Jimmy Carter photo

The President's News Conference

July 12, 1977

THE PRESIDENT. Good afternoon, everybody. Do you have any questions? [Laughter]

Ms. Thomas [Helen Thomas, United Press International].

ARMS AND WEAPONS

Q. Mr. President, how do you reconcile your decision to go ahead with the neutron bomb with your inaugural pledge to eliminate all nuclear weapons? Also, why didn't you know the money was in the bill? And three, doesn't this escalate the arms race? And I have a followup. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it's a very serious question. In the first place, I did not know what was in the bill. The enhanced radiation of the neutron bomb has been discussed and also has been under development for 15 or 20 years. It's not a new concept at all, not a new weapon.

It does not affect our SALT or strategic weapons negotiations at all. It's strictly designed as a tactical weapon. I think that this would give us some flexibility.

I have not yet decided whether to advocate deployment of the neutron bomb. I think the essence of it is that for a given projectile size or for a given missile head size, that the destruction that would result from the explosion of a neutron bomb is much less than the destruction from an equivalent weapon of other types.

The essence of the question is that if the neutron weapon or atomic weapon ever should have to be used against enemy forces in occupied territory of our allies or ourselves, the destruction would be much less.

Before I make a final decision on the neutron bomb's deployment, I would do a complete impact statement analysis on it, submit this information to the Congress. But I have not yet decided whether to approve the neutron bomb. I do think it ought to be one of our options, however.

Q. Mr. President, if you decided to go ahead, would you renounce the first use of the bomb? For example, you would not use it unless there was an oppressive enemy action?

THE PRESIDENT. This is something that I have not yet decided. Of course, we hope that we can reach an agreement among all nations in the future to forgo the use of all atomic weapons and also to eliminate the possession of all nuclear weapons.

There are two distinct classes of weapons. One is the tactical weapons which have not been under the purview of discussions with the Soviets or others. The other one is the strategic nuclear weapons.

But the definition of under what circumstances we would use such atomic weapons has not yet been spelled out publicly. I obviously hope that our continuing inclination toward peace, shared, I'm sure, by the Soviets and others, will prevent any use of atomic weapons. They are there as a deterrent, however, and the option for their use has to be maintained as one of the viable options.

MINIMUM WAGE

Q. Mr. President, just today, I believe, you are reported on the brink of approving a compromise minimum wage proposal of $2.60 an hour. Now, if that's true, did you raise your sights because of political factors, economic factors, or a combination?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the fact of the matter is that the minimum wage proposals are being handled by the congressional committees--Congressman Dent, Congressman Perkins. This afternoon, I think at 4 or 5 o'clock, Congressman Perkins will have a press conference to spell out the committee proposal.

We have no administration legislation to propose, and I do not intend to send the Congress any message on the minimum wage. I might say in advance that we have come to agree with the proposal that Congressman Perkins will propose, but it is not an administration bill.

ATOMIC WEAPONS

Q. Mr. President, may I go back to the neutron bomb?

THE PRESIDENT. Please.

Q. How much do you think there is to the argument that if you have a cleaner weapon, as you define it, it makes war more possible; that it might be used? And secondly, where do you stand on that ageold question of nuclear weapons in Europe, for instance, as to whether if you start using them it wouldn't automatically escalate to a full-scale nuclear war?

THE PRESIDENT. I think one of the concepts that must be avoided is an exact description ahead of time of what I as President would do under every conceivable circumstance.

The ownership of atomic weapons and their potential use is such a horrifying prospect--their use--that it is a deterrent to a major confrontation between nations who possess atomic weapons.

I believe that the nation that uses atomic weapons first would be under heavy condemnation from the other people of the world, unless the circumstances were extremely gross, such as an unwarranted invasion into another country.

But I'm eager to work with the Soviet Union, with China, with France, with England, on a continuing basis, so that there will never be a need for the use of those weapons.

To answer the other part of your question, my guess is--and no one would certainly know--that the first use of atomic weapons might very well quickly lead to a rapid and uncontrolled escalation in the use of even more powerful weapons with possibly a worldwide holocaust resulting.

This is a prospect that is sobering to us all, and that's why the Soviets and we and others have worked so hard to try to reach an agreement in the prohibition against atomic use.

Q. Sir, could I just follow it up with one question? Doesn't that give you a terrible paradox? Because if we are inferior on the ground in Europe with the Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces, if we don't use atomic weapons, can we and our NATO alliance stop a ground invasion?

