[EXCERPTS] WHITE HOUSE DAILY BRIEFING
April 24, 1997 PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
Chemical Weapons Convention -- the President is monitoring the debate
on the floor. I expect him this afternoon to call up to half a dozen
or so senators that are still thinking about this issue. Our reports
from our team on the Hill are that they've had good sessions both on
the Senate floor and in closed session today, but there are a number
of senators still struggling with some of the issues related to the
Convention. The President wants to be available to them to address any
concerns they have.
Obviously, the Majority Leader has indicated the President
communicated with him on aspects of Article X, Article XI, concerns
that he had. We're encouraged by the Majority Leader's remarks this
morning, but we are still working very hard and will work very hard
right up to the vote.
Q: How does he interpret Senator Lott's remarks?
Q: Can you expand on that a little bit?
MCCURRY: Well, the Majority Leader had some specific concerns related
to the protections that exist in the treaty that combat the
proliferation of chemical weapons and chemical weapons precursors, and
raised concerns that in an inadvertent way the Convention might
someday lead to an expansion of commerce to some individual countries
that would not in our view be those are legitimate receivers of that
type of chemical commerce. And the President wanted to make it
absolutely clear that under the Article XVI supreme national interest
provision of the treaty, that we would, in fact, withdraw from the
Convention if it was our determination in those three categories that
he identified in his letter that the Convention was not getting the
And I think the Majority Leader indicated he felt that was a very
significant comment by the President, and the President meant it to
Q: Does the White House now think that Lott will vote for it and the
treaty will pass?
MCCURRY: I'm not going to comment on the Majority Leader's views.
He'll -- as he indicated, he'll state it appropriately at the time
that he chooses.
Q: Has he told you what he's going to do?
MCCURRY: We've had ongoing conversations with the Majority Leader;
even today I think Mr. Berger has been in touch with him. Sandy has
not only been talking to our team that's on the Hill that's been
available to senators, but he's had some individual
conversations himself with various senators and I expect the President
will be making some phone calls this afternoon, too.
Q: You mentioned a half a dozen senators are there -
Q: -- going to call Lott?
MCCURRY: Hold on.
Q: You mentioned that he would call a half a dozen senators. Do you
think those are the only votes that you can sway or the only ones you
need, or -
Q: Is Lott one of them?
Q: And is Lott one of them?
MCCURRY: Those are the ones where we believe the President's direct
intervention would be helpful.
Q: Is Lott one of them?
Q: Is Lott one of them?
Q: Do you anticipate we'll see the President this evening after the
vote? What's your intention once the vote is taken?
MCCURRY: I don't want to promise it. I think the President would like
to, but we'll see what hour that might be before we make a decision.
Q: Is Senator Lott one of the ones that he'll be calling?
MCCURRY: I'm not going to identify the individual senators.
Q: How unusual is it, according to your view, for a President to
attempt to sell ratification of a treaty by indicating the
circumstances under which you would abrogate it?
MCCURRY: Well, it's not unprecedented. We, in fact, did much the same
with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty last year. Correct, David? I
think we have indicated in the past circumstances under which we would
be forced to exercise our national interest right under a convention
or a treaty to withdraw.
But it is important, the President felt, to make absolutely clear that
we take very seriously the nonproliferation commitment that we and the
world community make in this Convention. If there's anything working
to the detriment of that commitment to nonproliferation, we would act
to withdraw from the treaty. And the President was -- felt very
comfortable and felt very warranted making that assurance to the
Q: Mike, wouldn't any President abrogate any treaty that became
adverse to the national interest?
MCCURRY: I would expect so, of course. And that's one of the reasons
why provisions in most international documents exist like Article XVI
in this Convention.
Q: Aside from the written communications this morning to Senator Lott,
has President Clinton written assurances to any other senator with
whom he's communicated?
MCCURRY: I'm not aware that we've sent any specific communication to
any other senators. We've talked through -- we've got a list of 28
conditions that have been mutually negotiated and the President's
talked through some of those with individual senators who had
particular questions about some of them. But I'm not aware that we've
sent any documentation.
Q: Did he ask Senator Dole to make any calls or to work his contacts
at all? And do you think that Senator Dole's announcement yesterday
had an impact?
MCCURRY: I think Senator Dole made a very important argument yesterday
and an important contribution to this debate by saying that some of
the concerns that he had last fall had been appropriately and
adequately addressed by the conditions that had been arrived at
mutually by the Senate and by the administration. And we understand
that has been significant. It has affected some thinking on the Hill,
and we're pleased that Senator Dole was able to participate yesterday.
