George Bush photo

The President's News Conference in Orlando, Florida

November 01, 1990

The President. Good afternoon. Let me just make a brief statement, and then I'll be glad to respond to questions.

I want to begin today by simply restating for the American people some of the key points about our efforts to turn back aggression in the Persian Gulf. I believe that it is essential that the American people fully understand the objectives of the United States and the United Nations as well as the magnitude of the outrage perpetrated by the Government of Iraq.

The United States and the rest of the world are united in the condemnation of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. We have no quarrel with the Iraqi people. Our problem is with Iraqi's dictator, Saddam Hussein.

I want a peaceful resolution to this crisis. We're giving the United Nations sanctions imposed on Iraq time to work. But let me be very clear: There will be no compromise on the stated objectives of the United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Iraq's brutality against innocent civilians will not be permitted to stand. And Saddam Hussein's violations of international law will not stand. His aggression against Kuwait will not stand.

And now I'd be glad to take questions. I think, Tom, you have the first one.

Persian Gulf Crisis

Q. Yes, Mr. President, you raised the -- [inaudible] -- your comments in recent days have been aimed, at least in part, in preparing the American people for the possibility of war. Is that true, and do you think the American people are ready?

The President. Well, Tom [Tom Raum, Associated Press], I want to have a peaceful resolution to this question, and our dealing through the United Nations and working with them for common objectives, I think, is evidence of that. I've indicated we're prepared to give sanctions time to work, and I'll repeat that here again today. But I am not ruling out further options, and I am not trying to prepare our country for war.

We have had a little bit of a hiatus because of the attention on the budget and other matters from keeping in focus our objectives in Iraq. There's been a little less attention to it in some quarters. And I want to -- in a sense, Tom, it's a little bit awkward because here we are, just a few days before an election, and I want to continue to work for Republican candidates. But I must continue to keep our objectives regarding Iraq in focus. And so, what I try to do is separate out the foreign affairs, the Iraq question, from domestic politics.

But it is essential that I do the latter, but in doing that, I am not trying to sound the tocsin of war. But I am trying to point out the concerns that I feel, for example, on the hostage question. And I'll continue to do that.

Q. Do you think the American people are ready for it -- ready for war?

The President. Well, I think the American people feel as I do: that they much prefer to have a peaceful resolution to this question. But who can tell what would happen in a situation of this nature? There's a lot of unforeseen things that can take place. And I think I would have to go to the American people with my recommendations if it regarded the safety or defense of our key interests.

Q. Mr. President, today you said that Saddam Hussein was even more brutal than Adolf Hitler. Talking about starving out the Americans in the Embassy in Kuwait City, is there a chance that you might be exaggerating a bit for effect? And coming just 1 week before the elections -- I know you said you can keep these separate, but you're making these statements on the bandstand with political flags behind you. If you really wanted to keep these separate, why don't you just address the Nation in some other forum?

The President. Well, I'm addressing it in another forum now, and this is in a nationally covered press conference, I'm sure. I don't think I'm overstating it. I know I'm not overstating the feelings I have about it. The reports coming out of Iraq just today cause even further concern -- these reports of the way our innocent civilians are being treated. I think the American people are as outraged as I am about the treatment of the people in our Embassy, for example. And I think it's important that they know my concerns on this subject.

So, I don't -- the last question that you raised does concern me some, but it is very important that I keep pointing out the objectives and where I think Iraq stands. All the people we're addressing are extraordinarily interested in that, and I go to great ends to make sure that I give proper credit to the Democrats and the Republicans in Congress -- make clear that this is not a partisan effort that we're involved in here. I've been very gratified for the enormous support from both Houses of Congress and from the American people.

But as we continue to move forces and as we see the various events taking place over there, I think it is important that the President continue to spell out for the American people not only our objectives but telling them how I feel about the various events.

Q. Mr. President, are you considering now a reprovisioning mission of some sort?

The President. Well, I'm hopeful still that the United Nations resolutions that call for reprovisioning will be followed. And I'd rather leave it there. But I am very concerned about the people in that Embassy. It's cut off from food. They have enough right now, but the whole ploy of Saddam Hussein is to starve them out. And I think that is unconscionable. And I think the world needs to know how strongly those of us in the United States responsible for this policy feel about it.

