Written Responses to Questions Submitted by Il Tempo of Italy

May 23, 1985

The President's Trip to Europe

Q. You have just completed what many press accounts see as a highly controversial trip to Europe, marked by an uproar over your decision to visit a German military cemetery and by failure to obtain French agreement for a 1986 round of trade liberalization negotiations. How do you personally assess your European trip?

The President. Well, I think the headlines sometimes obscure the most significant events in public life and that history has a way of clarifying genuine achievement. Personally, I am very heartened by the results of my trip. I am confident that they do add up to real achievements and represent a success for the Western partnership as a whole. That is why I reported ``mission accomplished'' to the American people and Congress. For example, the visit definitely strengthened U.S.-German relations and the prospects for continuing peace in Europe -- twin accomplishments which have major importance for every country in Europe, not least of all Italy.

At the Bonn Economic Summit we agreed to a common strategy aimed at continued economic growth and job creation -- again, an accomplishment which vitally affects every country in Europe. And while it is true that one country out of the seven summit participants did not join the rest of us in agreeing on a date to begin multilateral trade talks, we did move much closer to our goal of launching those talks. I was also heartened by the across-the-board support for our arms control efforts positions in Geneva.

In my speech to the European Parliament, we set forth a framework for improved U.S.-Soviet relations, spelling out a number of constructive, commonsense, confidence-building measures aimed at lowering tensions. Here, too, we were dealing with the crucial issue of war and peace as well as the shape of Europe during the rest of this century and on into the next. And in that context I should mention my stops in Spain and Portugal, Europe's newest democracies. There, we saw heartening proof that freedom works.

Finally, let me add how much I appreciate the very special flavor which your country provided to my trip. In the first place it was pleasant, as always, to have the company of your Prime Minister, representing his democratic coalition government, during the economic summit in Bonn. Mr. Craxi's vigor, poise, and intelligence tangibly contributed to the value of our discussions and the positive statements we produced. And, of course, I was very personally pleased by Nancy's program in Rome and the marvelous hospitality she found there. I hope it's not too presumptuous for a proud husband to note that Nancy's work on drug abuse interested all of my colleagues and was a constructive accompaniment to our summit agreement for intensified cooperation against international drug trafficking.

Strategic Defense Initiative

Q. Mr. President, from your discussions in Bonn with your European partners and allies did you get a sense that they are ready to cooperate with the United States in the research program for the Strategic Defense Initiative, even if the Soviets and other critics of the program will protest that SDI runs counter to the ABM treaty?

The President. There is no question that all of our key allies -- and that of course includes Italy -- are extremely interested in our Stategic Defense Initiative. During the Bonn Economic Summit, I was delighted to see that all of our partners support our SDI research program as prudent and necessary. Whether they choose to participate in our research effort is, of course, for them to decide. We know there are a number of questions, but I wish to emphasize that we would welcome participation by our allies.

As for Soviet protests that such research runs counter to the ABM treaty, I can only say that such protests are factually wrong and proceed from cynical efforts to distort the meaining of the ABM treaty. The truth is, we are and will remain in full compliance with our ABM treaty obligations.

It is also important to know that the Soviets themselves obviously understand the value of defensive systems. The Soviets are spending as much on defense as offense, and of course they have the only operational ABM and antisatellite systems deployed by anyone in the world. Given their actions, it's only reasonable that we proceed with our research program.

Q. What was your response to those Europeans who say that SDI may precipitate a deadlock in Geneva that would plunge European governments into another debate over the nature of their security ties with the United States?

The President. I believe that it is far too early in this extraordinarily complex set of negotiations -- which address strategic nuclear weapons, intermediate-range nuclear weapons, and space weapons -- to speak of deadlock. In any event, we firmly oppose the idea that progress in any one area of the negotiations should or must be held hostage to progress in any other area. Rigid insistence on such a self-defeating formula would violate both common sense and mankind's genuine interest in achieving the widest possible agreement on arms reductions. I believe that it is very much in the Soviets' own interests to avoid placing purely artificial impediments in the way of achievement, and I am hopeful that they will join with us in working for a safer, more stable, and more peaceful international community.

Nuclear and Space Arms Negotiations

Q. The first phase of the Geneva talks was relatively unproductive, by admission of your own administration. In part, this has been attributed to the Soviet desire to see if they could get anything from the U.S. without bargaining. Are you hopeful that some real bargaining may now begin in Geneva? And in which one of the three baskets of negotiations?

The President. My ardent desire is that through patient and serious and realistic negotiations we can make significant progress in all three of the baskets, as you call them. Obviously, I do not underestimate the difficulties of our task. After all, these negotiations affect our vital security interests. But because they do entail issues that are literally matters of life and death, it is imperative that we stick with them and not let ourselves be discouraged by either the slow pace of progress or by the tactics which the Soviets themselves might from time to time adopt in the hope that these will weaken Western cohesion and resolve.

Meeting With Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev

Q. In your judgement, which are the areas that potentially are more suited to an improvement of relations with the Soviet Union and in which you could achieve some progress in a summit meeting with Mr. Gorbachev?

The President. Well, I am not really sure it would be helpful for me to speculate at this point on what areas of improved relations might come out of an eventual meeting with Mr. Gorbachev. I might note that while I have publicly expressed my interest in such a meeting and my willingness to meet with Mr. Gorbachev, he himself has not yet officially indicated when -- or for that matter where -- he thinks a meeting should take place. In general, however, I would emphasize to you a view I have often voiced in the past: It is always much better to be talking to a person than about him. And if and when Mr. Gorbachev and I get together -- which I hope will be soon -- you can be sure, for the American part, that it will be in the spirit of good will, seriousness, and a determination to explore whatever avenue may be open toward better understanding, reduced tensions, and peace. I must underline, however, that meetings do not in and of themselves guarantee progress -- it is the overall relationship between our countries that counts, and this relationship is not enhanced when expectations about any one meeting are too high.

East-West Relations

Q. Are you concerned that a strong push by the Europeans for a summit conference, and possibly in the direction of a new detente, may create a situation in which the tactics of the summit may be more important than the substance of the discussions? What are your bottom-line conditions in requesting a well-prepared summit?

The President. If nothing else, my most recent discussions with our allies and partners at the Bonn Economic Summit further convinced me that European leaders attach far more importance to the substance of East-West relations than to what you call tactics. Their stakes in a genuinely improved East-West climate are as strong -- perhaps even stronger than our own, and they do not want such a critical relationship built on illusion, ambiguity, or misunderstanding. Despite what the Soviets themselves may be hoping or saying for propaganda purposes, the Western track record is impressive when it comes to sizing up our adversary and taking joint action in response. Allied firmness on commitment to the two-track NATO decision on intermediate-range missiles is eloquent proof of that. So, yes, we will be well prepared on our side for a summit meeting, and the bottom line for us means, as I earlier indicated, a meeting based on a spirit of good will, seriousness, and a sincere effort to address and, if possible, improve the core concerns of our relationship.

Note:The questions and answers were released by the Office of the Press Secretary on May 25.