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Bill Clinton Speaks To A Meeting Of Newspaper Editors
April 11, 1997
CLINTON: The information technology agreement that we reach with 37 other nations in December will eliminate tariffs and unshackle trade on $500 billion of trade in computers, semi-conductors and telecommunications.
This amounts to a $5 billion cut in tariffs on American products exported to other nations.
It can lead to hundreds of thousands of high wage jobs for Americans.
Now, if Congress grants fast track authority, I can use it to open trade in areas where American firms are leading and where our future lies. We lead the world in high technology. In years to come, we must press to tear down barriers that keep that technology, products like computer software, medical equipment, environmental technology out of other markets.
We lead the world in agricultural exports. We have to negotiate trade agreements to open even more markets. We will negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement with Chile and follow through on our leadership to determine the future of trade in our own hemisphere with our own neighbors, all of whom but one are democracies, and we have to keep them that way and keep them strong. We will press aggressively to open markets in Asia as well.
We must also continue to open opportunities in the world's new market economies.
In particular, I urge Congress to support my new partnership for freedom, to expand trade and investment entrench free markets in democracy, and promote stability in Russia in the new independent states.
If we don't seize these opportunities, our competitors surely will. Let me just give you one example. Last year, for the first time ever, Latin American nations had more trade with Europe than the United States. There is no reason to think that others will wait while we sit idle.
These nations in Latin America especially are our friends. They're our partners. They have done an enormously important thing in moving to freedom and democracy in the last few years, all over Central and South America. We dare not let this opportunity pass us by.
I am determined that the new trade agreements that we seek will be good for our working people.
After all, we've got 111/2 million more jobs and 5.2 percent unemployment. We know we can make it good for the American people. And I am determined that they will be good for the environment. More and more, in the future, we will see nations negotiating environmental partnerships for the sake of their economies and the stability of their society and the future of their children.
I have asked the United States trade representative, Charlene Barshefsky, to work with members of Congress of both parties, with labor and business and environmental groups, to try to reach consensus on these issues.
But let me be clear. There is one consensus we cannot avoid. We cannot shrink from the challenges of leadership in a global economy. Trade and communications are remaking our world. They're bringing it closer together. They're bringing a revolution in global trade. Because in the long run, we know that it's going to happen.
We ought to lead it. We have to lead it.
And if we do, it will increase our buying power and expand our exports. American workers and businesses, given the chance, can out-compete anyone. And I hope Congress will help me let them do just that.
The larger question we face is as old as America, whether to turn inward or reach outward; whether to fear change or embrace it. Over the past 50 years, over the past four years, I believe we've made the choices that have served America well.
Now we face another moment of choice. While we no longer face a single implacable foe, the enemy of our time is inaction. It is so easy to be inactive when things seem to be going well. And so easy to believe a new choice will cause more trouble than it will do good.
But we did not get where we are today by being inactive, or by sitting on the sidelines.
The decisions we make in the next few months will set America's course in the world for the next 50 years. We have to make them together, and they must be the right ones.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Mr. President, the Commission on Protection and Reduction of Government Secrecy, the Moynihan Commission, said last month that three million people have the authority to classify government secrets at a cost of more than $5.5 billion a year.
And the commission called this a form of government regulation not controlled by statute, as is all other regulatory power. And it said it should be subject to the same guidelines and oversight as other regulation.
To provide a check on unrestrained discretion in creating secrets, the commission recommended a law to codify the principles as to what can be classified and what should not be classified and for how long it should be classified.
And to create a national declassification center to provide annual reports on the progress in declassifying government records.
And to require the president to set procedures and provide the resources for declassifying information.
Will you support enactment of such a law? If not, why not? If so, how hard will you push for it?
CLINTON: Well, first of all, let me say that the short answer to your question is, I think there has to be -- we have to do something about it to respond to the commission's report and to respond to the fact that there is -- there are too many people who can make too many things classified in the government.
And we're reviewing the report. We are also -- have started conversations with members of Congress about it. And I'm -- we're attempting to fashion what we think is the appropriate response. But let me remind you that I believe that we ought to unearth more documents and not keep so many secrets for so long.
