Interview With Andrew Neil and Jon Connell of the Sunday Times of London

September 6, 1984

Q. Are you all geared up for the campaign, Mr. President?

The President. Yes, although I know what it's going to be like, because I've had one experience as Governor of California running for reelection, and you have to be Governor at the same time.

Q. Yes.

The President. You have to do the job, too, in campaigns. So, it won't exactly be the kind where you go out on extended tours as it was 4 years ago.

Q. May I proceed with that?

The President. Yes.

Q. You are so far ahead. Are we seeing a sea change in American politics? [Laughter]

The President. I'm not going to be tempted by those. I'm worried, as a matter of fact, that maybe too many people are going to get complacent and think their votes aren't needed.

Q. And not turn out.

The President. I keep remembering a Republican candidate named Dewey. [Laughter]

Q. So, you think there's a danger of getting too overconfident, perhaps, with such a lead in the polls?

The President. Not for me. I never was that way when I was in sports and athletics. I always figure -- [inaudible] -- I'm going to run one vote behind.

Q. Why do you think Mrs. Thatcher could be elected last year on policies not too different from yours? You see the election in Canada. You're way ahead in the polls. What's happening?

The President. Well, I won't speak for another country, I'll speak for my own. I think there has been a growing awareness on the part of people in both parties here that the increase in government and in government intervention in what had traditionally been the private sector, and so forth, is finally catching up with us. The people have found that the cost of government has skyrocketed and that there are things that government cannot do as well as the private sector. And I think this is what we're seeing.

I think here in our own country that we came to a point in which government's relationship with its own business and industrial community was adversarial rather than -- --

Q. Working together.

The President. -- -- cooperative. Yes. And there seems to have been quite a reaction to that once we started to turn it around.

And the debate for these last 3\1/2\ years that -- for about 50 years, had been one of, well, how much are we going to spend on this program and that program, and what new programs? Suddenly, the debate for these last 4 years, it turns out, has been how much can we cut the spending?

Q. So, the debate's on your terms now?

The President. Yes.

Q. And you changed to that extent. It's you setting the agenda.

The President. Yes. But I think in a way the people determine that, also.

Q. When you -- if you get reelected -- not when, if -- [laughter] -- what's going to be your major priority on the international scene? I think that's what people in Europe -- --

The President. On the international scene? Well, it has to be peace, and it has to be reduced arms, particularly in the strategic field. I have to believe that if we can persuade the Soviet Union to join in reducing those weapons, that perhaps we can all see the wisdom of not only reducing but eliminating. I don't think the world should have to live with this threat hanging over it.

And it really doesn't make any sense. Every weapon that's ever been introduced until this one has had defensive measures that followed. And you could look at war as winnable or losable in the normal sense. But we've come to a point now that a previous President of ours, Dwight Eisenhower, said might happen. We've come to a point where a war with the weapons now at hand -- there is no foreseeing a victory or defeat in the traditional terms. The weapons are capable of destroying mankind and civilization. When that time comes, as he himself said, then it's time for the nations to sit down and find another way of settling disputes.

Q. I hope, Mr. President, in getting -- [inaudible] -- administration, the kind of fissures that seem to be growing between Western Europe and the United States do not get deeper. There sometimes seems to be trends in the 1980's that are pulling us a bit apart.

The President. Well, my feeling is that, yes, that I came in and inherited such a situation. But I believe that these summit meetings that we've been having -- I believe that that has been changed. I don't think we've ever been closer to our NATO partners than we are now. And Margaret Thatcher has had a great deal to do with that.

I've got to take a second to tell you one thing. When we had the summit at Williamsburg, and the first dinner the first night, the heads of state, we all met and dined at what had been the British colonial Governor's mansion. So, I was all set for it. And I was waiting until we were all settled, and then my line was going to be, ``Margaret, if one of your predecessors had been a little more clever, you would be hosting this gathering.'' [Laughter]

So it all worked that way, and I started, I said, ``Margaret, if one of your predecessors had been a little more clever.'' She said, ``I know. I would have been hosting this gathering.'' [Laughter] She said the line.

Q. She's quite clever.

The President. She really is.

