Jimmy Carter photo

Interview With the President Question-and-Answer Session With a Group of Editors and News Directors.

July 29, 1977

THE PRESIDENT. I hope I didn't interrupt your meeting. [Laughter]

I think what we might do is just let me give you a quick report on the status of our administration as of the last couple of days and then spend the other 25 minutes answering your questions about any items that you want to raise.


This last few days has been one of great activity around the White House, which is not different from most weeks. I'm putting the final touches on my own welfare reform proposal, which I will complete after meeting with Chairmen Russell Long and Al Ullman next week. I've spent a good bit of time on that recently, and we've been working on this with a great deal of enthusiasm and, I think, a good success ever since I've been in office.

We hope that the House and Senate, very quickly now, will take final action on the Department of Energy. They're making good progress on the overall energy policy. I think the House is very likely to finish that work before the mandatory summer recess.

I've been meeting frequently with foreign leaders. I think, so far, we've had 15 heads of state who have come here on official visits with me, and I've learned a lot from them. On my visit to Europe, I had about the same number with whom I met just a few minutes or extensively-a couple of hours, and I have a good relationship there.

This morning I had a meeting with the Panama Canal negotiating team, both our two Ambassadors and the two representing General Torrijos. And early this morning I met with Cy Vance, who will be leaving very quickly now to go to the Mideast. He'll go to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia, to Jordan and Syria, back through--Israel is the last stop this time, to try to put together some sort of framework on which we and the Soviet Union jointly can call for a Geneva conference this fall. We still have a lot of difficulties to overcome. My own belief is that they can be overcome.

Harold Brown is on the way back tonight from California, having finished a trip to Japan and to South Korea. Cy Vance is also preparing to go to China, and we'll spend all tomorrow morning, with me and him and Dr. Brzezinski and the Vice President and a few others, going over the component parts of his discussions with the Chinese Government.

We've embarked on a massive, 3-year reorganization program for the Federal Government, and I think this will be a slow, tedious, thorough improvement in the organizational structure of Government. It minimizes unnecessary intervention in the private lives and the business lives of our Nation and, at the same time, to be more efficient, more economical and simpler structured, with a clear delineation of authority and responsibility on the officers who will be responsible for certain functions.

We have, at the same time, tried to restore or improve our relationship with the developing nations of the world, with our own allies in Europe, with the African countries and, particularly, to deal with the long-standing problems in Rhodesia and Namibia. And at the same time, we've made strong and continuous overtures to our friends in the southern part of this hemisphere to make sure that we have as close as possible a relationship with them.

The last thing I'll mention, in passing, which is of crucial importance to us all, is the progress in our friendly relations with the Soviet Union. I put a lot of time on a speech that I made in Charleston last week to try to encapsulate, as best I could, the overall thrust of our policies.

We were successful yesterday in reaching an agreement with the Soviet Union and Great Britain to go to the detailed negotiations of an agreement on the comprehensive test ban. Our own desire is that we prohibit the testing of nuclear explosives completely, and we are making some progress in that direction. So far, the Soviets still would like to reserve the right to conduct some peaceful nuclear explosives.

But we've opened up new concepts of actual reductions in atomic weapons for the first time since they've been invented, to restrain military development in the Indian Ocean, to work with the Soviets on comprehensive SALT discussions, a prohibition against the destruction of observation satellites, prior notification of firing of test missiles, and so forth.

So we've a lot of things going on with the Soviet Union, which I think, potentially, are going to be very constructive. We have found them in their private attitudes toward us to be very forthcoming and cooperative. And these are difficult matters which have been ignored or postponed for decades, and we're trying to address them as forthrightly as possible.

I could go on with another long agenda, but I won't do that. I'd rather let you pick out the other items on the agenda that I have not mentioned, and I'll try to answer your questions as briefly and thoroughly as I can.


Q. Mr. President, previous administrations and previous Presidents have made a strong commitment and promises to the Cuban people in behalf of their freedom. Example: President Kennedy at the Orange Bowl, Miami stadium: "I will return this flag"--he was referring to the 2506 Brigade flag--"in a free Havana." Now, we are approaching Communist Cuba. Are we abandoning our promise of support to the people of Cuba?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I believe that, obvious]y, the Cuban-Americans here have complete freedom. We are not committed to the destruction by military force of the present Cuban Government; our hope and aspiration is that maximum freedom for people who live in Cuba can be achieved. But I think at the time of the Bay of Pigs, our country gave up the thought that we might do it by military attack.

