George Bush photo

The President's News Conference

March 13, 1990

The President. We began this administration by saying that the day of the dictator is over. And now restless millions have spoken and have elected, or prepare to elect, new governments -- their governments. As long as we live, the images of this revolution, the Revolution of '89, will always be with us: a playwright President in Prague, the tumbling of the Berlin Wall, crumbling of a Romanian dictatorship.

But this revolution leaves us with a new challenge: how to best support newborn democracies. This challenge is utterly unlike the task of rebuilding Europe after the Second World War, for no single great plan will do. We need a flexible approach, one that will meet the needs of each country we seek to help.

Today I want to speak about how we can best help two democracies in our hemisphere: Panama and Nicaragua. We should take great pride in the way in which our leadership -- Congress and the administration -- helped the democratic spirit take hold in these two countries, but this is no time to bask in self-praise. These nations need our help to heal deep wounds inflicted by years of strife and oppression, years of loss and deprivation. And we must act, and act soon, to help the peoples of these new democracies in two great and historic tasks: reconstruction and reconciliation.

I've taken an important step today. As a demonstration of our resolve to be part of the process of reconciliation, I just signed an Executive order to end the economic embargo against Nicaragua. Americans are determined to help the people of Nicaragua.

And next I'm asking the Congress and the American people to join me in crafting a bipartisan agreement to help both countries. After all, bipartisanship did work well last year to put the focus on free elections and end the fighting in Nicaragua. Bipartisanship also helped bring an end to the tyranny in Panama. And we need to work again in that same spirit to put together an assistance program for both countries.

I'm proposing the creation of a fund for democracy to assist in the reconstruction and development of these two countries. And I'm requesting the Congress to approve by April 5th a package of assistance of $800 million for these two countries, using funds from the defense budget. This package consists of $500 million for Panama, already requested in that January 25th proposal to Congress, along with $70 million for refugees, and an additional $300 million for Nicaragua. I'm asking the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Treasury to work together on the economic assistance aspects of these packages and, of course, to consult with the United States Congress.

In addition, under existing authorities, I am initiating immediate action to provide $21 million of previously appropriated economic aid, principally for food and humanitarian assistance. I also will be sending to the Congress in the future a budget amendment for an additional $200 million in fiscal '91 for Nicaragua, consistent with the approach that we've taken this year.

Moreover, I've instructed the Secretary of Defense and Dick Darman at OMB to begin negotiations immediately with the Congress on mutually acceptable offsets from the defense budget that can be used for this democracy fund without having an unacceptable impact on national security. I further propose that in the event that an agreement on offsets cannot be reached by March 27th, the Congress authorize me to select offsets from the defense budget. And should neither of these alternatives prove to be workable, I am prepared, because of the dire need of these funds, to ask for a waiver of the budget act to allow this critical program to proceed on the required timetable.

I urge the Congress to move quickly and also urge in the strongest terms that it not add any extraneous items to this request. It is urgent to advance the prospect for democracy and reconciliation in Nicaragua and Panama. Damage to both economies has been great. We must help, and we want to help. Our help is needed swiftly to bring about demilitarization and advance the whole Central American peace process. If bipartisanship prevails, we will be able to meet this goal and respond to the expectations of our neighbors.

Let me save the details for congressional briefings and give you the three broad categories of assistance: aid for democracy, for development, and for demilitarization. We want to help democratic institutions take root in each country, but democracy begins with the rule of law and respect for human rights. It needs the support of courts that are fair and free of every influence but the law. It needs the support of police forces that are upright and honest. And it needs our support. Development and demilitarization -- they go hand in hand. They start when we provide textbooks for children, when we create thousands of new jobs, when the hand that held a gun guides a plow. In short, as we demobilize the military, we must mobilize the market.

This is a great and historic task, but we are inspired by the courage of our neighbors. We're close -- very, very close -- to a hemisphere that is completely democratic, a compass of freedom that spans half the world, from Alaska to Argentina. And facing this enormous challenge, we are not alone. Other nations can and must help. But only America can take the lead on this one. I stand prepared to work with the Congress to do our part for reconstruction and reconciliation for democracy.

And now I'd be glad to respond to questions. And, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International], I believe you have the first one.

Deficit Reduction Plan

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. Your warm reception of the Rostenkowski plan -- does that mean you're ready to negotiate tax increases and a freeze on Social Security benefits, things you have never gone for in the past? And I have a followup.

