George Bush photo

Interview With Foreign Journalists

April 16, 1990

The President. This is timely in one sense because we're in the process of what appears to be organized consultations with Canada, France, and the U.K. I'm not sure that 6 months ago we envisioned this. But I am very pleased these meetings are taking place because I've tried hard as President to stay in close touch with our alliance leaders; and talks, given the rapidity of change in Eastern Europe, seemed very timely.

So, we've had two-thirds down, and one to go. And as far as the United States goes and as far as I go, I've been very pleased with the consultations -- diplomacy, we'd say, frank and full. But they are very good exchanges, and I've learned from both. And I hope both [Canadian] Prime Minister Mulroney and [British] Prime Minister Thatcher have a better feel for the U.S. stance on important alliance matters.

But with no further ado, I'd be glad to take questions.

Lithuanian Independence

Q. Mr. President, one of the things that you've been talking to your coleaders about is, of course, Lithuania. Your position so far has been to suggest that the Lithuanian crisis can be resolved by dialog. I just wonder whether you think that we're approaching the moment when Western nations will have to give more direct assistance to Lithuania, particularly if there's an oil embargo.

The President. I think that's a little hypothetical, because I have been in contact with the Soviet leaders -- indeed, had an opportunity to talk to Mr. Shevardnadze [Soviet Foreign Minister] right here, in that chair over there -- and also have been in contact with Gorbachev. And I feel comfortable that they know the U.S. position; and I've felt that, having expressed our interest in self-determination and the peaceful evolution of all of this, that we're positioned about right. I don't think there's any question as to where I feel and, indeed, after consultation with our allies, where they feel.

But I think it's a little premature to -- or perhaps a little hypothetical to suggest escalation of what we might do. I want to be sure anything we do is productive. There's been dramatic change in the world, and I don't want to inadvertently take some action that would set it back. And yet I don't want to be seen as one who is not interested in the peaceful change and in the self-determination for Lithuania.

We're in a position of never having recognized the incorporation of Lithuania, and indeed Estonia and Latvia, into the Soviet Union. So, that gives us a little bit of a standing that others might not have in terms of how we view this problem. But I just don't want to go into what we might do. I can understand the great interests in other countries and, certainly, in this country. But right now I'd like to, having expressed our concerns to the Soviets, watch the evolution here.

France's Role in NATO

Q. Mr. President, you are going to meet Mr. Mitterrand [President of France] next Thursday in Key Largo. And there has been in the French press a report about some misunderstanding in France and the U.S. about the NATO future role. Do you share any of those views, and it is true that your administration is pushing for France to get more involved in the alliance?

The President. Look, the main thing is that France and the United States be in total synchronization on alliance problems. France has a special historical position regarding the NATO alliance. But one of the reasons for having this meeting is to narrow any differences that might exist. I go down to Key Largo not feeling there are big differences with Mr. Mitterrand in this question. But I want to get his views. I want to tell him ours, and if there are differences, see if we can narrow them.

But it is my conviction that NATO will have a perhaps even more important role to play in the stability of Europe -- East and West -- projecting stability for East and Western Europe. And I would think that that might be shared by President Mitterrand, but I'll be talking to him about this question because there have been reports that there was a little drift and a little separation. And the best way to find that out is simply to sit and talk, as we will do there.

I can say this: that I've found my direct talks with him extraordinarily helpful in the past, and I expect this will be the same way. One of the key subjects will be security and arrangements for Europe after the unification of Germany. And that obviously will entail discussing our view for an expanded role for NATO.

His view -- it doesn't exclude that but has a keen interest in a role for CSCE. And we see that. We've also talked about expanded participation in the EC, and I will try to elaborate on that with Mr. Mitterrand. So, I know we're not egregiously apart at all. But if there are these differences, get them out on the table and talk about them.

Quebec Independence

Q. Mr. President, you say you're concerned about what might happen in Lithuania. There is also a strong independence movement in Quebec. And recently declassified State Department documents show that during the last peak of separatist sentiment in Quebec about a dozen years ago the U.S. was indeed very concerned about the prospect of a separate Quebec. Can you tell me what your concerns are about that prospect and what it could mean for U.S.-Canada relations and Quebec-U.S. relations?

