Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on the Nomination of Richard B. Stone To Be Ambassador at Large, Serving as Special Representative of the President to Central America

April 28, 1983

Deputy Press Secretary Speakes. The President today is announcing his intention to nominate Richard B. Stone to be Ambassador at Large, to serve as Special Representative of the President to Central America. Senator Stone is here and will answer your questions.

Senator Stone. Thank you, Larry.

Q. Why did it take so long? What was the delay?

Senator Stone. I think that the White House had to check with the State delegation and with Members of Congress in general.

Q. Senator, there are a lot of people on the Hill who are saying that even the Republican Senators were not happy about your selection; that they don't think you have the diplomatic credentials, the stature, or -- nothing personal, of course. [Laughter] But how do you feel about that?

Senator Stone. I feel pretty good about it because I know those gentlemen and it's going to work out just fine. And I think that the vote, the confirming vote will be strong and supportive. I need a strong, supportive vote to do a job as difficult as this. It isn't going to be easy.

Q. Do you feel you have the credentials to carry enough weight in the region?

Senator Stone. I have many friends there, I speak Spanish, I've carried out at least one successful mission, and I think that I can advance the diplomatic principles clearly spelled out in the President's speech of last night.

Q. Senator, why is it that the President didn't come out and make this announcement to add a little push to the problems you might have solving -- --

Senator Stone. Well, that's a very early question. If you'll ask that again at the end of the conference, then I'll answer it then.

Q. Is he coming out?

Q. I have a question.

Senator Stone. Yes, sir -- in the back.

Q. Senator, can you tell us what this job will be as you understand it, as exactly as you can?

Senator Stone. Using the four principles announced in the President's speech last night and the four assurances, diplomatic assurances in support of those four goals, the envoy will do his best to meet -- both within countries and as between countries in Central America -- to try to move our difficulties and their difficulties to the conference table, to invite opposition groups to participate in a peaceful political process, and to facilitate and support the efforts of the Latin nations themselves to set their own agendas and advance those agendas towards peace.

Q. Senator, one of the problems that some people who have been critical of this selection are saying is that you are so identified with the right-wing elements in Latin America that you would not be a credible representative to bring in the left-wing insurgents into these conferences and negotiations. Can you answer that criticism?

Senator Stone. I don't think that this is a matter of personality so much as it is principle. If the left, or all opposition groups -- because some are left and some are not left -- if all opposition groups consent to participate in a peaceful political process, not only will I not stand in the way, I'm going to do everything I can to advance that process.

Q. How do you bring in the left if they don't trust you?

Senator Stone. It's not a question of trusting me; it's a question of trusting the Latin nations themselves. They are going to set this agenda, and we will do our best to support that agenda. For example, there is a group known as the Contadora Four -- Mexico, Panama, Venezuela, and Colombia. They have been working diligently to try to set an agenda for peace conferences, peace talks. We will support that. Another more expanded group is called Five-Plus-Five. Another group participated in the San Jose meetings that resulted in the San Jose Principles. And within countries, for example, within Salvador, we have an appointed Peace Commission headed by a Roman Catholic bishop and made up of two independents -- I'll get to you in one second, Lou [Lou Cannon, Washington Post].

So, I think that I will do my very best, speaking on behalf of the President, on behalf of the Secretary of State, really on behalf of all Americans who want peace. And I think that the trustworthiness of the American people and the American government is beyond reproach. I'll advance that trustworthiness as an asset.

Q. How optimistic are you, Senator, of a negotiated settlement to the conflict in El Salvador? And if you think that is possible, what kind of a time frame are we talking about in your mind, realizing that you can't be precise about it?

Senator Stone. The odds are long. It's a very difficult situation. Anyone who thinks that a mere invitation to peace will produce peace is just inaccurate and unrealistic. This will be just as hard a fight as military fighting is hard. But it is so worthwhile and it is in so much in everyone's interest, that I hope and trust we can advance towards it. As to how long it takes, obviously, the sooner the better. We'll do the best we can. I'll draw on every resource of the ARA Bureau [Bureau of Inter-American Affairs], of Assistant Secretary Enders and his very capable staff, as well as Members of Congress, leaders in this country, and men and women of good will everywhere.

Q. Is there anyone in Central America, Latin America, including Cuba, that you are off limits to talk to?

Senator Stone. I think that when we get into the details of how this mission will be carried out or who will be talked to or the timetables, that is the kind of question that has to be reserved for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I'm going to answer all their questions, and I hope and trust that that one and others will be asked. And by that time, we'll have appropriate answers fully cleared by the State Department, as well as just one person standing up here.

