Conversation With the President Remarks in an Interview With Tom Brokaw of NBC News, Bob Schieffer of CBS News, Robert MacNell of the Public Broadcasting Service, and Barbara Walters of ABC News.
THE PRESIDENT. This year we have had fireside chats and television programs and telephone call-in shows and press conferences twice a month and meetings with editors from almost every State in the Nation. And I've been very pleased to stay in touch with the American people.
Tonight we have four distinguished news reporters from the four major networks in our country. And I want to welcome you here as another opportunity for me to speak to the American people with tough interrogations from those who understand our country very well.
I understand Mr. Brokaw has the first question.
THE PRESIDENT'S OVERSEAS TRIP
MR. BROKAW. Mr. President, there are a number of subjects that we want to cover tonight, including some news developments that are going on even as we speak. I want to begin, however, with a question about the trip that you leave on tomorrow. It was originally postponed because you did not yet have the energy bill passed. It still has not been passed.
My question is this: Aren't you playing into the twin themes of your critics who complain that your energy bill has not been passed, that you have failed on the major domestic priority of your administration, and that your foreign policy has no real definition, because this trip seems to have no urgent theme to it?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, the only major legislation that did not pass the Congress this year and which I was expecting to pass, was energy. Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill said that it was the most productive session since the first term of Franklin Roosevelt. I'll let him be the judge of that.
The energy legislation, I think, will be the first item on the agenda when the Congress reconvenes in January. And there's no doubt that wherever I go on this trip--to Eastern Europe, to Western Europe, to the Mideast, to India--what our Nation does about energy will be a prime question.
We are the leader of the world. We are one of the major oil producers. We are the greatest consumer. And until Congress does take action on the energy proposal that I put forward last April, and which the House of Representatives passed in August, that cloud will hang over the determination and leadership qualities of our country.
So, I am disappointed about that. As far as the trip is concerned, it's carefully planned. We began working on this trip last March, and the nations that we will visit are important to us both domestically and in our foreign relations.
Poland--in Eastern Europe, a Communist government with close ties to the Soviet Union but also friendships with us, heavy trade with the Western nations, relatively willing to give people their religious freedom and other freedoms. We will have a good meeting, I think, in Poland.
We go from there to Iran, very close military ally of ours, a strong trade partner of ours with whom we share many political responsibilities.
And then we go to India, the biggest democracy in the world, one that in recent years has turned perhaps excessively toward the Soviet Union, but under the new leadership of Prime Minister Desai is moving back toward us and assuming a good role of, I would say, neutrality. And we have a strong friendship with India. It's a strong country. They are almost self-sufficient now. They have food surpluses.
We come back from there to Saudi Arabia, our major supplier of imported oil, a nation that's worked closely with us in foreign affairs in many parts of the world.
From there back to France, our historic ally, keystone in Europe. I'll have long discussions with President Giscard there and then go back to Brussels to strengthen our relationships with the European Community and with NATO.
So, every stop will be productive for us. I'll be taking the word and the good will and the sense of importance of the American people toward them in learning about those countries in the process.
But energy will be the tie that will bind us together on this trip, and I hope that this will demonstrate to the American people and to the Congress the necessity for rapid action on one of the most controversial and divisive issues that the Congress has ever faced, and that is to give our country for the first time a comprehensive energy policy.
THE MIDDLE EAST
MR. SCHIEFFER. Mr. President, I know we'll all want to get back to just how you plan to go about getting that energy policy. But while we are on foreign policy, I'd like to ask you about the Middle East. President Sadat, I think everyone agrees, made a spectacular gesture that opened up a whole new era here. Do you feel that the Israelis have as yet made a comparable gesture? Have they been flexible enough in your view?
THE PRESIDENT. Both President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin have been bold and courageous. We've been dealing with the Mideast question as a nation for decades, in a leadership role at least within the last two administrations. And we see the complexities of the questions and the obstacles to progress. When I first became President, we spelled out the basic issues: withdrawal from occupied territories, secure borders, the establishment of real peace, the recognition of Israel's right to be there, and dealing with the Palestinian question.
We are now in a role of supporter. We encourage them to continue with their fruitful negotiations. We try to resolve difficulties, to give advice .and counsel when we are requested to do it. This is a better role for us. In the past, we've been in the unenviable position and sometimes unpleasant position, sometimes nonproductive position as mediator among parties who wouldn't even speak to each other. So, I think that the progress that has been made in the last month and a half has been remarkable and has been much greater than I had anticipated.
And I know Sadat and Begin well and personally and favorably. If any two leaders on Earth have the strength and the determination and the courage to make progress toward peace in the most difficult region that I've ever known, it is Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat. There is no reason for us to be discouraged about it. We will help in every way we can to let their progress be fruitful. I think that President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin could have reached a fairly quick solution of just the Egyptian-Israeli problem in the Sinai region. But this is not what they want.
