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Question and Answer Session With Journalists Refuting a Washington Post Article on Mu'ammar Qadhafi of Libya

October 02, 1986

Q. And let me ask, if I can, one other very quick question which I have been asked to ask you. You're quoted today in the Washington Post as having said at a meeting on August 14th that Qadhafi should go to San Francisco. One of the papers I write for is in San Francisco, and they take that as a bit of a slur—the implication being that nuts like Qadhafi should go to San Francisco, because that's where a lot of nuts live. And I wondered if you wanted to say anything—

The President. Well, I challenge the veracity of that entire story that I read this morning with great shock. And sometimes I understand your sacred policy of never revealing sources, but do you really have to defend sources that misinform you? So, now wait a minute, before you got to that, what was your—

Q. Well, the question about the 25

The President. Oh, the 25—more than half, according to the figures I have, have gone home. We have granted them until October 14th on others that they have presented a case that there was hardship, difficulty with families and all, and being able to move, but the 25 will go by October 14th.

Q. Mr. President, to followup on your comment about the story in the Post this morning: There is a memo quoted there that says that there is not evidence of Qadhafi's planning any operations, that he seems to be quiescent. Yet the press was told at the time that he apparently was planning new activities. Now, did the White House disinform the press or did it not in this instance?

The President. Well, we've been keeping track, of course, as well as we can, with regard to intelligence information as to whether or not he's planning additional moves or terrorist acts and so forth. And so, yes, there are memos back and forth about that and what the information is, and so when I challenge the veracity of that whole story, I can't deny that here and there they're going to have something to hang it on.

Q. Well then, what way do you challenge the veracity of it?

The President. Well, I don't want Qadhafi anyplace in the United States, and being Californian, it's the last place I'd send him.

Q. Well, Mr. President, just to followup on this: The main burden of the story suggests that your White House, specifically your national security adviser, constructed an operation whereby the free press in this country was going to be used to convey a false story to the world, namely, that Qadhafi was planning new terrorist operations and that we were going to hit him again-or we might hit him again—full well knowing that this was not true. Now, if that's the case, then the press is being used, and we will in the future not know—when we're being told information from the White House—whether it's true or it's not.

The President. Well, any time you get any of those leaks, call me. [Laughter] I'll be happy to tell you which ones are honest or not. But no, this was wrong and false. Our position has been one of which—after we took the action we felt we had to take and I still believe was the correct thing to do—our position has been one in which we would just as soon have Mr. Qadhafi go to bed every night wondering what we might do. And I think that's the best position for anyone like that to be in. Certainly, we did not intend any program in which we were going to suggest or encourage him to do more things, or conduct more terrorist attacks. We would hope that the one thing that we have done will have turned him off on that for good.

Q. Yes, can I go back to a question a minute ago. You've left the impression, I think, that you think it is all right to put out false information to the press in order to make Qadhafi nervous.

The President. Oh, no. No.

Q. Is that not accurate?

The President. Oh, no. No.

Q. Well, was the information that was put out false or was it accurate?

The President. I used this same term once when there used to be arguments—and I wasn't in this office at the time—in another office—there used to be arguments about nuclear weapons in Vietnam during that conflict. And I said at the time that, while we knew that we were never going to use nuclear weapons there, we should never say that. We should just let them go to bed every night wondering whether we might use those weapons. Well, the same thing is true with someone like Qadhafi and with all the speculation that was going on in the media throughout the world about whether our action would tempt him into further acts or not. And constantly there were questions—aimed at me as to were we planning anything else. I wouldn't answer those questions. My feeling was just the same thing: He should go to bed every night wondering what we might do.

Q. But in this case, apparently there were memos which said there was a deliberate attempt to mislead the press and the American people.

The President. Those I challenge. They were not a part of any meeting I've ever attended.

Mr. Buchanan. Last question.

Q. That was my question, Mr. President. This Woodward story is based on an alleged memorandum from your national security adviser with lengthy quotes. Are those quotes accurate, and does this memorandum exist?

The President. Not things of that kind that you just asked about, no. This was not any plan of ours. But I've come to the conclusion that Mr. Woodward is probably Deep Throat.

Mr. Buchanan. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Note: The exchange with journalists, concerning the article by reporter Bob Woodward, began at 11:12 a.m. in the Family Theater at the White House. In his remarks, the President referred to 25 members of the Soviet Mission to the United Nations suspected of espionage, who had been ordered to leave the United States. Patrick J. Buchanan was Assistant to the President and Director of Communications. John M. Poindexter was Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

Ronald Reagan, Question and Answer Session With Journalists Refuting a Washington Post Article on Mu'ammar Qadhafi of Libya Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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