THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 23, 1998 2:10 P.M. (L)
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
International Conference Center
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, everyone. Let me bring you up to date on the President's program. He is concluding a lunch right now with Jerry Rawlings. I imagine that that will probably be over in about 10 or 15 minutes or so. And then the President will go off and do his meeting with the Peace Corps folks.
A couple of points from the President's bilateral and some of the luncheon conversation that I at least heard about, and we?ll be giving you a little more detail on this. The two Presidents, when they met at Osu Castle this morning, talked for about a half an hour privately in a lovely outdoor garden, and then went inside overlooking the ocean where their two delegations met for about a half an hour to get out bilateral discussions going.
Predictably, the conversations both at the bilateral and continuing in the lunch, focused on some of the urgent needs of the Ghanaian economy and the Ghanaian political institutions. The two delegations spent considerable time talking about the energy situation here. Because of the drought here in Ghana, as many of you know, energy production has been reduced by 50 percent and much of the country has been experiencing some of the power shortages that you?ve heard about prior to arriving.
The President told President Rawlings today that the United States will guarantee a $67 million loan from the Department of Transportation to the Ghanaian government for the purchase of two barge-mounted power plants that will help them generate additional electrical capacity. That?s a financing program that is available through the Transportation Department. It will allow the National Petroleum Corporation here in Ghana which will provide the natural gas necessary to run the barges -- it will allow them to generate 130 megawatts of electricity, and obviously generate some economic activity back home for the Westinghouse Corporation that will assist in building the barges. We?ve got a fact sheet on this with some additional information that?s available.
The two delegations and the two Presidents also talked about promoting democracy and the deepening of democratic institutions in Ghana. The United States is going to donate a $500, 000 loan through the ICITAP program -- ICITAP program is the International Criminal Investigation and Training Assistance Program, which is run by DOJ. That will help train the Ghanaian police in, among other things, updated techniques and crowd control, although I note that they did quite well today with what was obviously a fairly large crowd.
The two Presidents talked about the primary role education plays in fostering respect for democratic institutions and human rights, and President Rawlings talked about his deep desire to improve the structure of educational quality here in Ghana. The two delegations talked about the ways in which we can develop greater school-to-school partnerships, how we can build on both governments? mutual interest in using educational technology through the Internet to improve educational materials.
The two Presidents talked about peacekeeping and the role that Ghana plays through its own efforts. We?ll be transferring some excess defense equipment, I think it?s six helicopters, to the Ghanaian government between now and the year 2000. And they planned -- although this had not come up yet, but they planned to come up at the end of lunch a discussion about the environment. The United States will be making a donation to protect some biodiversity sites here in Ghana in one of their national preserves.
The President is delighted -- obviously delighted with the reception he got today. I think it?s safe to say that the crowd he saw today in Independence Square is the largest he?s seen as President, maybe one of the largest any American President has ever seen. And it expresses -- I think that?s a symbol of some of the enthusiasm that exists here in Africa for the trip the President is taking. A remark that President Rawlings made I think speaks to that, that he said probably any country in the immediate region would have rendered the kind of welcome that the President received today. But the President was clearly delighted with it and when he looked out at that crowd, I think he had a one-work reaction -- wow.
Q -- an estimate?
MR. MCCURRY: President Rawlings told the President just prior to leaving for Independence Square that his security people had told him it was in excess of a half a million. I don?t know that we have any accurate guesstimate beyond that.
Q -- President worked the ropeline -- MR. MCCURRY: Sam is asking if it was wise for the President to work the ropeline. He does that, and they were well prepared for it. Obviously, the crush of people moving towards the stage caused the President some concern because he saw people that he was talking to in the front that were getting squeezed and was trying to get people to back off a bit so that folks that were right up against the railing wouldn?t get hurt. But we?re not aware that there were any serious injuries.
Q What about -- did the Secret Service advise him against it?
MR. MCCURRY: The Secret Service was prepared for him to work the ropeline. I?m not aware that they made any recommendation contrary.
Q Did you get any word on how those women are now after being crushed up against the metal barricade?
MR. MCCURRY: We were trying to get an update. Apparently there were some people who were seen by medical staff there, but I don?t have any update on their condition.
Q Mike, how is he monitoring the situation in Moscow, and what new information do you have?
MR. MCCURRY: Karen?s question is about developments in Moscow. We have had throughout the day regular updates via Washington and via our embassy in Moscow. Ambassador Jim Collins has had a number of contacts within the Russian government, principally within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Much of what we have heard is consistent with some of the news reports that all of you have already seen.
We took special note of President Yeltsin?s reaffirmation of his government?s commitment to reform, which was rather unequivocal. And we take that as an important statement because, as you know, the United States has worked productively with President Yeltsin?s government to support the corse of Russia?s transition to a democracy and a market economy, and Russia?s further integration into the institutions of European security and world integration. And we certainly hope that as the new government is constituted it will reflect President Yeltsin?s strong admonition that policies of reform should continue.
He has named as acting Prime Minister former Energy Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, who is someone that is known to many in or government who have participated in the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission meetings. He has been an active participant and is identified with reform elements of the Yeltsin government. But beyond the statements that you?ve already seen from Mr. Chubais, from Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, and from others, there is not much additional that we can offer to President Yeltsin?s decision to restructure his government. We will, of course, be watching and monitoring developments very closely.
Q Did the President talk to Yeltsin today, and did the Vice President talk to Chernomyrdin or to the new Prime Minister, the acting Prime Minister?
