Jimmy Carter photo

National Governors' Association Toasts at a White House Dinner Honoring Governors Attending the Association's Winter Session.

February 27, 1979

THE PRESIDENT. First of all, let me say that it's a great delight for Rosalynn and me to have you here in the White House. A few weeks ago, Rosalynn helped to pot these lilies of the valley, and they're for you to take home with you as a memento of tonight. When you leave through the Diplomatic Room, they'll be there, so each couple can pick one up and take it with you.

I was sitting here computing the time since I left the Governor's office in Georgia. It's exactly 49 years— [laughter] —49 months. I guess I spent 2 years campaigning and 47 years as President. [Laughter] But I don't think I've ever spent a more exciting and challenging and delightful 4 years than I did as Governor of Georgia.

And as the different Governors went by in the receiving line and I shook hands with you, I had a recurring sense that was hard for me at first to describe in one word. But I finally realized it was jealousy. [Laughter] Cecil Andrus had the same feeling. [Laughter]

There is a deep emotional sense that I have, as President, when I have the Governors of our Nation come to visit me here. Thinking back on the history of this house, it's almost overwhelming. Every President who served our Nation has lived in this house, except George Washington. And to see the furnishings in the rooms, to recall some of the history of this place is a sobering experience, but also a very challenging and inspirational experience. To see the room where Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, wrote the Gettysburg Address; to see a little, small writing desk, about this large, that Thomas Jefferson made with his own hands, designed and carried around on the back of his horse when he was President, on the back of a buggy; to see the desk that belonged to Daniel Webster; and to see the sculpture here—it's really overwhelming.

But I think the basic strength of our country, that tides us over in times of trial and stress and tribulation and challenge, is our system of federalism. As you know, the local governments and the Federal Government only have the authority and the power that was delegated to those two governments by the States. And the depository of the remaining authority, power, initiative, opportunity for innovation, experiment, the consummation of ideals, the administration of laws that direct dealings with people remain in the hands of Governors and the governments of the States.

This is reassuring to me as President. We share a lot of responsibility, obviously, in the realm of domestic affairs—to control inflation, to decide how to amend the Constitution— [laughter] —to deal with the problems of energy, transportation, air pollution, water pollution, the aged, education—these kinds of things affect you and me both as equal partners. And if there is any inequality of it, the biggest responsibility is on your shoulders.

I think there's a new developing sense, however, among the Governors, partially initiated by me, of a sharing of a responsibility for foreign affairs as well. The new formation of a committee to enhance international trade may be one of the most historic developments in the history of the National Governors' Conference, now Association.

And I think it opens up not only an opportunity for us to learn about how to enhance job opportunities, to market American products, to extend hands of friendship and cooperation to foreign nations, but it also gives you an opportunity and a renewed responsibility to deal with foreign affairs as such.

Obviously, you can't negotiate for our Nation, you can't take the place of a President's constitutional responsibilities, but I thought tonight, in about 5 minutes, I would like to outline for you some of the foreign affairs considerations that affect me as a President. And I thought I'd go back to my early notes when I first was elected President. And the 10 goals that I set for myself then are still kind of guiding lights for me in these deliberations.

Obviously, this is an over simplistic version, but I thought, following that, I would take about 10 minutes more time—and I'll time us so we won't go over—to answer a few questions that you might have on foreign policy. This has never been done before at a Governors conference, and I thought it might be a little bit different, since your own concepts and your own responsibilities and interests have been expanded in that direction.

The first thing that I wanted to do, of course, was to maintain the strength of our own Nation around the world, and particularly to align toward mutual concepts our European allies and Japan.

We've had a very good evolutionary process going on now, which is still continuing, and I think the basic Western democracies, including Japan in that stretched definition, is kind of core of the sense of democracy, commitment, freedom, idealism, and a beneficent influence that needs to be both strengthened and expanded.

We have a very good, personal friendship extant among those of us who are responsible for leadership in those countries, and I think that's one of the elements of our foreign policy that has, in the past, sometimes been overlooked.

The second thing, obviously, that is important for us is to deal with changing times. We can't control change. We don't want to prevent change. But we have to understand it and accommodate it and try to use it in an evolutionary way toward the goals and the ideals, the aspirations, the principles of our own country.

