Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Regional Editors and Broadcasters on Domestic and Foreign Policy Issues

September 21, 1983

The President. Good afternoon, and welcome to the White House. I've enjoyed this opportunity to break bread with you once again.

The professional relationship between those of us in public office and members of the press is an important ingredient of American freedom. Senator Moynihan once pointed out that countries which have papers filled with good news usually have jails filled with good people. Earlier this year, I suggested that perhaps -- and it was a gentle suggestion -- that perhaps the press could focus a bit more on the many wonderful things that Americans are doing for each other, especially during National Volunteer Week. There were a few cries of outrage, but now that the dust has settled, I think there's been a movement in the last few months to show the uplifting side of American life as well as our flaws. Of course, the imperfections need to be brought out; otherwise, they might never be corrected.

One of our greatest national treasures is our right as Americans to criticize government without fear of reprisal. There's a story about a Soviet citizen who was telling an American traveler that people in Russia are free to speak just like they are in the United States. The difference is that in the United States, they're free after they speak.

Journalism is not an easy profession, especially when the events of the day are immersed in theories and schools of thought not familiar to an individual that's trying to meet a deadline. In the first 2 years of this administration, economic issues became the focus of news coverage as never before. We were making fundamental changes in the direction of this country, and it wasn't always easy to understand what was happening and why the changes were being made. Well, these changes take time before they can take hold. As you understand, the suggestion that economic freedom needs time to work isn't good copy after a few weeks, and it's a bit difficult to visualize for a news audience how bad things would be if certain changes hadn't taken place.

For example, thanks to our program against inflation, a middle-income family today has $600 more in purchasing power than in 1980. Now, I think that's an important story, yet it's a hard one to present visually on a newscast. Since the beginning of the year, the expansion of the economy has been robust. America is beginning to move again after years of isolation and -- or I should say inflation and stagnation. I think that was a Freudian slip when I said isolation there.

But yesterday, the stock market, as you know, hit a new alltime high. And I'm pleased to report that this morning we received more heartening news about the economy. The figures for second quarter economic growth in gross national product had been revised upward for the second time from 9.2 percent to 9.7 percent, and now it is estimated that economic activity in the third quarter is rising at an annual rate of 7 percent.

Some of the foreign policy challenges we face are just as vexing as those concerning our economy, and they're just as difficult for journalists to cover. When we got to Washington we were faced with an unrelenting buildup of armaments and military equipment in Central America. Much of this material is provided by the Soviets and their Cuban and Libyan allies. The American people and even some journalists are confused about what's happening in Central America. Well, stated succinctly, we're trying, even amid the turmoil, to encourage democracy, to ensure economic development, and to engage in dialog and listen to every idea that might put an end to the bloodshed and bring peace. What we cannot do is permit Soviet-armed and Cuban-trained insurgents to shoot their way into power, simply because we're unwilling to provide those who believe in democratic government with the means to defend themselves.

The Middle East is another area where America's role as peacemaker will require courage and commitment. The agreement reached yesterday with leaders of both parties in the Congress is a welcome step forward in our pursuit of peace in Lebanon. If approved by both Houses, it'll send a signal to the world that America will continue to participate in the multinational force trying to help that nation back on its feet. We've informed the Congress that we have reservations about certain features of the resolution, and our agreement is subject to those reservations. But that should not obscure a fundamental point: This resolution, hammered out in long hours of discussion between the congressional and executive branches, represents a bipartisan commitment that America will continue to play a significant role in the search for peace in the Middle East. And it's on that basis that I urge the Congress to act on this resolution quickly.

Peace is our highest goal. We've been working tirelessly to achieve it through diplomacy, but our participation in the multinational force of U.S., French, Italian, and British troops is absolutely crucial if the fighting is to stop, the Soviet-sponsored aggression against Lebanon is to end, and the diplomats have a chance to succeed. I'm very pleased that many Members of the Congress on both sides of the aisle recognize this reality and are willing to work with us in this pursuit.

