Jimmy Carter photo

Los Angeles, California Remarks in an Interview With Reporters From Newscenter 4, KNBC-TV.

September 23, 1980


Q. Mr. President, the war between Iran and Iraq seems to be escalating by the hour. Can you tell us at this point what you think the impact will be on the hostages in Iran and on the shipment of oil through the Straits of Hormuz?

THE PRESIDENT. Early this morning I've talked to Dr. Brzezinski, the national security adviser, and to Secretary Brown and also communicated with Ed Muskie, who is now at the United Nations. Our own position is one of strict neutrality. And we're doing all we can, through the U.N. and through other means, to bring a peaceful conclusion to this combat that seems to be waged so far—most of the action seems to be by air or naval forces and with a minimum involvement at this point, so far as we know, of ground forces.

I don't see any way at this time that this altercation between Iran and Iraq will affect the safety or the lives of the hostages nor the date of their release. But it's too early to assess that with any sort of final conclusion.

Q. Well, would you still be able to say that if it appeared that the Government of Iran had become unstable as a result of the conflict, if it were likely to fall?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there's no indication of that at all so far. Iran has come through a very long and tedious and extended period of forming a government. They've elected the members of their parliament. They now have for the first time a Prime Minister and a speaker of the parliament plus a President. They're putting together the final identity of the Cabinet. And of course, Khomeini still enjoys a great influence on the entire process. So, I believe that the likelihood of a destabilization of the Iran Government is not very great.


Q. Mr. President, news reports this morning quote the Iraqi Government as saying that its objective is to break what it calls "the racist government of the Ayatollah Khomeini." Do you accept that characterization?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I think obviously the difference in religious beliefs would incur that sort of statement on both sides, but no, I wouldn't ascribe any sort of racism to either government. They have their fervent beliefs, well known to their own people, and I think both governments are acceptable to their people.


Q. Mr. President, with regard to this country's position of strict neutrality with regard to that conflict and with regard to the fact that the Straits of Hormuz are extremely strategic in terms of oil shipments for this country, you and your administration have said in the past on several occasions that we are committed in terms of strategic commitment to that area of the world.


Q. Do I assume that that has not changed?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Iraq has been exporting lately, I think, about 3 million barrels of oil per day. Iran's export has been down to about 500,000 or half a million barrels per day. Obviously with the Straits of Hormuz and also the other areas that are closed—Shatt al Arab-closed or at least restrained, this will have an adverse affect on oil supplies in the world market. Although no interruption of oil supplies is good for us, this is a better time, if we had to choose one, because there is a large supply of oil on world markets (relative to demand)* at this particular moment, and also we (in the U.S.)* have perhaps the highest reserve supplies of oil on hand that I can remember.

*White House clarification.

So, a temporary interruption of oil shipments from Iraq and Iran will not be very serious, but the prospect of an extended interruption would be very serious to us. However, the only solution to this for us is certainly not any sort of engagement between Iran and Iraq by our own forces, but simply an effort to bring a peaceful solution to this problem.

Q. But in terms of defending the Straits of Hormuz to ensure oil supplies continuing, has that commitment on the part of this country changed, and for example, do you take seriously Iran's threat to blockade the Straits?

THE PRESIDENT. We have never taken a position that Iran or Iraq should be a threat to which we would respond with our force or might. The principle that I've described is if the Soviet Union should move into that area, it would be a threat to our vital needs in this country. That's the principle that I described in my State of the Union speech, but not involving Iran and Iraq's control over their own waterways.

Q. Mr. President, you said that a temporary cutoff of oil supplies would not be too serious, because of the supply situation now. Suppose it persists. Would that lead to undermining the whole energy conservation program and the energy management program that you've tried to develop and require you to ask the American people to make new sacrifices, lead to new lines at the gas stations, that sort of thing?

THE PRESIDENT. This threat to the oil supplies from Iran and Iraq is a vivid demonstration of the need for the exact energy policy that my administration has put through the Congress and now has implemented. Every day this year we are importing 1 ½ to 2 million barrels of oil from overseas less than we did just a year ago. This is a notable achievement by the American people, based upon the new energy policy that we've put forward. If this interruption of supply should continue, then I would have to call on the American people to restrict their consumption of oil even more severely on a voluntary basis, which I think would be adequate, with a patriotic tone to it.

But there is no doubt in my mind that we must continue to move forward in strict conservation measures in this country and also in the production of more American energy of all kinds. That's exactly what we have done since the first day I came into office, and the Congress has responded very well.

