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Senate Passes U.S.-China Trade Deal; Nine Injured, One Dead Found in Cuban Plane Search AreaAired September 19, 2000 - 3:40 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Bobbie.
We have two stories getting attention at the White House today, one is the rescue at sea of nine survivors, one dead body probably, according to the Coast Guard, aboard that aircraft which was reported hijack out of Cuba early this morning. That rescue operation is still ongoing. And we are expecting the president of the United States to react to that shortly.
Also, there was a vote in the Senate not too long ago granting permanent normal trade relations to China. The vote was overwhelming, 83-15, essentially ending the debate over whether trade should be used as a tool to sanction Chinese communist government for its weapons and human rights policies.
The president of the United States is going to step into the briefing room in the West Ring to react to the Senate vote and also to brief us on what's coming out of the White House, vis-a-vis this airplane -- presumed airplane crash 180 miles west of -- rather it's 180 miles south of Key West and 60 miles west of Cuba. That's the search area where the Coast Guard is now operating with Coast Guard cutters and large helicopters and other search and rescue vehicles at this hour. The latest we know on that, nine bodies plucked from the water, one dead body. The Coast Guard at last report telling us they probably were aboard that single engine plane that Cuba reported hijacked early this morning.
Here's the president of the United States.
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon.
Today the Senate voted to pave the way for permanent normal trade relations between the United States and China. This landmark agreement will extend economic prosperity at home and promote economic freedom in China, increasing the prospects for openness in China and a more peaceful future for all of us.
When we open markets abroad to U.S. goods, we open opportunities at home. This vote will do that. In return for normal trade relations, the same terms of trade we offer now to more than 130 other countries, China will open its markets to American products, from wheat to cars to consulting services, and we will be far more able to sell good in China without moving our factories there.
But there's much more at stake here than our economic self- interest: It's about building a world in which more human beings have more freedom, more control over their lives, more contact with others than ever before; a world in which countries are tied more closely together and the prospects for peace are strengthened.
Trade alone won't create this kind of world, but bringing China under global rules of trade is a step in the right direction. The more China opens its markets to our products, the wider it opens its doors to economic freedom and the more fully it will liberate the potential of its people.
When China finishes its negotiations and joins the WTO, our high- tech companies will help to speed the information revolution there. Outside competition will speed the demise of China's huge state industries and spur the enterprise of private sector involvement. They will diminish the role of government in people's daily lives.
It will strengthen those within China who fight for higher labor standards, a cleaner environment, for human rights and the rule of law. And we will find, I believe, that America has more influence in China with an outstretched hand than with a clenched fist.
Of course, none of us should think for a moment that any of these outcomes are guaranteed. The advance of freedom ultimately will depend upon what people in China are willing to do to continue standing up for change. We will continue to help support them. Peace and security in Asia will depend upon our military presence, our alliances, on stopping the spread of deadly weapons. So we will continue to be force for peace, and we will not rest in our efforts to make sure that freer trade also is fairer trade.
These are some of the most important issues that our nation faces. That's why this vote was so important and, for many, so difficult. I want to thank Senator Lott and Senator Daschle, Senator Roth, Senator Moynihan and Senator Baucus, as well as those who led our effort in the House, and everyone within this administration who worked so hard to achieve this important milestone.
But I also want to acknowledge those who raised important questions about this policy, and say to you this is not the end of the story, it is the beginning.
We have a chance, not a certainty, but a chance to strengthen our prosperity and our security and to see China become a more open society. Now our test as a nation is whether we can achieve that. I hope and I strongly believe that we will.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Mr. President, what's your understanding of what's going on in the Middle East? Prime Minister Barak announced a suspension of talks. Now he says he'll resume tomorrow. What's going on there, sir? CLINTON: They're down to the difficult issues. And they're both feeling the pressure of these hard issues and the press of time. I don't think it's more complicated than that. And I think you should expect, from time to time, both sides to express some exasperation. And as long as they get back to the work, you should feel positive about it.
QUESTION: Are you, sir, exasperated by the process itself?
CLINTON: No. I always thought it was going to be hard and they're down to the difficult -- there are no easy decisions now. So, we've just got to keep working at it and try to finish.
QUESTION: Mr. Clinton, are you...
