Written Responses to Questions Submitted by the Soviet Magazine Ogonek
May 19, 1988
Q. A few words about yourself, your own personal and political experiences, your career? Has your life thus far been a success? How do you evaluate the path you have traveled?
The President. Historians will make the final judgment about my years as Governor of California and as President of the United States, but personally, I feel good about what I have been able to accomplish, both in and out of government. My professional career has been varied. I have worked as a sportscaster, an actor, a labor leader, a lecturer, and a public official. This is something that is characteristic of the American way of life. The opportunity to advance oneself based on one's desires and abilities is a valued part of our existence and one to which I owe my success.
Q. You are an experienced politician. The years of your Presidency have made you even more experienced, and nevertheless, you have preserved the wonderful ability to change your mind. In my country, many people remember your words, expressed in December of last year, about the changed image of the "evil empire'' in your statement -- to the effect that your attitude toward the U.S.S.R. had improved. What has changed in your perception of the U.S.S.R.?
The President. I have always believed that people and nations must be judged by their actions and not their words. I have tried to speak out about the positive developments I see as much as I try to draw attention to the negative ones. My guiding principles have been candor, realism, dialog, and strength. In that regard it is fair to say I have noted some progress, such as the Soviet Government's commitment to withdrawal from Afghanistan. We are also seeing resolution of individual human rights cases and more open discussion of these issues. On the other hand, I do not understand, nor do other Americans understand, why the Soviet Government restricts, for example, the practice of religion and freedom of movement. We do not accept limitations on free speech.
I think what has changed is that both the U.S. and the Soviet people are being more candid about areas in which we agree and disagree. We must discuss not only restraint of the arms competition, but also basic issues of human rights and international behavior. Disagreements over these issues have fueled the mistrust that lies between our countries. Nations do not mistrust each other because they are armed; they arm themselves because they mistrust each other.
That is why in Moscow, as we have in our three previous meetings, General Secretary Gorbachev and I will discuss human rights and regional conflicts as vigorously and as seriously as we will discuss arms reductions. We live in an interconnected world with instant communication and a global conscience. How you treat your own citizens is of concern to the whole world. And the world watches and judges each country based not on what it wants the world to hear, but on the actions and policies that it sees. At the same time, the Soviet Union is a country of influence in many regions of the world. With that influence comes a responsibility to work towards peace and to help solve the many regional disputes which plague mankind.
President's Visit to Moscow
Q. You are coming to the U.S.S.R. for the first time. What do you expect from your meeting with our country -- not only from the negotiations but personally from your meeting with the U.S.S.R.?
The President. I am looking forward with great anticipation to visiting Moscow and in particular to talking with the people in the Soviet Union. As your question implies, the negotiations are important, but so is the opportunity to understand the other fellow's point of view. I think General Secretary Gorbachev left Washington with a deeper understanding of the American people, and I anticipate the same benefit from my meetings with the people of Moscow.
Political and Economic Freedom
Q. The irreversibility of our chosen path, perestroika, is very important to us. Do you feel that there is a link between the process underway here and what is happening in the United States? If so, what is it?
The President. No country can compete successfully in the global market today unless it unleashes the human spirit and lets individuals drive toward their own goals. Society, as a whole, benefits from the progress made by individuals. America is built on the principle of what we call free enterprise, a system which permits each individual to seek his own happiness based on his or her needs and desires. Americans make all sorts of choices within that system, often balancing economic prosperity with job satisfaction, family, recreation, artistic achievement, and other goals. The interaction of all those personal choices makes for a strong and dynamic system.
Perestroika also can play an important role in information exchange. Your government is known for its high regard for secrecy, and you pay a price for that policy. Much of the progress made in the West comes about from information sharing. Free access to the body of knowledge possessed by the society enables our citizens to build on the advances made by others. As long as Soviet society remains off limits to the rest of the world, inhibiting the free flow of information and restricting travel in and out of the U.S.S.R., your economy will be limited in its ability to be part of the world economy.
Q. Your second term as President is coming to an end. You have achieved a great deal. What have you not succeeded in achieving in your relations with the U.S.S.R., but would like to achieve?
The President. I agree that we have made significant progress. The treaty on the elimination of an entire class of U.S. and Soviet intermediate-range nuclear missiles has been a milestone not only for what it accomplishes in its own right but as a precedent for future agreements which will actually reduce nuclear weapons and not just restrain them.
