THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
7:25 P.M. (L)
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you. Well, I think we've had a very good day in foreign policy. First of all, the President, I think, had a very successful day here in Turkey, talking with President Demirel and Prime Minister Ecevit, and his address now to the assembly. And then, on a wider front, you've heard that we have been able to conclude the WTO deal, that the Cyprus talks are going to be launched. And then George Mitchell called to say that Northern Ireland, there had been some progress, important progress on that.
And, now, I would like to say that we have had a breakthrough in terms of our U.N. dues. And I'm pleased to report that a tentative agreement has been reached by the White House and congressional negotiators that would pave the way for the United States to pay our U.N. bills. For years, the Clinton administration has been urging Congress to meet our obligations to the U.N. in order to protect our national security interests and preserve American influence within the organization and around the world.
The agreement we are seeking would enable us to move in that direction by implementing the Helms-Biden bill, which authorizes the payment of arrears contingent on further progress towards U.N. reform. I expect that as details of the agreement emerge, that it will meet our goal in minimizing the practical impact on U.S. support for women's health programs around the globe. I caution, though, at this point that final agreement has not yet been reached. It is essential that fully adequate provisions be included for international debt relief, and that the payment of our U.N. obligations not be subjected to unreasonable conditions.
President Clinton and I have worked, basically, for seven years to come to this time where we will be able to regain our leadership role in the United Nations, and I'm very grateful to the President for all the effort that he has put into this, and I'm very, very grateful to Ambassador Holbrooke, who has really been dogging this issue from the moment that he was confirmed. And so I hope very much that this tentative agreement will, in fact, become final.
I have to go to the State Dinner, but I'll be happy to answer a couple of questions.
Q Madame Secretary, Congresswoman Pelosi says that it's not compromise, it's capitulation on the U.N. arrears deal. What do you say to her?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, Congresswoman Pelosi has been, and is, a great friend of the administration and of this family planning issue. Let me just say that it is my sense that what is going -- the agreement that I hope will come out will not interfere with family planning around the world, and that it will have minimal effect.
Q What is the abortion language in the tentative deal?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I am not -- I can't give it to you at this stage. As I said, the details of this are still being worked out, but we do believe that there is a way that with minimal effect on family planning, that this will not only allow the U.N. money to go forward, it will not go into permanent law. And it will allow the President to carry out his family -- our family, U.S. family planning policy around the world.
Q Will he be speaking with family planning groups and so forth to try to reassure them on this point?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, we have been doing that. In Washington, I will be, yes. And I think that they will see, once this is down on paper and evident to everybody, that it will not interfere with the family planning programs around the world.
Q Madame Secretary, can you tell us to what extent the WTO agreement today took into consideration China's status as a developing country? And, second, how important was this agreement in the overall scheme of trying to right badly strained Sino-American relations?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I understand you've had a full briefing on all of this from Sandy Berger. All I would like to say is that I think it's a big step forward, and obviously very useful in Sino-American relations.
MR. LOCKHART: We'll take one more.
Q Can I ask about debt relief? If you could be more explicit about what the status of that is?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, again, I think that they are in the process of negotiating that. And what I'd like to say is that we have to have international debt relief, and that the payment of that debt relief not be subjected to any unreasonable conditions.
Q Do you think the U.N. would accept the deal that you're trying to work out with Congress? The U.N. has to approve this as well.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, it's my sense, first of all, that the U.N. has been waiting a long time for this. When I first became Ambassador to the U.N., what had happened was that as a result of the large number of peacekeeping operations that had been undertaken, there was a large debt that had been accumulated. And we have worked very hard to try to figure out a way to pay that. And it has been a consistent effort for seven years to try to make sure that we would be able to get the U.N. reformed at the same time, because that was very much part of the agenda that President Clinton asked me to undertake when I was U.N. Ambassador, that he asked Ambassador Richardson to continue, and Ambassador Holbrooke to continue.
So we have worked on this. There were those that felt that with Boutros-Ghali as Secretary General, we would not be able to move forward. We got Kofi Annan, who was more reform-minded. And I think that generally we are now on a path where the U.N. is accepting the various reforms that we have suggested. They have not all been done, but some of the steps that have been taken have been necessary, perhaps not sufficient.
But we believe it is very important now that we get this language and everything agreed to. And I do believe -- I would be very surprised if the U.N. were not very pleased that they were going to, over a period of three years, get $926 million.
