George Bush photo

The President's News Conference

October 31, 1989

The President. I have a statement and then be glad to take a few questions.

President Gorbachev and I will meet December 2d and December 3d aboard U.S. and Soviet naval vessels on alternate days in the Mediterranean. Our discussions will cover the current international situation and developments in U.S.-Soviet relations. And in view of the full-scale U.S.-Soviet summit to be held in the United States during the late spring or early summer of 1990, President Gorbachev and I have agreed that an interim informal meeting at this time would be appropriate.

Our talks will be informal in character, designed to allow us to become better acquainted with one another and to deepen our respective understanding of each other's views. Neither President Gorbachev nor I anticipate that substantial decisions or agreements will emerge from this December meeting.

Meeting With Soviet President Gorbachev

Q. Mr. President, what do you hope to accomplish with this? I mean, is the economy going to be one of the main parts of the agenda, or do you have -- arms control? What do you think you're going to talk about?

The President. I think there'll be talk of a wide array of subjects without a specific agenda, and this is what I proposed to Mr. Gorbachev several months ago after I returned from the Paris economic summit. We've been working on this all that time, and -- --

Q. It sounds like you were stampeded into this, because it wasn't in the works, and you had projected -- --

The President. You mean -- since July it's been in the works.

Q. Has it?

The President. Yes, you just haven't been told.

Q. You're right.

The President. Since July, and I made the proposal to Mr. Gorbachev. And I'll say this: They immediately and enthusiastically -- he did -- thought this was a good idea.

Q. And did you also?

The President. I made the proposal.

Q. Mr. President, there's been some speculation that a meeting of this type might be intended for ideas to revamp the Soviet economy. Are you trying to get some ideas together to go to this meeting with some type of proposal like that?

The President. Well, I'm sure that now that the meeting is announced, there will be an awful many suggestions as to the subjects we should discuss, but there's not going to be an agenda or a meeting to be seen to fail or succeed on whether we make agreements of this nature. That's not what this meeting is about. And so, President Gorbachev will have been in Italy, and it seemed like a very convenient way to do this. But there's nothing off the table and nothing on it. It's not going to be an arms control meeting. Clearly the summit will drive the arms control agenda.

Q. Let me ask you: How do you assess Mr. Gorbachev's reforms? Do you think he is in trouble?

The President. I want to talk to him about their economy, our economy, a wide array of subjects. And I've said over and over again, we want to see perestroika succeed. And they know this. There hasn't been a disconnect. As I answered Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International], we've been talking about this meeting since July.

Q. How come we didn't know about it?

The President. Because I'm trying to give everybody a little room so you can negotiate without getting it all up here in a lot of turmoil.

Q. Now that it's out, sir, could you tell us a little bit about the steps that led to this -- your proposal -- how and when it was made, and so forth?

The President. Well, I did say that I made the proposal -- I believe it was in July -- in writing to the President and then got a very prompt response, and then we've been going back and forth at that level. And then it's been discussed by the Secretary of State and Mr. Shevardnadze -- the details worked out.

Q. When was it agreed upon?

The President. Oh, a month ago, I'd say.

Q. Mr. President, since July, several of your very top officials have said publicly that they didn't see any value in having a summit if it couldn't be carefully prepared -- absolute guarantee of success, with some kind of a serious outcome. You're saying that's off. This is just to discuss -- --

The President. No. The summit is on.

Q. Well, but what if they said no meeting unless -- --

The President. No, I -- who said that?

Q. I don't want to point a finger, but he's standing over here to the side. [Laughter]

The President. Well, they weren't speaking for the President. I've told you what I think. You know, there was one time when I felt that such a meeting wouldn't be productive. And I think it is going to be productive, but it's not going to be an agenda. We first set an agenda meeting: we first set the summit. That will drive the arms control agenda. That's out there with a date on it -- rough timeframe on it. And the other is rapid change going on. I now have a much clearer view of how our allies feel on East-West relations. We've got problems in this hemisphere that I want to discuss. And so, the two are not inconsistent, Lesley [Lesley Stahl, CBS News].