Q. Mr. President, apart from the distraction that may have been caused by the budget battle, what other factors have caused you to approach this task of readdressing this issue with such urgency?

The President. The sand is running through the glass. We've got these economic sanctions in play. And I think there's an urgency on the part of people to understand -- desire on their part, rather, to understand whether the sanctions are working. We continue to move force. And I think it's important that the American people know why I'm continuing to do this. So, I think it's just rather that there was a period where I didn't do as much of it, but now I'm going to keep on, now and on past the election as well.

Q. Mr. President, I know you say that you're not trying to prepare the American people for war, but could not your message of today and this week be summed up as that you are seeking a peaceful resolution if possible, but a military one if not?

The President. I think that I've made those statements before. I think I've been rather consistent in pointing out that I would not rule anything out. If you go back and look at the things I've said, I believe I've been on the record before with that kind of comment, Brit [Brit Hume, ABC News]

Q. Mr. President, Saddam Hussein today invited American families to come visit the hostages over the next holiday. A two part question, sir, is: Would you welcome some visits by Americans? And what do you make of that kind offer in general?

The President. I think it's a -- well, let me start, I think that those people should come home to visit with their families. I think they should be released from captivity. This canard of calling people that are held hostage -- calling them guests when they're hostages is turning off the whole world. And further, the reports that are coming out from some of these French hostages coming home, of their understanding of the way the Americans are being treated, is just terrible. And the whole concept of staking out people next to what might become military targets is also unconscionable. So, I see it as a ploy, but I don't think he'll win the humanitarian of the year award for that. I think that people see it as a rather brutal toying with the emotions of families, frankly.

Q. If I may, sir: Would you blame Americans if they took him up on the offer?

The President. We have a notice out that we are discouraging Americans from going there, and that would hold.

Q. Mr. President, you've said on one occasion that your patience is running out, that you've had it. You're telling us on this occasion that you're willing to wait and see the sanctions work. We've seen your senior staff out today trying to say that there's consistency in your message, but yet there seems to be a variance there. Are you having trouble getting your message across?

The President. No. And I don't think there's any inconsistency. And if you'd like -- I don't want to take up your time, but thinking I might get a question of this nature, I wrote down the various things that I've said on this subject for some time. And they are quite consistent. One time you might have a little more emphasis on one point -- like yesterday -- on the outrage I feel about the hostages. In another, you might have a little more emphasis on having the sanctions work. But I think we have been extraordinarily consistent.

And I think the key point on this, regarding substance, is that our allies understand this. They know exactly where the United States stands in terms of our determination to see the United Nations sanctions fulfilled. So, I'm not worried about it. There was one story today that was just clearly wrong in that regard. But I think we've had a rather consistent approach to this, very consistent. And so, I don't worry about that. And the key point would be if our allies thought that, and they don't, or Saddam Hussein thought that, and he doesn't; he can't.

Q. If I could follow up: Are you concerned about an erosion within your alliance, the fact that Saddam Hussein may be successful in prying some people apart from your position?

The President. I know he's going to continue to try that, Charles [Charles Bierbauer, Cable News Network]. He's doing it every way he can. He did it first -- an interesting point -- his people contacted a parliamentarian in Canada roughly the same day they contacted the Foreign Minister of Germany [Hans-Dietrich Genscher], roughly the time they contacted a Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom. And the whole concept was: You come; we'll parcel out some hostages. Trying to divide and show a humanitarian side of some sort. He continues to through the Primakov [Soviet Presidential Council member] visit. I think his concept there was to try to find some division, and I don't think that division exists.

But it does concern me that he not be successful. And that's why I think it is important that the United States continue to reiterate our conviction on seeing that there can be no compromise with this aggression and that these United Nations resolutions must be fulfilled in the entirety.

Q. Mr. President, in the beginning of this crisis you held out little hope for a diplomatic solution. Today -- --

The President. You say a little hope, or little hope?

