Jimmy Carter photo

The President's News Conference

July 28, 1977

THE PRESIDENT. Good morning, everybody. I have two brief statements. One relates to foreign affairs and defense. The other one relates to domestic election processes.

NUCLEAR TEST BAN NEGOTIATIONS

I'm very glad to announce that our delegation in Geneva has just completed trilateral discussions with delegations from the United Kingdom and from the Soviet Union on the possible negotiation of a comprehensive ran against the testing of nuclear weapons or peaceful nuclear devices. Although there are still a number of problems that must be resolved, the results of these intense consultations have been sufficiently promising so that the three countries have decided to begin formal negotiations in Geneva on October 3. It's my hope that sufficient basis for agreement can be reached that all other nations of the world will join us in the ultimate prohibition against testing of nuclear devices.

SENATORIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN

FINANCING

The other point I'd like to mention is one that relates to the electoral process. Our greatest damage to the political process in our country comes when there is a perception among the public that the actions of their elected officials have been unduly influenced by special interest groups, and the major way that people get that feeling is in reviewing the large and single source campaign contributions received by those officials.

The Senate is now considering a bill which would help remove this obstacle to faith and confidence on the part of the people of this country. This bill, known as Senate Bill 926, would extend public financing to Senate campaigns. It would remove the appearance of obligation to special interests. It would give private citizens a larger role in choosing their Senators, and it would help enable deserving candidates to run for office even if they are not rich themselves. But, most importantly, it would help restore the public's confidence and trust in officials who have such a vital role to play in the future of the citizens of this country.

As you know, we now have public financing for Presidential campaigns. It worked very well last year--[laughter]with not only the successful candidate but all of his challengers having gone through the entire campaign without being obligated to anyone because of political campaigns. I think this has been one of the major factors in restoring the confidence of our people in the system, and I hope that the Senate will approve their public financing bill. And I think that they, when it's tried, will find the same results to be applicable. The House will consider later on similar legislation for themselves.

Mr. Cormier [Frank Cormier, Associated Press].

QUESTIONS

ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS IN OCCUPIED

TERRITORIES

Q. Mr. President, in your view, did the Israeli embrace of the three settlements on the West Bank diminish in any way the prospects for a negotiated settlement in that part of the world?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I think that any move toward making permanent the settlements in the occupied territories or the establishment of new settlements obviously increases the difficulty in ultimate peace.

It's not an insurmountable problem. The matter of legalizing existing settlements was a subject that was never discussed by me or Prime Minister Begin. My own concern was with the establishment of new settlements. And I let him know very strongly that this would be a matter that would cause our own Government deep concern.

This matter of settlements in the occupied territories has always been characterized by our Government, by me and my predecessors as an illegal action. But I think that the establishment of new territories [settlements] or the recognition of existing territories [settlements] to be legal, both provide obstacles to peace, obstacles which I think we can overcome, by the way.

FOREIGN ARMS SALES

Q. Mr. President, since you came into office, you have stressed so many times that your policy is to restrain arms sales, we should not be the arms merchant of the world. Now you are proposing arms to Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, and there are billions of dollars worth of arms in the pipeline for Israel--all areas of potential conflict. Why?

THE PRESIDENT. These proposals are compatible with my new arms sales policy, which is to reduce the level of arms sales in each succeeding year.

Many of these agreements are the result of longstanding commitments by our own Government to those nations which are our allies and friends. We have tried to keep a well-balanced approach to the whole question.

The most highly divisive issue recently has been the AWACS sale to Iran. They were contemplating a radar detection system using ground-based and airlaunched mechanisms that would have been about twice as expensive.

But we are determined to begin a downward trend in the sale of weapons throughout the world. But at the same time, of course, we have to have as a preeminent consideration the defense of our own country and an adequate defense capability for our allies.

And I would comply with my policy that after this fiscal year, 1977, that in '78 and subsequent years there would be an overall reduction in sales.

I am also trying to get our own allies, France, England, and others, and also the Soviet Union, to join us in this effort. And next year, under the auspices of the United Nations there will be a world disarmament conference in which we would not only participate but hope to play a leading role. But the policies that I have pursued will be a much greater constraint on arms sales than has been the policy in the past.