We've proceeded very cautiously in our dealings with the Castro government. I've spelled out publicly on many occasions my own attitude toward this procedure.

We have signed now with the Soviets-I mean with the Cubans--a fishers agreement and a maritime agreement. And we are continuing in practical application the antihijacking agreement which has not been renewed.

We have also opened up the possibility, which will be realized very quickly, of diplomatic officials to be stationed in Washington and in Havana in the embassies of other nations. I don't see any possibility soon of normalizing relationships with Cuba. Castro's position has been that a prerequisite to this must be the removal of the trade embargo before negotiations can even commence.

As I've said on numerous occasions, my concerns about Cuba are that they still have large numbers of political prisoners incarcerated that ought to be released. They have large numbers of troops in Angola and other places in Africa which ought to be returned. And they still maintain an attitude of unwarranted intrusion into the internal affairs of some of the other nations or places in the Western Hemisphere.

So, I think all those factors tie together. But I assume from the tone of your question you were talking about a military overthrow of the Castro government. That is not part of our national purpose.


Q. Mr. President, Governor Briscoe of Texas is circulating just today a document several hundred pages long which is called "The Texas Response to the National Energy Plan," and this bears heavily on what he sees as your failure to deregulate the price of natural gas as he says you promised in your preelection campaign. And this is perhaps the strongest way that the Governor has come out and said this, and I just wonder what--is the Governor correct when he says that you went back on your promise?

THE PRESIDENT. No, he's not.

Dolph Briscoe is my friend, and I don't want to get into a personal interrelationship with him except on a basis of mutual understanding and friendship.

I think it's accurate to say that Congressman Krueger and several other Members of the Congress have adequately put forward the so-called Texas plan for energy development which, in my opinion, is primarily based on a complete deregulation of the price of oil and natural gas, which I think at this time would be inappropriate and a devastating load to the well-being of the consumers of this Nation. I also think it's unwarranted.

The degree of deregulation which we have advocated, a substantial improvement over what it is now, would result in the natural gas field alone in a $15 billion increase in the income of the natural gas companies between now and 1985.

There have been assessments made by the Library of Congress and by the GAO and other groups who advise Members of Congress, that the so-called Krueger Plan--I haven't seen the Briscoe Plan; I would guess they are similar and perhaps have a similar origin--would cost the consumers of our country maybe $70 billion more than what we advocate.

But I think that this is a crucial question in the overall energy concept-whether or not we should have extremely high prices to be established by the oil and natural gas companies without constraint and accept their proposition that exploration would build by leaps and bounds, that we would have unlimited supplies of oil and natural gas as a result, and that this is the best approach, or our own proposition on the other hand. I don't think that a crash program to extract oil and natural gas in a hasty fashion from American supplies is advisable under any circumstances.

I think that the emphasis on conservation and a shift toward coal, which we advocate, is the best approach. I also don't think there would be substantially increased exploration if oil was worth $20 a barrel and if natural gas was $3 or $4 a thousand cubic feet. I think the present rate of exploration would not be substantially enhanced, but it would be a great windfall to the oil and natural gas companies of our Nation.

As I said in the letter that Dolph Briscoe has, as I said in my speech on the energy proposal to the Congress back on April 20, our first move toward deregulation is one that will be followed later by others. It's a first move to carry out my commitment. But I can't bring myself to accept the proposition it ought to be done peremptorily. We've advocated, by the way, a $1.75 price for natural gas to be moved in interstate and intrastate supply lines, which is a substantial increase over interstate price now, and I think is adequate.


Q. Mr. President, last week in New Orleans when you visited the Zapata platform in the Gulf of Mexico, in your remarks after that, you indicated that you weren't disturbed by anything you had seen so far as a threat to the environment was concerned.

THE PRESIDENT. On that drill rig, that's correct.