The President. My experience is to stay out of a matter that's bubbling around up there in Canada right now, courageously sit on the sidelines, and say this: that we have always enjoyed the most cordial relations with a unified Canada. And that came up at a press conference we had up in Canada the other day there at the ball park. And I took the same view: that this is not a point at which the United States ought to involve itself in the internal affairs of Canada.

United Kingdom-U.S. Relations

Q. Mr. President, the British Labour Party, the opposition Labour Party, is very, very far ahead in the opinion polls in Britain at the moment. It's had an avowedly unilateralist past, and your predecessor seemed to treat it with a great deal of suspicion. I wonder if you now think that these people are people you can do business with and people you can talk to, and whether you have this sort of special relationship that you would like to have with the British Government?

The President. May I say this: that I haven't given any thought to it all because Margaret Thatcher is the head of the Government and the Prime Minister and we are in close consultation and negotiation with her.

So, I really would leave it there, because without suggesting any hostility toward opposition parties or towards -- in this sense, since you asked about Labour -- but I just, again, think it would be inappropriate to publicly speculate on what the U.S. might do. We do have a special relationship, and it'll continue, I'm sure. And these talks just reinforce that, these talks that I had with Prime Minister Thatcher. So, excuse me if I don't want to get into the bubbling caldron of domestic politics inside the U.K. right now.

Japan-U.S. Relations

Q. Mr. President, you seem to have had very substantial success in your relationship with Japan in the last couple of months. The SII [Structural Impediments Initiative negotiations] seems to have been moving along quite happily. I wonder whether that's a vindication of 3 years' worth of pressure from the Hill for a tough stance on trade issues.

The President. There is no question that the Hill, and indeed a lot of America, have wanted to see action taken by the Japanese. I would like to give credit to our negotiators, who are in the administrative executive branch of the Government, and also to Prime Minister Kaifu, who has taken the position that I think some of his critics here and abroad felt he wouldn't take, a position that we view quite forthcoming on SII and on specific categories of trade.

So, the jury is still out in terms of how the Hill will look at what has happened, but I've been very pleased so far that most of the leaders on Capitol Hill seem to feel that under Kaifu's leadership Japan has really moved on these important items.

But I guess the answer is, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Also, there are certain undertakings that we make under SII. And Congress ought not to simply criticize Japan, even though I will readily concede there's been room for criticism there, and so stated. But I think we, the executive branch and the legislative branch, ought to work together now to fulfill our undertakings on investment, savings, education, budget deficits. It's a two-way street. But so far, I've been quite pleased. And -- back to your question -- I don't know whether it's Hill pressure, because for years Japanese leaders would come here, and hear the message from the Hill, go back; and we didn't have demonstrable progress. So, I think, in fairness, the Hill pressure has been relatively constant.

We ought to take a look at what's different. And what's different is the way in which Prime Minister Kaifu, and indeed some of the other leaders there, have approached this problem.


Q. Mr. President, just to go back to the NATO issue, could you envision now the French being supreme commander of NATO?

The President. We're very happy with the present arrangements. You see, I think it's true in France and I know it's true in other countries: People view the U.S. presence as stabilizing, as having played a significant role in preserving a peace that, in terms of European history, is a long one. And I don't want to have this coming out in a chauvinistic sense, but I think the American people have to feel, one, the American presence is wanted. And part of the command structure, I think, contributes to the view that we have an important role to play and the Europeans want us to have an important role to play.

So, I've given no thought to any substantive changes in all of this. But if anybody has a different view, I'd be willing to hear it. But this is why I'm happy with the existing structure.

North American Trade Agreement

Q. Mr. President, your officials and Mexican officials have said they are ready to pursue, or at least consider, the idea of a free trade agreement. When you were in Toronto last week, you did say that you thought Canada should continue to show interest in trade with Mexico. Do you think it's a good idea for Canada to pursue a separate deal with Mexico; or should Canada, Mexico, and the United States sit down together and pursue a three-way deal, just as the European Community is working together?

