Ronald Reagan picture

Interview With Independent Network Washington Bureau Chiefs

January 08, 1986

Economic Sanctions Against Libya

Q. Mr. President, you've asked the world to isolate Libya by joining the United States in economic and political sanctions. Initial reaction from our friends has been lukewarm at the best-

The President. Yes.

Q. —a refusal at worst. Is it not possible the United States will be standing in isolation, as it has on other occasions when it tried to impose sanctions?

The President. That's possible. We'll hope that, well, as many as possible would join. I think that I can understand that there are economic factors that are engaged here, that countries that have more trade, certainly, than we do with that country. On the other hand, they've got to weigh it against having to stay constantly on guard, literally military at their airports, a loss of tourist trade, the added cost of all these other things, too. And I think the case is so clear that if we could all stand together and isolate that country, that country would then have to change its ways.

Q. About Colonel Qadhafi, you've described him as a barbarian, as flaky. Now he's, in effect, drawn a line in the sand and warned you not to cross it. Is he likely to retaliate, maybe close those borders, keep in those 1,500 Americans that you've ordered home?

The President. No, I don't think there's any indication of that, nor would we permit him to do such a thing. But we've taken the action we've taken, and as I said last night, I won't add anything to what might be on our minds for the future. Let him wonder what's on our mind.

Q. Mr. President, when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, we imposed a grain embargo. When you came into office in 1981, you were opposed to the grain embargo, I believe, saying it was ineffective and hurt our farmers and our economy. How does that differ from economic sanctions and doing business with Libya?

The President. Well, it differs in the sense that we just picked out one particular American industry and shut that down and shot ourself in the foot in doing it. And my position was that if it ever requires us to have economic sanctions with Russia or anyone else, it should apply to all American industry and not just penalize one, particularly when the product of that one could be obtained by our heretofore trading partner in any of a number of places in the world. And that's exactly what they did, and probably permanently reduced our agricultural export market.

Aborted Terrorist Acts

Q. Mention has been made of the 126 aborted terrorist acts. Can you tell us f any of those might have occurred in the United States, were aborted in the United States, or give any specifics about any individual acts that were aborted?

The President. The thing is—and this morning I haven't had time after saying this last night—I realized that I hadn't asked for a breakdown on where these were. I've heard some things about them; and some of them, probably a couple of dozen, applied to the United States. But that could have been also United States installations overseas. So, I'm going to get a breakdown on that.

Trade Legislation

Q. I wonder if I might change gears on you just a little bit, Mr. President. I wonder what you're going to say to the unemployed textile workers in the Carolinas and in Georgia the next time you visit those States as a result of your veto of that textile bill.

The President. Well, I'd say right now I have the deepest sympathy for anyone who is going to lose their position and any industry that is going to feel hardship because of this. On the other hand, we know that the protectionism would result in equally painful unemployment for other Americans in other industries; it's a two-way street. And all experience shows what happens when we go down that protectionism road. What I have asked for is an additional $100 million for our Job Training Partnership Act for us to help in retraining and even moving people who are in an industry that is maybe going to have a permanent decline.

At the same time, I have to say that if you look at the recent figures, there hasn't been that much of a change in the textile industry in recent years. And it's true that there are a great many other countries now that are in the marketplace. But we're also going to do something that I found we had been lagging in: I had supported the multi-fiber arrangements, and that evidently we hadn't been enforcing as we should the quotas that exist. We have some 1,300 treaties or agreements with other countries. And I have ordered a strict maintenance of those rules. So, we're going to try to minimize any effect that this may have. But we can't ignore the fact that protectionism, as we used it back in the beginning of the Great Depression—and I was around then-led literally to a worldwide depression. It just isn't the way to go. This Smoot-Hawley tariff was the villain, in that case, that perpetuated and added to the Depression.

Q. During the debate on the textile bill, Chairman Rostenkowski said that when Congress comes back this month, he will begin work on new trade legislation. Do we need new trade legislation? Would you support it?

The President. If there's anything left to plug that we are not doing. But, as I said, we are going to—and have embarked on a rigorous program of dealing multilaterally and bilaterally with other countries—to make sure that we get a level playing field and that we do not go on putting up with unfair restrictions on our exports to other countries while we ourselves are playing the game of free trade.

Economic Sanctions Against Libya

Q. If we may return to Libya for a second, I was wondering what you think of the American support for your policy? ABC News has a poll out this afternoon which indicates that 87 percent of Americans approve your economic sanctions and onethird would approve some sort of military action against Libya.