We also have to identify newly emerging leaders and try to make sure that our own relationships with them in key parts of the world are sound and strong and that there's a mutual benefit to be derived. Countries like Indonesia or Brazil or Venezuela, Nigeria, or India, obviously, are strong, vibrant nations, some of them very firmly committed to democracy. In the past, many of those have not been friends of ours at all, and we've tried to change that circumstance. And we've deliberately visited those countries—either I or the Secretary of State or Vice President Mondale or my wife, Rosalynn—to try to get firm relationships built with those newly emerging regional leaders.

Four or 5 years ago, for instance, when the Secretary of State wanted to visit Nigeria, he was not permitted to come into the country. Now Nigeria, which is the strongest, most vigorous, most populous, wealthiest black nation in Africa, is one of our soundest and most valued friends.

Another thing that we tried to do in this first few months is to strengthen our ties and our understanding with the developing nations of the world. There are people who have an average per capita income of only $90 or $95 or $100 a year. And the burgeoning sense of realization and aspirations on their part is and can be an overwhelming worldwide trend. Just in the last—in our generation, we've had a hundred new nations formed. And they go through a traumatic experience when they shake off colonialism or establish their own government.

Quite often they turn to the Soviet Union or some other ready suppliers of weapons in the revolutionary times, but eventually they turn to a more stable interrelationship and they become more nationalistic in spirit. But they still have enormous, almost indecipherable problems in the low quality of life of people. And they are reaching out to us for technology, for trade, and, quite often, we overlook them. We try to treat them as a homogeneous mass of people: We say "the people of South America," when the countries of South America are just as individualistic, perhaps even more so, obviously, than the countries, say, in Europe or in Asia. We've tried to treat those countries with respect, with decency, as equals, which they are, and as individuals.

I think this is a very important concept for us. In dealing with trade problems we quite often forget the fact that a small country has only one major export item. And the price of coffee or the price of tin or zinc or bauxite or sugar is life or death to them. And I have a responsibility, as do you, to learn about those nations and perhaps to visit them. You might be wanting to go to a small country in the Caribbean on vacation. It would really pay rich dividends for you to understand what their lifestyle is, what their needs are, what their yearnings are, what their frustrations are, what their political alignments are, what their challenges are. And just a small gesture of friendship is reciprocated in an overwhelming degree.

One of the major goals that I espoused when I was running for Governor [President] was eventually to have normal relations with the People's Republic of China and to deal fairly and simultaneously with the people of Taiwan. I think we've taken a major step in that direction, successfully. This is a quarter of the world's population. Coming from the South, being a Baptist, I grew up as a kid who used to give a nickel or a dime for missionaries to go to China. I've always had a warm feeling in my heart for the Chinese people. And I think they respond. I think the recent visit by Vice Premier Deng showed that there's an instant response when finally those barriers are broken and you can actually reach across and shake hands.

And we've been very careful in establishing this new relationship not to sever our good relationships with the people of Taiwan. I think we'll benefit in both those ways.

I would say the most important single responsibility on my shoulders is to have peace, an improved understanding, consultation, communication with the Soviet Union, because on the super powers' shoulders rests the responsibility for peace throughout the world.

We've spent 2 years now negotiating a SALT treaty. I spent an hour this afternoon with the Ambassador of the Soviet Union, talking about all the differences that we have between us, all the possibilities for improving our relations, and this preys very heavily on my shoulders. And I mentioned Sunday afternoon that I have never gotten a private letter from President Brezhnev that in the heart of his letter he didn't mention their intense desire to improve trade relationships with our country.

And I hope that over a period of years that all of you will take an opportunity to travel to China, to travel to the Soviet Union, and to help me engender peace, friendship with both those nations and, of course, with others as well.

Another thing, obviously, that we try to do is to stamp out disharmony, combat, confrontation in troubled areas of the world. In Namibia, Rhodesia, Cyprus, the Mideast, we have sometimes gratuitously injected ourselves into those disharmonies. And it's very difficult, because you quite often are castigated by both sides.

One of the most difficult and frustrating and discouraging experiences I've ever had in my life is dealing with the Mideast settlement between Israel and Egypt. Both peoples yearn so deeply for peace. We've come so close to the consummation of a peace agreement, and we still have some absolutely insignificant differences that are now creating apparently insurmountable obstacles. But we've been careful and tenacious and, I think, fair.

But both sides feel that we've not been fair. The Arab world thinks that we've been overly committed to the protection and the strengthening of Israel, and quite often the Israeli people feel that we've been at first evenhanded, since we were fair. They thought we ought to be biased toward Israel. But I think in the process we've not benefited politically, and we may fail. But that is a major challenge for us that we have not successfully resolved.

