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Soviet Relations With the West
Q. Mr. President, thank you very much for welcoming us here in the White House first. My first question would be: Gorbachev is reluctant to take drastic decisions concerning disarmament, especially concerning the integration of the new Germany to NATO. Do you still maintain that you have to help him if he doesn't make any effort, I should say, in your direction?
The President. No, I don't think we have to help him. I think we ought to do what's, in my case, the interests of the United States, and clearly in the interests of the alliance. But Gorbachev has handled up until now change in Eastern Europe with great ability. And so, I will approach him and make my case for a Germany in NATO. But I have to sell him on the fact that this presents no threat to the Soviet Union. It doesn't present a threat; indeed, a NATO with a broader mandate, I think, helps provide for stability in Europe.
Q. But, Mr. President, do you think that Gorbachev is blocked in a certain way by, I would say, his military high-ranking chief?
The President. I don't think we know that, but that's certainly a concern. But I gather he's in pretty strong control now, but facing enormous problems. But it's not my role to figure out whether Gorbachev is having a problem with his right or his left; it's mine to deal with what's on the table. And what's on the table is a strong Soviet leader, clearly in charge, with whom we have a lot of business items.
And they range from contentious ones, like the Lithuania problem, to more reconcilable problems, like arms control, and to some other difficult ones, like a post-German unification Europe.
Q. Mr. President, you are thinking of a new structure of NATO -- military NATO structure. Would you include France in it?
The President. Listen, the more France wants to be involved in that, the better it is. Now, I'm well aware of the historical problems, but, yes, I think -- and I talked to President Mitterrand, for whom, incidentally, I have not only respect but affection. And so, I can talk rather frankly with him. And I talked to him about a broader role for NATO, and I had the feeling that on some of the things I was talking about he understood. I don't want to put words in his mouth, but we have the kind of relationship where I can tell him why I think an expanded role for NATO will be the best way, certainly, for the shorter run for the U.S. to make a role of contributing to stability in Europe.
Middle East Peace Process
Q. The situation is deteriorating in the Middle East. What can you and Gorbachev do to bring back peace in the area?
The President. I'm not sure that Bush and Gorbachev, working as a team, can do anything about it. I am sure that what has to happen is these talks have to get going. And our Secretary of State, supported by this President, has been doing our level best -- working with Mubarak [President of Egypt], working originally with Shamir's [Prime Minister of Israel] own plan to try to get talks going. But I am very concerned about it. And I think of the needless loss of life and those -- as I told a press conference today, maybe what moves me the most is the children. And you know, you see these little kids hurt, and we have to do better. But I don't think it's a U.S.-Soviet role that's going to solve this problem.
Communism and Muslim Fundamentalism
Q. What would you fear most today, Mr. President, communism or the growing of Muslim fundamentalism?
The President. Well, I haven't thought about that in terms of priorities. Communism is on the wane; it's on the way out. In our hemisphere, there's only one left, and that's Castro. And I don't know what he believes, but he darn sure can't be excited about the way things are going for good, old Communists -- going down the drain. And I think when you see people have a free choice, nobody's speaking up: Hey, I want to have a Communist government. It just isn't happening. And so, I don't fear communism at all. I don't like that ideology, and so, I worry about that.
But in terms of Muslim fundamentalism, the real extremes there, I am concerned about that. We lived through a terrible time in Iran. We still have difficulties there. But I'm hopeful some day we can have better relations because I think Mr. Rafsanjani is showing a sense of reasonableness in some areas that perhaps his predecessor didn't feel he could show or didn't feel like showing. So, I worry about this problem.
Q. Mr. President, I know that you can express yourself in French. I remember in the past when I saw you for the first time.
The President. Mais non. [Laughter] Je parle seulement un peu. J'ai besoin de pratiquer. [I speak only a little. I need to practice.]
Q. Oui. But could you, before the summit, deliver a little message, short message I can understand -- [laughter] -- to the French people before the summit. What would you like to say to them?
The President. I'm afraid it would be embarrassing -- [laughter] -- and they might think I was putting -- I love the French language. J'etudiais pendant onze ans a l'ecole et l'universite. Mais j'ai besoin de pratiquer. [I studied for 11 years in school and in college. But I need to practice.] But I don't want to insult the French people by making them think I speak French.
Q. The French don't speak much English. The French -- [laughter]
The President. No, I will try. I will try -- J'essayerai faire -- to bring about -- la paix -- the peace. And to work for peace. And whether it's English or French, I have a strong feeling with Mr. Mitterrand [President of France] and others in France that we have an obligation, the French have an obligation, to work so that our grandchildren will live in peace. And I wish I could say it in French because it's a beautiful language.
Q. I want to thank you very much, Mr. President. I hope to see you again, and I wish you all the best for the future.
The President. Well, thank you for coming all the way on the Concorde. Thank you. Grand plaisir. Merci. [A great pleasure. Thank you.]
Note: The interview began at 2:59 p.m. in the Family Dining Room at the White House.