Remarks to Reporters Following a Meeting With Navy Lieutenant Robert O. Goodman, Jr.

January 4, 1984

The President. Well, today is a homecoming celebration, and all of us are delighted to see Lieutenant Robert Goodman free, safe, and reunited with his family. This young naval officer was flying a mission of peace, and both during and after, he exemplified qualities of leadership and loyalty -- qualities of so many fine men and women in our military that we're all proud of. Reverend Jackson's mission was a personal mission of mercy, and he has earned our gratitude and our admiration.

Lieutenant Goodman's release affords us a unique opportunity to -- well, I took advantage of the opportunity to write to the President of Syria and call for Syrian cooperation in securing peace in Lebanon. Last night Don Rumsfeld left to seek diplomatic solutions to the problems of the region. And today, on this happy occasion, let all of us unite in a renewed determination to achieve a lasting stability and the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon.

As I say, this is a homecoming and a very welcome and a happy one here. Thank you all for recording it for posterity.

[Speaking to Lieutenant Goodman] Welcome home.

Lieutenant Goodman. Thank you, sir. Thank you.

I would just like to once again thank all of the people involved -- Reverend Jackson, Ambassador Paganelli, the ministers in his delegation -- for their diligent work and the ability to get me home a little bit earlier than I had envisioned. Thank you very much, and I appreciate all the support.

Reverend Jackson. Let me express thanks to the ecumenical body of ministers, led by Dr. Howard, who took this risky mission of mercy on faith. I want to express thanks to the Goodman family, Mrs. Marilyn Goodman and Bob and Terry, who prayed with us and gave us so much moral support and gave us the necessary inspiration; to the people around this nation who wore their blue ribbons as a measure of solidarity as we prayed together and fasted together, trying to rise above the everydayness of our lives that we might be able to secure the release of Lieutenant Robert Goodman and to gain his freedom and have a breakthrough for peace. We want to thank Almighty God, who heard our sincere and earnest prayers during this hour of crisis and this hour of opportunity.

It was especially meaningful to us that once we got our telegram back from President Assad, we then called Senator Charles Percy, chairman of our Foreign Relations Committee, which we thought was the appropriate thing to do. He then got us in contact with the State Department -- Ambassador Murphy and Mr. Lawrence Eagleburger. It was the support of our State Department, within the law, that gave us the latitude that we needed to feel that we were doing the right thing within the law.

The fact that we left this country, and the Ambassador from Syria, Rafic Jouejati, escorted us to the airport, and when we arrived in Damascus, Syria, Ambassador Paganelli met us there, meant that we were without the portfolio of either government, but with the respect of both of them. President Reagan had the option to stop our mission. He had the option to interfere or to intervene. He did neither. And we felt that the fact that he made the choice to not intervene or interfere was significant to us.

The fact that Ambassador Paganelli met us in Syria was a signal that our government had reasonable doubt, because missions like this are not that successful often. But that was all that we needed, was a reasonable assurance and the support. I would hope that the cycle of pain is now broken and that this mission of peace will take us to an everlasting peace.

Lastly, it is significant that we were in Damascus, for one reason that many of us identify with Damascus is that a man traveling along that road many years ago fell off of a horse and was knocked unconscious. When he awakened, he saw a new light. It was the Apostle Paul, and because he saw that new light, the world has never been the same since. As it were, December of this past year, Lieutenant Robert Goodman was knocked from a plane and knocked unconscious. The Syrians had the right to kill him; they did not. They nursed him back to good health. And in due time, they released him. And thus we see another light on this day.

President Assad used this opportunity to seize an initiative, and we want to express our thanks to him. The fact that President Reagan has already sent him a letter is a sign that when the minds of leaders come together and their hearts agree, that we do have the capacity to save this generation from disaster.

Thank you very much.

Q. Mr. President, sir, would you be willing to meet with President Assad personally if it would advance the cause of peace in the Mideast?

The President. Of course.

Q. Are there any such plans, sir?

The President. Well, we have opened -- as the Reverend just said and as I said in my remarks -- we have opened communications with him, and we hope it'll lead to that.

Q. What about the Lebanese plan for reconciliation, Mr. President?

The President. That's going forward.

Q. Do we think that there's a breakthrough now? Gemayel's -- --

The President. We think we've made progress, yes.

Note: The President spoke at 10:56 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.

Earlier, the President met in the Oval Office with Reverend Jackson and members of his party to discuss his trip to Damascus, Syria. Present at that meeting were the Vice President, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs John M. Poindexter, Counsellor to the President Edwin Meese III, and Assistants to the President James A. Baker III and Michael K. Deaver. Following the discussion, they were joined by Lieutenant Goodman and members of his family.