Arms Control and the Next Summit
Thank you for this interview. In view of what Mr. [Mikhail] Gorbachev said to Sen. [Edward M.] Kennedy, as it's been reported, what do you think the prospects are this year for an agreement with the Soviets on intermediate-range missiles?
Well, I'm very hopeful we can come to some agreement. This idea of separating out the intermediate-range weapons, that is, we think, a hopeful sign. And now he has not made the SDI Strategic Defense Initiative any condition in regard to that.
There are some other things in that that are, well, they're going to cause us to negotiate that we hope can be eliminated. One is kind of maybe the French and the English element, and we don't think that we're in a position to negotiate for somebody else. And also the problem of the same kind of intermediate-range weapons being stationed east of the Urals targeted on Asian targets. And these are points that have to be worked out, but I'm just optimistic, since we opened that subject and made some progress on it, that we can achieve that.
Is the United States going to submit a counterproposal that will deal with the British and French question and the Asian question?
Well, as a matter of fact, we have already, I think, made some proposals to them and haven't had a response yet.
The suggestion of that story [about Gorbachev's meeting with Kennedy] was that Gorbachev seemed to be saying that he didn't want to have a summit this year unless there was a prospect for a tangible agreement. What's your assessment of that? Is he trying to get out of a summit some way?
I can't believe that about him. He was so willing for it and even then made, he made the proposal that we have one in 1987 in his country -- which we agreed to. So, no, I just, I have to believe that he is expressing a hope and we are, too. I would hope that we could make some progress without waiting for the next summit.
Are you still holding firm for a June or July date?
Well, we hope that it can be one of those dates, the earlier date, because of our election. It's going to be, I think, not too easy for us if we get closer to and get into the campaigning season and so forth and are trying to have a summit. So they made one suggestion of a later date but they haven't pursued it at all, and we've told them why we didn't feel we could do that.
Were you surprised at the Soviets having sort of been holding SDI ransom for this kind of agreement, that he seems to have dropped that idea on intermediate-range missiles?
Well, whether he dropped it or whether he never intended it to be there, because you remember the language that they agreed to in the agreement was something about seeking an interim agreement while we go forward with the other interim agreement on the intermediate range. So maybe he's just now confirming that he meant this all the time. But it is progress in our eyes. Aid to Nicaraguan Rebels
On the subject of Central America, can the democratic resistance in Nicaragua survive without military aid, in your view? From the [U.S.] government, I mean.
I don't see how they could go on permanently without having some aid, particularly in the face of the extensive aid that they're [the government] getting from the Soviet Union and Cuba with regard to advanced weapons systems and so forth. They've [the antigovernment rebels] got to be able to protect themselves.
Some of your own allies in Congress say that it would be better to take the military aid question up or down [on a vote] rather than just let the freedom-fighters wither on the vine with just nonlethal aid. Do you share that view and are you going to go all out in this?
I'm going to go all out to try and get them the kind of aid that they must have.
Most of the stories I have read and estimates I've seen would indicate that it's going to take a very long time for the democratic resistance there to have any impact. Is this something that we should be starting on now which could be like a 20-year fight down there . . . .
I don't think it has to at all. I think -- and this is what the Contadora process is aiming at -- is what we suggested a year ago, just about a year ago now. And that is that the Sandinista government and their former allies who are now the contras, who fought the revolution against [Anastasio] Somoza, that they come together, with the church acting as a mediator, they have an armistice and come together and negotiate out how they can arrive at a consensus government. That will be what they actually fought the revolution for. And remember that they appealed to the Organization of American States for help back when they were fighting against Somoza, and they got the help they asked for, which was a request for Somoza to step down so the killing could stop. And he did.
But in return for that they had given a program to the OAS of what their goals were. And it was democracy. It was a pluralistic government and human rights taken care of and the freedom of the press and speech and the labor unions and so forth. The Sandinistas then seized the revolution and took it away from the others and they have turned it into the totalitarian state that it is. But I think that the Sandinistas also are being hard-pressed because this thing that has been going on has given them great economic problems, and they are totally dependent on the communist bloc for their survival.
Well, do you think that it's possible within your term in the White House to get some kind of a negotiated settlement between the Sandinistas and the people they're fighting with?
That's what we've always said we want. Situation in Haiti
Mr. President, on Haiti . . . do you have any ideas about how to better bring across a democratic transformation and do you plan to resume aid to Haiti that was withheld because of human rights violations?
Well, this group now, this council that has stepped in, has made it plain that what they want to do is make it possible now to have a government. In other words, they don't view themselves as the government, they're an interim force and they want to now establish democracy and a government that represents the will of the people. And we're perfectly willing and ready to help in any way you can to bring that about. And, as I say, we're ready to work with them and do what we can to be of help.
