Public Papers - 1991 - July
The President's News Conference in Kennebunkport, Maine
The President. I am very pleased to announce that I will nominate Judge Clarence Thomas to serve as Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Clarence Thomas was my first appointee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where he served for over a year. And I believe he'll be a great Justice. He is the best person for this position.
Judge Thomas compiled an excellent record at Holy Cross. He graduated from Yale Law School and served with distinction in the Missouri attorney general's office, in the Reagan-Bush administration, and in my administration. He's a native of Pinpoint, near Savannah, Georgia, where he was raised by his grandparents. His background includes a strong emphasis on education as the key to a better life. And he attended rigorous Catholic schools where he excelled. After spending a year at the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Conception Junction, Missouri, Clarence transferred to Holy Cross College in Worcester, where he supported himself through loans and scholarships and jobs, and graduated with honors in 1971.
After graduation from Yale Law School, he worked for then-Missouri attorney general John Danforth and spent 2 ½ years litigating cases of all descriptions. In 1977, Judge Thomas practiced law in the private sector, and in 1979, he rejoined Senator Danforth as a legislative assistant in the U.S. Senate. In 1981, President Reagan appointed him Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Department of Education. From 1982 to 1990, he served as President Reagan's Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And I appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1990.
I have followed this man's career for some time, and he has excelled in everything that he has attempted. He is a delightful and warm, intelligent person who has great empathy and a wonderful sense of humor. He's also a fiercely independent thinker with an excellent legal mind who believes passionately in equal opportunity for all Americans. He will approach the cases that come before the Court with a commitment to deciding them fairly, as the facts and the law require.
Judge Thomas' life is a model for all Americans, and he's earned the right to sit on this Nation's highest Court. And I am very proud, indeed, to nominate him for this position, and I trust that the Senate will confirm this able man promptly.
And now, Judge Thomas, if you'd like to say a few words. And then what we'll do is questions for either of us, and then if you finish those, then I'll be glad to stay and take questions on a wide array of subjects.
Judge Thomas. Thank you, Mr. President. I'm honored and humbled by your nomination of me to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
As a child I could not dare dream that I would ever see the Supreme Court, not to mention be nominated to it. Indeed, my most vivid childhood memory of a Supreme Court was the "Impeach Earl Warren" signs which lined Highway 17 near Savannah. I didn't quite understand who this Earl Warren fellow was, but I knew he was in some kind of trouble.
I thank all of those who have helped me along the way and who helped me to this point and this moment in my life, especially my grandparents, my mother, and the nuns, all of whom were adamant that I grow up to make something of myself. I also thank my wonderful wife and my wonderful son.
In my view, only in America could this have been possible. I look forward to the confirmation process and an opportunity to be of service once again to my country and to be an example to those who are where I was and to show them that, indeed, there is hope.
Thank you again, Mr. President.
The President. Now either of us will take questions. As you can understand, Judge Thomas—the next important step for him is going up for confirmation. And as with every predecessor for the Supreme Court, I'm sure you'll understand if he won't take questions on specific issues or philosophy or things of that nature. But if you have any for him or for me about this appointment or matters relating to the Court, I'll be glad to respond; I know he would. And then, as I say, it's been a while, and we want to go ahead and just have a general press conference on any other subjects that come to mind.
Supreme Court Nominee.
Q. Mr. President, how will you answer concerns stemming from Judge Thomas' days as Chairman of the EEOC, that in that post he was somewhat insensitive to the concerns of the elderly and civil rights advocates and that he didn't aggressively pursue their complaints?
The President. Well, obviously, that complaint, if it was even raised in his confirmation hearings for the second highest court in the land, were satisfactorily answered. It is my view that the complaints are unfounded, of course. But I doubt if anybody had strongly felt that, that he would have been confirmed for his present position.
Q. Mr. President, last year you vetoed the civil rights bill, saying it could lead to quotas. Today you've made a nomination that could be easily seen as quota-based. How do you explain this apparent inconsistency?
The President. I don't even see an appearance of inconsistency because what I did is look for the best man. And Clarence Thomas' name was high on the list when the previous nominee went forth, Judge Souter, Mr. Justice Souter now. And so, I don't accept that at all. The fact that he is Black and a minority has nothing to do with this in the sense that he is the best qualified at this time. And we had a very thorough screening process then; we had one now that we put into forward gear very fast, but we didn't have to start from square one.
