Public Papers

Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters in Buenos Aires, Argentina


President Menem. Ladies and gentlemen, it's a great moment of pride on the part of the President of Argentina to share this press conference with the President of the United States, and my good friend, George Bush. It has been 30 years since a President from the country to the north has come here on a visit, and never has there ever been a circumstance like this. This is the first time that we have ever heard a proposal of the magnitude of the President's Initiative for the Americas. So, in this fiesta of good neighborliness, the President is visiting Latin America.

Things are now very good, and they will get better after this visit which he is making to Brazil, to Uruguay, to Venezuela, and to our Argentina.

Mr. President, thank you so very much for your visit and for your friendship. And I hope that the few hours that you spend here will serve to rest your mind and to prepare you to continue the great work you are doing from the country which is the most powerful in the world to preserve peace in the world.

President Bush. Thank you very much, Mr. President. And let me just make a couple of brief comments before we go to the questions.

Today my esteemed friend the President of Argentina and I talked about the consolidation of democracy, and we talked about the movement toward free and open economies. It is important to point out that under the leadership of President Menem, Argentina has been a leader in all of this -- all of this.

Argentina helped lead the way in restoring democracy. And President Menem and the Argentine people proved again this week that they will not permit any group to return Argentina to the days of violence and dictatorship, in a superb show of strength and commitment.

And in these days of free economies, President Menem has taken the lead in privatization and in many other areas.

And lastly, I'm very grateful for Argentine's leadership and support for the world's common purpose in the Persian Gulf. And so, I'm here to salute the President, Argentine's leadership, and move toward solidifying democracy and improving the lot of its people through strengthening their economy. And I'm here with a feeling of great respect for the Argentine people and for the distinguished President, Carlos Menem, my friend.

President Menem. Thank you very much.

President Bush. Now, how are we going to proceed here? Who's in charge of questions? Oh, right over here. Excuse me.

Argentina-U.S. Relations

Q. Taking up the words of President Menem, I would like to ask you, Mr. President, what is the vision of the United States of Argentina? And how does the United States intend to implement its initiative to come to the help of Argentina in these major efforts that it is making?

President Bush. Well, the vision is of a democratic Argentina whose economy is one of the world's leading and most productive economies. That's the vision.

And because your President has taken the lead in matters such as privatization, I am confident that not only will our bilateral relation continue to improve but also it enables us to work very closely with the four countries that have joined together -- Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay -- joined together in the Southern Cone to open up markets.

And thirdly, I see Argentina and the United States working closely in multilateral forums. And we've been staunchly together, for example, in trying to have a successful conclusion of the Uruguay round.

And lastly, because of the steps President Menem has courageously taken, I think that will lead to a happy ending, happy solution, to the overall foreign debt problem that Argentina faces. The private banks, seeing these moves towards privatization and open markets, will be much more inclined to work bilaterally with President Menem and Argentine to bring debt relief, needed debt relief, to the Argentinean economy.

Agricultural Trade Negotiations

Q. Norman Sandler, UPI [United Press International]. Mr. President, speaking of the GATT round, Carla Hills today was pessimistic about the outcome, and Clayton Yeutter said the United States may be prepared to propose retaliatory subsidies if it ends in failure. Is that kind of threat, given the impact it would have on Argentina and other Latin American countries, really consistent with the kind of theme of free trade you're trying to promote on this trip?

President Bush. I have not seen these comments. I have full confidence in Carla Hills and Secretary Yeutter. I believe that the United States and Argentina are totally in accord in our approach to the agriculture being included in the GATT round. There cannot be a successful conclusion to the GATT round without agriculture being included. And so, I expect that's what Carla and Clayton Yeutter are saying over there. But if that round fails, we will work bilaterally with the Argentine to see that their trade with us is not set back. But both of us want to see it internationalized through a successful conclusion of the GATT round.

Q. Can I just clarify by asking whether you're saying that any retaliatory subsidies would be targeted at, say, Europe; and in Latin America would be spared?

President Bush. Too hypothetical. We are still working to get a successful conclusion of this round. I'm not in the business of talking retaliation while people are still meeting and discussing this -- trying to get this round worked out satisfactorily.

Argentine Economy

Q. Given the past failures of attempt at international orders to govern Latin American economy, what practical methods would you think of using with your new initiative to bring practical implementation to the steps you have proposed?

President Bush. Well, I think the practical considerations are already being manifested. I think we can reduce some of the government obligations, for example, and I think we're in the process of doing just exactly that. That's a very important one to start with. I think we can try to be helpful with the private banks, although President Menem knows that this is a decision between the banks and the Argentine Government.

But the benefits that accrue to the Argentine are not benefits laid upon their head by the United States; they are benefits that accrue from the fundamental reforms that this President has put into effect and is continuing to put into effect. I would cite only one: the benefits to the people that have accrued from the privatization that he courageously undertook. So, it isn't that we're bestowing benefits; this is a relationship of mutual respect where we're working towards the same economic objectives.

Persian Gulf Crisis

Q. Mr. President, are there startings of a deal with the Persian Gulf? There are rumors that Saddam Hussein is willing to withdraw from Kuwait and let the Amir return if he is given control of the oilfield on the border and perhaps given access to the Gulf. Do you know anything about this?

President Bush. No. The answer to your question is no, thank you very much.

Q. Terry Hunt, AP [Associated Press]. Do you view these talks with Mr. `Aziz [Foreign Minister of Iraq] and between [Secretary of State] Baker and Saddam as negotiations in which there will be some give-and-take?