Q. Won't your past service on behalf of the Guatemalan government hurt you both on the Hill and in the region?

Senator Stone. I really don't think so. My two assignments were to try to advance towards a peace with Belize and to try to get an improvement of human rights in Guatemala sufficient to entitle and warrant a restoration of U.S. relations and support. And I worked very diligently towards that with the ARA Bureau, with Secretary Enders, with the Director of Central American Affairs, Craig Johnstone, and others, in great detail as well as on general principle. And I think both of those goals were so worthwhile that it will not only not hurt me, I think it's going to help me.

And let me just say that that is one of the goals that we all should seek. We all think of the peace situation as involving only, for example, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and El Salvador. The fact is, that as between some of those countries bilaterally, peace could be attained, the kind of peace relationships that would last.

Q. Do you think, Senator, this administration should punish Cuba for its role in spreading communism through Latin America?

Senator Stone. Well, let me just step outside of the envoy situation for one minute and return to my capacity as Vice Chairman of the President's Commission on Radio Broadcasting to Cuba. I think the most effective and best thing we can do is to bring fair, full, and free information to the people of Cuba about the cost they are bearing in the adventurism of that government around the world, not just in Central America. I am in support of that. I sense and detect increasing congressional support of that, and I hope and trust that the Congress will act on that proposal as soon as possible.

Q. But beyond Radio Marti, will there be any permanent steps taken -- [inaudible] -- --

Senator Stone. Let me just now go back to my role as nominee, and I can't answer any more than that.

Q. Senator, how do you propose to get the guerrillas in El Salvador into elections, particularly given the fact that you have represented a right-wing government in Guatemala? I'm talking now not in terms of negotiations between countries, but trying to get the rebels in one country to join the political process in that country?

Senator Stone. It's going to be very difficult, and as long as the guerrillas believe that they are going to win total victory militarily, it's going to be very difficult to get them to the table. But we must try. We must invite them to participate in the upcoming elections, which we have to support -- the government of El Salvador to make as accessible to all and as safe to all candidates as possible.

[At this point, the President entered the Briefing Room.]

The President. Hi. How are you?

Senator Stone. I appreciate it.

The President. Listen, you're doing so well, I thought maybe you'd put in a good word for me.

Senator Stone. Mr. President, I'm proud of the speech that you made last night. I think you really described the administration's program fully, fairly, and I think the response of it has been wonderful today. And I appreciate so much your coming in here now.

The President. Well, I just came in because I just wanted to say that I'm delighted that you're going to do this and that you've agreed to do it. And I know the good job that you'll do for us down there.

Senator Stone. Thank you so much, Mr. President. Could I begin by indulging in an old Latin custom with you? It's called an abrazo. [Laughter]

The President. You bet.

Senator Stone. Thank you so much, Mr. President.

The President. Glad to have you aboard.

Senator Stone. Thank you, sir. Thank you.

Q. Mr. President, are you disturbed by the fact that Senator Stone has represented the right-wing government of Guatemala? Do you think that hurts his credibility in the region?

The President. No, I think that it just adds to the experience that he's had down there. And I know the job that he can do and, as I say, I'm delighted. And, as I said last night, we want bipartisanship in this, and so we come together as members of the two major parties.

Q. What held up the nomination, Mr. President? It seems that there's some congressional opposition, even among Senate Republicans.

The President. No, my own feeling was that we had enough news in the speech last night, and we'd save some news for today.

Q. Do you think, then, that he will have an easy confirmation?

The President. I'm sure of it.

Q. Mr. President, you were under some pressure to create this position of Ambassador at Large. Congressman Long indicated he might not approve the money if you wanted it transferred. In view of that, will this position really be that important or was it just something of a sop?

The President. No, and let me tell you: We had the idea and were planning this long before it was ever mentioned any place else.

Q. Mr. President, were you disappointed by the -- --

The President. Way back there.

Q. Mr. President, it's been said that your choice for this position, that this gentleman does not have the trust of the rebels in El Salvador. Will they, then, use that as a good reason to not come to an agreement?

The President. Well, we think they do. And he has done a couple of errands for us with great success already, so we are sure of what he can do.

Senator Stone. Mr. President, you didn't hear the word that she said. She said the trust and confidence of the rebels. And I think what you were talking about is the trust and the confidence of the Salvadorans.

The President. Oh, my -- yes. The El Salvadoran people. Yes. I don't think I have the trust and confidence of the rebels. [Laughter]

Q. Were you disappointed by the official Democratic response to your speech last night? Senator Dodd called your proposals a formula for failure.

The President. Yes, I was quite aware of that and not too surprised by it, either. But I guess that's what this business is all about, is having differences of opinion. And very frankly, I didn't find any substance in what he had to say.

Q. Thank you very much.

Senator Stone. Thank you all very much. I appreciate it.

Note: Deputy Press Secretary Larry M. Speakes began the exchange at 3:16 p.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House.