Public Papers

Exchange With Reporters Prior to a Meeting With Congressional Leaders



Q. Mr. President, what do you think of the Soviets pulling their troops out of Cuba?

The President. I wish they'd hurry up. [Laughter]

Middle East Peace Talks

Q. Mr. President, are you going to lose on the loan guarantees to Israel in Congress?

The President. Well, I don't know what you mean by lose on it. What I'm for is the peace process to be successful, and we're working diligently for that. And so, the program I'm recommending in my view is the best to enhance peace in the area that's vital, of vital interest to the American people, the people in the Middle East, and indeed, to around the world. If I've ever seen one initiative that has support worldwide, it is this concept of at last getting people in the area to talk to each other about peace.

And so, what I'm suggesting in a simple delay here, in my view and in the view of all of us in the administration, is the best way to set the proper tone for these talks to start. And I feel very strongly about it. So, it's not a question of winning or losing in my view. Strong-willed people look at these matters differently. My view is that a delay is in the interest, and I'm going to fight for it. And I think the American people will back me on it if we take the case to the people. But what we're really trying to do is work it out without getting into a lot of confrontation. And I think that's the approach to take at this point.

Q. Can you avoid confrontation when they're bringing the fight to you, when they're going around you? When the Government of Israel has its own -- --

The President. I can take quite a few punches. But that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about working harmoniously together in the spirit of co- operation. And I've seen comments from abroad that I didn't particularly appreciate. But we're the United States of America, and we have a leadership role around the world that has to be fulfilled. And I'm calling the shots in this question in the way I think is best. And I've got some selling to do with certain Members of Congress, and that's understandable to me.

So, we'll see how it comes out. But I'm not approaching this in the spirit of confrontation if that's the question. You haven't seen any real controversial statements coming out of here up till now.

Q. You're not committed to the guarantees after the 120 days, sir, are you?

The President. I'm committed to seeing that they get considered. And we generally have been quite supportive of the idea of absorption. We've taken the lead, the lead around the world in facilitating the question of the Soviet Jews coming to Israel and the Ethiopian Jews as well. The position of this administration is not only well known but I think it's highly respected in Israel and around the world for this.

So, we're not backing off from that. And in principle, this concept of helping, we want to do it. But I'm not committed to any numbers and never have been. There was a very misleading statement in the papers today, out of Israel, that I'd like to clear up because it said that we were committed, and they wanted what we'd committed to. And I'm sorry to tell you that simply is not correct. And if they're going to deal on this question, we ought to be dealing from the facts. And so, that one was not a fact, just some spokesman. I don't know who he was or what he was trying to do. But it gives me a good chance to make clear that that isn't correct.

Q. Do you take threats from the Israelis that they may stay away from the peace conference if they don't get -- do you take those seriously?

The President. I've seen no threats from them. I've seen no threats from them. We have a special and a good, strong relationship with Israel, and that's going to continue. But I've seen no threats, and we don't deal in threats over here. And we don't try to threaten other people. That's not the way you accomplish something in foreign affairs.

Q. Are you concerned, though, that they may not come to the peace table?

The President. No. I think they're committed, and I think it's a good thing they are. And I think others are committed, and we want the climate to be right to facilitate their coming to the table. Everybody wants these parties to come to the table all around the world.

What we're talking about here is a simple delay of 120 days before this matter is debated because out of the debate is going to come a lot of posturing and positioning that in my view will not help the peace process. So, that's what it boils down to, and that's why this very reasonable request is being made.

Q. Mr. President, you sound like you don't think you'll prevail.

The President. Mr. Dole made it -- --

Supreme Court Nominee

Senator Dole. Clarence Thomas did an outstanding job, Mr. President.

The President. Thank you for changing the subject. It lets me say I was very moved by his testimony -- I've just had a chance to talk to some of you all here today -- not only moved by it but impressed by his answers as I now see them. And I must say I am more confident than ever that I've made the right nomination to go up to the Senate. I think the support from the American people is out there and strong, particularly after this moving presentation yesterday. I might say I see one guy sitting over here who I feel equally as strongly about, and that's Bob Gates. So, when those hearings start, why, I'll have strong supportive words of that one again, too, because he's the right man to run the intelligence community.

That's about it. This is a full-scale press conference.

Q. Do you think he'll answer any of the questions that are being put to him?

The President. He's doing a superb job and knows exactly how to handle himself, and I think that's what's coming through. Here's a man not only with experience and qualifications but ability to handle himself under tough questioning.

Note: This exchange began at 10:10 a.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. Senator Bob Dole referred to the Senate confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas, nominee for Supreme Court Associate Justice. The President referred to Robert M. Gates, nominee for Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this exchange.