Does that include resuming the aid?
Resuming the aid to them that was withheld?
I haven't had a chance to talk with anyone about that.
Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan: We're in the process of reviewing that when we see what the new government does. Philippine Election
On the question of the Philippines, officials in your government have called for both sides and the Philippine government to work together now after the election, and you just said after a speech a few minutes ago in your response to a question that this validates the two-party system there. How do you want them to work together? Do you want them to form a coalition government and what do you have in mind?
I would think that we have the same thing in our own country. We have a strong two-party system here and the people make their decision at the ballot box on which party or members of the party get elected or not. And I would foresee that now that there really is a two-party system [in the Philippines], obviously good, with millions of people going to the polls and voting on both sides, that this is the beginning of what could be the answer to their form of government.
Doesn't that mean then that you would accept [President Ferdinand] Marcos winning this or [Corazon] Aquino winning? You're not talking about them joining a coalition government?
No, I'm talking about whoever wins [then] the other party doesn't go out of existence, it waits for future elections.
You called for free and fair elections. How does the United States respond to these reports of fraud from our observers, and can Marcos ever again make a claim to legitimacy after this?
Well, I'm going to wait until I have a chance to talk to our observers who are over there. I haven't as yet. Whether there is enough evidence that you could really keep on pointing the finger or not, I don't know, but I'm sure that, you know, even in elections in our own country there are some evidences of fraud in places and areas; and I don't know the extent of this over there. But also, do we have any evidence that it's all been one-sided, or has this been sort of the election tactics that have been followed there? But what we want is once the Filipino people have made their decision and a government has been chosen, then we would like to have the same relationship, historic relationship, we've had with the people of the Philippines and with their government. Domestic Spending, Deficits
If I could turn to domestic subjects now -- the budget. Your former budget director, David Stockman, said recently that the deficit wasn't only caused by big-spending liberal Democrats but by Republicans as well, including yourself. Now you've been president for five years and under you the deficit has doubled. What's your response to Stockman's comment?
Well, my memory doesn't track with his because every year that I've been here we have tried to get the elimination of some programs, reduction of others, putting together of programs. If we had gotten what we asked for in 1981 with regard to the domestic budget, the deficit would be $50 billion less than it is right now. So all this talk that we did this -- and all those years back over the last half century when I was making speeches about deficit spending and all -- the truth of the matter is, deficit spending was a deliberate practice of the party in power. And the party in power, which has been there for all those years was -- with only here and there one or two terms out -- was the Democratic Party.
And beginning with the War on Poverty in the middle '60s and on, this was where the runaway that we'd always talked about -- I've always said that it couldn't -- that and inflation, you couldn't let them go on without having them break their bounds and start running away. Now, the escalation started in this 15 years between 1965 and 1980. And the escalation went to, budget going up to roughly five times what it was in 1965. But the deficit was 38 times what it was in 1965, and 1981, our first year here, we were on their budget, not ours. You come in several months into the fiscal year, and you will find there, again, the increase and it's gone on that way. And the only answer is finally, what we're trying to do is to have a plan -- and this one is a five-year plan -- to eliminate once and for all the deficit.
With all due respect, sir, every year you've been office, you've proposed a plan -- five-year plans. I recall the first one in your speech in Chicago in 1980 in September, saying you'd get to zero. And we haven't. Why should people be any more confident that we're going to get there now, after five years in office, when the interest has just gotten worse?
I know you gentlemen have delighted in writing about that ever since, frequently. The truth of the matter is, long before the election I had made public the fact that the plan would not work at the time I said it would because of the rapid change here in the economic situation in Washington. Runaway inflation. Runaway interest rates. All of those things started. And suddenly, the economists who had helped me and given me this plan said, no, it can't do it now. It's going to take longer than that. But we stuck to the same plan. And now for 38 months we have had the greatest recovery that we've ever had in the last 50 years. And so I have to think that the plan wasn't at fault.
Mr. President, during this period, Congress has repeatedly not done what you've asked in domestic spending and, as a result, we have this very big deficit. Why is there any reason to think that the Congress is going to do something differently this time, when in the five years that you've been a popular president they haven't?
Because they realize now that the explosion has occurred. The deficit has been institutionalized. It is a part of the whole system of the way the government was set up, as is claimed by those figures of five-times increase in the budget and 38-times increase in the deficit.
