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Radio Address to the Nation on Terrorism

May 31, 1986

My fellow Americans:

History is likely to record that 1986 was the year when the world, at long last, came to grips with the plague of terrorism. For too long, the world was paralyzed by the argument that terrorism could not be stopped until the grievances of terrorists were addressed. The complicated and heartrending issues that perplex mankind are no excuse for violent, inhumane attacks, nor do they excuse not taking aggressive action against those who deliberately slaughter innocent people.

In our world there are innumerable groups and organizations with grievances, some justified, some not. Only a tiny fraction has been ruthless enough to try to achieve their ends through vicious and cowardly acts of violence upon unarmed victims. Perversely, it is often the terrorists themselves who prevent peacefully negotiated solutions. So, perhaps the first step in solving some of these fundamental challenges in getting to the root cause of conflict is to declare that terrorism is not an acceptable alternative and will not be tolerated.

Effective antiterrorist action has also been thwarted by the claim that -- as the quip goes -- ``One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.'' That's a catchy phrase, but also misleading. Freedom fighters do not need to terrorize a population into submission. Freedom fighters target the military forces and the organized instruments of repression keeping dictatorial regimes in power. Freedom fighters struggle to liberate their citizens from oppression and to establish a form of government that reflects the will of the people. Now, this is not to say that those who are fighting for freedom are perfect or that we should ignore problems arising from passion and conflict. Nevertheless, one has to be blind, ignorant, or simply unwilling to see the truth if he or she is unable to distinguish between those I just described and terrorists. Terrorists intentionally kill or maim unarmed civilians, often women and children, often third parties who are not in any way part of a dictatorial regime. Terrorists are always the enemies of democracy. Luckily, the world is shaking free from its lethargy and moving forward to stop the bloodshed.

Nearly a month ago in Tokyo, the leaders of the major Western democracies hammered out an agreement on tough measures to eradicate this evil. Ironically the progress made in Tokyo is now imperiled by a lack of consistent support at home. For nearly a year now a handful of United States Senators have held up approval of a supplementary extradition treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom. This agreement, when ratified, would prevent terrorists who have kidnaped, killed, or maimed people in Britain from finding refuge in our country. Today these killers are able to do just that by labeling their vile acts as political. Well, in Tokyo the democracies declared there is no political or any other justification for terrorist acts and those who commit them should be brought to justice. The world is watching. If actions by a few Senators allow terrorists to find safe haven in the United States, then there will be irreparable damage. Refusal to approve the supplementary treaty would undermine our ability to pressure other countries to extradite terrorists who have murdered our citizens. And rejection of this treaty would be an affront to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, one European leader who, at great political risk, stood shoulder to shoulder with us during our operations against Qadhafi's terrorism.

Some members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have gone so far as to prepare a substitute treaty permitting those who have murdered British policemen and soldiers, for so-called political reasons, to avoid extradition. Well, this substitute is not a compromise; it's retreat. Its passage would be a victory for terrorism and a defeat for all we've been trying to do to stop this evil. One concern about the treaty is that it may set a precedent for other treaties, which will then be used against those who simply oppose totalitarian regimes. We can never permit that to happen. Our country will always remain the beacon of hope and freedom to all oppressed peoples.

I therefore urge the Senate to promptly approve the revised treaty and reinforce the momentum building against terrorism. With good sense, courage, and international cooperation, our struggle against terrorism will be won. And the United States will lead the way into a freer and more peaceful tomorrow.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, MD.