Ronald Reagan picture

Radio Address to the Nation on the Soviet Attack on a Korean Civilian Airliner

September 17, 1983

My fellow Americans:

Five days after the Soviets shot down KAL 007, I went on nationwide television to urge that all of us in the civilized world make sure such an atrocity never happens again. And I pledged to you that night, we would cooperate with other countries to improve the safety of civil aviation, asking them to join us in not accepting the Soviet airline Aeroflot as a normal member of the international civil air community—not, that is, until the Soviets satisfy the cries of humanity for justice.

On Thursday, an American delegation lead by Lynn Helms, who heads up the Federal Aviation Administration, went to Montreal for an emergency session of the ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization. This meeting was called at the request of the Republic of Korea, and 32 countries are attending. The group immediately went to work on a resolution to call for an international investigation, to deplore this atrocity, and to review procedures to prevent civilian aircraft from ever being attacked again. Yesterday, the resolution passed by an overwhelming majority.

The Soviets have not budged. Apparently, their contempt for the truth and for the opinion of the civilized world is equaled only by their disdain for helpless people like the passengers aboard KAL Flight 007. They reserve for themselves the right to live by one set of rules, insisting everyone else live by another. They're supremely confident their crime and coverup will soon be forgotten, and we'll all be back to business as usual. Well, I believe they're badly mistaken. This case is far from closed. The Soviets aggression has provoked a fundamental and long overdue reappraisal in countries all over the globe. The Soviet Union stands virtually alone against the world.

Good and decent people everywhere are coming together, and the world's outrage has not diminished. Repercussions such as that emergency ICAO meeting in Montreal are just beginning. Take the example of aviation. Canada suspended Aeroflot landing rights for 60 days and froze the signing of an agreement for Aeroflot refueling at Gander. The Canadian Air Traffic Controllers Association has withdrawn from a longstanding exchange agreement with its Soviet counterpart organization.

The IFALPA—that's the International Federation of Air Line Pilot Associations-declared the U.S.S.R. an offending state. It called for its member associations to ban all flights to Moscow for 60 days, and it called on related international unions and professional associations to take similar actions. It demanded Soviet guarantees that similar attacks will never be repeated, and what is most encouraging because it underscores this reappraisal I mentioned, the IFALPA promised to consider further actions against the Soviets if no such guarantees are given.

Scandinavian Airlines has suspended flights within Soviet airspace for 60 days. Norwegian pilots and air traffic controllers are boycotting all air service between Norway and the Soviet Union. With the exception of France, Greece, and Turkey, all the NATO nations and Japan have temporarily suspended civil air traffic between their respective nations and the Soviet Union. Even neutral Switzerland and pilots in Finland have joined the general boycott. Australia and New Zealand are also taking strong measures in the area of civil aviation.

In the United Nations, the Security Council voted a resolution deploring the Soviet attack, forcing the Soviets to cast their veto to block its adoption. Here, too, we're seeing evidence that a fundamental reappraisal is in the works. Most countries rebuke the Kremlin. Only a few of Moscow's dependables stood up for its defense. Nonaligned nations are looking to the United States for leadership. I've instructed our Ambassador to the U.N., Jeane Kirkpatrick, to sit down with them to seek out new areas of cooperation.

In the Congress, both the House and the Senate mobilized overwhelming bipartisan support for a resolution of condemnation. Some would have us lash out in another way by canceling our grain shipments. But that would punish American farmers, not the Soviet aggressors. The most effective, lasting action against their violence and intimidation-and it's the one action the Soviets would welcome least—will be to go forward with America's program to remain strong.

I'm confident that if enough of you at the grassroots make your voices heard, we can and will do just that. We may not be able to change the Soviets ways, but we can change our attitude toward them. We can stop pretending they share the same dreams and aspirations we do. We can start preparing ourselves for what John F. Kennedy called a long twilight struggle. It won't be quick, it won't make headlines, and it sure won't be easy, but it's what we must do to keep America strong, keep her free, and yes, preserve the peace for our children and for our children's children.

This is the most enduring lesson of the Korean Air Lines massacre. If we grasp it, then history will say this tragedy was a major turning point, because this time the world did not go back to business as usual.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, Md.

Ronald Reagan, Radio Address to the Nation on the Soviet Attack on a Korean Civilian Airliner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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