Miami, Florida Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a Town Meeting.
THE PRESIDENT. Senator [Representative] Claude Pepper, Senator Chiles, Congressman Dante Fascell, Ms. Athalie Range, other friends:
It's a real pleasure to be here in the home of the Red Raiders. And I hear you're going to be State champions again next year. Is that right? [Cheers] As you know, Miami Edison has a tradition of winning, all the way from journalism to basketball. As you know, Democrats have a similar tradition. And I wholeheartedly endorse traditions like these.
Before I take your questions I want to say just a couple of things very briefly.
CUBAN AND HAITIAN REFUGEES
Two weeks ago I was in Florida again, in Tallahassee, in your State capital, signing a bill called the Refugee Education Assistance Act. By that act Congress and my administration, with the help of your distinguished congressional leaders here, recognized the Federal responsibility to resettle the Cubans and the Haitians who've come here this year. This has been a nationwide problem. Floridians have performed superbly in the finest tradition of the United States of America.
But I have felt a special responsibility as President for the financing of this extra cost on you. The Congress has made available $100 million, and I had the judgment about how much of that would be paid, 75, 85, 90 percent of your cost. I have decided, as I announced in Tallahassee, that the Federal Government will pay 100 percent of the cost of this settlement.
I hear a few boos over here on my left about the Cuban refugees. I presume that your families didn't immigrate to this country. You must be native American Indians. The rest of us have all come here later.
Let me say this. This is a political year. One of the most difficult human problems I've ever had to face as President has been the refugees that have come here from Cuba and from Haiti this year, sometimes, a few days, in an uncontrollable stream. We didn't anticipate it. Our laws were not designed to accommodate three or four thousand refugees coming here per day. Our laws were designed for people to be screened in a foreign country, carefully cataloged, and brought here a few at a time. This just didn't happen.
All over the world there are refugees searching for freedom. And whenever you think back on the history of our country you'll recognize that our Nation is a nation of immigrants, we're a nation of refugees.
When the Jews came from Eastern Europe, when the Italians and Greeks came here, when people came here from Africa even, against their will, when my ancestors came here from Ireland and Scotland and England, when others came from Latin America, each time our families were looking for freedom for the right to worship as we choose, outside of an atheistic control of a person's religious beliefs, and we came here looking for a better life. And we found it.
But once people get here and realize all the tremendous advantages of freedom and a good life and a great country and a better opportunity for our children than we had, there's a natural human tendency to say, "Don't let anybody else come in. We've got it made. Let's forget about refugees. Let's forget about immigrants in the future." I'm glad that the early settlers of this country didn't stop my ancestors when they wanted to come to the United States.
We have done all we could to enforce the law. I've stationed a flotilla of Coast Guard and Navy ships between here and Mariel Harbor to make sure we could control the flow of those who came here against our laws. We've been very forceful in trying to stop the boats going to Cuba to pick up people to come here against our laws. But once those boats were loaded, as President I had a choice to treat them as human beings with a precious life or to see their lives lost at sea. And I did what was right. And I'm glad the Floridians did what was right, too.
And finally, let me say that I want to make sure that even in the future Florida doesn't suffer because of the refugees who've settled here. The flow is pretty well under control now, as you know. But in the taking of a census, for instance, the allotment of Federal funds for different things, for housing, for revenue sharing, and so forth, comes to a State or a city in accordance with its population. And I'm instructing the Department of Commerce, the Census Bureau, in accordance with its so-called Lawton Chiles amendment, to make it possible for Cuban and Haitian refugees to be accommodated or accounted for in determining all Federal funding formulas. So, you won't suffer now and in the future.
VIEWS ON THE PRESIDENCY
I'd like to say one other thing. The duties of a President are very broad. A President can't avoid tough questions, and I don't believe a candidate for President should try to avoid the tough questions. President Kennedy once said, "It's a lot easier to make speeches than to solve the problems." I think every President who's been in the Oval Office finds that to be true.
I have to admit that my opponent is very good at making speeches. A lot of people say he's a better one at making speeches than I am, and I guess they're right. But when you're in the Oval Office dealing with a crisis or when you're in an international forum, when unanticipated things present themselves to you for response, or when you're sitting across the negotiating table with President Brezhnev trying to guarantee the future of our Nation and the peace of the world, you can't rely on 3 by 5 cards and you can't read a teleprompter.