So, Clarence Thomas, seasoned now by more experience on the bench, fits my description of the best man at the right time, or the best person at the right time because women were considered as well.
Q. But do you see how it could be perceived so?
The President. No, I can't see it.
Q. Was race a factor whatsoever, sir, in the selection?
The President. I don't see it at all. The fact that he's a minority—you heard his testimony to the kind of life he's had, and I think that speaks eloquently for itself. But I kept my word to the American people and to the Senate by picking the best man for the job on the merits. And the fact he's minority, so much the better. But that is not the factor, and I would strongly resent any charge that might be forthcoming on quotas when it relates to appointing the best man to the Court. That's the kind of thing I stand for, not opposed to.
Q. If I could ask the question—
The President. Yes.
Q. Was race a factor whatsoever, though, sir?
The President. Well, I tried to answer it just then as best I could. Nice try for the second go-around.
Q. If I could follow up. There are many people who felt that in fact, that that was a plus. Not that it was a factor or a quota, but that, in fact, since the Court represents all the people, there ought to be a minority member. Did you at all feel that way, that this was the best—
The President. Oh, yes, but I don't feel there's a quota; I don't feel that I had to nominate a black American at this time for the Court. I expressed my respect for the ground that Mr. Justice Marshall plowed, but I don't feel there should be a black seat on the Court or an ethnic seat on the Court, if that's what your question is. I would reiterate, I think he's the best man. And if credit accrues to him for coming up and through a tough life as a minority in this country, so much the better. So much the better.
I love what he said at the end; it proves he can do it, get the job done. And so, that does nothing but enhance the Court, in my view. But I just really want you to know, we looked at this list with an idea of really finding the best, and I think that's what we did. Yes, Charles [Charles Bierbauer, Cable News Network].
Q. I wonder if I could ask a question of Judge Thomas, Mr. President.
You made reference, sir, to Chief Justice Warren, the Warren Court known as a liberal Court but one that advanced a lot of things in the way of civil rights and on behalf of minorities. How do you feel about that Court vis-a-vis the very conservative Court that you seem to be joining?
Judge Thomas. Well, I think that many of the questions that I will be asked during my confirmation process will perhaps bring that comparison out. And I think, out of respect for the process, I'll have to refrain from making that sort of comparison at this time.
Q. Not even a personal reflection, sir, on what the Warren Court did for minorities?
Judge Thomas. Not even a personal reflection.
Q. Judge, a question for you. What do you say to critics who say the only reason you're being picked is because you're black?
Judge Thomas. I think a lot worse things have been said. I disagree with that, but I'll have to live with it.
The President. Refer them to the President. [Laughter] How about that for an answer?
Judge Thomas. Well, I'll also say I didn't make the selection. [Laughter]
Q. Mr. President, civil rights groups, in particular Ben Hooks has signaled that you're in for the "mother of all confirmation hearings" if you nominated Judge Thomas. What do you have to say about that?
The President. Well, one, I find that very surprising from a man that's as fair as Ben Hooks. And I learned something in this job that some of the others that cover us regularly here understand, and that is that I don't like to comment on a statement attributed to somebody until I've actually read it. But I think, when you go back and look at the support that Judge Thomas had for the bench that he now serves on, that that in itself will take care of any arguments that someone—I just don't want to feel that Ben Hooks said that. I know him. I respect him. And I don't think that he would say that about Judge Thomas. I'll be honest with you.
Q. At his confirmation hearings before, it was said that he was accepted to the bench, but if you brought him back for the Supreme Court, that they didn't feel that he would be ready for that.
The President. Well, he's not President, and he isn't the Attorney General, nor the General Counsel to the President, nor the Chief of Staff, nor those of us who screened this nomination. It is our judgment he will . I think you're going to find many Senators that disagree with the fact he's not ready.
Look, I'm not suggesting there will be no opposition, but you've put it on quite a personal one with Ben. And I just can't believe he would make a statement like that. I've differed with him on a lot of things and agreed with him on many, but I simply do not want to accept that until I see it. I'm not questioning your motives or challenging your authenticity of the statement, but please let me just defer until I take a look at it.
Q. Mr. President, when you selected Judge Souter your aides very clearly put out the word that Edith stone of Houston was the runner-up and likely would be the nominee if another vacancy came up. What happened to change the equation this time?
The President. Well, she's a very able judge. She was given consideration then and now. And I just felt that Judge Thomas, with his seasoning now, is best prepared to serve. It was that. It was not a demeaning or putting down of anybody else because there were some very good names brought to my attention.
