Jimmy Carter photo

The President's News Conference

December 12, 1978

THE PRESIDENT. Good morning, everybody.

I do not have an opening statement, so, Ms. Thomas [Helen Thomas, United Press International]?


Q. Mr. President, can you confirm reports that a tentative agreement has been reached on SALT with the Soviets, that you may meet at the summit with Brezhnev in January? And also, if these are true, can you say what caused the breakthrough?

THE PRESIDENT. We've made good progress on SALT. I can't say that we've reached agreement. A statement will be made later on today by the State Department and by the Soviets simultaneously about a possible meeting of the Foreign Ministers.

I think that there has been steady progress made in the last, almost 2 years. I can't recall any time when there was a retrogression or a pause in the commitment to reach a SALT agreement. Our position has been clear. We have harmony, I believe, among the Defense Department, State Department, and the White House on what should be the United States position. If the Soviets are adequately forthcoming, we will have an agreement without further delay. If they are not forthcoming, then we'll continue to negotiate.

Q. And how about the summit?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that as we approach the time when we are sure that the items have been resolved that are still under negotiation, at that time we will have a summit meeting. And at that summit meeting we will discuss not only concluding the SALT agreement officially but also have a broad agenda of other items that are of mutual interest to us and the Soviet Union.

Mr. Cormier [Frank Cormier, Associated Press].


Q. Mr. President, do you lean toward or against the decontrolling of gasoline prices at this time of high inflation? It's a two-edged sword, I think.

THE PRESIDENT. It is, and it's one that I haven't yet decided upon. When I presented my comprehensive energy plan to the Congress in April of 1977, inflation, although important, was not the preeminent issue in my mind.

The Secretary of Energy, my own advisers in the White House, and Alfred Kahn, who's responsible for the anti-inflation program, are now assessing all the ramifications of the pricing of gasoline, and, of course, the Congress will be involved in the decision also. But I've not yet reached a decision about what the administration's position will be.


Q. Mr. President, the other day you took a very serious view of Israel and Egypt going past the 17th of this month without concluding a treaty—that's the date they themselves set for it. Now, with 5 days left, what's your belief, or hunch, as to whether they'll meet that deadline? And do you still think it's sort of a "now or never" proposition?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think it's now or never. And you very accurately described this deadline date as one established by Israel and Egypt in the most solemn commitment at Camp David.

Secretary Vance reports to me, from Cairo, good progress having been between him and President Sadat. He has not begun further negotiations with the Israelis yet because of Mrs. Meir's funeral.

He will return to Egypt, try to his discussions with President Sadat, and then go back to Israel for discussions with the Israelis.

I consider the deadline date to be quite important. If the Egyptians and Israelis cannot keep a commitment on a 3-month conclusion of a peace treaty when they themselves are the only two nations involved, serving as a mediator in the process, then I think it would be very difficult for them to expect the terms of the treaty they are negotiating to be carried out with assurance. It sets a very bad precedent for Israel and Egypt not to reach a conclusion.

I think the differences that presently divide Israel and Egypt are minor, certainly compared to the resolution of major differences in the past. And ! believe that President Sadat has reconfirmed his intention, his commitment, to Secretary Vance to conclude the negotiations without further delay. My hope is and my expectation is that the Israelis will have the same attitude.


Q. Mr. President, this may sound like a frivolous question, but I hope you won't think so. But the National Anthem is played at every trashy football game and baseball game and wrestling match and boxing. Don't you think that downgrades it quite a bit to do that incessantly?

THE PRESIDENT. That's not any more frivolous a question than I have gotten in the past. [Laughter] And I think it is a very good question.

I personally don't think that frequent playing of the National Anthem downplays its importance. No matter how often I hear the National Anthem, I'm always stirred within myself toward more intense feelings of patriotism and a realization of what our Nation stands for. And I think for audiences at sports events to hear the National Anthem played is good and not contrary to the influence that the National Anthem has on all of us.


