tv Reel America President Reagan Interview with Wire Service Reporters - 1989 CSPAN January 19, 2019 8:36am-9:08am EST
his two terms. the wire service provided photographs, news reports and video to thousands of magazines, tv and radio stations and ewspapers worldwide. one of the reporters is the 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] president reagan: you all know 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 ecision. i don't know whether anything -- i never have any warning when they complete the processing and all the recommendations are sent ere. 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. helen: you obviously have made up your mind not to do it. president reagan: well, now. there have been recommendations, as there have been routinely, and some fairly recently. but i have no knowledge of any that are imminent that are coming here. reporter: you said that you felt the judicial process with regard to oliver north and john poindexter -- is that still your feeling?
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 years later, eight years tomorrow, mr. president, when you were sworn in, the 52 hostages did come home. do you feel perhaps you were too 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 ituations. one, 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 risk of their 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 ompletely 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 helping, in other words, portraying myself and the things that i said to that government hat 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 s 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 egotiations. so we have been trying to do everything we can to be helpful in bringing that about, and it is not one in which we think we can dictate a piece in any way. helen: you never made a 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 the plo, as a result of our recent decision on that. but 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 rea. helen: if your land was under a military occupation for 40 years, would you fight? president reagan: i can't say about this. whatever the terms, you have to look at whatever the situation would be.
reporter: you 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 d to stand 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 based on what someone says, they are based on deeds. emember, in these arms negotiations one thing that seems to escape many people's attention is that their superiority has been such that, so far they still, in spite of the cuts they have proposed, they still have a superiority, nd 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 he start negotiations?
president reagan: these are very difficult, much more complicated than the imf treaty was. it would be hard for me to say. 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 arisen, very possibly those 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 was always aware, and from the very first i set a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought. helen: 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, actical nuclear? president reagan: the situation we inherited was that our nuclear superiority had been the basic nato position, but the 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. do feel that europe could drift? president reagan: i just finished reading a document here that was citing authorities and fresh media and so forth all over the world, and i can't quite except that he is more popular than i am. i was quite moved and touched by the words that were spoken about me and my departure from ffice. reporter: is there any concern that because of this thing with mr. gorbachev, because of this american attitude, after 1992 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 philosophically more attuned to the soviet union and its philosophy than to the democratic philosophy the rest of the world is being guided by. we have to be careful and not 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? secondly, does it bother you as former head of the screen actors
guild that there is a erception, 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. i am a lifetime member of an afl-cio union, was given a lifetime membership card when i left the screen actors guild to come here. i have been critical many times at authorities, or at authority 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 capital 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 as going to defend and put before the congress. and i said to them, i said i'm the president of an afl-cio union. no one from the afl-cio has ever suggested anything of this kind to me, or any of the unions that i know of.
what their proposal was, they 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 constitution 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 allot. and hearing the history and seeing other unions in the industry a work, recognizing how many times in meetings of other unions there was fear on the
art of the membership to stand up and take a position they thought might be counter to the executives' position. i tried to promote, and i had union members from many other nions, not only picture unions but other unions, when i was campaigning on this, that said, please get that for us, that secret ballot. and i tried, and i couldn't get it off the ground. and because the leadership of the afl-cio was opposed to such a thing for union members. i think what i was proposing was the height of democracy for any nion 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? resident 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 -- hat i am going to faced with until i get out there and deal with them. i don't know what my plans will be. helen: casey 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 oncerns. 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 government -- two military men 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. we had received word by way of a 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 o 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. i told exactly how the thing of 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. one, 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. my first reply to them was, we 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. nd they were the ones that
specified the 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 bout an end to that war. so this we did, and it was all covert and so forth. and it wasn't until the thing 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. so the day after was when the attorney general came in. he had been looking in, to make 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 ran. 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. how the price was increased, i did not know. nd i believe
that, has yet any declaration of crime, a violation of law. helen: they have been charged. , torter is it fair to say summarize feelings that of information you too sensitive to public trial, is a you're feeling -- is it you're feeling forward because no of the money? ven lot for bush's first 100 -- if it chris a lot of distractions for george bush's irst 100 days? esident reagan: as i have
trial, would a leave them without guilt letthen determine regard, say great they and not telling me some in an effort to to not in crime followed. i think there is a great likelihood that they are operating vovertly and then not telling me some things -- covertly and then telling me some things could have been an effort to protect me. to not involve me n any way, not in crime. helen: have you talked to them about it? president reagan: no, when this thing was exposed.
there had been things told to in me. reporter: do you still think these trials should be held at least in part to get the story out of what happened. o have a system of justice resolve what really happened? president reagan: yes because i don't believe either man is guilty of any criminal activity. this is what would be hang overing them. helen: you said president bush was part of every decision. president reagan: he did not get in on the discussion. the difference is as it has never been again reported. secretary schultz. secretary weinberg. they were opposed. not on the basis this was arms for hostages.
they said if it ever came to light this is what it made to appear, well, they turned out to be right. it didn't take 24 hours for this to be portrayed as arms for ostages. reporter: where was george bush when this happened? president reagan: he was present some of the time. reporter: the final question, if you had one single piece of advice to leave george bush, what would that be? president reagan: i have reserved ever suggesting any advice or giving any advice. i would give it if it were asked. i don't think it is proper for me to volunteer such advice.
reporter: what will your role be s an ex-president? president reagan: there is a system that prevails in which all former presidents are regularly advised of what is going on in the government here. i have sent on those reports to the previous presidents. all of them. i've been doing it. i said to myself, pretty soon i'll be getting these report ps. -- reports. if there is anything i can be helpful in and he wanted to ask advice, i would do my best to comply. helen: some one little quip or word?
president reagan: he is so close to this. every week we lunch together. he is at the cabinet meetings. helen: he has a big advantage in that respect. president reagan: i made up my a d when i was a governor, lieutenant governor. it is a waste of talent. they should be like an executive vice president of a corporation. that's what i distant as governor and lieutenant governor nd that's what i did here. george had -- i put him in charge of the task force to see how many regulations we could et rid of.
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