The President. No, it doesn't. The answer is no. Followup?

Q. A followup? You are not willing to negotiate, or what is your -- --

The President. Overall feeling? Look, I think he -- without rancor, without a lot of rhetoric -- made a very broad proposal. We've made a proposal -- the administration. We now would like to hear from the budget process on the Hill what their proposal is, and then we'll talk. But perhaps, as I told some reporters yesterday, in being receptive through not knocking the things in it we don't like -- and there are plenty -- I was somewhat colored by the way in which Chairman Rostenkowski approached this and with, I think, the evident good will on his part and determination to try to break the ice and move the process forward.

Q. But you're not saying you would go for a tax increase?

The President. No, I'm not for a tax. Let me -- --

Q. How about a freeze on Social Security?

The President. Well, there are a lot of things I'm not for that are in his proposal -- a lot, including taxes.

Lithuanian Independence

Q. Mr. President, the United States has never recognized the forced incorporation of Lithuania into the Soviet Union. Now that Lithuania has declared its independence, the United States seems to be moving tentatively toward full recognition. Is that because we're afraid of offending Mr. Gorbachev or don't want to alienate him?

The President. It's because we want to see the evolution of the control of the territory there, and also we want to see peaceful resolution to the question.

Q. Well, do we still regard Lithuania as a captive nation, along with the other Baltic States?

The President. We might not use that word, but we never have regarded Lithuania as incorporated into the Soviet Union. That's been our policy. And we rejoice as people are permitted the free expression that we take for granted in this country. And clearly, I think, there is a great deal of interest in this concept of Lithuanians working it out with the Soviets to achieve what they want. And so, we're not standing in that way. But in terms of recognition, there is a standard of control of one's territory that I've been advised should guide this.


Q. Mr. President, are you concerned about the apparent reluctance of the contras to disband, and what can you do about it?

The President. Yes, I am concerned about it, and I'm also concerned about certain military action by the Sandinistas. But I'm also encouraged, Brit [Brit Hume, ABC News]. And I'm encouraged because yesterday I talked to Dan Quayle, and he told me of his visit with Ortega [President of Nicaragua], where Ortega seemed willing to transfer the Defense Ministry, seemed willing to transfer the Interior Ministry, and was open about the discussion of reducing -- I want to be careful here I don't overstate it -- but reducing a military action on both sides.

There is a United Nations vehicle that can be helpful, ONUCA [United Nations Observer Group in Central America], which could have a useful role to play in the separation of forces and in getting done what Violeta Chamorro [President-elect of Nicaragua] wants, which is both sides start laying down their weapons. That ONUCA has support from other leaders in this hemisphere -- Carlos Andres Perez [President of Venezuela], I believe, supports it. I know Mrs. Chamorro wants us to give more support to this, so I've asked the State Department to look into that immediately.

So, I'm less concerned than I was about the peaceful transfer of power, including the military. But I think to the degree both sides can start laying down weapons and moving towards the kind of market economies we're talking about and with less reliance on military, it's better. So, I can't say I'm not concerned, but I am encouraged the way it's going so far.

Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories

Q. Mr. President, do you regret, the other day, raising the issue of settlements in East Jerusalem?

The President. No, I don't regret it. I think all the speculation and commentary of the last 10 days have blown things way out of proportion. What I was doing was reiterating United States policy. But let me say this: Right now in Israel, there's internal developments taking place in the political scene there, and I do not want to look in any way like we're trying to mingle into the internal affairs of Israel as they're going through this difficult political problem right now -- right now. So, I will answer no more on it -- well, try to clarify it because you have the followup. But it's so sensitive and it is so emotional that I just think any further speculation on this question would certainly not be useful, given what's happened just in the last few hours.

Q. Well, can I just ask then -- --

The President. Yes, you can ask.

Q. I'm not really clear why you raised the issue at all. Was there a particular reason? It's long been part of U.S. policy, but it hasn't been talked about a lot.

The President. Well, I understand that. That's why I will speculate no further on it. I think it is highly emotional. But I think any speculation and any commentary at this juncture -- a lot of developments since I made that comment -- would be counterproductive.

Deficit Reduction Plan

Q. Mr. President, following up on Helen's question, could I ask, beyond your well-known friendship with Chairman Rostenkowski, what elements of the plan do you see as meritorious?

