Good evening. Please sit down. I have just a few words first. Let me commend again the Senate of the United States for having approved production of 21 more MX "Peacekeeper" missiles. The Senate has endorsed the decision of four presidents that the Peacekeeper is a vital component of the American deterrent.
Now is the testing time for the House of Representatives. The votes there will answer the question of whether we stand united at Geneva or whether America will face the Soviet Union as a nation divided over the most fundamental questions of our national security.
For more than a decade, we've debated the MX and, while we were debating, the Soviets were deploying more than 600 such missiles and targeting them to bomb the United States. Now they're on the verge of deploying two new strategic land-based systems, and we're still debating.
Not long ago the parliaments of four NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries courageously voted to accept deployment of Pershing IIs and cruise missiles, and these NATO countries are now looking to see if the American Congress is possessed of equal courage, or resolve, I should say.
No request by an American president for a major strategic system deemed vital to the national security has ever been denied by an American Congress. It is that tradition of bipartisan unity on national defense that brought the Soviets back to Geneva and, unless that tradition is maintained next week in the House, there is little prospect of success at Geneva.
And now, Helen Thomas of United Press International , I know that Nancy upstairs would die -- she's watching on television -- if I didn't call on you in that pretty red dress. Possible Summit Meeting
Can you give us your thinking on the summit, why you think it would be good to meet with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, what you think could be accomplished and why you've been rebuffed so far?
Well, I don't really consider it being rebuffed, because the man has only been in office for a few days, and I have some idea of what is confronting him now. But I've felt the same way about each of the three previous leaders there, and then things intervened that made it impossible.
But there are a number of things, bilateral situations between our two countries, other things to talk about that we're negotiating or talking to each other on a ministerial level. And that some of those could probably be further advanced if we met at a summit.
And so what I always meant by an agenda, a planned meeting, not just one to get acquainted, is one in which, just as when we go on a meeting even to Canada, we have announced things that we want to talk about and they have an agenda of things they want to talk about, mutual problems that confront us, and I think it's high time that we did this.
What are the prospects, sir, of having it soon?
Well, I have to think that they should be good. I think in some of our people we've had about an hour-and-a-half conversation, the vice president and the secretary of state did with him when they were there. And so I think it's, I think there is a good chance of that.
The reason I issued the invitation was because under the kind of protocol that exists, when you look back over the history of such meetings, why, it's our turn to be the hosts. So that's why I proposed that if he would, the invitation was extended for whenever he found it convenient. Mideast Peace Process
In your first term, you preferred your own Middle East peace plan. You dispatched special envoys to the region to seek solution. You even sent in Marines to try to stabilize Lebanon. These days we hardly ever hear you mention the Middle East. Last week, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak went home disappointed when he asked for your help in getting the peace talks started again. I wonder if you could tell us tonight what do you expect to gain from the new policy of disengagement, and what do you expect to be achieved over there?
Well, it isn't disengagement. Let me point out, I believe it's a misapprehension that President Mubarak left disappointed. He made no requests. He told us what he was doing, and certainly we complimented him highly on what he is doing, and I think it's great.
But our proposal in the very beginning was that we did not want to participate in the negotiations. It wouldn't be any of our business to do so, but that we would do whatever we could to help bring the warring parties together and, in effect, you might say, continue the Camp David process and continue trying to find more countries that would do what Egypt did and make peace.
And we haven't been idle. We've not only had President Mubarak here but, a short time before that, we had King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. Taher Masri, the foreign minister of Jordan , is now here and we still feel the same way.
We have been trying to build up a relationship with the Arab nations as well as the relationship we have always had with Israel. And we discussed with President Mubarak, yes, the things that he has proposed and the idea of the Palestinians.
We did have to make it clear that we couldn't meet with the PLO Palestine Liberation Organization . They have still refused to recognize the U.N. resolutions 242 and 338, and they refuse to agree or admit that Israel has a right to exist as a nation. But we have said Palestinian representatives, yes. There is a large Palestinian community, and I'm sure that there are people who do not consider themselves represented by the PLO.
