Jimmy Carter photo

The President's News Conference

March 09, 1978

THE PRESIDENT. Good afternoon. I have two brief statements to make before I answer questions.


Three days ago, I appointed a Board of Inquiry whose purpose under the Taft-Hartley Act was to investigate the negotiating stalemate, and we know that this has closed our Nation's coal mines.

This morning, the Board presented its report to me. Its finding was that an impasse does exist and that the situation is serious. This morning, using the authority of the Taft-Hartley Act, I directed the Attorney General to seek this afternoon a court injunction which will order the miners to return to work and the operators to open the mines during the 80-day cooling off period, during which time negotiations will proceed.

The welfare of our Nation requires this difficult step, and I expect that all parties will obey the law. The Federal Government will use its resources to minimize the national economic and social dislocations caused by this labor dispute.

The Department of Energy and the State Governors will improve the distribution of energy resources by moving our supplies of coal to places where the need is most urgent. The relief agencies of the Federal Government are prepared, if necessary, to act in a coordinated fashion to assist local areas which are particularly hard hit.

This is a time for cooling off. We will do everything in our power to be sure that it does not become a time of confrontation. The law must be enforced.

I have met this afternoon with the Attorney General and have asked him to assume personal direction of Federal law enforcement activities in this area.

The Secretary of Labor just informed me that he has asked the Board of Inquiry, as an extension of their duties, to go into the coal mining areas and consult with the miners, to encourage compliance with the law and to return to the negotiating area.

There is no easy solution to this problem. What is required from all of us now is reason, patience, and a willingness to cooperate with one another and to obey the laws of the United States.

I'm confident that with the support of the miners and the coal owners, the mine operators, and the American people, and all public officials, that we can resolve this dispute without further damage to the well-being of our Nation.


I have another statement to make. Last night, I was informed by President Siad Barre of Somalia that he was agreeing to withdraw his forces from the Ogaden area, the occupied areas of Ethiopia, and just the last few minutes, he confirmed this commitment to me with a public statement.

I welcome President Siad Barre's announcement of this decision. The United States hopes that this decision will result in an immediate halt of the bloodshed in that area of the Horn of Africa. We hope that the Organization of African Unity can move quickly to assist all parties to terminate hostilities, to agree quickly on rules that can be observed so that Somali forces can retire rapidly into their own territory and to ensure that peaceful conditions are restored among the civilian population.

As soon as Somali forces have withdrawn completely, and as soon as Ethiopian forces have reestablished control over their own territory, withdrawal of the Soviet and Cuban combat presence should begin.

The United States looks forward to the complete withdrawal of all foreign forces from the two countries, Ethiopia and Somalia, at an early date. We stand ready to assist the Organization of African Unity in working out the basis for negotiations between Ethiopia and Somalia which would ensure the territorial integrity of all countries in the region and the honoring of international boundaries.



Q. Mr. President, does that Somalia announcement cause you to look any more favorably on Somali requests for American arms, assuming they go through with it?

THE PRESIDENT. We notified Somalia many months ago that as long as they were in occupied territory, that there would be no consideration on our part for defensive arms of any kind. I think it would require a tangible demonstration of the carrying out of this commitment on the part of the Somalians, and also a renewed commitment not to dishonor the international boundaries of either Ethiopia or Kenya, before we would be willing to discuss with them economic aid or defensive arms supplies.

In this case, working with the Organization of African Unity and the Congress, we would consider this in a routine manner, but not until.


Q. Mr. President, there seem to be conflicting signals on what you would do if miners do not return to work. Would you consider seeking legislation to seize the mines, or do you have any other alternatives?

THE PRESIDENT. My firm belief and my firm commitment is that the Taft-Hartley Act will be enforced, that this will be adequate to assure supplies of coal to our country to avoid an additional crisis, and that it will also be an adequate incentive to bring the bargaining parties back to the negotiating table for successful resolution.

I have absolutely no plans to seek congressional action authorizing seizure of the coal mines.


Q. Mr. President, on the Middle East, the State Department today reaffirmed that U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 remains, in our view, the bedrock of our effort to bring peace to that area and more or less served notice on the Israeli Government not to take any decision to renounce that. Could you state for us what your understanding or your interpretation of Security Council Resolution 242 is and what your understanding of the Israeli position on this is?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, United Nations Resolution 242 was passed about 10 years ago. Since then it has been endorsed with practically no equivocation by our own country, by the entire international community, by the Israeli Governments, and by the Arab countries who border on Israel. It calls for the withdrawal of Israel from territories occupied in the 1967 war. It calls for the restoration of security of Israel behind recognized and defensible borders. And this has been the basis on which all of our efforts since I've been in office, and also my predecessors' efforts, have been based.

