tv Reel America President Reagan Interview with Wire Service Reporters - 1989 CSPAN January 12, 2019 10:35pm-11:07pm EST
monmouth, illinois, back to tampico and then to dixon. i was eight or nine years old when i went to dixon. tom: thank you, mr. president. 30 yearsel america," leftthe day before he office, president ronald reagan met with wire service reporters in the oval office to reflect on his terms. the wire service provided photographs, news reports and video to thousands of magazines, tv and radio stations and newspapers worldwide. one of the report is is late international white house correspondent helen thomas, who covered 10 presidential administrations during her career. this recording comes to us courtesy of the ronald reagan presidential library. [indiscernible]
you all knowagan: what this is for, and case your machines don't work we will have it for the transcripts. >> [indiscernible] president reagan: helen, i can't give an answer to that because there is a process that the justice department before things get to my desk for my decision. i never have any warning when they complete the processing and all the recommendations are sent here. it doesn't seem to be that it will be very likely that they will be able to complete anything, with this being the last day in office. you obviously have made
up your mind not to do it. now.dent reagan: well, there have been recommendations, as there have been routinely, and some fairly recently. no knowledge of any that are imminent that are coming here. you said that you felt the judicial process with regard to oliver north and john poindexter -- president reagan: yes, i think this is going to leave them under a cloud of guilt for the rest of their lives. reporter: in 1980 you criticized president carter for the inability to do anything about getting the hostages home. eight yearslater, tomorrow, mr. president, when you were sworn in, the 52 hostages did come home. you were tooerhaps harsh on carter during the campaign, and do you now, after
eight years, have perhaps an appreciation of some of the limits of power as to what an american president can do with these situations with third-world terrorist nations? president reagan: we are facing two very different situations. more than 50 people in an embassy, kidnapped by the government of that country. this is another one in which some terrorist group has kidnapped several individuals. we don't know where they are. we know any overt attempt at rescue, even if we did have a hint or a clue, would run the execution before we could get them out. there hasn't been a moment that this isn't on our minds, and
that we haven't been exploring quietly and privately, as you must in this kind of situation, whatever opening there could be to get them back. the two situations are completely different. i want you to know also, by the end of president carter's term i made a number of statements and so forth that were aimed at other words, portraying myself and the things that i said to that government that was holding them, that maybe they would rather deal with him then wait and deal with me. reporter: your initiative with respect to the plo, aside from issues with the mideast peace process, has there been a recognition on your part, and will we see an evolution in
american policy that in effect uses a stance of attempting to deal with these third world countries in a way of some moderation that accepts at least their influence, if not their legitimacy in the world, as well as the policy you have been willing to use in the past, to use american power where you felt it was needed, such as libya in 1986. president reagan: we have been trying to be helpful to bring peace to the middle east. a technical state of war does exist between arab nations and israel. we believe that peace can only come about when the principles themselves agreed to negotiations. so we have been trying to do everything we can to be helpful and itging that about,
is not one in which we think we can dictate a piece in any way. made ayou never statement against israeli violence against palestinians, killing them every day, blowing up their homes, they throw stones and they get killed by ball bearings used as bullets, not one statement in this human rights situation. president reagan: i'm not quick to talk about diplomatic relations we may have. right now we still have an ambassador in negotiations with a result of our recent decision on that. this is one of the things, to get the violence on the killings stopped on both sides, but you have to look at this one , in which the violence is being perpetrated against the governing authority of the area.
if your land was under a military occupation for 40 years, would you fight? president reagan: i can't say about this. totever the terms, you have look at whatever the situation would be. seem to have established a good personal relationship with soviet leader gorbachev. the bush administration has said they are going to take some time to review the arms-control negotiations. you think that is a good idea, to stand back and look at what is going forward, or should we press ahead with the negotiations? do you think the president,
president bush well advised back, or should we press ahead? president reagan: i think he will be there, and if pressing ahead is the appropriate thing to do, but again i think we have to realize that in these negotiations that have taken place so far, they are not just they on what someone says, are based on deeds. remember, in these arms negotiations one thing that seems to escape many people's attention is that their superiority has been such that, in spite ofstill, the cuts they have proposed,
they still have a superiority, and edge. what must happen is get down to parity and then see if both sides don't want to continue reducing down, as long as we are at a parity. >> where are we at this point in the start negotiations? president reagan: these are very difficult, much more complicated than the imf treaty was. say.uld be hard for me to some of the things holding it up is that there has not been the agreement on verification that we had with the imf treaty. helen: were you ever in a situation where you might have to push the ultimate button, or put us on red alert, anything where it was really a touch and go? president reagan: now, i don't think there has ever been a moment of that kind that has come up when we have been here,
i am happy to say. helen: would you have made the decision to go on the doomsday plane, or stay here? president reagan: that would depend on the circumstances also. i'm quite sure that we would never be the first to push the button. so if ever such a situation had those, very possibly missiles, hostile missiles would be on their way here. and then it would depend on what information we had. helen: are you more scared now that you know all our technological possibilities to blow up the world? president reagan: no, i think i aware, and from the very first i set a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought. you never said that until about the third year in office. did you always believe that? because during the campaign you said you felt we had to have nuclear supporting and you felt
we could have more in europe, tactical nuclear? president reagan: the situation we inherited was that our nuclear superiority had been the but theto position, nuclear superiority by the time we got here was rapidly disappearing. reporter: how do you ask plane the fact that mr. gorbachev is much more critical of europe then you are. drift? that europe could president reagan: i just finished reading a document here that was citing authorities and fresh media and so forth all and i can'tld, quite except that he is more popular than i am.
