October 18, 1983
The President. Well, ladies and gentlemen, a little over 3 years ago I kicked off my 1980 campaign at a rally held in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. And it's a memory I'll always cherish. There were many nationalities and family backgrounds represented in that rally, and yet practically all of them were Americans. One of those who hoped to be an American was the father of Lech Walesa.
All of us were or are descended from immigrants, most of whom came here looking for freedom and an opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their families. America was a land of hope for so many who suffered the pains of tyranny and deprivation. America was a magic place where anyone willing to work hard could live a decent life. And while our country had its flaws, the vision of opportunity was true enough for large numbers of immigrants to send back word of freedom and abundance.
Three years ago, it seemed like something, however, had gone terribly wrong. Stagnation and inflation were snuffing out the opportunity that had been the hallmark of our country. We were perched on the brink of an economic disaster and suffering a loss of confidence both at home and abroad. And for the first time, it was being said that America's best days were past. Well, you and I didn't believe that. And if the 1980 election carried any message, it was: Make America strong again.
The most important goal of this administration has been restoring the opportunity and the social mobility of all our citizens. This is especially significant for black and ethnic Americans, who were hit hard by economic decline. It's taken hard work and time, but we've turned this grave situation around.
The economy is -- as I'm sure you've been told in the briefings already -- in the first phase of sustained growth. We've brought inflation down -- and I suppose somebody's already told you this, too; but anyway, I'll repeat it -- from double digits to 2.6 percent for the last 12 months. And that's the lowest 12-month inflation rate in 17 years. Taxes skyrocketed in the years before we got here. We've given the people a 25-percent across-the-board reduction in their personal income tax rates. We've also, through a highly successful deregulation effort, trimmed 300 million man-hours of needless paperwork from the private sector and from State and local government.
Meanwhile, the civilian unemployment rate has dropped by 1\1/2\ percentage points since last December. The number of unemployed has dropped by 1.8 million -- pardon me; 1.6 million. I guess it was just a Freudian slip. I was hoping for eight. [Laughter] And a healthy, growing economy has added almost 3 million of our fellow citizens to the Nation's payrolls. Blacks and teenagers made gains last month. And we look for continued improvement. They were the hardest hit in the unemployment.
Our economic recovery program made fundamental changes in Federal taxing, spending, and regulating policies. But we should never forget: It was the policies of tax, spend, and inflate that stagnated our economy, and it's been the reversal of those policies and replacing them with a positive program aimed at economic growth that has put us back on the path to a better life for all our citizens.
Along with this, we've recaptured a spirit of optimism and hope. In foreign affairs, we have reaffirmed our leadership again as an ally worthy of trust. We've begun a program to rebuild our defensive capabilities that were permitted to seriously erode during the last decade. We're firm in our belief that peace is more likely if the United States remains a strong force in the world.
In the area of nuclear weapons, we're working with our European allies to reestablish a stable balance in Europe, which was destroyed by the massive Soviet buildup in the last 10 years. We have made clear, however, that no new weapons need be deployed. We have been, and continue to be, serious in our efforts to reach arms reductions agreements with the Soviets, especially in the area of intermediate-range missiles.
Let me emphasize today -- and I would urge the young people in Europe to reflect on this -- it is not the United States and NATO which threaten peace. We have no intermediate, long-range missiles in Europe. And we're willing to forgo them entirely. It's the Soviet Union which has over 1,300 intermediate-range nuclear warheads threatening the countries of Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. And they continue to deploy SS - 20 missiles at a rate of one a week -- each missile containing three warheads. Now, these are actions of intimidation, pure and simple.
We stand ready to make any arrangement with the Soviets which will be verifiable and fair to all sides. This includes eliminating an entire class of nuclear weapons, or, if they won't go that far, at least a portion -- and the more the better. But we can't negotiate forever with ourselves. If Soviet intransigence continues, we will move forward to reestablish the balance and ensure NATO's deterrent ability.
Our goal, both in the economy and in protecting our national security, is to meet the mandate of the 1980 election, to make our country the strong nation, the mighty force for good that it was meant to be.
Now, thank you all, and I know that you have some questions, maybe, and I have got a few minutes left.
Q. Heny Dende from -- [inaudible] -- Scranton, Pennsylvania. Would you consider lifting some of the sanctions against Poland in view of the recent developments that have occurred in release of prisoners?
The President. We are studying and reviewing that to make sure that this is really a change and not just cosmetic. And as you know, we have joined in many of the independent and the church-related agencies that are providing help directly to the Polish people, and we continue to do that. But before we make any real changes with regard to the Government, we feel we must know that what they have done is really a change and really a restoration of the human rights that they heretofore have denied before we make those changes and find out that they just have made a few little cosmetic gestures.
Q. Are you going to put any kind of pressure on the Turkish Government about giving a just solution to the Cyprus problem?
The President. To the which problem?