Q. Mr. President, at year's end, how do you assess the last 11, 11 1/2 months, the pluses and the minuses as you see them, the hits and the errors—and, particularly, would you speak a little bit about the errors?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as a completely nonbiased analyst, I would say that the pluses far outweigh the minuses. I think any analysis of the accomplishments of the 95th Congress, including those made by the news media representatives here, have been positive, that the accomplishments were substantial, much greater in the final stages of the Congress session than had been anticipated earlier in the year.

We've still got a lot of unfulfilled expectations and hopes. We have not successfully addressed the question of inflation. It's been greater during the second half of the year than we had anticipated. We have been pleasantly surprised at maintaining the higher and higher level of employment, preventing the unemployment rate from going up. Last year we had 660,000 new jobs created in America in spite of some slowing down in the national economy, which was expected.

In international affairs, our country has injected itself, I think wisely, into regional disputes where we have no control over the outcome. But we've added our good services, in some instances with almost no immediate prospect of success. My own reputation has been at stake and that of our country.

In Nicaragua, I think instead of having violent and massive bloodshed, we now have the parties negotiating directly with one another for the first time on the terms of a plebiscite and whether or not there should be general amnesty. In Namibia, we are making some good progress, I believe. The South Africans have now accepted the terms set up by the Secretary General of the United Nations. We are waiting for SWAPO to respond? Cyprus, very minimal but steady, increasing prospects. Mideast, you're well acquainted with that. And I think that on SALT and other major international items we have made steady progress.

*In fact, SWAPO accepts the relevant United Nations resolutions on Namibia. The President's intention was to call for their continued support. The United States is waiting for South Africa to indicate in definitive terms its acceptance of the proposal and a date for the arrival of the United Nations transition assistance group. [Printed in the transcript.]

So, in balance, I'm pleased with the last 11 months and don't underestimate the difficulties still facing us.

Q. One followup.

THE PRESIDENT. One followup.

Q. Wouldn't you say that your inability to move faster towards your social goals, those social goals that you spelled out during the campaign and since, wouldn't you call that a distinct minus?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I wouldn't. I think we've made excellent progress in social goals. I've just commented on the fact that we've had large numbers of new Americans at work. We've had a net increase of about 7 million in the number of jobs held by Americans. We've reduced the unemployment rate a full 2 percent. We've had a 25-percent increase in the net income of farmers. We've increased exports there. We've had a stabilization of the American dollar, which was surprisingly effective. We also, of course, recognize a continuing problem that's been of greater importance lately for inflation.

So, I think, on balance, the performance has been positive; although we still have very great problems ahead of us.


Q. Mr. President, the Democratic Party just spent what seems to some people an enormous amount of money to hold a mini-convention. And I just wonder, some people are already saying perhaps the money would have been better spent in congressional campaigns or Senatorial campaigns. Do you think that was worth the money, and how do you feel about midterm conventions in general?

THE PRESIDENT. For the first time in, I think, more than 10 years, the Democratic National Committee this year did make substantial contributions to the campaigns of congressional candidates. This was a step in the right direction.

This midterm conference was mandated by the 1976 convention. There was no way I could circumvent that mandate. I personally did not favor the midterm conference when it was decided upon in 1976. I was pleasantly surprised. I think, in balance, the conference was worth the money.

My understanding is that additional funds have been raised in Memphis and in other places to adequately pay for the cost of the convention.

I believe it is very important for me, as a President, and also as head of the Democratic Party, to have my success and failures assessed objectively and openly by Democrats representing the grassroots of our party around the Nation. I think that was done in a very forthcoming way. I've observed the deliberations, participated in them with a great deal of interest, and I think in general the policies of my administration were endorsed.

The one single issue concerning budget matters, which was highly disputed, and on which the more liberal members of the party concentrated their efforts, showed that my policies were endorsed by, I think, more than 60 percent. So, I'm very pleased with it. And I don't think there was anyone who went to the conference who couldn't say in its closing hours that they had an adequate opportunity to express their views, either supportive of me or contrary to what I have done.

So, I feel very pleased about it.


Q. Mr. President, to what extent do you feel bound or influenced by the resolution passed by the midterm conference on calling for enactment of national health insurance in the next Congress?

