George Bush photo

Interview With Members of the White House Press Corps

July 13, 1989

Trip to Poland and Hungary

Q. You had a whole complement of jogging -- --

The President. I know it. They told me that one of -- the girl on my right that -- pretty looking -- she claims to be the 250th in the world in tennis. And she's struggling and trying to -- it's so wonderful -- practices 8 hours every day. And she's a pretty -- --

Q. -- -- on red clay?

The President. Yes, on that -- on red clay over there, yes. And then the kids are in a -- they train for what they call their national games or something there. The one that spoke the English, her dad was a coach in Kuwait. And she learned her English over there, and she's a high-jumper. But anyway, it was fun. It was -- --

Q. -- -- a good mood?

The President. Good mood. This visit to Hungary -- well, Poland also -- but both of them were very, very moving. And I just come away with this real acute sense now of the change that's taking place in Eastern Europe and a determination to play a constructive role in that change. The meetings with these Hungarian leaders -- the most recent visit -- were very good, very frank.

I've been to, what, 77, 79 countries, or something, as Vice President; and these talks were more than just diplomatic. I mean, you didn't rely on the printed card, and they didn't. I mean, they spoke right from the heart. They said what they thought; they made clear the difficulties that they were facing. And I tried to do the same thing. There was something very special and warm and personal about the meetings in both Poland and Hungary.

Q. Do you think you made a difference?

Q. I realize it wouldn't have been diplomatic for any of those leaders to say so, but did you hear any complaints in either place about the sufficiency of the packages you brought?

The President. No, and I think you're right: There may be a reason that they wouldn't say so. But I heard none at all, not one. And in fact, Walesa [Solidarity leader], who had been reported to be asking for $10 billion, moved off of that and said that what they wanted were more banks to come in that would loan those kinds of money.

There was a paper written by a Solidarnosc economist that had the figure of $10 billion and had broken it down into x-number of dollars from the World Bank, x from the IMF, x -- and it added up to $10 billion. But there was no pressure of that nature, and then I see that subsequently Walesa was in the paper today or yesterday saying that there had not been a disappointment.

But I think they understand that we are restricted in what we can do in terms of aid, or dollars of support, for some very worthy project. The thing that's impressive is the determination on the part of all these leaders to move towards economic freedom and political freedom.

It was so clear in Poland. General Jaruzelski [Chairman of the Polish Council of State] -- who has had an image in the States earlier on that was not a very favorable one -- is really out front in the reforms. And conversations were very warm and very frank with him. We'd talk about differences, but we'd also talk about common objectives. And he went out of his way to be hospitable. And then the same thing on the -- what you'd call the private sector side -- Lech Welesa down there.

And the same was true here; we met with the leaders and then, again, the opposition. And then they were all together at a reception. It's -- change is absolutely amazing that's taking place in Eastern Europe.

Q. Do you think that you've made a difference?

The President. Yes, I do.

Q. What do you think that was?

The President. Well, I think the very fact that they can sit and talk to an American President in a reasonable way and I could tell them what I thought we would be able to do, how much we shared their desire for change -- I think was fruitful to them. And I think they saw the friendship and respect for the United States from their people -- the crowds on the street and the -- any time there was interaction with the people it was dramatic. And I'm sure that makes a difference to the leaders. I think it shores up their desire for change because I think it shows all of us the genuine affection for the United States that exists in these countries and, I would say, in the rest of Eastern Europe, too, although I can't speak as authoritatively. I've been to -- --

Polish Political and Economic Reforms

Q. Is Poland going to get a government soon?

The President. I don't know, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International], I don't know. I would say yes, but I can't predict who the President's going to be.

Q. Did Walesa seem concerned?

The President. We discussed that very openly, but it's just something -- I can't predict the outcome.

Q. -- -- holding them up?

The President. Well, I think it takes some time after their elections for the Parliament, and I think that they're now trying to sort out, in an arrangement, who to support for President. And you've got several different options. But that's their business; that's the internal affair of Poland, and I ought not to try to get involved in that.

Q. Did Walesa express any concerns about calling upon workers to make the kind of sacrifices required? Because that's another problem area.

The President. He didn't express concern about that, but I had an opportunity to make clear in private that -- and publicly -- that reforms were essential. There's no point going there under false colors and to try to have everything sweetness and light -- as a message that -- but it isn't going to be easy. But that's part of the message. The rest of it is that change is in the winds, and I sense it so much more clearly from having been there.

Q. Do you feel the general -- I mean, you could see a man almost totally resigned -- --

The President. Did I feel what?

