Remarks at a White House Briefing for Members of the National Newspaper Association

Remarks at a White House Briefing for Members of the National Newspaper Association

March 5, 1987

Every year we meet about this time, when you have your national convention. But this year I've got to hand it to you: You've shown a sixth sense for the timing of a story. [Laughter] As you know, last night I addressed the American people and talked about the initiative to Iran. One thing that has made our Republic great is that we don't hide from our mistakes. We learn from them; then we go on and do things better than we did before. That's what I intend to do, and that's why I say you've shown a sixth sense. Not because you've come here after last night, but because you've come here before tomorrow. [Laughter]

We've spent enough time the last few months on inside-Washington politics -- who's up and who's down, who's in and out. The investigations will continue, and they should. And the committees will continue to meet, and they should. I've said the administration will give them every cooperation, and it will. But so far as I'm concerned, the American people sent me here to do a job, and there are just 2 years left to get it done.

And part of that job is to strengthen the foundations of world peace. I've never felt more optimistic about the prospects for success in this area than I do today. And that's because this past week we've had a major breakthrough on the path toward an agreement for mutual and verifiable reductions in arms between ourselves and the Soviet Union. As I announced earlier this week, the Soviets have at last agreed to negotiate a global reduction in the number of U.S. and Soviet longer range intermediate nuclear force, or as we call them, INF missiles. The arms reductions agreement that, as a result of the Soviet statement, is now within reach derives from my ``zero option'' proposal of 1981. And that proposal calls for eliminating all INF missiles. This negotiation will be conducted without strings attached. The Soviets have dropped their demand that we abandon our Strategic Defense Initiative as a precondition to an agreement on INF, and I welcome these developments. This change in the Soviet position is a great breakthrough and shows that, in working for the cause of peace, preparedness pays, patience pays, and firmness pays. Now, that should be three truisms: that preparedness, patience, and firmness -- each pays. But again and again over the last few years, I've had to defend those truisms to protect the policy that has brought us to this moment of hope.

First, we were told that if we rebuilt America's defenses, that if we hoped to make our alliances more prepared, we would make an arms reduction agreement less likely. The Soviets said that they would walk out of arms talks in Geneva if we deployed our INF missiles. But we and our allies knew that while the West had stood by the Soviets had been deploying their own INF missiles at a rate of about one a week for several years, bringing a new and unprovoked threat against our friends and allies in Europe and in Asia. We knew that this would make peace not more secure, but less secure. And we knew that if we were ever to bargain for an agreement for reducing the Soviet INF missiles we would have to have something worthwhile to give up in return. So, we and our allies decided on a reasoned INF deployment as a balance against the new threat posed by this Soviet buildup. Then after the Soviets refused to respond constructively at the negotiating table, we began our deployments.

We were prepared, and then the patience came in. Yes, the Soviets did walk out of the arms reduction talks. It was part of a sophisticated play to public opinion both here and in Europe. But despite some dissent on both sides of the Atlantic, the American people and the people of Europe stayed with us. Together the Western alliance waited the Soviets out. And then, when it was clear that not just the leaders but the people of the alliance could and would wait and that neither the people nor their leaders would buckle under, the Soviets returned to the bargaining table -- patience. You know the story after that: 2 years of meetings, hopes, successes, as well as disappointments. After saying they would not, the Soviets tied INF to agreements in other areas, including their effort to kill our SDI program. But again we and our allies remained firm. We stood firm, because SDI has a vital role to play in the journey to a more secure world for all. SDI supports our goal of deep, equitable, and verifiable arms reductions. It reduces the risks of war and the threat of ballistic missiles. I for one have no intention of bargaining away mankind's dream of a safer world.