The President. The fact that it's aimed at getting the deficit down. Does that help you any?

Q. No, because it doesn't say what -- do you have any ideas to throw in beyond his? Is a 1-year freeze -- --

The President. We've thrown our ideas out on the table, John [John Mashek, Boston Globe], and he's now thrown his out. And now we'd like to have the leaders of the budget process on the Hill throw theirs out, and then perhaps we can talk. Look, there's a lot of changes in the world, a lot of changes out there in terms of Eastern Europe and the requests that I'm making today -- a lot of things going on. And so, I don't want to appear totally inflexible, but I'm not about to stand here and give Dan or the Congress the idea that I want to accept several of the things that are in his approach. But will I be willing to talk when they get all these proposals out there? Certainly. Are we prepared to negotiate? Absolutely.


Q. Mr. President, you've opened your comments today by saying that the day of the dictator was over and speaking of the moves for democracy in 1989, and yet the exception to that rule is the situation in China, where since the crackdown at Tiananmen Square we've seen little moves toward democracy and freedom there. Do you have any second thoughts about the approach that you took for the situation in China and your sending of your high-level envoys there, and any thoughts that this policy must now change because of the lack of response from the Chinese Government?

The President. No, but I'm not happy with the evolution of reform in China, but I'd have no regrets about that. And I'm reinforced by a lot of expert opinion that feels the approach I took -- accomplishing something by Executive order that the Congress wanted to do dramatically later on through legislation -- was the proper approach. And so, I hope our policy will bear more fruit. But, no, I am not happy with the status quo.

Q. Well, Mr. President, if you're not happy with the status quo, why not change your policy now to take a tougher line toward the Chinese regime?

The President. Because I'm familiar with China and I think we're on the right track and I hope that we'll see an evolution of more reform. And that's exactly why not change it now.

Deficit Reduction Plan

Q. Mr. President, back to the surprising administration reaction to the Rostenkowski proposal: Regardless of whatever negotiating positions are being drawn now or politics is being played, can you today assure the American people that there will be no tax increase, no new taxes this year?

The President. I'm only one player, but you know my position, and I have no intention of changing that position.

Q. Under what circumstances might you -- --

The President. Too hypothetical. Nice try. Too hypothetical.

Right here, lady in the front row.

Assistance for Nicaragua and Panama

Q. Thank you. I'd like to ask you something about your Nicaragua/Panama proposal.

The President. Yes?

Q. But in light of what the majority leader of the House says -- that you have not shown strong leadership -- you do not propose in your -- --

The President. Who said that?

Q. Mr. Gephardt, the majority leader of the House. [Laughter]

The President. Thank you for your clarification. I have a follow-on. [Laughter]

Q. I would like you also to comment on that. The Nicaragua question is: You are not proposing to Congress exactly where to cut in the defense budget; you're basically leaving that to them. Why don't you tell them where they should cut specifically?

The President. On offsets?

Q. Yes.

The President. From the defense budget?

Q. Why don't you say: Here's a B - 2; take it?

The President. We are. We are doing that. And what I'm saying to them -- --

Q. But where?

The President. -- -- well, that's in negotiation up there. But what I've also said here is: If you're not willing to do it, give me the authority on March 27th, and it'll be done like that. I am willing to do it. We're going to take the hits. We're negotiating with Congress now.

Q. Why not tell the American people, then?

The President. We'll tell them on March 27th if they turn it to me. And right now I don't know how much of it's confidential, but I'll let the Secretary of Defense answer the question -- but I don't see any great secrecy in this.

What we're trying to do is to give the Congress the ball and say: Here's what we recommend. Now you tell us what you want to do, but don't go making a lot of add-ons. Do it the way we feel is necessary to keep the focus on Nicaragua and Panama. I think Congress has a very legitimate role here; but if they're not willing to fulfill it, Lesley [Lesley Stahl, CBS News], we have no problem giving you a list that would take care of it just like that. But I think it's the Congress' role now to work with our people.

