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The President's News Conference With Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez of Spain in Madrid

October 29, 1991

The President. I simply want to thank Prime Minister Gonzalez, and also Foreign Minister Ordonez for this fantastic cooperation and leadership on this conference. In a very short period of time, Spain has pulled this whole thing together, and everyone I've talked to tells me that it has been just nothing short of a miracle. And of course, I am very grateful for the hospitality, but also for the way they've handled these arrangements. And so, I want to thank the Prime Minister and everybody else involved in these wonderful arrangements.

In terms of U.S.-Spain bilateral relations, they are very, very good. We, of course, are excited about 1992, the quincentenary of Columbus' first voyage to America. That all can wait until after this visit, but nevertheless, we're here at the beginning of interesting times in terms of U.S.-Spanish relations which I can attest to are very, very good.

But my sincere thanks to you, sir, for all you've done to facilitate the convening of this historic conference.

Spain's Role in Middle East Peace Process

Q. I would like to ask President Bush what do you think about Spain's cooperation in the future in the peace process in the Near East after the Madrid conference is over and for the future phases where they might also have a role? And we would like to know if this visit excludes the fact that in July of '92 you will be here; does this exclude the fact? Thank you.

The President. First, this visit here does not exclude future visits of any kind although we have no firm schedule for my own personal travel in 1992.

Secondly, because your Prime Minister is widely respected in the countries that are participating, who knows what the future role of Spain will be? And it could well be in terms of -- they've already offered the facilities for ongoing talks, one kind or another, bilateral talks. And so, Spain having demonstrated not only its interest but your Prime Minister having demonstrated his knowledge about the area, I would say we'll just have to wait and see, see what the parties want. But they've already served in an extraordinarily useful role in hosting this conference.

Q. President Bush, at a meeting that you had in Camp David when you met the King of Spain, was that when you decided that Spain would be the perfect place? Could you tell us a little bit about what happened? Was it your proposal? Was it the King's proposal? We'd really like to know a little bit more about how Spain was chosen. Thank you, sir.

The President. No, I think Secretary Baker has explained it very well that it had to be a place where the participants would feel at home and comfortable, and Spain immediately came to the fore. I can't say that other sites were not considered. I believe there was some consideration given to The Hague, some consideration given to a spot, Lausanne, I believe, in Switzerland. But Spain emerged, as the leading choice. And with all great respect for His Majesty -- and I might say what a joy it was to Barbara and me to have the King and Queen of Spain at Camp David -- that matter was not decided at that level.

Prospects for Peace in the Middle East

Q. Mr. President, 10 days ago or just about, Secretary Baker did not want to make, to predict chances of success of this conference. Four days ago the French President Mitterrand did not want to do it again. Now, just the day of the conference, how do you rate chances of success? And also from President Gonzalez I would like to hear his own impression. Thank you.

The President. I rate it the same way that Secretary Baker did 10 days ago, not wanting to rate it or quantify that. But the very fact that it's taking place, the very fact that the parties are coming together is, I think, an important sign that there is a chance for success. But I think we would all agree that there's a lot of hard negotiation between the parties to take place before we can say with joy in our hearts that there will be lasting peace in the Middle East. So, I can't quantify it for you, but I'd say that I'm more optimistic today just because we're this much closer to the actual convening of the conference.

The Prime Minister. Years ago, we had hoped that something would lead to negotiations in this region, and it seems that we finally have something that is going to lead to these conversations. For the first time in 43 years, we have the possibility of dialog in this region, and I think that this is really hope for all of us.

Latin America

Q. We would like to know what you talked about this afternoon. And we would like to know if you mentioned Cuba and if you talked about new ideas in the Caribbean area.

The Prime Minister. There has been nothing but very pleasant and friendly conversation. We reviewed the conference itself, the peace conference, and we've also reviewed the situation in Central America. We didn't mention Cuba except a passing mention. We talked about the situation in Europe and the Soviet Union. And the meeting was very friendly and very cordial, as President Bush has just said.

The President. May I add a word to that, please? Prime Minister Gonzalez has a very special standing in South America, Central America, and the leaders there turn to him often for advice and counsel, as we do. So when we talk, for example, today about Salvador, his role as a special "friend" of the Secretary-General, you're familiar with the term "friend" to the Secretary-General, we can talk to a man who has established not only his knowledge and his interest in the area but has a following in the area.

So, the visit from my standpoint did not relate simply to the conference, nor to bilateral relations between Spain and the United States but getting his views once again on matters affecting our own hemisphere, including the antinarcotics business. So, we spent maybe 10 minutes talking about that and getting his ideas on that.