I think you've judged during this campaign where every time I have a chance, I meet with people like you to take any question you ask, do the same thing with the press—answer any question—that I'm prepared to meet those issues, think on my feet, make proper responses. That hasn't been the case in the other camp.
You know the terrible flap that occurred when there was a new debate, that I thought had been resolved by President Nixon, President Ford, and me about how many Chinas there would be. It created an international incident, and Mr. Reagan had to back down on what he had professed to believe. And I know he didn't think before he spoke when he said pollution was mostly caused by trees. I'm not sure it was a coincidence when that night he tried to fly back home to California, and his plane couldn't land at the airport because of the smog. [Laughter]
Well, these are the kinds of statements that are sometimes humorous and sometimes can be repaired very quickly by others speaking for you in a political campaign. But in a time of crisis, when every word and every thought counts, it's a different proposition. And that's why I think it's good training for me to come here to be with you this morning.
And I'm very glad, at Miami Edison, to answer any question you ask to the best of my ability—don't know all the answers. If I don't know the answer when you ask the question, I'll get the answer, call you personally on the phone, and respond to your question that way.
Now I'll take the first question.
SOCIAL SECURITY PAYMENTS AND UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION
Q. Mr. President, my name is Henrietta Schulman. I live in Miami—Florida, of course. [Laughter] Why has a law been passed, very quietly, to deprive senior citizens on social security who work full or part time to augment their social security benefits—are deprived of their unemployment benefits if they are laid off? Who benefits [from] this? The employers, of course. They don't have to pay the tax on the unemployed senior citizens. I would like to know, very much, who thought up this law, what was the purpose of it, and where you stand on this issue. My friends and fellow citizen workers are very much interested in a law that affects them so drastically.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Henrietta. Henrietta, right?
I never heard of the law before- [laughter] —but let me say this. I'll find out in a minute, because I've got an expert, two experts here on my left—Senator Chiles and Congressman Pepper.
The only law that I recall that we've used concerning earnings of retired people drawing social security was they raised the amount of earnings that you could receive without losing your social security benefits. When I was elected President, the limit was $3,200. We've raised that limit up to $5,000. In addition, we have indexed social security payments so that as the cost of inflation goes up, your social security benefits go up at least as much, so you won't lose your purchasing power.
Let me pause just a minute and ask either Senator Chiles or Congressman Pepper if they know anything about the law to which you refer. Lawton?
SENATOR CHILES. [Inaudible]
THE PRESIDENT. I see. Senator Chiles points out that under the law you take the larger of the two. If your unemployment compensation would be higher than your social security payments, then you take unemployment compensation, because you benefit most. If your social security payments, however, are higher than your unemployment compensation would amount to, according to Senator Chiles, you would take the highest of the two figures.
Q. Well, I question that, because the minimum is $50 a week, supposedly. That's where they take the figure from, from what I understand. Very few people knew about this law. Those I questioned knew nothing about it at all. It was quietly put in as of July 1st. Up till then, we were collecting unemployment when we were laid off, particularly on seasonal jobs, which a good many of us work.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Let me ask—Stu Eizenstat, would you go and talk to Miss Henrietta? And if you can't give her the full answer, let me talk to her personally afterwards, and I'll get you a further answer.
THE PRESIDENT. We tried. I guess the law calls for you to get the highest of the two benefits. If that's not the way it's administered, we'll try to do something about it.
Q. Right. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, ma'am.
FEDERAL ASSISTANCE FOR MIAMI
Q. I'm Timothy Roundtree, Cutler Ridge area. Mr. President, distinguished guests, fellow citizens, this question is concerning the flow of money coming down for the disaster areas, or more or less, to be more specific, supposingly being for the blacks to aid us in recovering things that were lost during riots and other things. The money that comes down, I'm wondering now why it never really reaches the ones that it is due to come to. It always stops a little bit above the head, and it never comes down to the people that are in need.
And one second portion of that: Being a Christian, I'm also wondering why there's not a greater force towards protecting the rights of Christians within our community.
