Public Papers

Remarks on Legislation To Amend the Clean Air Act and an Exchange With Reporters in Los Angeles, California


The President. Let me just say I wanted to make one comment, and then we're going about our business here. A compromise has been worked out in a bipartisan fashion on a clean air bill, and I'm grateful to the Senators who participated in this compromise. It is the best in bipartisanship.

I'm also grateful to those in the administration -- the EPA, our Chief of Staff, Roger Porter -- who worked with the leadership and rank-and-file Senators to hammer out this compromise. And now I would encourage the Senate, this hard work having resulted in a good clean air bill, to move forward promptly; and then let's get it over to the House and do something to clean up the air in this country. It's a very big forward step; and I am very proud of the team, in the Congress and in the administration, that achieved these results. It took a lot of hard work, a lot of compromise.

Q. Mr. President, even as this compromise was reached today, as you're no doubt aware, many in the environmental community are questioning your commitment as an environmentalist because of the continuing reports of infighting between your Chief of Staff and your EPA Administrator over watering down such things as global warming and this compromised legislation. What do you say to that?

The President. I say they're crazy. I say they're wrong. You can't play to the extremes. I say take a look at this compromise in this landmark clean air legislation. It has been agreed to by the Democratic leaders, the Republican leaders, and a lot of the rank-and-file Senators in the Senate; and that lays to rest any such ridiculous allegations. Our EPA Chief is doing a great job. My Chief of Staff is doing a great job. This always trying to get on the inside baseball stuff -- the American people are not interested in that. What they're interested in is cleaning up the air. And now we've made a good breakthrough on that. So, that's what I'd say to them.

And look, I've learned something. You're never going to keep the extremes happy. I'm not going to shut down this country. But I am going to help clean up the air, and that's exactly what this compromise results in.

Now, I've got to run because we're off for a very -- one final question.

U.S. Hostages in Lebanon

Q. There are all kinds of reports that there's some kind of a breakthrough and that you have been involved in direct, indirect, secret talks over the hostages. Can you enlighten us?

The President. Well, I don't spend a day that I don't think about the hostages, but there are no secret talks going on. And I have read some of the most ridiculous stories, printed with anonymous sources, failing to do anything other than repeat rumors. I hope the hostages will be released. And if I see an opportunity to talk in private or in public about this to get them released, I'll do it. But I can tell you, Lesley [Lesley Stahl, CBS News], that it's not -- I saw a report the other day printed -- I hope it wasn't on the air -- about talking to the French President about something of this nature. There never was such a conversation. I said so. I believe we shot it down, and then today I see it comes up again. There's something going on that's crazy. But there are no talks going on.

I saw ones in Geneva. I saw that there were talks in Geneva. And so, I immediately got a hold of our top people, Brent Scowcroft, and said: Look, work through the system. Are there any talks? Have there been any -- direct, indirect -- in Geneva? And he said no.

Now, let me tell you something. If I thought a talk in Geneva would result in letting people go free, I would undertake the talk. And if I thought the way to conduct that talk was to do it quietly, I would do it in that manner. If I thought the best way to get the hostages out were to publicly have talks in Geneva, I would do that. But there aren't any, and I'm glad to have this opportunity to be as definitive as possible.

Q. How come you wanted to ask Scowcroft?

The President. Because he's the one that works through the system. He's the one that calls the State Department. He's the one that does the President's bidding when it comes to national security matters.

Q. Are there talks underway now between the U.S. and the Syrians on the hostage issue?

The President. No talks. I've told you there are no talks underway that I know about.

Q. Is there any movement at all?

The President. I hope so. I sure hope so. I'd love to see them release these hostages. And I will do everything I can, privately, openly -- whatever it takes -- to get them out of there without trading for hostages. We're not in the negotiating process. But Iran knows from the very first day I've been President that good will will beget good will, and good will means releasing kidnaped prisoners. And so, that's where it stands.

Meeting With Japanese Prime Minister Kaifu

Q. Are you going to get something with Kaifu tomorrow, Mr. President?

The President. I'm looking forward to visiting with the Prime Minister in a very important relationship. I look forward to it.


Q. Mr. President, are you worried that the contras are not going to lay down their arms?

The President. No, I'm not worried. They will.

Note: The President spoke at 9:40 a.m. at the Century Plaza Hotel, prior to his departure for the North Los Angeles County Correctional Facility. In his remarks, he referred to John H. Sununu, Chief of Staff to the President; Roger B. Porter, Assistant to the President for Economic and Domestic Policy; President Francois Mitterrand of France; and Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.