Do you see a direct role for the United States in any talks over there?
Well, not the direct role in sitting at the table and negotiating. That must be done in direct negotiations between the Arab states and Israel.
And I think that Jordan's King Hussein, the position he's taken -- that was the one that we had hoped and he did take two years ago when we suggested all of this -- and then things broke down with the Lebanese conflict and now, thanks to Mubarak, pushing ahead and Hussein, I think that there's a reasonable chance and we have another traveling ambassador on his way back there in a few weeks. U.S. Trade Negotiations
You now need a new U.S. representative for trade to replace Ambassador William E. Brock. Are you looking for someone who will more sharply convey to other nations, especially Japan, the need for fairer trading conditions between the two countries, and are voluntary quotas ever going to work on automobile sales?
Well, we are just going to have to see what restraint might be used by the Japanese in this, but I have to say, I couldn't fault Bill Brock on what he has done. He has been as forceful as anyone could be.
And we are still leaning on our friends and trading partners, including Japan, for continued lifting of restraints that they have, particularly with regard to their own markets.
And, in the talks in Europe that will begin in May, I'm going to propose again another round of trade negotiations to further get us back to completely free trade. And we've made some progress.
I have to say that Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone of Japan has been very forthcoming on this. He has some political problems but, just like me, he can't just give an order and have it happen. And, but he's working very hard on this, and Bill did a great job and I'm quite sure that who we'll finally get to replace him will be equally forceful in those negotiations. Slayings of CBS Employes
Back to the Middle East for a minute. As you know, three Lebanese who were working for CBS News taking pictures during some hostilities were shot at by the Israeli Army today. Two were killed, and one was critically wounded. I was wondering if you have a reaction to the incident and if you plan to lodge any protest with the Israeli government?
Well, first of all, I'd like to know all the details of this. I'm quite sure in combat of that kind this was not a deliberate killing. They were engaged in gunfire with armed persons who were also in civilian clothes, not uniformed as they would be in a war.
So these things can happen, and it is a tragedy, and all I can say is that I think all of us have a great feeling of sorrow about the tragedy that is going on there in Lebanon and particularly in south Lebanon now as the Israelis try to withdraw. And whichever side the acts of terror, the retaliation, both of them are leading to tragedies that just seem to be so, so needless.
Are you saying that the Israelis were engaged in gunfire with other people at the time because one report said that they just opened fire on the newsmen who were obviously taking pictures and covering the story?
My goodness, your own news program tonight showed an awful lot of gunfire with very sophisticated weapons, including grenade launchers, and they were obviously being used by civilians, at least people in civilian uniform. They weren't Israelis.
So, yes, this is one of the things that happens in this kind of warfare where you're not fighting another country's army. Unemployment Benefits
On March 31, 340,000 Americans are going to lose their unemployment benefits when the federal supplemental unemployment-compensation project expires. Are you going to let this happen, or do you plan to take some action to extend the program?
No, we believe that it is time. It has been extended, you know, for quite some time through the emergency of the recession, but now we have about 300,000 people going back to work every month in new jobs.
We believe that the place now is for people who are having problems is our job-training program, particularly job training directed at those who have to be relocated because something has happened to the industries that they formerly worked in. But we don't believe that we should continue with this program indefinitely. Violence in South Africa
Seventeen blacks were shot to death in South Africa today by government authorities in what appears to be a continuing wave of violence by the white-minority government against the black-majority population. Are you considering changing your policy to put more pressure on the South African government to mend its ways?
No, I know the pressure that we are putting on them, and I know the gains that we've made but we know there's still a long way to go. But I think, to put it that way, that they were simply killed and that the violence was coming totally from the law-and-order side, ignores the fact that there was rioting going on on behalf of others there.
It is tragic, and we hope that this can be corrected. But I think also it is significant that on the officers side, or the police side, whichever, whether they were military police, I think they were police, it is significant that some of those enforcing the law and using the guns were also black policemen.
Is it your estimate of the situation that the blacks posed a threat to the whites who had the guns when the blacks didn't?
