Jimmy Carter photo

Foreign Policy Conference for Editors and Broadcasters Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session.

February 22, 1979


THE PRESIDENT. Before I take your questions this afternoon, I'd like to give you some of my own thoughts about the uses of American power in a changing and sometimes turbulent world. Recent events, particularly in Iran and Southeast Asia, have touched off a national debate about what America's role should be in dealing with turbulence, and in trying to guide inevitable change.

We've been going through debates like this ever since our first President served, George Washington, whose birthday this happens to be.

Looking back over the last several years, particularly the last 2 years, I've been struck by the increasing complexity, however, of international affairs. I'm encouraged by what I judge to be a willingness on behalf of the American people to attempt to understand complex issues, not to oversimplify them, and to support policies and decisions that basically and openly address these complex issues responsibly and realistically.

Of course, there has never been any change in America's determination or our willingness to maintain a strong military capability, or to promote the economic health and vitality of our country, or to deal with and enhance the political and moral strength of our Nation. Those commitments have always been constant and unswerving. But we must also see issues that are complex very clearly. And we must devise intelligent and thoughtful responses to them.

Neither of the two events that have been so newsworthy the last few weeks— turmoil in Iran, the conflict in Southeast Asia—were of our own making. But both events place great demands on me as President and on our ability to define and to act upon the true interests of the American people. And there are likely to be many more events like this in the future.

As the world becomes more complex, it's more important than ever before that we do not oversimplify events abroad. Bad analysis inevitably leads to bad policy. Instead, we need to be aware of the deep historical forces at work in other countries. We need to be well informed. The revolution in Iran, for example, is a product of Iranian social, political, economic, religious factors, all intertwined. To ignore these realities or fail to understand them would lead us into taking actions that might be ineffective or irrelevant or even dangerous.

But in addition to understanding the complexity of individual nations, we must also understand how changes taking place in those nations can affect the future, both of that particular region, the entire world, and especially my responsibility, the United States of America.

We need to resist two temptations: to see all change as inevitably against the interests of the United States, as kind of a loss for us or a victory for them; or to imagine that what happens in a country like Iran will not have consequences for us and for other regions as well. We need to see what is happening not in terms of simplistic colors, black and white, but in more subtle shades; not as isolated events, but often as part of sweeping currents that have broad significance.

At this moment there is turmoil or change in various countries from one end of the Indian Ocean to the other; some turmoil as in Indochina is the product of age-old enmities, inflamed by rivalries for influence by conflicting forces. Stability in some other countries is being shaken by the processes of modernization, the search for national significance, or the desire to fulfill legitimate human hopes and human aspirations.

For us in the United States, change itself is not the enemy. Our concern is twofold. We must work to dampen conflict, to maintain peace, and we must make clear that it's dangerous for outside powers to try to exploit for their own selfish benefits this inevitable turmoil. That kind of exploitation can damage not only the integrity and independence of the nations that happen to be in a transition phase, but also can damage the effort to build a more secure and a more peaceful world for us all.

Let me repeat what I said at Georgia Tech earlier this week: In the Middle East, in Southeast Asia, and elsewhere in the world, we will stand by our friends. We will honor our commitments, and we will protect the vital interests of the United States.

The United States continues to be the most powerful nation on Earth—militarily, economically, and politically. And I'm committed to preserving and even enhancing that power, not for its own sake, but for the sake of the values and the ideals of our Nation. We will make responsible use of that power where our interests are directly involved or where we can help to create conditions for peace and for the independent development of other nations and for the realization of the hopes of human beings who live there.

We have forces in readiness, as you well know, which we will use if necessary. I hope that that need will never rise. I am proud that no member of the Armed Forces of our country has had to give his life in combat during my administration. And I'm determined to do all in my power to keep this precious peace. But let there be no mistake, our will and our determination are firm; our commitment to protecting our vital interest is unshakable. We must, therefore, be very clear about where our true interests lie.

In Iran, our interest is to see its people independent, able to develop, according to their own design, free from outside interference either by us or from any other power. In Southeast Asia, our interest is to promote peace and the withdrawal of outside forces and not to become embroiled in conflict among Asian Communist nations. And, in general, our interest is to promote the health and the development of individual societies, not to a pattern cut exactly like ours in the United States, but tailored rather to the hopes and the needs and the desires of the peoples involved.

To these ends we will broaden our cooperation with our friends in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, supporting their efforts to maintain national stability and independence. We'll consult closely with Congress to determine the need for additional military aid in this troubled region of the Middle East, to be used where it can be most effective. And we have called and will call on our allies to help whenever they can or will, working in partnership with us.

