George Bush photo

Remarks and an Exchange With Reporters on the Soviet-United States Summit

May 31, 1990

The President. Well, I'll just say, at the end of a very interesting day, that the talks have gone reasonably well. The mood is very positive in the sense that I had a very good, and I mean genuinely -- not in a diplomatic sense -- very good, exchange for a couple hours this morning with President Gorbachev. I'm very well pleased with the ground we've covered. This afternoon's meeting -- the tone was positive. Differences remain.

We talked about the German question there. I believe President Gorbachev indicated after the meeting that he didn't think the whole question of Germany would be resolved. Certainly, we're not in any position to resolve that entire question, but when he said that the differences had been narrowed somewhat -- I'm taking some heart from that. And we'll continue these discussions tomorrow.

But I think, given the difficulties of some of the problems we face, the talks have gone, certainly, as well as I could have expected up to now. We still have a lot of discussion. We've touched on almost every contentious issue, as well as spelling out the areas of which we have common interest, where things are going very well between us.

So, that's the report for tonight; and tomorrow, why, we'll be able to say a little bit more. But I won't go into details because we've agreed we're going to talk about them.

Trade Agreement

Q. None of us understand why you can't sign a trade agreement if it's all wrapped up.

The President. We haven't said whether we can sign a trade agreement or not yet.

Q. Why?

The President. We haven't discussed that yet.

German Reunification

Q. Mr. Gorbachev said you've instructed the Foreign Ministers to discuss something that emerged today about Germany, sir. Could you tell us about that?

The President. No, because we agreed we wouldn't. We agreed we'd let them discuss it. I think when I heard what President Gorbachev said -- that's exactly what we had agreed he would talk about. So, we're just going to stay with that guidance.

Q. When will they meet again?

The President. I don't know. Probably tomorrow.

Q. Was there some narrowing of differences that made you decide the Foreign Ministers should get together or some specific details you have them working on?

The President. That was a proposal that President Gorbachev made, and I think the Foreign Ministers need to discuss in great detail the subjects we discussed to see. But I must say, Michael [Michael Gelb, Reuters], I took some heart from that. I was encouraged by that. Our position has been stated and restated, and we'll see where we go. But I think the important point is, we've talked very frankly -- no rancor there. And let's hope some of the differences have been narrowed. But when he says this whole German question will not be solved in a meeting of this nature, I would agree with that. We consult our allies, and he knows that. He knows we have a lot of consultation. But basically, my position is the same as it was when I went into the meetings, but I'm listening very carefully -- listening to their views and trying to understand their position.

Q. Did he offer something specific for the Foreign Ministers to discuss on Germany?

The President. I think they do have some specifics to discuss, but that can be discussed after they get through talking -- --

Q. Mr. President, did you offer any concessions? Did you give him anything in return?

The President. No. I want to stay with the guidance that we agreed on. But our position is well-known, and -- --

Q. You gave nothing?

The President. -- -- the fundamentals have not changed.

Q. You gave nothing at all?

The President. The fundamentals have not changed.

Soviet-U.S. Differences

Q. Has he taken offense to your stand on Lithuania or your remarks today in the arrival ceremony?

The President. He didn't seem to take offense to anything. He knows that we have differences. I've been very up front with him, and he's been very, very direct and up front with me. So, that's one of the good things about the meeting. Great powers have differences. Sometimes they haven't been able to talk about them in a civil way. We are talking about them in a very civil way. I commend him for that approach. It's one I like, it's one I understand, and it's one I think benefits not just the United States and the Soviet Union but a lot of other countries as well.

Trade Agreement

Q. Would a trade bill be contingent on what you hear on Lithuania?

The President. We're going to discuss the details of that -- probably get into some of that tomorrow.

German Reunification

Q. Does he feel that he has a proposal to talk about on Germany -- means that he is more ready to come your way than you are to his, sir?

The President. We're not dealing on that. Look, we agreed to some guidance, he and I, and I'm going to stick with it. And he did, and I think that's a good sign. We're in the middle of some discussions about where it stands.

Summit Tone

Q. Why do you think it is going so well? Both of you have talked about a really good relationship that -- the two of you have talked about the hours he's spent here. Why do you think this time there has been such -- is it a good chemistry?

The President. Well, I don't know. That's a good question. I feel very comfortable with him. I feel very free to bring up positions that I know he doesn't agree with. And as I've said, that hasn't always been the case. There have been times when people banged their shoes when they didn't agree. That's not the mood or the tone of this meeting. And we both realize we're engaged in very, very historic and important work here. I think when these meetings are over people in this country are going to be pleased with some of the positions he takes concerning U.S. interests. And hopefully, I can be reassuring to people in the Soviet Union about the kind of relationship we want. But the tone of it is important so that we can try to "narrow differences."

Lithuanian Independence

Q. Mr. President, does either side have a better understanding of the other's position on Lithuania now? Have you narrowed any differences?

The President. That subject has been discussed, but not in the plenary meetings and not in great detail yet. It will certainly be discussed in more detail.

Q. You said you were heartened by the discussion on Germany. Was there any reason for similar encouragement on Lithuania?

The President. As I say, that matter has not been discussed. And I can't quantify for you my hopes on each important question, and that is an important question.

German Membership in NATO

Q. Mr. President, has he backed off anything since his comment yesterday about dictating to the Soviets?

The President. I don't recall. You mean, something he said in Canada?

