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Ronald Reagan Administration: Statement on Terror Attack on Soldiers in Beirut

(October 24, 1983)

The President. Good afternoon. Given what has happened in Lebanon, I've put aside the remarks that I was prepared to give here today. And I'd like to read you this statement.

Yesterday's acts of terrorism in Beirut which killed so many young American and French servicemen were a horrifying reminder of the type of enemy that we face in many critical areas of the world today -- vicious, cowardly, and ruthless. Words can never convey the depth of compassion that we feel for those brave men and for their loved ones.

Many Americans are wondering why we must keep our forces in Lebanon. Well, the reason they must stay there until the situation is under control is quite clear: We have vital interests in Lebanon, and our actions in Lebanon are in the cause of world peace. With our allies -- England, France, and Italy -- we're part of a multinational peacekeeping force seeking a withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and from the Beirut area while the new Lebanese Government undertakes to restore sovereignty throughout that country. By promoting peace in Lebanon, we strengthen the forces for peace throughout the Middle East. This is not a Republican or a Democratic goal but one that all Americans share.

Peace in Lebanon is key to the region's stability now and in the future. To the extent that the prospect for future stability is heavily influenced by the presence of our forces, it is central to our credibility on a global scale. We must not allow international criminals and thugs such as these to undermine the peace in Lebanon.

The struggle for peace is indivisible. We cannot pick and choose where we will support freedom; we can only determine how. If it's lost in one place, all of us lose. If others feel confident that they can intimidate us and our allies in Lebanon, they will become more bold elsewhere. If Lebanon ends up under the tyranny of forces hostile to the West, not only will our strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean be threatened but also the stability of the entire Middle East, including the vast resource areas of the Arabian Peninsula.

In conjunction with our multinational force partners, we're taking measures to strengthen the capabilities of our forces to defend themselves. The United States will not be intimidated by terrorists. We have strong circumstantial evidence linking the perpetrators of this latest atrocity to others that have occurred against us in the recent past, including the bombing of our Embassy in Beirut last April. Every effort will be made to find the criminals responsible for this act of terrorism so this despicable act will not go unpunished.

And now, I know you have some questions.

Q. Mr. President, Linda Douglass from KNXT - TV in Los Angeles. What are the options? Do we increase the number of troops in Lebanon? Do we withdraw the troops in Lebanon? What do you consider the options to be?

The President. The option that we cannot consider is withdrawing while their mission still remains. And they do have a mission, contrary to what some people have intimated in the last 24 hours or so. And it is tied in with the effort that we launched more than a year ago to try and bring peace to the total area of the Middle East because of its strategic importance to the whole free world, not just the United States.

I couldn't give you a time on this. The options are -- well, I have sent, as of this morning, General Kelley, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, is on his way to Lebanon to review again what we can do with regard to improving the defensive measures, the safety measures for the marines who are stationed there. And we're looking at every possible option in that regard. But the mission remains, and it remains as yet unfulfilled, although there's been tremendous success so far.

Q. Mr. President, Bill Applegate from WLS in Chicago. You discussed the diplomatic mission. What specifically is the military mission of the marines?

The President. Well, you have to go back a little bit in memory on the situation there in the Middle East. We know, of course, our country, since 1948, has been pledged to the continued existence and the security of Israel. And we've had these numerous wars between the Arab States and Israel, with a number of the Arab States, or virtually all of them, refusing to accept the existence of Israel as a nation. We have, back over the years -- as witness more recently in the previous administration, the Camp David accords. So, what we submitted was the idea of us continuing to help, as we did at Camp David, in furthering that process, bringing more nations into the kind of peaceful arrangement that occurred between Egypt and Israel -- producing more Egypts, if you will.

At the same time, however, and for a number of years now, Lebanon has been torn with strife. They've had factions. And from just factions and kind of rioting situations, they've developed over the years to where kind of war lords set up with their own military forces. So we recognized that before we could proceed with the peace plan -- remember that when we started this, Israel had been forced across its own border, was shelling Beirut. The PLO militias inside Beirut were shelling back. The casualties were hundreds of civilians, every day, dying and being grievously wounded.

