George Bush photo

The President's News Conference in Tokyo

February 25, 1989

The President. I have had an extremely useful set of meetings with leaders familiar with the problems and prospects of the major geographic areas of the world. And as all of you are aware, international affairs have entered an extraordinarily interesting period, a period of fluidity in which several regional problems -- Afghanistan, Cambodia, Angola, the Middle East, to name just a few -- have renewed prospect for resolution. Many of the parameters of these complex regional problems are in flux. And therefore, it is important to converse with the men and women who are the most influential leaders on the scene.

I enjoyed meeting with the European leaders. During my lunch with President Mitterrand and in discussions with President Cossiga of Italy, with the King of the Belgians, with President Soares of Portugal, King Juan Carlos of Spain, the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Prime Minister Ozal of Turkey, I emphasized that our relationship with Europe and the North Atlantic alliance remains central to our foreign policy and our security interests. And they all assured me that their countries shared this strong commitment to the alliance and considered it the key to their past and their future security.

The meetings with the Presidents of Egypt and Israel and with the King of Jordan form part of a larger effort to bring peace to the Middle East. And I made clear the continuing readiness of the United States to facilitate this effort in a manner that's consistent with the security of Israel and the security of our Arab friends in the region as well. We discussed what new opportunities may exist for our diplomacy, the importance of moving forward to take advantage of the positive elements in the current situation.

The meeting with Prime Minister Bhutto of Pakistan, an important new leader, addressed a number of important issues, including our common interest in promoting Afghan self-determination in the aftermath now of the Soviet troop withdrawal. The emergence of democracy in Pakistan is something that we Americans all salute. Consistent with this development, we also discussed what might be done to promote greater prosperity and security in south Asia and particularly between Pakistan and India.

With the President of India we talked about the good nature of our relationship and the opportunities for improving the climate of peace in the region. He expressed to me his interest in the talks that their Prime Minister has had with the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

In my discussion with Prime Minister Chatichai of Thailand, with Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, and President Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, we had a chance to talk about the latest developments in the area, with particular emphasis on Kampuchea, on Cambodia. What remains clear from these discussions is the absolute requirement that we maintain ASEAN [Association of South East Asian Nations] unity and support for a political settlement in Cambodia featuring an interim government led by Prince Sihanouk, with whom I'll be meeting, I believe, in China -- I believe that's set. The goals as ever are twofold: full and permanent Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia and the permanent prevention of a return to power by the Khmer Rouge.

I also met with President Mobutu of Zaire. We discussed important economic issues and the new prospects for peace and self-determination in Angola and Namibia. I'll shortly be discussing the problems and opportunities of development with the President of Brazil, President Sarney, and the President of Nigeria -- I'll be meeting with him in just a few minutes.

Throughout all of our discussions on a variety of issues, I found a shared sense of satisfaction that East-West relations -- they all were interested in this -- that East-West relations are now clearly proceeding on the basis of an agenda favorable to the United States, its allies, and its friends. And as a result of my discussions, I feel more confident than ever that we and our allies will move together to promote global peace, prosperity, and security. And in all these sessions, though highly concentrated, have been very useful to me overall and have provided me with an opportunity to exchange views with many of the most important world leaders.

And then, I should add, Barbara and I and Secretary Baker had an opportunity to pay our respects just now to the new Emperor and to express to him our pleasure at being here. It was right and proper that the United States be represented in this way and to give, in a personal sense, our condolences to him, to the Empress, and to his family.

Now I'd be glad to take some questions.

Secretary of Defense-Designate Tower

Q. Mr. President, back home, the burning issue clearly is the nomination of John Tower. I understand you're going to be doing some personal lobbying when you return. With whom are you going to meet? What could you possibly tell them that they haven't heard already? And isn't this too little, too late?

