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Remarks on Soviet Military Intervention in Lithuania and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters

January 13, 1991

The President. Well, I've been following the situation in Lithuania and the other Baltic States closely. The turn of events there is deeply disturbing. There is no justification for the use of force against peaceful and democratically-elected governments. And the brave people and the leaders of the Baltic States have, indeed, acted with dignity and restraint. The thoughts and prayers of the people of the United States are with them, and particularly with the Lithuanian people who have experienced a great tragedy.

For several years now, the Soviet Union has been on a course of democratic and peaceful change. And we've supported that effort and stated repeatedly how much we admire the Soviet leaders who chose that path. Indeed, change in the Soviet Union has helped to create a basis for unprecedented cooperation and partnership between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The events that we're witnessing now are completely inconsistent with that course. The progress of reform in the U.S.S.R. has been an essential element in the improvement of U.S.-Soviet relations. Events like those now taking place in the Baltic States threaten to set back or perhaps even reverse the process of reform which is so important in the world and the development of the new international order.

We condemn these acts, which could not help but affect our relationship. At this hour, the United States and the West will redouble our efforts to strengthen and encourage peaceful change in the Soviet Union. Legitimacy is not built by force; it's earned by the consensus of the people, by openness, and by the protection of basic human and political rights. So, I ask the Soviet leaders to refrain from further acts that might lead to more violence and loss of life. I urge the Soviet Government to return to a peaceful course of negotiations and dialog with the legitimate governments of the Baltic States.

And I did have an opportunity when I talked to President Gorbachev not so many hours ago to encourage the peaceful change there and not the use of force.

Soviet Military Intervention in Lithuania

Q. Mr. President, was Gorbachev directly behind this military crackdown? Is there any reason to believe the military acted without complete Presidential decree on this?

The President. I cannot answer that question. I just don't know the facts of -- --

Q. Is there any official explanation for what happened in Lithuania?

The President. Not an official explanation, but we have a good deal of information on it.

Q. And what about the fallout here? Is the summit off at this point?

The President. Well, I've just expressed this statement here, and I just expressed my sentiments in this statement I made, so I can't go beyond that.

Q. Any consideration of export credit guarantees or any other -- --

The President. I'm just not going to go further than what I've said here. I've just laid it out, and people can interpret it any way they want.

Q. Mr. President, if the crackdown continues -- --

Q. How does it complicate the Persian Gulf situation?

Q. Mr. President, if the crackdown continues in the Baltics, will you go to Moscow on February 11th?

The President. Well, I would simply -- that's too hypothetical. What I'm saying is I hope the crackdown will not continue.

Q. Mr. President, did you get any reassurances from leader Gorbachev about whether he will continue or halt the act, consider reassurances about what he will do next?

The President. Well, I heard a statement I was just asking our Soviet experts about in here, where he was talking about curtailing the use of force. I hope that's true, but I did not get direct affirmation from them.

Persian Gulf Crisis

Q. Mr. President, what do you hear, sir, about the results of the de Cuellar mission?

The President. We have not had a direct report from Perez de Cuellar, and there is a report -- is all I saw, as to what he said at the airport. But I have not had contact with him. He told me he would call me, so I expect to hear from him when he returns.

Q. What effect, sir, do you think the Soviet actions -- --

The President. I can't hear. John [John Cochran, NBC News], what -- --

Q. -- -- Mr. Gorbachev may now -- [inaudible] -- to Baghdad -- --

The President. Well, I don't know.

Q. Is that something Gorbachev had mentioned -- --

The President. I don't know what he'd do, and I know there was some thinking of that, but people are very concerned, obviously -- time drawing close. And I just don't know how to answer that. I just don't know what he plans to -- --

Q. -- -- has read a statement that they will keep Kuwait, will not withdraw.

The President. It doesn't surprise me, but they're making a tremendous mistake.

Q. Mr. President, do you think that the Soviet Union is striking out on Lithuania at this moment because they think our attention and the attention of the world has been diverted by the Persian Gulf crisis?

The President. No.

Q. Are you concerned that by speaking out now that you may jeopardize your support from Mr. Gorbachev in the Persian Gulf crisis?

The President. No, I believe the Soviet support for the United Nations approach is solid and firm. And President Gorbachev told me that not so long ago -- just when I had the last conversation.

Q. Are you talking about the Friday phone call? Just to clarify -- --

The President. Yes, yes.

Q. Mr. President, what is your message to the seemingly millions of Americans who have been contacting Congress and apparently contacting you, pleading with you not to go to war in the Gulf?

The President. Well, I think that matter was resolved when the Congress acted yesterday, and I'd tell them the same thing I've told the American people over and over again.

Q. But to the American people -- what is your response to the Americans who are asking you now not to go to war?

The President. Well, I say we've got to do what we have to do. And the Congress has affirmed that position. And I think that is -- you know, one of the arguments that some made is, well, please get Congress engaged; why are you not willing to go to Congress? We went to Congress; Congress, both Houses of the Congress, affirmed the policies of this government.

Soviet Military Intervention in Lithuania

Q. Mr. President, you remonstrated with Gorbachev last week not to use force in the Baltics, and just yesterday Gorbachev said he was sending emissaries from his Federation Council to mediate. A few hours later the tanks were rolling. Are you afraid that he has lost control in the Soviet Union?

The President. Well, I am concerned about the internal affairs there -- and he, himself, is very much concerned about that. But let's hope that there will be a peaceful -- a return to peace, no more use of force, and that they can peacefully negotiate their differences. That's what I hope for. I think that's what President Gorbachev -- I know that's what he told me he wanted before, and I hope that still holds, and I hope that will obtain. But I am very much concerned about the loss of life there.

Kathy [Kathy Lewis, Houston Chronicle], and then I've got to go inside.

Q. Mr. President, do you plan on trying to contact him directly?

The President. I always have that option. Our phone lines are open, and I have no immediate plans of that, but I wouldn't rule that out.

Thank you all very much.

Q. What about Perez de Cuellar, sir?

Q. How long do you give the Soviet Union before -- --

The President. I'm not setting time lines.

Q. What's topic A tonight at the NSC [National Security Council] meeting -- the Gulf or the Lithuanian crisis?

The President. More of the same.

Note: The President spoke at 4:05 p.m. on the South Lawn at the White House, upon his return from Camp David, MD. In his remarks, he referred to President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union and Javier Perez de Cuellar de la Guerra, Secretary-General of the United Nations.

George Bush, Remarks on Soviet Military Intervention in Lithuania and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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