Jimmy Carter photo

"Meet the Press" Interview with Bill Monroe, Carl T. Rowan, David Broder, and Judy Woodruff

January 20, 1980

MR. MONROE. Our guest today on "Meet the Press" is the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter.


Mr. President, assuming the Soviets do not pull out of Afghanistan any time soon, do you favor the U.S. participating in the Moscow Olympics and, if not, what are the alternatives?

THE PRESIDENT. No. Neither I nor the American people would support the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan. I've sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee spelling out my own position: that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan, that the Olympic games be moved from Moscow to an alternate site or multiple sites or postponed or canceled. If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops immediately from Afghanistan within a month, I would not support the sending of an American team to the Olympics. It's very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets' invasion of Afghanistan is.

I do not want to inject politics into the Olympics, and I would personally favor the establishment of a permanent Olympic site for both the summer and the winter games. In my opinion, the most appropriate permanent site for the summer games would be Greece. This will be my own position, and I have asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to take this position to the International Olympic Committee, and I would hope that as many nations as possible would support this basic position. One hundred and four nations voted against the Soviet invasion and called for their immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan in the United Nations, and I would hope as many of those as possible would support the position I've just outlined to you.

MR. MONROE. Mr. President, if a substantial number of nations does not support the U.S. position, would not that just put the U.S. in an isolated position, without doing much damage to the Soviet Union?

THE PRESIDENT. Regardless of what other nations might do, I would not favor the sending of an American Olympic team to Moscow while the Soviet invasion troops are in Afghanistan.

MR. MONROE. Thank you, Mr. President. Our reporters on "Meet the Press" today are Carl T. Rowan of the Chicago Sun-Times, David S. Broder of the Washington Post, and Judy Woodruff of NBC News. We'll be back with our questions in a minute.

[At this point, the program was interrupted for a commercial announcement. Mr. Monroe then resumed speaking as follows:]

We'll continue the questions for President Carter with Mr. Rowan.


MR. ROWAN. Mr. President, you spoke earlier of a serious threat to peace. Just how serious is this situation? Are we potentially on the verge of conflict with the Soviet Union?

THE PRESIDENT. AS I said earlier, Mr. Rowan, this in my opinion is the most serious threat to world peace since the Second World War. It's an unprecedented act on the part of the Soviet Union. It's the first time they have attacked, themselves, a nation that was not already under their domination, that is, a part of the Warsaw Pact neighborhood. They have used surrogate forces, the Cubans, to participate in other countries like Angola or Ethiopia.

This is a threat to a vital area of the world. It's a threat to an area of the world where the interests of our country and those interests of our allies are deeply imbedded. More than two-thirds of the total exportable oil that supplies the rest of the world comes from the Persian Gulf region in Southwest Asia.

My own assessment is that there have been times in the years gone by that we have had intense competition with the Soviet Union and also an effort for accommodation with the Soviet Union and for consulting with them and working with them toward peace. This is an action initiated by the Soviets—and I am still committed to peace, but peace through strength and through letting the Soviets know in a clear and certain way, by action of our own country and other nations, that they cannot invade an innocent country with impunity; they must suffer the consequences.


MR. ROWAN. In that connection, Mr. President, your critics say that the Soviets are moving because they've seen weakness on your part. They don't believe you or the American people will fight. If they move into Pakistan or into Iran, will you use military force?

THE PRESIDENT. We've not been weak. We've been firm and resolved and consistent and clear in our policy since I've been in the White House. We've had a steady increase in our commitment to the strength of our national defense, as measured by budget levels and also measured by the tone and actions that I have taken and the Congress has taken. We've strengthened our alliances with NATO, both in the buildup of fighting capability and also, lately, in the theater nuclear force response to the Soviet threat with atomic weapons. We've also let it be clear that we favor the resolution of intense differences that have destabilized the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region.

The most notable advance has been the peace treaty signed between Israel and Egypt, and we have reconfirmed our commitment to Pakistan of 1959. We are committed to consult with Pakistan and to take whatever action is necessary, under the constitutional guidelines that I have to follow as President of our country, to protect the security of Pakistan involving military force, if necessary.

