Public Papers

Exchange in Kennebunkport, Maine With Reporters Following the Release of American Hostage Edward Tracy


The President. Let me just read a brief statement, if I might, because I know that all Americans are gratified today by the release of Edward Tracy from captivity in Lebanon. We share in the happiness of Mr. Tracy's family for his release, but we know the anguish of the families who still have relatives in captivity. And I want them to know that we continue to press for the freedom of their loved ones.

I just talked to Mrs. Doris Tracy and to Ed Tracy's sister, Maria Lambert, over in Vermont, and they, of course, are experiencing the joy and happiness that any family would. They, too, are praying for the release of the others.

And I'd like to express our appreciation to the Government of Iran which used its influence with the Lebanese groups involved in order to gain the unconditional release of these hostages. And our thanks also go out to the Governments of Syria and Lebanon, both of which have facilitated this release. And at the same time, our satisfaction is necessarily tempered by the fact that these other hostages are still held.

We call upon the governments with influence on this issue to build on this positive move and work for the release of all hostages regardless of their nationality and for an accounting of those who may have died while in captivity. And so, again, I think our whole country rejoices, but we still have much apprehension and much to be prayerful about on this Sunday, August 11th.

Q. Mr. President, why do you think these hostages have been -- today? And do you think this could be the beginning of the end of this crisis?

The President. We don't know exactly why they were released. Some are tying it to the peace process. Maybe if that's true, so much the better. But the fact is that this man has now been released, and we're simply now focusing on future releases. I just can't answer that question definitively.

Q. Does this bode well, though, for the others, sir?

The President. Well, I would hope so, and I certainly don't think there's anything contrawise in it. I mean, I think it's got to be positive news for all.

Q. You've given thanks to Iran, to Syria, and to Lebanon. Is it perhaps time for Israel to do something specific?

The President. Well, Jim [Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News], I've said that all countries holding hostages ought to release them -- people that are not held under procedures of law but have been taken hostage. I just hope that we soon wake up in this world and recognize that holding hostages is a counterproductive way to make a statement of policy or for any other reason.

Q. Well, sir, excuse me, but if you're responding to this question on Israel, are you saying that Israel is holding hostages?

The President. I'm just saying I just defined for you what hostage-holding is.

Q. Are you saying that Israel should release the Shiite prisoners that it holds?

The President. I'm saying everybody that is held as a hostage should be released by every country, whichever it is.

Q. Mr. President, you've mentioned the help from Iran and Syria. What kind of good will would you be now willing to extend to them for the good will that they've shown? And also, can you give us anything further on exactly what kind of help they've provided and how helpful -- --

The President. I don't think it's a question of extending good will. Other Americans are being held against their will; others from different countries are being held against their will. So, we want to see them all released. So, I've just said that we are grateful for the release of this one hostage, but there's much left to be done, unfortunately.

Q. So, you're saying that you really don't expect any change or improvement in relations with Syria and Iran until all the hostages are out?

The President. I think the hostage question is one question between these countries, and there are many other questions between these countries. But we view this as a very positive step. But I don't think we owe anybody anything when Americans are being held against their will and then one is released and others are still in captivity. What I don't want to do is flamboyantly and inadvertently set something back here if the process is going to go forward. I don't want to do that. But on the other hand, I simply will keep repeating that there will not be, there can't be, totally normalized relations as long as people are held against their will.

Now, the Iranians will say that they're not holding these people, and indeed I think they have been helpful here. But to be really helpful, we'd see the release of all these Americans and the Brits and everybody else.

Again, I appeal to hostage-holders, wherever they may be, to release the hostages.

Q. Have you talked to Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar since his meeting with McCarthy, and have you talked to the Israeli leaders about this -- --

The President. No, I've not talked to any of them.

Q. Will you be talking to the Israeli leaders about McCarthy's letter? McCarthy says that in the letter is this request for the 400 Arab prisoners to be released from Israel.

The President. I imagine that we'll be in touch with Israel through the proper channels, but I haven't talked to any of the people you ask about. They know our position. Having been reiterated here, I hope that it's heard loud and clear around the world.

I am pleased that Mr. Tracy has been released.

Q. Mr. President, just a followup on that. Do you have any reason to believe that these two hostage releases that we've seen, and three if you count the Frenchman, is this part of a process that's going to keep going forward?

The President. I don't know, Rita [Rita Beamish, Associated Press]. I simply don't know the answer to that. Do you remember when, oh it seems like years ago, hostages were released, everyone's hopes were up that this would signal the beginning of the end, and it has failed to materialize. So, I think we've got to be a little cautious on that. But perhaps, given the peace activity in the world, there's more of an incentive to get this hostage question behind the various countries that do have influence with those that are holding the hostages. I think the release of this Frenchman shows that when countries and different factions come together, something can happen. In other words, a real cry went up to get this man released, and sure enough, he was.