Q. Then you are not setting up a competition with the Soviet Union in Africa on the question of arms supplies?

THE PRESIDENT. No, ma'am, we aren't. I think it's accurate to say that in the case of Somalia, which has been almost completely under the friendly influence of the Soviet Union and to whom they've been completely obligated, there has been a change. We are trying to work not on a unilateral basis, but in conjunction with other nations like the Saudis, and France, Italy, and others, to deal with the Somalia-Ethiopian-Djibouti questions on a multinational basis to reduce the competition between ourselves and the Soviet Union.

I might say that in the Libyan-Ethiopian [Egyptian] conflict that's recently taken place, and which has now been changed into a peaceful relationship for the time being at least, both ourselves and the Soviets have deliberately shown complete constraint and restraint in our comments or actions in that area.

We want to confine those conflicts, when they unfortunately do occur, to as narrowly geographical an area as possible and prevent them being identified as a struggle between ourselves and the Soviet Union.

OIL IMPORTS

Q. Mr. President, in view of the projected $25 billion budget deficit this year, brought about largely by foreign oil increases, isn't this a far greater--imports rather--isn't this a far greater threat to the American economy than any energy crunch 8 years from now? Would you consider making the Government the sole importer of foreign oil, and at the very least, aren't you going to have to take far more serious energy conservation measures and proposals than what you've already got?

THE PRESIDENT. The early estimates this year on our trade deficit were about $25 billion. That's still our best estimate. There has not been a deterioration in that prospect. The fact is that by leaps and bounds the American people are importing and using too much oil. This has been the primary cause for our concern. We have a positive trade balance, excluding oil, of about $20 billion. But we are importing $45 billion worth of oil this year.

It's a vivid demonstration of the need for very tight conservation measures on the use of oil and natural gas. This is a reason for the long delayed proposal to establish a strict national energy policy.

Our hope is to cut down oil imports drastically by 1985--10 million barrels per day less than the present projected use by that time. But if the American people--business, industry, private persons, as well--will join in an effort to cut down on the waste of oil, then that would be the major contributing factor toward balancing our trade with other countries.

I don't know what other actions we will take at this point. I think that we will continue to assess additional means by which we can constrain oil imports. But whether or not the Government would become the sole importer is a question that has not yet been considered.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Q. I'd like to go back to the Mideast, if I may. Some people believe that in your meetings with Mr. Begin, Mr. Begin came away with sort of the best of it. They think that you rather embraced him to the extent that our leverage with Israel has now been reduced. Would you comment on that, and would you also tell us what you think now the prospects for peace versus another war are in the Mideast?

THE PRESIDENT. After I met with President Sadat and King Hussein and President Asad, there were major outcries in Israel and among the American Jewish community that I had overly embraced the Arab cause. And I think now that Mr. Begin has visited me, there's a concern we have overly embraced the Israeli cause. Obviously, when these leaders come to see me or when I go to see them, there is an effort to understand one another, to have a base of comprehension and consultation that can provide hope for the future.

Our position on the Middle East has been very carefully spelled out to the degree of specificity that I choose. We've always made it clear that, ultimately, the agreement had to be approved and mutually beneficial to the Israelis and also their Arab neighbors as well.

I think that we have a good chance to go to Geneva. There are obstacles still to be resolved. I hope that every leader involved directly in the discussions, the four major countries there, will join with us and the cochairman of the prospective conference, the Soviet Union, in restraining their statements, not being so adamant on issues, and trying to cool down the situation until all can search out common ground, and then hope to minimize the differences.

Secretary Vance will leave this weekend to visit the three Arab nations plus Saudi Arabia, and then come back through Israel as well. When he returns to the United States after about a week or so, we'll have a clearer picture of the differences that still divide the countries.

I think the major stumbling block at this point is the participation in the negotiations by the Palestinian representatives. Our position has been that they ought to be represented and that we will discuss with them these elements that involve the Palestinians and other refugees at the time they forgo their commitment, presently publicly espoused, that Israel should be destroyed. But until the Palestinian leaders adopt the proposition that Israel is a nation, that it will be a nation permanently, that it has a right to live in peace--until that happens, I see no way that we would advocate participation by them in the peace negotiations.

But these matters are still very fluid. What gives me hope is that I believe that all national leaders with whom I've talked genuinely want to go to Geneva to try to work out permanent peace. That's the primary basis for my optimism. But it's difficult, and past statements by these leaders when they were at war, or in the status of prospective war, have been very rigid and very adamant and sometimes abusive and filled with hatred and distrust. We're trying to get them to change from those positions of distrust to one of genuine search for peace.