So we recognized that what we had to resolve first was this issue: to get Syria, which had crossed from the other border, to get Syria, get Israel, get the PLO organization out of Lebanon and then to have a stabilizing force while a government could be established in Lebanon and their military could then acquire the capability necessary to reinstitute their control over their own borders. And this was why the multinational force went in -- to provide that stability so that when the Lebanese forces moved out, as the other forces, the Israelis and the Syrians left, there could be a maintenance of order behind them.

Now that mission remains, and it did have measures of great success. Some 5,000 of the organized PLO militias, as you'll remember, were shipped out of Lebanon. Some of those, we fear, have been infiltrated back in, mainly by way of Syria now. But that was accomplished. A government was established. We have helped very definitely with the training of the Lebanese Army, and they proved the quality of that training recently in the fighting in the hills and around Suq al Gharb. And we think that they have -- they don't have the size yet to where they could take over in, let's say, the policing of that area and of the airport and still have enough manpower to go out and restore order as they're supposed to.

So that mission remains. And, as of now, they have finally agreed upon a date and a place for a meeting in which the Government of Lebanon is going to try and bring in representatives of the hostile factions within Lebanon to broaden the base of the government.

So we think that the goal is worthy, and we think that great progress has been made that would not have been made if it were not for the multinational force.

Q. Mr. President, Susan Hutchison, KIRO - TV, from Seattle. I'm a journalist, but I'm also the wife of a U.S. Marine Corps captain, and as such I am personally grieved over the loss of lives. I am wondering what message you can give to Americans who are frustrated with the loss of life in a region that historically has not known peace -- and, many think, will never know peace -- and yet, our men are over there as peacekeepers.

The President. I wish there were an instant answer here that would resolve all your concerns. You didn't tell me about that one when we were having lunch here.

I understand your concern. I understand all Americans' concern, and I have to say that I don't know of anything that is worse in the job I have than having to make the calls that I have made as a result of these snipings that have taken place in the past.

I wish it could be without hazard, but the alternative is to look at this region which, as I say, is vital. Our allies in Western Europe, the Japanese -- it would be a disaster if a force took over the Middle East. And a force is ready to do that, as witness what has taken place in Yemen, in Ethiopia, and now the forces of some several thousand that are theirs in Syria.

The free world cannot stand by and see that happen. Yes, this has been an area torn by strife over the centuries, and yet not too many years ago, before the kind of breakup, Lebanon was a very prosperous, peaceful nation that was kind of known as the Gateway to the East. And we believe it can be again.

Probably no one -- or no country was more at war with Israel than Egypt, and yet we saw Egypt and Israel come to a peace treaty and Israel give up the Sinai and so forth that it had conquered in war. We have to believe that this we must strive for, because the alternative could be disaster for all of our world.

Q. Mr. President, I'm Rollin Post from KRON in San Francisco. I want to ask you, you've addressed it now several times, the issue that we cannot get out of the Middle East. But would you address the other argument that if you're not going to get out, then let's just not put marines back in to replace those who have been killed and wounded to do exactly the same thing in the same place but, if you're going to do a job, go into Lebanon and do it with some real force, which is another argument -- [inaudible].

The President. But you see what that entails -- and that is the difficult thing -- we would then be engaged in the combat. We would be the combat force. We would be fighting against Arab States, and that is not the road to peace. We're still thinking in terms of that long-range peace.

Lebanon must be resolved and resolve within itself its own problems. And incidentally, not much attention has been paid to the diplomatic process that's been going on for all of this time, and before, round-the-clock. And we now are seeking a replacement for Ambassador McFarlane, who is with us here today, who is now national security adviser -- but someone to replace him. But he could tell you. And I used to sit here feeling guilty, hearing his schedule from Damascus to Beirut to Tel Aviv, back, and hours and hours of meetings. But they have all led to this present cease-fire, to this government that is now in Lebanon, and to the effort to enlarge that government. So we're keeping on with that process.

But with the present mission of the multinational force -- and remember there are four nations involved there -- enlarging their forces, if it would help with the mission they're performing, would be one thing. But to join into the combat and become a part of the combative force, actually all we would really be doing would be increasing the number of targets and risking, really, the start of overall conflict and world war.