They both want to try to resolve the other questions: What is real peace? Will Israel be recognized as a permanent neighbor to the countries that surround them? Can the Palestinian question, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip be addressed successfully? And knowing how difficult these questions are, I have nothing but admiration for them, nothing but congratulations for them on what they have achieved so far.
MR. MACNEIL. Mr. President, you are going to see King Hussein of Jordan in Tehran. President Sadat said in an interview that was broadcast on public television last night that King Hussein had told him that he was fully behind his efforts. In public until now, King Hussein's opinion has been relatively mysterious. Do you have any information that would make you agree with Mr. Sadat, and are you going to discuss that with King Hussein and urge him to support the Sadat initiative when you see him?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't intend to put any pressure on King Hussein--I couldn't if I wanted to--to immediately begin to negotiate with Israel and Egypt as a partner. If he wants to do it, we would certainly welcome that. What I will try to learn, however, is what role Jordan is willing to play in the resolution of the Palestinian-West Bank problem, at what point he thinks it would be advisable for him to enter the negotiations personally as a government leader, and what we can do to get him to give his open support and encouragement to both Begin and Sadat as they struggle to resolve the differences between them.
I think King Hussein has indeed, in his private discussions with Secretary Vance and his personal communications to me, shown a very positive attitude. And in his travels around the Middle East to visit with other leaders, some who don't encourage the talks, like President Asad, those who are very hopeful for progress, like those in Saudi Arabia, I think he's shown a constructive attitude already. But it helps me to understand on a current basis the remaining problems and in what way they can be brought in to achieve a comprehensive peace.
I think they all trust our country. Our motives are good. We've never misled them. We've been honest and as a person, as a country that carried messages from one to another. And I think that this puts us in a position to exert legitimate influence. But what we've always hoped for is direct negotiations or discussions, communications among the leaders involved with our offering good offices when we are requested to do it.
Ms. WALTERS. Mr. President, the chief stumbling block right now does seem to be what we might call the right of return of the Palestinians to the West Bank and the Gaza. You have in the past come out against an independent nation per se on the West Bank, but you have also talked of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, and you have been in favor of some kind of an entity--although people are still a little obscure about what that means--an entity perhaps linked to Jordan.
Would you, in the light of the developments now, clarify your views for us today, tell us if they have changed, and if they have not, is it because the United States has decided to be neutral .on this subject?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, you've described my position very well. We do favor a homeland or an entity wherein the Palestinians can live in peace. I think Prime Minister Begin has taken a long step forward in offering to President Sadat, and indirectly to the Palestinians, self-rule.
President Sadat so far is insisting that the so-called Palestinian entity be an independent nation. My own preference is that they not be an independent nation but be tied in some way with the surrounding countries, making a choice, for instance, between Israel and Jordan.
President Sadat has not yet agreed to that position of ours. Prime Minister Begin has offered that the citizens who live in the West Bank area or the Gaza Strip be given an option to be either Israeli citizens or Jordanian citizens, to actually run for the Knesset as candidates and to vote in elections, both national, Israeli and Jordan, or local elections in the occupied territories once they are released.
But we don't have any real choice. I've expressed an opinion. But if Israel should negotiate with the surrounding countries a different solution, we would certainly support it.
But my own personal opinion is that permanent peace can best be maintained if there's not a fairly radical, new independent nation in the heart of the Middle Eastern area.
Ms. WALTERS. In view of the deadlock now, however, have you tried to convince either side of your opinion? You've had conversations with both.
THE PRESIDENT. I've expressed this opinion to President Asad, to King Hussein, to President Sadat, to Crown Prince Fahd, and also to Prime Minister Begin, privately. And, of course, they have heard my statements publicly. Our preference is not to have an independent nation there, but we are perfectly willing to accept any reasonable solution that the parties themselves might evolve.
MR. SCHIEFFER. If I could just get back to the question I asked you, do I take it that you would not pass judgment in public, at least at this point, on whether the Israelis have been flexible enough in the negotiating so far? Do you think that the position that they put forward--Mr. Begin said today that there would always be Israeli troops on the West Bank and that all who wanted peace would have to know that--is that a realistic negotiating position?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. It's certainly a realistic negotiating position.
MR. SCHIEFFER. But would Mr. Sadat ever accept that?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. There is a great deal of flexibility there--the number of military outposts, the length of time when this interim solution might be in effect--I think Prime Minister Begin said it would be reassessed at the end of 5 years--the degree of participation of the governments of Israel and Jordan in a possible administrative arrangement-all these questions could add a tone of progress or a possibility for resolution of what seems to be insurmountable obstacles.
So, I think that Prime Minister Begin already has shown a great deal of flexibility. Obviously, President Sadat and King Hussein and others would have to accept whatever proposal is put forward.
But the length of time when the interim agreement would be in effect would be negotiable and the exact relationship between the new self-rule government as far as its autonomy is concerned, its dependence upon or subservience to the Jordanians or the Israelis--all these things are still to be negotiated. So, I think there is enough flexibility at this point.