No, I say that there has been increasing violence, and there is an element in South Africa that does not want a peaceful settlement of this, who want a violent settlement, who want trouble in the streets, and this is what's going on.
I don't hold with what's happened, and I think all of us find the system there repugnant, but we're going to keep on trying to contribute to a peaceful solution if we can. TV Network Takeover Bids
Conservative groups have been talking recently about trying to take over one of the three major television networks, charging that our coverage is biased politically. You have occasionally been critical yourself of network news coverage, and I wonder what you think about a possible conservative takeover of a network.
I don't know what to comment on that. Boone Pickens? Was that who you were talking about? Laughter. I know a merger is suggested for one and know this is often talked about, it's even been talked about for some of the print media, too, at times by people that find themselves unhappy with what they think is a bias. I don't have any comments on that. I just turn it on, look, and every once in a while scream a little -- to myself.
Do you have any concerns about major sources of information like news networks being taken over by political activists or do you think they already have been?
You just answered the question yourself. No, maybe the whole thing is a new school of what's called objective reporting in all of the media in which the old rules, when I took journalism -- and I did, actually -- you were supposed to tell the story based on who, what, where, when, putting first whichever one was the newsiest, and had no opinions of your own. Flap After Briton's Remarks
Britain's foreign secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, has raised a long list of concerns and questions about your Strategic Defense Initiative which prompted a public rebuke from Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle. Was Mr. Perle speaking for the administration and, if not, how do you feel about an allied official publicly questioning SDI just as arms talks are starting in Geneva?
Well, I haven't seen either the speech that Perle was answering or his remarks. I simply heard that this happened. I'm interested in finding out what the exact words were about it.
I do know that we have the support of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and therefore the English government in our research for the Strategic Defense Initiative, and so I'm satisfied with that. I don't know what the other critic . . . .
Were you surprised by Sir Geoffrey's . . . ?
Well, I was just surprised when I heard about it, yes, but I'm going to try and find out exactly what was said, yes. Arms Control Agreement
At your last news conference, you accused the Soviet Union of violating SALT II limitations on building new missiles, and you said you'd have to decide in the next few months whether to join them in violating the agreement. Since the Soviets are insisting that all they're doing is making allowable upgrades of older missiles, won't an open violation by the United States run the risks of just dashing hopes for arms control and leading us into a real upward spiraling arms race?
Well, I can assure you we're not going to do anything that's going to undercut the negotiations that are going on. We're hopeful that, for the first time, we really have an opportunity to get a reduction of missiles.
I have said repeatedly and continue it, and I really mean it. We're going to wait and deal with that problem when we come to that point. And it has to do with some of our submarine missiles as to what our conduct is going to be.
That's this fall, and it's unlikely you're going to have any major arms control agreement before this fall.
No, we, that's right, we don't know. On the other hand, our record compared to theirs with regard to observing all the niceties of all the treaties is so much superior that I don't think we're in a position to cause any great trouble. V-E Visit to Germany
Could you tell us why your decision not to visit a Nazi concentration-camp site when you make your trip to Germany in May commemorating V-E Day?
Yes, I'll tell you. I feel very strongly that this time in commemorating the end of that great war that, instead of reawakening the memories and so forth and passions of the time, that maybe we should observe this day as the day when 40 years ago peace began and friendship because we now find ourselves allied and friends of the countries that we once fought against.
And that we, it be almost a celebration of the end of an era and the coming into what has now been some 40 years of peace for us. And I felt since the German people -- and very few alive that remember even the war and certainly none of them who were adults and participating in any way -- and they do, they have a feeling and a guilt feeling that's been imposed upon them, and I just think it's unnecessary.
I think they should be recognized for the democracy that they've created and the democratic principles they now espouse.
Has the West German government asked you to take one position or another on it?
No, but in talking just informally some time ago with Chancellor Helmut Kohl and others, we all felt the same way -- that if we could observe this as the beginning of peace and friendship between us. Loyalty of Legislators
There have been signals from the White House in recent days that you were perhaps somewhat dissatisfied with the level of loyalty of some members of Congress on particular issues of importance to you. Could you tell us what you think is the responsibility of a senator or House member who finds himself faced on an issue deciding between what he thinks his constituents want and what his president wants?
