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Remarks in an Interview With Representatives of Le Figaro of France, Together With Written Responses to Questions

September 26, 1985

Views on the Presidency

Q. There was a question I wanted to ask, Mr. President, which is: At a time when everybody would love to retire, how is it that you still feel you've got to run the biggest country in the world and the enormous burden that it represents?

The President. Well, I only sought this job because I thought there were some things that needed to be done and that maybe I could help bring them about, and I just don't want to leave the job unfinished.

Q. What time in your career, which has been a long—political career, I mean, did you feel that you could run for the White House if it possibly was offered to you and that you would win in the end?

The President. Well, I've always said that you don't decide, the people tell you. The truth is I never sought or thought I ever would seek public office. I, as a performer, as an entertainer, I always thought that you kind of pay your way; so, I supported causes and candidates that I approved of. And, being an entertainer, I could attract an audience and so forth and, therefore, be useful at a fundraiser—things of that kind.

Never did I ever dream in my wildest time that I would ever even want to be in public life. And then, at a time in our country when our party was greatly divided-and all the friction, there was a group that came to me. And my first reply was a refusal. This group that came wanted me to seek the governorship. And finally, they convinced me I had an obligation, I should do it and that I could win, and so, I ran. And I found out after I had won and was in the office that where I had thought that I was giving up a career, which I did love—in the other business—and that I'd find this very dull, I found out it wasn't at all. And then, subsequent to 8 years in the Governor's office, there were people that came and, on that basis, said that I should try for this. So, I did.

Q. Is the American President, in fact, impeded by the fact that he can't run more than twice for the office?

The President. I think that this country should look very seriously at that recent change in the Constitution which limits the President to two terms and see if they don't feel that they have taken something away from democracy. After all, if the people—as they did in this country the one time for Roosevelt—want someone to serve them, they should have the right to vote for them.

Q. It means that you could put forward or present an amendment against the 22d amendment?

The President. Well, if I did that, I would do it at such a time to make it very plain that I was not doing it with myself in mind, I was doing it for whoever would be President from now on.

Q. Which would be, I suppose, the Republican Party?

The President. Who knows. The only time it was ever four terms, extended, it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Democrat.

Q. Thank you very much.

The President. Good to see you.

The President's Responses to Questions Submitted by Le Figaro

NATO Alliance

Q. Mr. President, before going to Geneva, Mikhail Gorbachev will visit Paris on October 2. You have often denounced the Soviet attempts to seduce Western Europe. Do you think, nevertheless, that the results of this trip can be useful to your November meeting or, on the contrary, that it represents a threat for the NATO alliance?

The President. I think General Secretary Gorbachev's visit to France can be very useful both in its own right and with regard to my meeting with him in Geneva. It is particularly important that Mr. Gorbachev realize that our alliance stands strong and that the Soviet Union has to do its part—as we are ready to do ours—in a serious, honest effort to build more constructive relations. I am sure this will be made clear to the General Secretary during his visit to France. I know from my many meetings with President Mitterrand that he is a very forceful advocate of his views; that he favors a strong, united, and secure West; and that he has no illusions about the Soviet system.

The Soviet Union has long sought to divide the Western allies from each other and the people from their governments. They have never succeeded because the Western democracies have a partnership based on equality, common values, and a shared vision of the future. These ties have kept us strong, united, and determined to defend our mutual interests. We and our allies want to establish a more stable relationship, but we cannot be lulled into a illusory peace that masks or ignores the real causes of tension between us. What we want is a just and secure peace.

I will be looking with great interest at General Secretary Gorbachev's visit to France. This will be his first trip to the West as a leader of the Soviet Union, and I'll be interested in President Mitterrand's impressions. And, of course, I look forward to hearing what the General Secretary will have to say on all the issues between East and West, including nuclear arms reductions. I have read often in the press that General Secretary Gorbachev is a new style of Soviet leader. I very much hope that, if true, then, he will pursue policies which will lead to a more constructive East-West relationship.

U.S.-Soviet Relations

Q. Depending on the outcome of the conversations that President Mitterrand and the General Secretary will have, would you be susceptible to modifying the United States position for the Geneva summit?

The President. Of course, I welcome President Mitterrand's views as well as the views of our other allies. This is an important part of the preparations for my meeting with the General Secretary. We are prepared to listen to any positive, concrete proposals the Soviets may have, and we want to engage in a dialog on the full scope of the U.S.-Soviet relationship. My meeting with the General Secretary in November, and President Mitterrand's next week, are important steps in a process that all of us in the West have been pursuing for a number of years—to build a more constructive relationship with the Soviet Union and a more secure future. We have not come as far as I would have liked, and we should ask why that is.

