Jimmy Carter photo

Charleston, South Carolina Remarks at the 31st Annual Meeting of the Southern Legislative Conference.

July 21, 1977

Senator Hollings and Senator Eastland, Senator Stennis, Governor Edwards, Chairman Bragg, distinguished Members of Congress, those representatives from State government, who share the leadership of America, and my friends in a personal way who come out to welcome me back to the South:

It's not often that a President comes as a substitute speaker. I realize that my brother, Billy, was the first choice. [Laughter] I understand that the Southern Legislative Conference--[laughter]couldn't afford Billy here.

I was going to go by Plains on this trip, but I couldn't get a room there. [Laughter] I'm going to go to Yazoo City tonight and then to New Orleans later on.

I'm very grateful to be here as President of our country. I've learned a lot in this first 6 months. When I got to Washington and sought advice, someone said, "Just act like you're a President and treat Congress like the Georgia Legislature." It didn't work at first. [Laughter]

Very quickly I realized that the Congress was treating me like I was still Governor of Georgia, but now, with the help of a great number of friends in the Congress, we've formed a kind of relationship that ought to exist between the White House and our Nation's Capitol. I think there's a genuine sense of sharing of responsibility and the burden of government, and you are a part of that circle of leaders in the State legislature and the Governors' offices, who join in with the President, the Congress, and others in making sure that our government works.

I've become even more proud of being an American. And I have become even more proud of being a southerner, too. I'm also proud to be with you today where two great rivers come together, as they say in Charleston, to form the Atlantic Ocean. This is one of our Nation's most gracious cities.

And I want to talk to you today about the hopes and problems that we as southerners and as Americans share together. I feel a special kinship with your State legislators. For 4 years I was a member of the Georgia Senate, and I still prize State government not only for the talents of those who work in it but, as Fritz Hollings says, for the closeness to the people it represents.

Our Southern States have a proud tradition of local, independent government, and now you're the heirs of that tradition. But we in the South have also felt, perhaps more directly than many others, some of the rapid changes that have taken place in this modern age. More and more our own lives are shaped by events in other cities, decisions in other States, tensions in other parts of the world.

And as Americans we cannot overlook the way that our fate is bound to that of other nations. This interdependence stretches from the health of our economy, through war and peace, to the security of our own energy supplies. It's a new world in which we cannot afford to be narrow in our vision, limited in our foresight, or selfish in our purpose.

When I took office almost exactly 6 months ago, our Nation was faced with a series of problems around the world--in southern Africa, the Middle East, in our relationships with our NATO allies, and on such tough questions as nuclear proliferation, negotiations with our former adversaries, a Panama Canal treaty, human rights, world poverty.

We have openly and publicly addressed these and other many difficult and controversial issues--some of which had been either skirted or postponed in the past.

As I pointed out in a recent press conference, a period of debate, disagreement, probing was inevitable. Our goal has not been to reach easy or transient agreements, but to find solutions that are meaningful, balanced, and lasting.

Now, a President has a responsibility to present to the people of this Nation reports and summations of complex and important matters. I feel more secure as President making decisions if I know that either the most difficult, the most complex questions that face me have been understood and debated by you and understood and debated by the Congress.

In the past I think our Nation's leaders have been guilty of making decisions in secret. And even when the decision turns out to be the fight one, it makes the President, the Secretary of State speak with a weak voice when they speak alone.

Today, I want to discuss a vitally important aspect of our foreign relations, the one that may most directly shape the chances for peace for us and for our children. I would like to spell out my view of what we have done and where we are going in our relations with the Soviet Union and to reaffirm the basic principles of our national policy.

I don't have any apology for talking about foreign affairs at a southern legislative conference, because foreign affairs and those difficult decisions ought never to be made with a concept that we can abandon common sense and the sound judgment and the constructive influence of the American people.

For decades, the central problems of our foreign policy revolved around antagonism between two coalitions, one headed by the United States and the other headed by the Soviet Union.

