Reagan News Conferences & Interviews: Middle East/Israel
MARCH 21, 1985
Q.Mr. President, in your first term you proposed your own Middle East peace plan. You dispatched special envoys to the region to seek solutions, you even sent in marines to try to stabilize Lebanon. These days we hardly ever even hear you mention the Middle East, and last week President Mubarak went home disappointed when he asked for your help in getting peace talks started again.
I wonder if you could tell us tonight, sir, what you expect to gain from the new policy of disengagement, and what do you expect to be achieved over there?
The President. Well, it isn't disengagement, and let me point out, I believe it's a misapprehension that President Mubarak left disappointed. He made no requests. He told us what he was doing, and certainly we complimented him highly upon what he's doing, and I think it's great.
But our proposal, in the very beginning, was that we did not want to participate in the negotiations. It wouldn't be any of our business to do so but that we'd do whatever we could to help bring the warring parties together and, in effect, you might say, continue the Camp David process and continue trying to find more countries that would do as Egypt did and make peace.
And we haven't been idle. We've not only have had President Mubarak here but—and a short time before that we had King Fahd of Saudi Arabia—Masri, the Foreign Minister, is now here. And we still feel the same way. We have been trying to build up a relationship with the Arab nations, as well as the relationship that we've always had with Israel. And we discussed with President Mubarak the—yes, the things that he has proposed, and the idea of the Palestinians—we did have to make it clear that we couldn't meet if it was the PLO. They still refuse to recognize the U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, and they refuse to agree or admit that Israel has a right to exist as a nation. But we have said Palestinian representatives—yes. There's a large Palestinian community, and I'm sure that there are people that do not consider themselves represented by the PLO.
Q. Do you see a direct role for the United States in any talks over there?
The President. Well, not the direct role in sitting at the table and negotiating, that must be done in direct negotiations between the Arab States and Israel. And I think that King Hussein—the position he's taken—that was the one that we had hoped, and he did take 2 years ago, when we suggested all of this, and then things broke down with the Lebanese conflict. And now, thanks to Mubarak pushing ahead and Hussein, I think that there is a reasonable chance, and we have another traveling Ambassador on his way back there in a few weeks.
MARCH 27, 1985
Q. Would you be willing to take part in direct negotiations on the Middle East if it looked as if that would lead to peace?
The President. When the parties are ready for direct negotiations, we will be there to do our part. In the meantime, we are working with them in every way we can to get those negotiations underway.
Q. You have said that the United States will not talk to the PLO unless the PLO recognizes Israel's right to exist. What is the rationale for that policy?
The President. In September 1982, in my initiative, I said that we base our approach squarely on the principle of an exchange of territory for peace, an exchange which is enshrined in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. The PLO has refused to accept that principle and also refused to recognize the right of Israel even to exist. I don't see how an organization which has written off the one principle accepted by the parties and which refuses to recognize the existence of the party with whom peace must be negotiated can play a constructive role in the search for peace.
Q. The Israelis have said that they won't look very carefully at the credentials of a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation, which suggests that their position is flexible. Couldn't you accept a delegation on the same basis?
The President. I don't believe that we are saying anything different. They use the word Palestinian; we use the word Palestinian, also.
MARCH 29, 1985
Q. Since 1948 the Middle East has not been at peace. What are your plans to bring peace to the region? Would you support an international conference like that most Arab nations favor?
The President. The achievement of a just and lasting peace between Israel and all its neighbors is a major goal of the United States. We are working with the parties to achieve, as a next step, a broadening of negotiations through direct talks between Israel and Jordan with Palestinian representatives. The United States firmly believes that the only practical path to peace in the Middle East lies in direct negotiations based upon United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
An international conference would inevitably produce extremist rhetoric and confrontation rather than serious and productive negotiation. This would not bring closer the peaceful settlement we seek.
In my September 1, 1982, Middle East peace initiative, which is firmly based on Resolutions 242 and 338 and the Camp David framework, I outlined positions which the United States would support in negotiations. These positions are aimed at the achievement of an equitable settlement that would reconcile Israel's legitimate security interests and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. Acceptance of our proposals by other parties is not a precondition for negotiations. We would expect other parties to put forward their positions.
Recent developments have spurred movement toward negotiations. This momentum must be maintained and built upon. The United States will be active in that effort.
JUNE 11, 1985
Middle East Peace Efforts
Q. Why is the U.S. Government hesitant to initiate a revival of a Middle East peace plan?
The President. My initiative, which I outlined in my speech of September 1, 1982, is still on the table, and we continue to believe it represents the most promising proposal for progress toward peace yet presented. We have not hesitated to urge the parties to the conflict to work on ways to move the peace process forward. There is now momentum within the region, and we will do what is appropriate to sustain it, but we must recognize that peace can only be achieved when the parties are willing to negotiate directly.
