not perfect, but I think it is the correct course.
First of all, I believe that the principal problem, human rights
problem in China is the absence of political rights and the civil rights
associated with them. There are some examples of religious -- denial of
religious freedom. There's also a lot of religious expression there.
You remember, I went to church in China, to a church that has regular
services every week, whether we're there or not.
And there is the special problem of Tibet, which I engaged President
Ziang about in our press conference and on which we continue to work.
So, to me, it's very important and we have to continue to press ahead
on that. I think the question is, what is the best way for the United
States to maximize the chances that China will become more open in terms
of political and civil rights, that any vestiges of religious
suppression will be dropped, that Tibet will have a chance as soon as
possible to preserve its unique culture and identity -- and all these
questions like that.
And it seems to me that the best way to do it is to work with the
Chinese where it's in our interest to do so, and to frankly and
forthrightly state our differences where they exist. If we were to
reach a point where we were convinced that no agreement we made ever
would be kept, where no progress could ever be made, then I would ask
the American people to reassess that.
But I believe that the evidence is -- and I cited some specific
examples earlier in this press conference -- the evidence is that the
Chinese would like a constructive relationship with us. Keep in mind,
the same sort of debate that's going on in this country, there is a
mirror image of that debate going on in China today.
And there are people in China that are not at a press conference, but
they're saying, you know, the Americans cannot exist without an enemy;
you know they've got to have an enemy, they've got to have somebody to
dominate the world against; and what they really want to do is to
contain us; they don't want us to flower economically; they don't want
us to have influence, even if it's nonaggressive influence. And
therefore, we need to build up our military. Therefore, we need to
fight them at every turn. We need to oppose them at every turn.
These sorts of debates are going on in their country. And what I have
said to President Jiang, to Premier Zhu, to everyone who is involved on
the trip -- and I look forward to the Premier's trip to the United
States -- is that we still have to define what kind of future we're
going to have, how we're going to share it, what is the proper arena for
competition, what is the proper arena for cooperation. And we have to
judge China as we would judge anyone else, and as we would expect to be
judged by our actions.
What you have here is a relationship that is profoundly important, very
large and inherently frustrating because it has many different elements,
some of which we like, some of which we don't. And it requires a
constant evaluation to see whether we're on the right track, whether
we're doing the right things, whether we're going in the right
direction. And because it doesn't fit within neat or calming
categories, it can be a source of difficulty.
But I believe that I've done the right thing for America over the long
run by trying to establish a positive but wide-open -- I mean eyes wide
open -- with no illusions relationship with China where we explicitly
put our differences on the table; where we pursue them to a point of
resolution if possible; where we don't give up on what we believe if we
can't resolve them; and where we do work on the things that we have in
common. I believe this is the right thing to do. But it is inherently
frustrating at the points of difference.
Wendell, go ahead.
Q Mr. President, you said just a short while ago that no one has
reported to you they suspect Chinese espionage at U.S. nuclear labs
during your administration, sir. But sources tell Fox News, and we are
reporting this evening, that China stole the technology for
electromagnetic pulse weapons from several nuclear labs during your
first term in office, sir, and that the Chinese have successfully tested
these weapons in China. And the sources also say that the
administration, at least, was aware of this.
Can you tell us, sir, were you not personally aware? Are you concerned
about this? And what will be your administration's response to the
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you didn't say what the source of what they sold
was. You say they "stole," is that the word you used?
Q Yes, sir, the technology for EMP weapons, from four of the 11
THE PRESIDENT: To the best of my knowledge -- and, you know, I try to
-- not only do I spend a great deal of time every day on national
security measures, I try to prepare for these things. To the best of my
knowledge, no one has said anything to me about any espionage which
occurred by the Chinese against the labs during my presidency.
I will -- if you report that, then I will do my best to find out what
the facts are, and I'll tell you what they are. And if I have misstated
this in any way because I don't remember something, then I will tell you
that. But I don't believe that I have forgotten.
Yes, ma'am? One more.
Q Mr. President, can you put to rest rumors -- you were talking earlier
about the stability of your Cabinet. Can you put to rest rumors on Wall
Street that Treasury Secretary Rubin is going to be leaving soon? Has
he had any discussion about a departure with you? And in a related
question, have you had any conversations with Fed Chairman Greenspan
about his reappointment?
THE PRESIDENT: The answer to the second question is, no, I have not.
You should draw no conclusion about that one way or the other -- it's
just not come up. And I have not discussed Mr. Rubin's plans personally
with him in quite a long while -- maybe a year -- I can't remember, it's
been a good long while. He has served well. He has worked hard. I
hope he will stay. Goodness knows, he's given his country a great deal
and he's served us very well. But I do not know what his specific plans
are. I'm aware of all the rumors, but we've not had a conversation
Q Mr. President, I'm a Bosnian journalist and my country before war was
almost unknown, during the war, for a long time neglected. And now we
feel a little bit forgotten, if you don't mind, sir. You're going to go
to Slovenia soon and you're talking about European security and
stability as a priority of your foreign policy.
I'd like to know, and I believe that Bosnians would appreciate that if
you can say if you have any new initiative to boost a peace process in
Bosnia. Bosnian dream of a united country is dying slowly. So if
you're going to change some people, as New York Times reported, or the
State Department hints, sir, what would be your next step in Bosnia,
THE PRESIDENT: The Bosnian peace process has been put under stress
recently because the Brcko decision was made and had to be made within
the time frame in which it was made. And I think the most important
thing now is that we try to get beyond that and go on with the business
of building the common institutions and trying to get more economic
I'm very concerned that the politicians who still want to chip away at
the idea of a united Bosnian nation will be able to do it principally
because we're not able to show the benefits of peace to ordinary
citizens. It seems to me that that is the most important thing we can
do once we stabilize the situation in the aftermath of the Brcko
decision. And I think we're on the way to doing that.
Thank you very much.
END 5:04 P.M. EST