In addition to that, we're increasing and will maintain an increased level of naval forces in the northern Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf region. And we are now exploring with some intensity the establishment of facilities for the servicing of our air and naval forces in the northern Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf region. These actions have been initiated ever since I've been in office. They are consistent and clear, and we are concentrating on them now with an increased level of commitment because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

MR. MONROE. Mr. Broder?


MR. BRODER. Mr. President, the timing of this appearance the day before the Iowa caucuses suggests a political motive. Why did you accept this appearance when you have refused to appear any place where your challengers could confront you directly?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Broder, in a time of crisis for our country I believe it's very important for the President not to assume, in a public way, the role of a partisan campaigner in a political contest. Our country is in a state of crisis, and this has been a consistent policy that I have maintained since the Iranians captured and held hostage Americans in Tehran. I do not consider this to be a campaign forum, "Meet the Press," and I'm not here as a partisan candidate.

As you well know, we have been presenting my views very clearly to the American people in multiple ways—my own appearances before the press, my briefing of groups in the White House, the sending of surrogates for me to Iowa. I think my positions and the actions that I've taken have been very clear, and my appearance on this show is an opportunity to give you, for instance, a chance to ask me questions about issues that are important to the American people.


MR. BRODER. A colleague of mine printed this question 3 weeks ago, at the time that you canceled out of the Iowa debate, as an example of what you might have been asked, and I'd like to ask it.


MR. BRODER. With all due respect, we still have 5.8 percent unemployment. Inflation has risen from 4.8 percent to 13 percent. We still don't have a viable energy policy. Russian troops are in Cuba and Afghanistan. The dollar is falling. Gold is rising. And the hostages, after 78 days, are still in Tehran. Just what have you done, sir, to deserve renomination?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, since I've been in the White House, I've done everything possible to strengthen our own Nation, not only militarily but economically and politically and, I think, morally and ethically as well. We've strengthened our alliances with our allies, which has been pointed out already on this program. We've dealt not only with peace for our country but peace for others, working with the British in Rhodesia, working with the Egyptians and Israelis in the Middle East.

We have tried to expand American friendships among other nations on Earth, notably being successful in retaining our friendship with the people of Taiwan, opening up a new and friendly relationship with the recognition of a fourth of the world's total population in China. We've had, I think, a great improvement in our own Nation's relationships with countries, as expressed by recent United Nations votes.

Domestically, I've dealt with the Nation's crises and problems as best I could, working with a Congress that sometimes acts too slowly. Since the first day I've been in office, we've been addressing the most serious threat to our Nation domestically, and that is inflation, tied very closely with energy.

Energy is the single most important factor in the increase in the inflation rate since I've been in office. Just in the last 12 months, OPEC has increased energy prices by 80 percent. As a matter of fact, all of the increase, for practical purposes, of the inflation rate since I've been in office has been directly attributable to increase in OPEC oil prices.

When I was elected, the prime threat to our country was extremely high unemployment. We've added a net increase of 9 million jobs, and we've cut the unemployment rate down by 25 percent. This has been a very good move toward the strengthening of our Nation's economy. We've cut down our balance of trade deficit. We have seen a very clear increase in net income for Americans above inflation, above taxes paid, of about 7 1/2 percent. Corporate profits have gone up about 50 percent. And I think our Nation is much more unified. And I believe, in addition to that, there's a greater respect for the integrity and the truthfulness of the Government of our country. So, we've made some progress.

I might say that I don't claim to know all the answers. They are not easy questions to address. They are not easy problems to solve. But our country is united. We are struggling with these very difficult and complicated questions, and I think that they need to be pursued further, hopefully in a second term for myself.

MR. MONROE. Ms. Woodruff?


Ms. WOODRUFF. Mr. President, you said in an interview recently that the invasion of Afghanistan had changed your opinions of the Russians more drastically than anything else since you had been in office. Why did it take almost 3 years for you to discover the true intentions of the Soviet leadership?

