Jimmy Carter photo

Tacoma, Washington Remarks in an Interview With KOMO-TV.

September 23, 1980


Q. Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon, Mr. President. I'd like to begin first of all with the most pertinent question, of today anyway, and that is the situation in Iraq and Iran. And I'd like to know, first of all, where the United States stands on that right now?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I've been monitoring the situation, obviously, very closely, because it's important to us, talking to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State, who happens to be at the United Nations headquarters in New York, and to Dr. Brzezinski, and my other advisers.

We have a deep concern about the conflict between Iran and Iraq. The chance of that conflict spreading further in those two nations and maybe involving others is a very important consideration for us.

We hope that there'll be a termination as soon as possible to all the bloodshed and the fighting and also that the supplies of oil are not interrupted to other nations. We buy no oil from Iran and very little, if any, from Iraq.

Our position is that we will not get involved in the conflict at all. We are staying neutral completely. And we expect other nations, like the Soviet Union, also to stay out of any involvement in this area. We'll do everything we can through the United Nations and through other international fora and working with individual countries in the Moslem world and in that region to try to bring a quick end to the combat between Iran and Iraq.

This is a very important region strategically to us. So far as I know, there is no direct effect on the life or safety of the hostages.


Q. It's particularly important to American allies, some of that oil that comes out of Iran and Iraq.


Q. What is the United States at this time prepared to do should that situation escalate slightly and maybe close the flow through the Gulf of Hormuz?

THE PRESIDENT. What we've been doing since I've been in the White House is crucial now—and I think it's demonstrated vividly with this potential interruption of supplies—and that is to reduce drastically the amount of foreign oil that we buy and use. This day, in fact every day this year, we are buying about 2 million barrels of oil less from overseas than we did a year ago. This new energy policy that we've put through for conservation and producing more American energy is paying off for us.

We don't get much oil from Iraq. They produce about 3 million barrels per day, shipped heavily to countries like Brazil, France, Italy, and Japan, and of course Iran is producing very little oil for export, only about a half million barrels per day.

THE PRESIDENT. We have an arrangement, worked out by me and other leaders in Tokyo, and later in Venice, among the major consuming nations, to share any shortage equitably among ourselves, so that there will be a minimal adverse impact if the supplies are interrupted to us.

Q. So that would be our contribution, rather than any kind of military consideration?

THE PRESIDENT. I see no chance that we will put military forces into action there. I think the best thing for me to do is protect our national interest with caution and with forbearance and with using our great influence to bring peace between the two warring countries.


Q. Earlier today there was a report that on Iraqi soil, as I understand it, there was a bombing raid by Iranians and that four Americans, three or four Americans, and four British petroleum workers were killed in that raid—


Q.—and as I got this report, then the British had moved their people from that dangerous area near the Iranian border to Kuwait where it might be more safe.


Q. Are we doing anything of the same for American people in Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, we're doing the same thing. You know we don't have diplomatic relations with Iraq; however, we do provide a large technical service to the oil-producing nations, including Iraq. One of the refineries in Iraq was attacked, and some Americans there who were workers for oil companies were killed. I understand that they have been moved to safety and I think the—I understand, I don't have this confirmed—that the refinery is not producing at this time.

Also, the Iraqis attacked the major oil refinery in Abadan in Iran. These refineries are primarily for producing products like kerosene and gasoline that are used within those two countries, not used for export.


Q. We're in, of course, a difficult position there, and it would be made more so by a build-up of Soviet forces in that area, and that was somewhat of a surprise in the Afghanistan situation. If that should happen again, are we in a position to move either way, for or against Iran or Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'll do everything I can to avoid any military combat but, as I said in my State of the Union speech, we have vital interests in the Persian Gulf region. To repeat myself, we are committed not to intervene in the internal affairs of those two countries, not to be embroiled in the combat, and we insist that the Soviet Union honor the same commitment.

Q. Militarily, now, we are a bit more prepared in that area than we had been, say, prior to November 4th of last year.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, but the best way to avoid military action, quite often, is to be prepared.


Q. Now, what situation would we confront with the hostages in Iran? Are we just monitoring again through Iranian channels that as this continues, because the parliament now has dropped their consideration, apparently, of the hostage situation while the war goes on? Are we on hold also?