Does it serve the long-term Soviet interest or the interest of peace for them to keep well over 100,000 troops in Afghanistan against the wishes of that country's people? Is it in the long-term interest of a just world for the Soviet Government to ignore the obligations it assumed under the Helsinki accords and other international agreements, to deny its people some of the basic human rights that we in the West take for granted? Is it in the long-term interest of peace and stability for the Soviet Union to continue to build up its military forces beyond defensive needs and to such levels that NATO has no choice but to respond by strengthening its own defenses?

One of my objectives for Geneva is to put these kinds of questions to Mr. Gorbachev, in hopes that we can clear away some of the misunderstanding and narrow differences wherever possible. But I also hope that, even before then, we can make as much progress as possible in all areas of our relations: human rights, regional issues such as Afghanistan, bilateral questions, and arms control. Arms control is, understandably, one of the central issues between us, but it is not the only one. We need to look hard at the fundamental sources of tension in our relationship if we are to be true to our responsibilities to the peoples of our countries and the world.

European Security and the Strategic Defense Initiative

Q. From the point of view that the setting of a nuclear shield in the United States seems to put in question the principle of linkage, do you foresee a defense of Europe by conventional means? In your opinion, if there were to be a threat to European security and integrity, what would be the role of the French deterrent?

The President. Let me make clear that there is no thought whatever of calling into question the principle of linkage between the U.S. and its European allies. The U.S. remains fully committed to the defense of its European allies, and our research under the Strategic Defense Initiative seeks to strengthen that unalterable commitment. It will be years before we can make a judgment about the feasibility of defensive technologies. Meanwhile, we must continue to rely on our existing deterrent forces. NATO's strategy of flexible response remains as valid today as when it was first adopted.

The Strategic Defense Initiative does not replace the current energetic efforts to improve the conventional defenses of the alliance. Moreover, by countering ballistic missile threats against all members of the alliance, including the United States, strategic defenses would strengthen the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence and NATO's flexible response doctrine by reducing the vulnerability of United States reinforcements to Europe. Finally, the United States fully supports the independent French nuclear deterrent force, and the Strategic Defense Initiative does not weaken or call into question that support.

Q. A corollary question, how do you intend to convince Europe, and especially West Germany, that SDI can improve their security?

The President. Research into new technologies which could provide effective defenses against nuclear attack is both prudent and necessary. Indeed, defensive systems are consistent with a policy of deterrence, both historically and in practical terms. Moreover, the Soviet Union clearly believes in defenses. They continue to improve their ballistic missile defense system in place around Moscow. Their activities have violated the ABM treaty and raise even more serious questions about their future intentions. They have an extensive and longstanding strategic defense research program which is exploring many of the areas in which the United States is interested, and they have a sizable head start. Thus, the question should be, can we afford not to pursue this research? Effective defenses against ballistic missiles have the potential for enhancing deterrence by increasing an aggressor's uncertainties and helping reduce or eliminate the apparent military value of nuclear attack to an aggressor. The U.S. will continue its close consultations with our allies regarding SDI research. We would ultimately make a decision on whether to deploy strategic defense systems only after consultations with our allies and negotiations with the Soviet Union, as envisioned by the ABM treaty.

Q. Is the Strategic Defense Initiative, to which you intend to associate your European allies, only an update of the ABM system, or does it further mean a revision by the United States of its commitment to a nuclear protection of Europe?

The President. The Strategic Defense Initiative is a research program to pursue vigorously important new technologies that may be used to create a defense against ballistic missiles, which could strengthen deterrence and increase the security not only of the United States but of our allies as well. The prevention of war through deterrence is fundamental to U.S. and NATO defense policy. If our research bears fruit, increasing reliance on defensive systems which threaten no one would be fully compatible with that objective. In our SDI research, we seek to reduce the incentives—now and in the future—for Soviet aggression and thereby to ensure effective deterrence for the long term. This represents a reaffirmation, not a revision, of the U.S. commitment to the protection of Europe.

Defensive technologies, should they prove feasible, would counter the threat posed by the massive growth of Soviet offensive nuclear forces during a period in which the United States exercised considerable restraint. For it is a fact that while the United States significantly reduced the number of weapons in our nuclear arsenal, the Soviet Union was continually adding to its arsenal. SDI also responds to the Soviets' longstanding and extensive strategic defense efforts. In the near term, then, SDI is a direct response to the Soviet efforts, which include longstanding advanced research in many of the areas we are now exploring, as well as the world's only deployed antiballistic missile (ABM) system. Our program provides a powerful deterrent to any Soviet decision to break out of the ABM treaty, which in fact the Soviets are already violating. Our SDI research, however, is fully compatible with the terms of the ABM treaty.

Because the security of the United States is inextricably linked to that of our friends and allies, the SDI program is not confining itself solely to an examination of technologies with the potential to defend against intercontinental ballistic missiles, but it is also carefully examining promising technologies with potential against shorter range ballistic missiles as well. An effective defense against short-range ballistic missiles would have a significant impact on deterring aggression against Europe. By reducing or eliminating the military effectiveness of such ballistic missiles, defensive systems have the potential for enhancing deterrence against both nuclear and conventional attacks on any members of our alliance.

