Jimmy Carter photo

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

April 07, 1978

THE PRESIDENT. Let me say first of all it's a great pleasure to have you here in the White House. We've been conducting these meetings every 2 weeks since I've been in office, and with the arrival today of Alaska and Hawaii editors, we've had more than 500 top news executives and all 50 States.

What I ordinarily do, and what I will do today, is to spend 3 or 4 minutes just giving you an outline of some of the things that I've been working on the last couple of days or few hours and then spend the rest of the time responding to your questions.


On the domestic scene, the most important single issue for us is in the Senate with the Panama Canal Treaty deliberations, which are approaching now the final stages. We think we will have a vote a little after the middle of this month. It's still a difficult issue to deal with politically, one that is taking up almost full time in the Senate.

The Senate and House are working together for the final stages, I hope, of negotiation on energy legislation. Their two conferee groups are now dealing with natural gas prices and deregulation rates, and then will turn to the crude oil equalization tax question. The other three major items out of five have already been resolved.

I will be meeting this afternoon with a Member of the Senate to discuss the social security question. The Congress took, I think, bold and proper action last year. My own preference as President is that we should not reopen that question on social security this year.

We are pushing hard for our tax reform package, tax reduction which amounts to about $25 million [billion]. We are trying to hold down excessive budget demands that would come from additional farm legislation. The Congress has acted responsibly, I think, last year on this as well.

On the foreign scene, this morning I issued a statement on enhanced radiation weapons after close consultation not only with my own administration officials but also our key allied leaders overseas. I discussed this with General Haig by secure telephone, and this morning in Europe the NATO conference met, and I gave the heads of state, earlier, in the NATO conference, the statement that I would make today.

It was carefully drafted, and that's my only statement on that subject, because they are predicating their responses on that specific statement. So, I don't care for a day or two to elaborate it; I think it would be a violation of what I told them I would say if I went into that any more deeply.

I was talking to President Giscard this morning on the phone. He's coming over to make a speech to the United Nations in May, and he will probably come by to see me if we can work out details. We will be having the NATO conference here at the end of May. We are making plans for that already. It will be a 2-day, full session; the first day devoted to political matters between me and the heads of state, pretty well exclusively—maybe foreign ministers sitting in on some of the sessions—the second day on military matters with the heads of state again participating.

This is a first in having the heads of state so deeply involved in NATO details, both politics and military matters, and it shows the renewed importance of NATO in our minds.

We have been working, as you know, on the Mideast question ever since I've been in office. And we've become much more deeply involved in the affairs in Africa than ever before in our Nation's history. We've got a great threat there to peace that could involve the whole world if it should break down.

The Horn of Africa, the Eritrean question is going to arise soon in a much more highly publicized way. We hope that this can be resolved peacefully and that we will not have another war in Ethiopia brought about by the Eritrean question, certainly not involving foreign troops.

In Zimbabwe, we initiated this past week, along with the British, a meeting with the Salisbury leaders for internal settlement, also with the frontline presidents who surround Rhodesia and, hopefully, with the so-called Patriotic Front leaders. Later, at least one of them, Mugabe, said he would participate in these discussions.

In Namibia, we are acting along with three or four other of the Western leaders in the Security Council as agents of the United Nations, trying to bring an orderly withdrawal of the South Africans from that country, as has already been agreed to within the United Nations.

Another obvious, continuing effort is to bring about a peaceful and a satisfactory SALT agreement with the Soviet Union. We've made good and steady progress. I think they've negotiated in good faith; so have we. I can't predict that we will reach an ultimate agreement, because there are still several crucial items that we have not yet resolved.

Secretary Vance will be going to Moscow soon to pursue these remaining items. And we hope to resolve some of them and bring us closer to a resolution of them.

We are making good progress on the comprehensive test ban. For the first time, we're attempting to ban the testing of all nuclear devices, both peaceful and weapons. And the British, the Soviets, and we have made good progress on that in the last 6 months.

This morning, as a routine matter, I received five Ambassadors who presented their credentials to me. I spent 5, 10 minutes with each one of them talking about special problems with their own countries—countries like New Zealand and Italy, Ghana. This was a very routine thing for me to do. But before I meet with those Ambassadors, I have to learn a little about their country, review their latest problems and achievements so that I can send a message to their heads of state.