In southern Africa, our country had never been involved directly in Africa before; we were not a colonial power there, as you know. But we've tried to join forces with the Canadians, with the French, the British, the Germans, under auspices of the United Nations, to bring about the development of a new democratic nation in Namibia, formerly South West Africa, and to break that portion of southern Africa away from South African domination. And the South African Government has cooperated with the United Nations and with us and the other countries. And we're on the verge now of having free elections there and the establishment of a democratic government based on one-person-one-vote, majority rule, which would be a very great step forward if it can be concluded.

Rhodesia—much more difficult. But there, Great Britain has legal ties to Rhodesia. We've worked in harmony with the British, and we hope to bring some peace, some resolution, some end of racism in that part of the world.

Just two other things I'd like to mention: We have strengthened NATO, and we've had a nationwide commitment to reducing armaments, not only with the SALT negotiations but also in other ways—the sale of conventional armaments, the promotion of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which was evolved in Mexico before I became President, which absolutely bans any placement or transportation of or development of nuclear explosives in this Southern Hemisphere. And this is the kind of thing that we're trying to do. Test ban treaties are being negotiated, and I hope that this will be an effort that will be successful in the future.

And, of course, we've tried to raise the banner of human rights throughout the world. But we've been sometimes criticized for this, because the very concept of human rights, which seems to us kind of a hazy but admirable concept, in some countries is like a razor. It slashes through the obfuscation and the confusion to the very bone of people's sensitivities and yearnings and aspirations, and has caused governments to change. It's caused attitudes to change. It's created differences, sometimes, between us and our potential adversaries or our friends, but I feel that our Nation ought to stand firmly for the protection of the individual human being and basic concepts of human rights as was espoused and promulgated when our own Nation was founded.

This is kind of a conglomeration of concepts and thoughts and problems and opportunities that we face on a daily basis, and it's one of the things that makes being President both different from a Governor, in some respects, but also exceptionally challenging. And I really welcome the opportunity for you now to be an enhanced, much more important partner with me in pursuing these goals—and others that I don't have a chance to mention tonight—in months ahead.

I hope that as you plan trips on your own to promote trade or the sale of your own products overseas, that you won't hesitate to come to Washington to meet with Secretary Vance or myself or Dr. Brzezinski or Fritz Mondale or others that we would get to help you, working with Ambassador Carter, who's been designated to be your liaison, and prepare yourselves very thoroughly. And if you have questions, don't restrict them just to trade matters, but try to learn about the military interrelationships, political interrelationships, the human interrelationships, social interrelationships, religious interrelationships that might deal with the particular country you visit. I think, in that way, our country can be even stronger and more beneficially influential than it has been in the past. You'll certainly help to make my job easier, and that's the reason I invited you here tonight.

Before I give a very brief toast, I'll answer maybe two questions if anybody has them, and just on any of the foreign affairs matters that I described.

Yes, Jim?

GOVERNOR THOMPSON. Mr. President, on Sunday you talked about developing trade with the People's Republic of China, and I asked about the possibility of credit relationships. And you mentioned the possibility of most-favored nation status as one of the ways by which the Government would extend credit.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes.

Q. It struck me afterwards, when I was thinking about it, that perhaps the extension of most-favored-nation status to China occurs—poses a political problem with regards to the Soviet Union—

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. You're very discerning.

GOVERNOR THOMPSON. ——their attitudes toward human rights. Am I making too much of the necessity for governmental credit relationships with China, or are you going to run into that problem? And, if so, how are you going to resolve it, given their current attitude towards human rights?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the extension of credit is one thing that can be handled on a strictly private lending basis. We don't need to grant credits to China or to the Soviet Union directly, although that is done. But the most-favored-nations legislation would permit the reduction of trade barriers and the charging of tariffs. It means that whatever trade relationships we have with Great Britain, for instance, or Germany or France or Japan, we would also have to grant that same trade relationship with the Soviet Union or China.

The Jackson-Vanik amendment to the trade bill that was passed 2 or 3 years ago prevented our granting most-favored-nations treatment to a nation like the Soviet Union, for instance, or Romania or, perhaps, Hungary or others in the Eastern bloc if they had restrictions on the out-migration of citizens. This was designed primarily because of the restraints that the Soviet Union had on the out-migration of Jewish citizens who wanted to come here or to Israel or to some other place. In the last 6 months, the Soviet Union has permitted an out-migration of Jews in excess of 40,000 per year, which is right at the highest rate of out-migration, I think, in history, certainly in recent history.