You know, this just happened last week, and some will be saying, "Well, was the screening process thorough?" And the point I want to make is that I have met several times since Judge Souter's sending to the Bench to discuss what would happen of a Supreme Court Justice stepped down, with no one particularly in mind, but just to be ready. So, consideration was given to a wide array of candidates, but we'd already done a lot of homework.
But you ask about Edith, who comes from my hometown, and I have nothing but high regard and high esteem for her. But I decided, on the advice of people that I trust, that this is the way to go.
Q. Mr. President, the appointments made by President Reagan and you have put the Court on a conservative road. Is that what you would like to see for the next 10 or 15 years, to reverse some of the more liberal rulings in the past 20 years?
The President. Look, I don't know how Judge Thomas, when he becomes Mr. Justice Thomas, will come down on every issue. And indeed, I didn't discuss specific issues with him. I didn't discuss them with Judge Souter before he became Mr. Justice Souter. But I did look at this: Would he faithfully interpret the Constitution and avoid the tendency to legislate from the Bench? And that's a broad consideration, but that was certainly in his favor in my view. And I don't know whether he'll agree with positions that our administration takes or overthrow decisions or change positions that we think are right. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that he faithfully interpret the Constitution, and I am 100-percent convinced that that's exactly what he'll do.
So, we're not trying to put a philosophical balance on this Court. We're not trying to philosophically affect it. And I said this long ago, long before I became President, that the main consideration in addition to excellence and qualification is this concept of interpreting the Constitution and not legislating from the Federal Bench.
Q. In the last several weeks you, or you and your White House Counsel, have had to act to tighten the restrictions on travel of your subordinates. During this period of time has Governor Sununu come to you at all and expressed any apology for any embarrassment that this might have caused you?
The President. John [John Mashek, Boston Globe], I'll take your question in one second, but have we done the Supreme Court questions? Because I don't want to get Clarence Thomas, on the eve of his hearings, caught up in a lot of domestic questions of one kind or another, including this one which I'll be glad to respond to. But if you'd let me come back to you as soon as I ask him to go into the cool office that is behind us. But if there's a couple more on this, and then we'll move on to Mr. Mashek.
Q. Could I ask Judge Thomas his feelings about quotas
Judge Thomas. Again, I'd give you a similar answer. When I was in a policy-making role, I said what I had to say about quotas. As a judge, I have not had an opportunity to rule on that issue. But to the extent that I have any additional comments, I think again, out of respect for the advice and consent process, I'll have to leave it for that moment.
Q. Would that also apply to questions involving whether or not there's a constitutional right to privacy?
Judge Thomas. Yes.
Q. Can I have another question for the President? [Laughter] Did your list of possible candidates include anyone with known pro-choice views or any candidate whose views on abortion you were unsure of?
The President. Probably. Because I don't know. I didn't ask about that.
Q. Mr. President, there was a lot of talk about the possibility of an Hispanic being named—
The President. Yes.
Q.---and indeed, Judge Garza was interviewed.
The President. He was.
Q. Could you tell us what your thinking on that was—why it was that you turned to Clarence Thomas instead of an Hispanic?
The President. Well, I think experience in government, experience on the higher court figured into this, but listen, that should not degrade Judge Garza at all. The man is a very well-qualified individual. Indeed, he flew up and had a conversation with Boyden Gray and with the Attorney General. And I just had to make a very tough call, and I did it. But he's a good man.
Q. Mr. President, when did you make this decision in your own mind, and when did you call Judge Thomas to—
The President. Well, I called him yesterday and told him I was getting very, very close. And keeping the faith with those who were at the golf course, I called him after I came back from the golf course. [Laughter] And then I closed the deal today. I had one or two points that I wanted to make to him to see that he felt comfortable with them. I wanted to be sure that he knew from me that there was no litmus test involved. I told him, it it's not violating a privacy, that he ought to do like the umpire: Call them as you see them. And I'm satisfied he will.
But I guess I could say the final decision was made sitting in our living room, but it was pretty well-established when I talked to him yesterday afternoon that that's what I wanted.
Q. Did you talk to any other candidates personally?
The President. No, I did not.
Q. Mr. President, do you feel as though this appointment will have any effect on your ability to get a civil rights bill through the Congress?
The President. I don't think it has anything to do with it at all.