Representative Gephardt

Q. Why does Gephardt get under your skin so much? You've got -- I don't know, an 80-percent approval rating. He makes a speech attacking you, and -- --

The President. Well, what have I said? What would make you think that he gets under my skin? [Laughter]

Q. He says you're not a strong leader.

The President. Oh, I know. I know. That's so discouraging. [Laughter]

Q. And all the people around the White House and -- --

The President. But why do you think it gets under my skin? The honest answer is -- I know you won't believe this -- it doesn't. It doesn't. I think we're going in the right direction. We're talking substance and policy. I think many in the Congress think that we are being responsive. But look, I expect that. I expect that kind of political criticism. But I think if you want to talk about the substance of his ideas: Do I think it's a good idea to loan money to the Soviet Union today? No. We have no request for food aid to the Soviet Union; you just want to put it on a ship and send it over there? No, I don't think that's a particularly brilliant idea. But I don't want to knock the man. Maybe he'll come on a good idea one of these days. [Laughter]

Assistance for Nicaragua and Panama

Q. The Nicaraguans and the Panamanians are expecting aid very soon. They are in urgent need of the aid.

The President. Exactly.

Q. And the Panamanians say that they cannot wait any longer. What can you do besides Congress? When can they expect something?

The President. I'm going to have this question replayed on Capitol Hill because you're absolutely right. There is a sense of urgency, and I would like to take the opportunity here to encourage the movement in the Congress. We've sent a proposal up on Panama; now let's get going on it. Now we're coupling it with Nicaragua; now let's [get] going on it. There's an urgency in Nicaragua, too, but Panama -- very urgent. And so, we're going to keep pushing. But I think you're right on target with that hypothesis.

Economic Policy

Q. Mr. President, there was a report last week that you were so angry and upset at the Fed's failure to lower interest rates that you wouldn't reappoint Chairman Greenspan next year when his term ends. Can you comment on whether there's any thought being given yet to the question of reappointing Mr. Greenspan and the level of frustration you do feel about interest rates?

The President. No, there is no discussion of that nature at all. I'm not sure I saw the report, but I saw some speculation someplace. Maybe it was on the TV. But that's never been discussed with me. Now, if the question is, am I happy with interest rates -- look, every President would like to see interest rates lower. There's no question. I don't knock the concern that some have on inflation. A President has to be concerned about inflation, too. But there's no bubbling war with Alan Greenspan, and that's what I got from the commentary I heard -- that there was. But you know, going back a few years here, it's ever been thus, hasn't it? When there's some differences, it's always built into a conflict between the President and the Chairman of the Fed. And I don't want to get into that game because I don't feel that way.

Q. But is there a particular feeling at this point that the Fed is dragging its feet somewhat in getting interest rates down?

The President. I think some feel that way, and I think some probably agree with the inflationary concerns that have been expressed. But I'm not in a Fed-bashing mode. I also think it's very sensitive in terms of markets and everything else to even go as far as I have done, trying to say very little and succeeding only moderately. [Laughter]

President's Popularity

Q. Mr. President, you've been at near-historical public approval ratings now for well into your first term: 80 percent or more. And my question is whether you believe in spending some of this popularity on something controversial -- like, say, what specifically you like about Rostenkowski's proposal -- or just hoarding it. What's the goal?

The President. I don't believe it, one thing. I don't believe in polls that much.

Q. I guess the question is -- --

The President. Talk to Nicaragua's man; talk to Ortega's man -- probably gainfully unemployed right now for missing it by a jillion points. But these things come and go, seriously. And you know where I learned it? Back in Illinois in 1980. I don't remember why, but I remember Vic Gold lecturing me on hanging your hat on polls.

That's not the way I try to call the shots on the policy. You just raised a question about China. If I had my finger in the wind, I might have done that one differently. I might have done differently about going to Cartagena if I put my finger in the wind in terms of polls, but that's not the way I run this administration. I know some think so, but that's not the point. So, I'm not going to dwell on them because tomorrow it may be very different. Then I'll have a -- say, hey, wait a minute.

Q. Can I go on it for one more question? Does it become a possibility, though, that when you're at, like, 80 percent, that almost becomes an end in itself at some point? I mean it's such an extraordinary level.

The President. You mean, pull the ripcord and get out? [Laughter]

Q. Well, I mean -- --

The President. What do you mean?

Q. When you're at 80 percent, it would be tempting, I would think, just to simply protect that lead, sort of fall on the ball?

The President. No. Please believe me. That doesn't guide the decisions we take, and I've given you a couple of examples. And I'm trying to do the best I can for the country and to work with the Congress. And there's a lot of areas where I have not succeeded near as well as I would like to, but I don't live by the polls.

