George Bush photo

The President's News Conference With President Gorbachev of the Soviet Union in Madrid, Spain

October 29, 1991

President Bush. Well, just very briefly, I want to thank President Gorbachev. We've had yet another very constructive meeting. We're here, of course, for this international conference on the Middle East, and I can express my gratitude to President Gorbachev for the very constructive role that the Soviet Union has played in the actions leading up to this conference. We're grateful to him for that.

We also discussed some of the matters of mutual interests involving the situation inside the Soviet Union, the dynamic change there, the commitment to reform that is still very strong. And all in all, as far as I'm concerned, it was yet one more very good meeting with the President.

President Gorbachev. I join what Mr. President just said and wanted only to say a couple of words for myself. We agreed on holding this meeting since it was a very convenient opportunity in order to coordinate our watches, synchronize our watches, to talk a little about what is of mutual interest to the Soviet Union and to the United States.

Yes, it's true that we began by -- we talked about all the many years of effort that we made. Especially our joint efforts in the very recent past, both of the United States and the Soviet Union, has brought us to the point now where, today, tomorrow, this long-awaited forum, this long-awaited conference is opening. And let's hope that given everything that we might encounter along the way during these negotiations within the confines of this conference, let's hope that it all turns out for the best and positively.

In any case, President Bush and I have agreed that having opened this conference and having left Madrid, we not at all expect to be somewhere on the side. On the contrary, we're going to facilitate as much as possible, use all the remedies that we have at our disposal. I think that all the participants of the conference and we, too, wanted to -- both today and tomorrow we'll talk about it some more, maybe to appeal to everybody that they act responsibly with great understanding that what is beginning within the framework of this Madrid conference -- how meaningful it is, and that everybody be very constructive as much as possible.

Further, we said a lot and talked a lot about -- since I had the intention to pose before President Bush several questions, several issues vis-a-vis what's happening internally in the Soviet Union, and also because he and Mr. Secretary of State also had a whole series of questions in order to ask, for the benefit of their own understanding, to try to find out where we now are in the Soviet Union and to get a better grasp of what kind of issues and problems we're trying to solve.

This took quite a large percentage of our time, probably the majority of our meeting. I'm very satisfied by the position which was held, by the position of the President of the United States, and hope that -- have all the basis to believe and feel that this is yet another step in strengthening the mutual understanding and cooperation between our two countries, right at the stage of all the great and momentous changes that are taking place.

And finally, we had an exchange of information and views as to what each of the sides is doing in the context of disarmament and all the initiatives that have been undertaken.

The President and I gave a very high mark to the way we are solving a lot of these very burning issues which for many years have plagued us. But now basing ourselves on all the experiences that have happened over the last few years, especially how well we're getting along now with our two countries, between the Soviet Union and the United States, also among the members of the two governments of the two countries, that we're finding very good solutions.

In any event, we wanted to have a very short meeting to chat and maybe not overload ourselves too much because the subject of this meeting, in fact, is the opening of the conference. But in fact, we had a very substantive discussion; I think it will be very useful for both parties, for both sides. Thank you.

Nuclear Arms Reduction

Q. This is a question to President Bush and President Gorbachev. You are now talking about disarmament or arms control. How much of the two schedules of both the Soviet Union and the United States, schedules of disarmament and arms control, how much are they similar, the two schedules of the two countries?

President Bush. We made some sweeping proposals a while back. President Gorbachev immediately responded positively to our proposals. Then he came forward with some additional proposals. And I would say, after analyzing his, and his analyzing our proposals, that our schedules are very close to in line. And what we've agreed to do today is to talk further on the practical steps involved.

We had good discussions on the whole question of nuclear arms reduction and nuclear safety, but I can assert from the U.S. side that our schedules, as you refer to them, talk to them, are very close. And now what we've got to do is iron out more detail, have more discussion. And we've agreed to send our top people, including Mr. Bartholomew, to discuss with the Soviet side what additional steps we can agree on, additional to those that have already been agreed. I think we both want to go forward with CFE and START ratification very promptly.

President Gorbachev. I would have to merely confirm what President Bush said. There's no reason to worry or have any concern from either one or the other side. In view of the thing that people say, "Well, maybe this was found or that was found," certain initiatives, some people have concerns on schedule. No, there's nothing to worry about, I think. That's very important to say. And this is also a sign of responsibility and determination.

Secondly, I want to confirm what was said. We did, in fact, agree how this mechanism will work, the mechanism which will give us, or provide the opportunity for us to continue discussing these issues, to keep each other informed, and to clarify issues for each other as they arrive.

In addition, we've also agreed that there be created two groups which will discuss issues having to do with strategic stability. Included among that is strategic stability for the future. I think we'll also be handling these kinds of issues and looking far into the future.