Q. How do you evaluate the recent visit to Washington of King Hussein of Jordan?
The President. I think we understand each other very well, and I admire the King's courage and sincerity. The recent steps by King Hussein and others in the region have given a new impetus to the process of peacemaking. King Hussein in Washington made clear his desire and that of his Palestinian partners for a peaceful settlement through negotiations, with a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation on one side and Israel on the other, in a supportive international context. The King seeks a peaceful settlement on the basis of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. The visit afforded us an opportunity to reaffirm our view that a just and durable peace must address the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people as well as the security of all states in the region.
The King confirmed our joint commitment to move promptly "this year," as he said, toward direct negotiations among the parties. We hope to be able to help the parties build upon the outcome of these meetings. I am convinced events are moving in the right direction.
Q. Would a process of mixing the Fahd "Fez" plan, the Reagan initiative, the recent resolution between Jordan and the PLO, the Resolution 242, lead to a new peace effort, taking into consideration the Israeli reservations?
The President. I think a new and increasingly realistic attitude toward peace is developing. It is based on a number of contributions, including the ones you have cited. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 remains the essential foundation for negotiations. I am not going to predict the final outcome, but I am confident that when peace is achieved you will be able to look back and say many of these contributions played an important role.
It is also important to recognize that my own proposals were an outline of the positions the U.S. would support in negotiations. We have not asked others to subscribe to our positions. Each of the parties is free to bring its own views to the table, and we would expect them to do so. The important thing is to begin direct negotiations since it is through the process of such give and take that differences will be worked out and a just and lasting peace can be achieved.
Q. Now that we are heading towards negotiations between the Arabs and Israel, what do you expect the Arabs and Israelis to do before they sit down and negotiate?
The President. We are trying to keep away from anything that sounds like we are imposing solutions to the problems here. All that we are trying to do is help get them together. It seems that solutions are going to involve one side giving up territory in return for defensible borders where peace is guaranteed. The Arab States must recognize that Israel does have the right to exist as a nation and that peace will provide security for the Arabs as well.
Q. And what do you hope, Mr. President, that the Arabs will do in their turn from now until the beginning of the coming negotiations?
The President. I hope that the Arabs will show more approval and support of King Hussein, instead of leaving him alone by himself.
Q. This point is very important, Mr. President.
The President. King Hussein is entitled to know that the Arabs are supporting him in what he is trying to do.
Q. Is there anything you wish from the Israelis in these days?
The President. The Israelis, as Mr. Peres said, are looking forward to sitting down to negotiate.
Q. Recent visits by King Fahd and President Mubarak have left them feeling a lack of interest by the Reagan administration to seek a comprehensive solution to the problems of the Middle East. Does this lack of interest, coupled with the devastation of Lebanon, not warrant a superpower such as the U.S. to get hold of all parties in the Middle East conflict and dictate to them a solution which is just for all concerned?
The President. I can't agree with your statement. I do not believe King Fahd or President Mubarak perceive a lack of interest in Middle East peace on the part of the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth. The United States has a deep and lasting interest in seeing a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East, and we have consistently communicated that fact to all our friends in the region.
I do not believe, however, that a settlement imposed by any outside power is possible or even desired by the parties. The reality is that peace can only be achieved through a willingness of the parties to sit down and negotiate their differences. My September 1 initiative outlined the positions the U.S. would support in such negotiations, but a real peace can only be achieved by the parties themselves through direct negotiation.
Q. How long will the U.S. tolerate the loss of innocent lives in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Iran, in Israel, and in the West Bank? Is this worth the anti-American feelings that we are witnessing in this area?
The President. The United States is deeply concerned about the suffering of the peoples in the Middle East brought about through the many conflicts existing in that region. The effort to seek solutions to those problems has remained among the highest priorities of the past eight administrations, and it is worth noting that the cost in American lives, effort, and resources has also been high. We will not flag in this effort, but the reality remains that solutions will only be found when the parties to the conflicts have made their own decision to seek a peaceful way to resolve their differences. Negotiations bring results. Egypt and Israel have clearly demonstrated this, and we are actively working to support the process of negotiations in resolving other disputes in the region.
It is important to remember that Americans and the peoples of the Middle East share a great reservoir of common interests and values. This is a reservoir which is being added to every day through trade relations, scholarly activities, and joint scientific endeavors. The participation of a Saudi astronaut in the launching of ARABSAT is an event which illustrates the great Arab scientific and mathematical strides made long before the New World was discovered. And it will remind us all how closely our futures are linked.