Q. Do you anticipate any problems in the confirmation hearing?
The President. Nope. Not if everyone is as fair as I think they will be. I think that there will be questions raised. I would hope there would not be political consideration. But look, you've seen confirmation hearings before, and you know that different people come in with a wide array of different questions, many of them philosophical. But I'm satisfied that this man will pass muster. Got it?
I don't want to keep you, get you messed up in domestic politics here, Judge, so good luck, and I'll see you in a few minutes. [Applause]
May I duly note that that's the first press conference my family has attended and the first one at which there's been any applause. [Laughter] I hope this will continue.
John [John Mashek, Boston Globe].
Chief of Staff's Travel
Q. Well, the question is, sir, over the last several weeks you, or you and the White House counsel acting together, have been forced to tighten the restrictions on travel regarding your subordinates. Has Governor Sununu come to you during any of this time and apologized to you for any embarrassment this may have caused?
The President. Yes. He's told me right from the heart that he regretted very much any controversy and anything that this may have done to diminish the ethical standards of this Presidency. And I told him, look, I understand this. He went into the staff with essentially the same message. He said it publicly.
And very candidly, no laws having been violated, I think we ought to move on to something more important. And in this instance, it gives me a chance to express my full confidence in him as we work some very complicated issues through the Congress. I respect him. I value his advice and counsel. And I'm hoping that this matter is laid to rest.
I think John said, "If mistakes were made, I made them." What more can a man be asked to say? And so, I'd like to see this matter laid to rest.
Q. But at the very outset of your administration you cautioned against even the appearance of impropriety, which you said this brought into—
The President. That's why I think he came in. And we had a good heart-to-heart talk, more than one, about it. I'll be very honest with you. My heart aches for his family because they've been through a lot on some of the stories unrelated to this, kind of what I refer to as a piling-on syndrome. So, I'm glad this matter came up because I'd like to try to clear the air, get it behind us, and move on.
But he's done the right things in terms of expressing his own personal feelings to me and to our staff and to others. And I made a mistake once. Let's see, it was back in 1970-something or other; I can't remember exactly. [Laughter]
Q. Mr. President, what's the point of meeting President Gorbachev at the G-7 summit if all you're apparently willing to offer is moral support and technical advice, which are things that have been offered before?
The President. You mean his coming to the summit? Well, I think it's quite important, now that ground rules are getting worked out, that he come and present his case for reform to the G-7. And I feel comfortable with what's been worked out by Prime Minister John Major and Mr. Gorbachev. I look forward to having a one-on-one with President Gorbachev there, and we've got a lot to talk about, a lot of things that aren't related to the arms control agenda. And then I think there's going to be a bigger meeting with all seven that night after the formal part takes place. So, I think it will be a good chance to narrow down the differences, to see where we stand, the Soviet Union and Western Europe and Canada, the United States and Japan.. And so, I'm looking forward to it.
On our one-on-one talk, if that's what you're referring to, I don't think we'll have that much time. I think we've got a couple of hours set aside—Bob? A couple of hours. But there's some issues that I need to talk about, global issues. And we've got a lot of things that we look at identically. And we can go back and talk about those, such as the United Nations action against Iraq's aggression and things like that.
But I think it's appropriate now. You know, you read a lot of stories that Gorbachev was coming there hat in hand, asking for a big check. That was never his intention; I'm assured of that. And I don't think that did him a lot of good by even the speculation on that in some quarters, in the United States, for example. But I think the ground rules or at least the broad parameters are now set out, and I look forward to hearing what his plans are for a vigorous reform and the continuation of perestroika glasnost being all but a given these days.
Q. Doesn't his mere presence in London raise expectations that are unlikely to be realized?
The President. Well, yes, some might argue that. And some might say, well, his mere presence would indicate that if he didn't get something, that the meeting would be a failure. I don't view it that way. There is so much change taking place. The economic problems in the Soviet Union, and elsewhere, are so enormous that it's very important that we get close together in agreement. But yes, I can see where some might suggest that, but I wouldn't view it that way. And I'll be resisting it if people say that. We've got an awful lot of consultation before concrete economic programs can be agreed to.
Q. On Iraq, there's news that the U.N. team went out looking again for that equipment and couldn't find it. Are you anticipating taking any action?
