George Bush photo

Remarks on the London Economic Summit and an Exchange With Foreign Journalists

July 08, 1991

The President. All I want to do is say we're looking forward to this trip -- I am very much. It's preceded by several bilaterals -- one, an important meeting with Brian Mulroney in Canada tomorrow. Perhaps some might think that's less necessary because I stay in such close touch with him by phone and we visit back and forth. But it's important for us anyway; I hope for him. We'll have a chance to talk about not only the upcoming G - 7, but we'll have a chance to talk about where we go on the trade agreement -- North American trade agreement.

Then the next event leading up to the summit will be a visit from Toshiki Kaifu, the Prime Minister of Japan. We're going to treat him like family and have him to our home up there, and it will really be a one-on-one session so he and I can exchange ideas before the G - 7 meeting. He'll then go flying off, and a day or two or later I will leave for France.

There I'll meet with President Mitterrand, just a couple hours of very private conversation like we've had several different times. And I find these meetings with any of these leaders, all of these leaders, very important. It sets the tone, and you can talk without a lot of formality about issues of concern to both countries.

I expect we'll be dwelling with President Mitterrand as to what will be coming up in the next day or two at the G - 7 summit, but there are other issues that could conceivably come up. But again, it's a series of contacts, one-on-one, that I value. I think this one was actually our suggestion, and I hope I'm not imposing on the President of the French Republic on a very historic day for their country. But nevertheless -- Bastille Day, I believe. And he is changing his schedule, which I'm very pleased about, to conclude his -- well, I think he probably would have concluded his ceremonies anyway. But we will have this meeting prior to flying across the Channel to London, where I will have a private dinner with John Major.

And I might add to those here that I'll be seeing Helmut Kohl one-on-one there. I had a nice conversation with him today, which lasted, what, 30 minutes, something like that.

So, this is what we see leading up to the G - 7. There, of course, we'll all meet. Then I guess the highlight of all this will be the arrival of President Gorbachev. I might say to Mr. Gan, of the Soviet Union, that we were very pleased when President Gorbachev, with alacrity, decided to send his able Foreign Minister and General Moiseyev over here. We'd like to finish a START agreement in time to have a meeting at the end of this month; maybe spill over a day or two into August. But that's his goal; that's our goal. I'd like to see it happen.

But nevertheless -- then we'll see how those meetings go here. But there's another point, and that is I will have an opportunity to sit down and talk with him on a one-on-one meeting there in London prior to a larger meeting -- of course, others meeting with him, too -- but larger meeting with the G - 7. Then I understand we're having a dinner.

Then it's off to Greece and Turkey, where I see two very respected leaders. And I say that not just in a diplomatic sense, but they're two people with whom I feel I have a very good personal relationship. And so, I'll be meeting with Mr. Mitsotakis, Mr. Ozal, and there will be a wide array of subjects discussed -- bilateral and international issues.

So, it's first Greece, a couple of nights; Turkey, a couple of nights; and then back to the States.

So, with no further ado, I'll be glad to -- I think the best way to do it is to work our way around the table and try to respond as directly as I can to questions. If you get into something very technical I might have to turn to my right or left for a little assistance, but I think I can handle it. So, how do we want to begin? Would you like to start, Mr. Saunders?

Persian Gulf Conflict

Q. Certainly. Regarding the Persian Gulf war, do you now think that, a, what was at stake, and b, what was accomplished were worth the tens of thousands of human lives? And if so, why?

The President. Absolutely. There's absolutely no question in my mind. There was a single purpose, and that is the reversal of aggression -- sending a lesson that the world understands, and that is that aggression will not stand.

And we tried a peaceful approach to that. We had unprecedented diplomacy, in which Canada and other countries participated. And you had a sanction of the action that was taken by the United Nations Security Council. It fulfilled what one would call its peacekeeping function, or its peacemaking function, by having these resolutions that would have led to peace if they could have been supported by this brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein. And peace failed.

