THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(The East Room)
For Immediate Release Thursday, October 14, 1999
PRESS CONFERENCE BY THE PRESIDENT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Thank you. In recent days, membersof the congressional majority have displayed a reckless partisanship -- itthreatens America's economic well being and, now, our national security.
Yesterday, hard line Republicans irresponsibly forced a vote againstthe Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. This was partisan politics ofthe worst kind, because it was so blatant and because of the risks it posesto the safety of the American people and the world.
What the Senate seeks is to abandon an agreement that requires othercountries to do what we have already done; an agreement that constrainsRussia and China, India and Pakistan from developing more dangerous nuclearweapons; that helps to keep other countries out of the nuclear weaponsbusiness altogether; that improves our ability to monitor dangerous weaponsactivities in other countries. Even worse, they have offered noalternative, no other means of keeping countries around the world fromdeveloping nuclear arsenals and threatening our security.
In so doing, they ignored the advice of our top military leaders, ourmost distinguished scientists, our closest allies. They brushed aside theviews of the American people and betrayed the vision of PresidentsEisenhower and Kennedy, who set us on the road to this treaty so many yearsago.
Even more troubling are the signs of a new isolationism among some ofthe opponents of the treaty. You see it in the refusal to pay our U.N.dues. You see it in the woefully inadequate budget for foreign affairs andincludes meeting our obligations to the Middle East peace process and tothe continuing efforts to destroy and safeguard Russian nuclear materials.You see it in the refusal to adopt our proposals to do our part to stem thetide of global warming, even though these proposals plainly would createAmerican jobs.
But by this vote, the Senate majority has turned its back on 50 yearsof American leadership against the spread of weapons of mass destruction.They are saying America does not need to lead, either by effort or byexample. They are saying we don't need our friends or allies. They arebetting our children's future on the reckless proposition that we can go italone; that at the height of our power and prosperity, we should bury ourheads in the sand, behind a wall.
That is not where I stand. And that is not where the American peoplestand. They understand that, to be strong, we must not only have apowerful military; we must also lead, as we have done time and again, andas the whole world expects us to do, to build a more responsible,interdependent world.
So we will continue to protect our interests around the world. Wewill continue to seek from Congress the financial resources to make thatpossible. We will continue to pursue the fight against the spread ofnuclear weapons. And we will not -- we will not -- abandon the commitmentsinherent in the treaty, and resume testing ourselves.
I will not let yesterday's partisanship stand as our final word on thetest ban treaty. Today I say again, on behalf of the United States, wewill continue the policy we have maintained since 1992 of not conductingnuclear tests. I call on Russia, China, Britain, France and all othercountries to continue to refrain from testing. I call on nations that havenot done so to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. And Iwill continue to do all I can to make that case to the Senate. When all issaid and done I have no doubt that the United States will ratify thistreaty.
Partisanship also threatens our economic security. Exactly one weekfrom today the continuing resolution I signed on September the 30th to keepthe government running will expire. And, yet, Congress is not even closeto finishing its work. At this time of unprecedented prosperity we mustask ourselves why is the congressional majority so unwilling, or unable, tomake the tough choices. Why would we not be willing -- or why would theynot be willing to send me a responsible budget that saves Social Security,that strengthens and modernizes Medicare, that honors the priorities of theAmerican people and that clearly continues to pay down our debt keepinginterest rates low and the economy growing?
When I signed the continuing resolution two weeks ago, I urgedCongress to roll up its sleeves and finish the job the American people sentthem here to do. I said they should stop playing politics, stop playinggames, start making the necessary tough choices. Instead, we havethe Republicans lurching from one unworkable idea to the next. Instead ofsending me bills I can sign, the congressional majority is still using whatThe Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and others have called "budgetgimmicks," to disguise the fact that the are spending the Social Securitysurplus. Their own budget office says so.
We've even seen them try to raise taxes for our hardest-pressedworking families. Now, they're talking about across-the-board budget cutsthat could deny tens of thousands of children Head Start opportunities,drastically reduce medical research, sacrifice military readiness,jeopardize the safety of air traffic control. One day they raise thespending, the next day they talk about cutting it again.
I say to the congressional majority: enough is enough. We've got ajob to do for the American people; it is not that difficult. Let's just doit. We can work together. We can fashion a budget that builds on oureconomic prosperity and continues to pay down the debt until it iseliminated in 2015 for the first time since 1835; that extends the life ofthe Social Security trust fund to 2050, the life expanse of almost all thebaby boomers; and that invests in our people and our future, especially inour children's education.
The American people want a world-class education for their children.They want smaller classes, more qualified teachers, more computers in theclassrooms, more after-school programs for the children who need it, moreHead Start opportunities to ensure that our children all start school readyto learn.
The majority so far has failed to come forward with a plan thatprotects these goals. I believe these goals are worth fighting for andthat's what this debate is all about.
They want us to keep making their communities safer, that's what theAmerican people want. They want us stay with the plan that has resulted inthe lowest crime rate in 26 years. They want us to continue to put morecops on the beat and get guns out of the wrong hands. The majority wantsto take us off that course and derail our progress. I want to keep us ontrack in education, in crime, in the budget, in Social Security, inMedicare.
The American people want us to stand up for the environment bypreserving our treasured landscapes and enhancing our community's qualityof life. The majority would roll back our progress there, too. I want tobuild on it. That's what this debate is all about.
I want to work with Congress to fulfill these important obligations.We have proved we can do it with the Welfare Reform Bill, with the BalancedBudget Act; with the budget last year, in the teeth of a partisan electionseason, which made a big downpayment on our goal of 100,000 teachers. Weneed it again: a workable, bipartisan budget process. We don't have thattoday; we've got a week to go. They've got to go to work.
