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Public Papers - 1991 - August

Exchange With Reporters in Kennebunkport, Maine

1991-08-18

Hostage Situation

Q. Mr. President, there's been a real lull in the hostage situation. Are you concerned that there's a loss of momentum here?

The President. Well, I've expressed my views. We ought not to get the hopes of people up. The Secretary-General doesn't seem that concerned about this lull, and so you don't want to dash hopes either. But the last comments I saw from him in the reporting cable were that he was not all that pessimistic and that it was going to take a little more time. But there has been nothing new, Jim [Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News], that I have seen overnight that would make me change the assessment that I've been on for a while.

Q. Is it true that the Iranian Government is really taking the lead in solving this question?

The President. I don't think alone. I mean, I think they've tried to be, certainly, more constructive. I mentioned the other day an appreciation to them for their role in facilitating the release of Tracy. So, I think there's a feeling that they would like to get this matter behind them. But again, I want to stop there because there's much more that needs to be done by all the parties that have influence over the hostage-holders.

Q. I guess the New York Times is saying today that the President of Iran actually is personally involved and that his government has won over the dissident factions that were blocking the release of the hostages.

The President. I can't confirm that, but certainly that would be constructive. And there's a feeling around the world that it's time to end all this. And I think it's that general feeling that is helpful. I said the other day that I think the prospect of a peace in the Middle East might have been conducive to all this. I hope it has. But still, we've got a long way to go before that's all worked out.

Terrorist Threat

Q. On that vein, there's a Republican task force that says the administration is ignoring a new potential terrorist threat from the Middle East.

The President. Well, I hadn't read anything other than the report about what that task force said, and I don't think there's any such -- I mean, if that's what they said, I'd have to speak to them because I don't think we're ignoring a terrorist threat. We're always concerned about terrorism, but if they have some constructive suggestions as to how to protect American citizens against the threat of terrorists, I'll avidly read that report.

But I didn't read it, Jim, that we were ignoring the threat, and so I want to be fair to the authors of it. I saw a quote by Congressman McCollum, who is a very reasonable Congressman, a very bright and intelligent person. And so, before commenting on the question, on the hypothesis, I'd want to talk to him about it.

Q. Is there a new potential threat for terrorism and retaliation for the Gulf war?

The President. Well, there's always a threat of terrorism or retaliation. But Saddam Hussein has been so thoroughly discredited that I don't think there would be anything other than some reckless renegade terrorists that would try to exact retribution. He was roundly condemned in the Arab world; we won't forget that.

Hostage Situation

Q. Will the Israelis be forthcoming on the hostage situation as part of the -- --

The President. You know, I think they've got a very good case when they say, ``Look, we want our military accounted for.'' That's fair. It's a reasonable request. And I gather that the discussion that the Secretary-General had with the Israeli representative went pretty well, and I thought they were quite forthcoming. But I would just encourage all parties to be as forthcoming as they possibly can. But surely, worldwide opinion would say it's reasonable to want to know about your navigator or the pilots or whatever it was that were unaccounted for. Look at the agony we're going through long after the Vietnam war is over, running down every lead.

And incidentally, the delegation that went over under the auspices of the Defense Department ran into a fraud, ran into a case of pure fraud: raising the hopes of the American people with phony pictures and a great hue and cry on every media outlet because of the hope that somebody would be free, only to find that the person that they were put in touch with admitted to a fraud. And that is the reason I've been trying to downplay all this a little bit.

Protesters in Kennebunkport

Q. There are some people from Operation Rescue here. Are you planning to meet with them?

The President. No. I'm trying to get a vacation here. We've had requests to meet with people from all over, all different causes. I'm sure they'll understand. If I did meet with them I'd say, ``Hey, please abide with the law, don't violate a judge's order, and stay within the law.'' And I'd say that to ACT UP [AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power] when they come up here or to any other demonstrators. I empathize with the out-of-work demonstrators even though some of them were the organizers and had good jobs. But look, they've got a point. They want to demonstrate. They want to peacefully express their concerns to the President about unemployment benefits. I understand that. And they behaved properly, and they did their thing. I don't think, from what I've heard, there was much inconvenience to the people in the town, which does concern me.

So, it depends how people conduct themselves. No, I'm not going to have any meetings here. I'm trying to avoid that. I'm meeting with the Governors by satellite this afternoon, however, an exception that will prove the rule. And then we'll have some others. I think we're going to have some of our people from Washington up here in the next few days.

Anyway, I better go to church.

Note: The exchange began at 9:45 a.m. at St. Ann's Episcopal Church. In the exchange, the following persons were referred to: United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar de la Guerra; recently released hostage Edward Tracy; President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani of Iran; Representative Bill McCollum; and President Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Operation Rescue is an organization of anti-abortion activists, and ACT UP is an organization of activists seeking additional funding for AIDS research. Following the exchange, the President attended morning services at the church.

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