Three years ago, America was being counted out by friend and adversary alike. It was being said that our best days were behind us. Well, today we can be proud that where freedom is on the line the United States is living up to its responsibilities, and we must not permit domestic politics to get in the way of these responsibilities.

Ultimately, the answer to many of these problems will be found in better relations between the Soviet Union and the rest of the world. The massacre of 269 airline passengers has brought home to many just how difficult this will be. At an absolute minimum, the Soviets should give the world an apology, an admission of responsibility, pay reparations to the victims' families, and provide assurances that such a crime will never be repeated. For our part, we stand ready to work with the Soviet Government to see that this kind of tragedy never happens again and to deal on other vital issues such as arms reduction.

After consultation with our allies, I have sent Ambassador Paul Nitze, our INF negotiator, instructions to pursue new U.S. initiatives with the Soviet negotiators in Geneva. On these or any of the other areas of concern, the time has come for the Soviets to show the world that they're serious about peace and good will.

And that's enough of a statement from me. I know that you must have some questions.

Antitrust Laws

Q. Mr. President, we've been asked to identify ourselves. I'm Jared Lynch from WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh. There are many people in the Pittsburgh area, sir, who believe that no matter what you have been able to do so far with the Commerce Department relative to steel imports and restricting imports that the final breakthrough will hinge on whether or not we are able to allow some revision or readjustment or relook at the antitrust laws that will allow some companies to use their best skills in combination with other companies and other expertise to, in effect, merge not the two giant corporations, perhaps, but certain portions of those corporations to take advantage of what they have -- [inaudible]. Do you agree with that, number one?

The President. Well, let me say this: In theory and in principle, yes, I do, because we ourselves have proposed a change in the antitrust laws with regard to a number of things such as research, things of that kind that industry in America, for its own progress and for our country's progress, should be allowed to do without being in violation of the antitrust laws.

Now, I can't give you all the specifics on that, but we have introduced quite a package for legislation on that subject.

Q. Do you think it might apply to the steel industry?

The President. Yes, because I would think that there, too, innovation and research is very much a part of the problems confronting them today.

Lebanon

Q. Mr. President -- [inaudible] -- your assessment of the -- [inaudible] -- obtaining cease-fires in Lebanon -- [inaudible] -- --

The President. Well, we have to continue to try to bring that about. And while there's a great deal of attention spent on whether we're shooting back or not shooting back when our marines are in danger, we are in continuous diplomatic negotiations by way of our Ambassador there and by the two Ambassadors that we sent, Fairbanks and McFarlane. They're back and forth between Damascus and Beirut constantly to help bring this about.

The mission that the multinational force was created for has not changed. At the time the first request came in, you'll remember that the Israelis were in, the Syrians were in, the PLO was in, and the fighting was going on, and hundreds and hundreds of innocent people were being killed in the shelling and bombing that was taking place.

For several years, the Government of Lebanon had been literally set aside by the factions in Lebanon in which each one had its own militia. And the request came, and the multinational force went in with the idea of helping provide stability as the foreign forces withdrew and left Lebanon, then, to establish its government and establish its supremacy or sovereignty over its own territory.

We have helped in the training of the Lebanese Army, and I must say that while the Lebanese Army has not been able to expand to the size to handle all the problems facing it, it is a well-trained and capable force.

Everything was proceeding on schedule, our negotiations in which we helped Lebanon and Israel to come to an agreement. You will remember at the time Syria had promised that when everyone else got out, they, too, would get out. Then they changed their minds. Whatever reason, well, we can take our own guess at that. They've made it pretty apparent that they feel that they have a proprietorship over much of Lebanon. They -- and I think under the influence of the Soviet forces that are there in their own country -- are behind much of what is presently going on.

