� 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
� 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
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.
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.
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?
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
Indonesia for repression; why aren't sanctions being considered
� 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
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.
� 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
� 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
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.
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
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
to make the right decision.
� Q. What about growing up in Cuba as opposed to growing up in the
� 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
� 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
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
� 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
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.
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
� 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
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
� 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
� 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
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
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
� 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
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
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.
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
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
� 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
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
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
� 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
� 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
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
� 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
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.
� Panama CanaL/China and Taiwan
� Q. Mr. President, with China building a second short-range missile
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
� 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.
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
� 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
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.
� 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
[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.
� Q. It should be that way, though.
� 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
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
� 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
it, it at least achieves the objectives I'm trying to achieve.
� 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
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?
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
� 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
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
� 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
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
� 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
� 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.
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
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.
� 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.
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
� 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
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.