So, let's hope that all of this comes together and our citizens will be released and the others as well. I keep thinking on this Sunday of Terry Waite, a man of faith who went to, I'd say, do the Lord's work and was taken prisoner.

Q. Sir, is it correct then to say that there's been an unprecedented degree of cooperation in all this?

The President. I think there's been newfound cooperation; but again, the results are not much different yet than what happened when other hostages were released.

Q. Are you receiving any reports now, sir, of any other possible pending releases within the next -- --

The President. Well, only rumors. That's all we're living with these days. And again, I just do not want to be a part of playing the rumor game and getting the hopes up of the families both here and abroad. But all we're dealing with at this juncture are rumors.

Q. Well, are those rumors that -- --

The President. A couple more, and then I've got to go to church.

Q. Whether they are called prisoners or hostages that Israel is holding, would you endorse their release now?

The President. I'd love to see all people held against their will released. And by that, I mean those who are taken as hostages. Now, if somebody is taken for legitimate legal purposes, that's something else again. But yes, to the degree they fit the description, I'd like to see every country release them, and I'd like to see the whole world turn away from holding hostages.

You know, we went through a spate of hijackings as a way to express one's political disapproval. And there was a little condonation of this: ``Well, you have to understand where these people are coming from and what their reasons are.'' And somehow the world has come together against that. I'm not saying it'll ever happen, but I think people recognize that putting innocents at risk is not the way one makes a political statement. So, let's hope that the world comes together now against taking hostages and kidnaping people and pulling them away from their homes to hold them hostage for some political goal, whatever it is.

A couple more, and then I really do have to run.

Q. The Revolutionary Justice Organization said that the reason that they released Mr. Tracy was because of positive indicators, developments, and progress in the negotiations that are going on to release the people that they want freed, presumably those held by Israel. Can you shed any light on the status of those negotiations; and particularly, does Israel seem to be bending, perhaps, on releasing those PLO prisoners?

The President. We can't shed any light on it, but let's hope progress is made on all fronts in releasing these people. But I can't help you with any details. I know a little more than I'm saying, but nothing that would have a positive effect on seeing people released. But it is so important that these people are released from prison.

Q. Is the U.S. taking new steps today, different steps today in light of the McCarthy release and the Tracy release?

The President. Well, there's not many steps we can take. Obviously, we're in touch with people wherever we get a lead, and that does include the U.N. officials. And once in a while we have a suggestion from some of them as to what we might do, different people, and we try to follow up. And we have been doing -- but we've been doing this for years.

So, again, I don't want to say the next move is up to the United States of America. It raises the hopes of families, only regrettably to have lowered down.

But let's hope that the process will go forward. I do think that there's an overall climate internationally now that permits -- or put it this way -- that would encourage hostage holders to set aside some of their alleged reasons for holding people or their grievances in order to permit them to release them. And by that, I'm talking about I hope that this peace process will go forward. There's some connection here; there's no question about that. You talk to some of the hostages that came out in the past, and they will tell you that that's what was on the mind of many of their captors -- the longstanding question of the Palestinian people and all of this.

So, I think if there's any overall kind of blanket reason to be optimistic, it might be that people around the world see that there's a good chance that ancient enemies will sit down and talk peace. And perhaps that is encouraging this forward motion; I certainly hope that's the case. I hope that that would be a clear by-product of these preliminary discussions that Secretary Baker and others have been having around the world.

But again, I don't want to make too direct a linkage because I just can't prove that. Some are saying, ``We'll release A, B, and C if you'll release D, E, and F.'' And so it's not all caught up in the peace process, but it's an encouraging umbrella, I think.

Well, thank you all. See you in church, I'm sure.

Please -- and incidentally, this is -- we've finished with all -- you are more than welcome to come to this little church that means so much to us for history purposes only. That was the church in which my mother and dad were married, that all of us were baptized, and my grandmother worshiped about the time the church was built. So, it's very special, and I hope you enjoy it.


Note: The President spoke at 9:31 a.m. at his home in Kennebunkport, ME. The following persons were referred to: Mrs. Doris Tracy, wife of former American hostage Edward Tracy and Maria Lambert, his sister; United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar de la Guerra; former British hostage John McCarthy; former French hostage Jerome Leyraud; British hostage Terry Waite; and Secretary of State James A. Baker III. During this exchange, a reporter referred to a letter from Islamic Jihad delivered by former British hostage John McCarthy to the United Nations Secretary-General. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this exchange.