Jimmy Carter photo

Middle East Negotiations Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on Board Air Force One en Route to Georgia.

January 20, 1978

REPORTER. You know what we're all interested in is whether President Sadat is going to come to Washington in the near future to confer with you.

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. We've not made any plans about it, and there have been no discussions with him about it.

Q. There was some talk over there that he would like to do this, or he thinks it might be helpful.

THE PRESIDENT, Nr. Well, I've seen in the news that he has proposed this as a possibility for the future. And I notice that Prime Minister Begin has also said that it would be a possibility for the future. But I don't know of any discussions that there have been between either those two nor with me.

Q. How serious is this apparent setback in that progress toward negotiations?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'm afraid it's very serious. Secretary Vance has spent hours the last 2 days both with Prime Minister Begin and with President Sadat. They are planning to go ahead with the military talks, and we hope that there won't be anything other than a brief interruption in the political talks.

We are acting as an intermediary the best we can, trying to convince both sides of the other's good intentions, and hope that we can succeed. It's been a relief to us the last number of weeks to have those two nations negotiating directly.

Secretary Vance, who's been involved in some very difficult discussions in the past with Vietnam and in the Cyprus question, in years gone by, says this is a normal procedure when adversaries first begin to discuss specifics with one another. It's one major step just to agree to talk at all. But in the aftermath of the good will following the personal acquaintance and introduction, to start discussing ancient differences is always a letdown and a disappointment. But he's encouraged. He's not discouraged. And we're determined to carry out our own schedule.

Secretary Vance will be back in Washington this weekend, and I will talk to him directly. We have had two or three communications from him daily. So, it's a temporary setback. It has been and can be serious, but we have hopes that we'll see it all straightened out and that political and military talks recommence.

Q. What kind of sense did you get from Mr. Sadat when you spoke with him? Did he seem discouraged?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, he seemed discouraged and, I'd say, deeply concerned. My request to him was to leave his negotiators in Jerusalem and not withdraw them that day. He said that his decision could not be reversed then. So, we shifted our conversation to the prospect of keeping open the invitation for the military negotiators to meet, and he agreed that that should continue. But he was quite concerned.

Q. He almost sounded like he was continuing the military portion almost as a favor to you.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't think it was that. I don't think my role was that significant. But my belief is that both Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat have a standard political problem—one is that they have large constituencies on their own side whom they have to represent, and at the same time, they are trying to lead those constituencies toward a reconciliation.

I'm sure there is some strategic and tactical component of what their speeches have been. I believe that at least up until this moment, they both trust us to act in good faith, and that's what we are trying to do. The more responsibility they take on themselves to negotiate directly, though, the better the prospects are for a rapid agreement.

Q. What is the next step now? Assuming the military talks do commence tomorrow, I believe, what is the next step to get those political talks going again?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. I think a lot of it will depend upon President Sadat's speech to his own Parliament tomorrow. I don't know what he will say. Obviously, one of the great things that brought the leaders together was a direct appeal through the news media to millions of people, to the world, indeed.

I think one of the obstacles now in progress is that overinclination to negotiate through the news media, because these matters in which we've been involved as an administration for a full year are very sensitive, very sharply defined, and they are much better worked out privately, where there can be a discussion of a word or a nuance or a phrase or an idea among negotiators without arousing the sharp feelings of millions of people, and where they can be resolved and substitute words or phrases or ideas can be initiated. That's very difficult to do in a public forum through the news media.

So, we hope to get, all of us, reconciled to the fact that the negotiators should deal with these items, recognize that there will be public statements that tend to aggravate and exacerbate the situation, but that that ought not to be a call or a reason for the negotiators to stop their work.

It's going to be a tedious process, and I'm sure we'll have ups and downs in the future.

Q. You know, in that connection, what you just mentioned, there's a theory that President Sadat did this, this dramatic' move, trying to get you to put pressure on Israel to make more concessions.

THE PRESIDENT. I don't agree with that. In my own private communications with President Sadat, both through diplomatic dispatch and the telephone, my assessment is that he has been quite sincere in what he's done, that it's not posturing and not designed to influence our action one way or the other.

My guess is that President Sadat knows quite well that our influence on Israel is limited, and I think that Prime Minister Begin knows quite well that our influence on President Sadat and the Egyptians is quite limited.

But we are always there to assuage ill feelings and to offer substitute wording and, when the talks and discussions stagnate, to try to add some momentum to them; when they have a momentum of their own, for us to withdraw and play a lesser role.

What is now publicly identified as a very difficult negotiating process has been apparent to us as difficult for a long time, and not just in this administration but in the previous one as well. But I think the prospect for peace now, compared to what it was a year ago, is very good.

Q. How much money are you going to raise tonight?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. They feel good about it in Georgia. All the States around, plus Puerto Rico, are healthy. I think later we'll have a fundraiser in Texas, right?

Strauss has told me that whatever we raise in Georgia, they're going to double it in Texas. So, we hope to set a good base for him to meet.

MR. STRAUSS. He's setting goals for the administration now. [Laughter]

Note: The question-and-answer session was held during the flight from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., to Dobbins Air Force Base, Ga.

Ambassador Robert S. Strauss is Special Representative for Trade Negotiations and a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Jimmy Carter, Middle East Negotiations Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on Board Air Force One en Route to Georgia. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249019

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