Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a Luncheon With Radio and Television Journalists

June 08, 1988

The President. Well, if you don't feel welcome already, welcome to the White House. There's a story we had in Hollywood about Cecil B. deMille, the producer of all those great historical spectacles. It was after the big earthquake in March 1933. And a famous actress of that time, Janet Gaynor, had been in one of the studio buildings when the quake began and all the shaking took place. And when it was over and the ground had stopped moving, she turned to a friend and said, "I thought for a moment we'd dropped into one of those deMille pictures." That's just how I felt last week, during the Moscow summit—dropped into a grand historical moment. I know that you have questions to ask about the summit, and I don't want to take too much time at the start, but I thought I'd quickly review what we set out to do and what we did.

As you know, our relationship with the Soviets is like a table. It's built on four legs: arms reduction, resolving of regional conflicts, improvement of human rights within the Soviet Union, and expansion of bilateral exchanges. The Soviets have indicated many times that they'd prefer the discussions be confined to the arms issues alone, but we believe that sustained improvement in relations can't rest stably on one leg. We saw what happened in the detente period of the early seventies. There were arms and trade agreements and what was billed as a general thaw, but because of Soviet behavior in so many areas, these could not be sustained. Weapons are a sign of tensions, not a cause of them. I know all of you have heard me say this time and again, but let me repeat it here: Nations do not distrust each other because they're armed; they are armed because they distrust each other.

And we began building our new relationship with the Soviets 7 1/2 years ago. Strengthening America's defenses was and is part of it. Our zero-option proposal for intermediate-range nuclear missiles was part of it, coupled with NATO's deployment of Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles. It was a carrot-and-stick response to the highly destabilizing deployment of the Soviet INF missiles. Our policies regarding emigration from the Soviet Union, human rights problems, and the Soviet presence in a variety of Third World conflicts were also aspects of it.

Progress was stalled for a long time. The Soviets tested our resolve, and that of our allies, at the bargaining table and in the deployment of INF weapons. They also went through a series of leaders, none of whom lived long enough to change the longstanding Brezhnev-era policies. That was one of my problems, my delay in getting started in dealings with the Soviet Union—they kept dying on me. And now, under Mr. Gorbachev, the Soviets have a leader who appears to want to change things and who may actually be able to change things. Internally, his promotion of perestroika and glasnost gives us hope, although we remember that old American political adage: "Trust everybody, but cut the cards." In foreign affairs, he's begun the withdrawal from Afghanistan and agreed to our zero option for INF, something the Soviets spent a number of years denouncing.

I hope you'll forgive me for saying this, but too often in the past, it's appeared to me that coverage of summits has been geared more to the hunt for headlines than to the realities of business. If there wasn't the blockbuster agreement, a summit was dismissed. In fact, each of my four meetings with Mr. Gorbachev has produced significant steps forward. Take just one area: reduction in the level of strategic arms. In Geneva the General Secretary and I agreed to the concept of 50-percent reductions; and in Reykjavik, on numerical limits for warheads and delivery vehicles; in Washington, on intensive work to complete a START treaty, including comprehensive verification provisions building on those in the INF treaty. And in Moscow, we moved forward in reaching an agreement on an experiment to improve the verification of existing nuclear testing treaties, and another agreement on notification of strategic ballistic missile launches.

I've heard repeated many times the old rule that you should never go to a summit unless everything has been fully scripted in advance. Well, as you might have guessed, I don't fully accept that. I can't tell you the shock the first time when they said that we should put out the statement in advance that we were going to finish the summit with. I believe that if relations between the United States and the Soviet Union are genuinely to improve, from time to time the top leaders must step in and exercise leadership. They must agree on a common set of broad goals so that those under them have a clear and common green light to move forward. That's been the purpose and the accomplishment of these four summits.

Today we can say, with caution, that we may be entering a new era of U.S. and Soviet relations. It's been a long time coming, but unlike past improvements that saw only a brief day, I think this one will have a broad and stable footing. If the Soviets want it to grow, it can, and it will.

