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Public Papers - 1990 - October

Exchange With Reporters on the Persian Gulf Crisis

1990-10-31

The President. We've already had a big, major press conference -- I'm sorry you all missed it -- about 20 minutes from here.

Q. There are already accusations -- --

The President. You should have been over there.

Q. Are we going to war?

Q. There are already accusations and some reports out there that a lot of this turning up the heat now is politically motivated to coincide with the election.

The President. Jim [Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News], I don't think there are already many reports to that end. And I don't think even the most cynical would ever suggest that a President would play politics with the lives of American kids halfway around the world. So, I'm sad if you've seen reports like that. I haven't, and I think it is the ultimate of cynicism and indecency.

We're talking two separate things: one, a major crisis halfway around the world where we have strong support -- Democrats and Republicans, the American people supporting us, the whole world and the United Nations supporting us. And I don't think any decent, honorable person would ever suggest anything of that nature. So, I would discount it, but I would simply say that you separate that from the political process that's going on. It is so cynical, and I'm sorry to even have that question asked because it is indecent. Nobody would make a decision based on some political -- certainly not me. I've been through World War II, and I've been trying to keep our kids from -- you know, try to find a peaceful solution to this.

So, you have to raise it, but I'm offended that anybody would even suggest that. I don't think any decent, honorable person would.

Q. Are we closer to war today? I mean, there seems to be an escalation and turning up the heat in general.

The President. I was asked that a minute ago. I don't think so. We're still giving these sanctions a chance to work. We're still moving forces. I'll tell you, I am, I'd say, as concerned, if not increasingly concerned, about the lives of Americans. Take a look at the Embassy in Kuwait. The American flag's still there, and these people are getting starved out. I mean, we still have some supplies there, thank heaven. But it is so brutal and so inhumane and so directly in contravention of international law that I am increasingly concerned about that. You saw some reports -- I did -- in the morning paper about testimony about the condition under which some of these ``guests'' -- I mean, hostages -- are being held. That worries me. Anytime an American citizen is held against his or her will, of course, the President is concerned about that.

Q. Is there any way you can get aid to them short of war?

The President. I don't know. I don't know. And we're looking at every possibility -- every possibility.

Q. Now, I understand that there was going to be an attempt by the Americans to convey the U.S. desire to resupply the Embassy. Has that happened yet? Has the Charge told the Iraqis that we intend to do that?

The President. I'm not sure about that, but I think the loudest signal on that was the action taken at the United Nations. And that gets through to Saddam Hussein. I mean, clearly, he sees his continued isolation. Clearly, he feels the condemnation of the entire world of this kind of inhumane activity. But whether there's been a direct contact from Mr. Howell in our Embassy in Kuwait, I don't know about it, and I'd be inclined to doubt that because of the inhumane way in which our Embassy is isolated.

Q. If the Iraqis refuse to allow the Embassy to be resupplied, would the U.S. then ask that all the Americans, including the civilians, be permitted to evacuate the Embassy?

The President. I'd request that right now. Anybody should have free access to come or go where they want to. Absolutely.

Q. But do you want -- --

The President. And they ought to be able to come home. They ought not to have to go be marched off as prisoners. And so, clearly, I'd call on them, and so is the United Nations. This is in keeping with the United Nations condemnation.

Q. But what about the diplomats? Are you going to keep them there now that the U.N. has at least given you the right to resupply them?

The President. I think we have to look at that. And the main thing is, at this juncture, there are priorities to be sure people have enough to eat and that they're not put under continued duress there.

Q. Well, have you made your point? Is it necessary to have them there anymore?

The President. There are other Americans there, and always your Embassy has kind of a consular service to try to service the concerns of other citizens. But as others are brutalized and thus sent into hiding, why, that function becomes a little more blurred. So, I just don't know the answer to that.

Q. If they blocked resupply, would that be the sort of provocation you've spoken about earlier?

The President. Either it would be directly contravening a mandate from the United Nations, and we would view that very seriously, yes.

Q. You mean, military -- --

The President. Too hypothetical.

Q. Mr. President, there is some -- --

The President. I can't go into hypothesis. I can understand why you want to know that, why the American people would want to, but it would not be good for me to signal what I might or might not do.

Q. How much longer do the diplomats have before you have -- --

The President. I don't know. There's varying reports. You mean in terms of how long they can -- --

Q. -- -- they can hold out.

The President. -- -- hold out against this inhumane treatment? I don't know. I think we have varying estimates of time. We can talk to them. There is communication. But I think some of that is not yet clear to me as to how long -- --

Q. Mr. President, some people -- --

The President. -- -- what a drop-dead date is, a pullout date it might be.

Q. Some past foreign policy experts who have been at the State Department think you haven't done enough on the diplomatic front, like sending an emissary, a mediator like Jimmy Carter or someone who will -- and also that you don't know that in the Middle East they deal.

The President. That what?

Q. Deal. Dealmaking.

The President. There's no compromise. There is no compromise with this aggression. And the allies are together on this. The Arab countries, Soviet Union, France -- all of us are together on this. And every time somebody sends an emissary, that gives Saddam Hussein a little bit of hope that there might be some way that he can stop short of doing what he must do: get out of Kuwait unconditionally, free these people that are being held against their will, and have the legitimate government restored. So, there may be critics, but I've been very gratified at the rather overwhelming support we've had for the approach I'm taking.

Q. But why is Baker going? Is he an emissary?

Q. What do you want the Secretary to do?

The President. I want him to discuss all options with the people that are helping us there and with whom we are allied on the ground and at sea in the Persian Gulf. It is very important we stay in very close touch with our coalition partners. I do some of that on the telephone, but I think this Baker mission is very important. We'll be talking about all kinds of alternatives and doing everything we can to see that no stone is left unturned in determining how we implement the United Nations resolutions.

Q. Will he be asking the allies for permission to use military force?

The President. I'd leave that to further discussion, where no stones will be unturned.

Q. Well, on Primakov -- --

The President. Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International], I've got to go. This has been a long and exhausting press conference -- --

Q. Press conference?

The President. And I had not intended to have it because it makes number 84.

Q. Thanks.

The President. Thank you.

Note: The exchange began at 8:50 a.m. on the South Lawn of the White House, following the President's return from a fundraising breakfast for Representative Stan Parris in Alexandria, VA. In his remarks, he referred to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq and W. Nathaniel Howell, U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait.

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