I've worked very hard to open up documents since I've been president. That's -- we did it with the human radiation experiments. We have conducted a relentless effort to find out what really happened in the Gulf War in terms of whether our people were or were not and to what extent exposed to dangerous chemicals.
And any number of other ways, I support the general thrust of the commission's report. I have asked my staff to study it. I have not received a specific recommendation on the specific points in the report, but generally I think it's -- I think there is too much secrecy in the government, and I think too many people have too much unfettered discretion just to declare documents secret. And I think that you will see some significant progress coming out of this.
QUESTION: My county of 70,000 people is at risk from seven percent of the nation's stockpile of aging chemical weapons -- the nerve agents that you referred to.
And we don't have the highways to evacuate if we need to. We don't have the civil defense infrastructure. The disposal plan is behind the time line. The two questions -- as a political matter, wouldn't it make sense to bring even more intensive scrutiny to these sites? There are eight sites scattered across the country. The whole nation is at risk from the downside of the old chemical warfare. And as a moral matter, doesn't it make sense for your administration to step up the disposal and make sure that the highway infrastructure is in place for escape routes and civil defense?
CLINTON: You've asked me a question no one's ever asked me before, but I can tell you the answer to the first question is: Does it make more sense to bring more attention to the country about it? The answer to that is yes. If for no other reason -- not just because of what your people may be exposed to, but because one of the reasons we decided to destroy all this, before I ever came along -- my predecessors made that decision; it was the right one -- is that you don't want even small amounts of these kinds of chemicals in the wrong hands -- can be used for very bad things.
And let me also say -- now, on the second question, I will have to go back and see what the facts are and see what we can do to accelerate it. I don't know enough now to give you a sensible answer, but you've asked a good question. I will get an answer and I'll get back to you.
And let me just make one other point on this. Some of the opponents of the chemical weapons convention say, well, you know, you can't protect everybody against everything. Well, if that were the standard, we'd never have any treaties and we wouldn't pass any laws.
You know, the -- still, some people may be able to cook up chemical weapons in laboratories in their garages. The -- but if you look at what happened to the Japanese people, for example when the extremist sect unleashed the sarin gas in the Tokyo subway. It was a devastating thing.
Now maybe they could or could not do that once the chemical weapons regime is fully enforced and we have much tighter restrictions on what can cross national lines.
But one thing we know for sure Japan's already ratified this treaty because they have suffered through this. And they know even if somebody who's got a half cocked idea and a home based laboratory can go out and do something terrible like this, there will be fewer incidents like this if we pass the chemical weapons convention.
And I think it's very interesting a lot of the objections that have been raised to this convention in America were totally dismissed out of hand in Japan -- a country that has genuinely suffered from chemicals like this in the hands of terrorists.
But that goes back to the question the gentleman from Alabama asked. And that's one of the reasons we want to destroy our stock piles as quickly as possible. Because in addition to the risks where people in the area are exposed to, we want to minimize the chances that anybody ever can get their hands on any of this for mischievous evil purposes.
QUESTION: Some opponents of the chemical weapons convention are arguing that indeed it would let the fox into the hen house. That is to say a country perhaps Iran, a signatory, would gain access to our development techniques for making chemical weapons which are relatively simple. But more importantly to those regarding defenses against chemical weapons in the fields.
What is your response to that argument? And are you in any position to negotiate a change of any sort in the document if that were necessary to get the votes for ratification?
CLINTON: Well first of all the -- it is -- let me answer the second question first and then I'll go back -- in general obviously no one country can change the body of a treaty which has already been ratified by other countries. We can't do that, lots of other countries have ratified it.
But every country is empowered to, in effect, attach a set of understandings as to what the treaty means. And as long as they're plainly inconsistent with the thrust of the document and don't vitiate it they can go forward.
And one of the things we've been doing with a lot of the opponents or the skeptics of the treaty -- Senator Helms for example and others raised I think 30 different questions in the beginning. And we have reached agreement I believe in 20 of those 30 areas.
And we've offered alternatives that we believe are reasonable in the other areas. And that -- let me just say for those of you who may not understand this thing. Iran is a signatory of the -- they have ratified the chemical weapons convention. Iraq and Libya have not and will not.
The concern is that if a country is attacked by chemical weapons and they are part of the treaty that all the rest of us have pledged to do something to help them.
