Public Papers - 1990
Interview With Martyn Lewis of BBC - 1, British Television
Upcoming Summit With President Gorbachev
Q. Mr. President, your Secretary of State talked yesterday of hard choices to be made on both sides. What are the main difficulties facing you and President Gorbachev as you sit down at the table next week at the summit?
The President. Well, of course, there's a cloud of tension because of the Baltic States. I determined long ago that it was important that this summit meeting go forward and be successful, and yet I would be misleading you if I didn't say that the inability to get dialog going there between the Lithuanians and the Soviets does cause a lot of concern to a lot of us here in the United States.
Secondly, I'd like to think we can move the conventional force talks further along than they are now. I think in START [strategic arms reduction talks] we're in reasonable shape, although it won't be ready for a treaty signing. On the chemical weapons side, I think there could well be good news for the free world and everybody in the world if they share my concern about reduction and eventual elimination of chemical weapons.
The European questions are not solved by a long shot. How, for example, does post-German unification Europe look? Who will be calling the shots? What's the role for the United States in terms of stability?
So, all of these questions will be on the table, and I look forward to a very frank and full discussion. One thing I've found is Mr. Gorbachev will lay it on the table, and I think I owe it to him to let him know how we in the alliance feel and how we in the United States feel on our bilateral.
Q. Mr. President, taking those one at a time, Lithuania and the other Baltic States are struggling for the kind of freedom and independence that is right at the heart of the American ideal. Are you in any sense embarrassed that your pursuit of arms control success is in fact preventing you from saying what you would like to say about Lithuania?
The President. I don't think it is preventing me, because what I say about Lithuania is, Lithuania is entitled to self-determination, to determine their own future. You see, our country has never recognized the incorporation of Lithuania into the Soviet Union. But where it could be a problem is some say because we feel that way -- and we do passionately -- and because talks are not going forward between the Lithuanians and the Soviets, therefore you ought to not have this meeting or set this summit meeting back. I don't feel that way. But I don't think it diminishes my personal commitment to freedom and democracy because we talk with the Soviets.
I would give you an example. We talked to the Soviets when Czechoslovakia wasn't free and Hungary wasn't free and Poland wasn't free. And so, we have a broad agenda there. And I'd like to feel that Mr. Gorbachev wants to go forward with what he says he's for, that is, eventual self-determination. But I don't feel a conflict there.
Q. But if Mr. Gorbachev continues to deny the Lithuanians and the other Baltic States self-determination, the right to go independent, will you not be forced to sacrifice the arms control treaty at some stage?
The President. You know something, I've learned long ago not to answer questions quite that hypothetical, with respect, because we can conjure up a lot of scenarios, good and bad, and answer; but that I don't think is helpful on the eve of his visit here. But believe me, I will have an opportunity, as our Secretary of State did just within the last week, to reaffirm the United States commitment to freedom and to self-determination.
Q. You don't feel that you are sacrificing Lithuania on the order of arms control expediency?
The President. I don't think so. And our agenda with the Soviet Union has far more to do with a lot of other subjects, too, than just arms control. But may I answer your question with a rhetorical question? When we talked to the Soviet Union when Czechoslovakia was what we call captive nation -- Hungary was and Poland was -- were we sacrificing their freedom in discussing arms control with the Soviet Union? Now, the world would clearly say of course you weren't, as long as we adhere to our principle of self-determination and freedom. So, that's the way I'd respond to my critics.
Q. And you're saying that arms control is the most important thing on your agenda, and you will go for that come what may?
The President. No, I'm not saying that's the most important. That's what you're saying or suggesting or asking me if I'm saying. We have a lot of regional problems that we discuss with the Soviet Union. We have the whole question of post-German unification Europe that is very, very important to the people in the U.K. and France and other NATO countries. We have the questions of German participation in NATO -- a vital question.
So, I'm not trying to set out for you priorities. Do I think arms control is important? Yes. Are we working with diligence to try to have a good arms control agenda? Absolutely. But I can't tell you that's the only thing that drives the meetings between me and Mr. Gorbachev. I want to talk to him frankly about things in Europe and in this hemisphere, and I don't want these two gigantic ships to pass in the night because of misunderstanding.
Q. Finally, Mr. President, do you think that Mr. Gorbachev is going to survive, that he's going to be the person you'll be negotiating with in a year's time, given the pressures that he has from the democrats and the radicals on one hand and from the military on the other?
The President. I'm inclined to think the answer to your question is yes, but it is not my role as President of the United States to try to sort out who should lead the Soviet Union. In Mr. Gorbachev I see a man who has presided over dramatic changes in Eastern Europe that benefit freedom and benefit mankind, if you will, and so I give him credit for that.
I see somebody who's talking about perestroika and reform inside -- and openness, glasnost -- inside the Soviet Union, and I give credit for that.
But Soviet leadership is up to the Soviet people. And I don't think one's foreign policy can be determined or be predicated on one person -- can't be. But I think most Western leaders feel that in Mr. Gorbachev we have a man with whom we can talk frankly, with whom we agree on many principles; a man who has many problems, internal problems, facing him -- I'm talking about predominately economic problems -- a man who has tried to work with us constructively on many fields. So, that's why we're going to approach this summit with great openness, and yet there are outside events -- and you mentioned Lithuania -- outside concerns that put a little bit of a tension on this meeting.
But in terms of my sitting down, up at Camp David, and talking frankly with Mr. Gorbachev, he's the kind of person you can do that with. And I believe that that's useful to every country -- that the United States deal in this manner with Mr. Gorbachev. But that is not to say we have no problems.
Q. Mr. President, thank you very much for talking to the audience.
The President. Thank you for coming all this way. Thank you sir.
Note: The interview began at 2:39 p.m. in the Family Dining Room at the White House.