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Remarks Announcing the Appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as the President's Personal Representative in the Middle East

November 03, 1983

The President. Before this morning's announcement, I'd like to share some information with you that I received on the phone last night.

Secretary of Defense Cap Weinberger called to inform me that hostilities in Grenada have ended and that he has instructed our military commanders to begin withdrawing their forces within a few days.

What this means is that the situation is stable; no sniper fire or other form of military resistance is evident on the island. Our objectives have been achieved, and as soon as the logistics permit, American personnel will be leaving.

I'd like to add that the members of the Armed Forces have conducted themselves in the finest tradition of the military. We can be proud of the courage and professionalism that we've seen from the people down there. The American students called them rescuers. The citizens of Grenada have hailed them as liberators. I think the whole lot of them deserve the respect and admiration of our country.

The operation was not without cost. Those who were killed, wounded, or injured in this operation, I believe, are heroes of freedom. They not only rescued our own citizens, but they saved the people of Grenada from repression and laid aside a potential threat to all the people of the Caribbean. After viewing the massive horde of Soviet weapons found on that island, who knows what evil the liberation of Grenada achieved for us, or averted in the years ahead.

And now, on to the business at hand. I'm pleased to announce today the appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as my special representative for the Middle East. I can't think of a better individual in whom to entrust the coordination of our role in the Middle East peace process and in the Lebanon negotiations.

Don Rumsfeld has had a distinguished career in public service. He's had experience in wide areas of government and public policy—including military service as a naval aviator; in the legislative branch, as a Member of the United States Congress; and in the executive branch, where his many appointments included Chief of Staff of the White House, member of the Cabinet, and U.S. Secretary of Defense. I am grateful that he's agreed to take on this special assignment and that G. D. Searle & Company, where he serves as president and chief executive officer, has made it possible for him to lend his talents to his country for a while.

He'll be joining the team immediately, and in view of the serious job that he's undertaking, we're happy to have an individual of his stature on board so quickly.

Ambassador Richard Fairbanks, who is now in Geneva, has told me that he will continue his critical involvement in these issues, and I am grateful for his dedication. We intend to work and use the talents of our best minds to achieve a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

I announced in September 1982 a realistic set of principles which we consider the best chance for a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. No one's come up with a better proposal since. I'm confident that progress in Lebanon will add momentum to the serious efforts that are going on to establish this broader peace.

We hope that the leaders of Lebanon who are now meeting in Geneva will put the problems of the past aside. They have it within their ability to move toward a national consensus. Progress in their talks could lead to the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and the establishment of a truly representative government.

We're proud as Americans of the part we're playing to bring peace to this troubled region, and now Don Rumsfeld will be our point man in that effort. I've known Don over the years, and I recognize the talent and vigor that he can bring to bear on these weighty problems. I hope all those who share our sincere desire for peace in the Middle East will work with our new representative.

So, Don, good luck, and our hearts are with you.

Q. Mr. President, Nicaragua says you intend to invade that country. Do you, sir?

The President. Who says?

Q. Nicaraguan leaders, sir.

The President. I haven't believed anything they've been saying since they got in charge, and you shouldn't either.

Q. Mr. President, does the success of Grenada, as you view it, that operation mean that you might be able to apply the military in similar situations elsewhere?

The President. No, I can't foresee any situation that has exactly the same things that this one had. It had exactly what we announced in the beginning: the need to protect the lives and the safety and freedom of about a thousand Americans, most of them students down there in a medical school, and in answer to a request on the part of the other nations bound by treaty together in the east Caribbean, that we lend our support to them in freeing this up because they lacked the strength and capability of doing it.

Q. Well, if somebody else asks, would you be willing to do it again?

The President. As I say, if all the conditions were the same, I don't see why our reason would be any different. But I don't foresee any similar situation on the horizon.

Q. Mr. President, why did 100 nations in the United Nations not agree with you that this was a worthwhile venture?

The President. Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International], 100 nations in the United Nations have not agreed with us on just about everything that's come before them where we're involved. And, you know, it didn't upset my breakfast at all.'

Q. Mr. President, some people say that the U.S. has now lost the moral high ground, that there's no difference between what we did in Grenada and what the Soviets did in Afghanistan. What's your response to that?

The President. Oh for heaven sakes. Anyone who would link Afghanistan to this operation—and incidentally, I know your frequent use of the word "invasion"—this was a rescue mission. But in Afghanistan, if you will recall, when the Soviets installed their choice of head of state for Afghanistan and in the process in changing the forces there, an American Ambassador was murdered in Afghanistan. And then, against all the opposition of the Afghanistan people, they have used every vicious form of warfare, including chemical warfare, the killing of women and children—that has caused even some of their own men to desert because they will not carry out the orders to kill women and children. And they're still there after a long period of time, longer than I've been in this office. As compared to what we did in answer, actually, to an appeal that first came from the Governor General of the island, who was in house arrest, to his fellow states there in the Caribbean—or appealing for rescue, and we helped in the rescue.

