George Bush photo

Joint News Conference of President Bush and President Francois Mitterrand of France in Key Largo, Florida

April 19, 1990

President Bush. Well, it's been a great pleasure having President Mitterrand as our guest here at Key Largo, after his splendid tropical hospitality at St. Martin in December. And our meetings, starting last May at Kennebunkport, have been invaluable in ensuring close French-American cooperation during this period of historic change in Europe.

President Mitterrand and I spent most of our time today discussing the profound and encouraging transformation of Europe, and we reviewed the enormous advances towards democracy and economic reform which have occurred in Eastern Europe since we met in Paris in July.

In addition to the economic and political reforms moving forward in Eastern Europe, we discussed the welcome prospect of a unified Germany. This fulfillment of the natural aspiration of the German people is a goal which both France and the United States have supported for over two generations. President Mitterrand and I both believe that a united Germany should remain a full member of NATO, as called for by Chancellor Kohl [of the Federal Republic of Germany]. All of our allies and several Eastern European countries share this view as well.

In this context, we also look forward to the continuation of the two-plus-four talks on the external aspects of the establishment of German unity. These talks will focus on bringing to an end the special Four Power rights and responsibilities for Berlin and Germany as a whole. And we agreed that a united Germany should have full control over all of its territory, without any new discriminatory constraints on German sovereignty.

In discussing the evolution of European security, the French President and I spoke about the key role the North Atlantic alliance has played in making possible the positive changes of the past year. The alliance must remain vigorous in this critical period of transition. I told the President that the U.S. will retain militarily significant nuclear and conventional forces in Western Europe as long as our allies desire our presence as part of a common security effort, and he indicated strong French support for the continued U.S. presence.

We also discussed the progress of the European Community towards increased integration, and I repeated the unequivocal support for European unity that I'd expressed last May when we were together up there at Boston University. We agreed that as the EC evolves, closer U.S.-EC linkage and more effective channels for dialog will be required. We both believe that as the division of Europe gives way to a new era of reconciliation we must strengthen the CSCE process in ways that can enhance mutual confidence and peaceful cooperation in Europe.

We also had a thorough discussion about the situation in the Soviet Union and Lithuania. And we share a conviction that this issue must be dealt with through dialog so that the Lithuanian people's rights to self-determination can be realized. We're deeply disturbed by recent Soviet statements and activities regarding Lithuania which will clearly not improve the atmosphere, and I told President Mitterrand that the U.S. is considering appropriate measures to be taken in light of Soviet actions.

Mr. President, thank you for coming our way. I am confident that these talks have enhanced our mutual understanding. And let's hope they make a contribution to stability and peace in Europe and elsewhere.

President Mitterrand. Ladies and gentlemen, President Bush has just told you of the content of our conversations; and he, naturally, put the emphasis on the things which he considered to be the most important, which is only natural, and I will proceed likewise.

First, I'd like to say how happy I am to be meeting with the President of the United States in these circumstances, in these new circumstances. I'm extremely happy, too, to have received such warm hospitality in Key Largo. And I'd particularly like to say this to the people who have been good enough to lend us their home, to welcome us and in order that we should be able to spend some hours here, well, working admittedly, but under the extremely pleasant setting which you have in front of you. But I'd really like to express our thanks to the President of the United States, his advisers, and the people who extended their personal hospitality to us.

Well, now, to come to the substance. And I'd like to begin with three things that for France, anyway, are obvious truths. The first is that the United States and France have, in fact, always been friends and allies; and today we can say that there is nothing of importance that divides us. The second postulate is that the Atlantic alliance, in the fields defined by the treaty, provides the organic framework for the cooperation between our two countries; and this is something that should be reasserted. The third postulate is that, well, as everyone knows, or at least should know, France has a specific defense policy which she firmly intends to retain. And this is not in any way contrary to the interests of her allies, as this has been shown over the last quarter of a century.

Now, secondly, the new situation -- and this is pretty obvious to everyone -- a new situation is emerging in Europe. And first, Central and Eastern Europe is moving towards democracy, and these countries are also moving towards their integration -- they're aspiring towards integration within the economies of the rest of the continent. Now, I feel and I have said that that part of Europe, like the other part of Europe -- it would be natural for it. It is, in fact, in its calling to move towards a confederal type of structure comprising the European countries that would have a representative system of institutions.