This is a ceremony that has both substance and just ceremonial benefits. Those are some of the outlines of things that I've been working on, at least today. And I would be glad to have questions from you on these things.



Q. Mr. President, I'm from Colorado, and there is a lot of talk down in Colorado and other parts of the West, particularly the Rockies and so forth, about the alienation between the President and the West. How do you react to that in your hit list and so forth and the water policy?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there have been similar articles about the alienation between me and minority groups, between me and the farmers, between me and the cities, between me and the Congress, between me and the Soviets, between me and the West Germans, and so forth. You know, there's always that inclination. I think we've got a good relationship in the West.

My hope is before too long to visit Colorado in person and to meet with those who are particularly interested in our water policy and also to meet with some of the farmers in perhaps the western part of your State. We're trying to prepare a trip for me, maybe sometime next month. We haven't settled on a date yet. But I would like to do this. I think that our water policy will be acceptable to the people of Colorado.

It's not yet reached my desk. But all of the agencies in the Federal Government who are involved in this, both those who build dams—Interior and the Corps of Engineers—those who have agriculture policy that relates to irrigation—the Energy Department, EPA—have participated in this water policy evolution.

I think that it's entirely inevitable that all elements of it will not be attractive for any person. Some of the decisions I make will be very difficult and close decisions. But we've never in the past had a comprehensive water policy. And I think in the future it will be an excellent guide to local and State people who will retain full control that they presently have over their water allocations.

It will also be an excellent guide for me and future Presidents and for the Congress. So, for the first time, we can work in harmony with some predictability about what we do see as major needs in the development of our water resources in this country. Also, I think it would tend to prevent future confrontations when inadequate or improper priorities are established for the expenditure of Federal and other funds.

So, my belief is that the furor that's been created by an addressing of this question will soon abate, and the ultimate outcome will be a great alleviation of tensions, misappropriations, and divisiveness between the Federal Government and other elements in and of our society.


Q. While we are in the West, could I take you further north, Mr. President, to Alaska?


Q. You have not visited Alaska since your early campaign or since you became President. And I wondered if since we are really a developing nation up north- [laughter] —whether you had any plans to visit Alaska; secondly, if you plan to throw your weight behind any effort with Congress to alleviate the oil glut caused by the Alaska pipeline on the west coast, by working out a tradeoff of oil with Japan; and thirdly, if you would just speak a moment about your feeling about the balance between the necessity to develop Alaska as the energy storehouse for the country and a storehouse of national interest lands?

I'm sure you are aware of the debate going on about that now.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you had several questions that would take a long time and would really tax my ability also. [Laughter]

I did go to Alaska during my campaign. It was when nobody knew who I was and not much attention was paid to my visit. [Laughter] I was there in June of 1975—

Q. I know you were.

THE PRESIDENT.—and went to a reception on my behalf. I made a speech and attended a major Democratic meeting. I think it was on Senator Gravel's birthday when I was there. So, I've visited there. But I would like to come back.

I think the temporary, excessive supplies of oil about which you are concerned is a worldwide phenomenon. I just came back from Venezuela and Nigeria. They are both concerned about the fact that their present oil sales are much less than they were a year ago because of decreased demand.

One of the reasons for that is that there have been. new sources of oil coming into the world market—Alaska is obviously a notable example—increasingly from Mexico, the North Sea supplies. That's a transient development, as you know.

And very quickly in our country, if present trends continue, particularly enhanced by the fact that we want to reduce imports from other nations, I think the Alaskan oil supplies will be absorbed eagerly by the rest of this continent.

We have proposed to the Congress now, as you know, after months, years of very careful deliberations, since and before I became President, the allocation of lands in Alaska in accordance with a congressional mandate. I believe that Cecil Andrus has done a very fine job. The committees have now considered part of those things, have made a few changes in them. But we are trying to be fair about the setting aside of more than adequate opportunities for economic investment and development of Alaska and, at the same time, preserve the precious portions of Alaska, hopefully in perpetuity. There are some other regions in between that will be preserved for a limited period of time, to be released for future development in years to come by the Congress and my successors in office.