Q. Little hope for a diplomatic solution. Today you talk about hoping that there's a peaceful resolution. I'm just wondering are we any closer to possibly having a diplomatic solution?

The President. I don't see that. I don't see that we are. I've said from the very beginning I hope that the sanctions would have an effect that would cause him to comply with the resolutions. I think they're having an effect, but our problem is, and the problem of our allies around the world is, we can't certify for the world how disastrous or strong an effect these sanctions are having. But from the very beginning, I've been saying I would hope that the sanctions would be effective. And we'll give them time. Again, my problem is, and the problem of those with whom I consult very closely is, we can't say how much is enough in terms of the sanctions or how much time it would take.

Q. Well, sir, then, if you're not expecting a diplomatic solution, but you're hoping for a peaceful resolution, does that mean you expect Saddam to just give up?

The President. That's what I'd like to see, yes. That's what the United Nations calls for. It calls for him to withdraw. It calls for the restoration of the rulers. And so, that's exactly what he ought to do. And I think if we hold firm -- and we are holding firm in this coalition with some 25 countries in the Gulf or on the sea there, plus the solidarity that the United Nations has demonstrated -- the hope is eventually he might do that. But we can't guarantee to the American people how long will it take.

Q. Sir, your wife is campaigning in Omaha today, and perhaps you've seen reports about that. She was asked if you would consider meeting face to face with Saddam Hussein. And she replied, "I think he would consider anything to get the Kuwaitis back in their country and our men out." That is being interpreted as you would consider a one-on-one meeting with Saddam. Would you?

The President. I would consider it if there was an agreement that he would totally withdraw and comply fully, with no conditions to the United Nations sanctions. I mean, I think anybody would do that. But that would mean that he has to do exactly what I've been saying here, with no condition, no negotiation -- just leave. But I don't think at that juncture that it would be much of -- pleasant meeting. But I never -- that's something I guess Barbara was asked on her own. I've not discussed it with her or anybody else. But that's the only way that it would be productive for me to have a meeting, it seems to me, because there is no flexibility on our position. There is no compromise. There is no conditionality. My position -- and I think it strongly represents the coalition partners' position -- is he must comply. And so, I don't think a meeting short of just acceptance of those terms would be in the national interest or in the interest of the coalition.

Q. If I could just ask about some of the cynicism and skepticism about -- [inaudible] -- about the public speaking out on Iraq. It's not just because of the elections next week. It's also because of -- the signals we were getting were that the Embassy in Kuwait had plenty of food and water for the time being; the American Ambassador's wife said Tuesday morning on one of the morning television programs they were growing vegetables there, they had a well there. All seemed to be going well. All of a sudden, within the next 24 hours, you're talking about Saddam starving these people out. What caused this change?

The President. I don't think it is a change. I've been increasingly concerned about it. I'm delighted to know about the vegetables; that's the first time I've heard of that. And I've known that they've had enough tuna fish for some time. There was earlier estimates that the Embassy would have to be closed before now, and they've stretched the timeframe there.

But it's that plus the reports coming out of Iraq that make me feel I must keep this in focus for the American people. They must know how strongly I feel about an American Embassy, the American flag flying, and these people inside being cut off and, I would say, brutalized by that behavior; and secondly, how strongly I feel about the Americans that are held hostage in Iraq itself. And it is essential that we not lose track of those key points. These people are not guests; they are hostages. And I think you're on to something because I don't think there has been that much discussion lately of these things that really concern me, John [John Cochran, NBC News]. These matters concern me deeply.

Gubernatorial Candidate Clayton Williams

Q. Mr. President, a political question. You're going into Texas to campaign for Clayton Williams. This week he really stumbled because he was asked about the only proposition on the Texas ballot and he didn't know what it was, he didn't know what his position was, and he also wasn't sure how he'd voted on it. Is there any excuse for that at this stage of the game, given the fact it involved gubernatorial appointments?