We are working hard for peace between Israel and her neighbors and also in other troubled areas of the world. In the future, I feel sure we will find demands on the United States to be increasing and not diminishing. We continue to bear the burdens of maintaining a strong defense, of supporting traditional allies who depend upon us, and working to reduce the spread of conventional and nuclear weapons.

But we also face a twilight world of change and sometimes of turmoil. We will increasingly be called upon to deal with events that do not represent basic challenges to our security, but still which require the responsible use of American influence and American power.

We have the strength and the will to act where need be, and I'm confident that as a nation we have the wisdom to act wisely.

That's my responsibility in brief terms, a responsibility which you share with me.

Now, I'd like to answer any questions that you might have for a few minutes.



Q. Mr. President, my name is Croskery, from Cincinnati. I'd like to know what we're going to do to ensure the stability of small oil-producing states in the Middle East during this time of instability in that part of the world?

THE PRESIDENT. I've just sent Secretary of Defense Brown into that region, as you know, to meet with the leaders of four nations: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel. We have the top officials of Oman here consulting this last few days with Secretary Vance. And in the Emirates, in Bahrain, and other small countries we've assured them that our influence, our power as a nation will be used to preserve the basic security of that region free from any outside political or military power.

We are trying to bring them together in a spirit of peace and harmony and a recognition that their own national independence ought to be preserved by them and also preserved by us.

As I said in my brief remarks earlier, I am consulting with the Congress now, based on the reports that Harold Brown brought back, about how we might increase to some degree our military assistance efforts for those small countries that feel insecure, so that through their own strength they might feel better able to withstand any internal and outside disturbances that are unwarranted.

There are some nations that provide major stabilizing efforts. Egypt is a strong, powerful nation in the Arab world; Israel's strength is part of our own security. Iran, we hope and pray, in the future will still be a factor for stability in their region—in a different character, obviously, than it was under the Shah, but we hope will be independent and determined to maintain kind of a rock of stability in that region, impervious to outside influence and attack.

So, I'd say, working with individual nations, working collectively to reduce tensions among them and making sure they have adequate military capabilities and using our own influence to prevent some major outside power from having an inordinate influence—those are some of the things that we can do.

The last one, obviously, is to try to bring some peace between Israel and her own neighbors. I think if the Arab world, in a united way, working with us, perhaps with Israel in a peaceful pursuit, could face any outside disturbance rather than to focus their animosity, as it has been in the past, on Israel, it would certainly be a very stabilizing factor.

We derive great benefit from free access to oil from that region. Some of our allies and friends in Europe and Japan rely much more heavily, and we are trying to get them to use their own influence to parallel ours in maintaining the independence of individual nations and the stability therein.

There are a few instances in that region where economic aid, either through direct grants, which are fairly rare, or through guaranteed loans on a multilateral basis or through international lending institutions can also help. That's kind of a gamut of things that we explore and use with varying degrees of priority and emphasis.


Q. Mr. President, many observers of the Middle Eastern situation believe that the failure of Egypt and Israel to sign the Camp David agreements as originally conceived this fall, and, in fact, the subsequent delays in signing any agreement, are directly related to the lack of pressure by the United States not on Israel and Egypt, but on Jordan and Saudi Arabia to join the talks or at least to lend support to the negotiating process. Would you please comment on this?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think in a spirit of complete candor we have approached our limit on legitimate influence, perhaps even pressure in a proper way, on the countries in that entire region to support the Camp David accords and to participate in future discussions.

We have sent delegations to Jordan, to Saudi Arabia, even this past week, to encourage their tacit or public or active support of these accords. And I've used my own personal influence to a maximum degree within the bounds of propriety in the same pursuit.

As you know, my own involvement in the Camp David negotiations has been substantial. There is no other single item that has addressed my attention as President, on which I've spent more time, more effort, more study, more prayer, than to bring peace between Israel and her neighbors. We believe the Camp David accords are a very firm and well-advised foundation on which to predicate, first of all, an agreement between Israel and Egypt, combined with a comprehensive settlement as part of the same procedure that relates to Israel and her neighbors. And whatever we can do—to use the word again—within the bounds of propriety, recognizing the independence of other nations, we have done, are doing, and will do to bring about peace between Israel and her neighbors.


Q. Mr. President, if the Soviet troops decide to help Vietnam in their struggle, how will this affect normalization and the Taiwan question, which is also being questioned as to its defenses?

