Remarks on United States Policy in the Persian Gulf

May 29, 1987

I want to speak directly this afternoon on the vital interests of the American people, vital interests that are at stake in the Persian Gulf area. It may be easy for some, after a near record 54-month economic recovery, to forget just how critical the Persian Gulf is to our national security. But I think everyone in this room and everyone hearing my voice now can remember the woeful impact of the Middle East oil crisis of a few years ago: the endless, demoralizing gas lines; the shortages; the rationing; the escalating energy prices; the double-digit inflation; and the enormous dislocation that shook our economy to its foundations.

This same economic dislocation invaded every part of the world, contracting foreign economies, heightening international tensions, and dangerously escalating the chances of regional conflicts and wider war. The principal forces for peace in the world, the United States and other democratic nations, were perceived as gravely weakened. Our economies and our people were viewed as the captives of oil-producing regimes in the Middle East. This could happen again if Iran and the Soviet Union were able to impose their will upon the friendly Arab States of the Persian Gulf, and Iran was allowed to block the free passage of neutral shipping.

But this will not happen again, not while this President serves. I'm determined our national economy will never again be held captive, that we will not return to the days of gas lines, shortages, inflation, economic dislocation, and international humiliation. Mark this point well: The use of the vital sealanes of the Persian Gulf will not be dictated by the Iranians. These lanes will not be allowed to come under the control of the Soviet Union. The Persian Gulf will remain open to navigation by the nations of the world.

Now, I will not permit the Middle East to become a chokepoint for freedom or a tinderbox of international conflict. Freedom of navigation is not an empty cliche of international law. It is essential to the health and safety of America and the strength of our alliance. Our presence in the Persian Gulf is also essential to preventing wider conflict in the Middle East, and it's a prerequisite to helping end the brutal and violent 6\1/2\-year war between Iran and Iraq. Diplomatically, we're doing everything we can to obtain an end to this war, and this effort will continue.

In summary then, the United States and its allies maintain a presence in the Gulf to assist in the free movement of petroleum, to reassure those of our friends and allies in the region of our commitment to their peace and welfare, to ensure that freedom of navigation and other principles of international accord are respected and observed -- in short, to promote the cause of peace. Until peace is restored and there's no longer a risk to shipping in the region, particularly shipping under American protection, we must maintian an adequate presence to deter and, if necessary, to defend ourselves against any accidental attack or against any intentional attack. As Commander in Chief, it's my responsibility to make sure that we place forces in the area that are adequate to that purpose.

Our goal is to seek peace rather than provocation, but our interests and those of our friends must be preserved. We're in the gulf to protect our national interests and, together with our allies, the interests of the entire Western World. Peace is at stake; our national interest is at stake. And we will not repeat the mistakes of the past. Weakness, a lack of resolve and strength, will only encourage those who seek to use the flow of oil as a tool, a weapon, to cause the American people hardship at home, incapacitate us abroad, and promote conflict and violence throughout the Middle East and the world.

Note: The President spoke to reporters at 1:46 p.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House.