QUESTION: What about the trade bill, sir, what incentive will China have to listen to our concerns about human rights and weapons proliferation?
CLINTON: Well, first of all on the proliferation front, let me point out that we've made a lot of progress. China signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. And they worked with us to stop transfers that we thought were destructive, and on more than one occasion.
Are there still problems? Yes, there are.
I think that the incentive they will have is that more and more countries will want to become more and more involved with them as long as they feel that they are becoming more responsible members of the international community. And also, they'll have other ways to earn money over the long run that are responsible, legal and actually socially beneficial.
And I also believe that they have shown in other ways that they would like to be partners in the international system and assume a leadership role that is constructive. All of this will be possible if there is a common course on nonproliferation.
Now, furthermore, I think that all big countries will come to see that their own personal interests are more advanced by nonproliferation than by having various entities within the country make a quick buck through proliferation. It's not good politics and it's certainly not good for national security.
QUESTION: Have you followed the situation of the downed aircraft just off of Cuba? What can you tell us about that situation, sir?
CLINTON: I don't know that I can say any more than I have seen on the breaking news. I have clearly -- I've been briefed. And we know about what's been on the news reports. Let me say this: I can imagine that there'll be a lot of questions about what should be done about the people that are found alive. I think the most important thing now is just to worry about their care.
How badly are they hurt? What kind of medical care do they need? How quickly can we get it to them? To me, that's the overwhelming question.
And I think other facts will emerge as the day goes on and we'll probably know a lot more about it tomorrow.
QUESTION: How close are you, sir, to making (OFF-MIKE) on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve? And what sort of time constraints do you have to work with, given the fact that winter's coming?
CLINTON: Well, first I want to -- I really do want to see what is the considered market judgment about the recent OPEC move. And I don't think we've seen it yet. It's been, sort of, complicated by speculations about Iraq, speculations about what the refinery capacity is, and some uncertainty still about how much oil is on the seas now, based on production.
So I'm studying this very closely. I have talked to a lot of people about it. I will continue to do that. But we have some time before it would be too late to affect the supplies and availability of all the products we'll need as the cold weather sets in.
I just think we need a few more days to see what the real market impact of the OPEC decision is. And as all of you know -- you've read all the stories and analyses about what the decision might or might not mean. And I just want to see what the lay of the land is and then I'll make the best judgment I can.
QUESTION: Mr. President, Independent Counsel Ray will release a statement tomorrow about his findings on Whitewater, including the role of your wife, six weeks away from the election. Do you question the timing?
CLINTON: Well, you know, even Mr. Starr said almost two years ago that there was nothing in any of that stuff, that it's just been coming out now, a year and a half later. So I think people are capable of drawing their own conclusions about that. I don't think I can serve much of the public interest by commenting. I think it's pretty obvious.
We had a report from a truly independent source in 1996 saying that nothing wrong was done and that Hillary's billing records fully supported here account -- 1996. So nothing has changed in this thing in the last few years, and I think people will just be able to draw their own conclusions.
WATERS: The president of the United States reacting to the Senate action this afternoon on the World Trade Organization bill granting permanent normal trade relations to China.
That bill had been opposed by labor, human rights and other groups, who said it was wrong to give up the annual review of China trade since the 1989 crack-down on Tiananmen Square and the proliferation -- persecution of its citizens. That debate, now, has been effectively ended by the vote, and it was quite overwhelming: 83- 15, and the president will sign.
Major Garrett, this is a major victory for the president.
MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A major victory for the president, Lou, and an end of his last big political odyssey during his last year of the presidency. His last big embrace, if you will, with the Republican leadership, both in the House and the Senate.
It was Republicans, after all, who were crucial to the president's PNTR victory in the House. House leaders scheduled a vote early, they stood with the president and the president defied his own Democratic leadership and the voices of organized labor to push that vote through -- a much narrower vote, as you recall, in the House.
The Senate vote, overwhelming, as you mentioned, was expected here at the White House, but clearly a day of celebration, a day of victory here at the White House. The last big international and economic policy agenda item for the president this year.
He wins it on his terms and, as a side note, vice president Gore has appeared to suffer no particular damage internally within the Democratic party. There was some alienation felt by members of labor unions, the Teamsters and the United Auto Workers had withheld their endorsement, they're in the fold now. Al Gore appears not to have suffered any damage, so the president wins, in that respect, on both fronts.
