THE PRESIDENT. Good afternoon, everybody.
I would like to make a very brief statement as a progress report to the American people on some items that are important to us.
We have submitted and the Congress is now considering legislation to give me the authority to reorganize the executive branch of government. The Senate committee under Senator Ribicoff has now completed their hearings and they will be marking up the bill beginning tomorrow. The House Committee on Government Operations, under Congressman Jack Brooks, has scheduled hearings to begin on March 1. So, because of the interest of the American people and the Congress and myself in completing this very crucial project, I think the Congress is moving with great expedition to give me that authority.
We've also initiated with directions to the members of the Cabinet and other agency heads a new program to cut down on the extremely great overload of paperwork with a requirement that those who prepare Government regulations, who are responsible for the preparation, sign them.
I've asked my Cabinet officers to read the regulations that are forthcoming from their departments each week until they see the volume and the complexity of them. And we hope to eliminate unnecessary regulations, abbreviate those that are necessary and express them in a language so that we can all understand them.
I've also asked major elements of our society, the university professors and the State officials, in this last week to give me their suggestions on how the regulations might be improved.
We've done the same thing with reports required by the Federal Government. And I hope to reduce drastically the number of reports, the frequency of those reports and the complexity of them.
We will complete the proposed legislation on creating a new Department of Energy this week. The proposed legislation is now on my desk. It will be submitted to the Congress for action the first of next week. And we've consulted very closely with the key leaders in the Congress. And I believe there is going to be a rapid creation of this new department and a heavy emphasis on the importance of energy questions to our people.
We will also present to the American people, probably at a joint session of the Congress speech by me, about April the 20th, a comprehensive energy policy which will involve all the complexities of the energy question--that's something that's long overdue--and it's going to be quite profound on its impact on the American consciousness and our society. And I hope it will be comprehensive enough so that it can be well-balanced and fair to all.
We are quite concerned about the pressures of inflation. The advisers to me on economics are trying to assess all Government programs and private actions that contribute to inflationary pressures. When this analysis is done, I will use every means that I have available to me to express these concerns and possibly corrective actions to the American people as well.
And the last point is that we will have a complete analysis underway now on deregulation. And the first question is the deregulation of the airlines. Legislation is in the Congress now. We will be submitting a message to Congress very shortly on that subject. We will not submit administration legislation because the Congress has already moved substantially forward in dealing with this important issue. And now I'd like to answer questions. Mr. Frank Cormier [Associated Press].
Q. Mr. President, you told the Democratic Platform Committee that you thought present defense expenditures could be reduced by 5-to-7 billion dollars. I think you may have modified your position somewhat since then. Obviously, in your short time in office you didn't find the opportunity to make cuts like that in your predecessor's budget. But isn't it also likely that next year's budget for defense will exceed this year's?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, because of inflationary pressures and because of an impossibility of assessing the potential threat to our country from other nations, it's hard to predict exactly what the level of defense spending will be.
In the short time that we had available to work on the previous administration's budget, about 3 weeks of hard work, we were able to reduce the suggested expenditures by almost $3 billion, I think about $2.75 billion. This was done--and I think Senator Stennis in his-recent public statements has confirmed that it has been done without weakening our own defense capability.
The substantial savings in defense spending that will still leave us a muscle will be in such things as the sanitization of weapons, long-range planning,' a more business-like allocation of defense contracting, an assessment of the defense contracts for construction and repair already outstanding, a reassessment of priorities of the evolution of new weapons which in the future can become enormously expensive, a longer assignment of military personnel to a base before they are transferred, some emphasis on the correction of inequities and unfairness in the retirement system.
These things obviously can't be done in 3 weeks, but they will be an ongoing effort on my part. And I think the 1979 budget, which will be my administration's first budget, will show these improvements to a substantial degree, Mr. Cormier.
Q. Will next year's defense budget actually be lower than the one that you just revised?
THE PRESIDENT. I can't say yet.
