|PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON|
January 21, 1998
In an exclusive NewsHour interview, President Clinton denies he interfered with an investigation into a reported affair, discusses his foreign policy objectives and expounds upon his domestic policy initiatives.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. President, welcome. |
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you Jim.
JIM LEHRER: The news of this day is that Kenneth Starr, independent counsel, is investigating allegations that you suborn perjury by encouraging a 24-year-old woman, former White House intern, to lie under oath in a civil deposition about her having had an affair with you. Mr. President, is that true?
|"There is no improper relationship"|
That is not true. That is not true. I did not ask anyone to tell anything other than the truth. There is no improper relationship and I intend to cooperate with this inquiry, but that is not true.
JIM LEHRER: No improper relationship, define what you mean by that.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well I think you know what it means. It means that there is not a sexual relationship, an improper sexual relationship or any other kind of improper relationship.
JIM LEHRER: You had no sexual relationship with this young woman?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: There is not a sexual relationship. That is accurate. We are doing our best to cooperate here, but we don't know much yet, and that's all I can say now. What I'm trying to do is to contain my natural impulses and get back to work. It's important that we cooperate. I will cooperate, but I want to focus on the work at hand.
JIM LEHRER: Just for the record, make sure I understand what your answer means and there is no ambiguity about it --
PRESIDENT CLINTON: There is no ambiguity.
JIM LEHRER: You had no conversations with this young woman, Monica Lewinsky, about her testimony, possible testimony, before -- in giving a deposition?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I did not urge anyone to saying anything that was untrue. I did not urge anyone to say anything that was untrue. That's my statement to you.
JIM LEHRER: Did you talk to -- excuse me.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Beyond that, I think it's very important that we let the investigation take its course. But I want you to know that that is my clear position. I didn't ask anyone to go in there and say something that's not true.
JIM LEHRER: What about your having -- another one of the allegations is that you may have asked or the allegation has been investigated is that you asked your friend, Vernon Jordan, to do that.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I absolutely did not do that. I can tell you I did not do that. I did not do that. He is in no way involved in trying to get anybody to say anything that is not true at my request. I didn't do that. Now, I don't know what else to tell you. I don't even know, all I know is what I have read here. But I'm going to cooperate. I didn't ask anybody not to tell the truth. There is no improper relationship. The allegations I have read are not true. I do not know what the basis of them is other than just what you know. We'll just have to wait and see, and I will be vigorous at it but I have got to get back to the work of the country. I was up past midnight with Prime Minister Netanyahu last night , I've got Mr. Arafat coming in. We have got action all over the world and the state of the union to do. I'll do my best to cooperate with this just as I have through every other issue over the past several years, but I have got to get back to work.
JIM LEHRER: Would you acknowledge though Mr President, this is very serious business, this charge against you that has been made?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: And I will cooperate win the inquiry of it.
JIM LEHRER: What's going on? If it's not true, that means that somebody made this up. Is that --
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Look, you know as much about this as I do right now. We'll just have to look into it and cooperate, and we'll see. But meanwhile, I've got to go on with the work of the country. I got hired to help the rest of the American people.
|The Pope visits Cuba|
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of the work of the country, other news today, the Pope is arriving in Cuba almost as we speak.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Good thing.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Has the time come maybe for the United States to also bury some economic and political hatchets with Cuba?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, I think that our previous policy, the one that we've now and the one we've had through the Republican and Democratic administrations of keeping economic pressure on and denying the legitimacy of the Cuban government has been a good policy. I have made it clear from the day I got here that we would be prepared to respond to a substantial effort at a political or economic opening by Cuba, and we have, as you know, a system for communicating with each other. Nothing would please me greater than to see a new openness there that would justify a response on our part, and I would like to work on it. And I think Mr. Castro knows that. I've tried to proceed in good faith here.
JIM LEHRER: Have you thought about doing something dramatic -- this is your second term -- getting on airplane and going down there or inviting him to come up here, something like that, just like the Pope has done?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I'm glad the Pope's going there. I hope that we will have some real progress toward freedom and opening there and I'll work on it. But that's still mostly up to Mr. Castro.
JIM LEHRER: Why is it up to him?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, because look what the Pope is saying. The Pope is saying I hope you will release these political prisoners. Well, you know no American President getting on an airplane and going down there or having him come up here is going to deal with that. The Cuban-American community, I know a lot of people think they have been too hard on this, but they do have the point that there has been no discernible change in the climate of freedom there and I hope that the Pope's visit will help to expand freedom and I hope that after that we will be able to talk about it a little bit.
JIM LEHRER: Pope, in fact, was interviewed on his plane a little while ago by some reporters and they asked him what messages would you give to the American people about the embargo, and he said change, to change, to change. That would be his message to the American people.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, His Holiness is a very great man, and he, his position on this is identical to that, as far as I know, of every other European leader. And only time will tell if they were right or we were.
JIM LEHRER: Explain to Americans who don't follow the Cuban issue closely why Cuba is different say than China a communist country, North Korea a communist country. Vietnam we had a war with Vietnam, as we did with Korea, and in some ways China as well. We have relations with them. Why is Cuba different?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I think Cuba is different in no small measure because of the historic legacy we have with them going back to the early 60s. I think it's different because it's the only communist dictatorship in our hemisphere, a sort of blot on our neighborhood's commitment to freedom and openness and a lot of Americans have suffered personal losses there of significant magnitude. And I think as a practical matter we probably think we can have a greater influence through economic sanctions in Cuba than we can in other places. Now, I have worked over the last five years on a number of different ways to explore other alternatives of dealing with this issue and I wouldn't shut the door on other alternative, but I believe that our denial of legitimacy to the government and our economic pressure has at least made sure that others didn't go down that path and that now I think it's one of the reasons that every country in this hemisphere is a democracy and a market economy except for Cuba. I think a lot of people forget what the impact of our policy toward Cuba and what the highlghting of the Cuban's policies have done to the change the governmental structures in our neighborhood, so I'm hoping -- nobody in the world would be happier than me to see a change in Cuba and a change in our policy before I leave office, but we have to have both. We just can't have one without the other.
