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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a White House Briefing for Representatives of the Arab-American Community

1990-09-24

The President. Welcome to the White House. Thank you very, very much. First, let me thank Richard and Paul. I've been doing a little homework listening -- hey, Bill -- listening to your questions and saying, thank God I don't have to answer any of them, because I'm -- [laughter] -- but I'm here to just make a few comments. And I want to start by thanking both the gentlemen that are behind me here, and those with whom they work -- in Richard's case, Brent Scowcroft; in Paul's case, Secretary Cheney -- and all the team that we have. But these two individuals have worked night and day during this series of events that are called on the evening news, and properly so, the Gulf crisis. So, to both of you, my sincere thanks. And this one over, too, here that some of you know, John Sununu. He's been concentrating a lot on trying to do something about the budget deficit, and the same time being at my side as we cope with the problems in the Gulf. So, all three have been extraordinarily busy, as I know you have. But I want to welcome you to the White House -- a pleasure to see so many distinguished leaders of the Arab-American community here.

I'm told that Congressman Nick Rahall is here. Nick, where are you? Oops, way back there -- modestly sitting in the back. I don't understand that, but he ought to be in the front row because he's of good conscience and he helps me understand the heartbeat in some of these Arab communities, and certainly in the Arab-American community. And I'm grateful to him that he took the time to be with us today.

I'm going to keep my remarks brief because in the words of the famous Arab-American poet, Kahlil Gibran, ``We shall never understand one another until we reduce the language to seven words.'' Well, I've got a few more than seven words, so please indulge me. But I won't keep you too long.

I am honored that you could be with us to discuss the vital issue of our collective security, both abroad and at home. And I understand that you've had a good briefing. I heard a couple, and I don't know whether you've had others as well, but those were good on the situation in the Gulf. I've never seen an issue, certainly since I've been President, that just pervaded the thoughts of everybody in our country. You, more than most, I think, understand what's at stake here. And our action in the Gulf is not about religion, nor is it about greed or culture or imperialist ambitions, as Saddam Hussein would have the world believe. Our action in the Gulf is about our determination to stand up with other nations against aggression, and to preserve the sovereignty of nations. It is about keeping our word and standing by our friends. It is about our vital national security interests and ensuring peace and stability in the world. So, to sum it up: It is about principle.

Our objectives remain clear: Iraq must withdraw from Kuwait completely, immediately, and without condition; Kuwait's legitimate government must be restored; the security and stability of the Persian Gulf assured; and American citizens abroad must be protected. And finally, a fifth objective can emerge from these: a new world order in which the nations of the world, East and West, North and South, can prosper and live together.

The extent of world cooperation in condemning Saddam Hussein is literally unprecedented. The concept of burden-sharing is gaining acceptance with our allies and with our friends -- from Britain and France to Germany, Japan, and the Arab world -- contributing troops and supplies and economic assistance to those countries affected by the economic blockade. In fact, since Saddam Hussein's unprovoked attack on Kuwait, more than 20 countries have answered the call for help from the Gulf nations to provide defensive assistance against Iraq. And indeed, Iraq stands alone against the world community. Over and over again, Saddam Hussein has attempted to make this the Arab world against the United States. You've heard it over and over and over again. And that lie is not going to be perpetuated. It simply is not true. We are joined with many others around the world. Iraq stands alone against the world community. The United Nations Security Council has strongly condemned Saddam Hussein's actions no less than seven times. Active consideration going on for another resolution right now. United against aggression, the world community is working to resolve the crisis peacefully.

We must also resist his attempt -- Saddam Hussein's attempt -- to link the Iraqi invasion with other conflicts. There are other regional conflicts, and they're serious, and they've got to be solved. And we've got to do our level best to be catalysts for the solution. But we are going to resist his attempts to justify what he did based on other regional concerns. So, I think these are merely, on his part, an effort to create additional pretexts so that he can stay in Kuwait. And I'll guarantee I'm not going to be distracted by this. Once the Gulf crisis is on its way to resolution, of course, we want to go forward with the peace process. And our position is clear and consistent, calling -- I heard your questions and I understand where you're coming from. And I agree with much of what I thought was being said here -- certainly agree with what our people here have told you. But our position is clear, calling for negotiations based on these two resolutions. And these negotiations have got to involve territory for peace, security, recognition for Israel, and legitimate political rights for the Palestinians.