There are legitimate differences of opinion. But we can put an end toreckless partisanship, to gimmicks and gamesmanship. We can put peoplefirst, and make a principled, honorable compromise. We can work for aseason of progress, not a winter of politics. And I am committed to dojust that.
Thank you. Helen?
Q Mr. President, hasn't the treaty rejection really wiped out ourmoral authority to ask other nations around the world to stop testing? Andwas there -- do you think there was a personal element in the Republican --a personal vendetta against you in the turn-down, Republican --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, to answer the first question, let me say I hadthe occasion to run into three ambassadors last night, of nations thatstrongly support the test ban treaty. And they were concerned, they didn'tknow what to say to their governments back home.
And what I told them was that we were in a battle with the newisolationists in the Republican Party. They see this treaty against thebackdrop of the failure to pay the U.N. dues, and the failure to shouldersome of our other responsibilities, the failure to pass a bill that wouldmeet our obligations to the Middle East peace process, and our obligationsto keep working with the Russians to take down their nuclear arsenal.
But what I told them was the American people always get it right, andwe are not going to reverse 40 years of commitment on nonproliferation,that the treaty is still on the Senate calendar, that it will beconsidered, that we have to keep working forward, and that I have nointention of doing anything other than honoring the obligations of thetreaty imposed on the United States.
So I urged them not to overreact, to make clear their opposition towhat the Senate did, but to stay with us and believe in the United Statesbecause the American people want us to lead toward nonproliferation.
Now, as to the second element, there were a number of partisanconsiderations, including some bad feelings between the Republicans andDemocrats in the Senate, because the Republicans didn't want to bring thisup at all, and then they didn't give us a legitimate process when they did.If you compare the debates here, one day of hearings here, with 14 days onthe Chemical Weapons Convention, over 20 days on the INF Treaty underPresident Reagan, this was not a legitimate process.
Now, I know some people made some personal remarks on the floor of theSenate in the debate, but, you know, it's been my experience that veryoften in politics when a person is taking a position that he simply cannotdefend, the only defense is to attack the opponent. And that's what I tookit, as a form of flattery. They knew they didn't have a very strong case,and so they were looking for some excuse for otherwise inexcusable conduct,and it didn't bother me a bit. I think it onlyexposed --
Q It wasn't revenge against --
THE PRESIDENT: No, I think it only exposed the weakness of theirargument. I think that it had a lot more to do with what's going on in theSenate and what they think will happen this year and next year. But I saythat because if it did, that would be even worse for them. I mean, theidea that we would put the future of our children in peril and theleadership of America for a safer world in peril for some personal pique, Ithink is unthinkable.
I just think when you've got -- sometimes, I've seen people whenthey've got a very weak argument and they know they don't have a verystrong position, they think that maybe they can deflect the analysis oftheir vote and their argument by attacking their opponent. That happensfrom time to time and you can't take it too seriously.
Q A question about politics, Mr. President. Do you agree with VicePresident Gore's characterization of Bill Bradley as a disloyal Democrat?And how much of a difference would it make if Senator Bradley were theDemocratic nominee, instead of Vice President Gore?
THE PRESIDENT: I am not a candidate in the Democratic Primary, and Ido not think I should become one. I had to do that twice before, and Ienjoyed it very much, but I don't get a third shot.
So what I would say to you is, as all of you know, I think Al Gore hasbeen, by far, the best Vice President in history. He's certainly had moreinfluence over more areas. I think that he is doing well in his campaign.I think he made a good decision to go home to Tennessee. And I expect himto win. But I expect to support the nominee of my party, as I always have.And I think that I can serve no useful function by talking about anythingother than the issues. If you want to ask me an issue question related toany of them, I'll be glad to answer it. But I'm not going to get into thatkind of horse racing.
Q Given the military coup in Pakistan, are you now more concernedabout the prospect of a war between India and Pakistan, and what can you doto calm tensions?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, obviously, we have been in touch with thePakistanis. We don't like it when military leaders forcibly displaceelected governments, and we made that clear. We've had our differenceswith Pakistan over the years that have been sometimes sharp, we've also hadstrong alliances in many areas. I still believe Prime Minister Sharif didthe right thing to take the Pakistani troops behind the line of control anddefused what could have turned into a war, even an nuclear exchange. Andso I appreciate that.
And I would hope that the military government will soon transition toa civilian one. And I would hope that nothing would be done at this timeto aggravate tensions between India and Pakistan. India just had anelection. Prime Minister Vajpayee has now been returned for another periodof service. I think they have an opportunity to resume their dialogue andto de-escalate the tensions.
Again, let me say to India and Pakistan, do not take yesterday's voteas a sign that America doesn't care whether you resume nuclear testing andbuild up your nuclear arsenals. We do care. You shouldn't do it. It'snot necessary. It will hurt your economy and endanger your future. That'sour message to Pakistan and we hope they will move to a civilian governmentas quickly as possible.
Q To what extent do you think that you and the White House bearsome responsibility for the outcome of the vote yesterday? There have beena lot of people heavily involved -- supporters of this treaty -- who saythe White House didn't begin an effective lobbying effort early enough.And I wonder whether you also think that the year of scandal played somerole in that, that the White House was just unable to work on this in theway it should have.
THE PRESIDENT: No. For one thing, since I signed this treaty --let's look at the facts here -- I've spoken about this 30 times or more.We always start a big public campaign in terms of White House events andother things. Go back and look at this. Look at NAFTA. Look at theChemical Weapons Convention. Go back -- when we know that we're on ahearing schedule and we're going to have a vote, until we were given eightor 10 days notice, we had no earthly idea there would ever be hearings,much less a vote on this.
