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Informal Exchange With Representatives of Le Figaro, Together With Written Responses to Questions Submitted by the Newspaper

December 22, 1983


Q. The question—[inaudible]—this is the question I want to ask you: What definition does the President give for Reaganism to the Americans, the foreigners, and for the French?

The President. Well, I am not addicted to giving it labels, but what we've tried to do here—and I think we have been reasonably successful—is, first of all, to bring about an economic recovery. I think it is taking place. I think it not only benefits our country, but I think our country, just as it can export recession and economic troubles, a recovery here, I think, can benefit the world, certainly our long-time, good friend, France, in helping economic recovery in those places.

When we came here we felt that the United States had retreated from a position of strength that I think is important to, certainly, the free world, the Western World. I believe that we've succeeded in restoring our strength to the place that we have a real deterrent. We've had the longest period of peace in Europe now that we've had for many years among the major nations, and we're going to continue on that line. And the goal, internationally, is—and must be—peace. And we're dedicated to that.

We're going to continue with our efforts to bring about some realistic reduction, particularly nuclear weapons. And I believe that the course that we've followed so far has made that more possible.

There have been 19 efforts since World War II to persuade the Soviets to join the reduction of weapons. They have resisted every time—until this time. And even though there is a temporary lull, which I think is part of the bargaining process, they have actually proposed themselves reducing the number of their weapons, which is the first time they have ever done that. So, we're going to keep pressing for that.

I think that's—I hope that's an answer to your question.

Q. Mr. President, I met you 3 years ago, immediately after the inauguration ceremonies. You haven't changed, and you seem even younger. Do you feel in shape to start again for a new 4 years? [Laughter]

The President. Well, I'm going to be making an announcement about my decision January 29th as to what it will be.

Let me say that my physical condition won't even have to be a consideration in whatever I decide. No, I feel fine. I don't think I've ever felt better.

Q. Mr. President, can I ask a small question concerning what you answered to the first question? What do you think of the high frontier? It's a great problem, and I think you're going to present that project in order to be ready for this space war.

The President. Well, without restricting myself to that particular approach, I have asked for a complete study and for research into trying to develop a defensive weapon against the nuclear weapons. But again, I'm proposing that in the interest of hopefully being able to eliminate those weapons. If we could succeed and bring about a realistic defensive weapon against them, then my next step would be to inform the Soviet Union that we had this and now we were prepared to join them in eliminating all such weapons in the world.

Q. Mr. President, thank you very much. You've been generous with your time, and I hope it's near the end of another hard day.

The President. Well, listen, I'm so grateful for these, I'm going to take them up and look at the pictures. [Laughter]

You know, with your having to interpret for me 1 is something of a reflection on my early education, because when I was a schoolboy, I studied French for a couple of years. And then, 1949—the first time I ever set foot in your country—found myself with a couple, a married couple. The three of us were driving down across France in the Mediterranean. And I discovered that even though they were English and just 20 miles away, they had never been to France. They did not know one word of French. And I was going to be the only thing between us and silence. [Laughter]

1 An interpreter was present to translate the questions for the President and to translate his responses into French.

We were coming to a town for lunch. And I started trying to remember—that was a long time ago—so I could remember some of what I'd learned in my French study. So, we came to the town, and I mentally figured how I'm going to find—where do we have lunch? So, it was a gendarme. And I rolled down the window of the car, and I said: "Pardon, monsieur, j'ai grand faim. 0u est le meilleur cafe?" And he told me where was the best cafe.

And my friend that was driving says: "What did he say?" And I said, "I haven't the slightest idea." [Laughter] I memorized the questions, never the answers. [Laughter]
Thank you all very much.

Q. Thank you very much, Mr. President.
The President. And thank you for these.

Q. Mr. President, thanks very much.

Q. Thank you very much, good luck, and Merry Christmas, Mr. President.

The President. Thank you. Merry Christmas to you.

Q. Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

Soviet Military Budget

Q. The Romans used to say: "If you want peace, prepare war." How do you explain the fact that the U.S.S.R., a poor country, has such great military powers, whereas the wealthy United States remains so far back?