I would like to see progress toward resolving conflicts around the world. For example, the war between Iran and Iraq has been going on for 7 years with hundreds of thousands of casualties. A generation of young lives is being bled away in this tragic conflict. Chemical weapons have been used with consequences that horrify the world. Much of the world has united in an effort to bring an end to this war by supporting U.N. Security Council Resolution 598, which calls for an immediate cease-fire across the board and withdrawal to the internationally recognized boundaries. The Security Council members, including your government, agreed that if either belligerent refused to honor this call by the U.N. Security Council there should be a second resolution mandating an arms embargo against that party. Both the United States and the Soviet Union supported Resolution 598. Iraq has now accepted the resolution and agreed to abide by its terms. Iran is resisting and insists on continuing the war. The Soviet Union is a key actor in this situation. You sell arms to both sides. If the Soviet Union strongly endorsed a second resolution and a strong effort by the United Nations to prevent arms from reaching Iran, I firmly believe we could bring this tragedy to a halt.
In Ethiopia a great tragedy is imminent, as the effects of a terrible drought are being compounded by that government's policies blocking international relief efforts. The Soviet Union is that Marxist government's principal supplier of weapons and has influence there. It would be good if the Soviet Union cooperated with efforts to help prevent a manmade catastrophe.
These are urgent issues I will be discussing with General Secretary Gorbachev. We will also look at ways we can bring about settlements to conflicts in southern Africa, Cambodia, Central America, and the Middle East.
U.S. Political System
Q. What is the mechanism for succession of power in the United States? Are you certain that your successor will continue what you have started?
The President. Our mechanism for succession is a free and open election in which candidates from different parties compete vigorously against each other, arguing their positions in public debates, speeches, and media interviews for some months. Members of our press vigorously question the candidates. We have an election campaign underway right now. In November the American people will go into polling booths across the country and vote in complete secrecy for the candidate of their choice. In addition to electing a new President and Vice President in November, Americans will elect Senators, Members of Congress, State Governors, and local representatives. All of this is provided for under our Constitution.
I have read the constitutions of many countries, including your own. Many nations of the world have written into their constitution provisions for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. If this is true, some ask, then why is the Constitution of the United States so exceptional? Our Constitution begins with three simple words: "We the People. . . .'' This short phrase tells the full story. In other constitutions, the Government tells the people of those countries what they are allowed to do. In our Constitution, we the people tell the Government what it can do. And it can do only those things listed in that document and nothing else. In America, the people are in charge.
Q. How do you imagine, or envisage, the future of mankind? How can we reach a future without war? Is such a future realistic?
The President. My vision is of a world free of war. A nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought. General Secretary Gorbachev joined me in affirming that basic truth when we first met in Geneva. We have kept the peace by having enough nuclear weapons to retaliate if the other started a war. Well, that is not much of a defense. There would be no victors in that kind of war. That is why I want to start reducing nuclear weapons. Our INF treaty is an excellent beginning, and we are making progress on a strategic arms reduction treaty, which will cut in half U.S. and Soviet strategic arsenals. At the same time we need to think about getting parity in conventional forces in Europe to make sure one country won't have an advantage over the other. There is today a serious imbalance in your favor.
This is why I am seeking to move our strategy of deterrence toward defensive systems, which threaten no one, and away from offensive systems. That is the purpose behind my Strategic Defense Initiative: to make obsolete the most threatening weapon ever invented -- the ballistic missile. I call upon the Soviet leadership to join me in these efforts toward strategic defenses and to move to a world based on defense rather than offense. The reasonableness of this proposal is demonstrated by the fact that your government has been engaged in its own strategic defense programs long before we started SDI.
But we must also keep in mind that arms agreements alone will not make the world safer. We must also deal with the core source of mistrust between our nations. This is why our dialog must cover a broad agenda of human rights, regional and bilateral issues, as well as arms reductions.
Q. Recently, speaking at Moscow University, I told my audience about this interview and asked them to think up a question for you. One of the questions submitted was the following: "Mr. President, do you feel that future generations of Soviet and American citizens will relate to each other better? If so, what have you done to make that possible -- to ensure that progress in our relations and a relaxation of tensions begins today?''
The President. I hope that future generations of American and Soviet citizens will have closer relations and better understanding. But much depends on the way your government deals with the basic issue of human rights.
Cultural exchanges and individual travel are the underpinnings for establishing closer relations. I look forward to expanding these and thus broadening the scope of our mutual contacts. Americans hope for a world in which all people can enjoy the freedom they cherish. We will continue to work to fulfill our dreams for peace through understanding.
Note: The questions and answers were released by the Office of the Press Secretary on May 28.