So this whole thing came as a complete surprise to us when we realizedthat we had eight or 10 days on a subject that we thought they had decidedin a very determined way not to bring up, because Senator Helms had made itclear that he didn't want to bring it up, and he wouldn't even talk aboutit until he disposed of two other treaties that he said were ahead of it inhis consideration. We had no earthly idea that it was going to be on theSenate calendar.
So we did our best, we kept asking. And we thought if we ever got ayes, the yes would be like the yes we got on chemical weapons. Yes, we canhave this vote in a couple of months, we'll have two or three weeks ofhearings. If we had had a normal process, you would have seen a much moreextensive public campaign. There was simply no time to put it together.But I talked about this over and over and over again in many differentcontexts. And I think that, given the time we had, we did the best wecould. And, besides that, once it became clear to me that they not onlywere going to force this close vote, but that they weren't going to do whatthey do in every single treaty where there's serious consideration --namely, to allow the senators of both parties to offer safeguards, to offerreservations, to offer clarifications, so that the treaty means something.
If you remember, the only way we ever passed the Chemical WeaponsTreaty is when the Senate -- including Senator Helms -- participated withus in a process that led to over 20 explicit safeguards and reservations.That's what the Senate is supposed to do. We said, ourselves, that wethought the treaty required six safeguards that we hoped would be put onit. And they said, not only are we going to make them vote on the treaty,we're not going to let you put your safeguards on there. So I think thatought to give you some indication of what was afoot here. We did the bestwe could with the time we had.
Q -- the criticism has been not the public lobbying effort, butbehind the scenes -- the sense that for a long time the Republicans werelobbying against this treaty when the White House wasn't lobbying veryeffectively on Capitol Hill.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, but -- you know, first of all, I just don'taccept that. They told us that they had no interest in bringing it up. Itwasn't going to come up. We had no reason to believe we could do it.Before we can lobby the members, we have to have some sense that we'relobbying them for something. And every time you talk to somebody, theysay, well, that's not even scheduled, that's not going to come up. And Ithink the interesting thing is how many made commitments before they heardany arguments one way or the other.
Q But, Mr. President, given the importance you've placed on this,why did you wait until 5:15 p.m. yesterday to first call the SenateMajority Leader? And, as part of the same question, if you were thegovernment of China and publicly stated on the record that you're lookingto modernize your nuclear arsenal, why would you not take this now as agreen light to test, and will you do anything to try to convince theChinese not to do so?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me answer the first question first. The onething I did not want to do, once it became obvious -- I had nothing to dowith the schedule the Majority Leader imposed on the treaty and I had noadvance knowledge of it, so I couldn't have talked to him before then.
At that point, he had contact -- I believe he and his office -- he,personally, and his office, had contacts several times a day with Mr.Berger every day from then on out. What we were trying to do was topreserve the opportunity --just to deal with the question Helen asked inthe beginning, you know, if anybody was out there saying, well, this isabout President Clinton -- and we were trying to preserve the opportunityfor him and Senator Daschle to make an agreement so that the Senate coulddo this, the Senate could put it off, could schedule hearings, could dealwith it in an orderly fashion.
Then, as you may know, the night before the vote, Senator Lott andSenator Daschle did, in fact, reach an agreement to put it off. AndSenator Lott apparently was unable to convince enough of his caucus tohonor the agreement he had made, so he had to withdraw. And it was at thatpoint that I called him to see if there was anything else we could do.
But we were in constant contact with his office, and Mr. Berger talkedto him innumerable times. I would happily have talked to him. I thought Iwas giving him some protection not to do it so that he and Senator Daschlecould make an agreement, and they could say the Senate did it out of aconcern for the national interest, because it was manifestly the rightthing to do. And I think Senator Lott believes today that putting it offwas the right thing to do. I'm sorry it didn't happen.
Q And the question on China?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, China. Let me say -- well, I will say again, theChinese have taken the position we have, that they won't test. I hope theywill continue to honor it. All I can tell you is, we're not going to test,I signed that treaty, it still binds us unless I go, in effect, and eraseour name -- unless the President does that and takes our name off, we arebound by it. And we've not been testing since '92. So the Chinese shouldhave every assurance that, at least as long as this administration is here,we support nuclear testing.
Now, if we ever get a President that's against the test ban treaty --which we may get; I mean, there are plenty of people out there who saythey're against it -- then I think you might as well get ready for it.You'll have Russia testing, you'll have China testing, you'll have Indiatesting, you'll have Pakistan testing. You'll have countries abandoningthe nonproliferation treaty.
The reason I wouldn't make a commitment to Senator Lott not to bringthis treaty up next year -- let's just put that out on the table -- apartfrom the President's prerogative, constitutional prerogative, there is asubstantive reason. Four years ago, we got all the countries that were inthe nonproliferation treaty -- even more than have signed the test bantreaty, I think 176 of them -- and they say they're either not going todevelop nuclear capacity, or if they have it, they won't share it. It'svery, very important.
And a lot of the countries that were edgy because their neighbors hadnuclear capacity, or because they had nascent nuclear capacity, and theywanted to develop it more -- they really wanted to know, was there going tobe a test ban treaty, so that if they stopped dead in their tracks theywouldn't be discriminated against by people who were a little ahead of themwho could test. And the United States took the lead in assuring them wewould continue to work until we got a test ban treaty. So we did. Andthat's why I was the first person to sign it, not only because I believe inthe test ban treaty, but because I think it is essential to reinforce thenonproliferation treaty.
