Amid suggestions that his administration has begun to lose steam in its fifth year, President Clinton held an energetic 90-minute news conference Tuesday to defend his performance and promise that major actions lie ahead.
Defending the past year as successful “because we’re all working hard,” Clinton said “we intend to have a very, very active time” in 1998 and beyond, pressing “big picture” items that include entitlement reform, life-long education and the global environment.
Fielding questions in the State Department auditorium where President John F. Kennedy held his news conferences, Clinton tried to allay concerns that the market collapse in South Korea and other Asian nations might have a domino effect in the United States.
Calling the U.S. economy strong, he said that low inflation and high investment rates “show that we have a significant capacity to continue to grow from within.”
However, the president acknowledged that “a significant part of our growth comes from our ability to sell to others around the world, including in Asia.”
For that reason, he said, “It is very much in our interest to do what we can to support the Asian economies as they work to weather this crisis.”
He said he was “very encouraged” by South Korea’s efforts to make the reforms in return for support from the International Monetary Fund, and predicted that the international bailout for the region “will work.”
However, Clinton must first win approval from reluctant Republican leaders in Congress of a $5 billion request for additional IMF funding. Just last month, Congress deleted $3.5 billion for the IMF from a foreign aid bill.
On other subjects, the president:
Warned that he would turn to “other options” if diplomatic efforts fail to win access for United Nations inspectors to suspected weapons sites in Iraq.
Cracked open the door for an “honest discussion” with Iran, but only if Iranian leaders first forgo all training and support for terrorists.
Invited NATO leaders to a Washington summit in early 1999 where, he said, he hoped to welcome Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to the military alliance.
Inched toward announcing that he plans to keep some U.S. troops in Bosnia beyond the June 1998 deadline for bringing them all home.
Energetically defended his much-criticized race initiative, saying that he had received “scores of letters” complimenting it despite charges that it has lacked either a real dialogue and or significant actions. “I believe talking is better than fighting,” he said.
Ruled out a major tax cut proposal for his State of the Union address, but ruled in the possibility of endorsing a tax simplification plan, if one emerges in Congress.
Avoided voicing confidence in FBI Director Louis Freeh, saying, “I don’t want to get into” a discussion of relations, but denying that Freeh’s push for an independent counsel to probe the campaign fund-raising scandal was the reason.
Brushed off questions about whether he would make fund-raising phone calls to Democratic donors but said that he welcomed small meetings in which he could hear the views of party contributors.
Announced he would meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu early next year and rejected the Israeli leader’s charge that he had been snubbed because Clinton had not met with him during a recent U.S. trip.
Stood foursquare behind Vice President Al Gore, while telling other presidential wannabes in the Democratic Party to back off for now. “There’s plenty of time for presidential politics,” he said.