The President. Well, I'm glad of the first figure, and I'm glad that we have support if it ever becomes necessary to do the other. The thing that I've always said about retaliation is that we must not get tempted into creating a terrorist act on our own in response to a terrorist act. But I am in a position of not being able to comment on what any future actions might be.

Q. The Libyan response this morning calls your comments last night tantamount to a declaration of war.

The President. I think if it ever came to a declaration of war, they'd be aware of the difference between what I said last night. [Laughter]

Q. Mr. President, to expand on that a little, as someone mentioned earlier, the response out of Europe this morning has not been promising in support of the position you took last night and the call you made for our European allies to join us in the economic sanctions. If you could have the European leaders with you this morning instead of this group of reporters, what would you say to them to try to convince them to join us in the economic sanctions?

The President. Some of the things that I said here in one of my first answers, and point out to them what the choice is. We go on living in a world in which you have to surround the docks where your ships sail from and your airports. You have to be constantly on guard against the suicide type of attack against which there is so little chance to resist or defend yourself. And the other might be very short lived if we could all isolate someone who has proven their willingness to be an international outlaw.

Q. One of the reasons given for our allies not being so quick to support us in this move is that they have much more extensive economic ties to Libya than we do.

The President. Yes, that's true.

Q. Does it make you angry or upset you at all that they are not willing to make some economic sacrifice to solve this problem? After all, after your 1981 sanctions, the U.S. gave up extensive economic ties.

The President. Well, I'm not going to say I'm angry. And I can understand the other when they're looking at possible unemployment. You have to remember that several of those countries have not had anything near the economic recovery that we have had, and they're lagging far behind. They already have excessive unemployment. They're still trying to get back on their feet. In that same period of 3 years, in which we have created almost 9 million new jobs, there are some of those trading partners of ours that have not created a single new job in the last 10 years. So, obviously they're torn between these two problems. At the same time, I would hope that we could persuade them that we're talking about something of short duration, that if we could all stand together in a thing of this kind, we might once and for all bring back into the fold of civilized countries these outlaws that are perpetrating the terrorist deeds.


Q. Mr. President, you just mentioned jobs. You talked about unemployment. Domestically, there is some good news today. The unemployment statistics are out for December; the trend continues downward. When will America reach that magic 5-percent number that the economists say is full employment?

The President. Well, I've asked our people to take some close looks at what is full employment anymore. It seems strange to me that we're still talking about a figure down there that has to do with the people who, through no fault of their own, are unemployed. And yet, at the same time, we have, today, virtually 110 million people employed. But the significant thing is you can say, well, also our population has increased. But the potential employment pool consists of all people, male and female, between the ages of 16 and 65.

Today the highest percentage of that potential pool is employed than has ever been employed in our entire history. So, do we honestly know what the figure of full employment is? I do know that if you take the present unemployed in our country, and you go down to what could be considered possible long-term unemployment or the potentially unemployed—permanently unemployed, I should say, not potentially, you will find that only a small percentage of the unemployed have been unemployed for 26 weeks or longer. And everyone else, in other words, fits into that pool of people who are either new entrants into the job market—just as last month, when the figures showed this morning, when we increased employment by 230,000 in the last month, at the same time the job market increased by 90,000 people. So, you take those figures and bring it down to those that are obviously having problems getting a job. Most people, when you say the number of people unemployed, they think in terms of a single pool of people that are out there month after month with no job. It's an ever-changing pool, except for that little fringe at the top which is, say, at 6 months some of them even then get jobs, but they've been unemployed that long.

And, so, I've been asking for some studies to find out what really is full employment. I remember some years ago we said it was 4 percent. Well, if you check back, you'll Find no one did any research to determine is 4 percent the correct figure for the people that will always be either voluntarily in between jobs or just newly entering the job market.

Q. But as we take hope in 110 million people at work, is there not the danger that we will overlook what we must admit are-there are pockets of unemployment

The President. Oh, yes.

Q.—where it's absolutely devastating if not hopeless?

The President. Yes, that's why this Job Training Partnership Act that we brought about after we came in—we found that the job training programs of the past have been tremendously expensive. They were spending about as much as it would cost to go to Harvard. Not that I suggest Harvard as an answer to employment. [Laughter] But we found that the job training was, in many instances, training people for jobs that did not exist anywhere near their home area.

