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Interview With American and Foreign Journalists at the Williamsburg Economic Summit Conference in Virginia

May 31, 1983

Williamsburg Economic Summit

Q. Mr. President, you had said before this summit that you wanted it structured in this way because you'd have a frank discussion with other leaders.

The President. Yeah.

Q. Did you learn anything from that? Did your views change in any way because of what was said to you here in that format?

The President. Well, actually, not in any major way, because you would be amazed at how much our thinking was alike on so many of the things discussed.

But in connection with the question also on structure, the difference was that I've been—the summits that I've been to before, each head of state would make a statement and that would be it then. Whether they agreed, disagreed or not, they had made their statement. Well, the difference was, here, you'd open up a subject—let us say that the subject had to do with trade, we'd open up the subject, and everyone could express their views and so forth. And then we kept going and discussing to see what we could all agree on as a consensus of what we would do with this in the area of this subject that would further benefit not only us but the world.

Q. Do you feel that you persuaded anybody to some view that they didn't have before they came here?

The President. Not really. The whole idea of convergence, that the answer is that you can't have one nation recover without the others, that this is a world recession, that what we do affects each other, and that, therefore, we must have more surveillance, more constant communication, particularly at our ministerial level, on the progress that we're all making. And this included the developing countries also, that they cannot be out here on the other side of a door, that their good economic situation, their prosperity is vital to us as ours is to them. And, as I say, there was great agreement on this.

But what then did happen was you had the thoughts of others that contributed to come into a consensus as to how we were going to go about this, what we were going to do. And remember that the idea of the subjects wasn't just chaos of anyone coming with what they thought. A lot of this was based on the fact that at the ministerial level, OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development], the NATO summit, in the discussions on the international monetary funds and all, we were well prepared in advance of knowing what was on the minds of each other.

Q. Mr. President, if I may, this was a summit designed so that those of you who met privately could, on several occasions, could have a frank exchange, candid exchange of views—candid, personal. And yet you're saying that there were diverse views in here. And yet you're saying in spite of all of that, nobody's views changed very much

The President. Well, in that as I interpreted the question there, was there any sudden situation where you had just diametrically opposed ideas, say, a way to bring about prosperity. Well, no, everyone recognized that—for example, in our own problems of deficits and interest rates and the bad effect that they have had on the economy—there was general agreement on all of these things. And then the thing was how, for example—well, it's in that statement that came out, differing than some conferences where the statement was written in advance and before you'd had the discussions. That statement was the result of the discussions.

Q. Let me give you a for instance. You said in your personal addendum to the statement that the world now recognizes there should be no quick fixes which as you mentioned—

The President. Yes.

Q. in the United States. But I know you were told by some of the leaders in there that despite the best expected performance of the economy, unemployment is going to remain high for some time to come; recession may even deepen in some countries. And there are people who are concerned about the political and social upheaval that this can cause and, therefore, might favor some kind of quick fix, at least to avert the kind of crises the United States faces. Did that discussion not temper your views about at least some quick fixes some way?

The President. No, as a matter of fact, one of the participants referred to quick fixes as "quack medicine" and that we've proven by experience they don't work. They only worsen the situation. So—and there is great willingness on the part of all of them, that they realized that they had to face up to some social changes in order to get control of excessive spending. And, as I say, the document attests that—the statement to the outcome.

We didn't leave any subject up in the air and say, well, you know, "We're differing on this; let's move on to something else." No. We stayed until we'd worked out what we all felt was a way to go on the particular subject. And there was no vote taken. There were no winners or losers. There wasn't any case in which five said, well—to two, "You're out-voted and this is what we're going to say." No. Before we settled on it, all seven were in agreement.

Q. Mr. President, your administration wasn't—it's well known that your administration wasn't enthusiastic about an international conference—monetary conference. Did you modify your views during the summit?

The President. The funny thing was in the conversations, it isn't so much a modifying of views as it is a learning of what the views really were. For example, the principal proponent of such a conference opened by making it plain that he had not meant in any way that we go back 40 years and follow a pattern of something that was adopted 40 years ago—the world has changed—but that it was something to be looked at. Well, we ourselves had come with the idea that just as out of the Versailles summit—and while many people have been quick to say that nothing good came out of that, a lot did. We have had since the Versailles summit a relationship at the ministerial level on several subjects that has been ongoing and that has made great progress with regard to trade, the East-West situation, all of these things.

And so, the idea that these same ministers will now, as they go forward in this surveillance—mutual surveillance to make sure that we're not getting off the track in some country or other that might set back for all of us the recovery, that this they will look at very closely and see if such a conference would be a help in what we're trying to do. Now, it's going to depend on what they all decide and what they recommend.

Q. Mr. President, the dollar is reaching record highs against other currencies. Do you think that is a positive development for world economy and for the American recovery?

The President. There's no question about the value of the dollar, that it results from our success with reducing inflation. And, of course, we want to go on reducing inflation. But we also want to see, as the others progress, that this levels off, because, remember, the high dollar is not an unmitigated blessing for us. We will have a trade deficit this year of probably $60 billion simply because the high value of the dollar has priced us out of many foreign markets.

We'd like to see a better balance. But we believe the better balance will come through convergence. And so, here again, out of this has come the decision that we're going to monitor each other closely on how we're progressing on this.

Q. May I go to the political side a moment, Mr. President?

The President. Well, could I—wait just one second, because I interrupted him a moment ago. And, then, we'll take yours.

Central America

Q. Mr. President, you indicated in an interview last week that the Soviets were stepping up their aid to Nicaragua. I wondered whether you see the possibility of a superpower confrontation developing in Central America, and whether increased Soviet aid requires an increased response from the United States.

