Public Papers

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Members of the American Society of Newspaper Editors


The President. To President Ghiglione and distinguished guests, thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here. I see Hans-Dietrich Genscher here, the Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany, and I want to single him out and salute him and tell him how much I value the most cordial relations between the Government of the Federal Republic and the Government of the United States of America. And this man has done an awful lot to make those relations better. So, Hans-Dietrich, glad to see you here, sir.

You all understand our system, so I'm looking around to see if I see any Members of Congress to salute. [Laughter] But they adjourned and have all taken off for some exotic place, I'm sure. But I am told that the Governor of the State of Michigan is here, or was to be here. But if he is, I want to pay my respects to Governor Blanchard and all the distinguished guests.

Look, my remarks will be short. After all, ours is the Information Age, so I thought I'd leave sufficient time for questions and answers. But let me just talk for a few minutes about how, as information travels from one place to another in the blink of an eye, our world has become even smaller; so that what happens in Texarkana affects Tokyo or Tbilisi. Like you, I find the Information Age fascinating. Its consequences are many, from the growing global demand for a safe and clean environment to nations uniting against the scourge of crime and drugs. The Information Age has helped liberty spread from Nicaragua to the heart of Central Europe -- what I call the Revolution of '89. For as people come to know more of the free world, they demand their own world of freedom: free elections, free markets, free will unhampered by the state.

As you know, I met this morning with Foreign Minister Shevardnadze, and Lithuania was the key point of discussion. I reiterated the strong United States view that the issue must be dealt with through peaceful means. And we support the right of the Lithuanian people to self-determination. We have never recognized the forcible incorporation of the Baltic States into the Soviet Union. And I told Minister Shevardnadze that this is an issue that could adversely affect the prospects for progress in these important U.S.-Soviet relations. And I urged the Soviet Union to begin a good-faith dialog with Lithuania.

We want, and we believe the Soviets want, to make further progress in U.S.-Soviet relations. And we're working toward important agreements in the area of arms control and to make progress on human rights and the solution of these regional conflicts. I asked him to convey to President Gorbachev that I am looking forward to his visit to the United States at the end of May. This is an important time for discussion and dialog.

America's newspapers, of course, will report the news of this morning's meeting, just as they have for centuries, telling the truth, informing the public as fairly and responsibly as possible, and letting the chips fall where they may. And I know that the best example of today's Information Age will continue to be a free press.

What makes the Revolution of '89 so unprecedented is that at last an increasing number of foreign journalists are also free as well as able to write the truth without censorship or without fear -- reporters, commentators, and editors abroad who have gone from instruments of the state to servants of the people.

Let me take a moment to note one journalist who is not free and who is in our thoughts. Of course, I'm talking about Terry Anderson, and we hope and pray that he will soon be free. And he, more than anyone, would be moved by the men and women who in 1989 and '90 have upheld the tradition of a courageous free press.

In Czechoslovakia, a playwright becomes President. Both his Foreign Minister and chief spokesman are former journalists persecuted by the Communist regime for years.

In Colombia, the respected editor of El Espectador is slain by assassins, but the murdered editor's brother becomes publisher and vows to fight -- and does. ``We cannot back down,'' he says. A bomb last year injured over 70 employees of that same newspaper, and most of its facilities were wiped out, totally destroyed. But the next day, an edition hits the streets, printed by a competing paper's facilities. The front-page headline says, ``We Will Continue'' -- and they do. And let me commend those U.S. papers which bought ads in that paper to show support.

And in Nicaragua, Violeta Chamorro, former editor, wife of a murdered publisher, becomes President in certifiably free elections -- President of the land that they love. Freedom of the press begets freedom of people.

This week, our talks with Japan focused on another aspect of freedom: the ability of people to trade and invest as they wish. This morning I read a quote by a Japanese businessman that demonstrated this point. He was talking about the essence of private enterprise: competition. What the Americans are saying, he said, about keeping prices low and quality high -- they are talking about democracy.

Last night Japan and the United States released that interim report on our Structural Impediments Initiative designed to remove structural barriers to trade in both countries. This SII is a unique undertaking and reflects enormous amounts of hard work on each side. The Government of Japan and Prime Minister Kaifu -- and I salute him -- have shown true leadership. And the Prime Minister, in particular, deserves major credit. He made success on trade and economic negotiations with us his top priority, and in 1 month, we have had real success.

For the first time, Japan has committed to removing a broad array of structural barriers that constrain trade and impede imports. For its part, the United States will continue to address the structural issues identified by Japan by improving the competitiveness of our own economy -- because structural problems are deeply ingrained in both economies.