Aid to the Soviet Union

Q. Mr. President, did you tell Mr. Gorbachev that you would provide any additional aid to the Soviet Union? And further, do you think the Western nations should withhold aid from breakaway Republics, such as the Ukraine, who refuse to cooperate on military and economic matters?

President Bush. On the latter point, we discussed a lot that relates to the Republics, but we still are very respectful of the changes that are taking place. I asked for certain clarification from President Gorbachev on this.

What was your point on the Ukraine?

Q. I was wondering whether or not the Ukraine, which says that it won't cooperate on the economic union, and it's also insisting on joint control with Moscow of nuclear missiles -- if you think that Western countries should provide aid to -- --

President Bush. I think that what we ought to do, and we did have a long discussion with President Gorbachev, is figure out the best package that we can do that will come as close to meeting his requirements as possible for economic aid. And clearly, some will go to the Republics. So, that all requires negotiation. There is no agreement on specific amounts or anything of that nature, but we did have a strong -- we had a good discussion of the requirements.

And again, I think the American people, when it comes to food aid and medicines, clearly want to be of assistance to the Soviet Union. And secondly, we are very interested in trying to do our part to see the reforms continue. And so we had a wide discussion about that. But no specifics have been agreed on. We will go back and talk to our representative that attended the G - 7; David Mulford attended the G - 7 finance meetings in Moscow. And then we'll have more negotiation and discussion with President Gorbachev on that.

Q. But it's not a barrier if the Ukraine refuses to cooperate on the economic and military matters?

President Bush. Well, I think it's President Gorbachev's feeling that they will cooperate on economic matters, but I defer to him on that.

President Gorbachev. I'm used to answering tough questions, so I agree. I agree to answer this part of your question as well. Yes, we for a long time now, President Bush and I have been discussing the cooperation at this very, very difficult phase of our reform process where the Soviet Union now finds itself. And I must say that, inevitably, given the very substantive nature and the principal nature and sometimes even sharpness of our discussions, nonetheless, we and the President, and the administration, we know that the President and the administration in Washington has shown great understanding and cooperation towards our plight.

We today, as well, discussed this within the context of saying that today in the Soviet Union -- today people from the G - 7, the deputy finance ministers of the G - 7 are meeting there to discuss this issue in particular. The very specific answer is that the result of the meeting -- there have participated 12 Soviet Republics and every one of them signed a memorandum by which they confirm the unified responsibility that they bear for paying the debts of the Soviet Union. They have empowered, all the 12 Republics have empowered their representatives to delegate their powers over to Vneshekonom Bank and have it be the central juridical face, also to decide who bears what responsibility in the Republics, who to have dealings with, who's going to have the authority.

So, I think that when you look at it at first glance, it might be a technical issue, but in very fact, it points out that if you have solidarity among all the Republics today on this, let's hope that in the future that is continued. So, let's say now today that all 12 have signed.

Now, how about the Ukraine? Two days ago, I think it was Friday morning, I spoke with the Prime Minister of the Ukraine, Mr. Volkin, who said to me in this talk, he told me that the Ukraine, after the decision by the Supreme Soviet, when he put forth his own program, among a whole series of other things that was said in that program, one of those issues was to enter the circle of Republics and sign the economic treaty. The Supreme Soviet voted, I think it was 283 or 284 in favor of the position of the Prime Minister of the Ukraine and only 39 against. This gave him the opportunity, now based upon the decision of the Supreme Soviet, to tell us and report to us that, in fact, he will sign. Maybe he's already signed it since I left Moscow, but in these last several days he will have signed this. So, I hope this takes care of your concern.

And finally, returning to today's conversation, I told President Bush I felt it necessary to report to him the most important thought, that now we have come up through this stage and now are actually beginning to make realistic, concrete steps toward the marketplace, stabilizing finances, taking steps to liberalize prices, taking steps aimed at quickening, speeding up the process of regularizing the financial order in the country. To really take a hard look and get our hands around the debts. In other words, that very specific process that has to move us to the marketplace, that is now beginning.

And in fact, all of our society is now faced with a rather complex set of decisions. This precise moment when we are especially sensitive to what we are doing in our country, and we feel sensitively what the attitude is of all of our partners abroad. We have to take a look at what's been going on. I've reported to all the people -- I just told the President what all the G - 7 partners were talking about in Moscow, and we will get back once again to this issue and help them find a specific solution. Thank you.

