March 10, 1988
Q. Mr. President, you have less than 1 year's work left as a President. And do you still expect to achieve something important in the final 10 -- 11 months left?
The President. Well, there are some things pending that I think are of importance and that I believe we can achieve, and I'm going to keep working right down to the last minute.
Q. Which things, for instance, a strategic arms agreement?
The President. Yes, oh, yes. We're going to pursue that and hope that well before my time is up we will have that resolved. But there are other things here in our own domestic problems. I think that our budgeting process that has led to the deficit spending over the last almost 60 years must be corrected. And I am going to be fighting for legislation to achieve that. And for my successor -- that he could have some things I haven't had, such as what's called a line-item veto -- the power to pick things out of a legislation and veto them. And we still have further to go in the building up of our national security. And that is important to me, as is our relationship with our allies in Europe and NATO.
Q. You have made that important agreement, and there may be others to come with the Soviet Union. Now, people remember that you had once called the Soviet Union the evil empire. And they also wonder has the Soviet Union changed, or have your views changed? Or both?
The President. My views haven't changed. But you must remember that the Soviet leaders, when I first came into office, kept dying. And finally there was little chance to work with any of them on some of the things that I thought should be straightened out. Now there is a new leader, and he does seem to want to make some changes in their system. I have read his book ``Perestroika,'' and I know of his theories on glasnost. And so, we have been able to reach agreement on some of the things that we've discussed in our summit meetings. I always take up the matter of human rights, and there has been an improvement in that. Regional conflicts -- and we see them now -- this leader wanting to get out of Afghanistan. So, I think progress can be made, but as I have frequently said to him -- I'm not a linguist, but I have learned a Russian proverb that I use on him every once in awhile: Dovorey no provorey -- trust but verify.
Q. Does he approve of your proverb? He once complained that you tell him that too often.
The President. I know. I know. He told me that.
Q. But you do like each other? It's an important question for people of the whole world.
The President. I have found that, yes, that we can discuss things and in an affable manner, and he is totally unlike the other leaders before him that I had dealt with.
Strategic Defense Initiative
Q. Mr. President, you sometimes have been described as the first passivist of the White House, meaning that your aim is to make nuclear weapons obsolete through SDI. Is that a foregone and lost hope?
The President. No, not at all. As a matter of fact, we're still going forward, and we've made progress. And there have been breakthroughs. I believe that the Strategic Defense Initiative that we're working on can be such an effective defense, that it makes so much more sense than thinking that a deterrent in which we're trying to keep the peace by threatening to blow each other up, that if we can come up with a defensive weapon -- and I have expressed to General Secretary Gorbachev my belief that we'd be willing to share it -- that if we could have a defense that did render those weapons obsolete -- because I have stated many times that I do not believe that a nuclear war can be won nor should it be fought. Where would a victor live after we'd poisoned the Earth with an exchange of these multiple weapons that we have?
Q. Do you feel that you have made some progress in convincing Gorbachev, and the Russians in general, of the importance of defensive systems?
The President. Well, we have the one treaty signed already now -- the intermediate-range weapons. That was targeted on every principal city in Europe, and now it no longer exists. And we're now trying to negotiate a treaty that would reduce by half the strategic ballistic missiles. But to those people who talk denuclearization and think that somehow I am suggesting something that might be dangerous to Europe -- not at all. I recognize that the tactical nuclear weapons that we have and the airborne weapons and so forth are necessary to balance the great superiority that the Soviet Union has achieved in conventional weapons. And until those weapons can be reduced and we achieve a defensive parity there, until then, you cannot go on with further denuclearization.
Q. What would you like future historians to remember as your main achievement, and what would you like them to forget as your main failure?
The President. Oh, my.
Q. Let's take one at a time. Maybe if we had time -- --
The President. I don't know. That's so hard to pick out.
Q. The achievement or the failure?
The President. On the economic side, I think we've made great progress in changing a philosophy that was here in our land in which the political debate was between how much more deficit spending the Government should do. Now that whole argument has been changed, and it's down to, well, what is the best way to eliminate or reduce the deficit spending. And the argument is how to reduce the spending, not between one side that wants to spend more as against the other. I'm proud of that, and I hope that before I leave we can have some improvements in our budgeting process that will be adopted by our government. I am proud of that. I'm also proud of the fact that when I came into office our national defense was quite a shambles. On any given day, half our military aircraft couldn't fly for lack of spare parts. Today we have achieved a great improvement in our military. And I think the fact that we have signed this INF treaty with the Soviet Union is evidence of the fact that peace comes through strength
Q. We didn't say anything about what failure was, but the girl says you have no time to remind us of your failures. Maybe there were none, that's too much.
The President. No, I am sure there were things I would have -- I think there were some things that, whether they were failures or whether they were just terrible disasters -- one, namely, the terrorist murder of some 240 of our young marines is a tragedy I will never forget. And I will never forget the families that I met with of those young men.
Q. Do you feel good looking back at your 8 years at the White House and beyond that, your career as an actor, and union organizer? How does that make you feel?
The President. Well, I think the Lord has blessed me very much, and I am truly grateful to Him. I hope I can be deserving of the good things that He's bestowed on me.
Note: The interview began at 11:10 a.m. in the Map Room at the White House and was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on March 14.