The President. I'm not familiar with the details of that. I'm strongly in favor of Clayton Williams over his opponent -- not just for personal reasons, either. And don't ask me for a review of the ballot items yet. I'll be voting down there Tuesday and take a look at them. And don't ask the people of California, where they don't have one but they have I don't know how many of these referendum items on the ballots. So, I'm not troubled by that because what I see in Clayton Williams is a person that will be a very good, strong Governor for the State. And I am enthusiastically for him. And I'm not even familiar with the details of the ballot item you're talking about.

Persian Gulf Crisis

Q. Mr. President, Vice President Quayle said yesterday that the United States must deal with Iraq's chemical, biological, and nuclear capability. Is this now a fundamental goal of U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf? Is it one of the things on which there is, as you say, no flexibility?

The President. I think from the very beginning we spelled out some objective, but one that I think has been clearly spelled out has been ensuring the security and the stability of the Gulf. And that, obviously, is affected by the possession of these chemical and biological weapons and things of that nature.

So, I don't think that the goalposts are being moved; I think it's just simply a statement of reality. If you're going to have a stable and you're going to have a secure Gulf after Kuwait is freed and the Iraqis have withdrawn their invasion, you're going to have to have some arrangements I'm sure -- I think others would agree with this around the world -- that guarantee the peace there. And I would hope that -- as I've said earlier, I want all United States forces out of there as soon as possible -- every single soldier.

And it's important I keep repeating that because there's the allegations by some over in that part of the world that we want to keep forces there. That's not what we want to do. We want to come out. But there has got to be some security arrangements worked out, absolutely.

Q. Mr. President, just to make sure I understand what you're saying, the United States and this international force we have cannot successfully leave the Persian Gulf until we have secured in some manner these weapons the Iraqis now have?

The President. No, I wouldn't say that. But there has to be some security arrangements that guarantee against a future aggression of this nature.

Q. Mr. President, you said today that Saddam Hussein has committed atrocities that were worse than Adolf Hitler. Can you tell us what Saddam Hussein has done that can be compared to the Holocaust?

The President. Worse than -- compares with what Hitler has done?

Q. With the Holocaust.

The President. Yes, go back and -- well, I didn't say the Holocaust. I mean, that is outrageous. But I think brutalizing young kids in a square in Kuwait is outrageous, too. And I think if you go back and look at what happened when the Death's Head regiments went into Poland, you'll find an awful similarity.

I was told -- and we've got to check this carefully -- that Hitler did not stake people out against potential military targets and that he did, indeed, respect -- not much else, but he did, indeed, respect the legitimacy of the Embassies. So, we've got some differences here. But I'm talking -- when I'm talking about -- I see many similarities, incidentally. I see many similarities by the way the Iraqi forces behaved in Kuwait and the Death's Head regiments behaved in Poland. Go back and take a look at your history, and you'll see why I'm as concerned as I am.

Q. Mr. President, you've spoken now about the brutality against the hostages in Iraq. However, there's a report today by Amnesty International that there has been some -- our own allies, the Saudi Arabians, have been guilty of committing some kind of atrocities, at least torturing some citizens of Yemen who are in their country. What do you say to that? And will you put any pressure on them to change their ways?

The President. Yes, I have not seen that, and I think that violations of individual's rights or torture should not take place. And I'd be glad to represent that.

Q. How do you feel, though, about the United States helping someone who is doing the same sort of things that you're criticizing the Iraqis for?

The President. I feel that I'm delighted that we are there with the Saudi Arabians to stand up against this kind of international aggression in violation of international law. And that is the question. And that's where I'm going to keep my focus, because it is very important, one, that Saudi Arabia be defended -- and I think now that we can certify that Iraq does not have the capacity to invade Saudi Arabia -- and secondly, we are united with Saudi Arabia in our determination to overthrow this aggression.

Soviet Union-U.S. Relations

Q. Secretary Baker is going to meet Shevardnadze [Soviet Foreign Minister] in Europe in the next few days. Is that because you're concerned that the Soviets are drifting in the Gulf strategy, or is it because there's a deal behind the scenes after the Primakov visit in Baghdad, or is it only because you want to push the START agreement?

