WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 -- President Clinton welcomed President-elect George W. Bush to the White House Tuesday, saying the only advice he has for the new president is "just to get a good team and do what you think is right."
Bush said he is "here to listen" and repeatedly thanked Clinton for his hospitality.
While Clinton and Bush avoided discussing substantive issues at a brief photo opportunity in the Oval Office, Clinton acknowledged that he planned to discuss with the president-elect the possibility of a Clinton visit to North Korea in early January, before Bush's inauguration.
The Clinton administration has been trying to negotiate a deal with North Korea that will lead the communist nation to give up its long-range missile program, which the United States sees as a destabilizing force. North Korea has proposed a deal under which it would abandon its own missile development program in exchange for an effort by the United States and its allies to provide the North Koreans with a way to get their communications satellites into space.
As the two posed for pictures in the Oval Office, Clinton said, "We've been talking, our people have, about what we've attempted to do in North Korea. It's interesting; when I had this meeting eight years ago with the president-elect's father, he told me that the biggest problem we were facing was the nuclear program in North Korea, and we were able to build on the work they had done and put an end to that. And now, the big problem there is the missile program. We may have a chance to put an end to it, and if we can, I think we should."
But Clinton added, "This is something that I want to consult with the president-elect and his team about, and we'll see what the facts are and I'll try to do what's best for the country."
Asked whether he opposed a Clinton trip to North Korea, Bush said, "I haven't had a chance to talk to the president yet."
Bush thanked the president for inviting him to the White House and said it is very different from his prior visits when his father was president.
"It's such a huge honor to come as the president elect, and I don't think I really fully realize the full impact until I swear in," Bush said. "I am humbled and honored and I can't thank the president enough for his hospitality. He didn't need to do thisand I'm grateful. I am looking forward to the discussion. I'm here to listen. And the president is kind enough to offer some advice, if he is, I will take it in."
Clinton, who on the campaign trail regularly warned supporters about the dangers of the economic policies proposed by Bush and the Republican Party, expressed confidence about the nation's continued strong economic performance. Bush had said Monday after a meeting with top Congressional leaders, "The potential economic downturn is perhaps more real today than it was a year ago."
"Well, a recession is two quarters in a row of negative growth," Clinton said. "I don't think we're going to have that. But we couldn't keep up 5 percent growth a year, you know, forever," but most top economists "think that growth will be 2.5 percent or better next year, and that'll keep unemployment low."
But Clinton added, "I think there will be things to be managed. He'll have economic challenges, and you ought to give him a chance to meet them, not try to figure it all out in advance"
James Lilley, an analyst for the American Enterprise Institute and a close advisor to Bush on foreign policy told United Press International Tuesday, "On North Korea we have to make it clear that if they develop policies that threaten our security there will be consequences. I'm talking about the missile program, we can develop incentives and disincentives on proliferation."
Lilley, former President George H.W. Bush's assistant secretary of defense for international affairs, did not offer an opinion on whether or not Clinton should travel to North Korea, but said there are a host of tools the United States can use to pressure North Korea. "We can board ships, cut off aid, reduce food subsidies. They are dependent, they are desperate," he said.
Bush and Clinton gave few other clues about the substance of their conversation. Asked if he had questions for Clinton, the president-elect said, "If there are, I'm going to ask it in private, and afterwards not share them with you."
"I think it's going to be a rather broad conversation," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer Tuesday morning. But Fleischer added, "I wouldn't want to prejudge what's going to happenit will be private."
"I expect the primary focus of the meeting to be on national security matters and the importance of some of the outstanding challenges that we're looking at and working on today," White House spokesman Jake Siewert said Monday in a preview of the West Wing drop-by, a longtime transition tradition. "There will obviously be discussions about how we can best facilitate the transition and make sure that they have all the tools they need to complete that transition in as most effective way as possible."