The President. No, it's not too little, too late. The matter will be decided on the Senate floor. I think everybody knows I am committed to John Tower. There is no fallback; there is no option. And I'll be talking to whomever has any kind of an open mind on this question. I'll do it personally, and I'll do it as forcefully as I can. And I will encourage people to look at the facts. I heard some comment yesterday about, well, there were these perceptions out there. That's not enough. That's not a fair enough or a high enough standard when it comes to the confirmation of an important nominee of this nature. So, I have made some calls. And I will be talking to whoever, as I say, remains openminded. We'll just work our way across here.

Q. Mr. President, on the FBI report, did you think that Mr. Tower does not have a current drinking problem? Is there any way of getting that out into the public? Are you talking about a sanitized version that you would release to the public, or maybe an unsanitized version? There's this problem of confidentiality.

The President. Well, that is the problem. And people that were asked to give interviews were assured that that testimony or that witnessing or whatever you want to call it would be confidential. And so, that presents a real problem. It doesn't present a problem for individual Senators to go take a look at the report. But in terms of your question, I had hoped there was some way of sanitizing or something, and maybe there still will be. But I was reminded that confidentiality is vital here and that the people who have been interviewed have been guaranteed such confidentiality. And I think in the long run the process is best served by that. But in short run, I would like to see every Senator personally take a look and not make up his or her mind on perception, but to do it on reality. And that, I think, is only fair.

Q. Mr. President, another subject.

The President. Hooray!

Interest Rates and Inflation

Q. I thought you might enjoy it, but we'll see. The Federal Reserve has increased the discount rate again. I'm wondering if you still feel that you and Mr. Greenspan [Federal Reserve Board Chairman] are not that far apart on how to solve our economic problems and if you think this move is going to begin to hurt your effort to reduce the deficit.

The President. Well, obviously higher interest rates are not helpful in deficit reduction. But what I would say is, this argues even more forcefully than I've been able to argue that we need to get an agreement on the budget. The sooner we get an agreement with the Senate and have the country have a budget agreement, you will see an amelioration or a lightening up on these interest rates. So, that is the only positive thing. It sends a strong signal. Let's get on with solving the problem of how we're going to bring the deficit down.

I don't think Greenspan and I are far apart. I talked to him -- what was it, just the day, I think, before we left, we talked about this. He was more concerned about, I think -- although I haven't talked to him personally on this part -- with the last CPI figures. But I don't think you can make a judgment on one month. I've gone back and looked over the ups and downs on the CPI. But look, if he's right on inflation, his concerns -- if they're a little more than mine, we should be alert to that. But I gave you my reasons on why I am not overly concerned about inflation, and I haven't changed my mind on that.

Q. The markets think we should raise the rate even more. Would you support that?

The President. I don't know that the markets think that at all.

Secretary of Defense-Designate Tower

Q. Mr. President, back on Tower. It seems to come down, really, sir, to a contest between you and your clout on this issue and that of Senator Nunn [chairman of the Armed Services Committee]. Obviously, you can't be happy with Senator Nunn's vote or his statement yesterday. And I was wondering if there comes a time, sir, when you think you might have to come out and criticize him, indeed, perhaps attacking the record for which you must feel is an unfair approach to your nomination.

The President. I don't see any point in making this personal. I have enough respect for Senator Nunn to know that he is not pursuing a frivolous course in this matter at all. And I know everyone would like to see a great confrontation and love to hold my coat and maybe hold his as we get into a big brawl, but there's no need for that. I want to talk on the merits here and encourage Senators, all of them, to take a look at the facts, not at the rumor, not at the innuendo; and therefore, there's no point getting into a fight. We're going to have to work together on a lot of other issues.

This one is important to me. And there is no pulling back as far as I'm concerned. And I have made up my mind firmly, and I'm going to fight it right through to the end. But I'm not going to then jump off and start hurling charges against any Member of the United States Senate with whom I will work constructively in the future. But I would simply ask that everybody review the evidence, and I expect Senator Nunn feels he's done that. And now I would appeal to every other Senator to do just that.

Q. Doesn't that create the possibility that Members of the Senate will see that it is not possible to attack your nominee and, indeed, you indirectly and pay no price for it?

The President. No, I don't think it raises that at all. This is just the beginning.