This interruption in the Persian Gulf region could become important not only to our own country in the future but to all the major consuming nations. And at Tokyo and also at Venice, at the economic summit conference, with six other major developed nations, we jointly committed ourselves to strict conservation measures, which have been implemented, and we also agreed that if there is a severe interruption of international oil supplies that we would consult very quickly and share the shortage among ourselves in an equitable way. That mechanism has been put into place. It's ready to be used, if it must be used. I hope it will not be necessary.


Q. Before we get away from Iran completely, back again to the question of the hostages. If there appears to be instability of the Government in Iran, if it appears to be threatened by the Iraqis or by anybody else, is there any possibility that this country would consider any sort of military action to go and get the hostages out of there, lest their lives appear to be threatened as well?

THE PRESIDENT. The worst thing I could do as President would be to escalate this disruption or altercation between Iran and Iraq to an even greater international crisis because of ill-considered decisions by myself. What we want to do is to calm the situation and not aggravate it. And so any comment by me about the use of American forces would be completely inappropriate.

Our forces have been built up in the Indian Ocean and in the Persian Gulf region to protect our interests and to let the people there know that the fate of the hostages is very important to us, and stability and peace in the region are very important to us. But I have no inclination to act precipitously or to take any action that might aggravate an already dangerous situation.

We'll be calm, steady, open in our diplomatic posture, and working as best we can with other nations and with Iran and Iraq to resolve this entire problem peacefully. The basic decision, of course, is within the government structure of Iran and Iraq. We'll offer our good services to enhance peace, and if it's accepted, we'll be gratified. But we're not going to interfere.


Q. Will you comment, Mr. President, on Senator Percy's comment yesterday that if the conflict continues he believes that gasoline prices in this country would raise to $4 to $5 a gallon, that home heating bills this winter would be as much as a thousand dollars a month?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that's an exaggeration.


Q. Mr. President, the current headlines which report war, however limited it may be at the moment, are disconcerting to people. In the past day, when you campaigned here in the Los Angeles area, you said several times that the issue of the election this year is nothing less than the question of war and peace. Are you suggesting that only by voting for you can the American people assure that there will be peace?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I'm sure that any. body who's in the White House as President would want to maintain peace.

It is true, however, that in the last 3 1/2 years we've kept our Nation at peace. This has not been the record of very many Presidents in this century. And I'm committed to keeping our military forces strong, our political and diplomatic relationships with other nations intact, our alliances commonly committed to the preservation of peace, and to using the strength of our country with reticence and with calmness, so that we don't aggravate potential crises into a warlike environment which might lead to combat. This is very important.

And I believe that the American people must realize that the identity of the President and the strength of our Nation, our relationship with our allies, our relationship with potential enemies, and the rhetoric that's put forward by a President all are factors in the maintenance of peace. I'm committed to this, a continuation of what I've done the first 3 1/2 years. And my prayer is that when I go out of office at the end of two terms, I hope that our Nation will have been at peace throughout that period.


Q. You've gone so far as to say that the real issue in this election may be the difference between war and peace. How far are you willing to go with respect to your opponent, your principal opponent, Ronald Reagan, in saying that his election might be a threat to peace?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think it would be better for the news media and for the American public to analyze some of the statements that Governor Reagan has made in the past calling for a blockade of Cuba, calling for the use of American military forces in Lebanon, calling for the American military forces to be used even off the western coast of South America. I think in 8 or 10 different instances in recent years he has called for the use of American military force to address problems that arise diplomatically between nations.

I don't know what he would do if he were in the Oval Office, but if you judge by his past highly rhetorical calls for the use of American military forces in these altercations, it is disturbing. I'll let him answer that question. But I know that I'm committed to the use of American strength for the maintenance of peace and not to inject American military forces into a situation when it's not necessary in order to protect American interests.


Q. He says what he has in mind is the adoption of a policy of strength in order to maintain peace.

THE PRESIDENT. But there's a difference between keeping a nation strong militarily and using those strong military forces in combat, and that's a distinction that a President alone must exercise.

My record as President has been to keep our Nation strong. After 7 years of downward commitments to American military capability, in 7 out of 8 of those years that the Republicans were in office before me, we had a decrease in American budget commitment to our military strength. We've been going upward every year since I've been in office, and we'll continue to do that to keep our Nation strong.