THE PRESIDENT. I've never doubted the long-range policy or the long-range ambitions of the Soviet Union. The fact that we have consistently strengthened our own Nation's defense, after 15 years of a decrease in commitment to our Nation's defense vis-a-vis the Soviets, is one indication of that. All of the actions that I described earlier—the strengthening of NATO, the movement into the northern Indian Ocean, the search for peace in the Mideast, and so forth—were directly because of the ultimate threat by the Soviet Union to world peace.

But it is obvious that the Soviets' actual invasion of a previously nonaligned country, an independent, freedom-loving country, a deeply religious country, with their own massive troops is a radical departure from the policy or actions that the Soviets have pursued since the Second World War. It is a direct threat because Pakistan [Afghanistan],1 formerly a buffer state between the Soviet Union and Iran and the world's oil supplies and the Hormuz Straits and the Persian Gulf, has now become kind of an arrow aiming at those crucial strategic regions of the world. So, this is a major departure by the Soviet Union from their previous actions.

1White House correction.

Their long-range policies have been well understood by me then and still are.

MS. WOODRUFF. And yet your administration didn't take any steps to offset the huge increases in the number of Cuban troops in Africa in recent years. Soviet combat troops are still in Cuba today, despite your statement last fall that their presence was not acceptable. In light of this failure to counter Soviet aggression earlier, do you accept any responsibility at all for the Soviet calculation that they could move into Afghanistan with impunity?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the Soviets have seriously misjudged our own Nation's strength and resolve and unity and determination and the condemnation that has accrued to them by the world community because of their invasion of Afghanistan. As you know, Cuban troops went into Angola long before I became President. And the Soviet brigade, about 2,000 to 2,500 troops, have been in Cuba since the early 1960's. There has obviously been a buildup in the Soviet adventurism in the Horn of Africa, in Ethiopia. These moves were of great concern to us.

But the point that I would like to make clear is that we have always had a very complicated relationship with the Soviet Union—based on cooperation when we could together move toward a peaceful resolution of the world's problems, like the negotiation of the SALT treaty, and competition with the Soviet Union when our interests were at cross purposes in any region of the world. I think our strength has been clearly demonstrated. The resolve of our Nation has been clearly demonstrated. The support of our allies has been clearly demonstrated, and indeed, the support of the world in the condemnation of the Soviets' recent invasion has also been clearly demonstrated.

Times change and circumstances change. Our country has been one that does commit itself to the preservation of peace, but peace through strength, not weakness. That has been our policy. That will still be our policy.


MR. MONROE. Mr. President, is there any specific new hope for ending the hostage crisis with Iran?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't predict the early end of that situation. The concern that I feel about the hostages today is just as great as it was a month ago or 2 months ago. Our policy on the Iranian capturing of our hostages has been clear and consistent. It's an abhorrent violation of every moral and ethical standard and international law. It's a criminal act: a group of terrorists, kidnapers, seizing innocent victims and holding them for attempted blackmail in an unprecedented way, supported and encouraged by government officials themselves. Our response has been clear: to protect, first of all, the short-term and long-range interests of our country; secondly, to protect the safety and the lives of the hostages themselves; third, to pursue every possible avenue of the early and safe release of our hostages; fourth, to avoid bloodshed if possible, because I have felt from the very beginning that the initiation of a military action or the causing of bloodshed would undoubtedly result in the death of the hostages; and fifth, and perhaps most difficult of all, is to arouse and to sustain the strong support by the vast majority of nations on Earth for our position as an aggrieved nation and the condemnation of the world for Iran for this direct violation of international law. It's an abhorrent act.

I don't know when the hostages will be released, but we will maintain our intense interest in it. We will maintain our commitment to every possible avenue to carry out the policies I've just described to you, and we will maintain, as best we can, the full support of the rest of the world. And that concerted pressure from many sources, including the recent sanctions that we have initiated against Iran, I believe and I hope and I pray will result in the safe release of our hostages. I can't predict exactly when.