Leadership in the Soviet Union

Q. Since your departure from Moscow, who is taking your place in Moscow? Who is fulfilling your duties?

President Gorbachev. Okay, I'll try to answer quickly because I know that nobody is. I'm still the President. Nobody is taking my place. Everybody else is doing what they're supposed to be doing and carrying out their functions. Whether I am more calm and confident now than I was before, I didn't lose my balance then, and I haven't lost it now. I'm fully confident that what we're doing is ultimately necessary, and I will do everything that's in my power to do everything necessary. Nobody is going to take me out of the action. The choice has been made.

President Bush. Let me respond to this, what I understand was the second part of the question. I have had a history of very satisfactory negotiations with President Gorbachev. You're correct in that. Secondly, when the coup attempt took place, we stood up against that. And thirdly, I sense no difference in how we talk and the frankness with which we exchange views, no difference, certainly from my standpoint, in the respect level for President Gorbachev. We in the United States watch with fascination and keen interest the developments inside the Soviet Union, the dramatic movements towards the reforms that he, himself, committed himself to years ago.

So, it is not for me to fine-tune every detail of change inside the Soviet Union. It is for me to continue to negotiate with President Gorbachev, with his total understanding, I'm sure. We've had many contacts with the Republics as well. And so, we will deal with what's there. And I'm very happy to see my friend again and to have had very fruitful discussions that have not in any way been altered by the tragic coup attempt last summer.

Middle East Peace Conference

Q. Mr. President, both of you, in terms of the Madrid conference, can there be a lasting, a just settlement in the Middle East unless there is a tradeoff of conquered land for peace? And also, with your hands-off policy, aren't you really -- you've brought them to the table. Does it mean "you guys fight it out" and there will be no involvement of the sponsors?

President Bush. Did you have an order in which you'd like that replied to?

Q. No, you can answer it any way you like.

President Bush. Thank you, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International].

Do you want to go first?

Look, the invitation went out. In the invitation it talked about Resolution 242 and 338. The American position is well-known. The Soviet position is well-known. But what is important here is getting the parties together. And one way you don't do that is for either the Soviet Union or the United States to try to impose a settlement. So, let them sort it out. We're available. We're there, the Soviet side, the U.S. side. Secretary Baker will remain on our side after I leave tomorrow.

But, we're not here to impose a settlement. We are here to be a catalyst. I think the worst thing we could do is reiterate our own positions to such a degree that one side or the other became disenchanted before they even talk to each other. This is historic because people are sitting down to talk to each other for the first time. So, at least from the U.S. side, it is not my intention to try to impose a settlement or to go back to years of differences and reiterate strongly held convictions.

On the U.S. side, what we're interested in is getting Israel and its neighbors to sit down and talk, talk in a multilateral facet and then go forward bilaterally.

Q. But you didn't answer my question.

President Bush. What was it? I thought I gave a good answer to it. [Laughter]

Q. Can there be peace if there is not a tradeoff?

President Bush. I told you, let the parties work all this out, Helen. Who is it for you and me to sit here in this lovely Soviet Embassy to try to say what the requirements are going to be? I told you what the invitation said, based on 242 and 338. Everybody knows what that means. So, there's no point in me going beyond that. Please don't try me again today, as you did yesterday. [Laughter]

You know Helen?

President Gorbachev. Yes. I've got to say that President Bush really vocalized what our approach is, what we decided to follow and to keep to. So, I think that this is the proper way, the proper approach. Respect also to the participants of the negotiating process. This is very tough for them, very difficult meetings where they're going to have to maybe do quite a bit of work, all of them, so that they all come out to a final, positive conclusion.

Because it doesn't mean, like I said before, I want to reiterate again: This does not mean that we are simply going to stand on the side and that it doesn't really make any difference to us what happens. No, that's not at all. Our role of playing our good offices, using our good offices, we will perform. But everything else, what is decided upon, what is agreed to, must use what we have today, all of us, at our disposal.

We need a new climate of international relations, a new situation has to be developed, new relations among leading countries in the world, first of all, the Soviet Union and the United States. And then included in that also, reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Israel. Use everything that we have to find the keys, to find all the right chords, to get rid of all those old, outdated issues and problems. Find a solution which would satisfy the interests of everybody. Without a balance, without taking into account everybody's needs, we will not succeed.

Therefore, President Bush has just informed you about the process that we have agreed to and the kinds of approaches we will be dedicated to. Thank you.

Q. Given Syria's position regarding the regional negotiations, is it -- and of course, its refusal so far to enter this negotiations -- is it your position, sir, that the parties to the regional negotiations should go on and conclude agreements regardless and independent of the element of withdrawal that is apparently most important to the Syrian position? And secondly, should settlements and negotiations for peace go on hand-in-hand, independently?

President Bush. These are both very important questions and they're very substantive questions, but once again, I think it would be counterproductive for me -- let President Gorbachev decide on his own -- but it would be counterproductive for me to give definitive answers to how I feel those two important questions should be resolved. The U.S. has historic positions; the Soviet side has historic positions.

