Jimmy Carter photo

News Conference by Henry Owen, the President's Special Representative for Preparations at the NATO Ministerial Meeting in London

May 10, 1977

AMBASSADOR OWEN. I thought I would talk about three things very briefly, and then open up to questions.

First, what were the President's main proposals? He began, as you know, with a reaffirmation of our commitment to the Alliance and to European unity, and to support the existing strategy of the Alliance. Then he went into three proposals: First, a proposal for improved political consultation and, more specifically, a broad study of East-West relations to be conducted by the North Atlantic Council, drawing in experts from capitals.

Second, a long-term program for improvement, both of NATO forces and of NATO machinery for carrying out decisions. This program to be developed by the Defense Ministers when they meet on May 17, and reported back to the North Atlantic Council meeting of May 1978, which he offered to host in Washington, at the summit. Along with that long-term: program for defense improvements, he: proposed that the Defense Ministers focus on a few quick actions which could be taken to improve the Alliance forces in the immediate future.

Third, he spoke about improving the situation in respect of defense production and procurement, acknowledged that our own country was not without fault, and suggested three steps to improve the situation.

One, he said that he had instructed the Secretary of Defense to search out opportunities for buying increased European defense equipment where this was competitive.

Second, he urged the Europeans to cooperate among themselves increasingly, particularly within the independent European defense program group, so that they could achieve the economies of scale involved in the Europe-wide defense production base, which would make them more competitive.

And third, he suggested a joint examination between the collective European entity and the U.S. as to how you could go about improving procedures.

So these were the three proposals: political consultation, the East-West study, defense--the improvement in forces and in machinery over the longer term for the 1980's, and the focus on specific steps that could be taken now in the meantime; and third, defense production and procurement--trying to buy more European stuff, encouraging the Europeans to cooperate; and a joint U.S.-European examination.

A second thing I'd like to go through with you is a few interpolations the President made, which are not in his prepared speech. If you go through it on the first page, there was nothing of significance; on the second page, when he spoke about the Belgrade conference, just before he got to the final sentence, he interpolated an additional sentence which I took down as follows: This is after the sentence "We support a careful review of progress by all countries in implementing all parts of the Final Act," he then said, "We take a particular interest in human rights and hope that good progress can be made in this field."

Then on the defense side, at the top there, when he was talking just before he got to the improvement 'of Soviet forces, he noted that in the defense budget, which he's just submitted to the Congress, he asked for additional funds for U.S. conventional forces.

Finally, on the last page, when he was still talking about defense production, he elaborated on his view of the enormous amount of waste which was involved in the present overlapping and duplication in defense production, and when he got to the final end, he said NATO was the middle-aged alliance, that new initiatives would be useful in redirecting it to new tasks; he thought that the Alliance had good grounds for confidence in tackling these tasks, even though this would involve some sacrifice from the members.

The third thing I wanted to mention was the reaction of the other countries. We agreed that we wouldn't brief specifically about what individual countries said, but each of the heads of government spoke, and when the Secretary General tried to summarize it at the end, he said the reactions to what he called President Carter's keynote address were positive, that President Carter's specific proposals to adopt the Alliance to the political and military tasks of the 1980's were proposals to which the other leaders responded positively.

There was general satisfaction with the notion of a fresh look at future tasks in the political field, the defense field, and the defense procurement field. And the President followed up later by saying that he was looking forward, at the NATO meeting in May '78 in Washington, which he hopes will be at the summit, to reviewing the progress that's been made in each of these three fields, and the studies that have been completed in each of these three fields.

That's all that happened that you haven't already learned by reading the President's speech, and I'm now open to any questions.


Q. What were some of these quick actions that the Defense Ministers would focus on?

Q. Question?

AMBASSADOR OWEN. The question was: What were some of the quick actions that the Defense Ministers might focus on? The President, in his speech, didn't specify what they were, and I'd be reluctant to try and do Harold Brown's work for him, but I think generally you could assume that they will be in fields such as antiarmor, increased readiness, increasing war reserves. These are three areas in which I could conceive that quick actions would be taken. But the specification of that you'll have May 17, when Harold Brown goes to the Defense Ministers meeting.