But it isn't because other countries, many represented around this table, didn't try -- didn't try. We tried. And I think Saddam miscalculated. One, I think he thought that we wouldn't commit to force. I think he was particularly fingering the United States in that regard. And second, I think he had this crazy misapprehension that if we did use force that he would have a victory. And he had nothing of the kind. Aggression was reversed. And that principle alone sends a good message around the world.

So, yes, it was worth it. We mourn the loss of everybody. War is not pleasant. But I think it was -- there's kind of a revisionistic thinking in some quarters to which I give absolutely nothing -- no credence at all.

Do you want to follow up on it?

Q. No.

European Security

Q. Mr. President, I'll ask a question about European security. France and the United States differ strongly about independent European defense structure. My question will be, how long do you think the U.S.A. and Great Britain will be able to block the emergence of such a structure? And second, what danger do you see in such a development -- a European defense -- --

The President. You're talking about the security structure?

Q. Yes.

The President. I'm not sure how far apart we are on that. And that's one of the matters I'd like to discuss with President Mitterrand.

I read that there's Britain and U.S. here, and others there. I don't think that's the case. Certainly, that's not what our Secretary of State feels from having a lot of talks with different parties. So, I'd hedge the answer by saying let me talk to President Mitterrand about this.

What I hear them saying, the French saying, is a recognition of the continued importance of NATO. Now, France has a different way of participating, you might say, in NATO. But I see nothing on the part of France that would say to the United States: You go home and let us take care of the security arrangements through a different vehicle. That's not there. That's not what's happening.

So, let's talk about it. I think this whole concept of another arrangement for European security is not put forward in an attempt to drive NATO out of business. Now, if I'm wrong I'd be concerned about it. But I don't think I'm wrong. So, I'm going to wait until I talk to the President of France about that.

In other words, we're not worried about it and we don't think there's any cabal against the United States and NATO, or people trying to send us a message that we're no longer required for Europe's security. In fact, I think -- I get it just the opposite, as a matter of fact.

Civil Conflict in Yugoslavia

Q. Mr. President, while talking with Chancellor Kohl you probably raised the question on what to do with Yugoslavia and what it implies for the new world order. Kohl has said that he would like to recognize the two republics and that the [Berlin] wall really has shown to every European the importance of self-determination. Now, you were still acting on the theory of the integrity of territory. What does Yugoslavia really imply in terms of independence movements, in terms of more countries knocking at the door of CSCE? And what is your policy?

The President. Well, our policy has been negotiations between the parties involved. It has been a peaceful resolution to this country, one that is not settled by violence.

I did touch on this -- this was not the main subject in my conversation with Chancellor Kohl -- and I think he's putting -- well, I shouldn't say what's he's putting; let me say what we do. We're putting some hope on the fact that this initiative by the EC, the Dutch Foreign Minister in the lead, will buy some time for the parties to peacefully resolve their differences.

But if you make the case that there will be a dissolution of Yugoslavia as we now see it, I couldn't project for you, in reply to your question, what that would mean. But if it's peaceful, if there's a peaceful resolution to these differences and there's a determination of that nature, then I think that the United States, anyway, would have no difficulty with that.

We are for the independence of the Baltic States, for example, in the Soviet Union. The way in which they were incorporated into the Soviet Union has never been recognized by the U.S. So there's a craving in many quarters for independence.

But this matter has been, I think, properly addressed by the EC. I salute them for some difficult diplomacy. And I'm hoping that this matter can be resolved through conversation, through dialog. But it wouldn't be the part of the U.S. to stand up if the parties agreed on one direction and say, hey, that's unsatisfactory to us. It's essentially a European matter, and they're coping, I think, in a difficult situation quite well -- right now. Right now, I don't know what will happen.

Turkish-Greek Conflict

Q. Mr. President, there's widespread expectation in our part of the world that your visit to Greece and Turkey will lay the ground for a reconciliation for the difference between the two countries, and perhaps even the signing of a nonaggression pact. What would you respond to this?

The President. Listen, if our visit could result in something like that I would rejoice because I'd like to see these two countries, with whom we have extraordinarily friendly relationships, work out their difficulties. And I can make a case for you that this is a good time in history not only for that, but a resolution to the other problem that keeps plaguing them both, and that's the question of Cyprus.