MR. MACNEIL. Could I just ask one followup on that?
THE PRESIDENT. Please.
MR. MACNEIL. Has either Egypt or Israel, or both, asked the United States formally yet to provide guarantees for any agreement that is made?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, in my private conversations with some of them, they have expressed to me that if a guarantee arrangement between ourselves and Israel should be worked out, that it would be acceptable to the Arab leaders. But we've never discussed this between ourselves and Israel in any definitive form.
My preference would be that our involvement would be minimized after an agreement has been reached. But if it became a matter of having the negotiations break down completely, our having some limited role as mutually accepted among those parties involved, then we would consider it very, very favorably.
STRATEGIC ARMS LIMITATION TALKS
MR. BROKAW. Mr. President, if we may move along in another area of foreign policy for just a moment, there now seems to be some signals coming out of Geneva, and even from friends of this administration, that we will not have a SALT agreement in 1978, or at least one will not get before the Senate. That's the word from Senator Alan Cranston, who is known as a very good vote counter in the Senate. Is that your thinking as well, that we are not going to have a SALT agreement with the Russians during this next year?
THE PRESIDENT. I would be disappointed if we don't have a SALT agreement this year. We've made good progress on SALT. We started out with SALT I, the Soviets having a very heavy advantage, about a 3-to-2 ratio in their favor. President Ford and Secretary Kissinger made great progress, I think, at Vladivostok and in their subsequent negotiations, to provide the first indication of equality. And we will maintain that posture of mutual advantage between ourselves and the Soviets.
We have added a new dimension, to have tight constraints on future deployment of weapons, both quantitatively and also the quality of the weapons, and to reduce actually the number of destructive weapons permitted.
We still have some negotiating to do. But we have made good progress on SALT. We have also been pleased with the results of negotiations with the Soviet Union on the comprehensive test ban to prohibit any testing of nuclear weapons at all.
And we have made progress, also, in trying to stop a military buildup in the Indian Ocean. My guess is that President Brezhnev would be likely to want to come here to visit after those three negotiations have made some substantial progress and when there is a prospect of immediate resolution of the remaining differences.
I would never approve a SALT agreement nor present one to the Congress that didn't have an adequate degree of verification of compliance and which didn't protect the right of our own country to defend itself and to carry out our domestic and foreign policy. Whatever I put forward to the Congress will be good for our Nation.
We've had a maximum degree of involvement by the Congress. We've even had Senators in Europe at the negotiating table. And we've kept them informed as the progress is made.
So, my guess is that 1978 will see us successful, and my guess is that when we present it to the Congress, the SALT agreement will be approved.
ARTHUR F. BURNS
Ms. WALTERS. Mr. President, there are so many questions I think we all have on foreign policy, but we are aware of the time. So, perhaps we might slide into the domestic issues.
Shortly before we went on the air you made news yourself about Arthur Burns and his replacement. Mr. Burns still has 2 years to go before he would retire from being on the Board itself of the Federal Reserve. Are you--or have you specifically asked him to stay? Obviously, some words from you might make the difference. Or do you have any other plans for him in government?
THE PRESIDENT. When I met with Chairman Burns, I told him that I understood he wanted to stay on the Board and that that would please me very much. He said that he had not yet made a decision. I then responded that if he decided not to stay on the Board, after a new Chairman is sworn in, that I would like very much to have him serve in some capacity. He is so wise, he has so much experience, his record is so superb, his integrity is perfect, almost, that I think he would still have good service to offer to our country. He said that he would not want to make any decisions within the next period just ahead, but that he would like to hear from me in the future. And I think the first decision that he would make is whether or not he would stay on the Board. My hope is that he will.
MS. WALTERS. But did you give him any possibilities so that he would have some choices perhaps to make of what some Of these governmental positions might be?
THE PRESIDENT. Not yet. I think either in economic affairs or foreign affairs, the field of human rights, the enhanced involvement of American citizens in taking initiative outside of government in the private sector--these are four areas where he and I have had discussions during this preceding year. He's shown an intense interest in them. He's been very excited about our progress in human rights. He's never seen me a single time this year that he didn't initiate a discussion about human rights, how profound he thought it was and how it exemplified what our Nation stands for. But what he would choose to do would have to be up to him. I would cooperate in every way to encourage him to continue to serve in some capacity.
MR. SCHIFFER. Mr. President, you sound like a man describing someone you've just reappointed. Why did you replace him? [Laughter]
THE PRESIDENT. Well, Chairman Burns--I think he served longer than anyone ever has before. He served two full terms. And I thought it was time for us to have new leadership there. I particularly wanted to bring someone in, Bob, from the business community.
I think there ought to be some change in emphasis from time to time. I also wanted to get someone that would have the confidence of business and financial leaders here and around the world. As a matter of fact, when I informed Chairman Burns of my choice, he said that is a wise and worthy choice. He has known Bill Miller for years, and he said that he had been making a list of those that he hoped I might consider, and he had made a list of some he hoped I didn't consider.