THE PRESIDENT. Since the riots did take place in the Miami area, in Liberty City, as you know, I came down and I met with 65 or 75 leaders there to try to let them tell me what they needed most in that area, both to repair the damage that had been done, physical damage, and also to make sure that we had the allotment specifically of Federal funds—and I think the amount is about $60 million that we've made available—to make sure it was focused on those that needed it most.
We've tried to to set up training programs there for young people to make sure they could hold a job. We've tried to provide jobs there. We are now trying to encourage new industry to come in there and provide jobs for people. We're also making loans available and sometimes grants available to minority business leaders—and in your area, it would be black business leaders—to establish their own small industries if they wanted to or their small businesses.
And I believe that we're doing the best we can, from the Federal point of view, to make sure that those funds are going where they're supposed to go. In this community, I presume that there are leaders here in the local government, perhaps some of the State agencies, that join in the responsibility for allotting those funds.
If you know of specific instances, however, where the funds that have been allotted by me through Small Business Administration, Economic Development Administration, and minority affairs branch of the Commerce Department or other agencies, that you think are not getting to the people that I intend for the money to get to, if you'd give me those specific examples after this meeting, I'll look into it myself today and make sure that the problem is straightened out.
As far as persecution or abuse of Christians is concerned, it's hard for me to know what instance you might be mentioning. My own hope and my own belief is that in this community as well as throughout the Nation, we do have an adequate degree of protection for persons because of their race or because of their religious beliefs.
There again, if you know of specific instances where people are being abused because of their Christian beliefs, I'd like very much to know about it so that I can join in with the Governor and the local officials, including the police officials, to make sure that that aura or threat of discrimination or abuse is removed.
Q. Mr. President, on the issue of Christian rights, we're speaking now of—there are human rights that are written on the law, there are rights for the minorities, and et cetera that is in law. But there are no tights to protect the Christians as such. What I mean by this—this Nation was built on a Christian foundation, and it can be moved time after time after time and completely being diminished, little by little. There's no law written to keep the rights of a Christian, to give us the rights, to guarantee the rights of assembly, the rights of assembling in homes, and things like this, speaking on the streets, et cetera. There's nothing to guarantee the rights. They can be changed today or tomorrow. And this is what I mean by making laws specifically concerning these things.
THE PRESIDENT. Timothy, as a Christian and a Baptist myself, I can tell you that this Nation was not founded just on the Christian religion. This Nation was founded on the proposition that there would be no special religion designated by the Congress or the United States—this is in the Constitution of the United States-either by the Congress or any State respecting the establishment of religion or singling out a particular religion as being favored over any other.
So, I don't think it would be, in fact, I know it would not be appropriate for the Congress to pass a law or for the State of Florida or Georgia to pass a law that said that Christians have a special privilege above and beyond those who worship in a different way from we do or those who choose not to worship at all. That's part of the Constitution, not to give special privilege to any particular religion.
Q. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much. I might say, Timothy, that that's a good question, because in our Nation now, there are those who are trying to define an acceptable definition of who can serve this country and to define, by law or through the political persuasion, the definition of a Christian. To me, the Bible doesn't say whether there's one or two Chinas, and the Bible doesn't say how you balance the Federal budget, and the Bible doesn't say what causes pollution, and the Bible doesn't say whether or not we could have a B-1 bomber or whether we could have air-launched cruise missiles.
You know, this is the kind of statements lately, which has never been done to this extent before, that some religious groups are trying to say is a definition of what a Christian is. And I know you agree with me that that's wrong. Right?
Q. I agree.
THE PRESIDENT. I agree with you. Thank you, Timothy.
RELIGION AND GOVERNMENT
Q. Mr. President, my name is Connie Skinner, and I live in unincorporated south Dade County. As a Christian and as a Southern Baptist myself, I don't feel like the words "duty" and "self-discipline" and "responsibility" are out of date. And I think the American public is willing to do what is necessary to help bring down the spiral of inflation, to solve our problems. "Just give us something to do," I think, is what we want to say. As President of the United States, what do you regard as our greatest need now, and how can I meet that need, besides voting, I mean?
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Connie. I'll try to answer that.
