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The President's News Conference With Greek Prime Minister Constantinos Mitsotakis in Athens, Greece

July 18, 1991

Prime Minister Mitsotakis. First of all, I would like, on behalf of the Greek Government, and personally, to welcome the President of the United States and the American delegation to our country. This first visit of an American President to Greece after 32 years takes place at a very important period for our countries and at a critical period for our area. This is why it constitutes a political event of particular significance. It reinforces the efforts of our Government to develop Greek-American relations and also to enhance stability and peace in the Balkans and throughout this area.

With President Bush, both privately, as well as together with our delegations, we had substantial and fruitful talks. We discussed our great national issue, that of Cyprus, which as you well know is going through presently a very important turning point. Issues of decisive importance were naturally discussed: the Greek-Turkish relations and the situation in the Balkans, as well as the first role our country is playing in the developments occurring in this region.

Finally, we discussed also the effort our country is making in the sector of primary importance, that of the economy. I outlined our positions fully and extensively, and I underlined our determination -- the determination of Greece -- to contribute substantially, assuming also initiatives to contribute to the settlement of problems and to the consolidation of peace and cooperation among the countries of our region.

The visit of President Bush constitutes a decisive landmark in the further enhancement and the development of Greek-American relations which is pursued by my Government, both with consistency and determination. Greece, a longstanding and loyal friend and ally of America in all the struggles for democracy and freedom, wishes to contribute substantially in the effort that is being led by the United States of America to see the world enter into a new era, securing for all the peoples prosperity, security, and freedom.

The President. Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, a great friend of the United States. And let me just repeat, I have enormous respect for this Prime Minister. I found today's meeting to be most useful. I believe U.S.-Greek relations are in excellent shape -- Greece, a trusted NATO ally, a country with whom we have extensive interaction between our peoples.

As the Prime Minister said, we did have a good exchange on Cyprus and Greek-Turkish relationships. And I told him that if we could be a catalyst that would help solve the problem of Cyprus, we'd willingly fulfill that role. In talk to the Defense Minister, it is our intention to do what we can to help strengthen the Greek Armed Forces.

We heard a good presentation on the economy, and I assured our Greek friends that we want to expand trade and investment. I think the Secretary of Commerce's mission here could prove to be very, very fruitful. I referred to four new economic agreements earlier: customs, civil aviation, tourism, and investment guarantees. We're getting those locked up.

And lastly, I would repeat, how much I'm looking forward to having the Prime Minister come on an official working visit in the near future and then, of course, hopefully to welcome President Karamanlis at his convenience on a state visit in 1992.

But again, my thanks to you.

Cyprus Situation and Greek-Turkish Relations

Q. President Bush, you have said that the status quo in Cyprus is intolerable and unacceptable to all the parties involved. What gives you so much optimism that this can be solved this year? And how far are you willing to go to try to encourage the Turks and so forth to be more conciliatory on the question?

The President. Well, I think the answer is to be helpful in trying for this conciliation you talk about. Both sides seem to be more optimistic in terms of the Secretary-General's initiative, which we all know is the best hope. So, our role, as I said, is catalytic. And I will do whatever I can to facilitate this process.

And there are technical -- I mean, some serious problems that exist. But it looks to me when you have a person like the Prime Minister I'm standing next to and President Ozal and a serious, respected leader in Cyprus and a Secretary-General that is personally engaged, that we have an historic opportunity. So, I'll simply try my best.

Q. -- -- submitted a new proposal to withdraw -- to move actually -- some aggressive weapons from the common borders. Three things on that. First of all, I should say that Bulgaria accepted the Greek proposal and Turkey refused it. Three things: Did you discuss this matter today? Second, what is your view on that? And third, does this cause some kind of disappointment that Turkey refused, especially coming from London where you had some positive developments in arms talks in Europe?

The President. Well, I just heard some details on this today. Again, if the United States can be useful, anything that can reduce tensions on borders is something we're extremely interested in. And I don't think that it flies in the face of anything that was accomplished in -- if you're referring to the deal between the Soviet Union and the United States on the strategic arms.

Q. There is a new mood -- --

The President. Well, let's see if we can't get more understanding on both sides on it.

Q. Mr. President, does your visit to Greece and Turkey mean that you are personally engaged, involved, in solving the problems of the region and especially the Cyprus issue?