Complete results will not come quickly, therefore, but they can and they must come. Neither the Japanese consumer nor the American people will be convinced that progress is at hand until they see concrete results. And this interim report shows not only substantial progress on trade issues but is an important way station leading to a strengthened U.S.-Japan relationship.

The Information Age has served as a catalyst of cooperation, a conduit of knowledge, and an advocate of freedom. As events of the past year have shown, the free press represents the very essence of that age, and you've helped write the first draft of history and breathed new life into democracy.

And for that, I thank you and congratulate you on this significant anniversary. God bless you all. Many thanks for inviting me. And now to the fun part. [Laughter]

Press Coverage of U.S. Troops in Combat

Mr. Ghiglione. The President has agreed to take questions. As is quite clear, members of the society only may ask questions. Please step up to one of the floor mikes, and please identify yourself by your name and your newspaper. If I may exercise the presidential prerogative, Mr. President, and ask the first question.

Given that the experience of the press pool in Panama again proved that this arrangement for covering the early stages of a military action is not working, and given that Secretary Cheney essentially told this society on Wednesday that the issue is closed, would you be willing to ask the Secretary to meet with ASNE and other press representatives to forge a plan that will work? And how soon? [Laughter]

The President. Sure. Knowing Dick Cheney, I expect he'd welcome such a meeting. But if there's any complications, I will encourage him to do it. And we ought to talk about a wide array of things on that press pool. I notified the Members of Congress at the time, or just before the operation began, and one of them told me that he'd already received a call from a great paper asking him about this. The person that called him had a compadre on the pool who had felt free to tell this person about it, and that person had notified a very important Member of Congress before the President could.

So, I think we should have some discussions. And I think, for those who were in the press pool and felt that they weren't given access, we certainly ought to go the extra mile to see that they get access when they get there. When you're involved in a combat situation, I don't need to tell people in this room there are constraints. But, yes, I'd welcome such a meeting, and I'd be very anxious to hear how it comes out. But I expect Dick will be glad to do it. And I want to commit my man, Marlin Fitzwater [Press Secretary to the President], to attend over there, too, because we are trying. And heaven knows, we can use some suggestions.

Middle East Peace Process

Q. Mr. President, this is a followup to a question I asked you in December here at a meeting of editors -- [laughter] -- in which your answer was that the United States definitely was not going to try to pressure Israel to negotiate with the PLO. Some people seem to see signs now that this government is pressuring Israel by trying to establish linkages between aid and the Israeli Government's performance. And also, there is speculation that President Carter's meeting the day before yesterday with Mr. Arafat [Palestine Liberation Organization leader] and Mr. Mitterand [President of France], at which Mr. Carter was given an oriental rug by Mr. Arafat, that this had the blessing of your administration. I wonder if you would care to comment on these speculations.

The President. Let me -- and if I miss one, why, help me out. [Laughter] On President Carter, he was not acting with the blessing of, nor disapproval of, or anything else of the administration. He was acting in this meeting on his own. I knew nothing about it. And certainly the former President should be free to do his thing. That's exactly what he's doing.

In terms of pressuring Israel to meet with the PLO, that is not true, either. And there is no evidence to support the allegation that I sometimes hear that we are pressuring.

What I would like Israel to do is to meet under the Baker plan and discuss peace, and I'd like to see that happen. And nobody's tied any aid into that, and for that we get some criticism. I have no intention of tying aid into it, but I will keep reiterating that, my support for the Baker plan, the Shamir plan, the Mubarak plan, all of which are really basically one and the same thing. But one of Israel's fears was that they would be compelled to talk to the PLO, and we have made very clear to them in detailed negotiations that that was not the case.

Did I leave out one part?

Q. No, that's all.

The President. Okay, sir.

Military Base Closings

Q. Rather than asking you something difficult about catching bluefish off the Maine coast, let me try to focus on something simpler, such as the downsizing of the U.S. defense economy. What responsibilities do you think the Federal Government has to places like Saco, Kittery, and Bath, Maine, for retraining and retooling as the need for guns and ships diminishes?

The President. I'm a strong believer in the Job Training Partnership Act. I think the Federal Government does have a role in retraining. I think it's been clearly set out by our very able Secretary of Labor. But I'll say this: One of the most difficult things there is -- as you're trying to get control of defense costs -- is to close a base, because instantly the most committed dove becomes the most flaming hawk if the base is in his or her district.

