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Interview With Members of the White House Press Corps

May 09, 1989

Panamanian Elections

The President. Well, let me first make a brief statement: I'd like to comment on the Panamanian elections. I met with the Murtha delegation to hear their report, and I have now received the preliminary report from President Ford and President Carter. President Carter and his whole delegation will be here shortly to give me a full report. In addition, we have the report of other observer groups, including that of the Archbishop of Panama, which demonstrate clearly that despite massive irregularities at the polls the opposition has won a clear-cut, overwhelming victory. The Panamanian people have spoken, and I call on General Noriega to respect the voice of the people. And I call on all foreign leaders to urge General Noriega to honor the clear results of the election.

And I might add that I applaud the statement by Peru's [President] Alan Garcia, who has spoken out against the fraud. I noted with interest that the Archbishop of Panama felt that 74 percent of the vote went to the opposition. And I understand that President Carlos Andres Perez of Venezuela is talking to some of the neighboring countries there to encourage a joint statement against the fraud that has taken place and calling on Noriega to honor the results of this election.

Q. What kind of military force are you considering? We were told that that's one of the options.

The President. The election results have not been handed in, formally announced, and until they are, I will not discuss the options of the United States. I will simply again call on General Noriega to honor the will of the people.

Q. Mr. President, you called on him a year ago to do precisely the same thing, as did Mr. Reagan, and nothing happened. Why should it be any different this time?

The President. Because there has been a massive voice of the people heard. There has been a statement for democracy so loud and so clear that perhaps even General Noriega will listen to it. And I would like to think that he will heed the call of the people and that he would listen to the international outcry that is building and that he would step down from office, in which case, the relations with the United States would improve dramatically and instantly.

Q. Have you spoken to foreign leaders? Do you plan to speak with foreign leaders?

The President. I probably will, and without going into who I've spoken to, the answer is yes. You know, we've had foreign visitors here and talked to them and -- --

Q. Do you really think you have a military option? And on what basis could you go into someone else's country?

The President. Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International], I'm not going to say what our options are. I've not discussed that here today. I have obviously discussed options with my own top advisers. I listened very intently to the Members of Congress that came in, and some of them had specific suggestions. But I want to see General Noriega do what I've just encouraged him to do and what other foreign leaders apparently are encouraging him to do.

Q. Did you put yourself in a box here by making such a public point of being upset about these elections, and if Noriega decides to stay anyhow, that it looks like the United States has been ineffective?

The President. I don't think the United States is ever in a box when it speaks out in favor of free, fair elections and honoring the will of the people. That's what we stand for. And so, I don't think there's any box involved.

Q. Some Members of Congress have called for the abrogation of the Canal treaty. Is that in any way a possibility in your mind, an option?

The President. I want to see General Noriega do what I have just encouraged him to do. I want to see the will of the people honored.

Q. But under any circumstances would you -- --

The President. I'm not going to go into hypothetical questions at this point.

Q. Have you talked to him? Have you given him any personal ultimatum?

The President. Put it this way: General Noriega knows my position.

Q. How?

The President. Never mind. He knows. And it's been told -- --

Q. Did you call him up?

The President. -- -- in recent -- he knows about it through recent contacts.

Q. Have you issued any orders regarding the military on the bases in Panama? Are they in a state of alert? And are you anticipating increasing their numbers?

The President. I will discuss at the appropriate time what course of action I will take. But I'm not going to do that now. What I want to do now is encourage this last moment for General Noriega to heed the appeal of those people who favor democracy and to heed the will of the Panamanian people. So, I don't want to go beyond that in terms of deployment of U.S. force.

Short-Range Nuclear Forces in Europe

Q. Are you any closer to an SNF agreement with the Germans?

The President. I have a good feeling that there's been a lot of smoke out there and that we'll have a smooth summit.

Q. Have you talked with [West German Chancellor] Kohl again?

The President. Oh, I never discuss all these talks I've had.

Q. That means you're willing to compromise, right?

The President. It might mean people are willing to do it our way -- with the United States.

Q. Doesn't sound that way.

The President. Well, don't believe everything you read in the UP. [Laughter]

Q. Will it be settled tonight with the Dutch?

The President. I don't know. We'll be talking to Mr. Lubbers [Prime Minister of The Netherlands] over here, a friend of long standing and a man with whom I can talk very, very frankly about SNF.

Q. You can talk frankly with us.

The President. And I didn't talk to him this morning about it. We talked about other subjects. But I've added an additional hour so we can do just exactly that. But this alliance is not going to fall apart. It is going to stay together and be strong.

Iran Arms and Contra Aid Controversy

Q. What do you think about the North verdict, Mr. President?

The President. What?

Q. What do you think about the North verdict?

The President. As you know, I wanted all along to see him exonerated. And that matter is now under appeal, and thus, I will have nothing more to say about it while it is.

Q. Well, do you think he was innocent?

The President. Well, I'm not going to argue with the courts, but the process is being appealed. He's entitled to the right of appeal without a lot of editorial comment from me on it.

Q. You don't believe in shredding documents, surely?

The President. No, I believe in taking them with me. [Laughter]

Note: The interview began at 3:20 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. George Condon, of Copley News Service; Julia L. Malone, of Cox News Service; Helen Thomas, of United Press International; and Charles D. Goodgame, of Time, Inc., participated in 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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