Q. Does this mean you would step up encouraging drilling off the Atlantic seaboard?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. But I think it's accurate to point out that the major impediment-one of the major impediments to increased drilling on the Atlantic seaboard has been the oil companies themselves. They don't like the legitimate constraints that are placed on them by the Department of Interior and the Federal energy agency and others.

As Governor of Georgia, though, I worked with the Governors of our two neighboring States to the north---North and South Carolina--to provide, along with the oil companies, I might say, some assessment of what we ought to do. And we identified five places along the coast where we would like to see oil brought ashore, five places near this seacoast where we would like to see oil refineries built. And I would hope that all the States north of us on the eastern seaboard would do the same.

This new drill rig, one of the most modern in the world, I think, has greatly enhanced safety devices and oil spill control devices that were not extant when the Santa Barbara spills took place and were not applicable or installed in the North Sea spill. So, I don't think that we need fear, to the extent we did in the past, environmental consequences of offshore oil exploration and production.

So, to answer your question in a nutshell, I do favor a rapid increase in oil exploration and production on the eastern seaboard, and I hope that they find oil near the Georgia coast, first of all. [Laughter]

Q. Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. I think to do the oil companies justice and the drilling rig producers justice, it's a superb machine. And I was amazed at the quality of its construction, the electronics control devices, the safety devices, the training of the crew. I was really impressed with it. And as an engineer, it made me proud of what our country's technological ability could produce.


Q. Mr. President, is there anything you can say to us about the state of voluntary public compliance with your energy use requests? My question is based on a story last week that gasoline usage in Michigan, for instance, was in excess of 455 million gallons, which was by 7.3 million gallons the highest in the State's history since those records have been kept. Is the public not paying attention?

THE PRESIDENT. The public is not paying attention. That's correct. And this has resulted in an enormous increase in the waste of fuel and also an increase in imports, which seriously unbalances our trade relationships with foreign countries.

I just spent some time right before lunch going over the reasons for it. There may be some indication that stockpiling is taking place in anticipation of the wellhead tax being imposed and because of the uncertainty of future price increases by the OPEC nations. But that's a relatively minor factor, although it is a factor.

I hope that the Congress will act expeditiously and not weaken the energy legislation, one of its primary purposes being to impose strict conservation measures. But I would say that at this point, the public has not responded well; that the absence of visibility to the impending oil shortage removes the incentive for the public to be concerned. And I'm afraid that a series of crises are going to be a prerequisite to a sincere desire on the part of the American people to quit wasting so much fuel.

We've seen this now on two or three occasions already, as a precursor. One, obvious]y, was the natural gas shortage this past winter; another one was the embargo in 1973, the rapid escalation in prices, and now the very severe trade imbalance. I think these are just predictions of what is to come.

I'm concerned that the public has not responded well. And I think voluntary compliance is probably not adequate at all. We will take what the Congress does this year and continue to build on it in subsequent years. I'm determined to have a complete and comprehensive energy package on the books before I go out of office. And what we don't get this year, we'll get in subsequent years.


Q. Mr. President, aren't you finding it a lot harder as an insider than you thought it would be as an outsider to reform the bureaucracy? For example, I understand you probably no longer hope to cut the number of agencies from, say, 1,800 to 200. Are you having to sort of scale back your anticipation?

THE PRESIDENT. I haven't given up on that hope yet. Of course, a lot of those agencies, as we all know well, are minor commissions and boards and so forth that have been established by statute and you know can be eliminated when the need for them is no longer there. But I have not been unpleasantly surprised, Billy [Billy Watson, Macon Telegraph]. I had a good bit of experience, as you know, as Governor of Georgia and was familiar with at least a State bureaucracy. And I had heard such horrible stories about the Federal Government that I didn't expect to find a smooth-running, well organized mechanism here in place. So, I wasn't very greatly surprised.

I have been pleasantly surprised at the quality of my Cabinet; that there is not a weak person on it, and not a single one that I would want to change if I had the whole choice to do over again. They've worked well together.

We have, for the first time in years--I don't know how long--we've got a weekly Cabinet meeting. And any defects that are carrying over in the governmental structure are partially overcome by the close-knit working relationship between the White House staff and the members of the Cabinet.

