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Remarks and an Exchange With Reporters Prior to Discussions With President Boris Yeltsin of the Republic of Russia

June 20, 1991

President Bush. Well, I'm very pleased to welcome to the White House the newly-elected President of the Russian Republic, Boris Yeltsin. And I want to publicly congratulate President Yeltsin on a truly historic victory in this election last week which made him the first democratically elected leader in the long and rich 1,000-year history of Russia. And to put it in American terms, he won by a landslide.

We will be interested in his views on the critical issues confronting the U.S.S.R. and its place in the world: the attempt that we're following from afar to forge a new union treaty, this historic effort to transform the Soviet economy, the imperative of freedom for the Baltic peoples, and of course, continued good relations with the United States and the West.

We have been heartened and encouraged by President Yeltsin's commitment to democratic values and free-market principles, and we look forward to working with him. But at the same time -- I want to be very clear about this -- the United States will continue to maintain the closest possible official relationship with the Soviet Government of President Gorbachev. Indeed, in just the few minutes we've had inside, President Yeltsin has told me that he and President Gorbachev are in very close contact and working cooperatively together to achieve these ends.

He knows that I have great respect for President Gorbachev, as I do for him. And we have an excellent relationship, and our ability to work together has produced, I think, enormous benefits for both of our countries and it served the cause of world peace and stability in the world.

So, let's not forget that it was President Gorbachev's courageous policies of glasnost and perestroika that were the pivotal factors enabling us to end the cold war and make Europe whole and free. So, in this new world in which the United States works with the new Soviet Union, we want and intend to have good relations with the Soviet Government and certainly the Republic Governments. And certainly, obviously, with this dramatic election, that includes Russia, the largest of them all.

We're very pleased to have the good fortune to work with such impressive men as President Gorbachev and President Yeltsin. And again, sir, welcome to the United States. You've made a tremendous impression here already, not simply in the Congress and at the White House but with the people along The Mall out here. And that's what democracy is all about.

So, I really am looking forward to exchanging views on these questions and any other questions that are on your agenda. Welcome to the White House.

All yours, sir.

President Yeltsin. I thank you for the warm words addressed to my homeland, to Russia, to President Gorbachev, and to me. I thank you for receiving me here in the White House and for this invitation to exchange views on the present-day situation in Russia, in my country, and also about the future which we are eager to build.

The popular elections for the President of Russia, which was the choice of the majority of the people of Russia, was indeed the choice in favor of democracy and the profound economic and social reform.

We are also believers in freedom for the peoples of the Baltic countries who should not be chained because one cannot build a union with chains.

I want to assure you, Mr. President, and through you, the people of the United States, that all the positive things that have been attained and achieved by President Nixon, by you personally, by President Gorbachev, in the fields of security and cooperation, in reducing the global military confrontation, is a major achievement of us all. And I shall seek to develop this achievement together with President Gorbachev.

Indeed, we still have forces back at home which want to go back to the times of stagnation. But I can, with all the responsibility, assure you that this will not happen. Russia, which accounts for 70 percent of the gross national product of the Soviet Union, is firmly and irrevocably committed to democracy. And it will not allow any reversion of the course of history.

Once again, Mr. President, I thank you for this invitation, and I hope that we shall have a success in our discussions. I thank you.

Q. Mr. President -- --

Q. Mr. President -- --

President Bush. We can't take any questions. Maybe -- should we each take one?

Q. Earlier today, President Yeltsin said that he thought all Soviet foreign aid should be stopped, that charity begins at home. He included Cuba in this. I assume you would approve of such remarks.

President Bush. I'd say the matter of foreign aid is a matter for the Soviet Union to determine. They know that we've had differences on Cuba, and it wouldn't hurt my feelings a bit if they cut off all foreign aid to Cuba, if that's the question.

President Yeltsin. It is my understanding that this question is also addressed to me. I have said that the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation has enacted a law under which all extenuous systems of all countries and all regimes is terminated. All without exception. And I am stressing that point. We only have 180 million rubles to disburse for Afghanistan. But we have warned the people that as of July 1, assistance will be terminated. We shall have to trade with them.

Afghanistan has tobacco, fruit, and vegetables. And they can trade with us, more so that they are very good merchants. We want to maintain commercial relations with all the countries, not just give us help and assistance, because I do believe that charity begins at home. And in my country two out of every five persons live below the poverty line.

President Bush. May I have the last word? See, I've learned something here. If I had had that answer inside before I gave my answer, I might have had a more knowledgeable answer.

So, now we're going to go in and do some work in here. And I learned something with great interest here about the laws as already passed in the Soviet Union. And I salute them. That's their decision. And it's not the United States role to fine-tune how the Soviet Union or Russia or anybody else deal with other countries. That's their business. And I'm very interested in that answer. And now we're going to go in and learn some more.

Note: President Bush spoke at 3:23 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union. President Yeltsin spoke in Russian, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.

George Bush, Remarks and an Exchange With Reporters Prior to Discussions With President Boris Yeltsin of the Republic of Russia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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