And the reason I say that is that it is in my view that both Mr. Mitsotakis, and Ozal are strong leaders and reasonable people. But I can't -- I don't want to set as a goal that that you outlined as a part of a precedent. There's something, it seems to me, a little bit arrogant to suggest that I can fly to these two countries and out of that would result this solution. But if in any way the United States can be a catalyst for resolution of historic differences, so much the better. But I don't want to get the sights up.

Your question, if I just answered one sentence on it, I'm afraid it would raise anticipation -- hope of what we think we can do. And I want to just sit and talk with both sides and both these leaders. I think they, themselves, would concede that there's good relationships now between the United States and -- perhaps historically good -- and those countries, both of whom are very important to us. Not just in a common defense situation, but culturally and many other ways. So, maybe there's a chance; maybe there's a chance.

Aftermath of the Persian Gulf Conflict

Q. Mr. President, the United States entered the war, the Gulf war, with certain friends and a certain coalition. Do you feel that through this experience, the passing of the war, and after the war, the United States has the same friends, the same judgment of them, the same coalition? And what about Israel and that frame of reference?

The President. I think that, basically, the countries that we worked with in forming the coalition, and then moving forward together to kick the aggressor out of Kuwait, are still very friendly with the United States. There are varying degrees, obviously. We had strained relations with Syria. Now I think they're better. We've had historically great relations with Italy, for example; Britain, France. And those relations have been nothing but enhanced by the way the coalition worked and by the U.S. role in it, in my view.

Whether we can take this -- and I think -- and again, I don't want to kind of sound chauvinistic or overly proud, but I do think that out of all of this, the United States has a new standing and a certain credibility in these countries that you mentioned and in other countries. I think that includes Israel. You asked about Israel.

We would like to take that credibility, if I'm correct that it exists, and be the catalyst for peace in the whole Middle East. And we're running into some difficulties. They wouldn't have been hard to predict by any of you all -- you follow foreign affairs and you follow these international tensions. And so, they're predictable, you might say. We're not going to give up. We're going to keep on trying. And I think that various countries are going to have to give a little.

I'd love to see direct talks between the parties. I'd love to see the ending of this boycott. I'd love to see an end to the settlements. I'd like to see a lot of things happen that aren't happening. But we're going to keep trying. And I think that our participation in -- some might say, coleadership of the coalition is helpful to us in that regard. And let's hope we can move the peace process forward.

Good God, that area -- you see Israeli kids, you see Palestinian kids -- and it's not my generation, it's not the next, it's the one after that, that worries me. Do these kids, whatever country they're from, have to live in this kind of fear and animosity? Do they have to grow up now, yet another generation of young kids, because grown people can't get together to solve heretofore intractable problems?

And so, I look at it quite emotionally, and I want very much to have us keep trying. I salute our Secretary of State, who has tried. And I can't give you the most optimistic answer right now as to where all of that stands; I wish I could. But we are going to stay involved for the reason I gave you.

Multilateral Trade Negotiations

Q. Mr. President, one of the main agenda of the London economic summit will be the Uruguay round. But Japan and the European Community seem to be reluctant, somewhat reluctant to make concessions, especially in the agricultural area. How are you going to persuade other leaders in London in order to lead to -- --

The President. Well, first, I'm going to tell them, hey, you guys aren't the only people protecting. We're guilty. We've got legislation on our books you don't like. First, I'll start by pointing out that this is a world problem and all of us -- nobody can be pointing the finger at the other person.

To the degree agriculture is the hangup -- and it is a significant hangup -- on the Uruguay round, I will be pressing these leaders on group and one-on-one to do what is extraordinarily difficult politically for some of them, and that is to take on the agricultural lobby or community in their own countries. And it isn't easy. And again, I don't want to go there with a holier-than-thou attitude when we talk about agriculture. But we have friends that won't be at this summit that are saying to us, what about your export enhancement program, for example.