For any nation now to reject the application of 242 to the occupied territories, including the West Bank, the Sinai, the Golan Heights, would be a very serious blow to the prospects of peace in the Middle East.

In addition to the principles that I've just described to you, we've also been working with complete commitment and with some substantial success, particularly in the case of Egypt, to ensure that Israel will not only be blessed with a cessation of hostilities but also with a full restoration of peace, open borders, diplomatic relations, free trade, exchange of tourism and students, and cultural exchanges. This is a prospect that we still have. But the abandonment of United Nations Resolution 242 as it applies to the West Bank and other occupied territories would be a very serious blow to the prospects of peace and a complete reversal of the policy of the Israeli Government and other governments in the area.


Q. Mr. President, have you given thought to abolishing the job of liaison with the Jewish community—the task of the job?

THE PRESIDENT. No. We have many members of our administration who work directly with Jewish Americans who are interested particularly in the Middle East and other similar matters of interest to other groups in our country.

I meet frequently with groups of Jewish Americans who come to the White House. So does the Vice President, the Secretary of State does at the State Department, Dr. Brzezinski, Hamilton Jordan, Stu Eizenstat, and so has Mark Siegel.

So, we have a concerted effort to present our views and to receive the views of those interested parties. And I think one of the most crucial elements of a successful achievement of peace in the Middle East is to continue those consultations, and we will of course do that.

Q. But isn't it discriminatory at all-isn't it discriminatory? I understand there are some 2 million Arabs in this country. Do you give this kind of consideration to them?

THE PRESIDENT. I have also met, I should have said, with Arab leaders from all over the country on the same subject.


Q. Mr. President, you have spoken many times of the commitment that the United States has for the security of Israel. In 1975, in September, the Sinai II agreement said specifically that the United States would promise to give advanced aircraft, such as the F-16, at an unspecified time and number, to Israel.

Now, why is that promise of the United States now made part of a package deal? In other words, why is it tied to approval for aircraft to other countries, Egypt and Saudi Arabia?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we are honoring completely the commitments made to Israel in the fall of 1975 concerning an adherence on our part to the adequate defense capabilities of Israel, including advanced aircraft like the F—15 and the F-16.

Some orders of this kind have already been placed, accepted, and deliveries are in prospect. Some planes have already been delivered. And the proposal that I've made to Congress on the arms sales package is compatible with that commitment.

In the fall of 1975, commitments were also made to the Saudi Arabians, to provide them with advanced aircraft, to replace their present Lightning planes which are becoming obsolete.

Later, in the Ford administration in 1976, in the fall, a commitment was made to them to send Defense Department officials to Saudi Arabia, to give them some assessment of the characteristics of the F 15's and F-16's, with a commitment then made that they would have their choice between the 16's and the 15's.

When Crown Prince Fahd came to our country last spring, I repeated this commitment, that had been made by my own predecessors in the White House, and so the sale of F-15's to Saudi Arabia is consistent with the commitment also made in the fall of 1975 and repeatedly reconfirmed.

The sale of the F-5E's—a much less capable airplane, by the way—to the Egyptians is, I think, a very legitimate proposal, because Egyptians in effect have severed their supply of weapons that used to come from the Soviet Union and have cast their lot with us, which is a very favorable development in the Middle East, one of the most profound developments of all.

I have no apology at all to make for this proposal. It maintains the military balance that exists in the Middle East. I can say without any doubt that the superior capabilities of the Israeli Air Force, compared to their neighbors, is maintained, and at the same time, it reconfirms our own relationship with the moderate Arab leaders and nations for the future to ensure that peace can be and will be maintained in the Middle East.


Q. Mr. Carter, on the same subject, we've seen reports in recent days from the Middle East, from both Cairo and Jerusalem, that in effect President Sadat's initiative has come to an end, that it has come aground. We also see reports from Jerusalem that ministers in the Israeli Government have decided that there is no deal to be made at this time. Could you give us your assessment of where this stands and where you think it's going to go?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as is the case in the White House and in the Congress, and in the United States, there is a difference in Israel, a very heated debate in prospect and already in progress about what should be done to bring about peace in the Middle East. There are, obviously, differences also between nations, between Egypt and Israel, between Israel and their other neighbors.

