Jimmy Carter photo

Interview with Pierre Salinger for L'Express of Paris and Free Radio-Television

August 23, 1976

Salinger. It has been often said and written that if you become President, your foreign policy will not differ from the policies of Nixon and Ford, because American diplomacy has no other choices. What do you think of it?

Carter. To my knowledge, Henry Kissinger is the only one who would have said this. However, I think that many things could be different. In allowing the American people and the Congress to participate in our decision making in the field of foreign policy, we will have much more freedom of action, and we will have a stronger support for our stand.

In the past, the decisions have been often made in the dark without consulting or informing the people. Thus, when Kissinger, Nixon or Ford spoke, their statements appeared shallow.

In any case, I would emphasize much more the stable and trusting relations with our friends and natural allies: Europe, Japan and the countries of our hemisphere. If we have to make important changes in our policy—and they are unavoidable in a rapidly changing world—I will take care to better inform our friends and to consult with them more intimately. I will do my best to respect the desire of the Europeans to speak in a united way without forcing them to take a stance individually.

I think I will be more decisive in my negotiations with the U.S.S.R., through promoting the exchange of ideas and individuals, trade relations, and a common approach to world problems: peace in the Near East; the reduction of armaments and of nuclear danger and removing the menace that North Korea presents to South Korea.

Finally, with regard to the developing countries, I will be more inclined, without any doubt, to deal with them on an individual basis, with more firmness and clarity, namely by sending to them very experienced diplomats.

These are the changes that I intend to introduce into the Ford and Nixon foreign policies.

Q. Many Europeans have the feeling that the United States experiences a wave of isolationism and protectionism. During your crisscrossing of the country did you get the same impression?

Carter. No. The problem is more complicated than this. The majority of people in Georgia, for instance, and even in more isolated states like Iowa and Kansas, are perfectly aware that their personal life is affected by nearly every decision made by the international institutions. The freedom of the seas, the Monetary Fund, the environment, the food reserves, the production of nuclear arms and many other problems are of great interest to the public.

Our withdrawal from the institutions that make decisions in these areas would have a harmful effect. On the other hand, the American people are profoundly distrustful of any military involvement in the domestic affairs of other countries, like what we did, with disastrous consequences, in Cambodia and Vietnam and like what we nearly did in Angola.

In order to find an equilibrium between these two tendencies, I think we must analyze each case separately on its merits. But I would never get militarily involved in the domestic affairs of other countries, unless our own security is directly threatened. I will play, on the contrary, a very active role within the United Nations, in the Atlantic Alliance and in all the existent agencies. I don't think that this is an isolationism. To my understanding, isolationism would not be accepted by the American people.

Q. With regard to Angola, many Europeans felt that in refusing to support the decision of Kissinger to help that country, the Congress has created a vacuum from which the Soviet Union has profited.

Carter. No. I think that from the point of view of circumstances, the Congress could not act differently. There was no more vacuum in Angola. The Russians and the Cubans have preceded us. We did not sufficiently prepare the country for the departure of the Portuguese. When President Ford's and Kissinger's support policy to Angola was made public—by inadvertence it seems to me—it caused an unfavorable reaction, because the situation had deteriorated considerably, without the Congress or the country being informed of anything at all.

Our policy toward Angola was not thought out, nor logical, nor consistent It had no perspective in the long run, and was not conceived to be beneficial to the Angolan people themselves. It was simply a reaction to a failure and a belated one; the Russians and the Cubans were already on the spot

Q. What should the US, policy be toward Rhodesia and South Africa?

Carter. You ask me to answer a question which until now nobody was able to answer.

Our country, of course, is irrevocably committed to the principle of the majority rule whether it applies to the blacks or the whites. But I must take into account another of our principles which is to assure progress through peaceful means. As regards any direct action, I will rely on countries that have direct responsibility in these matters. For example, on Great Britain in case of Rhodesia. I will not try to replace it.

I will try, within the limits of our own efforts of persuasion, to win over the world of business to our point of view. I will define a policy which would be as compatible with the policies of the African regional organization as possible, and I will attempt to use the good offices of such and such country. The countries of South Africa have a legitimate right to express their opinion about trade or diplomatic relations, about the problem of transportation as the things begin to change in South Africa. I think that the first sensible changes will take place in Rhodesia, and I believe that the majority rule is inevitable there.

Q, Let us turn to Europe now, A kind of ambiguity has characterized the American policy toward united Europe. What would your stand he toward a politically united Europe?

