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The President's News Conference

March 22, 1990

The President. I don't want to have a captive audience, but there are a couple of things that I did want to say -- make a statement here. I'd like to make just a few comments, after which I'll be glad to take a couple of questions.

Last week I unveiled an economic package for the new democracies of Panama and Nicaragua and urged a bipartisan effort aimed at reconstructing and developing these two countries. We have an opportunity to make this hemisphere the first to be wholly democratic; but we must act expeditiously in order to help establish firm democratic institutions, the rule of law, and human rights. And I asked the Congress last week to act quickly on the aid package, and I repeat that request today. If we are unable to resolve our differences regarding offsets, then I would be happy to have Congress authorize me to select the offsets from the defense budget in order to get economic assistance moving in the region.

We must take the lead in helping our neighbors, and we cannot look to others to make sacrifices if we ourselves cannot work in partnership in our own hemisphere. And I'd also add there are those that argue that Panama and Nicaragua are not as vital as Eastern Europe. They're wrong. This is our hemisphere. And we have a strong aid program for Eastern Europe and will continue to do so, and we can do no less for our own neighbors. The world is changing dramatically, and we must meet the challenges in every region with equal commitment and equal dedication.

In this regard today, I just concluded another meeting with the Polish Prime Minister [Tadeusz Mazowiecki] to continue the fruitful discussions that we engaged in yesterday. We discussed questions of European security, Poland's place in a new Europe. And I told the Prime Minister that we see an important role for a free, democratic, and independent Poland as a factor for stability in Europe in the future. And I reaffirmed our commitment to aiding Poland's economic recovery and its movement to democracy and our desire to stay in very close touch, consult on areas of mutual concern. We look forward to Poland joining in and building a Europe whole and free, a Europe in which the security of all states within their present borders is guaranteed, and one in which NATO will continue strong and united.

And I'd be glad to take a few questions. I'll start with Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International].

Lithuanian Independence

Q. Mr. President, do you see a Lithuania that's whole and free in Europe? And why do you think that the Soviets are getting tough on this when they didn't move in Eastern Europe? Are they justified?

The President. Well, as you know, our position on Lithuania is, we never recognized its incorporation into the Soviet Union. I am convinced that the answer is peaceful emergence and discussion between the parties. I am pleased that Mr. Shevardnadze [Soviet Foreign Minister] reasserted his conviction that the Soviet Union would not use force. It is very important that force not be used. But I believe that they can talk and work out these problems, Helen.

Q. The Lithuanians said today they will not lay down their arms.

The President. Well, they should talk about that. I don't think either side to that difficult debate, discussion, wants to see the use of force. And so, my appeal would again be peaceful resolution through discussion of this difficult question.

Soviet Troops in Poland

Q. Mr. President, I want to ask about your meeting with the Prime Minister. Did he give you any assurances that he wants Soviet troops out of Poland? And when did he say he thought that might happen?

The President. No, he did not give assurances on that, that I recall. And I am convinced he knows that a continued presence of U.S. troops in Europe would be stabilizing and not a threat to anybody. But I don't recall his making a statement to me on that question.

Q. Well, let me ask, what's your reaction to statements by some Polish officials that there's a need for Soviet troops in Poland?

The President. Well, my reaction is: There isn't any need for Soviet troops in Eastern Europe, and the sooner they get out of there, the better. And I can understand the desire for stability and the way it's changed, but I haven't changed my position. The position of the United States is that a unified Germany should remain in NATO; the U.S. troops will be there as long as they are wanted because they are there as a stabilizing force; and that I think things would be enhanced, a peaceful evolution of all, if the Soviet troops moved out. And indeed, we're moving forward with the Soviet side on discussions of CFE. I want to have that agreement done by the time I sit down with Mr. Gorbachev.

Assistance for Nicaragua and Panama

Q. Mr. President, is it true that one of the leading Members of Congress that met with you earlier this week on Panama and Nicaragua said you simply would not be able to get the amounts of aid that you have requested? And if so, do you now feel that that aid package is in trouble?