THE PRESIDENT. We've never been on hold. This is a problem that's always on my mind. We've had two basic commitments since the first day the hostages were taken. The first one is to protect the honor and the integrity of our Nation and to protect our own vital interests and, secondly, to avoid taking any action on my part that might endanger the lives or the well-being of the hostages or their chance, ultimately, to come to freedom. We're still pursuing that policy, steadily and cautiously, but firmly.

We also use every possible avenue of communication with Iranian officials, and we've been waiting until Iran has a government established. The delays have been aggravating and very discouraging to us, but they are approaching now a time when their government will be established. They have a President elected who is in favor of releasing the hostages. They've had a Foreign Minister now, an acting Foreign Minister, Ghotzbadeh, who does want the hostages released. They have a Prime Minister and a speaker of the Majles, or the parliament, and they've elected all the parliament members. The only thing they lack now in completing their government is the choice of the remaining members of the cabinet, and I hope that'll be done within the next few days.

I don't predict any early release of the hostages. I don't want to build up unwarranted expectations. But we will fervently pursue, through every possible avenue, a resolution of this problem and a return to safety and freedom of the hostages. In the meantime, we will not do anything to endanger their lives.


Q. I'd like to move to another international question. The situation—well, it's international in that we have to relate to Japan on this, and it's the auto industry, which has been in serious trouble, of course, of late, in the last few years, and they're in the process of retooling to meet that problem.


Q. Are we now considering any more stringent action on the Japanese auto industry at all—


Q.—ever, or not? I mean, is a quota system a realistic approach to that-higher tariffs, anything of that sort?

THE PRESIDENT. No. It would be counterproductive for us to start a trade war with Japan or other countries. I just visited a grain loading facility here, Continental, in Tacoma, and one of the best things that's happened to us in recent years has been the lowering of tariff barriers that would let us have freer trade between countries.

This not only applies to overseas shipments, which is making the West Coast ports very vital to our Nation's economic prosperity as we open up new vistas of trade with Taiwan, with Japan, our old customers, and also with new customers like the billion people who live in China, but it also strengthens our chance to preserve peace throughout the Pacific region.

We will sell to Mexico this year about 10 million tons of grain. Formerly, they've not been that good a customer. In fact, we've tripled trade with Mexico the last 4 years. So, we are moving to export as much American products as possible.

With the increasing cost of oil and gasoline, American buying preferences for automobiles have simply shifted very quickly to the smaller and more efficient automobiles. There's no doubt in my mind that American automobile manufacturers can meet this consumer demand. Now, every American car that's produced, that's small and efficient, that meets our environmental standards, can be sold without delay. And, of course, recent tests have shown that the American cars are safer than the imported cars with equal operating efficiency.

So, we are going through a difficult transition period brought about primarily with changed buying habits, where Americans are getting out of the gas guzzlers and going to the smaller and more efficient cars.

I was pleased that the government officials in Japan announced unilaterally that their export of cars to the United States the last half of this year will be maybe 200,000 cars less than was the case even in 1979. So, this is encouraging.

Q. It's their decision?

THE PRESIDENT. It's their decision.

Q. No pressure came to bear, right?

THE PRESIDENT. It's their decision. But the thing that I want to avoid is a trade war where we raise barriers to their products and they, in return, raise barriers to our products. Sooner or later all of our consumers and all our producers and all our workers suffer, and nobody gains.

But I was very pleased that they will lower their exports of cars to us to help us go through this transition period, because, to repeat myself, we can sell all of the American cars that are produced, more of the more popular sizes and with the high efficiency.


Q. Just a few days ago, we had the problem down in Arkansas with the Titan missile in the silo down there and the liquid fuel, the older Titan system. I know it's been said that the Titan system is one that we have to keep viable in the American defense armaments. Do you feel that it's something that should be phased out slowly, though?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, over a period of time, if and when the missile is replaced by the MX or the more modern missile, it's likely to be phased out because of common constraints which the Soviets have to observe as well.

The Titan is still important to our strategic forces. Its purpose is to deter a Soviet attack on us, and its deterrent value is very good because it's such a massive missile.