Q. Don't you feel that the general sees something besides the inevitable? I mean, he seems to have given up.

The President. I don't think it's a question of resignation. You see, as you see change take place in the Soviet Union, this opens the way for change -- vital change, vibrant change -- in the rest of Eastern Europe. And so, I didn't sense a dejection on his part; I sensed somewhat of an upbeat feeling that, yes, that these changes were possible now. And I certainly sense that in Hungary.

Q. -- -- odd man out?

The President. Well, let's wait and see.

Eastern European Reforms

Q. Do you think your opinions may have encouraged reform in some of the other countries, such as, maybe, Romania or Czechoslovakia or East Germany, or might there be a backlash -- --

The President. Well, you want to be careful not to conduct yourself in such a way as to encourage a backlash. But I would think that this visit in the neighborhood would be watched by countries where economic and political change are lagging behind Poland and lagging behind Hungary. That isn't true of the Soviet Union, and it isn't true of Yugoslavia. But there are other countries that are probably watching and wondering. I am firmly convinced that this wave of freedom, if you will, is the wave of the future. And I would expect that this visit has been watched by the people of other Eastern European countries and, hopefully, giving encouragement to those who want to go the path of reform -- political change, economic change -- that these other countries are now following.

Q. Do you think they'll feel that talk is cheap from the United States, and what about a little more aid to encourage their reform movement?

The President. I didn't sense that. That was their early question, and I didn't sense it. I expect everybody would like to have as much aid as everybody possibly can attract. But when you're tying your position into economic reform and incentive and ownership and private sector and entrepreneurship, it seems to have at least negated the public cry or diminished the public cry for more funds. I just did not encounter that. In fact, a couple of them -- and I'll leave their names out of it -- said: "We didn't expect you to come here with a bag full of money" was the way they put it.

Q. Are you going to tell the summit leaders that communism is dead?

The President. No. I'm going to tell them that there is dynamic change taking place in Eastern Europe, and I expect each one of them will want to tell me about their experiences with that. But I want to be sure that they know of our commitment to foster this change in a prudent way.

Paris Economic Summit

Q. [Inaudible]

The President. I haven't set up any yardsticks for that, Brit [Brit Hume, ABC News]. I don't think that there is a way to measure success at an economic summit. I mean, this isn't a summit where there is one major problem to be solved. There are problems on the agenda, but I expect at the conclusion of the meeting you'll see seven countries in harmony, pulling together on matters like the environment and, you know, the economies of the various countries, and trade. All these are contentious matters bilaterally, but I think we can reach common understanding. So, maybe that would be the yardstick.

Q. -- -- Gorbachev to what's going on in Eastern Europe -- approach seems to be -- development in Eastern Europe and that you are a partner, but a limited partner. Isn't it Gorbachev's revolutionary approach to the East-West relationship that has given these people license to move forward? Isn't he glad they're moving forward?

The President. I would think so, and maybe you missed what I said about Poland and giving them the flexibility to move forward. So, no, I would certainly say, and I mentioned four countries -- one of them was the Soviet Union. I don't think you were here when I started talking about that. So, we're very pleased to see the perestroika. And let me repeat for the umpteenth time: I want to see it succeed.

Q. When are you going to tell him that personally?

The President. I don't know.

Q. This year? Geneva?

The President. No plans for that right now.

Q. Do you think it would be useful?

The President. I don't think there is any misunderstanding on his part about the position of the United States in terms of his reforms. I think maybe if there is ever any doubt about it those doubts have been dispelled; and if there was any recent doubts about it, those doubts will be dispelled by his friends in Poland and in Hungary because I made very clear to them that, you know, we're not there to poke a stick in the eye of Mr. Gorbachev. Just the opposite -- to encourage the very kind of reforms that he is championing and more reforms.

Conventional Arms Reductions in Europe

Q. -- -- convinced that he understands what you're doing?

The President. Because there are so many contacts with him and because some of these leaders told me that. And they told me that in terms of our approach to arms also. There has been some suggestion we were dragging our feet on arms control, which is pure nonsense. And I'm convinced from talking to these people that Gorbachev knows that we're serious. Indeed, we have an opportunity now to encourage him to move along faster on conventional force reductions. The idea that some Soviet spokesman yesterday says they can't meet these timetables -- I don't want to believe that that's Mr. Gorbachev speaking. And I'm not going to believe it until I hear from him or until I hear authoritatively that that's who it is.

Q. Should we not believe Marlin?

The President. You can believe Marlin, yes, because he speaks with great authority. But this guy was not a -- I don't think it was a press spokesman. It was a -- --

Q. It was a lieutenant general that -- --

The President. Yes, a lieutenant general.

Q. -- -- political general.

General Scowcroft. He's their arms control guy.

