Interview With Agence France Presse on Foreign and Domestic Issues

March 15, 1984

U.S.-France Relations

Q. Mr. President, you're going to meet President Mitterrand next week, and what are the main issues you are going to raise with him and -- for instance, are you going to talk about the need for reform in NATO to prevent a drift between Europe and the U.S., as many have suggested? The need -- do you think there is a need for such reforms?

The President. For -- --

Q. In NATO.

Q. Restructuring NATO, you know, everybody talking about that now.

The President. Well, I'd be very happy to talk with him about it. I think right now that we and our -- all our Western allies and certainly our relationship with France is on a very strong footing. But I'd be glad to hear any views about whether a restructuring or not could benefit the alliance and see what we'll be talking about.

We've got a host of things to talk about from trade and the Middle East and some other things of that kind. I think we'll be mainly in agreement, remembering back to the summit conference here. But still, it'll be worthwhile to have a discussion. I'm looking forward to it.

There are a few things where we may have some slight differences which maybe some conversation can straighten out -- having to do with Central America, things of that kind. I know we'll be discussing trade problems and the progress that we have made and continue to make, not only bilaterally but through the European market with regard to freer trade and more cooperation and things of -- the kind of --

And also I will be discussing with him the East-West relations and what our goals are, because we are determined to bring about arms reductions and to get conversations restored with the Soviet Union to where we can discuss face to face the problems that only we can solve.

Q. Did you see the story that President Mitterrand wrote for Parade this week, coming out this week?

The President. Oh, no.

Q. I wanted to ask you what you thought of that phrase there: ``Within the Alliance, the U.S. and France know that in time of need they can rely on each other -- -- ''

The President. Yes. We are really the oldest allies.

Q. You and President Mitterrand came into office at about the same time 3 years ago; you with a conservative agenda, him on a socialist platform. Given this contrary background, how have you been able to develop a good rapport and maintain the cooperation between your two governments?

The President. Well, while it is true that there are differences in our political philosophies, there are a greater number of things we have in common. We have spent a fair amount of our lives in politics, worked hard to become Presidents, and entered office at approximately the same time. Since then we have been together on several occasions -- at three summit meetings, at Yorktown and Cancun, as well as in each other's capital. Finally, we are both leaders of major Western nations with a set of global interests and concerns which, while not always identical, are almost always compatible.

What we share the most is a common commitment to the Atlantic alliance. We have both worked to strengthen that alliance. I think it fair to say that today there is an unusual degree of transatlantic consensus and security cooperation. President Mitterrand played a significant role in helping achieve this. He and I also share a desire for a renewed and improved East-West dialog, including the resumption of arms reduction talks to reduce world tensions.

I will be discussing this and a whole range of global issues with President Mitterrand. I am looking forward to his visit, which comes at a time when U.S.-French relations have seldom been better than they are today.

Q. Your Ambassador to Paris, Mr. Evan Galbraith, has been widely criticized recently for intervening in French domestic affairs by publicly criticizing the role of Communist Ministers in the French Government. At the time, the White House said he had your full confidence. Does that mean that you approve of his views and the way he expressed them?

The President. The matter was successfully resolved some weeks ago, and I see no good reason to reopen it. I look forward to seeing Van Galbraith again -- and as you have noted, he enjoys my full confidence -- when he is here for the state visit of President Mitterrand.

European Unity

Q. Some Europeans are again talking about a common European defense effort. So far, your government's reactions to that have been mixed. Are you afraid that such a trend would weaken the defense links between Europe and the United States within NATO?

The President. We regard, as do all other of its members, the Atlantic alliance as the essential framework of our common security. Within that framework, we have consistently urged a greater defense contribution from our European partners. We note with pleasure the steps which have been taken in this regard in recent years. As always, our attitude toward any specific initiatives for enhanced European defense will depend on the contribution that can be made to the overall strength and cohesion of the Atlantic alliance.

U.S. Troops Abroad

Q. Several Democratic hopefuls have picked up the old idea of reducing the level of American troops in Europe as a way to cut U.S. defense spending. Is that your intention?

The President. As I have said on several occasions, U.S. troops in Europe are there to defend our vital national interests. Unilateral reductions in the number of U.S. troops in Europe will not reduce the threat to these interests. On the contrary, it would increase that threat.

I am committed to maintain the American contribution to the defense of Europe; indeed, we have made major efforts to strengthen that contribution. This commitment is shared, I believe, by the vast majority of the American people.

Third World Countries

Q. On the Third World, the French sometimes criticize your analysis and policies on Central and Latin America. On your part, how do you assess France's role in Africa, in general, and Chad, in particular.

The President. France plays a constructive role in Africa, through its economic and security assistance programs. We maintain a constant and frank dialog with the French Government on African developments. We seek to work with France in a complementary fashion.

Both the United States and France have a particular concern about Africa's worsening economic crisis, and both countries are taking steps to be of assistance. I plan on seeking Mr. Mitterrand's views on this subject when we meet.

As for Chad, the response of the French Government has been laudable. France has taken the lead in providing assistance to the legitimate government of that country in withstanding Libyan aggression. We are proud to be associated with France in that assistance effort.

And I'm glad you mentioned Central America. We share with all the nations of Europe a firm belief that peace needs to be restored in Central America. As you know, we are working actively to assure that El Salvador's new democracy is allowed to develop without violence or guerrilla harassment. And we are determined in our view that Nicaragua and Cuba should not succeed in the export of revolution elsewhere in the region.

Central America and the Caribbean are of the utmost strategic importance to the United States. What we are witnessing to the south is a power play by Cuba and the Soviet Union, pure and simple. Cuba, after nearly 25 years of so-called revolution, is an economic basket case. It cannot supply even its own needs without massive and costly Soviet subsidies. Like a roving wolf, Cuba looks to its peace-loving neighbors with hungry eyes. We want to avert a crisis before it happens -- to help our neighbors build strong economies and democratic governments and to counter Soviet-backed insurgency. The way to end hostilities in El Salvador, for example, is through free elections. But we see those who oppose democracy now trying, through violence, to disrupt the March 25 elections there.

What the United States is doing on behalf of freedom in Central America is minimal, considering what is at stake. We have a vital interest, a duty, and a responsibility -- and I ask you, why should the United States and France, two of the great democracies of history, not want to see democracy prevail in Central America?

Federal Budget Deficit

Q. Many French and European officials complain that the huge Federal deficits are responsible for high interest rates and an overvalued dollar which jeopardize their economic recovery and increase protectionist pressures. Are you prepared to take concrete steps to alleviate such fears before the November election?

The President. As to your specific question, yes, I am prepared to take concrete steps before the November election and have just done so. I am asking the Democratic and Republican leaders in the Congress to work with the administration on the development of a downpayment deficit reduction program. A program of spending cuts and tax measures to close certain loopholes could, I believe, be enacted this spring that would reduce the deficit by some $150 billion over the next 3 fiscal years. I see this as a first step toward full elimination of the remaining deficits.

As to the fears of some Europeans that the U.S. budget deficit, high interest rates, and strong dollar jeopardize their recovery, may I say that the strong performance of the U.S. economy has given a significant push to European recovery, and the strong dollar of which they complain has given Europe a substantial export advantage which is further contributing to their recovery.

I have great confidence in our own economic recovery, and I am looking forward to discussing it with your President. As spring begins here in Washington, I think President Mitterrand will find a lot of optimism about the future.

Note: The interview took place in the Oval Office at the White House. Participating in the interview were Claude Moisy, Gilbert Grellet, and Pierre Rousselin.

As printed above, this item follows the transcript released by the Office of the Press Secretary on March 19.