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Fayetteville, North Carolina Remarks in a Telephone Interview With Jeff Thompson of WFNC Radio.

December 17, 1977

MR. THOMPSON. Good morning, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Good morning, Jeff. Can you hear me all right?

MR. THOMPSON. Yes, fine, thank you. We're very honored and privileged that you took the time to call. Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, during the campaign I told you I would when I came back to Fayetteville, and I wanted to honor my promise.

MR. THOMPSON. Have you got time for a few questions?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I have. About 5 minutes is what they said you wanted.


MR. THOMPSON. Your meeting with Prime Minister Begin yesterday, to be followed upon your return to Washington by another, suggests some imminent urgency in progressing developments in the Middle East. Can you tell us your administration's current role in that conciliation effort?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, our role is the same as it always has been, to encourage direct negotiations between the nations involved in the Middle East dispute and to give support whenever they call on us.

We also are very insistent that they do as much as possible on their own, and we want to be sure they trust us to relay messages accurately and to describe accurately the positions of the leaders who, quite often, have not communicated at all in the past.

Prime Minister Begin will be meeting with President Sadat within another week or so, and both he and Sadat communicate with me quite frequently to give me their positions. We think this is a good step toward a comprehensive peace. Although it will involve primarily the two leaders from Egypt and Israel, we hope that Jordan, Syria, Lebanon will come in later on if progress can be made.

But we're just offering our good services. And to the extent that we are trustworthy, they use our services very eagerly.


MR. THOMPSON. Mr. President, on a matter of considerable statewide interest here in North Carolina, there is growing intensity in the Congress to significantly reduce or even abolish the price support program for tobacco. Although you have supported the support program consistently, can you say uncategorically that you would veto any legislation that would reduce or abolish the tobacco support program?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, tobacco is just as important for Georgia as it is North Carolina, and the tobacco support program will not be abolished while I'm President.


MR. THOMPSON. In view of your decision to stop production of the B-1 bomber, I'm sure a lot of our listeners in the Fort Bragg area would like an assessment from you on our Nation's defense stature. It seems to have been slipping a bit at a time when the Russians are still in a position to capitalize on expansion of their own defense posture. How, in a few words, do you assess our country's military readiness in terms of present and immediate needs?

THE PRESIDENT. As a matter of fact, during the years immediately following the Vietnam war, our defense effort did decrease. But under President Ford and continuing under me, the contribution for our defense effort has gone up in real dollars. In other words, we've compensated for the inflation rate and then added on top of that an additional amount to increase our defense spending--quite a reversal of what had been done in the past.

This is a nationwide commitment. We are trying to focus our attention on the elements of our defense posture which I think were in most serious need, immediate strike forces on hand in this country, as is the case with Fort Bragg. We are strengthening our forces in NATO. We're trying to encourage our NATO partners to do the same, whereas in previous years, I think their commitment to NATO had been decreasing somewhat both in financial contribution and also in attitude.

So, our defense posture will be kept strong. We have a very fine research and development and testing and evaluation program going on with new weapons. And in technology, in competence, I think that our military forces are unexcelled in the world.

The Soviets do have a superiority in some respects--the number of tanks, for instance, in Europe. But as you know, we're trying to make sure that those tanks are vulnerable, and also, we're developing new weapons of our own. So, I don't think anyone needs to worry about the United States being second in total military strength to anybody.


MR. THOMPSON. In contrast to recent past administrations, you have continued your campaign image of being very approachable. Has it paid off for you? Do folks feel there is an open door at the White House?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I hope so. It pays off not just in that respect that you've described, but also it gives me a sense that when I make a final decision on a very controversial issue, that the American people have been included in the debate, that they have been aware of the developing decision. And whether it's the Middle East issues or defense or agriculture programs or whatever, we've tried to get a maximum amount of contribution and advice and counsel, support and, sometimes, criticism from people all around the Nation.

For instance, just to give you an example, I've met with editors and radio and television executives from 47 States this year and--I think a total of about 450 of them at different sessions--every 2 weeks I meet with 35 or 40 of the top news leaders of the country to answer any question they ask me. Quite often, these are questions that are important just on a local area. And in that process not only do they learn about their President and their Government's attitude, but I also learn about their attitude, which makes it much more likely that when I make a final decision it's compatible with what the American people want.

So, the accessibility thing is a two-way street. The people benefit from knowing what I plan and what I am doing. I learn on a daily basis in the White House what the American people want done.


MR. THOMPSON. Mr. President, very briefly, one final question. It's been almost a year now for you as President. A lot of those campaign promises have probably been more difficult than perhaps you imagined. How does the responsibility of holding the single most powerful position in the world differ from what you expected before taking the oath?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the difference between what I expected and what was sometimes covered by the news media has been different. When someone running for a 4-year term of office makes promises to do certain things--in the Middle East, in defense, in agriculture, in education, social security, energy--that doesn't mean that you think you can do it the first year and that nothing will be left to be done the other 3 years.

Another point to be made is that I can evolve a comprehensive program in energy, in welfare, social security, and present it to the Congress much more rapidly than the Congress can actually pass it into law. So there's always a delay, inherently in our system, for Congress to take action on a proposal made by the President.

I believe that we've made excellent progress. And when an inventory is conducted of what this Congress did achieve, I believe the American people will be very pleased and very thankful.

We took major strides forward. The only major disappointment that I have experienced is not getting the comprehensive energy package passed. But I think this will be done early next year. The conference committees are still at work. And this is probably the most complicated, complex, confusing, and politically divisive issue that the Congress has ever attacked in the last 200 years. It is so confusing to simultaneously try to resolve, I think, 113 different proposals that we've presented to the Congress just on the energy question alone. And since our Nation is both a producing country--one of the largest on Earth--and also the biggest consumer nation on Earth, there's an inherent conflict.

But the Congress has performed superbly, in my opinion. We've had a good relationship between the White House and Capitol Hill. And I believe that those important issues to the American people will be realized and handled very well.

MR. THOMPSON. Mr. President, again thank you so very much for calling. We're deeply grateful. Do come back to Fayetteville.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Jeff. I've been pleased, so has my whole family, at the friendship and hospitality that was extended to us yesterday on our arrival here. It gave us a chance to get our family together, which is a rare occasion for us now.

I'll always remember the confidence that North Carolina people had in me both in the primary and the general election. I've tried to act in the White House in such a way to make the North Carolina people proud of me.

Thank you very much, Jeff.

MR. THOMPSON. Thank you again so much.

Note: The interview began at 9:16 a.m. and was recorded for later use by WFNC Radio. The President placed the call from the home of his sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton, where he was staying during his visit to Fayetteville.

Jimmy Carter, Fayetteville, North Carolina Remarks in a Telephone Interview With Jeff Thompson of WFNC Radio. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243055

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