The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• Jimmy Carter
Tampa, Florida Question-and-Answer Session With Florida Newspaper Editors.
August 30, 1979

THE PRESIDENT. I think I will wait to the end of the session to shake hands with everybody.

You say you may not want to? [Laughter]

Let me say first of all that I am thankful that all of you would come here to meet with me this afternoon. This has been one of a series of visits that I have made to different communities outside of Washington in the last 6 weeks or 2 months. The main purpose of the visit is to dramatize the need for citizen interest in and understanding of the energy question, particularly the aspects that are part of their own lives and also, of course, legislation before the Congress.

I think that the present awareness by the public that we do have a problem in energy is welcomed and also a recent development. For a year and a half, in spite of numerous TV appearances and addresses to the Joint Session of Congress and all the publicity that I could arouse about legislative proposals, the public still didn't show, in public opinion polling, that they believed there was a problem and didn't accept the fact that we imported any oil, a majority of them. So, I think it has been productive.

I thought the session today was perhaps the most enthusiastic, most exciting that I have had. There was a lot of spirit there. I don't know if you all had a chance to watch it on television.

But I will be glad to answer any questions you might have on any subject that you choose.


Q. Mr. President, I am fascinated by the amphibious attack by the rabbit. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Are you? Okay.

Q. I wish you would tell us about what happened, if you would. I would appreciate it.

THE PRESIDENT. I will try to say this without castigating the press. [Laughter] I have lived all my life on the farm, except when I was in public office recently or in the Navy, and I have grown up with wild animals, including rabbits. I was out fishing on a small pond in Webster County, I think in April. I am not sure about the month. I was by myself in the boat, and I saw this animal swimming across the pond toward me. I thought it was a beaver at first, since there are beaver and otter in that particular pond. And when it got closer, I saw that it was not either one of the two animals, but it was what appeared to be a rabbit.

When it got close enough that I could see that the rabbit was going to come in the boat with me, I took the boat paddle and hit water at the rabbit, and he eventually and reluctantly turned away and went to the shore.

And to be frank about it, I didn't think about it anymore until the Secret Service said, "What was that animal that was trying to get in the boat with you?" I said, "It was a rabbit." Immediately all my Georgia friends said rabbits don't swim, it is impossible for it to be a rabbit.

About a week or two later, it appeared that a White House photographer who was on the bluff overlooking the pond had taken a photograph. When we looked at the photograph, I knew it was a rabbit, but it was hard to tell in the photograph. So, I had him blow the photograph up. It was plainly a rabbit.

The rabbit, I don't think, was trying to attack me. My guess is that the rabbit had been startled by some dogs or something and had jumped in the pond and was just looking for a dry place to crawl.


Q. Mr. President, if we can turn the conversation to a lighter topic. [Laughter] This business of not talking to the PLO is not your policy, and yet you are following it. We have seen that that policy has caused the departure of one of your most devoted and apparently an official to whom you are most devoted.


Q. How long are you going to continue observing this policy, and does it make any sense in a country which prides itself on open discussion of all issues with all parties that you are continuing to ban from negotiation with the PLO?

THE PRESIDENT. Our commitment, made by Secretary Kissinger, as you know, to the Israelis at the time they were negotiating Israeli withdrawal from Egypt, was that we would not recognize nor negotiate with the PLO until they did two things. One was to acknowledge Israel's right to exist and secondly to espouse U.N. Resolution 242. We will stick to that commitment. It was made when Nixon was President. Ford, when he was in office, reconfirmed our national commitment to the Israelis, and when I became President, I also committed our Nation to adhere to this commitment.

I have met with the leaders of Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and in every instance when I have met with them, at least on my initial meeting with them, I have asked them to induce the PLO to recognize Israel's right to exist and to recognize 242. In most instances those Arab leaders said they thought they could accomplish that. They have not been able to.

So, we will not negotiate with nor recognize the PLO until after they recognize Israel's right to exist and the efficability of U.N. 242.

Q. This is not your policy, but you apparently think it is a proper policy.

THE. PRESIDENT. It was not my policy. I have endorsed the policy, and I will carry it out.


