Address to the Citizens of Western Europe
May 23, 1988
Good afternoon. As you know, some 24 hours from now, I'll be leaving Washington to fly to Helsinki, Finland, on my way to Moscow to meet with General Secretary Gorbachev. I thought that on this, the eve of my fourth summit meeting with the new Soviet leader, it would be appropriate to address a few words to our fellow democracies with whom we share the dream of freedom and peace. I'd like first to discuss with you the policy that has brought this summit meeting about and that I believe has done much to advance the interests of freedom and peace throughout the world.
From the beginning, our administration has sought to pursue a policy toward the Soviet Union based on realism, on reasoned interchange with the Soviets and, yes, on strength, especially Western unity. The Soviet leaders talk, to use their phrase, of a common European home. Well, I believe that the true homeland of Europe is one defined by transcendent beliefs -- a belief in the sacred liberty of the individual, in the importance of the family, in a just and loving God, and in democracy. The Atlantic community is not limited to a military alliance. It is composed instead of nations committed to democracy and free enterprise. Nor is it limited any longer to the West, for the community of democratic nations has spread beyond the Atlantic to encompass Japan, Australia, the Philippines, India, many countries in Latin America, and others around the world.
In dealing with the Soviet Union, the United States has remained in constant consultation with this community of free nations -- with our North Atlantic allies and other friends. NATO itself remained steadfast and united in the face of severe challenges in the early 1980's. Already we've witnessed one historic result: the signing during the Washington summit last December of the historic INF treaty. That treaty, which for the first time in history will eliminate a whole class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear missiles, was made possible by the solidarity and, yes, courage of NATO. It offers an essential lesson for Western policy toward the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact: that free nations will gain their objectives when they stand firm. The alliance did not waver or fail to carry out its decision of 1979, a decision to go forward with the deployment of INF missiles. Similarly, an agreement was reached to eliminate the threat posed by the newly deployed Soviet SS - 20 missiles, and the alliance did not waver in this. The result is the SS - 20 threat is about to end because the Soviets had reason to withdraw those SS - 20's and the other missiles which they're required to eliminate under this treaty.
Now we're applying these lessons of the INF treaty to negotiations on a strategic arms reduction treaty. We hope to reach a START agreement this year, though it is the requirements of a good treaty and not some arbitrary deadline that will determine the timetable. As we negotiate from strength, we're guided by realism -- realism about just what can be achieved in our relations with the Soviet Union and about what the Soviets themselves seek to achieve. We do not expect a quick, radical transformation of the Soviet system. We do not expect to turn a corner one day to find that all our problems have gone away because our adversary has been transformed. We must continue to fulfill our own responsibility to stand firm and vigilant, to provide the incentive for a new Soviet policy in contrast to the old; for there still remain profound political and moral differences between the Soviet system and our own.
As the birthplace of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, or CSCE, the city I'll be visiting on my way to Moscow, Helsinki, has given its name to a process that lies at the heart of the East-West relationship. The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 codified international standards of behavior in human rights and defined a new standard of openness in social, economic, and security affairs as a benchmark of East-West relations. It's not too much to say that the 1975 Final Act redefined East-West exchanges, enshrining human rights as an issue of permanent importance. The process is now continuing in the CSCE followup meeting -- a meeting that has been underway in Vienna since 1986.
The United States is committed to working with the other CSCE states to achieve a balanced result in Vienna, a result that must include significant improvement in Soviet and Eastern European practices in human rights to balance new cooperation in security and economic affairs. Balance here is the essence of the Helsinki process. As signatories of the Helsinki Final Act, the Governments of the Soviet Union, Europe, Canada, and the United States have formally and publicly committed themselves to the recognition of fundamental freedoms: freedom of religion, freedom of thought and expression, freedom of the press, and freedom of movement. Only when these freedoms are observed can the greatest resource of any nation -- the creativity, ideas, and initiative of its individual citizens -- prosper and grow.
In Moscow, I will welcome the progress we've seen in the Soviet human rights record, especially since the end of 1986. More than 300 political and religious prisoners have been released from labor camps. Emigration, still too low, has improved. Many cases of divided families and separated spouses have been satisfactorily resolved. And censorship of films, books, and other creative works has eased. Yet despite this progress, the human rights situation in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is far from good -- repressive policies persist. Peaceful demonstrations by national minorities, refuseniks, and others are still being broken up by police. Freedom of religion is still being denied, and members of unregistered religious groups are still being persecuted. Unofficial publications are banned. Dozens of political prisoners and religious dissenters remain imprisoned, and many prisoners of conscience are still being held in psychiatric hospitals. Freedom of movement is still restricted.
All of us who are united by our belief in democracy will continue to press the Soviet Union to improve its practices in these vital areas, in short, to grant full recognition of fundamental human rights. To raise these issues is not only our inclination by tradition and principle but, under the Helsinki Final Act, our responsibility. For our part, the United States is prepared for useful exchanges. We will listen when the Soviets criticize us, and we will discuss their concerns as openly and constructively as possible. And yet I would stress that our interchange with the Soviets has a basis; it is not neutral or value-free. This basis is not just a matter of American standards; they are moral standards, the standards of Western civilization itself that we Americans inherited from Europe. We have fought in Europe twice in this century to help defend them. These shared standards and beliefs tie us to Europe today. They are the essence of the community of free nations to which we belong.
I've mentioned arms reduction, and I've mentioned human rights. My agenda with Mr. Gorbachev, like the agenda which most of your governments discuss with the Soviets, has two other elements. One is Soviet policy in the regional conflicts. We're pleased to see the Soviet Army departing Afghanistan. Once that withdrawal is complete and Afghan self-determination has returned to this country, this will be an historic triumph. I will also raise other issues with him, seeking to engage Soviet cooperation in getting political solutions to other conflicts, such as southern Africa, the Iran-Iraq War, Cambodia, Central America, Ethiopia, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In addition, our discussions will cover the need for greater openness and a freer exchange of people. Information and ideas -- government barriers to peoples' understanding of the outside world and to contact with that outside world must be eliminated. All of us believe that people must be free to communicate with one another, whether they're journalists, scientists, academics, tourists, or high school students. And so, I'll urge General Secretary Gorbachev to join us in greatly expanding people-to-people exchanges between East and West. One matter in this regard is especially close to my heart: that of seeing more young people travel between East and West. I will discuss youth exchanges with General Secretary Gorbachev because they hold such promise for better understanding in the years to come. Young people should be free -- free to come and go as they will, free to travel to and live in each other's country, free to make friends the world over.
When I was in Berlin nearly a year ago, I called upon General Secretary Gorbachev to tear down the wall dividing that city. In so many senses, dividing Europe itself, East from West, the wall is still there, a scar, a grim reminder of the division of Europe. That division is cruel. It is unnecessary. It has gone on too long. We'll work on, unrelentingly, until that division gives way to peace and freedom. The day may still be long in coming, but the United States will always remain utterly committed to bringing that full liberty into being. In the meantime, we'll stand by you in defending our common heritage and beliefs, our common homeland of freedom.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
Note: The President spoke at 10 a.m. from the Oval Office at the White House. It was broadcast live by the U.S. Information Agency's Voice of America and WORLDNET television. The address was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on May 24.