And now, rather than going on, I know that you have questions that you want to ask and that I want to answer. Think of what a refreshing change this will be for me—to hear someone shout a question and realize it's not Sam Donaldson. [Laughter]


Administration Transition

Q. I'm not close to Sam, I'm afraid—background, at least. I'd like to ask you: With the administration coming to a close, and in your own mind and the mind of many others, so much accomplished at the summit, how are you going to prepare for the transition—whether it's a Republican or Democratic administration—so that you can continue what you've started? And I have a followup I'd like to ask.

The President. Well, I'll be pretty handicapped if it goes one way. But if it goes the way I'd like it to go—George Bush, who has been a part of everything that we've accomplished in these several years—why, I would want to point out to my successor the things that we didn't get accomplished that are still needed: the improvement in the whole budgeting process, the line-item veto and what it means. As a Governor for 8 years, I did 943 line-item vetoes without ever being overridden once, and we left the State with a surplus, not a deficit. But, no, I'll want to be of help if I can, but there are a number of things that in these succeeding months we're still going to try to get forward.

Q. My followup is: Nothing is going to be accomplished in terms of an arms agreement without your support, even after you're out of office. Do you think there should be some kind of formalized relationship between yourself and the next President and next administration so that you could be privy to what's being prepared along the way?

The President. Well, let me say, there is such a situation or arrangement now. Regularly we keep each of the former Presidents informed in writing with the policies and where we are and things like the summit and all of that. That goes on regularly, and they're all kept completely informed. And I think that's all that an ex-President should ask for.

Strategic Arms Control

Q. Mr. President, Paul Linnman, from KATV in Portland, Oregon. Acknowledging that you are pleased with the progress made in Moscow and your administration-there is the possibility of agreement before your term ends. Will you press for that if it becomes realistic to include going so far as to invoking your powers to recall Congress for ratification?

The President. Oh, I wouldn't mind recalling them for anything. [Laughter] No, the thing is—let me make clear that we have refrained from setting deadlines. I think the idea to set down some line and then you find yourself tempted to agree to something less good than it could be, but because of the deadline—so, if it isn't, I'd think it would be great if the START agreement could be finished, the negotiations go on between our representatives. If that could be done before I left office and it could be signed, that would be fine, because then we could move on to some other things that need dealing with—conventional weapons and so forth. But if it isn't, why, we'll just keep on negotiating and then try to impress on whoever comes in next where we are.

I've got to come over to this side here sometime.

Presidential Candidates

Q. My name is Ted Trulock. I'm with WCTV in Tallahassee, Florida. We both went to Dixon High School—

The President. Well!

Q.—in Dixon, Illinois. Anyway, sir, what I was going to ask you about was the Democratic side on Presidential politics. How do you see the Reverend Jackson's campaign? Do you think that he is a viable Vice Presidential candidate? Can you give us some advice? I'd like to follow up, if I could.

The President. Well, I hate to give any suggestions that might be of help to the other side. But there's no question that he has impressed a great number of followers. And I want to say—and without any inference to any racial difference or anything—I would have to say that I find myself in great disagreement with policies that he has proposed, as well as those of the other candidate, Dukakis. But I think that goes with the game. They obviously have different goals in mind than we have. But I think he's certainly been a viable candidate all the way.

Q. Your friend George Bush seems to be having some problems in California. What can you do to help him there?

The President. Everything I can. I've had to be neutral for a long time—until there was a definite candidate—because in this job you are titular head of the party, so you have to remain neutral. But as I say, he's been a part of everything that we've accomplished in this administration.

Soviet People

Q. I'm Sharon Crockett, from LAC Radio in Nashville. What is your impression of the people of the Soviet Union—just the regular people?

