The President's News Conference
The President. Good evening. I have a few words here before I take your questions, some brief remarks. Eighteen months ago, as I said last Thursday, this administration began a secret initiative to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Our purposes were fourfold: to replace a relationship of total hostility with something better, to bring a negotiated end to the Iran-Iraq war, and to bring an end to terrorism and to effect the release of our hostages.
knew this undertaking involved great risks, especially for our people and for
the Iranian officials with whom we dealt. That's why the information was
restricted to appropriate Cabinet officers and those officials with an absolute
need to know. This undertaking was a matter of considerable debate within
administration circles. Our policy objectives were never in dispute. There were
differences on how best to proceed. The principal issue in contention was
whether we should make isolated and limited exceptions to our arms embargo as a
signal of our serious intent. Several top advisers opposed the sale of even a
modest shipment of defensive weapons and spare parts to
understand this decision is deeply controversial and that some profoundly
disagree with what was done. Even some who support our secret initiative
believe it was a mistake to send any weapons to
foreign policy the presence of risks alone cannot be reason enough not to act.
There were risks when we liberated
And now I'll take your questions. Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International]?
Mr. President, in the recent past there was an administration whose byword was
``Watch what we do, not what we say.'' How would you assess the credibility of
your own administration in the light of the prolonged deception of Congress and
the public in terms of your secret dealings with
The President. Well, Helen, let me
take the last one first. I know some persist in saying that we traded Zakharov for Daniloff. We did
not. We said that we would have no dealings with the
And that's why I have ordered in this coming week the proper committees will be briefed on this. And there are still some parts of this that we cannot go public with, because it will bring to risk and danger people that are held and people that we have been negotiating with. We were not negotiating government to government. We were negotiating with certain individuals within that country.
Q. You don't think your credibility has been damaged? And are you prepared now to disavow the finding which let you make end runs around the Iranian arms embargo? Are you going to tear it up?
The President. No, as I say, we are going to observe that embargo. And it's part of the same reason that, as I've said, we were doing this in the first place: And that is to see, among the other issues involved, if we can help bring about peace between those two countries, a peace without victory to either one or defeat and that will recognize the territorial integrity of both. And this is something that all of our allies are seeking also. But I think the people understand that sometimes you have to keep a secret in order to save human lives and to succeed in the mission, just as we went into Grenada without prior notice, because then we would have put to risk all of those men who were going to hit the beach.
Yes, Mike [Mike Putzel, Associated Press].
Secretary of State Shultz
Q. Mr. President, has Secretary Shultz discussed his resignation with you? Have you agreed to accept it, or have you asked him to stay on?
The President. Mike, he has never suggested to me in our meetings that resignation. And in fact, he has made it plain that he will stay as long as I want him, and I want him. So, there's never been any discussion there. He knows that I want him to stay, and he has, in advance, said that he wants to. There's been no talk of resignation.
If I may follow up, sir: Has he made his staying conditioned on your agreeing
not to send further arms to
The President. No, there have been no conditions. As I say, we didn't discuss that. And as I've said now, there is no need to go further with this. The mission was served that made us waive temporarily that for that really minuscule amount of spare parts and defensive weapons.
Chris [Chris Wallace, NBC News]?
Q. Mr. President, you have stated flatly, and you stated flatly again tonight, that you did not trade weapons for hostages. And yet the record shows that every time an American hostage was released -- last September, this July, and again just this very month -- there had been a major shipment of arms just before that. Are we all to believe that was just a coincidence?
The President. Chris, the only thing I
know about major shipments of arms -- as I've said, everything that we sold
them could be put in one cargo plane, and there would be plenty of room left
over. Now, if there were major shipments -- and we know this has been going on
-- there have been other countries that have been dealing in arms with
But if I may follow up, sir: On that first point, your own Chief of Staff, Mr.
Regan, has said that the
The President. No, because I don't see where the kidnapers or the hostage-holders gained anything. They didn't get anything. They let the hostages go. Now, whatever is the pressure that brought that about, I'm just grateful to it for the fact that we got them. As a matter of fact, if there had not been so much publicity, we would have had two more that we were expecting.