As I said before, we have no quarrel with the people of Iraq either. Our mission is to oppose the invasion ordered by Saddam Hussein. As you well know, love of justice and respect and dignity are principles as deeply embedded in the Arab tradition as they are in the whole Western tradition -- no question about that. And these are qualities embodied in the 2/2\ million Americans of Arab descent, with origins from Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula. Just like so many who have come to America, Arab immigrants pursued new beginnings. And they came in search of freedom and justice and equality. Unfortunately, today -- I'm glad the media are here because I want this message to go out beyond this room -- today some Americans are the victims of appalling acts of hatred. And this is a sad irony that while our brave soldiers fight aggression overseas, a few hatemongers here at home are perpetrating their own brand of cowardly aggression. Death threats, physical attacks, vandalism, religious violence, and discrimination against Arab-Americans must end.

These hate crimes have no place in a free society and we're not going to stand for them. I've been appalled by reports from some of you, friends of mine, here in this room -- by reports of discrimination against Arab-Americans. And I condemn such acts, and I will continue to condemn them. This administration has supported enactment of the hate crimes legislation because bigotry and hate still do exist in this country. And hate breeds violence, threatening the security of our entire society. As I said when I signed the bill, all Americans must join together to rid our communities of the poison of prejudice, bias, and discrimination.

America is home to millions of Moslems who are free to live, work, and worship in accord with the traditions and teachings of Islam. Similarly, America is also home to the millions of Christians and Jews, also free to live, work, and worship. And surely the multinational troops -- men and women of every religion and color -- who are now on duty in the glare of the desert sun are an example to us right here at home. They prove that a crisis abroad is no excuse for discrimination at home. As we reflect on our ongoing commitment in the Gulf, we should remember an old Arab proverb: God is with those who persevere. With God's help, we shall persevere, and we shall prevail. And I'm very proud to have all of you here today. Thank you.

I have a signing ceremony out there on the South Lawn at 3:30. Let me just take a couple of questions here to get a random feel of what's on you all's mind. [Laughter]

Persian Gulf Crisis

Q. I'm Dr. Mansour. I'm with the American Iraqi Foundation. Mr. President, you are a strong and successful advocate of direct dialog between parties in conflict in crisis situations. We saw your skill in influencing President Gorbachev to abandon plans for economic sanctions and military actions against the Lithuanian people during their struggle for independence earlier this year. You were instrumental in bringing about a peaceful resolution to that crisis by encouraging Mr. Gorbachev to have direct negotiations with the Lithuanian leadership. Mr. President, why don't we apply this same successful strategy to the current conflict and have a direct dialog with the Iraq leadership in order to bring about a peaceful resolution to this crisis?

The President. Dr. Mansour, it's a good point, and I think the United States should always be willing to talk. But the United Nations has acted in concert. There can be no negotiation in terms of the criteria set down. We can't talk about dividing up Kuwait, or elections not restoring the leaders, or occupying -- permitting this aggression to stand in any way. Eventually, we may do this. But what you've heard is reiteration over and over again from this dictator that they'll never withdraw and all of that. So, I think it's going to take a little time before there can be any fruitful and serious negotiations. Others have tried. You've seen people calling for ``an Arab solution,'' and that's fine. But they have failed, because each time they've tried to do that, whether it's King Hussein [of Jordan] or whether it's [President] Salih of Yemen or whoever else has stepped up to the plate, they have struck out because of this man's insistence on remaining in Kuwait. So, maybe it will come about.

I appreciate what you've said about the fact that sometimes negotiations can bring things forward. We want a peaceful solution, but we don't want to do it and undermine -- and I won't do it and undermine the solid consensus that exists in the world. We're not going to yield 1 inch on those provisions that I spelled out, sir.

Q. We are the foundation, and we are ready to have our offices extend -- to have a direct dialog between the administration here and the leadership in Iraq. We are ready to take this opportunity with your approval.

The President. You've got my approval if you can succeed without giving on these important points. I mean, that is the thing. I think the Iraqi people would welcome that. I know the American people would welcome it. I know all other 19 countries in the Gulf would welcome it. And I know a hundred jillion members of the United Nations would welcome it. But we cannot give at this junction. We're not going to do that.