Q. Yes, sir.

The President. I think when I said out there that we're dealing from positions of unique responsibility, I think he understood that I have certain respect for the standing of the Soviet Union and I'm not attempting to dictate. But I clearly am entitled to and will put forward the views of the American side as forcefully as I can. But you don't get any progress if you give the impression that you're in a situation of dictation. The age of the dictator is over. Remember my speech a while back?

Q. Mulroney [Prime Minister of Canada] seems to think that most of the West is insensitive to what the Soviets suffered in World War II.

The President. I think Mulroney, with whom I've talked twice in the last 2 days, knows very well the United States is not insensitive to the fact that the Soviets lost 27 million lives in the war. And I know Mr. Gorbachev understands that I'm quite sensitive to that. I think he's also sensitive to the fact that a lot of American kids lost their lives. It might have been that I was only one of the two of us who was old enough to remember from being there.

Q. That's why he doesn't want Germany in NATO as a military -- --

The President. You're putting words into his mouth.

Q. Mr. President, is there any change in his ability to negotiate -- --

Length of the Summit

Q. Will you have enough time in 3 days, or is that too short a period of time?

The President. Well, I don't know. I think the Camp David meeting, where we have a lot of one-on-one time, is going to be fruitful. I think we've got to do better on -- simultaneous, as opposed to consecutive, translation speeds things up. And today in the Oval Office we had the longer version, so I'd like to move that up a little bit. But I guess there's never enough time when you're dealing with an agenda that is this important. We've got regional questions that we haven't touched on yet. We have more refinement on -- each side to refine its views on the European questions. We have arms control that's still being talked about behind the scenes, but that he and I have not gone into. So, we've got a big agenda. Whether we'll have enough time to do everything that he wants and that I want, I don't know.

I am convinced that, out of this meeting, we will narrow differences and the two ships are less apt to pass in the night based on simple misunderstanding. And I'm convinced of that because I can talk very frankly with him. And when he talks, I listen, and when I talk, he listens. We're not shouting at each other. There's not a rancor in there. And once in a while, both of us, if we feel strongly about something, we might get a little more passionate than the rest of the time in presenting our views. But I'm very pleased with that mood of his wanting to understand the United States position, my having the opportunity to express it. And I hope he understands the receptivity on my part.

German Reunification

Q. Mr. President, may I try once more on the question of Germany, sir?

The President. You can try, but I'm not going to give you any more because we agreed with the President of the Soviet Union on the guidance -- if you want me to read it to you again, I'll get my notes. I can't help you on it. Nice try. Another question, though, maybe.

President Gorbachev and Soviet Domestic Problems

Q. Mr. President, have you noticed a change in the Soviet President since Malta? Have his domestic problems constrained him at all in your talks?

The President. He's 6 months older. No, I don't really -- I don't -- --

Q. Has he brought up his own domestic problems and offered that as a stumbling block in these solutions?

The President. No. He's not done that. He's not trying to hide anything, nor is he wringing his hands. To me, there is a certain -- I don't know whether Brent [Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs] felt this way -- but a certain strength and confidence that was there in Malta and certainly is still there now. And you can feel that. I mean, this wasn't just a casual observation. I felt strongly about that. So, I don't feel a weakened presence or anything of that nature. I feel a man determined to do his job.

Q. Do you think there is anything you can or should do to help him in the short term?

The President. I'm going to do what's in the national interest of the United States -- our security interests, our global interests. And working closely with the Soviet Union -- a lot of questions -- is in our interest. So, with that approach in mind, I think maybe he can go away feeling that he's got people here that are not just dealing with some innate animosity towards the Soviet Union. We're in a fantastic era of change. We focus on the problems at meetings like this; but we ought not to neglect the fact that we're sitting here, talking to the head of the Soviet Union at a time when Eastern Europe, for the most part, enjoys the democratic process and enjoys a freedom that none of us would have predicted possible. A lot of that is because of the way in which Mr. Gorbachev has conducted himself.

So, there's some problems out there. But we ought not to overlook the fact that we've come a long, long way, and there is less tension in terms of world catastrophe. But there are still some big problems. So, it's that kind of an approach that I'm bringing to these meetings.

Arms Reduction Negotiations

Q. Sir, was there any progress today on START or CFE?

Q. Conventional weapons? What about conventional? You haven't talked about that. Any problems on -- --

The President. That's going on, but didn't come up -- the arms control agenda was not discussed today.

Q. Do you think he'll invite you to Moscow?

President Gorbachev's Meeting With American People

Q. Did you watch him when he got out of the car down there at 15th Street?

The President. No, I didn't see that.

Q. A big crowd.

The President. Was it?

Q. A big crowd. Yes. I hear he's taken your advice about parades.

The President. How was it received?

Summit Discussions

Q. When did he last indicate that he was hoping there would be more in-depth discussions? Weren't there in-depth discussions today?

The President. I thought they were in depth.

Q. He didn't seem to feel that way.

The President. I think he thinks they were in depth.

President Gorbachev's Meeting With American People

Q. Did you talk with him about the handshaking out on the street, pressing the flesh, working -- --

The President. No, we didn't discuss that.

Q. You didn't really settle anything today, did you?

President Bush's Exchange With Reporters

Q. Did you come out here because you felt you weren't in the game, and he was getting all the publicity by talking to us?

The President. Michael, I knew you'd want a debriefing. You know how I'm jealous about air time. [Laughter] It's one of my driving factors is to be sure you're on for 30 seconds. You know how I am. [Laughter]

Good seeing you guys. You've got to stop laughing. [Laughter]

Note: The exchange began at 6:26 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.

George Bush, Remarks and an Exchange With Reporters on the Soviet-United States Summit Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives