Jimmy Carter photo

Interview With the President Question-and-Answer Session With a Group of Publishers, Editors, and Broadcasters.

June 24, 1977

THE PRESIDENT. Excuse me for interrupting you. I just wanted to come in and spend a little time. I won't cheat you out of the time. We had a half hour set up. And I was having lunch with Congressman Jim Wright from Texas. He's been very helpful to us, and we have a big legislative agenda, as you know.

I'd like to spend a few minutes outlining to you some of my own thoughts about current circumstances in our administration's programs--domestic and foreign affairs. And then we'll spend the balance of the time answering your questions.


We've got a heavy agenda, both in the Congress and in our international negotiations. We've already had good success in establishing a firm ethical standard, initiated by the House and Senate. We've got authority now to reorganize the structure of Government and to implement some improvements in the management capabilities of myself as President, others who work with me. We approved six major projects yesterday for reorganization, and we'll have additional groups of them approved from one week to another.

We are arriving at a point now of establishing a new Department of Energy. I think the conference committees will meet to resolve their remaining differences probably before the Fourth of July. This is extraordinarily rapid action on the part of the Congress in bringing so many disparate agencies together in one major department.

When President Johnson proposed the Department of Transportation, when he was supposed to have complete control of the Congress, it took him 2 years, and the final version of his proposal was hardly recognizable as related to his original proposal. But we'll have that done.

We have also gotten a good package together of economic stimulation, working on public works programs, training and development, summer youth programs, and others. And now we are working on an energy policy which will have far-reaching impacts and probably is the most difficult, comprehensive congressional assignment undertaken that I've ever known about. Maybe there have been others. I can't recall them. We'll present a comprehensive welfare reform package to the Congress before they go home in August, and before final adjournment of the Congress, which I hope will be the 8th of October--that is our goal--we'll have a tax reform package to them as well.

In addition, we've proposed social security reform and other major issues that I need not outline to you now.

In foreign affairs, we've got an equally ambitious program underway. We are working very closely with some of our allies, Germany, France, England, Canada, in trying to resolve the Namibian question in formerly Southwest Africa, working with Mr. Vorster in South Africa. And I think we've made good progress on that recently. It's still a difficult thing.

We are working closely with the British on trying to resolve the Rhodesian question, leading there toward majority rule. We are in the process now of bringing the parties to agree to accept the broad outlines of a constitution under which free elections might be conducted.

In the Middle East, I've met with all the leaders there now except Mr. Begin. I met with Mr. Rabin when he was Prime Minister. And Mr. Begin will be coming over here on the 19th of next month to spend 2 or 3 days in our country, and I'm getting prepared for his visit.

We hope that this year we might make some progress in the Middle East. It's a very difficult question. It's one on which I've spent a great deal of time. At the same time, we are negotiating with the Soviets, trying to reach for the first time a comprehensive test ban on nuclear explosives.

We are prepared to accept the test ban with adequate safeguards that would apply both to military and peaceful explosive devices.

The British have asked to join this discussion, and both the Soviets and we have welcomed them in those talks, and they are being conducted in Moscow this minute.

We are also talking to them about reducing the military presence or restraining it in the future in the Indian Ocean, prior notification of missile test firing, a prohibition against the capability of attacking observation satellites or others in space, and working as best we can to bring about a comprehensive, permanent agreement on SALT.

I feel at this point we've got a good framework for an agreement, but no specific agreement on the SALT negotiations. We are in a strong position on strategic weapons, and I think that strong position can be maintained for the foreseeable future, but we don't want a superiority there.

We'd like to reach an agreement with the Soviets where we can have a drastic reduction in total commitments with atomic weapons, but retaining an equivalent position with them so that either side will be strong enough to prevent--to permit a retaliatory attack, but not be subject to devastation that's overwhelming in an original attack--at least that we could still retaliate.

The other thing that we are trying to do is--and I'll just mention two more before I answer questions--is to prevent the spread of the capability for atomic explosions. I think it's accurate to say that 8 months ago there was 'a general feeling in the world that there was no way to restrain any more additional nations joining the nuclear explosive--I guess you would call it--fraternity. After India exploded a device, there was a general sense that with the spread of atomic power to produce electricity, that the development of explosives was inevitable.

I think that time has changed. And I believe there's a general hope now that with strict control over reprocessing plants and a long delay in shifting toward a plutonium society, that we might indeed prevent an expansion of the nuclear club.

The other thing that's been highly publicized is our commitment to human rights. We have addressed a subject that is very important to me and to the American people. It reestablishes our country, I think, as kind of a beacon light for a principle. that's right and decent and compassionate.

I don't know if this would be liberal or conservative, but it prides--the concept of individuality, of the freedoms that our country has espoused.

And I don't think there's a national leader in the world right now who isn't constantly preoccupied with how well we measure up on the subject of human rights. Do our own people think that we abuse them too much through government, don't give them an equal opportunity, or what does the world think of us?

This has been brought about in part by our own attitude, but I think to a substantial degree because of the Helsinki agreement and the present Belgrade conference that is preparing to discuss this subject, among others, in October.

These are some of the things that are important. Of course, I'll make a decision this month about whether or not to go ahead with the production of the B-1 bomber and a few other incidental questions of that sort. [Laughter]

But perhaps it might be better than for me to go ahead with a dissertation, for me to answer your questions. And I would be glad to do so.


Q. Mr. President, with regard to energy, you have indicated that nuclear power was more or less a last resort as far as energy plans go. Last August, after you won the nomination, you came up to New Hampshire and indicated that nuclear plants shouldn't be placed where people don't want them, and you outlined your feelings on that.

A week ago today the Environmental Protection Agency gave the go-ahead to the Seabrook plant, which has been very controversial in New England--specifically New Hampshire--okayed the use of cooling tunnels, and this more or less gives them the green light to continue with their construction of the nuclear plant. What's your feeling on that decision last week?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think you probably know that the decision was a narrow and a technical one--whether or not the discharge of cooling water into the ocean would substantially affect the environment for marine life. And after a great deal of analysis, in which I did not participate, the director of our Environmental Protection Agency said there would be no substantial modification of marine life with the discharge of those warm waters.

This does not mean that final licensing has been approved. It does not mean that the plant will be constructed. I feel that our country and others in the world are going to have to rely quite heavily on atomic power as one of the energy sources in the future. I think that to the extent that we can conserve energy, quit wasting gas, oil, coal, that we can minimize the dependence upon nuclear power. The present severe constraint on the initiation of new atomic plant construction in our country now is economic.

And I think that as assessments are made by power companies, many of them have recently decided not to go with atomic powerplants but to shift toward coal. If we do have technical advantages demonstrated in the clean burning of coal, with liquid fuel beds and so forth, I think that trend will be enhanced.

But I think it would be a mistake for us to think that we can't have and won't need atomic powerplants. I'm very concerned about the control on an international basis of the waste products so that they can't be changed into explosives. But I have no aversion to the use of atomic powerplants as an energy source. Of course, the siting of those plants is something that basically has to be resolved by local power companies, State legislatures, which can prevent action by the power companies and the evaluation of land values.

In Georgia--we worked with North and South Carolina--we did a very early study of siting, and we have identified places where we would like to see atomic powerplants built, oil refineries built, and any oil that might be discovered in the Atlantic Ocean brought ashore.

And I would hope that all States would do that. Our State legislature participated along with power companies, but I think that the actual site is one that has to be determined by local people.


Q. Mr. President, you have now been in the Presidency about 6 months. What have you found to be more different, more complex, and more frustrating perhaps about being the President than you had ever anticipated before you took the office?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that is hard to say. I might begin by stating clearly that I have enjoyed being President. It's been gratifying, challenging, and not unpleasant. I've had my family together most of the time. And the working conditions are good. The proximity of my office to my home is quite advantageous. [Laughter]

And I've chosen a Cabinet--most of whom I did not know ahead of time-who are superb. There's not a single member of my Cabinet that I consider to be weak or whom I would replace if I had a free option to do so. The same thing, obviously, applies to my White House staff. They've been very good. My working relationships with Congress have been good.