The President. My opinion of the—

Q. The people—just the plain old everyday working people in the Soviet Union. The President. In the Soviet Union?

Q. Yes.

The President. There are several people at my table here that are going to have to listen again. One of the most exciting things—I couldn't believe it, after all the years of propaganda that we're all villains on this side of the ocean and everything. The Soviet people were the warmest, friendliest, nicest people you could ever meet. Every place we went, whether it was night or day, the streets would be lined with thousands of them, as if there was going to be a parade—and their friendly waves. And then in the opportunities when we did have a chance to get out in the street and come in contact with them, and they all wanted to shake hands and visit. They were really wonderful. And I'm going to add something in there that you didn't ask, but that I had said once before up here. I voiced this a few times when I had a chance publicly in the Soviet Union: that not only were they all so wonderful and friendly, but I think the women of the Soviet Union are the biggest and most powerful stabilizing force in that society. They're just wonderful.

Soviet-U.S. Relations

Q. Mr. President, my name is Cameron Harper. I'm from KTVK Television in Phoenix. And I heard you say in speeches that the summit was a turning point in East-West affairs, and you've said that it planted the seeds of freedom and liberty. Vice President George Bush, as recently as yesterday, was saying that he's not so sure, that he's not sure it represents a fundamental change in direction in the Soviet Union and its relations with this country. Is he reading a different set of briefing papers, perhaps?

The President. No, and I think he's being as careful as we all must be. It's all right to be optimistic and all of that, but I—I'm not a linguist, but I learned a Russian proverb, and Gorbachev wishes to hell I hadn't. [Laughter] It is: Dovorey no provorey. It means trust, but verify. And we have the greatest verification worked out in the INF treaty that's ever taken place. There will be, I think, sixty-some Americans permanently stationed in the Soviet Union, and they will have as many of theirs permanently stationed here. And that's never been attempted in any treaties before.

There's a young lady there. Yes?

General Secretary Gorbachev

Q. Mr. President, you know Mikhail Gorbachev probably better than any American, have had four summits with him, spent many hours one-on-one with him. If he has the good fortune to have your good health and stamina, he could conceivably .be the Secretary General for 20 to 25 years. I'd like first your impressions of the man and any advice you might offer to the next President on going toe-to-toe with Mikhail Gorbachev.

The President. Well, I have known a number of their leaders and met with a number of their leaders before, and I must say this: He is different. And this doesn't mean I mean that you lower your guard precipitantly at all, but he definitely—his perestroika—and I read his book—and glasnost—he definitely wants changes in the social structure there. And he's faced with a great economic problem, literally a basket case. And he has plans, and these other things I've just mentioned are part of his plan for trying to build up the economy and make it more viable than it presently is. And I have to say that I think the Russian people have taken to both of these, glasnost and perestroika, and have a far better feeling about their system. I didn't run into the kind of cynicism that I've seen so often in the past among them. And I think that Margaret Thatcher was right when she said, "He's someone you can do business with."

Meetings With the Press

Q. Mr. President, Howard Caldwell, from Indianapolis, Indiana. In light of the heavy coverage of the summit, I'm curious why you invited us out here today. Were you dissatisfied about coverage? [Laughter]

The President. No, let me tell you. We've gone too long without people like you being here. I started in the beginning having, several times a year, people like yourselves from all over the country here in this same room and doing what we're doing right now, because I recognize that your only sources of information were coming from certain elements of the press within the beltway and in the East here. And I sometimes have found some of those sources biased. And I thought that you had a right to be able to ask, and you ask good questions, too.

This young lady here, and then I'll get you.

Presidential Candidates

Q. This is to play off the question that was asked to you earlier. I'm Nancy Chandler, from WITI-TV in Milwaukee. I'm wondering, with the approaching election, you knowing Gorbachev, if you had talked at all—certainly we know your preference in the Presidential race—if he had expressed one way or another which candidate he might appreciate negotiating with in the future.

The President. No, I think he's been very careful to not ever get into that subject, and he's never brought that up or not. But I've made it plain to him that I'm going to do everything I can to impress upon my successor where we are and what the goals should continue to be.

Now, that young man.

American Indians

Q. Mr. President, some remarks you made in Moscow caused great consternation among Indian leaders. One of the kinder assessments was by Navajo Tribal Chairman Peter McDonald, who happens to be a Republican and suggested it might behoove you to visit the Navajo reservation this fall. I'm wondering whether you have any regrets about the remarks you made about American Indians in Moscow and what the chances are of you visiting the Navajo reservation this fall.