The President. No one is more conscious than I that the Soviet Union devotes more than twice as much of its economic resources to the military as the U.S. does, and has been doing so over the past two decades despite relative restraint on the part of the West. Other sectors of the Soviet economy, particularly those devoted to consumer production, suffer as a result.

If the Soviet people had a voice in the matter, the Soviet defense budget would probably be a lot smaller. But the people have no voice in the allocation of national resources. We in the West face the more demanding task of maintaining adequate military strength with the consent of our free peoples.

I would add that, while the continuing Soviet military buildup is a course of concern and requires a substantial U.S. and allied response, talk of the United States being "far back" suggests an alarming state of military weakness in the West that the facts do not warrant. While more still needs to be done, we and our allies have made important strides in the last few years toward restoring the military balance.

NATO Nuclear and Conventional Forces

Q. For example, General Rogers told me recently that NATO had acquired 400 of the latest tanks, whereas the Russian Army had got 1,000 that very same year. Is the free world incapable of arming itself?.

The President. I am confident that the Atlantic alliance has the resources necessary to maintain an effective deterrent if they wish. The Warsaw Pact's continuing buildup of both nuclear and conventional forces is of major concern to the alliance. We are responding. The deployment of INF missiles is part of our coordinated response to that threat. The modernization of America's strategic deterrent is another element of our response.

The improvement of NATO's conventional forces is extremely important. In the face of the Soviet Union's relentless military buildup, all of us must do more to strengthen our conventional forces. America's conventional force modernization program is in high gear and involves equipment modernization and improvements in organization and training. America cannot do the job alone, and it is very important for each alliance partner to make every effort to strengthen their own forces.

East- West Arms Balance

Q. You have begun construction of MX super powerful rockets, but the Russians are also coming out with rockets as powerful. How are you planning to catch up with the U.S.S.R.'s military power or even talking of leaving them behind?
The President. Our policy is to create a more stable international balance and, through negotiations with the Soviets, reduce the numbers of arms, especially nuclear weapons, on both sides. Now, for many years, throughout the 1970's, the Soviets pursued a massive arms buildup at a time when the United States was exercising restraint. It became clear that the only way to get the Soviets to exercise restraint was to demonstrate that we would restore the balance. The increases in military procurement which this administration has undertaken are meant to restore and preserve an East-West arms balance as we pursue the other half of our policy—to seek deep reductions of arms on both sides through negotiations.

Soviet Compliance With Agreements

Q. You are always talking about negotiating seriously with the Russians whilst we have constant evidence of their breaking off treaties: SALT agreements, Helsinki agreements, United Nations Charter (i.e., Afghanistan's invasion), so why speak of negotiations with such a country?

The President. You are quite right in singling out the issue of Soviet compliance with agreements as a negotiating problem for the West. We have been concerned by evidence of Soviet actions that are inconsistent with existing agreements. One notable example of this is the use of chemical and biological weapons in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan in clear violation of existing international treaties.

Therefore, we insist that any new agreements contain strong verification procedures to ensure Soviet compliance, and we have looked at some existing agreements to see if their verification provisions can be strengthened. Agreements without adequate procedures for verifying compliance are dangerous because they invite violations. But negotiations leading to verifiable agreements are essential if we are to build a safer and more stable world.

Trade With the Soviets

Q. Retaliation measures against Moscow have been thought of here and there. You have in this line criticized the Franco-Soviet deal on gas, but at the same time you are continuing to feed the Soviet Union by selling it excess wheat. Is it of such great importance to deal with the Russians?

The President. Our decision to negotiate a new grain agreement with the U.S.S.R. was based on our view that grain sales can best take place under the framework of a long-term agreement without cheap credit and subsidies. From past experience, we knew that if we did not sell grain to the Soviets, others would quickly take our place in the market. When we negotiated the new agreement, I made clear that this was an economic move and not a foreign policy gesture.

Regarding purchases of Soviet natural gas, the allies have agreed that our bilateral economic relations with the U.S.S.R. must be consistent with broad allied security concerns. This includes avoiding undue dependence on any one source of natural gas.