Fritz Mondale said, "Well, why don't we share lists sometimes?" And he said, "Well, I can tell you a few of those that I was hoping you might consider." And the first two or three names he mentioned were leaders in the business community.
So, these are the reasons that I thought it was time for a change. It's certainly no reflection on him.
MR. MACNEIL. But surely Dr. Burns was the very symbol of what business wanted in that job.
THE PRESIDENT. I can't deny that.
MR. MACNEIL. And if Mr. Miller's philosophy is not very different from Dr. Burns', it's difficult to see why it was necessary to replace Dr. Burns.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, that was not an easy decision to make.
MR. MACNEIL. Or was it for personal reasons?
THE PRESIDENT. No, not at all.
MR. MACNEIL. Personal antipathy?
THE PRESIDENT. Not at all. I think it's accurate to say--and Dr. Bums would confirm this--that he and I have a close personal friendship. We have never had any sort of disagreements when we were together. I have never criticized Chairman Burns either publicly or privately. But I've already explained the reasons why I thought it was time to make a change. I think two full terms there is adequate. That's as long as a President can serve, and I think bringing in some new leadership into the Federal Reserve System will be beneficial.
THE NATION'S ECONOMY
MR. BROKAW. Mr. President, I want to sketch a scenario for you if I can. If, as the reports have it, you are considering recommending a tax cut of about $25 billion to Congress when it reconvenes, there are many who say that that will just about offset the increased taxes that we will have as a result of higher taxes on energy and social security. So, it won't stimulate the economy in the manner that you might like it to, and then in 1979 or 1980 you'll have to come back and ask for another tax cut, and if you do that, you will surely have defeated your goal of balancing the budget by 1981. Do you have trouble with that scenario?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the benefits to be derived from tax cuts in 1978 and 1979 will exceed any tax burdens that have been added onto the American people's shoulders by the Congress.
We have had fairly good economic success this year. The unemployment rate has dropped from about 8 percent a year ago to a little bit less than 7 percent now. Still, pockets of high unemployment concern me very much. We've added eight million net new jobs this year, the most we've ever added since the Second World War. We have about 92 million people employed now. In the last half of this year, the inflation rate has dropped to less than 5 percent, although the underlying inflation rate is still 6 or 6 1/2 percent. It's obvious that we need some economic stimulus next year, and also I don't want the Federal budget to continue to grow in its proportion of the gross national product of our Nation. It's now-it had gotten up to about 23 percent. We are cutting it down now to a little above 22 percent. And by the time my term is over in 1980, I would like to get this down to about 21 percent through careful management and wise spending of our funds.
I have to judge, though, between how much money I retain in the Federal budget, in the Federal Treasury in order to balance the budget quickly, compared to how much we give back to the taxpayers in the form of tax cuts, to let them have the money to spend and to let the private enterprise system produce more jobs and a better life for us.
So, I think that we have done well so far, and I think we'll make a much wiser decision on the tax reform package and tax reduction package for next year having gotten a good, firm realization of the social security tax changes and a fairly good hope of what the energy package will be as well.
MR. BROKAW. I guess the question still is, do you think that a balanced budget by 1981, which was a campaign promise, is a realistic goal for a man who is now in office, given all of the claims on the Federal budget?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, obviously, I can't guarantee that. We've always known that balancing the budget would be difficult. It depends upon how fast business invests, how many people are at work, which cuts down obviously on expenditure for unemployment compensation and welfare payments, and there has to be some tradeoff.
If there was an absolutely rigid fixation on a balanced budget, then there would be no chance for tax cuts. But I think when you take into consideration that we have $25 billion tax reductions for the people next year with about $6 billion tax reductions this year--that's $31 billion--that's a major benefit to the people. I just can't give a firm commitment on how we will balance tax cuts versus a balanced budget by 1981.
MR. SCHIEFFER. But aren't you going to have just super growth, faster growth rate than anyone really predicts, to be able to balance the budget by 1981? Isn't that what it boils down to?
THE PRESIDENT. It would take about a 10-percent annual increase in real terms in business investment with the present projections of economic need. We want to cut the unemployment rate down considerably, and of course, we want to deal with the problems of the cities. We want to meet the legitimate needs of our people and at the same time not let inflation get out of hand.
So, balancing all these factors is something that you have to do almost daily in making decisions from the White House.
ADMINISTRATION PRIORITIES; PANAMA CANAL, TREATY
MS. WALTERS. Mr. President, it is reported that Vice President Mondale, with you, of course, is working on a list of your top priorities for next year with the feeling perhaps that you had too many top priorities this year to give to Congress. Can you tell us what the top two or three priorities would be, and can you tell us if it would include a national health insurance program, which organized labor feels you promised to introduce this year?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I intend to introduce a national health program to the Congress this year, late in this session. They can't pass it this year, but it will be introduced.