That strength must be used, however, with great reticence and great care and great calmness and great deliberation, not to create combat by getting our military involved in the use of weapons, but to let people know we are a peaceful nation, but if we are attacked or if our interests are threatened, we can use that military force in a crisis. The best thing a President can do is to avoid that crisis and to avoid the use of military forces, keeping them there. As I said yesterday in Torrance in a townhall meeting, the best weapons are the ones that are never used in combat, and the best soldier is one that never sheds his blood on the field of battle. But to have strong military forces ready to use if necessary is the best deterrent to anyone who wants to challenge us and precipitate war.


Q. You're not saying that Governor Reagan has ever advocated combat, though?

THE PRESIDENT. I'll let you examine what he has called for. I've outlined it in general terms. But the record's there. To call for the use of military forces in a very dangerous situation has been a repeated habit of his as a Governor and as a candidate for President. What he would do in the Oval Office I hope will never be observed by the American people.


Q. One brief question, also, on something else. You said yesterday that winning California is a "doable" cause as far as you're concerned between now and the end of the campaign 6 weeks from now. Specifically, how do you plan to defeat Governor Reagan in his home State, where, of course, he has never lost? Specifically.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, times change, and my belief is that I can carry California on November the 4th. We have now in place an extensive campaign organization, which I have never had in California before, but which we have had in place in other States in 1976 and in the primaries in 1980. Also, there are many people in California who know Governor Reagan's record concerning the aspects of life that are important to a family or to a person.

I believe the combination of our comparative commitment on issues that are crucial to the California people plus an all-out effort by me to win the State on November the 4th, with Fritz Mondale as my running-mate, will prove that our prediction of victory is true. I don't intend to lose California.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.


Q. There's great concern about the incident that occurred last week in Arkansas. Can you tell us if, in fact, a nuclear warhead was ejected from the Titan silo; if so, how badly it was damaged and what has happened to it since?

THE PRESIDENT. We have a policy of not confirming or denying the location of nuclear warheads, but let me say this. There was never any danger from radioactivity. There was never any radioactivity present in the area. And I can say this morning that there are no components of a nuclear warhead at the site at this time.


Q. What can you say to allay the concern of people who are worried because one of the most destructive weapons in the world has itself been destroyed by a chain of events which seems to have begun so simply as by a workman dropping a wrench?

THE PRESIDENT. The design of nuclear warheads is such that there is no way for it to be exploded accidentally. There has to be a series of events, carefully controlled, in order for a nuclear warhead to be put into an explosive state. An outside explosion or the dropping of a nuclear device from an airplane and so forth could not possibly precipitate an explosion. So, although it is a matter of concern to people, because of the design of these devices there is no danger under the circumstances that I've just described.

Q. Mr. President, the Titan case is not the only one. In the past year or so there've been several instances of SAG bombers being put on alert because of malfunctions of the warning system, sometimes, we are told, a 50-cent part. What does this say about the vulnerability and the integrity of our whole defense system, if it can be subjected to accidents of this sort?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you can't prohibit by even the most careful design some sort of malfunctions that exist inside a computer or in an airplane or in a fueling device. The fact is that in our own society, a democratic society with freedom of the press and a maximum desire on my part and those who work with me to let the American people know what happened when an incident does occur, the American people know about it and the world knows about it.

We have never had a situation in this country, either before or since I've been in the White House, where in my opinion any sort of danger existed (of a nuclear explosion or a nuclear exchange caused by a malfunction). * We have fail-safe devices that have always functioned. We have personnel highly trained to prevent any sort of incident that might lead to a nuclear explosion. And the design of the weapon system, the design of the control system, and the training of the personnel are such that we have never approached the point where any sort of danger existed.

*White House clarification.


Q. Specifically about the Titan II, is it time for it to be phased out, or is it your opinion that it is still necessary for our national security to have those missiles?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as I mentioned earlier about weapons systems, the best weapon is one that's never used.

The Titan is a very large missile. It's a missile that we've had deployed more than 10 or 15 years. It's a missile that has a liquid propellant system instead of a solid propellant system, which the most modern American missiles have, and that's proven to be very safe. I might also say that the safety devices assigned to the Titan, both with its own internal system for explosions if it should be used in combat and also to propel it, are safer than they were when the Titan was first deployed a number of years ago.

We don't have any present plans to phase out the Titan until the MX missile comes on production line—comes off the production line. The liquid propellant itself is not necessarily an obsolescent system. The most modern Soviet missiles, the SS-18 for instance, has a liquid propellant system. We opted 10 or 15 years ago to go toward a solid propellant system.

