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White House Briefing On Pakistan Coup


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 12, 1999



The Briefing Room

1:14 P.M. EDT

MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the White House briefing. Questions.

Q Pakistan. What do we know?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we know from our embassy there and from other sources that, clearly, there's a political crisis unfolding. We are trying to ascertain hard and certain information as we speak. This is, obviously, a fluid situation. There are a number of rumors and reports running around the city, and at this point we have not ascertained the full extent of the situation.

Q Can it be characterized as a coup at this point?

MR. LOCKHART: I think there's obviously a crisis unfolding. I don't think we have information available to us which would enable us to characterize it that way.

Q Joe, has anyone in this administration in any way sought to find any information on whether Pakistan's nuclear holdings have been safeguarded through this?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have been talking at a variety of diplomatic levels and trying to gather information. I don't have any particular information on that subject at this point.

Q Are there any concerns about the security of their nuclear holdings?

MR. LOCKHART: No concern like that has been relayed to me.

Q Do we know where the Prime Minister is?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have specific information on that. I know there are reports in the Pakistani media, but I don't have independent verification of that.

Q Has anyone spoken with him?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any independent verification on his location or if there's been any communication.

Q The Prime Minister dismissed the Army Chief of Staff. Was the administration aware that he was going to do that, or did they recommend or encourage that at all?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think there was anyone in the administration that was aware of that move. I think, as you know, there were some conversations several weeks ago about keeping the Chief of Staff. Nor was anyone in the administration aware of the events that have precipitated this crisis today.

Q Do you think this had anything to do with the Kashmir agreement reached with Sharif while he was here?

MR. LOCKHART: I think that we're dealing with a very fluid situation where the facts are unfolding, and I would caution everyone to try not to speculate based on incomplete or pieces of information that are coming in.

Q Are there any concerns that India might try to make an aggressive move against Pakistan during this time of turmoil?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I haven't heard any comments coming out of the Indians, or the Indian government. I think that we -- obviously, anyone trying to take advantage -- we would be concerned about anyone trying to take advantage of any uncertainty in the current situation.

Q Has the President or anybody from the administration contacted Prime Minister Vajpayee in India and asked him to show restraint, in light of the current developments?

MR. LOCKHART: The President has not. I'm not aware of the diplomatic conversations between the United States and the Indian government. You might check at the State Department on that.

Q Joe, I wasn't sure what you said earlier. Do you have any concern about the control of any nuclear materials between civilians and military in Pakistan?

MR. LOCKHART: Again, no concern has been relayed to me as something the United States government is currently worried about.

Q What about Americans, Joe, and American facilities there?

MR. LOCKHART: I think there are around 4,000 Americans in Pakistan. The State Department has issued a warning for them to show caution and care in this moment and to stay close to home. I have no reports of Americans or American facilities that are specifically at risk.

Q Joe, is there any concern that the current political crisis there could potentially swing towards Islamic fundamentalism?

MR. LOCKHART: I think before we draw any conclusions, we want to have more facts, so I will resist the temptation to go down any of these hypothetical roads.

Q Do these events place into context the debate in the Senate over the test ban treaty?

MR. LOCKHART: Only in the sense that it underscores the danger in foreclosing the possibilities available to the national security team and the President as far as moving forward. It's an unpredictable world, but I don't see any direct connection between what's going on on the ground and what the Senate is currently considering.

Q What is the state of play in negotiations with members of the Senate on the treaty?

Q Can we go back to Pakistan?

MR. LOCKHART: There's plenty of time.

The state of play? There are ongoing conversations between the Democratic leadership and the Republican leadership in the Senate. The President sent a letter yesterday seeking a delay on the vote based on our national security interests. I think that was a reasonable request from the President, again, based on our national security interests. And it's our hope now that the Senate will do the same and delay the vote.

Q What more do they want?

MR. LOCKHART: Oh, it kind of depends on who you talk to. I think we've made clear that it's not in our national security interest to go forward in this situation with a process that has not allowed for full debate and examination of the issue, when the votes are not there -- as it clearly stands now. I think there are a number of senators on both sides of the aisle who share that view. The question now is, can the leadership work out a process where we can move forward and delay the vote.