Q. Mr. President, do you think it was proper for the CIA to pay off King Hussein and other foreign leaders, and what steps are you taking to make yourself more knowledgeable and more accountable for what CIA does?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I've adopted a policy, which I am not going to leave, of not commenting directly on any specific CIA activity. But I can tell you that I have begun a complete analysis, which will be completed within the next week, of all activities by the CIA. I've received substantial reports already. I've reviewed the more controversial revelations that have been publicized in the last few days, some quite erroneous, some with some degree of accuracy. These same operations have been reviewed by the Intelligence Oversight Board, an independent board, and also by my predecessor, President Ford.
I have not found anything illegal or improper. If in future assessments, which will come quite early, I discover such an impropriety or an illegality, I will not only take immediate action to correct it but also will let the American people know about it.
I might say this: This is a very serious problem of how in a democracy to have adequate intelligence gathered, assessed, and used to guarantee the security of our country. It's not part of the American nature to do things in secret. Obviously, historically and still at this modern time, there is a necessity to protect sources of information from other nations.
Sometimes other governments cooperate with us fully; sometimes they don't. But I will try to be sure and so will Stan Turner, who will be the next director of the intelligence community. He will try to be sure that everything we do is not only proper and legal but also compatible with the attitudes of the American people.
One other point I'd like to make is this: It can be extremely damaging to our relationship with other nations, to the potential security of our country even in peacetime, for these kinds of operations, which are legitimate and proper, to be revealed. It makes it hard for us to lay a groundwork on which we might predicate a successful meeting of a threat to us in time of war if we don't have some degree of secrecy.
I am quite concerned about the number of people now who have access to this kind of information. And I've been working very closely with the congressional leaders, yesterday and today, to try to reduce the overall number of people who flare access to the sources of information. But within the bounds that I've described--propriety, legality, and the American attitude towards secrecy--I will do the best I can not ever to make a mistake. And I am also assuming on a continuing basis a direct personal responsibility for the operation of all the intelligence agencies in our Government to make sure that they are meeting these standards.
Q. Mr. President, if there has been erroneous information, wouldn't it behoove you to correct the record?
THE PRESIDENT. In some ways we are correcting the record, but if I began to either dispute or confirm every individual story that's written, whether correct or erroneous, on every matter relating to the CIA, then these matters which are necessarily secret would no longer be secret. So, I am not going to comment on individual items that relate to intelligence.
WAGE AND PRICE INCREASES
Q. Mr. President, George Meany says he won't go along with your idea of prenotification on wage and price increases. My question really is, how hard are you going to press Mr. Meany to go along, and do you have anything else in mind that you could use in the way of government involving itself to try to control inflation?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I've announced earlier my firm commitment not to have mandatory wage and price laws or authority, not to have standby wage and price authority.
I've not made any proposal to Mr. Meany or any other labor leader nor to any representative of industry or manufacturing. But I will retain the option in the future of assessing what we need to do to control inflation.
I've emphasized always the word "voluntary," and to the extent that I can arrive at a common understanding with industry and labor leaders, that a certain amount of cooperation and information can be exchanged before a major proposal is made, I think that's a legitimate pursuit of mine. I can't force it. It's got to be voluntary. And that's as far as I can go with my answer.
Q. Mr. President, a question directly about the wage and price guidelines, which might be voluntary. How is that for an idea?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think rigid guidelines are a mistake. If we said that, for instance, that no price increase or no wage increase could exceed 6 percent, this would be too restrictive. It would be contrary to my own philosophy of government. And I think that, because of the diversity of our society--and the fact that it is a free enterprise system--we've got to have some flexibility.
But I'd prefer to deal with these problems that arise on increasing prices on an individual basis. And I also prefer, of course, to work harmoniously with labor and management. But whether I will be successful, I don't know. I am just going to have to do my best.