The President. Are you talking about a free trade agreement?

Q. A free trade agreement.

The President. I think it's premature for a three-way free trade agreement. I expect Mexico feels that way; I believe that Canada feels that way. I talked in the campaign about a North American accord and doing more together. But the sensitivities on this question in Mexico are such that we ought to let President Salinas set the pace here. And so, it is a sensitive subject there, just as some fallout from the free trade agreement with Canada and the U.S. is sensitive.

So, I think it's better to crawl before you walk, walk before you run. And the next step is to sit and talk with the President of Mexico, if this is still on his agenda, when he comes up here. And I say that because I don't want to be out saying what our meeting is going to be about. But you're right that there has been public speculation on this; indeed, different officials in our administration and Mexico have talked about it. But because of its sensitivity, I prefer to let Mexico speak for itself, and simply say I think we need to move forward in a bilateral sense, and Canada might want to move forward in a bilateral sense -- that's up to them, though -- before we talk about a North American accord meeting, a three-way free trade agreement.

British and French Nuclear Capabilities

Q. Mr. President, when you were in Bermuda, did you discuss with Mrs. Thatcher the status of the Trident, which as you know the Labour Party would like to include very quickly in arms control negotiations? Do you expect to discuss the French independent deterrent with Mr. Mitterrand?

The President. We touched only peripherally on that. Prime Minister Thatcher knows that she doesn't have to sell me on the French and British deterrence and the way in which they view their own nuclear capability. So, it wasn't what I would call a significant agenda item because I don't think we have any differences.

Brent [Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs], you were in those. Is that about the way it was? I don't think it was, unless there were some other discussions that went on not in our group.

Mr. Scowcroft. No, there wasn't an extended discussion because there aren't really any points at issue.

The President. Yes, we didn't have it as a formal agenda item.

U.S. Role in Europe

Q. Mr. President, did you like the phrase, "first among equals," as a description of your vision of America's place in the network of democratic alliances?

The President. Well, I think many of our allies look to us as the first among equals, given the blessing of the size of our gross national product and given our historic commitment to the security of others. But I don't know that -- when I go sit down at a NATO meeting, I don't go there seeking a kind of recognition on that point. But I think the realities of the world are such that many look to us as essential -- in this instance -- the security of Europe. Certainly, we've got to be dealt with on trade matters.

And I am one who does not believe some of these elitist theories about the decline of America. I don't believe it; I don't think the American people believe it; I don't believe our allies believe it.

German Reunification

Q. Mr. President, do you think that the new Germany we've seen to come out in -- one day is going to make and to cause any major problems -- we being the EEC?

The President. No. Within these what?

Q. The EEC, the European Economic Community. There are some worries, you know.

The President. Yes, there are some concerns there about it, but I expect they can be sorted out. But the concept of a unified Germany does not cause me worries. I know there are perhaps nuances of difference on this one, but Germany has been a strong democracy here for a long time now -- a long time. And the NATO position has been: Unification is okay. We don't worry about that at all.

But we want to stay involved as the United States. We want to be there as one who enthusiastically would deal with a unified Germany. And after this unity, there will be problems that we probably haven't even considered. But we're not opposed to it, and we don't worry about it.

Mr. Fitzwater. We're going to have to break. If you've got a final question or two.

Q. Well, I -- --

The President. In the name of egalite, fraternite.

Q. -- -- stay on the sidelines just on a followup.

The President. Go ahead. Try.

Quebec Independence

Q. You have made clear your -- --

The President. You'll find I'm immovable -- --

Q. -- -- preference for a strong, unified Canada. Why? What difference does it make whether the United States is dealing with a separate Quebec?

The President. It makes the difference that this is the internal affair of Canada. And I learned something long ago: Do not intervene in the internal affairs of another country. That's pretty hard sometimes. In this one, it's easy.

You get another question because that was so cinchy. Go ahead.