Right here, and then over here. Thank you, Dr. Mansour.

Q. In the name of God, I thank you very much that you allow me to speak, Mr. President. I just want to bring four points to your notice. One is, as -- [inaudible] -- we condemn the aggression and annexation of Kuwait in no uncertain terms. And number two, as Moslems, we also object to Saudi Arabia inviting the foreign troops to our land. Number three is, what are you defending now? The oil interest has already been defended, the Saudi Arabia has already been defended, and if you are defending to put a sultan on the throne, I think it is not comparable to the high ideals of democracy elsewhere in the world.

In Eastern Europe you wanted democracy. We want democracy in Russia. But according to Random House, as of today, 60 percent of all population enjoys the freedom to elect their own governments. Only 40 percent of the people of the world do not enjoy the freedom. And who are those 2 billion people? One billion are Chinese, and the other billion are Moslems from Morocco to Malaysia, because they are under the thumb of their monarchs and dictators because they rule by their fear and fraud, conceit and coercion, and tyranny and terror. So, if they object to put the Sultan back to the throne, I think it is not ideal for a big office like the President of the United States.

The President. The objective is to see that naked aggression does not pay off, sir. That's what the objective is, and that's why we are going to stay with that position and we're not going to permit this. Iraq is no model of democracy, nor was Kuwait. That isn't the question here. The question is international law and respect for one's neighbor.

Q. What I urge you, Mr. President, is to have justice and equality and peace. There should be no double standard there.

The President. That's what I'm for.

Q. There has to be a negotiated settlement -- --

The President. No negotiations. Withdrawal totally from Kuwait.

Q. But the Palestinians should also have a right -- --

The President. Yeah, two over here, and I've got to go. I've got a meeting out there on the South Lawn at 3:30. I'm going to be in serious trouble. Right here. Yes, sir.

Q. Mr. President, I'm Woodward W. Woody, from Detroit. I have a proposal that will be a blessing to mankind and solve the Middle East problem.

The President. Let's hear it. Quick. [Laughter] We need it.

Q. Solve the Arab-Israeli conflict tenaciously by implementing pressure on both Israel and Iraq to relinquish their occupied territories in exchange for a trade and defense treaty with the United States. Then offer the same trade and defense treaty to other deserving Arab States. Since there would be no remaining cause for belligerency from either side, hopefully peaceful coexistence may be accomplished permanently. Israel knows that time and 150 million Arabs are against them. I have a letter to you -- --

The President. Send it over, yes. It's got some interesting points. But first, we've got to take care of the situation that exists right now because of naked aggression, one country against another. That cannot be permitted to stand. We have been trying to be involved in the other process. You know that some territory has been given up. We want to see [United Nations Security Council Resolution] 242 implemented. But to permit Saddam Hussein to link these two questions and approve of his aggression that way -- I simply can't do that.

Q. Mr. President, my name is Saif Abdullah, and I'm from Kuwait. I thank you very much, sir. In response to this gentleman here, it is up to the Kuwaiti people to choose whether they want an amir or a sultan, and nobody impose anybody upon them.

The President. Good statement. Thank you, sir.

Last one. Listen, you guys are going to get me in trouble. [Laughter] One, two.

Q. My name is Donna Nassor -- --

The President. Donna.

Q. -- -- from the National Association of Arab Americans.

The President. Yes, ma'am.

Q. We thank you very much for inviting us here today and we hope -- and my question, really is to you -- will this be the first in a number of briefings that we will be able to have as Arab-Americans? Because we can help you, as you can help us -- --

The President. Donna, this isn't the first. Maybe for the first the organization. But I see people in this room that I have met with before. And I want to continue to do that. We've tried hard to do this. But I'd like to assure you that it will not be the last. We can argue whether it's the first, because I don't know how -- but no, I think you raise a very good point. I meant what I said in these prepared remarks about what I feel in my heart about what some of you all are going through because you happen to be Arab-Americans. It is simply not fair to lump the outrageous behavior of a dictator halfway around the world into how people are treated here at home.

There are plenty of other reasons to have meetings with you, but that's a good one right there. Sure, hand it over. Now, last one. Thank you.

