George Bush photo

Interview With Peter Maer of Mutual/NBC Radio

November 17, 1989

Meeting With Soviet President Gorbachev

Q. Good morning, Mr. President. We're very pleased to have this opportunity for this first radio interview with you. Some foreign policy questions, if I may, to start off. What will be item number one on the table when you sit down with Soviet leader Gorbachev in Malta?

The President. To be sure that we are not operating in a way that there will be unnecessary misunderstanding. In other words, I use the analogy of two big ships passing in the night: I don't want that to happen. I want to be on the same wavelength as much as we can. So, I would say the meeting is designed to see that the two ships do not pass in the night for lack of light.

Q. But what specifically will you bring up first?

The President. Well, as I say, we have not ever set an agenda. Clearly, I will be interested in getting his views on the dynamic changes taking place in Eastern Europe. We will have detailed conversations about his economy, and I will be glad to talk to him about ours. And so, I think along those two areas you'll see a lot of discussion. And also, I will be bringing up, and I expect he will be prepared to discuss, regional tensions: problems in this hemisphere, support for Nicaragua, for example; Afghanistan; other areas where Soviet interest and the United States do not parallel each other.

Q. You sent him a message in reply to his earlier cable, again saying that you support the reforms going on in his country and in Eastern Europe. Do you support them to the extent that you'd put your money where your mouth is, so to speak, and grant the Soviets some sort of economic assistance to spur those reforms?

The President. Well, I'm perfectly prepared to discuss economic reforms and what the Soviets would like to see in terms of interest from the West. But I noted with great interest Mr. Shevardnadze's [Foreign Minister] view when asked a similar question. He said: "We're not looking for aid. We are not wanting somebody to bail us out." That's good. They're a sovereign state, have a high degree of pride -- but clearly, there will be a discussion of economic matters as they affect the Soviet Union.

Q. When you say, as you did in a speech this week, that the Malta summit -- the Malta meeting, as you all here prefer to call it -- will not be used to negotiate the future of Europe, what does that mean? Are you taking something off the table there?

The President. No. What I'm saying is we're not going to have a Yalta.

Q. To what extent? When you're not -- --

The President. To the extent that it's not the role of the United States of America and the Soviet Union to divide up things or alter borders or do some of the things that took place at the meeting I've just referred to. We're not going to get into that. It is a broad, general meeting -- we wouldn't do it anyway.

General Noriega of Panama

Q. Another part of the world. Have you, indeed, approved a covert plan that allows the CIA to recruit people to overthrow Manuel Noriega in Panama?

The President. Of course I'd love to see Noriega out there, but you know I never discuss intelligence. I was head of the intelligence community for 1 year, a little over a year -- about a year -- and one thing that I know you don't do is discuss covert action or rumors about covert action, or confirm or deny covert action. And I wish other people would conduct themselves in that same manner, and then maybe some of the efforts of an intelligence community could be more effective. So, I will not confirm or deny anything of that nature.

Now, if you'd like me to state would we like to see Noriega out of office -- absolutely.

Q. I know you want him out of office. How far will you go to get him out?

The President. Well, that is a question that's so open-ended it can't possibly be answered.

Q. Well, let me ask you this. Since you won't answer that and you won't talk about the specific plan, do you still feel that your hands are tied?

The President. I'm not saying there is a specific plan.

Q. Okay. Since you won't even confirm whether there is a specific plan -- --

The President. Now we're going, now we're talking. [Laughter]

Q. -- -- do you still feel your hands are tied by Congress on matters like this? This matter specifically?

The President. No, not on this matter specifically, and if there were to be a plan -- and I think we have a pretty good understanding with the Intelligence Committee at this point, in the Senate and in the House.

German Reunification

Q. Back to Eastern Europe. Is reunification of the two Germanys -- is that inevitable?

The President. I gave my view on that, and I said that that was a matter for the people of the Germanys to determine. And it's a highly sensitive matter as far as the Soviet Union is concerned, and it's better to leave it right there.

Q. But when you look at the way events are going there, is it inevitable in your opinion?

The President. Well, that's very hypothetical because there are so many things that can intervene. And I would say it is a matter for the determination of the German people.