And what I'm encouraging people to do is to look at what's happened where bases and facilities have closed, and for the most part, I think you'll find that the economy compensates and takes care of people. But training should be a very important part of it. That gets me to the fundamental point that you're not going to get job opportunity in a stagnant economy or in an economy that is in recession. So, a fundamental obligation on a President is to keep this longest peacetime expansion in history going.

But I don't worry too much about when a person is put out of work by a defense contract provided the overall economy is sound, because I think history shows the economy can absorb an awful lot of people in very different enterprises.

So, we'll keep on trying to close facilities that aren't needed, don't have priority; and it is very difficult to do that. But I know this area you're talking about. I think some areas in New England have been adversely affected, not necessarily by defense cuts. And I do think we have a role in job retraining.

Soviet-U.S. Summit

Q. Will you bring Gorbachev to Kennebunkport?

The President. I'm not sure. Well, we haven't made any determination on that. We've set the dates for this summit, and most of the summit will clearly be in Washington, DC. But beyond that the agenda, the timeframe, is open.

Lithuania and Panama

Q. After this nation has invaded a sovereign nation -- Panama -- aren't we being a little bit hypocritical telling the Soviet Union what to do in Lithuania?

The President. No, I don't think so, and I don't think we are telling them what to do. We're telling them what not to do. [Laughter] We're telling them what not to do, and that is: Don't use force. Do what you yourselves say you want to do -- dialog, discuss, do not use force -- because we have an awful lot at stake in the U.S.-Soviet relationship, an enormous amount at stake. It gets into arms control; it gets into human rights, the exodus of Soviet Jews; it gets into regional questions. And this is a major relationship that affects the lives of people all over the world.

I see the able Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic nodding. And I'm not going to violate a confidence, but he points out to me how important this relationship is in arms control and on the peace of an emerging democratic Europe and everything else. So, I want to keep that going. So, we're not dictating or attempting to. We couldn't do it anyway. But we are saying that we want it to be peaceful.

Of course, the Panama -- I think that when you see democracy working and you see the tremendous support for what happened, you see the will of the people that was expressed in free democratic elections, and then had that will aborted by a dictator -- why, I think that situation speaks for itself. My only hope is that we can move briskly forward and help that democracy, because the Congress got out of town without appropriating the funds that I wanted to see brought to bear on helping the people finalize and make more formal their democracy.

Chinese Immigration Relief

Q. Mr. President, you refer in your remarks to the Revolution of 1989, but in China there was what some people would call a counterrevolution. Do you think the Chinese students who are in this country now have a legitimate fear for their safety if they return to China? And if you do, are you willing in some more formal way to guarantee that they will have an indefinite status on their visas, perhaps in the form of the Executive order you talked about when you vetoed the congressional legislation on this subject?

The President. First, I don't know that I know the answer, but some might. And that's why I took far-reaching action that went well beyond the Pelosi bill. And I'm confident that it was the right thing to do.

You raise a technical question that is now being raised about whether I -- I did say I was going to have an Executive order, and what we had was an Executive directive from the President. But I'll tell you what I am going to do. First of all, there are two provisions out there that I want to expand on. And I will have an Executive order, and it will direct the Attorney General to extend the deferral of enforced departure for Chinese nationals which is currently scheduled to expire on June 5th. This was not covered under the Pelosi bill, and it takes care of the hypothesis in your questions, because we don't want to take a chance on somebody being mistreated, brutalized if you will. And so, I think that will be helpful.

The second one is directing that steps be taken to alleviate concerns that have arisen recently about the revocation by the Chinese Government of passports belonging to Chinese nationals. This is a technical INS, Immigration Nationalization Service, question that's come up. So, these two provisions will be in the Executive order. And, then, to allay any concerns and some of these allegations against us, I will put into the Executive order all of the provisions that were in the Presidential directive that we immediately put into effect and that has been implemented by the Attorney General. And I think that will certainly convince people, those that might be skeptical, that I have every intention of keeping my word. We have kept it by this Presidential directive. But I did say Executive order, so this will formalize it in an official Executive order fashion.

Q. May I follow up briefly, sir? Would the terms of whatever this instrument is say that this is open-ended and indefinite, or will it be a postponement for a fixed period of time?

The President. Well, there are a whole bunch of provisions. This one I referred to will extend it from June 5th to 1994. I believe it's January 1st, 1994.

Federal Budget Deficit

Q. Good afternoon, Mr. President. On the outside chance that I would have an opportunity to ask a question today, I made an impromptu visit with about 30 of our readers, to ask them if they were here personally, what they might ask you. And almost invariably, they were concerned about the deficit. Why, they want to know, does it seem that everybody's talking about it, but nobody seems to be able to do anything about it?