The President. Well, one of the Members -- several of them indicated to me that there might be difficulty getting what I feel is essential for Panama. But I am going to continue to reiterate the importance, not just to the United States but to the whole hemisphere, of the aid package that I have requested for both Panama and Nicaragua. But, yes, one particular Senator -- I don't think I'm violating a confidence out of that meeting -- indicated he thought it would be a very difficult sell. And I don't understand it, because I think the United States has a disproportionate role -- others have an important role -- in the evolution of democracy, making firm democracy in Nicaragua and in Panama. We've got a lot at stake in both countries. Everyone knows our security interest in Panama, particularly. But I'm equally as concerned about doing what's right by Nicaragua.

Lithuanian Independence

Q. Mr. President, your spokesman the other day cautioned the Soviet Union against using intimidation and increasing tension with Lithuania. Do you read this latest statement by President Gorbachev calling on Lithuanians to lay down their arms as intimidation?

The President. I would prefer to put emphasis on his statement that there will be no use of force. And that's where I'm going to keep the emphasis and keep reminding every party to this discussion over there: no use of force, peaceful evolution. And I think we've got to look back over our shoulders to a year ago and see how far Europe has evolved, the democracies in Europe, through peace. And there was a great deal of restraint shown by the Soviet Union in that regard. And so, I would like to say: Please continue to exercise that kind of restraint. And remember, no use of force.


Q. Mr. President, the State of Idaho is about to enact a tough abortion law, putting severe restrictions on a woman's right to have an abortion. What do you think of that, first of all? And second of all, if the States do voice their individual positions, do you still think that a constitutional ban against abortion is necessary?

The President. I have not changed my position at all; and I think, in answer to the first part of your question, that's a matter for the State of Idaho to decide. The President of the United States has stated his position. It's my position. I feel strongly about it. And I'm not going to change it on constitutional amendment or anything else. But that matter should be debated out there, as it is being, and those people should decide that. That's what the whole Federal system is about.

Lithuanian Independence

Q. Mr. President, do you consider the Lithuanian situation an internal matter within the Soviet Union, or is there a role for outside countries, particularly the United States, to play?

The President. Role in what sense?

Q. In helping them reach whatever goal -- --

The President. I think the way to reach the goal is to have peaceful resolution of the problems between them that result from calm negotiation and discussion between the parties involved.

Q. But is it an internal matter within the Soviet Union?

The President. I've already told you the United States position, and that is that we do not recognize the incorporation of Lithuania into the Soviet Union. However, there are certain realities in life. The Lithuanians are well aware of them. And they should talk, as they are, with the Soviet officials about these differences.

Q. Mr. President, some of those realities include what Mr. Gorbachev has done; that is, giving the KGB more authority, restricting access to Lithuania. Is that, in fact, peaceful evolution?

The President. I wouldn't put that down as peaceful evolution; but that's a matter to be discussed between the Lithuanians themselves, having declared their independence, and the Soviet officials.

Q. But isn't that kind of a stranglehold also a form of force being used?

The President. Well, we see varying reports as to how much implementation there has been to some of these statements that come out.

Germany-Poland Border

Q. Were you able in your meeting with the Polish Prime Minister -- were you able to give him any support for his request that a treaty recognizing Poland's border be initialed by both Germanys prior to the two-plus-four talks and his request that Poland have a broader role in those talks to discuss security matters besides borders?

The President. We discussed those matters. I purposely worked into my statement here the role we see for Poland in a democratic Europe -- standing on its own, independent, very influential in the future. But in terms of the treaty and how the Germans enter into a treaty with the Poles -- that is a matter that I haven't changed our view on it. But I think we may have a nuance of difference here. But that's a matter for the Polish Prime Minister to discuss with the leaders of Germany.

And I believe they've come a long way. They are very, very close now, far closer than I think many of us would have predicted from statements that were made a month or so ago. So, let them sort it out. It's going well. The mistrust, I think, that you sometimes read about between the parties is down. I think [West German] Chancellor Kohl has come a long way in his view. I think his leadership has been impressive and terribly important. And I would leave it there.

Q. How about two-plus-four talks, though? Do you support the broader -- --

The President. Two-plus-four talks? The role of the United States is, if we're talking in the two-plus-four about Poland, Poland should be there. Poland should be involved. We have a view that the two-plus-four ought to deal with certain rights and obligations that the four parties came up with right after the war. And we don't see this as the group that is going to determine the fate of all of Europe. It has a specific role to it. But if two-plus-four starts talking about Polish borders, for example, clearly, the Poles should be involved.

