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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks on the Release of Former Hostage Robert Polhill and an Exchange With Reporters

1990-04-22

The President. It's marvelous, this communications here. I was out there, way out on the flats, and talked to our Ambassador in Syria, prior to his going to the Foreign Ministry to greet our hostage, Mr. Polhill, and now sitting here with you all, and talking to Mount Everest and then the Columbia Gorge on the west coast. And I really think this modern-day communication is inspiring. And I want to take this opportunity to thank all at WHCA [White House Communications Agency] who do this kind of thing for the President and, indeed, for many others day in and day out. I think it's a marvelous example of their communications skills, and I'm very grateful.

Having said that, they patched me through, before this meeting here, to talk to our hostage, Mr. Polhill, to talk to his wife. And then there was a little delay because I also wanted to say hello to his mother, who is still here in the States, and I got her. And I guess what I would say is that the joy of this family knows no bounds. And I told them that Barbara and I sent our love, as I expect all Americans do. And I also told them that we were not going to forget these other hostages. I haven't. I don't intend to.

I think it's proper to thank the Syrians, who played an instrumental role in this, I understand. But this is mission uncompleted. There are other Americans held against their will. And the Polhills, all three, mentioned their concern about others. So, it's a joyous day in that sense. But I will carry the burden of the other hostages with me until every single one of them is free, and I mean it. There's not a night goes by that I don't think about it.

Q. Mr. President, what did Robert Polhill have to tell you?

The President. Well, just that he was pleased to be free. I said I could hardly hear him, and he said that his voice was a little weak. But other than that, it was just joy at being released. And everyone in our country can understand that.

Q. Did he have any report on the other hostages?

The President. Norm [Norman Sandler, United Press International], I really didn't ask him that, and I expect I'll get debriefed as soon as that whole process goes forward. I didn't go into any of the substance or the details of the release with him or with our Ambassador.

Q. Mr. President, you said good will begets good will. Is this the sort of gesture from Iran of good will -- --

The President. I'm not looking for gestures. I'm looking for the release of our hostages. And by our hostages, I mean all of them. But in terms of good will, I must say in my heart I have good will toward Syria for playing an active role in this release, yes.

Q. -- -- good will toward Iran. Marlin said the White House thanks both Syria and Iran. Do you have good will toward Iran?

The President. To the degree Iran's role is known in this. I can't tell you I honestly know what it is. But I'd have good will to those who facilitated the release. If that included Iran, absolutely, because I meant what I said. But I can't rejoice or say all is well until every single one of those hostages is out.

This is a cruel process. You see pictures flash, loved ones getting their hopes up, and then some hopes are dashed. And so, it's a very troubling process. I feel great joy in my heart, great happiness, but I also feel a great anxiety about those families who are separated from their loved ones still.

Q. Mr. President, is there some goodwill gesture that you can return?

The President. I'm not trying to think up any gesture. I've said right here what I think. I want all of those hostages out. We're not going to trade. I think our policy is sound. I think we have support from the hostage families. It's very important to me that we do because I want them to know exactly how much anxiety I feel about their loved ones still being held. But we're not going to change our policy. And we are going to say that we're grateful to those that facilitate the return of Mr. Polhill, but there are seven other Americans that are held against their will.

Q. Is this a test of your good will message, Mr. President?

Q. Will you speak tomorrow with the leaders of Congress on Lithuania?

Q. Is this a test?

The President. Let me go here, and then I'll come back.

Q. Is this a test for you, Mr. President?

The President. A test of what? Every day is -- --

Q. Of testing your goodwill gesture?

The President. Every day is a test of my good will because I don't have forgiveness in my heart as long as one American is held against his will and as long as one family has a broken heart. And so, we're not into this mode of a test at all. It's a joyous occasion that this family is reunited, but there are seven other families that are hurting, crushed every day by the burden of this.

Soviet Economic Sanctions Against Lithuania

Q. Mr. President, do you now know what course of action you will follow in response to the Soviet tightening of the economic screws in Lithuania? And will the meeting with leaders of Congress be tomorrow?

The President. Well, I don't have any plans for a meeting tomorrow. It might be, but I don't think that's scheduled. And I can't tell you I honestly have made that determination, no.

Q. They have not already gone so far that you would act -- --

The President. I am not going to go into hypothetical questions. I've simply said all I want to say on that for now.

Release of Robert Polhill

Q. In thanking Iran for its apparent role in the release of Mr. Polhill, do you also hold the Iranians -- --

The President. Norm, I'm stopping a little short of that because I don't know what the role is.

Hostages in Lebanon

Q. -- -- any apparent role. Do you also hold the Iranians responsible for the other seven hostages?

The President. I don't want to assign blame, and I don't want to give credit when I don't know the facts. All I want to do is see those hostages released.

Q. Mr. President, when you say all the hostages, you say all the American hostages need to be released. What about the other Western hostages?

The President. I feel very strongly, particularly about Terry Waite [Anglican envoy], that I've met, feel that I know. But look, it's not a question of just American hostages. I think you raise a good point. It's a question of the immorality of holding hostages for whatever political end. It is an immoral practice, and it has to stop. And I'm pleased that we've seen this fascinating and wonderful development, but I can't say that the burden is lifted -- not from me but from the American people and from the rest of the families and for those who share my belief that it is brutal to hold man or woman hostage against their will.

Q. Mr. President, is there any concern that without a return goodwill gesture to the hostage-takers or to Iran, for example, that this whole agonizing process just could be prolonged even further?

The President. I don't have that feeling at all. I think people that hold people hostage know the American policy. I hope there's respect for the American policy. And I am not going to change the American policy.

Q. Mr. President, why not go ahead and make the goodwill gesture if it might bring them home?

Q. Do you have any idea why they might have released Mr. Polhill today?

The President. No, I don't.

Q. Did Djerejian give you any indication that the other hostages -- --

Q. Why not go ahead and make the goodwill gesture if it might mean the -- --

The President. I'm not making gestures. I don't trade for hostages. I don't go ``ante up'' one step and one another. I rejoice at this release. And the American policy is sound, and it's not going to change. And I will thank those who facilitated the release, and that's exactly the way it's going to stay. And I feel the burden of these hostages -- and I mean it -- every single day. We say prayers about them every single night.

Note: The President spoke at 4:25 p.m. on Tarpon Flats in Islamorada, FL. Robert Polhill, an accounting professor at Beirut University College, was kidnaped by pro-Iranian terrorists in Beirut on January 24, 1987. Marlin Fitzwater was Press Secretary to the President. Edward Djerejian was U.S. Ambassador to Syria. Following his remarks, the President returned to Washington, DC.

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