The President. Well, we're trying to do something about it. The next move is up to the Congress. Under the law, they should have budgets by the budget committees on April 1st. Regrettably, April 1st has passed, and the Congress has not put their proposal on the table. But then, when that is done -- and I think the committees will be addressing themselves to that, both the budget committee of the House, budget committee of the Senate -- when they do that, then there will inevitably follow negotiations that hopefully will lead to a guarantee of the budget deficit going down.

But let me take this occasion to tell you one of the concerns I've got. We've got a lot of people around Washington that are saying, hey, why don't you raise taxes? Last week alone, we asked for a supplemental on Nicaragua and Panama and included in there were billion of spending that we did not request. We asked for clean air and there were some things we had to give on there that resulted in a great deal more spending. And there was another -- one other provision, one other piece of legislation -- I'm trying to think what it was -- last week that added -- three pieces of legislation -- substantially to spending.

And so, any agreement to get this budget deficit down is going to have to have some power in the Presidency of somewhere to guarantee that spending will be reduced. I use the Nicaragua-Panama as a clean shot. We feel there was an emergency there -- to help these two democracies. We went up there with, what I would recall, laser-like approach, and you find that the bill is increased by about billion. So, I would like to get the deficit down. Thank God we have a growing economy; the problem would be a lot worse if we didn't. But that's where it stands, and I think after I hear from these two committees what the Congress is willing to do, why, then we can have some serious negotiations about it.

Security Leaks

Q. Mr. President, I'd like to ask a question about leaks -- not the vegetable. [Laughter] Last year the Justice Department decided to take a tough stand on leaks and to aggressively investigate them with an eye toward prosecution. Since then they've launched several unsuccessful leak probes, including one much-publicized one -- cost almost a quarter of a million dollars and used 11 FBI agents for several months, but proved inconclusive.

Isn't it time to put the taxpayers' money to better use and lighten up on these investigations?

The President. That one has been unsuccessful. In that one, the interests of a Member of Congress were severely damaged, I think, and he felt so. And so, a legitimate attempt was undertaken to try to see that there not be any breaches of this nature. But I'll tell you this, chasing down leaks is pretty hard to do, extraordinarily hard to do. I don't think we've had any that are egregious to our fundamental national security interests. There may be some, but I can't cite some examples for you.

So, I don't think we want to be frivolous in this, but I believe that some things should be protected, and sometimes they say, well, I'm too secretive. But I don't accept that as a serious allegation. I don't know how to answer your question. I mean, if there's something really bad, why, I think we ought to find out what happened and punish the person that does something, if it's against the law, certainly.

But in this case, spent 0,000 -- you're telling me -- and didn't get anywhere, well, I can't be defending that as particularly prudent use of the taxpayers' money.

Q. Are you consulted before they decide to open an investigation on a leak?

The President. I was certainly consulted on that one and strongly supported the Attorney General of the United States.

Offshore Oil Drilling

Q. Mr. President, a lot of us in Florida are concerned with offshore oil drilling. A lot of us would like to see a permanent ban. Would you discuss your position on this?

The President. My position is, there shouldn't be a permanent ban on offshore drilling because then I would be compelled to ask the question: Where do we get the energy to keep this country going and to keep the working man and woman at work and heat the homes? So, I don't think there should be a ban, and I don't want to see the United States become increasingly dependent on foreign oil. We're up close to 50 percent right now. And some remember in this room when we had some real problems getting oil from the Persian Gulf for one reason or another.

Having said that, I think there will definitely be bans on certain environmentally sensitive areas. And what I don't understand is when a tanker bringing oil into California goes aground, people stop saying, hey, this proves you shouldn't have offshore drilling. I mean, do they want to ban tankers, too?

So, what we're trying to do -- you're from Florida, I'll tell you -- is to try to redefine sealanes so to protect the environmentally sensitive Everglades, in this case, and to not drill in areas that are highly sensitive environmentally. You're looking at a bone fisherman, one who likes to go down there and will be in a couple of weeks down at Islamorada. And I know enough about the Everglades and have been briefed enough on the environment of the Everglades to know that that ecological balance is highly sensitive. So, we will be announcing a policy that prohibits drilling in certain highly sensitive areas that will not ban -- your question was broad, you didn't say just in Florida, you said offshore drilling -- and we're not going to ban offshore drilling. It has been proved in my part of the country that offshore drilling can be done compatibly with sound environmental practice.