I think it's accurate to say, in closing my answer, that both sides now have at least a moderate amount of confidence in us, and I've tried to take a balanced position to enhance that trust in us. If I should ever take a biased position on the part of one of the parties, then the other parties would simply forgo any dependence upon us.

So, I'm very careful in my statements, privately and publicly, to be consistent, and also to be fair.

ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS

Q. Could I follow up on that, Mr. President? I believe you said just a moment ago that Mr. Begin gave you no advance hint of this action that he took this week on the settlements. You said that you discussed future settlements. Can you tell us what he said about that? Is he going to encourage new settlements there, and what did you tell him about that?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Begin did not give me any promise about his action on the settlement question. I did describe to him our longstanding position on the settlements, which I've already outlined, and told him that this was a major item of potential differences between Israel and the Arab countries and my strong hope that nothing would be done by the Israeli Government in establishing new settlements that might exacerbate an already difficult position.

He listened to me very carefully. He said this was a major political issue in Israel, that in many instances he and his opposition political parties in Israel, felt the same about it, but that he was certainly aware of our concern. But he did not give me any commitments about what he would do.

And to answer the other part of your question, he did not give me any prior notice that they were going to recognize the legality of the settlements involved.

PRIME MINISTER BEGIN

Q. Mr. President, isn't there a basic conflict between all the talk of progress we heard around here during the Begin visit and at the time he left, and the first action that he took upon returning to Israel and the rejection of the idea that we could have any influence over what moves he might make to the West Bank settlements?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think it's not fair to overly criticize Prime Minister Begin. The fact is that under the previous Mapai Coalition, the labor government, that settlements have been built there, a fairly large number. The number of people involved is quite small. And this is not a new thing. I think it would be a mistake to overemphasize it or to exaggerate the significance of it. We feel that any restraint that Prime Minister Begin might want to exert on this subject would certainly be contributory toward peace.

I think he's in a position now of great strength in Israel. I think that his voice would be honored by the Israeli people. But he, like myself, has run on campaign commitments, and I think he's trying to accommodate the interest of peace as best, he can. That doesn't mean that the settlements are right, but I think it would not be proper to castigate him unnecessarily about it because he's continuing policies that have been extant in Israel for a long time. And the Israeli Government has never claimed that these settlements are permanent. What they have done is to say that they are legal at the present time.

I think that that's all I know about the subject, and that's certainly all that I'm going to say now.

Mr. Sperling [Godfrey Sperling, Jr., Christian Science Monitor].

VIEWS ON THE PRESIDENCY

Q. Mr. President, on your assessment of your first 6 months in office, I understand that you have said that you feel that, overall, your performance was good. But did you--

THE PRESIDENT. That's a biased expression. But go ahead. [Laughter]

Q. Anyway, did you do anything wrong, did you do anything that you would like to do differently, if you could do it over again?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, obviously, every day I make hundreds of decisions that in the light of subsequent events, in dealing with the Congress, in dealing with local and State governments, proposals that were rejected, slight amendments that could have been more acceptable, an inadvertent oversight in not calling a congressional committee chairman ahead of time before I made a public statement-those kinds of things always you would want to undo.

I think, though, that the final judgment would have to be the results of this year's work, at the time the Congress adjourns, hopefully, in October. In general, I think the Congress has responded well to my proposals. I think the results of their work have already been very good.

So, in minor things, obviously, I've made mistakes. But to be perfectly frank, I don't personally care to point them out. [Laughter]

Q. Have you learned anything in the first 6 months that in your opinion will make you a better President in the next 6 months?

THE PRESIDENT. I think so. I've learned--

Q. What?

THE PRESIDENT. I think the major issue that I'll point out that I've done before is I've learned how to work much more harmoniously with the Congress. I have been amazed at how hard the Congress works. Their results so far, I believe, are unprecedented: in having passed all of the major elements of the appropriations bills--this used to take place sometimes in November or December--they've already completed this major work; the establishment of a new Department of Energy, which is now on the verge of being concluded, and many other things.

I have learned to respect the Congress more in an individual basis. I've been favorably impressed at the high degree of concentrated experience and knowledge that individual Members of Congress can bring on a specific subject, where they've been the chairman of a subcommittee or committee for many years and have focused their attention on this particular aspect of government life which I will never be able to do.