Q. Mr. President, thank you very much for seeing us.

The President. Well, it's good to see you.

Q. Thank you very much. It's good to see you looking so well.

The President. Well, I feel good.


Written Responses to Questions

Q. You have always argued that America must only negotiate with the Soviet Union from strength. The Reagan years have seen a rebuilding of America's military might, yet the Soviets stubbornly refuse to talk. What would a second Reagan administration do to bring Moscow to the negotiating table?

The President. We are determined to reduce arms and the danger of nuclear war by negotiating balanced, fair, and verifiable agreements. And it's important to remember that we are talking and negotiating with the Soviets -- at the CDE Conference in Stockholm and at the MBFR talks in Vienna. We are not just sitting back and waiting. In fact, at our suggestion, we successfully negotiated a new and better hotline agreement that further reduces the possibility of misunderstandings and accidents.

With regard to the START and INF talks, we cannot, of course, compel the Soviet Union to return to the negotiating table. But I think these negotiations will be resumed eventually, because they are as much in Soviet interests as in ours. And I would point out that the world community of nations wants the Soviet Union to resume negotiations. But the Soviet political structure has had three leaders in as many years, and this has undoubtedly complicated and slowed Soviet decisionmaking. An example of this was the Soviet refusal to meet with us in Vienna after we accepted their suggestion to initiate discussions on space weaponry. We were accommodating, but Moscow continually backtracked and invented excuses not to go. As Foreign Minister Howe so aptly phrased it, ``They wouldn't take `yes' for an answer.'' We, nonetheless, will continue to be patient and hold to a steady policy.

Q. Many in your administration are privately concerned that Europe is not pulling its weight in the Atlantic alliance. Do you share their concern and, if the Europeans continue to lag behind America in rebuilding their defenses, would a second Reagan administration consider pulling out at least some U.S. troops from Western Europe?

The President. Let me begin by saying that for us, the Atlantic alliance is an anchor, an enduring affirmation of the vitality of Western civilization and an unshakable commitment to the defense of democracy and individual liberty. The defense of Europe and America is indivisible. We are dedicated to peace. That means NATO must be strong enough to make certain that conflict does not begin.

But we cannot be content with the accomplishments of the past. We cannot rest easy with the knowledge that NATO has made possible the longest period of European peace and prosperity in modern history.

As we look to the future, there are compelling reasons to strengthen even further our unity and our capability to sustain the peace. That is why the United States has made major improvements in our defenses, both by modernization and by increasing the readiness and sustainability of those forces. And that is why our NATO allies should also improve their defenses. We understand the cost and sacrifices, but we are confident that all members of the alliance understand that our collective security will continue to be an indispensable bulwark against aggression and tyranny. We particularly applaud British efforts to augment the strength of its frontline ships and aircraft.

My administration opposes any move to reduce the U.S. commitment to Western Europe, and we will continue to do so. It is my intent to maintain the force in Europe necessary to sustain the peace and to perform their assigned mission in support of NATO's strategy. And as I have said repeatedly, we have absolutely no plans of any kind to reduce the number of U.S. troops assigned to Western Europe's defense.

Q. Why do you think that the Reagan image is perceived very differently abroad than it is at home -- that whereas it seems popular with a majority of Americans, even many conservative British and Europeans are prone to see you as a potentially trigger-happy cowboy? Will a reelected Ronald Reagan be concerned to correct that image?

The President. I hope there is a better understanding of what we and our allies are trying to do than your question suggests. Our basic belief is that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. In an effort to build an enduring peace and to reduce the level of arms, we have presented the most comprehensive set of arms control and weapons reduction proposals in history.

As I noted in my State of the Union speech this past January, we must and will engage the Soviet Union in a dialog as serious and constructive as Soviet leaders permit. We all recognize that there is no more important consideration than the development of a better working relationship with the Soviet Union -- one marked by greater cooperation and understanding and leading to stable, secure, and peaceful relations.