THE PRESIDENT. The normalization of relations between our country and the People's Republic of China is an accomplished fact. It will not be affected one way or the other by combat among the Asian Communist countries. We have used every bit of influence that we could with Vietnam, with China, with the Soviet Union to bring about a withdrawal of attacking forces whenever they've crossed an international border, and to bring about an end to combat there.

My hope is that this combat will rapidly be concluded. And even today we introduced to the United Nations a request for a complete analysis or debate of this question, calling upon Vietnam to withdraw their troops after they have invaded Kampuchea, and also calling upon China to withdraw her troops from Vietnam.

But I would say that the recognition of the Beijing government as the Government of China is already an accomplished fact and will not be abrogated, nor will there be any interference with it.


Q. Mr. President, some columnists and commentators have come to regard the implementation of your foreign policy as a failure. They point specifically to the lack of a clear direction, a steady course. Aside from those areas covered in your opening remarks, what do you think has created that perception? Do you think it's possible that you yourself may have contributed to that problem? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I think that this allegation is to be anticipated. It's not unexpected for us.

There is a marshaling of public support in almost every instance when a President takes forceful action at a time when our Nation's security itself is endangered-obviously, in time of a war. When people feel that our Nation's security is challenged, there's a patriotic response to a President in a time of forceful action. It's not quite so easy to marshal overwhelming, enthusiastic, dedicated support in a time when a President's been able to search out a path and maintain peace. But I hope that that will be my achievement throughout the rest of my term.

In retrospect, I can't see that we should have done anything differently in the basic questions from what we have done. We have had some notable challenges.

I think that on a worldwide basis we've increased our friendships substantially with nations that are emerging as leaders. We have greatly repaired the dispirited nature and the relative weakness of NATO. I think there's now a renewed commitment to the strength of our alliance there.

Our relationships with Australia, New Zealand in the ANZUS agreement are very strong. For the first time in my lifetime, as a matter of fact, we now have better relationships with the three leading Asian countries than do the Soviet Union leaders, that is, India, Japan, and the People's Republic of China.

We've injected ourselves, I think, in a well-advised way in trying to resolve disputes among nations that might erupt into a broader conflict. I have just covered the part of my effort in the Mideast. We've tried to bring peace to Cyprus. We've worked with the British, trying to resolve the problems in Rhodesia, to give majority rule, a democratic government there, to end the racial discrimination that has existed.

We've worked very closely with four other major allies—Canada, France, West Germany, Britain—to bring about majority rule and independence of Namibia. And in other areas of the world we've tried to add our influence whenever we could in a constructive way to ensure stability, peace, and the realization of legitimate aspirations of people who are involved.

And the fact that we haven't a crisis, that we haven't had to go to war, that we have been successful in maintaining peace, I think, is an achievement.

But it hasn't required yet, and I hope never, a demonstration of courage on my part to call out the Armed Forces or to participate in an armed attack against other people.


Q. Mr. President, Secretary of Defense Brown has just returned from the Middle East, and it's reported that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, concerned about the role of the Palestinians in Iran, is interested in becoming the region's policeman-which is how some newspapers are describing it—in return for heavy infusions of U.S. weapons. What's the likelihood for this?

And, also, Sadat has said that he would not use the equipment in conflict with Israel, but how can we be sure that if he's called upon by his Arab brothers to fight Israel that he wouldn't use it?

THE PRESIDENT. I think Sadat has demonstrated in a very dramatic way, and also a consistent way in the last few years, his peaceful intentions toward Israel. His trip to Jerusalem, his participation, successfully, in the Camp David negotiations, I think, is proof of his good intentions toward having peaceful relations with Israel.

As you probably know, Israel* is a very powerful element in the Arab world, economically; their population is very great; their military strength is great, compared to many other countries. And I think they can be a legitimate stabilizing force. They now have five divisions or more on the eastern side of the Suez confronting Israel. Part of the Camp David accords, part of the negotiated points that have already been concluded on the Sinai agreement would call for the withdrawal of these forces. They would perhaps never be used. But at least any entity that threatened to attack another country in the Mideast would be faced with the prospect that those Egyptian forces might very well be used to preserve the peace. I'm not predicting that this would happen, but the potential would be there for Egypt to help to protect relatively defenseless other Arab countries or to preserve peace in the Mideast.

*The President meant to say Egypt. [Printed in the transcript.]

I don't want to try to comment on any nation being a policeman for the region nor for the world. I think that's a very serious mistake.

There obviously have been requests made by many nations around the world for military or economic assistance that is in excess of what our Nation could provide. That situation might apply to the request that President Sadat has recently made. But he certainly wouldn't be unique in that respect.