The President. Well, we're anxious to see what this inspection , this two-person team, gets when they come back. But let me say this: Everybody, everyone, knows that the man was cheating and lying. Everyone knows that he did that which the resolutions say not to do. And he should give unfettered access to these inspectors. He didn't do that. He surreptitiously moved the equipment. We've presented the evidence to certain parties. And all I'd say is he'd better get on with keeping his word, and he better got on with total, free, open inspection.
And I said the other day, perhaps you missed it, that we are not foreclosing, nor putting on the table, any options at this point. We have a lot of diplomacy to do. We want to be sure that world opinion is as strong as I'm convinced it will be because this isn't a unilateral U.S. problem. This is a problem now of which the United Nations has seized, you see.
Q. Have you talked to any of the allies, the leaders, in the past days?
The President. No, but others have been talking. I've not gone to the chiefs of state. I anticipate—maybe I indicated this the other day—that Ii will be doing that. High-level diplomatic initiatives will be called on, and decisions might follow.
Q. Mr. President, on Iraq, the other day as we came to Kennebunkport, you were in a sort of highly agitated mode, hinting of possible renewal of military action, although you also stressed diplomacy. But in the interim, has there been any news on this nuclear situation or anything that has caused you to think that maybe the situation is calming down there, or are you still saying that we have all options out there?
The President. No, Rita [Rita Beamish, Associated Press], to be honest with you, I haven't seen anything that makes me think it's calming down. I'm not sure I would have used the word agitated, but certainly concerned. And what we've got to have is evidence that full inspection on challenge will be granted. And I don't want to mislead you; I'm very concerned about this situation. This is a fundamental part of what the United Nations resolutions is about. So, there's still a feeling out there, on my view anyway, and I'm sure it's true of the neighbors, that he has to make this right and satisfy us or we'll figure out what else happens.
Q. Is there still a possibility of renewed military action by the U.S-led coalition?
The President. Well, again, I just keep resisting saying what we will do or what we won't do. But you've seen speculation, and I'll just steer you that it's not all warrantless. But on the other hand, I'm not saying what will be recommended that I do as President of the United States. I'm very interested in getting the views of other world leaders, and the diplomacy leading up to that has already started.
Q. Mr. President, this fall, Israel intends to ask the United Strategies to guarantee $10 billion in loans to build housing for Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union. Could you tell us how you feel about linking approval of these loans guarantees with some pledge from Israel to decrease the building of new settlements in the occupied territories?
The President. Well, I don't think it ought to be a quid pro quo. What I do think, and I've said this over and over again, that it is against U.S. policy for these settlements to be built. So, I'll leave it right there and avoid the linkage that you understandably ask about, but say that the best thing for Israel to do is to keep its commitment that was given at one point not to go in and build further settlements. It is counterproductive to the peace process. Now, having said that, I want to be fair: There are other things and by other countries that are counterproductive to the peace process. I'd love to see direct talks between these countries.
But we have not changed our position on sanctions, I mean on settlements, and we're not going to change our position on settlements. So please, those in Israel, do what you can to see that that policy of settlement after settlement is not continued. It is counterproductive. And having heard the Secretary of State say that and seen what followed on, I will promptly add, as he has, that we want to be sure that others move forward in the peace process, too. But it's not constructive to getting these parties to come together and work for a peace that I think the entire world wants and that all of them want. So, we'll keep working it, but we're not giving one inch on the settlements question.
Military Base Closings
Q. Mr. President, the Courter Commission has made its recommendations, as you know, on base closing, subject to your review. Isn't it highly unlikely, though, that you would overrule any of those decisions, given the amount of time that the Commission put into it?
The President. Yes, with one exception. Yes, it is highly unlikely, but I will rely heavily on what Secretary Cheney tells me after he reviews the base closing recommendations, has a chance to talk to them with General Powell and the Joint Chiefs. Because what I'm interested in: One, saving the money that we've said we'll save; two, being sure, and this comes first actually, that we have a proper structure from which to conduct military action that we might be called upon to conduct in the future. And so, it would be unlikely, but I just would suggest, John, that I would like very much to sit down with the Secretary of Defense and say, "Dick, are you happy with these? Do you see something that ought to be changed?" And that's the way I'll conduct it.
But I'm not going to go in there and override some decision on a political basis. These are tough calls. This Commission, I am satisfied, is approaching it without politics in mind. I was in the Congress; I know the old rule about cutting it out, but cutting it in the other guy's district. And we simply cannot approach something as sensitive and as important to our national security as base closing in that manner. And so, I won't participate in any political call, but I do reserve the right upon receipt of the Commission's report—I think it comes directly to me—to discuss it with the Secretary of defense after he's had an opportunity to talk to the Chiefs about it.
