Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on Domestic and Foreign Policy Issues
Q. Good morning—afternoon.
The President. Yes, it's afternoon now.
Situation in the Falkland Islands
Q. Mr. President, would you support-would this government support Britain's efforts to free its hostages in the Falklands in exchange for Mrs. Thatcher's support for freeing American hostages in Iran?
The President. You've asked a question, in a way, about a particular facet of it. Let me just answer it in a little broader context.
It's a very difficult situation for the United States, because we're friends with both of the countries engaged in this dispute, and we stand ready to do anything we can to help them. And what we hope for and would like to help in doing is have a peaceful resolution of this with no forceful action or no bloodshed. And to that extent, we support the resolution that's already in the United Nations, that there be a withdrawal of forces and we resolve this at the U.N.
Q. Mr. President, British television news. Have you spoken to Prime Minister Thatcher this morning?
The President. No, but we have—I received a message from her with regard to the appointment of the new Minister—or Foreign Minister.
Q. What will you do if Britain—
Q. What else did she have to tell you?
The President. Well, she appreciated very much our efforts and my attempt to
Q. Is America prepared to offer military assistance if the British ask for it?
The President. Again, as I said, we're friends of both sides in this, and we're going to try, strive for—and I think that they will be willing to meet in the idea of a peaceful resolution.
Q. Mr. President, are you meeting with the Argentine Foreign Minister, who's here today talking to the Organization of American States?
The President. No, I don't think—no, there isn't any meeting of that kind on the schedule.
Q. Mr. President, Britain—the British Government has threatened to use force if diplomacy fails, and it's regarded as a serious threat in Britain. What would your position be, sir, if diplomacy did fail?
The President. Well, you're getting into a hypothetical question that I hope I never am faced with. Both sides have threatened with the use of force, as is evidenced with Argentina's military landing there. And I just don't think that it's an issue that should come to that point.
Q. Mr. President, why do you think your polls have gone down so much recently?
The President. Well, they have followed a pattern that's been historically true of every President. And whatever the degree might be, I guess, depends on the pollsters.
I think there's been quite a drumbeat of criticism that has gone largely unanswered by us with regard to some of the programs that I've advocated, and of course, there is the unhappiness that exists for all of us in the present recession. But as I've said, I think the polls are only as good as—at the time they're taken.
Q. Well, do they worry you?
The President. No.
Q. Mr. President, when you say it's largely unanswered, sir, do you mean that the answer hasn't been reported adequately or you haven't been making it adequately? What do you mean by that, "largely unanswered"?
The President. Well, I think in the debate it's true that there has been far more criticism of the plan, and that is more newsworthy when someone stands up with a new viewpoint on the tax facets of the program. And we have submitted our budget. And while we're now continuing in meetings with them to hear what alternatives might be proposed, there isn't much news in us just continuing to say, "Well, we're still supporting our program."
Q. Isn't it about time for some new move on the part of the White House? We hear that you may be willing to make some cuts in the defense program.
The President. As I've said, finally there are meetings that have been going on, and I've had people from my staff up there in the place of observers or witnessing or hearing what is being proposed between the legislators, both Democrat and Republican. It so far has not reached a point in which it comes to me with any concrete proposals of one kind or another.
Q. How about defense? Are you willing to make some cuts in defense?
The President. I have said—
Q. If they don't jeopardize—
The President. I have said that any government program obviously has areas where savings can be made by management changes and so forth. And I am open to any suggestions of that kind. However, the basic program of upgrading and building weapons systems that we need in order to close the window of vulnerability, I will—I would have to oppose that. We can't send that kind of a message.
U.S. and Soviet Nuclear Capabilities
Q. Mr. President, on that point, some critics say that they disagree with your assessment that the United States is behind the Soviet Union. But beyond that, they say you were wrong to say it because it gives a perception of weakness. Are you sorry you said it?
The President. No, I'm not sorry I said it, because I think we know for sure the Russians know that. I think the American people ought to be able to know everything they know.
Q. But doesn't it give the impression that we are weak, and therefore doesn't it make the Russians—
The President. No. It's been said over and over again many times. It's been said for the last few years that we were in a deteriorating position, militarily, in comparison to the Soviet Union.
Q. But nobody's ever said, sir, that they could deliver a second strike. Do you really believe that?
The President. That has been published in articles by various people commenting on what should happen.
But let me make one point about this. The idea is that we must have a deterrent. Our goal is peace. And to have peace, we must have a deterrent that would prevent someone from adventuring aggressively in the world using nuclear weapons. And for one point, with regard to our inferiority, we are presently negotiating that in Geneva, the fact that the Soviet Union has 300 intermediate missiles with 900 warheads aimed at Europe and can hit the Middle East and North Africa, and there is nothing to counter them. And our allies have asked us for cruise missiles and Pershings as a deterrent to be stationed in those countries in Western Europe, to be deployed there. And we have agreed to do that.
Now, there is the greatest proof of a superiority. They already have their SS-20's, -4's, and -5's in place—although lately, they have said that they're withdrawing the -4's and -5's, which are an older and lesser missile. We are negotiating from a standpoint of something we yet have to do in providing those missiles, but which we won't do if they will agree to take theirs out.
Q. Do you think they have a first-strike capability against the United States?
The President. I think that at the moment, on the strategic intercontinental ballistic program and our Triad, I think that we do. Those people who say that, well, we have something of a deterrent now, yes, I think so, too.