The President. He's a couple of beats behind the pace here, because I don't think Gorbachev wants to slow down an agreement on conventional arms. If he does, he's wrong on that. But I don't believe he does. I think he wants to move forward there and on the strategic arms talks, and so do we.

Eastern European Reforms

Q. From your conversation, did you get any sense of what the bottom line is in Eastern Europe as far as political change? I mean, what are the two or three points that you can't cross?

The President. No, there doesn't seem to be a bottom line, because when you go to open, free, fair elections, who knows what's going to happen? Take a look at Hungary -- I mean at Poland. Take a look at those Polish elections. So, the change is so rapid and so devastating to old ways that I don't think you can put a bottom line on the thing.

Q. Perhaps Gorbachev is also looking at the elections?

The President. Probably looking at the elections at home, and that is a good thing. I tell you, the excitement of all this, you just feel it in talking to the leaders and feel it from the people.

Q. -- -- specific with both leaders -- that further economic reform -- for example, did you discuss with them the sale of state-owned business or getting private enterprise to the people in both Poland and Hungary?

The President. Yes, both, but in varying degrees of detail. Of course, Lech Walesa -- that was his whole thrust: privatization. And the talks with Mr. Jaruzelski -- we got into that. Mainly we were talking about joint ventures and partnerships, but also I had the opportunity to emphasize our conviction that state ownership is less productive than private ownership. And similarly, in a couple of the meetings -- maybe we did in all -- but in a couple of the meetings yesterday there was discussion of privatization. No resistance, incidentally, it seemed like, in Hungary. But we had a very frank discussion about what percentage of their gross national product was in government and what in private sector, and Hungary still has a long way to go until it achieves privatization.

Q. -- -- any Communists or are they all, essentially -- they're all democratic, pluralistic -- --

The President. I met people that are caught up in this wave of historic change.

Q. What about -- --

Q. Are they changing their whole philosophy? They are Communists, aren't they?

The President. You asked whether one of the leaders made a big distinction between a Communist and a Socialist. And one of them pointed out that European socialism could well be the model of the future as opposed to the socialism that we equate with communism.

Q. What about the austerity side of this? Did you get into -- 2 years ago, the Poles would not get the votes they needed, and then you talk about belt-tightening. But did they talk to you about what they would do? And do you have any qualms that this might backfire -- that if these supports are removed, the Poles may not get the candy they need to keep supporting the system?

The President. I had some feeling after some of the talks that the reforms that would be required would be very difficult for them. That's not universal, but it did come up.

Soviet-U.S. Relations

Q. -- -- in any way communicate that to Gorbachev?

The President. No, except indirectly saying please tell Mr. Gorbachev this, that, or the other.

Q. Would you have any plans to contact him -- --

The President. Well, we have regularized contacts with the Soviet Union now, and we will continue on those. But there could be occasion to do that.

Polish Political and Economic Reforms

Q. Did Lech Walesa tell you about the powder-keg situation in Poland, as he told TV interviewers?

The President. Well, as I said, some of the interlocutors made clear that the kinds of reforms that are going to have to be taken will not be easy. It wasn't put in the context of powder keg.

Q. [Inaudible]

The President. Well, I think we spelled out some broad parameters: privatization, openness, free elections. And that's just the American way, that's just our belief as to what works. And to the degree those things take place, why, we will be able to do more.

Q. [Inaudible]

The President. Walesa? Yes. I'd met him before, and it's funny how you just meet one time and it establishes a certain personal warmth there.

Eastern European Reforms

Q. Mr. President, you talked about the changes, and you used the word "amazing." Were you surprised by the things you saw?

The President. Not textbook surprised, but surprised at the feeling: the feeling and the emotion of it all and the frankness with which the leaders -- in Hungary particularly; well, and also Jaruzelski and Walesa -- talked about the change. I mean it was with emotion, and it wasn't your traditional "I'll read my cards, and you read your cards" kind of diplomacy. It was very special in that regard. There's an intensity to it, a fervor to it that moved me very much.

Q. [Inaudible]

The President. You mean like in Eastern Europe? Well, I think without the change in the Soviet Union it would have been highly unlikely that Eastern Europe would be achieving the kinds of changes or aspiring to the kinds of changes that it is aspiring to.

Q. [Inaudible]

The President. Oh, I don't know. I don't ever look for disputes, I look for calming the troubled waters. You know that.

Q. [Inaudible]

The President. I don't know that either.

Upcoming Presidential Trips

Q. [Inaudible]

The President. Well, I want to go to Africa, but there's no doubt -- I wouldn't say that would be the next, would you?

