Remarks at the Welcoming Ceremony for General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union

 

December 8, 1987

 

The President. General Secretary and Mrs. Gorbachev, I've welcomed a good number of foreign leaders to the White House in these last 7 years. And today marks a visit that is perhaps more momentous than many which have preceded it, because it represents a coming together not of allies but of adversaries. And yet I think you'll find during your stay that the American people believe that a stranger is a friend they have yet to meet and that there is still a wellspring of good will here.

 

Indeed, I know that many of our citizens have written to you and Mrs. Gorbachev and have even sent to you the keys to their homes. That honest gesture certainly reflects the feelings of many Americans toward you and Mrs. Gorbachev and toward your people. I have often felt that our peoples should have been better friends long ago.

 

But let us have the courage to recognize that there are weighty differences between our governments and systems, differences that will not go away by wishful thinking or expressions of good will no matter how sincerely delivered. This uncomfortable reality need not be reason for pessimism, however; it should provide us with a challenge, an opportunity to move from confrontation toward cooperation.

 

Mr. General Secretary, there is a saying in your country that a poor peace is better than a good quarrel. Well, it's up to us, with hard work, commitment, and a heavy dose of realism, to change the poor peace that has existed between our countries and make it into a good one. Today we will take a giant step in that direction by signing an historic treaty that will rid the world of an entire class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons. Mr. Gorbachev: mir na nas smotrit, the world is watching, and we've got something to show them. And over the next few days, it is my hope that progress will be made toward achieving another agreement that will lead to the cutting in half of our strategic nuclear arsenals.

 

Well, during the Second World War, Soviet General -- later Marshal -- Chuikov, a frontline commander, liked to tell the story of a soldier who said he had captured a bear. And he was asked to bring it along. ``I can't,'' replied the soldier, ``the bear won't let me.'' Well, General Secretary Gorbachev, like the soldier in Marshal Chuikov's story, our peoples for too long have been both the masters and the captives of a deadly arms race. This situation is not preordained and not part of some inevitable course of history. We make history. Changing its direction is within our power. However, such change is not easy and can be accomplished only when leaders of both sides have no illusions, talk with candor, and meet differences head on. Such, I hope, will be the spirit of our upcoming meetings.

 

On the table will be not only arms reduction but also human rights issues about which the American people and their government are deeply committed. These are fundamental issues of political morality that touch on the most basic of human concerns. I would hope we will also candidly discuss regional conflicts. The parties to these conflicts should negotiate solutions that restore the peace and advance the rights and freedom of the peoples involved. We cannot afford to view these as far away brushfires. Even small flames risk larger conflagrations and undermine positive developments between our two countries.

 

Let us also consider ways to expand the contact between our own citizens. The Soviet and American peoples can and should know more about each other. The barriers between them should be taken down, restrictions on travel and communications lifted, personal relations between our young people fostered. Let disagreement between our governments not get in the way of friendships between our peoples.

 

Mr. Gorbachev, I hope that during your short time here you'll see that we Americans are a dynamic and energetic lot, people of enterprise and an abiding love of freedom. We believe in God and care about others who are in need. We are proud and independent. Like the peoples of your country, we believe our country should be strong, but we desire peace. Have no doubt about that. The longing for peace runs deep here, second only to our fervency for the preservation of our liberty. Americans believe people should be able to disagree and still respect one another, still live in peace with one another. That is the democratic spirit that I will bring to our meetings.

 

So, on behalf of myself and Mrs. Reagan, and on behalf of all the citizens of the United States, General Secretary Gorbachev, Mrs. Gorbachev: Welcome.

 

The General Secretary. Esteemed Mr. President, esteemed Mrs. Reagan, ladies and gentlemen, comrades: Thank you very much, Mr. President, for the cordial welcome and kind words of greeting.

 

History has charged the governments of our countries and the two of us, Mr. President, with a solemn duty to justify the hopes of Americans and Soviet people and of people the world over to undo the logic of the arms race by working together in good faith. In the world's development, much will depend upon the choice that we are to make, upon what is to triumph: fears and prejudice inherited from the cold war and leading to confrontation or common sense which calls for action to ensure the survival of civilization. We in the Soviet Union have made our choice. We realize that we are divided not only by the oceans but also by profound historical, ideological, socioeconomic, and cultural differences. But the wisdom of politics today lies in not using those differences as a pretext for confrontation, enmity, and the arms race.

 

We are beginning our visit 46 years after the days when the United States entered the Second World War, and it was in those same days in 1941 that the rout of Nazi forces began near Moscow. That is symbolic. Those days mark the beginning of our common path to victory over the forces of evil in a war which we fought as allies. History is thus reminding us both of our opportunities and of our responsibility. Indeed, the very fact that we are about to sign a treaty eliminating Soviet and U.S. intermediate- and shorter-range nuclear missiles, which are now going to be scrapped, shows that at crucial phases in history our two nations are capable of shouldering their high responsibility.

 

This will, of course, be the first step down the road leading to a nuclear-free world, whose construction you, Mr. President, and I discussed at Reykjavik. Yet it is a great step into the future, the future to which our two peoples and the peoples of all countries aspire. I have come to Washington with the intention of advancing the next and more important goal of reaching agreement to reduce by half strategic offensive arms in the context of a firm guarantee of strategic stability. We are also looking forward to a most serious and frank dialog on other issues of Soviet-American relations.

 

Soviet foreign policy today is most intimately linked with perestroika, the domestic restructuring of Soviet society. The Soviet people have boldly taken the path of radical reform and development in all spheres -- economic, social, political, and intellectual. Democratization and glasnost are the decisive prerequisites for the success of those reforms. They also provide the guarantee that we shall go a long way and that the course we are pursuing is irreversible. Such is the will of our people. In charting these ambitious plans, the Soviet people have a vital stake in preserving and strengthening peace everywhere on Earth.

 

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, may I express the hope that the Soviet Union and the United States, working together with all nations, will take their place in the history of the outgoing 20th century not only as allies in the battle against nazism but also as nations that have paved mankind's way to a safe world, free from the threat of nuclear annihilation.

 

On behalf of the Soviet people, I declare that we are prepared to go all the way along our part of the road with the sincerity and responsibility that befit a great and peaceful power. Thank you.

 

Note: The President spoke at 10:10 a.m. at the South Portico of the White House, where the General Secretary was accorded a formal welcome with full military honors. The President spoke in English, and the General Secretary spoke in Russian. Their remarks were translated by interpreters.