So, this partnership thing is a partnership between local government, local industry, and the Federal Government to train people for the jobs that are available in their particular areas. And it has had a job placement rate tremendously higher than any other previous job training programs. So, this is what we must continue to do and even emphasize and do more, as I say, to add more to this, because, yes, the national rate of unemployment doesn't mean that it's evenly distributed.

There are some places—well, I like whenever I'm in a city, including Washington, I like to count the help wanted ads on Sunday in the Sunday paper, those pages of just column after column of employers looking for employees. Well, last week it was around 50 pages in the Washington Post. When I was out in California, it topped 60 pages in the Los Angeles Times. Now, these are employers seeking employees, and it isn't that these are for great skilled jobs for which there just aren't people trained for that. You look at them, and these are a cross section of everything from maids and receptionists and clerk typists and truck drivers and whatever you want to name.

Now, it suggests to me also, then, that maybe the answers, as the demography changes in our country, maybe some of the answer is simply help people move, a redistribution program. And this is part of our program also. It is not only job training; but if it's an area where the whole industrial background has changed, then why not help those people get to places where there is a market for their talent.

Secretary of Agriculture

Q. Mr. President, there's a job opening in the administration. John Block has resigned. What are your criteria for his replacement? What kind of person should it be? Farmer, businessman, politician?

The President. No, it should be just like Jack Block; somebody that's walked in the furrows he's plowed in his own ground and that is a farmer and knows about that. And this is what we'll be looking for, someone with that kind of experience and firsthand knowledge of farm problems.

Deficit Reduction

Q. Agriculture, Defense, so many Federal programs will be affected when and if Gramm-Rudman takes effect. One of those that's estimated will be seriously affected is the drug interdiction program along our southern borders. Perhaps half their budget might go. How does that reconcile with the priority your administration has put on drug enforcement and interdiction?

The President. Well, if I read your question correctly, I think what we're referring to here is the ultimate thing that if the Congress will not agree with proposed cuts, then an enforced cutting that is prescribed—50 percent for defense, 50 percent for the other programs. I hope we never have to come to that. If the Congress will cooperate with us in making the cuts that have to be made where we have selection over them, we'll never have to resort to that sequestering of programs in which you just automatically go in with a meat-ax approach and they're automatically cut. I never favored that part of the legislation at all. We have to have a willingness to cut.

And if you look at the budgeting process—you know, I squirm a little when they keep calling it the President's budget. The President's budget consists of the estimate that the people who have to run the programs under the various Cabinet departments and agencies—what they estimate it will cost them to carry out the programs that have been passed by the Congress of the United States. The President, under the Constitution, can't spend a nickel; it's all dictated. But it's always seemed strange to me in the budgeting process. They've announced they'll have a program to do something. All right. We turn it over to the people that are going to run that program. And then we sit down with them—long hours around a table like this—about what is it going to cost to achieve the purposes set out by the Congress in that program. And we arrive at a figure that the people are going to have to run the program say, "This is it, and we can do it for this." Then you send it up on the Hill, and you find Congressmen who aren't going to have anything to do with running the program saying, "Oh, no, you got to spend more money than that." And they pass more money than we say is necessary for the-program.

Q. If I could follow up on Gramm-Rudman, because I think we'll be hearing a good bit of it in the year to come, Mr. President. Some people on the Hill say that was the coward's way out, the Congress' coward's way out of the budget dilemma. Do you agree?

The President. If anything, it might have been that part where, if you can't come to a meeting of the minds, you sequester, and it's enforced—the cutting. And no one has to take any blame for it; it's written into the law. It wasn't a coward's way out, if you stop to think. The thing that appealed to me—as a matter of fact, by sheer coincidence, down here in this end of town, I had brought in an idea that why don't we set up a several-year plan for planned reductions of the deficit leading to a point in the future that we can say, "Here, we will have balanced the budget." And then have an amendment to the Constitution that says we have to keep it balanced. And suddenly, realize that up on the Hill are—or learned that they were talking about the same thing, the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings bill. From that part of it, there's nothing cowardly about it. It's a disciplinary measure.

If instead of every year you have to fight over the single budget, whether you can get the cuts to start whittling at that deficit, you have a program that says, "All right, we're all agreed that starting here with the deficits to there, we're going to reduce them annually at a rate that gets us to zero." Then, the discipline that's exerted on all of us is that if any one of us, on our side or on their side up on the Hill wants or advocates increased spending over and above this 5-year plan, why, they're breaking ranks in a 5-year program that has a definite goal. And I think that this is something that's been lacking for a long time.

