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Interview With Arab Journalist Nasser Eddin Nashashibi

June 11, 1985

Middle East Peace Efforts

Q. Why is the U.S. Government hesitant to initiate a revival of a Middle East peace plan?

The President. My initiative, which I outlined in my speech of September 1, 1982, is still on the table, and we continue to believe it represents the most promising proposal for progress toward peace yet presented. We have not hesitated to urge the parties to the conflict to work on ways to move the peace process forward. There is now momentum within the region, and we will do what is appropriate to sustain it, but we must recognize that peace can only be achieved when the parties are willing to negotiate directly.

Q. How do you evaluate the recent visit to Washington of King Hussein of Jordan?

The President. I think we understand each other very well, and I admire the King's courage and sincerity. The recent steps by King Hussein and others in the region have given a new impetus to the process of peacemaking. King Hussein in Washington made clear his desire and that of his Palestinian partners for a peaceful settlement through negotiations, with a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation on one side and Israel on the other, in a supportive international context. The King seeks a peaceful settlement on the basis of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. The visit afforded us an opportunity to reaffirm our view that a just and durable peace must address the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people as well as the security of all states in the region.

The King confirmed our joint commitment to move promptly "this year," as he said, toward direct negotiations among the parties. We hope to be able to help the parties build upon the outcome of these meetings. I am convinced events are moving in the right direction.

Q. Would a process of mixing the Fahd "Fez" plan, the Reagan initiative, the recent resolution between Jordan and the PLO, the Resolution 242, lead to a new peace effort, taking into consideration the Israeli reservations?

The President. I think a new and increasingly realistic attitude toward peace is developing. It is based on a number of contributions, including the ones you have cited. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 remains the essential foundation for negotiations. I am not going to predict the final outcome, but I am confident that when peace is achieved you will be able to look back and say many of these contributions played an important role.

It is also important to recognize that my own proposals were an outline of the positions the U.S. would support in negotiations. We have not asked others to subscribe to our positions. Each of the parties is free to bring its own views to the table, and we would expect them to do so. The important thing is to begin direct negotiations since it is through the process of such give and take that differences will be worked out and a just and lasting peace can be achieved.

Q. Now that we are heading towards negotiations between the Arabs and Israel, what do you expect the Arabs and Israelis to do before they sit down and negotiate?

The President. We are trying to keep away from anything that sounds like we are imposing solutions to the problems here. All that we are trying to do is help get them together. It seems that solutions are going to involve one side giving up territory in return for defensible borders where peace is guaranteed. The Arab States must recognize that Israel does have the right to exist as a nation and that peace will provide security for the Arabs as well.

Q. And what do you hope, Mr. President, that the Arabs will do in their turn from now until the beginning of the coming negotiations?

The President. I hope that the Arabs will show more approval and support of King Hussein, instead of leaving him alone by himself.

Q. This point is very important, Mr. President.

The President. King Hussein is entitled to know that the Arabs are supporting him in what he is trying to do.

Q. Is there anything you wish from the Israelis in these days?

The President. The Israelis, as Mr. Peres said, are looking forward to sitting down to negotiate.

Q. Recent visits by King Fahd and President Mubarak have left them feeling a lack of interest by the Reagan administration to seek a comprehensive solution to the problems of the Middle East. Does this lack of interest, coupled with the devastation of Lebanon, not warrant a superpower such as the U.S. to get hold of all parties in the Middle East conflict and dictate to them a solution which is just for all concerned?

The President. I can't agree with your statement. I do not believe King Fahd or President Mubarak perceive a lack of interest in Middle East peace on the part of the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth. The United States has a deep and lasting interest in seeing a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East, and we have consistently communicated that fact to all our friends in the region.

I do not believe, however, that a settlement imposed by any outside power is possible or even desired by the parties. The reality is that peace can only be achieved through a willingness of the parties to sit down and negotiate their differences. My September 1 initiative outlined the positions the U.S. would support in such negotiations, but a real peace can only be achieved by the parties themselves through direct negotiation.