Q Is the President willing to take the next step?

Q You say that it would be bad to foreclose the possibilities available to the President and the national security team as we move forward. Is there anything about delaying this vote until 2001 that would foreclose those possibilities?

MR. LOCKHART: Not if the Senate takes up the request the President made in his letter.

Q Meaning what? That you'd hold hearings before 2001?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I think that if they take up -- the President made a simple request that they delay the vote, without a time frame assigned to it. And if they take that up, it won't foreclose any possibilities.

Q Only a defeat would foreclose -- an outright defeat would foreclose the possibilities --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, no. I mean, clearly there are some who have argued that we shouldn't take this up in any way, shape or form until after the next election. And that is something that the White House does not feel comfortable with.

Q When the President refused to agree not to bring this up for the rest of his term -- and I guess that means not -- he refused to agree not to talk about it for the rest of his term -- that what your understanding is?

MR. LOCKHART: No. Again, I think you should go and ask those who are seeking to impose these conditions exactly what they mean by them. I can't decipher them all.


Q Yes, you say the White House doesn't feel comfortable --


Q -- with making some assurance that it goes until 2001. But if it comes down to it, I mean, in the interests of national security, the President requested they delay the vote. Now, if it's about to fail, in the interest of national security will he go one step further --

MR. LOCKHART: I think it's in the national security of this country to delay the vote, one, because I think it send the wrong message if the treaty is defeated. But I think it sends an equally dangerous message if we indicate that under no terms, and in no uncertain terms, we are not in the non-proliferation business from now until 2001. So I think the President put forward a reasonable request yesterday, which is based on our national security -- delay the vote. And it's our hope the Senate will come back and take a reasonable position, delay the vote, because it is in our national security interests.

Q -- send that message, Joe?

Q So he is not going to take that next step, is that what you're saying?

MR. LOCKHART: The President made very clear in his letter yesterday what he would like the Senate to do. We hope the Senate will do it.

Q Do you think those two things are equally dangerous, to have the treaty voted down, or to have people know it's been put off?

MR. LOCKHART: I think they both send the wrong message to the rest of the world. And if we say that under no circumstances, no matter what happens in the world, could we possibly take this up, even if it was a situation where U.S. leadership was desperately needed someplace in the world, I think that sends the wrong message.

Q What circumstances are you thinking of that would require you to take --

MR. LOCKHART: I can't sit here and tell you what's going to happen in the world. I think as you all know, things change in the world that will require U.S. leadership in order to resolve problems around the world.

Q That's what Democrats on the Hill are arguing -- we should have some little stipulation that there might be some circumstances. What possible circumstances would require us to vote on the treaty next year?

MR. LOCKHART: You could have all kinds, and I'm just not going to get into doing a hypothetical, but I think if you sit and you think hard about it, you could come up with circumstances that might lead our political leaders here to decide that it could be in our interest to consider it next year.

Q Joe, there's a letter being circulated by Senators Warner and Moynihan which says that not only should it be put off, but that it wouldn't get taken up next year. Does the White House object to other senators signing that letter?

MR. LOCKHART: I haven't seen the text of the letter.

Q Well, Joe, you've said many times that you don't control the schedule in the Senate --

MR. LOCKHART: That's correct.

Q -- and if Lott doesn't want it to come up, all he has to do is not let it come up until 2001.

MR. LOCKHART: That is certainly his option.

Q So what I'm wondering is, in that circumstance, would the President agree, since he doesn't want it to come up unless it has the votes, would the President agree not to use this as a political issue -- not to criticize the Republicans for stopping --

MR. LOCKHART: I think if you listen carefully to what the President said, he wants the politics taken out of this, and he has made this case based on the national security interests of this country. He's taken the step forward and said that he believes that it's not in our national security interest to have this vote today, and he believes the Senate should delay. And the Senate has to consider that, consider how they want to move forward.

Q So why doesn't he just say that he and the Democrats will not use this as a political issue and that might leave it --

MR. LOCKHART: The President has made very clear that he's not interested in playing politics with this, he's interested in the national security of this country. He said it at the press conference on Friday.