Q. In your letter to Mr. Sakharov, you said that the United States would use its good offices to seek the release of prisoners of conscience. And you said that you wanted to continue to shape a world responsible to human aspirations.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes.
Q. As you know, there are human rights problems in many other countries. And some of them, like Iran or the Philippines, we support with arms or we support with American aid. These are countries where many people believe we have more leverage than we might have in the Soviet Union. What, if anything, do you plan to try to do to help victims of political repression in these countries?
THE PRESIDENT. I think, without my trying to take credit for it, there has been a substantial move toward concern about human rights throughout the world. I think this has taken place in probably a dozen or more different countries. There is an arousing interest in the position that our own Government here and our free country does take. Obviously, there are deprivations of human rights, even more brutal than the ones on which we've commented up till now.
In Uganda, the actions there have disgusted the entire civilized world, and as you know, we have no diplomatic relationships with Uganda.1
1 The White House Press Office later issued a correction which stated:
While the United States has withdrawn its mission from Uganda and has no direct diplomatic representation there, U.S. affairs in the Republic of Uganda are carried out through the West German Embassy, and the Republic of Uganda has an operating embassy and charge d'affaires in Washington.
But here is an instance where both Ambassador Andrew Young and I have expressed great .concern about what is there. The British are now considering asking the United Nations to go into Uganda to assess the horrible murders that apparently are taking place in that country, the persecution of those who have aroused the ire of Mr. Amin.
I've expressed my concern about imprisoned political prisoners in South Korea, in Cuba, in many countries in several countries rather in South America, and I will continue to do so. I have never had an inclination to single out the Soviet Union as the only place where human rights are being abridged.
We have, I think, a responsibility and a legal right to express our disapproval of violations of human rights. The Helsinki agreement, the so-called basket 3 provision, ensures that some of these human rights shall be preserved. We are a signatory of the Helsinki agreement. We are, ourselves, culpable in some ways for not giving people adequate right to move around our country, or restricting unnecessarily, in my opinion, visitation to this country by those who disagree with us politically.
So, I think that we all ought to take a position in our country and among our friends and allies, among our potential adversaries, that human rights is something on which we should bear a major responsibility for leadership. And I have made it clear to the Soviet Union and to others in the Eastern European Community that I am not trying to launch a unilateral criticism of them; that I am trying to set a standard in our own country and make my concerns expressed throughout the world, not singled out against any particular country.
Q. Mr. President, the other day--getting back to the Hussein thing--when that story broke, your Press Secretary, when he issued what amounted to a no comment by the White House, someone asked him if this story had broken back during the campaign when you were running for President would you have given a similar response. And he said, "Well, I don't know." So, can I ask you, what would have been your response? Would it have been the same?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. [Laughter]
Q. Mr. President, on the same subject, you said earlier that your review of CIA activities had found nothing illegal or improper, and you later said that these activities are legitimate and proper. Isn't that a value judgment that the American public might like to share, but how can they if you refuse to give them any idea of what you have discovered during this review about payments, including ones made in secret?
THE PRESIDENT. That is a value judgment. It's made by the independent Intelligence Oversight Board which was established and appointed by President Ford. This Board has made itself available to the Inspector General and to any employee within the CIA or within the defense intelligence agencies or any other to receive even rumors of impropriety. They have assessed these operations. They made their inquiries in the past, which is in accordance with the Executive order issued by President Ford, to the Attorney General of the United States, and also to the President.
I have read that correspondence. It's quite voluminous. And I think that it's accurate to say that Senator Inouye's committee in the Senate and the appropriate committees in the House have also received this information in the past. I have talked to Senator Inouye and he confirms what I've just told you. And I think he would also confirm that the impropriety or the illegality does not exist on any ongoing CIA operation.
RELATIONS WITH CONGRESS
Q. Mr. President, Charles Kirbo--your friend, Charles Kirbo--seems to feel that you are going to be having a continuing problem with the Congress and that you will have to go over Congress head to the people in order to get results. Is this true?