Q. Oh, I do have another question?

The President. Yes. That's because that's just a follow-on to the other one, and it's just -- look, that's a cinch, that one.

The President's Visits to Canada

Q. The question that many young Canadians sometimes ask me when I'm visiting back in Canada is: Mr. Bush has come to Ottawa -- a quick trip to Ottawa, a quick trip to Vancouver, a quick trip to Toronto. He never seems to stay overnight. When he goes to Bermuda, he'll stay overnight, or he'll do this. Is there some reason that you don't like Canada, or is it too cold for you? Is there not good sporting and fishing up there? It's worth staying for?

The President. It's fantastic, but I have mean schedulers. I have invidious people there that do not let me do that which I'd like to do. And besides that, I have such a good feeling about Canada that frankly it never entered my mind if some might feel this way. But someday I will have the joy of doing that which I like best: recreating in Canada. Because I've been to Banff; I've been to the west. I know the country reasonably well. And I'd like to think that I would have a scheduler around here who would be a little more considerate and permit me to do that.

Frankly, I think it's a good thing -- the baseball recreation there -- because the Blue Jays drew more, I am told, than any other team last year. They've got a fantastic stadium. And it sends a good hands-across-the-border signal. So, even though I get sheer pleasure out of going there and the little annoyance about Canada's defeat of the Texas Rangers, I think it was worthwhile for our national pastime -- a game that I really enjoy.

So, I got some recreation there in that fantastic baseball stadium, but not near enough. So, if any of your readers feel there is any slight, tell them to call a man named Joe Hagin. [Laughter] His number is 456 - 1414. [Laughter]

British Prime Minister Thatcher

Q. Could I just ask, Mr. President, do you think that after a week in which Mrs. Thatcher was very heavily criticized and virtually written off in the American press whether her final reputation will be affected by -- --

The President. By what?

Q. Whether her final reputation will be affected by the pasting which she has taken in the last couple of weeks here and the differences you've had over Europe and Germany?

The President. Look, I read these polls. And I don't know what Mr. Ortega's pollster is doing now, and I don't know what the guy that said I wouldn't win because I was 17 points back in the summer of 1988 is doing now. But whether polls are right or wrong -- and I don't want to denigrate all pollsters because I think there is a science there that sometimes is quite accurate. But I've just pointed out a couple of egregious errors here.

But I don't think you deal with heads of government based on whether they're up or down in the polls, or even speculate. So, I was giving you a very honest answer about the opposition. I mean, the opposition leaders would come here, we'd see them. I would think that's the way it ought to be. But I'm enough of a politician to know that people can be down one moment and then soaring like an eagle the next.

So, I missed your question just a little. What was it?

Q. I asked about her long-term reputation. Perhaps you could sum up, because whatever happens, she is coming to the end of a very long time in office. Could you say anything about what you think her long-term -- --

The President. No, no. That would be a matter for -- --

Q. -- -- reputation?

The President. Well, a reputation -- --

Q. Do you think -- --

The President. Oh, excuse me. I thought you meant whether she would rebound from all of this. Well, I think, at least in this country, people see her as a very courageous, principled leader who fights for her beliefs and has survived many ups and downs. So, they give her great credit. And I would be, in that vein, for courage and for -- and another thing that she gets credit for here is a special feeling about the United States, a recognition that it's good for the U.K. and the U.S. to be close. I think she gets great credit from that not just in conservative circles or, say, Republican circles or IDU-affiliated circles, but across the board here in our country they see her as a tough, courageous leader who has enjoyed great success and with whom Presidents have enjoyed a very close, important relationship. It's about in there, I'd say.

Mr. Fitzwater. Thank you all very much.

Note: The interview began at 10:10 a.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. Participants included Peter Stothard, Times of London, United Kingdom; Norma Greenaway, Southam News, Canada; Michael Elliott, the Economist, United Kingdom; and Jerome Marchand, Le Point, France. Marlin Fitzwater was Press Secretary to the President. The interview was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on April 17. A tape was not available for verification of its content.

George Bush, Interview With Foreign Journalists Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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