The liquid fuel in itself is not an indication of obsolescence. The most modern Soviet missile, for instance, the SS-18, uses a liquid propellant system. We use a solid propellant in our Minuteman and will use that solid propellant in the MX, as well, in the future.

We have a very strong and a very sound Triad: the land-based missiles like the Titan and the Minuteman, the upcoming MX; also, the Cruise missiles, the airlaunched Cruise missiles that are small, very efficient, highly accurate, relatively inexpensive, and can penetrate any Soviet air defense; and also the new Trident submarines and the Trident missiles that go with them, which are major breakthroughs-all three, in making sure that we have a strategic nuclear arsenal that would prevent any attack on our country. That's the purpose of the entire nuclear intercontinental system, is to prevent any adversary, the Soviets or others, from daring to attack us, knowing that it would be suicidal if they do.


Q. During this campaign you have had to address the military situation as has candidate Ronald Reagan, and there has been because of that, primarily because of Governor Reagan's stance, a lot of tough military talk that's come out of this. In a world where you have to strive continuously for peace, is it not difficult or dangerous to come out with such tough military talk on both sides? Is that not a dangerous trend to get involved in?

THE PRESIDENT. No, it depends on the judgment and the general philosophy of the President. My own belief is that a President ought to be the representative of a strong nation that's confident; that the use of American military forces should be a very rare thing. And I'm convinced that the best way to preserve peace and to keep our Nation out of war is to be militarily strong.

The new weapons systems are important because they let our own people, our allies, and our potential adversaries know our capability. We've always been in the forefront of technological change. We've developed a weapon type; many years later, the Soviets and others develop a similar-type weapon.

I intend to stay this way. We will spend in the future about five percent of our gross national product on military budget items. Seven of the 8 years before I became President, under the Republican administrations, we had a decrease in the amount of real money we spent for our Nation's defense. We were getting quite vulnerable to Soviet threat. Since I've been in office we've had a steady increase in real dollars, above and beyond the inflationary values, for military defense. And we're going to keep it that way. We'll continue the next 5 years with a steady, predictable, sure increase in our commitment to a stronger defense.

I've said many times—and I think it's good for everybody to remember—that the best weapons are the ones that are never used in combat, and the best soldier is the one who never sheds his blood on the battlefield. The best way to avoid combat that could kill tens of millions of Americans is for us to be strong and sure about our strength, but also that the President in the White House uses sound judgment and insists upon the maintenance of peace. I've not had to send a single military person into combat since I've been in the White House. I'm the first President who can say that, by the way, in 50 years, and I hope and I pray that if I should be able to serve as President for 5 more years that I can still say that we have kept our Nation at peace when I go out of office.


Q. If, you know, militarily we are superior or equal and certainly in a comfortable situation, is Ronald Reagan then trying to overshoot the mark? I mean is he instigating, were he to become President at any point, a build-up in an arms race that is, in fact, unnecessary since we already hold such a strong position?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Some of the philosophy that he's expressed, some of the commitments that he's made, some of the promises that he's expounded to the American people disturb me very much. Every President since Eisenhower, Democrat or Republican, has believed that nuclear weaponry should be controlled that there should not be an arms race to see which nation can produce more nuclear missiles, but that we should have SALT agreements with the Soviet Union so that we can have a damper on that build-up and have equal but reducing commitments to military weapons of a nuclear type.

Reagan has reversed that philosophy-a radical departure from the philosophy of his own party. He says we've got to be superior to the Soviet Union in that kind of weapon. If we are superior to the Soviets as a national commitment if Reagan should become President, God forbid, then the chance to negotiate mutual controls on nuclear weapons would be gone.

Also what concerns me about Governor Reagan—I think he would try for peace, but if you look at the record over the last number of years, when he has been a major spokesman for himself and the Republican Party, he has repeatedly called for the use of American forces in times of strain or dispute with other nations, some very small nations, some large nations. But this inclination on his part to use military force instead of diplomatic resolution of differences is deeply concerning to me. He's advocated using military forces in Cyprus; he's advocated using it in Lebanon, in Peru, in our own country with a naval blockage around Cuba. He advocated the using of American military forces in Angola. This repeated call for Reagan to use military force to resolve differences is of great concern to me, and I think it's a legitimate campaign issue to be raised in the minds of the American people. He ought to explain what he means.


