George Bush photo

Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters in Caracas, Venezuela

December 08, 1990

President Perez. Gentlemen of the press, your friends, welcome. It is with great pleasure that I see myself here accompanying President Bush at his press conference. [Laughter] So, please go and ask him the questions and leave me alone. [Laughter]

President Bush. May I have a brief statement, with your permission?

President Perez. Yes.

President Bush. Well, let me just say that it is fitting that I end this trip here in Caracas with my good, esteemed friend President Carlos Andres Perez. And the talks we've had have been warm, informative, and extraordinarily positive, as they always are when we meet.

Venezuela, under this President, is a leader in the great movements that we're seeing all through Latin America: consolidation of democracy; the movement to strip away barriers to economic growth, liberate free enterprise; and the movement to break down trade barriers throughout the Americas; and above all, the movement toward a new hemispheric partnership.

Just look at three points on the Venezuelan success story. They've gone from negative economic growth to real growth, they've cut the debt burden substantially, and they're attracting new investment -- all goals of this new Enterprise for the Americas. And they're out front in these regards.

So, with respect, my friend, I salute you for these and many other achievements. Thank you for your hospitality.

[At this point, a reporter asked a question in Spanish, and a translation was not provided.]

Persian Gulf Crisis

President Bush. First, I agree with the hypothesis that Venezuela is a very dependable friend in this regard, in this question of oil. Venezuela stepped up early on with an offer to increase production and thus stabilize the world price. And we sign no agreements here today, but we did share the view that now, and in the future -- after the Iraq matter is solved, the question of Kuwait is solved -- we must do better planning to forestall any future disruptions to the entire world.

And the President pointed out to me that the most fragile economies in Central and South America are those being hurt the worst by Saddam Hussein's [President of Iraq] brutality against Kuwait.

Norm [Norman Sandler, United Press International]?

Q. Mr. President, your spokesman said last night that the threat of war in the Persian Gulf remains as strong as ever, despite what you described yesterday as movement -- a little here, a little there. What I'd like to ask you is: Isn't the rationale for war, though, and perhaps even, indeed, the risk for war, diminished at this point by the prospective release of the hostages? And in fact, thanks to Venezuela and other countries, Saddam Hussein is now successfully isolated from a world that no longer needs his oil?

President Bush. I want a peaceful solution. I don't feel we are closer to a peaceful solution, and the reason I don't is because Saddam Hussein continues insisting that Kuwait is a province of Iraq and that he will not get out of Kuwait. And that is the fundamental point around which the whole world is united against him.

I'm glad the hostages are coming home. They never should have been taken in the first place. When you kidnap somebody, you should not expect a reward when you let the person go.

Q. Mr. President, doesn't it make it more difficult to convince other countries to still stand up against Saddam and perhaps go to war against him when two main concerns are no longer valid -- the lives of foreign nationals in those two countries and the adequacy of oil supplies?

President Bush. No, it makes it no more difficult at all.

[At this point, a reporter asked a question in Spanish, and a translation was not provided.]

U.S. Forces in Panama

President Bush. As you know, there are certain treaty rights that apply to this situation. There are certain treaty rights there. We want to see Panama's democracy be successful, and we would like to see them perfect their own police-keeping function so that they don't need any outside assistance to guarantee against uprisings.

Q. How much longer do you think you will be there?

President Bush. We were discussing this today in terms of how long it will take Panama to perfect its democracy, and I can't give you an estimate.

Where's Terry [Terence Hunt, Associated Press]? He's supposed to have the next one.

Persian Gulf Crisis

Q. Mr. President, why are you giving Saddam Hussein the satisfaction of withdrawing American diplomats from Kuwait as he demanded? Is that a payback for the release of the hostages?

President Bush. It is no payback. And the feeling is that when every single American is out of Kuwait we will clear the decks, and the Embassy will have ceased to be fulfilling any day-to-day functions. But there is no payback; there is no change in my determination to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in compliance with the United Nations resolutions.

Q. Britain is keeping its diplomats there. Don't you think that giving up our presence there is a reward to Saddam?

President Bush. I have great respect for whatever Britain decides to do. I'm not sure I know exactly what their plan is once their people are released. I think you can make the case that this facilitates the tough decisions that might lie ahead.

