Remarks at a White House Meeting With Representatives of People to People International

June 12, 1986

The President. So, it's a welcome to the White House and a special hello to your executive director, Julian Niemczyk. And it is certainly a pleasure for me as honorary chairman of the People to People program to have this opportunity to speak with you before you are off on your great adventure.

These exchange programs in which you and many thousands of others participate, I think, are one of the most important ways for others to learn about our values and our views. And during your time overseas, you will likely be confronted with many foreign policy questions. There is every reason for Americans to be proud of our country's dealings with other nations. We have been a force for freedom and a force for peace on this planet. And when we turn over the reins to your generation -- and that won't be so long from now -- we want this to be a safer planet than it is today. That is what the negotiations in Geneva are all about. There is a great deal of maneuvering that goes on during such negotiations, but I'm still optimistic.

The United States is willing to do more than put a lid on the number of nuclear weapons. We are proposing to reduce U.S. and Soviet nuclear arms to an equal and verifiable level, and it is in the interest of both the Soviet Union and the United States to do this. If the Soviets will agree, we can get started on this right now.

While trying to achieve nuclear and conventional arms reductions, we are exploring technologies that will protect people from the threat of ballistic missiles. This is our research under our Strategic Defense Initiative, which everyone knows as SDI. If we are successful, those missiles will be less effective, and thus both sides will be all the more likely to agree to cut deeply the number of these weapons and their arsenals. And if that one day leads to a shield against ballistic missiles, the whole world, I think, will breathe easier.

You young people, more than any other group, have a stake in the future. I'm going to be speaking at a high school graduation in Glassboro, New Jersey, next week. It'll be my first high school graduation in quite some time. And some of the matters under discussion -- the future of peace and freedom will be on the agenda. But now I know that you have some things that you'd like to discuss. So, we shall allow the press to retire, and then we can get on with our discussion.


Reporter. Well, Mr. President, there's still a lot of confusion, sir, about the SALT agreement. Last night, did you mean to say that SALT is dead? And did you sign off on the limits for the air-launch cruise missiles? Did you definitely decide to do that, and is SALT dead?

The President. No. What I was saying is we'll make the decision with regard to the ballistic missile or the cruise missile when that time comes. But in the interim, we're going to be dealing with the Soviet Union on their most recent proposal to us. The time has come to replace a treaty that was never ratified, that has now gone beyond the length of time for which it was designed, which they have never observed -- have been violating since its inception -- to replace that with a legitimate arms reduction treaty. Now, that's what I was saying last night.

Q. So, SALT is dead?

The President. What?

Q. SALT is dead then?

The President. We're going to try to replace it with a better deal.

Q. Why won't you say it when your spokesman's been saying it very flatly to us. We need it from you. Is it dead or isn't it?

The President. I -- --

Q. I mean, Larry Speakes told us very definitively that it is dead, and yet you won't say it.

The President. I think you can trust what Larry Speakes said to you.

Q. Well, he also told us, sir, this morning, that you had signed off on definitely exceeding the limit for air-launch cruise missiles.

The President. One of the reasons I'm not saying to that is because right now we are going to do our utmost to engage the Soviet Union in an arms reduction agreement. And anyone going into negotiations, I think, has a right to remain silent so that nothing will be used against him.

Q. Mr. President -- --

The President. You're taking up their time here.

Q. You've got good protectors. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 3:30 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. Larry M. Speakes was Principal Deputy Press Secretary to the President. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks. People to People International, which was founded by President Eisenhower in 1956 to promote world peace sponsored, outstanding high school students as good will ambassadors to Europe and the Soviet Union.