And we remained firm in another way, as well. We said that our objective should be to ban all longer range INF missiles from the face of the Earth. When I announced it as our goal 6 years ago, the ``zero option'' was greeted with a great deal of skepticism. Some said that I couldn't be serious, that I must be proposing the ``zero option'' because I knew the Soviets would never agree to it or because I was so innocent that I didn't know any better. Well, after several decades in Hollywood, that was kind of a new thrill for me to be called innocent. [Laughter] I was and am determined that this decade's legacy to world peace will be better than just another step in regulating the arms race. The American people and the people of the world don't want arsenals that are growing only a fraction as fast as before. They want shrinking arsenals. And now we may be on the threshold in one critical category of weapons of getting just that -- because we stayed firm.

Yes, preparedness, patience, and firmness are paying off. It's come time to plan the next step. And that's why you've come at the right time. Tomorrow I'm going to meet with Ambassadors Max Kampelman, Ron Lehman, and Mike Glitman, whom I recalled from Geneva. I will discuss with them America's response to the Soviet statement. I've already instructed our team to begin putting our draft treaty on the negotiating table. This is a great moment of hope for all mankind -- hope, yes, for this agreement, hope for other agreements as well: agreements that increase our security and strengthen the foundation of peace. The flame of that hope burns today because we didn't give in at the first signs of a Soviet public relations campaign. This is the lesson of the last several years: We and our allies did not and will not let ourselves be pressured into an agreement. I will not let the hope for real peace slip by. Sometimes we get so caught up in day-to-day events that we forget the great promise that is our nation and our future. We live in an age of hope, a time when the dreams of mankind for the end of great wars and the extension of freedom to every nation and peoples may at last be realized, a time when we're looking to a new epoch of opportunity.

Now, this is not to say that all issues are resolved. In the INF talks, several important issues remain. We need to agree on equitable constraints on shorter range INF missiles. This is because the Soviets must not be able to circumvent an agreement on the longer range missiles through a buildup in short-range ones. And furthermore, to be sure that the Soviets keep their word, we must continue to insist that all agreements will be effectively verifiable. I'm not particularly a linguist, but in the Reykjavik meeting, I had a Russian proverb that I could say in Russian to Mr. Gorbachev. And I said it: Dovorey no provorey -- Trust, but verify. [Laughter] He smiled and changed the subject. [Laughter]

But finally, there remain large imbalances in short-range nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and conventional forces in Europe. We and our allies are addressing all of these issues. And as we address them, we today can begin to dream, as only a few years ago humanity scarcely dared to dream, of the final end to nuclear terror. We can dream of a world of lasting peace. We can dream of hope and opportunity and of freedom for all mankind.

No one should think that our aspirations for a safer world will materialize in a moment or for just a wish. We've come this far by being strong, patient, and firm. And we'll need those qualities on the rest of our journey for real peace. But we know now that it's a journey for which there is an end. We're not at the beginning of that end. But, as Churchill said in another moment, we may be at the end of the beginning. We've come this far. We've traveled a long and weary road. But there is a great strength within us as a people. There's a great strength of purpose in relations between America and her allies. So, let's go forward to our common dream and go forward together.

I cannot believe in continuing to base the safety of the world and of mankind on a policy called MAD, for mutual assured destruction -- the idea that we, if we had enough missiles to blow them out of the Earth and they had enough to blow us out of the Earth, we could sit here comfortably with the knowledge that sometime somebody could push a button and world destruction would start. That's not my idea of a guarantee of peace, looking back on the history of the world in the past. And I think the answer that we have come up with is leading toward the elimination of those horrible weapons, and then, at the same time, maintaining a defense against them. Because now that we know we can make them someplace, sometime, there could come along a madman that would, again, start to make them. When we promised to give up gas as a weapon after World War I, everybody kept their gas masks. And that's all we're suggesting. And we believe that there's some possibility of getting that kind of an agreement.

Well, I've taken too much of your time, and you know, as I promised at the beginning -- I didn't tell you, but as Henry VIII said to each of his six wives, ``I won't keep you long.'' [Laughter] So, thank you all very much, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 11:30 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.