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Exchange of Remarks With Reporters at Leonardo da Vinci Airport About the Released American Hostages.

September 28, 1970

REPORTER. Mr. President, could you tell us what happened in there, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. We had a very moving meeting with the hostages. I say "moving" because their spirit was so good. They have been through a very difficult experience, as we all know, because from day to day they didn't know whether the next day they would be alive.

I told them that we, of course, had somewhat of a difficult experience at home, because all of us, those of us with responsibility in Government, wanted to do something. We were naturally terribly frustrated because we realized that if we did the wrong thing, it would cost them their lives.

And so our problem was how could we help these people without hurting them.

We had to show power and, at the same time, we had to demonstrate restraint. They told me that that was exactly the right policy, because they said that every day they had the feeling that their captors might do something irrational in the event that we triggered it, or somebody else triggered it.

This, of course, bore out the wisdom of our policy, and I am glad that we did show the proper restraint during this period while, at the same time, being very firm in our diplomacy and firm in the demonstration of our military strength in the event that that became necessary in that part of the world.

Another thing that impressed me was the fact that this group of Americans, like so many groups of Americans, when they come under duress, they show their best. Whether Americans--we say this about our country, I am sure the Minister1 would say it about his country-whether they are in a lifeboat at sea, whether they are lost on a mountain, or whether they are hostages in a situation like this, they tend to pull together, not to lose their nerve, to keep up their spirit.

1Italian Prime Minister Emilio Colombo.

And they obviously had to select someone to be somewhat of their spokesman. A young girl who had grown up in Sudan and who could speak Arabic--she happened to be of the Jewish faith, but she could also speak Arabic--became their intermediary and their spokesman. But they worked this all out in a very democratic way within their group.

And throughout they kept up their spirit and an indication of that was that as I started to leave, they all held their thumbs up and they said, "Thumbs up." That is the way we felt and that is the way we think the United States should feel at this time.

So, now, I think, as a result of what the hostages have done, we can say, 'Thumbs up."

I would add one thing. I told them that I realized that they had been through a terribly difficult experience, that all of us sympathized with what they had been through, but that they would look back on this experience some day and say they would never want to go through it again, but that they wouldn't have missed it. And I said, too, that as a result of what they had been through, that I felt that the possibility of reducing hijackings in the future had been substantially increased, because the international community was outraged by these incidents.

Now we have mobilized not only guards on our planes, but we are developing facilities throughout the world--I am sending Secretary Volpe on a tour of European airports on this trip--better facilities for the purpose of seeing that people who might be potential hijackers do not get on planes with weapons or with explosive material.

So, all in all, I would say that while this experience was one that was very difficult for the hostages--it posed problems for us in the United States--it was one in which those few Americans came through it with flying colors. We are very proud of them.

Note: The President spoke with reporters at approximately 1:15 p.m. outside the released American hostages' plane, Fiumicino, Italy.

Richard Nixon, Exchange of Remarks With Reporters at Leonardo da Vinci Airport About the Released American Hostages. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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