Q. But do they have a first-strike capability, Mr. President? Can they strike us with impunity?
The President. I think I spoke of that the other night, that, yes, we would have surviving missiles in our submarines, airborne—of those planes that were airborne at the time of such an attack. Their missiles are aimed at our silos, our ballistic missiles, land-based missiles. But would our retaliation result in further devastation to the United States? So, I think I made it clear-look, I'll tell you something; let me give you the answer.
Tomorrow, in Georgetown, Secretary Haig is going to be making a speech on this entire subject of nuclear deterrents and the nuclear power, so I recommend that you
The Nation's Economy
Q. Mr. President, on the economy, your own Labor Department said last Friday, in analyzing the new unemployment statistics, the unemployment rate going up, that this was evidence of further deterioration in the economy. You have said that we are—that recovery is just around the corner. Which of those
The President. Well, not that. I've said we're in the trough, the bottoming out of a recession. And one of the characteristics of being in the trough is—if you'll look back at all the other recessions we've had since World War II, you will find that one of the characteristics is that employment lags behind, and very often in that trough there is a continued increase in unemployment for a while.
Q. So, you disagree that this is evidence of further deterioration in the economy? The President. No, there may even be more unemployment, because—I guess that's why they call it a "trough".
Q. Mr. President
Deputy Press Secretary Speakes. Let's make this the last question.
Q. Are you concerned that many Members of Congress are saying that you will not have a budget until there's a lame-duck session of Congress; it might be another 6 months?
The President. Not have a budget until-we haven't had a budget for 2 years really. No—and we're not that far behind schedule. As a matter of fact, we've presented this budget earlier than we did last year. And I look forward to progress being made as soon as they come back from the Easter recess. That's why we're negotiating so fast.
Q. What about a summit meeting with House and Senate leadership on the budget?
Mr. Speakes. This has got to be it, right here.
The President. I think that that will be a part of the procedure before we finally arrive at a budget.
Nuclear Arms Control
Let me just say in closing, though—since we can't take any more questions here, and we were on that very big subject of nuclear weapons and all—I, as you know, in June, early June, will be going to Europe for a meeting with the European Economic Council, the leaders, the heads of state of European countries. I will be meeting with the Pope in Rome, and then I will be returning. And at the same time, you know, in June and early July, the United Nations is having its meeting on arms control. And I will be returning and addressing that conference at the United Nations myself. And I hope very much that President Brezhnev will be on hand to do the same thing and address the same group. I think that this whole idea that I've been talking about since back in the campaign, of arms reduction, arms control, is one of the most important things that is facing us. And, as I say, I hope that we'll both be able to address the conference.
Q. If he does come, will you eye a summit meeting?
Q. Would you meet with him?
Q. But, sir, isn't Brezhnev in pretty bad health?
Mr. Speakes. Thank you.
The President. We've had no confirmation of anything of that kind.
Q. Would you like to meet with Mr. Brezhnev?
The President. Well, yes if he—I will answer that one—naturally, head of state that's here in our own country, yes I would very much think that he and I would have a meeting.
Q. You're proposing, in effect, a summit here.
The President. Well, the imagery that you bring up with that, whether that means a full-blown summit conference—no, I think that if he is here and we both address that subject, I think it would be well if he and I had a talk.
Q. That will be in June in New York? The President. June.
Mr. Speakes. Thank you very much.
Q. Thank you.
Q. Thank you very much for doing this.
Situation in the Falkland Islands
Q. Just a last question, sir? Have you accepted the role as honest broker in the Falkland Islands dispute, sir?
The President. If we can be of help in doing that, yes, anything that would bring a peaceful solution to what seems to be an unnecessary disagreement.
Q. The British want to go to war. [Laughter]
Mr. Gergen. Thank you very much, Mr. President.
Mr. Speakes. We start on time; we quit on time.
The President. Yeah, because, heaven sakes, yes, I'm due over at the Hilton Hotel.
Q. [Inaudible]—seat, I mean, we're late. [Laughter]
The President. You know, I was speaking to that group last year. I've got to speak again.
Q. Do you have any fear and trepidation about going back?
The President. No, but I'm wearing my oldest suit today. [Laughter]
Mr. Gergen. Thank you very much. Lights.
The President. You know, these are going to do one thing, if you'll all remember it. I leave every press conference, as I told you before, with a great feeling of guilt about the unrecognized hands that have been up and haven't been called on. So, maybe with doing this weekly we can rotate a little.
Q. But now, what's going to happen if somebody asks you a question in a photo opportunity? Are you going to open a trap door?
The President. Oh, incidentally, that's one—that's a part of the new rules. There will absolutely be no questions.—
Q. No, sir—
The President. in the photo opportunity.
Q. The rules given us said no answers from you. [Laughter] You will not answer. They carefully and, I think, wisely did not say there would be no questions.
Q. We can still ask questions; it's just that you may or may not answer.
Q. That's correct.
The President. Okay, you can. But I can sit there with a bar of soap, a pan of water in my hand ready to wash anyone's mouth out with soap. [Laughter]
Q. How frequently do you want to meet with us in this fashion, sir?
Q. Every day. [Laughter]
Q. Thank you.
Note: The question-and-answer session began at 1:07 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House.
David R. Gergen is Assistant to the President for Communications.
Ronald Reagan, Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on Domestic and Foreign Policy Issues Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244853