So, we've got some problems. But it is essential that we move forward -- we, collectively, move forward on agriculture if there's going to be a successful conclusion. And there have been some breakthroughs with Japan that we see as positive -- citrus and other agricultural products a while back; now we may be making some headway on rice. I hope we are.

But I will go there saying, look, I know it's not easy, but we've got to get the job done now. And we do. The way to benefit the Third World, that many of the participants of this summit will be talking about, is to get the Uruguay round concluded, and that's going to be the most benefit to them -- more than any aid package that you can put together.

Soviet-U.S. Relations

Q. Sir, especially on the G - 7 summit in London, some people say there is certain ambivalence, if not ambiguity, in the American approach to the Soviet Union. So, sir, what would you like to see happen in our relations in the immediate future? Could you describe your short-term -- --

The President. As it relates with the summit or broader than that?

Q. Broader.

The President. Broader? I'd like to see an arms control agreement. Broader, I would like to see continued cooperation -- which has been magnificent, I might add, in terms of the coalition that Mr. Saunders -- or the war that Mr. Saunders asked about -- the cooperation from the Soviet Union surprised many people around the world. I'd like to see that continue, because I think these two great powers must work together on regional problems.

I'd like to see, out of the summit, I'd like to see us have more understanding of the reforms that President Gorbachev is undertaking. I would like to feel that the Soviet Union is as firmly embarked on the course of reform as I'm confident that President Gorbachev wants to see them. We'd like to see -- and this comes under the heading of their business, not ours, as I was schooled early on about being careful about mingling in the internal affairs of another country -- that Yeltsin and Gorbachev continue -- and I use that word advisedly -- working together.

The Yeltsin visit here was a success on two counts: one, he came here in the face of a magnificent electoral victory. The American people understood this. Here's a guy who took his case to the polls, to the people, and won. And secondly, he came here and he did not try to use that visit to put down President Gorbachev. And that won him many friends here. And I think the way in which it worked out, hopefully, was a benefit to both President Gorbachev and Yeltsin.

So, you ask what I'd like to see. I'd like to see that continue. And the Soviet Union knows that we have a longstanding view that the Baltics should be free. Now, that's a very complicated question, but that's the U.S. position. Hasn't changed. Won't change. That's just a handful of the things that we're talking about. But I'd love to see this reform move far enough forward and be for real enough that we could then all pitch in and be of as much assistance as possible in terms of the economic recovery. The Soviet economy is hurting now, and I say that not holier-than-thou, but it is; factually, the Soviet economy is in bad shape. And it is our view, and I think it will be the view of the other G - 7 partners, that the way to correct that, certainly longer run, is going to be privatization, market reform -- all of these things.

So, we go there to the summit, to my meeting with Gorbachev, with an open mind, but we've also made clear that we have certain limitations on what we can do until reforms are firmly in place.


Q. Mr. President, my question will kind of follow up my Greek colleague's question with a Cyprus angle. Now there are hopeful signs for a settlement on the issue. Do you think your visit to the region will help speed up this process? Do you expect an agreement soon, and what do you think the obstacles are?

The President. One, I've been told there are hopeful signs. Two, our position is well-known, and that is continuing to support the initiative of the Secretary-General. And we don't go there with some bold new plan that we would throw before Mr. Mitsotakis, Mr. Ozal, or Mr. Vassiliou. We aren't going there in that mode. But if, in the talks we have, the U.S. again can have a catalytic role in this age-old question, so much the better.

Again, I don't want to raise expectations -- Bush is coming to solve the Cyprus question. That would be unfair to the people on the islands; it would be unfair to Greek interest and Turkish interest. But I keep coming back to this: They're two reasonable, strong-willed leaders. They have a reasonable relationship. This thing's gone on too long. And you've got a man in Cyprus, President Vassiliou, who's extraordinary in my view. And let's hope we can be helpful.

But it is not one where the U.S. is going to dictate an answer to this problem, whether it's Turkish troops in the island or whether it's the Greeks not giving -- the view that the Greek Cypriots won't give fair enough representation to the others. These are problems that are out there. But we can't solve those, the United States. It's going to have the good will of people there to do it.