Our national security was often defined almost exclusively in terms of military competition with the Soviet Union. This competition is still critical, because it does involve issues which could lead to war. But however important this relationship of military balance, it cannot be our sole preoccupation to the exclusion of other world issues which also concern us both.

Even if we succeed in relaxing tensions with the U.S.S.R., we could still awake one day to find that nuclear weapons have been spread to dozens of other nations who may not be as responsible as are we. Or we could struggle to limit the conventional arsenals of our two nations, to reduce the danger of war, only to undo our efforts by continuing without constraint to export armaments around the world.

As two industrial giants, we face long-term, worldwide energy crises. Whatever our political differences, both of us are compelled to begin conserving world energy and developing alternatives to oil and gas.

Despite deep and continuing differences in world outlook, both of us should accept the new responsibilities imposed on us by the changing nature of international relations.

Europe and Japan rose from the rubble of war to become great economic powers. Communist parties and governments have become more widespread and more varied and, I might say, more independent from one another. Newly independent nations emerged into what has now become known as the Third World. Their role in world affairs is becoming increasingly significant.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union have learned that our countries and our people, in spite of great resources, are not all-powerful. We've learned that this world, no matter how technology has shrunk distances, is nevertheless too large and too varied to come under the sway of either one or two super powers. And what is perhaps more important of all, we have, for our part, learned, all of us, this fact, these facts in a spirit not of increasing resignation, but of increasing maturity.

I mention these familiar changes with which you are familiar because I think that to understand today's Soviet-American relationship, we must place it in perspective, both historically and in terms of the overall global scene.

The whole history of Soviet-American relations teaches us that we will be misled if we base our long-range policies on the mood of the moment, whether that mood be euphoric or grim. All of us can remember times when relations seemed especially dangerous and other times when they seemed especially bright.

We've crossed those peaks and valleys before. And we can see that, on balance, the trend in the last third of a century has been positive.

The profound differences in what our two governments believe about freedom and power and the inner lives of human beings, those differences are likely to remain; and so are other elements of competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. That competition is real and deeply rooted in the history and the values of our respective societies. But it's also true that our two countries share many important overlapping interests. Our job---my job, your job--is to explore those shared interests and use them to enlarge the areas of cooperation between us on a basis of equality and mutual respect.

As we negotiate with the Soviet Union, we will be guided by a vision of a gentler, freer, and more bountiful world. But we will have no illusions about the nature of the world as it really is. The basis for complete mutual trust between us does not yet exist. Therefore, the agreements that we reach must be anchored on each side in enlightened self-interest-what's best for us, what's best for the Soviet Union. That's why we search for areas of agreement where our real interests and those of the Soviets coincide.

We want to see the Soviets further engaged in the growing pattern of international activities designed to deal with human problems--not only because they can be of real help but because we both should be seeking for a greater stake in the creation of a constructive and peaceful world order.

When I took office, many Americans were growing disillusioned with detente---President Ford had even quit using the word, and by extension, people were concerned with the whole course of our relations with the Soviet Union. Also, and perhaps more seriously, world respect for the essential rightness of American foreign policy had been shaken by the events of a decade---Vietnam, Cambodia, CIA, Watergate. At the same time, we were beginning to regain our sense of confidence and our purpose and unity as a nation.

In this situation, I decided that it was time for honest discussions about international issues with the American people. I felt that it was urgent to restore the moral bearings of American foreign policy. And I felt that it was important to put the U.S. and Soviet relationship, in particular, on a more reciprocal, realistic, and, ultimately, more productive basis for both nations.

It's not a question of a "hard" policy or of a "soft" policy, but of a clear-eyed recognition of how most effectively to protect our own security and to create the kind of international order that I've just described. This is our goal.

We've looked at the problems in Soviet-American relations in a fresh way, and we've sought to deal with them boldly and constructively with proposals intended to produce concrete results. I'd like to point out just a few of them.