THE PRESIDENT. My guess is and my belief is that without the use of atomic weapons, we have adequate force strength in NATO to stop an invasion from the Warsaw Pact forces.

There is some advantage in the commitment and effectiveness of the forces of a defending nation if they are fighting on their own invaded territory. And I think this would mean that in a rough balance that the invading nations would have to have an overwhelming superior force.

We are now putting, as a much greater priority in our budget request for defense expenditures, moneys for improving our conventional forces in Europe. In years gone by, 15 or 20 years ago, we had an overwhelming superiority in nuclear weapons. Now I would say we have a roughly equivalent strength in atomic weapons. And so, we must ensure that within the bounds of measurement that our conventional forces are equivalent also. And I don't acknowledge at all the fact that an invasion of the Warsaw Pact nations would be successful without the use of atomic weapons.

FOREIGN EAVESDROPPING ON TELEPHONE

CONVERSATIONS

Q. Mr. President, Senator Moynihan of New York says that the Government, both the Ford administration and yours, has avoided telling American citizens that they are the subject of massive eavesdropping on the part of the Soviet Union. If the Senator is correct, why has the Government not alerted American citizens to the situation?

Second, do you plan to demand that the Soviets withdraw their rooftop electronic equipment? And third, if they do not, will there be diplomatic reprisals?

THE PRESIDENT. Senator Moynihan, as you know, has been a member of the Nixon administration in the past in a very high official position, and he is well able to judge the knowledge that was possessed by that administration.

I think it's accurate to say that any detailed discussion of the electronics capabilities of different nations' intelligence forces is not a proper subject for complete discussion.

Within the last number of years, became of the radio transmission of telephone conversations, the intercept on a passive basis of these kinds of transmissions has become a common ability for nations to pursue. It's not an act of aggression or war; it's completely passive.

I don't know the full circumstances involved. When I became President, I asked to have a multidepartmental assessment of the threat to our own security. We have been embarked since I've been in office--and I think before--in an effort to make impervious to intercept those telephone lines that were involved directly in national security.

For instance, the lines going into and out of the Defense Department and my own office--we try to make sure that they are cables; they are buried underground; they are not subject to this electronics type of being overheard.

Some of the major commercial companies in our Nation who want to prevent any eavesdropping on their transactions, commercial transactions, not involving national security, also make an attempt to prevent intercepts by those who listen in on the free air waves.

But I would not interpret this use by the Soviet Union or by other embassies to be an act of aggression. And although it may be an intrusion into our security, I think we are taking adequate steps now to prevent its creating a threat to our country.

STOCK MARKET INVESTMENTS

Q. Mr. President?

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

Q. You obviously are doing well in. the popularity polls, but how do you explain the uncertainty that investors in the stock market seem to have in you?

THE PRESIDENT. That was a very difficult thing for me to understand during the campaign. I thought that they should have given me their overwhelming support. [Laughter] The leading investors on Wall Street and others only gave me a 5-percent support compared to my opponent, President Ford.

I think that there's a general uncertainty in the world about future economic circumstances. We also, of course, are involved in a reassessment of some very controversial issues concerning energy, tax reform, welfare reform, that causes some governmental contribution to the uncertainty. We have an increasing dependence in the consuming nations on oil imports, which means that the OPEC nations have about a $40 billion trade surplus and the rest of the world has to absorb a $40 billion deficit.

So, I think there are many areas of uncertainty. I've been impressed with the long-range trend projections that have been given to me. We've had about a 1-percent reduction already in the unemployment rate since I became President, and the results last month on inflation were encouraging. But monthly figures fluctuate fairly widely. Since last November, we've had about a 3 million net increase in the number of jobs available in our country.

I feel very good about our economy. And I can't assess that feeling of mine as compared to investors in the stock market prices. But I think since the first of the year, the stock market prices, although they've fluctuated somewhat, have been relatively stable.

NATURAL GAS

Q. Mr. President, yesterday a congressional Republican group released a study showing that your natural gas plan, pricing plan, would cost American consumers about $48 billion more than deregulation of natural gas would by 1990. They mainly said that Americans would not be able to get as much gas under your plan and, therefore, would have to resort to other types of more expensive fuel. Could you respond to that?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I haven't heard of that report, but I can tell you that the Congressional Budget Office and the Library of Congress, independently of Dr. Schlesinger in his assessments, have confirmed our own figures. In fact, both those reports anticipate that deregulation of natural gas would be much more expensive than even the figures that we have put forward.