The President. Yes, it means that I hope that this visit will be more than a symbol. I learned a little more about these problems today; I expect I'll learn a little more when we're in Turkey. But I don't want to suggest that the United States can wave a wand, a magic wand, and solve a problem that has plagued this part of the world for a long time. But we are going to try. And we're going to try to be -- we are supportive of what the U.N. Secretary-General is trying to do. And it is felt, because we do have excellent relations with Greece and excellent relations with Turkey and, indeed, with Cyprus itself, that we, more than some other countries, can be helpful. So yes, I want to use whatever tools we have available to facilitate these discussions.

Soviet-U.S. Relations

Q. Mr. President, given the gap between what Mr. Gorbachev asked for in his letter to the London summit and what the London summit gave, will you be taking anything, any concrete offers to Moscow later this month, especially in the areas of technical assistance? And can you tell us what the hold-up is on the MFN, granting MFN to the Soviets?

The President. We may be able to flesh out the agreements achieved by the G - 7 with the Soviet Union. In other words, we may be able to make some of those undertakings a little more specific. But at this juncture, I have no new proposal.

What was your other question, please, sir?

Q. MFN -- why it's been hanging there for some time.

The President. Well, I think there's some technical problems in the law as passed by the Soviet Union. As you know, we needed an emigration law passed, and I believe it was, but I'm told that their lawyers have some difficulty. But I want to move on that as soon as I'm told that the decks are clear. I think it's something we should do.

Q. Could they get that in Moscow?

The President. I don't know, maybe. I just don't know.

The Balkans

Q. Mr. President, what role do you see Greece playing in the Balkans?

The President. In the Baltics?

Q. Balkans?

The President. Balkans. I see -- sorry, I was expanding your horizons here. [Laughter] Well again, I sat and listened intently to the Prime Minister, who emphasized to us the importance of peace. He emphasized Greece's commitment to unity. And I don't know that we have a unique role that we can play, but we would reiterate our call for negotiation. What worries us, and I know it worries the Prime Minister, is the propensity to move toward military action here. And we don't want to see that, and I know the Greek Government doesn't. But we have stated our position, learned more about it -- what did you tell me, sir? The exports to Yugoslavia from Greece are tremendous.

Prime Minister Mitsotakis. Thirty percent.

The President. Thirty percent. I mean, a major figure. And this could not go along if there was turmoil there. So, we will again request our call for peaceful resolution to these questions. But that is about the role of the United States at this juncture.


Q. Mr. President, I know you have a difficult time in Greece, spending most of your time at meetings. Would you like to come back for a vacation in Greece?

The President. Yes, I'd love to do that sometime. I really would. That's what we call a slow ball in the trade. [Laughter] And I'd like to hit out over the fence by saying I'd love to spend some time some day cruising through the Greek islands. I did it for one day at one point, about 1961 I think it was, and it was heaven. And, yes, I'd like to do that at some point.

Stability in the Area

Q. Mr. President, given the amount of arms given to Turkey, are you worried about some sort of imbalance in this area in the future? What will the U.S. do in order to secure the balance in the area?

The President. Well, I think we have so much faith in both that we would be sure that the requirements of each were met to the best of our ability. But we're the ones that are now urging curtailment of arms in some ways, but I think we have a defense program worked out with Greece that I hope will satisfy their requirements.

Visit to Turkey

Q. Mr. President, the Patriarch of Constantinople came to the United States on an official visit, and you received them at the White House. Will you see him or call him when you go to Istanbul after Greece?

The President. Well, I don't know whether I'll be doing that or not. If the schedule is like it was in London, I doubt it. I just don't -- we go from, as this gentleman so tactfully put it, meeting to meeting -- meetings that are already set up. But we had a very cordial meeting with the Patriarch, and I just can't answer your question as to whether it's on the schedule or whether there will be time for something of that nature, important though it is. So, we'll have to wait and see how the schedule develops. But we had an excellent meeting with him.

President's Domestic Agenda

Q. Mr. President, Cyprus is just the latest of a long list of complex, long-lived international problems that you've shown a personal interest in. There's a perception, fair or unfair, that you are not as engaged as you should be in some of the domestic problems that the United States faces. How do you account for that? And with an election coming up next year, what do you intend to do about that?

The President. I account for it by the fact there's an election coming up next year. And I don't plan to do anything about it because we have an outstanding domestic program. My problem is, we have too few Republicans and too many Democrats. Now, I don't know whether the Prime Minister understands that in his terms here, but that's my problem. And we've got excellent programs, some of which have been enacted. I cite the historic Clean Air Act as one; the aid for people with disabilities, the assistance there. I think that putting caps on reckless spending has been a useful thing.

