George Bush photo

The President's News Conference With President Mitterrand of France

May 21, 1989

President Mitterrand. Ladies and gentlemen, the French guests here and myself -- we're coming to the end of our stay in the United States; and this meeting with the press is, more or less, the last event. And the journalists who have been good enough to follow us during the last 24 hours will have appreciated, I think, that we've had a very full day. But you will, of course, be able in a moment to ask the questions which you feel most suited to the requirements of the day. And President Bush and myself will be at your disposal to reply to them.

But personally, and also on behalf of my country, I would like to say how very deeply sensitive we are to the way in which Mrs. Bush and President Bush have received us, my wife and myself. They received us in a very warm, homely family, and restful atmosphere; but at the same time, we were able to have some intensive, political, serious conversations which were given, as it were, more life -- thanks to the forest air and the sea breeze that we were able to breathe.

Now President Bush will be saying a few words, and then we'll be open to questions. But I'd like to personally thank all those who have been good enough to accompany us during our stay and comment on what we have done.

President Bush. Thank you, Mr. President. Well, first, let me just say what a pleasure it was having President Mitterrand and Madame Mitterrand as our guests in Maine. We've just come from the commencement of Boston University. And nothing better symbolizes the strength of the friendship and the common values which we share -- which our two nations share -- and which really the President celebrated with us 8 years ago, when he came to Yorktown, celebrating the 200th anniversary of that battle.

So, the weekend was not all work and no play; it provided a good opportunity for us to discuss many of the main issues on the international agenda. And by the end of this week, both of us will be traveling to Brussels for the NATO summit. We agreed on the central role the Atlantic alliance has played in keeping the peace for the past four decades, the enduring value of this partnership in the common defense in the years ahead. And we also agreed on the critical contribution the nuclear deterrent has made in keeping us free and secure and at peace.

We also talked about the opportunities that lie before us in the light of the changes now taking place in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe. And both of us will watch developments in the Soviet Union, seeking signs of lasting change. Of course, we discussed the dramatic events now taking place in Beijing, in China. The President, I believe, shares my view -- I'll let him speak for himself -- that our goal should be a bold one, to move beyond containment, towards the integration of the Soviet Union into the community of nations. And of course, we discussed how the United States will relate to France and the rest of Western Europe in the years ahead.

I sensed an excitement on his part about the future. We exchanged views about the themes that I touched on in my earlier remarks here at BU: America's readiness for a more mature transatlantic partnership, the vision of a commonwealth of free nations as a bridge to overcome the divisions of Europe. And we also discussed the potential for improved cooperation with the EC [Commission of the European Communities] as we approach 1992 and the single European market, as well as the prospects for greater Western European cooperation in addressing the political and global issues around the world. And I heard his clarion's call for cooperative action on the environment, and I salute him for that.

Beyond the NATO summit and East-West relations, we exchanged views on so many subjects, many of which will be on the agenda at the Paris economic summit. We agreed that more needs to be done in practical, realistic ways to deal with the environment and to deal with the problems of global warming. And we also reviewed ways of advancing the peace process in the Middle East, the urgent need to try to find, or be helpful in finding, a solution to the situation in Lebanon.

On the question of peace and democracy in this hemisphere, in Central America, we share the view that democracy must be restored in Panama and that the commitments undertaken at Esquipulas are the key to peace and democracy in the region.

Now we'd be glad to take questions.

Student Demonstrations in China

Q. Mr. President, the students in China have been told to leave Tiananmen Square or face military attack. What's your reaction to that, and do you have any message for the students, other than that the United States supports freedom of speech and freedom of assembly?

President Bush. We do support freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press; and clearly, we support democracy. I don't want to be gratuitous in giving advice, but I would encourage restraint. I do not want to see bloodshed. We revere the model of Martin Luther King in this country for his peaceful protest; and so, I might suggest a familiarization with that for the people in China. And I would urge the Government to be as forthcoming as possible in order to see more democratization and to see a peaceful resolution of this matter.