Q. Mr. President, back to energy for a second, sir. Some people, after one of your speeches, got the idea, seemed to get the idea that even vacation trips would not be patriotic—to tour States like Florida, California, Arizona, others we could name. What is the proper role of tourism in society that is no longer energy rich?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it is very important. I think the last answer I gave to the group at the townhall meeting, I tried to emphasize then that there was a very important role for vacations in an energy-conserving society. I think the structure of our lifestyle, as it does change, with, for instance, a 10-hour work day with 4 working days, that's the kind of thing toward which we might move, would enhance the possibilities of tourism and recreation, give us more time, more days to enjoy life.

Also, the development of more efficient automobiles would make vacations possible under the same level of an individual family budget—and the improvement of transportation systems in general, particularly mass transportation systems, which let vacations and tourism be a greater part of American life. So, I consider a vacation to be a very important part of my existence, and I would hope the energy shortage would encourage people to conserve enough so that vacations in an individual family's life would be appropriate.


Q. Mr. President, you are engaged in a tough campaign to try to get America to tighten its belt. You're asking business to take fewer profits; you're asking labor to accept lower wages. How do you reconcile that symbolism with the $56,000-a-year staff chief for Mrs. Carter? Isn't that a problem for you in image?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't claim that any part of the White House staff would not he a problem. The totality of the White House staff under my administration is considerably below what it was in previous administrations. I think 25 to 28 percent fewer people work in the White House for me and Rosalynn combined than worked for, say, President Ford and Betty Ford, or Nixon and Pat, and so forth.

There is a tremendous responsibility on not only a President but, of course, the First Lady. I would guess that Rosalynn gets 3,000 letters a week which have to be answered, some by her personally, some by her staff. She has a heavy responsibility for taking care of the visitors that come to the White House, not only state visits, but we have large numbers of groups that come into the White House every week to talk about SALT, to talk about inflation, to talk about hospital cost containment, different issues that are important. Rosalynn doesn't arrange those meetings in the initial stages, but she is responsible as the hostess to make sure that when they are there that they have maybe light hors d'oeuvres or some lemonade or tea or something of that kind.

She has under her all of the persons who take care of the official visits. The State Department pays for the actual cost of a state banquet, for instance, but Rosalynn's staff members are the ones that arrange the banquet, decide on the menu, arrange for entertainment, and so forth.

We have picnics on the grounds for all the Members of Congress on occasion, or for certain other groups. For instance, Monday we will have between 1,000 and 2,000 labor representatives who will come there to celebrate Labor Day. It will be a picnic type. Her staff has to do all of those things in addition to taking care of her travel and other minor things of that kind. So, she needs somebody that is competent.

I think if you would compare—and I wish you would take the occasion to do it—if you would compare the size of her staff with her predecessors, you would find that it is modest. It is probably smaller than any recent First Lady's staff in spite of the fact that she is probably the most active of the ones who have served there in the last 12 or 15 years. So, I don't have any apology to make for it. The pay scales are set, as you know, by civil service and Government standards. But we have cut the staff considerably.

Q. Do you think that level job is the same as Hamilton's and Brzezinski's—I mean, that's the same pay as Hamilton Jordan?

THE PRESIDENT. That is correct. That is the top-level staff. I have a certain number of assistants.


Q. Mr. President, Ted Kennedy has never said that he wanted to be President, and for 10 years the country seems to have had a fascination with him in the White House. He insists he is not running for President, and still he leads in all the polls. When you see all of that, read that in the newspaper, what do you think the country's fascination with him is?

THE PRESIDENT. I have heard Senator Kennedy say that his avowed commitment not to run was one of the things that made him attractive—being reluctant to be a candidate is an attraction in itself. I have heard him say that if he should announce as a candidate—which he doesn't intend to do—that his standing in the polls would undoubtedly drop a good bit.

There is also a great admiration and appreciation and respect throughout this country—particularly among Democrats, but I think among all Americans—for what the Kennedy family has done, with their older brother being killed in the war and with President Kennedy being assassinated in office and with Robert Kennedy being assassinated in the last stages of the primary campaign in 1968. And I think Edward Kennedy has done a superb job as Senator.

