Written Responses to Questions Submitted by Foreign Publications
U.S.-Soviet Summit Meeting
Q. Mr. President, if you would get the possibility of replaying the summit with Mr. Gorbachev, would you change anything in what you did and said in Geneva? Would it have been possible to produce better results?
The President. I met with Mr. Gorbachev for 15 hours, and 5 of those hours were spent in private conversations together, one on one. As Mr. Gorbachev has said, we did a lot of work together. We were both frank and serious in discussing our points of view. I told him exactly what I wanted to, and I found Mr. Gorbachev to be energetic and clear in making his points. I'm ready for the difficult, step-by-step work it will take to achieve lasting results in arms control, human rights, on regional issues, and in bilateral and other vital areas. Important as they were, our words in Geneva were not as important as the deeds that must follow them if we are to reduce the mistrust and suspicions between us. I believe Mr. Gorbachev and I have made a fresh start.
Strategic Defense Initiative
Q. Mr. President, you are pursuing a military program, the SDI, that will last some years before producing results. How can you be sure that your successor will not abandon the program? How can you assure the allies about the continuity of this initiative?
The President. No freely elected leader can guarantee the actions of his successors. Our allies understand this. They also understand, however, that democracies tend to sustain those defense programs that are vital to their national interests and to the defense of freedom. I believe that the Strategic Defense Initiative is one of those programs. You must keep in mind that SDI is, at this stage, a research program designed to answer basic questions about whether defenses against ballistic missiles are feasible. This effort enjoys broad bipartisan support in the United States. Over the longer term, if we find that strategic defenses are feasible, I believe that SDI will continue to command support because it holds out the promise of effective deterrence through defense, rather than through the threat of massive death and destruction. It will endure because it offers the hope of creating a safer, more stable world and of someday rendering nuclear weapons obsolete.
Italy's International Role
Q. Mr. President, in the last few years, Italy has become more active on the international scene, not always in full agreement with the American policy. How do you assess this more autonomous role of Italy, for instance in the Middle East, and do you see any danger of potential misunderstandings or concerns in U.S.-Italian relations?
The President. We assess Italy's international role as positive. For instance, Italy has played a valued role in Middle East peacekeeping by its participation in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the Sinai multinational force. Italy and the United States sometimes have differing assessments on how best to promote the Middle East peace process. But both Italy and the United States firmly support the peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and Israel's right to exist behind secure and recognized boundaries. I do not see a danger of misunderstandings in Italo-American relations. We will continue to stay in close touch and consult with each other in a manner befitting our very friendly relations. The United States certainly intends to do this, and we are confident Italy has the same desire.
West German Participation in SDI
Q. The Government of the German Federal Republic is at the moment taking a decision about a German participation in SDI and has been attacked by Moscow for doing so. How significant would this kind of partnership in SDI be for the U.S.A. from a political and technological point of view?
The President. The United States appreciates the unique achievements of the Federal Republic of Germany in technologies which could have direct applications in the Strategic Defense Initiative research. The technical expertise and scientific capabilities of German institutions and corporations involved in advanced research would be helpful and very welcome. We believe that the technological results of joint efforts will lead to enhanced security for the alliance as a whole and that the participation of the Federal Republic of Germany and other NATO allies in the research effort itself will foster closer cooperation within NATO.
Q. The question of chemical weapons is becoming a matter of growing anxiety in Europe. Can we expect a new American initiative for a worldwide ban of these weapons in the near future?
The President. We are firmly committed to reaching agreement on an effective, comprehensive, and verifiable global ban on all chemical weapons. As you may know, Vice President Bush tabled a draft chemical weapons treaty at the Conference on Disarmament in April 1984. This treaty would ban chemical weapons throughout the world. Since then, we have worked closely with our allies and others to improve upon our draft provisions and to press for progress in the Geneva Conference on Disarmament negotiations. We feel, however, that the negotiations on that treaty, particularly with regard to the essential verification measures, have not progressed as rapidly as they should.
This was one of the issues which I discussed in Geneva with General Secretary Gorbachev. I was heartened that we could record our agreement in the joint statement to accelerate our efforts to conclude an effective and verifiable global ban. We also agreed to intensify bilateral discussions on all aspects on such a chemical weapons ban, including verification questions. Further, we agreed to initiate a dialog on preventing the proliferation of chemical weapons. The United States has often expressed concern with the spread of chemical weapons, particularly with regard to instances of chemical weapon use. We welcome Mr. Gorbachev's expression of interest in this problem and hope the U.S.S.R. will take concrete steps to help deal with it. Ultimately, the way to stem the spread of chemical weapons is to conclude an effective and verifiable global ban on them. Until such a ban is achieved, it is important that the United States retain a modern and credible deterrent against the existing Soviet chemical weapon capability.
U.S.-Soviet Summit Meeting
Q. Is Mr. Gorbachev a man—to quote Mrs. Thatcher—one can do business with? What has been for you the most surprising aspect and impression of this meeting?
The President. Since I took office, I have sought to deal realistically with the U.S.S.R. We are all aware of the facts of the past 40 years of international relations. The basis for my meeting with General Secretary Gorbachev was 5 years of firm and consistent policies pursued by the United States and its allies. It was on this basis that I came to Geneva, ready for a constructive dialog and to make a fresh start. In Geneva, I spent a good deal of time with Mr. Gorbachev, including 5 hours in one-on-one conversations. I found him an energetic exponent of Soviet policy and a good listener. Our exchanges were lively, open, and serious. We had a lot of give-and-take. We agreed on some things and disagreed on much else. But we agreed that deeds, and not words, will be necessary to make real and lasting progress in our relations. We are ready and eager for step-by-step progress in the months ahead.