Short-Range Nuclear Forces in Europe

Q. President Mitterrand, do you think that progress has been made in bringing French and American views -- well, in hoping to bring German and American views closer together on the question of modernization of nuclear short-term weapons in Europe? And do you think that you are there to act as an intermediary, a conciliator?

President Mitterrand. The only role I play is the role that is my natural role as a member of the alliance. But I am not particularly there to act as a mediator. Obviously, I'm happy if views can be reconciled and believe, I think, that they can be reconciled. I think that we have now the elements of ideas that could form a decision that will be taken just in a week's time. And I think that the decision that will be taken will be found positive from the point of view of all members of the alliance. You know what my suggestions on the subject are because I made them clear in Paris.

Q. Mr. President, on that point, the indication out of Bonn today was that the West Germans have not accepted the explicit conditions that were handed to Mr. Stoltenberg [West German Finance Minister] on Friday for talks on SNF. A West German spokesman said that those conditions were merely -- I think he said -- a basis for further dialog. Is the U.S. position negotiable at this point, and how do you sum up the likelihood of resolving this before the NATO summit?

President Bush. I think great progress has been made. One way to guarantee there will not be progress is to lock each other in, in public statements, so I do not intend to comment on the specifics. The report I saw from Bonn was somewhat more encouraging than the way you phrased this one, in terms of being very, very close together with the Germans. This is an alliance that contains many countries, and we are in active consultation with the Germans and others. And of course, I had the benefit over this weekend of hearing directly from President Mitterrand on his views, but I think that we could well have this resolved before the summit.

U.S. Immigration Laws

Q. You spoke about the common bond between the United States and France and the economic changes that will be coming about in 1992 and, of course, the obvious benefit to the United States. Yet we have an immigration law at the present that disfavors Europeans. Do you see this matter being resolved so that Europeans can continue to contribute to the United States?

President Bush. I want to see the immigration matter resolved, and yes, I do foresee it being resolved.

Student Demonstrations in China

Q. Mr. Bush, you have a personal interest in China and the Chinese people, yet your statements have seemed to be very cautious and diplomatic. Have you made any private representation to the Chinese leadership or given any suggestions to them on how to resolve -- or what you might help with in the democracy movement in China?

President Bush. We have been in touch with our Ambassador on this very key question. I think this perhaps is a time for caution because we aspire to see the Chinese people have democracy, but we do not exhort in a way that is going to stir up a military confrontation. We do not want to have a situation like happened in Burma or some other place. And so, as we counsel restraint and as we counsel peaceful means of effecting change -- that is sound advice. And I think to go beyond that and encourage steps that could lead to bloodshed would be inappropriate.

For President Mitterrand -- his next question, unless you've exhausted them all. I'll take a couple of -- --

Short-Range Nuclear Forces in Europe

Q. It's really primarily for President Bush, but of course, if President Mitterrand wishes to add on -- [laughter]. Mr. President, you said we could well have agreement on SNF before the summit. I gather you're talking about the West Germans, because we're getting reports out of London that Mrs. Thatcher is not, as the English say, best pleased about this. And this is confusing, because we also understand that you took Mrs. Thatcher's wishes into account when you were formulating your counterproposal and that, in fact, you were in rather close touch with the British. Do you think we could go to Brussels with the British not having signed on to this, and yet you would have agreement with the West Germans?

President Bush. Mr. President Mitterrand?

President Mitterrand. Well, I can appreciate exactly what kind of a dialog you were hoping to achieve, but the rules of the game are that it's my turn to answer. Well, you may be asking for an opinion, but I would say this: that within the Atlantic alliance, there is full equality among all partners. And on this problem, like on other problems, at the outset, people have diverging views, different opinions. But the important thing is to come to a meeting of the minds and to achieve a common answer, and this has always been the case in the alliance. A particular view will only carry more weight if it carries more wisdom and more common sense. So, I'm not going to sit here and award prizes to this view or that view. There's no particular view which would prevail. The important thing is that the general interest of the alliance should prevail, and it will.