Deputy Press Secretary Speakes. It's a little off the summit, but if you want to answer it, Mr. President

The President. Well, it is a little off the summit. I did, in one session, simply explain as well as I could the entire situation in Central America. And many of them admitted that they had not been clear on some of what was going on.

There has been a step-up in Soviet activity as to bringing in supplies. But we still believe that our plan of economic aid and such military assistance as we think is needed there in the line of supplies—training, mainly—should go forward. But again, call attention to the fact that our economic aid is 3 to 1 in value over the military aid. We want, indeed, a political settlement if it can be reached.

Q. Did you ask your allies for help on that question—I mean, did you ask them to—I mean—

The President. No. I just—on this one, this was just one where I gave them a report and—

Q. Mr. President—

Mr. Speakes. One second. The weather, Mr. President, gives us about 5 more minutes here. We have to go. So, let's take these three over here—

East-West Relations

Q. Mr. President, from a very general point of view, now that you have heard the opinion of all the other leaders at the same time, what is your feeling on the future of relations with Russia? Is it going to be an ever-increasing tension and hostility, or there will be a point where there will be a thaw? I'm not asking about your hopes, but about your gut feeling of what actually is going to happen.

The President. If there is an increase of tension, it will be the Soviet Union that causes it. Let me just quickly—because I know time is important—point something out.

Sitting at that table in this summit were the representatives, the heads of state, of nations that not too many years ago were deeply engaged in a hatred-filled war with each other. And here we were, sitting as closely as we're sitting, with a really warm, personal friendship that has developed among us, but more than that, with a friendship between our peoples. And, what is the cause of disarray in the world—if we had been able to do this with our erstwhile enemies, doesn't it sort of follow that we are the ones who want a peaceful world? I don't mean, when I say, "we," the United States, I mean all of us—the people who were around that table—that we are the ones who are striving for peace and have been successful in healing those terrible, deep wounds. But that one country that was an ally in that great war is the cause of tension in the world, and that the things that we had to think about with regard to our own national security, all dealt with our national security vis-a-vis that particular country.

Now, over and over again in talking trade we stressed that we don't want a trade war with the Soviet Union. We are going to-we've been forced into having to view our relationship with our own security in mind. But I couldn't help but think several times, why in the world isn't that other so-called superpower—why didn't they have someone sitting at that table able to get along with the rest of us?

Q. But do you see better or worse relations? If you were to predict today, is it better or worse relations with the Soviet Union?

The President. I see better, because I think all of us together have a more realistic view of them. Now, this may not be visible in the rhetoric in the immediate future, because there's an awful lot of rhetoric that is delivered for home consumption.

Q. They've accused you of wrecking detente, for example.

The President. What's that?

Q. They've accused you of wrecking detente with the INF statement.

The President. Well, detente, as it existed, was only a cover under which the Soviet Union built up the greatest military power in the world. I don't think we need that kind of a detente. But all of us, we're ready at any time that they want to make it plain by deed, not word, that they want to join in the same things that are of concern to all of us—the betterment of life for our peoples.

Situation in Lebanon

Q. Mr. President, you spent some time in the last couple of evenings talking about the Middle East as well, I understand, with your partners. And, most recently, there has been an increasing tension between both Syrian and Israeli forces in Lebanon right now. You have an agreement between Lebanon and Israel for a troop withdrawal, but the Syrians are not cooperating. Really, without their cooperation, you have very little. What is the next step? And can you tell me, with the increased tensions, have you been in contact with the Soviet Union to get the Syrians to cool it?

The President. Well, this is hardly a summit meeting thing, but let me say we're continuing what we've been doing all the time, and that is trying to persuade the Syrians, who had made a statement in the very beginning of all these talks that they would withdraw when the others did. And we're talking to their Arab friends and allies about this, I think making some progress. So, this does not require any new course.

And as to whether there were several meetings, there was just one meeting in which I summed up and gave my—well, no, I didn't. I'm sorry. I was thinking there—I was talking about something else.

No, on the Middle East, we did have one session and a dinner session, and actually it was more of a—there was no quarrel with what we're doing. It was total support. But there was more a report on some of those who had been closer to the situation back over the years, our European neighbors, giving their views on some of the things that were at issue there and some of the problems.

Mr. Speakes. We'd better go right now.

Staff member. Mr. President, there's a major problem if we don't

The President. What? We'll see. Real quick. There's two, there. Yes.

Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Negotiations

Q. Just in light of the INF declaration, can you envision an outcome, an interim solution in Geneva which would delay the stationing of the missiles in Europe?

The President. I don't think you can predict on anything there without getting into the dangerous field of discussing strategy. Frankly, my own opinion is that the negotiations won't really get down to brass tacks until they see that we are going forward with the scheduled deployment.

Q. Thank you, sir.

Q. Does that mean afterward—

The President. What?

Q. That you won't get a—that the negotiations won't go forward until after you deploy?

The President. Oh, no. We're going to try. The meetings are on now. We're going to try to negotiate. I am just anticipating from the Soviet side. They have based their entire propaganda campaign, everything they've been doing, on seeking to prevent the beginning deployment. And we have a schedule of deployment, the request of our NATO allies, and we're going to follow that—

Mr. Gergen. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Note: The interview began at 11:47 a.m. in Providence Hall. Participants in the interview were Lou Cannon of the Washington Post, Saul Friedman of Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Jerry Watson of the Chicago Sun-Times, John Hall of the Media General News Service, Dean Reynolds of Cable News Network (CNN), Robert Sole of Le Monde, Mauro Lucentini of Il Giornale, and Carola Kaps of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

David R. Gergen is Assistant to the President for Communications.

Ronald Reagan, Interview With American and Foreign Journalists at the Williamsburg Economic Summit Conference in Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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