We brought these parties together now in something that most people thought could never happen. And once again, it would be counterproductive for me to set conditions or to say from the U.S. side how these two questions that you properly asked about be resolved. I'm simply not going to do that. This is too sensitive a time. We're trying to get in here to have people start discussions on their own. And I don't want to give anybody any reason whatsoever to walk away or to make additional demands because of something I have said.

So, I simply, respectfully, will not answer your question in the detail that I know you'd like me to do.

President Gorbachev. During the preliminary stages where we were preparing this conference, there was quite a number of very sharp issues that were raised, even in the press a lot, quite a bit is being written, publicized, people's points of view, opinions. But tomorrow the conference starts. And so, this preliminary, preparatory phase, in spite of all the difficulties that we've encountered, all the discussions that have been had, all the things said in the press -- nonetheless, we are here at the opening. Let's just open the conference, and let's start working.

It seems to me that the sides themselves can only win if they maintain a position of principle but are constructive. Everybody's concerns are real. But let's really say we're not going to substitute by our actions that which happens at the negotiations at the conference.

Aid to the Soviet Union

Q. The issue of economic assistance that the United States said for all the time that first they have to deal with the center when it comes to foreign aid, and now in many of the enterprises we're moving hard currency -- in what position the United States found itself. In other words, is the United States more actively working with the Republics, and namely Russia itself, or still going to deal only through the center?

President Bush. Well, I thought I addressed myself to that. Clearly, we're here today, and we're dealing with President Gorbachev. I have kept contacts with President Yeltsin. You asked specifically about the Russian Republic. But on a matter of this nature where we're talking about credit, and we're talking about hopefully humanitarian assistance, it is important that Americans get the view that the center and the Republics are together on these matters. But we don't plan to change our dealings with President Gorbachev or, indeed, with President Yeltsin or leaders of the other Republics. And I think, I have the feeling they both understand that. It's a little vague, but I don't believe I can be more specific on your question than that.

I think under the economic agreement, President Gorbachev was explaining to me today, the Republics are indeed together with the center, closer together with the center on these economic matters than ever before, which makes it much easier for the United States or the G - 7 or the other countries that clearly want to assist in the reform process, in helping this go forward.

Q. President Gorbachev and President Bush as well, despite what you've said about the economic situation, it's not entirely clear to me. Did you, sir, President Gorbachev, make any specific, any new requests for assistance? And did you, Mr. Bush -- you've indicated in talking about a package, is this something over and beyond what we have heard before? If you could be more specific, it would help us.

President Gorbachev. Well, in general, if you would bear in mind the fact that recently, between myself and the leaders of the G - 7, there is a regular exchange of views and information, then many of the issues directed to President Bush. Well, he knew about a lot of these issues anyway. He already was informed of it.

At the same time, based upon our requests, the President of the United States and other leaders of the European Community were working on these kinds of questions. Now, in this connection for them to decide, a couple of days ago they decided to have this meeting of the deputy ministers of finance who came to Moscow to discuss this cooperation, the assistance, and they, I think very substantively, went through and made assessments of what is the real situation and came to one, single, unified understanding. And that's very important if you're going to make decisions.

They had a unified, single opinion of what is going on. They established a series of positions, opinions that they came up with, and the governments and these countries will then be told about this.

So now, when the President goes back to Washington and I go back to Moscow, we will listen to what these recommendations of the specialists are, talk about it, think about it. Then we will then be able to be in a position to finally make a determination on this question.

I don't think that everything is solved by this. Maybe it will be several times in the future we may have to come back and ask other assistance, because life casts up a whole variety of surprises. But the very fact that we have fruitful, constructive, specific, businesslike, and very promising work going on, and it also bodes well for future results. Thank you.

President Bush. That's essentially the way I would have answered the question.

Q. That there is nothing specific?

President Bush. You heard President Gorbachev use the word "specific," but I'd say we're in a phase of discussing details, which obviously means specificity. But I endorse what he said about needing further work and consultation on this, each with our own economic side, and then follow through with more discussion.

So, there were some specifics discussed, but we will go forward as he indicated.

Q. What is the magnitude of what you're discussing now in contrast to what it was -- --

President Bush. We've agreed, we're not going to go into magnitudes of it right now.

Thank you.

Note: The President's 107th news conference began at 2:55 p.m. at the Soviet Embassy. In his remarks, President Bush referred to Reginald Bartholomew, Under Secretary for International Security Affairs at the Department of State; and David C. Mulford, Under Secretary for International Affairs at the Department of the Treasury. President Gorbachev spoke in Russian, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.

George Bush, The President's News Conference With President Gorbachev of the Soviet Union in Madrid, Spain Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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