Intermediate-Range Nuclear Weapons
Q. When do you expect an agreement on intermediate-range missiles, separate from the other negotiations, and if there will be an agreement before 1988, is there a possibility that Holland won't need to deploy the cruise missile?
The President. As you know, the United States made a new proposal on intermediate nuclear forces (INF) systems at the end of the last round of the Geneva arms talks. This new proposal, drawing on the positive elements of the Soviet INF counterproposal made during the round, establishes an interim ceiling on United States and Soviet longer range INF launchers in Europe or in range of NATO Europe, but allows freedom to mix under that ceiling. The Soviet Union has not yet fully responded to our new proposal, which we intend to pursue when the talks resume in January.
Although there are significant differences which still separate the sides, General Secretary Gorbachev and I have agreed that our arms control negotiators should accelerate their work toward arms control agreements which provide for significant reductions and increased stability and which can be effectively verified. As we noted in our joint statement of November 21, both sides have called for early progress on an interim INF agreement. Further, I would note that the Government of the Netherlands has stated that it would accept its proportional share of cruise missiles under the terms of an INF agreement which provides for reductions in U.S. and Soviet LRINF missiles. If the Soviet Union were to agree to the United States objective in INF, the total ban on LRINF missiles, that would of course be a significant step toward improving stability and prospects for peace.
Trade With the Soviet Union
Q. In the area of more cooperation with the Soviet Union, are you prepared to soften your policy on high-tech exports to Eastern Europe, and is the new American-Russian nuclear fusion project a first step in that direction?
The President. While the United States favors mutually beneficial, nonstrategic trade with the Soviet Union and its allies, we maintain export controls to ensure that American exports to these destinations do not undercut our security interests. In addition, we, our NATO allies, and Japan control strategic exports to the Soviet Union through COCOM. COCOM maintains a list of controlled items with potential military significance which cannot be exported to the Soviet Union or its allies without special approval. Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, we and our COCOM partners have followed a policy of strictly enforcing these controls. We generally do not authorize exports to the Soviet Union of items on the COCOM control list. This policy will be continued. Cooperative fusion research with the Soviets would not result in the transfer of COCOM controlled technology to the Soviet Union. American and allied participation in the fusion project would be carried out within existing COCOM guidelines to prevent transfer of sensitive technology with military potential.
Q. If human rights are so important for you, as you pointed out to Mr. Gorbachev, why don't you push harder on human rights for the black majority in South Africa?
The President. We have been doing all we can to foster the development of a just society in South Africa, and will continue to do so. My administration has on repeated occasions publicly condemned the system of apartheid as systematic racial discrimination that denies the black majority its unalienable rights. We have done so even more often in private discussions with officials of the South African Government. American policy is based on ensuring peaceful change in South Africa. Change is inevitable. The issue, in our view, is not whether apartheid is to be dismantled, but how and when. All men of good will want to see it replaced by a just society, not through a racial conflagration where the people could well exchange one oppressor for another. To encourage peaceful change, on September 9, I ordered a set of measures aimed against the machinery of apartheid. We favor actions against the racist system, not actions that would penalize the black population in South Africa or the peoples of the neighboring states.
Q. Your perceptions of the Soviet leadership, its policies, interests, and long-term aims seem to have changed during your time in office. Is this a normal development, reflecting changing times, preoccupations, and interests in the U.S., or do you see a different type of leadership at work in the Kremlin with a real prospect for change?
The President. Our policy toward the Soviet Union is based on a long-term and realistic understanding of the differences between us. We are all aware of the lessons of the past 40 years. We have no illusions about the nature of communism and Soviet foreign policy. We must not hold out hopes for immediate, dramatic change. Given these facts, our relations with the U.S.S.R. have been and will continue to be essentially competitive. At the same time, we must and will ensure that our competition remains peaceful. As I have said many times, and as General Secretary Gorbachev and I agreed in Geneva, a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. We must strive for real progress in human rights, regional issues, arms control, bilateral and other areas wherever we can. In Geneva, a new Soviet leader and I made a fresh start. I have no illusions, but I do have hope. And I hope and believe Mr. Gorbachev is ready, as I am ready, for the hard, productive work that lies ahead.
Q. The Swiss people will vote next spring on whether, finally, to join the United Nations. American skepticism towards this body seems to have grown in the last decade. What is your view of the role the U.N. plays and should play in the modern world?
The President. The United Nations has not been a panacea for all of the world's problems as some expected. Nevertheless, it has been and can be a force for great good. The U.N.'s peacekeeping and peacemaking efforts have been important at many critical times, for example, in Korea, the Congo, Cyprus, and in the Middle East. Many of its specialized agencies have served the purposes for which they were intended and performed valuable services in the fields of health, economic assistance and development, care of refugees, and in various other humanitarian and technical areas. While acknowledging the U.N.'s achievements, we must not close our eyes to its disappointments: its failures to deal effectively with essential security issues, the politicization of too many of its agencies, the misuse of too many resources. Given the divided state of the world, realism demands we recognize the U.N.'s limitations. But we must not overlook its real potential and opportunities, opportunities that for the good of mankind we cannot afford to waste. The principles of the U.N. Charter are as valid today as in 1945 and provide a guide for action. If the member states live up to them, the U.N. can be the means to a better and safer world.
Note: The questions were submitted by Corriere Della Sera, of Italy; Die Welt, of the Federal Republic of Germany; NRC Handelsblad, of the Netherlands; and Neue Zurcher Zeitung, of Switzerland. The questions and answers were released by the Office of the Press Secretary on December 11.
Ronald Reagan, Written Responses to Questions Submitted by Foreign Publications Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/259353