Dealing with the economy, which we've just discussed, would be a top priority. Completing work on the energy package would be the first specific thing that we'll do. One of the most important is to resolve the Panama Canal Treaty question.
About 75 years ago in the middle of the night the American Secretary of State signed the Panama Canal Treaty that presently is in existence. No Panamanian has ever signed it; no Panamanian ever saw it before it was signed. It was signed by a Frenchman who benefited financially from the terms of the treaty on behalf of the Panamanians.
That treaty gave us a chance to do a tremendous job in building the Panama Canal, keeping it open for international shipping. It's helped our country a lot. It's something of which we can be proud.
Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy recognized that the present treaty was inadequate. President Johnson started negotiations to change it. Presidents Nixon and Ford continued. And we concluded it this year.
It's one of the most difficult political questions that we'll have to deal with. It's going to take a lot of time in the Congress to pass it.
What we wanted was one that treated us and Panama fairly, and we got it. We wanted a treaty that did not put a financial burden on the American taxpayer, and we got it. We wanted treaties that would guarantee proper operation of the Panama Canal itself, for us and for foreign shipping, and we got it. We wanted treaties that would also guarantee us permanently the right to take what action we think necessary to keep the canal safe, to defend it, and to keep it open for us to use, and we got it.
We wanted treaties--two treaties there are--that would give us the right for expeditious passage in time of need or emergency, for our ships to go to the head of the line and go through the canal without delay, and we got it. We wanted treaties also that would be acceptable in the eyes of the international community, particularly in Latin America, and we got them.
So, this is what we have tried to do under four Presidents, and we have finally succeeded. And I would say that would be one of the most difficult challenges that we have politically this year. It is absolutely crucial that the Senate ratify these treaties, and I think the terms are very favorable to us and to Panama.
MR. BROWKAW. You've got all that in the treaty, Mr. President. Do you have the votes in the Senate?
THE PRESIDENT. I think we will get the votes in the Senate.
MR. BROKAW. Do you not now have them?
THE PRESIDENT. I can't say for sure that we do because many Senators still haven't expressed their commitment to me or their opinion. But I was talking to President Ford this past week, who's strongly supportive of the treaties, along with Secretary Kissinger and others, and he said that in his speeches to college groups and others around the Nation, that he is getting an increasingly favorable response from the audience. I think public opinion is building up for the treaties as they know the terms of them.
MR. MACNEIL. Could we interpret this as the beginning of a new campaign on your part to get out and sell the treaty? You've been criticized for having left the ground to the opposition somewhat. Are you going to make a major effort personally to try and sell it?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I consider it one of my most important responsibilities.
MR. MACNEIL. And can you meet the deadline that President Torrijos has set of April, which he says is urgent, and that Panama's patience could be exhausted.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, no, I don't feel any constraint to operate under a deadline. But both Senator Byrd and I and the leaders of the Senate all hope that we can resolve that issue early in the year, certainly I think by April.
Ms. WALTERS. On that--since, by the way, just to get back to my original questions-it seems that your priorities next year are very similar to your priorities this year, energy and the economy. But in October, you and President Torrijos issued a statement--a joint statement to remove the doubts about the rights of the United States to defend the neutrality of the canal and also the right of ships to pass promptly through it. A number of Senators have felt that they might be more comfortable with this if it were actually written into the treaty.
Would you be willing to see the treaty amended so that it would reflect this understanding, this statement between you and General Torrijos?
THE PRESIDENT. No. I think it would be good to have a signed agreement between me and President Torrijos, and he has indicated he would be glad to sign that statement that was made, and of course, I would too. I think the Senate could express an understanding that the treaty was being approved by them with the understanding that this was a proper interpretation. But to actually amend the treaty would require Panama to have another referendum on the subject, and they've already had one.
Many people in Panama think that the treaties are too favorable to the United States. And I don't think it would be fair to them after they negotiated in good faith to cause them to have a completely new referendum. I would certainly hate to have two ratification votes in the Senate, separated by several months. So, I think that the Senate can very well express its understanding of what the treaties mean. We can exchange documents with the Panamanian leader. To amend the treaties, though, I think would be inadvisable.
MR. SCHIEFFER. Mr. President, since we are talking about the Congress, what are you going to do about the energy bill now? It's been going on for 6 months now. There seems to be a deadlock there in the conference committee. I saw a poll taken by your pollster the other day that said 44 percent of the people in this country still are undecided about whether it's a good bill or not. What do you do now? Do you start over?
THE PRESIDENT. No.
MR. SCHIEFFER. Do you stay with the conference committee? What happens?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, there's not a problem with the Congress. There's not a problem with the House. The problem is with the Senate conference committee that is dealing with the crucial issue of natural gas. There are 18 members on the Senate conference committee. They've been divided nine and nine ever since the conference began. And I would hope that a compromise could be worked out that could be acceptable to me, to the House Members, and to the Senate conferees and to the Senate quite early in the next session.