There would be nothing against the idea, I would say -- very much on the contrary -- of having agreements between such a confederation and the United States of America. As to the European Community, it will, in fact, increase its movement towards integration in the field of monetary affairs, foreign policy, and security. And indeed, the most recent document in such matters is the Franco-German proposal that was published today in Paris.

Still, in the present evolution of Europe right now, we note that the talks on conventional disarmament are progressing, and this is a trend that must continue. It is true that the bringing into question of the Warsaw Pact on the part of several of its members and, secondly, the unity of Germany are things which clearly change the basic elements of the situation. I would add, also, that we hope that the talks on strategic disarmament will be brought to fruition.

In view of this situation in Europe, which is at a state of evolution, what should the alliance do? The first thing is to maintain its cohesion, and in this respect, it's necessary to reassert the need for the presence of United States forces in Europe. Secondly, support must be given to the process of unification of Germany, while at the same time taking into account the security interests of the Soviet Union, which must never be lost sight of. And of course, I'm referring to the presence within the alliance of unified Germany. Still on the question of what should the alliance do, the second answer is to make sure that one excludes from its purview no aspect of security related to the equilibrium of Europe. Thirdly, to facilitate and verify progress towards disarmament verification among allies through consultations which are always necessary. Fourthly, to seek out areas of complementarity with the other parties within which the allies find themselves together in Europe. And I would mention the CSCE and the European Economic Community. And I would add a very important additional note on this: to prepare the Europeans with the idea of playing an increased role in working for their own defense.

So, on this basis, France is prepared to participate in a common reflection on how to adapt the alliance to meet the requirements of the new times ahead. And with that in mind, I suggested to President Bush -- and he agreed -- that we propose to our allies to hold a summit of the alliance before the end of the year.

And lastly, a few brief remarks. Let's take the United States and the European Economic Community -- we're no longer specifically within the alliance, as such yet. Now, there should be greater coordination in terms of action between the United States and the European Economic Community because economic cooperation is too piecemeal, I would say, and political cooperation is perhaps still a bit too informal. So, I think the idea should be considered of having an overall agreement on cooperation in terms of trade between the European Economic Community and the United States, just as the Community has with its main trading partners. And there could also be regular contacts in terms of political affairs at ministerial level.

Another remark on the CSCE. I have emphasized the importance of this 35-member body in the new European context. The meeting of the 35 heads of state and government in order to consider a conventional disarmament agreement reached among the 23 would make it possible to consider the future of cooperation and security in Europe. And we must always remember that the CSCE is, and has been in the past, the only place where all European countries can meet. And in this respect, the Foreign Ministers have begun working on the agenda of this future summit of the CSCE.

On Germany, I would repeat what President Bush has said: first, concerning the legitimate right -- and this has been mentioned several times in France -- the legitimate right for the Germans to achieve the unity of their two states. And in order to consider the consequences of this unity, the work of the four-plus-two must continue. And the problem of borders, dealt with in this framework, should be able to be solved fully and once and for all.

Now, following what President Bush has said, I would just add one thing on Lithuania. We have considered the situation as has been mentioned, and we have noted that there is a real need for opening a genuine dialog. I would add that France has never recognized the annexation of the country. But this is a phase of this stage which must be tackled in a very level-headed fashion, and in particular, it's important that the two parties should be able to talk about the specific and general aspects of the issue in a framework of overall peace. And we hope to be able to help such a dialog.

Thank you.

American Hostages in Lebanon

Q. Mr. President, the Islamic Jihad says it's postponing the release of an American hostage in Lebanon because you refused to meet its demand to send Ambassador Kelly [Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs] to Damascus. What's your reaction to that, and what's the next step?

President Bush. Well, I hadn't heard the connection with Ambassador Kelly, but I think the U.S. position is clear: We do not meet demands. Our Ambassador to Syria is back in Syria. We've been disappointed before -- hopes raised only to have them dashed by excessive speculation. I would add that we are not talking to the hostage holders. I would further add we are grateful to Syria for trying to play a constructive role in what is going on. But beyond that, I can't think of anything I could say that would contribute to the release of the hostages.