Q. Mr. President, the last time there was a summit like this was in Reykjavik, and it evolved into a rather freewheeling arms control negotiation that caused consternation in Europe, because at one point we were talking about eliminating all nuclear weapons, which Europeans felt would give -- --

The President. Yes.

Q. -- -- the Soviets an advantage because of their preponderance of conventional superiority. What guarantees are there that that won't happen at this meeting?

The President. Well, because neither side thinks it's going to happen. And we have a summit, an arms control summit -- a summit which will be dominated by arms control issues already established, separate and apart. And the Soviet leader and I both understand the kind of meeting we want to have, so I don't think there's any conflict there at all.

Q. Mr. President, is one of your purposes in having this meeting to give Gorbachev a political boost at home?

The President. No, I hadn't particularly thought about that. If it does, fine. I mean, as I said, we want to see perestroika succeed.

Q. Even though you say you don't have an agenda for this meeting, can you tell us what do you think are the most pressing issues that you want to raise with Mr. Gorbachev? What are the things that are most important in your mind that you feel need to be raised and discussed at this early date?

The President. A wide array of regional issues of this hemisphere, Eastern Europe, be sure I understand from him as clearly as possible his aspirations for perestroika. There's all kinds of subjects that we'll be discussing. I don't see a limit, but again, there isn't a set agenda in my mind.

Q. Mr. President, to what extent have the events in Eastern Europe caused you perhaps to want to accelerate this, or will that be a major factor in your discussions?

The President. I expect there will be a lot of discussion of that. But as I indicated, the genesis of this was in July, when there were certainly change -- we'd just come back, as you recall, from Poland and Hungary. And there's been a lot of dramatic change since then: Germany, some movements in Czechoslovakia -- so things have moved, but I can't say that the meeting was predicated on the change in Eastern Europe solely.

Q. Well, if not predicated, has it been a factor in the discussions in arranging to have this meeting? Has it been something that has been discussed, that East Europe -- --

The President. No, there's no arrangement; there's no subjects. I want to be very clear on that. And any exchange I've had with Mr. Gorbachev -- and, I believe, in [the] Baker-Shevardnadze discussions -- there hadn't been any discussion of agenda items or something we're going to take up.

Q. You say this presummit summit is not meant to bail out Mr. Gorbachev politically. How about yourself? You've been criticized by the Democrats as being too timid toward Eastern Europe and toward Gorbachev, helping him with perestroika. Do you think it will help you?

The President. That's not why we're doing it, but if that should be the fallout, so be it. We've known what we're doing. We've been on this track for some time. I've elected to remain very quiet in the face of a good deal of sentiment that we were missing an opportunity. And that hasn't perturbed me because we've got good people that know what we're doing in terms of the Soviet Union. And if people see that a little more clearly now, so be it; that's a plus.

Q. It seems as though you're going there without any initiatives. We're trying to read between the lines here. If that's the case, aren't you going to be accused once again of being timid?

The President. Oh, I'm sure somebody would politically accuse me of anything, but that's not the point. I can tell you one thing: Our allies will be delighted about this. They've just been informed this morning, and I guarantee you there will be enthusiasm through much of the free world and a lot of the rest of the world.

But look, I don't expect to have everybody that's been firing away at me up there jump up with joy. But we've just briefed the congressional leaders, and they seem to be quite enthusiastic about this. They had not known about it. And I'll let them speak for themselves, but some who have not been overly supportive in the last few days seem to feel this is a very good thing to be doing.

Q. Mr. President, you said a few weeks ago you thought there was a good chance to complete a START agreement by the time the real summit in the spring or summer comes around. Are you still holding to that feeling? Are things on track? And will this meeting, though it's not an arms control meeting, push that process along?

The President. I don't think this meeting will push that process along, but I'm still holding to that feeling.

Soviet Reforms

Q. Mr. President, you've said repeatedly that you'd like to see perestroika succeed.

The President. Yes.

Q. What plans, if any, does the administration have to make sure that happens in terms of any kind of economic assistance or anything of the sort?

The President. Well, we haven't been asked for any economic assistance, and maybe this is one of the items that we will be discussing.

What I want to make clear to Mr. Gorbachev -- and I have done that, and I don't think there's been a disconnect with the Soviets -- is that we do want to see it succeed. But we'll be discussing that.