Carter. Of course, this is a decision that concerns the Europeans themselves. I do not have any intention to influence them in that sense. Personally, I am in favor of closer economic and political ties between the European countries. And I am ready—in case the European leaders would ask me—to encourage publicly, by word of mouth, or through economic aid to promote closer cooperation in Europe. This could be one of those changes that we spoke about in the beginning of this interview. I don't see any advantage to forcing the European countries to deal with us on an individual basis in the field of international monetary matters or trade competition.

If they choose to speak unanimously, we have to accept them.

Briefly, I have nothing against the Europeans making their own decisions and, if they ask me, I will help them as much as possible to achieve this. In principle I think that the United States would gain from a more united Europe.

Q. To many protagonists of European unity, this unity can come about only by escaping from the US. domination, or at least by trying to be more independent of the United States. To what degree is U.S. policy compatible with these aspirations?

Carter. First of all, there exists such a community of ideals and interests that a complete independence is impossible. We depend on each other for the defense of peace and for maintaining of our security as well as on trade relations. We have common historical ties and similar ways of life. For this reason, I have no fear that the United States or the European nations could really desire a complete independence. I have no desire whatsoever to dominate any European nation or Europe as a whole either in the economic or political sphere.

I think that a strong, prosperous and dynamic Europe is an asset to the United States and that there are many areas where the cooperation can be closer; as for example, in dealing with industrial and tariff problems, or in examining with the countries of the Southern Hemisphere the establishment of grain reserves, in better exploiting the resources of the oceans, or coping with the demographic explosion, and in order to reduce arms sales all over the world, that originate mostly in the United States, France and some other countries. These are some of the points that we have to deal with jointly. I think this is an urgent necessity.

As regards NATO, I would like to maintain its strength not only through modernization of its armaments but also by a more efficient effort of standardization, followed by a redeployment of the defense forces. This should be accompanied by a constant care to examine relations with those outside of the alliance, with the will not to fall asleep. These relations must be maintained, and they can be maintained without any intention of domination by the United States or without a desire of independence toward this potential domination. The common interest is for me the most essential thing.

Q. What should the US. position be toward the participation of the Communists in the governments of Western Europe, especially in Italy and France?

Carter. I regret the advance of communism, but I believe that in most cases this is due to the weakness or ineptness of the democratic forces to govern appropriately. In certain cases, corruption was the success factor for the Communist Party, in some others, incompetence or incapacity to maintain close ties between the rulers and the ruled. I think that the best way to avoid the danger of a Communist takeover is to maintain a well-functioning democratic regime.

I do not believe that it is appropriate to intervene directly and overtly in the elections. By threatening the citizens of another country to vote in this or that way by economic, political, or military reprisals, we risk producing effects contrary to what we expected. I hope that the countries of the European community will succeed in making it understood to the Italians and the French that the Communists have double loyalties which risk playing in favor of the U.S.S.R. or the East European countries, and this is a threat to their security and their peace.

This awareness could be, in my opinion, a decisive factor for the future of the free world. This has been shown, to a certain degree in Portugal, when the European allies told Portugal: "If your country goes communist, this will reduce or break our trade exchanges, and it will compromise the defense system that exists between the European community and you." Without applying any useless pressures on the Portuguese people, a complete takeover by the Communists was averted.

Thus, I do not regard the Communist tide as a disaster or as a factor for destruction of the Atlantic Alliance, but I see it nevertheless a disquieting problem. It is evident, that the margin between expressing anxiety and direct intervention is extremely narrow. There must be a lot of common sense to maintain it. It is evident, that in order to avoid increasing Communist participation in the government, the best remedy is a better functioning of the democratic regimes, but this is most difficult to achieve.

Q. What would he the attitude of your government toward the use of the Concorde in the United States?

Carter. I am against the use of supersonic aircraft under the U.S. flag since the Congress and the government of the United States have refused the construction of a supersonic aircraft in the United States.

Six or seven years ago, we abandoned the idea of the supersonic aircraft due to the enormous consumption of fuel per passenger, the enormous investments that it required, and the great risks to the environment, especially the noise pollution. If these drawbacks have played against U.S. aircraft, I think that they should be also valid against the Concorde and against any foreign aircraft.

At present we are in an experimentation stage, and I am ready to examine the results very carefully. If it becomes evident, after these limited tests, that it is in our interest to maintain the flight of the Concorde, I will take this into account, of course. But I agree entirely with the decision of the Congress 6 years ago, and I think that we should not regard a supersonic aircraft, like the Concorde, differently from our own supersonics, which have not been built for the reason that I gave.