He is the last remaining brother, and I think all of these reasons—his own reluctance, the admiration and respect for his entire family, and his own competence and attractiveness as a political figure-would accrue to his benefit. I don't begrudge him that admiration and that respect.


Q. Mr. President, you have been reported as making a statement saying quite explicitly what you would do to Senator Kennedy if he should run against you. I am wondering if you have made the same statement in regard to Jerry Brown?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't deny I made the statement. I made it in a small group with five or six people sitting around the table with no intention for it to be publicized.

I have never let the identity of or the size of opponents in a political campaign deter me, and if I should be a candidate and if Senator Kennedy or Governor Brown or anyone else should decide to run against me, then I believe that I would triumph, to express it in more diplomatic terms.

I have no concern about that. I made my plans to run for President originally beginning early in 1972, and at that time, my presumption and my conviction was that I would be running against Wallace and Kennedy. And it was not until November of 1974 that Senator Kennedy announced that he would not be a candidate. And I had no fear then of running against those two very popular men, and now I would have no fear of any group of opponents or any single opponent if I should decide to run again.

Q. Senator Kennedy not only could certainly discourage these draft movements in Florida but in other States?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't answer that question.


Q. Mr. President, in 1976 campaign, Florida was a rather key State in your strategy. Would you foresee it to be equally critical in 1980 if you should be a candidate?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I don't think there is any doubt about that. The country's eyes will be on Florida for the same reasons that they were in 1976. Florida is a large State; it's a State within which have been sharp contests in recent years, at least between Democrats and Republicans, the congressional seats are contested. It's a State that's looked upon as a blend of both cosmopolitan and parochial interests, rural and urban, and where people come from all over the country. It has a heavy population of senior citizens, a high population of minority groups, and issues are sharply drawn. I think just the nature of Florida and the character of the State makes it a highly interesting political location, and the early nature of the contest enhances all those factors.

So, yes, it will be important for any candidate for President as it was in 1976.


Q. Mr. President, you got a lot of softballs in your town meeting tonight. One of the hardest, attempt to be hard, came in the matter of the kerosene to Iran.


Q. I wonder why you don't simply admit that it's paid in blackmail?


Q. My question: Aren't we going to have to pay more of it, and what if the Arab nations really put the squeeze on us, how much blackmail are we willing to pay? And will we go to more if necessary to get the oil that we need?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know hour to characterize that question.

Q. Soft.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think it's an extremely biased sort of question. I'm not going to sit here and acknowledge that our Nation has been blackmailed—

Q. You would not answer whether this country would go to war in order to get oil?

THE PRESIDENT. The basic presumption of your question is that our Nation and I personally have been blackmailed. That is not an accurate statement, and if you remove that presumption, then I will be glad to answer the question.

We have not been blackmailed. There was no threat, whatsoever, issued to me or implied through the Iranians or any other intermediary. When they requested that we sell them from a private, free enterprise refinery that was located, I believe, in the Caribbean, at that time a million barrels of kerosene, they sent word to me through Jim Schlesinger—I was at Camp David at the time, it was during the period when I was preparing my energy speech. And he called and said that the Iranians had requested that we send them a million barrels of kerosene on a one-time basis, because through sabotage or other interruptions—I believe it was sabotage—a refinery in Iran, that produced kerosene from their unlimited supplies of crude oil, had been disrupted and that many of the people in Iran, relatively poor—

Q. Yeah, I heard your answer.

THE PRESIDENT.—depend upon kerosene as a fuel for their families. This was a problem Iran faced during the revolution—the most serious problem that Iran faced during the revolution, economically speaking, was a shortage of kerosene. And they asked me if I would supply them in effect about 1 day's worth of crude oil back in the form of kerosene. The company, which I think is—Rex,1 do you remember?—Amerada Hess?

1Deputy Press Secretary to the President.

MR. GRANUM. It is.

Q. I have a feeling that you want to evade the question.

THE PRESIDENT. I am not trying to evade the question.

Q. The real part of the questions—because most of us have heard your explanation-would you answer this question: It does seem to me that whether you call it ,blackmail or what, we are in an extremely vulnerable position, and you have so said yourself.