The complexity of some of the problems has been surprising. I can see why no previous President had been successful in evolving an energy policy or reforming the welfare system nor initiating zerobased budgeting or reorganizing the executive branch of Government or solving the depletion of the social security reserve funds or having basic tax reform. These things are enormously complicated, much more so when you get involved in actually making a final decision, than they are from a distance as viewed by a candidate.

I feel, also, that some of the international questions are going to take more time to resolve, if they are solved, than I had previously thought. Many of them, though, have been extant for decades or even generations.

There has been a surprising, adverse reaction in the Soviet Union to our stand on human rights. We've never singled them out. And I think I've been quite reticent in trying to publicly condemn the Soviets. I've never said anything except complimentary things about Mr. Brezhnev, for instance, but apparently that's provided a greater obstacle to other friendly pursuits of common goals, like in SALT, than I had anticipated.

We've had to do more traveling in foreign countries than we had thought--I haven't; I've only made one trip out of the country, to London. But the Secretary of State has found that because of past expectations built up, primarily under Secretary Kissinger, that foreign governments expect the American Secretary of State to come there, and his refraining from doing so and staying here in Washington is not well accepted by foreign nations. So, that's been one of the surprises, not particularly unpleasant.


Q. Mr. President, your energy program places heavy emphasis on coal.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, it does.

Q. The United Mine Workers Union-the state of that union at present is at best unstable, no indication that it's going to change in the near future, particularly with contract talks coming up. How can the Nation place reliance on coal when it can't rely on the coal miners to get the coal out of the ground? Are you monitoring that situation?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, to some degree. The coal labor contract will be negotiated this year. That's the schedule. And that's the last major labor contract that we face until the end of 1978. The recent election, of course, whose outcome will certainly be challenged, was an obstacle that had to be overcome before serious negotiations could commence. We are monitoring that situation very closely through Ray Marshall, the Secretary of Labor.

One of the exacerbating conditions about the coal mining relations are the wildcat strikes that take place outside the purview or without the approval of the elected leaders of the United Mine Workers and, of course, the rapid depletion of funds in the union treasury to pay legitimate claims. And all those things are going to create disharmonies.

We are projecting an ultimate coal production in 1985 of almost 1,300 million tons per year, which is about an 85-percent increase over the present production level. And I hope that increasing prices, increasing mechanization, opening up of new mine areas, and also I hope that after this year's negotiations that labor-management relationships might be improved--all those things are very important. But I don't have any way to control management-labor terms. And I think public concern about work stoppages, unless the reasons are very clear to the public, is a restraining factor, but that's the best I can answer your question.


Q. Mr. President, your support of nuclear power does not include the Clinch River breeder reactor.

THE PRESIDENT. That's correct.

Q. But you have stated that you would like to see the Tennessee Valley Authority use some sort of model in your energy program. Do you have any specific plans for what role you would like to see the TVA play?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. If you don't mind, to save time, I would like to get you a copy of a letter that I have written to the Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority that outline, I think, 14 or 15 different areas in which the Tennessee Valley Authority might play a leading role.

With roughly four million homes within the TVA system, they have an opportunity to test out the power suppliers' and homeowners' relationships on things such as peak-load pricing, insulation of homes, new price structures, and I think that these kinds of tests or pilot programs would be very helpful for the rest of the country.

TVA is also helping us with and helping themselves with research or pilot projects, for instance, concerning the fluid bed burning of coal and also, I believe, with the solvent, cleaned coal, along with, I think, the Georgia Power Company. So, these are a few of the things that come to mind.

But I've met with the Chairman of the TVA Authority. And he has contributed to this letter so that we could have a mutual exchange of ideas: The Directors have responded very well to this, and I think this would naturally tend to channel the large supply of research and development funds we have in the energy field toward TVA.

Obviously they'll be involved in .additional matters concerning liquefaction, gasification of coal, solar energy, and heavily going into the atomic power field as well.

TVA has also become a very heavy coal producer, as you know. And the clean burning of coal is a very important aspect to them. Those are some kinds that come to mind offhand.