So, I would guess that the Soviet Union is now approaching the point where they would comply with the most-favored-nations as interpreted by the Congress. And I would hope that we could have a removal of that restraint if the Soviets meet that standard, and increase our trade with the Soviet Union. There are legal restrictions on what we can sell to the Soviets. We cannot sell them anything under the law that would contribute directly to the enhancement of their military capability that might be used against us.

China is a different proposition altogether. They don't have the out-migration problem. As a matter of fact, when I mentioned the most-favored-nations restraints and the Jackson-Vanik amendment to Deng Xiaoping, he immediately said, "We'll qualify right now. If you want us to send you 10 million Chinese tomorrow"— [laughter] —"we'11 be glad to do it." I said, "I'll reciprocate by sending you 10,000 news correspondents." He said, "No"— [laughter] —he said, "No, this might prevent normalization from going forward."

But I would hope, Jim, in the next few months, that we might find it possible to have most-favored-nations status granted both to China and to the Soviet Union. That's my hope, and that's my expectation. But the Congress, obviously, is involved in that decision.

Maybe one more question.

GOVERNOR BYRNE. Mr. President, in the wake of the upheaval in Iran there are renewed threats to "destroy Israel." Does the United States have a response to that, and is that response in any way dependent on the outcome of the continued Gamp David discussions?

THE PRESIDENT. I think almost every responsible or significant element in Iran is strongly anti-Communist. The Shah's followers, those who challenged the Shah in the secular world, and the religious leaders all are intensely anti-Communist, although there is a small group, the Tudeh party there, who comprise maybe three or four thousand total—nobody knows exactly-who have relationships with the Soviets indirectly through East Germany.

Iran was supplying a large part of Israel's oil, and among the countries of that region, they were the only ones who had fairly advanced trade relationships with Israel. That has been terminated now. And they've severed relations with Israel, and the Israeli Ambassador has left, as you know.

Iran does not border on Israel, and I would guess that the Iranian Government, any time in the foreseeable future, would not find an opportunity to attack Israel directly.

This does create a change in attitude in the Mideast, and it cuts both ways. And I'll be very frank with you: I think it increases the importance of Egypt as a stabilizing factor in the Arab world, since Iran cannot be considered any more, if it ever was, the policeman of that region. I think Egypt, with their very large .population, their very large armed forces, will be looked upon much more in the future as a possible stabilizing factor. I won't go into too much detail.

Another problem, though, that has arisen, demonstrated in Iran, has been the ability of the relatively few militants, who had deep and fervent commitments, to succeed against an all-powerful military force and an entrenched government. I think the success exceeded even the ones who were among the revolutionaries, the speed of it, the completeness of their victory. And I think this would tend to inspire or to instigate uprisings among the Palestinians, for instance, or other militant groups, in the future, to assert their own authority.

I don't have any doubt that in the West Bank, Gaza Strip area that the Israelis are strong enough to put down dissident groups who might arise. But the shedding of blood in a situation like that, even if it only involved a dozen people or a hundred people or maybe a thousand people, might very well escalate rapidly. It would certainly make it more difficult for Sadat to continue to negotiate with Israel under those circumstances, even though it was something that Israel couldn't prevent-they certainly would like to prevent any such thing—and something that Sadat couldn't directly become involved in.

The other factor, too, and this is typical of the confusion in the Mideast negotiations, is that Israel might—seeing Iran shaken so deeply—might be reluctant to withdraw from the Sinai, for instance, thinking that their own security would be best enhanced if they maintained the status quo for a while.

However, if the negotiations are delayed, my guess is that it will become increasingly difficult for Sadat to stand in limbo, where he's not part of a cohesive Arab world and he's apparently not making any progress in finding peace with Israel. He might be inclined to withdraw from the negotiations and go back and reestablish himself as part of the Arab world in a cohesive sense of brotherhood.

So, that's why we've been so insistent on trying to bring the talks to a conclusion. I think Israel is strong enough any time in the near future—4, 5, 10 years—adequately to protect themselves. And the overwhelming responsibility that I feel as President is to help guarantee the security of Israel, the permanence of their government, and their ultimate peace. And I'm dedicated to it.

As I said before, we get criticized from both sides because we try to negotiate in good faith. I guess that's a role of a mediator, but I think it is accurate to say that both the Israelis and the Egyptians trust us and both desire us to continue in that role.

