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20 February 1998

[EXCERPTS] TRANSCRIPT: WHITE HOUSE DAILY BRIEFING, FEBRUARY 20, 1998


White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry briefed.

Following is the White House transcript:

(begin transcript)

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

February 20, 1998

PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room


................

Q: Mike, the Chief of Staff was up with Senator Lott today. Do you
know if the subject of a resolution on Iraq came up and does the White
House want a resolution on Iraq?


MCCURRY: I haven't talked to Erskine since then, and there were
probably a number of matters. We've had others who have been on the
Hill and in discussion on a resolution. As we have said several times,
we would certainly welcome an expression of support from the Senate.
We believe there is sufficient sentiment of support in the Senate for
such a resolution. And we'll remain in contact with the leadership to
determine what the Senate will do when it comes back into session --
and the House, for that matter.


Q: Mike, the President said yesterday he spoke to Jacques Chirac. Has
he spoken to any other world leaders and is he thinking of speaking
with Boris Yeltsin?


MCCURRY: He has not -- I checked this morning; I haven't checked
recently. I'm not aware of any additional calls since the Chirac call.
And we have, of course, had communications via embassy and other
contacts with the Russian Federation.


Q: Has he heard anything from Baghdad in terms of the U.N. mission? Or
does he expect to?


MCCURRY: I'm not aware that we have heard anything from the Secretary
General.


Q:  This weekend?



MCCURRY: It's difficult to predict. Our assumption has been that the
Secretary General would want to brief the Security Council at the
conclusion of his mission.


Q: Speaking of military action, has the decision been made whether to
go all the way to Baghdad to go after the National Guard, or will it
just be infrastructure --


MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate in any way, shape, or form on that
kind of thing.


Q: On the meeting yesterday with Bruce Riedel and the Iraqi opposition
leaders, could you tell us about that?


MCCURRY: This was a meeting that followed on a similar session they
had at the State Department, an opportunity for us to remain in
contact with Iraqi opposition figures, whom we have lent public
support to on numerous occasions in the past. We think that it is
important for any nation to have a vibrant exchange of views, but
especially important in a totalitarian state such as Iraq for bona
fide opposition figures to be in a position to engage in healthy
debate.


Q: Is the President's speech to the Arab world, has that been
broadcast yet by the Voice of America?


MCCURRY: It's USIA, through it's WorldNet services, that would make it
available to foreign broadcast entities and it has not been -- has
been transmitted?


LUZZATTO: It's been released, I'm not sure that it's been transmitted


MCCURRY: It's been made available to foreign broadcasters for use as
they see fit in their own environments. It is clearly designed to
coincide with the Security Council's consideration of an expansion of
the Oil-for-Food program so we can get humanitarian relief to the
people of Iraq who have suffered through and by the decisions of
Saddam Hussein for such a long time.


Q:  But that has not been acted on yet?



MCCURRY: It's pending action. The indication is that they're wrapping
up and some delegations were awaiting instructions before they
finalize it. But it is clearly moving forward with some likelihood
that it will be approved.


Q: Mike, are you working to cross purposes there? Wouldn't a sustained
bombing campaign cause a massive disruption in the Oil-for-Food
program?


MCCURRY: It would cause me to speculate on what targets might be; I'm
not going to do that.


Q: Do you have any idea whether this speech would be broadcast in
Iraq? We know around Iraq, but what about in Iraq?


MCCURRY: I don't know. It would be available -- presumably it will be
on satellite and would be available to Iraqi TV. I rather suspect it
won't be made available -- who knows.


Q: Mike, if I could follow up on that notion, in planning for all of
this is there any concern about the Oil-for-Food program? Is it being
taken under consideration with regard to not being damaged in the
bombing campaign?


MCCURRY: I think that that program exists to help the people of Iraq
who are suffering, who need food and medicine and need humanitarian
relief. There's enormous concern about the type of damage that would
be done to Iraqi citizens, precisely because Saddam Hussein has
indicated he would wantonly put them in harm's way.


I'm not going to speculate on targets and what infrastructure might be
damaged. They've had a good assessment that's been done and is
available at the U.N. on how the Oil-for-Food program has worked, what
they've done over the course of the last year in two separate phases.
Iraqi production facilities seem to be in a position to work to move
the oil that has been sold to provide that kind of humanitarian
relief.


Q: What's your understanding of the schedule of Annan's return? In
other words, he comes back, he has to spend a day or two briefing the
U.N. Do you know what --


MCCURRY: Our understanding is what he indicated publicly at the U.N.
upon departure -- he couldn't predict how long it would take, he
didn't think it would be interminable, he thought several days.


Q:  Several days after he returns?



MCCURRY: Several days that he would -- he indicated he would be in a
position to have dialogue with Iraqi authorities for several days.


Q:  No, I'm talking about after he comes back?



MCCURRY: What happens beyond that is not clear at this point, but
presumably he would return and brief the Security Council.


Q: Is the Annan mission the last chance to avoid military action with
Saddam Hussein?


MCCURRY: It is a very good chance for Saddam Hussein to do the right
thing.


Q: Mike, can you explain a little more about canceling the Vice
President's trip and whether any of the President's travels are being
reconsidered?


MCCURRY: Well, the President intends to -- at this point intends to go
ahead with the trip to California next week, but clearly we will
assess that on a day-by-day basis. And we will need to see what
assessments are made based on Secretary General Annan's mission.


Q: Why was the Vice President's trip canceled? To keep him in the
country or near Washington, or can you be any more specific?


