Secretary of State Muskie's Trip to Vienna Exchange With Reporters on the Secretary's Departure.
Q. Mr. Secretary, what do you hope to learn from our NATO Allies?
SECRETARY MUSKIE. Well, first of all, I'd like to make some points clear. I'm very happy that this first trip abroad is a trip to NATO, which I happen to believe is the bedrock of our foreign policy.
Secondly, I'm delighted to be participating in a meeting with the defense ministers of NATO. This is the first meeting, as I understand it, of our Foreign Ministers and a Secretary of State with the Defense Ministers. This was President Carter's suggestion, and I think it has the effect of underscoring the importance we attach to a consistent and unified policy toward the Soviet Union with respect to Afghanistan. Obviously, what's involved is our defense posture as well as our foreign policy.
The meeting in Vienna, which really is designed to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Austria's independence, gives us an unusual opportunity to engage in bilateral talks with our counterparts in our NATO countries and also, of course, the meeting with Mr. Gromyko.
With respect to that, which has somehow emerged as a centerpiece of this trip, I don't really expect any substantive agreements to emerge out of that meeting, but I think it will serve the purpose of opening and continuing communications, which I think is vital. And secondly, it gives each side an opportunity to express its concerns about developments since the Afghanistan invasion. It does not reflect any change in our policy. I think the initiative rests with the Soviet Union, and we are interested as a government in pursuing arms control and other issues of mutual interest, but the initiative clearly rests on the Soviet Union as a result of the Afghanistan invasion.
So, all of these give me an unexpectedly early opportunity to plunge into the waters of the cold Atlantic in foreign policy.
Q. What do you mean, rests clearly with the Soviet Union? You mean that they have to pull the troops out of Afghanistan before there's any dialog?
SECRETARY MUSKIE. Well, I think the purpose of the dialog is to explore the possibilities for the Soviet Union to carry its burden. It may not agree with me, but it has that burden. My responsibility and my conviction is that we must make it clear to them that that burden rests on their shoulders.
Q. Is it part of your responsibility to see that the allies don't find themselves on separate sides in the Middle East peace negotiating process from the United States?
SECRETARY MUSKIE. Well, I think it's—[inaudible]—I am sure that issue will arise and be discussed, and I would hope that they can be persuaded to permit the Camp David process to continue. We are determined to continue it. We are coming to grips with the tough issues now, really for the first time. I think it would be a very poor time to in any way divert attention from that process. The pressures are on both sides, both Israel and Egypt now, to come to grips with these tough issues and to resolve them. And without that pressure—and any diversion which would or could relieve it—without that pressure, they are likely to minimize the possibility of agreement. And I don't know of any other course of action, any other policy direction or any other initiative that could get us as close as we now are with the tough issues which have stood between us in a final resolution of the autonomy issue.
Q. Mr. President, are you concerned that our allies may be backing off their commitment to us to help us in Iran?
THE PRESIDENT. That's one of the issues that Secretary Muskie will be discussing with the allies. They have announced publicly and informed us directly that they will carry out the sanction commitments against Iran, pending some major breakthrough in the release of the hostages, and we expect our allies to keep their commitments to us.
Q. When did they phone you? Yesterday?
THE PRESIDENT. No, after they had their previous meeting.
Q. Oh, so you're holding them to their—that's about 2 weeks, 3 weeks?
THE PRESIDENT. That's correct.
Q. Does it make it tougher, if they don't keep their commitment, does it make it tougher for us?
THE PRESIDENT. Obviously, the more united the allies are in having a commitment to have the hostages released, the better off it is for us and for the hostages and for the future of Iran. It's important that the world know that those nations in the United Nations Security Council who voted for the sanctions if the hostages should not be released, would carry out their commitment, and they've reconfirmed that to us.
Obviously, each country has to decide exactly the level of sanctions to be maintained, but the more compatible the sanctions are among the allies with the U.N. resolution originally that they did support, obviously the better off we are.
Q. Could I ask you about these whispers you hear from Europe that they may be backing off?
Q. What we don't understand is the fact that they seem to be pulling away. You don't think so, is that
THE PRESIDENT. We'll know more when Secretary Muskie does his job in Europe.
[Speaking to Secretary Muskie] Good luck to you, and God bless you.
Note: The exchange began at 7:53 a.m. on the South Grounds of the White House. Prior to his departure, Secretary Muskie met with the President in the Oval Office.
Jimmy Carter, Secretary of State Muskie's Trip to Vienna Exchange With Reporters on the Secretary's Departure. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250236