MR. SCHIEFFER. There isn't any sign of that yet.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, there are private signs, Bob. [Laughter]
MR. SCHIEFFER. Tell us about them.
Ms. WALTERS. Could I ask one part of that?
THE PRESIDENT. Please do.
Ms. WALTERS. Would you be willing to sign legislation that permitted natural gas prices to go above the figure of $1.75 per thousand cubic feet if that would mean that it would get passed?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I haven't excluded any reasonable compromise solution from a bill that I would sign. My only requirements are that the bill in my judgment be fair to the consumers of this country, that the bill in my judgment give an adequate shift away from excessive consumption of oil and natural gas to other alternative supplies and also have conservation of energy on top of that and also that the bill not bankrupt the Nation, not be too great a burden on the budget itself.
If those requirements are met, then I will sign the bill. I still favor the proposal that I made to the Congress last April 20, and very close to that is what the House passed back in August. I can see good indications of compromise solutions that would meet my requirements that have already been divulged to me by conferees. When I come back from my overseas trip in 10 days from now, we will play an active role in trying to encourage the Senate leadership and the conferees to negotiate with a great deal of enthusiasm. And I think there will be a growing realization in our country of the importance of this bill.
It hurts our domestic economy, it hurts our foreign economy, it weakens the price, the value of the dollar. We imported this year about $45 billion worth of oil in addition to what we consumed of our own oil. It's a very heavy drain on our economy, on international oil supplies, and the Nation needs it very badly.
And I think as the conferees and the Members of Congress see this need in a more and more dramatic way expressed here in our own country and by leaders overseas, then I think they will act. We've also had encouraging word from the OPEC nations this past week when they froze the price of oil for another year. I think they did that at least partially on the basis that the Congress would act to cut down on the excessive consumption of oil in this country.
And I think there will be a great pressure internationally for increased prices of oil and, therefore, higher inflation if the Congress doesn't act. It is a very important issue. I think most of the Congress Members still now feel the importance of what they are about to do. I don't think there's any doubt that they will pass this legislation early in the session.
MR. MACNEIL. Mr. President, looking back a little retrospectively over your first year in domestic issues, is there any domestic issue which just baffles you?
THE PRESIDENT. There are a lot of them that I don't completely comprehend. I've been criticized for introducing too much legislation. I've been criticized for not introducing enough legislation. I've been criticized for dealing too much in specifics and trying to learn too much about the Government and how it works, how the economy functions and what the Congress does, the attitudes and organization of the Congress and the Federal Government agencies.
But this is my nature. I think having come into Washington for the first time to serve in the Federal Government, I had an obligation to learn. I enjoy it. And I obviously realize that there are many things that I don't completely comprehend.
MR. MACNEIL. I had an example in mind of a particularly intractable thing about which in the plethora of proposals that have come out there is no sort of very innovative solution yet, and that is the question of unemployment among black youth in this country, very very high percentages. Is that one of those issues that at the moment just looks baffling and intractable--how to deal with it, given the other priorities?
THE PRESIDENT. The unemployment rate in general is intractable and difficult. The inflation rate seems to be frozen at about 6 or 6 1/2 percent, and there are pockets of unemployment among black youth, in particular, that have been a great challenge to me, that. we have not yet successfully resolved, either me or my predecessors. We did add 425,000 new jobs, and most of them were specifically oriented toward people who have been chronically unemployed.
In addition, we had about a $4 billion public works program. Ten percent of that money had to be spent with minority contractors to help emphasize black young employment.
We also contemplate in the 1979 fiscal year budget emphasizing anew our interest in solving high unemployment rate among black young people. But this is one of those problems that is difficult to solve.
When I went to London in May for the International Economic Summit, this was the issue that every foreign leader said was becoming their most difficult and crucial issue. In England, in Germany, in France, in Japan, in Canada, in Italy, there was unanimous agreement among us that this was one of the most intractable and difficult issues of all.
Just recently, in Rome, Secretary Marshall from our Department of Labor went on an international meeting concerning youth unemployment.
We are making some progress in our country. We had during the summer and fall, as a result of a $21 billion economic stimulus package, more people put to work every week even than during the New Deal days with the WPA and the CCC. But it's a hard thing to solve.
We've added 4 million new jobs this year and still have a high unemployment rate. But I think we are making progress. The basic thing is that government can't provide all those jobs. They have to be initiated through business investment brought about by proper tax decisions and proper economic decisions made by Congress and by business themselves. But I think the progress that we will make in '78 will be even greater than this year.
MR. BROKAW. Mr. President, I wonder about unemployment generally, whether we don't have to, as a society, as a system of government, redefine what is an acceptable level of unemployment.
It's now been running at about 7 percent, and people talk about an unemployment rate of 4, 4 1/2 percent as being acceptable. That's a long drop, to get to 4 1/2 percent. Do you think that we have to redefine what is acceptable at around 6 percent--
THE PRESIDENT. No, I'd hate to do that.