Consider how each of you would feel if you were running a country andyou thought you had the scientific capacity to develop these kinds ofweapons, and you had neighbors with them you felt threatened by. But theywere a little ahead of you and they could test and you couldn't.
So the reason I -- what I told Senator Lott was, I said, look, Ibelieve if next year we have indicates that three or four or five countriesare going to bail out on the nonproliferation treaty, I could come to youand I could convince you that we should bring it up; and, therefore, Icannot promise not to bring it up. But, barring some internationalemergency, I wouldn't bring this treaty up until I though we could get itratified. To me it's not a matter of personal credit, it's a matter ofleaving in place for the future a framework that will maximize the safetyand security of the American people and minimize the prospect of nuclearconflict around the world.
So that's where it is. I hope very much that people will see in thesteadfast determination of this administration, and of the American people,the determination to stay on this path. And I hope they will stick withus. I think if we ever have a President and a Senate not for this test bantreaty then all bets are off, you will see a lot of testing and they willbail on the NPT. That's what I think will happen and we will be in a much,much more dangerous world. But we are not there today, and I hope I candiscourage people from going there.
Mark, and then Sarah.
Q Sir, just as you had experts saying, advocating the ratificationof the treaty, the Republicans had experts saying that the treaty wasdangerous. Why can't you accept the vote as a good faith expression ofthat opposition, rather than as a partisan attack?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I have said every time that there were someRepublicans who believed that in good conscience. The reason I can'taccept it as only a matter of conviction are the following reasons. Numberone, they had a lot of people committed who didn't know very much about thetreaty, who were asked to commit before there was ever an argument made.
Number two, the objections about the treaty essentially fall into twocategories. One is that, notwithstanding the heads of the weapons labs,the entire military establishment, and General Shelton's last fewpredecessors as Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, and these 32 Nobel laureates,there are people who say, I don't care what they all say, I just don'tbelieve it. I just don't think that they can preserve the security of thenuclear arsenal without testing -- even though we're spending $4.5 billiona year, and we're going to spend more, and we're far more likely to be ableto do that than any other country in the world -- I just don't believe it.
Now, my answer to them was, so we put an explicit safeguard in thetreaty which says, when we have evidence -- which we don't have now -- thatwe cannot maintain the reliability of the nuclear deterrent, if at thattime it is still necessary for us to do so, then we will have to givenotice and withdraw. That's what you have these safeguards for. That's inour supreme national interest.
The other major argument against the treaty was that there can be somecheating because you can't always be sure, for underground tests under fivekilotons -- and particularly under one kiloton. The answer to that is,that's true now. And this treaty makes it more likely that we will catchsuch things.
That wasn't a good argument, because this treaty would give us over300 sensors around the world. And those sensors are far more likely topick it up. This treaty would give us the possibility of on-siteinspections, something we don't have now. And this treaty would give usthe possibility of marshaling a much sterner rebuke to any country thatviolated it than we do now.
There were other objections that were more minor, compared to thesetwo big ones. That's why we offered these six safeguards, and invited theSenate to offer more. There were objections like this to the ChemicalWeapons Convention. There are always going to be objections from the pointof view of the country that feels it's in the strongest position. Andthat's why we have a process, an orderly process in the Senate, to allowthe Senate to put these safeguards on. I think that's what Senator Byrdwas saying yesterday when he voted present and condemned the process.
Keep in mind, I didn't ask them to ratify the treaty as it waswritten, I asked them to ratify the treaty with the six safeguards thatwould address those two major objections and some of the others.
Sarah, and then --
Q Do you think the American people agree with you on the fact thatwe send armed soldiers to everyplace in the world where there's a conflict?
THE PRESIDENT: Do I think what now?
Q Do you feel that we, the American people, agree with the policythat we send armed soldiers to other parts of the country when we're notinvolved, but they're having an armed conflict, and we send soldiers overthere anyway?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, but I think --
Q Do you think the American people --
THE PRESIDENT: Let me say this. I think that the safer we make theworld and the more we reduce the likelihood of war, the less likely we areto send people there. But, you know, this is another argument forcooperation, however. There's another point I'd like to make. The headsof the governments of Britain, France and Germany took the extraordinarystep of writing an Op-Ed piece -- we don't have any better allies -- theytook the extraordinary step of writing an Op-Ed piece asking us to ratifythis treaty and, in any case, not to defeat it. This was also an amazingrebuke to our allies. We say, okay you guys are with us every time we needyou, the Gulf War, the Balkans, always in NATO, you're there -- but you askus to do something for your common safety, go take a hike. You know, Ithink that's a very tenuous position.
If you look at what we did, we took a very leading role in trying tostop the violence and promote the integrity of the referendum in EastTimor, a long way away. The Australians, the New Zealanders, the othercountries in that region, they stepped right up and took the lion's sharethe burden, they didn't expect America to do that. They asked us to helpthem with certain services that we are capable of providing, but theystepped right up. They looked to us and say, you know, keep leading theworld toward nonproliferation, we'll do this work with you. We say tothem, go take a hike. I think it was a very dubious decision.
Q Mr. President, a question on the budget. Are you saying that youwould veto a Republican plan for across-the-board spending cuts? And sincethey are adamantly opposed to your tobacco tax hikes and your loopholeclosings, and both of you don't want to spend the Social Security surplus,what is the way out of this box to avoid another government shutdown?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I would veto a bill that I thought-- here at the moment of our greatest prosperity, when we've got a surplus,if they wanted to cut education and gut our efforts to put more teachers inthe schools, our efforts to give kids after-school programs, our efforts todo all of the things we're trying to do in education -- hook up theircomputers to the schools by 2000, the Internet, all the classrooms to theinternet by 2000 -- all these things we're trying to do. Would I vetothat? I would. I would have to do that. I would have no choice.