Student Demonstrations in China

Q. Mr. President, you called for restraint in China, and you said that the lessons of Martin Luther King could well be heeded here. Do you believe the protesters should go home? Do you think there is a revolution underway in China now?

President Bush. I don't think that it would be appropriate for the President of the United States to say to the demonstrators and the students in Beijing exactly what their course of action should be. That is for them to determine. They know the United States commitment to democracy, to the commitment to freedom, to the aspiration we have that all people will live in democratic societies. But I'm not about to suggest what I think they ought to do, except to spell out peaceful and continue to fight for what you believe in, stand up for what you believe in, but beyond that, I cannot go.

No, go ahead. Follow-on?

Q. How unstable is the situation?

President Bush. Well, I don't know. I think we have to wait and see. There's certainly an enormous expression on the part of many people -- students and others -- for change, toward movement toward democracy. I lived there; I saw a society totally different than the one that exists in China today. China has moved, in some areas, towards democracy. Now, the quest is -- and the appeal from these kids is -- to move further. And so, I am one who feels that the quest for democracy is very powerful, but I am not going to dictate or try to say from the United States how this matter should be resolved by these students. I'm not going to do it.

As for John's [John Cochran, NBC News] question, we have been in very close touch with Mrs. Thatcher. And I listened attentively and with great interest to what President Mitterrand said, and I agree with him: that we can get together on this vexing question. There are strong-willed people from strong countries, and they each have an opinion. But my role has been to try, behind the scenes, to be helpful for working this problem out. And I should salute the President of France, as he has tried to be extraordinarily helpful in working this problem out. Now, your job is to know every step of the way the nuances of difference that exist between the parties, and mine is to see if we can't iron out those differences. And that's exactly what I'm doing, what Secretary [of State] Baker is doing, and what others are doing.

East-West Relations

Q. Mr. President, you were talking about the attitude we should have towards the Soviet Union, particularly on the part of the allies. Do you think that the Cold War has come to an end, and if so, has it come to an end once and for all?

President Mitterrand. People seem to want us to play the role of crystal-gazers, which we are not. It's like a revolution, you only know afterwards if a thing turned out to be a revolution. As far as the Cold War is concerned, one thing is clear, and that is that we are moving out of the Cold War. And the chances are that this will be true for a very long time. There will be moments when things will be more difficult, doubtless, but I don't see us slipping right back into the Cold War. Of course, anything is possible -- a lot will depend on the trend of developments within the Soviet Union.

Q. Mr. President, you said in your speech today that you're grateful for some of these proposals with Secretary Gorbachev, yet some in your administration have made no secret of their disdain for some of these proposals. In talking about "beyond containment," did the recent proposals of Secretary Gorbachev on conventional and nuclear weapons meet any of your tests for going beyond containment?

President Bush. Yes. I not only encourage him to continue to make proposals but I'd encourage him to unilaterally implement the proposals. Many of them address themselves to conventional forces where they have an extraordinary, preponderant imbalance -- where they have the weight on their side. And so, I'd like to see that, but I don't think anybody is criticizing the specific proposals. All we want to see is real progress. And when you have the historic imbalance that exists on conventional forces, yes, I welcome the proposals and like to see them implemented. And it's in that area that we're looking for reality versus rhetoric. And I know that some are quite restless about the pace that I have set in dealing with the Soviet Union, but I think it's the proper pace. And I will be prepared when Jim Baker goes back to talk some more. I'm most anxious to be sure that the alliance is together on these questions.

And so, we have time, and in the meantime, I welcome not only the change of openness and the change of reform but I want to see it continue. And I welcome the proposals, but I would like to see them implemented. And that would still leave a large imbalance in favor of the Soviets on many of these proposals -- not all of them. Some of them talk to get where we need to be engaged, because they talked to getting down to equal numbers. But no, I salute the man, as I said, for certain kinds of steps that he has taken. But I hope I'll be forgiven for being cautious and for being prudent and not for being stampeded into something that might prove to be no good for the alliance or not good for the United States.

