March 1, 1988
The President. Thank you all very much, and good morning.
Audience members. Good morning.
The President. I'm going to Europe to meet with a group of friends and colleagues: the leaders of the North Atlantic alliance. We and our foreign affairs and defense ministers see a good deal of each other, just as friends should. But the meeting that begins in Brussels tomorrow will be special. It'll be the first time in almost 6 years that leaders of all the NATO countries have met together for a summit.
Much has happened in those 6 years that we can be very proud of, including the INF treaty with the Soviet Union that removes an entire class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons -- weapons that, on the Soviet side, have held the European continent at risk. That historic agreement was possible because the alliance's steadfast political and military resolve backed up our negotiations with the Soviets. But the purpose of this summit is not self-congratulations. Our responsibility is to the future, and it will be to the future that we turn our attention tomorrow.
Our first priority is to maintain a strong and healthy partnership between North America and Europe, for this is the foundation on which the cause of freedom so crucially depends. We will never sacrifice the interests of this partnership in any agreement with the Soviet Union. NATO's agenda for peace and freedom has always been ambitious, and it must remain so.
In the arms control area, we will continue to press for Soviet agreement to 50-percent reductions in the strategic nuclear forces on both sides and for a truly global and verifiable ban on chemical weapons. My colleagues and I will be working to give negotiations on conventional forces a new start as well. We will also discuss Soviet behavior toward its own citizens and toward other countries, since problems of human rights and external aggression remain key obstacles to long-term improvement of East-West relations.
If our common approach to the East over the years has given coherence to our message of peace and world freedom, it has been our unwavering commitment to defend ourselves that has given it credibility. Arms reduction can only succeed if it is backed up by a strong defense. My Atlantic colleagues and I will rededicate ourselves to maintaining the deterrent that has protected our freedom and prosperity for almost 40 years. I will repeat to my colleagues my strong conviction that American troops will remain in Europe, under any administration, so long as Europeans want them to stay.
We can be rightfully proud of these 40 years of peace that our common commitment has brought, but the job is not finished. We in the alliance will not be satisfied merely with a record period without war. We seek nothing less than permanent peace with freedom in Europe and the North Atlantic. This bold objective can be attained, but we must have the courage to follow the course that we've set for ourselves. For four decades the combination of a strong common defense and pursuit of dialog with the East has been a winning formula for NATO. It is a combination that can lead us to a future of peace, freedom, and prosperity for generations to come.
Thank you, God bless you, and thank you all for coming out here to see us off. Thank you.
Reporter. Mr. President, what are you going to do about Noriega in Panama?
The President. It's under discussion right now.
Q. Is there anything that the U.S. can do?
The President. That's what we're trying to find out.
Note: The President spoke to supporters and members of the White House staff at 8:28 a.m. at the South Portico of the White House.