I don't have any idea what's going to happen when Begin comes over here Thursday night. We'll be negotiating all day Friday. We'll probably stop for the Sabbath on Saturday, and then negotiate some more. And if those talks open up an opportunity for improvement in the negotiation directly with Egypt, I have no doubt that Sadat and/or his Prime Minister would be here immediately to resume the negotiations.

But I think that Israel is secure. Obviously, they would be better off with peace. Egypt is the main military threat that could possibly attack Israel successfully, even in combination with all the other Arabs, and even then I don't think they could be successful. They've never insinuated privately or publicly that they want American military forces to be involved. They don't want American fighting men to be involved in Israel. They feel like if we give them economic and military aid, as we have in the past, that they are fully capable of protecting themselves. What the long-range trend might be 10, 15, 20, 50 years in the future, I don't know. But I don't have any doubt that whatever you project for the future, peace with Egypt is an integral requisite for the permanence of good relationships within Israel.

They have economic problems, as do many other countries, including our own. I think the inflation rate in Israel last year was in excess of 50 percent, for instance, and of course, they don't have the ability to trade with their normal neighbors. And I would hope that if we could ever get a peace treaty signed and open the borders and have diplomatic relations and exchange of ambassadors and student exchange and tourism and mutual trade and us and other nations help them develop water resources, mine different minerals like potash and so forth, the common use of the Suez Canal, common defense exchanges, that this would make it permanent. And we are that close to it.

The remaining differences on the peace treaty are absolutely insignificant. It's just disgusting, almost, to feel that we're that close and can't quite get it, but the feelings are deep and the sense of doubt and trust, on occasions, are just missing.

I've overanswered your question. I don't want to answer any more questions. It's an intriguing sort of thing, and I hope that over a period of months that you will become more and more involved in sharing with me some of the things that I described so briefly tonight.

In closing, I would like to propose a toast to the Governors of the States, to our great Nation, and to the people that you and I both represent, and to the United States of America.

Thank you.

GOVERNOR CARROLL. Mr. President, Mrs. Carter, again the Governors of America have come for your hospitality, and we particularly appreciate your intimate knowledge of the foreign affairs of the world.

One must be impressed by a President that can stand and speak so intimately about the problems of foreign affairs around the world. And I know that I speak for all of the Governors tonight, as well as your fellow Americans, that give you our prayers and our blessings as you begin to further negotiate the differences between Egypt and Israel. And we will leave Washington tomorrow with a deep prayer on our hearts that your efforts will be successful.

We commend you for your excellent leadership. And you, probably, in being so candid as you are, are correct. I'm not sure that all the American people fully appreciate the difficulty of your task, one that you can really not be a winner in, because no negotiator is ever a winner. But no matter whether or not the effort is finally totally successful, your leadership has contributed substantially to world peace. And the Governors are pleased to be your partner in that effort.

As we said on Sunday afternoon, because of your leadership we have initiated a committee on international trade and foreign affairs. And it was our pleasure recently to host Vice Premier Dens, when he and other members of his delegation from the People's Republic of China were here. And our hearts were warmed like yours in finding that the people of China and the people of the United States had so much in common, knowing their interest in exchanging technology, in education, and certainly, in goods and services.

The Governors of America appreciate the partnership which we enjoy with the executive branch. Obviously, we have some differences. But no Governor, regardless of his particular political persuasion, would deny that we continue to negotiate to find common ground. And through our communication we have found common ground, because we begin to understand the burdens and responsibilities of each other.

We feel that our meeting, concluded this afternoon, has probably been one of the most successful in the history of our association. I believe most of the Governors would tell you they're somewhat exhausted tonight, because if words were a premium, we would have balanced your budget. [Laughter]

Indeed, as Governors, we come to support you totally in your effort to balance your budget. And Dr. Kahn was with us today. Indeed, Jim Mcintyre was with us. And we understand the problems of inflation, and we are trying diligently to assist you, and we support you totally in that regard. And the other Secretaries and the directors of your various agencies and departments, along with the Members of the Congress, have certainly enlightened all of the Governors and, I'm sure, our 21 new Governors that have joined us in this conference.

And now, to the President and Mrs. Carter, particularly our prayers and our blessings as we toast the President and his First Lady, and to the United States of America, and to continued world peace. God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 9: 45 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. Governor Julian Carroll of Kentucky is chairman of the National Governors' Association.

Jimmy Carter, National Governors' Association Toasts at a White House Dinner Honoring Governors Attending the Association's Winter Session. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/248971

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