Jimmy Carter photo

Interview With the President Question-and-Answer Session with the Editorial Board of Associated Press.

October 17, 1980


Q. We would like to start with Iran and the situation there.


Q. Does your characterization of Iraq as an aggressor and an invading nation in the war with Iran reflect a change in what you said originally was a policy of strict neutrality, and does it reflect any effort at conciliation with Iran for the sake of the release of the hostages?

THE PRESIDENT. Our policy on that has not changed. We have from the very beginning called for the honoring of international borders, the settlement of any dispute about the delineation of those borders by negotiation, not by combat. And Saddam Husayn's own description of their ultimate goals were the Shatt-al-Arab, which is a waterway, and no Iranian territory.

It's obvious to me that the dismemberment of Iran or the carving out of a part of Iran to be separated from the rest would not be in our interest. And in any case in the world, an invasion or an aggression is something that we would condemn.

Q. So, we're still neutral, but—

THE PRESIDENT. We are neutral.

Q.—a bit more neutral on the side of Iran now, because—


Q. —Iraq has moved in.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, at this moment, Iraq military forces are beyond the ultimate goal expressed by the leader of Iraq, Saddam Husayn, and I think that this is a matter of concern for us. And we would like to see any invading forces withdrawn and a settlement of the border dispute by negotiation.

We're not taking any sides in it. It's just a matter of our expressing clearly our longstanding position. This is the same position that we will take in the United Nations Security [Council] debate, if and when our time comes to speak.


Q. Is there any movement on the hostages? There's all sorts of smoke. Is it just smoke, or is there fire, too?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it would be inappropriate now to build up expectations for a breakthrough on the hostages.

We have consistently sought every possible avenue, direct or indirect to anyone who could possibly speak with authority for the Iranian militants or the Government to get our hostages released and to remove the differences between the two countries. We are observing very carefully the fact that Iran now has most of their Government intact, with a President, a Prime Minister, a Majles, or parliament, a speaker of the house, or the Majles, chosen. And there have been some indications from Iran lately among some of these leaders that they think the hostages ought to be released.

So, if we do have a possibility of negotiation, we will continue to pursue such a possibility as we have in the past.

Q. Has there been any Government contact with the Prime Minister since he's been here, any U.S. Government contact at all?


Q. Do you anticipate any at this moment?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't respond to that, because that'll be up to him to decide, but we would be glad to make available someone to represent our Government and talk to him, he preferred it. But we don't have any indication that he has come in here for that purpose.

Q. Do you have any reason to suspect that the hostages may be released before the election?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I would like for them to be released today, but I don't have any reason to predict that they will.


Q. It now appears that there is going to be a one-on-one debate between you and Governor Reagan. It also appears that much of the dispute that's gone on in the past has had more to do with tactics than with anything else. What do you think, politically, you stand to gain from a debate with Governor Reagan?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, our position has been one based on principle—

Q. I was certain of that.

THE PRESIDENT.—not expediency. We have always favored a one-on-one debate with Governor Reagan, from the very first moments that he was nominated and I was nominated, and have always been willing following the debate, if time had permitted, to have the other candidates involved in a multi-candidate debate. This has been something that Governor Reagan has very carefully avoided.

Now, just less than an hour ago, I received a telegram from the League of Women Voters, inviting us to a man-to. man debate in Cleveland, Ohio, on the 28th of October. I instructed my staff immediately to accept the invitation, and we will designate someone to represent me in the negotiations for the exact format. What I want as a format is a maximum ability to respond to questions, maybe proposed by the press, but also to exchange views between myself and Governor Reagan, to pursue an issue so that the American people can see the distinct differences that separate us.

I would also like to see a followup debate, or even a preceding debate, with the Vice-Presidential candidates, with Mr. Bush and Vice President Mondale debating each other.

Q. Does that suggest that you'd like to have a debate in which you and Reagan actually talk to each other rather than going through a panel?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I think the League of Women Voters format that was used between myself and President Ford was better than the one they've used this year between Congressman Anderson and Governor Reagan, in that we did have a chance to have a followup question between us. I think a maximum exchange on those basic issues, raised by the press, between me and Governor Reagan would suit me best.

Q. But you didn't have an opportunity to directly question President Ford. Would you like one to directly question Governor Reagan?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that would be good. And I think that the more extensive the debate might be would be advantageous for the American people—a longer period of time.

Q. How important do you think that—

THE PRESIDENT. I'm not trying to set preconditions. We've already accepted the debate. I'm just expressing my preferences.

Q. Those are the kinds of things that your people will be negotiating for.


Q. How important do you think the debate will be in determining how people vote in the election, and do you think that you would win it?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know about winning it. You know, I'm a careful enough observer to know that Governor Reagan is a professional in dealing with the media, and I say that not in derogation of him. I watched the debate that he had with Congressman Anderson, thought he did very well. He's good at expressing himself. He has addressed the same basic issues as a candidate for a number of years since he became interested in becoming President. He's articulate, and I don't underestimate him.

But I think that the result of the debate is not who's the best debater, but which of the two candidates the American people judge can resolve the issues most effectively as a President, who can deal with a crisis best, who is best able to keep our Nation strong and at peace, who can best meet the needs of Americans as a legitimate service of the American Government, who can have a more cohesive America and better cooperation in the future with the Congress.

Those are the kinds of issues that will be discussed or debated. And I think the American people will decide whom to support for President—not who is the most eloquent or who makes the most telling debate points, but who responds to those issues most effectively in the judgment of the observer.

Q. It is a pretty high-risk operation politically, isn't it, to have a debate 5 days before the election, 5 or 6 days before, and really a one-shot occurrence, whereas in '76 the first debate didn't seem to work as much to your advantage as the latter two?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, to some extent, a Presidential campaign is a high-risk operation. A lot of people enter it; few survive. And I recognized that when I began my campaign in 1975, and I recognized it this year when I was challenged by a whole group of candidates, Democrats and Republicans. But that's part of the political process. I believe that my position on the issues, my record will stand the scrutiny to be derived from the debate.

Q. Well, given the context of the whole campaign, though, do you think this debate would be decisive?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I think not, except to the extent that it will define the issues more clearly which have not yet been defined adequately in the campaign so far.


Q. One of those issues is Governor Reagan's statements, some of them made to us in our interview with him, on the SALT treaty and his statement that he'd withdraw it from the Senate.


Q. You asked the Senate nearly a year ago to withhold action on the treaty because of the invasion of Afghanistan. Is there a great deal of difference between leaving it there and telling the Senate, "Don't act on it," and pulling it back to the White House from the Senate?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, there's a great deal of difference in tearing up a treaty and saying, "Let's don't pursue it any further," and a clear statement, that I have made in the past and will make again, that we will pursue with the utmost vigor the ratification of the SALT II treaty.

There's no doubt in my mind that the SALT process itself, which has been supported by all my predecessors in this office since Harry Truman, and the SALT II treaty which we've negotiated are in the best interests of our country. To have a balanced ratio between nuclear armaments here and in the Soviet Union, to have observable and controlled limits on nuclear armaments, and to have a professed and avowed goal of massive reductions in those levels of nuclear armaments in the future is crucial. And to insinuate that a superiority in nuclear weapons would be a card that could be played to future arms control, in my opinion, is not only dangerous, but it's ridiculous.

We would not negotiate a SALT agreement in the future predicated on Soviet superiority, and the Soviet Union would be obviously unlikely to proceed with SALT negotiations predicated on American nuclear superiority. That violates the basic principle of the equal and balanced, controlled, observable in reducing levels of armaments.


Q. In Boston the other day, you said that we're the strongest nation on Earth and we're going to stay that way—militarily-and in the same speech, made the same statement that you just made criticizing Reagan for suggesting nuclear superiority. Isn't there a contradiction between those two statements?

THE PRESIDENT. No, there's not, because it's not a measure of armaments alone. We're strong militarily in armaments. We have, I'd say, at least as strong a nuclear arsenal as the Soviet Union; in some respects, we are superior. Ours is more diverse, more modern, more technically advanced.

At the same time, we are protected militarily by having peaceful neighbors. The Soviets have thousands of miles of frontier with the Chinese. We've got a strong NATO alliance and other alliances around the world based on free association, without any imposition of our will on others, as is the case with the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

Ours is a free nation that's innovative. Almost every new kind of weapon, from radar to MIRV missiles and now cruise missiles, have come in their development from the democracies and not from the totalitarian governments. Our land is more productive. Our ability to innovate is best. Many countries around the world would like to emulate our form of government.

So, the totality of our Nation's strategic position, including militarily access to the oceans, warm oceans, is much superior to the Soviet Union. I would never permit our Nation to be vulnerable to a superior military force. But in balance, in my judgment, we are stronger, and in balance, we will stay stronger.


Q. At what point would you ask the Senate to go ahead with ratification of the Salt treaty, even if the Soviet Union remains in Afghanistan?

THE PRESIDENT. I think at the earliest possible moment after the election is over and when the new Senate is chosen. Secretary Muskie and others are already consulting with the Senate leadership. The issue is certainly in doubt, because of the uncertainty of the election outcome for a third of the Senators or more. I think once the identity of the new Senate is determined, that would be an appropriate time.

Q. Even though the condition that led you to ask for a delay in the first place persisted, that is, if the Russians remained in place in Afghanistan?

THE PRESIDENT. That's correct.

Q. What would have changed that would lead you to—

THE PRESIDENT. The likelihood or possibility of ratification.

Q. I'm not sure I understand. Do you mean that in your action of a year ago, you were concerned with the effect in the Senate, rather than the pressure upon the Russians, when you asked for a delay in the—

THE PRESIDENT. When we delayed it before, there was a certainty that had the ratification been brought to a vote, it would have been defeated. I think that that certainty of defeat has been removed. And we will continue our economic and political pressure on the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan, but as a separate commitment we will also proceed with the ratification of SALT II.

MR. POWELL.1 Mr. President?


1 Jody Powell, Press Secretary to the President.

MR. POWELL. Just let me say that if you go back and look at the statement made that we would ask that the treaty not be sent to the Floor, we made that very clear

THE PRESIDENT. That's right.

MR. POWELL.—that that was a step that was being made not to punish the Soviet Union, but based upon the climate that had been created by their action which made the ratification an impossibility.

Q. It was intended to be part of the signal that you were sending to the Russians at that time, though, wasn't it?

THE PRESIDENT. No, no. In the private confines of this room and the Oval Office, among Fritz Mondale, Secretary Muskie, Secretary Brown, Dr. Brzezinski, and others, we have never felt any doubt that the SALT II treaty is in the interest of our country, and we have never had an inclination to abandon the SALT II treaty as a means of punishing the Soviet Union.


Q. Mr. President, your administration and you personally expended a great deal of time attempting to exert pressure on the Soviet Union to leave Afghanistan.


Q. You mentioned the economic sanctions, particularly. The Soviets are still there; there appears to be very little change. Is that a failure, and if it is, can you make another run at the Soviets? What other points of pressure can we apply to prompt a withdrawal from Afghanistan?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you know the enormous power of this country and the influence and authority of a President.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, I had the options of military action, economic action, and political action. I decided not to take military action, to go to war with the Soviet Union—a wise decision, I think—but I did decide to exert a maximum amount of appropriate political pressure and economic pressure.

We took the lead in marshaling other nations of the world and condemning the Soviet Union officially through the United Nations, and we encouraged—but they moved on their own initiative-among Moslem nations to condemn the Soviet Union as such. Thirty-four Moslem countries, some of whom had been completely friendly with the Soviet Union, even aligned with the Soviet Union, condemned the Soviets and demanded their withdrawal. I think the Soviets have hurt themselves severely in the nonaligned movement, where among some of those nations, the Soviets were looked upon as their special friend and with some degree of admiration. In addition, 104 nations joined us in the United Nations in condemning the Soviet Union as an aggressor, as an invader, and demanded their withdrawal.

