Interview With Members of the Editorial Board of the New York Post in New York City

September 26, 1983

Q. Well, Mr. President, first of all our genuine appreciation for sparing us the time. We know your schedule is very busy, and we know that time is limited. So, we'd like to get down to business right away.

The President. All right. Well, let me say I'm appreciating your paper and its upholding of our country and the principles that involved and so forth -- very refreshing.

Q. Well, we shall continue to do so.

Lebanon

Mr. President, it would seem that congratulations are in order over your efforts to bring about a Lebanon cease-fire. However, all Mideast cease-fires seem to be fragile at best, and we're wondering what are the contingency plans if the cease-fire breaks down. Secretary Shultz has said there is no timetable to pull out the marines, says that goes for the Navy as well.

The President. Yes. I think right now this is a first step. We know that it's a tenuous one and that it's a very complex problem that has to be worked out. But it is right in line with the mission that took the whole multinational force there to be in a position to help preserve stability as a government of Lebanon reinstitutes its sovereignty over its own territory and the foreign forces get out.

So, we could be hopeful and optimistic, and certainly we have to be grateful that the shelling has stopped. But much yet remains to be done.

Q. Mr. President, you said yesterday that the Saudis played an important part in the helping to bring the cease-fire about. Did they put pressure on Syria by threatening to withhold their bankrolling?

The President. I don't know of any pressure of that kind. But I do know that just as we had two ambassadors there who were back and forth working virtually around the clock, trying to bring the various parties together, they were most helpful in doing the same thing and, I think, have to be recognized for that. So, I wouldn't know what persuasion was used or anything else, but finally we have the cease-fire.

1984 Presidential Campaign

Q. On October the 15th, Paul Laxalt and others will be forming the committee for your reelection. Can you say at this stage if you have made up your mind to run? If not, will you at least endorse Mr. Laxalt's committee?

The President. At least I would endorse what?

Q. Mr. Laxalt's committee.

The President. Oh. Well, no, let me just say I don't think this is a time when I can make an answer of any kind to that question. First of all, I believe that campaigns are too long anyway. But I've said there is no way that I'm going to make or announce a decision until the last possible moment that it could be done, because either way it's going to make things difficult. If you're not a candidate, you're a lameduck, and if you are a candidate, suddenly everything you try to accomplish is viewed as part of the political campaign.

So, I know there's coming a day when I'm going to have to make a statement, but not now.

Q. Have you discussed the possibilities yet with your family?

The President. Well, obviously this has come up in conversation. [Laughter]

Q. Will you endorse the committee that's being formed, though? Is it with your blessing?

The President. That would be getting into the area of commenting that I still don't think I should.

Q. When do you think, Mr. President, the day may come when you'll have to make a decision public? Do you see it within the next month or so, perhaps?

The President. Well, I haven't set any specific date, and so I won't hazard one. But, as I say, I know that such a day is coming, that there is -- reality alone says that a decision must be announced.

Terence Cardinal Cooke

Q. You had a rather historic meeting of prayer with Cardinal Cooke yesterday. How did you find that very brave man?

The President. Very brave. And it was just amazing. He expressed his interest in so much that's going on in the world and some of the things that we're trying to do. And it was a moving experience. But also we were so grateful for the opportunity to see him and have this meeting with him. They had arranged a little prayer service in his chapel, but not with him present. But we then went to his room, and he concluded the service before our visit with the final prayer.

James G. Watt

Q. Senator D'Amato of New York and many others have been very forceful in their language calling for Mr. Watt to resign. What are your views about that?

The President. Well, first of all, I think Mr. Watt has done a very capable job as Secretary of Interior. I think we have to point out with all of this that it was an unfortunate remark. It certainly was a mistake, and he has admitted that -- both those points. He has apologized not only to me, but he's apologized to the people on the Commission for that. But I think in all fairness we have to recognize that, yes, it was a very improper thing to say, but it certainly was not said in the sense of any bitterness or bigotry or prejudice. If I thought he was bigoted or prejudiced, he wouldn't be a part of our administration. It was an attempt at lightness that, as we all have to admit, fell very flat. And it was unfortunate.