Q. Well, many people look at the history books, and they worry about that prospect. Is that a legitimate concern?

The President. Well, we've had discussions with countries that express concerns in this regard because of certain historical precedents, but I don't think that history need repeat itself if there evolves a single German State. But that is down the road, and it is not something that is being pressed. And I repeat: That is a matter for the determination of the German people.

Defense Budget Cuts

Q. Some Members of Congress look at this situation in Europe, and they see it as ripe for debate on considering cutting the defense budget, taking a big chunk out of it. Does that make sense to you?

The President. No, it doesn't make sense to me.

Military Reductions in Europe

Q. What about reducing NATO and Warsaw Pact forces there? A lot of people think -- --

The President. We already have made proposals. We have a bold proposal, a leadership proposal by the United States that has wide support amongst our allies, to do exactly that.

Q. Will that be on the table in Malta?

The President. Well, it's on the table now.

Q. If Gorbachev comes in, and he says why don't we agree to it here? -- a lot of experts think that he will come in and say that.

The President. He's already agreed to it in principle. The Soviet Union has -- there's no great debate on the principles of the reductions that we've proposed. But the problem is we're hammering out a lot of detail now that can't be done at a Malta meeting or that has to be done in a multilateral forum.

And so, I've been very pleased that the Soviets have been quite supportive of this United States-NATO initiative.

Q. Would you be willing to use the Malta meeting as a setting to sign off on such an agreement once -- --

The President. I don't want to elevate the expectations of a watching world. That is not going to take place at Malta because the details have not been worked out in the multilateral forum where they're being discussed in Vienna. It just won't be ready by then.

Q. Quick domestic question -- --

The President. My hope is that it can meet the timetables I set and the alliance set. And they were very ambitious. But it's not December 2d.


Q. Quick domestic question. Will you sign this DC appropriations bill that includes allowing the use of local funds for abortions for poor women?

The President. I have made very clear that I -- they can test me all they want; they can package it any way they want, but if it expands the use of federally appropriated funds for abortion, I'm not going to sign it. And I've been very honest and direct with the District.

Q. This is local funds.

The President. Well, let me see what it is then, if there's something different. But if it's appropriated federally, why, I have great difficulty with that, and have been very open with the Congress on it.

Q. This is still a very painful subject for you, isn't it?

The President. It is, I don't like it. I know that our party is big enough to have people in it who differ on this question. There's no question about that. If that weren't true, I guess I wouldn't have been elected President, because this issue was widely presented to the American people and very openly debated in debates with Mr. Dukakis, who felt quite differently about it.

Q. Well, if the party is big enough, why is it that policymakers in the health area are required to share your views before they're -- --

The President. Because I was elected to perform on certain things. They don't have to share them on every iota -- crossing every "t" and dotting every "i" -- but I'm the President. I was elected to do certain things. And I want somebody in housing that can support the general initiative on housing. I want people on health that share my respect for human life. I want people in Treasury that like to see this deficit come down in a certain way. That's not such a radical concept.

The President's Dog

Q. They tell me the time is up. I have to ask ÿ7Eÿ7Eone ÿ7Eÿ7Ekicker. ÿ7Eÿ7ECan ÿ7Eÿ7Eyou ÿ7Eÿ7Econfirm ÿ7Eÿ7Ethese widespread White House stories that your dog has been eating rats and squirrels?

The President. She's doing her part. [Laughter]

Q. Has she been eating rats and squirrels?

The President. Not eating them.

Q. Just killing them.

The President. Our dog is a fearless hunter, and what she does on her own time -- that's her business.

Q. What does it tell us -- that there are rats in the White House yard here?

The President. Look, I just want to keep them out of the swimming pool. One jumped in there when Barbara was swimming. And we're relying heavily on Millie to cut that down.

Q. Mr. President, thank you very much.

The President. There was a mouse in this very room you're sitting in. I hope that doesn't terrify you, but he was done in the other day, too.

Q. Thank you very much for joining us, sir.

The President. Not at all.

Note: The interview began at 11:13 a.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. It was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on November 18.

George Bush, Interview With Peter Maer of Mutual/NBC Radio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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