We imposed economic sanctions against the Soviet Union, depriving their fishing boats of rights in this country. Fifty nations did not go to the Olympics, which was a psychological blow to the Soviet Union, both within their country and in their status among other nations. We have put restraints on the shipment of feed grains to the Soviet Union, and we've tightened up the shipment of technological equipment to the Soviet Union and have encouraged successfully our allies and other trading partners to do the same.

The most severe restraint, perhaps, on the Soviet Union has been the unanticipated courage and tenacity of the freedom-fighters of Afghanistan. The Soviets have not consolidated their strength within that country. They have run into extreme difficulty in imposing their will on the free people of Afghanistan, the freedom-loving people of Afghanistan. And I don't believe that the Soviets would consider themselves having won an assured or final victory in that country at all.

What will happen in the future, I do not know. But we've made it plain to the Soviets, we and other nations on Earth and the people who live in Afghanistan, that they have not invaded with impunity and that they have suffered very severe consequences because of their invasion.



Q. Mr. President, do you have any sense that the Soviets are in any way chastened or that this would restrain them in the future from similar actions?

THE PRESIDENT. I have a sense that that is the case, but I cannot certify.

Q. For instance, are you confident now that the Soviets would not at some point move into Poland if they felt, in fact, that the regime had been undermined by the—

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think it wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on that. Obviously, our country and other nations of the world believe that the Polish people should handle their own affairs to the maximum degree possible, that there should not be any increase in the influence that the Soviet Union exerts on Poland.


Q. Mr. President, you've said repeatedly that the trend of Governor Reagan's statements on the use of U.S. forces abroad is something that concerns you very much. Do you think that war would be more likely if Reagan were President than at this point?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I've learned from experience not to try to make surmises of that kind, because my statements are often misinterpreted. There has been a long series of comments by Governor Reagan about the use of American military forces.

I've served in this office now almost 4 years. There hasn't been a day that's gone by that there hasn't been a troubled place in the world or several simultaneously. Both I and my predecessors have had to deal with those crises. We've tried and I've been successful in resolving some of them and dealing with others without the use of American military forces in combat.

But over a period of years, Governor Reagan does have a pattern of calling for the use of American military forces—and you know the places—in North Korea, in Ecuador, in Cuba, in Cyprus, and also in Rhodesia, Angola, Pakistan, the Mideast. There is a pattern there calling for the use of American military forces—some, this year.

One was his response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan calling for a blockade of Cuba. I don't have any doubt that this would have precipitated a major confrontation between us and the Soviet Union. The Soviets supply Cuba with several millions of dollars of goods and services every day. And the consequences of that proposal in itself would have been very serious. That's not ancient history; that's this year. Two other times this year, he's called for the use of American military forces.

I can't guess or conjecture what he might do if he should be in the Oval Office. But the abandonment of the SALT II treaty, the call for the use of a nuclear arms race as a card to be played against the Soviet Union, and the repeated call for the injection of American military forces into troubled areas around the world is a pattern that concerns me very much, and I think it also concerns the American people. All this is a matter of record.

Q. Well, that would seem to suggest that as a voter or a citizen you would feel that there was a danger, that this is a man who would lead us into conflict.

THE PRESIDENT. As an American citizen, I have decided to vote against Governor Reagan—

Q. On that basis?

THE PRESIDENT. —and for myself. [Laughter]


Q. Mr. President, you often have said in your campaign speeches that as President you've dealt with a lot of crises that we never know about, because they've been handled successfully, and if they hadn't been handled successfully, then we would know about them. Could you give us some specifics today of what those crises may have been?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there always are a list of options that can be followed when you deal with a question concerning, say, Rhodesia. I could have ordered military forces into Rhodesia, as Governor Reagan proposed, to support the white supremacy government that was established there. I didn't do it. And eventually Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, with a freely elected democratic government. And I think it is now a stable nation in Africa, a friend of ours, and the rights of both the black and white citizens are being preserved.