So, I think that we have to recognize that, hope it won't be repeated.

Q. Do you think it'd be possible for him to continue in office?

The President. What's that?

Q. Do you think it would be possible for him to continue in office?

The President. Well, I think that's a decision that he, himself, would have to make, whether he feels that he has made it questionable as to whether he can be effective or not.

Q. You have no plans, Mr. President, to ask him to leave, then?

The President. No. I accepted his apology.

United Nations Address

Q. If we could turn to your speech at the United Nations today, which is very calm and very measured. Had you, while you were preparing the speech, had any indication or signal of any sort that your proposals might be agreeable to the Soviets?

The President. Well, you can always hope. What I said today I've thought for some time the things that needed saying, both with regard to the United Nations and to their approach to these matters. I just feel very deeply that if -- and when I remarked about governments starting wars, that if the representatives of the Soviet Union and ourselves sat down at those tables, those negotiating tables, with the conviction in our minds that there must not be a war, then there won't be a war, and there could almost instantly be a reduction in those terrible and dangerous arms, those weapons. I'm certain that the Russian people don't want a war, and I know our people don't. We don't. And I just do -- are they willing to come to the table with that idea in mind, instead of an idea as to how they can preserve some margin of superiority for themselves.

Korean Airliner Incident

Q. [Inaudible] -- heard, Mr. President, has there been the slightest signal of the overall regret expressed by some segments of the Soviet leadership, which there has been, small as it may be. Have you regarded that as any kind of genuine signal?

The President. No, because I don't think it's come from the kind of people that normally would give the signals. But it is an indication there of, certainly, recognition on the part of some, as you say, that this was as terrible a deed as we have said it was. And I just think the world is owed an apology plus a statement to the effect that they're going to join the rest of us in cooperating to see that such a thing can never happen again. And that could be aided and abetted also if they would recognize some responsibility in compensation for the families of the victims.

Q. Mr. President, do you think there may be some sort of a high-level political dispute going on in the Kremlin, that the statements by these lower level officials, which were just referred to, may represent and in fact there isn't unanimity in there on what happened?

The President. I wouldn't hazard a guess on that. But I do say that there is evidence that is a little different than what we usually expect, because usually the official reply comes out with unanimous support over there, and that's it, and that's the story everyone tells. So, this has been a little different, that there have been voices that have begun now. They weren't heard for quite a while.

In fact, there was such a difference in the stories that it just further added to the evidence of how deliberate and despicable this act was. Most people are tending to forget that their first statement was that they just didn't know anything about it. It just disappeared from their radar. And then when the evidence was presented that it had been shot down and that they were responsible for that, suddenly they come up with a new story about spy plane and so forth. No one's mentioned this yet, but isn't that a pretty hard -- the idea of error -- a pretty hard thing to believe, when that plane is one on a regular schedule, that at least every week is flying that same route and at the same time of day?

Visit to the Philippines

Q. Mr. President, are your plans firm for Manila?

The President. What's that?

Q. Are your plans firm for Manila?

The President. Well, the trip is still planned. If there would be any reason to change it, it would be domestic, because there is a probability -- we had planned that trip with the idea that Congress would not be in session, that it would have gone home. And that is questionable now as to whether they're going to go home. And now it makes you wonder, how can you be in two places at once? But don't take that as an indication. So far the trip is still on.

Q. The First Lady had expressed second thoughts, misgivings about that particular trip, given the recent events, the recent, tragic events.

The President. Well, let me just say -- and I sympathize with her very deeply, but since a previous experience that we had -- I shouldn't use the expression ``she's a little gun shy.'' [Laughter] No, but she does feel a legitimate concern and in many places where I have to appear.

Arms Reduction

Q. Mr. President, just to come back to your speech to the U.N. today and your three proposals, I was struck -- let me not talk for everyone, because we haven't all talked about it -- but it struck me as being rather generous towards the negotiating position, in the view that they've constantly said no, and you say, ``Well, all right, now, we'll count the aircraft, and we won't count the missiles in the Far East. So that would reduce the total number to which we are responding in Western Europe.''