THE PRESIDENT. I certainly admit that.

Q. That is the purpose, you say, of this visit. My question to you then is, are we willing to take the extreme measure of going to war if the Arab nations should cut off our supply, which they are perfectly capable of doing?

THE PRESIDENT. I am not going to answer your question directly, because it is too hypothetical in nature.

We had an Arab boycott, as you know, in 1973 and 1974. Our Nation did not have to go to war, because we got oil from other sources. We conserved and we got larger supplies of oil from places like Ecuador, Indonesia, Venezuela, Nigeria, and other sources.

I would take whatever action is necessary to defend the security of this country, but I would have to make a judgment if an interruption of the oil supplies from some of the Mideast countries was endangering the security of my country.

We have analyzed all options. If you study the straight military aspects of it—which has been done by my predecessors, and which I have reviewed—it is a very difficult military question. If a country, country X, said we will not send any more oil to the United States, and then if our country said we will go in and take the oil, to destroy those oil fields or to blow up a refinery would be so easy for terrorists or saboteurs, or for that government itself if they were threatened with invasion, that it adds a complicating factor to it that I cannot address right now.

But I am trying to get our Nation in the posture, first of all, with reasonable friendship toward the OPEC nations, including the Arab nations, which we have, including Iran, and secondly, to increase production in our own country, and third, to conserve energy that we would be energy independent. But I cannot tell you that we would go to war in that case. I would do everything I could to avoid a war, but at the same time my number one responsibility is to protect the security of our Nation.

I can tell you this in addition. You keep using the word "blackmail." Since I have been in office, there has never been any allegation made to me or any insinuation made to me by an Arab or other foreign leader that "if you don't do so and so, we will cut off your supply of oil." I have never been the subject of a threat, and I have the same attitude now that we had when the Barbary pirates were in war: "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute." I wouldn't let you blackmail me, and I would not let an Arab country blackmail our Nation. We don't have to take that.


Q. Mr. President, a few months ago when the Saudis agreed to temporarily increase production of oil by a million barrels a day, is it your understanding that there was a linkage of that increase in production to a progress on the Mideast peace settlement, and might that production be backed off if there is no progress?

THE PRESIDENT. I can tell you that there was no linkage. I can tell you that there was no linkage ever mentioned with the Saudi diplomats in Washington or with our Ambassador in Saudi Arabia. And I might say that the increase in oil production was announced at that time to be a temporary increase.

There are two things that it is important to remember: Now the OPEC nations as a group are producing more oil than they want to produce. The Saudi Arabians would be very pleased if I and Giscard d'Estaing and Helmut Schmidt and others would, say, "Why don't you lower your production, 9 1/2 million barrels of production down to 4 million," because 4 million barrels a day is about all the income that they can possibly use. They would rather keep the oil in the ground. They are producing the extra oil in effect as a favor to the rest of the world, to provide world stability, which helps them.

Iran is the same way. They don't need 4 million barrels worth of oil income per day. And the same with some of the other countries like Iraq that have some very close relationship with France, no diplomatic relationship with us. Other countries are now producing oil at a rate that they cannot sustain.

So, inevitably OPEC oil production on a worldwide basis is going to go down. I cannot anticipate the Saudis doing anything in the future except having a lower production. We had hoped once they might go up to 12 million barrels a day. They don't want to. That is one thing.

The other thing is the price is going to be determined eventually by the price of alternate energy sources—synthetic fuel, photovoltaic cells supplying electricity, nuclear powerplants in most nations of the world, including our own. Competitive prices of energy is what is going to determine ultimately the level of oil prices. And I think they are going to go up in price until that stabilizing point is reached.

So, you know, we are dreaming when we think that there is some tremendous reservoir of oil out there in the OPEC nations that they are waiting to sell. Inevitably their production of oil is going to go down, either because they are running out of oil, which many of them are, or because they would really prefer to have less production. There is no reason for the Saudis, to repeat myself, to produce 9 1/2 million barrels of oil every day for 5 or 6 million people. You know, they know that the best investment they could have is to keep that oil in the ground.