MCCURRY: To keep him, as the President said, nearby and together with
the President's other national security advisors so that we could
assess the results of the Secretary General's deliberations in Iraq.


Q: I understand Secretary Cohen had a trip to South America and South
Africa also.


MCCURRY: He was to be a part of the Vice President's delegation and
then continue to South America and, as the President indicated
yesterday, he wanted his national security team in town.


Q:  The weekend will be devoted to Iraq?



MCCURRY: The President will likely have some more discussions with his
advisors tomorrow. They're meeting today, will meet tomorrow. I think
both times at least some of the participants in the meeting will talk
to the President afterwards.


Q: Is the President's decision on whether to launch air strikes still
a matter of weeks or days away?


MCCURRY:  I'm not speculating on time tables.



Q:  Any plans to evacuate American citizens from Iraq?



MCCURRY: There are some discussions at the State Department right now
about departures that they're ordering.


Q:  Travel advisement?



MCCURRY: Well, the travel information they have updated I think on a
pretty regular basis and made it clear that the United States
government is advising American citizens about the need to be
cognizant of the environment in which they might travel, particularly
in that region.


Q:  They'd have to go over land, right, unless it's --



MCCURRY:  I'm not going to speculate on that.



Q: Mike, two things: can you tell us how many Americans there are in
Iraq right now and can you do the week ahead?


MCCURRY:  How many -- say again?



Q:  Americans there are in Iraq right now?



MCCURRY: In Iraq? I don't know that we've got that. The State
Department can probably tell you more. U.S. citizens there would be
there presumably in connection with nongovernmental organizations
and/or U.N. programs that are underway there. You're aware that the
United Nations has withdrawn some of its personnel -- non-essential
personnel -- from Iraq. The State Department is indicating some
ordered departures that they're doing in and around the region at this
hour. And it's obviously done with the notion of making sure that
we're in a position to protect against any contingencies.


Q:  Mike, can you do the weekend and the week ahead?



MCCURRY:  I'll do that at the end.



Q: Mike, I'm a little behind on this, are you releasing the
President's taped statement to us?


MCCURRY:  Say again?



Q: I'm behind on this. Are you releasing, or have you released the
President's taped statement to us.


MCCURRY: I think it's been released. Yes, it's been released, both the
audio, video, and also the text.


................


Q: Mike, have you seen this Solarz-Perle letter, and any reaction to
their proposal? They were talking this morning that the United States
should vacate Iraq's seat at the U.N., should establish safe havens in
both north and south Iraq?


MCCURRY:  I'll have to look at that.  I have not seen that.



Q:  Did it sound like a serious proposal?



MCCURRY: Well, I'd have to look at it more. You may want to follow up
with NSC folks on that.


Q: You suggested that you didn't want to give away any bombing targets
but you have said that you want to limit precision bombing to
locations where weapons of mass destruction are being produced. You're
not suggesting a change in that?


MCCURRY: I have never suggested that or said that, nor would I suggest
one way or another what targets might be limited to or include.


Q:  Well, you do want to limit civilian death, don't you?



MCCURRY: Obviously, we always would want to protect non-combatants and
try to reduce collateral damage, but war is war.


Q:  Has there been any move by Saddam to place civilians --



MCCURRY:  I'm sorry?



Q: Has there been any move by Saddam in the last day to put civilians
in places that might be bombed?


MCCURRY: There have been various assessments of that and there have
been some public statements coming from Baghdad indicating that they
are encouraging delegations. We have a concern that they may be
encouraging news organizations to send personnel there, and that's
obviously something that is, I think, of very serious concern to us.
We don't want people to unnecessarily be in harm's way and we would
encourage news organizations and all U.S. citizens to follow very
carefully the advice that we're giving on travel in and around that
region.


Q:  Which is what?  Stay away?



MCCURRY: It's available from the State Department, but it certainly
alerts people to the high degree of concern about the status of
matters in and around Iraq.

..............



Q: Mike, could you elaborate a little on what you were saying before
about the Iraqis encouraging news organizations to put their people in
dangerous places?


MCCURRY: We have had some sporadic reports that they are granting
visas to local news organizations, presumably people who maybe are not
as experienced as others that work for networks and other news
organizations, and operating in dangerous climates. And that's a real
concern of ours.


Q: What do you mean? Granting visas and then encouraging them to go to
some particular location?


MCCURRY: Encouraging them to come to the country and -- you know,
since we are not describing what's safe and what's not safe in Iraq,
our concern would be for any U.S. citizen to be there.


Q: There were two non-American journalists taking prisoner yesterday
in Iraq because they didn't have visas. Is the U.S. getting involved
if they are non-Americans?


MCCURRY: I doubt very much that we are. I'm not aware of any
involvement.


Q: Before the '91 war, Marlin Fitzwater warned journalists in Baghdad,
said "take cover." Would you do something like that?


MCCURRY: I think at the appropriate time -- not so much me -- but I
think in the more formal way, we will raise with news organizations
concerns that we might have. We have already talked about doing that
and talked about the right way to do that. And we of course don't want
to do anything that suggests the President has made a decision he has
not made. But we also want to deter people from going there in
contravention of the kind of travel information we provide --
particularly if we don't think they know how to keep themselves safe.


I mean, experienced journalists who operate in war zones know how to
cover a war. Our concern has been there may be a lot of people in this
day and age when everyone's got a satellite dish who might not
understand the right kind of precautions to take.

..................


(end transcript)