02 March 1998
(Iraq, Clinton's mood, golf) (830) White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry briefed reporters at early morning and early afternoon sessions. US SAYS BUTLER AUTHORITATIVE ON IRAQ/UN MEMO OF UNDERSTANDING Asked to comment on a "dispute" between Iraq's Ambassador to the United Nations Nizar Hamdoon and Ambassador Richard Butler, the chief of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, regarding who will be in charge of the inspections of eight so-called Presidential sites in Iraq, McCurry said "that was a dispute only on CNN that had the good fortune of having them both together on the same program, but it was certainly no dispute in the eyes of the United States government." Butler and Hamdoon appeared one after the other on CNN's "Late Edition" interview program March 1. "Mr. Butler spoke quite authoritatively on the interpretation of the memorandum of understanding," McCurry said. "He's made it quite clear what the lines of authority are as the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) conducts the work that it needs to do in Iraq, that the government of Iraq has pledged to cooperate with, and of course, the question will be whether or not the government of Iraq lives up to the obligations it has under the agreement it has signed." Asked if he was concerned by Hamdoon's questioning whether Butler will supervise the entire weapons inspection process, McCurry said, "You know of our concern about the intentions of the government of Iraq with respect to this agreement, because the President made it quite clear that we will remain skeptical until we see full implementation of the agreement as it has been reached. And we will keep a significant force deployed in that region in the interim." The chief UN weapons inspector "couldn't have been clearer in presenting what the arrangements are for UN Special Commission work in Iraq," McCurry said. "Mr. Butler's remarks were authoritative on that subject. I would disregard what the government of Iraq has to say when they are in their 'spin' mode," the Press Secretary declared. Asked about UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's decision to cancel a visit to Washington, during which he had planned to talk with President Clinton and with members of Congress about the new weapons inspection agreement as well as a number of other issues, McCurry said "we fully understand the Secretary's decision to be in New York as the Security Council develops and deliberates on a further Iraq resolution" that the British have put forward. "Quite correctly he wants to be in the Security Council as they deliberate this very important resolution that comes in the aftermath of the agreement between the United Nations and Iraq." In response to the assertion by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (Republican-Mississippi) that Saddam Hussein should be tried as a war criminal, McCurry said: "What would be most productive is for all to encourage the government of Iraq to abide by its commitments under the agreement that's recently reached with the United Nations. We would encourage members of Congress to so state." McCurry said it "is really mystifying" why Lott, who had wanted a face-to-face conversation with Annan, changed his mind, and said he would not have time to meet with him. "The Secretary General is an eminent figure who just concluded an important agreement that any member of Congress would surely want to learn more about," he said. PRESIDENT'S MOOD Asked to assess President Clinton's present state of mind, McCurry said "the President, behind the scenes and in public, continues to work on those things that the American people consider foremost in their lives. That's where he concentrates his energy and attention. He knows the American people would not be too forgiving if he lost his focus on the things that matter to them and to their lives." He said that an article published in the Washington Post the weekend of February 28 which asserted that Clinton is in a private rage over the investigative tactics of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr are "not an accurate portrayal of the totality of the President's demeanor," McCurry said. "The President is in very good cheer as he goes to work he was elected to do. He's gratified that he has the support of the American people as he pursues the agenda he has outlined for them." McMcCurry said that when Washington lawyer Vernon Jordan testifies March 3 before the Starr grand jury regarding his role in attempting to help former White House intern Monica Lewinsky find a new job, "someone will be in a position to testify that knows the facts." He added that Clinton and Jordan "remain very good friends and look forward to the day when they can be less circumspect with each other." PRESIDENT SPENDS AFTERNOON ON GOLF COURSE President Clinton spent the afternoon of March 2 playing golf at the nearby Army-Navy Club. He was accompanied by Congressman Bill Hefner (Democrat-North Carolina) and Congressman John Murtha (Democrat-Pennsylvania).