Q. What happens now? Will everybody leave?

AMBASSADOR OWEN. No. There is a second .day of the meeting .and the second day of the meeting will do at least two things: One is talk in more detail about the Belgrade Conference, which was discussed today, but they'll talk about it more intensively tomorrow; and secondly, go over the Communiqué and reach an agreement on that, so that it can be issued tomorrow. And the communiqué will be both addressed to the general questions which NATO communiqués always address and presumably comment on the President's three initiatives.

Q. Who will be at the table for us tomorrow?

AMBASSADOR OWEN. Secretary Vance will be there tomorrow, plus Ambassador Bennett, our newly appointed Ambassador to NATO, who's with me here today.

Q. Did they agree, in principal, to the Washington summit idea?

AMBASSADOR OWEN. I wouldn't say people stood up and said, "Yes, yes, yes," but my general impression was that the idea gained favor.

Q. Is this just a NATO summit?
AMBASSADOR OWEN. That is correct.

Q. On a political question, did the subject of civilian emergency come up?
AMBASSADOR OWEN. No. It did not.

Q. Will that come up tomorrow?
AMBASSADOR OWEN. I couldn't tell you whether it will come up tomorrow. Tap, do you know whether that will come up tomorrow.?

MR. SCHECTER. Repeat the question, please.

AMBASSADOR OWEN. The question was, did civilian emergency measures, civilian preparedness defense mobilization measures, was that discussed. It was not discussed today. The second question was whether it will come up tomorrow, and my answer was I don't know.

Then I remembered when I was in the Navy they told me never say you don't know. So, I asked Tap Bennett. Will it come up tomorrow?
MR. BENNETT. It's open. It can.
AMBASSADOR OWEN. Tap says it's open. It may. He said it can. But he meant it may.


Q. Is there any reason why the reference to human rights was not in the prepared text and was added afterwards by the President?

AMBASSADOR OWEN. I think it's the same question you might ask about each of the other four or five interpolations. When the President reads a speech, in my experience, he doesn't read it. He just goes down it and, indeed, I think you can probably get the actual text as it was delivered, tomorrow.

But I don't think there was a single paragraph that came out exactly as it was in the speech. The President looks at the paragraph and then says what the paragraph says. And I think that was just part of this general process. I think his thinking hasn't changed from the time he prepared the speech, and the thinking is reflected in the speech and in the additional sentence.

Q. You don't think he felt it needed strengthening because there was something about civil rights in the original?

AMBASSADOR OWEN. I wouldn't pretend to read the minds--the President's mind, but I don't have any reason to believe that, no. As I say, I think it was simply the general process that he followed on a number of pages. When he sees a paragraph, he throws in more than is in the actual text of the speech.


Q. Mr. Owen, he also was not totally clear in the text. Can you expand on what the study of East-West relations would do and what the scope is? Could you just give us a few words about that?

AMBASSADOR OWEN. Sure. I think it would look at three questions. First, what is the present stage of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, et cetera; second, what are the future trends, both in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe and in East-West relations; and third, what are the implications of those future trends for the role of the Alliance in respect of East-West relations?

Q. Isn't NATO, as a matter of course, studying its relationship with the East? Why would you need a special study?

AMBASSADOR OWEN. Because--and I think this was a view which was held not only by the President but by the other heads of government who spoke about this issue--that the issue is so important and there is a sufficient need for comprehensive review so that it is worthwhile having a study which will differ from previous studies in at least three respects: One, more extensive and in greater depth; two, involving not only the people in the permanent capitals but special experts drawn in; and third, looking at the policy issues involved, not merely. trying to make an estimate of what is happening and what is going to happen but deducing policy conclusions from that. In all these respects, it's different from the regular studies which, as you rightly point out, are going on or at least have 'been going on.


Q. Excuse me. Mr. Vance is going to Spain tomorrow, and today you have been discussing NATO as a whole. Did the Spanish entry in NATO issue come up at all?
AMBASSADOR OWEN. No, it did not.

Q. What is the position now before Mr. Vance is going to Spain, of the United States about the application of Spain with NATO?

AMBASSADOR OWEN. The question was first, did it come up, and second, what's the U.S. position. The answer to the first is, it did not come up. The second, I think it is presumptuous for us to take a position until the Spanish Government has taken a 'position. I think the question of whether people want to join NATO is primarily a question for the country concerned.