THE PRESIDENT. No, I would hate to do that.
MR. BROKAW. Well, politically, it's not very attractive, but economically and practically it's very hard to see how it can be dropped that far that fast.
THE PRESIDENT. I believe we can get it below that. We have, as you know, a different system economically than most, even democratic democracies. We provide welfare systems and unemployment compensation for people who are out of work. And habitually in our Nation when demand drops off for a product, the companies lay off even temporarily some of their workers. In a nation like Japan, they keep those workers on the job, they pay them a lower salary, and the production is held down by partial unemployment.
But I have seen good progress made. I think it was either October or November we added 900,000 new jobs, but there were just about that many new people who came into the labor market that month. Nobody anticipated that.
One reason for that is that as people see their neighbors getting jobs, who had been unemployed for a long time, then housewives or students who are still in high school and others apply for jobs and they become part of the labor market, which makes the unemployment rate stay high even though employment goes up to the highest level in the history of our Nation.
MR. MACNEIL. Go ahead, Barbara.
CRITICISM OF THE PRESIDENT
Ms. WALTERS. Mr. President, it's almost the end of your first year in office, and it's almost New Year's Eve, and that's the time for people to take stock. And maybe when they take stock, they are a little more critical than they should be. However, I would like to give you a list of people who currently say that they are unhappy about you.
Labor is unhappy, because they say that you are dragging your feet on the medical insurance bill and on full employment. Business has said it's unhappy; they just don't have confidence in you. The blacks are unhappy, again because of full employment and the lack of it and what Robin just brought out. And I talked with Vernon Jordan, who had expressed his unhappiness with you last July and still feels the same way, he says. Many women are unhappy because of your stand on Federal aid to abortion, and there aren't enough women appointed to administration posts. Striking farmers are rolling up their tractors in Plains. [Laughter] Who is your constituency, or to put it another way, who's happy?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, Barbara, I think this is inherent and almost inevitable in a free nation like ours. The news media legitimately reports the disharmony and the arguments and the debates because they are more exciting than the achievements.
It's good for us to remember at the end of this year that we live in the strongest nation on Earth militarily the strongest, economically the strongest, politically the strongest--a nation that is a leader worldwide, that's trusted, that's making progress, dealing with the developing nations, the Western European nations, Latin America, making progress toward controlling atomic weapons.
Domestically, God has blessed us with tremendous natural resources, a free enterprise system that lets people benefit from their own contributions, their own initiative.
We have so much in common. We are a nation of highly diverse people, different people, but we are one people, and we've come from almost nothing 200 years ago to this position of sustained leadership and prosperity. The standard of living in our country for even the poorest person far exceeds the average living standard in many nations of the world. We are unselfish. And I think the threat to our country is that we might, in grasping for advantage or in emphasizing differences, lose that sense of common commitment and common purpose and a common future that binds us together and makes us great.
I don't have any fear about the future. I think that when I make mistakes or when the Congress makes mistakes or when we delay in solving apparently insoluble questions, our country is so strong and so vital and the people are bound together so closely that we can prevail in any case.
And I think the expressions of dissatisfaction, although they are legitimate in many instances, are overemphasized. I think our country is much greater than that.
MR. MACNEIL. Excuse me, Bob.
MR. SCHIEFFER. Go ahead.
STYLE OF THE PRESIDENCY
MR. MACNEIL. Again, looking back on this first year of the Presidency, Senator Hart wrote--Senator Gary Hart--wrote a piece recently in which he said that you had demythologized the imperial Presidency, but he wondered whether you also had not sacrificed some of the psychological weight and power that the Presidency had accumulated since Roosevelt's time to your detriment.
And I was wondering, for instance, you spoke out very strongly against the oil companies, accusing them of trying to rip off the American people, very, very strong words, and yet the oil companies seem relatively unperturbed. Are you at all concerned that in making yours the Presidency of the common man and ridding yourself of some of the imperial trappings you may have thrown away some of the clout?
THE PRESIDENT. Many people think so. The pomp and ceremony of office does not appeal to me, and I don't believe it's a necessary part of the Presidency in a democratic nation like our own. I'm no better than anyone else. And the people that I admire most who have lived in this house have taken the same attitude. Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Truman have minimized the pomp and ceremony and the pride, personal pride, that accrues sometimes to Presidents.
I don't think we need to put on the trappings of a monarchy in a nation like our own. I feel uncomfortable with it. But I doubt if I feel quite as uncomfortable as the average citizen.
REFLECTIONS ON FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE
MR. SCIEFFER. Mr. President, speaking of Abraham Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln said just toward the end of his Presidency, he said, "I must confess that events have controlled me rather than the other way around." I wonder, looking back over your first year, how do you feel about this first year?
THE PRESIDENT. I feel good about it. It's been an exciting and stimulating and challenging and sometimes frustrating experience for me.