As you know, the two nations that receive the most aid from our country at this time, and for many years in the past, has been Israel and Egypt. And I think that the greatest single step we could take to preserving stability and peace in the Mideast, although it might be unpopular with some other Arab countries, would be a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. That's our top priority, and we'll continue with that pursuit.


Q. Mr. President, Gary Schuster from the Detroit News. How strained is the relationship now between the United States and Russia because of the recent events in Afghanistan, Iran, Rhodesia, and Vietnam? And, two, how does that strain, if there is any, translate into how easily the Senate might accept a SALT agreement, if and when it gets there?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it's inevitable for the foreseeable future that we will have competition with the Soviet Union for influence in nations who are either unaligned or who don't want to be completely under the domination of any other country. We have no desire to dominate another nation. But we would like to see each nation be independent, to be at peace, and to see the legitimate aspirations of those people be realized.

There have been changes made in the last 15 years or less that affect both our countries. I think it is true that in Afghanistan, a Communist nation* was replaced by another Communist regime more closely aligned with the Soviet Union. Angola, it was completely under the domination and influence of the Soviet Union. And perhaps Cuba is now reaching out feelers or a hand of friendship to some of the Western nations. I think the same thing might apply to Mozambique, Tanzania.

* What the President meant to say was that the regime in Afghanistan, a nation under Soviet influence, was replaced by a regime more closely aligned with the Soviet Union. [White House Press Office correction.]

This, I think, is a normal, evolutionary process. In the past under Mrs. Gandhi, India was very closely aligned with the Soviet Union. Their relationships with our country were strained. I would say that under Prime Minister Desai this has changed considerably. It wasn't too long ago that China and the Soviet Union were the closest of political and military allies. Now China has normal relationships with us and are very sharply estranged from the Soviet Union.

In the past, Egypt, the most powerful Arab nation, was an ally almost exclusively with the Soviet Union. Now they have an equally close friendship with us and are estranged from the Soviet Union. I think NATO in the past, immediately following the Vietnam war, was weakened. I know that some of our great Members of Congress, Mike Mansfield was calling for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Europe. Now I think there's been a revitalization of NATO, a strengthening of our alliance there which is very crucial to our own security.

I think, in balance, the trends in the last number of years have not been adverse to our country. But it's easy to single out one or two individual places like Afghanistan where those trends have been against our best interests. The point I'm trying to make is that the fluidity of this situation over a period of years is inevitable, and we can't freeze the world situation at any particular time or any particular region or country where it might be temporarily or historically to our advantage.

And we cannot say to the Soviet Union, "Unless all Cuban troops are removed from Angola we will never sign a SALT agreement with you."

Our negotiating of the SALT treaty has been in the best interest of the United States. It's in our best security interests. It lays a basis for enhanced prospects for peace. It gives us greater flexibility to use our conventional forces to carry out the purposes of our Nation that I recently, last few minutes ago, described to you.

I think every potential altercation or difference or competition with the Soviet Union in a troubled region of the world-and, as I say, these are inevitable—would be greatly exacerbated if we fail to conclude a SALT agreement or if we, on our own, refuse to negotiate with the Soviet Union to bring about a lessening of dependence upon nuclear weapons.

I consider the SALT treaty to be well negotiated in its present form, approaching a conclusion, I hope, in the best interests of our country standing on its own. And we could not permit the Soviet Union to say to us, "Unless you withdraw all your troops from South Korea, unless you reduce your military strength in NATO, unless you sever your relationships with Egypt, unless you permit us to come into the Mideast situation as a full negotiating partner, we will not sign a SALT agreement." We would consider that to be an absolutely unwarranted intrusion on the freedom of our country to make our own decisions based on what's best for our people.

And I think for us to claim that we can demand the same sort of restraint on the part of the Soviets as a prerequisite to the conclusion of a SALT agreement, that we consider it to be in our own best interest, is unwarranted and ill-advised and, obviously, unacceptable to them or in our own best interests.

So, obviously, we will have to cooperate with the Soviets whenever we can, to lessen tensions, to cooperate on trade, to try to detect common purpose where we can cooperate, to conclude agreements that might lessen tension and improve the possibility for peace. At the same time, we will compete with the Soviet Union when we have differences with the fullest confidence that we will continue to be successful.

And I think those two ideas are not incompatible for a strong, secure, able, confident, enlightened nation like the United States.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:10 p.m. in the Loy Henderson Conference Room at the Department of State.

Jimmy Carter, Foreign Policy Conference for Editors and Broadcasters Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/248860

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