MR. MONROE. How do you answer criticism, Mr. President, that your administration bungled the admission of the Shah to this country, chiefly by not providing guaranteed protection to the American Embassy in Iran after American diplomats had warned that there might be this kind of trouble and there had been, in fact, a seizure of the Embassy a few months previously?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't have any apology at all for letting the Shah come here as an extremely sick person—

MR. MONROE. What about protection of the Embassy, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT.—for treatment. The Embassy had been attacked in the past. Embassies around the world are often subjected to attacks. In every instance the Iranian officials had joined with our own people to protect the Embassy of the United States. Following the seizure of the Embassy earlier in the year, we had carried out a substantial program for the strengthening of the Embassy's defenses. After the Shah came here to the United States for treatment, and we notified the Iranian officials of that fact, we were again assured by the Iranian Prime Minister and the Iranian Foreign Minister that the Embassy would be protected. It was, indeed, protected for about 10 days, following which the Ayatollah Khomeini made a very aggressive and abusive speech. And when it was attacked by militant terrorists, the Iranians, the Iranian Government withdrew their protection for the Embassy. It was an unpredictable kind of thing. This has never been done, so far as I know, in modern history, to have a government support a terrorist act of this kind, the kidnaping of hostages, and the holding of them for attempted blackmail.

But there was no stone unturned in our attempt to maintain relations with Iran, which is in our interest, and at the same time to protect our people.

MR. MONROE. Mr. Rowan?


MR. ROWAN. Mr. President, some of our allies are now saying that Iran already is in chaos and that if the U.S. puts the economic screws on, that country could fall apart and make it easy for the Soviet Union to pick up the pieces. Are you listening to this or are you still going to put the screws on Iran?

THE PRESIDENT. That's been a constant concern of mine, Mr. Rowan.

What we want is a unified Iran, not fragmented. We want a stable and independent Iran, and we want a secure Iran. But we cannot accept the abhorrent act, supported by the Iranian officials, of the terrorists holding Americans hostage. We have decided to take action against Iran, with the presence of our naval forces to prevent injury to our hostages; and secondly, to impose, with an increasing degree of severity, sanctions against Iran that would encourage them to release the hostages.

There has been, obviously, a new element introduced into the Iranian hostage crisis in recent weeks with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. My belief is that many of the responsible officials in Iran now see that this major threat to Iran's security and the peace of Iran is becoming paramount, and that there will be an additional effort on their part to secure the release of the hostages and remove the isolation of Iran from the rest of the civilized world.

But I think our actions have been well considered. We have taken every element of caution about the possibility which you describe. And in my judgment, the best thing for Iran to do now is to release the hostages, to seek redress of their alleged grievances in the international fora and the courts of the individual nations, and to begin to strengthen themselves against the possible threat by the Soviets now addressed toward them in Afghanistan.

MR. MONROE. We have less than a minute and a half. Mr. Broder?

MR. BRODER. In view of what you just said, Mr. President, are you prepared to accept a delay or postponement of the imposition of the economic sanctions against Iran?

THE PRESIDENT. No. Those sanctions will be pursued by ourselves, unilaterally, and joined in by as many of our allies as will agree. We have had very acceptable support by our allies in this imposition of sanctions against Iran, and we've had overwhelming support in the International Court of Justice and in the United Nations from many nations who've observed this situation. So, I will not postpone the imposition of sanctions.

MR. MONROE. Ms. Woodruff?


MS. WOODRUFF. Mr. President, in 1976 you castigated the Republicans for what you described as a "misery index" of some 13 percent. That "misery index" is now up to 19 percent. What do you think about it now?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, obviously, when a nation is in a state of crisis—a deep obsession and concern with the holding of innocent Americans and an acknowledged threat to world peace by a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, with high inflation brought about by, in my opinion, unwarranted increases in the price of oil—this preys on the mind of Americans. We are taking action, as I've described on this program and previously, to alleviate these concerns, and I believe that the unity of America has been paramount. I believe the future will hold a better prospect for the alleviation of those tensions.

MR. MONROE. Thank you, Mr. President, for being with us today on "Meet the Press."

Note: The interview began at 12 p.m. in the NBC studios in Washington, D.C. It was broadcast live on radio and television. Mr. Monroe of NBC News was the moderator for the program.

Following the interview, the President returned to Camp David, Md.

Jimmy Carter, "Meet the Press" Interview with Bill Monroe, Carl T. Rowan, David Broder, and Judy Woodruff Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249569

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