Q. Isn't it being used as a political weapon to spur the Mideast peace talks?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I can't say that they don't want the Mideast situation—I have never met an Arab leader that in private professed a desire for an independent Palestinian state. Publicly, they all espouse an independent Palestinian state, almost all of them, because that is what they committed themselves to do at Rabat. But the private diplomatic tone of conversations is much more proper than is often alleged by the press and by others. Really, it would be a very great surprise to me for Crown Prince Fahd to send through our Ambassador, John West, to me a message: "If you don't expedite the resolution of the Palestinian question, we will cut off your oil."

There's a great stabilizing interrelationship between ourselves and the Saudi Arabians. They see us as their ultimate, not quite protective, but stabilizing factor, and they don't want to sever their relationships with us. They have an abhorrence of the Soviet Union because it's atheistic and because it's Communist and because they encourage, sometimes, radicalism and turmoil and violence. And they know that we are a religious nation, and they know we are a democratic nation; we know our attitude toward them is benevolent, and they know our basic policy is one of espousing stability. And all those factors, and others that I could name, are attractive to the Saudi Arabians.

So, they want our friendship and our good will just as much as we want theirs. I cannot imagine their ever coming forward, "If you don't do this with the PLO we will cut off your oil.
"Q. Mr. President

THE PRESIDENT. I promised her.


Q. Mr. President, there has been a strong feeling that in addition to the shortage of oil, because of the import situation, that there are in-house oil companies who were taking advantage of the situation just to raise prices. And all the time the oil at the gasoline stations was being raised in price, "Just wait until it reaches a dollar a gallon, there will be all the oil available you want." Would you care to comment on that?

THE PRESIDENT. I know. I hear all those allegations. The flow of oil from the producers to the ultimate consumers is a mighty tide that has an inexorability about it. It's a very large quantity, 52 million barrels a day. You can hold up that tide for a little while, perhaps like a few days. But it's got to move. What goes in one end of the pipeline has to go out the other.

I've had reports made to me that of[ the coast of the United States, there were hundreds of ships waiting until the price went up to unload. We had the Coast Guard make a survey of the coast. We sent helicopters out and airplanes; there were no ships out there. But it was a viable story that was reported in many news media, and many people believed it. I don't think that the oil companies, with the exception of small fluctuations, can hold back the normal flow of oil in order to wait until the price goes up.

My philosophy has been to get the Government's nose out of everything we possibly could when I feel that the free enterprise system and adequate competition can prevail. And I have induced the Congress under the most difficult circumstances to deregulate the price of natural gas. It's a phased deregulation over a long period of time to deregulate the price of oil, and oil-controlled prices will be off in September of 1981, in 28 months after we initiated it.

We have deregulated the airline industry to the great advantage of Florida. You all have really benefited. The tourism rate has gone up, and a lot of people are using airplanes and so forth. We are trying to get the Government's nose out of business.

I think the oil companies have needed to have some predictability, because the darn thing was in a furor 2 1/2 or 2 years ago. Nobody knew what was going to happen next. Now the oil companies, if they got natural gas, now know in 1984, January 15, that the degree of regulation and the price are going to be such and such, and they can make their plans accordingly.

One other point. I had the president of Atlantic Richfield Company come up to Camp David to give me advice on the energy speech I made that Sunday night. He said just the fact I had decontrolled the price of oil had encouraged that particular company, which is fairly large, to double their rate of exploration of oil above any level that they had ever had in the past. And that board of directors had met just before he came to Camp David. They had never spent more than a billion dollars a year for oil exploration. They decided for 5 years continuing they would spend $2 billion per year on searching for oil.

So, I think just the predictability about what the price and the degree of regulation of oil is a very attractive feature, and I don't believe that the oil companies can deliberately hold back large quantities from the market for a long period of time in order to wait for a higher price.


Q. Mr. President, what is your reaction to the ABC News story that the Government bugged Andy Young's apartment?

THE PRESIDENT. That story is absolutely false. ABC came to the Attorney General, reported that story to the Attorney General, asked him if it was true. He gave them a flat statement on his word of honor that it was a false story. ABC then came to the White House, talked to Jody Powell, and Jody told them that it was a false story. They ran the story anyhow, which I thought was a very irresponsible demonstration of journalism.