Q. Let me ask you: Are you also concerned that the reforms in the Soviet Union may be moving too quickly, and it could result in a government crackdown a la China?

The President. Well, some have suggested that I am -- they use a different word for it -- but a little too much on the cautious side. I think there is reason to be cautious. And I've said that over and over again. Substitute the word "prudent" if you want. But I think after this meeting I'll be better able to answer your questions, because I know Mr. Gorbachev to be a very frank individual just from the contacts that I've had with him, which have been not as many as some but more than most. And I think that I'll be able to give you a better answer to that because that's one of the things I want to -- I don't want to have two gigantic ships pass in the night because of failed communication.

Meeting With Soviet President Gorbachev

Q. Mr. President, right before and right after the Wyoming meetings, the guidance from your closest advisers here was that there was not going to be a presummit summit. And they were specifically ruling out a meeting of this sort anytime this year. Now, were we being deliberately misled? And assuming that we weren't, what changed?

The President. That's one of the dangers of not telling what you know to everybody. There could be some disconnect in that. But one of the benefits is that the Soviets see we're dealing in good faith.

Q. Was there a feeling on your part, Mr. President, that perhaps waiting for spring and summer was a little bit too long, too tenuous, since no date has been set for spring or summer?

The President. No, because I think they're two separate kinds of meetings. One of them, announced as it is, will drive the arms control agenda; and the other one is the kind of meeting I talked about. So, it's not a question, Saul [Saul Friedman, Newsday], of thinking, if we didn't have this meeting too long would go. I remember in 1984 people kept saying, well, Ronald Reagan hadn't even sat down with the Soviet leaders. They were admittedly changing pretty fast in those days. But he said that, and the critics were on him about it. I don't feel that that had anything to do with it -- well, we've got to do it sooner because we won't see each other until the summer, spring or summer -- if that was your question.

Q. Mr. President, but then what changed your mind? Because this is exactly the kind of meeting that you and your aides have been saying for months you did not want. And it seems exactly the kind of meeting that Gorbachev, given his domestic troubles, needs very, very much. What changed your mind, and why were you the one to propose it?

The President. I'll tell you, what changed my mind on it was consultation with our allies; the rapidity of change in Eastern Europe; the emergence of democracies in this hemisphere; and this concept that I just didn't want to, in this time of dynamic change, miss something, something that I might get better firsthand from Mr. Gorbachev.

Q. Mr. President, what made you decide to meet on the ships? Pull your ship beside his ship and -- --

The President. Well, we can do it without too much fanfare. We can do it where there's a relatively few number of people, not a lot of crush of bodies out there, and a chance to put our feet up and talk in the kind of meeting that I've just described for you. And I think it's easy logistically for both sides.

Q. How much time do you think you'll spend face to face? In your mind, what do you think it will take to get this feeling?

The President. A lot, a lot, and I can't tell you in hours, but we're going to have small numbers of participants on both sides. Maybe I'm getting a little ahead of the power curve there, but I know that's my intention, and I think the Soviet side has agreed to that. And by doing it in this manner, we can have, I would say, more time without the press of social activities or mandatory joint appearances, things of that nature for public consumption.

Q. Between hemispheric summits and drug summits and Gorbachev summits and economic summits, you're doing a lot of mountaineering. Let me ask you this -- --

The President. This one isn't a summit, so scratch this one off your list of things to worry about.

Q. Base camp.

The President. I've got to make that point over and over again. Summits take on a definition, an expectation of grand design and grand agreements, and that's not what this is.

Future Summit Meetings

Q. Let me ask you about this expectation then. About 6 months ago, you proposed your conventional force reductions for Europe. If something came through on your 6-month deadline, presumably you'd want a summit with Mr. Gorbachev to sign it. Are we going to have a third Gorbachev summit in 1990 or the next couple of months?

The President. No anticipation of it, but look, we'll meet as often or as little as we need to.

Arms Control

Q. Well, how is that going? How is the conventional forces thing going?

The President. Reasonably well. We still have to keep driving for the best we can -- our alliance -- to be sure we keep moving forward to meet a rather ambitious timeframe.