Q. How long will the U.S. tolerate the loss of innocent lives in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Iran, in Israel, and in the West Bank? Is this worth the anti-American feelings that we are witnessing in this area?

The President. The United States is deeply concerned about the suffering of the peoples in the Middle East brought about through the many conflicts existing in that region. The effort to seek solutions to those problems has remained among the highest priorities of the past eight administrations, and it is worth noting that the cost in American lives, effort, and resources has also been high. We will not flag in this effort, but the reality remains that solutions will only be found when the parties to the conflicts have made their own decision to seek a peaceful way to resolve their differences. Negotiations bring results. Egypt and Israel have clearly demonstrated this, and we are actively working to support the process of negotiations in resolving other disputes in the region.

It is important to remember that Americans and the peoples of the Middle East share a great reservoir of common interests and values. This is a reservoir which is being added to every day through trade relations, scholarly activities, and joint scientific endeavors. The participation of a Saudi astronaut in the launching of ARABSAT is an event which illustrates the great Arab scientific and mathematical strides made long before the New World was discovered. And it will remind us all how closely our futures are linked.

U.S. Assistance for Sudan

Q. We read everywhere that Sudan could be the breadbasket of the world and not only provide food for the area and Egypt but also for Ethiopia and the starving masses there. Can't the U.S. Government pull together all its resources and potentialities to airlift individuals and equipment into the Sudan and work side by side with the locals to save the situation?

The President. As you know, this year Sudan, like its neighbors, is in the grip of the worst drought in a hundred years. The failure of the rains has resulted in a huge deficit of grains and millions of hungry people. The U.S. has responded to this catastrophe by shipping more than i million tons of food. This assistance involves a massive effort to overcome distances and transportation problems. I understand that one out of six Sudanese is dependent on U.S. food aid. Sudan has assumed an additional burden by welcoming hundreds of thousands of drought victims fleeing famine and war in neighboring countries.

The U.S. has responded generously to various appeals issued by the Sudanese Government and the United Nations to assist these refugees, which now number more than 1 million. Despite the ravages of drought, we fully recognize Sudan's long-term agricultural potential. Our development assistance emphasizes the promotion of technology and institutions to make better use of the many millions of arable acres which now lie idle. Along with other donors and international agencies, we are turning to the problem of rehabilitation of agriculture from the drought. This will require a great effort by Sudan, and we stand ready to help.

Soviet role in the Middle East

Q. Are you not fearful of the Soviets regaining their position and influence in the Middle East to offset the West?

The President. I believe the Soviet Union's influence in the Middle East should be commensurate with its willingness to play a constructive role in solving the problems of the region. But the Soviets have been anything but constructive, a fact often noted by the leaders of the region.

U.S. Policy in the Mediterranean

Q. We understand that the proximity of Central and South America are important to the United States. Do you not give equal importance to the Mediterranean, especially Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus?

The President. Both the Western Hemisphere and the Mediterranean are critical areas for the security of the United States. Turkey and Greece are important partners in NATO and are essential to preserving stability in that strategic part of the world. We also have a close and friendly relationship with the Government of Cyprus.

U. S.-Morocco Relations

Q. Why hasn't the Reagan administration reacted to the new relationship between Libya and Morocco?

The President. The Government of Morocco and we have had a number of intense and thorough discussions regarding the effect of the Morocco-Libyan treaty of union on U.S.-Moroccan relations. Morocco realizes our opposition to the treaty, but we are satisfied that the treaty has not been implemented in such a way as to affect our bilateral relations with Morocco. We will, however, continue to monitor the implementation.

The U.S. values highly our relations with Morocco, and we expect our relationship to remain strong. King Hassan has reiterated the reasons for this treaty, indicating that it is directed at Libya's previous support for the Polisario. Our view of the reprehensible nature of the Libyan regime is well known. We will not alter our position with regard to Libya unless and until Colonel Qadhafi's support for international terrorism and his subversion of governments ceases.