Lithuanian Independence

Q. Mr. President, you said that you wanted to help the dialog between the Soviet Union and the Lithuanians. Have you in mind an initiative which France would take, you would take, or that you would take together, or that the alliance would take? How do you see the situation?

President Mitterrand. I think all initiatives should be welcomed; none should be rejected. They should all tie in with each other. France, at any rate, is prepared to act in that sense, like the United States; and France could do so on her own behalf.

Q. The Lithuanians, through Mr. Landsbergis [Lithuanian leader], have now said that the oil cutoff, in fact, has happened; so, Lithuania is facing deprivation. Apart from trying to help the dialog between Moscow and Vilnius, are you prepared to help the Lithuanian people with aid, possibly through a third agency such as the Red Cross? And this question is directed to both of you.

President Bush. I will go first, with your permission. John [John Cochran, NBC News], we have not been able to confirm, oddly, the exact extent of any Soviet crackdown. And what is happening here today is an early stage of consultation with allies, and I think that's very important.

As you know, Secretary Baker discussed this matter with [Soviet] Foreign Minister Shevardnadze yesterday. We are in touch with the Soviets, and they know our views. And I cannot speculate beyond saying that I will discuss options with our allies as to what the United States will do in conjunction with allies or on our own. I am still hopeful that the dialog that the French President called for and that I have called for will take place.

President Mitterrand. I can but confirm what President Bush has said. Priority must be given to a dialog. Then one will have to reflect about what happens if the dialog is refused, depending on who refused the dialog. And I expressed the way I see the situation directly to the Lithuanian President in a letter that went off 48 hours ago.

Middle East Nuclear-Free Zone

Q. To the two Presidents. You have been discussing disarmament in Europe and security arrangements in the continent. Have you discussed the proposal of President Mubarak [of Egypt] for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, as well as all destructive arms in the area?

President Bush. That subject was not discussed between me and the President of France.

President Mitterrand. But we will have other opportunities of doing so.

Lithuanian Independence

Q. Mr. President, in your statement, you indicated that the Soviet Union had now moved beyond mere statements into action against Lithuania. In light of that, sir, since you have said repeatedly that you would defer comment on what you might do so long as it was unclear whether they were merely threats, could you tell us when you might be willing to say what you might do and whether your reluctance to say what the Soviets have done is a result of Mr. Baker's conversation with Mr. Shevardnadze?

President Bush. No, I can't tell you when the United States might do something. But my reluctance stems from trying to keep open a dialog and discussion that affects many, many countries. And I'm talking about arms control. I'm talking about solidifying the democracies in Eastern Europe. I'm talking about a lot of matters where U.S.-Soviet relations affect a lot of other countries. So, that's one question.

And I also have very much in the forefront the right of the Lithuanians to have self-determination. And what I keep coming back to and what we're trying to do through discussions like this to see if we can find a way, or discussions with the Soviet Foreign Minister, is to see if we can be helpful in getting that dialog started. But I can't help you in terms of time.

Middle East Peace Process

Q. I'm asking the two Presidents if you have some ideas of activating the deadlock peace in the Middle East and especially stopping the settlement in the Old Jerusalem. And I'm asking President Mitterrand your impressions after your meeting with President Arafat [of the Palestine Liberation Organization].

President Mitterrand. The position of France has been known for a long time. I say, alas, for a long time because events have not taken the turn that we would have hoped. Now, we on our part would have hoped for the convening of an international conference. We've also presented some observations to the Israeli leaders concerning the manner in which the election should be held.

My position is that one should reject no opportunity for moving towards peace. And I appreciate the efforts that have been made in various quarters, including by President Mubarak. Now, as to Mr. Yasser Arafat, on two occasions I've had the possibility of having talks with him in considerable depth -- when he first came to visit a number of French leaders and, more briefly, during his recent visit when I received him at the same time as President Carter, where they were good enough to tell me about the results of their conversations. Since the Algiers conference, the PLO has seen with lucidity what the new perspectives are, and I think that such a move on their part should not be discouraged.