JUNE 18, 1985
Trans World Airlines Hijacking Incident
Q. Mr. President, do you think that any of the U.S. policies, past and present, have contributed to the rise of radicalism and anti-Americanism in the Middle East? And I'd like to follow up.
The President. Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International], no, I don't believe that we have. Possibly when we had a peacekeeping force there in connection with our allies—the other countries that had forces in there—we realize that as they began to succeed in keeping some semblance of order in that turmoil, terrorism rose up to strike at all of us that were there in an effort to make our job impossible. And that's why the international force withdrew.
We seem to be a target, also, I'm quite sure, because of our friendship and support of Israel. It just seems there is an anti-Americanism that is rampant there on the part of those who don't want peace with Israel and who have consistently over the years committed terrorist acts against the Israelis.
Q. Mr. President, they wonder why you don't lean on Israel a little bit since the U.S. says that the holding of the Shiite prisoners is against international law—that's our position.
The President. Yes.
Q. Israel has said she is willing to, so why don't you promote it?
The President. Helen, because the linkage that has been created makes it impossible for them and for us. There was no question but that they were going to in stages; they already had started releasing. But it has now been tied to where such a movement would be, in effect, giving in to the terrorists. And then, as I say, who is safe? That's all terrorists have to know is that they can succeed and get what they want. It's the same as the customs in single kidnapings-crimes in our country here in which we know that, if possible, you try to resolve the situation without paying the ransom.
Q. Mr. President, do you think that the Israelis are holding the 700 to 800 Shiite prisoners in violation of international law, as the State Department said on April 4th? And if so, have you got any assurances from them that they would release those prisoners if we got the hostages back?
The President. We have not dealt with him on that. As I say, we have not interfered in any way with them and what they're doing. With regard to the international law, it's my understanding that taking them across a border from their own country and into another country is a violation of the Geneva accords and—what?
Q. I'm sorry, if I could follow up, sir, has the International Red Cross been dealing with them for us on that issue, dealing with the Israelis on that issue?
The President. Again, we're getting into areas that I can't talk about. I covered it-all I can mainly talk about. I can't resist, because I know you've probably got to get that red coat back in the morning. [Laughter]
Q. No, no, that belongs to WWDB in Philadelphia. More than 500 American flyers were rescued by General Mikhailovitch of Yugoslavia in 1944, and they want to erect a memorial on Federal property, which the Senate approved twice and Mr. Derwinsky supported repeatedly, while President Truman gave the general the Legion of Merit. Why, Mr. President, since it's very important to rescue Americans, are you allowing your State Department to stop this in its tracks?
The President. I will have to tell you, Lester [Lester Kinsolving, Globe Syndicate], that this is the first that I've heard about it, and so you've given me a question to ask when I leave here tonight, to find out about that.
Q. I salute you.
The President. All right. Let me—all right.
Q. Mr. President, since Nabih Berri has joined the terrorists in their call for Israel to release the Shiite prisoners is he not now part of their effort?
The President. Again, this is too delicate for me to comment or give an answer to that question. I'm not going to do it.
Q. If I may follow up, he said today that if the United States does not ask Israel to release the Shiite prisoners that he would give the hostages back to the terrorists. In that case would you hold him responsible?
The President. Yes. I would.
Middle East Peace Efforts
Q. [Inaudible] from Yugoslav Television. Do you think that this tragic accident might in any way influence the ongoing process of solving the Middle East problem through Palestinian-Jordan-Israeli talks?
The President. I don't really see that they have been—they're certainly not a setback to us with regard to the peace talks. And I know that King Hussein, when he was here, made it plain that he is not retreating from the effort that he is making. And I have to commend him for his courage and his willingness to do what he's doing in trying to bring about direct negotiations between the Arab States and Israel and the Palestinians to try to get a peace, a lasting peace, in the Middle East. So, we are doing everything we can, also, to be of help to him.
OCTOBER 1, 1985
Q. Mr. President, do you condone the Israeli raid, sir, the Israeli raid into Tunis? Do you condone the Israeli raid into Tunisia?
The President. Sam [Sam Donaldson, ABC News], I will take other questions later on, but not today.
Q. Were U.S. planes involved?
The President. We're due at a Cabinet meeting. Would you like to say something?
Secretary Heckler. All right. Yes.
Q. Were U.S. planes involved, Mr. President? Could you clear up that one issue? Were U.S. planes involved in the Israeli raid?
The President. I'm not going to comment on that at all, Chris [Chris Wallace, NBC News], and I don't know. I don't know the facts.
Q. —clearly, just as much as the Israelis have a right to retaliate?
The President. Anyone has if they can pick out the people who are responsible.
Q. Do you think the Israelis did pick out the right people?
The President. Well, I've always had a great faith in their intelligence capabilities.
Source: Public Papers of the President