Q Are you making a pledge that he will not use this --

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I'm not going to play games here. This is a serious national security issue. I know your instinct is to look and to cover this on the politics. The President made very clear his intentions what he wants to do in the press conference on Friday, and it's as clear as can be.

Q It's been announced that the Army Chief of Staff will address the nation. Does this change your assessment of the situation at all?

Q I can update that. We just ran a bulletin saying that the fired Army Chief of Staff --

MR. LOCKHART: That's great, but --

Q -- says the Sharif government has been dismissed.

MR. LOCKHART: Okay, well, I haven't had the ability to get that information independently, so I can't possibly comment on it from here.

Q Joe, on the treaty, does this setback to any extent limit the President's other foreign policy maneuvers and elbow room?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that the situation has been resolved, but --

Q It's not going to get passed.

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think -- and again, we believe that the right process with the right kinds of safeguards built in, we could get a two-thirds majority in the Senate. But that's not the issue today as we speak. The issue is whether we're going to have the vote or not.

Q Has the President done anything, made any phone calls today, talked to anybody about getting the treaty taken off the table?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President made very clear his intentions yesterday when he sent a very explicit letter to the Senate Majority Leader.

Q But he didn't do anything today?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President made very clear yesterday what he would like to do and it's now up to the Senate.

Q Joe, Democrats on the Hill think that the Republicans really would rather have a victory over the President on this than anything else. Do you share that view?

MR. LOCKHART: I think it's unfortunate that we're even having that discussion, that there is a debate going on here whether a political victory over the President could be put on the same scale as the national security of this country. I believe that the President put forward a very reasonable proposal to delay this vote based on our national security, and it's certainly our hope here that Republicans and Democrats on the Hill will respond favorably to it.

Q Joe, you just made reference to the right kind of safeguards built in, the treaty should be able to get two-thirds. Do you mean that in the interim conditions, or could be attached to the treaty to assure the doubtful or the --

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think we should have a process like we've had on the last half dozen or so arms control treaties that have come before the Senate. The senators have a chance to take the treaty apart, look at it, see if there's areas where they think there should be more safeguards put in -- none of that can happen in eight days; that's clear -- so that as we move forward, whenever that is, we have a process that allows for it.

Q Since those safeguards can't be attached if they change the nature of the treaty, that would require renegotiation. In effect, they simply sometime just restate what's in the treaty already, but make people feel warmer about it. Do you favor those kinds of safeguards, the feel-good safeguards?

MR. LOCKHART: We had a process in --

Q -- like withdrawal in six months, which is in the treaty in the first place?

MR. LOCKHART: Let me get to my answer. We had a process underway where we worked closely with Democrats and Republicans on the Hill and the chemical weapons treaty, where we addressed concerns. That treaty was ratified.

Q Joe, is your position then that the President is not going to state that he will agree not to have it brought up next year, but if the Senate, in their control of their agenda schedule, don't bring it up -- that's okay?

MR. LOCKHART: We don't get to control what the Senate brings up and what the Senate doesn't bring up. That's something that the two leaders have to work on and come to some agreement on. The position that the President has stated, again, which I think is quite reasonable, which is he doesn't think the vote should take place today. The votes aren't there. There hasn't been a process conducive to a full examination of the treaty and the benefits, and whatever concerns senators may have about the treaty. But we also don't believe that we have the luxury of making a statement about what's going to happen.

Q Joe, do you have any reason to believe that these votes will materialize in the next 15 months? Do you have any indication that they will? Do you have anything --

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President, in his radio address, stated very clearly that when the Senate takes a close look at this and examines it again with an eye towards the benefits it brings and whatever they want to add as far as safeguards, that we will -- that it will get a majority. I think the President believes, whether it's now or later, or this Congress, the next Congress, this treaty will be ratified.

Q But how do you satisfy both of those conditions? The National Security Advisor yesterday said it would not be brought up again if you didn't have the votes to ratify it --

MR. LOCKHART: That's right.

Q -- so how do you ever get the votes to ratify it unless you bring it up and discuss it in the Senate?

