Jimmy Carter photo

The President's News Conference

March 30, 1978

Held in Brasilia, Brazil

THE PRESIDENT. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I'm very delighted to be here in Brasilia to participate in a live press conference, and I will alternate questions between the Brazilian and the American press.

I'll begin with Mr. Bonfim.


Q. [in Portuguese] Mr. President, at the beginning of your administration there was a clear tendency to isolate and treat Brazil coldly in favor of democratically elected governments, elected by the people.

Yesterday at the airport you stressed the need for cooperation between Brazil and the United States as equal partners. Who has changed, Brazil or you?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I certainly have not changed. The experience that I have had in Brazil as Governor of Georgia before I became President made Brazil the most important country to me. I and my wife visited it frequently. We had a partnership arrangement between my own State and the State of Pernambuco.

We studied the background, the history, the culture, and the government of Brazil. And there has not ever been any inclination on my part or the part of my administration to underestimate the extreme importance of Brazil as a major world power, nor to underestimate the extreme importance of very close and harmonious relationships between the United States and Brazil.

There are some differences of opinion between ourselves and Brazil which have been very highly publicized. But on the long scale of things, both in the past history and in the future, the major factors which bind us in harmony with Brazil far transcend, are much more important than the differences that have been published between our approach to human rights, for instance, and the subject of nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.

But our commitment to Brazil as a friend, our need for Brazil as a partner and a friend has always been the case and is presently very important to us and will always be that important in the future.

Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International].


Q. Mr. President, in recent days, you've seen the use of American military supplies to invade a country and to cause untold suffering to hundreds of thousands. Some say this is the violation of U.S. law. In view of the facts that you have before you, is it a violation; and two, has it caused you to reassess your warplane package for the Middle East?

THE PRESIDENT. Are you referring to the Lebanon question?

Q. Yes.

THE PRESIDENT. As you know, when the terrorist attacks in Israel precipitated the countermove by Israel into Lebanon, which has been a haven for the Palestinian terrorists, the United States took the initiative in the United Nations—I might say, without the approval of Israel—to initiate United Nations action there to expedite the removal of Israeli forces from Lebanon.

We have obviously attempted to comply with the law, and this is a matter that we are still addressing. The other part of your question?

Q. Has it caused you to reassess your package of warplanes for the Middle East, and how do you say you have attempted to comply with the law?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we're attempting to terminate as rapidly as possible the military presence of Israel in southern Lebanon through United Nations action. I believe this is the proper way to do it, rather than unilateral action on our part, which would probably be unsuccessful in any case to get Israel to withdraw. The presence of United Nations forces, the French, the Swedes, and others, I believe, is the preferable way, and it marshals the opinion of the entire world, through the United Nations, against the Israeli presence being retained in Lebanon.

This has not caused me to reassess the American position on the sale of warplanes and other equipment to the Middle East. This is a very well balanced package. It emphasizes our interest in military security of the Middle East. It does not change at all the fact that Israel still retains a predominant air capability and military capability. There is no threat to their security. But it also lets the nations involved and the world know that our friendship, our partnership, our sharing of military equipment with the moderate Arab nations is an important permanent factor of our foreign policy.


Q. Mr. President, from Jornal do Brasil. The American commercial banks are the main Brazilian source of external credit. It seems to some people in Washington that sooner or later a Congressman may try to establish a link between the commercial banking loans and the human rights policy. I'd like to knew your opinion about this subject.

THE PRESIDENT. Brazil is a major trading partner of the United States in commercial goods and also in loans and, I might say, timely repayments. The debt of Brazil is very manageable. The loans of the American banks to Brazil are sound. Additional loans are being pursued by the American banks as an excellent advantage for their future investments in Brazil, based on the strength of your country. It would be inconceivable to me that any act of Congress would try to restrict the lending of money by American private banks to Brazil under any circumstances.

This would violate the principles of our own free enterprise system, and if such an act was passed by Congress, I would not approve it.


Q. What comes in the first place for you: the private enterprise and the private system or the human rights policy?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, they're both important to us. And I don't see any incompatibility between a belief in a free enterprise system, where government does not dominate the banks or the production of agricultural products or commercial products on the one hand, and a deep and consistent and permanent and strong belief in enhancing human rights around the world.

I might say that the American business community, the Congress of the United States, the general populace of the United States supports completely a commitment of our Nation to human rights. It's a basic element of our national consciousness that has no violation at all or no conflict between human rights on the one hand and the free enterprise system on the other.