It would be unconscionable to think that America, at its moment ofgreatest prosperity, when we've got our first surplus in 30 years, is outthere cutting education and several other areas. So, yes, I would.
Secondly, I know for ideological reasons they don't want to raise thetobacco tax; but just yesterday one of their long-time allies, PhilipMorris, acknowledged that cigarettes cause cancer. And we know that moreneeds to be done to get our kids off tobacco. And we know that raising theprice of a pack of cigarettes is one of the best ways to do it. So we --you know, they don't have to agree to raise it as much as I proposed, butit would help to sit down and negotiate that. If they don't like myoffsets, what are their offsets? Maybe there are some other things wecould agree on. We won't know unless we have a serious conversation.
I think the best way to do this is to avoid spending the SocialSecurity surplus, even though it's been done every year for at least 16years, and was done before in times of deficits. This is a new thing, youknow, not spending it. The only reason they're proposing not to spend itis we have non-Social Security surplus, though much smaller.
There is a good reason not to spend it. And the good reason not tospend it is, number one, it will help us to pay down the debt and get thiscountry out of debt in 15 years, for the first time in 165 years. Numbertwo, it enables us to achieve interest savings -- and those interestsavings, I believe, for five years should be put back in the trust fund,and that will run the life of Social Security out to 2050 and take intoaccount the retirement of all the baby boomers. So I hope we can do it.
But in order to do it, we're going to have to make some harddecisions. But it looks to me like, though, the decisions that I proposeto make are less hard than slashing education at a time of great prosperitywhen you've got the biggest and most diverse student population in history,or raising taxes on poor people -- which was another one of their proposals-- or all these gimmicks. I mean, they proposed -- for example, if they do
this 13-month thing, you know, where they just, we spend the money thisyear, but play like we're spending it next year -- then they're just goingto make an even bigger headache, we'll have the same headache next year.And we'll be here a year from now, and you will be asking me these samequestions.
They say that the ordinary operations of the Pentagon are anemergency. That's one of the things they're considering. The ordinaryoperations of the Pentagon are an emergency. I think that will come as asurprise to people who have been working there for 10 or 20 years.
Q Mr. President, every four years the American people revise andadjust what they're looking for in the President they're about to elect,often, in reaction to the President who is about to leave office. And Iwonder if, looking ahead, what you think Americans are looking for in thePresident they'll elect next year? And if there are ways in which thosequalities or qualifications are different from what they were looking forin 1992 and 1996 when you were elected?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that one big difference is, the countryis going to be in good shape instead of bad shape. And so they're going tobe -- right now, unless something unforeseen happens, by next Februarywe'll have the longest expansion in history, peacetime or wartime. We'llhave a 26-year-low in crime rate, a 30-year-low in the welfare rolls, a29-year-low in unemployment, first back-to-back surpluses in 42 years.We'll have -- the social fabric of America will be mending. And theeconomy is lifting -- we have a low in poverty rate of 20 years.
So I think they'll be looking for things, and thinking about -- andthey will know that they have a chance to shape the future in a way thatwe've not had in my lifetime. And, so, I can only tell you what I think.What I think they will be looking for is someone who will offer big ideasabout how to make sure that we deal with the aging of America, as we doublethe number of people over 65; how we deal with the explosion of childrenand their increasing diversity.
I hope that they will say -- we see a little bit in this debate on thegun safety issue in the Senate now -- I hope they will say, oh, it's finewe've got the lowest crime rate in 26 years; we want to vote for somebodythat'll make this the safest big country in the world. And I hope theywill say that they are now much more concerned than they were able to be in'92 when people were worried about how they were going to get from onemonth to the next, that they really, really want us to make a sustainedeffort to bring opportunity to all the people and places that are stilltrapped in poverty. And I hope they will say that -- they've been given anew issue now. I hope they will say that they don't want America to adopta new isolationism, they want us to lead into the future.
So there is a different sort of thing there. I also think that theywant somebody who can deal in a sensitive way with the continuing evidencewe have of violence in our country and of people manifesting all kinds ofbigotry -- that in its most extreme version you see in the killings in theMiddle West and the shootings at the Jewish community school and all ofthat.
But it's a different world. On balance, it's better, but I thinkwe're much more sensitive than we were seven years ago to the problems ofthe poor among us, and that's a good thing. And I think we're much moresensitive to the problems of discrimination and violence against peoplebecause of their race or their religion or their sexual orientation.
You know, I hope that they will want someone, and I hope that -- whowill try as hard as I have tried and maybe be more successful -- although Ithink they'll have to make some changes in Congress to do that -- to createa genuine, constructive, bipartisan atmosphere. We get it here, but we getit about once a year, and it doesn't last long enough to suit me. When weget it, great things happen. (Laughter.)
Mary, did you have a question?
Q Yes, sir. I was wondering if you have any plans to protect theABM Treaty, which will almost certainly be the next target of the SenateRepublicans, looking to start Star Wars?
THE PRESIDENT: As you have -- all of you have reported this, we havecontinued to work on missile defense. We spend quite a good deal of moneyon it. Some preliminary tests are encouraging. If we have the potentialto protect our people against missiles that could be loaded with nuclearweapons or chemical or biological weapons, coming at us from othercountries -- and this does not include the Russians with whom we have thisABM Treaty, but all of these other countries that are trying to get missiletechnology -- and it would be the responsible thing to try to deploy such asystem.
The problem is, any such system, even a ground-based one, wouldviolate the literal terms of the ABM Treaty. Now, there are -- as you'vesaid, Mary, there are people in the United States Congress who would liketo just tear up the ABM Treaty and go on. I, personally, think that wouldbe a terrible mistake. Look, we are -- for all of our ups and downs andrough edges, we are working with the Russians, and we have made realprogress in reducing threats as a result of it. And let me just tick off afew things: they continue to reduce their nuclear arsenals; if they ratifySTART II, we'll take our nuclear arsenals to 80 percent below their ColdWar high. We're prepared to go into START III negotiations with them ifwe do. They've also taken their troops out of the Baltics, and they'vegotten nuclear weapons out of all those other former Soviet republics.
We're getting something out of this, this partnership. And we, Ithink, would be very foolish to just discard the ABM treaty.
So what we're trying to do is see whether or not we can work with theRussians in a way that enhances their security and ours, to share some ofthe benefits of these developments and to go forward in a way thatconvinces them that they're not the problem. We're also trying to do otherthings to minimize the problem -- as you know, we've been working very hardwith North Korea to try to end the missile program there.
So I do not want to throw the ABM treaty away. I do think it is theresponsible thing to do to continue to pursue what appears to be far morepromising than many had thought -- including me a few years ago -- in termsof missile defense. But we have to try to work the two things outtogether. And I'm confident that if the Russians believe it is in theirsecurity interest to do so, that we can. And that will happen if we workwith them. If we just scrap the ABM treaty, it won't happen, and ourinsecurity will increase.
Bill? Go ahead, I'll take both of you, just one after the other. Goahead.
Q Mr. President, you've never commented on Judge Wright's decisionthat you intentionally lied in the Jones deposition. Do you accept herfinding? And if not, why have you or your attorneys not challenged it?
THE PRESIDENT: When I am out of office, I will have a lot to sayabout this. Until then, I'm going to honor my commitment to all of you, togo back to work. I haven't challenged anything, including things that Iconsider to be questionable, because I think it is wrong. The Americanpeople have been put through enough, and they need every hour, every day,every minute I can give them thinking about their business. And so until Ileave here, as I understand it now, all this is finished and I don't haveto comment on it; and unless there is some reason I legally have to, I'mnot going to say anything else that doesn't relate to my responsibilitiesas President as regards that. When I'm done, then I can say what I want tosay.
Q Mr. President, one of the arguments that some of your closestfriends in the Senate make about this situation with the Comprehensive TestBan Treaty is that the Republicans aren't just after that treaty or the ABMTreaty, that really what they want to do is embark on the full dismantlingof all strategic arms controls; we've known it since the end of the ColdWar.
The Republican argument is that arms control is an illusion and adelusion, that it lulls us into a false sense of security and that itdrains our will to maintain our military might. What do you think of thosearguments? What's your response to them?
THE PRESIDENT: Imagine the world we will live in if they prevail. Imean, imagine the world we will live in if they prevail. That's what Ithink of them. I mean, look, are we more secure because we made anagreement with the Russians to reduce our nuclear arsenals? I believe weare. Are we more secure, given the economic and political tensions in thatarea that we made an agreement with the Russians to take those nuclearweapons out of Kazakhstan and Ukraine and Belarus? I believe we are.
Are we more secure because other countries are not testing nuclearweapons and can only do so much in the laboratory? I believe we are. Ithink these arms control agreements have created a climate in the worldwhich has helped to make us far more secure and helped to reduce thelikelihood that nuclear weapons will ever be used again.
If the United States, with all of our wealth, all of our strength,more nuclear weapons than anybody else, says we are so insecure that wewant more, more, more, what in the wide world could we ever say to theChinese, to the Russians -- who I hope will not be on their backseconomically forever -- to the Indians and the Pakistanis -- who have allkinds of arguments, one against the other, and involving other countries --to countries that believe we are too aggressive in the world already anddon't share a lot of our political or our philosophical views.
You know, I'm glad you said that. You're right. They don't believethat. And they think we ought to go it alone. It doesn't bother them thatwe don't pay our U.N. dues. It doesn't bother them that we're giving thePentagon money in their budget that the Pentagon didn't ask for and say isnot necessary for our national security, but they won't fund a decentinvestment in diplomacy and helping to lift the world's poor in placeswhere people are trying to make democracy take root. That we're notfunding our obligations under the Middle East peace process, ourobligations to help the Russians continue to dismantle their nuclearweapons. That's right. And they do believe that. And I go back to whatMark said, there are -- I don't believe they're yet the majority in theRepublican Caucus, but they are a very, very potent minority. And they dobelieve this. But I think they're wrong. And the American people mustunderstand that this is one of the choices they now have to make.
Q Mr. President, you said imagine a world without these agreements.Please give some examples of what you're driving at. Because they say it'sgoing to be a terrific world without these agreements, that America isgoing to be safer without the agreements than it is with them.
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, we're all tied in knots now over thisbudget, right? I mean, it's totally unnecessary, but we are. We shouldn'tbe. Now, can you imagine if we had no arms control agreements, let's justsuppose we tore them all up tomorrow; nothing, no nonproliferationagreement. Then this same crowd would be coming in and saying, well, nowthere's no nonproliferation agreements, you know, and here's a list of 12countries that we think they have two scientists who can figure out how toput together a small nuclear weapon. And there's no Chemical WeaponsConvention, or Biological Weapons Convention, so they've got those labschugging right along here.
And, therefore, we need you to increase the budget for all this to thelabs and the Pentagon by another $30 or $40 or $50 billion a year -- so,I'm sorry, we'll just have to get out of the business of funding education;we can't afford to invest any more in health care, the American people justhave to figure out what to do on their own. It would totally erode thefabric of our domestic climate.