American Hostages in Lebanon

Q. Mr. President, last week we learned that you were so concerned about the hostages that you were willing to take a questionable call. And it might have been from the Iranian President, and then, of course, you found out it wasn't. In response, Rafsanjani made a statement saying that you had been trying to get a hold of him for a month. Did you actually then try to place a call to the real person -- or could you clarify?

The President. I don't know where he got that. I saw that statement, and there was no truth in it -- our trying to contact him for a month. It'd be very easy to do. I responded to an incoming call. I think the bottom line is you have to say, would you do it again based on the information you had? And I'd say yes, I probably would. It may be difficult for somebody to get through again -- [laughter].

But what's wrong with reaching out and touching someone -- [laughter] -- when the hostages are at stake? The hostages are at stake here, and what's wrong with trying? Look, I feel this all the time. I've talked about this -- that I will go the extra mile. And when the whole story comes out on this, you all are going to be very, very fascinated with the details, very fascinated.

But I'm just telling you that it is important, it is very important to run down every avenue in terms of these hostages, and I would be remiss if I didn't. And there are things that go on, going around in back alleys and trying to find out information, and we've got to do that. I owe it to the families of those people and to those people themselves that are held hostage.

Q. Can I follow up, Mr. President?

The President. Yes.

Q. If you didn't try to reach them for a month, can you say whether you or anyone acting on your behalf did try to reach him at all?

The President. Have we been trying to reach Rafsanjani?

Q. Have you tried, yes.

The President. No, other than this one phone call that turns out to be a hoax.

Q. So, as far as you can tell, what he was saying just didn't make any sense on any level?

The President. Yes. It's very much like the rhetoric that they use from time to time. He's got some political problems at home, and we understand that. The main thing is, can we move forward and get the hostages out. And I'll repeat: Good will begets good will. And I'm satisfied that even in this instance the officials there know that nobody is trying to set them up or anything of that nature. I'm interested in saving American lives.

Soviet Reforms

Q. Mr. President, I understand that TASS [Soviet news agency] is reporting this morning that the Soviet Parliament has granted President Gorbachev the expanded powers he wants and has been requesting. I'm interested, sir, if you side with those within the Soviet Union who fear that there are not sufficient checks and balances on this new Presidential system, that it could result in a more totalitarian Soviet Union. How do you feel this might affect your dealings with Gorbachev and whether you envision extending this fund for democracy perhaps one day to the Soviet Union itself?

The President. I answer that by saying I stay out of the internal affairs and deliberations of the Soviet Union. And they are going through a process of reform, which we support in broad terms, perestroika. They're going through a process of glasnost, which is openness, which we support. And it would be very inappropriate for the President of the United States to start passing judgment as that process of perestroika -- democratization, if you will -- moves forward.

And so, yes, the Soviets have created a new post of President, I hear, but that's their business. And we will work with, in this instance, President Gorbachev. As you know, I think we have a reasonably good relationship there, a respectful one; and I'm going to continue to work with him.

Q. Well, can you say, sir, whether you think that as you continue to work with him that will be affected in any way by these changes that have taken place, or is it going to be as it has been between you and Mr. Gorbachev? And would you see involving the Soviet Union in this fund for democracy?

The President. You mean, asking them to give money to -- --

Q. No, no, no. Including them, making them if not currently, as Gephardt has suggested, perhaps one day a beneficiary of this fund for democracy?

The President. I think the answer is to help in a technical way as best we can for helping the Soviets move towards market economies and free markets and those kinds of considerations. I think that's the next step we ought to take.

And there's discussion of an Eastern development bank. The question is out there whether the Soviets should be members of that bank or not. And as a matter of fact, we have some deliberations going on as to what the U.S. position should be right now. I'm not prepared to state it, but I've been spending some time on this question. But that's an idea that was surfaced by Francois Mitterrand [President of France], I believe. So, there are all kinds of ways in which, down the road, we can work with the Soviet Union, but I think what they need now from us is know-how and technical knowledge, that kind of thing.

Japan-U.S. Relations

Q. Mr. President, after your meeting in Palm Springs with Prime Minister Kaifu, he took a real beating in the Japanese Diet. And I wonder if, in retrospect, were there any misunderstandings in your conversations? He was accused in Japan by his critics of having made some concessions or reached a level of detail in your discussions that some in Japan were unhappy with. Is there any clarification needed about what came out of Palm Springs?