I think that Alaska is obviously, you know, cherished by the rest of the country. I think everybody is proud of the frontier spirit that has exemplified Alaska's rapid development. I think all of us who are familiar with the political needs have seen the shock that's come to Alaska-maybe an over-anticipation of oil revenues and now a dampened world market that causes some concern; increased transportation cost of your oil has to be absorbed by you; the fires that have occurred and the other damage to the pipeline cause a temporary aberration.

On the west coast in particular, we do have a problem. There is a question, as you know, that has not yet been addressed about the transfer of any oil from the west coast to other markets. I'm reluctant to inject this into the present congressional deliberations. I think that initiative really should come from the Congress. We believe that the passing of the energy legislation will help to provide Alaska with a much more predictable future, both in natural gas and in oil.

And we're trying, in the congressional deliberations on natural gas pricing, the incremental pricing in particular, not to create any problem that would preclude an orderly and rapid construction of the natural gas pipeline.

It's such a complicated subject, I just hit a few high points. I hope you will forgive my not being more thorough.


Q. Mr. President, do you plan to campaign in Massachusetts for the Democrat who will run against Brooke?

THE PRESIDENT. I haven't decided yet. I'll be going out probably on four or five trips this year to campaign. But I don't have any plans at this time to go to Massachusetts. I'm not campaigning against anybody in any case. Ed Brooke is a fine Senator. I don't know who his opponent would be. I just really haven't decided that at all.


Q. Mr. President, I wondered if it is your impression that Israel has nuclear weapons, and if so, how does this affect your judgment of the capacity of Israel to defend itself in a difficult time?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, our policy is to accept the statement of the Israelis concerning their nuclear weapon capability. I don't have any independent information beyond that.

My own belief is that Israel is completely capable of defending themselves with conventional weapons alone, against any foreseeable attack now or in the years to come. We have participated with the Israelis in developing their defense capability. They are a proud and deeply committed nation. They have been willing, even eager, to sacrifice when necessary to guarantee their own security, not only economically but with the lives of their own people.

And because of that spirit that Israel has and a long-time commitment to putting security as a top priority of their nation, even when they didn't have adequate support from the rest of the world, my belief is that now and in the foreseeable future they will be strong enough to defend themselves.


Q. Mr. President, General Torrijos has filed a letter in the United Nations expressing his concerns about the DeConcini reservation to the Panama Canal treaties. I'm wondering, first, if you are fearful that these objections could jeopardize ratification of the second treaty; and secondly, whether, when you acquiesced in the DeConcini reservation, you perceived it as a source of continuing trouble in American-Panamanian relations.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think any sort of change or unpredictable development could endanger the passage of the second Panama treaty in the Senate, because it hangs by a thread. The support that we have is very tenuous in some instances. And I think the answer to your first question is yes.

Any statement, even if it's well based, by the Panamanians that would cause consternation or doubt in the minds of U.S. Senators could very well endanger the passage of the second treaty.

The DeConcini amendment is not what I would have preferred, but I think it's accurate to point out that the text of the treaties specifically says, in language that General Torrijos and I personally wrote down, that we do not have any intention nor right to interfere in the internal affairs of Panama.

That language remained intact. There was no successful attempt made—I don't even know if there was an attempt made—to change that language. So, that stands as a prevailing factor. The reservation cannot contravene the text of the treaty itself. There was no substantial effort made to amend it.

We obviously are a member of the United Nations. We're a member of the Organization of American States. Their charters, to which we adhere without equivocation, specifically state that there would be no intervention in the internal affairs of other nations in this hemisphere or, in the case of the United Nations, in the entire world. So, I don't see how the DeConcini amendment, because of a couple of words that might be interpreted two or three ways, could be considered as an intent of this Nation to intervene in the internal affairs of Panama, contrary to the three specific binding elements of the international charters that we will have upon us: the U.N. Charter, the OAS charter, and the text of the treaty itself.

And I think that after the Senate gets through with the treaties, a statement that I've just made to you should be adequate to alleviate any problem. And obviously, I've just made to you should be adequate DeConcini and to the other Members of the Senate.