My estimate is that our own proposal, which I think gives an adequate incentive for production and exploration of new natural gas, would amount to about a $15 billion increase in income for the oil companies, natural gas producers, by 1985.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this would be, under deregulation, about $85 billion, which is $70 billion more with complete natural gas deregulation for new gas than what we proposed. The Library of Congress figures go up to about $150 billion. This means that the consumers of this country would have to pay to the oil and natural gas companies an enormous extra amount for a very slight increase in natural gas production, if it was completely deregulated.

I'm not in favor of complete deregulation. We estimate that if natural gas was completely deregulated, that the increased production would be about 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas at an increased cost of more than $70 billion. This means that for every additional thousand cubic feet discovered, it would cost the American consumers about $60.

So, I think that our proposal is reasonable. I think that deregulation as proposed by some Members of the Congress would be a gross overburden on the American people and would not result in a substantial increase in production.

RELATIONS WITH THE SOVIET UNION

Q. Mr. President, what do you make of all the unfriendly rhetoric coming out of Moscow lately? And do your sources suggest that it may not just be because of your human rights campaign?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know how to explain the unfriendly rhetoric. Our proposals have been fair and reasonable, and almost all of .them have been made public. We have pursued our hopes for increased friendship with the Soviet Union, a reduction in nuclear weaponry, an easing of the tensions between ourselves and the Soviets through quiet diplomatic channels, with myself talking to the Soviet Ambassador, with Cy Vance, the Secretary of State, going to Moscow, and in continuing negotiations at Geneva and other places by Paul Warnke and other representatives of me. I believe that the Soviets, perhaps, have some political reasons for spelling out or exaggerating the disagreements. I don't know what those reasons are.

Our positions have been carefully contrived and constantly reassessed. I have no inclination to change the positions that we have taken; I think they are fair. And I believe that calm and persistent and fair negotiations with the Soviet Union will ultimately lead to increased relationships with them.

And the public statements that the Soviets make, attacking me personally or our own Nation's good faith, are both erroneous and ill-advised. But what their reasons for it might be, I do not know.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Q. Mr. President, with Mr. Begin coming to visit, I'd like to ask a question about the Middle East, a two-part question.

When you talk about the necessity for a Palestinian homeland, are you thinking of locating that homeland in territory that at one time was Palestine, or in your mind, could it be located anywhere?

The second part of .the question is: Do you still believe, as you said a few weeks ago, that Israel eventually must withdraw with only minor changes to the pre-1967 borders?

THE PRESIDENT. I have not changed my opinion since the earlier statements that I made concerning the general outline of terms to be sought at a possible Geneva conference.

We have never tried to define geographical boundaries for a so-called Palestinian entity. My own preference, which I have expressed since I've been President and also as a candidate. was that the Palestinian entity, whatever form it might take and whatever area it might occupy, should be tied in with Jordan and not be independent. But I don't have the authority nor the inclination to try to impose that preference on the parties that will negotiate.

I think that in his coming over here to our country next week, on the 19th, that Prime Minister Begin is trying to bring with him an open mind and an ability to go to a possible peace conference with all items being negotiable. He said this publicly, and he's also sent me private messages to that effect.

I've seen an inclination in the Middle East in recent days toward an alleviation of tension. I got a private message from President Sadat, for instance, that he is going to make every effort again to comply with the Sinai agreement.

He had a few extra troops in the territory that bad been identified. He's withdrawing those. He authorized me to announce that he's returning with full military honors 19 Israeli bodies that had been left in Egypt. He's expressed his willingness to go to Geneva without prior commitments. He's had negotiations or talks lately with the King of Jordan, and they have agreed that the Palestinian entity ought to be tied in with Jordan.

So, there's a general inclination on all parties for success, but I don't think it's advisable now for me to get any more specific than I have in the past.

And although I haven't changed my position, I want to reemphasize that we are not going to go to the different nations involved and say, "This is an American plan. You've got to accept it as a pre-condition to going to Geneva. It's what we think would be fair." It's been deliberately general in nature, and the ultimate results would have to be agreed to by the Arab and Israeli nations.

Judy [Judy Woodruff, NBC News].

ABORTION

Q. Mr. President, how comfortable are you with the recent Supreme Court decision that says the Federal Government is not obligated to provide money for abortions for women who cannot afford to pay for them themselves?