The President. Well, we've got a broad agenda of items. We've got to finish up CFE. We want to move START towards conclusion. We have these common interests that you're asking about in the Gulf. And then we have economic problems that we discuss all the time. So, there will be a broad agenda in the meetings with Shevardnadze, and I'm sure that one of them will be a discussion of the Primakov visit to Iraq and the Primakov visit that preceded that to Egypt and the Primakov visit that followed that to Saudi Arabia.

But the mission, if I understand the question, is not simply to focus on this Gulf question because I am anxious to get these other matters resolved. The CFE is all but put to bed, but there's a tiny technical matter that I think -- well, hopefully, it's been resolved by now. But it's a broad agenda.

Q. Are you concerned that the Soviet Union is drifting?

The President. No, I don't. And I think one point that we ought to keep reminding the American people of is that we are very fortunate, in wrestling with this problem of international aggression, that the Soviet Union and China have been with us, or we've been with them -- however you want to look at it -- in the United Nations as we try to bring international pressure to bear -- and have brought it to bear.

Campaign Speeches

Q. Mr. President, in your two speeches in Massachusetts this morning, you were a lot softer on the Democrats than you've been in recent days. Why the change of heart?

The President. It's not a change of heart. It's a question of -- I think I made my point. But I'll have a shot at them as we get into the -- depending on how warmed up I get today, campaigning enthusiastically for Governor Martinez [of Florida]. And I'd like to finish on a positive note in these campaigns. But I think it's a little early to say that there will be no more flamboyant rhetoric about the Democrats, because I'm absolutely convinced if we had more Republicans things would be a lot better.

Persian Gulf Crisis

Q. Mr. President, early in the course of the Persian Gulf crisis, you said that you would not allow hostage-taking to dictate your policy. You said that would endanger every American because every American would then be subject to being held hostage. Your comments today seem to change that: it seems to highlight their situation. Have you changed your mind about the importance of highlighting hostages in this crisis?

The President. I want to be sure I understand your question. I'm not sure I understand it -- on highlighting hostages. What I think I said before was hostage-taking punishes the innocent and separates families -- back in September. It is barbaric, it will not work -- September 16th -- and it will not affect my ability to make tough decisions.

Now, there are other quotes here, so I want to be sure I understand. You see, because what I think some are picking up is there's a different emphasis. But I think -- is that one in accord with what you're asking about?

Q. Yes, sir. I see you were prepared for the question. [Laughter]

The President. It's a good question, but you see, I think some are saying: Hey, there's a shift here. There's a dramatic shift in how we approach hostage-holding. And I don't think so.

I'll tell you what is different, though, Michel [Michel McQueen, Wall Street Journal]. It's the sense of kind of urgency I feel given the reports coming out of Iraq and given the status of the Embassy. So, maybe that's what's being picked up here. But I think there's been a consistency in my outrage about the policy itself.

Ann [Ann Compton, ABC News], and then -- --

Q. If I could just follow: The concern is that many analysts say that that was the key mistake that President Carter made: that he made the hostages so important that he gave the Iranians at that time more of an incentive to hold on to them. The question is, are you now highlighting their situation to a point where Saddam Hussein has the same incentive?

The President. I don't think so. I don't think so at all. I think the whole world has spoken out on this. So, I don't think there's a parallel.

Q. In the political speeches today, why have you so carefully now cut the Gulf issue out of the political speeches and appealed for bipartisanship? If it's good, strong leadership to have a strong policy in the Gulf, why not use it to Republican political advantage?

The President. Because I don't think it is a partisan issue, and I worry about that. I know there was a -- some Democrat, paid Democratic functionary, made the point that I would likely go out and use Iraq to garner votes. I view this as something much more important than just garnering votes. I think it is important that this policy, which has been supported by Democrats and Republicans, be articulated, but not under even the threat of a cloud of doing this for political advantage. That's why I got a little incensed because somebody raised the question with me yesterday -- are you doing this for pure partisan gain or something. And I find when you have servicemen over there and you have an obligation as Commander in Chief and you have an obligation as President that you just have to make very clear you're not trying to make what we do in Iraq partisan.