[At this point, a reporter asked a question in Spanish, and a translation was not provided.]

Free and Fair Trade

President Bush. One of the reasons to have a successful GATT round is to eliminate barriers that the United States has, barriers that Venezuela has to certain kinds of services and goods from the United States. So, we want to see the GATT round, which has now fallen on hard times -- and I hope temporarily -- be successful. And if that can't get the job done, then we move forward trying to reduce barriers bilaterally. We have barriers; Venezuela has barriers. But our objectives are the same -- free and fair trade -- and they haven't changed.

Gene Gibbons [Reuters]?

Persian Gulf Crisis

Q. Mr. President, you just said that removing American diplomatic personnel from Kuwait facilitated tough decisions that might be ahead. What did you mean by that?

President Bush. I just mean that when you don't have Americans there and if force is required -- that's just one less worry I've got. I have said from the very beginning that this cruel policy of taking hostages and holding them in hopes that that will change the policy of this alliance is fruitless. But I am very glad that these people are coming out.

Q. I wonder, sir, if I could ask the question of Mr. Perez, if he supports use of force in the Gulf and if he expects it to be necessary, given the release of the hostages?

President Perez. Venezuela has stated categorically its support to the decisions made by the United Nations organization. And we have congratulated President Bush for the prudent decision he has made after the latest United Nations decision to invite the Foreign Minister of Iraq [Tariq `Aziz] to Washington and to send Secretary of State Baker to Iraq. And I would like to add that we small countries, such as Venezuela, cannot truly accept that for anybody to be able to delete by force the boundaries of an existing nation. We are therefore automatically in favor of the restoration of freedom and sovereignty to Kuwait.

President Bush. Mr. Bierbauer [Charles Bierbauer, Cable News Network] is on my list here. We've got a list. We've got a new system here.

[At this point, a reporter asked a question in Spanish, and a translation was not provided.]


President Bush. Eastern Europe returned democracy to itself, and someday the Cuban people will return democracy to themselves.

Charles, last one.

Persian Gulf Crisis

Q. Mr. President, an oil question. You've talked repeatedly about how small countries are suffering. President Perez has mentioned that as well. And yet you seem to be relying upon the market system to set the price. Isn't this a situation where either of your countries, sirs, could do more to keep these smaller and underdeveloped countries from suffering as much as they have? I don't see any evidence of it.

President Bush. The best thing the United States can do is help get to the cause and do something about that, and that means to get Saddam Hussein without condition out of Kuwait.

In the meantime, I will do my level-best to point out to the world that there is no current shortage and that what we're seeing is paper barrels of oil traded in the futures market. And they go up, and they go down with every little rumor that is printed. And so, I think the best thing to do is to continue to educate the whole world on the facts, and that is that there is not a shortage today. And I would salute Venezuela for what they've done in trying to help, through their own production, some of these countries that are hurt the most. And certainly we are trying through various programs to try to be of assistance wherever we can.

Q. I'm wondering if I could get President Perez's response to this and whether -- is there some way to divert these windfall oil profits to those countries who are suffering?

President Perez. Venezuela and Mexico are doing it already. We are assisting the countries of Central America and the countries of the Caribbean. And we are also, at this time of crisis, trying to help them to finance their oil imports. Now, unfortunately, we cannot do the same with all of our Latin American clients simply because we, too, have our own difficulties. And besides, the surplus money we are getting now for the oil we sell is not going to be spent; we are going to deposit it into a macroeconomic stabilization fund so as to be able to take care of the difficulties in oil prices we know will appear in the future.

Now, I did take this opportunity to emphasize to President Bush the fact that what we should do is seek an agreement between producer and consumer countries so as to make the world understand that the price of oil is not based on true shortage of oil -- this does not exist -- but simply on the speculation.

President Bush. Thank you for your cooperation and understanding. Thanks.

Note: The question-and-answer session began at 11:55 a.m. in the Inner Courtyard at the Miraflores Palace. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this session.

George Bush, Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters in Caracas, Venezuela Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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