President's Foreign Policy Advisers

Q. American experts are often making wise international policy analysis but then they make capital mistakes: 20 years in Vietnam in a war finally lost; betraying the Shah of Persia to lose Iran; doing absolutely nothing to prevent the Russian invasion of Angola and further, the invasion of Afghanistan and then not even helping Afghan resistance. Do you consider yourself wisely advised?

The President. Well, I haven't been advised to do any of the things you mention, if that's what you mean!

I wouldn't agree with many of your characterizations—which, in any case, refer to events which occurred before this administration. There have obviously been mistakes as well as successes in the history of American foreign policy. And this is true of Soviet and even French foreign policies as well.

But I consider myself well-advised in terms of both interpretation of world events and recommendations for our foreign policy. The best you can do is try to get the best advice you can, listen carefully to many different views, make your decision and implement it with care, and keep testing your judgment to see if you need to make adjustments. This is what we've tried to do. I believe it's working pretty well.

U.S. Commitment to NATO

Q. In February 1981 you declared to Figaro magazine that the American people would consider any attack on Europe as an attack on the United States. But since, we have often heard from across the Atlantic statements according to which America was not to risk in any way its survival in war against Russia just to help European troublemakers. What is your opinion on this point today?

The President. My opinion remains completely unchanged: The United States would consider an attack on its NATO allies as an attack on itself. This is a commitment which is enshrined in the North Atlantic Treaty. It is a commitment which the United States has reiterated many times and enjoys broad support in the U.S. Congress and among the American people. We share common values, a common heritage, and parallel dreams. Europe's security is indivisible from our own. I can hardly think of another aspect of U.S. foreign policy on which there is broader consensus than our commitment to defend our allies against attack.

Q. I will insist, if I may, Europe is becoming more and more "pinkish", i.e., more and more socialist or more and more socio-communist. Don't you think that a new American President would be inclined to leave Europeans to themselves in order to look towards more promising areas such as Asia, Latin America, and let Russia paddle in Europe?

The President. I can only speak for myself. But in my view, there is no possibility of America's reducing its ties to Western Europe or its commitment to its NATO allies, let alone abandoning its European friends. We know that our security and that of Europe are bound together. Our friendships and alliances in other parts of the world are also very important—to our European friends as well as to ourselves. These ties are not in any way incompatible with our relationship with Europe.

Central America

Q. In this trend of mind, is it correct to think that a number of European countries are dealing directly against you in Central America by supporting Marxist revolution?

The President. I don't think that's quite the problem. What we have in Central America is a Communist offensive that takes advantage of the longstanding inequities in the region. Many people saw only the local problems and not the Communist involvement. Over the last couple of years things have gotten a lot clearer. I think most everyone now realizes that we have a big task ahead—to foster democracy and to help resolve basic social and economic problems. We must help build democratic systems that are strong enough to meet their peoples' aspirations and to defend themselves. On this fundamental approach there is ample room for U.S. and European cooperation with the countries of Central America.


Q. How are you going to deal with the Middle East question? Don't you consider it immoral to allow tiny Lebanon to be destroyed by foreign forces with impunity at the same time G.I.'s and French paras get killed, apparently for nothing?

The President. The policy objectives of this administration have remained consistent. It is a policy we share with the Government of Lebanon. We seek the reestablishment of a stable, representative, and fully sovereign Lebanese Government, committed to national reconciliation and which can control all Lebanese territory. We also seek arrangements that will assure the security of Israel's northern border. If Lebanon is to have a chance, all external forces must leave.

The multinational force is in Lebanon because its presence has been requested by the Lebanese Government to support that government's efforts to consolidate that authority. The MNF helps provide the support and confidence the Government of Lebanon needs in moving forward to strengthen the fragile cease-fire, to achieve political reconciliation, and to secure the withdrawal of foreign forces.

Persian Gulf

Q. The creation of a rapid intervention force able to jump immediately into the Persian Gulf in the case of any threat to the Western World's petro supplies has been announced. What is the case exactly today?

The President. We are concerned that the longer the Iran-Iraq war lasts, the greater the danger of escalation and the greater the threat to commercial shipping and to the neighboring Gulf States.