But the fact still remains, the multinational force is there to help in this achieving of stability and control by Lebanon, and I think the mission still goes on. But from the very first, I said we will never send our men any place where they will not be allowed to defend themselves if they come under attack, and that recently has happened, and they have been defending themselves.

But the efforts toward a cease-fire still go on. And the opposition to that is coming from Syrians and now from PLO who have reinfiltrated after they were once taken out of the country and have moved into the fighting. And if this fails, the peace plan for the whole Middle East that we had proposed and offered our help in bringing about, based on Camp David and the United Nations resolutions that they had passed, I think also goes. All of us must ask ourselves, if we're not aware, that the reason we were trying to promote a peace plan is that the Middle East is vital to the Western World, the United States, and to our allies.

Q. Mr. President -- [inaudible] -- how far will you back the Gemayel government and the Lebanese Army, and is American prestige now completely tied up in their success?

The President. Well, we can't, obviously, can't guarantee victory. But such things as this recent shelling and the controversy about whether that was in defense of the marines was based on the commanders on the ground recognizing that if that particular vantage point in the hills was taken, it would make the position held by our marines untenable, because those who had been shooting at them will be looking right down their throats from those heights, very close.

And so we're convinced, and I hold, that this was part of them defending themselves. But we're continuing, as I say, with the negotiations. And I think there is -- well, we still have reason to believe that we can attain that cease-fire.

Q. Mr. President -- [inaudible] -- some of your advisers, in fact, have said that this was a defense of the Lebanese Army and that there is great concern that the Gemayel government will fall.

The President. Well, the idea was that the multinational force was there to try and preserve order while the army then proceeded to take over and take over from those militia factions in their own country. So I think that the mission that we're on is still operative.

Cuba

Q. Mr. President -- [inaudible] -- today that you commented to a Cuban American colleague of mine in Miami regarding a secret -- [inaudible] -- agreement and how you felt that the shipment of Soviet -- [inaudible] -- offensive arms might mean that the U.S. is not bound by its promise not to invade Cuba. It stirred a lot of commotion in south Florida's Cuban American community. They want to know more -- if, in fact, this secret agreement is under review; if so, what are the implications, and are we going to get tougher with Castro now that the Soviets are -- [inaudible] -- around the world?

The President. Well, the statement that I made was based -- that agreement is not, you know, in the form of some formal treaty or agreement. This was a series of letters exchanged between President Kennedy and the Castro regime.

To our knowledge, they have not brought back in nuclear weapons, which was part of it. We have felt, in a number of instances, the so-called agreement in this letter form is rather ambiguous on many points. I think what I was trying to say was that we believe that in spirit, certainly, that has been abrogated, and yet, it's very hard to pin it down as you would with a treaty and say, ``You've broken the treaty.''

We tried to establish communications with Mr. Castro quite some time ago when he had indicated that perhaps this should be done, and we got no place. And as far as we're concerned, we are going to continue there, and the Soviet efforts to establish another Cuba on our mainland in Central America, and we're going to do that as we have been doing it in Central America.

Central America

Q. Mr. President, also, now that the Soviet regime is -- [inaudible] -- around the world, is it time for -- [inaudible] -- have on our doorstep, you know, violations of international rules with Cuba. Can we get tougher? And regarding Central America, are we getting into a war to avoid a Communist takeover in Central America?

The President. Now, you've asked a question that I really shouldn't answer. I don't see the necessity for the United States going to war in any place where we are. But as I once said in a press conference here -- and some of the regular White House press corps tried to hang me out to dry on it -- there are some things about which a President should never say never, and I just think things of this kind.

But there is nothing in our plans that envisions a war for the United States. Our job is trying to prevent war wherever it may come in the world. And this is the reason for our military buildup, and it's the reason for our meeting in disarmament talks -- more than any other administration has ever had going at one time in our history.

