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Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters Following a Cabinet Meeting

February 28, 1989

Bookstore Bombings

The President. I have a brief statement. But lest there be any confusion about this occasion, this is what we called a modified press availability, unlike a photo op in which I do not take questions and will not take questions. So, this is a change, and I've explained this and asked the indulgence of our Cabinet, with whom we've just had an opportunity to brief and to talk about the trip that Secretary Baker and I and others are just back from. So, we've had a full meeting. But let me just read a statement relevant to current events here.

A press building in New York City and two bookstores in Berkeley have been targets today of bomb attacks. And while the details surrounding these incidents and the motives of those who carried them out are still unclear, I think that it is important to take this occasion to state where the U.S. Government and, I'm convinced, the American people stand on violence and on our rights. This country was founded on the principles of free speech and religious tolerance. And we fought throughout our history to protect these principles. And I want to make unequivocally clear that the United States will not tolerate any assault on these rights of American citizens. Should it appear that any Federal laws have been violated in these bombing attacks, I've asked Dick Thornburgh, our able Attorney General here, to use all of the resources of the FBI and all other appropriate resources of this government to identify and bring to justice those responsible.

We don't yet know if the bombings are related to the book "The Satanic Verses." But let me be clear: Anyone undertaking acts of intimidation or violence aimed at the author, the publishers, or the distributors of "The Satanic Verses" will be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law. And, yes, some of the Muslim faith can interpret that book as highly offensive, and I can be sensitive to that, but we cannot and will not condone violence and lawlessness in this country. And I think our citizens need to know how strongly I feel about that.

I'll be glad to take a couple of questions before we have to go on to other -- --

Human Rights

Q. Mr. President, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has been suggesting that the incident involving Mr. Fang could have been avoided if the guest list for your dinner had been presented to them in advance. As a matter of policy, do you believe when you invite dissidents from countries to a social event that you should clear in advance with the host Government?

The President. No, and I think they understand that. They may have a point, that it might have been avoided; but that's not the whole question when it comes to the United States commitment to human rights.

Secretary of Defense-Designate Tower

Q. Mr. President, do you have any reason to believe that you will get the five votes or more necessary to get the Tower nomination through?

The President. I'm working hard at it, and I hope so, and all of us are. I am committed. I'm committed on two grounds, and I've just told my Cabinet this. One of them has to do with who best to run the Pentagon, and I haven't heard one single voice challenge this man's knowledge and his ability. And I've known John Tower a long time -- longer than many that are criticizing him out there in various walks of life. And so, who best to do the job that I want done and that the country needs done.

And then the second one is America's innate sense of fairplay. There's a certain fairness, and I don't believe anybody should be pilloried on the basis of unfounded rumor. And so, if somebody has a specific objection, fine, they have every right in the world to state it. But I don't think it is fair to permit perception to be the guideline. And therefore, I will continue to fight for this man that I believe in.

Q. Have you picked up any Democratic Senators?

The President. Who knows?

Note: The President spoke at 2:40 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House.

George Bush, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters Following a Cabinet Meeting Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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