And specifically, will you seek to have comprehensive legislation passed in the next Congress to take effective phases, or will you go at it one piece of legislation at a time?

THE PRESIDENT. The midterm conference decision was compatible with the 1976 convention decisions on the Democratic Party platform concerning comprehensive health care. I favor that campaign commitment and the platform commitment.

There are differences about how to implement a national health care system. Under any circumstances, those policies espoused by Senator Kennedy, those policies espoused by me—the first major implementation or financial assessment for that purpose would be made in 1983. It's necessarily a slow process. I think it's better done step by step, recognizing the ultimate goal and moving as we can afford it and as we can implement it in a very carefully conceived, methodical way, bringing on board the Congress, and also bringing on board, for support, the American people and the different interest groups involved.

So, I think that the policy expressed by the midterm conference was compatible with my own, and that's what I intend to carry out.


Q. Mr. President, this goes to your general attitude with the oil industry. Last week, consumer advocate Clarence Ditlow blocked a multimillion dollar price increase in unleaded gasoline by your administration, said you were ignoring the aspect of destroying catalytic converters.

There's been a major increase in home heating fuel at a time when there's a glut of home heating fuel, particularly here in the Northeast—we've had a very mild winter. It looks like some very high-level deep-sixing of criminal actions against oil companies in Texas is going on at the Energy Administration, gone on for more than a year now.

And lastly, your Justice Department's testimony from the Antitrust Division going along with oil industry acquisition of uranium companies, solar development companies, and coal companies—all of these were decisions that seemed to be opposed to what you promised as a candidate.

Could you give us a general view? Have you changed your view to the oil industry since becoming President?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I've not changed my views at all. We want to have the principles of the national energy plan carried out effectively. The Congress has now given us legislative authority to carry out 60, 65 percent of what I did propose. Any violation by the oil companies of regulations or law will be prosecuted enthusiastically by me, by the Justice Department, and also by the Department of Energy. And, obviously, we are very deeply dedicated to the enforcement of the antitrust laws.

I'm concerned also about the growing investment by the oil companies in competitive areas of energy supply. I expressed this during my own campaign, and I still feel very strongly about this. I think that the Congress itself is now prepared to move more effectively to modify the law when necessary to minimize abuse. But I don't consider my administration at all reticent about carrying out the policies that I espoused during the campaign when I ran for President, and I certainly don't consider them to be reticent at all in enforcing the law.


Q. Mr. President, a yes or no question, and then, if I may, a followup. In your own mind, have you decided yet whether or not you'll seek a second term?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. [Laughter]

Q. You know my followup question. [Laughter] When will you share it with us and the American people?

THE PRESIDENT. Later. [Laughter]

Q. Later means—

THE PRESIDENT. It means later.


Q. Mr. President, your anti-inflation fighter, Mr. Kahn, yesterday suggested that one way to fight inflation would be to have organized consumer boycotts against firms which violate your wageprice guidelines. And another suggestion he made was that the Government might consider reducing or withholding Federal revenue sharing money to cities or States where officials in those cities and States violate the wage guidelines.

I was wondering, first of all, would you support a reduction of Federal revenue sharing money to a city or State which didn't observe or which violated your wage-price guidelines? And how do you feel generally about the Government backing consumer boycotts?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't personally favor any organized boycotts. I think that the posture of a prudent purchaser is one that applies to me as President and also ought to apply to the average consumer who is buying retail items and who should be conversant with the relative compliance of suppliers with our wage and price guidelines—the price guidelines in this instance.

As far as withholding revenue sharing funds, I think this would be illegal under the present law. We have had very good response from Governors' and mayors in applying the same policies of a prudent purchaser so that the mayor, for instance, would be restrained against buying items from companies which patently violate the price guidelines. And we are encouraging mayors to take this action, and Governors as well.

I might say that we encourage them with very good results, very good successes. But as far as withholding revenue sharing funds, this would require an act of Congress, and it's not possible under the present law.