So, I can just say that we're going to continue on this line, and that any time that Castro -- whose country is in dire straits, is an economic basket case -- any time that he wants to make the moves to return to the community of American nations here in the Western Hemisphere, we'd be happy to sit down with him and work that out. But it begins with him coming out from under the wing of the Soviet Union.

Q. Mr. President?

The President. Now, wait a minute. I've got to go to the back of the room.

Lebanon

Q. [Inaudible] -- as you know, sir, Jacksonville -- [inaudible] -- navy base. There are many navy families in Jacksonville that are concerned about their -- [inaudible] -- on the Eisenhower off the coast of Lebanon. What are the chances, sir, that that situation might widen U.S. involvement in a direct attack on artillery battery or whatever, on the U.S. fleet to protect the aircraft carrier?

The President. So far, we see no indication of anything of the kind there. You can't rule anything out when you're dealing with some of the kind of people that we're having to deal with in that episode. But I would think that they would do thinking two or three times more before they would attempt anything of that kind.

Q. What would we do, sir, if they did shell the American fleet or our people -- [inaudible] -- --

The President. Well, I asked at my table here a while ago if anyone has ever heard a 16-inch gun go off. The New Jersey should be arriving very shortly. The same thing would apply to the fleet that applies to the marines: They will defend themselves if attacked.

Q. What specific purpose does the battleship have there when there are 1,200 marines on the ground?

The President. Well, we just thought that with all of the hotspots around the world and all, and the New Jersey is newly in service -- it's been down off the Central American coast, as you know, and we just thought that it ought to get a look at joining up with the Sixth Fleet for a while in the Mediterranean.

Q. Sir, could I just ask you one quick last one? [Inaudible] Concerning the length of the resolution, the congressional resolution, Senator Kennedy is calling that ``a blank check for far too long a period''. What do you think about the length of the resolution, and also that puts it past the election?

The President. I think that the agreement has worked out; both sides have some reservations. I'll be voicing mine, probably at the time of signing, if it passes. I think the Senator is absolutely wrong. And I think those people that have advocated such things as invoking the 60-day clause are very shortsighted, because if you did that, aren't you simply saying to the people who are causing the trouble now, step up the trouble for 60 days and your problems will be over, the multinational force will go home?

Eighteen months gives us a long enough period of time that that doesn't hold true. And I would point out that the first person who ever voiced 18 months as a reasonable time was Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, and -- --

Q. [Inaudible] -- the political considerations -- --

The President. -- -- I was happy to agree with him.

Q. [Inaudible] -- in terms of the election timing and bringing it beyond that, is that a plus for everyone?

The President. Oh, I think he was thinking out also the same thing that I just mentioned -- that makes it a long enough time that that does not become a factor in the strategizing of the people who are causing the trouble.

President's Visit to the Philippines

Q. [Inaudible]

Q. Can I just ask you one more question? Yesterday, the Philippine President, President Marcos, said that if you canceled your trip to the Philippines that would be a ``slap in the face'' to his country. And I was wondering if you made any decision yet as to whether you would be going or not and whether that might happen?

The President. Well, I can understand his saying that if we deliberately bypassed the Philippines at this point as part of the planned trip. There are no plans to change the trip as of now. The whole Southeast Asian trip is planned, and as far as we're concerned is going ahead on schedule.

Location of United Nations Headquarters

Q. What about the U.N.? We have been hearing a lot about the U.N., that it would move for -- [inaudible]. What are your thoughts?

The President. Well, I think that the gentleman who spoke for us the other day -- I'm three questions past that last question here. [Laughter] I think the gentleman who spoke the other day had the hearty approval of most people in America in his suggestion that we weren't asking anyone to leave, but if they chose to leave, goodby. Jeane Kirkpatrick has made an interesting suggestion, also, that should be thought about. But maybe all of those delegates should have 6 months in the United Nations meetings in Moscow and then 6 months in New York, and it would give them an opportunity to see two ways of life.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.

The President. And we'd permit them.

Note: The President spoke at 1 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.