In the talks on strategic arms limitations, the SALT talks, we advanced a comprehensive proposal for genuine reductions, limitations, and a freeze on new technology which would maintain balanced strategic strength.

We have urged a complete end to all nuclear tests, and these negotiations are now underway. Agreement here could be a milestone in U.S.-Soviet relations.

We're working together toward a ban on chemical and biological warfare and the elimination of inventories of these destructive materials. We have proposed to curb the sales and transfers of conventional weapons to other countries, and we've asked France, Britain, and other countries to join with us in this effort.

We are attempting to halt the threatening proliferation of nuclear weapons among the nations of the world which don't yet have the ability to set off nuclear explosives.

We've undertaken serious negotiations on arms limitations in the Indian Ocean. We've encouraged the Soviets to sign, along with us, the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which would ban the introduction of nuclear weapons into the southern part of the Western Hemisphere.

We have begun regular consultations with the Soviet leaders as cochairmen of the prospective Geneva conference to promote peace in the Middle East.

We and our allies are negotiating together with the Soviet Union and their allies in the Warsaw Pact nations to reduce the level of military forces in Europe.

We've renewed the 1972 agreement for cooperation in science and technology, and a similar agreement for cooperation in outer space.

We're seeking ways to cooperate in improving world health and in relieving world hunger.

In the strategic arms limitation talks, confirming and then building on Vladivostok accords, we need to make steady progress toward our long-term goals of genuine reductions and strict limitations, while maintaining the basic strategic balance.

We've outlined proposals incorporating significant new elements of arms control, deep reductions in the arsenals of both sides, freezing of deployment and technology, and restraining certain elements in the strategic posture of both sides that threaten to destabilize the balance which now exists.

The Vladivostok negotiations of 1974 left some issues unresolved and subject to honest differences of interpretation. Meanwhile, new developments in technology have created new concerns--the cruise missile, the very large intercontinental ballistic missiles of the Soviets.

The Soviets are worried about our cruise missiles, and we are concerned about the security of our own deterrent capability. Our cruise missiles are aimed at compensating for the growing threat to our deterrent, represented by the buildup of strategic Soviet offensive weapons forces. If these threats can be controlled, and I believe they can, then we are prepared to limit our own strategic programs. But if an agreement cannot be reached, there should be no doubt that the United States can and will do what it must to protect our security and to ensure the adequacy of our strategic posture.

Our new proposals go beyond those that have been made before. In many areas we are in fact addressing for the first time the tough, complex core of longstanding problems. We are trying for the first time to reach agreements that will not be overturned by the next technological breakthrough. We are trying, in a word, for genuine accommodation.

But none of these proposals that I've outlined to you involves a sacrifice of security. All of them are meant to increase the security of both sides. Our view is that a SALT agreement which just reflects the lowest common denominator that can be agreed upon easily will only create an illusion of progress and, eventually, a backlash against the entire arms control process. Our view is that genuine progress in SALT will not merely stabilize competition in weapons but can also provide a basis for improvement in political relations as well.

When I say that these efforts are intended to relax tensions, I'm not speaking only of military security. I mean as well the concern among our own individual citizens, Soviet and American, that comes from the knowledge which all of you have that the leaders of our two countries have the capacity to destroy human society through misunderstandings or mistakes. If we can relax this tension by reducing the nuclear threat, not only will we make the world a safer place but we'll also free ourselves to concentrate on constructive action to give the world a better life.

We've made some progress toward our goals, but to be frank, we also hear some negative comments from the Soviet side about SALT and about our more general relations. If these comments are based on a misconception about our motives, then we will redouble our efforts to make our motives clear; but if the Soviets are merely making comments designed as propaganda to put pressure on us, let no one doubt that we will persevere.

