Informal Exchange With Reporters Prior to Special Envoy Philip C. Habib's Departure for Central America

March 12, 1986

The President. Ladies and gentlemen, this is kind of a farewell to Ambassador Habib, who has served us so nobly elsewhere and more recently in the Philippines, and is now on his way to Central America. He will be meeting with President Duarte and then also going on to Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala -- in regard to the problem down there.

Q. Why can't he go to Nicaragua? Why are you stopping him from that, which seems to be -- --

The President. If there was any benefit and that presented an opportunity, I'm sure that he would. But because we are still seeking some openings, some negotiations with the Sandinistas, which, well, nine times now, they have refused.

Q. Well, why not send him on this trip, sir? Why not send him to Nicaragua on this trip?

The President. You don't go where you're not invited.

Q. Are you leaving it open? Are you opening the possibility to resume the direct talks?

The President. I trust in his judgment. If anything comes up that would show that there might be any prospect or any profit in doing that, I am sure that he would make that decision.

Q. He has the flexibility to go to Managua if it becomes necessary or if it's -- --

The President. You bet he does.

Q. Mr. President, your critics say that this is just a cover, you're not interested in negotiation. He's just sent down to try to prove to them that you are, when in fact you aren't.

The President. Sam [Sam Donaldson, ABC News], the critics have been making ridiculous noises for a long time and that's one of the most ridiculous.

Q. Your top military -- --

The President. Nine times we have tried to persuade the Sandinista government to enter into negotiations and nine times we've gotten nowhere.

Q. Your top military man, General Galvin [Commander in Chief, U.S. Southern Command], said today that even if you don't give aid to the contras, they're not going to collapse, sir.

The President. Maybe we have a difference of opinion.

Q. Are you going to compromise?

Q. With your top military man?

The President. They haven't met Ambassador Habib yet.

Q. Are you going to compromise?

Q. Mr. President, have you picked up any votes as a result of this emergency farm aid? Has that picked up any votes for contra aid?

The President. I don't know. I'll find out when they vote.

Q. Mr. Habib, are those designer glasses you have on there?

Ambassador Habib. These? [Laughter] No, they're just the ordinary kind any fellow could pick up.

Q. If the Nicaraguans invite him, will he go, Mr. President?

Q. Do you really need an invitation? Do you really need an invitation?

The President. He'll make the decision on that.

Q. Are you going to compromise in the end, sir?

The President. What?

Q. Are you going to compromise in the end?

The President. As I tried to explain the other day, and I didn't say anything about me making a compromise, I said we're going to listen to, we'll talk to anyone that's got anything to offer.

Q. How about a 60-day -- --

Q. Why won't you talk to Ortega? Why don't you sit down with Ortega, then?

The President. Well, I've told you, we've gotten no place in nine efforts of negotiations.

Q. How about a 60-day delay, sir? How about a 60- or 75-day delay for negotiations?

Q. With the Congress?

The President. We're continuing to talk about all possibilities like that.

Q. Arturo Cruz says that -- --

Q. Are you going to tone down Buchanan?

Q. Arturo Cruz says that you could -- --

Q. Are you going to tone down Buchanan?

The President. I like what he says.

Q. Did you or Mrs. Reagan -- did you put pressure on Merv Griffin and Joan Rivers -- did you or Mrs. Reagan, to cancel Patti's interview?

The President. No. No.

Q. Why not? [Laughter]

The President. I hope she makes a lot of money.

Q. Yes, but a lot of people think it's not a very good book.

Q. Have you read it?

The President. Yes.

Q. Did you like it?

The President. I thought it was interesting fiction. [Laughter]

Note: The exchange began at 10:07 a.m. on the South Grounds of the White House. Earlier, the President and Ambassador Habib met in the Oval Office. Patrick J. Buchanan was Assistant to the President and Director of Communications. The final questions referred to Patti Davis' book entitled ``The Home Front,'' which was published in 1986.