Sam [Sam Donaldson, ABC News]?
Mr. President, when you had the arms embargo on, you were
asking other nations, our allies particularly, to observe it -- publicly. But
at the same time, privately, you concede you were authorizing a breaking of
that embargo by the
The President. I don't think it was duplicity. And as I say, the so-called violation did not in any way alter the military balance between the two countries. But what we were aiming for, I think, made it worthwhile. And this was a waiver of our own embargo; the embargo still stays now and for the future. But the causes that I outlined here in my opening statement -- first of all, to try and establish a relationship with a country that is of great strategic importance to peace and everything else in the Middle East, at the same time, also, to strike a blow against terrorism, and to get our hostages back, as we did. And this particular thing was, we felt, necessary in order to make the contacts that we made and that could lead to better relations with us. And there was a fourth item, also, as I pointed out.
Q. Sir, if I may, the polls show that a lot of American people just simply don't believe you. But the one thing that you've had going for you, more than anything else in your Presidency, your credibility, has been severely damaged. Can you repair it? What does it mean for the rest of your Presidency?
The President. Well, I imagine I'm the only one around who wants to repair it, and I didn't have anything to do with damaging it.
Bill [Bill Plante, CBS News]?
Mr. President, you say that the equipment which was shipped didn't alter the
military balance. Yet several things: We understand that there were 1,000 TOW
antitank missiles shipped by the
The President. Bill, everything you've said here is based on a supposition that is false. We did not condone and do not condone the shipment of arms from other countries. And what was the other point that you made here -- --
Q. There were the antitank missiles, sir.
The President. Oh no, about the -- that it didn't -- no, that it didn't violate the -- or that did violate the law. No, as I've said, the President, believe it or not, does have the power if, in his belief, national security can be served to waive the provisions of that law as well as to defer the notification of the Congress on this.
Q. Isn't it possible that the Iraqis, sir, might think that a thousand antitank missiles was enough to alter the balance of that war?
The President. This is a purely
defensive weapon. It is a shoulder-carried weapon. And we don't think that in
this defensive thing -- we didn't add to any offensive power on the part of
Now, I think -- Charles [Charles Bierbauer, Cable News Network].
Mr. President, I don't think it's still clear just what
The President. No, because we, as I
say, have had nothing to do with other countries or their shipment of arms or
doing what they're doing. And, no, as a matter of fact, the first ideas about
the need to restore relations between
Can I follow up please, if I may, on that? The contacts that you're suggesting
are with moderates in the Iranian Government and in the Iranian system. Barry
Goldwater tonight said in his judgment there are no moderates in
The President. Well, again, you're
asking questions that I cannot get into with regard to the answers. But believe
me, we had information that led us to believe that there are factions within
Trudie [Trudie Fieldman, Transfeatures]?
Q. Mr. President, could we turn to U.S.-Soviet relations for a moment, please?
The President. I'd be delighted. [Laughter]
Your chief arms negotiator, Max Kampelman, said that
as a result of your meeting with Mr. Gorbachev in
The President. Well, Trudie, the thing is, about that situation, they are not
widely scattered. All the agreements, or the apparent places where we agreed at
I think Mr. Kampelman was saying right -- that I just
call to your attention that never in the history of the
Q. I just want to follow up. Do you think you're going to see Mr. Gorbachev again during your term, or do you think he is thinking that he'll wait for the next President to negotiate an arms control agreement?
The President. Well, I have to believe
there is reason for optimism, because he himself suggested the
Q. Do you have a date -- --
The President. What?
Q. Do you have a date to meet them again?
The President. No, that's what we're waiting for -- is for them to give us a date.
Q. Mr. President, going back over your answers tonight about the arms shipments and the numbers of them, are you telling us tonight that the only shipments with which we were involved were the one or two that followed your January 17th finding and that, whatever your aides have said on background or on the record, there were no other shipments with which the U.S. condoned?