U.S. Assistance for Eastern-Bloc Reforms

Q. Mr. President, one of the criticisms that's been made is -- by the Democrats particularly -- is that this is a really unique time for you; that after 40 years of calling for free markets and an open society that you have a chance to perhaps cement some of these changes in the Eastern bloc -- in Europe and in the Soviet Union. Do you have some kind of plan or vision for getting that accomplished? Is this part of it?

The President. We're seeing it move, aren't we? We're seeing dynamic change, and I want to handle it properly. I want to do whatever the U.S. can do to facilitate these kinds of changes. You heard what I had to say yesterday -- some of you all did -- in terms of Poland and the group we're sending over there to help solidify the changes that are taking place. And I've got a good group of people working with me in this administration -- knowledgeable about Europe -- that assures me that we can move this whole process forward properly. The United States can't wave a wand and say how fast change is going to come to Czechoslovakia or to the GDR [German Democratic Republic].

Meeting With Soviet President Gorbachev

Q. Mr. President, you say there will be no agreements at this meeting. Is it possible, however, that you might firm up the dates for the meeting next year, for the official summit?

The President. Could be, could be. And I don't want to say -- I guess, maybe, I ought to retreat a little and say -- not saying there will be no agreements. The meeting is not being set up to achieve agreements. I would hope we'd see eye to eye on certain things when we get through and maybe more precisely define what differences we have.

Q. Are we to believe that the leader of the United States and the leader of the Soviet Union will get together and there will be no discussion of arms control? Or what role in this meeting will that play?

The President. I don't know, but there's not an arms control meeting.

U.S. Assistance for Eastern-Bloc Reforms

Q. You keep talking about the rapid change in Eastern Europe. If Mr. Gorbachev would suggest that the United States be more generous in aid to Hungary, to Poland, perhaps even to East Germany, how receptive would you be to that idea?

The President. Well, we've got an aid package and program, and I'd welcome his ideas, but I don't think we would respond to his charge on that. I think we'd have to do what we felt was the right way to do it -- and exactly what I have been doing.

Soviet President Gorbachev

Q. Mr. President, over the past several months, you've had exchanges of letters with Mr. Gorbachev. Could you tell us if there's been a change in your evaluation of him as a person or how you're feeling about him?

The President. No change. As I've indicated, I have a positive view of him to begin with, but I haven't felt any changes there. I will say that when I made this proposal there was a very prompt response. And the only reason it's taken time between the July initiative on my part and his very prompt response that I think was fired back in August has been just working out where and how to do this. So, I've not had occasion to change my view.

But as you look at the different meetings, and if you look at the way this relationship is developing, there are a lot of positive signs. We all go back in one capacity or another to times when the rhetoric was much tougher, where you had a very different approach to openness in the Soviet Union than you do now. So, I think the relationship is moving in the right direction. But when I say "cautious" or "prudent," I think that's the way we ought to do it. And I will have an opportunity to explain that when I see Mr. Gorbachev.

Q. You believe the motivation is what he says it is?

The President. You mean, do I question his word?

Q. Yes.

The President. I think he's committed to reform, absolutely.

Soviet Reforms

Q. Mr. President, Secretary of State Baker has mentioned the possibility of technical assistance and advice on the state of the Soviet economy. How far would you be willing to go with that kind of thing?

The President. Well, again, I don't know how far they want to go. And this is one of the subjects we'll be discussing.

Q. Mr. President, there's been a lot of talk around town about the survivability of Gorbachev, especially going into the winter months and the prospect of strikes in the Soviet Union and so forth. When you say you would like to see perestroika succeed in the Soviet Union, do you equate that with the success of Gorbachev personally?

The President. I think it's tied up in that right now, yes.

Q. And do you think if there is anything that you could do to help strengthen his position in the Soviet Union that you would do it?

The President. Well, I think we've got to know what "it" is, but this is the kind of discussion we can have. I will say this: I don't think you base the foreign policy of a great power like the United States on one personality; I don't think you do that. I don't think that is a prudent way to approach it.

Health Care

Q. Mr. President, how about a domestic summit on some domestic problems, like health care, the high cost of home health care?

The President. Well, I'm getting criticized for having too many summits as it is.