The President. Ah, but we reserve the right to place in other areas -- --

Q. Yes.

The President. -- -- to counter what other threats might be involved in their disposition in other areas of their missiles.

Q. Yes, and you go very far towards meeting the Soviet position over the Pershings, which they've been making the most noise about.

The President. Maybe that was a restatement of something that was always in our mind. The original concept of what was going in NATO in INF was going to be a mix of Pershings and cruise missiles. And at one time, there was a Russian voice raised that, well, they might listen to cruise missiles but not Pershings at all. Well, this in a way today was a restatement that, no, there will still be a mix, but we are willing that if they agree to reductions, that means that our original figure must be reduced. That reduction will be in both Pershings and cruise missiles.

But as I said in the remarks, I'd like to see it on the zero-zero basis. We know that can't be. Well, now we want -- any reduction that can be achieved is going to be better than what threatens us now and threatens our allies in Europe. And so, that's what we're going to continue to strive for, is to the lowest possible point that they will come, and we will meet them on an equal and a verifiable basis.

Q. Mr. President, you've been at the U.N. -- [inaudible] -- and there have been reports out of your administration that you and some of your senior aides feel that there is a double standard operating -- [inaudible] -- for example, being quick to condemn Israel for its invasion of Lebanon but not condemning the Soviet downing of the airliner or the Libyan invasion of Chad. Do you feel after being here that there is a double standard?

The President. Well, no, I've noticed that many times they on many votes have been able to marshal a majority of votes their way and not on ours. What I was trying to point out was again the -- something happens to the whole concept of the U.N. if we find the U.N., like the world, beginning to divide up into blocs. The ideal was supposed to be that every nation would be there as an individual and seeking the same thing, the things that are called for in the charter of the U.N. And there has been evidence of the other, of kind of taking sides or bloc voting, and I was just trying to call their attention back to the original purpose.

I'll tell you, may I say something else about that, too? It's time that all of us recognize that maybe we're not as civilized as we were when I was a young man growing up. By that I mean that it was taken for granted for years and years, the days prior to World War II, that all the rules of warfare were aimed at limiting warfare to warriors and providing protection and neutrality for civilians. And without quite realizing it's happened, we're in a world today where not only are the civilians fair game, but the most potent weapons systems, the nuclear weapons, are definitely aimed at the destruction of civilians. And wouldn't it be nice if in a forum of this kind we could get back to being as civilized as we once were?

Jewish Vote

Q. Since we're in New York, could we ask you a question about the Jewish vote? In 1980 you scored a very high proportion of the Jewish vote for a Republican, but since then, it has been suggested that support has dwindled. Do you think it would be possible to recapture that element in your 1984 strategy?

The President. Well, I never conceded that we lost them. I think we have more to offer them than the other side does. And, no, I haven't felt that at all. I know that sometimes in all of this debate with regard to the peace plan and all, there were times when the Israelis and ourselves found ourselves differing on various points. But that never in any way -- and they knew this as well; the Israelis knew this -- that never slackened in any way or weakened the resolve of this country, which has existed since 1948, of a moral obligation to see that the State of Israel continues to exist as a nation.

Q. Thank you, sir.

1984 Presidential Campaign

Q. Could I ask one last question? Mr. President, I wonder if I could ask you as an astute political observer, not as a President, who you think amongst the Democratic candidates for President might be the toughest candidate?

The President. If I knew the answer to that one, I wouldn't give it to you. [Laughter] Why should I help them make their decision? [Laughter]

Note: The interview began at 2:35 p.m. in the Presidential Suite at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Among those participating in the interview were Rupert Murdoch, publisher, Roger Wood, executive editor, Bruce Rothwell, editorial page editor, and Steve Dunleavy, George Artz, and Fred Dicker.

Following the interview, the President returned to Washington, D.C.