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Reagan Tells Collegiate Interviewers He Doesn’t Want US Troops in Nicaragua

September 10, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan has assured a trio of college students that he does not favor any commitment of U.S. troops to fight in Nicaragua or elsewhere in Latin America.

The president, in a radio interview taped Monday for later broadcast over college and public radio stations, also said that if he had two minutes to address the Soviet people, he would let them know the United States is not as aggressive as the Soviet media portrays it.

Reagan spoke at the White House for 33 minutes with three students picked by the North American Network, a satellite broadcast service started last year.

The interview will be broadcast on hundreds of stations Sept. 19. The White House was expected to issue a transcript, possibly on Tuesday. The students paraphrased the president’s remarks in a news conference at the National Press Club.

The students - Nely Fernandez, 18, of Miami, a junior at the University of Miami; Stephen S. Sanders, 22, of Chicago, a graduate student at Indiana University in Bloomington; and Jean A. Whalen, 21, of Ashtabula, Ohio, a senior at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio - said they came away impressed with the man, and his facility for defusing sticky questions.

Ms. Whalen, a political science major, had said beforehand that unlike the White House press corps, the students ″will be looking for answers, not inconsistencies, to convey to their peers.″

But after sitting down with the president in the Roosevelt Room, across from the Oval Office, she told reporters, ″I can appreciate the position you’re in. No matter how many questions you ask him, or how many ways you ask him that question, if he doesn’t want to answer it, he won’t.″

″He didn’t drop any bombshells,″ said Sanders, who has been an intern for the Chicago Tribune, Scripps Howard and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

″He always seems to look at the bright side of things ... and to turn the questions to his advantage,″ Sanders added, noting he asked Reagan about criticism of the U.S. military build-up by the outgoing bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States.

Reagan replied that the United States provides more aid to poor countries than the rest of the world combined, Sanders said.

Ms. Fernandez, a daughter of Cuban immigrants and the Florida state champion in extemporaneous debate, posed the question about students’ fears of U.S. involvement in Nicaragua.

″Basically he said that he does not foresee any commitment in terms of sending troops into Central America in general as well as Latin America,″ she said.

She also asked Reagan what he would say if he had two minutes to address the Soviet people. The White House expressed an interest in that possibility last week after Time magazine ran a lengthy interview with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

″He basically said that the people in Russia ... are given a certain view. He believes that ... maybe we should let the people of Russia know that we are not as aggressive as we seem to be,″ she said.

Ms. Whalen, whose home area of Cleveland has been hard hit by the decline of the steel industry, asked Reagan what the government was doing to help idle blue-collar workers make the transition to a high technology era.

″He quoted a lot of facts and figures and the improvement over the last three years; the unemployment’s gone down,″ she related. ″I was happy that he had something to say about all of this, but I would have liked a little bit more of a personal opinion of what can the government actually be doing.″

But she added, ″The whole experience was tremendous. I think I’ve got a better opinion, or at least a different opinion, of our president now.″

″I am just very well impressed with the man. I think that he was very fair and honest in his answers to us,″ she said.

Ms. Whalen said the president enjoined the students to check his facts. She called that ″pretty surprising. I think that’s what has improved my opinion of him somewhat.″

″It was just delightful,″ said Ms. Fernandez.

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