Ladies and gentlemen:
I have the very great honor to present in this room today five of the most courageous women I have had the privilege to meet in my life.
Mrs. Nixon and I have met with 26 women, of which these were a part, representing approximately 1,500 women, mothers and wives of American servicemen who are missing in Vietnam and who are or may be prisoners of war. Some of these men have been prisoners or missing for as long as 5 years, most of them 2 to 3 years.
Insofar as the treatment of prisoners is concerned, it would probably not be inaccurate to say that the record in this war is one of the most unconscionable in the history of warfare. And there have been, of course, some very bad examples in past wars, as we know.
What I have assured these very courageous women is that, first, in reaching a settlement of the war, that an integral part of any settlement that is agreed to must be a settlement which is satisfactory on the prisoner issue and, second, that clearly apart from reaching an overall settlement of the war that this Government will do everything that it possibly can to separate out the prisoner issue and have it handled as it should be, as a separate issue on a humane basis.
Finally, I would simply add that while we all know that there is disagreement in this country about the war in Vietnam and while there is dissent about it on several points, that on this issue, the treatment of prisoners of war, that there can be and there should be no disagreement.
The American people, I am sure, are unanimous in expressing their sympathy to these women, to their children, and also in supporting their Government's attempt to get the Government of North Vietnam and the VC to respond to the many initiatives which we have undertaken to get this issue separated out and progress made on it prior to the time that we reach a complete settlement of the war.
Thank you very much, and I understand they will be here to answer other questions if you have them.