Defense Spending

Q. If I can just follow up on that briefly. In facing this discipline, as you say, is it realistic to continue to think that the Pentagon's budget can continue where it is or increase?

The President. Well, the Congress itself, in the budget resolution, had passed a resolution that called for in 1987 a 3-percent real growth, and they had agreed to that. I think that it is proper and that we should do it. I don't think there's any way that we can retreat from what is the first and prime responsibility of the Federal Government, which is the security of the United States. Five years ago, when I came here, half the airplanes in our Air Force and in our naval force couldn't get off the ground on any given day because of a lack of spare parts or fuel or lack of pilots. The same thing was true of naval ships that couldn't leave harbor. Well, today we've got a working military. And of all the things I think I can be proud of, that is the thing I'm most proud of, is the young men and women in our country today in uniform. We haven't seen anything quite like it, certainly in peacetime, and in my lifetime.

Cuba-U.S. Relations

Q. It's been 25 years since we've had relations with Cuba. And most of our Latin American friends and Caribbean friends have warmed relations with Fidel Castro. Some of them have normalized relations. And he's sent signals to us that he's ready to sit down and negotiate. Do you see that happening?

The President. Such signals were sent to us some time ago in our administration, and we moved immediately. And they were just signals. Nothing resulted from our attempt at having negotiations and talks with them about the problems between us. So, I think the ball is kind of in his court. If he really means it, then let him propose to us some things he's willing to talk about and redress some wrongs that need redressing.

Q. What would he have to do?

The President. Oh, I think there are a number of things: restoration of freedom to his own people, the right of those people who were driven from his country to travel back and forth and visit their families and friends, release of political prisoners. Now, we did get some exchange, a small number of those. But we also found out in the Mariel boat exodus to the United States of people—that he loaded us up with some not political prisoners, prisoners, all right, with records as long as your arm in every kind of brutal crime you can name. And we've been shipping them back to him as fast as we can.

Q. Mr. President, could I just for a moment—

Ms. Mathis. Mr. President, it's time for you.-

The President. Oh, shortchanged. [Laughter] I'm willing if that's the end.

Ms. Mathis. All right.

Libya and Terrorism

Q. One more terrorism question. Your emphasis in the last few days on Libya and the problems with Colonel Qadhafi give the impression that he is responsible, or that his nation is responsible, for the bulk of the export of international terrorism. Number one, do you believe that? Secondly, if Mr. Qadhafi were to magically disappear from the planet Earth this evening, how much would that reduce the international terrorism problem?

The President. But I couldn't give you a figure on that, and I don't know that I've ever indicated that it is the bulk. There are other nations in the world that are surreptitiously helping terrorism along. But we will soon be releasing a white paper on what we know about his financial support, training, things of that kind. And we do have the evidence.

Now, one thing that I can name, just as an example, because this has been out and made public already. The men who are lying in the hospital, wounded, from Rome and the Vienna undertaking, and those that died, those terrorists that died, they were carrying passports, Tunisian passports. These passports, we happen to know, were the passports that the Libyan Government confiscated from the workers in Libya who had come across the border—as people do here in our own country—to work in Libya, but were from Tunis. And then, because of some arguments he was having with the Tunisian Government, he expelled them from his country, sent them home, and confiscated their passports. So, here turn up some terrorists, and they're carrying the passports that were taken away by the Libyan Government.

Q. And you feel they couldn't have gotten those without the official support of the Libyan Government?

The President. I don't see any way that they could have, no. But there are other things even more potent than that.

Q. How soon will you be releasing—

The President. I don't know what the schedule is on that.

Mr. Fortier. I think it has been released this afternoon by the State Department.

The President. Being released this afternoon by the State Department.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.

The President. Thank all of you very much. Appreciate it.

Note: The interview began at 1 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. Participants included Norm Wagy, Storer Communications, Inc.; Andy Cassells, Cox Communications; Jack Hurley, Gannett News Service/Television; John Dimsdale, Post-Newsweek Stations, Inc.; and Gregg Risch, Group W/Westinghouse Broadcasting. Susan K. Mathis was Special Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Media Relations. Donald R. Fortier was Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.

Ronald Reagan, Interview With Independent Network Washington Bureau Chiefs Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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