And the concern would be, well, what if Iran is attacked by Iraq and the United States and Germany, for example, give them a lot of sophisticated defense technology on chemical weapons and they turn around and use the chemical weapons against someone else; in other words, if they turn out to have lied about their promise in the treaty. That's the argument.
We have made it clear that as regards other countries, we will not do anything to give them our technology. Not Iran, not anybody. And what our response will be, will be limited to helping them deal with the health effects of the attack. We will help people in medical ways and with other things having to do with the health consequences.
So I believe that the compromise we have reached on that, once it becomes fully public and the language is dealt with, will be acceptable to at least most of those who have opposed the treaty on that ground.
QUESTION: We seem to be following a policy in Asia with communist countries like China and Vietnam of engagement and trade. Even with North Korea now, we seem to be on the verge of a breakthrough there, possibly some aid, because they're suffering famine.
And I wonder, though, when we turn to our own hemisphere, we seem to follow a policy of embargo against -- we don't seem to, we are -- following a policy of embargo against Castro's Cuba. And I wonder why is there this apparent difference in approach and whether trying to open Cuba up for active trade wouldn't be in line with the kind of opening of market policies that you were suggesting a little while ago.
CLINTON: Well, I think, first of all, as a practical matter, with each of these countries, we do what we think is in our interest and what is most likely to further our interest.
Secondly, the other three countries you have mentioned have not murdered any Americans lately. We had a law that I strongly supported, the Cuban Democracy Act. I strongly supported it. I thought it was absolutely the right policy. It strengthened the economic embargo but also gave us a chance to open up relations to Cuba and to take care of humanitarian problems, to facilitate travel, to do all kinds of things, and we were implementing that law.
It gave the executive requisite flexibility and in return for the Cuban Democracy Act, the Castro government illegally shot down two planes and murdered Americans. And so we changed our policy. Congress was outraged. They passed the Helms-Burton law, and I signed it, regretfully, but not reluctantly.
And you know, our policy toward Cuba, therefore today, is one that was dictated by Cuba, not by the United States.
And until I see some indication of willingness to change, it's going to be very difficult to persuade me to change our policy. And I would have a different attitude toward China or Vietnam or North Korea if they murdered any Americans, and I would hope you would want me to have a different attitude toward them if they did.
QUESTION: My son Cody is here with me today, and he's 11 years old. And his fifth grade class will be voting first in the presidential elections of 2004.
I wonder if you could share with us a little bit of what you hope your legacy will be for him and his class, since you will be just leaving office then, and also, what advice and suggestions you might give Cody's class and the other young people of America, what they can do now and to prepare themselves to be productive citizens early next century.
CLINTON: Let me answer the second question first. I think the following things I would recommend to the fifth graders to prepare themselves for the 21st century.
Number one, first and foremost, be a good student. Learn all you can. Learn the hard things as well as those that aren't hard for you, and stay out of trouble. Don't do something dumb like get involved with drugs or alcohol or something that will wreck your life. Learn. Be a good student.
Secondly, get to know people who are your age but who are different from you, people of a different racial or ethnic group, people of a different religion, because you're going to live in the most multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious democracy in human history.
And how we handle that will determine whether the 21st century is also an American century, still somewhat of an open question, although I'm encouraged about it.
The third thing I would say is, learn as much as you can about the rest of the world, because it will be a smaller world and you will need to know more about it.
And the fourth thing I would say is, start to take the responsibilities of citizenship seriously and find some way, even at the age of 10, to be of service in your community, whether it's helping some student in your school who's not learning as well as he or she should or doing something on the weekends to help people who are unfortunate. I think that we need to build an ethic of citizen service into our young people.
Those are the four things I would advise him to do. In terms of what I hope the legacy will be, I hope people will look back on this period and say, while I was president, we prepared America for the 21st century and basically, in three ways, that we preserved the American dream of opportunity for everybody who is willing to work for it.
Number two, that we preserved America's leadership for peace and freedom and prosperity in the world, and the world is a better place because of it.
And number three, that Americans are living in greater harmony with one another as one America because we passionately advocated respect for people's differences and respect for our shared values, and we made real progress in overcoming these divides and extremist hatreds that have not only weakened our democracy but are virtually destroying countries all around the world.