So, I would say that in comparison to the situation a year ago, the prospects for comprehensive peace in the Middle East are quite good. We would hope that there could be an immediate resolution of all the differences. That's not immediately in prospect.

Prime Minister Begin will be coming to visit with me this coming week. I know him very well. I've met with him twice before. He is a very strong advocate, a very dedicated advocate of the position of the Israeli Government. He's a forceful and outspoken person. And I'm sure after our meeting, we will at least understand each I other better.

I hope we can move another step toward peace. I had an equivalent opportunity this year to meet and to have long discussions with President Sadat.

So, I would say that there's been a great deal of progress made. Just looking at the changes from the viewpoint of the Israelis, we have now the major Arab nation who has recognized Israel's right to exist, right to exist in peace, right to exist permanently, has offered the full definition of peace which I described earlier. They have been meeting directly and personally, Begin and Sadat and their representatives, which was not in prospect at all a year ago.

There are still differences between them—relatively minor differences in the Sinai, more major, strategic kinds of differences involving the Palestinian question and the implementation of U.N. 242. So we've got a long way to go.

It's a difficult question that's been one of the most challenging, I guess, in the last 30 years for the world, to bring about peace in the Middle East. But I'm not discouraged about it. We're going to stick with it. And even though it takes a lot of time and much abuse and much debate and many differences expressed by all public officials, I intend to stay with it. And I believe the American people are deeply committed to two things: One is the security of Israel under any circumstances, and secondly, the achievement of comprehensive peace.


Q. Mr. President, do you agree with the position of the coal operators as stated in the latest contract on both the issues of the right to strike and pension benefits? And can you explain why or why not?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would rather not single out any particular aspect of the contract for my approbation or rejection. There are issues of that kind that have been in deep contention. The coal operators want to eliminate the possibility of wildcat strikes and to increase production. The coal miners want the security of their retirement funds, and they want to have continuation of health benefits without contributing to the fund out of their salaries. Those have been the major items in contention. And I don't want to comment on the degree of my approval of them.

One item on which there has been general and early agreement is the wage package, and this, I think, would be a basis for a resolution of the differences. But I don't want to comment as a President on my approval or disapproval of individual items.

Q. One followup: Do you think the miners should have gone along with the contract as it was last submitted?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I was hoping that they would. As you know, there have been two contracts negotiated between the mine leaders and the coal operators. One was rejected by the bargaining council. The other contract was approved by the bargaining council—39 members, ostensibly representing all the miners throughout the country—and rejected by the membership.

But I was hoping that those contracts would be accepted. I've never gotten involved in saying that a particular provision should be in or out of the contract, but one that's freely negotiated. I was obviously hoping that it would be approved.


Q. Mr. President, Mark Siegel, one of your aides, quit today, and you accepted his resignation with regret. He cited as his reason, differences with your Middle East policy.

His resignation, to many, symbolizes the split in the American Jewish community over the internal debate that's going on over our Middle East policy. And with Begin coming, I wonder if you could tell us what differences there are between the two of us, what your position will be on these differences, and a comment on the report that you're going to pressure him to make significant concessions?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't have any intention to pressure Prime Minister Begin. I don't have any desire to do it and couldn't if I wanted to. He's a very strong and independent person representing a strong and independent nation. Our role has been that of an intermediary. And one of the most pleasant respites that I have had since I've been in office was the brief time when Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat were negotiating directly and I was out of the role of carrying messages back and forth.

This is, however, a situation that has now deteriorated to some degree since President Sadat went to Jerusalem. Both the military and the political talks are now interrupted—we hope temporarily.

One of the things I will be doing is to repeat to Prime Minister Begin personally the request and the negotiating positions of President Sadat. And we've tried to do this through our ambassadors and through our negotiator, Mr. Atherton 1 in the Mideast, and I think perhaps I can do it perhaps a little more effectively.

1 Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs.

But the differences that exist between them are well known. In the Sinai, as I said, they are relatively easy to resolve-the Jewish settlements, the placement of Egyptian forces in the Sinai, and some continuation of Israeli control over some airfields or aerodromes, and the rapidity with which Israel would withdraw from the Sinai itself.

In the West Bank, Gaza Strip, this involves implementation of U.N. Resolution 242 and some resolution of the Palestinian question. We do not and never have favored an independent Palestinian nation, but within that bound of constraint, how to give the Palestinians who live in the West Bank, Gaza Strip some voice in the determination of their own future, is an issue still unresolved.

That outlines very briefly the situation that we're presently in.


