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The President. I really just want to wish you all a happy New Year.
Persian Gulf Crisis
Q. What about a message for Saddam Hussein, sir?
The President. No, we have no message for him.
Q. What do you mean by rabbit trails running through the snow?
The President. I mean there are a lot of false leads out there. As a matter of fact -- --
Q. Are you upset about the report, sir?
The President. No, but as a matter of fact, I think it would be very useful if from the President and others there were fewer comments about readiness. And I don't plan to make any comments about it at all. And I did make a comment earlier. And I feel very comfortable with the briefing I had from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell, and the Secretary of Defense. I mentioned to some earlier, I talked to General Schwarzkopf over the holidays, and there has been enough said about readiness. And I don't plan to continue to add to the debate at all. I'm very comfortable with the briefing. And the briefing I had was quite different than most of the stories I'm reading in the last day or two. So, that's what I mean about rabbit trails.
Q. Are Cheney and Powell's comments accurate? They were quoted as saying, in advising you, that U.S. troops would not be ready by -- --
The President. I've said all I want to say about readiness.
Q. What about the Soviet Union, sir? In general terms, without divulging the confidentiality of the message, what was the word from the Ambassador today, sir?
The President. Well, if I divulge what the word was from the Ambassador, I would be breaching the confidentiality. However, there were some very friendly words of greeting from President Gorbachev. And I had a chance to ask the Ambassador to give him our best wishes for a happy New Year. We obviously discussed some of the problems that exist there. But it was just one more in what's become a series of exchanges with the President of the Soviet Union. That's good; it's good that we keep discussing these -- --
Q. What's your reading on the current situation in the Soviet Union?
The President. Well, my reading is that they are having difficulties -- economic difficulties, principally -- difficulties in sorting out this new federation. But any time you move from a totalitarian, totally controlled state to an open state -- perestroika, glasnost -- perestroika in terms of reform, glasnost in terms of openness -- you're bound to have problems. It's not just the Soviet Union; they are having problems in Eastern Europe. But the main thing is, there's a determination to keep going down this path of reform, and that's very important. But far be it from me to try to fine-tune the difficulties that they're having there.
Q. Aren't you concerned the pendulum seems to be swinging back the other way? Mr. Gorbachev wants more control. Mr. Shevardnadze was very concerned about that.
The President. Well, I think they can sort all that out.
Q. Doesn't trouble you at all, though?
Persian Gulf Crisis
Q. Why don't you straighten us out on the question of readiness and on the serious talks which Saddam said he'd like to have?
The President. Saddam keeps saying that Kuwait is Province 19 of Iraq, and that flies directly in the face of the United Nations resolutions, and I think everybody knows that. And therefore, there's no willingness to talk peace if that's the position, because there is a determination on the part of the rest of the world to see those United Nations resolutions implemented to a tee, without concession, without giving. That's not what the U.N. resolutions are about. They are very, very clear. And the United States will do its part to fulfill every single one of them.
Q. Mr. President, what message do you have to the American people regarding the January 15th -- the United Nations resolution?
The President. My message to the American people, particularly at this time of year, is I hope we will have a peaceful resolution to this question. And I hope that the brutality that's going on in Kuwait this very minute, documented by that Amnesty International report, will cease. And I can guarantee to the families of those kids that are overseas that I will do absolutely everything in my power to see that their safety is maximized and that they get the full support from the American people they deserve.
Q. Has the Soviet Union reaffirmed their support for our Gulf policy, sir?
Q. Sir, you wouldn't send troops over there -- commit troops over there, rather, to action unless you felt the U.S. was fully prepared and ready.
The President. Exactly, exactly.
Q. Mr. President, is it incorrect then -- are the reports -- in addition to being rabbit trails -- are they incorrect to state that the U.S. troops will not be ready by January 15th?
The President. I read one report about what Powell and Cheney told me, and it was 180 degrees wrong. And I am not going to say any more about readiness.
Q. Which one was that? [Laughter]
The President. I think it was -- what outfit do you work for? [Laughter]
Come on, I got to go.
Q. Did the Soviet Union reaffirm their support, Mr. President?
Q. You claimed Saddam -- --
The President. No progress. No progress on that.
Q. -- -- didn't seriously -- that Saddam still didn't take the threat seriously.
The President. I believe that. I believe that. I think he still does not believe that we are serious and our allies are serious in fully implementing these United Nations resolutions. I read the comments he makes about war, and I find it very difficult to believe he believes them -- what would happen to him. So, I don't know. But we're -- I think -- --
Q. Well, maybe he doesn't think we're ready.
The President. I still am hopeful that he'll get the message and he'll do what he ought to do, which is get out of Kuwait by the 15th of January -- totally, without condition. The world community has called on him to do that. It's enshrined now in international law as represented by the Security Council. And he tries to make it into something else.
Q. You don't believe that he can do that?
The President. Yes, I believe he can. I'm not sure I believe he will.
Q. You don't think there will be a breakthrough, diplomatically?
The President. I would hope so. I would hope so.
Q. Is there any room for compromise on the date -- --
The President. No compromise on anything. That's the problem. Everybody wants you to compromise. There is not going to be a compromise with this man. That would be the worst signal to send to the people around the world that are together. It wasn't just the U.N. Security Council; it was the whole General Assembly speaking up against this person.
Q. Has the U.S. promised Israel -- --
The President. So, the United States will do its part.
Q. Has the U.S. promised Israel that we will defend them if they are attacked?
The President. I have no comments on that.
Thank you all.
Q. Will you be back between now and New Year's?
The President. I don't know. I would like to lay to rest one ugly rumor -- --
Q. Are you bored?
The President. -- -- that I'm bored to tears. [Laughter] I've never been happier in my life up there.
Q. So, what are you doing here?
The President. Barbara and me, we sit by the fire. We have a wonderful time. [Laughter] Get on the long-distance phone -- dial it up.
Q. What are you doing -- --
Q. So, what are you doing here then?
The President. Playing wallyball.
Q. What did you get for Christmas?
The President. We have two to one -- the Bush family against the marines in wallyball. There's some news, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International] -- two victories over only one defeat.
Q. Well, listen, we should be worrying about war while you're having such a good time?
The President. That's right -- I'm not. Everybody should be having a little relax here at the end between -- --
Q. How can they when there's a war coming?
The President. -- -- Christmas and the New Year. Helen, don't be so gloomy. [Laughter]
We'll see you. Thank you all.
Q. Will we see you -- --
The President. Depends if I get bored up there. [Laughter]
Q. -- -- RNC chairman?
Q. General [Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs], come over here. We know that you're the source of the New York Times -- --
The President. Get Andy out there.
Q. Who's the new RNC chairman?
The President. Scowcroft is mad at me. Scowcroft is furious at me. He was out here to see I didn't make any mistakes.
Have a good New Year.
Note: The exchange began at 1:45 p.m. on the South Lawn of the White House, prior to the President's departure for Camp David, MD. In his remarks, President Bush referred to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf; Aleksandr A. Bessmertnykh, Soviet Ambassador to the United States; and Eduard A. Shevardnadze, former Soviet Foreign Minister.