Q. Can you talk a bit about your mother and what she's taught you and why you chose her birthday to announce your nominee? [Laughter]
The President. Well, maybe it's fortuitous. Life goes on. Mother's 90 years old; been an enormous influence in my life and the lives of everybody that's in our enormous family. And I noted from Clarence Thomas what he had to say about the importance of family in his life. So, if there's some symbolism there, one, it was unintended, but two, I think it might be appropriate. Different backgrounds, but the same sense of strength of family. And I think there's a message not just for Clarence Thomas' family or our family, but for families all across the country.
And as we celebrate Mother's 90th birthday, she's not all that well, but she is our moral leader, was since I was old enough to walk on this marvelous point of land here in Kennebunkport, which was just—from my days as an infant. And everyone in this family, young and old, direct or indirect relations, looks up to her. But I have a feeling that that's still true of a lot of families in this country.
Military Base Closings
Q. I wanted to follow on John's question as to whether you might be suggesting that the base closing Commission could have gone farther and deeper?
The President. No, I didn't intend to say that because, literally, I have not gone into the details of the base closing Commission.
Q. Could I ask a separate then: Are you and the Attorney General going to discuss the crime bill, as you suggested you ought to?
The President. Yes.
Q. What's your sense of direction on that?
The President. Well, I want to get a good crime bill. We would like to have it all come down together, and options are open here. But in fact, Dick told me now we've gotten, roughly in form we want, four of our five major objectives. The exclusionary rule did not come the way we wanted in the Senate. But I'll defer on more detail on that because it has to go to a conference, and then we'll see.
But I want a comprehensive crime bill. There are some very good things in the Senate bill. And I thank Senator Biden and, of course, Senator Thurmond and others for that. And I'll just wait and see what comes to my desk. And I urge that it be comprehensive, broad, and then we'll take some things that I like and maybe some things that I don't like because it is important to get on with the crime bill. But it better come down, I think in fairness to the American people, in a broad form, not nickel-by-nickel, dime-by-dime.
Q. Was he a little premature yesterday in suggesting it was close to acceptable?
The President. Well, I didn't see the story, but as I say, there are many good things in it. But my problem on answering it is I don't know what's going to happen in relation to the House of Representatives out of the conference.
Q. Thank you, sir. As the Gulf war got closer, you sensed that Saddam Hussein wasn't getting enough information that our threat was real. There have been reports now, as you were talking about, about potential military action again. Do you think he's in the dark still?
The President. I don't know on this question. But you're right. I was reminiscing here, as I hit Walker's Point a couple of days ago, that there were two points that I still am convinced of as the pre-battle period went on: One, that he didn't think that we were for real on this, and secondly, that he thought he could prevail at least enough to have a standoff in the desert and be the hero of certain parts of the world over there. He was wrong on both counts. And if he assumes that he can get away with this kind of thing, he's just as wrong today as he was on August 2d when he sent his forces into Kuwait.
Q. You don't consider him a very smart man, do you?
The President. I don't consider him a very bright man to have done what he's done, if that's an answer to it, because I can't conceive of why you would directly think you could hide, given the sophistication of technology today, and secondly, why you'd think you could get away with it. So, there is some parallel there. I don't want to overdraw it.
Middle East Peace Process
Q. Mr. President, you spoke a bit ago about everyone in the Middle East wanting peace. Yet the Israelis seem to have stiff-armed your proposals. The Syrians don't seem to like the terms either Is there more here than meets the eye?
The President. Probably more than meets the eye, but not as much as I'd like to see meet the eye. I mean, in other words, I think I'd like to see the process further along, but there are a few things that I think offer hope. In fact, in my last communication from President [Prime Minister] Shamir of Israel was a commitment to try to work for peace. There are some broad commitments, but frankly, I'd like to see us further along on some of the details. And please don't press me on what those details are. But I'm not going to give up hope on this, and I don't think the Secretary is. But we need to have more progress, and we need to have it sooner.
I am told that the credibility of the United States for being the catalyst for peace is still very, very strong and very good, not only in Israel but in the Arab countries as well. So, that is an ingredient that wasn't there before, that's still there, that I hope will lead to peace.
Q. It's been suggested that the United States might just call a peace conference and see who shows up. Is that an option?