Now, as to the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, there should be no misunderstanding here. First, there can be no question of placing any restrictions, any conditions, on the fundamental right of the Jews from the Soviet Union to move about freely wherever they please. To place conditions on their destination and to ask the Soviet Union to sort people out on the basis of such criteria is something that is unacceptable, and this I have stated recently. Now, as to the settlements themselves, my reasoning is very simple: that whatever the origin of the Israelis are, whether they are from the country itself or from outside, it is not wise to multiply such settlements because they give rise to a climate of uncertainty and lack of security, which is not conducive to the general process of reconciliation.

President Bush. She asked both. Let me just say quickly, our policy has not changed. We feel the Baker plan, which originally was thought up by Mr. Shamir [Prime Minister of Israel], is the right way to go to get discussions going and to take the first major step towards peace. And we salute -- I agree with my friend the President of France -- of the constructive role being played by President Mubarak.

Lithuanian Independence

Q. Mr. President, you've given Mr. Gorbachev pretty generous leeway to attend to his problems at home. Is there at this point, though, a limit to your patience, to American patience, on Lithuania? Have you communicated that to him? And also isn't there a danger here that at some point he might feel a free hand to do almost anything except send in the troops to crush the independence drive?

President Bush. Yes, there are limits. And having said that, I am convinced that Mr. Gorbachev knows that there are limits in terms of this matter. And what was the second part now?

Q. Isn't there a danger here that, in view of the tolerance that you've shown, he may feel a free hand to continue moving in the direction they are now?

President Bush. I don't think there is any danger that there will be a misunderstanding on this point -- none at all. We have been in touch, and I don't think there can be that big a communications gap at all.

Q. Can you cite any evidence that your restraint has led to any moderation on his part?

President Bush. Evidence in relation to the evolution of freedom in Eastern Europe? Yes. I've seen considerable constraint there. I am concerned about Lithuania. I am encouraged every time I hear them say no use of force, but I am greatly concerned by this escalation in terms of using energy to push the Lithuanians into line. But I am not concerned that there is any miscommunication or a gap of misunderstanding between the Soviets and the United States on this particular point.

European Security Arrangements

Q. President Bush, Germany and France today called for close cooperation in Europe on security matters. Do you see here any threats to the U.S. interests in Europe?

President Bush. None at all.

Q. Did you get assurances from President Mitterrand about that?

President Bush. I believe that President Mitterrand and I are very close together in our view of security arrangements for Europe, now and in the future. And I must say I felt very enlightened by the long-term view that he presented to me. So, I don't see any danger of what you asked about coming in between the United States and France, or the United States and Germany, or the United States and the rest of Europe.

Q. Mr. President, is today the first day that you learned of this confederation proposal of Mr. Kohl [Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany] and Mr. Mitterrand? And isn't it your view that NATO ought to play more of a role in coordinating contact between the U.S. and Europe, rather than the EC, as suggested by the other two?

President Bush. No. I think that President Mitterrand and I are very close together on the concept of NATO in the future. We're talking about the equilibrium and security of Europe, and then you include political questions that involve the equilibrium and security of Europe. So, this arrangement referred to -- announcement -- in my view does not adversely impact on what I've just said. The German -- Helmut Kohl -- you heard him stand there next to me in Camp David and reiterate his position on a unified Germany inside NATO. That, indeed, is the French position. And clearly, France has a key NATO role -- slightly different in definition than other members, but clearly an ongoing commitment to exactly what the French President talked about. So, I don't see a problem here.

No, I heard about it before Mr. Mitterrand's visit.

Mr. Fitzwater. We'd like to take two final questions. Is there a French correspondent?

Hostages in Lebanon

Q. Mr. President, I'd like you to come back to Terry's [Terence Hunt, Associated Press] first question, and that is about the hostages, sir. Perhaps President Mitterrand could comment as well. The French seem to have found a formula for getting their hostages released. Did you in any way discuss that? And why, sir, is it so difficult to send Secretary Kelly to Damascus if he's there in response to the possibility of getting a hostage released and not as a negotiator?