MR. LOCKHART: By looking at this -- you don't have to go to the Senate floor. There are ways that senators can do this, however the process moves forward. But, ultimately, that's up to the Senate.

Q Joe, there are a lot of people, actually, who say that the White House could have been doing that long before it even came up, and that the President --

MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I'd love to have "a lot of these people," the so-called "a lot of people," in this room.

Q These are people who come to meet the National Security Advisor, who follow the issue a lot more closely than most anybody.

MR. LOCKHART: Right. And again, to my -- I guess my message to "a lot of these people" is that the President -- we spent a lot of time negotiating this treaty. We sent it up more than two years ago. We -- the President has spoken about this over and over again, as far as how important it is, in two State of the Unions and various other addresses and events in the Rose Garden. Unfortunately, the Senate, in their own wisdom, in the Foreign Relations Committee, couldn't find a day -- not one day -- to put this on their calendar to discuss. That is the way arms control treaties get debated in this country. That is how they get ratified in this country.

Q There's a lot of background work, too, though. It's not just the Senate putting it on the calendar.

MR. LOCKHART: I understand that. And a lot of background work has been done. The fact that it didn't find its way onto your radar screen -- there were a lot of other things going on. But there has been a lot of work done on this, we have done. Unfortunately, there was no time on the schedule in the Senate.

Q Then why was the White House taken by surprise?

MR. LOCKHART: Taken by surprise by what?

Q That this whole thing blew up and became a political issue--

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, we have made our point all along we thought that it should be scheduled, but it shouldn't be scheduled in a time frame of nine days. As is clear at the end of eight or nine days, that is not sufficient time to consider this in a comprehensive way; therefore, the President believes that the vote should be delayed. It's clear as can be.

Q Why did you agree to an eight-day schedule if you can't get it done in eight days?

MR. LOCKHART: I think there was obviously frustration on the part of CTBT supporters that they couldn't get this moving, that there was no way to get this moving, they couldn't even get it debated. We've made the judgment now that there hasn't been enough time and that we are seeking more time.

Q Right, but in the beginning you thought there would be enough time --

MR. LOCKHART: Listen -- and we have made the judgment that it has not been enough time and we are seeking more time. That is all we're seeking.

Q Right, but why did you agree to this schedule in the first place?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, having -- looking back, we understand that the eight or nine days is clear not enough time. There was nothing else offered. We are asking for more time now.

Q Joe, Senator Biden said today that the President basically recognizes that it's not as a practical matter going to be brought up next year. Is he familiar with the President's thinking on this?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not familiar with Senator Biden's comments.

Q Does the President, even if he doesn't want to rule it out, does he believe that it probably would not --

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President understands that the Senate and the Senate leadership are the sole proprietors of the Senate schedule.

Q Joe, how closely did you coordinate with key members in the Senate when you negotiated the treaty, when the President signed the treaty? Was there any groundwork done then to find out where --

MR. LOCKHART: Of course there was.

Q And what did they tell you at the time?

MR. LOCKHART: We have kept the Senate involved through the process. We have kept -- through the process of negotiating the treaty and when we sent them the treaty and we urged them repeatedly to take this up and deal with it seriously. The process that we were given was the one you've seen.

Q No, what I'm asking you is, was the depth of their opposition clear when you signed the treaty, or has something changed among Republicans since then and you now face a different situation than you did when you negotiated the thing to begin with?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure I know the answer to that.

Q Joe, given what you just said -- the President and the White House has publicly and privately urged them to bring this up -- will the President and the White House continue to do that over the course of the next year, or not?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what decision they're going to make. Ask me the question once they've made a decision.

Q Is the President going to continue to speak out and try to build public support for this even if it's not --

MR. LOCKHART: The President is going to do what he judges is in the best interest of getting the CTBT treaty ratified. And right now I just can't answer the question of what we're going to do until I know what the Senate is going to do.

Q Do you know when President Clinton will travel to Greece and --

MR. LOCKHART: He will -- I think it's widely known that the President will visit Europe in November. The itinerary and the dates and the purpose of that trip we'll be discussing very soon.

Q Joe, hypothetical. If this is true that -- dismissed the government, will you come back out and make a statement about it?