Q. Did the American people learn more about Ronald Reagan as a candidate and John Anderson as a candidate through the debates on Sunday night, do you feel?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. I watched the debate. I was interested in it. It's hard to say what was learned there. My own assessment is they basically repeated their standard campaign statements that they had made for many months.

Q. I think the question being is the debate valuable in form of—

THE PRESIDENT. I think so. The debate would be very valuable if Reagan would accept my challenge to debate me. He's not willing to do that. It doesn't help to have a forum with three people or four people or five people on the stage when you just answer—like a "Meet the Press" sort of thing. What is important is for the Democratic nominee, who has a chance to win, and the Republican nominee, who has a chance to win, to debate each other to let the American people know the sharp differences that exist between me and Reagan and between the Republican and Democratic Party.

To have a third candidate, a Republican, who entered the Republican primaries and caucuses, who never won a single contest, even in his home State, now come as a defeated Republican and seek equal status along with the Democratic and Republican nominees is what I object to.

After I debate with Reagan, man-to-man, at any place in our country

Q. Do you expect this to happen?

THE PRESIDENT. I hope so—then I will be glad to debate Anderson plus Mr. Clark plus Mr. Commoner and Reagan all together in the kind of a forum arrangement. But I think that wouldn't be nearly so valuable to the American people as a direct debate between the two people that have a chance to be elected President.


Q. One thing that was talked about during the debate is the tax cut and the talk of a tax cut, and Ronald Reagan again stated that he is planning that tax cut. John Anderson was opposed to that. Are you still behind a tax cut this year?

THE PRESIDENT. Not this year. I don't even want the Congress to consider a tax cut this year. What I want are the tax changes that I advocated, a tax system that would stimulate increased investment and better jobs for American people. It would add a net of a million new jobs in the next 2 years, and that would be anti-inflationary in its character. That is what I advocate.

What Reagan advocates is the so-called Reagan-Kemp-Roth proposal with a reduction of a thousand billion dollars between now and 1987, which would be highly inflationary in nature, designed almost exclusively to reward rich people at the expense of high inflation, which would hurt the working families of this country. There's a sharp difference between what we advocate. He wants a tax cut right now, in an election year. I think it would be ridiculous.—

Q. Both being tax cuts, but achieving very different goals?

THE PRESIDENT. Absolutely.


Q. Mr. President, Senator Kennedy has become much more visible in your campaign in the last few days. Has there been a change between yourself and the Senator at all?

THE PRESIDENT. You know, Ted Kennedy and I have always gotten along very well personally. The first year I was in the White House as President, his voting record in support of my programs was the highest of all 100 Senators. It was the top. And even the last 2 years, the second and third year I was in office, it was within the top three or four. So his commitment to my programs and my basic philosophy has been very helpful. During the primary season the differences that do exist between me and him were sharply exaggerated.

Q. It had to happen?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that's part of the process of politics. But he has been very helpful to me. This week he was in Los Angeles at a joint fundraising effort and, by the way, Jerry Brown was there. We had the three of us together.

But, in my opinion, the unity that presently exists within the Democratic Party is remarkable and maybe even unprecedented. This show of support for my campaign by Senator Kennedy and by Jerry Brown is very valuable to me all over the Nation. I'm indebted to him and believe that it bodes well for the Nation in the future, if and when I'm reelected.


Q. Are you in a position, in a reciprocating manner, to say that, then, Senator Kennedy might be the personification of the future of the Democratic Party in future years?

THE PRESIDENT. Let me wait until later to decide what to say about that. He is obviously one of the major potential candidates in the future to replace me as President, but I don't want to ignore Governor Brown and Vice President Mondale and others who might have ambitions that I don't even know about.