Now, I think they are aware. There isn't anyone up there that is advocating. They're all talking that the deficit must be curbed. The only argument now is which way. And they would like to do it in two ways that I think are ducking their responsibility: and that is to eliminate our defense buildup -- and the buildup wouldn't have been necessary if they had been doing what they should have been doing in the years before we got here -- eliminate that, and increasing taxes. And they refused to look at the fact that every time in modern history here that we have reduced the rates of government revenues, prosperity has increased. And every time you raise the taxes, you threaten another recession and our recovery. And this is the only main arguments they are giving us against our proposals for the budget.
To pick up on that, your own polls show on defense that a majority of Americans think Pentagon spending is about where it should be. How do you plan to overcome public skepticism and some on Capitol Hill, to win approval of this defense budget request at the same time you say that defense spending has brought the Soviets to the bargaining table?
Because the people have been hearing a drumbeat, a constant drumbeat of propaganda, about defense scandals and defense spending and that it is all wasted and so forth. And there's only one way left. We're going to go direct to the people and tell them the truth. There wasn't any $600 toilet seat. And all those cartoons that run every other week in the paper with [Defense Secretary] Cap Weinberger and a toilet seat around his neck. That's the same price that TWA and Delta and United pay. It is a molded cover [for] the entire toilet system. And yes it does cost about that much.
Now, the same thing is true of the $400 hammer. We bought 82,000 hammers and they cost between six dollars-and-a-half and $7.80 apiece. But one invoice came in with one hammer buried in the invoice with a $435 price tag behind it. And it was found immediately by a man in the Navy who brought it to the attention of his superiors. And that was changed and we never paid $435 for a hammer.
But there is the third, the $6,000 coffeemaker. Again, that's the same thing that is in all the great commercial transports. And we're having it made for our planes that would carry 365 servicemen. They might be up there for 10 hours in flight. And it's an entire hot cooking system, and actually we're getting it for a little bit less than the commercial airlines are paying.
Even if those have been exaggerated, do you think that Secretary Weinberger has done all that he can do to cut inefficiency at the Pentagon? And you've got a commission that you appointed and you apparently seem to think there is something more to be done than what Cap's done.
No, for one thing, one of the reasons we appointed that commission was -- yes, Cap has been busy and has known there are reorganizing things that have to be done. And he's been working at that and made great progress. You'd be amazed at ships that are coming in -- and planes and so forth -- ahead of schedule and under budget, rather than having an overlay.
But we decided that in the face of this propaganda there was only one answer: bring in an outside commission and let them look at the whole thing and then come back and tell us and tell publicly what they've found. And I'm quite sure that they will come in with some recommendations of changes that could be made maybe organizationally. But I'm also confident that they will help us in trying to make the people understand. I'm sure that they will come in with an honest account of what has been accomplished.
Now, right now, the budget we're asking for in defense, for '87, that budget is below the projection that President Carter had made as to what the military budget would require in 1987. And we're below that level. We have made over a five-year period, the savings that we are making will result in $295 billion less than the bill would be if the things hadn't been done that Secretary Weinberger has done already. Presidential Succession
Recently, your vice president has come under fire, even from some of your most ardent supporters, for attacking Governor Cuomo [for a grant of clemency and on ethnic issues] the way he did it. Do you think that George Bush is pressing too hard too early for the presidential nomination?
No, I don't. I think that whatever he does is being viewed by many as all a part of that. Many of the things that he's done, he's done every year for the last five years, like certain annual things where he's appeared. And then suddenly for the first time he gets hailed and this he's doing and how come he's going to speak to this group and so forth. As I say, he speaks to them every year.
Do you agree with what he said about Governor Cuomo?
Well, I'm not going to comment on that and reopen a feud or not. But I've been very satisfied with the conduct of the vice president.
If I could just add one follow-up to that. Are you pleased the way the competition is going in your own party to succeed you? Bush and [Rep. Jack] Kemp going at it hammer and tong like that?
See, that's what's wrong with having a 22nd Amendment [limiting presidential terms]. Everybody automatically, the minute the '84 election is over, everybody starts saying, "What are we going to do in '88?" And focusing the spotlight on it. I think that it's almost forced on anyone if they are interested in that direction. But I don't know what we can do to change it.
We told [White House spokesman] Larry [Speakes] and your chief of staff we won't ask any more questions, but if you want to come out for repeal of the 22nd Amendment and say you'd run again right now, it would be one helluva story! [Laughter]
No. No president can ever come out for it with himself in mind. I think it's got to be held for whoever's going to be the next president. But I do think this, that we ought to take a serious look and see if we haven't interfered with the democratic rights of the people. They can elect a senator for 40 years or a congressman -- something of this kind -- for as long as they want. Why don't they have the right to vote for whomever they want to vote for?
Thank you, sir.