MR. LOCKHART: Will I come back out and make a statement? We'll find some way to react to that.

Q Joe, the Republicans heading up the Financial Services Conference Committee laid out today basically a chairman's mark for that conference. Has the White House had a chance to look at it, and can you give us any sort of initial response?

MR. LOCKHART: I understand that from talking to Mr. Sperling this morning that we were expecting that. But as of an hour or so ago, we hadn't had a chance to look over it. I think clearly we've made our concerns well-known, particularly on the CRA provision. The anticipation of the chairman's mark is that they would take some steps toward meeting our concerns. It's unclear whether those will be adequate.

In any case, it's something we'll want to take a close look at before we respond to the Senator.

Q Joe, you're leaving the impression that you thought that eight days would be enough time, and then realized later that it wasn't --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not leaving that impression.

Q But you always thought that eight days wasn't enough time. I guess I'm going to ask you again, why did you agree to that schedule in the first place?

MR. LOCKHART: We said clearly from the first day that we ought to do this in a way that was comprehensive and could examine, that eight days wasn't enough. But as far as I know, this was a take it or leave it offer.

Q Would you explain to me why it wouldn't be much worse to have the treaty rejected this week than to agree to wait a year? I mean, if it's rejected, it's gone. If you wait a year, there's --

MR. LOCKHART: I think both send the wrong message to the world. And we're very concerned about the message we send to the world. We're very concerned about the message we send to Russia and China, to India and Pakistan, to Iran and Iraq. And neither is something that we believe is in our national security interest.

Q -- going to happen this week is going to send the wrong message -- either option that they're considering.

MR. LOCKHART: No. I think we can delay this and take this up and have a process that the senators can agree on, and we'll see where it goes.

Q But if it's delayed until after 2001, you said that also sends the wrong message.

MR. LOCKHART: I think it sends the message that, no matter what happens in the world, we have given up our leadership position on nonproliferation.

Q Joe, you said a political victory over the President shouldn't be held on the same scale as an important national security issue. In political terms, did the Republicans score a victory by preventing 67 votes from coalescing for this thing? I mean, was it a political victory over the President?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm going to leave those of you who are much more qualified than I am to judge that.

Q Joe, was there any effort, as there has been in past treaties, to assemble past -- former Presidents, to assemble kind of Republican eminences to come out to the Rose Garden, appear with the President to make it --

MR. LOCKHART: I mean, I think there were a number of people from both Republican, Democratic, and academic persuasions who went to the Rose Garden. You've had a number of people support -- in the national security field who have supported this treaty. So I don't think it's a question of the leadership support not being there.

Q What about President Bush? What about President Ford? What about President Carter? Were they contacted? Did you try to get them --

MR. LOCKHART: I think President Carter has stated publicly that he supports it. I don't know where President Ford and President Bush are.

Q -- deny that not delaying this for more than a year, that it has nothing to do with the President's wanting to make this part of his own legacy, or not wanting to back down to Senator Lott, all this speculation, it has nothing to do with that, it's purely national security?

MR. LOCKHART: This is about the President pursuing an important element of our national security. I mean, we're in a situation where we and our experts have made the judgment that we don't have to test and it's, therefore, in our interest to constrain others from testing. That's what this is about.

Q Joe, if, as the President said with Prime Minister Chretien in Ottawa on Friday, that this has become a political issue, how can any amount of discussion turn the tide on this?

MR. LOCKHART: I mean, I think if you take that attitude, nothing ever gets done in this town. We find a way, every year, to pass a budget. We found a way to come together in 1997 on the balanced budget. We found a way to come together in the middle of the campaign in 1996 on welfare reform, minimum wage, Kennedy-Kassebaum. I think where there's a will, there's a way.

Q But given the level of rhetoric and distaste of the White House among some members of the Republican leadership, can you expect that those fences can be mended?

MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I'm sure that the same level of rhetoric and distaste was there in 1996 and 1997. We managed to get things done. People who have been here are nodding approvingly. (Laughter.)

Q He said last week that this year actually resembles 1995 more than some of the other years. Was he trying --

MR. LOCKHART: Who said that, I'm sorry?