And I think I've learned, too, the sensitivities of them, in trying to let them know ahead of time before my own positions were pronounced publicly.

I've now completed meeting at the White House with every Member of the House of Representatives, all the Democrats and then all the Republicans, to give them a chance in groups to ask me questions about parochial issues and to get to know them personally.

And I've now completed having a breakfast meeting with all the Democratic Members of the Senate. We'll now meet with the Republican Members of the Senate.

I think that's a major thing that I've learned, is the degree of respect that legitimately I ought to have for the Congress, and I have built up a great admiration for their individual competence and also for their dedication. That's the major thing--

WELFARE PROGRAMS

Q. Mr. President, how committed are you to keeping the pledge that you made earlier this year to hold welfare spending at its present level, in light of all the difficulties your advisers are having in coming up with a welfare plan that is within that limit?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it's very difficult. I'm going to spend--I came over to my office this morning at 5: 30 and I spent 3 hours working on the welfare question before my first appointments. And this afternoon I have 2 more hours of study and work with the Cabinet members on the welfare question.

I talked to Senator Long on the phone this morning when he called me to express his interest in it, and next week I'll be meeting with him and Chairman Ullman on the same subject. By the end of next week, we will have prepared for presentation to the public and the Congress my best assessment of what ought to be done.

There are obviously options that have to be exercised: the degree of fiscal relief for local and State governments, the amount of guarantees that even in a case where the benefits have been very liberal, that there will or will not be any reductions in those benefits for people who are well above the poverty level. Some families get welfare benefits that have an income twice as high as the poverty level, much greater than someone who works, say, full time at the minimum wage. But how to deal with these different questions, how to tie it in with a comprehensive tax reform is something that I'm spending a lot of time on.

I'm trying to hold down the cost of the overall program, and I think if you will look at the careful wording of my goals, it said the initial cost would not exceed present expenditures. We're trying now to estimate also the ultimate cost of these programs, what they will cost in 1980 and 1985.

But I can't respond any better to your question. It's a complicated and difficult subject. We're trying to make it fairer and simpler, and we're trying to have a heavy emphasis on a legitimate incentive to work for those that are able to work.

ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS

Q. Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Schram [Martin J. Schram, Newsday].

Q. Mr. President, at the risk of going back over well-plowed ground, I'd like to ask you why it is that you did not ask Mr. Begin what his plans were concerning the existing settlements on the West Bank, and more specifically, were you led to believe from your own studies in advance of those talks that he was not going to take this action?

THE PRESIDENT. I hate to admit it to you, Mr. Schram, but I did not think about raising the subject of recognizing the legality of those settlements. The item that I wanted to discuss with him--and I did--both in the public meeting with Cabinet members and also privately upstairs in the White House, was the establishment of new settlements. And I pointed out to him, as I've said earlier, that I thought the establishment of new settlements would be a very difficult thing for public opinion to accept, both here and in the Arab countries, and that if-he pointed out to me that new settlers, as a result of his campaign statements and those of his opponents, were eager to go into the area--I don't think it's violating any confidence to tell you what I said, and that was that I thought it would be easier for us to accept an increase in the population of existing settlements than it would be to accept the establishment of new settlements. But I did not think about talking to him concerning the granting of legal status to those settlements. It was an oversight which never was discussed.

DISCRIMINATION

Q. Mr. President, there's a case coming up before the U.S. Supreme Court next term on the issue of whether institutions of higher learning can grant preferences in admission patterns to members of minority groups, and your administration has the opportunity to file an amicus brief in this case. What's your position on that?

THE PRESIDENT. I hate to endorse the proposition of quotas for minority groups, for women or for anyone else, that contravene the concept of merit selection. However, I think it is appropriate for both private employers, the public governments, and also institutions of education, health, and so forth, to try to compensate as well as possible for past discrimination, and also to take into consideration the fact that many tests that are used to screen applicants quite often are inadvertently biased against those whose environment and whose training might be different from white majority representatives of our society.

It's not an easy question for the courts to answer, or the Congress. It's not an easy question for me as President to answer, either. I just want to be sure that if we do make a mistake in this carefully balanced approach, that the mistake might be to end discrimination and not the other way around.

But, of course, I will have to comply with the Supreme Court ruling. And I might say that the Secretary of HEW and the Attorney General, who are lawyers-and I'm not--will prepare our position. I'll be involved in that preparation, but I've given you the best answer I can.

