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Exchange With Reporters on Soviet-United States Relations

May 31, 1991

The President. Let's turn so they can all see.

Q. Is it later yet, sir?

The President. Yes.

Q. All right. Well, then, will you tell us about the Primakov meeting?

The President. Yes. That's all I'll tell you about. I'd rather talk about swimming and these champions that we have here. I take great pride in the accomplishments of my fellow Texans and what they stand for in sports the example they've set for the rest of the country -- not only in competitive sports, but in fitness generally, something that we are trying to emphasize. And I might say to you all that the famous Arnold Schwarzenegger is doing a first-class job. He's taken this Fitness Council thing very seriously and goes all over the country. He's been, I think, in 26 of the States now.

But I do mean it. You all set a wonderful example. Congratulations on the competitive side, too.

Just a word, then, on the Primakov visit. In the first place, it's the kind of thing that is extraordinarily helpful to international relations and to improved relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. This visit comes on the heels of a visit by our experts, among them Ed Hewett right here in the White House, to the Soviet Union where they were very cordially and courteously received by President Gorbachev.

The emphasis on our delegation was primarily agriculture. And I will have an opportunity to get more detail within the next day or two from them as to their recommendations and their views. But they come back leaning forward, and I think that's good. We want to try to be helpful where we can.

The Primakov visit came at the suggestion of President Gorbachev. And what he wanted to do is send this very high-level visit, three distinguished individuals to explain to us the reforms that are being undertaken in the Soviet Union and their commitment in the future to reform. And I was very impressed with Mr. Primakov's presentation. Mr. Yavlinsky fleshed it out a little bit on the economic side. And I told them what I've told the American people, and that is that we want to be helpful, that we will study in detail the presentation they made. They've had an opportunity to go into much more detail, incidentally, with our experts in State and Treasury; here at the White House, Dr. Boskin.

So, I liked what I heard, and we have some decisions ahead of us, and I'm not going to prejudge those decisions. I'm not going to suggest that my mind is made up, nor is the administration position yet firmed up on a wide array of matters with the Soviets. But I can say this to all those interested, not only here but abroad, that this visit by Mr. Primakov was extraordinarily helpful, and we talked about almost every subject that has been on the front pages over the last few days.

So, I'll have more to say about this later on when I get a chance to visit with our experts and see what they feel in terms of some of the detail. In a meeting that lasts 45 minutes you cannot go into the detail that's necessary to reach firm conclusions. But I'd have to say preliminarily that I view this as a very positive, positive meeting.

Q. Secretary Baker seemed to think it didn't go far enough.

The President. Well, I have great respect for Jim Baker's views, and I don't know what that means, that predicate that it didn't go far enough. I mean, I've talked to him, and he didn't use those words to me. I've learned something since I've been in this job, and that is not to comment on what somebody says somebody said because you get in trouble that way.

Q. Mr. President, do you think the Soviets -- does it appear that they're willing to take the severe economic steps and take the pain that's going to be needed for the economic reform the United States expects?

The President. I think that they made clear that they were prepared to do that, and all I'm saying is we need a little more detail -- detail that has, incidentally, been presented to our experts and more of which will be presented to our experts in the time that remains.

So yes, I had the impression that they are undertaking what for them is and what the world will see is radical economic reforms. And when you've had a totally controlled economy and you try to move to a market economy, it's not easy. They need help along the way. But Rita [Rita Beamish, Associated Press], I believe the answer to your question is, yes, they certainly say they're prepared to do that.

Q. How about the economic summit, sir? Would you invite Mr. Gorbachev to the London summit? Have you made up your mind on that?

The President. The matter was obviously discussed, and as I say, I've got a little homework to do now before I make comments on that, definitive comments on that or on grain credits or on MFN. But I'm feeling more positive on a wide array of specific questions. And yet, that isn't to suggest that there are not some big problems out there.

Q. What about a Moscow summit in -- --

The President. -- -- inside, and they're roasting out here, these swimmers.

Q. What about a Moscow summit in June? Did Primakov give any indication that the Soviets were going to move on CFE and allow this summit to take place in June?

The President. We did not, in this meeting, discuss arms control. So that did not come up -- CFE, START, or the Moscow summit. Now, maybe before they leave we'll have more insight into that. But it did not come up in this meeting here, if that's what your question is.

Q. And Moscow summit in June?

The President. No, that summit and the arms, they link, as you know. And that didn't come up. But what's happening on that is, Jim Baker will be dealing with Bessmertnykh in Lisbon on that question. Maybe they already met. And Mr. Gorbachev told me on the phone last week that the way to handle -- that Bessmertnykh would be coming to Lisbon with firm proposals and a firm desire to resolve the difficulties on CFE and certainly to narrow the remaining differences on START. Thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:50 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to the NCAA champion University of Texas men's and women's swim teams; Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports; Special Envoy Yevgeniy Primakov of the Soviet Union; Ed A. Hewett, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and Senior Director of Soviet Affairs; Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev; Grigory Yavlinsky, Director of the Soviet Center for Economic and Political Research; Michael J. Boskin, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers; Secretary of State James A. Baker III; and Aleksandr Bessmertnykh, Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union.

George Bush, Exchange With Reporters on Soviet-United States Relations Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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