MR. SCHIEFFER. Were you controlled by events?
THE PRESIDENT. I think--yes, I think so. I've tried to represent what the American people want me to be and what they are. I noticed one of the news commentators the other night said that when I said during the campaign that I wanted a government as good as the American people are, that it was demagoguery.
I don't think that's accurate. You know, the American people are good and decent and idealistic. And I think they want their Government to be good and decent and idealistic.
One of the most popular things that I've tried to do is to express to the world our own people's commitment to basic human rights, to freedom and independence and autonomy, the worth of a human being, whether they live here or: in Russia or in South America or in Uganda or China. And I doubt that there's a national leader in the world now who doesn't think about human rights every day and how his or her actions are measured against a standard that the world is beginning to demand.
So, I think what I've tried to do is to see what is good in our Nation, in our people, in our past, and try to preserve it and to deal with changing events to the best of my ability. I've got a good Cabinet. I've had good cooperation and support from the Congress, who recognized my newness in Washington. And overall, although I see great problems ahead of us, I feel confident.
I got my staff---the National Security Council--today to give me an analysis of the world situation as it was a year ago, and the comparison doesn't look bad. I think we are trusted now where we weren't before, say in Africa, primarily because of the influence of Andrew Young. I believe that our intentions are recognized as being good. So, in all I think it's been a good year for us.
MR. BROKAW. Mr. President, do you ever come back from the Oval Office, which is not that many feet away, and come back to the Residence and sit down and reflect on the day's events and what's going on in the world and think, "My God, this is a bigger job than I expected it to be. I'm not sure that I'm up to this"? Do you ever have those moments of selfdoubt?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have sober moments when I'm not sure that I can deal with problems satisfactorily. But I have a lot of confidence in myself. Sometimes I go in a back room and pray a while. And a few times I've walked through this Mansion where every President has lived except George Washington, since 1801, and I've thought about the difficulties and the tragedy that existed in the lives of many of them and feel myself to be fortunate. But I don't feel inadequate because I feel that even political opponents want me to succeed. And I couldn't have asked for better cooperation and support than I've gotten from those who help me in this job.
Ms. WALTERS. Mr. President, can you tell us what you think has been your greatest single achievement this past year and also, even though we hear that you don't have sleepless nights---everyone makes mistakes what you think your biggest mistake has been?
THE PRESIDENT. I think my biggest mistake has been in inadvertently building up expectations too high. I underestimated the difficulty and the time required for Congress to take action on controversial measures. It's much easier for me to study and evolve and present legislation to the Congress than it is for them to pass it in its final form. And I've dashed some hopes and disappointed people that thought we might act quicker.
I think that the achievements are not measured in how many bills were passed and how many bills I've signed or even my harmony with the Congress. If I have achieved anything, it's been to restore a tone to our Nation's life and attitude that most accurately exemplifies what we stand for. I use the human rights issue as one example. It gratifies me to know that the nations in Africa now look to us with friendship and with trust, whereas, just a short time ago, they wouldn't permit our Secretary of State to come in their country.
It gratifies me to see a burgeoning friendship with Latin American nations and to see our NATO allies now recommitting themselves to strong military commitments. And it gratifies me to see some progress being made in relieving tensions between ourselves and the Soviet Union. We are making slow, steady progress. We are attempting many things simultaneously. Sometimes they get confusing because they are so voluminous and there are so many of them.
But I think having our Nation and its Government represent more accurately the hopes and dreams of the American people is a general accomplishment of which I am most proud.
MR. MACNEIL. Mr. President, when you were still running for office, you told me in an interview--when I asked you, perhaps embarrassingly, what your weakness was, you said perhaps a difficulty to compromise. It had been difficult with the Georgia Legislature, and it might be a difficulty with the Congress. Has this year in Washington been an education in compromise?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, yes. I'm not sure if I had an 'adequate education yet, because I still find it difficult to compromise. But I'm learning. One way that I have learned since I've been here to avoid having to compromise so much is by involving the congressional leaders in the decision in the initial stages. When we evolved the reorganization bill and when we put together the Energy Department, when we evolved the social security bill and other measures that were controversial, we consulted very closely with congressional leaders ahead of time. So I'm trying to avoid having to yield to my weakness, which is a difficulty in compromising. I'm learning every day, I think.
MR. BROKAW. Mr. President, maybe we can all come back next year at this same time.
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I hope so.
MR. BROKAW. On behalf of all my colleagues, thank you very much for having us here this evening, however.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Tom. I've enjoyed it very much.
MR. BROKAW. Thank you, Mr. President.
Note: The interview began at 8 p.m. in the Red Room at the White House. It was broadcast live on radio and television.
Jimmy Carter, Conversation With the President Remarks in an Interview With Tom Brokaw of NBC News, Bob Schieffer of CBS News, Robert MacNell of the Public Broadcasting Service, and Barbara Walters of ABC News. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/242796