Q. No, you need one on domestic issues. We've spent a long time here talking about things when we have a vital, crucial situation out there. Catastrophic illness is nothing. It would not take care of the situation. We had a press conference here all day yesterday where the Canadian Government officials got up and said, in the United States you only have health care for the rich, not for the poor. Why can't we have a good system like that, and why can't we have a summit on health care?

The President. I think what we've got to do is educate the Canadians if they feel that way, because that's not true. That is not true, and to suggest that it's true, that our health care system is only -- that simply shows -- I don't know who those officials were, but it was never raised with me by the Prime Minister.

Q. Well, the Health Minister of Canada -- --

The President. We've got a lot of problems. We've got a lot of problems.

Q. -- -- over and over again that you only have health care in this country for the rich and not for the poor.

The President. Well, that's a point I'd argue.

Aid to the Contras

Q. Mr. President, turning to Nicaragua for a minute, today or yesterday President Ortega now suggests that Reverend Jackson be used as an intermediary to talk about redirecting the U.S. humanitarian aid so it can be used to demobilize the contras. What would be your thoughts on having Reverend Jackson involved between us and Nicaragua? And are you in any way thinking of refocusing the aid?

The President. That suggestion has limited appeal to me. [Laughter]

Eastern-Bloc Reforms

Q. Mr. President, I wonder if you might hope to enlist Secretary Gorbachev's support in encouraging reforms in some of the more reticent Eastern European States, like East Germany?

The President. Want to discuss it with him. Again, I'm not suggesting, given his public statements, that he is going to be the one that controls what happens in every detail in Czechoslovakia or East Germany. But it is a subject that we should discuss, just as I'm sure he'll want to discuss changes in this hemisphere here -- others. So, I think that will come up.

Q. Would you expect him to look favorably upon your request for a little help, a little pressure, maybe?

The President. A little pressure on what?

Q. A little pressure on the leaders of East Germany, perhaps, to lighten up on people who want to leave?

The President. Well, we'll have a chance to discuss all those things, and that's one of the good things about it. There will not be a certain agenda on it. We'll simply sit down, and I'll give him my views on the changes that are taking place in Eastern Europe. And certainly, I'm most interested in getting his.

Meeting With Soviet President Gorbachev

Q. Mr. President, a two-part question. First of all, after you meet Gorbachev, will you take the opportunity, since you'll be in the region, to then meet with and brief allied leaders and solicit their comments? And secondly, why did you hold this deliberation so tightly? You said you wanted to show the Soviet Union's good faith, but why not involve the bureaucracy? Your administration, as you know, has been criticized -- --

The President. Because I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and I knew how I wanted to go about doing it. And that's why I didn't need the advice of others in this particular subject matter. I knew how I wanted to do it: I knew that I wanted to get the arms control summit set, and I also knew that I wanted to -- after the discussions I told you about -- to go forward with this. And I wanted to deal in good faith with the Soviets, because until it was firmly locked I should not be in the mode of committing them to this kind of a meeting.

And I think all that worked. And I hope what we've done is to develop a certain confidence in the Soviets as a result of these negotiations. Confidence is important. If you're going to have frank exchanges, then you have to have a certain degree of confidentiality. But on this one, I told you who was involved in it. I was getting good, sound advice. How they got the information upon which to advise me -- why, that's their business. But I felt no deprivation of being deprived from information at all.

Q. How about the first part, though, sir? Meeting with the allies afterward?

The President. No plans to do that. This is going to be done, if you look at the calendar, like over a weekend. And of course, we'll be in full contact with them after that, but I don't plan to jump from country to country after the meeting.

Houston Economic Summit Meeting

Q. Mr. President, one of the summits -- capital S -- on your agenda is the economic summit. Have you made a decision? And are next week's elections in Houston in any way a factor in why you haven't announced it so far?

The President. No, those elections have no relevance to the decision -- and no, the decision has not been made.

Meeting With Soviet President Gorbachev

Q. Mr. President, you say you have confidence in the Soviets. What assurances do you have that you won't be surprised by something Mr. Gorbachev might bring to the table? It's widely believed that President Reagan was somewhat sandbagged in Reykjavik.