Q. Mr. President, in the past, you have indicated an interest to make taxes in the upper brackets more equitable. Yet in your present tax message, there is nothing to have a limit of 50 percent on all taxable income, including dividends and interest as well as earned income at the present. Is there still hope that this is going to be done?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there will be an alleviation of the tax burden on almost every American under the tax proposal that we put forward to the Congress.

Within the constraints of a $25 billion net reduction, you can't make this an allinclusive proposal. I would say that most of the reductions are not at the $200,000 or $250,000 or higher level. Most of the reductions are in the low- and middle-in' come family tax payments.

I think, though, that in general, the proposal provides greater equity. It eliminates some of the unwarranted tax privileges that have existed too long. And of course, the net effect of it is the substantial reduction in both personal and corporate taxes.

But the higher income families that you've described, above $100,000 income, would not be benefited on a percentage basis nearly so much as the middle- and lower-income families.


Q. Mr. President, in view of the great amount of discussion that's going on now about internal Rhodesian settlement, which excludes the Patriotic Front, is it possible in your view to have a settlement of the Rhodesian crisis without including Mr. Nkomo and Mr. Mugabe?

THE PRESIDENT. I would doubt that we could have a permanent settlement without including the right for all the nationalist leaders to participate. That would include Mugabe, Sithole, and would also, of course, include Nkomo as well. Muzorewa, the other leader, was here yesterday and met with Secretary Vance. We have had a meeting, yesterday afternoon, between myself, Secretary Vance, and the Foreign Minister of Great Britain, David Owen. And we reconfirmed our position, which has been consistent, that the Anglo-American plan is the best basis for a permanent resolution of the Rhodesian or Zimbabwe question. It's one that is substantially supported by the frontline presidents, presidents of those nations surrounding Rhodesia. And it has not been accepted completely by Nkomo and Mugabe, the Freedom Force leaders outside of Rhodesia.

We hope now that we can have a conference of all the interested nationalist leaders to try to work out the disparity between the internal settlement proposal, which is not adequate, and the so-called Anglo-American plan, which we believe to be adequate.

We've not rejected the individual component parts of the so-called internal settlement plan. To the extent that they are consistent with the overall Anglo-American plan provisions, they are a step in the right direction. But I think that it must be that any permanent settlement would include the right of all the interested nationalist leaders to seek the leadership of Rhodesia.


Q. Mr. President, what are your plans if the coal miners refuse to obey Taft-Hartley and return to work? What do you do then?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the injunction, if it is granted—and the hearing for a temporary restraining order in commencing now, about 3:30—it's a far-reaching injunction. It prevents the interference of any law violators with those who want to go back to work. It prevents a picketing against those who are complying with the law and mining coal. It requires the coal mineowners and the mineworkers to recommence negotiation efforts. It prevents the interference with the transportation of coal in any form, and it provides a legal mechanism by which the Federal law enforcement officials and the State and local law enforcement officials can provide for the protection of lives and property.

I believe the coal miners to be law-abiding and patriotic citizens. And I believe that a substantial portion of them, an adequate proportion of them, will comply with the law. We also have modified the historic provisions of the Taft-Hartley law by encouraging the operators and the mineworkers to negotiate during this period regional settlements based on the wage package which was in general agreement from the very beginning weeks of the negotiations themselves. So, I believe that the law will be obeyed.

I might say .one other thing. We've got about, I think, 82 percent of the mineworkers who are not now working. We are still producing about 50 percent as much coat, and the reserve supplies of coal are down below, December 5, only about 45 percent. So, I believe that if we can get a moderate number—hopefully all, but a moderate number—of coal miners to go back to work, that we can prevent a crisis evolving in our country.

The distribution of existing energy supplies—electricity, oil, natural gas, and coal—will also help to alleviate the problem. The injunction has broad coverage, and I think the sum total of all I've described will be adequate.


Q. Mr. President, to come back to the Dr. Siegel resignation, Dr. Siegel, as I understand it, resigned for two reasons: One, he was being asked to defend administration policy in the Middle East, and two, he was unable to affect that decisionmaking process within the White House.

Does his resignation cause you to have any doubts about his not being able to have played a more prominent role in forming that policy? And two, does it cause you to wonder about the entire decisionmaking process in the Middle East within the White House and its future implications?

THE PRESIDENT. The answer to both your questions is no. Mark Siegel is a fine young man and an excellent employee, and he's done his job well in the White House, dealing with one of the most difficult issues that I've had to face as President, an issue on which there is sharp disagreement in the White House, sometimes disagreements between myself and the Secretary of State or myself and the Secretary of Defense or myself and the national security adviser, myself and my own staff.

