Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to World Gas Conference Participants

June 06, 1988

Well, thank you, John, thank you all. And to all of you of the International Gas Union and George Lawrence and all of you of the American Gas Association, my warmest greetings. And as you've just been told, I've just returned from an historic meeting in the Soviet Union, and I thought it would be fitting to report on that summit meeting before this, an international audience. And by the way, I'd like to extend a particular word of greeting to the members of the Soviet delegation who are here today. I guess it shows just how much things have changed that Ronald Reagan can say to a group of visiting Soviet citizens: My friends, if you're wondering about the weather back in Moscow, well, lately most of the days have been sunny and mild. [Laughter]

But before I report in any detail on the events that took place in Moscow, I want to recognize Secretary of Energy John Herrington. The Department of Energy recently completed an important study that greatly adds to our knowledge of natural gas. As John himself has described it: "This study is a useful national inventory of a vital strategic asset." He went on to say that the study "confirms that there are adequate supplies in the United States to help stem the predicted rise in oil imports over the next decade."

It goes without saying that our own supply of natural gas is vital to a strong and growing American economy. You might remember that when our administration took office the Federal Government seemed more intent on hampering the natural gas industry than helping it. Since then we've presided over the—as you've been told-the 1985 expiration of new gas wellhead price controls and over the enactment of legislation to remove Fuel Use Act gas restrictions. Those two steps have brightened America's energy future. I want to thank so many of you in America's gas industry for your support, your crucial support, in bringing these changes about. And I want to urge all of you in the natural gas industry to build on your industry's natural strengths. Natural gas is a clean-burning, abundant, competitively priced fuel found within our borders, a fuel that is poised to play a major role in containing the rise of imported oil from insecure sources while keeping America energy-secure. And there's a whole universe of new applications, including the natural gas bus that will soon be tested in New York City. And you know what the song says: "If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere." [Laughter]

Progress has been made, but much still remains to be done. Congress must act now to decontrol the wellhead price of natural gas and to provide more efficient pipeline transportation. These measures, coupled with the access to Canadian natural gas supplies that is ensured by the U.S.-Canada free trade agreement, will do a great deal to reduce the demand for imported oil.

But to turn now to the events that took place last week in Moscow, permit me to begin with perhaps my strongest impression: an impression of change in the Soviet Union; an impression of new possibilities, of new hope. Indeed, Soviet officials have themselves spoken of the profound change of policy that has taken place in their own government. Differences remain, and it is still much too early to tell just where the changes in the Soviet Union itself will lead. But when a President of the United States is able to meet on Soviet soil with dissidents and refuseniks, able to exchange thoughts with cultural and intellectual leaders, able to discuss with Soviet young people the importance of individual freedoms, well, there is, as I said, a sense of new hope—a powerful hope.

The event in Moscow of the most immediate impact on East-West relations took place last Wednesday. It was then that General Secretary Gorbachev and I met in the Kremlin to exchange the instruments of ratification of the INF treaty. And the moment we exchanged those instruments, that historic treaty entered into force. For the first time ever, an entire class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear missiles is being eliminated. And with the treaty's stringent verification measures, a new dimension of cooperation and trust will open between us.

The world can also take satisfaction at the continued progress we made on 50-percent reductions in strategic ballistic missiles—a treaty we call START. And on this issue, permit me to review for just a moment the four summit meetings between myself and Mr. Gorbachev. For in assessing their impact, it's important to see them as a whole.

In Geneva the General Secretary and I agreed on the concept of 50-percent reductions; in Reykjavik, on numerical limits for warheads and delivery vehicles; in Washington, on intensive work to complete a START treaty, including comprehensive verification provisions building upon those in the INF treaty. And in Moscow, we made important additional strides toward that objective. Verification in particular represents one of the most important and difficult issues. In Moscow we moved forward in reaching an agreement on a joint experiment in each other's country to improve the verification of existing nuclear testing treaties, and another agreement on notification of strategic ballistic missile test launches. When will the START treaty be completed? We still do not know. But I can say that we are moving forward on the treaty and its associated documents with renewed vigor and cooperation. I won't set deadlines. I've said that many times.

I am also gratified that this summit has borne out again the wisdom of our approach, which has been to expand the agenda of Soviet-American relations beyond just arms control or, more to the point, arms reduction. Too often in the past, the full weight of our relations hinged on this one issue while other fundamental issues were not raised. As I never tire of saying, nations distrust each other not because they are armed; they are armed because they distrust each other.

So, building for a better understanding between our two countries is important. Getting at those fundamental problems is essential. And that's why I am pleased to report to you that in the areas of human rights, regional conflicts, and bilateral and people-to-people exchanges, the Moscow summit has moved our full agenda forward.