We have established now--almost completed the Department of Energy, which is to some degree a replacement for about 40 other Federal agencies. And our plan for reorganizing the entire structure of the Government is well in place. I've been through this before, for 4 years in Georgia, and I think there's a good parallel there to serve as a guide for me.

So to answer your question, I'm not disappointed nor unpleasantly surprised. And what defects are here, we are overcoming them by close relationship among the officials involved.


Q. Mr. President, you've been accused of, possibly unfairly, of not doing enough for the inner cities in this country. In view of the fact that many of the problems of the inner cities can be traced to the fact that crime and high taxes are chasing industry and jobs out of the cities, what exactly can the Federal Government do except to put all these people on welfare forever?

THE PRESIDENT. We obviously didn't cause the problem; it's an inherited problem that's been built up for long years. I think in the past there's been too much of an emphasis on major Federal programs when billions of dollars have been spent on helping people that didn't need the help very badly.

I'm from the Sun Belt States. I think there's been too much of a channeling of Federal moneys into Sun Belt areas. I think between the downtown ghetto areas on crime control, housing development, and so forth, the funds have quite often been channeled off into the suburbs because of more highly educated people, better organized people, more able to speak loudly and who understood the complexities of Federal programs. We're trying to change that and focus the attention of the Government, whatever it is, on the downtown, urban, deteriorating neighborhoods.

Another thing that we're trying to do is to concentrate on the rehabilitation of homes. I've seen this happen in Baltimore. I've seen it happen in Savannah, Georgia, and other places around the country, where with a small effort on the part of a chamber of commerce or the local officials, the banks, working with the Federal Government--that instead of seeing a neighborhood deteriorate, that existing structures can be rebuilt or renovated to make very attractive homes near the core area for executive and professional work without abandoning the central cities and moving out into the suburbs. We're trying to do that, too, with our general HUD programs.

And on crime, I think the major cause of crime in those downtown areas is unemployment, and we're trying to focus on this question. We've got now about 1.1 million jobs allotted during the summertime for young people, much more than ever has been before.

We are putting into realization at this moment 20,000 public service jobs per week, even a greater rate than Franklin Roosevelt put people in the CCC camps when you had the Army to de. it and when the Nation was devastated by depression.

We are now approving 1,000 public works projects every week, with at least 10 percent of that allocation money being guaranteed to minority business people. And in addition to that, we have taken the CETA jobs, the comprehensive education and training jobs, and have multiplied them by more than a hundred percent, more than 200 percent.

We hope to increase those by 400,000 jobs between now and a year from now. None of these programs have yet been felt. Last week was the first week we ever were able to get a public works project approved.

This week the Congress has completed passing additional legislation on youth employment, above and beyond what I've just described to you. And I think by the time we feel the beneficial effect of all these programs, we'll be able to observe some improvements.

Obviously, we've got a long way to go in law enforcement. I think, to a substantial degree, the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration funds have been wasted in years gone by. We are trying to bring a more narrow focusing on them to prevent crime and to get out of the waste of buying very expensive and fancy machines and so forth and actually concentrate in the areas where the crime rate is highest.

I think I've seen statistics lately from the FBI and others that show that there's a general reduction in the crime rate. I think there's a better tone in the country, a little bit more trust in the Government. This was certainly subverted by the evidence in New York earlier this month. But I think, in general, throughout the country there's more of a respect being built up for public officials--not because of anything I've done, but just because we've recovered partially from the embarrassment of Watergate and the CIA and the Vietnam war and so forth.

But I think we ought not to give up on our urban cities and our downtown deteriorating neighborhoods. And my whole administration is focusing on this, and I feel hopeful about it.


Q. Mr. President, do you have a commitment from Prime Minister Begin before he left here that he would not formalize or legalize the three settlements on the West Bank?

THE PRESIDENT. No, we did not discuss his legalizing those settlements. We did discuss my concern about the adverse impact of establishing new settlements. He did not promise me anything on the subject, and we did not even discuss the E question.

Q. So that you weren't upset by the fact that they did legalize these settlements?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I was upset. As I said I think it's an obstacle to peace. And I let Mr. Begin know very clearly that our Government policy, before I became President and now, is that these settlements are illegal and contravene the Geneva conference terms.