The President. That's right. I'm saying nothing, but the missiles that we sold -- and remember, there are too many people that are saying ``gave.'' They bought them.
Andrea [Andrea Mitchell, NBC News]?
Mr. President, to follow up on that: We've been told by the Chief of Staff,
Donald Regan, that we condoned -- this government condoned -- an Israeli shipment
in September of 1985, shortly before the release of hostage Benjamin Weir. That
was 4 months before your intelligence finding on January 17th that you say gave
you the legal authority not to notify Congress. Now, can you clear that up --
why this government was not in violation of its arms embargo and of the
notification to Congress for having condoned American-made weapons shipped to
The President. Well, no, I've never heard Mr. Regan say that, and I'll ask him about that. Because we believe in the embargo, and as I say, we waived it for a specific purpose, in fact, with four goals in mind.
Q. Can I just follow up on that for a second, sir, because what is unclear to, I think, many people in the American public is why -- if you are saying tonight that there will be no further arms shipments to Iran -- why you won't cancel the January 17th intelligence finding so that you can put to rest any suggestion that you might again, without notification and in complete secrecy and perhaps with the objection of some of your Cabinet members, continue to ship weapons if you think that it is necessary?
The President. No, I have no intention of doing that, but at the same time, we are hopeful that we're going to be able to continue our meetings with these people, these individuals.
Q. But you won't cancel the intelligence finding?
The President. I don't know whether it's called for or whether I have to wait until we've reported to Congress and all. I don't know just what the technicality legally is on that.
Q. Yes, Mr. President. Why do you think -- its strategic position not withstanding -- the American people would ever support weapons to the Ayatollah Khomeini?
The President. We weren't giving them
to the Ayatollah Khomeini. It's a strange situation. As I say, we were dealing
with individuals, and we believe that those -- and some of those individuals
are in government, in positions in government. But it was not a meeting
officially of the
Q. Well, sir, if that's the case, some have
asked that if
The President. Believe me, that's about as hypothetical a question as anyone could imagine. The situations are quite different.
Q. Mr. President, you said that you were not swapping -- or you did not think you were swapping arms for hostages. But did it ever occur to you, or did it never occur to you, that certainly the Iranians would see it that way and that they might take it as an inducement to take more hostages, especially in light of the fact that they've released three but taken three more?
The President. No, to the best of our
Q. Well, if I can follow up: If your arms shipments had no effect on the release of the hostages, then how do you explain the release of the hostages at the same time that the shipments were coming in?
The President. No, I said that -- at the time -- I said to them that there was something they could do to show their sincerity. And if they really meant it that they were not in favor of backing terrorists, they could begin by releasing our hostages. And as a matter of fact, I believe and have reason to believe that we would have had all five of them by this last weekend, had it not been for the attendant confusion that arose here in the reporting room.
You don't have your red mittens on.
Q. On that point, you said earlier, and you said just now again, that, but for the publicity, two other hostages would have been returned home by now. As you know, the publicity began in a Syrian-backed, pro-Syrian magazine -- --
The President. Yes.
Q. -- -- in
The President. To our best
information, the leak came from a person in government in
Mr. President, there has been an obvious change in policy towards
The President. No, and I believe that
I've answered that question, I think, more than once here -- that no, we still
hold to our position, and
Then, Mr. President, would you consider breaking diplomatic relations with
The President. No, we have not thought
of that, and we still believe very much in supporting the contras, because we
believe in the contras' cause. The contras have made it plain that all they
seek is to be able to put enough pressure on the Sandinista government for that
government to negotiate with them and the people of
the Sandinista -- or the contras have never proposed overthrowing the
government. They have repeatedly offered and said: ``We simply want to be able
to negotiate and have a chance to have the government installed that we'd
promised the Organization of American States we were fighting for.'' So, I
think we continue to help them, but we believe that there is a value in
maintaining relations. It gives us a listening post in
Mr. President, there is a mood in
The President. The State Department -- or the Secretary of State was involved, the Director of the CIA was involved, in what we were doing and, as I said before, there are certain laws in which, for certain actions, I would not have been able to keep them a secret as they were. But these people you've mentioned have been involved -- do know what was going on. And I don't see that the action that you've suggested has called for it. But what you've disappointed me the most in is suggesting that I sound defensive up here. I've just been trying to answer all your questions as well as I can. And I don't feel that I have anything to defend about at all. With the circumstances the way they were, the decision I made I still believe was the correct decision, and I believe that we achieved some portion of our goals.
