Radio Address to the Nation on Soviet-United States Relations and Trade Legislation

 

March 26, 1988

 

My fellow Americans:

 

This week, as our thoughts begin to turn toward Easter, the cause of peace among nations is foremost in our minds, a cause that was also at the top of our work agenda here in Washington as I received Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze at the White House. My talks with him were cordial but, as you might expect, to the point.

 

During Mr. Shevardnadze's stay, I announced May 29th through June 2d as the dates for my summit meeting in Moscow with the leader of the Soviet Union, General Secretary Gorbachev. And of course, this was good news. The last U.S.-Soviet summit in the U.S.S.R. was 14 years ago, so this meeting will give me and, in a sense, you, the American people, an opportunity to convey the message of peace and freedom to the Soviet people. But let me also say that while lengthy talks held between Secretary Shultz and Mr. Shevardnadze at the State Department were useful, they also made clear how difficult the issues are between the United States and the Soviet Union.

 

Now, some progress was made here and there in various areas, but there's much more that needs to be done, given the importance of the topics discussed. Our agenda with the Soviet Union deals not only with arms reduction but also regional matters, human rights, and people-to-people exchanges. And as our discussions continue in each of these areas, I can assure you that the United States will sign only those agreements that are in our best interest. Let me also assure you, as negotiations continue on efforts to further reduce United States and Soviet strategic nuclear arms, that my administration will carefully review such proposals. Still, we've come a long way in our attempts to deal with the Soviets and to further the cause of peace and freedom around the world. The next summit will help. How much, we'll have to see.

 

An important accomplishment of the first few summits, however, will be before the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee next week for approval; this is the INF treaty on intermediate-range nuclear forces that Mr. Gorbachev and I signed when he was here for the Washington summit last December. It's an important vote, and I'm hopeful the Senate will, as it exercises its constitutional duty, speedily approve what amounts to the first real nuclear arms reductions ever achieved.

 

Now, some of you've heard me say before that our progress with the Soviets is based on their awareness that we have no illusions about them and on our determination to deal from a position of strength. Now, that strength means, of course, keeping our defenses ready and second to none; but it also means a strong and vigorous economy and a place for America as the world leader in trade. That's why the other matter that is being considered in the Congress is of critical importance; that is the legislative conference on trade legislation.

 

Last year, there was trade legislation coming through the Congress that would have meant serious risks to America's prosperity and indeed the world's. Fortunately, working with our administration, Congress has made some progress in producing a sounder bit of legislation. However, the legislation now before a conference committee still contains provisions that would restrict trade, deter investment in the United States, require mandatory retaliation that invites trade wars, and unnecessarily hamper my prerogatives as President. For example, one proposal still very much alive would create an obligation for the Government to help each and every company that can't keep up with legal, totally fair imports -- in effect an entitlement program for businesses that can't compete.

 

So, my hope is that the Congress will stay on course and that we will settle on a bill that avoids the great danger of choking off international trade and slowing down economic growth. I will not sign a bill that imperils our economy and threatens growth. And by the way, that economic growth keeps coming right along. Only this week we heard that the gross national product growth for last year was 4 percent. Now, this was higher than our own expectations -- expectations that, by the way, were criticized as too rosy a scenario when we first made them. Well, the rosy scenario was even rosier than the one the critics were down on. It just shows what can happen when spending and taxes are held down and trade is encouraged. In fact, right now much of our economy is being driven by the growth in exports that bad trade legislation would discourage.

 

So, you can see there's much on our minds this week in Washington. And before anyone looks prematurely forward to the arrival of the Easter Bunny, I hope Congress will stay focused on the important matters this week: the INF treaty and trade legislation.

 

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

 

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from the Oval Office at the White House.