Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a White House Meeting With Human Rights Advocates

October 07, 1986

The President. I have a few remarks here. I welcome this opportunity to talk with you about a most important subject of my upcoming meeting with General Secretary Gorbachev: human rights. And I know your interest in that. And with me, as you know, is Yuriy Orlov and Mrs. Orlov. Yuriy is a founding member of the independent Soviet Helsinki Monitoring Group, a man who has done more to inform the world of current Soviet human rights violations than any man on Earth—as I said yesterday, a hero for our time. The West owes him a profound debt, both for his courage and fortitude under unspeakable conditions and for reminding us how precious are the freedoms that we sometimes take for granted.

As you all know, there has been much speculation that our upcoming meeting in Reykjavik will focus on arms control. But true peace requires respect for human rights and freedom as well as arms control. We go to Iceland in pursuit of peace, but it's important that the world and our adversaries understand what we mean when we speak of peace. Peace is not simply an absence of war, it's the presence of justice. Human rights, human freedom are its indispensable elements. These fundamental values and beliefs are matters on which we Americans cannot and will not compromise. So, our agenda for the Reykjavik meeting will deal not only with arms reductions but Soviet human rights violations, military intervention by the Soviets and their proxies in regional conflicts, and broadening contacts between our two peoples.

This meeting is not to sign agreements, but to prepare the way for a productive summit. A real improvement in the Soviet Union's human rights record is essential for such a summit. We will not sacrifice fundamental principles or vital U.S. interests to get a summit. I'll make it amply clear to Mr. Gorbachev that unless there is real Soviet movement on human rights, we will not have the kind of political atmosphere necessary to make lasting progress on other issues. There is much room for improvement-the religious persecution, long divided families, suppression of emigration, and harassment of ethnic and cultural activists. We are realistic about the Soviet Union and have no illusions about the difficulty of making progress on these key issues, but I see no alternative to our twin policy of strength and dialog.

And again, thank you all for being here.

Reporter. Mr. President, did Mr. Orlov tell you anything of significance in your meeting just now?

The President. We have just had a few minutes together before coming in here, and we have said the things I think you would expect us to say.

Q. Did he tell you what he would like you to tell Gorbachev? [Laughter]

The President. No, he spoke of wanting to carry on the work that he was carrying on there, to continue to strive for freedom; and his goals are very much those of the people around this table already.

Note: The President spoke at 3:42 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. Prior to his remarks, he met privately with Soviet dissidents Yuriy and Irina Orlov in the Oval Office.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a White House Meeting With Human Rights Advocates Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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