And you should really check with him. My understanding is he has been
available to some senators to review the issue from his perspective.
I'm also hearing from our folks on the Hill that the President's
letter released by the Majority Leader this morning has had some
impact as well.
Q: Mike, can you give us some incite on just what he's telling these
individual senators? Is he addressing their specific concerns, and
also, is he cutting any deals on any issues that they -- other issues
that they may be interested in to get their vote?
MCCURRY: I'm not going to go into the substance of private
conversations, but he's making the argument that we've been making
publicly on some of the very specific concerns that have been raised
here. On the issue -- I think a lot of the conversations are dealing
with some of the five so-called killer provisions that are going to be
debated and voted on in the Senate this afternoon, and he's
specifically been making the argument about our strong views on some
of those provisions.
Q: Could you go into some of the implications of ratification for the
President's ability to push for further arms control agreements, and
just his general foreign policy agenda -- how important is it that
this treaty be approved for those two things?
MCCURRY: Well, this is a significant vote in that it's the first major
foreign policy issue to come before the Senate in the President's
second term. It's a moment at which the President feels and has said
to the members of Congress, we need to restore some sense of
bipartisanship as America faces the challenges we face in the world,
and that surely the ratification of this treaty, demonstrating that
Republican Presidents, going back to President Reagan, can work with
Democratic Congresses and Republican Congresses to achieve a
bipartisan result when it comes to protecting this nation's interest
-- in this case particularly, on an arms control matter.
I think that would bode well for the future of bipartisan progress on
other issues in which we are advancing America's interests in the
world. And the President, for that reason among many reasons,
considers this a very serious vote that the Senate is taking.
Q: Does it strengthen his hand as he begins these very high visibility
foreign trips, where a lot of these trips are going to involve further
agreements -- not just arms control, but fast track with Latin
America, G-7, et cetera?
MCCURRY: We have an ambitious foreign policy agenda that will proceed
one way or another. But I think it does send a powerful message around
the world when they see the lineup that we had yesterday, when they
see the impressive support that President Clinton has received from
President Bush and from others in the Reagan administration on this
particular issue, when they see the lineup of officials who were here
yesterday speaking together from both sides of the aisle about
America's national security interests. And so I think that does have
an impact. But we've got work to do in this world, and that work will
continue irrespective of the vote tonight. But, surely, it does send a
powerful message when the rest of the world sees the United States
coming together in a bipartisan way to protect our own national
Q: What, if any, impact would it have on domestic issues, bipartisan
cooperation on the budget, for example?
MCCURRY: Well, I think anytime you demonstrate that Republicans and
Democrats can work together, whether it's from the executive branch
working with Congress, or whether it's Republicans and Democrats
working together on Capitol Hill, that does create more confidence
that you can do so on other issues as well. And obviously, the next
big question we face is whether we can achieve that same type of
bipartisanship when it comes to balancing the budget. And there's a
great deal of work going on on that score at this moment, too.
Q: Mike, did Lott ask for the letter?
MCCURRY: I don't want to go back and forth between them. I think -- or
coming from the conversations that were held. The assurances that the
President has extended in this letter were clearly designed to be
helpful, and the President was willing to extend the assurance.
Q: It's accurate that the pledge the President makes in the letter is
not binding on any future President, right?
MCCURRY: The letter -- to quote the letter directly, it's President
Clinton's own personal commitment to the Majority Leader saying that
he, President Clinton, would act consistent with Article XVI if the
extraordinary events that he foresees in the letter came about.
Now, one thing I should point out about that letter, it's also -- you
should note that he also reports to the Majority Leader that we've had
good contact with the so-called Australia Group, which is the
international body that monitors some of the international commerce in
chemical products, and that other countries that we work with on
proliferation issues with respect to chemical weapons and chemical
weapons precursors, share our interpretation of the treaty. I think
that's -- I don't want people to neglect to see the significance of
that statement as well.
Q: Mike, to return to chemical weapons for a moment. One of the key
moments in this saga was when Senator Helms let it out of committee.
Can you say what was the turning point there, what the administration
did to convince Senator Helms to let it out of committee?
MCCURRY: I can't say specifically or speak for Chairman Helms on how
he came to that point, but I can say that one thing we have
consistently done throughout the last several months is to consult
very closely with members of Congress, to keep a dialogue open. I
think everyone is aware that Secretary Albright especially has been
very attentive to the concerns and views of Chairman Helms, and that's
-- in an era in which we are fostering a bipartisan approach to
foreign policy concerns, that's a good way to do business. And perhaps
that had some influence on Chairman Helms.