Q. What is the solution to the Sahara war between Morocco and the Polisario?

The President. The United States supports efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement through a cease-fire and subsequent referendum. The U.S. believes that a political solution is the only way to end the conflict.

U.S. Policy in the Middle East

Q. Couldn't the Reagan administration look at the area as four distinct groups: (1) North African countries; (2) Sudan and Egypt; (3) the Arabian Peninsula; and (4) the Fertile Crescent, which includes Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and, hopefully, Palestine? Looking from a geopolitical point of view, perhaps the problems could be easily tackled rather than considering the entire region as one big problem. Maybe four smaller problems could be handled more easily than one major problem?

The President. There is no easy answer to your question. We see the Middle East as a greatly diverse region with many commonalities. We deal with it as a region, but also note the individual countries have separate problems and interests. There are clearly some instances of interaction between separate events and problems, but not in all cases. Depending on the issue, we approach subjects both bilaterally and multilaterally.

U.S.-Libya Relations

Q. How do you define—in common terms—the present U.S.-Libyan relationship, if any?

The President. Our relationship is minimal. In fact, we have no official representation in Libya, and we will not have any until Libya changes its behavior. Again, we are prepared to improve our relationship with Libya if and only if there is a complete and lasting reversal of Qadhafi's support for international terrorism and his subversion of governments.

Middle East Peace Efforts

Q. Former administrations came very close, at least, to an attempt at resolving the Middle East dilemma. Now that you are secure in office, could you not bring the conflicting groups to your ranch at Santa Barbara as Carter did at Camp David?

The President. Look, the real need is to get negotiations underway. Location is not the problem.

Q. We have seen that you were able to bring—in the most diplomatic fashion and against all odds—the Soviets to the table. I cannot believe that you cannot do the same with the Middle East today. Why?

The President. The parallel with arms negotiations is interesting. I sincerely wish that the parties to the conflict in the Middle East would sit down together at a table and negotiate, and I believe that we are moving in that direction. The most important point in your parallel is that both we and the Soviets agreed that arms control negotiations should be face to face. We know that we don't agree in our positions, and we are not sure of the outcome, but we are convinced of the value in trying to work toward an agreement by talking directly. The need in the Middle East is for the parties to decide for themselves that they wish to pursue a just and lasting peace through direct negotiations.

Q. Why do you oppose the participation of the Soviets in an international conference for the Middle East, as already suggested by many Arab countries and by the Soviet Union?

The President. This is really two separate questions. The first is: Why do we feel an international conference will not contribute to a peaceful settlement? Our view is that, as a practical matter, an international conference will result only in political theater and would not contribute to solutions. Only direct negotiations can achieve real results. We understand Jordan's need for a supportive international context in which to begin direct negotiations. We will continue our discussions with both Jordan and Israel in order to ascertain how such a context can best be provided.

The second question relates to the willingness of the Soviets to contribute to solutions to problems in the Middle East. We have indicated on any number of occasions that we would welcome a constructive approach by the Soviet Union to the problems of the region. We have also made clear what kind of activities we believe would be constructive. So far, however, their approach has been anything but helpful, and we see no indications their approach will change.

U.S. -Soviet Relations

Q. Do you think that the new leadership in the Soviet Union would be more forthcoming in cooperating with the U.S. toward world peace and security, especially in Africa and the Middle East?

The President. That is a question for Mr. Gorbachev to answer. For our part, we believe that our two countries should seek to contribute to the peaceful resolution of disputes in crucial regions rather than making them more dangerous. We also believe that we should seek to avoid confrontations over these issues. That is why I proposed periodic consultations between our respective experts on some of these problems. Our hope is that such talks can help prevent misunderstandings that might result in confrontation. We have had such discussions on southern Africa and the Middle East. While these talks have been useful, they have not yet revealed any greater willingness on the Soviets' part to promote rather than impede peaceful solutions.

