Informal Exchange With Reporters in St. Bernard, Ohio

October 3, 1985

Q. Mr. President, Gorbachev has made his plans public. Does that harm serious negotiations?

The President. No, I don't believe so. The details have not been spelled out, and the proposal has been put before the negotiators in Geneva and that's where it will be -- --

Q. Mr. President, he has said there will be a -- --

Q. Well, what's he doing, Mr. President? He's trying to put you on the defensive, isn't he?

Q. -- -- he said there will be a -- --

The President. Now, wait a minute. She said it first. Then I'll get to you, Bill [Bill Plante, CBS News].

What?

Q. He said that there will be a cap on SS - 20's back to the June '84 level, that they will dismantle the launchers in Europe, and that he wants separate negotiations with the British and French. Isn't that quite a big change in their position?

The President. Yes. Everything they're saying is a change in their position. Well, with regard to the British and the French, that is up to the Soviet Union and the British and the French. Certainly, the United States cannot negotiate with the Soviets about what they're going to do with regard to the nuclear missiles of other countries. With regard to the remarks he made about the intermediate-range missiles in Europe, this was the -- when we acceded to the European request and provided missiles for them to have, intermediate missiles, in defense against these missiles aimed at them -- this is what caused the Soviets, more than a year ago, to walk out for more than a year from the negotiations, because we had put those missiles in Europe. Now, they're back negotiating, and they now, I understand, have made a suggestion about reducing the number of their weapons. This, too, will have to be negotiated.

Q. Well now, why do you think they're doing that, sir? Are they trying to put you on the defensive with the Europeans?

The President. Oh, I don't know whether they're trying to do that or not. It would be nice to hope that they may have gotten religion.

Q. Well, how do you look at them? How do you look at these -- --

The President. Well -- --

Q. -- -- at the Gorbachev appearance to the press?

The President. As I say, I'm not going to discuss the terms they're proposing because that's going to be dealt with by our negotiators in Geneva.

Q. Yes, but what do you think of him in trying -- --

The President. But with regard to this latest statement about the SS - 20's, which are their multiwarhead missiles that are aimed at European targets, and in response to which we had put the Pershings and the cruise missiles in Europe. As I understand it, the only proposal they've made is one that would not be destroying any of their weapons; it would simply be moving them. Well, that missile, the SS - 20, is a mobile missile. It is transported; it can move from place to place. To simply drive them up into the Ural Mountains or someplace else and then say that they're not a threat to Europe makes no sense.

Q. Well, he did say dismantle -- --

The President. They can be brought back any time they want to turn on the gas.

Q. He did say dismantle the launchers for the first time, Mr. President.

The President. Well -- --

Q. Doesn't that change the nature of the movement between European and Asian SS countries?

The President. If they truly mean that, but then, again, we'll leave that to our negotiators in Geneva.

Q. Well, Gorbachev says, sir, that if you don't -- --

Q. -- -- going to our European allies -- --

Q. Gorbachev says if you don't give up SDI, there'll be hard times in the world.

The President. Well, he could probably feel that way because the Soviet Union is about 10 years ahead of us in developing a defensive system themselves, and they're very upset at the idea that they might not be the only ones that have a defense against nuclear weapons as well as having the offensive nuclear weapons. Now, we're working so that we, too, can have a defensive shield that kills weapons, not people. And I'm sure that is upsetting to them, but we're not going to retreat from the research that could deliver to the world a defense against these nuclear weapons and finally bring us to the realization that we should eliminate the nuclear weapons entirely.

Q. And the testing, sir? And the testing?

The President. That goes along with research.

Q. What about the fact that these separate negotiations might -- --

Principal Deputy Press Secretary Speakes. We've had a lot of questions -- --

Q. -- -- undercut the U.S.-Soviet negotiations in Geneva? If they go off on their own and deal with the British and the French, doesn't that drive a wedge between us and our allies?

The President. No, I don't believe so at all. It certainly would drive a wedge if we arrogantly decided that we would negotiate on behalf of other countries and without their consent. No, this is between them and the Soviet Union. And more power to them. I've got to go on.

Q. Anything more on the Israeli raid in Tunisia? Do you still -- --

The President. No -- --

Q. -- -- think it's understandable?

Q. The PLO -- --

The President. -- -- no more comments.

Note: The exchange began at 12:50 p.m. following the President's visit to the Ivorydale Soap Manufacturing Plant. He then traveled to Cincinnati. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this exchange.