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Informal Exchange With Reporters

October 31, 1988

Hostages in Lebanon

Q. Mr. President, hostage Terry Anderson says that on several occasions, sir, the U.S. Government quashed a release of the hostages as they were about to be let out.

The President. That is absolutely not true, but let me point something out. Terry Anderson-in that terrible confinement at the hands of those barbarians—any information he has, has to have come from them. There is no contact with the outside world. We've been doing everything we can do in the interest of our hostages, and the very simple answer to that is for those people to let them go. And we're going to continue our efforts until we get them back. But there's never been any interference, nor have we ever been negotiating any more than we would with any other kind of kidnaper on a ransom type of basis.

Q. Well, are they trying to influence the election, sir?

The President. What?

Q. Are they trying to influence the election, do you think?

The President. You'd have to ask them. I've— [laughter] —I can't fathom their minds.

Q. Mr. President? Mr. President?

The President.—concerned about the whales.

Q. Mr. President?

The President. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. There's—

Iran Arms and Contra Aid Controversy

Q. Mr. President, Terry Anderson also says, Mr. President, that both you and George Bush dealt with the terrorists in Iran-contra and TWA. Was George Bush involved in any negotiations in those two incidents?

The President. Nor was I, because we were never doing anything of that kind. When the covert operation—which was not with Iran or Iran's Government but with people who were looking forward to a day when there could be a decent government in Iran—that we were talking to—and it had to be covert, or they would have been executed instantly.

Q. Was George Bush involved in the TWA hijacking talks, Mr. President?

The President. George has been a part of everything that we've accomplished. I have always felt that a Vice President should be an executive vice president, as in a corporation, and not somebody sitting over on the sidelines waiting for me to have a relapse. [Laughter] But he's been a part of that, but in a constructive way, and that's why he's my choice in this coming election.

Hostages in Lebanon

Q. Is that a yes then, Mr. President? Is that a yes then, Mr. President?

Q. I'll out-shout you this time, Mick. Can you tell us, please, Mr. President, under what circumstances you assume the tape was made of Terry Anderson? Under what circumstances did he make that tape?

The President. Well, there have been instances before in which we have seen on the tape and film of hostages, in various circumstances, some message; and some of them have been able in their reading to indicate to those who are familiar with them that they were reading something they were forced to read and it did not represent their thinking. So, you have to remember, these men are in the closest type of confinement by people that—as I said, the only way to describe them-they're barbarians. And you have to recognize that no hostage is taking something upon himself. They're telling him what to do. What was—

Iran Arms and Contra Aid Controversy

Q. You said that the Vice President was involved in all your decisions on the Irancontra affair, which wound up in a scandal—

The President. Well, what I'm—

Q.—against your administration?

The President. Well, there was no scandal. That scandal, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International], I'm afraid, has been artificially created by a media that I cannot understand. Because the minute the news broke and the operation was exposed and we found out that there was more than the purchase price for the missiles that had been delivered—

Q. Shouldn't you have known that when it happened from your White House?

The President. But we didn't know it. And I am still asking, after 10 months of a congressional investigation. I still don't know who delivered the weapons and where the money came from. I'm—

Q. Why? Why is that possible?

Hostages in Lebanon

Q. Mr. President, what hope do you think there is now for winning the freedom of Terry Anderson and the other hostages who have been kidnaped?

The President. I'm not going to give up hope for any of our hostages that are held. That's just too unthinkable. And as I say, we have kept every door open that we can, and the one thing we cannot do is negotiate with the kidnapers on a sort of ransom idea because that just encourages more kidnaping and more hostage taking.

Q. Mr. President, what do you think about Terry's remark that the United States cared more about saving the whales than saving the hostages?

The President. I don't think that was Terry speaking. I think he had a script that was given to him. When I was given a script I always read the lines. [Laughter]

Note: The exchange began at 11:04 a.m. in the International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, CA.

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

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