Eastern European Reforms

Q. -- -- keep this policy alive?

The President. I don't think it's the U.S. role to keep the change alive. I mean, I think this is something that's the business of the Poles and of the Hungarians. This is their business; this is their life, their country. I think it would be rather arrogant to suggest that it's the United States that has the sole responsibility. That's not your question. But it, to the degree we can encourage change without intervention in the internal affairs -- why, I'm all for that. But that's not our role. This is too fundamental: The people's aspiration for liberty and for free choice is too fundamental. And they can look to our system, look to our country, as a beacon for all these good values. But it's not our role to go in and dictate to any of these countries how they're going to run their business.

Arrival Ceremony in Budapest

Q. -- -- tore up that -- --

The President. I know that struck you the most about it, because you didn't have to stand out in the rain.

Q. He said they liked that.

The President. Did they really? Well, I mean, I had plenty of opportunity to pay my formal respects, which, in essence, was what that was about. And those people had been standing there a long time. I told them the next day -- one of the leaders was very complimentary of that. And I said it reminds me of an old adage that the United States -- the speech that you do not -- that was the one in the rain.

Israel-U.S. Relations

Q. Who are you going to send to Israel as an emissary?

The President. Well, there isn't any emissary going from the President of the United States. There's no determination of that at this point.

Q. -- -- a chance to talk at the Wallenberg Memorial. Have you had any contact at all with the Soviets on that question?

The President. Well, we chose to stop there because Wallenberg is a great international symbol of human rights. And I don't know -- what do you mean about contact about -- --

Q. I mean, it's a constant issue that U.S. officials are regularly asking of the Soviets -- --

The President. I have not personally asked of the Soviets that.

Q. Are you saying that the Secretary of State might send an emissary?

The President. Well, I'm saying that we have people go to Israel all the time and to other countries in the area. But when you say, "Who am I sending as an emissary?" -- I was putting that in the context of past high-level shuttle diplomats or something of that nature, and there are no plans for that. I reserve the right to send people anytime I think it's in the interest of the United States, but there are no plans for that kind of level -- diplomacy.

Q. Why is the U.S. making -- --

The President. But if somebody felt it was worthwhile, somebody over there would welcome a special emissary from the President, I'd be very openminded about that. But there are no plans. You asked me whether there are plans.

Q. -- -- find out what's going in terms of -- --

The President. We've got a very able Ambassador over there who knows a great deal about what's going on and has excellent contacts with the Government.

Q. What do you think is going on over there? [Prime Minister] Shamir has simply restated what his position has been all along. Why is the U.S. so shook up over this?

The President. I don't know that the U.S. is so shook up, but they know the United States policy. And the United States policy on settlements, for example, has not changed, and it is not going to change. And so, we might as well be frank with our friends, because that's what friendship is about. And so, I want to see things go forward in terms of the peace process over there, and we want to see the election process go forward. And if anybody can make a case for me that the recent deliberations in that party will enhance the election process, then I'd say, Great! But I'm afraid other people are looking at it, saying, "What's happened does not enhance the possibilities of election." So, the U.S. policy is set. And I'm the President of the United States, and Israel is a friend and will remain a friend, but I have to say what our policy is -- and so, I don't think there's great heartburn here, but I want to just continue to articulate what we believe.

Q. -- -- Shamir said -- what should be important from the very start -- so I'm trying to figure out why the United States is so distressed.

The President. I'm not so distressed. I'm the President of the United States.

Q. I mean State Department.

The President. Well, you go ahead and talk to the State Department about that. You're talking to the President. I set the policy, after a lot of input from the State Department, and I want the U.S. policy to succeed. We've thought out very carefully what we think is best, and our support is for our principles. And they've got great difficulties inside of Israel. I understand that. I understand the political pressures. But I can't be varying U.S. policy every day to accommodate political change. I'm not going to do that.

Q. How about the Palestinian -- --

The President. Keep encouraging them to do what they ought to do: to participate in this election process -- absolutely -- and deplore the kind of violence that we see when a bus is carried over a cliff and carrying a lot of innocent people to their death, or innocent people getting killed in other ways -- on both sides. I mean we have to stand for something. And I'm going to continue to try to do that.

Q. When did you first decide you were President? When did it hit you?

Mr. Fitzwater. That sounds like an essay question to me. [Laughter]

The President. I don't know. But I'm deciding more and more that I am. Experience never hurt anybody, did it? Experience doesn't hurt. Thank you all.

Note: The interview took place aboard Air Force One en route to Paris, France. Brent Scowcroft was Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and Marlin Fitzwater was Press Secretary to the President. A tape was not available for verification of the contents of the interview.

George Bush, Interview With Members of the White House Press Corps Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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