THE PRESIDENT. I think if you read the whole statement that Mr. Kirbo made, which is just a private citizen's opinion, he would say that every President has had arguments and debates and disagreements with the Congress. And I think that's inevitable in our system of government. That's part of the checks and balances that's very precious to us all.
I have found up till now a growing sense of cooperation with the Congress. I think last week when I was asked roughly the same question, that the troubles were perhaps underestimated by the news media. I think now perhaps the troubles with the Congress are overestimated. I have frequent meetings with the congressional leaders, both Democratic and Republican.
And I think that the progress of the legislation that we consider to be crucial, which seemed to be moving very slowly in the past, is now speeding up. So, I don't believe that we will have nearly the problems with the Congress that has been the case in recent years. And I have to say in summary that I am very pleased with my relationship with the Congress now.
Q. Mr. President, in view of your assignment to Vice President Mondale regarding the election laws, could you give us your views, sir, on the direct election of a President versus the electoral college, and also, do you think that the public financing should be extended to Congress as well as the Presidency?
THE PRESIDENT. There are three basic questions that come up. In the first place, I do favor at least an automatic vote by Presidential electors, once the general election is completed. I think the electoral college, for instance, should be eliminated. Whether the ratio among States of votes ought to be changed, I am not prepared to comment on that.
As far as the financing of congressional elections by public funds, as proved to be successful, I believe, in the Presidential election, I strongly favor that, yes. And the other element of the overall package would be a simple way for American people who are citizens and 18 years old to register to vote. And I am committed to that proposition, and the Vice President has graciously consented to take on this overall election process responsibility. Those three will be basic elements of the proposals.
RELATIONS WITH CUBA
Q. Mr. President, are you prepared to Jilt the trade embargo against Cuba as one step toward normalizing relations?
THE PRESIDENT. I think any substantial moves in our relationship with Cuba would have to await further discussions with them indirectly and also some tangible evidence on our part that they are willing to restore basic human rights in Cuba involving the number of prisoners who are being held, their attitude toward overseas adventures, such as the one in Angola, and other matters.
So, I can't say what might come in the future. I am willing, though, to discuss these matters with the Cuban leaders. At this time we have no direct relationships with them politically, but through intermediaries, comments are being exchanged back and forth; most of my comments in public statements like this. But we do have messages coming back from people who visit Cuba.
Q. In answer to an earlier question, Mr. President, you said that you couldn't say whether next year's defense budget would be lower or higher than this year's. But as I understood your earlier position, you did want to achieve a $5 to $7 billion savings, regardless of the overall level of spending. Do you still hold with that figure? Is that still your goal and a commitment?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. The analysis that I've made of the defense budget so far, which as you know has been limited to about a month's study, just part-time, indicate that that's a goal that will be reached.
NATURAL GAS DEREGULATION
Q. Mr. President, in letters to the Governors of Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana last October, you said unconditionally that you would work with Congress to deregulate new natural gas. And I wondered if you planned to keep that promise, and if so, how will you go about it?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know how I will go about it. I do plan to keep my promises. The position that I have taken and the position that the Governors of Oklahoma and Texas took at Governors' conferences to which I was referring, was the deregulation of natural gas for a limited period of time, 4 to 5 years, to see how it works out, leaving existing contracts in effect.
But I will work with Congress on the deregulation of natural gas as a part of an overall energy policy. By April 20, I think we will be prepared to present to you, the news media, the people, and the Congress, more specific proposals involving direct legislative proposals that will answer your question more fully.
Q. Mr. President, we've been told that the central thrust of your new energy program will involve sacrifice and voluntary conservation. Yet the public is always reading stories in the paper of how the major oil companies are withholding natural gas. I'd like to ask how are you going to expect the public to make sacrifices when there is such widespread public suspicion about the role of the oil companies in the energy crisis?