Q. What do you think the prospects are of winning this battle, and hasn't it really thrown a cloud over your Asian trip? They say this is the second time you've been shot down over the Pacific. [Laughter]

The President. An interesting analogy. [Laughter] I think people that are serious students of foreign policy and are interested in foreign policy objectives are not going to view this trip in the context of the flap over the John Tower nomination. I think there's much more serious points in foreign policy to be made, and if it's beclouded by some political battle back home right now, so be it. But what we're doing is laying the groundwork for the security interests of the United States, for the mutual interests of a lot of our bilateral relationship. What we've done is reemphasize the importance we place on the Japanese relationship. We're going to have, I'm sure, fruitful discussions in China. So, I think what we're talking about here -- this turmoil over Tower and the nominating process there -- will give way, whatever the result, to the importance of this mission and the talks we've had.

Q. Do you have a head count? Do you have any possibility of winning?

The President. Well, I wouldn't be in a fight that I felt we were going to lose.

Interest Rates and Inflation

Q. Mr. President, you've said that what's happened to the interest rate sends a strong signal that we need to go down and address the deficit problem. How much danger is there, sir, that the tightening of credit will choke off economic growth and throw the economy into recession?

The President. Well, I think that Chairman Greenspan would be very wary of an interest-rate policy that would choke off growth. He is not antigrowth in order to kill inflation. That is not the Greenspan position. So, I am not worried about that. But I can't say I'm happy about the rise in interest rates. But I don't want to overstate his position, on the other hand.

Human Rights

Q. Yes, Mr. President, the U.S. has been very firm with the Soviet Union in recent years on human rights issues. Do you intend to be equally firm with the Chinese? And are you taking a list to them of dissidents? And whose cases are you interested in?

The President. I think our position is so well known to the Chinese -- indeed, they have had an opening, a glasnost, if you will, that I wouldn't have thought possible, and -- you know, if you set the clock back to when I was Ambassador there -- whether there's any specific list, I'm not familiar with that right now. I'll be briefed on the approaches we'll take as we fly to China. But I think both the Soviet Union and China know of our commitment to human rights. And it is beholden on any American President to reiterate our commitment to human rights.

Secretary of Defense-Designate Tower

Q. Mr. President, you seem quite committed then to Senator Tower in your support. But some other White House staffers seem a little bit less strong in their support. Last night, for instance, Secretary Baker gave an interview, and he said he supposed that you would go to a full floor fight. Are some of your aides suggesting to you it's time to pull the plug, that the political costs are too great to continue this?

The President. No, and obviously Secretary Baker is not. And he can speak for himself, which he does very eloquently. And so, I think you ought to be careful about interpretations. And if you would put a name next to some of my staffers who are feeling this, I would like to kick some serious -- [laughter] -- hide on this question because I am committed. And I saw some stories out there that staffers are known to feel this and that. And I'm calmer now, Ann [Ann Compton, ABC News], than you remember from the campaign, and I'm going to remain that way. It's a whole new feeling inside. But I must confess to a certain irritation when I see comments like that that I think have no validity. Obviously, some that print them think they have validity, but let me at them. Let me at the staffers that say that. They will be history; they will be looking for another line of work. But I can't ever find them.

Q. Let me just follow up by asking: Do you have any members of your staff -- advise to you not to continue the fight for John Tower?

The President. Not one single member of my staff has said that. And maybe that's because they know how strongly I feel, but I don't think so. I think they all agree. I mean, I know all our top-level people agree that this is a fight that is important to wage, and it's one that I perceive it to be on the merits, on principle, not on rumor, not on innuendo. We cannot have a matter of this seriousness decided because, well, there used to be the perception of this or that. That isn't good enough now. It isn't fair enough. And so, I don't know of any staffers that feel that way. And yet I'm sure you have your sources, but please tell me who they are.

Q. Does that mean if Tower said, Enough, I'm worn out, that you would indulge him on -- --

The President. He's not going to do that. And I don't go into such far-fetched hypothesis.

Jerry [Gerald Boyd, New York Times]?