We support U.N. Security Council Resolution 540, which calls for cease-fire in the Gulf and urges all states, especially the two belligerents, to avoid action which would threaten freedom of navigation in the international waters of the Persian Gulf. We want a cease-fire and a negotiated settlement.

U.S. Economy

Q. Now, concerning economy, you have completely straightened the economic situation in your country. How did you manage to do so?

The President. It is too soon to say we have completely straightened out the economic situation in the U.S. But we have made significant strides. We anticipate that economic recovery in the U.S. will continue to benefit our major trading partners, particularly in Europe.

Our success in the economic field rests on three principles—monetary discipline, spending discipline, and greater reliance on market forces for economic adjustment. We are encouraged that other industrial countries have followed our example and are now following policies aimed at sustained, noninflationary growth.

U.S. Dollar

Q. You are of course aware that the dollar at the rate of 8.30 francs weighs heavily upon your allies economies. How do you plan to get rid of this difficulty?

The President. The strong dollar is, in part, a function of capital inflows which reflect the role of the United States as a safe haven for investment. We do not think that a high dollar necessarily poses difficulties for Europe. In fact, it can be argued that the locomotive effect of U.S. economic growth and the competitive advantage enjoyed by European exporters because of the high U.S. dollar are positive gains for Europe. While our trading partners are unhappy with the current strength of the dollar, we expect they would like it even less if the value of the dollar were to fall sharply.

Economic Recovery Program

Q. When you first took your Presidency, American media were most skeptical on your plans for economic recovery. Today you have won your bet on this whilst most statesmen have lost theirs.

The President. Our plans have worked because by giving priority to the reduction of inflation, and by reducing the burdens of overregulation and excessive taxation we have enabled the underlying natural vigor of our economy to reassert itself. I might add that other countries following a similar strategy have generally been most successful in reestablishing the preconditions for recovery. The strength of the U.S. recovery is now spreading abroad to those countries.

Q. You have succeeded in reducing taxes and in starting off your country's economy. Doesn't this seem contradictory?

The President. This is not at all contradictory-far from it. Reduction in the burdens of taxation has been, as I have said, a key element in our successful strategy for recovery. Excessive taxation distorts market signals and weakens the economic incentives on which our continued prosperity must depend.

Q. You have reduced the States' part as much as possible in order to favor initiatives and private effort and you have in this line also cut down social restraints. Do you not fear that having done so you might be hindering social justice?

The President. The economic welfare of all our people must ultimately stem not from government programs but from the wealth created by a vigorous private sector. What is more just than allowing individuals to benefit from their work and talent? Nothing is more unfair than the tax imposed by inflation, which hits those least able to protect themselves. Our policies reducing inflation and favoring growth are in fact the most efficient—and the only sustainable—way of achieving widespread economic opportunity and prosperity.
Western European Socialist Governments

Q. Now, concerning politics, don't you think West European Socialist countries help Communist undermining?

The President. Many of our staunchest allies have democratic Socialist governments: France is one of them. Among friends there can be differences in economic philosophy, but this is not so important when we share basic values such as respect for democracy, individual liberties, and human dignity.


Q. Do you believe in the motto: "rather red than dead?" Is pacifism a real danger to the free world or is it only a flash in the pan?

The President. I think a better slogan would be "better alive and free." Our strength lies in our democratic principles and in the liberties which characterize our societies. When a free people decides to do what is necessary to stay secure, then no adversary can prevail. So, we will be neither dead nor red. In fact, it is freedom which is infectious and democracy which is the wave of the future. The tide of history is a freedom tide. Pacifism is not a danger to the free world, but it may be a danger to those that cannot tolerate dissidence. We in the free world can accommodate many points of view, because we know that the common sense of our people will support policies necessary to defend the liberties we all enjoy.

Note: The President met with the representatives from Le Figaro at 5:06 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. Among those attending the, meeting were Robert Lacontre, editor in chief, and Alain Griotteray, chief editorial commentator, Le Figaro.

The transcript of the remarks at the meeting and the written questions and answers were released by the Office of the Press Secretary on January 7.

Ronald Reagan, Informal Exchange With Representatives of Le Figaro, Together With Written Responses to Questions Submitted by the Newspaper Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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