The President. He's free to bring anything he wants; there's no agenda. But the idea that we might be surprised on arms control -- I don't worry about that because we've got an understanding that the already-announced summit meeting will handle those items.

Q. Do you have any indication he has anything in particular he wants to bring?

The President. I think he's anxious to do what I'm anxious to do right now.

Q. Would you handle any arms control issue he might raise by simply trying to defer it right at the spot?

The President. I'm just referring to what we've decided is going to be the matrix of the meeting.

Q. Well, basically you were trying to put it off until -- --

The President. I don't expect, other than in a very broad way, these questions to arise because we have a summit set to address ourselves to those.


Q. Daniel Ortega was supposed to decide today whether to end the cease-fire. If he does, in fact, end the cease-fire, are you prepared with some sort of response?

The President. Well, as I said down there, I'm not going to go into that hypothetical situation at this time. But I tell you: I've never seen a meeting where all the participants were so united against the outrages of one. And we're still getting messages in about the outrageous performance of Daniel Ortega -- reached a new embarrassing proportions to stepping on it.

Q. Is renewed military aid to the contras, though, still a viable option now? Is that something you could consider if needed?

The President. Well, as I indicated down there, I would reevaluate the situation in a minute if this cease-fire is broken.

Soviet-U.S. Relations

Q. Mr. President, were you upset at all by Secretary of State Baker squelching the resident Sovietologist, Mr. Gates [Assistant to the President and Deputy for National Security Affairs], telling him not to give a hard -- --

The President. I've discussed this matter with Mr. Baker, Mr. Gates, Mr. Scowcroft -- even discussed it with Marlin Fitzwater and -- [laughter] -- don't say I don't reach out -- [laughter] -- and John. And these stories -- who's up, who's down, who's winning, who's not, who's going to be a hard-line -- we've got a good strong team coping with these problems. And the degree in which Bob Gates and the Secretary of State are together and Brent and John Sununu -- why, we've been very lucky. And so, I don't get all exercised about that kind of thing. I know everybody else does around here, but I don't.

Q. He did acknowledge that he stopped Gates from giving a hard-line speech.

The President. It wasn't a hard-line speech, and he didn't say that. And maybe now we'll understand a little more of what's happening out there as a result of what I'm talking to you today about.

Q. On a related question, Vice President Quayle has taken a very hard-line position. Is he out of sync?

The President. No, he's totally in sync. And I had a chance to discuss this with one of the outstanding reporters for the New York Times the other day who had a feeling he was out of sync, and he isn't. Everybody's looking for nuances, and that's fine. That's your business. But I think we've been blessed in this administration by this: The President can sit in there and get conflicting ideas, and then we don't have to go out and sound like there's disarray. So, when some see one statement that may sound a little different, then I can understand running with that ball because I know how this place works.

But the main thing is, I feel that we are together on these issues. And that goes for the Vice President and the Secretary of State and my very able national security team. So, I don't sense one being tugged one way or tugged another.

Meeting With Soviet President Gorbachev

Q. Where are you going to put the press?

The President. Helen, you've already had three questions. Get out of there.

Q. In the middle of the Mediterranean? [Laughter]

The President. I hadn't thought about that.

Q. Where are you going to stay?

Q. Mr. President, on the environment, another summit -- --

The President. That will come up with Mr. Gorbachev.

Q. So I thought.

The President. I think.

Global Climate Change

Q. You have some people going to The Netherlands next week who, some say, are appearing to go without an agenda. It looks like the United States is not going to play a leadership role in global warming, though you promised that during your campaign.

The President. We will play a leadership role in global warming, and it will be based on the finest, most up-to-date science possible. And we will fulfill that role. And I think most countries, in spite of where they are on some conference, look to the United States for that kind of leadership in science. And we will fulfill it. And you see both our Science Advisor [D. Allan Bromley] and the head of the EPA in sync going over there. I think that's good.


Q. Hey.

The President. Did he have one before? I derecognize him. [Laughter]

Okay, back here.

Capital Gains Taxes

Q. You are at or near conflict with Congress on capital gains. What are you prepared to do about that? And will you accept a full year of sequestration in lieu of that?