I saw it on television. I was called about it, and I had it replayed so I could watch it. I then called the Attorney General last night and told him to get a direct written statement from every single intelligence agency about that subject. They all have assured me that there has been no electronic surveillance of Andy Young's apartment, no bugging of Andy Young's apartment, no tap on Andy Young's telephone by any intelligence agency of our country. And I don't know what ABC is going to do about it. They knew the story was denied by the White House and the Attorney General.

It is a serious crime, it is a felony to put a tap on an American citizen's telephone, to bug an American citizen without a written permission from the Attorney General or the President. Obviously there was no written permission.

So, it is a false story. I don't think any of it should have been published.
One other question.


Q. Mr. President, I would like to know what your response is to the statement from the Senators today about Russians agreeing to certain reservations of the SALT treaty? Do you think that the Russians actually have done this?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. If you studied the reservations which Senator Biden and others described, they consist primarily of the inclusion in the SALT treaty itself of agreements that have already been negotiated very carefully and accepted by both sides, plus an agreement that the Senate is certainly likely to request, that the protocol which is designed to last a limited period of time will not have any presumption of extension. Do you follow me? So, those are the kinds of things that have already been negotiated very carefully with the Soviet Union.

Some of them are not in the text of the treaty, and if the Senate should—I am not advocating this, but if the Senate should say in the ratification agreement, "We approve SALT II provided it is understood that the protocol will not be extended and that the production rate of Backfire bombers will not exceed 2 1/2 per month," which is 30 per year and so forth, then I think that the Soviets might accept it. But I can't speak for them. They were not willing during the negotiating phase to include those things in the document, in the treaty document itself. But they have agreed to those understandings, equally binding them.

Q. Your negotiators didn't get everything they could get?

THE PRESIDENT. We have the agreement from them, and if I discovered, for instance, through various means—aerial surveillance and other means that the Soviets were producing four Backfire bombers per month, I would consider that an adequate cause for abrogation of the treaty itself, because it would be a violation of the solemn commitment of the nations and its leaders.

I consider those ancillary agreements to be just as binding as the agreements within the text of the treaty. And Brezhnev does, too. You cannot imagine—I bet you we spent more time on the verbal agreement concerning the Backfire bomber than we did at any other single issue that is included within the SALT treaty. And it was at the last minute in Vienna when Brezhnev finally acknowledged that the limit was 30 Backfire bombers per year. They had not been willing to do that up until then, because Brezhnev himself had taken the position at Vladivostok, negotiating with President Ford, that the Backfire bombers were not a legitimate subject for negotiations, since it was not a strategic arms. It was a very sensitive thing to them. And we really had to go to the wall to get them to agree that they were producing at a rate of 30 and they would not exceed it.


Q. Mr. President, would you permit a local question, please? On the merger of National Airlines, are you inclined now to permit such a merger? Do you have the final say in that, with either Pan Am or Eastern?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't respond to that until it comes to me. I have to let the CAB and the State Department and others assess the consequences of it. They make a recommendation to me, and then I make the final decision.

Q. There is only one recommendation made, I believe, by the CAB, recommending Pan Am. Eastern has not been heard yet. The question is in concept.

THE PRESIDENT. My point is I am not familiar enough with it now to answer your question. When I get it on my desk, then I will study it and understand it. But I am not familiar with it yet.

Q. Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. I have to go. I am sorry. Let me thank you all. I tried to answer all of your questions.

I am sorry but we didn't agree on the basic premise.

Q. You did very well after you got going. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. After we got around the allegation of blackmail, we did pretty well.

But I would like, if you don't mind, to have a photograph made with each one of you, and it will take just about 5 minutes. Then I will be on my way to Georgia, to Plains for the first time in quite awhile. I thank you again.

Q. Mr. President, I understand this is all on the record?

THE PRESIDENT. Everything I said is on the record, yes.

Citation: Jimmy Carter: "Tampa, Florida Question-and-Answer Session With Florida Newspaper Editors. ", August 30, 1979. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
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