151. Editorial Note

On April 27, 1983, at 6 p.m., senior Ronald Reagan administration officials took part in a background briefing to the press in the White House Briefing Room in advance of President Ronald Reagan’s address before a joint session of Congress later that evening. Assistant White House Press Secretary Lyndon Allin began the briefing by noting that it would be attributable to only senior administration officials and would be embargoed until Reagan gave his speech. Then one of the two senior officials spoke: “SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hello. I will be brief, and take your questions in about five minutes together with my colleague.

“The President has decided to request the extraordinary measure of a joint session of Congress to address the Congress and the American people tonight on an issue that is of extreme importance to this country and its relationship to Central America and to our national security.

“He believes that the challenge is so important that it requires the development of a very broad, national consensus and strong bipartisan support for the support of U.S. policy. He will go into the nature of the challenge as he sees it. And that is that there is, today, a Soviet and Cuban inspired and supported campaign of subversion in Central America that is very well advanced.

“The President will take the format, in his remarks tonight, of explaining just what U.S. interests are or, in other words, why we should care. What is it about the area that affects our interests—security interests? In this context, he will talk about the level of trade, the level [Page 600] of petroleum that passes through this area—almost half the trade, half of our petroleum requirements.

“He will talk about the geo-strategic locations in the area—the canal and so forth. He will talk about the level of Soviet advisors and Cuban advisors, which outnumber the American advisory program by many, many, many fold.


“SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Fifty to one, my colleague tells me.

“He will, basically, explain the character of the problem as it exists and the conditions within these countries. That is that conditions of recession in terms of trade on primary products have led to very high unemployment, high inflation, which makes attractive an appealingly simply concept of Marxism. And this has been very much exploited by the Soviet Union and Cuba and which has fostered and supported insurgencies which are far along in El Salvador.

“In the nature of the solution to the problem, the President will make very clear that the solution is not and cannot be a military one, that the long-term solution must be built upon the economic development of the area and a long process of establishing sustainable growth in these countries, that in a political context the long-term future must rely in greater progress toward pluralism, toward reform of institutions, establishment of democratic institutions, and greater protection for human freedoms in these countries.

“But in order for this long-term political and economic program to have any hope of succeeding, there must be a fundamental level of security behind which this development process can take place. The President’s sense of priorities is already expressed in the amount of investment that is going into these relative categories today—roughly three to one in favor of economic assistance versus security assistance. But there must be this security assistance.

“The President will lay out his four policy pillars, if you will: our political objectives, our economic objectives and policies, our security objectives and policies and, finally, our objectives for regional cooperation and our support for regional solutions to regional problems.

“He will, also, provide certain assurances as to the U.S. conduct in seeking these objectives and limits which we impose on ourselves. He will stress that the United States has not sent troops and there is no need for U.S. troops in the area, nor have any been requested.

“He will make a very strong call for bipartisanship. He will make clear he views this as a shared responsibility and one which we all must shoulder.

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“I’ll call in just a moment on my colleague for a little more precise definition of the four posts and the four assurances. I wanted to say, fundamentally, that it’s very clear to the President—and this goes to his motives for the speech—that we have had problems in getting the levels of assistance—economic as well as security—that are needed to sustain U.S. policy in the area. He believes that the reason we’ve had problems is because there is not an adequate understanding of the problem, nor an adequate understanding of how we’re trying to solve it, either in the Congress or in the country at large.

“On the other two occasions when the President has spoken publicly about this issue, it hasn’t reached a television audience, it hasn’t been carried. And so today he hopes to reach the people of the United States as well as the Congress because he is—accepts that there is no promise of long-term success in sustaining this policy unless it is widely understood by Americans. But he believes that if he identifies what our interests are, why we should care, how they are threatened, and what we intend to do about it, that we can reverse current trends before a crisis point is reached.

“The close of the speech—the President will also announce that he intends to nominate an ambassador at large to the Central American region. He goes on to say that he or she will have as his or her duties: Lending U.S. support to regional efforts by the governments of the area to find solutions to their problems and to bring peace to the area; and separately, but related, to work closely with the U.S. Congress to be attentive to their interests and concerns and to assure the closest possible coordination of U.S. policy in the area with them.

“Anything to add?

“SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can be very brief. Thank you.

“I think the essence of the strategy is in the four points with our values, support for democracy, political change, and for human rights at the very start. The President does contrast the evolution in Nicaragua and the evolution in El Salvador, in the one case, from a very broad consensus type movement in Nicaragua towards a monopoly of power, militarization, and foreign intervention; and in the other case, an opposition movement from a situation of serious human rights violations towards the construction of democratic institutions, a limiting of human rights abuses, and very substantial land reform.

“The second principle is, of course, economic support—both economic assistance in the near term and the Caribbean Basin Initiative to give hope for the future.

“The third point is military assistance as a shield. The President very clearly states that this limited program is designed to give [Page 602] the—our friends the opportunity to hold off and, indeed, take the initiative against the insurgents, pending the rest of his strategy taking hold.

“And, finally, on the diplomatic front, the President does state very clearly that he will support any agreement—he uses the word ‘any agreements’—reached among the Central American countries to remove all foreign military advisers and trainers, to limit the import of offensive weapons, to permit access to opposition groups to democratic processes in elections in each country; and, finally, on a basis of verification and reciprocity, to end the support for insurgencies from one country to another.

“He states his Nicaragua policy very clearly. He says that the United States does not seek to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. It does seek to—in accord with the United States and international law—to see that flows of armaments to neighboring countries are limited and eliminated.

“He indicates that the United States cannot and should not protect the Nicaraguan government against its own people. But we should offer a diplomatic alternative and that is what is contained in the four assurances that he very strongly proposes.

“SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just a word or two: in numerous places in the speech and in the substance of the President’s speech, the theme of bipartisanship is very evident.

“It isn’t only that the President is asking for bipartisan teamwork and support, it is also that he is formulating the administration’s Central American policies in four points plus four assurances, of which three of the four are clearly the kinds of things that have specifically and generally been asked and requested by both sides of the aisle by the Congress.

“And I think that the administration is grateful to see and appreciative in seeing the emergence of some substantial bipartisanship particularly in the last week in the situation in which Chairman Long and his Subcommittee of Appropriations in the House has approved, with a bipartisan vote, the reprogramming of $30 million of the military assistance requested by the administration, with the suggestion that more can be forthcoming with more progress.

“Let me make one final point, and that was that the President ends by seeking four specific things from the Congress, and he asks for the prompt action of the Congress on reprogramming 1983 funds for both economic and security assistance; prompt action on the 1983 supplemental; prompt action on the 1984 bill; and finally, immediate action to move the CBI tax and trade legislation to the floor.

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“He notes, with his appreciation, the introduction today in the House of Representatives by Chairman Rostenkowski, of the CBI legislation. As a footnote, he mentions—in terms of overall levels—that in 1984 our aggregate request is for about $600 million to the whole area. That’s about 10 percent of what Americans will spend this year on coin-operated video games.” (Reagan Library, WHORM: Subject File, Speeches, SP 283–22 Central America (In Person) [Address Before a Joint Session of Congress] 04/27/1983)

The text of the President’s address is printed as Document 152.