Iran-Iraq War

Q. How do you see the end of the Iraq-Iran war? Once again, are we to believe that those regional wars are necessary for Western economies as we were taught in our economics classes in Western universities?

The President. Any contention that regional wars somehow serve Western economic interests in Marxist nonsense having no role in U.S. foreign policy.

We have a compelling humanitarian interest in the earliest end to the bloodshed. Moreover, the security and economic interests of the U.S., our Western allies, and friends in the region also would be best served by an immediate end to the war that leaves both countries independent and able to continue national development.

Middle East and NATO

Q. Do you not think that the continuation of disturbance and wars in the Middle East affects the safety of the back door of the NATO alliance?

The President. Yes, I do, and this is an issue of great concern. The world cannot ignore the consequences of instability in any part of the globe, and we must all join together in the effort to achieve solutions to regional problems.

Persian Gulf

Q. Are you satisfied with the safety of the Gulf States from any external danger?

The President. No, I am not satisfied with the current situation. As long as the Iran-Iraq war continues, and as long as Iran pursues its policy of supporting terrorism and declines to resume a responsible role in the family of nations, the stability and security of the Gulf States will be at risk. The United States has a vital interest in maintaining freedom of navigation in the Gulf and stability in the region generally, and we have worked with our friends in the area, including Saudi Arabia and the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, to support their legitimate defensive needs and to encourage their collective security efforts. These countries are now in a better position to defend, with their own resources, their sovereignty and territorial integrity against potential adversaries, but more remains to be done. We agree with the Gulf States that the only way to end the Iran-Iraq war is through peaceful negotiations, and we have supported their efforts in the U.N. and elsewhere to bring this about. We also support the position of Kuwait and other Gulf States that the only way to eradicate terrorism is to refuse to give in to demands and provocations and to work with other concerned members of the international community to find ways to end this scourge once and for all.

Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan

Q. Do you anticipate any solutions for the situation in Afghanistan?

The President. The war in Afghanistan is the result of the presence of over 115,000 Soviet troops who are trying to subjugate the Afghan people. There is only one solution to the problem—the complete withdrawal of Soviet troops. A negotiated political settlement remains the goal of U.S. policy.

The Soviet forces at their present levels cannot defeat the Afghan resistance, but the resistance cannot hope to expel the Soviet Army from Afghanistan. What is needed is to move from the battlefield to the negotiating table. We fully support the Government of Pakistan's strong resistance to cross-border intimidation.

We are encouraged that the United Nations has announced another round of indirect or proximity talks on Afghanistan for late June in Geneva. It is our hope that progress can be made there toward a settlement although the recent increase in Soviet military activity does not lead to optimism. In contacts with the Soviets at various levels, we have stressed our support for a negotiated political settlement. We will certainly continue to make the point in our future discussions with Soviet officials.

Middle East Peace Efforts

Q. Forgetting your official position as leader of the free world, and frankly between us as human beings, how would you go about resolving the Middle East situation?

The President. Forgetting my position as President of the United States is not something I am permitted to do under the U.S. Constitution. Nevertheless, I do believe that the positions I outlined on September 1, 1982, represent the most viable approach to taking the next step to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is important to note, however, that I gave them as the positions the U.S. would support in negotiations. We do not ask others to subscribe to them in advance; in fact, we fully expect others to bring their own positions to the table. That is what negotiations are all about—reconciling opposing positions. The important thing is to get those negotiations underway and for the parties to work out their differences directly in a peaceful fashion.

Q. Allow me to thank you again, Mr. President, as a great man of peace. We are all transit passengers in this life, and what counts is the good memory and the historical judgment afterwards. History will judge you as a great crusader for peace and justice. God bless you.

The President. I promise we shall keep trying. I am pleased to have you here. God bless you, too.

Note: A tape was not available for verification of the content of this interview, which was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on June 26.

Ronald Reagan, Interview With Arab Journalist Nasser Eddin Nashashibi Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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