That was a matter of judgment. And it's just one that comes to mind where Governor Reagan and I proposed a diametrically opposite approach to the same set of circumstances, which were known to the American people.


Q. You've stated consistently from the time you first began to run in 1976 that you were opposed to abortion.


Q. But as President, you said that, obviously, you're sworn to uphold the laws as interpreted by the courts. Mr. President, you also have some authority over how the laws are interpreted by the courts, since—

THE PRESIDENT. That's right.

Q.—you get to appoint judges. Considering nominees for the Federal courts and possibly for the Supreme Court, do you take into account the position of potential judges on abortion?

THE PRESIDENT. No, not on that specific issue.

I have personal opposition to abortion and to the use of Federal funds for abortion. I recognize the oath that I've taken to uphold the laws of our country as interpreted by the courts and as passed by the Congress. When the Congress authorized the expenditure of Federal funds for abortions, I've let the Department of HEW, then HHS do that. When the test was made in the courts, we defended the Congress right to proscribe the use of Federal funds, except in certain cases.

What I have tried to do is to discourage the need for abortions by improving services to unmarried pregnant women, by improving adoption services, and by encouraging family planning programs, by education of the American public with my own public statements.

But this is one of those highly emotional issues that affects people very deeply, and I have not felt that it would be advisable to have a constitutional amendment which would specifically prohibit all abortions.

Q. You say you don't take abortion into consideration as a specific issue. Are there specific issues you do routinely take into consideration in selecting judges?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't recall any. Obviously, if a proposed judge had a habit or record of racial discrimination, then I would not consider appointing that judge. But I've never gone down a judge's record on a specific issue, like abortion or others, and made a decision about who should be a judge.


Q. In Pennsylvania the other day, you said that there should be a balanced tax reduction not only in 1981 but as a steady, predictable thing in the future.


Q. Do you envision legislation with a series of tax cuts over a—


Q. —period of years or—


Q. —action each year or—

THE PRESIDENT. I think there ought to be action at fairly regular intervals to prevent the percentage of American income being collected by the Federal Government in income taxes, but the exact form of that tax reduction ought to be predicated on existing or predictable economic circumstances at the time.

Q. But predictable intervals so that people would know that—

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you have to make an estimate—

Q.—that at a certain time there was going to be at least consideration of another tax cut?

THE PRESIDENT. No, no. I've put forward a revitalization program proposal to the American people that I want to see implemented next year; part of it is a tax cut. My judgment, based on next year's circumstances, is that we need about half that tax cut to go to encourage investments to create new machinery, new factories, and new jobs. In 1963 John Kennedy made a proposal for a similar tax cut; I think it was almost a hundred percent for investment in plants and machinery and new jobs.

Governor Reagan's Reagan-Kemp-Roth proposal has about 90 percent for individual tax cuts, primarily for the rich people, and about 10 percent for the stimulation of investments in new equipment, new plants, and new jobs.

My judgment is that my proposal's best. One of the reasons is that we need additional employment, we need to modernize American industrial capability, and we need to avoid inflation. His thrust would be to increase consumer spending, which would create more dollars in the marketplace for basically the same level of goods to be purchased. That would bid up the price of goods and be very inflationary in its consequence. The net result of my entire proposal would be to reduce inflation, because a part of the tax reduction for persons, the other 50 percent, would be to counterbalance the now projected increase in withholding taxes on social security.

Q. You mentioned the percentage of income in future years. Is that where the predictability would come in? I mean, would there be a guideline that said, "Okay, at this point we won't collect any more of your money"?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we will want to hold down the percentage of income that is taken back in taxes, because if you don't make any changes in the tax laws over a period of years, as people move into higher brackets and so forth with inflation, they pay a higher rate of taxes to the Government. And so, you need to lower the tax rates in a very carefully balanced way from year to year, depending on the existing circumstances, to make sure that that percentage doesn't increase too much.