Q. Mr. President, tomorrow you fly to Africa. What can you tell us today about the revised five-power proposals on Namibia?

THE PRESIDENT. As you know, under the auspices of the United Nations, our own country, Canada, Britain, France, and the Federal Republic of Germany have been working jointly to present to South Africa and to the so-called SWAPO organization, South West Africa Political Organization, a compromise solution to restoring majority rule in Namibia.

We have presented this proposal this week to the South African Government, which now controls Namibia, and also to the SWAPO leaders. We are hopeful that if the proposal is not completely acceptable to both those parties, that it will at least be acceptable enough to prevent unilateral action on the part of South Africa to hold elections in complete violation of the United Nations resolutions and in complete violation of the principle of restoring majority rule to Namibia.

I can't tell you what the outcome of those consultations will be. I will get a more complete report when I arrive in Lagos. Ambassador Young has been in Africa now for about a week. This is one of the reasons that he is there. And I will be glad to give you a more detailed report after I get additional information.


Q. Mr. President, now that you have a broad nonproliferation act in your hands, do you expect you can persuade Brazil to give up reprocessing and enrichment technology being acquired from Germany? And in that case, what are the carrots you might specifically use to further the power of your arguments in your meetings with President Geisel?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we strongly favor the right of any country to have part of its energy supplies come from nuclear power. As you know, our country has been the leader in the evolution of atomic power for peaceful uses, and we would do nothing to prevent this trend continuing, both in Brazil and in other countries around the world.

Our own nuclear nonproliferation policy, however, tries to draw a distinction between the right and the meeting of need of countries to produce energy from atomic power on the one hand, and the right of the country to evolve weapons-grade nuclear materials through either enrichment processes or through reprocessing.

We have no authority over either West Germany nor Brazil, nor do we want any. But as a friend of both countries, we reserve the right to express our opinion to them, that it would be very good to have, and possible to have, a complete nuclear fuel system throughout a country without having the ability to reprocess spent fuel from the power reactors. In the United States, for instance, in the last 25 years or so, on several occasions major investments, multibillion-dollar investments in all, have been made in reprocessing plants. So far as I know, for the civilian nuclear technology, all those plants have now been abandoned as being non-economical.

So, this is a difference that does exist between Brazil and the United States. The right of Brazil and West Germany to continue with their agreement is one that we don't challenge, but we have reserved the right and have used the right to express our concern, both to the Brazilian Government and to the West German Government.

I think it's accurate to say that the European nations have now announced that in the future, they will not make reprocessing plants part of their overseas sales inventory. And we are very deeply concerned about this. Of course, Brazil has announced that they have no intention of producing nuclear explosives. Brazil is a signatory to the Treaty of Tlatelolco. So far, however, Brazil has retained a caveat that it will not apply to them until all the other nations sign it. And Argentina, Cuba, France, Russia have not yet signed the Tlatelolco Treaty.

We would hope that every effort would be made by Brazil and other countries, as it is on the part of our own country, to prevent the spread of nuclear explosive capability to any nation which does not presently have it.

Q. Mr. President, what are the carrots?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we have no specific carrots to offer, except that we are making available to countries—and now in a much more predictable way with the new congressional law—enriched uranium, which is suitable for production of power but not suitable for explosives, and technological advice and counsel, both in the use of uranium, with which Brazil is not blessed as a natural resource, and also thorium, which we have in our own country and which Brazil already has.

The new thorium technology is a much safer one to provide power without going to plutonium. Recently Brazil—and I think very wisely—signed an additional agreement with West Germany which would open up advice and technological ability to use thorium. But the right of Brazil and the advisability of Brazil to have a very advanced nuclear power capability is one that we don't dispute, but on the other hand, approve.

I might add one other point, and that is that we see a clear need for all nations to sign the nonproliferation treaty. We're signatories of it; so are the Soviet Union, the Germans, most of the countries in the world. And this, combined with International Atomic [Energy] Agency safeguards, is a good guarantee within a country and throughout the developed and developing world that there will not be a trend in the future toward other nations developing nuclear explosive capability.


Q. Mr. President, have you or any other top U.S. officials—Dr. Brzezinski, for instance—suggested that Prime Minister Begin may not be the Fight man to head that government in the present circumstances? And apart from what may or may not have been said, do you now think the Begin government can make the hard decisions necessary to move the peace process forward?