Lou, back to you.
WATERS: OK, White House correspondent Major Garrett in the briefing room where the president had just reacted to the Senate vote, which Chris Black, our congressional correspondent has been watching closely up there on Capitol Hill.
And right down to the wire there was opposition to this. Senator Jim Bunning said it was plain wrong and un-American. So there's some still kicking and screaming about this bill.
CHRIS BLACK, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's always the case here on Capitol Hill, Lou.
But President Clinton really did put his personal influence on the line, particularly -- as soon as -- as early as -- early this year, the president had dozens of House members and Senators down to the White House. He lobbied them intensely, sometimes one-on-one.
But the other force at work, as well, was the U.S. business interests and farming interests. By the end of the day, the Republicans from farm states ended up being among the biggest champions of this legislation because it would mean big sales for their constituents.
Senator Bill Roth, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said that this legislation would clear the way to open up the Chinese market to U.S. goods.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR WILLIAM ROTH (R), DELAWARE: What this legislation does, is open up the Chinese market, made up of a billion people, to American goods. It in no way opens our markets beyond where we are today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACK: Now, it's important to remember, Lou, that last spring, the House of Representatives cleared the way for this overwhelming vote today in the Senate by creating a new commission that will have appointees of both the executive branch and the Legislature and Congress to monitor China's human rights record.
So human rights has not totally fallen by the wayside, there will be a new commission created by this law, which the president will sign into law -- Lou.
WATERS: All right, Chris Black up on Capitol Hill.
Again, the Senate has approved permanent normal trade status for China, marking a turning point and creating a major new relationship between the United States and China.
When he was asked to comment on the other major story we're covering today, that is the apparent hijacking of a plane that ended up in the sea off the coast of Cuba, the president could only offer a hope that care could be provided for the injured.
And on that point, CNN's Mark Potter, who has been closely following the story from Miami has some new information for us on the story -- Mark.
MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, we're told by the U.S. Coast Guard in Miami, that there are nine survivors aboard a Panamanian merchant vessel known as the Chios Dream and there is the body of another person for a total of 10.
We are told that the ship picked up four males, three females, three children from the waters and that one of the males died and another of the males has a significant head injury.
They were picked up in the waters west of Cuba, about 60 miles west of Cuba, 180 miles southwest of Key West a little north of the Yucatan Peninsula in an area known as the Yucatan Pass at about 1:45 p.m. Eastern time.
All the people aboard, all nine survivors and the deceased man are described by the boat crew as Cuban nationals, and they have told the boat crew, the survivors have told the boat crew that they were the entire -- that they represent the entire passenger list aboard that flight -- passenger list a use of phrase, it seems like this was done so quickly that nothing like that, of course, was put together.
But it appears that they say that only 10 people were aboard that plane, so all are accounted for. Now, the Coast Guard has been flying a C-130 plane around the area looking for any other survivors; they have found no one.
The Coast Guard cannot confirm a report that we -- that they are getting from the boat crew itself, that there is a lot of aircraft debris in the water. That report, if the pilots aboard the C-130 have seen it, has not gotten back to Miami.
Now, we're told that the Coast Guard intends to send some helicopters, -- medivac helicopters to the area, but it is so far away from Key West that they're having to wait for some changes in the atmospheric conditions before they can make that run. They're waiting for changes in the jet stream so that they can get there and come back with a tail wind and make it. It's a fuel issue, and they're very concerned about that.
There's also some weather in the area and, as you can see here, and that's a concern. So when they can get out there with the medivac helicopters, they will bring the people who need immediate medical attention back to the U.S. mainland, either to Key West or, more likely, to Miami.
The rest of the survivors will be put aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Nantucket. So that's the situation up to the minute.
Back to you, Lou.
WATERS: Are the survivors giving the Panamanians any indications of the circumstances of this flight, what happened?
POTTER: No. The only answers we have on that come from the Cubans, and that's unverified. They have not said anything, at least the Coast Guard said that they haven't heard anything like that yet.
WATERS: All right, Mark Potter in Miami.
We're hearing a couple versions of what happened. The Cubans say the plane was hijacked, it could have been a dash for freedom. That's still yet to be determined. We'll keep posted on the story; Coast Guard news conference in 30 minutes.
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