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Plains, Georgia Informal Exchange With Reporters Prior to Visiting Allie Smith.

December 25, 1977

REPORTER. Merry Christmas.

THE PRESIDENT. Same to you. It's a shame to get you up so early so far away from home.

REPORTER. Well, on Christmas, you get up early anyway when you have family.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I know. We always get up about 5: 00.

Q. Tell us how Christmas has gone so far.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it's fine. I just placed a phone call to President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin. And they're in Isrnailia, and I was at the Pond House. So, the connection was pretty bad. I could just barely hear them. So, I relayed a message through to them that they have my best wishes and support and that the whole world awaits the peace that they can bring us on this Christmas Day. They are together in Ismailia, and we hope that they will be successful.

We've had a good Christmas ourselves so far. We will be visiting Rosalynn's mother now, already been out to my mother's house, already had Santa Claus at our house. And then we will go to Sunday school and church.

Q. Are you going to talk to them again after they've talked together?

THE PRESIDENT. After they finish this day's work, yes.

Q. Will we get a report from you, perhaps, later?


Q. Mr. President, what did you get for Christmas?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I got some binoculars, and I got a coat that Mother gave me that came from Ireland, a handwoven tweed coat. And I got several books, and I got two shirts from Chip and Jeffrey. I got a pretty good haul so far-got several albums--got Mahler's Eighth Symphony.

Q. Can you say how Mr. Sadat and Mr. Begin's talks are--have they been conferring some already?

THE PRESIDENT. They just are getting started, and we didn't go into any detail about it. We've had very close and thorough discussions with Prime Minister Begin in Jerusalem, with our Ambassador there, and also with our Ambassador and President Sadat in Cairo precedent to this meeting. But we haven't had a chance to meet or talk to them since they've been conversing.

Q. Do you think that in that you are going to meet with Jordan's King Hussein, it might also be possible to meet with President Asad on your trip?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. It would suit me fine if it could be worked out. I think the only time that I would have available to talk to him was if we could perhaps meet in Riyadh, but I don't know if it's possible.

Q. Is there any possibility you might go to Cairo?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think so. If I did, it would--it's not something we've thought about or plan now.

Q. Have you suggested to the Syrians or President Asad the possibility of such a meeting?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I haven't. When Secretary Vance was over there, he talked to the different leaders about the possibility of my meeting with some of them while I was over in the Middle East area. But the only time I would have available is either Tehran or Riyadh. And nothing has been worked out with President Asad, but Secretary Vance had long discussions with all of them, which is probably adequate.

Q. Do you think it's possible to have a meaningful peace solution in the Middle East if the Palestinians don't have an independent state, an independent entity?

THE PRESIDENT. Well,. I've never favored a separate nation or an independent state for the Palestinians. I think that they ought to be tied in, in some way at least, with Jordan. That's my preference. But anything that Prime Minister Begin would work out with the Jordanians or the Palestinians or the Egyptians would suit us.

We have no prohibition against any arrangement, including a tie with Jordan or otherwise. This is going to be a dual discussion between President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin--one on a bilateral basis concerning the Sinai region and the relationship directly between Israel and Egypt. The other one, of course, would relate to a much broader range of questions concerning the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and how the Palestinian Arabs would be treated in a final settlement.

One of the things that is being discussed is an interim arrangement for several years so that they might feel their way toward more sense of security. I think Israel feels very deeply that leaders come and go. Myself, Begin, and Sadat, you know, won't be in office after a number of years. And there has to be a firm foundation of peace between the peoples involved so that any yielding of territory or any lessening of security would be at least more carefully considered and weighed in the balance of historical times.

But I think that if I've ever seen two people who were determined to be successful under the most difficult negotiating positions, it is Begin and Sadat. I've talked to both of them at length. We've had long and voluminous messages through diplomatic channels as well. And, of course, Cy Vance has been over there to visit with both of them recently. And I know that they are determined to be successful.

There's a difference, as you know, between the governments in Israel and Egypt. Prime Minister Begin is constrained by the parliamentary system. He has a cabinet and a parliament, the Knesset, and he has to negotiate with them and deal with them. I think, so far, he's been successful in selling his proposal that he is making to Sadat today to his own leadership. And I've read news reports and have had private reports that there had been a good bit of disagreement originally. But they gave him their vote of confidence in the cabinet. So, he is negotiating from a strong position among his own people.

Sadat, of course, being a President, being a very strong and powerful constitutional officer in the system of government Egypt has, can speak much more quickly, make decisions much more rapidly. He has to do much less consultation with other Egyptian officials than does Begin. But I think the recent attitudes among the general public in both those countries is conducive to peace.

I think Sadat has the overwhelming support of his own people. I think Begin has the overwhelming support of the people of Israel. So, I have good hopes about it. But I've seen enough of the detailed subjects for negotiation already to know how difficult it is. Past positions taken, past statements made, you know, have to be undone. And if it weren't for the strength of these two men and their deep dedication to peace, there would be very little likelihood of a rapid settlement. But I think their strength and their determination might very well prevail.

Q. Mr. President, do you think that when you meet with King Hussein in Iran that you'll be able to talk him into joining this effort? Do you have hopes in that direction?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, he's never rejected coming into the discussions at some later date. Obviously, any permanent arrangement made concerning the Palestinian question and the West Bank would have to involve King Hussein. And he's being kept thoroughly advised about the negotiations.

He's, I think, taken a very positive attitude toward the Cairo-Ismailia meetings. And he's, I think, willing to participate whenever the time comes. But his absence is not an obstacle to progress at this point.

Q. Is it the Syrians that are the real problem then at the moment?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, the only territorial matter that involves the Syrians is the Golan Heights area. Of course, the Syrians are also deeply interested in the question of the Palestinian Arabs and the West Bank as well.

But there's no reason for them to be directly involved in those negotiations. There could be a complete settlement of the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Palestinian Arab question without the Syrians' participation.

We are hopeful, though, that they will come into the discussions. And Secretary Vance was encouraged by Asad's attitude toward Sadat when he was there.

I think the private expressions of his opinion were much less abusive or negative than the public reports had been. So, I think although there might be individual discussions required before we can get ready for the comprehensive peace settlement, there's no doubt in my mind that if progress can be made, that later the Lebanese, Syrians, and Jordanians will come into the discussions.

Q. Is a comprehensive settlement foreseeable within the next year?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it's foreseeable. And the major responsibility now is on the Egyptians and the Israelis, with the Jordanians being thoroughly informed, because the Arab position is being represented by President Sadat as it relates not only to the Sinai but also to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

So, I think it's foreseeable. But I can't predict it because I don't know what will happen. I think after today, after these series of meetings, there will be likely followup by technicians on the political aspects of questions and defense matters, both bilateral and on a multinational basis. But I think today is a crucial day for it.

Thank you. I'll see you all later.

REPORTER. Thank you. Merry Christmas.

Note: The exchange began at 8 a.m. at the home of Allie Smith, Mrs. Carter's mother.

Jimmy Carter, Plains, Georgia Informal Exchange With Reporters Prior to Visiting Allie Smith. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/242733

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