Q. Sir, in the 1976 campaign you voiced specific goals for reducing inflation and unemployment down to about 4 percent. Those goals weren't realized. I haven't heard you voice similar goals for a second term. Do you have any specifically in mind?

THE PRESIDENT. I think those goals would still be appropriate. We had projected, back in March of this year, a balanced budget for 1981. Recession came on us, and we are not going to be able to balance the budget. My goal is still to do so.

When you have an unemployment rate that's higher than you anticipate, the unemployment compensation payments, the welfare payments tend to unbalance the budget. As those people lose their jobs, which you did not anticipate, then they do not pay income taxes. So, you have an inevitable change in budget circumstances over which you don't have control.

No one, so far as I know, before 1979 began ever thought that the price would be more than doubled by OPEC for their oil. This inflationary wave hit the entire world, and it was something that we did not anticipate. Prior to that time we had known about the threat of inflation, obviously, but we were concentrating to a substantial degree on putting people back to work. Four years ago when I ran for President, the overwhelming concern among people about economics was unemployment, and that's why we concentrated on that subject, added an unprecedented 8 1/2 million new jobs in the country. But with the OPEC oil price increase, the inflationary pressures built up more than we had ever anticipated.

I think we've made good judgments on economics predicated on the information we had at the time. If I knew 2 years ago what I know now and could have anticipated the OPEC price increases, we would have put more emphasis on controlling inflation. I might say that we've dealt with it properly.

We need to increase productivity of American workers; that will control inflation. We need to continue to cut down the percentage of the gross national product that is comprised by the Federal deficit, and we've cut that more than half. We need to reduce the rate of Government spending, and we've reduced that more than half since I've been in office. We also need to make sure that we reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and today we are importing a third less oil from overseas than we did just a year ago. That helps us a lot.

We need to continue to remove restraints on international trade, and with a new trade bill, we're making good progress on that. The last 2 years, we've increased, for instance as one example, textile exports by $2 billion, and at the same time, we've actually reduced the imports of textile goods—a radical departure from previous trends.

Those are the kinds of things whose cumulative effect will have a beneficial impact on inflation. None of them will stand on its own, and they will all require some degree of commitment and sometimes sacrifice on the part of the American people. But I think that now there's a consciousness in this country about the threat of inflation which is not going to be forgotten any time in the near future, and I will capitalize on that realization. And I believe I'll have better luck in controlling inflation in the years ahead.

MR. POWELL. This will have to be the last question.


Q. With the campaign going down to the last 2 weeks and the debate coming up near the end of it, if you could pick up one issue that you think the campaign will hinge on—your people have said that the pendulum has swung to your side and things are now moving in your direction. If you could pick one issue, one thing that the campaign would swing on, what would it be?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that's obviously a hypothetical question that's not sound, because the people don't single out just one issue to the exclusion of everything else. I think it would be a combination of potential crisis in its broad range and scope on the one hand, and economic circumstances in the broadest definition of the word. And I don't want crisis to be narrowly defined as just military combat. Crisis is the ability of a President to deal with unanticipated circumstances in a sound, mature way, a responsible way. And economic circumstances is whether the people think that I or Governor Reagan will do the best job to give them a stable economic future.



Q. Let me sneak one more, because Jody would certainly want it asked. Do you think that the Reverend Abernathy's endorsement of Governor Reagan yesterday will have a significant effect on the black vote? Are you concerned about the things that he said about your handling issues that concern the black voters?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, since we've heard the news, Jody and I and others have discussed it very thoroughly and I've decided not to withdraw from the race. [Laughter]

Thank you all. I enjoyed it.

Q. Thank you very much.

Note: The interview began at 3: 28 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House.

Jimmy Carter, Interview With the President Question-and-Answer Session with the Editorial Board of Associated Press. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251280

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