Lithuanian Independence

Q. Mr. President, I suppose part of the equation in Lithuania is how much maneuvering room does Gorbachev have. Does it seem to you that he has the political ability to let Lithuania go?

The President. Well, he has asserted that whatever changes take place will be peaceful. I guess I'd have to say I honestly don't know the answer to your question.

Texas Gubernatorial Election

Q. Mr. President, when your fellow Texas Republican, Mr. Williams, was in town the other day, he said that he would feel less comfortable running against a woman and that he'd have to be more cautious. Since you've been there -- --

The President. You're talking to an expert in the field.

Q. Well, did you give him any advice, and do you have some for him if that happens?

The President. No, I have none at all. But I know exactly what he means, and I refuse to elaborate on it for fear of complicating his life. [Laughter] But remember 1984. I can't forget it. And he's entitled to his opinion. Maybe he's drawing on my experience.

Soviet-U.S. Summit

Q. Mr. President, in Secretary Baker's talks with Foreign Minister Shevardnadze, was a date set for your summit with President Gorbachev? Is that meeting likely to take place in Washington, Kennebunkport, or elsewhere?

The President. One, a date has not been set. Two, a place has not been set, but I would anticipate that the major business of the summit would be conducted in Washington, DC.

Q. When would you anticipate a date being set, sir?

The President. Soon. And the matter was raised by Jim Baker with Eduard Shevardnadze, and we should pin this down soon because you have many other meetings coming up. You have a NATO ministerial, you have the G - 7 meeting [economic summit] that will be in Houston, Texas -- very important meeting. We have bilaterals -- I will -- with President Mitterrand [of France], probably in Florida. Then we'll have one with Margaret Thatcher [Prime Minister of the United Kingdom] in Bermuda. And so, the calendar is getting full on our side, and I know it is on the Soviet side as well.

Lithuanian Independence

Q. Mr. President, you've gotten a lot of questions about Lithuania. If the Soviet Union does move with force against the Lithuanians -- --

The President. Too hypothetical. Stop right there. I am not going to make an answer to a hypothetical question of that nature. What possible good would come from the President of the United States, standing halfway around the world, speculating on something that he doesn't want to see happen? I mean, I could inadvertently cause something bad to happen, and I don't -- I'm very sorry -- --

Q. Can I ask something else then, Mr. President?

The President. You can start over on a whole new question. [Laughter] I really don't want to go into the hypothetical.

Israeli Political Situation

Q. In another part of the world, do you think that your comments on east Jerusalem contributed to the collapse of the government there? And do you think, over the long haul, that's going to make the peace process more difficult or easier?

The President. No, I think a President, when he reiterates the standing policy of the United States Government, is doing the correct thing. I do not think it contributed to the fall of the government. These are highly complex, internal matters in the state of Israel. Who emerges, the Likud or Labor, is their problem, their right. And I will negotiate and deal openly with whoever, and talk freely and openly with whoever, emerges as the leader. But I don't believe it made a contribution, because I think if you look at the issues, both the domestic economy and the question of the peace talks, that those were the key issues in the campaign, because most people in Israel understood that I was simply reiterating a standing United States policy, one that I feel very strongly about.

African National Congress

Q. What is the status on U.S. aid for the African National Congress?

The President. I don't know how that came out. Jim Baker had some discussions about it, and I'm embarrassed to say I haven't seen the final resolution. I just don't know the answer to your question.

Q. What is your inclination?

The President. My inclination is -- --

Q. To be cautious.

The President. -- -- to be cautious. [Laughter]

Lithuanian Independence

Q. Mr. President, as you call for these talks between the Soviets and the Lithuanians, are you envisioning government-to-government talks?

The President. I'm envisioning -- let them sort it out any way they want to. And I'm envisioning that they know how to do that, and they don't need any advice from the President of the United States on how to do that.

Q. Well, what kind of a signal does it send that we ask the Soviets to negotiate with a group that we don't recognize as a government?