MR. MCCURRY: The President doesn?t have any immediate plans to speak with President Yeltsin. We will, of course, monitor through our embassy what decisions and what commentary comes from the Kremlin. I don?t rule out that the President will send a message at some appropriate point. I have not heard anything indicating that the Vice President has spoken to Prime Minister Chernomyrdin.
Q Do you have any idea why Yeltsin did this? Do you know what?s afoot?
MR. MCCURRY: Beyond what public statements have been made and the little that we have gleaned from some of our diplomatic contact, I don?t think we have a lot additional to offer as to the rationale for a restructuring of the government.
Q Mike, the President, I gather from you remarks, made something of a deal of the importance of deepening democratic institutions and traditions. How would the administration view a decision widely rumored in Ghana by President Rawlings to perpetuate his hold on power by running his wife for President?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we in our contacts, while we know that there is a vigorous and vibrant internal debate about the future of governments, we stress as we always stress the way in which orderly transfer of power is one of the hallmarks of a democracy. I don?t know that that has come up directly in conversations today, although I have not talked to the President at length about his private conversation with President Rawlings. But as we have stressed on so many occasions, the longevity of political institutions that allow for a transfer of power, for elections, for succession, is a mark of a maturing democracy and the deepening of democratic institutions and something that we obviously value.
Q Mike, in addition to that loan that you were talking about, is there any way that this visit helps Ghana economically speaking, any hope that you?re leaving --
MR. MCCURRY: To this degree that you can get out to any local shops or take advantage of some of the crafts that are available, it might have that impact. And there has been, obviously, associated with the trip the presence of a lot of people with some manner of expense accounts. But I think the reality is a broader one, that the President?s visit here focusses the attention of the world for this moment on the extraordinary transformation that is occurring in Ghana. And that, in a way, becomes part of the story line that many in the world here, as they learn to think of Africa and its economic potential in a way different from what previous misconceptions may have suggested.
Q Mike, some of the leaders of political opposition parties here in Ghana are complaining the President didn?t meet with them, or he should have at least spoken with the Parliament where more people would be represented. Why didn?t he do that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have, of necessity, a fairly tight schedule here. We will be taking the opportunity to address parliaments elsewhere on this trip, and as the President frequently does, he does meet, with elements of opposition from time to time. I think with a fuller itinerary here, all of those things could have been considered, but I think the reality of the schedule we?re on today, the desire of the President to focus in on the historic work that the Peace Corps has done here in Ghana, which is our afternoon event, and the opportunity to make a manor scene-setting address for the trip suggested the program that he pursued.
Q I had a little trouble following Rawlings when he was telling the story about the Ghanaian -- whatever she was -- housekeeper, nurse, what have you. Who was that person? MR. MCCURRY: I?ll see if I can get some more on that from the President and the First Lady. I gather he was speaking of a care-giver for Chelsea early in her life when they were still in Little Rock. But I don?t have any details on that beyond the detail provided by President Rawlings.
Q There was like some reunion somewhere?
MR. MCCURRY: Apparently, with Mrs. Clinton, and I haven?t had an opportunity to ask her about that? But I?ll see if I can get some more on that.
Q Sources have told NBC that the White House, in the executive privilege battle, is also claiming that Mrs. Clinton may be covered by executive privilege. Is that something that --
MR. MCCURRY: I don?t have anything on that subject.
Q Who should we talk to?
MR. MCCURRY: Don?t have anything on that subject.
Q The President said last night that he had always wanted to come to Africa since he was a little boy. What?s his feelings right now? Granted, this is the first stop -- what?s his feeling about Ghana just on a personal level?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he, as he said last night when he expressed some excitement and enthusiasm about arriving here, he obviously was a little overwhelmed with the magnitude of the response that he received today. But he?s also very excited in learning more. He closed the bilateral session this morning before the speech by telling President Rawlings that he has literally a thousand questions that he wanted to ask at lunch. And I think he has enormous curiosity about developments not only here in Ghana, but how that serves as both a model and a inspiration for others in the continent. And I think he will continue to press to learn more as he?s here and to understand better the nature of the transformation that?s occurring in Africa.
Q Do you think that given that the enthusiastic push of the crowd today that either the President or the Secret Service might re-think how much he will be working the crowds?
MR. MCCURRY: I?ll leave it to the Service to say. I think that they always assess the situations that they are in and adjust accordingly, and do so usually with a great deal of -- not much transparency. Anything else?
Q Mike, one last --
Q It was the largest crowd he?s ever faced, or just abroad? MR. MCCURRY: It?s -- as near as any of us can remember, and I checked back with Washington, we think it?s the largest crowd he has seen as President.
Q Bigger than inaugurals?
MR. MCCURRY: Pretty certain it?s bigger than --
Q How many do you think you had?
MR. MCCURRY: We don?t have any reason to dispute the suggestion by President Rawlings it was in excess of a half a million. That?s seemed about right.
Q We need the U.S. Park Service.
MR. MCCURRY: -- get the U.S. park Service to make an estimate? (Laughter.)
Q Do you know how long it?s going to take to get these barge generators operational? MR. MCCURRY: No, I don?t.
Q Think it?s in the fact sheet?
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing in the fact sheet indicates what the duration of the project is, but I?ll see if we can find out some more on that. We?ll try to get that paper that sort of walks through some of those items that I mentioned. We?ll try to get that ready to go quickly.
Q It?s on to Uganda?
MR. MCCURRY: On to Uganda.