Remarks Announcing Senate Minority Leader Dole's Endorsement of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

 

December 17, 1987

 

The President. It's been a great pleasure for me today to meet with Senator Dole and to discuss his support for the treaty signed here during last week's summit. The INF treaty was the end result of a process that took over 6 years to arrive at the moment of signing. I, in fact, proposed the zero-option in the first year of our administration. As a matter of fact, I did so at the National Press Club. And many of the points contained in the agreement were hammered out through tough negotiations on both sides. I welcome the support of the Senate Republican leader and count on his efforts to help ensure Senate ratification.

 

Now, I understand there's a certain degree of apprehension about reaching any agreement with the Soviet Union, but I believe that once the details have been closely examined the consensus will be that the INF treaty is a solid step forward, a recognizably positive move for America. The treaty is consistent with the goal set out by the administration from its first days. Building up our defensive strength was designed to convince the Soviet leadership that they couldn't win an arms race. The second half of the formula is reaching agreements to reduce weapons on both sides to an equal and verifiable level. Such reductions are in our interest and the interest of world peace. This treaty accomplishes exactly what we set out to do.

 

First and foremost, it is the first agreement in history to reduce, not simply limit, the buildup of nuclear weapons. The Soviets are in fact giving up more weapons in order to reach equality at a lower level. This is a breakthrough precedent that can serve as the basis for progress in other areas. Furthermore, this treaty is not based on some notion that the Soviets can now be implicitly trusted. Given their record, I would never have signed a treaty that did not contain the most stringent verification regimen.

 

There's been an impressive exchange of data, and there will be continuing exchanges after the treaty goes into effect. There will also be the right of on-site inspections to confirm what we've been told. During the entire process of destroying the INF missiles, each side has the right to observe in order to ensure compliance with the treaty. We will even be monitoring the facility where their SS - 20 missiles were assembled and have the right to visit other INF missile facilities on short notice. It's not a matter of trust. We will watch, inspect, and be present for the destruction of these missiles. And for 13 years after the treaty enters into force, American personnel will be on-site in the Soviet Union to make sure there are no more SS - 20's being produced.

 

Succinctly put, this treaty contains verification provisions and other safeguards that should impress even hardened skeptics, however. But I believe some of our opposition is not just a result of a perceived defect in the treaty but also flows from a concern that our country will continue to deal with the Soviets from a position of realism and candor. This treaty is reason for hope. It is a good first step, but we're not letting our guard down, and we don't want anyone to have expectations that cannot be met or verified. As Jefferson and other Presidents before me have stated and restated: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. That's never been more true than today, and we'll remain vigilant and realistic in dealing with the Soviet Union. This treaty is consistent with that commitment: a verifiable trust. I'm confident that over these next several weeks, as more Senators have the opportunity to review the terms and provisions of this agreement, that they'll come to the conclusion that it deserves ratification.

 

And now I'm going to turn this over to Senator Dole.

 

Reporter. Will you answer questions afterwards, Mr. President?

 

The President. He will.

 

Q. Mr. President, can you answer -- George Bush's people are very upset about this, sir. They feel that you're helping Mr. Dole off the hook on INF.

 

Mr. Fitzwater. Let's let the Senator complete his --  --

 

Q. Wait a minute. We would like to ask the President a question before he leaves. Could you answer --  --

 

Senator Dole. He's not going to leave until I finish my statement.

 

Q. Well --  --

 

The President. I'm here because he's the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, and --  --

 

Q. Are you being dragged into the campaign, Mr. President?

 

Q. Wait, let him finish.

 

The President. No.

 

Senator Dole. What if I might just give my statement?

 

The President. Yes.

 

Q. Don't sneak out.

 

Senator Dole. As I told the President a couple weeks ago when we were asked about the treaty, I said give us some time to look at it, some time to read it, and some time to analyze it. And I've done precisely what I told the President I would do. I've not only read the treaty, I've had the opportunity to have it analyzed by experts, in and out of government. And I've spoken directly with our key NATO allies. And I've had a series of meetings with the President and members of the administration to address my concerns.

 

In all of this, I've been concerned not only about the treaty itself but also about its strategic and political implications. Now that the treaty has been negotiated and signed, the focus will shift to the Senate. The Senate will decide whether this treaty goes into effect or not. And as the Republican leader, I will lead the fight for its approval in the Senate. I've been the point man in the Senate for the President's national security programs. And over the years we've won big critical fights, and I hope that we can win this one, too. What we want, and what I told the President just a few moments ago, is a big bipartisan majority.

 

I think it's also fair to say -- and we've discussed this with the President, with Colin Powell and others -- that there are areas of concern that have been identified, special concerns to me and my colleagues, whether it's verification or compliance and the imbalance of conventional forces in Europe. And I think by addressing these areas, working with the President, working with the administration, the Senate can strengthen the treaty even further, while not requiring renegotiation with the Soviets. And I think we've been assured that we can work together on these areas. And that's the only intent and the only purpose of it.

 

So, I guess I would say, as I said a couple of weeks ago, that as soon as I've been satisfied that we could verify and that there was compliance and there was strong support from the allies -- pretty much what the President said in his next-to-last paragraph -- as soon as other Senators go through this process, you're going to see support building for the treaty.

 

And finally, I think we're all very grateful to the President -- talking now about my colleagues in the Congress, in both parties -- for his outstanding work, and for his efforts that led to the signing of this very significant agreement a little over a week ago.

 

Thank you, Mr. President.

 

Q. Mr. President, what --  --

 

Q. Are you getting mixed up in Presidential politics, sir?

 

Q. What about --  --

 

Q. Presidential politics?

 

The President. No, there's nothing of that kind here. I am, and have always been, neutral with regard to the political race. I'll answer that one to get that in the clear. He's here as the leader for our side in the Senate, and I was here to bring him here, because we have a common interest in getting a treaty ratified.

 

Q. But George Bush feels that you're bailing him out, because he was failing in Iowa because of waffling on the treaty --  --

 

Q. Were you afraid to stand on the platform with him when he spoke? [Laughter]

 

The President. No, because the business I used to be in -- I thought it was the courteous thing to do.

 

Note: The President spoke at 2:10 p.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House. Prior to his remarks, he met with Senator Robert Dole in the Oval Office at the White House. Marlin Fitzwater was Assistant to the President for Press Relations, and Colin L. Powell was Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.