Persian Gulf Conflict

Q. Mr. President, if I can follow up on the Gulf question: Given Saddam Hussein's assault on the Shiites and the Kurds, and given his deceit over the nuclear weapons research which has now brought the renewed threat of military action by the United States, do you now feel that you stopped the ground war too soon and should have pressed on either to Baghdad or until Saddam was overthrown?

The President. No, I don't. And the reason I don't is that much of the legality of the steps we've taken came through international sanction, international will as expressed in 12 resolutions of the Security Council. And it was not ever the intent to march into Baghdad and to get bogged down in a guerrilla warfare in the city of Baghdad to accomplish that end.

Now, how do I feel about Saddam Hussein today? Do I think he's a liar? Do I think he's broken his word over and over again? Yes. Will we ever have normal relations with this country as long as he's there? No. Will the sanctions be removed as long as there is this brutal treatment of his own people and violation of international law? No.

But I don't think we can retroactively go back and take a look and say, well, the world community was wrong or certainly the United States should have unilaterally taken action, when you look at what taking action means. I listen to the crowd around here saying, let sanctions work. Sanctions are still on. Saddam Hussein would still be in Kuwait, if we adopted that policy. Sanctions are still on. And there's a lot of revisionistic thinking going on in the country, and I don't think that even given hindsight, that I would say we should have done something different because I don't know how you go about accomplishing that end.

Now, perhaps the retention of these sanctions, given the pounding he's taken and given the fact that people see how much of a liar he's been on these nuclear things -- maybe that will facilitate change inside Iraq. He made a big mistake getting involved in trying to conceal capabilities for restoring -- or gaining a nuclear bomb, by restoring his nuclear capability. The world doesn't want this. The world sees it for what it is. And shooting over the heads of U.N. observers is a stupid thing to have done.

But I wish I could answer affirmatively, but I wouldn't answer affirmatively to your question unless I could also now, in retrospect, foresee what would have been different. Because what I foresee would have been marching into Baghdad, coalition forces getting sniped at and maybe not finding Saddam Hussein, and being bogged down in an urban guerrilla warfare.

And so, the critics now -- some of whom opposed our entry as a coalition into the war -- saying, well, you should have gone into Baghdad. And I say, yes, and do what; how? And we ought to ask that because it isn't that easy. I'm very proud of the fact that we, when provoked -- or put it this way -- when the Kurds were brutalized and fled, the United States and France and Germany on the east, and England, particularly, Canada, a lot of countries responded, did something. That's good; it's humanitarian. But to reconstruct it from the beginning and to say, hey, you were wrong to get into this in the first place -- no, we were right. And to say, as some in this country have done, those who were my severest critics, some of them in the beginning, hey, you should have marched into Baghdad -- I don't see it. I don't think that General Schwarzkopf or General Powell sees it either. I'm not sure that our coalition force leaders would see it. Do I wish he were out of there? You bet, you bet.

Mr. Fitzwater. Mr. President, we only have a couple minutes left. Maybe a final round or question.

The President. Dealer's choice. Fire away.

Future Military Action Against Iraq

Q. I have a very quick one and don't expect a direct answer. But for what's it worth, when will you start shooting or bombing if Hussein does not surrender the nuclear equipment to your satisfaction?

The President. Do what?

Q. When would you start taking military action, shooting or bombing or whatever -- --

The President. You're right in not expecting a direct answer. [Laughter]

Q. Can you talk about the context?

The President. No, I can't talk about anything other than to just say the options are open. I'm a great believer, as we think we established during the war, of international agreement on this. Never forget that the thing that was significant in all of the coalition activities was the fact that there was broad international agreement. It wasn't the superpower United States acting on its own. It was Canada in partnership; it was a lot of countries that aren't going to be sitting around at the G - 7 in cooperation. So, I can't help you on anything of that nature, except to say we take it very, very seriously.