THE PRESIDENT. I think the comprehensive nature of the proposal, the fact it takes in all these very disparate and sometimes conflicting elements at one time, and a long-range projection of our needs in a tangible demonstration to the American people to the extent that I am able to put it forward, that there will be direct ultimate benefits to them, will be the elements that will cause them to make those sacrifices.
At the same time, I want to increase the surety that we have that the reserve supply data given to us by the oil companies and others are accurate. We are now conducting some admittedly superficial studies by Secretary Cecil Andros in Interior, and also they will be followed up by more detailed studies under Dr. Schlesinger, to see whether or not the reserve supplies are adequate and whether or not the oil companies are giving us accurate data.
I think it's obvious to all of us that there are some instances where natural gas is withheld from the market. That's understandable. If I was running an oil company, I would reserve the right to release or to reserve some supplies of natural gas. With the emergency legislation that the Congress did pass, I think in about a week of assessment during the frigid part of the winter it's still very cold--we were given some authority to buy extra gas at a very high price. This is obviously a transient circumstance.
But I believe the American people will be willing to make the sacrifices required if they are convinced that future reports will be accurate, that supplies will not be withheld from the market. And if we can let the oil companies know in a predictable way what our policy will be 2 months or 2 years or 20 years in the future, within the bounds of human reason, then I think they will be much less likely to withhold supplies of oil and natural gas from the market just hoping that they will get some bonanza or increased price in the future if the policies do change.
Q. Mr. President, another question, sir, on the sacrifices that you say your upcoming energy program is going to demand. Is it likely that one of those sacrifices is going to come in the form of a largely increased Federal gasoline tax?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know how to answer your questions about specifics of the proposal. I want to make this clear: The purpose of the energy policy evolution is not to cause sacrifice or hardship among the American people. Unless I can demonstrate that in balance the temporary sacrifices in a certain area are far overcome by immediate and ultimate benefits, then nobody is going to buy it. And I believe that we've now got such a horrible conglomeration of confusion in the energy field that nobody knows what is going to happen next.
So, I think that the sacrifices will be far overcome by the benefits that the American people will be easily able to discern for themselves.
RELATIONS WITH CANADA
Q. Mr. President, you said that in spite of the fact that the Canadian people would have to determine their future for themselves, particularly in regard to the separatism issue in Quebec, that you had confidence that the issue would be straightened out relatively peacefully.
Do you really think that there is little concern in this country about the future of a unified Canada, and is there anything really that we can do about it?
THE PRESIDENT. There is a great deal of concern in this country about the future of Canada. And I have complete confidence, as I said in an interview with the Canadian news media, in the sound judgment of the Canadian people. I am familiar, and even more familiar today than I was 2 days ago, after Prime Minister Trudeau's visit, with the problems in Quebec and the inclination of some of the French-Canadians to have an independent status from the rest of the Canadian provinces.
I don't know what is going to be the ultimate outcome, but I believe that we are so closely tied together with Canada on a mutually beneficial basis, sharing problems, sharing opportunities, sharing trade, sharing manufacturing companies that have joint ownership, our exchange of energy sources, our sharing of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Great Lakes, as far as water pollution is concerned, the bringing of Alaskan oil and natural gas down to us, that we have got to have a continuing relationship with Canada.
My own personal preference would be that the commonwealth stay as it is and that there not be a separate Quebec province. But that's a decision for the Canadians to make. And I would certainly make no private or public move to try to determine the outcome of that great debate.
I promised Ann [Ann Compton, ABC News].
Q. Mr. President, you've had a month now to enjoy the view from the Oval Office. Do you think you will be able to keep fully all the campaign promises you made?
THE PRESIDENT. As you know, we have issued what I believe is a complete book of my campaign promises which is, I presume, being made available to all of you.
My determination is to keep all those promises. Obviously, if circumstances should change, I would have to reserve the right to go back to the American people and say now that circumstances have changed, this is a better approach to that particular problem. But I will do my utmost to keep all the campaign promises that I made to the American people.
