Remarks on Presenting Congressional Gold Medals to Natan and Avital Shcharanskiy and an Informal Exchange With Reporters

 

January 11, 1989

 

The President. We're very pleased today to be presenting these medals to Natan Shcharanskiy and his wife, Avital, who couldn't be here with us today. And we're going forward with the ceremony, and then we're pleased also to have his mother, his brother, and his cousin here with us. And also to have the wife of Congressman Gilman, Mrs. Gilman, who is the one who sponsored the legislation the Congress created for these medals.

 

So, now we'll have the presentation. And I want to point out in presenting this medal to you, what it really means and what -- [inaudible] -- service that you've given. This is in behalf of all mankind, not just all Americans. Because of what you've done for people who are persecuted and oppressed throughout the whole world, your courage over the years -- 9 years of imprisonment on false charges, and still retained your poise and your strength to do this.

 

Mr. Shcharanskiy. Thank you very much. Dear President, I know you are finishing your 8 years. And when you retire you'll probably be writing memoirs, as all of us do, and you'll be thinking about the past. And if you have some sad moments, think about my happy family. And think about thousands and thousands of people who are praying -- in Soviet camps -- who are praying and asking from the gods to give you strength and stubbornness and assistance to you, to you, Mr. Shultz, to American people in the struggle for their rights, and who are free today not because of some good will of Soviet leaders but because of their struggle and your struggle.

 

And to you, President-elect, dear George, please think about those thousands and thousands who are still there and who are praying now for you and know that you will be as stubborn. And they are sure you will be stubborn, as firm in striving for defending human rights in the Soviet Union. And, of course, all your work in the Soviet Jewry and the -- [inaudible] -- Jewry and other things convinces us that you'll continue that fantastically good record of human rights which President Reagan -- and Secretary Shultz and American Congressmen -- heads, and made possible our freedom and freedom of our brothers and sisters. Thank you very much.

 

The President. And now if you will present to your wife also this medal. And we know about the work that she was doing all during those years when you were there. Natan Shcharanskiy and Mrs. Shcharanskiy are Israeli citizens now -- their immigration to Israel. There is the medal for your --  -- 

 

Mr. Shcharanskiy. Thank you very much. She -- a pure uphill struggle, which was successful only because of the strong support of Israel, of America, of all the world. And because the White House, together with Congress, turned into the headquarters of the struggle. And that's why it was so successful in bringing freedom to me and to many other people. Thank you.

 

Q. Mr. President, what about the American hostages --  -- 

 

The President. Wait just one minute here.

 

Q. Sure.

 

The President. We would like to have the family come in and join us: his mother, his brother, his cousin, who is here from Moscow, and Mrs. Gilman.

 

Mr. Shcharanskiy. I hope the customs in Israel will permit me. [Laughter]

 

Q. Yes, well, he looked on the back.

 

The President. What?

 

Q. He already looked on the back to see what was --  --

 

Q. What are you going to do with it?

 

Mr. Shcharanskiy. Do you think customs will permit me to take it into Israel?

 

Q. Just flip it.

 

Mr. Shcharanskiy. It's real gold.

 

The President. By order of Congress, those are solid gold.

 

Mr. Shcharanskiy. Well, thank you.

 

The President. Well, I think now we should all --  --

 

Hostages in Lebanon

 

Q. Mr. President, if you have a second: What about the American hostages in Lebanon? Do you think there's any chance that they may be released as you're leaving office?

 

The President. I can only pray and continue what we've been -- we've been exploring every channel possible for their release. And they've never been out of my mind since they were so unfairly seized.

 

Q. Any sign that they may be prepared to do what they did 8 years ago -- let them go as Mr. Bush takes office?

 

The President. I won't hazard any speculation on that. It's just -- it's a great tragedy, and we hope that it can be resolved.

 

President's Farewell Address to the Nation

 

Q. What's your speech like tonight? Is it all a personal farewell, or are you going to attack everybody?

 

The President. I'm just trying to have a conversation with the American people.

 

Q. What's your best advice to George Bush?

 

The President. To keep on doing what he just did -- get out of the room first. [Laughter]

 

Funeral of Emperor Hirohito of Japan

 

Q. Do you think he should go to Hirohito's funeral in view of Pearl Harbor and all of the horror of World War II?

 

The President. I think the friendship that has been created since took people on both sides to now have as some of our staunchest allies and friends, erstwhile enemies. And, yes, I think he should.

 

Note: The President spoke at 11:37 a.m. in the Oval Office at the White House.