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Informal Exchange With Reporters

November 28, 1989

Meeting With Soviet President Gorbachev

Q. How about the summit, Mr. President?

The President. Well, I'm glad you asked that question.

Q. I mean, it's no longer a get-acquainted -- it has a larger dimension, doesn't it? And you're going with concrete proposals? Or is that an assumption?

The President. Well, I think, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International], when I defined what I intended, I said that no set agenda -- prepared to talk about a wide array of issues -- and that's still exactly the way it's going to be. And there is all kind of hyped speculation on the part of some that it's going to be different. And I'm glad to get that question because we're together, our team, solidly together -- prepared to talk about anything President Gorbachev wants to talk about, and his able team.

But it is not going to be an agreement that surprises our allies. We're part of an alliance, and that alliance is very strong. And it's going to be strong after this meeting, because I'm not going to surprise them. So, the surprise will be -- if you're looking for a surprise -- there won't be a surprise. That may come as a surprise.

Q. No, the question is: You have the caveats that you will inform NATO, but aren't you going with anything in your hand, anything concrete? I mean, are you going to just sit there and listen?

The President. No. We'll have a wide array of areas where we think we can improve relations. I'm very concerned about events in Central America, and I will be urging Mr. Gorbachev to do what they should have done some time ago -- cease support for those who are fueling revolution, exporting it, in this hemisphere.

I had a call today, incidentally, from President Arias of Costa Rica. And I don't think I'm blind-siding Mr. Gorbachev by this, but I will raise with him -- at Arias' request -- the fact that the Soviet Union should stop feeding Fidel Castro, who Mr. Arias tells me is directly responsible for the export of revolution through supporting the FMLN. And that was a direct request from the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

So, of course we're going to raise other subjects ourselves, go there with ideas in my mind, following up on what the Secretary [James A. Baker III] did in a very constructive way in his meeting with Mr. Shevardnadze [Soviet Foreign Minister].

So, the thing I wanted to shoot down, though, is this kind of frantic speculation that there are going to be -- based on crazy -- --

Q. Well, isn't it natural -- --

The President. Yes, it's natural, but I want to gun it down -- --

Q. -- -- for troop cuts now that there's such a change?

The President. We don't want to get out ahead of our allies. And Secretary Cheney is taking a look at defense requirements, but that's a good subject because I am not going to enter into an arms control agreement.

Now, if we want to talk in a general way with the Soviet leaders about our aspirations for how a defense system will look 10 years from now, of course we'll do that -- of course we want to do it. We want to see far less than 15, 17 percent of the gross national product of the Soviet Union spent on defense. And obviously, we'll talk about that, Helen -- it's very important we talk about it.

But that's not what I'm referring to when I talk about euphoric expectations of some deal. There isn't going to be such a deal. It takes two to make a deal.

Q. Sir, is one of the ideas you're carrying with you there -- you just talked about ideas -- the idea of having much deeper cuts in conventional forces than you talked about when you were in Brussels?

The President. As I say, it takes two. We need to get in there and discuss his plans with him and not tie the alliance up by unilateral commitments.

Q. But you're willing to talk about deeper cuts than you've talked about before?

The President. I'm willing to talk about anything. That's what the meeting is about. That's why I viewed it as a meeting where we can discuss anything, without a fixed agenda.

Eastern Europe

Q. Mr. President, the events in Eastern Europe seem to be unfolding largely on their own. As President, do you think that you should have a major role in shaping the developments, or do you think that Europe should take the lead?

The President. I think that the lead is being taken by the peoples in these countries. And I have talked, incidentally, to every single member of NATO. And I don't want to sound self-centered here, but almost every one of those leaders told me: We think the United States is handling this properly. We appreciate the way you're handling these changes, the prudent approach you are taking. And it came over and over again. I got on that phone right there to every single Prime Minister or President in NATO, so I feel that they are behind us in our approach. And I think what's happening in Czechoslovakia, what has happened and will continue to happen in Poland, what's going on in the GDR [German Democratic Republic] and Hungary comes from the people. It doesn't come from somebody halfway across the world dictating how fast change should be or what change should encompass.