Beginning with bilateral exchanges, I am deeply pleased that the Soviets agreed to take an important step toward expanding people-to-people exchanges, not just making occasional, symbolic gestures that involve a few carefully selected groups. Our goal is to have an ongoing series of widespread exchanges involving a cross section of citizens from both of our societies. In this connection, we agreed on an exchange each year of hundreds of students of high school age. This is a far larger number than in the past, and this is an inaugural step, not a final one. So, too, there is a new dimension to our cultural exchanges. In the spirit of glasnost and perestroika, the [Secretary] General and I expanded and updated an earlier cultural agreement and agreed to a plan that will establish culture and information centers in each other's capital.

Turning to regional issues, Mr. Gorbachev and I had a full and frank exchange. We agreed that the Soviet decision to withdraw from Afghanistan set a positive precedent for the resolution of other conflicts, and I expressed my expectation that the Soviet withdrawal would proceed on schedule, bringing peace to the region and self-determination to Afghanistan. We discussed Southeast Asia, both of us welcoming Vietnam's recent commitment to remove some of its troops from Cambodia. I noted, however, that a solution there required the withdrawal of all troops and a dialog between Prince Sihanouk and Vietnam. We also discussed the new prospects for a solution in southern Africa. This will restore an early target date for the removal of Cuban troops and all foreign troops from Angola and national reconciliation within Angola.

Other regional tensions were not neglected. I once again pressed the Soviets to support a second U.N. Security Council resolution, to enforce Resolution 598, calling for a negotiated end to the Iran-Iraq war. I pressed Mr. Gorbachev to help avert a manmade famine in Ethiopia. I stated my interest in moving forward our initiative in the Middle East peace process, again pressing the Soviets to play a more helpful role. And I emphasized our concerns about Central America, calling on Moscow to stop its vast supply of weaponry to the Communist Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the Communist guerrillas in El Salvador.

And finally, in the area of human rights, I am encouraged. Our discussions here focused on the recognition of the right to speak, write, travel, and worship freely. Our joint statement reaffirms the need to assure the rights, freedoms, and human dignity of individuals; the promotion of people-to-people communications; and an active sharing of cultural, historical, and spiritual values. Here I want to stress that those increased bilateral contacts I noted earlier include steps to establish wider exchanges among the leaders of human rights organizations, as well as lawyers, physicians, and representatives of other professions involved in this work. I think the growth of such contacts, under the aegis of the summit process, could over the long run become one of the most fruitful products of these discussions.

But beyond the official agenda I've just described, there was something else taking place in Moscow last week, something that had to do with the power of words. I said earlier that there were unmistakable signs that things are changing in the Soviet Union. Consider, if you will, what I was able to say to Soviet refuseniks and dissidents. I said, "Coming here, being with you, looking into your faces, I have to believe that the history of this troubled century will indeed be redeemed in the eyes of God and man and that freedom will truly come to all, for what injustice can withstand your strength, and what can conquer your prayers." Or consider these words that I was able to speak to a group of Russian Orthodox monks when I visited the Danilov Monastery: "We hope that perestroika will be accompanied by a deeper restructuring, a deeper conversion, a metanoia, a change in heart; and that glasnost, which means giving voice, will also let loose a new chorus of belief, singing praise to the God that gave us life." Or picture the scene last Tuesday at Moscow State University, where the next generation of Soviet leaders is being trained. To several hundred students I said: "Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority or government has a monopoly on the truth, but that every individual life is infinitely precious." "Democracy," I added, "is less a system of government than it is a system to keep government limited and unintrusive." Later in that same address, I quoted Boris Pasternak's novel "Doctor Zhivago," just published in the Soviet Union for the first time, which speaks of the "irresistible power of unarmed truth," even the power of a simple phrase.

Yes, these are signs of change that are encouraging. They're promising. And I hope that General Secretary Gorbachev continues to press for additional reforms. You might remember that Nancy and I took an unscheduled stroll last Sunday on the Arbat—that's a lively pedestrian street. We greeted as many people as we could. There were ordinary, everyday people, of course; and through an interpreter, I said a few words. After Nancy and I left, reporters stayed behind to interview some of the people we'd met. Now, I didn't read this particular report, this report of the effect a simple phrase had had, until after Nancy and I had left Moscow. But when I did, well, it made me feel humble. That's the only way you could feel. And it made me think that visiting Moscow on behalf of the American people was one of the highest privileges of my life. The Wall Street Journal reported that after Nancy and I left the Arbat on Sunday "one elderly lady was clearly elated. 'It is very good. I'm glad he comes.' she said. And then, tears welling up in her eyes, she confided: 'I am a Christian myself, and I like it that he says God bless you.'"

And there, perhaps, lies the greatest significance of what took place in Moscow last week, not that Ronald Reagan spoke there. I was only giving voice to the abiding beliefs of the American people, indeed, of free people everywhere. No, it was that the words that were spoken were words of faith, words of freedom, words of truth, words, well—and in power that unarmed truth is irresistible. So, thank you all, and, yes, God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 11:12 a.m. in the Sheraton Washington Ballroom at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. In his opening remarks, he referred to John Kean, president of the International Gas Union, and George H. Lawrence, president of the American Gas Association. The World Gas Conference was a triennial event sponsored by the International Gas Union, which had members from 45 countries.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to World Gas Conference Participants Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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