The President. Well, I don't want to go into options, but yes, I've seen suggestions of that nature. And at some point, I think I owe the American people my view of the details I'm not willing to discuss right now. And that wouldn't bother me one bit, to get up and say, here's what we've been trying to do. So, there's no timeframe on anything of that nature. But I think there's a lot of people that are wondering what in the world is going on. And I've invoked quiet diplomacy and the need for confidentiality, but I can't do that forever; I just simply can't do it. I owe it to the American people, and I think the people around the world, to say, hey, here's what the United States thinks is a good formula.
Q. Mr. President, in reminiscing about the war, can I ask your comments about, your feelings about what's happened in Kuwait since the end of the war with the atrocities there? Your feelings about it, and do you think there's any reason to believe that democratic reforms will take place?
The President. Well, let me say this, and I hope it doesn't come out wrong. The war wasn't fought about democracy in Kuwait. The war was fought about aggression against Kuwait. Having said that, the Kuwaitis have said that they want to move towards the democratic process, and I hope they do. And they should. This would be good. I think one of the things that concern people were the trials. There are different standards for law in all countries, but we want to see fair trials, open trials.
A friend of mine in our Government, who's quite knowledgeable on history, reminded me of what it was like in France after the liberation of France in World War II. I remember some of it, although I was in the Pacific theater. And the people that were liberated did not take kindly to those that had sold out to the Nazis. I think we're expecting a little much if we're asking the people in Kuwait to take kindly to those that had spied on their countrymen that were left there, that had brutalized families there, and things of that nature.
Having said that, I believe, and I've recommended this to the Kuwaitis, the most open, fair trial, free justice system is the best. It works best. It gets confidence back in your country. So, I can understand the outrage.
I'll give you one other example. Martial law. We had some problems, you know-- why martial law? And it was explained to me, many citizens over there against the law have weapons, many of them that were in opposition to the Kuwaiti regime, threatening, using the weapons, showing the weapons when the Iraqis were in power, now keeping the weapons. And they told me that martial law was essential if they were going to go in and disarm the people that had been helping the enemy.
I can understand that. Again, what I'd like to see is as much respect for what we see as legal principles as possible.
This guy hasn't had one. One, two, and that's it, unless you appeal.
Upcoming Economic Summit
Q. Back to the G-7 for a minute. Are you at all concerned in all the publicity with Mr. Gorbachev that the plight of the Eastern European countries is not going to get enough attention here? And do you feel any obligation on the part of the Western democracies to guarantee to them the same aid, whatever it is, that Gorbachev walks away with--
The President. You mean the Eastern European--
Q. In light of the fact that they have already done the sorts of things that he's only beginning to think about.
The President. I think we've got two different questions. But we must not, we must not send a signal to Eastern Europe: "Hey, we're neglecting you. You're on your own; figure it out for yourselves. We're going to turn our attention to Moscow." I don't think it has to be an either-or choice. The Eastern European countries are moving. They need certain kinds of assistance; they're getting some. They're making some progress; they still have problems. But I think your question raises to me a very good point. We don't want to send a signal of neglect or that we think they should be cut loose to fend for themselves.
But there are many things we can do and are doing in Eastern Europe. And they should not be reduced as we work together to try to figure out how to get the Soviet market, how to get the Soviet economy, how to get the Soviet system moving along the same lines as the Eastern Europeans. This is a world problem; it's not a United States problem.
You know, I don't want to get too philosophical out here in the sun, but it comes up in another context because people in South America are saying, "With this major goal of helping reform in the Soviet Union and, to some degree, in Eastern Europe, are you going to neglect us?" And one of the reasons we're having these, I think, very important appearances and a lot of diplomacy going along with it is that we want to reassure the democracies in this hemisphere, which is all but one country from being a totally democratic hemisphere, that we're not going to neglect them.
So, you raise a good point. We are not going to neglect Eastern Europe, but we are going to work with the others. And everyone knows that we're dealing at this juncture with limited resources. We are in this country; we've got enormous deficit problems. Other countries have economies that have done worse than ours. So, we've got to be realistic and find ways to help move these people towards market economies, open political systems when our advice is sought. And that's what we're trying to do.
Q. Thank you. Some weeks ago you said you were very close to a decision on MFN for the Soviet Union. Have you made that decision? Do you expect to do it before London? Is it tied up in the SALT negotiations?