President Bush. The answer is, we have a perfectly capable, accredited diplomat on the scene in Syria to work toward the release if it comes to that. The second answer is, the United States does not knuckle under to demands. The third answer is that, yes, I believe some of our people discussed with our French interlocutors the freeing of the French hostages, but I prefer to let President Mitterrand address himself to that. I was just delighted when they were released.

President Mitterrand. The freeing of the hostages in the earlier period, back in the beginning of 1988, took place in somewhat different circumstances than what took place last week and under different conditions compared to those prevailing for the United States hostages. Unfortunately, one has to say that each individual case of hostages is, in fact, a separate and a different case. The French government, back in 1988, the government that was in power at that time, has always said that no special conditions had been accepted -- there was no particular deal involving the release of the hostages made with the hostage-takers. And I don't think there's any reason to question that assertion.

As to the release that took place last week -- there the climate was again fairly different because there is no war at present in Chad. And France is no longer in direct conflict with Libya. There was no deal involving any particular counterpart. As to the -- with the hostage-takers -- whose responsibilities and the connections between the responsibilities of various hostage-takers is something that's sometimes very difficult to ascertain -- so, in other words, there was no -- well, it was clear that the hostage-takers had no longer any particular interest in keeping these hostages. And so, what was required then was very patient diplomacy, and it really was patient because it took almost 4 years.

But France is not in any way setting herself up as a sort of model that other people should follow, because we know that the United States' problem of hostages is an extremely difficult situation, and we know that our American friends are doing all that it is their duty to do with not making any specific concessions in order to achieve the release of those hostages.

Mr. Fitzwater. Last question to the gentleman in the fourth row.

President Mitterrand. I think that we should be fair and say that we would probably not have succeeded without the contribution of Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt.

Relations With Iran and Libya

Q. This is a question to the two Presidents. Do you feel that one should be talking with countries like Iran and Libya who still do not respect our common values and who still condone terrorism?

President Mitterrand. You mentioned Iran and Libya. This could apply to others, of course. They have always said that they were not at the origin of the hostagetaking. Now, the general attitude that they have adopted on a number of issues, I think, is such that, shall we say, that one's judgment could be left open on the subject.

But we -- like most countries -- we have diplomatic relations with both Libya and Iran and, indeed, with many other regimes in the world that we do not like. It's always a very difficult question. At one time, we were thinking of breaking off diplomatic relations with Chile, at the time of the bloody dictatorship. But it was at the request of the democratic forces in Chile that we kept our Embassy open because it was a useful point of transit for the protection and the assistance of the people who were working in the resistance. So, it's always a very difficult question. And as far as Iran is concerned, we have diplomatic relations with Iran and Libya, and once one has such relations, like many others, I think it's probably a good idea to try to use those relations in order to try to help to get the release of the hostages.

As to the responsibility, perhaps, of those countries in the earlier taking of the hostages, there I cannot say. I would add, however, that most Western countries do business with these countries, and often on a large scale, with big companies based in the area, and in those countries. So, it's very difficult to draw the line and say this should be allowed and this should not be allowed. At any rate, what is clear is that any country that would be directly involved in hostagetaking or that would be a clear accomplice in hostagetaking should be set outside the pale of the civilized world community.

President Bush. As you know, we have a different situation in terms of relations with Iran and Libya. So, let me just take this opportunity to repeat what I said when I first became President: Good will begets good will. And I link that to the release of American hostages. We can't have normal relations when hostages are held. And I would only add a -- in our country there's this list of terrorism, and I would say a verifiable renunciation of terror is terribly important, for example, in the case of Libya, if we are to have better relations there.

Mr. Fitzwater. Thank you all very much.

Nuclear Weapons in Europe

Q. Has your administration effectively decided not to modernize the Lance missiles in Europe?

President Bush. No decision has been made on that. None.

Note: President Bush's 45th news conference began at 3:50 p.m. at the home of Carl Linder, owner of the Ocean Reef Club. Marlin Fitzwater was Press Secretary to the President. President Mitterrand spoke in French, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.

George Bush, Joint News Conference of President Bush and President Francois Mitterrand of France in Key Largo, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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