I'm not in favor of the shifting now toward the liquid metal fast breeder reactor in any sort of production model. My belief is that we won't need the breeder reactor, technology of that kind, to go into production for maybe 20 or 25 years. I think it is premature. It's extremely expensive and, in my opinion, completely unnecessary.

We have a budget authorization of roughly half a billion dollars for research and development in atomic energy. A major portion of that will go into testing different kinds of breeder reactors, which may or may not prove to be the best of all. But to make a heavy investment in one particular type of breeder reactor--that is, the liquid metal fast breeder reactor--I think is ill advised at this point.

I might add parenthetically that we do have a breeder reactor that will go critical either the last of August or the first of September at Shippingport which uses thorium as its base fuel.

But I don't have any doubt that in the future we'll need the breeder reactors. It's just too early to put so much of our financial and human resources into one particular model like the one at Clinch River.

Q. One little followup if I may while you are on the subject of TVA. Are you close to appointing a Director on the TVA?


Q. Could you give us any time frame on that?

THE PRESIDENT. I would guess within the next 2 or 3 weeks. That's my plan.


Q. Mr. President, we've talked about the energy problem, which is certainly close to home. There's another one that's close to home to us all, I think, and that's the Postal Service. It took 5 days for the invitation to this festivity to come to me down in Arkansas, which is 800 miles away.

And it seems like the Postal Service is costing more and more and more and becoming more and more and more inefficient. What's going to happen?

THE PRESIDENT. I'd like to point out that one of the reasons is probably because it's not under my authority. [Laughter] No, I don't really know what to do about that. This is a matter that we are just getting started on.

As you know, the Postal Service is independent of the President and is ostensibly run as a business corporation with the corporate officers choosing the director. And I have met with him and have received voluminous recommendations from postal employees, postmasters, rural mail carriers, and others who cry out for some improvement in the service and the morale within the Post Office department.

I don't know what ought to be done as far as structure is concerned. I've not decided that it ought to be back as it was before with the President appointing the Postmaster General and being directly responsible for the Post Office. Now it's very difficult to decide who is responsible.

I think it's almost inevitable--although they did not take action in their June meeting--that there will be a call for increased postal rates, a call for an elimination of Saturday service, possibly combined with a realization of need for heavy subsidies, maybe not all three of those, but at least two of those.

I don't know how to answer your question, but as the time for the decision approaches, I'll be involved, because the appropriation of funds--and we face a deficit of about $200 million a month-will ultimately have to be approved by me and the Congress. I don't know how to answer your question any better. I'm concerned about it, too.

Q. Can you take a question from the peanut gallery?

THE PRESIDENT. I will get you next. Let me get this gentleman.


Q. Two local instances of a general problem: In the upper peninsula of Michigan, the Navy Department wants to install something called Project Seafarer, a method of communicating with submarines when submerged, and the Government is talking about nuclear disposal on a site around the city of Alpena.

In both cases citizens in the areas affected by one method or another have indicated they don't want those projects to go forward.

THE PRESIDENT. I understand.

Q. I'd appreciate both your response, if you may, to the specific questions, and also the general question of the interrelationship between what the Federal Government wants to do and the views of people in local communities who may be impacted by this.

THE PRESIDENT. I'm not familiar with any desire to bury nuclear wastes in that region. Most of our nuclear wastes now are retained within the control of the power companies who use the atomic fuel. But it's a matter that I could look into if you would like for me to do it. Alpena, you say?

As far as the Seafarer program is concerned, the plans for a massive burying of the transmission wires in broad areas of that region, I think, are ill advised.

We do need some way to communicate with our submerged submarines. We do have a way now, but we need some better ways.

The Defense Department is now assessing under the leadership of the Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown who is a noted physicist--among other things, some means by which, with two relatively small transmission line emplacements, we could get an adequate transmission to submarines submerged.

These would not be placed on private lands at all. And there is, I understand, absolutely no danger to people who would get anywhere near the transmission lines. This is just an exploratory thing.

But I am quite concerned about it, too. When I was campaigning there, the enormous placement of the transmission lines did concern me, and I spoke out against it. But as these alternative plans evolve, we'll be sure that the States would be thoroughly informed. But I think the essence of it is that it would likely be on public land, away from where anybody lives, and with a complete elimination of any possibility that any human being could be affected.