Negative Political Campaigning

Q. Mr. President, many people felt that your 1988 campaign was excessively negative. In fact, some people felt that the Willie Horton commercial was patently racist. There's a move in this country now to try to combat negative campaigning. David Broder has called it a genuine rebellion against the cheapening of our politics. And I think there are major conferences planned this year at University of Pennsylvania and Harvard.

My question is, are you aware of this movement, do you encourage it, and would you respond to it in your next campaign?

The President. I'm not aware of the conference he's talking about; I'm aware about the allegations. You repeated one. My campaign ad didn't happen to be a campaign ad by the Bush campaign that you're referring to. So, we've got to get the facts out there and deal from facts. But I'm against censorship. I think it would be extraordinarily difficult to censor. You wouldn't want it for your paper, and I don't want it for the campaign. And if there's a way to improve the quality and decency of campaigns, I'm all for it.

Q. Well, there's no suggestion of censorship here, just an appeal to more ethical campaigning.

The President. That would be fine. You might start with the Democrats in Texas. [Laughter] How come you didn't mention that one? I mean, I think there's a myth abroad, and people didn't want to look at the real issues. And I refuse to plead guilty to some of the charges made by, I think, rather biased sources suggesting that the campaign was something that was unique in its ugliness.

Access to Federal Information

Q. Mr. President, most of us in this room share your admiration for the benefits of a free and aggressive and an active press, and yet most of us in this room over the past few months, to name a period of time, have had great difficulty in prying information out of the Federal Government. In fact, there are many of us in this room who believe that the Federal Freedom of Information Act simply does not work.

We are faced repeatedly with delays of weeks or months or sometimes even years. We have filed countless lawsuits trying to get information about worker safety or the environment. Will you use the benefits of presence and power of your office to try to help us to report to the American people what our government is doing by improving the Federal Freedom of Information Act?

The President. I'm not sure I know enough about the mechanics of it, but yes, I would be interested if there are things we can do to streamline it and to make it more efficient because the law was passed to facilitate the distribution of information. And if that's not working, I think we should take a look at it. But I'm just not familiar with enough of the details of it to know wherein these delays take place, wherefrom these delays stem.

Q. I can almost assure you that we will be happy to provide you with those details.

The President. All right. I hope I agree with you because maybe we can get some headway, then, on this question.

Lithuanian Independence

Q. Mr. President, with the foreign press thrown out of Lithuania, the world's eyes and ears, so to speak, removed, what reasons do we and you have to believe President Gorbachev will do what he says and work to a peaceful resolution of the crisis?

The President. I'm not sure I can answer that question. But I know what I can do as President of the United States, and that is to encourage in every way possible through talks like we had today, through talks like I will be having in a couple of months with Mr. Gorbachev -- encourage that kind of performance and encourage access, encourage permission to permit a free press to come there. And that's what we can do. And that's what I will do because I'm strongly in favor of fully open reporting.

I heard him ask the question. I unfortunately didn't hear the answer today; they asked him about that. But I do think that freedom of the press in these places is part of the new wave of democracy and freedom. And some formerly closed societies are going to have to adjust to it. So, I hope that I can be helpful by dealing with the top Soviet leaders and encouraging them to permit what most democracies take for granted: a free and open press. And I will try hard on that.

Cuban Detainees

Q. Mr. President, there are currently about 1,200 Cuban detainees being held in maximum security penitentiaries around the country who have not committed crimes in the United States. They are in administrative limbo. Do you plan to do anything about those situations? Some of them have been held for as long as 8 years.

The President. I must confess I don't know about that. Detainees in what sense? Detained for what?

Q. They are under the INS being held as detainees. Their status is the same as if they were still floating around in boats off the coast.

The President. Are these people from the Mariel boat lift or something of that nature?

Q. Yes.

The President. They're in jail?

Q. They're in Federal penitentiaries held under lockdown 24 hours a day.

The President. I'm familiar with some that are held, but I must say for innocent people being held, that I'm not familiar with that. So, now I will make sure to look into that one, too. But I know that there are some in the Federal prison in Atlanta who are criminal elements who had full access to the American law, but are still there and probably will be unless the return program works. And we've tried to return to Castro -- in fact, some have gone back -- but I think you're talking about a broader category of presumably innocent people. I'm embarrassed to say I don't know the details of that.

Well, in any event, thank you all very much. I've enjoyed being with you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:30 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the J.W. Marriott Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Terry Anderson, the Associated Press reporter who was kidnaped in Beirut, Lebanon, on March 16, 1985. Loren Ghiglione, president of the society, introduced the President and acted as moderator during the question-and-answer session.