Q The President said that last week, that it resembles 1995, when there was a government shutdown, more than some of the other years. Was he trying to express concern that maybe this is headed for a shutdown?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I think he believes there's still plenty of time to work this all out. I mean, 1995, and extended into 1996, was a year where everything sort of broke late in the budget process, whereas in '97 it was relatively early in the budget cycle that we were able to come to broad agreement on the budget. I don't think that the President believes that we're going to face that choice. But there's a lot of work to do between now and the 21st.

Q Joe, what response do you have to a draft report by the House Resource Committee that says that the White House improperly interfered with law enforcement officials in Oregon in 1996 by forbidding them from arresting so-called "eco-terrorists," who were trying to stop some logging?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know anything about it. I'll look into it.

Q Have you reached a decision on the land protection plan to announce tomorrow?

MR. LOCKHART: We will do an event on that tomorrow. My understanding is that some of the larger issues have yet to be decided, and that will be done later today.

Q Joe, this morning the President appeared to lay out three scenarios for breaking the logjam in the appropriations process. And was he more or less saying that if they don't -- if the Republicans don't agree to his tobacco tax proposals, or corporate loophole closures, then the lesser of two evils would be to spend some of the Social Security surplus rather than across-the-board spending --

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President's going to continue to push on things like trying to get polluters to help pay for toxic waste cleanups, and the tobacco tax. I mean, we continue to see ideas from the Republicans that refuse to face up to tough decisions that legislators should have to make, rather than resorting to gimmicks -- or, worse, taxing the working poor and across-the-board tax cuts that will go after, indiscriminately, education programs, environmental programs, law enforcement programs. You know, if they wanted to take that approach, they could have done it in March and saved us all a lot of runaround.

I think the time is short, but there's time to get this done. But what we have to have is some recognition from the Republican leadership that we don't want to resort to gimmicks. We don't have to do that. We don't have to have 13 months. We can do this. We can make the numbers add up in an honest way, and continue to invest in our priorities.

Q -- still think that it's okay to spend the Social Security surplus if both sides agree on that?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President believes that we don't have to do that and we shouldn't do that. But it takes some recognition on the part of the Republicans that there are some tough choices to make.

Q If the Republicans decide to send up across the board spending cuts, will the President veto those?

MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't expect that the President will look favorably on across the board cuts, cuts that will make what now look like about a 9-percent cut in education programs, which you can then start quantifying the effect on kids in this country. You'll lose thousands of border patrol, FBI agents. It will affect all law enforcement agencies of this government, and it will affect the commitment we've made to protect our environment.

I don't think the American public is looking to their leaders in Congress to throw up their hands and say, oh, it's just cut everything by 9 or 10 percent. They want Congress to make the tough choices and invest in our priorities.

Q Realistically --

Q Is that a --

MR. LOCKHART: That's pretty close.

Q Realistically, unless the Republicans have an 11th-hour conversion and decide to embrace a tobacco tax and corporate loophole closers, then isn't the only viable alternative a surplus --

MR. LOCKHART: They've got a couple weeks, not just an hour. If they start praying now, they could be converted by the 21st.

Q With the recent flap of the judicial nominations and this flap over the treaty in some way color the budget talks that must take place in the next week or so?

MR. LOCKHART: They shouldn't, and I think our side has worked with both leaders in the House and the Senate in a constructive way. We have done a lot of constructive work on some of the bills that have been passed and signed. We have raised concerns, particularly on traditional nominations, about the Senate abusing their constitutional authority and not taking seriously advice and consent, and in an openly partisan way, denying a well-qualified justice his seat on the bench because of their own parochial concerns.

But the budget is something that's important. The President wants to get things done and I think he's made very clear that he's willing to work with Republican leaders. But again, I think there has to be some recognition that choices have to be made, that you can't do everything and then direct-score your way out of it.

Q Will there be a readout on the King of Jordan?

MR. LOCKHART: How are we doing that? Okay, we'll make some people available and maybe we'll put out some paper or something. Oh, it's started, sorry. We've been having so much fun, time has flown.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:48 P.M. EDT


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