Yes?

SOCIAL PROGRAMS

Q. Mr. President, for some days now some of your constituencies have been publicly expressing concern that your interest in balancing the budget, your interest in working against inflation might cause you to ease up on your campaign commitments to the cities, to the poor, for employment programs, for national health insurance. One of those critics, Vernon Jordan, had a private meeting with you, and we were told that you told Mr. Jordan that you felt his public expression of these doubts would work against the interests of the poor and of black people.

I would like to know what you meant by that.

THE PRESIDENT. Okay. I think many of the expressions of concern are certainly legitimate. I want to be sure that the public and I and the Congress are always aware of deprivations, because quite often, those who are deprived most are not articulate enough or well-educated enough or influential enough to speak with a strong voice that can be heard. And I think it's completely legitimate for someone like the head of the Urban League or the head of the NAACP or other groups to speak out if they think that inadequate attention has been paid.

The second part of your question is, I think, that we've had a very good record so far, both my own administration and the Democratic Congress. We've initiated programs now, which are just beginning to be felt, that will greatly reduce the problems of those poor people in downtown urban areas, in particular, with pub lic service jobs, public works jobs, CETA training programs, and the allocation of all Federal moneys on housing and so forth to the areas that in the past have not been treated fairly.

The third part of your question about my private conversation with Vernon Jordan: I did point out to him that when erroneous or demagogic statements were made--inaccurately reporting that neither I nor my own administration nor the Congress cared about those poor people-that since we are the last hope of those who are poor, that the Government would help them in some way, that this removed from them that prospect of a better life.

Accurate criticisms, fine. But I think to prey upon those who are poor or deprived or who are alienated from society and erroneously report that neither I nor my Cabinet members nor the Congress cares about them, does hurt the poor. That was the essence of the conversation.

Q. Mr. President, could I follow up on that question?

THE PRESIDENT. I was trying to recognize-yes, go ahead.

Q. I wanted to be sure I understood you correctly. Are you saying that Mr. Jordan's criticism of you was demagogic or that he was preying upon the fears of the poor people of this country?

THE PRESIDENT. No. As I said earlier, I think that Mr. Jordan's statements are certainly legitimate. He has a right to express his own opinion. But I will say this: To the extent that he alleged that neither I nor my administration nor the Congress was concerned about the poor, those statements were erroneous. But I think in his statements both before and after his speech, he presented to some degree both sides: that we had made progress that was not adequate, that our campaign promises had not been kept--they are being kept--and so forth.

But I have no quarrel with Vernon Jordan. I think he's a strong and able spokesman. I think, though, that my statement, my conversation with him, which was very friendly and mutually respectful, was an accurate assessment of what I've told you.

FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION

Q. Mr. President, sir, whom did you promise?

THE PRESIDENT. Go ahead. I'll be glad to answer your question.

Q. Will you take my question?

THE PRESIDENT. I will be glad to.

Q. Thank you, sir. [Laughter]

Sir, there's a very interesting question about the FBI. They were created, I believe, about 1908 by Teddy Roosevelt with an Executive order, and there's really no overall, comprehensive enabling law that applies to them. And they handle so many matters concerning criminal as well as civils---civilians.

I wondered if you don't think that we ought to patch up this piecemeal statute situation with the FBI and pass an overall, enabling law?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, ma'am, I do think that we need to have a congressional charter evolved both for the FBI and also the CIA. And I think your concern is one that's well justified. I think it's accurate also to say that both my own administration, including the Attorney General and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Congress leaders are working on this project, and I would hope that this would be one of the accomplishments of my administration.

Q. Mr. Carter, speaking of the FBI, can you bring us up to date on the search for a new Director, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we're proceeding very slowly and methodically and, I think, with the prospect of good results. We have now interviewed six candidates for the job. We reserve the fight to interview more in the future if we like. We've not made a final decision on who would be the Director. My own inclination is to defer to the recommendation of the Attorney General, unless we have an unanticipated difference of opinion. But we don't feel any time pressure to arrive at a final conclusion.

I might say that in the meantime, Director Kelley is doing a good job. He served on the selection committee, as you well know. But we'll have a good selection to make before the whole process is completed.

MR. CORMIER. Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Mr. Cormier.

Notes: President Carter's twelfth news conference began at 10:30 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/243486

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