The Bible and the study of it is a very important part of my life, on an absolutely daily basis, I never miss. And I try to understand God's guidance to me, expressed in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
The Bible says many times that you should respect a manmade government. And as you know, in the Old Testament God specifically anointed through his prophets, some of the leaders of Israel and perhaps other countries—Judah, certainly.
The Bible also-specifies and other religions, do as well—the Moslem religion has very strict ethical and moral standards about "Judge not that ye be not judged" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." And one Bible verse, the first one I ever learned, in the New Testament says, "God is love." Self-discipline is another element of religious teachings that I think probably permeate all beliefs in God, no matter what country where one might dwell or what one might profess as the "definition," of God. [Not] to control one's own urgings that might gratify oneself and hurt another person is obviously contrary to God's teachings.
And I think to strengthen a nation, a nation under God, so that its own purposes and commitments and ideals and hopes and dreams can be expressed clearly and in substantive terms is good. To alleviate hunger, suffering, deprivation, discrimination, hatred, to me, is compatible with God's teachings. To promote peace for ourselves and around the world, to me, is part of Biblical admonition and teaching. Also, human rights in the broadest sense of that word, to me, is in accordance with God's teaching.
I think that this kind of standards of human ethics, human performance, concern about others, unselfishness, generosity, love, harnessing one's efforts in a common purpose when those ideals are compatible with your understanding of God's teachings—all that is a legitimate part of politics and government.
I have prayed more since I've been President than I ever did before in my life, because I feel the need for it more. And I have never found any incompatibility between my religious beliefs and my duties as a public official. I believe the same could be said among the 435 Members of Congress and the 100 Members of the Senate who represent, probably, all possible religious beliefs in our country. So, this is important.
Finally, let me say this. There have been some statements made, as you know, about what kind of believers God can hear. I believe that God hears all those who pray to him from one's heart.
When I got to Camp David with Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat, the prospects for a peace settlement were fairly hopeless. We didn't know what to do. We didn't know each other well. We stayed there 13 days. And the first day, we all three decided that we would pray to God, and we issued a press release, the only one we issued, and asked that people all over the world to join in with us, in their own way, to pray for peace. I'm not going to decide what caused us to reach a peace settlement, but I don't believe those prayers hurt. And I believe God heard all three of us.
CUBAN AND HAITIAN REFUGEES
Q. My name is Amy Rosichan, and I'm from Miami, Florida. I live in what used to be a very nice part of Miami called East Buena Vista. The last several years, thousands of illegal immigrants have moved into our neighborhood, and it has become badly overcrowded, run down, and full of illegal rooming houses. Your administration let all these people in. My question is, if you are reelected, what will you do to settle these people and to help make our neighborhood as nice as it used to be?
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.
So far, as you know, this year we've had, I think, about 125,000 Cubans, plus the Haitians, come here to this country. We've settled now in permanent locations, with sponsors and in most all cases with jobs, 91 percent of them. We still have a few that still have not been settled. The ones that haven't been moved from the settlement camps are all now in Arkansas. Some have found sponsors and found jobs, and the sponsors and the refugees didn't get along or either they lost their job, and they still are a problem for us.
We're doing the best we can to find a suitable community for those kinds of refugees, preferably outside of Florida. We're doing the best we can, since Florida has been so heavily burdened with refugees, to find other places around the Nation where the unemployment rate is low—as it is, by the way, in metropolitan Miami—but where the community has not been overburdened so far. I think that we'll continue that.
In my second term I intend, first of all, to have a correction in the U.S. law, passed by Congress, to prepare for large numbers of refugees who come here illegally. The laws so far don't cover that proposition or that problem. I think the Congress will move now to correct that defect in the law. And I'll continue to make sure, using the Navy, the Coast Guard, all of my resources in the future-and we've learned from this experience-to minimize that flow of refugees so that Florida will not be impacted again with this large number coming in here so fast that the settlement process didn't work well.
We've got literally dozens and dozens of church groups, community groups, Jaycees, Lion's Clubs, Rotary Clubs, and others all around the Nation who are trying to help settle these refugees. We are making good progress, and I think by the end of this year we'll have the problem solved.
Thank you, Amy, very much.
UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES
Q. Mr. President, sir, my name is Frank Sierer, and I'm from Homestead, Florida. My question deals with the current retention problems being experienced today by all branches of the Armed Forces. Sir, if you are to be reelected, what leadership will you display to the Congress as well as to those persons pursuing military careers to continue their present course. And will you also exert a maximum effort to bring military pay and benefits parallel with those of the private sector, sir?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. The answer to your last question, Frank, is yes. We signed a major bill just a month or two ago, as you know, sponsored by Senators Nunn and Warner, a Democrat and Republican, to bring a major step toward making sure that the pay and privileges, the travel expenses, the housing expenses, the resettlement expenses, and the reenlistment bonuses were substantially more attractive to Armed Forces personnel than they had been in the past, to correct the defect that had existed. This is not the first time that we've improved pay and allowances since I've been in office, and it won't be the last time. We'll continue this process.
Another thing that we have done is to institute registration for the draft in order to keep the draft from being necessary in the future. We had 93 percent of our young people that signed up during the first period required. Fifteen percent of those, Frank, said they would like to have more information about a career in the military. There's no doubt that those 15 percent, who will now be contacted, will give us a vast reservoir of recruitment that we didn't have before.
Also, I think we can all point out to our young people the advantageous development in their lives of possible military service. I went into the Navy when I was 18, and I stayed in there for 11 years. I was a submarine officer, went to the Naval Academy. And I can tell you that that 11 years out of my life that went into the military did not interfere with my political success. I went on to occupy one of the political offices in this country.
And I would guess that a young person who wants to see the world, who wants to have a stable future, good retirement at a fairly early age, as you know, an education, unexcelled anywhere, in the basic trades, and a good career, in and out of the military, can go in for 2, 3, 4 years or for 20 years and have a very good life. I think the surge of patriotism that I have seen in this country in the last few months will help us with that as well.
The last thing is that we must have a military where no other nation can successfully challenge us. I'm determined that our Nation will be second to none in basic military strength, in weapons, and the quality of military personnel, as well.
A lot of people complain that we spend too much on our military. We spend about 5 percent of our gross national product. The 8 years before I came into office, Frank, under Republican administrations, two of them, defense spending dropped 37 percent. It went down 7 years out of 8.
Ever since I've been in office, we've had a steady, planned, effective increase, above and beyond inflation, in our military budget. I don't have any apology to make for that. I think in order to keep the peace, we must have a strong military. And as I say many times, the best weapon is the one that need never be fired in combat, and the best soldier is one that never has to lay his life down on the field of battle to die. That's what we'll continue to do.
Q. Thank you, sir.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you.
REQUEST TO VISIT THE PRESIDENT
Q. Mr. President, I'm Chip Turri, and I'm from Miami. And I was wondering, well, my social studies class is going on a trip to Washington, D.C., over the Thanksgiving holidays.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes.
Q. And we were hoping that maybe we could come and visit you and congratulate you on your reelection. [Laughter]
THE PRESIDENT. Chip, that's the kind of question I love. [Laughter] I'm a little hesitant, though, even to make a commitment to you. I don't know exactly where I will be on Thanksgiving weekend. But let me promise you this: When you come to Washington, we will welcome you on a visit to the White House, and if I'm in Washington, I'll be glad to stand there personally and let you all congratulate me. If I'm not, maybe Amy or somebody could
substitute for me. Okay? [Laughter]
Q. Okay. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT. I'll look forward to it.
PREPARATION FOR THE PRESIDENCY
Q. I am Robert Roman from North Miami. Mr. President, I have a strong desire to someday become President of this great country. What advice would you give me to perform this job? And would a visit to the White House help me to understand my responsibilities? [Laughter] If so, would you extend an invitation to me? [Laughter] I promise to take notes and do all my homework. [Laughter]
THE PRESIDENT. Robert, I'm afraid that if you had followed me around yesterday, you would change your mind. [Laughter] I can tell you right now it is a terrible job, but later on, you know, maybe it'll get better by the time you get ready to run.
I was with Governor Reagan the other night, and I pointed out to him all the difficulties and the burdens and so forth. [Laughter] And then I told the audience, "It's amazing how time flies when you're having so much fun." [Laughter]
My advice to you, if you ever want to become President or a high elected official, is first of all to be a Democrat. And let me very briefly tell you why. I'm not a Democrat by accident.