Q. Mr. President, a few minutes ago you said working relationships with the Congress have been good. This is contrary to the analysis in some other quarters. And I just wondered what you based that conclusion on?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the other quarters are the news media. [Laughter] And I really feel that this is a reporting job that hasn't been done well. It's inherent in the system, and I certainly recognize it and don't particularly deplore it, that altercations and debates and disharmonies and modifications in my proposals are the things that get the headlines.

But when I was at Blair House before I was inaugurated, I had meetings with almost all the Members of the Congress in groups of about 75 or so. And there were five goals that I had set for this year. One was the creation of the Department of Energy; one was reorganization authority: one was the establishment of ethics legislation in the House and Senate; one was the establishment of a comprehensive energy policy; and the other one was an economic stimulus package.

Well, I think any sort of an analysis by the news media as objective as possible would show that four of those things have already been carried out to almost complete fruition. The only remaining one is the energy policy, which is on schedule. So, I think the demonstration of this harmony is already there.

I might say one other thing. We've really loaded the Congress up with controversial matters, things that have been delayed for years or decades, sometimes generations, that hadn't been faced. They are controversial. They are very difficult. And I feel good about it.

The Congress does have still on the table some very important matters. One is how to deal with the social security reserve fund depletion. We've now got only a couple of years left in the disability fund, and whether the Congress will act permanently to resolve the problem as we have advocated or take action that would only provide temporary relief, I don't know yet. But either one, I think, would not be a sign of a schism between the White House and the Congress. And I think if you talk to any Members of the Congress, even Republican Members, you would see that they believe there's been more consultation, more exchange of ideas on domestic and international affairs than there has been in a long time.

But I feel good about it. My deep, visceral sense is that we have a good working relationship with Congress.

Q. Mr. President, a clarification, please.


Q. You mentioned five goals. I think I got energy twice.

THE PRESIDENT. One was energy policy; the other one was the construction of a new Department of Energy.

Q. I see.


Q. Mr. President, will your energy program take any steps towards price equalization for the Northeast area?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. We advocated, for instance, that there be a termination of the intrastate gas system and that interstate-intrastate would be treated the same. It would open up substantial amounts of gas we feel for the rest of the country.

Some of the gas-producing States don't like this, in particular. But I think we have a fairly good chance of succeeding.

Another thing that we implemented in our own plans--and none of these decisions have been made by Congress--is that there would be a guarantee to homeowners that any increase in fuel oil prices would be rebated to the homeowners who consumed that fuel for heating. This would provide some equalization. Any reduction in the amount of oil imported as a proportion of the total, I think, would benefit those regions like your own which are heavily dependent on imported oil. And more uniform prices around the country, which would result from a new energy policy, would certainly remove the discrimination that presently exists that has a slow but inexorable pressure on industry to decide to go to other parts of the country.

I think these aspects of the energy program would help to alleviate the present, I'd say, disadvantage, as far as energy goes, of the New England States.

Is the time up? I'll answer this one more question and then I'll have to go.


Q. Mr. President, Henry Kissinger was in Denver on Wednesday and he was defending his old turf. And the message I got from listening to him was it's easy to criticize the State Department for lack of imagination when you are on the outside, but once you are in office many of these rosy-sounding dreams and ideas for change begin to wilt and the test for a huge, negative question that he saw is, what are the consequences of failure of a foreign policy move?

Do you gamble a little more on those kinds of questions than President Nixon, President Ford, and Mr. Kissinger did, do you think?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't disagree with what Kissinger says. We've had a very good series of conferences with Kissinger, either myself personally or more frequently the Secretary of State. And Dr. Brzezinski has participated in some of those as well. Obviously, it's easier to criticize any Government effort from outside than it is to solve a problem that's longstanding, once you have the responsibility yourself.

I think we've made some basic changes in the previous policies that might bear fruit, but we've not made any additional steps forward toward a SALT agreement. We hope we can. I think we are taking a much more bold approach to that question, not only seeking limitations on future construction, which is what was spelled out at Vladivostok, but actually asking the Soviets to join with us in a freeze of present deployment and development of nuclear weapons, and then a substantial reduction below what we have now. This has never been done before.