Emperor Hirohito's Funeral

Q. Mr. President, I'm just curious whether you, as a World War II veteran who was shot down not all that far from here, felt any sense of unease yesterday appearing before the coffin and bowing before the Emperor and the new Emperor?

The President. No, I didn't. And I can't say that in the quiet of the ceremony that my mind didn't go back to the wonder of it all, because I vividly remember my wartime experience. And I vividly remember the personal friends that were in our squadron that are no longer alive as a result of combat, a result of action. But my mind didn't dwell on that at all. And what I really thought, if there was any connection to that, is isn't it miraculous what's happened since the war. And I remember the stories, in reading as preparation for this visit -- the visit of MacArthur and the former Emperor here. That was historic, and that set a whole new direction. And MacArthur's decision at that time proved to be correct in terms of Japan's move towards democracy.

And so, I honestly can tell you that I did not dwell on that and didn't feel any sense other than my mind thinking of personal relationships and things of that nature, but nothing to do about whether it was right to be here. I was certain from the day that I committed to come here that this was correct for the United States. And perhaps having been in combat in World War II, maybe the decision was more correct; maybe it was more profound to be here. It leaves out my experience.

I'm representing the United States of America. And we're talking about a friend, and we're talking about an ally. We're talking about a nation with whom we have constructive relationships. Sure, we got some problems, but that was all overriding -- and respect for the Emperor. And remember back in World War II, if you'd have predicted that I would be here, because of the hard feeling and the symbolic nature of the problem back then of the former Emperor's standing, I would have said, "No way." But here we are, and time moves on; and there is a very good lesson for civilized countries in all of this.

Middle East

Q. Mr. President, you referred in your opening statement to your talks with Middle East leaders and new opportunity as a positive element in the region. Can you elaborate on that and perhaps tell us when you conclude your review when you're going to take some -- --

The President. In which area are you talking about?

Q. In the Middle East?

The President. In the Middle East? Sure. You mean, what I see as positive in there? Well, I think the whole acceptance by Arafat of the conditions for talks is positive, and I think that is seen as a very positive signal in the Arab world. And I think that there's a recognition in the part of Israel that with the Intifada and the difficulties on the West Bank that something needs to be done. And I think there's a readiness on the part of other Arab States to get serious about negotiation and discussion. And I think Egypt's new standing in the area is a very important ingredient that could lead to where they could be more of a catalyst for peace. So, all of these are ingredients that I think offer opportunity. And I think everybody understands that before we just go rushing out to do something for the sake of doing something that we take a step that is prudent.

I've been in this job for 1 month, and this problem has been there for year after year after year. But when I talk about the underlying potential for peace, I think that's widely accepted now. There's still some very tough elements. You've got some radical elements in what I would say the far left of the PLO. You have a couple of countries that have not been overly constructive towards the peace movement. But that's overridden, it seems to me, by these elements that I've just described.

Interest Rates and Inflation

Q. Mr. President, you keep on saying that you and Mr. Greenspan aren't that far apart on inflation, but he keeps on nudging up interest rates. Do you think it would be advisable if the two of you got together and sat down and hashed this out?

The President. Well, we have gotten together; we haven't hashed it out in total agreement. He hasn't done it exactly my way, nor am I about to change what I've said. Ask him; I don't think we're far apart at all. We've got a little difference of interpretation at this point as to how you read the indicators on inflation, and that's the only difference we've got. We share the common objectives of needing to get the deficit down. And I still maintain we are not far apart. And I think where we have total agreement is -- regardless of what the Fed has done and regardless if I would have done that or not had I been the independent Chairman of the Fed -- we have total agreement that we need to get the budget deficit down and that that itself would be the best way to lighten up on these interest rates. So, the areas of agreement far outweigh the nuances of difference, in my view.

President's Health

Q. How do you feel?

The President. Feel all right. I've done my exercise every day. I didn't go running, but they had a bike over there, and I've been pedaling on that thing, which is very important. It really makes a difference in how I feel. I'm looking forward to the next stop on this trip. And I know that there's been a preoccupation. You've got editors, and you've got interest at home. But I'm telling you we've laid some good groundwork here. I think the Secretary of State feels that way. I think General Scowcroft, [Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs] feels that way. And that'll help us as we move along. It'll help our country as we move along now and go down the road. So, I'm encouraged so far, these talks we've had. And I'll get back and get into the fray on this other matter that seems to be overriding.