Soviet President Gorbachev of the Soviet Union

Q. For President Mitterrand and also for President Bush. Mr. Gorbachev has been described by the President's spokesman as a "drugstore cowboy." Do you agree with this description? -- a question for both Presidents.

President Mitterrand. I think that one must be wary of caricatures. Mr. Gorbachev is worth very much more than that.

President Bush. So much for Marlin. In fairness to the man -- --

Mr. Fitzwater. No, don't defend me.

President Bush. No, don't defend you? Which I would be perfectly prepared to do.

Boston Harbor Cleanup

Q. Mr. President, being back in Boston, does it encourage you to do anything about restoring the money for the Boston Harbor that the Congress -- --

President Bush. Hey, I'm pleased that the cleanup seems to be going forward. How's that for an answer?

U.S. International Influence

Q. This is a question, I guess -- it's a question for both people. Do you believe that the American public is aware of the limits of American power and of your ability to really influence political events like those in China, Panama, and Europe?

President Mitterrand. Well, I think on these questions of influence -- influence can be of a material kind and military or peaceful. But it can also be of a moral kind and psychological. There's a whole rainbow, a whole range, of possibilities. Of course, the first problem that you're always up against is the problem of noninterference in other people's affairs. That being said -- but it's a question of human rights. One mustn't stop at that, and I think one must give priority to the public assertion of the basic principles of human rights, and that is what must be prevailed.

So, I think that, with reference to the countries you are mentioning, these principles should be recalled to the countries concerned. But recourse to arms is probably not the kind of method that is fully in tune with the requirements of our day. And to think that you can win whole populations over to your way of thinking by threatening them with guns or tanks is obviously wrong.

What is also very important, and more important, is to win over international public opinion, to mobilize public opinion, both within and without the country, so that those governments which fail in the respect of human rights will be, both within and without, with their backs to the wall on the subject. That being said, I know of no miracle cure in these matters, no unfailing method that always works. And if I were able to come here to Boston and someone could give me the golden key that would open all these doors, well, I'd be very happy and perhaps somewhat surprised.

American Hostages in Lebanon

Q. Mr. President, in your discussions this weekend concerning Lebanon, did you discuss the situation concerning the hostages, and have you any news concerning avenues that could be pursued towards their eventual release?

President Bush. On the hostages -- any avenues to pursue on that?

Q. Did you discuss it this weekend?

President Bush. Well, it was just touched on because -- but we discussed Lebanon in depth. And the hostage situation obviously continues to be on our mind, and President Mitterrand was most sympathetic -- the French people held various times against their will. And so, that underlies the concerns that I feel. But Lebanon transcends just our own keen interest in the hostage question: to see a once-peaceful country, where various factions could live together, now ripped asunder by war and by outside pressures, demands world action. And yet again, when you look at the alternatives, they aren't that clear. And we have called for the cease-fire, supporting the Arab League posture: getting foreign troops out of Lebanon and trying to have the election process go forward so you can have an elected president that fulfills the will of the people.

President Mitterrand was very helpful because he has a unique view of Lebanon, with France's history there. And yet I don't think either of us came up with a simple answer. I saluted what he tried to do when he encouraged the Secretary-General of the United Nations to go there. But for various reasons, that did not work out. So, we did talk about a couple of other specific approaches that we might take, which I think should remain confidential. But it was discussed in detail. It is a matter of enormous urgency. And in the United States, of course, you heard Cardinal Law [Archbishop of Boston] today appropriately singling out Lebanon because of the religious divisions there. And I wish there was an easy answer to it, and the United States stands ready to help, if we can.

We're off. Thank you.

President Mitterrand. Thank you.

Note: President Bush's 12th news conference began at 1:28 p.m. on Dickerson Field at Boston University. President Mitterrand spoke in French, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter. Marlin Fitzwater was President Bush's Press Secretary. Following the news conference, President Bush returned to Washington, DC.

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

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