touched by moved and the words that were spoken about me and my departure from office. reporter: is there any concern of this thing with mr. gorbachev, because of this after 1992titude, there could be more unity and it could lead to more protectionism. is there any threat to the alliance? president reagan: i don't think so. every country including our own has elements within that country that speak out, that demonstrate and so forth, but who are attuned toally more the soviet union and its philosophy than to the democratic philosophy the rest of the world is being guided by. and notto be careful take that as national opinion.
reporter: you headed the screen actors guild and talked in recent interviews about high spots on low spots of your presidency. if you had it to do over again, would you have fired the air traffic controllers during the strike? bother you as it former head of the screen actors guild that there is a perception, at least within elements of organized labor leadership of the union movement, that your administration was hostile to workers who are members of unions, or the legitimacy of the union movement in this country? president reagan: there is no way i am opposed to the legitimacy of the union movement, and certainly i am supportive. anm a lifetime member of afl-cio union, was given a lifetime membership card when i left the screen actors guild to
come here. times been critical many authorityties, or at seized at the federation level without taking into consideration the interests of each individual union, or for that matter union member. when i came here as the head of a union to appear before a congressional committee on a tax matter, and i was representing 36 unions of the motion picture industry, not just our own, they had authorized me to represent them, and i was accosted in the corridors by two representatives of the afl-cio, and they were showing me that the position was counter on this tax matter than the one that i and putg to defend
before the congress. i said i'mto them, the president of an afl-cio union. afl-cio has ever suggested anything of this kind to me, or any of the unions that i know of. theytheir proposal was, were supportive of higher and more taxes, because they showed me the afl cio had a great package of social reforms that would need more money, that would cost more, and yet none of us out there who were the member unions of this federation had been told about this. so yes, i have taken a position on that. for example, the screen actors guild had a provision in its that no decision
taken, even by a general membership meeting, could become guild policy if it affected guild policy, until it was submitted to the entire membership for a secret, mail ballot. and hearing the history and seeing other unions in the industry a work, recognizing how many times in meetings of other thens there was fear on part of the membership to stand up and take a position they thought might be counter to the executives' position. and i had promote, union members from many other unions, not only picture unions but other unions, when i was campaigning on this, that said, please get that for us, that secret ballot.
couldn't getand i it off the ground. and because the leadership of opposed to such a thing for union members. i think what i was proposing was the height of democracy for any union member. reporter: getting back to your relationship with mr. gorbachev, during the last summit there was talk there might be follow-on meetings. are there firm plans for him to visit you in california, or for you to go to moscow? president reagan: no, but there was a mutual exchange of invitations. i had extended that invitation and he countered with the same suggestion. reporter: what is the possibility of that happening?
president reagan: i don't know. i have found out now, getting down here these last hours, i can't foresee what am i going -- what i am going to faced with until i get out there and deal with them. i don't know what my plans will be. apparently knew, according to what i read, that he had a brain tumor two years before he died. did you know it? president reagan: no, i did not know. helen: do you think he should have told you? president reagan: well, i don't know. i can see where he probably had concerns. but this might create a doubt or suspicion that he wasn't up to the job of what he was doing, so i'm not going to judge him on that. helen: it's probably the last, i will ever be able to ask you, why do you insist north and
poindexter did nothing wrong, when you fired them for burning funds, they burned and shredded official documents after a government inquiry was underway, they thwarted your power, they usurped your power, to military men when we have a civilian military men two when we have a civilian government. why do you forgive them? president reagan: when i said they didn't do anything wrong, what i have to say is the total media distortion of the process that was underway. and i can't understand it because i, as you know, the day after that leak revealed the covert operation, i went before the press and told them exactly what the operation was. we were not doing business with the ayatollah, we were not trading arms for hostages. of ad received word by way third country, israel, that a delegation of people at a time when everyone was saying the ayatollah was not going to leave
out the week and that factions were rising as to who was going to be the government of iran, this group was vouched for by a third country as responsible citizens who wanted a meeting somehow with representatives of the united states, as to how there could be a better relationship between the government of iran and the united states. and it had to be covert, because these people would obviously have been executed if anyone in the government had known they were doing what they were doing. so these people of ours were there, meeting on that set up. ofold exactly how the thing arms came about. word came to us that the people they were dealing with, for two reasons, wanted a token shipment of arms, of weapons. this would convince them
the people they were dealing with actually had access to the cop of government -- to the top of government here. the second was that they would turn them over, not to the revolutionary guard but to the regular military, which had been created in large part by the united states, and it would give them the prestige they would need if they were to take over the government and establish a democratic government there. wefirst reply to them was, can't do business with countries that support terrorism. there reply back was that they themselves were opposed to terrorism, there would be no support for it if they were governing iran, and they gave personal incidents of where they come of the individuals, had opposed terrorism. so my word went back to them, all right, but we believe the group that is holding our people
