George Bush photo

Exchange With Reporters Aboard Air Force One

June 17, 1991

The President. We received a second letter from President Gorbachev, and it relates to the arms control situation, the START differences. We view it as a positive response. Obviously, when you're dealing with these details on START, when you're dealing with highly technical issues, it's hard to categorize letters of this nature. But the tone was good, the determination to reach agreement was positive. And we're looking very closely at the details, which I think would be most inappropriate to discuss here. We're down to some -- as I mentioned the other day coming out here -- some very fine points on arms control.

So, that's two letters in a very short period of time -- the first, very positive tone on the grain credits. We're looking forward to a visit this week, I think it is, from Mr. Yeltsin when he comes here. And this last, the second letter on START, I view it as very important.

I know your next question will be, well, when will we have a summit meeting to initial something or sign something on START? I just don't know the answer to that. General Scowcroft can maybe follow up on it. But we don't have the answer. I'm still holding the dates at the end of June and the end of July, and I'm hoping that we can move as quickly as possible to conclude it. But I have to say this is very positive.

Soviet-U.S. Relations

Q. Did the letter discuss any kind of timetable on wrapping all this up?

The President. I don't think so. It didn't discuss -- you mean on dates? No. But what it did is to respond to some of our suggestions on START and to build on some suggestions that they had previously made. But I'd say it's a narrowing of differences, and that's what we're -- we're in agreement here where it's 96 percent, or, you know, close to it, concluded. I remember Moiseyev sitting in the Oval Office saying, "This much separates us," just this much. And so, I think maybe it's a little less today. But we've got to take a look at it.

Q. Is this a response to -- --

The President. I wouldn't say breakthrough, but I think it's progress.

Q. Is it a response to the ideas that were put forth in Lisbon?

The President. Yes.

Q. And do you think that Baker and Bessmertnykh are going to be able to kind of tie this up in Berlin?

The President. We keep going in increments. We're going to try. They're going to be in touch now. I think our U.S. policy -- we've got to hammer out maybe a detail or two in light of this letter. But yes, that's exactly what we want to do, is to get it done. And I'd have to say I'm a little more optimistic about it.

Q. How close?

The President. Well, I can't say. As I said, Moiseyev said, "this far." Now we'll move it down to "that far." I think people agree on that. I don't think that they think there's a wide difference. What I do think is that some of the differences that remain are fairly difficult.

Q. -- -- still about a summit this summer?

The President. Well, I'm talking that way, and I think President Gorbachev would like that. I think it's in our interest. We've got lots of subjects to talk about in addition to this. But this one, obviously, is kind of a sine qua non. We can't go forward -- that means -- [laughter] -- something that's important, without which -- but, no, it's progress. I don't want to overstate it. I don't want to get hopes up. But yes, on terms of holding dates and trying to get a summit meeting, I really want to have it. I mean, we'll see President Gorbachev in London, notwithstanding. But there are a lot of bilateral issues that we need to talk about. And following the Yeltsin visit, there may be even more. So, we'll keep plugging away on the thing.

Q. There was some talk of taking some of the final technical details like the really nitty-gritty on telemetry and kind of kicking that down the road, leaving that to a joint commission or something like that.

The President. I don't think we can duck the -- well, here's the expert. I don't think we can duck the -- --

Q. Do you want all the specific language wrapped up and in the treaty?

The President. Well no, we'll have a meeting without having every "t" crossed and every "i" dotted on a treaty. But on a question of this importance that you mentioned, encryption of data, we've got to make progress. I mean, that's one of the remaining issues, frankly, and I have not gotten from our experts -- one of them who is standing next to me -- exactly how much progress we may have made there. But we can't duck that. We don't want to mislead the United States Congress, and there's no point in suggesting that there's not a problem when there is. But that's one that we have to make real progress on, and they know it.

Q. Is there still a problem there?

The President. Well, we're going to wait and see when we get the analysis, but I'm afraid we haven't solved it all, let me just put it that way.

Q. -- -- dot every "i" and cross every "t", isn't that how you got in trouble with CFE?

The President. No. We crossed every "t" and signed a treaty. Then we had a little problem on interpretation. That's very different. What I'm saying is we've got to narrow down these major issues to get them to agreement. But there's a step then between that and writing out an X-number-of-page treaty. And that's going to be highly complicated drafting, but the drafters will have these problems resolved before they start. So, that's what I was referring to.

South Africa

Q. In South Africa today there was another -- --

Q. On registration.

The President. Well, we're going to analyze it carefully. The law, our law, says lift the sanctions when these four out of five conditions are complied with. So, we have to -- --

Q. Is there still a problem with political prisoners? Is that -- --

The President. Let Brent respond to that. [Laughter]

Note: The exchange took place in the morning while the President was en route from Los Angeles, CA, to Grand Junction, CO. The following persons were referred to: President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union; Boris Yeltsin, President of the Republic of Russia; Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; Mikhail Moiseyev, Chief of the General Staff of the Soviet Union; Secretary of State James A. Baker III; and Soviet Foreign Minister Aleksandr Bessmertnykh. The final questions referred to the elimination by the South African Government of the law which classified all South Africans by race at birth. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this exchange.

George Bush, Exchange With Reporters Aboard Air Force One Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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