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Interview With Gerd Helbig of ZDF, German Television

May 24, 1990

German Reunification

Q. Mr. President, after Secretary [of State] Baker's visit in Moscow, it seems as if we and you can't have both at the same time speedy unification of Germany and full membership in NATO and full sovereignty. What can be done at the summit to make it more acceptable to Mr. Gorbachev?

The President. A full discussion of the unification question and then postunification Europe. And that would include Germany in NATO. I feel incumbent on me to try to convince Mr. Gorbachev that there is no threat to the Soviet Union with a unified Germany and with a U.S. presence and with Germany as a full member of NATO. Now, the Soviets don't agree with what I've just said. But here's one of the good things about this kind of a summit: We'll sit down, he'll tell me his views, and I will tell him that he has absolutely nothing to fear from that formulation.

Conventional Force Reductions in Europe

Q. The crucial point for Europe and the world powers are the reduction talks on troops in Vienna, and they seem to be stalled. Now, what are you willing to do to get them going again and have a treaty at the end of your meetings?

The President. I was very much interested in the fact that [West German] Foreign Minister Genscher and [Soviet] Foreign Minister Shevardnadze had talks that appeared to offer some optimism on the conventional force formulation. So, Genscher will meet with our Secretary of State, and then the Secretary and General Scowcroft [Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs] and I and others who are responsible for U.S. policy will be seeing if, out of those talks, we have some hints as to what we can do on our side to move the process forward.

Very candidly, I am a little disappointed in conventional force. I thought we would have the agreement further along. It is in the interests of everyone in the free world and, I think, the Soviets to move faster on conventional force agreement. So, I'm hoping that the optimism that I detected out of the Shevardnadze-Genscher talk will give us some leads as to what we can do to encourage the Soviets to come along a little more there.


Q. You proposed this summit of NATO leaders in London in July.

The President. Yes.

Q. And major shift and change in the alliance strategy is on the agenda. Can it be far-reaching enough to be acceptable to Mr. Gorbachev?

The President. I don't know. And it's a very good question. But historically, they've seen NATO as an enemy. And we've seen the Soviets as an enemy. Today the enemy, in my view, is instability, unpredictability, not sure -- lack of confidence in each other. So, if we have a NATO that has a broader mission, I believe we can convince the Soviets that that is in their interest. We've not sought territory from any country over the years. And I think they don't need to have inordinate fears of a unified Germany. So, we've got to talk all this out with Mr. Gorbachev.

German Reunification

Q. Do you think that the monetary and economic and military offers and concessions of Germany towards the Soviet Union are too generous or even dangerous?

The President. Well, I think that's a matter for Germany and the Soviet Union to work out. But I see nothing that contradicts the United States interests in anything that they have decided or might decide in that regard. We have supported German unification. We've been out front in the United States.

And you know, what's touching to me is the emotion with which many Germans have told me that their -- well, I don't want it to come out wrong, but their thanks to the United States for this position. But it's the right position, and I hope the people of Germany understand that we have confidence in a unified Germany. We have confidence in the contribution that the Federal Republic has made for 50 years to democracy and to freedom. And so, when I stand up for these principles of a unified Germany, I do it from the heart, because I believe this.

Upcoming Meeting With President Gorbachev

Q. When you last met with Mr. Gorbachev in Malta, it was anticipated that this meeting in Washington would be a big success. If not, would you consider it a major setback?

The President. No, I would not, because we're living in fascinating but rapidly changing times, and when we were talking in Malta not so many months ago, the question of the Baltic States and the Republics was not right in the middle of that TV screen. And that happened. On the other hand, the rapidity of German unification wasn't on the table then. And that happened. Some good things happen; some things that are less good happen; and some that concern us greatly, like the freedom of the people of Lithuania -- that's in a difficult phase right now.

So, I approach this meeting: Here's the hand we're dealt, here's what's on the table today. Now how do we, as mature people who want peace, and we, the United States, committed to democracy -- ours and others -- how do we conduct ourselves in dealing with the Soviet power and with Mr. Gorbachev, who has dramatically changed things in the world and changed things inside the Soviet Union?

So, we've got some big problems here, but we also have a lot of common ground, more common ground than anyone would have dared predict even 2 years ago or 1 year ago or even when we met in Malta. So, it's a mixed bag, and I'm going to do my best to keep things moving forward on arms control, the reduction of regional tensions, seeking agreement with the Soviet Union on unification of Germany, and post-German unification Europe. There's a lot of things to discuss.

Q. Mr. President, thank you very much for your time.

The President. Thank you, sir, very much.

Note: The interview began at 2:50 p.m. in the Family Dining Room at the White House.

George Bush, Interview With Gerd Helbig of ZDF, German Television Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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