But we've got a ways to go. I want, as you know, a crime bill. I want a civil rights bill. But it's pretty difficult when you have a majority that sees politics around the corner and are making it a little tougher.

But I don't hear that too much anymore. Maybe that's still -- some making -- you have to look at who makes the charge. And nobody will convince me that there's not a lot of politics in all of that. But that isn't to say because there's an unfulfilled agenda that I ought not to perform my duties as President in terms of foreign affairs. I will continue to do that.

And I think this visit is very important. I had a good visit this morning with the respected President, President Karamanlis -- outstanding visit with a man that is so respected in the States. Same thing for the Prime Minister today. And I think that's in the interests of the United States of America.

But we've got plenty going on back there, able people in these Departments trying to get their agendas through.

So, I discount some of the criticism, if it's still going on. Maybe it will increase. But put a little political factor on it, because things are going pretty well. And I see this recession of ours turning around. And that's going to narrow the areas of criticism in the political arena. So, we're used to it. But I think that any President is responsible to do both to the best of his ability, and that is what I am trying to do -- domestic, foreign affairs.

Cyprus Situation

Q. Mr. President, going back to the region: Would you suggest a step-by-step procedure in order to solve the Cyprus problem? And if so, could you please name one step-by-step procedure that you would suggest on that?

The President. It is not my role to spell out the steps, nor is it my role to spell out the procedures. It is my role to use whatever authority the United States may have -- and the Prime Minister is very generous in his assessment of that -- to further support for the United Nations Secretary-General's proposals in any way I can. There's where the step-by-step procedures are. And then they, of course, have to be solved between two very strong and very able leaders. And then the people of both countries have to -- both Greece and Turkey, to the degree that this is where it stands -- have to agree.

So, I give you a little more general answer than you want.

Q. Here in Greece, Mr. President, several asked themselves why didn't the United States do the same they did for Kuwait -- that is, why didn't America try to liberate Cyprus?

The President. Let me be sure I understand the question. Liberate it in what way? Sending in the 82d Airborne? That was never an option.

Q. You freed Kuwait. Well, in Cyprus, too, human rights have been violated and a military invasion has taken place. So, why don't you help free this country as well?

The President. Acting under the United Nations resolutions -- 12 of them -- we forged an enormous coalition to go in and kick the aggressor out of Kuwait. It was almost unanimously supported in the United Nations -- a handful of holdouts -- and it's a very different situation as it relates to Kuwait and to Cyprus.

So, I would say that the best answer to Cyprus is peaceful resolution of this question and to have it resolved as much as possible between two very able heads of government.

Greek-Turkish Relations

Q. Mr. President, concerning Greek-Turkish relations, did you discuss the possibility of signing a nonaggression pact? And what is your position on that matter?

The President. With which? Nonaggression between who?

Q. Between Greece and Turkey -- a nonaggression pact.

The President. I don't remember being asked anything about that. It may have been touched on by the Prime Minister, but that I will leave between the parties.


Q. Mr. President, the United Nations inspection team appears to have concluded that Iraq's nuclear capability was destroyed in the war. I'm wondering if they missed the incontrovertible evidence you said existed, sir.

The President. Well, I'm sure they must have if we're still turning up evidence that the Iraqi dictator is still trying to perfect some nuclear capability. And clearly, there's no question that the nuclear capability was set back in the war, but that's not the point. The point is he must fully comply with the United Nations resolutions. And he's been lying and cheating and hiding material, and that simply is not good enough. And the whole world is very much concerned about it. They do not want to have nuclear weapons in the hands of this kind of aggressor.

Q. But, sir, the team appears to have concluded that the capability is destroyed. How can you react to that?

Prime Minister Mitsotakis. Thank you, gentlemen -- ladies and gentlemen.

Note: The President's 94th news conference began at 6:25 p.m. on the patio of the Prime Minister's office. In the news conference, the following persons were referred to: Greek Defense Minister Ioannis Varvitsiotis, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Robert A. Mosbacher, United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar de la Guerra, President Turgut Ozal of Turkey, President George Vassiliou of Cyprus, President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union, and President Saddam Hussein of Iraq. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this news conference.

George Bush, The President's News Conference With Greek Prime Minister Constantinos Mitsotakis in Athens, Greece Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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