Q. Is there anything new in Carter saying he will ask for additional funds for U.S. conventional forces?

AMBASSADOR OWEN. No. He did not say that. He said that he had asked. He said that in the defense budget which went to the Congress this year--you remember the Ford administration submits one budget and the new administration submits supplements--he pointed out that in the defense budget he had sent up there was additional funds for conventional forces. It was past tense; not future tense.


Q. What is your assessment of the congressional attitudes toward the United States buying more weapons in Europe?

AMBASSADOR OWEN. Of course, you know there is the Nunn-Culver resolution which is very forthright on the question, and indeed requires the Secretary of Defense to provide a special justification when he doesn't buy weapons which are subject to standardization. So, I would say the attitude of the Congress toward it in general is favorable.

Now, obviously, on specific issues you have specific Members of the Congress who will feel strongly when defense industries in their districts are involved. So, I think the attitude of the Congress is favorable toward it as a general matter; on specific issues, there are bound to be Objections from individual Members of the Congress. That's just inherent in the situation.

Q. He was talking about SALT. He said that he would seek to reach an agreement with the Soviet Union to limit or end the modernization of strategic weapons. He has said things something like that, but never quite like that before. Is this a new policy that he's unveiling here?

AMBASSADOR OWEN. No. It was definitely not a new policy. It was a recitation of existing policy. I should have mentioned, by the way, that when he was talking of the SALT part, he interpolated at one point to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons which, as you know, is a phrase that he's used in the past.

I'm quite clear that the President was not making new policy, but was simply describing the existing policy and the existing proposals which we've made to the Soviet Union.


Q. Would you say that the European countries had reservations about President Carter's long-term plans on grounds of cost?

AMBASSADOR OWEN. If they did, they didn't voice them. It was clear that the European countries are constrained by budgetary considerations, as indeed is the United States and Canada.

And several European heads of government mentioned these constraints. But this did not, so far as I could see, lead them to have any reservations of the proposal. Quite the contrary. It was the fact that there are constraints which made them, as it made President Carter, anxious to carry out a study which is designed not to produce a quantum jump in defense expenditures, but to see how the very large sums that NATO is now spending for defense can be used more effectively.

The President made that point and several heads of government repeated it.


Q. Can you make the forecast, sir, on the frequency of Presidential travel to summits now?

AMBASSADOR OWEN. Well, there are two summits. There is the Economic and the NATO Summit. The Economic Summit, there are no plans for another summit, and whether another summit occurs will depend whether one of the seven governments invites people to one. I think common sense would suggest that since there have been three summits at some point there will be a fourth. But I don't have the faintest intention when that will be, faintest idea when that will be. As to NATO summits, we know when the next one will be. It will presumably be in May of 1978 in Washington.


Q. Did any specific weapons come up, the F-16 or AWACS?

AMBASSADOR OWEN. No. There were no discussions of specific weapons issues.

Yes, someone back there. I can't see that far.


Q. Sir, in the past there have been rather dire, prolonged---

AMBASSADOR OWEN. I can't hear you. Can you come a little bit forward?

Q. In the past, sir, there have been rather dire warnings given lest any of the NATO governments included or broadened their base of Government including communism? Was there any discussion or was that at any time brought up?

AMBASSADOR OWEN. The question was: Was there any discussion of including Communists in NATO governments. The answer is no. The issue did not arise. Any other questions?


Q. Sir, is it reasonable to suppose that all the chiefs of government would attend the next NATO summit?

AMBASSADOR OWEN. Of course, the French head of government does not attend NATO meetings. He didn't attend this meeting, and I would be surprised if he attended the next meeting.

As you know, the position of the French Government is it belongs to the Alliance, and is a cooperative and faithful member of the Alliance, but it does not belong to the organization which was created by that Alliance--NATO. And I would suspect that would govern future French attendance, as it has governed past French attendance at NATO heads of government meetings.

Any other questions? Thank you very much.
REPORTER. Thank you.

MR. POWELL. Let me elaborate on one response here. With regard to U.S. position on application or admittance of Spain to NATO, I believe the time that the Spanish President of government was in Washington, that he was told by President Carter that at such time as Spain might wish to apply for membership, that the United States was prepared to support that application with, of course, the understanding that the view of the organization will prevail.

Note: The question-and-answer session began at 5:40 p.m. in the press center at the Churchill Hotel in London.

Jimmy Carter, News Conference by Henry Owen, the President's Special Representative for Preparations at the NATO Ministerial Meeting in London Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244199

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