Remarks to Reporters on the Soviet Attack on a Korean Civilian Airliner

September 2, 1983

First, let me just say that Nancy and I were deeply saddened last night to hear of the death of Senator Henry Jackson. He was a friend, a colleague, a true patriot, and a devoted servant of the people. He will be sorely missed, and we both extend our deepest sympathy to his family.

And now, in the wake of the barbaric act committed yesterday by the Soviet regime against a commercial jetliner [Korean Air Lines flight 007], the United States and many other countries of the world made clear and compelling statements that expressed not only our outrage but also our demand for a truthful accounting of the facts.

Our first emotions are anger, disbelief, and profound sadness. While events in Afghanistan and elsewhere have left few illusions about the willingness of the Soviet Union to advance its interests through violence and intimidation, all of us had hoped that certain irreducible standards of civilized behavior, nonetheless, obtained. But this event shocks the sensibilities of people everywhere. The tradition in a civilized world has always been to offer help to mariners and pilots who are lost or in distress on the sea or in the air. Where human life is valued, extraordinary efforts are extended to preserve and protect it, and it's essential that as civilized societies, we ask searching questions about the nature of regimes where such standards do not apply.

Beyond these emotions the world notes the stark contrast that exists between Soviet words and deeds. What can we think of a regime that so broadly trumpets its vision of peace and global disarmament and yet so callously and quickly commits a terrorist act to sacrifice the lives of innocent human beings? What could be said about Soviet credibility when they so flagrantly lie about such a heinous act? What can be the scope of legitimate and mutual discourse with a state whose values permit such atrocities? And what are we to make of a regime which establishes one set of standards for itself and another for the rest of humankind?

We've joined in the call for an urgent United Nations Security Council meeting today. The brutality of this act should not be compounded through silence or the cynical distortion of the evidence now at hand. And tonight I will be meeting with my advisers to conduct a formal review of this matter, and this weekend I shall be meeting with the congressional leadership.

To the families of all those on the ill-fated aircraft, we send our deepest sympathy, and I hope they know our prayers are with them all.

Note: The President spoke at 12:35 p.m. at Point Mugu Naval Air Station, Calif., where he had helicoptered from Rancho del Cielo, his ranch near Santa Barbara. Following his remarks, he boarded Air Force One for the return to Washington, D.C.