But we resolve those differences as best we can harmoniously. When there is continued disharmony, I make the final decision about the administration policy. But this is an issue that's almost inherently a subject for dispute and disagreement.

As I pointed out earlier, there is a sharp public dispute in the Israeli Cabinet itself, not limited to a difference between parties in Israel. And obviously there are sharp disputes between Israel and her neighbors. But I think that we are now addressing these difficult but crucial issues which are easier, politically speaking, to leave alone in a proper fashion.

We're not trying to impose our will on anyone. But I have to say that within the White House, when there is a continuing disagreement, that I make the final decision. That's what I was elected to do.

I think that Mark Siegel has had a strong input in his conversations and negotiating sessions with the Vice President, with Hamilton Jordan, with Dr. Brzezinski, and on occasion with me-not very often directly with me. But he has a perfect right to decide whether or not he prefers to continue performing that service. To explain the administration positions to very interested American Jewish groups has been a difficult task for me as well as him. And I honor his right to make that decision.

I don't think that we have a breakdown in communications and consultations within the White House. And after constant reconsideration, I believe that our policy on the Middle East is the proper one.


Q. Mr. President, are you willing to accept energy legislation that in a few years would lead to the deregulation of natural gas?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I am. This was a campaign statement and commitment of mine that I thought natural gas should be deregulated. In my speech to the Congress last April 20, I repeated this hope, and I think that a long, phased-in deregulation process without any shocks to our national economy would be acceptable.


Q. Mr. President, it now appears that there were some significant deletions in the Justice Department affidavits on the Marston case, bearing upon his competence and upon the nature of politics in Pennsylvania. And this has led to new charges of a coverup by some people high up in the Justice Department, or at the very least, some incompetence on the part of Justice Department people.

What is your assessment of how your Justice Department has handled this? If I may ask my followup before I sit down, are you irritated by the delay in naming Marston's successor?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the answer to your last question is no. You know, because of the high degree of attention focused on this particular appointment, the almost natural delay has been a matter of some interest. But it takes a long time to screen many applicants to make sure that we satisfy the desires of the judges in that area, of the responsible lawyers in that area, and that we satisfy ourselves that there's an adequate FBI check of their background, that their financial status is good, that there's nothing that can be brought up later on that would be embarrassing to the appointee when a thorough discussion or investigation is made. It's a time-consuming process.

I'm not dissatisfied. We are moving as rapidly as we can on that. I didn't know anything about the information presented to the congressional committees. I think in retrospect it would have been better to go ahead and include the statement of the FBI agent.


Q. Mr. President, can you tell us why you think the dollar is declining abroad? What are you going to do about it, and do you think it's time for more tougher measures to curb inflation here in the United States?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, this is a matter with international implications. I had a long talk this morning on the phone with Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. This was one of the subjects that we did discuss. And German and American officials will be meeting this weekend to try to have a common approach to eliminating, or certainly reducing the disorderly marketing of the currencies of the world.

We have had a policy of intervening in the monetary markets only when disorder did occur, when there were fluctuations that were not warranted or that caused us some concern. I think recently the value of the dollar has been fairly well stable-with the deutsche mark, at about 2.02.

One of the things that has been pointed out to me is that the factors that caused a lowering of the dollar's value, compared to some of the stronger currencies—Swiss francs, Japanese yen, German deutsche marks—in this past year are being alleviated.

Higher interest rates in our country now, caused by various factors, now make investments in the United States more attractive than they were last year. We had a high increase in 1977 in the amount of oil imported. My guess is that this year, we will not have that increase in imported oil.

Last year, we had a much higher increase in our gross national product, a much more vigorous economy that made it possible for us to buy foreign goods better than foreigners could buy our goods.

I think the difference was about a 3-percent rate of growth. Because of the more vigorous economics in some of our foreign trading partners' countries this year, that difference is certainly likely to narrow.

Chancellor Schmidt told me that the last quarter in 1977 in Germany the GNP growth was 6 percent. This was higher than he had anticipated, and he didn't think that it was going to be maintained constantly, but he was pleased with that.

So, I think those factors all point to the very good strength of the dollar and, on a long-term basis, it being fairly well priced, compared to foreign currencies.

But any shocks to the market, any disorderly marketing will require us to intercede, and I will do so.

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

Note: President Carter's twenty-seventh news conference began at 3 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. It was broadcast live on radio and television.

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/244738

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