THE PRESIDENT. I can say unequivocally that no one in any position of responsibility in the United States administration has ever insinuated that Prime Minister Begin is not qualified to be Prime Minister or that he should be replaced. This report, the origin of which I do not know, is completely false.

I think that Prime Minister Begin and his government are able to negotiate in an adequately flexible way to reach an agreement with Egypt, later Jordan and other of the neighboring countries. This is our hope and this is also our belief. We have not given up on the possibility of a negotiated peace settlement in the Middle East.

Under the Begin government, with him as Prime Minister, recently arrangements have been made between Israel and Egypt for Ezer Weizman to go to Egypt again, which will be a continuation of the probing for a compatibility. I think it is obvious now that with the issues so sharply drawn, that key differences remain that must be addressed on the side of Israel. The things that are of deepest concern is Israel's refusal to acknowledge that United Nations Resolution 242 applies clearly to the West Bank, their unwillingness to grant to the West Bank Palestinians, the Palestinian Arabs, a right to participate in the determination of their own future by voting at the end of a 5-year period, and so forth, for the kind of affiliation they would have with Israel or Jordan or under a joint administration. And this is a problem for which I have no clear solution yet. But I believe that the Begin government is completely capable of negotiating an agreement with Egypt.


Q. I am from Channel 13, Argentina. In connection with your visit now in Latin America, do you expect in the future-do you consider the possibility of another visit to the other countries of Latin America, as in my case, to Argentina, and do you have an eventual date for this visit?

THE PRESIDENT. We have not yet set any date nor made any plans for future visits. As you may know, I have visited Argentina in the past, and so has my wife. And this year, this past year, Secretary of State—our Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, visited Argentina, too, and your own leader, Videla, came to visit us in Washington. I have no plans now for any additional trips anywhere after I return to Washington.


Q. What's the purpose of this meeting that you are having in Rio with Cardinal Arns and five other people? I mean, what specifically are you intending to discuss with them and hear from them?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't have any agenda prepared for my visit with Cardinal Arns and the others. In a diverse society like you have here in Brazil, it's important for me to visit with different persons who represent different views. I will have thorough discussions, as you know, with President Geisel and his administration, and I want to meet with as many other people as I can. I have, by the way, met and talked to Cardinal Arns previously in the United States. I think this is typical of leaders who visit other countries. I noticed, for instance, with some interest, that when President Geisel visited the Federal Republic of Germany recently, he not only met with Chancellor Schmidt but he met with the leaders of the opposition parties.

And as a leader of a nation, I reserve the right to meet with whom I please. And I think this is a constructive thing, which will give me a much better overall understanding of what exists in Brazil. And I think the right of people to speak to me as a foreign visitor is one that's important to Brazil to preserve and to cherish. And I am thankful that I have that right when I visit your country.


Q. Mr. President, when you return from this Latin American and African trip, do you have any specific plans to combat the number one concern of the American people? I refer to inflation. Specifically, do you have any changes in mind in your, up to now, voluntary program of price and wage restraints?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. My administration, during the last couple of weeks, has been evolving a complete analysis of what we can do, both through administrative action, through public statements, through working with the business community and the labor community, and through congressional action to control inflation, which is becoming an increasingly important problem for us.

I think the Consumer Price Index figures that were released this week, the day we left Washington, were much better than we had anticipated, but still a cause for concern.

So, when I get home, one of the first acts that I shall take is to make public the decisions that we are now putting together.

Q. Will they change the voluntary nature of the program, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. I'll address the details when I get back home.


Q. [in Portuguese] I'd like to know whether in your meeting with General Figueiredo yesterday you discussed the program of the political opening up of the Brazilian Government and the implementation of that plan?

THE PRESIDENT. I did not have an opportunity to discuss any matters of importance with General Figueiredo. I only met him very briefly in a larger group of people, 30 or 40 people, and in the receiving line when I came into the airport. So, I've not had a chance to discuss this with him.

Ann [Ann Compton, ABC News].


Q. Mr. President, despite some jawboning pressure from your administration, U.S. Steel has raised its prices again. How does that fit in with your overall plans on inflation that is going to have some substantial impact nationwide?