We are asking the Soviets to join with us in a comprehensive test ban that would prevent any nuclear explosives being tested. This has never been done before. Demilitarization of the Indian Ocean has never been attempted before, and so forth.

I don't say that in criticism of the previous administration. We have not achieved success yet in any of these efforts, and may not. I can't guarantee success.

I think that we have also taken a different approach in the Middle East. And it's a matter of judgment. Mr. Kissinger's position was to deal with the Middle Eastern question in a step-by-step, incremental way. Our hope is that we can have an overall settlement by the participants in the Middle East discussion without delay, hopefully this year, and that once that settlement is reached, then the step-by-step implementation of the ultimate settlement is the best way to go about it. It's a completely different perspective.

I don't know that I can guarantee success. Again, we've tried to look on Latin America as a group of independent nations equal to us and to deal with them individually, not as a group or a homogeneous block.

We've been much more aggressive, I think, on the field of human rights. It means that to some degree our friendships and our allegiances in the different parts of the world, like Latin America, have changed.

We've tried to get away from blind support of totalitarian governments .and tried to enhance and reward those countries that are shifting toward a more democratic process. And we've tried to compliment and encourage countries like Venezuela, countries like Ecuador that are shifting strongly toward more democratic processes. We've taken a very strong stand that has brought some adverse reaction on the control of nuclear weapons as far as new countries are concerned in the sales policies of our own nuclear-enriched fuels. And in addition to that, we've departed from Mr. Kissinger's vast attitude, along with obviously the Presidents under whom he's served, in the sale of conventional weapons. We have some very strict standards now for the sale of conventional weapons.

And now it's the consumers' or the customers' responsibility to convince us that they need those weapons and that the sale of those weapons will be to the advantage of the United States rather than the other way around where arms manufacturers freely went to other countries, sold their products, and we were in effect quietly encouraging this escalation in nuclear arms--I mean in conventional arms sales around the world.

So, there are some differences in perspective, but I have to say that it's too early to assess tangible results.

Q. Mr. President, it's no more of a gamble as far as you see it?

THE PRESIDENT. I see no more of a gamble, no. I think our positions are much more clearly expressed in a public way. I think that all of you representing the news media and your readers and viewers and listeners have a much more accurate assessment of what we hope to achieve in SALT negotiations, what we hope to achieve with human rights and with nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, and what we hope to achieve in the Middle East, and what we hope to achieve in dealing with the People's Republic of China and Cuba, and so forth, very controversial matters, than they did in the past.

But I think the openness of it and the involvement of the public in the debates and discussions will prevent our making some of the mistakes that were so devastating to our country in the past. I don't think it's more risky to do this. I don't believe that open debate in itself is a risk. I think it possibly avoids the risk of a serious mistake when a decision is made in secret without the sound judgment and the experience and the common sense of the American people and the Congress being involved in making those crucial decisions.

Thank you very much. I enjoyed it. I hope you enjoyed your stay here. With whom have you met today?

Q. We met Mrs. Peterson.

Q. The Counsel.

Q. David Aaron.

Q. And a meeting with Geno Baroni.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I hope you do enjoy it here. We are very honored to have you here.

This is a program that we think has been successful. I think if you have noticed the news in. the last few weeks when the transcript of my answers are released, on, I think, Sunday, each time there has been a very heavy coverage of some of the points because you ask questions looking at your particular parochial viewpoint that bring out issues that quite often are not asked by the Washington correspondents who are here all the time at the center of government. And it also makes me think about questions that you raise that I would very rarely get in a Washington White House news conference. And I've been benefited greatly from it. Thank you very much.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: The interview began at 1:15 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. The transcript of the interview was released on June 25.

Prior to the interview, the group held meetings with Esther Peterson, Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs, Robert J. Lipshutz, Counsel to the President, David L. Aaron, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and Geno C. Baroni, Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for Neighborhood and Consumer Affairs.

Jimmy Carter, Interview With the President Question-and-Answer Session With a Group of Publishers, Editors, and Broadcasters. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244019

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