JIM LEHRER: You don't see anything happening any time soon as a result of the Pope's visit?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well No, I'm very hopeful. I was pleased when I heard he was going. I wanted him to go and I hope it will be a good thing.
|The quest for Middle East Peace|
JIM LEHRER: The Middle East, you said a moment ago, you met with Mr. Netanyahu twice yesterday, and Mr. Arafat tomorrow. First on Netanyahu, what is it exactly you want him to do?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, let's talk about what he wants. What we want is not nearly as important as what he wants, what the Palestinian want, what the other people in the Middle East want. What we want is a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
What I believe he and his government want is an agreement to go to final-status talks in the peace process under circumstances that they believe maximize their security. I think what the Palestinians want is an agreement that moves them towards self-determination under circumstances that maximize their ability to improve the lives of their people and the reach of their popular government. And we've been out there now for a year -- I mean another year -- of course, five years since I've been president. But since the Hebron withdrawal, we've been out there for a year in the Middle East, looking around, listening, talking, and watching the frustrations, seeing the growing difficulties in the Middle East peace process. And we came up with an approach that we thought, in the ballpark, would satisfy both sides' objectives.
We worked with Mr. Netanyahu yesterday exhaustively to try to, you know, narrow the differences. And we didn't get them all eliminated, but we made some headway. And we're going to work with Mr. Arafat tomorrow to try to do that. And then we're going to try to see if there's some way we can put them together. And I'm very hopeful, because I think it's not good for them to keep on doing this and not making progress.
JIM LEHRER: Why does it matter that much to an American president that these two men get together and make an agreement?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, first of all, I think it matters in the Middle East, because of our historic ties to Israel -- the difficulty that it would cause us if there were another war in the region.
Secondly, of course, we have major energy interest in the region. It's -- a big part of our economy recovery is having access to it. The third thing is, we have a lot of friends in the region beyond Israel, and if they all fall out with one another, that's -- that's bad for America. And of course, then, if -- if deprivation among the Palestinians leads to a rise of violence and leads to a rise of more militant Islamic fundamentalism in other countries throughout the region, then that could be a destabilizing fact that could really make things tough, if not for me, then for my successors down the road and for the American people down the road, in the 21st century.
JIM LEHRER: So you believe with those who say only America can make peace in the Middle East?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I believe America is uniquely situated to help to broker a peace in the Middle East. I actually believe only the parties can make peace in the Middle East. I think only Israel and the Palestinians and the -- Syria and Lebanon can join Jordan at that table. That's what I think. And so I think, in the end, we – we need to be very aggressive in stating what our views are. And we need to fight hard to at least have our position taken seriously. But in the end, you know, they have to live with the consequences of what they do or don't do -- all of them do. And they're going to have to make their own peace.
JIM LEHRER: The word around, as I'm sure you know, is that you and Netanyahu really just don't like each other very much. Is that right?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I don't think so. It's certainly not true on my part. But we have -- had differences of opinion on occasion in approach to the peace process. And then there -- you know, there's been a little smattering in the press here, there, and yonder about those differences and whether they were personal in nature. But for me they're not personal in nature.
I enjoy him very much, I like being with him, I like working with him. We had a difficult, hard day yesterday; you know, we had a long session in the morning, and then he worked with our team, including the vice president, secretary of state, through much of the afternoon. Then, after my dinner last night, I came back and we worked again for a couple of hours. So, it's hard to do that if you don't like somebody.
I really believe that he is an energetic man, and I think that within the -- the limits of his political situation, I believe he's hoping to be able to make a peace and to get to the point where he and Mr. Arafat can negotiate that.
But our job is to see, if you will, from a different perspective the positions of both the Palestinians and the Israelis You know, we -- it's sort of like standing too close to an Impressionist painting sometime; there's lots of dots on the canvas, and the people who are standing too close to it, even though they're painting the canvas, may get lost in the weeds. And then the people that are standing back can see the picture, and it's a beautiful picture, if it all gets painted. And so that's what I'm trying to do. I've got to -- I have to keep backing the painters back so they can see the whole picture, and then getting to the details and trying to help them ram it home, you know, because the one thing that I worry about is that you just sit there and have the same old conversation over and over again till the cows come home, and it's easy to do.
JIM LEHRER: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: And so that's what I'm trying -- I'm trying to broker this thing, be a catalyst, get the people together, and give an honest view of what the picture looks like from back here about what the two artists can live with.
JIM LEHRER: Well, some people say that it doesn't look like to the innocent observer that either one of these guys want to make peace, that you may be talking -- you may be forcing them to do something that deep down in their either political hearts, or otherwise --
PRESIDENT CLINTON: That could be. Yes, that could be.
JIM LEHRER: -- they just don't want to do it.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: That could be. And I don't know what to say about that.
JIM LEHRER: But you're not going to give up on it?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: No. No. You know, if I don't make any progress, I'll level with the American people and the rest of the world and tell them I'm doing my best but I'm not making any progress.
But, you know, we were hitting it last night till late, and then we're getting ready now for Mr. Arafat to come we'll hit it hard tomorrow. And that's all I know to tell you. We're just going to keep hitting it.