Q. France has recently sold to Pakistan a uranium processing plant. Mr. Kissinger was opposed to this deal. What will be your stance toward the sales of nuclear installations?

Carter. France should join us in strictly limiting the sales of nuclear installations to non-nuclear countries, even if this should mean a loss in the balance of payments. The menace that the atomic proliferation constitutes is a very important problem. As President of the United States, I would never hesitate to express my opinion if France or Germany, or even the United States, would sell such installations. And I will do all that is in my power either through private negotiations, or through public pronouncements, to reduce such sales.

Q. If you are elected President, you said that you will use more firmness in dealing with the U.S.S.R. How do you reconcile this with detente?

Carter. The word "detente" has been exploited by Nixon, Fend, and Kissinger as a publicity slogan. We certainly have to pursue vigorously our efforts for the establishment of harmonious relations between the Soviet and the American peoples. For example, we have to develop touristic, academic and cultural exchanges.

As regards trade relations, we have to impose the rule of "do ut des" when we grant to the Soviets something that they need. It is evident that our wheat or grain sales, when the harvest is bad in the U.S.S.R., and our sales of electronic equipment, or machines—all peaceful supplies—are of great value to the U.S.S.R. I would not use them as means to blackmail the Soviets, but I would like to obtain an equal benefit from them for the United States or for world peace.

The U.S.S.R. must keep its commitments as regards human rights, as they have been defined in the final document of the Helsinki Conference. The Soviets did not comply so far. It is also necessary that Moscow's attitude be less aggressive during crises in the Near East, and that on the contrary, it join us in the relaxation of tensions, instead of pouring oil into fire, as it did the last time.

The U.S.S.R. should show more interest in the limitation of nuclear tests and in changing its tendency to establish its peace proposals on nuclear terror. I expect, from the Soviets, better cooperation in order to obtain a balanced reduction of forces in Europe and a commitment for fighting terrorism.

Here are the areas where we can expect beneficial results for us and for the U.S.S.R. and which strengthen world peace.

On the other hand, I hope sincerely for a mutual reduction of nuclear armaments within well-defined and carefully controlled limits, the slowdown in the growth of the nuclear arsenal, with the ultimate objective of getting rid of all the nuclear arms one day. This will not be achieved in my lifetime but the fact that our country has such an objective proves its sincerity in the SALT negotiations and constitutes one of the aspects of an appropriate policy toward the U.S.S.R. Should that be considered a hard-line policy or not* I don't know. I would like simply to be sure, that if I make a concession to the Russians, I must get a concession from them in favor of world peace.

Q. What should be the attitude of the United States toward the desire of independence of East European countries via-a-vis the U.S.S.R.?

Carter. We have to, in my opinion, maintain an open road to such independence. There is no question, for me, to organize clandestine operations in those countries to overthrow their government; but the doors must remain open; and we have to increase trade relations with them in order to improve our image in those countries, and to let our point of view be known by radio or other means. All this is beneficial to us, I think It is a question of a peaceful evolution, not of revolution.

We should, for example, let the Soviet Union understand clearly, that we are firmly in favor of an independent Yugoslavia, where the government will change in a few years. I mean independence with regard to die Soviet Union. We have to act in a way to diminish the tensions everywhere they exist.

NOTE: Translation from French by the Library of Congress. Interview conducted in Plains, Georgia.

APP Note: The following text was included before the transcript of the interview: "To understand Jimmy Carter one has to come to Plains, Georgia. The Democratic candidate has his roots in this small and peaceful farming village of the South. All along the main street one sees the names of the Carter family: the Carter Docks, the Carter Antiques Store, the Carter Agricultural Company, even without taking into account the Carter election headquarters, installed at the station. Here one breathes the air of the traditionally virtuous America, forgotten a long time ago elsewhere. Carter is proud of Plains, and Plains is proud of Carter, though its 636 citizens are not yet completely aware of what is happening. For them, Jimmy has always been their rich neighbor, a prosperous peanut farmer. They find it difficult to imagine that one day he could become President of the United States. The Democratic candidate received the special reporter dispatched by L'Express and Free Radio-Television in a modest red brick house a mile from town and gave his first interview to a foreign newspaper and radio station."

Jimmy Carter, Interview with Pierre Salinger for L'Express of Paris and Free Radio-Television Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/353879

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