Q. Mr. President, do you believe that any of the additional hostages will be released?
The President. I have to believe that.
Q. And during any of these discussions with your administration, was there ever any hint or suggestion that these weapons might be used to topple the Ayatollah?
The President. No, and I don't see in any way how that could be, with the particular things that we were using. I don't see where the Ayatollah could be a logical target for an antiaircraft missile or even for a TOW missile for that matter.
Mr. President, you made an exception for the arms embargo when you thought it
was in the
The President. Well, I would like to
see the indication as to how it could be in their interest. I know that there
are other nations that feel as we do that the Western World should be trying to
find an avenue to get
How, Mr. President -- if I may follow up -- how does shipping weapons to
The President. I was talking of strengthening a particular group who needed the prestige that that could give them, who needed that, well, that bargaining power, themselves, within their own ranks.
Jerry [Jeremiah O'Leary,
Q. Mr. President, I believe you may have been slightly in error in describing a TOW as a shoulder-mounted weapon. It's a ground-to-ground weapon. Redeye is the shoulder weapon, but that's beside the point. TOW's are used to destroy tanks.
The President. Yes, I know, Jerry, I know it's a tank weapon.
Q. I don't think it's fired from your shoulder.
The President. Well, now -- [laughter] -- if I have been misinformed, then I will yield on that. But it was my understanding that that is a man-carried weapon, and we have a number of other shoulder-borne weapons.
Q. I did have a question, though. [Laughter]
The President. You mean that wasn't a question? [Laughter]
Q. No, sir, I thought I knew what a TOW was. I just wanted to ask you what would be wrong at this stage of the game, since everything seems to have gone wrong that could possibly go wrong, like the Murphy Law, the Reagan Law, the O'Leary Law, this week -- what would be wrong in saying that a mistake was made on a very high-risk gamble so that you can get on with the next 2 years?
The President. Because I don't think a mistake was made. It was a high-risk gamble, and it was a gamble that, as I've said, I believe the circumstances warranted. And I don't see that it has been a fiasco or a great failure of any kind. We still have those contacts. We still have made some ground. We got our hostages back -- three of them. And so, I think that what we did was right, and we're going to continue on this path.
Federal Aid for the Homeless
Q. Mr. President, Mr. President, please one domestic question, would you please? Sir, this is the question -- --
The President. Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International], will you yield to this?
Q. This is a question that will not wait. It's cold weather out there, and the growing number of hungry and cold people who are homeless in all of our cities -- and these volunteers that you urge to take part in this and try to help have now made their surveys across the Nation. They've come back and said we can't feed the hungry and take care of the homeless by ourselves. We've got to have Federal help. You have no policy in the White House, I believe, to do this, and you're now just leaving this to local government and local groups. They can't take care of it. Won't you please give us a federally coordinated program with long-time planning?
The President. I think that in things of that kind we are still spending more than has ever been spent before trying to help the needy. I will be very pleased to look into that particular facet and see if there is some snafu there, but I don't think so. But I do think that many of these programs are being undertaken at a State and at a local level and with the aid of Federal financing. But I'll look into it.
Q. They're doing a great job, sir, but they simply say themselves -- the churches, the nonprofits -- we can't do it sufficiently. The number is growing so rapidly. They've got to have Federal help.
The President. No, well, as I'm
saying, I'm going to find out, because I think and believe that there is such
help. I just read this morning in the paper about a needy family in
Note: The President's 39th news conference began at in the East Room at the White House. It was broadcast live on nationwide radio and television.