U.S. Assurances to Peace Conference Participants

Q. Mr. President, assurances were given to each of the parties by Secretary Baker on your behalf. Do each of the parties know what assurances were given? When will the American people know these assurances, since we obviously will be responsible for any commitments you've made?

The President. Well, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International], I'd have to refer that question to the Secretary of State. And I think the American people have a right to know these things, but I think sometimes when you're having quiet negotiations to make something happen, the American people assign their trust to the President, to the Secretary of State to conduct these sensitive matters. This conference is historic. And there's nothing that's going to be of difficulty for the American people in any way; I can assure you that. But I would simply leave to Jim any discussion of any details of that nature.

Q. Will they be made public at any point?

The President. I don't even know what you're talking about. What ones are you referring to?

Q. We understand assurances were made to each party -- --

The President. Like what?

Q. -- -- to bring them to the table. We don't know.

The President. Well, they're here, put it that way. And we're very, very pleased, and I don't think there are any secret covenants if that's what you're getting at. But I'm sorry, I just don't know what you're talking about. But let me refer you to the Secretary of State on this.

Q. White House officials have said that there are assurances.

The President. Well, assurances -- I mean, there are certain things in our policy that we're -- assure all the time.

Terrorism on the West Bank

Q. To Mr. Bush. Do you believe that the violence in the Middle East the last 36, 48 hours was an attempt to disrupt the peace talks before they begin? And if you do, your comments on such tactics.

The President. Condemning such tactics -- total condemnation of the kind of violence we've seen. And if they were designed to disrupt the conference, let's hope they fail. And I think it's just one more, actually, these terrorist acts of violence are one more reason I'd like to see this conference succeed. So people will not resort to the violence in the future that they have resorted to in the past.

Q. Prime Minister Gonzalez, your comments as well?

The Prime Minister. I apologize, but we really don't have much time left. I'm trying to get an international balance here. From on that side -- --


Q. Mr. President, what will be the role of Spain in the new world order?

The President. A very respected partner who stands for peace and democracy and whose leaders are respected around the world. And I think that the fact that we consult very closely with Prime Minister Gonzalez on various matters, and I've touched on some of them: the Middle East; touched on our own hemisphere; I remember talking to him at the time of Desert Storm -- means that we, as far as the United States goes, Spain has a very special standing and can be extraordinarily helpful in terms of world peace. So, you have to see what the situation is, but I've given you some examples of where they've already played a very constructive role.

United Nations' Role

Q. Do you miss the United Nations in this conference? And why have you allowed Israel not to pay any attention to the U.N. for many years?

The President. I think the conference is properly structured. The United Nations, we've all seen, has come into a very important new phase in its existence, fulfilling the dreams of some of its founding fathers in terms of peacemaking, peacekeeping in various parts of the world. The standing up against the aggression caused by Iraq is perhaps the foremost example. But they're also playing a useful role, still, in trying to achieve peace in Cyprus. They're trying very hard, the Secretary-General is, in El Salvador. And you look around the world, and they are very active, constructively so, in many areas.

In this particular area, because of the view of some of the parties, it was deemed better to go forward in the way the conference is structured now. But that isn't to denigrate the United Nations. Israel, I think everybody knows the history, feels that in the United Nations they are ganged up on. That's their view, and they're an important player here. And their views had to be considered as this conference was structured. I think other countries in the area that are going to be participating clearly went along with this.

The Prime Minister. As far as I remember, Secretary Baker and Secretary Pankin talked about 338 and 242, the United Nations -- [inaudible] -- that finally have started a dialog, a dialog that everyone has waited for, for such a long time.

Prospects for Bilateral Negotiations

Q. For President Bush: Sir, do you know any reason at this point why the bilateral negotiations would not get underway, and can you tell us what day they're scheduled to start?

The President. The bilateral negotiations that would follow this opening session? No, I know of no reason why, I mean, I can think of a lot of conditions, but it's not helpful to go in and elaborate on everything that might go wrong. What I want to do is point out what might go right. And what might go right is these countries realize that this is the best hope for peace.

And I think that's what I will be talking about in my opening remarks tomorrow. I expect President Gorbachev will be talking about the same thing. So, I see no built-in stumbling block that will keep these talks from going forward, if I'm interpreting your question correctly.

Q. What day will they begin?

The President. I can't answer that. I just don't know. I think all that has to be negotiated out.

The Prime Minister. Thank you, very much, and the first time we're 5 minutes late. Thank you, very much.

Note: The President's 108th news conference began at 7:03 p.m. in the Moncloa Palace. The following persons were referred to: Foreign Minister Francisco Fernandez-Ordonez of Spain; King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sophia of Spain: Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar of the United Nations; and Foreign Minister Boris D. Pankin of the Soviet Union.

George Bush, The President's News Conference With Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez of Spain in Madrid Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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