The President. No, those reports just highlight the sensitivity of the situation in Japan. And I think that as far as I'm concerned the talks were very good. We followed up, incidentally, with close to an hour with Mr. Takeshita [former Japanese Prime Minister] yesterday and covered the same broad agenda. I didn't go into every specific, but I'm convinced that both Mr. Kaifu left Palm Springs and Takeshita will leave Washington with a far better understanding of the problems that we face. And hopefully, I have a better understanding of theirs. So, I think I'm aware of the criticism against him at home, but I think that I would just go back to the statements he made when he left Palm Springs, which I viewed as very constructive.

Q. Just one followup: You said in a speech -- the day after you got back -- to the Electronics Association that you had discussed telecommunications with him, and that apparently came as a surprise to some people in Japan. Was that a brief discussion, a lengthy one?

The President. A broad discussion of several categories. And I don't know in terms of the amount of time, but we left the details of all of these categories, that were so well-known as differences between the U.S. and Japan, to the experts. In fact, I think Bob Mosbacher will be going there soon, if he's not already on his way. And so, it was more broad in general, but categories mentioned.

Upcoming Meeting With Chairman Gorbachev

Q. Do you still expect the summit with Mr. Gorbachev will take place in Washington in the last 2 weeks of June?

The President. We've got to get that set soon, pin down the dates and the place. But in terms of expectation, yes.

Baseball Strike

Q. Mr. President, the announcement no one wants to hear -- the delay of baseball's opening day -- is imminent. Is there anything that you as the "first fan" can do -- [laughter] -- to bring the sides closer together to prevent a tragic delay of the baseball season?

The President. You know, I made a comment on that yesterday, and I misspoke because I said strike. And we got some -- understandably -- got some calls from some of the ballplayers saying hey, that's not technically what the situation is, please. Look, yes, I'm a ball fan, and I want to go to the opening game someplace. Last year, I went to the American League; this year I'd like to go to the National League, if possible -- I don't know whether it's going to work. Maybe end up in Baltimore. But I don't want to intervene. We've already taken a battle on that up there, on another labor matter -- have the Federal Government intervene. But I would simply appeal to both sides to get the matter resolved so the American people can hear that cry "Play ball!" again.

Q. I have a followup here, sir. I'm reminded by one of the senior correspondents back here that Lyndon Johnson used to lock up both sides and say, "Don't come out until you've got a settlement." Is that a prospect here?

The President. Not on this particular issue, but on some issues that could well prove to be a prospect. [Laughter]

President Endara of Panama

Q. Mr. President, have you been in contact with President Endara about his fast, and do you view that as a useful means of expressing the plight of the Panamanian people as they wait for U.S. aid?

The President. Well, I have not talked to him since the fast began. And I did note with interest some very supportive statements out of him after the fast began -- supportive of our administration and what we're trying to do. But that's a matter for him to determine.

Assistance for Nicaragua and Panama

Q. Mr. President, in your opening statement, you appealed to Congress to pass your aid program, but you did not appeal to the American people. And one of the problems a lot of Congressmen say they're having is that foreign aid at this time is not a high priority for a lot of people. Do you think an appeal, first of all, to ordinary Americans is necessary, and what do you say to people who think that perhaps what may be seen as the first part of a peace dividend is going overseas?

The President. I think you put your finger on a good point. However, I believe that both Nicaragua and Panama have strong support from the American people. In fact, there's new information on that. But I think they raise a good point -- I mean, there's a lot of domestic problems. But we're sorting this out now. And I'm convinced that when the American people understand what we're talking about, about offsetting proposals in defense, in other words not going in there and costing them more or taking it away from some other program, that it will have strong support.

But I'm not unsympathetic to that argument. But where I would differ is I think the American people would strongly support what we're saying here. They see a lot at stake for us in a totally democratic hemisphere and the success of democracy in Nicaragua.

Q. Do you feel we particularly owe it to the people of those two countries, given our military activities in both Nicaragua and Panama?

The President. Do we owe support?

Q. Do we owe money?

The President. Well, we've lifted the embargoes, and we've released the funds. So, to the degree there's anything owed, we're trying to comply with that. But what I'm proposing here is an investment in democracy. I don't think anybody would, you know, have the American people try to believe that we owe it. But it's the right thing to do, and we want to see Violeta Chamorro supported, and we want to see the Panamanian democracy succeed. So, that's the way I'd phrase it.