The President. Well, we've indicated that that's the law and we will live by the law. And we're going forward with that mandate because of the way the Congress has moved on this. I don't think I need to repeat my view on capital gains as something that is good for growth, something that is good for investment, something that is good for jobs. And we hear some shrill comments to the contrary, but in my view, that matter was debated fully. My position was made clear, and I plan to continue to fight for my position.

Presidential Legislative Proposals

Q. On minimum wage, is your original proposal still your first and final offer, or would you be willing even to link it with something like capital gains, which you -- --

The President. We're not in the posture of trying to tell the Congress how they ought to resolve these difficulties. We sent up clear proposals on the anticrime package, on the minimum wage, on the capital gains. And it has gotten so confusing up there that they ought to move now. But I'm not going to suggest. Why do we need to do that? We've told them what we want, and I wish they'd get some action going on the proposals that I have put forward. I think the American people are entitled to that. I think the American people see that it is this Congress that is frustrating getting the deficit down. And so, they ought to move and move promptly. But I can't sit there and fine-tune for them -- well, if you'll only throw this one issue in with that one, why, you can do your business -- I mean, we've tried.

Q. So you're saying package deals are out?

The President. Well, I'm not saying in or out -- I'm saying let's get going. We know what the administration position is. I've said it. Send it down the way I said it, and we've got harmony and light. Send it down differently, and I'll take a look at it. Send it down with some things in it that I can't take, and I'll send it right back to you. And I don't know how more frank I can be with the Congress.

Soviet Reforms and Soviet-U.S. Relations

Q. Mr. President, as recently as this summer some of your senior advisers, dare I say some in this room, were expressing doubts that Gorbachev would survive all of his internal political difficulties. Did you ever share those views? What has happened to turn you around?

The President. Look, we are looking at everything we can regarding the rapid changes that are taking place not only in Eastern Europe but in the Soviet Union. And we've got very thoughtful people outside the Government that give me their opinions. And I don't think anybody has a corner on all the wisdom, but I can't speculate on that question.

What I can say is we're not basing the foreign policy of the United States on any individual. We've got to look at broad changes. We've got to look at commitment from all elements of leadership in the Soviet Union, where they come down -- fascinating meeting the other day with Mr. Primakov [Soviet Parliament member] here -- and assess all of this and spell out as clearly as you can what's in the interest of the United States and the alliance. And this meeting will help in that regard. But it's not predicated, our whole arms control agenda, on Mr. Gorbachev. Similarly, I don't think they do that on a U.S. President at the time.

Q. But, sir, you wouldn't be meeting them, of course, if you thought he was a goner. [Laughter] Did you at any time have any doubts in that regard?

The President. A goner? No, I don't -- [laughter] -- that word never entered my mind. [Laughter] You know, you hear a lot of crosscurrents about how successful perestroika's going to be. But one thing you get from all the Soviet leaders is, look, the clock isn't going to be set back, and we -- we -- are going to go forward with perestroika -- whether it's Mr. Yeltsin [Deputy of the Supreme Soviet] when he was here or Mr. Gorbachev's statements and visits with Shevardnadze, visits with Mr. Primakov, and then others meet with other layers of the Soviet bureaucracy. And you get the distinct feeling that the clock is not going to be set back to square one. And then you go forward -- well, here's how this will interact with U.S. policy.

But I'm looking forward to this meeting. I think it's the right thing to be doing. As I say, there was a time when I wasn't sure that it was, but with this rapidity of change, I don't want to miss something. And the way we've got it set so there will be no firm agenda, where we can do it in a setting without a lot of public pressure from other governments, I think it's going to be a productive meeting. And I was very pleased with the reception that it got from the congressional leaders.

As I say, I expect we'll get a strong, positive response. I know I will from the allied leaders. And I really can't think of any country that is going to see objection to this because the fate of a lot of countries are wrapped up in how the United States and the Soviet Union get along and how the changes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union are managed. And when I come back from this meeting, I and my top advisers -- and we are going to keep our traveling squad down, I say -- will be able to have a much clearer perception of motivations behind Mr. Gorbachev's pronouncements. I think it's worthwhile.

Thank you all very much.

Note: The President's 27th news conference began at 10:02 a.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House.

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

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