The President. Well, I don't know whether I can, whether the schedule will permit—I'm still trying to find the fellow that tells me where—I'm going to be doing every 15 minutes every day. But, no, I don't regret that, and I do think that there were mistakes made back in the very beginning of our country with regard to the Indians and the manner of handling them. But the question that I was answering was in effect—was that somehow I had refused to meet with them. I've never refused to meet with any Americans and certainly haven't refused to meet with them and have on a number of occasions. And I don't know just what the specific complaint is, but I know that we've been doing for a long time our utmost to provide education for those who wanted to maintain Indian life as it was on the reservation, in contrast to those who leave and come out and join the rest of us and become more like us.

I've got to turn back this way again. May I go back here once, and then I'll come to you.

Soviet-U.S. Cooperation in Space

Q. Mr. Reagan, Steve Rondinaro, WESH Television, Orlando. Thank you for having us for lunch. I enjoyed the finger bowl. [Laughter] Let me ask you, sir—our area covers the Kennedy Space Center. We follow space very closely and paid a lot of attention to Mr. Gorbachev's first motions about a joint mission to Mars. Did you weigh that prospect at all? Do you see that happening? And how do you view our space program, as opposed to where their's is? They just put three cosmonauts up yesterday.

The President. Yes, there's no question but that the Challenger tragedy has put us behind, and we are back of where our schedule called for—because we wanted to be underway on a space station by this time. With regard to the Mars trip—incidentally, we've already sent a craft to Mars, as you know, in the past—taken some pictures that make you wonder why anyone would want to go there. [Laughter] But they've specified theirs would be unmanned, also. I have turned that over to our people in that field because I don't know just exactly what the scheduling problems are for getting us back into operation again and whether that would set us back. But I'm going to wait for their reporting before making a decision on whether we do something jointly.

Q. They have a space station up already. I know you wanted to have ours up there by 1990, originally.

The President. Yes.

Q. Do you have a money battle to make that happen? Will that become reality?

The President. Well, as I say, we were set back by that tragedy and then the extensive research and all that went on so that we wouldn't have a repeat. And so, we're behind. There's no question, we're behind schedule in all of our space activity other than the things that we put aloft, such as the satellites that can give us the weather and that can photograph the Earth as if they were— [laughter] —just on the second floor and so forth, that type of thing. But generally we are behind schedule, and right now, as I understand, we're having a little problem—since the explosion in one of our rocket fuel plants—we're having trouble.


Q. Mr. President, Bill Bayer, from Miami. You're coming to Miami later this month, I understand, but some of the Cuban-American community and many of the people down there say that the Reagan administration has betrayed us. You've heard this, of course.

The President. Yes.

Q. Okay. What is your answer to this? Of course, betrayal is a very provocative word, but nonetheless it's bounced around the headlines all over the country. What would you answer them? And then I have a followup.

The President. I would answer that they're misinformed. We certainly haven't betrayed them, nor is there anything to this idea that we've softened up our relationship with Castro. As you know, we were instrumental-in fact I would think that we were the ones that got the United Nations to authorize a team to go to Castro—or to Cuba and look into the charges of violation of human rights there. So, no, we're not doing anything of that kind. Since Cardinal O'Connor went down there, if it is true that he is going to release several hundred of their political prisoners, I have firsthand knowledge of what those prisoners have been going through, and some of them for more than 20 years, and the torture that they've gone through. But before I would take Castro's word as to the number and that he's releasing the bulk of them—only a few—no, I'd want somebody else to be there counting.

Regional Conflicts

Q. Mr. President, did the subject of the backyard, the Caribbean and South America, come up during the Moscow summit at all, and the cancer of communism seeping through?

The President. We always bring that up in connection with that one thing about regional activities and regional developments. You don't get definite and specific yes and no answers to things. We think that there is a big improvement—the Afghanistan thing that has happened. We think that there is a probability—maybe I should say possibility, but I believe even a probability—of, now, relief in Angola from this same kind of a situation. But, yes, they know our feelings, and we have laid out the places where we believe that something must be done.