Meanwhile, what happens overseas? Countries that could be puttingmoney into the education and health care and the development of theirchildren -- whether they're democracies or military dictatorships orcommunist countries -- will be sitting there saying, well, you know, we'dlike to lower the infant mortality rate; we'd like to lower the hungerrate; we'd like to lower the poverty rate; we'd like to raise the literacyrate. But look at what the Americans are doing, look at what our neighborsare doing -- let's spend half our money on military. It would be great forpeople that build this stuff, but for everybody else it would be anightmare.
Consider the Japanese -- coming out, we earnestly hope, of their longeconomic slump; having honored, since World War II, their commitment to bea non-nuclear state, and to spend a small percentage of their income ondefense. What in the world would they do in such a world? And if they hadto divert 4, 5, 6 percent of their gross national product to defense, whatkind of economic partner would they be?
What would happen in Latin America, the area which has been the areathat was the greatest growth for us in trade? After we have worked sohard, you've got Brazil to renounce its nuclear program. You've got formeradversaries working together in trade agreements. What would happen ifthey, all of a sudden, got antsy and decided, well, you know, we have nonational status; our people, you know, we'll have the same elements in ourcountry saying we can't defend ourselves; we've got to have a biologicalprogram, a chemical program, a nuclear program.
I mean, you know, all this sounds good. But the idea that the bestway for us to go forward -- since right now, at this particular moment inhistory, we enjoy the greatest wealth and the greatest power, is to buildthis big old wall and tell all of our friends and neighbors to go take ahike, we're not cooperating with them anymore; as far as we're concernedany might, might be an enemy; and anything you want to do with your moneyis fine with us, because we have more money than you do, so whatever youdo, we'll do more.
I think it will be a bleak, poor, less secure world. I don't want mychildren and my grandchildren, or your children or your grandchildren tolive in it. They believe that; I will do everything I can to stop it.
Q Sir, isn't it wishful thinking for the Democrats to think theycan beat up on the Republicans next year over this treaty vote? Yes,public opinions show that most Americans do support the treaty. But youwere not able, despite your 30-plus public appearances, you were not ableto light a fire under public opinion. Can't the Republicans just walk awayfrom this without any damage, particularly in the post-Cold War era? Isn'tit true that Americans just don't worry about the nuclear threat?
THE PRESIDENT: I think there is something to that. But, you know, itwas interesting. As I understand it, one of the reasons this came up --from what my Republican friends in the Senate say -- is that theRepublicans were worried that the Democrats would keep beating on this nextyear if they didn't bring it up and dispose of it this year, and they wereafraid it would be a political issue. I never wanted it to be a politicalissue. I never wanted the Chemical Weapons Treaty to be a political issue.I never thought this stuff would be a political issue. I always thoughtwe'd have a bipartisan consensus to do what had to be done.
So they may have made it a political issue now, and it may or may nothave any impact. But I will say this. I will say again -- I believe theAmerican people eventually -- I think they will stay where they are and Ithink we'll eventually get this treaty ratified. But it may be in everydemocracy -- you know, the people decide what they care about. I toldSenator Lott that I did not expect that this would ever be such a bigissue. I think it might be now. And the people have to decide. This ispart of the choices a free people make, and it's an important choice andwe'll just see what they do.
Q Labor unions have stepped up their criticisms of the World TradeOrganization and plan to demonstrate at the talks next month. You'vesought to answer some of their concerns, but it's not likely that you'regoing to answer all of them before then. Is that going to weaken the U.S.negotiating position in the talks?
THE PRESIDENT: No, because there will be a lot of people from othercountries there demonstrating against it, too. (Laughter.) There will bea lot of people there against it. And I think -- I want to say two things.First of all, I am committed to launching a new trade round which willexpand opportunities for us and for others on a fair basis. For example,if we stop export subsidies to agriculture, 85 percent of which are inEurope today, it would benefit farmers in my home state of Arkansas, but itwould also benefit farmers in Argentina and farmers in Africa. And I wouldlike to see that done.
I would like to see us make a commitment that electronic commercewould continue to be tax free. And I would like to see us continue to makeprogress in other areas. Because three out of 10 -- 30 percent of ourgrowth came from trade-related growth, until the Asian financial crisis.And because I think it's the best way to lift labor standards and to givecountries the money they need to protect their environment. So I willcontinue to push for this.
Now, having said that, I don't think it's such a bad thing that allthese people are coming to Seattle to demonstrate. Why? Because I went toGeneva to speak to the WTO, and then I went back to Geneva to speak to theInternational Labor Organizations to say that, particularly those of us inthe wealthier countries, have a heavy responsibility to try to but a morehuman face on the global economy. And that means you have to bring laborinterests and environmental interests into these deliberations -- that notonly do these factors have to be considered, but the people themselves haveto be heard. I think it is very important.
And so we have proposed, for example, a trade and labor group, comingout of the WTO. We want to see more work done in the environmental area.
But the point I'd like to make is -- if you'll just let me get off onthis one little area in which I have an obsession -- I think that, whileI'm all for big ideas -- you asked me about what the next campaign shouldbe about, I'm all for big ideas -- the world is still largely in the gripof a big idea that isn't true anymore. And that big idea is that in orderfor any country that's not rich to get rich, they have to burn more fossilfuels and put more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, because that's theway we got rich, and that's the way the British got rich, and that's theway other countries got rich. And that's not true anymore.
The whole economics of energy and the economy have changed. And wecould have a revolution in the environment with more trade and investmentavailable, presently available, environmental technologies and alternativeenergy sources. That's just one example.