President Bush. I view these talks as confined by -- or put it this way, mandated by the United Nations Security Council resolutions, period. That means no concession of territory. That means freedom of innocent people that are held against their will. That means respect for embassies, I might add. And that means the eventual security and stability in the Gulf, although that's not specified in the resolution.

But I don't view these talks as having anything to do about concessions that stop short of full implementation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. And I felt strongly about that when I met with President Menem, and I feel more strongly about it now because he agrees totally with that. And he is a participant and a leader of an important country that is allied with us in this worldwide effort.

Argentine Economy

Q. Mr. President, you've just referred to the efforts that the Argentine Government is making in the economic field. I'd like to ask you what possibilities there are that your government will encourage North American capital to invest in our country under present circumstances?

President Bush. That is a strong part of this whole working together for economic recovery and revitalization. We have an organization in the United States called OPIC which guarantees foreign investment. They are very interested in bringing more investors to the Argentine.

We have other government agencies that are interested in furthering investment. The Ex-Im Bank would be one of them. To the degree we can encourage multilateral lending agencies to support the new Argentine with its new approach to privatization and free markets, we would be willing to do this.

So, there will be many bilateral ways in which we can further the economic growth that President Menem envisions and growth that I'm confident will inure to the benefit of all the people in Argentina.

Persian Gulf Crisis

Q. Mr. President, we are being -- Messrs. President -- it is for both of you actually, but first for President Bush -- we are hearing from an official in Baghdad, an official who has said that Iraq would not leave Kuwait, that in these upcoming discussions all issues are on the table -- everything, in this official's words. You said yesterday that you didn't detect that Saddam Hussein has yet gotten the message. Are you getting any indication that there is, indeed, some softening of the Iraqi position? Are you prepared to have all issues on the table? Do you feel this is helpful?

President Bush. I'm not optimistic. I see no evidence that Saddam Hussein is ready to comply fully without condition with the U.N. resolutions.

Q. What then, sir, if I may follow, are your expectations for these discussions you are to have, and what do you make of comments like those that we are picking up?

President Bush. Who's your source? Who's saying it? Can you help me? And then I can answer the question better.

Q. I wish I could, sir, but my understanding is that it is a senior Iraqi official.

President Bush. Oh, in the Government. May I start by saying the reason I ask what the source is, is we hear so many rumors about deals. And yet every time an Iraqi official on the record speaks, it is that they will not withdraw from Kuwait. In my view -- and I think it's the view of the entire world; I know it's the view of my esteemed friend here -- is that they must withdraw without condition. When naked aggression takes place, it's not a question of finding face for the aggressor. When a country is literally raped and pillaged, let the world go out and try to find some reason to save face for he who has raped and pillaged that country?

So, I hope there proves to be some reason for withdrawal without condition. But in answer to your question, no, I have no feeling whatsoever that Saddam Hussein is willing to do now that which he should have done 5 months ago -- 4 months ago.

President Menem. We have said before that we wholeheartedly condemn what Iraq has done, to invade and occupy a territory which does not belong to it. We are the only country in Latin America which has sent ships to help enforce the embargo against Iraq. I share everything that has been said here by the President of the United States. An aggressor cannot condition his withdrawal on the satisfaction of his conditions. The only way is for Iraq to withdraw without any preconditions.

Q. We have seen, Mr. President, that the American journalists are deeply concerned with things that happen in your country. So are we concerned with things that happen in our country. We sent -- --

President Bush. I missed who you're with. I missed your identity.

Q. Mendoza from Channel 7. We sent two vessels; we back you up. What does the United States do for Argentina? We sent two vessels to the Gulf. You have tried to explain to a Latin American President your position towards the Gulf. What has the United States done for Argentina? And to say to the President, is that all right for you?

President Bush. May I answer your question?

Q. Yes.

President Bush. I don't believe Argentina is sending frigates to the Gulf to help the United States. I think they're sending frigates to the Gulf because they believe, as we do, that we must stand up against this brutal aggression.

Q. So, the United States does not feel, Mr. President, personally helped or backed up by Argentina? You think this is democracy all over the world?

President Bush. I think we're in this as the whole world. You've seen that manifested at the United Nations, and you see it manifested in the diversity and number of the force deployed against Saddam Hussein. People aren't doing this for the United States; they're doing it for world order and international law and because they feel as strongly as I do -- your President feels as strongly as I do -- about brutal aggression of this sort. He's not trying to do us a favor; he's doing what is right, what the United Nations agrees. We both agree that the peacekeeping function of the United Nations has been revitalized and have a real chance now to be more meaningful in the future.

President Menem. Argentina complied in sending those ships with U.N. resolutions adopted by the Security Council. We did it for the sake of peace and out of solidarity with the country victim of aggression. And this is an attitude we intend to maintain.

We have a friendship with the United States which is really unprecedented. But it was not in that framework that we acted. We do not seek any retribution or any reward. That would be undignified. And if there is anything that the Argentines are known for, it is their sense of dignity. We don't want any help or aid. We want to work with the United States and other countries to preserve peace, which is tantamount to saying to preserve life. We do not seek any counterpart or anything in return. And in fact, were it offered, we would not accept it.

The United States President would be glad to stay here with you all afternoon. So would I. But the Congress is waiting for him, so please respect his schedule.

Thank you.

Note: The session began at 3 p.m. in the Sala de Conferencia at Casa de Rosata. President Menem spoke in Spanish, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.