I'm told that there is some -- quote -- "good news" -- unquote -- coming out of Baghdad today. I haven't seen it, but wherein Saddam once again states that he will fully cooperate and have inspectors. Well, let's see whether that can work before we have to go further with options.

U.S. National Interests

Q. Mr. President, against the revisionists that you quoted frequently today, how would you define the national interests of the United States?

The President. Define it overall?

Q. Overall.

The President. Peace and security.

Q. But they say the U.S. should not interfere, you have problems -- --

The President. I don't think many people say that. But one reason that U.S. participation, I think, was respected is because of the international implications from the United Nation's participation. And so, I think that helped. But look, we are thrilled with the moves toward democracy and freedom around the world. We were elated when the cold war ended and when Germany was unified, and when countries in Eastern Europe -- you don't want to forget them, incidentally, as we go to this G - 7 summit -- the countries of Eastern Europe. You've got to remember that their success is terribly important to freedom-loving countries everywhere. They stepped out front. They're making reforms that none of us around this table would have predicted a couple of years ago. We have to have them succeed. But it's commitment to democracy and freedom, and it's a recognition that no country can do it all alone.

So, those are a couple of our objectives, I think.

Mr. Fitzwater. Thank you all very much.

The President. I hope I didn't filibuster too much and deny others the questions. Good to see you all. I thought I'd have been asked about the baseball game in Canada. [Laughter] You failed to get on the most important subject.

Q. Don't follow sports.

The President. You don't? Well, I do. My son's involved with the Texas Rangers. I'd like to note that, and they're in first place in the American League. That's very important. [Laughter]

Good to see you all. Good luck.

I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to this. And it's not just the getting out of Washington syndrome. I think we're going to -- I hope we'll get some things accomplished. And I really look forward to seeing the leaders that I'm working with. I was on the phone to a lot of them -- and I got kidded about that -- maybe not kidded, needled about it, I guess -- sometimes on telephone diplomacy. But I'm a firm believer that contacts of the nature that we're going to have are important. And what they guard against is what I talk about, about ships passing in the night. Got an agricultural problem with Japan; let's talk about it. Got a big reorganization or Baltic problem with the Soviets; let's talk about that. I can't change my position because Gorbachev might like me, and he damn sure isn't going to change his because I like him.

But as I look around this table and I think of the leaders, I think a personal relationship can be extraordinarily helpful. And if you can't get agreement, so be it. But at least you've tried in an environment that has the best chance to succeed. And that's why I do spend a lot of time on this personal side. That's why I called President Mitterrand and had contacted him to see if such a meeting would be useful, or Prime Minister Kaifu. I don't want to get credit because there is agreement on these things, but Brian -- I mean, that we sit down and talk before these meetings and try to hammer out as many difficulties as possible. And that's what a lot of this is about.

Anyway, off we go. Thank you all very much.

Note: The interview began at 11:16 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. Participants included Akio Nomura, Asahi Shimbun, Japan; Ian Brodie, Daily Telegraph, United Kingdom; John Saunders, Toronto Globe and Mail, Canada; Stephane Marchand, Le Figaro, France; Carola Kaps, Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung, Germany; Alexander Papachelas, Kathimerini, Greece; Turan Yavuz, Milliyet, Turkey; Furio Columbo, La Stampa, Italy; and Vitaliy Gan, Pravda, Soviet Union.

In the exchange, the following persons were referred to: Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada; Prime Minister John Major of the United Kingdom; Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany; President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union; Foreign Minister Aleksandr Bessmertnykh of the Soviet Union; Gen. Mikhail A. Moiseyev, Chief of the General Staff of the Soviet Union; Prime Minister Constantinos Mitsotakis of Greece; President Turgut Ozal of Turkey; President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; Hans Van den Broek, President of the European Community and Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Netherlands; President Boris N. Yeltsin of the Republic of Russia; President George Vassiliou of the Republic of Cyprus; Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf; and Gen. Colin L. Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Marlin Fitzwater is Assistant to the President and Press Secretary.

George Bush, Remarks on the London Economic Summit and an Exchange With Foreign Journalists Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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