Ms. Board. We have time for one more question.

Q. Mr. President, Ray Briem, of ABC, Los Angeles. And first of all, as a member of the Rotary Club of Pacific Palisades, we know you're an honorary member, and after January, we invite you back. [Laughter]

The President. Thank you.

Strategic Defense Initiative

Q. Regarding SDI, a few months ago you said that the Soviets may be preparing to break out of the ABM treaty and deploy a nationwide ABM system. Did you talk that over with Mr. Gorbachev? And what was his answer?

The President. Oh, we have told him that we believe that they're in violation. We know they're in violation of the ABM treaty, particularly with Krasnoyarsk. And we've made it plain that we know that and that that is going to be factored in in any of our dealings, and particularly with SDI.

We know that they have been spending far more on defensive programs than we have with SDI. But evidently their technology must not have kept pace with ours, because our system is one that I think, in spite of some of the pessimists who claim otherwise, that it is a research program aimed at a target. And the research has-there have been a number of breakthroughs that has made most of our scientists optimistic that it is a system that can work. And if it can, I have often said—and have said to General Secretary Gorbachev—that this could be the answer to the dream of no more nuclear weapons if we could make them obsolete with this kind of defensive system. And I have said that I would be pleased to share it with the world if we had such a thing because someday-you know, we know how to make those nuclear missiles, and someday there could be a madman come along, another Hitler or something, and try to blackmail the Earth. But not if we all had a protective system against them that was almost invulnerable. And we're very optimistic about it.

There's—did you mean that one or that-there was one that I was going to take right back there with his hand up.

Vice President Bush

Q. Mr. President, Wayne Weinberg, with WDVO Radio in Orlando. If I could play a game of "what if "with you: If I were Vice President, if I were George Bush, and we were in the Oval Office, and it was just you and I, and I said, "Gee, Mr. President, all the polls show that I'm behind Michael Dukakis." What would you tell him to give encouragement and perhaps to advise some strategy to reverse that?

The President. I'd say, George, wait till you and I get out there on the trail and start pinning him down on the things he claims which we know are not true. And then we would say such things as some of our own accomplishments. You know, if I listened to him long enough, I would be convinced that we're in an economic downturn and that people are homeless and people are going without food and medical attention and that we've got to do something about the unemployed. Do you know what the potential pool of employment is in the United States? I didn't till I got here. It is everyone, male and female, 16 years of age and up. That is the potential employment pool—all of those students, all of those retired people, everything. Today the highest percentage of that pool is employed than ever in our history.

There were other things we wanted to do. We wanted to get the Government to act a little bit more like business and do things more effectively and efficiently than it can. I put George Bush in charge of a task force to see how many Federal regulations could be eliminated. The book containing those regulations now is only half as big as it was when we came. And our estimate is that the people, the communities, the States, and businesses have now been able to reduce the amount of time spent on government-required paperwork by 600 million man-hours a year.

And there are other little items, like just the other day some figures came in: that it used to take 43 days to get a passport; it only takes 10 now. And there's one that used to take 100 days to get an urban renewal loan set in motion. And it doesn't take 100 days anymore; it takes about 16. I may be getting some of these figures inaccurate, but that's how much the improvement has come in businesslike ways and things that we've done to imitate business instead of attack business.

Now, I know that I'm way past my schedule, and Elizabeth isn't—she could hit me over the head if I don't say—there's one thing that's typical of this, as well as the regular press conferences. And that is that, darn it, I always have to walk away with about 30 hands that have been waving that I haven't been able to get to. I just try to point in directions here and not play any favorites. And since you're all new to me, I couldn't play any favorites, but I'm grateful for your being here. And maybe if you feel like writing some questions and handing them to our people, we can send you back some answers if we didn't get to them at all. But I have to get back to the office now. Thank you all very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:08 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. Elizabeth Board, Special Assistant to the President and Director of Media and Broadcast Relations, also attended the luncheon.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a Luncheon With Radio and Television Journalists Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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