Q. Would the fact that France has clearly shown its doubts towards this project, despite your administration's approval of the Eureka program, mean that its scientists and firms will be excluded from this trans-Atlantic cooperation?

The President. No, certainly not. The United States has made very clear that we do not see any competition between SDI research and the Eureka program. We welcome participation in SDI research by allied, including French, institutions and companies.

Q. The Germans and the British are on the eve of being associated with the SDI program. At which level, at which stage of its development would you require their participation?

The President. Although the United States welcomes the participation of its allies in the various stages of SDI research, it is a decision for each ally. We have invited such participation and are convinced that such participation will bring real benefits for participating allies, for the research program itself, and for the security of the alliance as a whole.

U.S.-France Relations

Q. During the visit to the United States of President Francois Mitterrand, in the spring of 1984, you said that France was the best ally of your country. Is this statement still valid?

The President. In the hearts of the American people, France has always had a special place, with profound ties of affection and respect. France was America's first ally, joining us in the fight for independence. Our two constitutions stand on a shared foundation of liberty and democracy, and our peoples are bound by common political and cultural traditions. Among the traditions which we both hold dear are respect for individual human rights and equality of all peoples. We share and respect these values, and they link us more strongly than any political agreement can. Since the days of Lafayette and through two world wars, Frenchmen and Americans have fought side by side in defense of our values. I was poignantly reminded of that bond two summers ago when I visited the Normandy beaches where so many Frenchmen and Americans gave their lives as brothers-in-arms. Today our two countries and peoples still stand together, both in the Atlantic alliance and around the world, and I have every confidence that we will continue to do so in the years to come.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Q. The interest of the United States for the Pacific nations is more and more obvious and geopolitically somehow natural. Does this mean that in the future, Europe and Africa have a chance of losing the major role they have had in American diplomacy since World War II?

The President. The NATO alliance remains the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. It not only embodies a fundamental security interest; it represents a community of moral and political values. It is no accident that one of America's most durable peacetime alliances is with our fellow democracies of the Atlantic world.

The Pacific nations are indeed growing in importance in political, security, and especially economic terms, but our strengthened relations with Asia have not diminished our traditional ties to Europe. Indeed, a major foreign policy accomplishment of this administration is its success in encouraging the industrialized democracies in Europe, Asia, and North America to cooperate in developing global, not parochial, solutions to our common economic and security problems. The United States has sought not merely to strengthen our bilateral ties with Asia and Europe but to encourage greater interaction among all members of the community of advanced industrialized democracies. This new and more cohesive allied consensus has been in evidence in the economic summit meetings, where the leaders of the seven largest industrialized democracies of North America, Europe, and Asia meet to discuss a vast range of political, economic, and security problems.

U.S. International Trade

Q. Commercial relations between the United States and the European Community are marked, and have been marked, by tensions and their quota of mutual accusations, but Congress is more and more pressing for measures against what it thinks are unfair practices. Do you think you would be able to reduce its appetite for protectionism?

The President. It's true some highly protectionist ideas are circulating in Congress right now. I recently rejected proposals to restrict footwear imports, and I will continue to fight protectionism. We remain dedicated to free trade; however, to remain free, trade must also be fair. Many of our industries face unfair trade practices by other nations. Unless our trading partners stop these practices, support in the United States for free trade will be undercut. I recently outlined a series of initiatives which my administration is going to take to eliminate such practices. We mean business on this question of fairness; it is fundamental to freedom and to avoiding the disastrous mistake of protectionism. I anticipate that the Congress and the administration will be working together on this problem.

Q. Do you think a new GATT round could terminate the commercial war which is flaring up between the United States and its occidental allies?

The President. The GATT has been the linchpin of the postwar trade system. It hasn't worked perfectly, but until recently it has kept the world trade system working relatively well. Now, we and our trading partners need to take a fresh look at the GATT and the new kinds of barriers that have been raised against trade. Early launching of a new GATT trade round is needed to shore up the open trading system. We think some parts of the GATT, for example the dispute settlement process, can be improved. Now, I know that improving the system won't solve all our trade problems, but I think it will help. There are many other things to negotiate in a new round as well, such as establishing rules for trade in services, breaking barriers to agricultural trade, improved protection of intellectual property rights, and the elimination of many nontariff barriers. I don't expect the new round to end all the trade disputes between the United States and Europe or Japan, but we will all be better off negotiating than closing our markets to one another in frustration over outdated and ineffective rules.

Note: A tape was not available for verification of the context of the oral portion of this interview, which was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on September 30.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks in an Interview With Representatives of Le Figaro of France, Together With Written Responses to Questions Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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