We've spelled out in speech after speech a broad perspective of how we would like to see the world evolve -- talked about it months ago, with very little attention, but our allies understood it. They understood it very well when we talk about a Europe whole and free, or when I said in an interview to David Frost: "Yes, that Berlin [wall] will come down in my Presidency."

I think we're handling it about right, and I say that based on the input from our allies. And we are part of an alliance, and that alliance is going to stand. And it is very important that they know that I'm not going to go off and prematurely jump out there and try to grandstand by committing them to something. That's not the way you keep an alliance strong, nor is that the way you effect permanent change, either.

Meeting With Soviet President Gorbachev

Q. Mr. President, you said there won't be a deal in Malta. There have been reports, though, that you would propose to President Gorbachev going below the 275,000 troop ceiling for the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

The President. I've seen the stories about that.

Q. Are they true?

The President. No. I've told you that we don't go there with specific proposals. If we want to discuss something of this nature, we'll discuss it, but that's what I want to shoot down -- there are no arms control proposals. In writing I have made clear to Mr. Gorbachev -- in my own handwriting, so he knows it comes from me, not from the bureaucracy -- that this is not a summit for arms control agreement. We've got a meeting set, a summit set, in which we will, after consultation with our allies, move forward; so I don't think there's any misunderstanding on that.

I read some copy here about what one of these Soviet spokesmen said, and it sounded to me like we're pretty much on the same wavelength. The lead was a little off -- I don't want to tell you whose this was -- but the lead was different than what the spokesman said.

Q. The spokesman said you can't believe Gorbachev would go to a summit just to get acquainted.

The President. The spokesman said they do not expect formal agreement to emerge from shipboard -- the same one when you say he doesn't want to -- --

Q. Right.

The President. Let's see: "Gorbachev is not the sort of man for a simple get-acquainted session."

Q. Yes.

The President. "Ready for serious talks." I'm ready for serious talks, but there is no agenda. I don't think we're apart.

Do you, Jim? You're dealing with them day in and day out.

Secretary Baker. No. No, indeed.

The President. But that's my point. I'm just trying to deflect this kind of comment that somebody writes. I mean, yes, Helen, there's a lot of interest in this meeting. And I can understand why people are speculating, but I'm going to be there -- I'm going to be attending this meeting.

German Reunification

Q. Do you have a reaction to -- --

Q. What about Kohl's [Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany] proposal?

Q. Do you have a reaction to the Kohl proposal for reunification?

The President. I expect to talk to him soon, and I'd prefer to wait to hear from him exactly what it is.

El Salvador

Q. You talked about your concern about events in Central America, Mr. President.

The President. Absolutely.

Q. You've received assurances from the Soviets that they'd cut off the arms supply. Do you feel they -- --

The President. They haven't cut off arms supply to Cuba. And as Mr. Arias said, there is one person most responsible for support of the FMLN trying to deny democracy to Central America, deny democracy to El Salvador, and that is Fidel Castro -- and at the same time he coupled Ortega in with that.

So, we've got to discuss these issues, and I think the Soviets are prepared to talk about it. If they want an agenda item, if they want a statement from the President, I'm not the sort of man that will go there and not raise it. Now you've got a headline.

Q. Well, are you the sort of man who will protest the raiding of churches in Salvador?

The President. I'm the sort of man that will get the facts. And if there's any abuse of the rights of Americans, I will strongly protest it. And if, indeed, Americans are involved in trying to overthrow a government by arms, I will not look with favor on that, either. So, yes, I will look to the human rights and to the fact that any American is accorded proper treatment by the authorities, proper justice. And, yes, I will see to that, but I will not condone trying to overthrow an elected -- freely elected -- certifiably free elections of a government of that nature. I'm not going to do that. We're moving towards democracy in this hemisphere, and this call from Oscar Arias made a big impression on me.

Thank you all. See you in Malta.

Note: The exchange began at 12:10 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. In his remarks, the President referred to his September 5 interview with television journalist David Frost.

George Bush, Informal Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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