hostage has a philosophical relationship with iran. if you will use your influence to try and get our hostages freed, we will meet your request. and they were the ones that specified the told missiles -- toll missiles. they did not in any way alter the balance in the war between iran and iraq that was going on, because we were trying to bring about an end to that war. so this we did, and it was all covert and so forth. the thingn't until was exposed by that beirut paper, a not-too-reliable sheet, but the whole press took off on what had been exposed. helen: they told the truth. president reagan: no, because they said it was trading arms
for hostages. we had people here who said, this is what it is going to appear to be. but i said, wait a minute, if i get someone kidnapped and my family, i don't pay ransom because it encourages further kidnapping. if i find there is someone else that possibly could get my family member back for me, yes, i would be happy to do something for that individual. that is what this situation was. these were people -- we were never dealing with the kidnappers. these were people who i thought could have an influence and help get it back, and they were asking a favor for themselves. when they after was attorney general came in. to makeeen looking in, sure there were no smoking guns and things we didn't know about, and he had found a paper. we had gotten our price that we had asked for the weapons, and
sent to us. he found a paper that indicated there was more money, in other words someone had increased the price. and that is what i went in and told. and the same day i told the congressional leadership -- helen: why do you keep absolving north and poindexter when they obviously raised the price, they took the money and they gave some out, some in a swiss bank? president reagan: we have no way of knowing anything of that. this is the thing i am waiting to find out. this is why i was the first to appoint a commission to look into this, to find out how was their extra money? helen: they did it under immunity. president reagan: all right, but how that money was obtained i don't know. i knew that we couldn't deliver the weapons all the way to iran. then it wouldn't be a covert operation anymore.
we delivered them to the people we were doing business with. how they got the weapons on, i don't know. increased, i did not know. believe that, well, i don't anyk there has been yet declaration of a crime, a violation of law. >> they have been charged. president reagan: the charges have been dropped also. , tos it fair to say thatrize your feelings short of having the release of information you consider too sensitive to be released in a public trial, is a you're feeling -- is it you're feeling beast trials should go forward because no one knows what became
of the money? that is your attitude? , a lot of distractions for george bush's first 100 day. president reagan: there have there would bens crimes, personal gain and so forth. trial, would leave them without guilt hanging over them. let the process go forward. and then determine with regard, i have to say this, there is a aret likelihood they operating covertly and not telling me some things in an effort to protect me. involve words, to not
me in anyway. not in crime. in some of the procedures they followed. >> heavy talk to them about it? president reagan: no, because i felt when this thing was exposed, and obviously there had been things not told to me, i had to do what i did. ask for the resignation. should these trials be held to get the story out of what out of what happened? to have a system of justice resolve it? president reagan: i can't believe either one of these men was guilty of criminal activity myself. i think that this is what be hanging over them, the shadow they were. >> why does bush say he was out of the loop? president reagan: he did not get
into the discussions. there was a difference between some of our cabinet members and me. ,hey difference was never secretary weinberg, they were opposed. not on the basis this was arms for hostages. they felt strongly if it was ever exposed or came to light, this is what it would be made to appear. they turned out to be right. it did not take 24 hours for this to be portrayed as arms for hostages. >> i hate to interrupt here. president reagan: he was present at some meetings. he did not enter into the discussion. withs a decision of mine regard to some disagreements on the part of others. >> final question, if you had one piece of advice you could
leave with george bush, what would that be? i havent reagan: .eserved suggesting advice i would give it if it were asked. i do not think it is proper for me to volunteer such advice. >> what will your role be as an ex-president? heavy talked with mr. bush about consultation? president reagan: no, there is a formerin which presidents are advised of what is going on in the government. i have approved and sent on those reports to the existing previous presidents. all of them. i've been saying to myself, pretty soon i will be getting
these reports. if ever he thought there was something i could be helpful in where wanted advice, i would try to do my best to comply. something about handling the presidency. some word? he's been sogan: close to this. every week we have lunch together. >> that's true. he's had a big advantage in that respect. president reagan: yes. mind when i was a governor, the lieutenant governor, this concept down through the years of the vice is sitting there waiting to see if something happens was a waste of their time. they should be like an executive
vice president of a corporation. that is what i did as governor and that is what i did here. very much a part in the things we did. to see hown charge many regulations we could get rid of. >> thank you. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> you can watch films in their entirety on our weekly series "reel america." here on american history tv. in 1793, george washington selected william thornton's design for the u.s. capitol. michael brown argues events from the french enlightenment influenced thorntons vision. the u.s. historical capital society