I grew up as a small boy during the Great Depression. I was born in 1924. I saw the Democrats, under Franklin Roosevelt, change my life. Our family didn't have electricity on the farm. Franklin Roosevelt was for the REA; the Republicans were against it. I saw old people in so-called poor folks homes. Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats thought we ought to have Social Security; Republicans were against it.
There used to be sweatshops, where people could work little tiny kids without any protection. The Democrats, under Roosevelt, thought we ought to have a minimum wage, at least 25 cents an hour; Republicans were against it. My first job when I got out of high school in 1941 was at the minimum wage—10 hours a day, 40 cents an hour. When it jumped from 25 to 40 cents an hour, the Democrats supported it; Republicans were against it.
That sounds like ancient history, but it's not. Now the man who's the Republican nominee for President says the minimum wage has caused more misery and more unemployment than anything since the Great Depression.
I believe that when a family is temporarily unemployed, when a mother and father can't take care of their little kids and feed them and buy them clothes and and send them to school, that there ought to be some unemployment compensation. My opponent, Governor Reagan, says un. employment compensation is a prepaid vacation for freeloaders.
I remember when I got a little bit older, we thought that elderly citizens ought to have some health care. I believe Harry Truman put forward Medicare; Republicans were against it. My opponent, Governor Reagan, got started in politics traveling around the country almost professionally speaking out against Medicare. He said that to give medical care for the aged—let me read you exact quote. "Medical care for the aged," Ronald Reagan said, "is a foot in the door of the Government takeover of all medicine."
Later he professed four times to be in favor of making social security voluntary. This would be the end of social security.
Now what we need is a national health insurance program for preventive health care and for catastrophic insurance, so that a family won't be wiped out if they have high medical bills, for the control of hospital costs, for prenatal care and care for little tiny children and mothers at the time of birth of a child. These are the kinds of things that Democrats are for—national health insurance. This is what Governor Reagan says about that: "I am firmly opposed," he said, "to national health insurance."
Well, I could go on and on, but nowadays, this month, and all the way back to the first part of the depression, there has been a steady pattern. People who are old, people who are sick, people who are newcomers to this Nation, people who are deprived of their civil and human rights, women, minorities, the temporarily unemployed have got a friend, the Democratic Party, and they've almost always got an enemy, the Republican Party. After those bills are passed and work for a while, the Republicans then go back and say, "Yes, that's a pretty good bill." But that's the basic element.
If you want to become involved in public life—I'm .not trying to brag on myself; leave me out of it—you pretty well need to forget about yourself. Don't say, "How can I be a boss, a Member of Congress, or a Governor, or a President." Say, "What can I do among the people around me to give them a better life? How can I be a servant for them?" And then if there's a lot of work to do, do more than anybody else. And pretty soon, people will turn to you and say, "Help me with this," or "Write a letter to the Governor for me," or "Put in a good word with the Congressman." You will become a leader because you're a better servant. I think this is a way also into public service.
Finally, if you come up to Washington, stop by the Oval Office. I'll be glad to see you, show you where your future job will be held. [Laughter]
Q. You promise, don't you?
THE PRESIDENT. I promise, yes.
Q. I'll be up there soon. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you.
[At this point, there was a disturbance in the audience.]
THE PRESIDENT. Go ahead.
Q. Mr. President, my name is Bennett Bramson. I'm student activities director at Lehrman Day School in Miami Beach, and I live there as well. And I hope you won't mind if I emulate you, because it's hot as beck over here.
THE PRESIDENT. It is hot. Thank you, Bennett, go ahead.
Q. Mr. President, I was wondering, why have we continued to support the United Nations in lieu of the fact that it seems to be a stage for Third World and terrorist theatrics, rather than a true forum for world peace?
THE PRESIDENT. Bennett, I agree with you in many ways, because the United Nations can be one of the most aggravating and disappointing organizations that I've ever known.
When it was originally conceived by Franklin Roosevelt and other leaders in the Western World and later put into effect when Harry Truman was President, it was a major step toward giving nations a forum within which they could address disputes instead of going to war in an isolated regional part of the world, and the other nations on Earth may not know anything about it.