But it won't necessarily happen automatically. And just as -- look atthe domestic market in America. We have about the freest markets you canimagine here. It's easier for -- if any of you folks could leave whatyou're doing if you weren't so devoted to it and go make more moneyprobably doing something else, you could get venture capital, you couldcome up with some idea, you'd fooled around with your computer so much youcould probably start some new Internet company and be worth a couplehundred million dollars in no time. And that happens all the time.(Laughter.) You know, those of you who are over 25 may be too old to doit, now, that's where all the money -- (laughter.)
But, you know, we have an open economy. But what makes it work?We've got a Federal Reserve that works. We've got a Securities andExchange Commission that works. We've got protections for consumers.We've got protections against monopolies. We have intermediateinstitutions.
The trading system and the financial system, the global financialmarkets and the global trading system, are creating a global economy. Weneed some intermediate involvement from labor and environment, just to nametwo, to make sure that we build an economy that benefits everybody, andthat literally has a more human face on it.
And so I'm actually not all that upset those folks are coming toSeattle. I welcome them. But if their fundamental view is, if we had lesstrade instead of more, that every economy could be self-sustaining, and theenvironment would be better and people would make more money, I think thatis simply not true. And I think you can demonstrate that's not true. So Iwant an expansive trade round that helps America and helps them, too.
Let me just make one final point. I have done everything I could toget the wealthy countries to do more for the poor countries. We're tryingto pass an Africa Trade Initiative here, and a Caribbean Basin Initiative.And it does have bipartisan support -- let me say that I'm grateful for theRepublicans that are helping us with it. And I think we've got a chance topass it this year. We're trying to get debt relief for the poorestcountries in the world.
So I'm sympathetic with all these negative feelings. But one of thethings that spawns these kind of negative feelings is, these folks feellike they've been shut out. They think the WTO is some rich guys' clubwhere people get in and talk in funny language, and use words nobodyunderstands, and make a bunch of rules that help the people that alreadyhave and stick it to the people that have not. That's what they think.
And so if we're going to change their perception, we've got to listento their protests, and bring them into the tent, and go forward takingthese concerns into account.
Q Mr. President, you have alluded several times to anti-crimeinitiatives, and a big part of your anti-crime initiatives are gun buy-backprograms. Recent studies that are coming out -- that have come out -- thatare coming out show that a lot of people that hand these guns in are oldshotguns that don't work, they're from the attic, they're from thebasement, whatever. They're really not the kinds of guns that were used inLos Angeles, in some of the high profile crimes that the nation has been sofixed on in recent months.
Basically, I'm wondering, are you concerned that in putting so muchfocus on these buy-back programs that other initiatives like they've triedin Richmond, that have proven successful, and in Philadelphia, mightlanguish as a result?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first let me say that I do believe that the gunbuy-back program will get all kinds of guns. And, obviously, if you wantedthe money and you didn't care about the gun, those are the easiest to giveup. If you've got some old gun that doesn't work and you want $25 orwhatever you get for it, it's a good way to get it.
But keep in mind there are over -- I don't know what the exact numberis -- but there is almost one gun for every person in America. There areway over 200 million guns in America. And all the new gun purchases --handgun purchases, at least -- require background checks. So I still thinkthe more you can get done with that the better. I still think the more thebetter.
I agree with the import of your question, however, it would be a greatmistake to emphasize that to the exclusion of law enforcement strategiesthat plainly work like the one in Richmond, like the one in Boston that ledto no child being killed by gun violence in nearly two years. It would bea great mistake to think that's a substitute for closing the loopholes inboth our assault weapons bill and the Brady Bill, especially the gun showloophole. It would be a great mistake to think that that could substitutefor our efforts to put 50,000 more police officers on the street in theareas that still have crime rates that are still too high.
So I think we should stick with the gun buy-back program. I thinkwe're spending about $15 million on it -- not an enormous amount of money,but it should be only one part of a very comprehensive strategy.
Yes, in the back.
Q Mr. President, about steel imports from Japan. Why are youdelaying your decision under Section 201 charges against Japanese steelwire? The ITC was divided, your advisors are divided, according to Mr.Sperling yesterday. Does that mean that you don't see any compellingreasons for taking action to protect domestic producers? And also, next --about CTBT, does Japan have any special role to play in preventing thespread of nuclear weapons?
THE PRESIDENT: Let me answer the first question first. You answeredthe first question for me. I have delayed a decision because the ITC wasdivided and my advisors are divided. So I have to make the decision.(Laughter.) And it's a complicated issue, and I'm trying to work itthrough. And I only got the background material on it, oh, in the last fewdays. And as you know, we've been otherwise preoccupied with the test bantreaty. So I only looked at it, I don't know, yesterday, the day before,even at first blush.
So it's a decision that I will have to make, and for which everyonecan hold me responsible, because our people have not yet been able -- theycan't resolve all the details themselves. I will do what I think is right.You should not infer from the fact that a decision has been made that Iwill grant no relief, because I have not decided whether to grant relief ornot. And I will decide in the most timely fashion I can.
Now on the second question you asked, which I think is the far moreimportant question -- I think in a way Japan may be in a unique position toplay a role of global importance now. Why? Because Japan is by far thewealthiest, strongest country in the world without a nuclear program. Andif the Japanese say -- go to the Chinese and say, don't start testing; goto the Indians and say don't start testing; go to the Pakistanis and saydon't start testing again; say we want to stay where we are, we want tolive in a 21st century world where our competition is commercial, notmilitary, where we're worried about ideas, not atoms. I think it will havea very important effect in this period when people are going to try to sortout how they feel about what I've said at this press conference today asagainst the vote last night.
So I personally believe Japan can play a remarkably positive role.And I have great confidence in Prime Minister Obuchi, he's done a terrificjob. And I hope that Japan will play that role.
Thank you very much.
END3:04 P.M. EDT