Granted that we contributed the bulk of the power, but only because the others were limited in their ability to do that. And this was a rescue mission. It was a successful rescue mission, and the people that have been rescued, and the Grenadians that have been liberated, are down there delighted with and giving every evidence of appreciation and gratitude to our men down there.

Q. Mr. President, are you concerned about our allies? Are you concerned

Deputy Press Secretary Speakes. Thank you. We'll turn it over to the Ambassador.

The President. Well, now, listen, you're departing from the reason for the gathering here.

Q. A question on the Mideast, sir?

The President. Don, take over.

Mr. Speakes. We'll let the Ambassador handle it, Sam [Sam Donaldson, ABC News].

Q. Is the cancellation of the Israeli withdrawal pact with Lebanon something that you think would serve any interest now? Syria seems to want it, sir.

The President. No, I don't think that that should happen.

Q. How about freezing it? Freezing it?

The President. In that climate? [Laughter]

Mr. Speakes. Thank you.

Ambassador Rumsfeld. Thank you, Mr. President, sir.

I will be very brief. The President has indicated the assignment. The President, as he indicated, has set forth the policy of this country with respect to the Middle East. And Secretary Shultz, as recently as last month before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, elaborated further. They have asked me if I could arrange myself to be helpful with respect to this, or try to be helpful. Certainly, it is an important part of the world, a troubled and dangerous part of the world, and I have accepted.

I'd be happy to respond to questions.

Q. Mr. Rumsfeld, some people say this is a no-win job and that in fact, some people before you had been asked to take it and had turned it down. Why did you take it, and is it a no-win job?

Ambassador Rumsfeld. Well, I guess time will tell. It seems to me that it is such an important part of the world to our country, and that it is not surprising that successive Presidents have asked individuals to attempt to work on it for periods of time, and that that is in our interest to try to do.

The fact that the problems there are intractable and difficult and have persisted over long periods doesn't mean that the United States should ignore them. Rather, I think it suggests that it's worth our best efforts, and that's what's intended.

Q. There are stories that you consider this a steppingstone to higher office. Is that why you took the job?

Ambassador Rumsfeld. No.

Q. Are those stories made out of whole cloth, sir'? May I just ask if those stories are true?

Ambassador Rumsfeld. I just said no.

Q. In light of the explosion which killed 230 marines, have you or the Secretary of State or the President given any thought to changing the mission of the marines or the scope of the area they control, to make their positions more defensible than they clearly are now?

Ambassador Rumsfeld. I'm the wrong person to ask. I've been in the process of trying to arrange myself to spend time on this, and I have

Q. How much time are you going to spend on it?

Q. When are you going to get involved?

Q. Have you set a limit?

Ambassador Rumsfeld. I'm going to be getting involved almost immediately, and I will be spending full time for what would probably be a rather extended period of time.

Q. Years?

Ambassador Rumsfeld. No, I am not severing my relationship with Searle. I will be obviously away for prolonged periods, and we have arranged ourselves that that's workable from our standpoint.

Q. Is there any conflict of interest built into that then?

Ambassador Rumsfeld. I am not a lawyer, but the lawyers have looked at it, and they tell me there isn't anything approximating a conflict.

Q. Will you remain president of Searle?

Ambassador Rumsfeld. The statutes of the United States apparently envisioned these kinds of arrangements. They've been used before, and there's nothing unusual about it.

Q. When will you leave for the Middle East?

Ambassador Rumsfeld. I don't know. I want to spend some time here and get briefed up and visit with people who've been involved previously. Then I'll make that kind of a judgment.

Q. Will you spend some time at the Geneva peace talks?

Ambassador Rumsfeld. I don't have any timetable at the moment. This has all happened very promptly.

Mr. Speakes. Last question, here. David [David Hoffman, Washington Post]?

Q. Do you expect to have a deputy in this job or help from Mr. Atherton, the former Ambassador, the departing Ambassador?

Ambassador Rumsfeld. I have made no plans with regard to any personnel questions.—

Q. Are you thinking of this in terms of—

Ambassador Rumsfeld. —really. I'm just starting, and we'll be addressing those kinds of questions along with the others.

Q. What makes you think you can succeed.

Q. Are you thinking of this in terms of years, as a long-term commitment?

Mr. Speakes. Ann [Ann Compton, ABC News] is asking the question, and that's the last question. Last question—Ann.

Q. Are you thinking of this in terms of years and a long-term commitment? And what do you think you can do to bring about some accommodation from the Syrians?

Ambassador Rumsfeld. The answer is, I don't know what can be done. I don't think anyone does. And the answer to the first part of the question is that the assignment is indefinite. And what I intend to do is to immerse myself in it and hope that I can be helpful.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:55 a.m. to reporters assembled in the Briefing Room at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks Announcing the Appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as the President's Personal Representative in the Middle East Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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