Q. To the Cyprus problem, to the Cyprians.
The President. Oh. I wish the Secretary of State were here. [Laughter] We're aware of that, but I don't know that we have involved ourselves directly and deeply in that. We have offered, as we always do, to be of help if we can. But right now I think more of our help is directed a little further east than that, on the shores of -- --
Q. I am speaking of 200,000 refugees in Cyprus.
The President. Yes, I know, and I hope that we can find -- and help in the settlement of that.
Q. Mr. President, inasmuch as the sanctions must continue until the Polish Government actually makes some changes for the benefit of the people, do you foresee any sort of diplomatic initiative in order to get the stalemate which is currently on between the Polish Government and the United States Government -- for example, the lack of exchange of ambassadors, et cetera -- some sort of other initiative in order to get us from this stale point at which we've been for the last few months?
The President. Well, I think we've made it very plain to them that we're willing to move, but we're going to have to see deeds, not words, and that our interest is the welfare of the Polish people. And right now, I think the Polish people and the Polish Government are two separate entities.
Q. Mr. President, I'll put -- a difficult question. Our Vice President Bush in Vienna said a few weeks ago that American Government is considering, if I repeat it properly, to get out from the present system created in Europe by Yalta agreement. Does it mean that there is any political concept behind it, or is it just a nice expression of wishful thinking?
The President. Well, we have always felt and why we continue to have a Freedom Day for the enslaved nations of the world every year and to observe that -- we think that that has to be the ultimate goal of the free world, is to bring about a time when all the people will have the very basis of democracy, which is the right of self-determination. And I don't think we should ever give that up.
I think that it underlies all of our relations with the Soviet Union. And so, I applauded when he said that in Vienna.
Q. Mr. President, my name is Dr. Michael Szaz from the National Confederation of American Ethnic Groups. When are we going to break off diplomatic relations with the Soviet-imposed government in Afghanistan and extend more effective material assistance to the freedom fighters in Afghanistan?
The President. I have to say that I don't believe that breaking off diplomatic relations, even with the Soviet Union in our anger with them over this terrible deed with the Korean airliner -- --
Q. It's Afghanistan.
The President. What?
Q. It's Afghanistan, with the Soviet-imposed government in Kabul -- --
The President. Oh.
Q. -- -- Babrak.
The President. I see what you mean. Yes, I'm sorry. I misunderstood.
We haven't seen that as providing an advantage yet. There are some times when we think that it is very valuable to have eyes and ears on the scene of some of these places. This does not mean that we are not doing everything we can to bring about a change in that situation and get the Soviet Union out of there and restore freedom to the Afghanistan people and let those millions of refugees come home. But we don't believe that creating a wall of silence between us would be beneficial right now.
Q. You canceled your visit to the Philippines. Do you still have the plan to be in South Korea? If you can, what is the main purpose to be in South Korea?
The President. What?
Q. South Korea?
The President. Yes.
Q. Mr. President, you canceled your -- to visit Philippines -- that you still have the plan to visit South Korea next month?
The President. We are, in fact, in a few weeks I am -- we divided the trip up. We canceled part of it because I couldn't be away for the whole period of November which we had scheduled and in which the Congress, which was supposed to go on recess, was going to be here. And I'm not about to get out of town for 3 weeks and leave Congress here without me. [Laughter]
But we did divide, and we are going to keep the Japan and Korean part of the trip. That will take place early in November, and I will only be gone, counting the day I leave and the day I come back, that's a total of 7 days, and 3 of those are holidays. So, I'll only miss 4 days. And I figure that they can't get into too much trouble in that time. [Laughter]
So, I'm going to do that. But then we will reschedule the balance of the trip later, possibly in the spring.
Q. Does India fit into your schedule, sir?
The President. What?
Q. Does India fit into your schedule of the Asian trips?
The President. Not on these two trips.
Q. How about next spring?
The President. I have had the pleasure twice of having Madam Gandhi here as our guest, and she has very graciously urged me to come there. But that isn't on the schedule as yet. But I look forward to that and certainly want to do that.
Ms. Small. One more question, Mr. President.
Q. Mr. President, my name is Keshishian from California. I would like to know if the American Government has a stand on the Turkish genocide of the Armenians of 1915.
The President. The genocide of -- --
Q. The Armenians in 1915.
Ms. Small. The Turkish and Armenian genocide.
The President. Oh. I -- the only official stand that I can tell you we have is one opposed to terrorism on both sides. And I can't help but believe that there's virtually no one alive today who was living in the era of that terrible trouble. And it seems to me we ought to be able to sit down now, an entirely new group of people who know only of that from reading of it, to sit down and work out our differences and bring peace at least to that segment of humanity.
Ms. Small. Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you very much.
The President. Karna tells me I have to go. Thank you all very much.
Note: The President spoke at 12:57 p.m. following a luncheon in the State Dining Room at the White House. The luncheon was part of an administration briefing session on foreign and domestic policy for the editors and station managers.
Karna Small Stringer is Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Media Relations and Planning.