We're not trying in the Panama Canal treaties to throw out the basic charter of the international organizations in which we participate.

Q. Could I follow that for a moment, please?


Q. Do you plan to do the same kind of lobbying effort you did for the neutrality treaty as for this one?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. We consider the ratification of the Panama Canal treaties to be crucial to us, to our Nation's welfare, benefit, future; our relationships diplomatically, economically, militarily in this hemisphere; and to prove that we believe what we preach in the area of human rights, treating other nations as equals. I think our own security interests are adequately protected in the Panama Canal treaties. So, they are that important to us. And I would do anything that's proper, within the limit of my power, to secure ratification of both treaties.


Q. Mr. President, in view of the plight of the American farmer, do you feel that maybe the American farmer is expecting or asking for too much too fast?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, I'm not only concerned about the plight-my background has been as a farmer; every one of my ancestors for more than almost 300 years in this country has been farmers—I've worked on this problem as much as I have any other single issue that faces the Congress. I think that the legislation passed last year by the Congress, signed by me, is adequate. It's already brought about a substantial improvement in the well-being of farm families in this country since it went into effect the first day of October. Farm prices had reached a bottom in September. And I think since then there's been good progress.

We do have market problems. You know, we could raise our prices, at the expense of other taxpayers, to the farmers and create a very healthy economic situation-no matter what the weather was, no matter how much the production was. But we would cut off the opportunity for export of our agricultural products, because they would be noncompetitive and we could break the budget. So, I think that the action that has already been taken in the '77 act, plus the administrative decisions that were announced by the Vice President while I was away on my trip, worked out with the Secretary of Agriculture, are adequate. I don't think they are excessive, but I think they are adequate. And I think that the present trend of increased economic well-being of farmers is almost inevitably going to continue.

Q. Can I follow up on that, Mr. President?


Q. you are quoted as having said on Wednesday that the farm bill would be not only inflationary but would be bad for the farmers. Now, in what respect would it be bad for the farmers?

THE PRESIDENT. You're talking about the Dole bill?

Q. About the farm bill.

THE PRESIDENT. Well if the Dole bill comes to my desk, I wouldn't hesitate 5 minutes to veto it.

You have to remember that one of the major elements of a stable income for farmers is exports. About 1 out of every 3 acres in the United States of our agricultural land is devoted to producing crops for export. That's one thing. Excessive prices would be a damper on how much product we could export.

Another thing is that the Dole bill, which was not adequately considered and, I think, was primarily motivated by politics, completely bypasses the administrative procedures that were continued and enhanced by the 1977 act. It's designed only for 1 year. So, you would throw all of the administrative mechanism, which is very complicated already, out the door, implement just for a few months the so-called Dole bill provisions, and then you would come back with the basic agricultural act after the end of 1 year.

Also, this flexible parity that's been introduced by the Dole amendment is one that's never been assessed economically. It's never been proven. Nobody has ever tried to administer it. What it means is that if a farmer dropped his acreage planted by a third, he would have a commensurate increase in the price supports for his particular farm products. And to keep track of every individual bushel of wheat and how much it would bring in the marketplace, depending upon how much that particular farmer took out of production, would be an administrative nightmare.

I think it would create so much confusion in the farm economy that it would be detrimental, not only to the farmers but to the consumers.

I haven't mentioned the consumers. I think you probably noticed that it would probably increase food prices alone more than 5 percent.

MR. WURFEL. Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. I'm sorry I don't have more time for questions. I know you will be meeting with a lot of other people in the White House. I particularly wanted, if you have no objections to your coming by and let us get a photograph with each one of you together. [Laughter] If there are any of you who don't want to get a photograph with me, I won't be embarrassed. [Laughter] Or if you get one, you can hide it when you get it back home.

I wish I had time to talk to you, but since we are pressed for time and they are a large group, let's just shake hands.

I particularly want to see Reg Murphy and my old friends from Georgia. He was the editor of our major newspaper in our State before he went to San Francisco. Reg, glad to see you here. Thank you very much.

Note: The interview began at 1:03 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. Walter W. Wurfel is Deputy Press Secretary.

The transcript of the interview was released on April 8.

Jimmy Carter, Interview With the President Remarks and a 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/245079

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