February 11, 1984
My fellow Americans:
I'd like to speak to you about a subject always on the minds of Americans, but of particular interest today in view of the death of Soviet leader Yuriy Andropov: our relations with the Soviet Union.
Changes of leadership have not happened often in the Soviet Union. Yuriy Andropov was only the sixth Communist Party leader in the 66 years since the Russian Revolution. In recent months, he'd been totally absent from public view, so his death did not come as a shock to the world. Nevertheless, the importance of the U.S.-Soviet relationship makes his passing away a time for reflection on where that relationship is heading.
The changes in Moscow are an opportunity for both nations to examine closely the current state of our relations and to think about the future. We know that our relationship is not what we would like it to be. We've made no secret of our views as to the reasons why. What is needed now is for both sides to sit down and find ways of solving some of the problems that divide us.
In expressing my condolences to Mr. Andropov's family and to the Soviet Government, I emphasized once again America's desire for genuine cooperation between our two countries. Together we can help make the world a better, more peaceful place. This was also the message for the Soviet people in my address on Soviet-American relations last month. In that speech, as in my private communications with the late Chairman Andropov, I stressed our commitment to a serious and intensive dialog with the Soviet Union, one aimed at building a more constructive U.S.-Soviet relationship.
This commitment remains firm, and Vice President Bush will lead our delegation to Moscow for Mr. Andropov's funeral. He will be accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker and our Ambassador in Moscow, Arthur Hartman. I hope there will be an opportunity for the Vice President to meet with the new General Secretary.
As we engage in discussions with Soviet leaders, we recognize the fundamental differences in our values and in our perspectives on many international issues. We must be realistic and not expect that these differences can be wished away. But realism should also remind us that our two peoples share common bonds and interests. We are both relatively young nations with rich ethnic traditions and a pioneer philosophy. We have both experienced the terrible trauma of war. We have fought side by side in the victory over Nazi Germany. And while our governments have very different views, our sons and daughters have never fought each other. We must make sure they never do.
Avoiding war and reducing arms is a starting point in our relationship with the Soviet Union, but we seek to accomplish more. With a good-faith effort on both sides, I believe the United States and the Soviet Union could begin rising above the mistrust and ill will that cloud our relations. We could establish a basis for greater mutual understanding and constructive cooperation, and there's no better time to make that good-faith effort than now.
At this time of transition in the Soviet Union, our two nations should look to the future. We should find ways to work together to meet the challenge of preserving peace. Living in this nuclear age makes it imperative that we talk to each other, discuss our differences, and seek solutions to the many problems that divide us.
America is ready. We would welcome negotiations. And I repeat today what I've said before: We're prepared to meet the Soviets halfway in the search for mutually acceptable agreements. I hope the leaders of the Soviet Union will work with us in that same spirit. I invite them to take advantage of the opportunities at hand to establish a more stable and constructive relationship. If the Soviet Government wants peace, then there will be peace.
In recent days, millions of citizens inside the Soviet Union, the United States, and countries throughout the world have been brought together by one great event, the winter Olympics. The competition is fierce, and we cheer for the men and women on our respective teams. But we can and should celebrate the triumphs of all athletes who compete in the true spirit of sportsmanship and give the very best of themselves. And when each race or event is done and our teams come together in friendship, we will remember that we are meant to be one family of nations.
We who are leaders in government have an obligation to strive for cooperation every bit as hard as our athletes, who reach within for the greatest efforts of their lives. If the Soviet Government would join us in this spirit, then together we could build a safer and far better world for the human family, not just for today but for generations to come.
Till next week, thanks for listening. God bless you.
Note: The President spoke at 9:06 a.m. from Rancho del Cielo, his ranch near Santa Barbara, CA.