Well, I suppose this comes from the suggestion that I am supposed to penalize some members in the coming campaign. No, I've never done that. I'm a charter member of the California-born 11th commandment: "Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican."
And therefore, I'm dedicated to doing my best to see if you can't maintain the majority we have in the Senate and some day get ourselves a majority in the House, which we haven't had for more than 26 years. So, no, I'm not going to hold a grudge at anyone. Alternative Budgets
What about those Senate Republicans who want to come down and talk to, and I think they are going to tomorrow, Sen. Robert J. Dole R-Kan. , Sen. Pete V. Domenici R-N.M. , who pushed through a budget of their own that is not exactly yours? Are you prepared to look at that budget and make some compromise?
Oh, yes. The idea was we put together a budget -- and after long, bloody hours -- that we think does the job, but we recognize that others may have other ideas, but now they've got something that we can sit down and talk about.
Theirs and ours. See where we come out. And both of us -- the thing that we must recognize -- both of us have the same idea. We want to reduce spending and start ourselves on a path toward eliminating the deficit.
Does that include Social Security? Are you willing to compromise on that, too, now?
Social Security, I still feel, even though I did not refer to the COLAs cost-of-living adjustments in my statements during the campaign, I was answering what I thought was the demagogic falsehoods that I had some kind of a secret yen to destroy Social Security, and I didn't mean it, but it was inerpreted as meaning that.
And actually, I think we are wasting a lot of time talking about it. Social Security is running on a surplus. And it is totally funded by a tax that can only be used for that purpose. So, when we talk about Social Security, we are not really getting at the deficit problem at all. Ohio Banking Crisis
There has been some criticism that the federal government has not done enough in the Ohio banking crisis. Granted, they are state-regulated institutions, but on the other hand, there is some fear that what is happening in Ohio could quickly and easily threaten the entire national financial system. What is your view of the federal government's role in such matters? And at what point would you take action?
Well, I'm pleased to say that this is a matter of a group of savings and loans that had taken out either private or state insurance, had not availed themselves of the federal insurance program. And it is limited to Ohio. This is not a major threat to the banking system.
There is no other problem of that kind anyplace else in the country that we're aware of. And the Federal Reserve has stepped in and said that they will keep the window open for loans to those banks or those savings and loans, any of them that meet the requirements of collateral or so forth. And the loans will be available for them when they reopen.
So, that situation, I think, is being taken care of by the federal government. There isn't anything else for the federal government to do.
This is somewhat of a hypothetical question. But at what point does the federal government play a role? Is there some break point at which you believe that the federal government should step in?
No, I can't see it as that kind of crisis at all. We're perfectly ready to insure with federal insurance any of the banks. There are just a half-a-dozen states that allow this other kind of insuring instead of getting into the federal system. Patriotism of the Press
I'd like to . . . ask you about reporting standards. Some of your friends and political allies have been suggesting recently that members of the news media are somehow unpatriotic. Sen. Jesse Helms R-N.C. , for example, has charged that members of the press have what he senses is a smug contempt for American values and principles. Do you subscribe to that?
No, but I'll tell you. I think I'll leave that argument to others. I won't even get into it. I don't see any point in that, and I guess I've done as much criticizing as anyone. As I say, I just wish sometime you'd drop me a hint as to who some of those unidentified sources are in the White House. Joint Talks on Mideast
You have been told by King Hussein, I believe, or it was King Hussein who said it publicly, that his agreement with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat does include recognition of Israel's right to exist and renunciation of the use of force. Under those conditions, would you then at least consider the possibility of inviting a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation for meetings if you thought they would lead to direct talks and if they did not include any members of the PLO?
Well, as I say, we're willing to meet with a joint group, Palestinian and Jordanian. But, at the moment, not the PLO because of, we have not had any statement from them that they do recognize Israel and that they will recognize U.N. Resolution 242 and so forth.