Q. Could you reduce Federal revenue sharing funds to a State which didn't comply?

The PRESIDENT. No, we could not do that under the present law.


Q. Mr. President, we seem to be headed for a record trade deficit this year, at a time when a major new market for U.S. exports is opening in Communist China.


Q. Now, there are a number of restrictions in U.S. trade laws which inhibit our trading with Communist countries, some aspects of the Export-Import Bank Act, the Jackson-Vanik amendment to the 1974 Trade Act.

My question is, do you intend to try to change and remove some of those restrictions next year?

THE PRESIDENT. We are constantly assessing the advisability of maintaining administrative restraints.

Of course, we have to put trade in a proper perspective. We can't assess trade itself completely separated from our overall relationships with Communist countries, particularly those who are potential adversaries of ours, like the Soviet Union.

We want to have increased trade with the Soviet Union and with the People's Republic of China. I think the statistics will show that recently we have had increasing trade with both those countries, compared to last year or several years ago.

If we, in the future, have normal relationships with China, diplomatic relationships, this would open up increased opportunities for trade with those people. In this present time, short of diplomatic relations, we still have major trade missions going to China, Chinese trade missions coming to our country. And I think that this is bearing good results.

We have one more point, and that is security restraints. If there is a sale of high technology items to the Soviet Union, or the People's Republic of China, proposed, then not only do the Commerce Department and the State Department and the National Security Council assess this, but I refer it to the Defense Department as well, to be sure that we are not deliberately or inadvertently giving to those countries a means by which their military capabilities would be greatly escalated. This would be contrary to the existing law.

But within the bounds of those restraints, we are attempting to improve our relationships with the People's Republic of China and with the Soviet Union. And in the process, as part of a stream of increased interrelationships, improved relationships, enhanced trade.


Q. Mr. President, to follow up the earlier question on the Middle East, you said last week that if Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat had been able to negotiate together on some of these questions over the past few weeks, that there would not have been some of the problems that have arisen. My question is, if all else fails, would you consider calling the two leaders back to Camp David or some other place to negotiate directly with you to resolve this matter?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, let me say that I don't have any present plans to do that. If all else failed and I felt that we could get together again, I would not hesitate to do so. But I don't envision that taking place.


Q. Mr. President, if I may follow up on the question raised by Mr. Schieffer [Bob Schieffer, CBS News] and Mr. Hurd.1 Do you sense, Mr. President, that there is a widening schism in the Democratic Party between yourself and Senator Kennedy, who emphasized in Memphis the need for finishing the great agenda of the Democratic Party, as he put it? And do you have any plans to try to conciliate your differences with him or with the labor leaders, who have generally opposed your economic policies?

1 The reporter meant to say Ted Knap of the Scripps-Howard News Service.

THE PRESIDENT. First of all, I don't consider there is a schism, a growing schism in the Democratic Party at all. And as a general principle, and almost entirely, Senator Kennedy and I communicate well; we have a good relationship. We espouse the same ultimate goals. We have some differences, which are expected, on exactly how to achieve those goals.

I have a unique perspective in this country as President. I have to look at a much broader range of issues than does Senator Kennedy. He is extremely interested, for instance, in the comprehensive health program, having devoted several years of his legislative life to that position.

Also, I think it's accurate to say that Senator Kennedy represents a family within the Democratic Party which is revered because of his two brothers and the contribution of his family to our party. There's a special aura of appreciation to him that's personified because of the position of his family in our Nation and in our party. This makes him a spokesman, not only in his own right but also over a much broader and expected constituency. I recognize it, and I have no objection to that.

I was with Senator Kennedy the night after the Democratic Conference adjourned, I think on Monday (Sunday)2 night. And the following morning in a nonrelated way, the Office of Management and Budget, Jim Mcintyre and my own Domestic Adviser, Stu Eizenstat, met with Senator Kennedy and his staff to try to resolve differences. The differences are minor.