No, our mission, I think, makes sense. I think it has proven itself so far. The tragedy is coming not really from the warring forces, it is coming from little bands of individuals, literally criminal minded, who now see in the disorder that's going on an opportunity to do what they want to do. And we're going to make every effort we can to minimize the risk but also to find those responsible.

Q. Lilly Flores-Vela, KIII - TV, Corpus Christi, Texas. I'd like to know what exactly is underway now, what efforts are underway to identify the casualties and those missing, and how are the relatives being notified about this?

The President. You have touched upon what is a heartbreaking part of this particular incident. That was the headquarters building. There were more than 200 men sleeping in that building when this occurred. The records, the personnel records are either destroyed or buried someplace beneath all that rubble. And because they were sleeping, many of the men were not wearing their dog tags. And the delay in notification of the families -- and it must be a terrible, cruel, additional punishment for these people who wait in suspense. And we have no answers until -- we're doing everything, or the marines are, that they can to identify. And when they can get actual identification, such as bodies that did have dog tags or where comrades can recognize and identify, to notify the individual families. But it's a long, tragic story because of the other, the loss of the records.

Q. Mr. President, I'm Ray Rosenblum with WBRJ in Marietta, Ohio. And I want to congratulate you on paying attention to the news media outside of Washington. And regarding the economy, I'd like to ask: If you were an investor, would you invest today in the U.S. stock market, and do you think it will continue to grow?

The President. Yes, I do, and I can't because I have a secret trust on account of I'm not supposed to know what I have anymore. [Laughter] So I can't buy anything like that.

But, yes, I think this recovery is solid, and I think that it is based on something that we're never had in any of the previous recessions. There have been about eight since World War II. And every one of them prior to this was treated with a quick fix, an artificial stimulant by government spending and money supply and so forth. And if you'll look back at the history of them, every one of them was followed within a matter of 2 or 3 years by another one, and each time inflation was higher and unemployment was greater than before.

But this one, we have brought inflation, as you've probably been told in briefings already, down from 2 years of double digit -- and even figures as high as 17 percent -- to where for the last 12 months it has been 2.6 percent, which is the lowest 12-month average in 17 years. And I think that what we're seeing there in the stock market -- it flurries a little bit, goes up, but then every once in a while there's some profit taking and it drops a few points. But I think one figure that's been ignored, and maybe all of you can treat with it -- just a week or so ago it was announced that we were up now to 70 -- more than 78 percent of our industrial capacity is now at work. We were way down far below that to where there was just unused industrial capacity because there wasn't any demand for the product. But this is getting practically up to prosperous times to have that much of our capacity used.

Ms. Small. One more question, Mr. President.

The President. I can't ignore that look. You. [Laughter]

Q. [Inaudible] -- Jean Enerson from KING-television in Seattle. You said that General Kelley is on his way -- [inaudible] -- to recommend more safety measures. If he recommends that more troops be sent in, will you do that? And what other safety measures are you considering?

The President. Well, if this were recommended on the basis that their mission, as I say, could be furthered by some difference in the size of the mission, I would certainly take seriously the recommendation of the man who's the Commandant of the entire Marine Corps.

There are a number of other things to look at, options that have been presented. We know, for example, that we have to find a new headquarters, an operational post for the headquarters, because that was totally destroyed. One of the options being considered is, could part of the support services of that kind be stationed on one of our ships that are offshore there, one of our naval vessels? More improvements in the actual defensive structure? There are any number of options, and that's why an expert is going over there to come back and tell us what can be done.

Karna has told me that I can't take anymore on account of the time was up. Karna said that that was -- you did say that that was the last one, wasn't it?

Ms. Small. I said that was the last one.

The President. And I can give you the best reason in the world why I've got to leave. The President of Togo is due in my office in just about 3 minutes, and I should be there before he gets there to say hello to him.

But your remarks about treating with the regional press, believe me it is a great pleasure. And I wish -- I'm going to tell them that next time they've got to schedule any luncheons like this for about a half an hour extra, or give me some free time following it so that I can run over if I want to, because you do ask questions, and I learn as much from your questions as -- maybe more -- than you learn from my answers. And it's been a great pleasure to have all of you here.

God bless you all, and thank you for coming.


Sources: Public Papers of the President