The President. No, it's not tied up in SALT, it's tied up on a trade agreement. And I think that's the only remaining problem, a trade agreement. And maybe--Bob, come help me on that. When do we think that will be resolved?
Mr. Gates. There are a couple of minor technical problems in the trade agreement because of laws that have been passed subsequent to its signature by the Soviet legislature. They're technical problems. We think they are being worked out, and it shouldn't be too long.
The President. It's not caught up in the other.
Supreme Court Nominee
Q. Mr. President, did you consult with anyone else outside of your administration about your Supreme Court nominee? And did I understand you correctly to say that you made your final decision, was it last night in your living room here or this morning?
The President. Actually, when I say final, the "i" was dotted and the "t" crossed up here just a little bit before lunch. But I'd--just to be very candid about it--all but made my mind up when I invited Judge Thomas up here. As I thought of any hypothetical things that could go wrong, I couldn't think of any. So much so that I don't think he felt confident enough after our conversation yesterday. I don't think he told his wife, for example, that he was to be the nominee. And on your first part of your question, no, I stayed with the recommendatory process because many others talked to others.
And I must say, if you'll let me off without telling you who I talked to, when this all came up at the time of Judge Souter, I think I did talk to one or two people in confidence that I respect that are outside of this so-called screening process. But I put all the emphasis on this one on our screening process. And yet, I am confident that as this process has unfolded, Boyden Gray and our Chief of Staff and the Attorney General and the Attorney General's staff have gotten a wide array of views from others. It's better if the President doesn't do this because if I get out there and talk to somebody, then I think it is much more prone to open discussion and speculation. And I don't think that's helpful when you're trying to reach a decision.
This is the last one.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Q. There were some suggestions from a published report--I suspect that you've seen it--from Jack Kemp that there's not enough attention within his own administration, your administration, on domestic social issues. And I was wondering if you could respond to that.
The President. I didn't read the Kemp story. I've talked to Jack plenty, and he, I think, has referred to this administration and very generously to this President as the empowerment President and one that wants to see growth in this economy and, thus, have everybody have a better shot at opportunity. So, we're not apart on that. I understand there was a story in today's paper. I haven't read it, and I probably will. But I don't think we've got any difference with Jack Kemp on this. I salute him for what he's done. He takes a good, strong message out to the communities; homeownership, tenant management--
Q. But from the article, he suggested the administration has not been as forceful as he has been.
The President. Well, that may be true. He's a real zealot out there. And he's got all the time in the world to do it. That's what his job is about, pushing that envelope as we say in the space age, forward to include homeownership. And I think if it hadn't been for his zeal, we never would have gotten through the Congress, the House, anything on homeownership or tenant management, and we did. So, I give him great credit. So, if he's got more zeal on this, I don't think he feels more strongly in his heart about it, but he is a salesman. He is out there going to places where a lot of Republicans have never been. And I've been at his side a time or two on that. And it's darn good, and I'm proud he is a part of our administration. So, if you want me to say something bad about Jack Kemp, no way.
Last one, really.
Soviet- U.S. Relations
Q. Does a 2-hour lunch with Gorbachev make it less urgent to go to Moscow by the end of July?
The President. You can't cover everything in 2 hours. But maybe we'll be able to move the START process forward. I don't know whether we will at a lunch of that nature. But no, it doesn't, in my view, make it less urgent. I want to sit down over a period of time with him to really, in depth, discuss issues. It is most important.
And a lot of the talk would be philosophical talk, intentions: "What do you think our intentions are towards the Soviet Union?" I think there's still some misunderstanding in the Soviet military about that, for example. And I'm no Jack Kemp in terms of my salesmanship perhaps, a little inarticulate and sometimes too prudent, but I think I can convince Gorbachev that their military has nothing to fear from us. So, let's take a look. Let's have them do what we're doing in terms of defense spending. I think we can't do it in just a luncheon. But my respect for him is such that I find when we can sit down and talk over a reasonable period of time, you can get into a lot of subjects which I'm sure we can't do at a 2-hour lunch.
Q. Could that summit still happen by the end of July?
The President. Yes, yes, it could.
Hey, listen, thank you all very much.
Note: The President's 86th news conference began at 2 p.m. at Walker's Point. The following persons were referred to: Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; C. Boyden Gray, Counsel to the President; Prime Minister John Major of the United Kingdom; Robert M. Gates, Assistant to the President and Deputy for National Security Affairs; President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; and Gen. Colin L. Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.