The President. Look, I'm for peaceful evolution. I don't care -- we're not here to sit here and say who in Lithuania ought to talk to who in Moscow. How presumptuous and arrogant that would be for any President. So, I'd say let them sort it out. They're on the right track. Lithuanians have got elected leaders, and clearly the Soviets have a strong leader. They can figure that out without fine-tuning from the United States.

Travel to Australia and New Zealand

Q. Mr. President, some Down Under questions. The Australian elections are this week. Will you take up their offer to go to Australia, and if you go, would you also follow Secretary Baker's example and meet with any New Zealand officials?

The President. Come again on the second part of it.

Q. First of all, do you plan to go to Australia at any point after the elections?

The President. Well, I have no immediate plans. But I have been invited to go to Australia, and I'm dying to go to Australia. [Laughter] I really would like to do it, and I think it is very important that we not neglect our friends. Bob Hawke invited me. The last thing I want to do is intervene one way or another in the Australian elections. I know the heads of both the parties there, and I don't think the U.S. ought to indicate anything of that nature. But when I say Hawke invited me -- he is the Prime Minister. Barbara and I both want to go back to Australia, and I hope we'll be able to do it before the end of the year.

Q. I have a second part, sir.

The President. What was it?

Q. If you go to Australia would you also go to New Zealand, or would you follow Secretary Baker's example and meet with New Zealand officials -- --

The President. I'd wait and see how events were at the time. We've had some differences on -- that everyone's familiar with -- with New Zealand and their policy against our ships, and so I'll wait to see how that evolved. We have a strong affection for the people there. I have been to New Zealand, as you may remember. But I would take a look at where things stood at the time.

Two more and then -- I'm handed -- Marlin is putting the hook on me here.

Lithuanian Independence

Q. Mr. President, back to Lithuania. Were you pleased to see the Senate amendment pushed by Senator Helms on Lithuania defeated?

The President. Well, I don't feel that Senate amendment would have been helpful.

Q. Why not?

The President. For the reasons I've stated here to about 20 different questions.

Travel to Nicaragua

Q. Will you be going to Nicaragua at all for the inauguration?

The President. I will not be going to Nicaragua for the inauguration. I hope to be going to Nicaragua at some point. I, as President, don't want to neglect our own hemisphere; and so we're talking about a trip that will take us well south of the Rio Grande.

Assistance for Nicaragua

Q. A followup: If you don't get your aid in time for your deadline, what can you do to get around Congress to get aid to Nicaragua?

The President. Continue to work for it, because I believe strongly in it. And I think that it is in our interest as well as the interest of Nicaragua to support them. We see the emergence of democracy there. We saw free and fair elections, where the people said please make a dramatic change. And now we feel that we want to support those who want to move down -- as the Eastern Europeans have, as other countries in our own hemisphere have -- the road to democracy.

Merit Pay for Federal Workers

Q. Mr. President, have you signed off on a proposal by your Office of Personnel Management to pay workers -- --

The President. On broccoli? [Laughter]

Q. To pay government workers on a merit basis rather than on how long they serve?

The President. The concept of trying to work in merit has my strong support. I have not signed anything in the last couple of days on that. I did talk to Connie Newman, the head of OPM, the other day. We had a meeting with the heads of a lot of these agencies, and she did discuss that. But the concept of merit has my broad support, but we have to finalize the policy.

Thank you all very much.


Q. Mr. President, have you lost the broccoli vote?

Q. What about it, since you brought it up?

Q. Yes, can you give us a broccoli statement?

The President. Now, look, this is the last statement I'm going to have on broccoli. [Laughter] There are truckloads of broccoli at this very minute descending on Washington. My family is divided. [Laughter] I do not like broccoli. [Laughter] And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid, and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States, and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli. [Laughter]

Wait a minute. For the broccoli vote out there, Barbara loves broccoli. [Laughter] She's tried to make me eat it. She eats it all the time herself. So, she can go out and meet the caravan of broccoli that's coming in from Washington. [Laughter]

Q. Cauliflower?

Q. Lima beans?

Q. Brussels sprouts?

[At this point, the President made a thumbs-down gesture.]

Q. Ah-ha, thumbs down on brussels sprouts.

Note. The President's 41st news conference began at 11:15 a.m. on the South Grounds of the White House. Marlin Fitzwater was Press Secretary to the President.

George Bush, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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