Or in a more pedestrian way, I hope at least people will say, well, after Bill Clinton was president, at least we had a new set of problems to deal with.
In 1983 I was in Portland, Maine at a governors' conference. And the former senator and former secretary of state Edmund Muskie who recently passed away, a remarkable man, was there.
And we were having a visit and he said you know I love being a governor and in some ways I liked it even more than being a senator or secretary of state, I like running something.
And I said, how did you keep score Senator Muskie? How did you know whether you'd succeeded or not? He said, I knew I'd succeeded if my successor had a new set of problems.
Now think about it. We will always have problems it's endemic to the human condition and in the nature of life. The way you define progress is if you get a new set of problems. And if you get over it. And particularly I feel on this whole issue of how we deal with our racial diversity. It's something of course that's dominated my whole life because I grew up as a southerner.
But it's a very different issue now. It's more than black Americans and white Americans. I mean, the majority of students in the Los Angeles county schools are Hispanic.
And there are four school districts in America, four, where there are children who have more than 100 different racial, ethnic or linguistic backgrounds within the school districts already.
So this is a big deal. And there -- every issue that we debate whether it's affirmative action or immigration or things that seem only peripherally involved in this need to be viewed through the prism of how we can preserve one America, the American dream, our shared values and still accord people real respect and appreciation for their independent heritages. It would be a great, great challenge.
It's a challenge that -- by the way I think that the newspapers of the country can do a lot to help promote in terms of advancing dialogue, diversifying your own staffs. Doing the things that will help America to come to grips with what it means not to be a country with a legacy of slavery, and the differences between blacks and whites, but to have drafted on to that not only the immigration patterns of the early 20th century, but what is happening to us know.
It is really potentially a great thing for America that we are becoming so multi-ethnic at the time the world is becoming so closely tied together. But it's also potentially a powder keg of problems and heart break and division and loss. And how we handle it will determine really -- that single question may be the biggest determinant of what we look like 50 years from now. And what our position in the world is and what the children of that age will have to look forward to.
QUESTION: Our region has been devastated by job losses. Mainly because of down sizing in the military. Could you speak to the people of the Mohawk Valley and perhaps other communities like ours on how your trade policies will help revive our stagnant economy and revive our spirits?
CLINTON: Well, let's talk about the downsizing the military and the trade policy. The trade policy alone won't necessarily revive a place with a stagnant economy because very often, the trade policy is -- increases jobs in the places that are already doing well, because succeeds -- success will build on success. So the only way it can -- can help is if -- if the people in the Mohawk Valley can identify companies that are going to have to expand because of expanding trade, and try to get the expansions to locate there.
But what -- what I think is important is I believe the United States, first of all, has an extra obligation to country -- to communities that have been adversely effected by military downsizing. And we have worked very hard to accelerate the rate at which we work with communities that have had military downsizing -- to give them back the resources that they can use to rebuild their communities. And many places, we've had a lot of success and some places we haven't.
Secondly, I think it's important that in areas like yours, the United States give greater economic incentives for new investment to diversify the economy. One of the things that I have asked the Congress to do in my balanced budget plan is to more than double the number of empowerment zones and enterprise communities from the numbers we have now in the -- in the new plan, so we can give real incentives for people to invest their money and to create good, stable, long-term jobs in areas with high unemployment rates.
If there's anything else you can think of I can do, I'll be happy to do it. If there's anything we should have done in the defense downsizing to benefit your area that we haven't done, I'll be happy to look into that. But I think the main thing we -- we have to do at the national level is to keep the economy strong, and then to create extra incentives for people, like people we're trying to move from welfare to work, where I've proposed some special incentives, or for places with high unemployment rates, so that we can more uniformly spread economic opportunity.
When you see that America has a 5.2 percent unemployment rate, that's very misleading. We have a lot of states with unemployment rates below 4 percent now. We have within states a lot of communities with unemployment rates below 5.2 percent, but we still have places with unemployment rates of 7, 8, 9, 10, 12 percent.
And so the trick is to create the economic incentives that will even out the investment patterns. And that's what I'm trying to do. And if you can think of anything specific I can do to help you, I hope you'll feel free to contact me and let me know.
Thank you very much.
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