Mr. Begin disagrees with this. But we've spelled this out very clearly on several occasions in the United Nations and other places that these settlements are illegal.

I think that it's accurate to say that the Israeli Government has never maintained that they are permanent but, that on a temporary basis, maybe extending quite a while in the future in their view, that they are legalized, but not as a permanent settlement.

Israel has never claimed hegemony over the West Bank territory, as you know. And I think that it would be a mistake, as I said in my press conference yesterday, to condemn Mr. Begin about this action because this was a campaign commitment he made. I think what he did was in consonance with the desires of the Israeli people.

But I don't want anybody to misunderstand our feelings about it. We think it's wrong to establish these settlements, it's wrong to insinuate that they are legal, it's certainly wrong to ever claim that they are permanent. And to establish new settlements would be even more unsettling to their Arab neighbors, as we try to go to Geneva in a good spirit of compromise and cooperation, than the allocation of legality by the Government to those already in existence.

Q. Well, this hasn't passed your optimism for a resumption of a peace conference in Geneva?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I'm still optimistic about it. But it's an additional obstacle that we had not anticipated.


Q. With that concern for the cities, how and why did you arrive at the decision not to declare New York a Federal disaster area after the blackout in the city?

THE PRESIDENT. We didn't consider it to fall in the legal definition of a disaster area. Those definitions are established very clearly in the Federal law. And the department leaders involved, Patricia Harris in HUD and others, analyzed the situation in New York as best we could, analyzed the definition of a disaster area in the law, and found out that it didn't match.

We did make a special allocation through Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, EDA, Labor, and other departments--including the Justice Department, to expedite the hearings on those that were accused of looting--I think a total package of about $11.4 million. I doubt that any more money would have been allocated to the city if it had received an official declaration. So we did all we could within the bounds of the law to recognize the problem in New York.

Q. Thank you, sir.


THE PRESIDENT. Thank you all. I'm sorry I have to go, but I've got another meeting in a few minutes. I've enjoyed it, and I hope that you had a chance to meet with some of our staff members.

I didn't make a speech at first, but I would like to say that it's important to us to have you come here. We learn, I'm sure, a lot more from listening to your questions and from my staff members talking to you about domestic and foreign affairs than you learn from us.

And I think it's important for your readers and listeners and viewers to know that this is their White House, and that we don't have anything to conceal here. We've made mistakes. We're obviously going to make them, like you do at home in your own business. But we don't try to cover up, conceal anything.

I've enjoyed the press conferences twice a week. Cy Vance has a press conference every month. It happens to be this afternoon.

And on many of the controversial issues that in the past have been decided in a very secret way between the Secretary of State and the President, for instance, are now discussed openly with the American people. I feel that's a good move. It exposes our doubts and uncertainties and controversies on occasion, but after that debate goes back and forth in the Congress and throughout the Nation, among American people, we monitor that opinion very closely. And I think that by the time I make a decision--which may or may not always agree with what the people are thinking at home--I have a much surer sense of what our country ought to do. And I think that foreign countries feel, for instance, that when I speak or Cy Vance speaks or the Vice President, that we speak for the country.

We also do the same thing with the Congress. I've met with every single Member of the Congress, Democrat and Republican, unless they just didn't come when they were invited. And if they missed one meeting, they've been invited to subsequent meetings. You know, very recently, I've had breakfast with all the Democratic Members of the Senate, and now we're starting to have breakfast with all the Republican Members. We've spent an hour and a half just sitting around a small table, and let them bring up any subject they want to me and I answer any question they ask me.

Q. [Inaudible].

THE PRESIDENT. So, it's kind of an open administration, sir.


Q. You going to veto Russell Dam?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think Russell Dam ought ever to be built, and I'll do what I can to stop it. Whether I veto it this year, I can't tell you. But if I don't, I'll be trying to prevent it being built next year. I think it's a waste of money.

Thank you very much.

Note: The interview began at 1 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. The transcript of the interview was released on July 30.

Jimmy Carter, Interview With the President Question-and-Answer Session With a Group of Editors and News Directors. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243606

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