Q. Mr. President, let me ask you about what -- --

The President. I have a meeting with the Congress at 10:45, and I don't -- I mean, 9:45, 9:45 -- sorry, accept the correction please, 9:45.

Texas Primaries

Q. It's primary day in Texas, Mr. President. Can you tell us -- two questions -- one -- --

The President. Now we're talking. [Laughter]

Q. -- -- for whom you voted in the Republican primary and, number two, do you think it should be held against a candidate if perhaps at some point in the past they used drugs, but no longer do? You've talked on that issue before. Can you go back over it for us?

The President. This is election day in Texas. I did vote in the Texas Republican primary. I will not tell you who I voted for, and I hope everybody understands. Otherwise, we'll have a quiz around here of who we voted for earlier on. It's not a proper question to reveal.

Q. But on the drugs issue, which is an issue in the primary and certainly may be in the general election, do you think it should be held against a candidate that at some point in the past they have used drugs?

The President. I think that's a matter for the voters to decide. But in my view, somebody used marijuana some time ago and is not into anything of that nature, why, no, I don't think that should be held against them.

Q. What if it were more than marijuana, sir?

The President. You're getting me involved in the Texas primary, something I don't want to do, Craig [Craig Hines, Houston Chronicle]. The polls opened down there about 2 hours ago, and I'm not about -- --

Q. You'll be involved in the general election, though, won't you?

The President. I'll be involved, but I'm not going to fine-tune that. I'm not going to go into that.

Soviet Compliance With Arms Reduction Agreements

Q. What about the report -- the Soviet noncompliance of the INF treaty in a number of instances in East Germany? Do you think that that could throw a monkey wrench into the CFE and START talks?

The President. To the degree that there are differences on verification on INF, we've got to work those out. And we've got our experts working the problem and trying to eliminate any differences.

Q. What about the differences reported between Secretary Cheney and CIA Director Webster over the threat assessments -- --

The President. Just a minute.

Q. -- -- in the event that Gorbachev is thrown out of power?

The President. Just 1 minute on that one. As I have said before -- [laughter] -- I don't see any real disagreement here. [Laughter] No, I tried to answer that yesterday, and I expect I didn't lay it to rest. But I don't think anybody believes -- including Cheney -- that the Soviet system is going to go back to where it was in -- you know, before 1980, in the middle of the eighties.

But there are differences when you go to try to predict with accuracy based on intentions. So, I've talked to them now, and I feel that they are pretty close together. And it's difficult when you have a fast-changing world, and yet you take a position like I do: We must retain a credible defense. Then you get into a big debate: Well, what is credible? And I think that's what you're seeing here.

So, I can tell you, having talked to these gentlemen, I don't think that there is this enormous defense difference between the intelligence community -- and I say community -- and the Secretary. I think we've come up with a prudent, well-thought-out defense plan. And there will be changes, I'm sure, after our cooperation with and consultation with Congress, but believe me, these are not diametrically different views that you're reading about.

Shall we end with this one? I really do have a 9:45.

Surplus Weapons

Q. Mr. President, here's a question that I please wish you would decide, and I think only you can. You're going to have to deal with billions and billions of surplus weapons. What are you going to do with those? There's been some indication that you've already given 1,000 tanks from Europe out of that surplus pile to Egypt. And if you keep on selling them on credit, the arms that we have, you're going to keep on creating wars in the Third World and other nations.

The President. One of the -- --

Q. Mr. President, would you do this at the microphone, please?

Q. Thank you.

The President. This is a departure. One of the things that is part of the negotiations on CFE is destruction of weapons -- and we're talking about significant numbers. And I had a meeting yesterday with Jim Woolsey, our CFE negotiator, and he was spelling out for me just the mechanical difficulties of doing this. But nevertheless, we are determined that that will be the approach that's taken with these massive numbers of weapons. We still have security needs that we feel are enhanced by transfer of military equipment, sales of military equipment to friendly countries. So, the policy will remain as it is, but we will go forward with the destruction where that is a part of the policy.

Thank you all very much.

Note: The President's 40th news conference began at 9:18 a.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Representative Dan Rostenkowski, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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

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