But the Titan is still a formidable missile. It has its great deterrent value, which is the reason for having the entire nuclear weapons system—to deter a war and to make sure that if the Soviets are tempted to make any attack on us with nuclear missiles that they realize that this would be suicidal in nature. So, as part of an overall deterrent system on a balanced basis with the Soviet Union to prevent nuclear war, the Titan has a role to play, and for the next foreseeable number of years, they will continue to be deployed.


Q. Mr President, on another subject, the Government reports this morning that the cost of living went up again, the price index went up seven-tenths of 1 percent during the month of August. The prediction is that it will go up somewhat more than that during this month of September. Does that mean that your effort to control inflation and to manage the economy is again in jeopardy?

THE PRESIDENT. Inflation is an everpresent threat, not only to us but to all the nations on Earth. We have gone through 1979 with a 120-percent increase in the price of oil for the world, including of course our own country. This has been highly inflationary in nature.

As you remember, back in the first part of March we were faced with an inflation rate of 18 or 20 percent and interest rates of 18 to 20 percent. Since then that circumstance has improved. In July the inflation rate was zero, the first time in 13 years. This past month the inflation rate was up around 8 percent. My hope is that the American people will be persistent and will join me and the Congress in taking steps to control the rate of inflation.

One of the things that the American people can do is not to insist on a highly inflationary tax reduction program as has been advocated by the Reagan-Kemp-Roth procedure, very similar to Proposition Nine, by the way, which was rejected by the California voters in a recent referendum. If we have this highly inflationary giveaway program for rich people, it would mean that the average working family, under Reagan-Kemp-Roth would be severely impacted next year by increased inflationary pressure.

So, as we go through this time of revitalization of our American economy with an emphasis on new jobs, new technology, new confidence about the future, new investments, modernization of our plants, we've got to do it in such a way that we control inflation. The entire economic package that I have proposed to be implemented next year is anti-inflationary in its consequence. In other words, it will tend to reduce inflation rather than increase inflation. The Reagan-Kemp-Roth proposal would be highly inflationary in nature and would have a minimal impact, practically no impact, on the revitalization of American industry and the creation of new jobs and technology for the future. That's the difference between us. And I think that we've got to keep in mind the fact that inflation is a constant threat to us and to other nations on Earth.


Q. Mr. Carter, as you know, we have a controversy going on in Los Angeles with respect to busing for school integration. You said recently in Texas you didn't think that busing for school integration was a very good idea.

THE PRESIDENT. That's right.

Q. But under your administration the Justice Department has defended judicial authority to order busing in a number of cities around the country. Does your public statement suggest that you are withdrawing from the position of leadership in that area and that the Justice Department policy consequently will change?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I noticed a comment made by Congressman Jim Corman this morning very similar to mine. I'm against busing, and Jim Corman is against busing, and others are, too. I have never known a massive busing system that was mandated in this country to work with effectiveness. Both the minority parents and students and those in the majority races in a particular community soon find out that the mandatory massive busing programs just do not work.

What is necessary under the American law and the Constitution is that if the school boards and the parents and the teachers cannot come up with a way to treat the minority students fairly and equitably and give them equal quality of education, then the courts move in as a last resort and mandate that students be bused to one another's schools. That's a last resort that ought to be avoided. And in my judgement, the best thing that parents and teachers and others can do to avoid the injection of the Federal courts into the situation is to guarantee equality of opportunity in the school systems as they exist.

But I'm against massive busing, do not think it works, and have to acknowledge the fact that as President I'm sworn to uphold the law once it's implemented by the courts. That summarizes it. And my hope is that in Los Angeles and other places this massive busing can be avoided.

Q. In those places where the courts have ordered busing, will the Justice Department continue to support it as it has in the past?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. The Justice Department must enforce the American law and uphold the American Constitution. The optimum way to run the American schools—what I'm for and what almost every Member of the Congress that I know is for—is for the local people to resolve the issue outside the Federal courts and not require the Federal courts to move in to guarantee equality of opportunity. This is the important issue to be drawn.

I might also add that a United States Congressman like Jim Corman or myself as President has no authority and no direct responsibility over what is done by the local school officials or the Federal courts. That's outside of our authority, but it becomes a burning issue in many communities when busing does become controversial. And my hope still is that this massive kind of court-ordered busing can be avoided throughout the country.

Q. Mr. President, thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT. It's been a pleasure.

Note: The interview with Saul Halpert, Warren Olney, and Tricia Toyota began at 7:05 a.m. in the President's suite at the Century Plaza Hotel.

Jimmy Carter, Los Angeles, California Remarks in an Interview With Reporters From Newscenter 4, KNBC-TV. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251574

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