Since then, we've had the number of nations on Earth almost triple. We now have probably more than 150—I've forgotten the exact number. And those nations are small. Their people are yellow or brown or black. Their governments are sometimes fumbling, sometimes insecure. The country is poverty stricken. Sometimes they don't know their status in the international community. They use the United Nations to learn and to let their voice be heard.
Since I've been in the White House, there has never been a day that there wasn't a problem area somewhere in the world, sometimes two or three. And almost always, after a few weeks go by or sometimes just a few days, the nations who were involved in that dispute will take their case to the United Nations. Recently, Iran brought its case against Iraq to the Security Council of the United Nations. I think it might lead eventually to a resolution of that dispute without further spreading that war.
But we retain under the U.N. Charter, as you know, a veto power in the Security Council, ourselves and four other major nations. If the United Nations should propose some action that we can see would be contrary to the best interests of our Nation, then we can exercise the veto. I've done it on occasion; so has my predecessors.
If the United Nations were abolished, I think the world would start trying to find a way to establish another forum. I don't know if it'd be any better.
Also, through the United Nations there is a great provision of benefits for refugees around the world that we don't give ourselves, and it kind of encourages other countries, the Communist nations included, to contribute to those problems, sometimes which they caused themselves.
So, I think in balance that the United Nations is good. It ought to be reformed, the debate ought to be limited. The constant harping and criticism about Israel, for instance, is contrary to the basic Charter of the United Nations and the basic intention.
Sometimes, if you get a majority of a certain ethnic group like the Arabs, you could take a terrorist organization like the PLO, and they can stir up a lot of trouble and kind of blackmail people into voting their way. This is not good. But the United States, Israel, and other nations so far have been able to prevail.
A recent move was threatened—Syria started it—to expel Israel, for instance, from the General Assembly, not to accept their credentials. And I announced without delay that this was contrary to the Charter and principles of the United Nations, that we would not permit it, we would veto such a move in the Security Council if it came to that body, and if Israel should be deprived of their credentials to sit as a part of the General Assembly, that I could see no way that we could participate in the deliberations of that body any longer.
Q. Thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you.
[At this point, the disturbance in the audience continued.]
AMERICAN HOSTAGES IN IRAN
Q. Mr. President, my name is Adam Chotiner, and I live in Miami, Florida. My question is, if the Iraq-Iran war gets to be a bigger problem, would we be forced to enter because of the American hostages still in Iran?
THE PRESIDENT. Adam it's Adam?
THE PRESIDENT. It's hard for me to hear you. That's a very good question.
In the first place, Adam, we have done and are doing all we can to bring the Iran-Iraq war to an end and to make sure that it doesn't spread any further and to try to make sure that no other nations get involved in it. So far, we don't detect any additional threat to the American hostages because of the war affecting Iran.
Ever since our hostages were taken, we've had two principles in mind that I have tried to carry out: first, is to protect the interests of our own country, my country and yours, and to make sure that we didn't have our principles violated, we were not embarrassed, and we stood up for our rights; and secondly, to make sure that I didn't do anything as President, for political advantage or by mistake, that might endanger the lives or the safety of our hostages or interfere with their ultimate return back to freedom in this country.
So far, we've been successful in both those efforts, although we've been very disappointed that the hostages didn't come back earlier. I can't predict to you that the hostages will come back soon. I don't know yet. It's not completely in our hands, of course.
But in the past, up until just recently, we've not had anybody in Iran that could speak with authority for their country. At first, it was just militants and terrorists who took our innocent hostages. Later there was just a mass of confusion. But now Iran has elected a President, a Prime Minister, a parliament—they call it a Majles—and that Majles has now organized itself. They've got a speaker of the parliament, and they've elected a sevenperson committee to work out how to release the hostages.
In the past, we've had one agreement all worked out with the President of Iran, the Foreign Minister of Iran, Mr. Ghotbzadeh, with the militants themselves, who were ready to release the hostages. And at the last minute, the President announced in Iran that everything had been worked out; we announced it over here that it had been worked out. And then because of timidity and delay, those hopes were dashed.