Q. God bless you, Mr. President.

The President. Thank you, sir. Last word here. Thank you. Go ahead.

Q. Mr. President, my name is Abraham Lutfi, from Los Angeles. I'm from Iraq. I was born in Iraq. Mr. President, I am very concerned about the next President of Iraq who today is a child and today is cutting the food from him. If this young fellow is going to be malnourished and one day he has to sit down with the next President of the United States who will take your office, how he is going to deal with him? Can you please, from humanitarian point of view, let go with the food emergency? It is needed. And I do appreciate it. Thank you, Mr. President.

The President. Absolutely. But let me tell you this. The United Nations -- it's a very important point. This is a very important point. It includes Kuwait, it includes Iraq, it includes wherever food and little kids are going without nourishment. But the United Nations has addressed itself to this. And do you know what the response so far has been? The response has been that you cannot -- they will not permit any kind of distribution supervision to see that the food gets to the -- particularly a lot of Asians stranded there. I talked to one of the most distinguished citizens of the world who has devoted a lot of his life to the refugee business. And he's just back, on behalf of Perez de Cuellar, from surveying the situation. And what he was told is that the Asians particularly who are suffering the most -- I'm talking about Filipinos, I'm talking about Bangladeshis and Indians and people -- they're the ones who are hurting the most because of Saddam Hussein's refusal to permit what the United Nations has called for.

But look, every American, all of us here, must have our concerns out there for the women and the children and all these others. I am much less interested in feeding Saddam Hussein's army at this point. But we want to get the food to those that need it. And that includes refugees that aren't Iraqi citizens. They're hurting the most. These were the poorest of the poor that had jobs there in Kuwait. And now they're being thrown out with -- and the message is coming through -- well, you people in Pakistan, you people in India, you people in Bangladesh, feed your own people. We're going to take care of Iraq.

All he has to do is agree to what the world has called for -- international supervision. And the United States and others would stand at the ready to help. We're standing at the ready to help anyway. But this is a matter of international law now under the sanctions. So, he can't violate that. You must use your influence, if anyone has any with him.

Q. -- -- the American Iraqi Foundation. Can we supervise it?

The President. That would be great if we can get that done, yes.

Lebanon

Q. One question about Lebanon, please.

The President. Shoot.

Q. Very short. [Laughter] We in the National Alliance of Lebanese Americans applaud and support the lead our government has taken in responding to the Iraqi aggression against Kuwait. In fact, our government has taken every action against Iraq that we have been urging should be taken against Syria for its similar action in Lebanon. Syria is now apparently allied with our government and others against Iraq. This disturbs us greatly, unless our government has some plan to use its newfound leverage on Syria to cause Hafiz Assad to conform to the norms of civilized behavior that we are attempting to enforce against Saddam Hussein.

This is the question: What is our plan to make Syria conform? And if there is no plan, doesn't our alliance with Syria compromise our moral position in the worldwide effort against Iraq?

The President. This thing is so complex over there that it's pretty hard to give you a definitive answer. Out of this, though, there could well be a new world order. And part of that must be the peaceful resolution of the division of Lebanon. I've been there; I've worked there years ago. And I'm old enough -- you're too young, but I'm old enough -- no, you're not too young, but she is -- [laughter] -- no, seriously, to remember Lebanon as the peaceful crossroad. It didn't matter what was going on in the rest of the world; commerce survived, people got along one with the other, different religions and different ways of life all thriving there.

We want to help on that. I've been frustrated. One of the great frustrations of my job, as John Sununu can tell you from sitting there and listening to me wring my hands all the time, is my inability to have helped bring peace to the Lebanon. And Syria does have a key role. And I hope out of this that we can use this new world order, if you will, that might emerge if we all stay together to be catalysts for peace in the Lebanon. That's why I came back here, because you struck a chord that I really feel strongly about. And so, I would hope that that and many other things that are happening over there would result in the solution to these problems that have escaped us for so many years.

Listen, I do have to go. And thank you all very, very much.

Note: President Bush spoke at 3:11 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Richard N. Haass, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; Under Secretary of Defense Paul B. Wolfowitz; Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney; John H. Sununu, Chief of Staff to the President; President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; Javier Perez de Cuellar de la Guerra, United Nations Secretary-General; and President Hafiz al-Assad of Syria.

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