This has been and will continue to be a primary goal of my administration. We and the Soviets need to find ways to eliminate the threat and use of force in solving international disputes, to lower arms levels, and to establish a better working relationship with each other. We remain ready to negotiate fairly and flexibly and without preconditions. When the Soviet leadership decides to return to the START and INF negotiating table, we'll meet them halfway. And our allies fully share these aims and objectives, as the NATO declaration this past May pointed out. And at the London summit this past June, the industrialized nations agreed on a common approach that demonstrates the fundamental consensus that exists among our governments on our approach to relations with the U.S.S.R.

I hope more people will come to understand that I have no higher priority than strengthening peace. Our perseverance and patience will, in time, move us toward a safer and more peaceful world. And if the American people return me for a second term, I will continue to pursue these goals.

Q. Rightly or wrongly, many Europeans blame record U.S. deficits for stymying their economic recovery. You won in 1980 promising to balance the budget. Why should policies to cut the deficit in a second term be believed?

The President. We are determined to reduce the deficit, and I firmly believe it can and will be done. We need to attack the fundamental problem, which is excessive Federal spending. We are trying to deal with the deficit problem not by taxing America into a recession, as some would do, but by making government live within its means and building an economy that generates jobs and tax revenue. Our economic recovery has already brought down the deficit from the dire predictions of 2 years ago.

I might also point out that the economic recovery in America is helping to stimulate growth in the economies of the West European countries. Indeed, we have witnessed a revival in world trade with a marked rise in exports from Europe to the U.S., which has helped to spread the benefits of our recovery.

Our attack on the deficit has commenced. I recently signed legislation which enacted a ``downpayment'' package that makes a start at deficit reduction over the next 3 years. A commission I appointed to look for ways to improve the efficiency of the Federal Government has come up with about 2,500 specific recommendations on how government can be made more economical by implementing modern-day business practices. We've just begun to implement them.

I have been trying to get a balanced budget amendment to our Constitution. I am also working to get the line-item veto adopted, by which a President can veto individual items in an appropriations bill without vetoing the entire bill. Forty-three State Governors have that tool. I had it in California, and it works.

We won't even consider raising taxes until after we have cut Federal spending to that minimum level which is necessary to finance truly necessary activities. The best way to bring down the deficit is through prudent government spending levels and strong economic growth and expansion. That's our program in a nutshell, and it will benefit Europe as well as America.

Q. What will a reelected Ronald Reagan do to disprove the common criticism that he has been content to see spending cuts fall disproportionately on the weakest members of society and that he cares only for the ``achievers'' in America?

The President. That kind of charge is just not true. The fact is we've been working to better focus the spending of tax dollars on programs that meet people's needs.

Our reforms are reducing fraud, waste, and abuse and targeting welfare programs to better serve the truly needy, rather than those who ought to work and be self-supporting. The money saved by these reforms has already helped make it possible for three-fourths of the States to raise either their payment standards or payment levels under a program that aids truly needy families.

I understand how politically rewarding it is for critics to pretend we've been unfair, but the facts just don't bear them out. And remember, those critics are the same people whose ruinous inflation fell so heavily on the poor, especially in 1979 and 1980. This government is spending more money on social programs than ever in U.S. history, but at last somebody's trying to make those programs work better.

Q. Isn't there a danger that Ronald Reagan is more popular than the Republican Party, and the much-heralded new Republican majority will vanish with the retirement of Ronald Reagan?

The President. Well, I'd like to see this new Republican majority you're talking about. In fact, the Republican Party is still a minority party, and that means we're still outnumbered nationwide in terms of party registration. But I think you have to look beyond that to see the real strength and vitality of the Republican Party.

There was a time when the opposite party was able to portray Republicans as rather stodgy types, resistant to progress. But in recent years that's changed dramatically. Today it's the Republican Party that has new, forward-looking ideas, that stands for a revitalized economy and jobs. It's the leaders of the Democratic Party who are tied to the failed policies of the past.

You can see this in the fact that one of the Republican Party's great strengths in 1984 is its appeal to the youngest generation of voters. What I'm saying is that the new vibrancy and confidence of the Republican Party goes far beyond the political fortunes of any one candidate, including myself. This party is on the move, and I sense it will continue to carry the momentum for a long time.

Note: The interview began at 4:40 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House.

As printed above, the interview follows the White House press release, which was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on September 9.