But there are many Palestinians who don't feel that they're represented by the PLO. And any delegation of them, for example, many of those who are living and holding local offices on the West Bank.
Do you think then that it would be possible, would you consider the Mubarak approach, which is for the United States to invite a joint delegation if you had an understanding about the composition of the Palestinians?
Well, this is what President Mubarak was talking about and that they are putting together. It's a case that they're inviting us, not the other way around, and we've said that we'd be happy to discuss with them. But they've got to understand that we are not getting into the direct negotiations. That's none of our business. We are only to do what we can to help. Recognition of 'Contras'
Are you giving any thought to recognizing the "contras," who are fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, as a government-in-exile?
No, we haven't thought about that at all, and yet I must say that this matter that's before the Congress of whether it's $14 million or whatever, that isn't the issue.
The issue is the United States is trying to help people who had a communist tyranny imposed on them by force, deception and fraud, and either we continue with that tradition, which has always been ours, or we give that up entirely. And I don't think we should give that up. I think our position's clear. Trimming the Budget
Returning to the budget for just a moment, it's true you answered the question on the Social Security aspect of it, but two other issues in the budget compromise that Sen. Dole was able to work in the Senate involve deeper cuts in defense spending than you would have liked on the one hand and lesser cuts in domestic spending than you had recommended.
If Sen. Dole takes Social Security cap on COLA off the table and you can agree with the deeper defense cuts and lesser domestic cuts, do you see the makings of an agreement there? Or do you think you're too far apart to resolve that issue without the Social Security element in it?
Well, I hate to predict in advance what might happen when we discuss it, but I will have to say this. One of the objections that I've had in all of the discussions with many members of Congress with regard to defense spending and the other is those who advocate more cuts in defense spending don't add those to the cuts already made in domestic so that the reduction in spending is bigger.
You know, they use the cuts in defense to augment spending in domestic affairs. And I think that, in the discussion of defense spending, we've got to quit talking about how many dollars do we want to or not want to spend. We've got to talk there about, all right, what is it you can see that would be eliminated by cuts in spending, and what would that do to our national security?
And I would like to call your attention to something that no one seems to be aware of: that we ourselves have cut the defense budgets over the last four years -- our own proposed or projected five-year defense spending -- we have to date reduced those by more than $150 billion, and today the 1985 budget is $16 billion less than the 1985 budget that had been projected by the Carter administration.
So we think that we have made sizable cuts already. The trouble is, if we cut it in half, there are people on the Hill who would still think that it had to be cut more than that. And I think that we've made some progress, and we have a defense program that any further cuts are actually going to run the risk of lowering our capability at preserving national security.
You've answered this many times. If it comes down to resolving this issue, as a last extreme would you accept a tax increase as a means of reducing the deficit?
I have said repeatedly that, when we have finally reduced spending to the point that we say, "All right, here it is, this is the best that can be obtained if government is to perform the services it should."
And then that percentage of gross national product or earnings of the people that the government is taking is bigger than what the tax revenues are bringing in, then is the time to look at bringing the tax level up to that level. We're nowhere near that on the spending side yet, and to start talking taxes now is to take the heat off the backs of those who don't want to cut spending. Bank Safety Measures
Going back to the Ohio banking situation, what measures are being taken to protect commercial banks and the stockholder -- big, large banks owned by the stockholders -- that they are, don't get involved in that in particular because many of them have corresponding banking relationships with the savings and loans and what could start out in Ohio as a little virus could become a national epidemic which could involve some of our major largest banks? I'd like to know just what legislation is being proposed and what federal accountants are doing to check these things, that the situation cannot ever happen again anywhere else?
Well, I don't know of any legislation that's being proposed for that, and I know that our people are on top of looking at this situation and don't feel that there is any emergency that warrants federal interference at this time in there.
Have you had any discussions with Secretary of the Treasury James A. Baker, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker and the chairman of the FDIC Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. about this?
I have not talked to Chairman Volcker about this, but I do know that he himself has put the Fed in there and, as I've told you, what they are prepared to do and which they believe is pretty much the proper answer to this situation