Q. Right. Okay. On a local level, the Northern Tier Pipeline has been a large issue in the Seattle area—a pipeline that would go to Minneapolis or into Minnesota. You were behind that program at one time, and I'm curious if there is still the need, if the administration still sees the need for such a thing in light of the fact that oil demand has dropped and is expected to remain at a slightly lower level or, hopefully, at a lower level for the next, say, 10 years?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I am strongly in favor of it. The demand that we want to see drop is the demand for overseas or foreign oil that we have to buy and pay for. This is what imports inflation and unemployment. To have a more effective way to transfer, say, Alaskan oil, to the areas in our Nation where oil is needed or consumed is important to us. The Congress has not yet appropriated the money that would be necessary to go ahead with the Northern Tier Pipeline project. And of course, we must resolve the environmental questions that would relate to the quality of life in Puget Sound, particularly the threat of water pollution. But when those questions are resolved, we are strongly in favor of going ahead with the project.


Q. Now also, in 1976 you lost the State of Washington by a narrow margin, as well as other Western States. What are you bringing to the party, to the Nation, to those voters in 1980 that is different or enough to change that outcome?

THE PRESIDENT. I think the 3½-year record as President has been a good one. We've been able to add 8.5 million jobs. Since I've been in office the employment rate—unemployment rate in the State of Washington has dropped 25 percent. I notice in the Tacoma metropolitan area, for instance, the number of jobs added had been 20,000.

We've opened up new avenues of trade between our country and the Orient, for instance, that are unprecedented. We've kept our Nation at peace. We've kept our Nation strong. I think there has been a remarkable repair of the damage that was done by the Vietnam war and by the CIA revelations and also by Watergate, under my administration. We have a good working relationship between myself and the Congress. We've weathered the shock that came to the entire world with oil prices more than doubling in 1 year, in 1979. And we have an energy policy now that will give us security in the future and an exciting life in the 1980's.

Obviously, some things could have been better, and we recognize those very clearly. But we've spelled out our positions very coherently and so that the American people can understand them.

Another thing is that in an election year, there is a time of inventory of what our blessings are, what our Nation has accomplished, and the challenges that open up an exciting vista for the future. And also there's an inclination to compare not just a President against a theoretically perfect leader—the combination of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman and, perhaps, Franklin Roosevelt-but to compare me against my opponent, Ronald Reagan, and to decide, "Who could take better care of this Nation, who could provide more assurance of peace, who is more interested in economic progress, who will be best for my own family?" This is the kind of question that I think will be addressed in 1980, and it gives me every assurance that I'll be reelected, and I believe that we have an excellent chance to carry the State of Washington.


Q. Also—and, I think, finally now; we don't have a lot of time left—the Presidency, as you certainly have found out is not an easy job. Why again? Why continue? I mean there's so much difficulty with it.

THE PRESIDENT. It's a difficult job; it's a challenging job, and on the most crucial issues of life or death, peace or war, progress or retrogression, it's a lonely job. The man in the Oval Office has a lot of problems that come to his desk and a lot of questions that need to be answered. They are the most difficult problems and the most difficult questions. If a question can be answered easily, it's answered in a person's life inside a home or in a county courthouse or a city hall or a State legislature or Governor's office. If it can't be answered in any of those places, it comes to me. And the decisions that I make I realize affect the lives, perhaps, of all people who live in this country and, indeed, the entire world. I've also noticed that the more crucial the issue, the more difficult the question, the more likely my advisers are to be evenly divided. So the President, in a lonely way, has to make that decision.

And the last thing is, when I address a crisis or potential crisis, my hope is that it will not become a crisis for our country and that you and the news media and the American people never even know about it. If I handle it well, a potential crisis, it doesn't become important to you. If I should make an error in judgment, then a potential crisis could become a very serious threat to the existence of people's lives and to the future of our Nation and even to peace throughout the world.

So, the challenges are great, the loneliness is sometimes great, but, in return, in this democracy, the respect for the office of Presidency and the support and the common principles and ideals that I share with the American people, the history behind us and the strength of our Nation all are very reassuring. So, it is a challenging job, but it's an exciting and dynamic opportunity to be part of making a great nation even greater. So, in that respect it's a very good job.

Q. Thank you very much for being with us. It's been our pleasure.

THE PRESIDENT. I've enjoyed it very much, David. Thank you very much.

Note: The interview began at 5:48 p.m. at the Tacoma Bicentennial Pavilion.

Jimmy Carter, Tacoma, Washington Remarks in an Interview With KOMO-TV. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251635

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