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Excerpts: Bush Satisfied With Intelligence on China

June 29, 1989

The following are excerpts from The Times' interview with President Bush, conducted by Washington Bureau Chief Jack Nelson and staff writers James Gerstenzang and David Lauter:

Question: . . . There was a report in one of the magazines here that you were concerned or dissatisfied with the intelligence out of China and for that reason William Webster, the CIA director, would be on his way out at the end of the year.

Answer: That was one of the dumbest reports I've read, and most absurd and most without fact. . . . I have total satisfaction and confidence in Bill Webster and am glad to have an opportunity to reiterate that. . . .

Q: And total satisfaction with the intelligence reporting out of China leading up to the crackdown?

A: Listen, if we could have a clairvoyant intelligence system that could accurately predict all kinds of change, I'd welcome that. I don't think any President can ever be totally satisfied that every piece of intelligence in every area of the world is perfection. . . . And so I don't want to sound complacent about things, but I certainly know that our intelligence system is the best in the world. . . .

Q: Now, with China, certainly our goal is to not do anything that would harm our long-range interests, not to harm the Chinese people, and we're being careful about that. But if we justified the denial of special trading status to the Soviets on the basis of a human rights issue, how is it consistent to not base our relations with China on that same moral outrage?

A: We are basing our reaction on moral outrage.

Q: But we can continue to trade with China and the same . . .

A: They're different situations and different countries, but it's going to be very difficult to continue some existing relationship with China unless I am satisfied that there is change. So I'm just going to look at it as we go along here.

Q: But do you think this official version is going to sell anywhere in the world, and even will it sell throughout China? You've been to China and know something about China.

A: Well, please help me with what the official version is.

Q: Well, the official version is that nobody was killed in Tian An Men Square, and. . . .

A: Well, I can't imagine anybody gives great credibility to that, given what people have seen with their own eyes.

Q: . . . Our support for the nations of Eastern and Central Europe has certainly been made clear. But what about the more complicated cases of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania? What is the role for the United States in these once-independent states?

A: That are now inside the Soviet Union?

Q: Right. What is our role there?

A: Broad statements of the aspiration of people to determine their own futures and understanding aspirations for freedom. And it will be--it's been that way, and it's going to continue to be that way.

Q: Can we switch over for a minute to the domestic side question? (There was) obviously a lot of debate during the campaign about the death penalty. You've spoken out quite strongly on that since the inauguration. The Supreme Court recently said that the Constitution doesn't bar the execution of people who were 15, 16 when they committed crimes and it's up to political leaders to decide what the minimum should be.

Since you've called for updating federal death penalty law, what do you think the minimum ought to be for the . . .

A: I am asking C. Boyden Gray (a presidential adviser on ethics), as I did with these other decisions, to get with our top legal people and let me know what they think on it. I'm not an attorney . . .

Q: What about a Gorbachev summit? Is the report that we have--that at least from a temporary standpoint you have a timetable for doing it some time this year? Is that accurate--that you'd like to do it this year?

A: That's a report that is inaccurate.

Q: It is inaccurate?

A: Yes, because there isn't any timetable, Jack.

Q: . . . Well, do you think he's eager for a summit, Mr. President?

A: I don't know. I would think that he, like me, would welcome a summit at an appropriate time. But I--they may be more inclined to have one sooner than we would . . . . But I don't want to have something--have a meeting that stops short of that and then is seen as a failure because it doesn't have a START agreement or whatever else is current.

Q: On Afghanistan, it's been something of a stalemate there--the siege of Jalalabad did not produce the moujahedeen victory that we thought might occur when the Soviets pulled out. Is it perhaps time to persuade the moujahedeen to begin negotiations with Najibullah and specifically to enter into some kind of government with him? Is that. . . ?

A: I don't see them ever entering into an agreement with a Najibullah-headed regime.

Q: Is it time to press them into some kind of talks with them--with Najibullah, in any case?

A: Not for the United States. Not for our Administration.

Q: So we simply state we would like a political solution and leave it at that?

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