What matters ultimately is whether we can create a relationship of cooperation that will be rooted in the national interests of both sides. We shape our own policies to accommodate a constantly changing world, and we hope the Soviets will do the same. Together we can give this change a positive direction.

Increased trade between the United States and the Soviet Union would help us both. The American-Soviet Joint Commercial Commission has resumed its meetings after a long interlude. I hope that conditions can be created that will make possible steps toward expanded trade.

In southern Africa we have pressed for Soviet and Cuban restraint. Throughout the nonaligned world, our goal is not to encourage dissension or to redivide the world into opposing ideological camps, but to expand the realm of independent, economically self-reliant nations, and to oppose attempts at new kinds of subjugation.

Part of the Soviet Union leaders' current attitude may be due to their apparent-and incorrect--belief that our concern for human rights is aimed specifically at them or is an attack on their vital interests.

There are no hidden meanings in our commitment to human rights.

We stand on what we have said on the subject of human rights. Our policy is exactly what it appears to be: the positive and sincere expression of our deepest beliefs as a people. It's addressed not to any particular people or area of the world, but to all countries equally, yes, including our own country.

And it's specifically not designed to heat up the arms race or bring back the cold war.

On the contrary, I believe that an atmosphere of peaceful cooperation is far more conducive to an increased respect for human rights than an atmosphere of belligerence or hatred or warlike confrontation. The experience of our own country this last century has proved this over and over again.

We have no illusions that the process will be quick or that change will come easily. But we are confident that if we do not abandon the struggle, the cause of personal freedom and human dignity will be enhanced in all nations of the world. We're going to do that.

In the past 6 months we've made clear our determination--both to give voice to Americans' fundamental beliefs and to obtain lasting solutions to East-West differences. If this chance to emphasize peace and cooperation instead of animosity and division is allowed to pass, it will not have been our choice.

We must always combine realism with principle. Our actions must be faithful to the essential values to which our own society is dedicated, because our faith in those values is the source of our confidence that this relationship will evolve in a more constructive direction.

I cannot forecast whether all our efforts will succeed. But there are things which give me hope, and in conclusion I would like to mention them very briefly.

This place where I now stand is one of the oldest cities in the United States. It's a beautiful town of whose culture and urban charm all Americans are proud--just as the people of the Soviet Union are justly proud of such ancient cities as Tbilisi or Novgorod, which there they lovingly preserve, as you do in Charleston, and into which they infuse a new life that makes these cities far more than just dead remnants of a glorious historical past.

Although there are deep differences in our values and ideas, we Americans and Russians belong to the same civilization whose origins stretch back hundreds of years.

Beyond all the disagreements between us--and beyond the cool calculations of mutual self-interest that our two countries bring to the negotiating table--is the invisible human reality that must bring us closer together. I mean the yearning for peace, real peace, that is in the very bones of us all.

I'm absolutely certain that the people of the Soviet Union, who have suffered so grievously in war, feel this yearning for peace. And in this they are at one with the people of the United States. It's up to all of us to help make that unspoken passion into something more than just a dream. And that responsibility falls most heavily on those like you, of course, but particularly like President Brezhnev and me, who hold in our hands the terrible power conferred on us by the modern engines of war.

Mr. Brezhnev said something very interesting recently, and I quote from his speech: "It is our belief, our firm belief," he said, "that realism in politics and the will for detente and progress will ultimately triumph, and mankind will be able to step into the 21st century in conditions of peace, stable as never before."

I see no hidden meaning in that. I credit its sincerity. And I express the same hope and belief that Mr. Brezhnev expressed. With all the difficulties, all the conflicts, I believe that our planet must finally obey the Biblical injunction to "follow after the things which make for peace."

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 3:08 p.m. in the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium. In his opening remarks, he referred to State Representative John T. Bragg of Tennessee, chairman of the conference.

Jimmy Carter, Charleston, South Carolina Remarks at the 31st Annual Meeting of the Southern Legislative Conference. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243358

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