So, I don't want to build up in your mind any new hopes that might be dashed, just to get some political advantage. We're working literally every day to get the hostages home. But I can tell you that I don't believe that the war has put the hostages in any greater danger, and I do believe that the hostages will come home safely before it's over.
Q. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you.
This will have to be the last question. Yes, ma'am?
CUBAN AND HAITIAN REFUGEES
Q. My name is Michelle Bruton, and I live in Opa-Locka, Florida. And I'd like to ask you, what are you planning to do, if and when you are elected, about the homeless refugees and other people that are roaming the streets and creating disturbances and problems in our community?
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Michelle. Michelle, we have been fairly successful so far, under the most difficult possible circumstances, in finding a place for those hostages to be relocated. Now all the hostages still in settlement camps, as I said earlier, have been moved out of Florida and into Arkansas. There are still, I guess, 7,500 or so of the hostages that have not yet found a home. We're trying to find them a place—I mean, excuse me, the refugees. We're trying to find those refugees a place outside of Florida. We've done the best we could to make sure that your costs, money costs in settling the hostages—the refugees, excuse me—were paid by the Federal Government.
We also will help in the future to make sure that we don't have another massive flood of refugees coming here, and this is a very important thing for us. The refugee situation is much better now than it was. Florida has responded well to a very difficult challenge. I'm extremely proud of what has been done in Florida concerning the refugees. But we will minimize in the future and use the legal authority that I have, including the Navy and the Coast Guard, to be sure that the rest of the refugees that come here are coming in accordance with United States law. There are going to be some problems in the future.
And as those refugees that have already come here have to be resettled, we're doing everything we can to find them a good home some place in the country outside of Florida, where the unemployment level is relatively good and where it won't interfere and cause a very high unemployment rate. That's the best we can do.
Let me say in closing that it's been a very good pleasure for me to come here, to have your questions about a series of issues, about the disaster areas, about religious ethics, about the retention of people in our Armed Forces, about the refugees who've come here from Cuba and from Haiti, about the status of a President and what a public servant ought to be, about the United Nations, about Iran, Iraq, and our hostages being held there, a broad range of issues that we've had a chance to discuss.
One of the most interesting, I think, was concerning religious freedom and what it means to protect people in their right to worship as they choose without abuse and without human beings trying to define what God is or what a true believer might be. This exchange of ideas has been very helpful to me. I've learned a lot from you.
Let me say this in closing. Ours is a great country. Every day in the news we hear about the arguments, the debates, the differences, the temporary inconveniences, the disappointments, the challenges. And we fail sometimes to remember how great our blessings are.
If you think back in history, those of you who are as old as I, you'll remember the Great Depression, and you'll remember the First World and Second World War, which my father was in. And you'll remember the divisiveness of the civil rights demonstrations and the burnings that took place when we were trying to find a way to treat black citizens equally when they'd been suffering from discrimination so long. And you'll remember the Vietnam war and how it almost tore our country apart. And you'll remember the embarrassment of Watergate and other serious problems where our Nation was challenged, much more serious than anything we face now.
And when the American people could understand what the challenge was, no matter how serious the question or the obstacle or the challenge, we've never failed to answer the question, to solve the problem, to overcome the obstacle, or to meet the challenge.
Ours is a great country, and one of the reasons it's so great is that we are different from one another. We've come here from all over the world. And this doesn't make us weak; it makes us stronger. Your community, yes, in Miami, has been through tough times. I don't deny that. And I regret that you've had to suffer, perhaps more than anyone else in this Nation, because of the refugees who've come here in a flood.
When I was sworn in as President, the unemployment rate in the Miami metro area was 11 percent. It's been cut now by 40 percent, and there are 88,000 more people in this metropolitan area now holding jobs than there were in January of 1977. There are still some people unemployed; it concerns me. The inflation rate is too high; it concerns me. Our Nation's not perfect; that concerns me.
But don't forget what a great Nation we have, and don't forget that in a free society, where everyone has a chance to speak and to make your voices heard, particularly less than 2 weeks from now in the general election, we'll make the greatest Nation on Earth even greater in the years ahead. That's my prayer. You join me, and it'll come true.
Note: The President spoke at 11:03 a.m. in the Miami Edison Senior High School gymnasium.
Jimmy Carter, Miami, Florida Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a Town Meeting. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251464