This better be the last because we have another meeting in 4 minutes.

China-U.S. Relations

Q. You said you wouldn't believe the opening that has occurred in China when you were the U.S. Envoy there. How does it feel to be back as President of the United States?

The President. Well, I don't know. But I'm looking forward to it. This will be my fifth visit back since leaving China and Barbara's sixth. And I am told that the Chinese leaders are looking forward to this return visit. I'm excited about it, and I think that the relationship with China is strong. We obviously have differences with them, and they'll have something to say about that, I'm sure. I know I will marvel at the changes. I did on the last visit, and people have told me that just in the last 2 years there's been even more change. There is an openness in China today that I never would have predicted 15 years ago, and I can't wait to have the discussions with these top leaders because this relationship is very important. And we spend a lot of time when we're back home properly worrying about and being concerned about NATO and East-West relations, in the sense of U.S. versus Soviet; but we must never neglect our friends in the Pacific.

And this visit will be a way to talk about common objectives and hammer out the difference -- working on the differences that we may have on trade or whatever else it is. But we've passed the day on the U.S.-China relationship where anyone talks about "playing a card." That was a term that was highly offensive to the Chinese, and properly so. And our relationship, the China-U.S. relationship, stands on its own in terms of cultural exchange and trade and on common strategic interests and on the way we view most of the world -- not all of it, because we have some big differences with them on some areas. But what I want to do is to strengthen that and to build on those common perceptions and to make them understand that we will never take for granted this relationship and that we will never do anything in dealing with the Soviets that would inure to the detriment of our Asian friends, be they Chinese, be they ASEAN, be they Japanese. And that's an important point to make because we're going to have some very interesting work to be done with the Soviet Union. But I think the Chinese understand that, but I will make the point that we're not going to move forward in a way that would denigrate their interests or diminish the bilateral relationship between China and the United States, that it stands on its own. So, we've passed the days of "playing a card" and where only discussion with China had to do with the strategic equation -- Moscow, the United States, Beijing. And it's past that now. We want to find ways to build.

So, we talk to Deng Xiaoping about this and Zhao Ziyang and Li Peng, President Yang, and then I can talk to you later on about what we might have accomplished or what big problems remain out there. The relationship is strong, and I'd like to strengthen it.

Soviet-China Relations

Q. Are you pleased to see them drawing closer to the Soviets themselves?

The President. I have no problem with this. I said this to Mr. Gorbachev before I became President. And this visit next spring is a good thing, and it's nothing detrimental to the interests of the United States in that regard. And even if there was -- I mean, we should try to go about it in my view. But there isn't. So, if the question gets into this equation: Do you worry that the Soviets and the Chinese will get back to a Khrushchev era, almost unanimity on everything? No, I don't. There's a fierce independence in China today, and they've moved out early on in terms of market incentive and in terms of -- oh, lots of things: privatization, no more communes in their agriculture, for example. And these are dramatic changes, and they haven't fully felt the effect of these changes. Now, they have some economic problems that go with fast economic change. Inflation is concerning them, and how you handle rapid growth is concerning them, but they're moving in this market-oriented way that we think is a very good thing.

And so, I'm not concerned, John [John Cochran, NBC News], about their going back to a relationship that was almost two against one automatically. It's not that kind of a thing anymore. And I don't think that's a concern we have.

Well, thank you all very much.

Note: The President's fifth news conference began at 10:30 a.m. in the U.S. Ambassador's residence. In his remarks, he referred to Deng Xiaoping, Chairman of the Central Military Commission; Zhao Ziyang, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party; Li Peng, Premier of the State Council; and Yang Shangkun, President of China. Following his remarks, President Bush traveled to Beijing, China.

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

Filed Under




Simple Search of Our Archives