Q Madame Secretary, just a little confusion. Is the reduction in aid that the family planning centers would get, is it 3 percent or 6 percent?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'm not going to go into the details of this. When it's all finalized, you'll have all the details of it. But let me just say again that I do consider this a breakthrough, because we have been working at this for seven years, and it's a very important decision for our national security. I have been very concerned about the fact that our lack of payment of our U.N. dues and arrears has impeded our ability to have the kind of influence that we need to have at the U.N. And, therefore, for national security reasons, I think this tentative agreement is very important, which is why I believe that it is appropriate to call it a breakthrough. Thank you very much.
MR. LOCKHART: Anything else for me? Yes?
Q What are the conditions that the money can't be attached to unreasonable conditions? What kind of conditions are they deemed unreasonable?
MR. LOCKHART: This is -- both the debt relief and the U.N. arrears are both
what we're now trying to go from a tentative agreement to a formal agreement.
And that's -- on debt relief in particular, Secretary Summers has been leading
our effort, and I think they're better placed to be doing the work they're doing
now in the negotiations, and we hope that sometime soon, we'll be able to provide
details on each of these things in addition to the family planning issue.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what specifics they're talking about in the negotiations, only that these three issues are linked, and we'll move forward and have a formal agreement when each of the details is worked out.
Q Way off the topic, one of the wires reported this morning that former Labor Secretary Robert Reich is going to endorse Bill Bradley, rather than Al Gore. Is the President aware of that and does it concern him?
MR. LOCKHART: It's been a very busy day and that was not high on our list of briefing items. (Laughter.) Thank you, Mark. I thought it was funny.
Last chance. See you tomorrow.
Q Do you want to look ahead to tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: I think one of our senior administration officials did that. I mean, obviously, we're going to be focusing on the disaster relief that the U.S. and other countries around the world have provided. And the President will get a firsthand look at those efforts and hear directly from people the plight of those who have been displaced and those who have lost many family members.
Q Can you clarify whether there's just going to be actual, additional aid, or whether it's just going to be a re-jiggering of existing --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think what they're talking about is some new aid, that we've obviously already provided some, but there are some new things here.
Q Joe, the U.N. money and the abortion deal is tentative because it is also tied to debt relief, and no agreement --
MR. LOCKHART: It is tentative because there are a number of language issues that need to be worked out, including on U.N. arrears and including on debt relief.
Q Well, where are the abortion terms -- I mean, can you rough describe the language on family planning
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into the exact provisions, beyond saying that I think when you see them, you'll understand that there will be no interference in the work of international family planning.
Q But what did you give the conservatives, then? I mean, what did you give the people who --
MR. LOCKHART: I think we'll wait until we have a final agreement to get into the details, but having some familiarity with them, I think you'll share our assessment at the end of the day, if they get their work done, that this won't interfere with those groups that do work in international family planning.
Q Secretary Albright used the words, minimal impact. Does that mean that a little money that otherwise would have gone to these groups might not be going to --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the point that the Secretary made, I'm trying to make and others have made is, you'll see when the -- there are details, there will be a minimal impact; but, importantly, you'll see at the end of the day that they won't interfere with the ability of international family groups to do their work. And that's what's important to us.
Q -- enough money would be held back to really impact.
MR. LOCKHART: I think that would be a fair guess.
Q Joe, the Secretary said she would be meeting, when she gets back in Washington, with womens' groups and that sort of thing the talk this through. Does the administration have any other plan on how you're going to deal with objections likely to come from --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think that in the absence of details, there has been a lot of concern. I think as we're able to fill in the details, we hope we can address that concern, and we'll be aggressive in reaching out to interested groups who have raised concern at all levels, including from the White House, from the State Department and from all the places that were involved in this.
Q Joe, did the Secretary tell the President that she would take the blame from family planning groups because of this deal?
MR. LOCKHART: I read that in the paper, but I wasn't in the meeting that it supposedly happened, so I can't address that.
Q Joe, what special qualifications does she bring in addressing this issue to those groups? The President is very pro-choice, as well. Why does she have to do this? Is it just her gender?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, having not been able to answer Mark's question, I certainly can't answer that one.
Okay, I'm losing the attention of this side of the room.
Q Joe, she would not necessarily be the point person, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there will be a wide-ranging effort and I think she brings a lot to the table on this, as well as a number of others in the administration.
END 7:40 P.M. (L)
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