I need bipartisan support. We've got bipartisan support. One of the reasons I'm consulting with Congress as much as I have is to keep the bipartisan support. And so, I don't want -- the reason I'm doing this, Ann, is just to be sure that people know that I am not trying to do what this Democratic functionary suggested I might be doing.

Q. Mr. President, you said that earlier in the press conference the sand is running through the glass now. It sounded like suddenly time is no longer on your side, that you seem to be hinting it may be shifting. Is that the reason why you've begun to emphasize the military option more, or what exactly are you thinking about the clock now?

The President. I'm not sure I've emphasized military option more. I don't recall discussing military option per se except to say I'm not ruling things out. But I do think that in a sense time might be on our side, because if the sanctions are to have any effect, they should be having more effect now than they did when they started, and hopefully more tomorrow than they do today. But I don't think that the status quo can go on forever and ever. And I don't know how long -- as I've tried to be very frank with you all -- I don't know how long is long enough. But I've just got to keep putting the focus there and keeping everybody on notice that we are going to be successful. But it's -- I'd leave it right there.

Q. Mr. President, sir, my question goes back to the issue of whether to keep the Embassy open. Sir, you do seem to have changed your position. In August, in Kennebunkport, the administration ordered all nonessential personnel home. The Marine guards were ordered home. There are very few people there today. Why is it so important to keep the Embassy open? It sounds as if perhaps an armed conflict might be triggered whether the Embassy gets a resupply of food?

The President. I believe that the Embassy should remain open because I don't believe a dictator should violate international law by starving out or isolating another person's Embassy. I think there's a fundamental principle involved in that. And I view the Embassy as entitled to certain international respect and international protection. And so, I just want to be sure everybody knows that I feel this way.

What was the second part?

Q. Is it worth triggering an armed conflict -- whether the Embassy gets a resupply of food?

The President. It's too hypothetical. You're assuming that it would trigger an armed conflict. And I'm not going to discuss what will or won't trigger an armed conflict. But let me simply repeat: This one is one that I believe is of enormous concern to our allies and to the American people. And I can certainly recertify, as I did yesterday, that it is of that kind of concern to me. But I don't want to go into what incident, what provocation would stimulate military action. But I'm very concerned about this.

The last one, he said -- Tom, you had your hand up. You didn't have your hand up. [Laughter]

White House Staff

Q. Mr. President, some of your closest friends, some senior members of your government, and even a lot of Republican Members of Congress who support you were telling us that your White House staff is simply not strong enough, not heavy enough to serve you well, and that's one of the reasons why you've taken this political beating lately. Are any of these people telling you that? And if they are -- --

The President. No.

Q. -- -- how do you react to that?

The President. No, they're not telling me that because they know that I have full confidence in my White House staff and full confidence in my Cabinet. And I have been blessed with good advice, some of which I take, and maybe more of which I should have taken in one thing or another. But nobody has come and presented that to me at all. I've read meaningless speculation about that in certain periodicals, but I'm inclined to discount it because I know what I feel about my top staff and I know whether they have my confidence or not -- and they do.

Do you have a followup to that one? [Laughter]

Q. Over the next couple of months, do you envision any shakeup at all in the White House staff, either in terms of personnel or in terms of the structure of the operation?

The President. There may be some. I think we'll have an announcement very soon on one of our top people -- not one that has been speculated about, incidentally. But there could be. It will be 2 years into an administration, and I think if you look back at history, why, there's been very, very little turnover. So, there could be one or two, but it won't be because of the kind of dissatisfaction with somebody's performance at all. And it damn sure won't be related to any standing in the polls or anything as -- am I ever glad that I told you all -- [laughter] -- and I would like to remind you of it -- months ago -- [laughter] -- September. [Laughter] No, but seriously, I think it's fair to point out I told you, when things were soaring like eagles, don't believe the polls. And I think now I'm entitled to say: Hey, we're going to come on back. Don't worry about it. They'll be all right.

Thank you ever so much. Thank you. Thanks a lot.

Note: The President's 64th news conference began at 4:36 p.m. in Room D at the Marriott World Center Hotel.

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

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