2 Printed in the transcript.

So, I think this is a healthy situation to have within the Democratic Party. And I think that the Congress will be the ultimate judge of whether my budget, as proposed, is fair and balanced and adequate. I have not changed my goals whatsoever. The Democratic Conference endorsed those goals, either unanimously, or with a 60-percent margin on the most controversial of the issues. I am going to have an adequate defense. I'm going to meet our obligations to our allies around the country [world]. And I'm going to cut the budget deficit down below $30 billion, and I'm going to do the best I can to meet the social needs of our Nation. I'm committed to that. That's what I'm going to do. And I have no aversion to an open and public debate, because I think my positions are sound.

But the differences between me and Senator Kennedy are very minor.


Q. Mr. President, what will be the domestic and international effect if the Shah fails to maintain power in Iran?

THE PRESIDENT. I fully expect the Shah to maintain power in Iran and for the present problems in Iran to be resolved. Although there have been certainly deplorable instances of bloodshed which we would certainly want to avoid, or see avoided, I think the predictions of doom and disaster that came from some sources have certainly not been realized at all. The Shah has our support and he also has our confidence.

We have no intention of interfering in the internal affairs of Iran, and we have no intention of permitting others to interfere in the internal affairs of Iran. The difficult situation there has been exacerbated by uncontrolled statements made from foreign nations that encourage bloodbaths and violence. This is something that really is deplorable and, I. would hope, would cease after this holy season passes.

I think it's good to point out that the Iranian people for 2,500 years, perhaps as long as almost any nation on Earth, have had the ability for stable self-government. There have been changes in the government, yes, sometimes violence, but they have a history of an ability to govern themselves. And because of that and other factors which I've just described, I think the situation in Iran will be resolved successfully.


Q. Mr. President, to what extent are you concerned over the prospect of the OPEC nations raising the price of oil this weekend—reports are it'll be in the neighborhood of 5 percent—the impact this would have on inflation? And do you contemplate any future actions to curb oil imports?

THE PRESIDENT. Most of our problems with the adverse trade balances can be attributed to oil imports, although we have other problems as well. I certainly hope that the OPEC nations will decide not to raise the price of oil. If they do, I hope it would be minimal.

We have tried to convince them that this is in the best interests of the world economy and also in the best interests of the OPEC nations themselves, to have a stable world economy with a minimum of inflation in the future. We're trying to set a good example in our own Nation, both in controlling inflation and also in stabilizing the value of the dollar on which the price of oil is based. The countries in the OPEC nations have suffered somewhat, because for a time the dollar value was going down very rapidly. It has recovered since the first of November.

So, I would hope, first of all—to repeat myself—that there will be no increase in the price of oil. If they must increase the price of oil, I think it ought to be minimal for their own benefit and for the benefit of the world.


Q. Mr. President, at the Memphis convention some of the mayors expressed concern over the possibility of sharp reductions in employment programs like the CETA program. And also they expressed concern over the possible lack of support, not by you particularly, but by Congress, for programs like the revenue sharing program which is very important to the cities.

Do you foresee, keeping in mind you haven't made your final budget decisions, sharp reductions in either the CETA program or in revenue sharing which is devoted to the cities?

THE PRESIDENT. It depends on what you mean by sharp reductions. I have to say that there will be some tightening of the budget in almost every aspect of American life. There will be some programs that will be expanded; others will be basically kept at the same level. The decisions have not yet been made. I'm conversant with the problems of the cities.

I don't think any administration has ever had a closer consultative relationship with the mayors than our own has had. In the evolution of our urban policy earlier this year, the mayors were full partners in the process, along with Governors and other—and local officials.

So, I can't say. The revenue sharing legislation is a multiyear authorization, and we support the carrying out of the revenue sharing at its present level until this present law expires. I can't foreclose the possibility that it might be modified in the future. My own attitude has always been that with a given amount for revenue sharing, that a greater portion of it should go to the cities and local governments than to the States. That's one modification in the revenue sharing laws that I would espouse.

But the exact level of the CETA programs and other job programs will have to be decided in the next couple of weeks, and I personally favor as much as possible keeping job opportunities open for Americans.

MR. CORMIER. Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Frank.

Note: President Carter's forty-first news conference began at 11 a.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/244139

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