Q. Mr. President, with respect to the B-1 you said at various times during the campaign that the B-1 was a waste; you also promised to cut the waste out of the defense budget. When would you expect to stop production of the B-l, as opposed to research and development on the B-1?
THE PRESIDENT. I think I cut out about more than $200 million from the B-1 program in the budget just submitted to the Congress. I have serious questions about whether or not the B-1 ought to be in the future the center of our airborne defense capability. I have several more months before I have to make a decision on that matter.
And the National Security Council, which combines, as you know, State, Treasury, Defense, and other elements of the Government, working very closely with me, is now making a complete reassessment of the need for the B-1 bomber.
I don't know whether we will decide to go on with it or not, and I don't know whether we will expedite production of it or not at this time. Part of the factor to be assessed is the attitude of the Soviet Union. If we can have a general lessening of tension, a demonstrated commitment on their part toward disarmament, it would certainly make it less likely that we would go ahead with the B-1.
But I can't answer the question until I complete my own study, and I think that would have to be terminated by the end of May.
Q. Mr. President, I was a little unclear about what you are going to propose in the campaign finance law. Are you saying that you will propose to have all congressional elections publicly financed?
THE PRESIDENT. That's my preference, yes.
Q. Mr. President, is that what you have proposed to Congress?
THE PRESIDENT. The Vice President is now doing a study on a complete election law package, and I'd like to reserve my own judgment until I see what his report is to me. But that's my own inclination. It's the position that I took during the campaign. And so far I have no reason to change my mind.
Q. Mr. President, you gave us kind of a timetable for your domestic program in your preliminary statement. I wonder if you have a similar timetable of what you hope to achieve in foreign policy between now and the end of the year, such as in Middle East peace, Cyprus, the treaty with Panama?
THE PRESIDENT. Of course I can't answer that question specifically because I don't know what cooperation we will get from other nations, and I don't know what the inclination of those nations in disputed regions of the world want to do toward one another.
Secretary Cyrus Vance has just returned from what I consider to be a very successful trip to the Middle East. He not only probed with the heads of those governments and their cabinet members their own positions both public and private on the controversial issues that have so far prevented a peace in the Middle East. He also had a chance to compare their positions on issues, which ones they found to be in harmony, which ones there was still a dispute.
We also invited the leaders of all those nations to meet with me. They have all accepted, and I will be meeting with the heads of the nations in dispute in the Middle East, all of them, before the end of May.
The first visit of one of those leaders will be Mr. Rabin, I believe, March 12 (7 and 8).* And he will be followed by the leaders from Egypt, from Jordan, and from Syria, from Saudi Arabia. And I look forward to meeting with them.
*White House Press Office clarification.
At that point I hope I will have a very clear picture of what role the American Government ought to play.
The same thing applies to the situation that exists between ourselves and Turkey, ourselves and Greece, ourselves and Cyprus. We can't impose our will on other people, but if they honestly want to seek a solution, we are perfectly willing to offer our good offices as a country with influence and interest to help them resolve their own differences. But it's got to be done primarily by those countries involved.
We have begun again, within the last week, our discussions on the Panama Canal treaty. We have two extremely good negotiators, and I hope that we will have success there. There is no way that I can say at this point what degree of progress we have made. It's just beginning.
So, throughout the areas of high dispute, including South Africa and others that I don't have time to mention, we are probing as best we can to discern some possibility of resolution of those tension areas.
We are meeting today, in fact all this week, with the British, to try to get a renewed proposal to make concerning the questions surrounding Rhodesia, and then, of course, we will still have left Namibia and ultimately the majority rule question in South Africa.
But I've only been in office a month. I don't claim to know all the easy answers. And these questions that have been in existence for 25 or 30 years are not going to be easy to solve. But we are going to do the best we can, openly and forcefully, offering our good services, not trying to impose our will on other people.
MR. CORMIER. Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Mr. Cormier.