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Exchange With Reporters Aboard Air Force One

August 20, 1990

Persian Gulf Crisis

Q. -- -- turn up the heat today by, in fact, calling these Americans held against their will hostages. What's the strategy behind that?

The President. I don't think it was any turning up the heat. It's a recognition of the fact that now demands are being made for the release of people. And that, I think, is the definition of hostages.

Q. But there was some reluctance on the part of the administration earlier because now it will require some kind of response, would it not, from Saddam Hussein?

The President. Well, it's only in the last couple of days that these demands have been made -- obviously, demands that are totally unsatisfactory to most countries in the world -- demands that these multilateral forces and U.S. forces, of course, included, get out and return to the status of Saddam Hussein's having invaded Kuwait. And that can't stand. So, he linked a demand to it. But it's a semantical thing. The situation is about the same as it was a few days ago.

Q. Are we prepared to stop the tankers, actually stop the tankers that -- --

The President. Well, just watch. You just watch and see. Please don't ask hypothetical questions because there's a lot going on there, and we're just going to -- --

Q. We've been shadowing them, though, for a day.

The President. You said it.

Lee Atwater

Q. Mr. President, let me switch gears. How is Lee Atwater? What do you hear?

The President. Well, I haven't heard anything in the last few days. I've been concerned, but I haven't heard anything in the last few days about him. He's still in the hospital, so I've got to get a report from our doctor here.

Presidential Campaigning

Q. Mr. President, can I ask you, on the front, is there anything incongruous about going and doing political fundraisers and bashing Democrats at a time of national crisis like this? Are you at all uneasy about it?

The President. I don't feel I've bashed Democrats too much. But life goes on, so I'm not uneasy about going to political fundraisers, no. I have to do that. Reelections are coming up in a couple of weeks, and I want to help Republicans. I want to help people that look at these problems the way I do.

Relations With the Press

Q. So, you're back talking to us again now? The silent period is over or -- --

The President. How long did the silent period last? What silent period? Which one?

Persian Gulf Crisis

Q. Mr. President, in your speech, when you talked about personal sacrifice, were you making a specific reference to those Americans being detained? Are you concerned, sir, that this may require a sacrifice on their part, that we may in fact lose some of these -- --

The President. I'm just going to let the words stand just exactly for what they say here. I'm not going to go beyond what I've said on it. There's no point in heightening all this. We'll just leave it there.

Defense Budget

Q. On the budget talks, are Pentagon cuts now off the table, but taxes still on the table?

The President. No, as I said, Pentagon cuts are not. But reckless Pentagon cuts are -- we just can't tolerate them. And I think that most Members of Congress will return and understand this now.

Persian Gulf Crisis

Q. When did you decide to call them hostages? Last night we were told that you did not regard them as hostages.

The President. Well, I think that when we had a meeting there last night, and then this morning I decided: Look, as long as these demands are being made, why, it's semantical. Why not just say that?

Q. What about them asking us to close our Embassies?

The President. What?

Q. In 5 days they want all the outside Embassies closed -- foreign -- --

The President. For all over, yes. That's unacceptable.

Q. Calling up Reserves?

Q. Are we going to stay?

The President. Well, I'll have something to say on that later on.

Q. Today? Later on today?

Q. Are you trying to get more of an international and United Nations leadership -- --

The President. We're in the United Nations right now, and the United Nations has performed very, very well. And it's important because that keeps world opinion strongly with us. I found out today -- talking to Margaret Thatcher reiterated that.

Thank you all.

Note: The exchange took place approximately at noon en route from Andrews Air Force Base, MD, to Providence, RI. In his remarks, President Bush referred to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom; and H. Lee Atwater, chairman of the Republican National Committee, who was undergoing treatment for cancer. 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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