THE PRESIDENT. It fits in very poorly. [Laughter] I think the prices that were announced by U.S. Steel, as their plans, are excessive. And although I've not been thoroughly briefed on what the Council on Wage and Price Stability has recommended—I will get that report today-but I think any such increase, as I've heard, approximately $10 a ton, is excessive and does cause additional, very serious inflationary pressures in our country, and I think is much greater than would be warranted by the recent coal settlement.


Q. [in Portuguese] I am from the State of Sao Paulo. My basic question was the same as he asked, but I'd like to know how you view the succession here in Brazil, and how do you view the problem of political and civil rights in Brazil?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the type of succession and the process through which you choose your leaders, or your leaders are chosen, is one to be decided in Brazil. I'm not here to tell you how to form your government. I have no inclination to do that. The Brazilian people are completely aware of the process, and that's a judgment for you to make.

Brazil, like the United States, is struggling with the very difficult question of identifying human rights and civil rights violations, enhancing the democratic processes, and also encouraging confidence among the people in my government, in the United States, and in the government here in Brazil and other countries.

The differences that have arisen on the human rights issue is not based upon the lack of commitment to enhance human rights. I think great progress has been made in your country and also in ours. We do have a sharp difference of opinion, however, on how the human rights issue should be addressed, how specific allegations should be investigated, and what action can be taken to correct any defects that exist in your country or mine or others.

We believe that this is an international problem, that the focusing of world attention and world pressure on us and other countries is a very beneficial factor, that high publicity should be given to any proven violation of human rights. It's a commitment that our Nation has that I want not to abandon but to enhance and strengthen.

Brazil, on the other hand, also struggling with the same problem, trying to give greater human rights, does not believe that the international organizations and multinational opinions should be marshaled. However, I do note that recently Brazil did vote for an increase in the financing of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

We think that when an allegation is made in our own country, in Brazil, in the European countries, or wherever, that some responsible delegation from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission or the United Nations should go in, get the facts, make the facts public. If there is an actual violation, this would be a great incentive to the government involved, ours or yours or others, to correct the defect. If the allegation is false, then the exposition of the error or the false allegation would be good for the world to know.

So, I think this is a very deep and important consideration. One of the best things about the development on human rights in the last year or so has been the worldwide attention to it. It was kind of a dormant issue for too long, and now I doubt that there's a world leader who exists that doesn't constantly feel the pressure of considering the human rights questions-to analyze one's own administration, one's own country, what the rest of the world thinks about us, and how we could correct any defects and prevent allegations in the future, either true or false.


Q. Mr. President, with the new movement which is now apparent in the Middle East question, is there any possibility of a Middle East stop on your way back home?

THE PRESIDENT. NO. No, I have no intention to stop in the Middle East. I'll go from here to Nigeria, from there to Liberia, and then back home.

Maybe one more question.


Q. [in Portuguese] The restraint of your public words until now, your specific desire to meet with the new President, all these facts amount to a virtual blessing of the Brazilian regime. Is your interest in civil rights and political dissidents fading away, or are American economic interests in this country so strong that Brazil is already a special case?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I might say that the history, the culture, common defense requirements, trade, common purpose binds the people of Brazil—all bind the people of Brazil and the people of the United States together in an unbreakable commitment, regardless of the identity of the leaders in our own country or yours. The people of Brazil and the United States are bound together. There is no lessening of our commitment to the principles that you described. The basic freedoms to democratic government, to the protection of human rights, to the prevention of nuclear proliferation—these commitments are also very deep for us.

Obviously, the overwhelming responsibility when I come to a foreign country, no matter where it is, is to meet with the leaders who are in office. But I also will be visiting the Congress this morning. I'm sure that I will be meeting the chairman of a Senate foreign relations committee who's also a candidate for President.

We've already pointed out I will be meeting with religious leaders, and I hope that in this process that I'll have a chance to get views from all elements, at least some of the major elements of the Brazilian society. But I'm not endorsing any candidates, and I think that the overwhelming sense of my visit already has been that the strength of our friendship and the mutuality of our purposes, now and in the future, far override any sharply expressed differences of opinion on even the major and very important issues of human rights, nonproliferation, trade, and so forth.

FRANK CORMIER [Associated Press]. Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.

Note: President Carter's twenty-eighth news conference began at 9 a.m. in the Ballroom of the Hotel Nacional in Brasilla, Brazil. It was broadcast live via satellite on radio and television in the United States.

Several of the reporters spoke in Portuguese, and their questions were translated by an interpreter.

Jimmy Carter, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244765

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