THE PRESIDENT. I do not think that the Federal Government should finance abortions except when the woman's life is threatened or when the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. I think it ought to be interpreted very strictly.

In my opinion, the Federal Government being willing to finance abortions, as it has been in recent months, is an encouragement to abortion and its acceptance as a routine contraceptive means. And I think within that strict definition that I've given you, I would like to prevent the Federal Government financing abortions.

I think it's accurate to say that Secretary of HEW Califano agrees with me completely. And we are trying to make it possible for the people of this Nation to understand how to prevent unwanted pregnancies with education programs and with the availability of contraceptives and other devices, when they believe in their use, as an alternative to abortion. But I don't believe that either States or the Federal Government should be required to finance abortions.

Q. Mr. President, how fair do you believe it is then, that women who can afford to get an abortion can go ahead and have one, and women who cannot afford to are precluded?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, there are many things in life that are not fair, that wealthy people can afford and poor people can't. But I don't believe that the Federal Government should take action to try to make these opportunities exactly equal, particularly when there is a moral factor involved.

I know as well as anyone in the country, having faced this issue during the long campaign, about the intense feelings on both sides of the abortion issue. But my own personal feeling is that the Supreme Court rulings now are adequate, and they are reasonably fair, and that the Federal Government should not be required or encouraged to finance abortions other than I've spelled out.

RELATIONS WITH CONGRESS

Q. Mr. President, with the passage of time, your working relationships with Members of Congress seem to be improving. What accounts for the truce?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't know that it's a truce, exactly. I think the Congress now understands much more clearly what I am, what I stand for, what proposals we put forward, and the priorities accruing to those proposals. I think we've had good success with the Congress already.

The passage of the economic stimulus package that we proposed was done expeditiously and is working well already. The authorization for me to reorganize the Government is doing well. The authorization for the new Department of Energy will be completed, I think, within the next few days.

The Congress has made good progress on strict ethics legislation. I think we have made good progress, also, in the effectuation of the energy policy which is very controversial, very difficult, and requires a great deal of courage on the part of Congress.

They've still got some hard questions to answer. One, of course, is how to finance the social security system, and then we will be proposing to them in the future a comprehensive welfare plan and a comprehensive tax reform proposal.

But I think in general it's just been a matter of getting to know one another, and we've been very forceful in our positions. There are some things on which the Congress and I still disagree. I thought the Senate made an improper decision yesterday? on the Clinch River breeder reactor. I think there are excessive amounts of allocation of funds for water projects. I'm concerned about the Senate level of prospective expenditure on the farm bill. So we do have some differences. But I think in general there's been a good and mature working relationship between us.

FBI DIRECTOR

Q. Mr. President, are you going to go outside the list of FBI Director nominees supplied by your selection commission to choose the man to replace Clarence Kelley? And if so, isn't that an indictment of the manner in which that search was conducted?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know yet. When I announced the five names that had been recommended to me, I pointed out that we would interview those five. If one of them is patently the best person to hold the job of FBI Director, in the judgment of the Attorney General and approved by me, then we would go with those five. But we reserve the right to interview others in addition to the first five recommended. If we do so, then we would use the information derived by the search committee as the basis for our own assessment of those additional candidates. I've only met so far with two of the five. I think, this week, I'm scheduled to meet with two others, and I'll meet with the fifth one. And then the Attorney General and I will decide together whether or not to interview others. It's not an indictment of them. I think they did a good job. We deliberately made public the names of those whom they did recommend to get information and so forth from those who knew the candidates that we would not have gotten otherwise.

We did not do an FBI, full-field background check on any of those five candidates or any of the other 225 who were assessed until they were recommended to us. And so we are now accumulating information about the nominees and then having an interview with them. The Attorney General meets with them 2 or 3 hours, gives me a report on what he thinks; I meet with them 15 or 20 minutes to get acquainted.

And my expectation is that the Attorney General will make a recommendation to me, and I will go along with his recommendation. But I will reserve the final judgment.

RELATIONS WITH THE SOVIET UNION

Q. Mr. President, could I get back to relations with the Soviet Union?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes.

Q. Despite the hopes that you expressed for better relations, there are several things that suggest that, in fact, relations have grown worse between the United States and the Soviet Union since you took office. Do you think that's the case, and if so, where are we headed in this? Are we seeing an end to the period of detente?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I don't think so. I believe that it's inherent that tough and public debates will accrue when controversial issues are addressed. It would be very easy for me and the Congress to get along completely harmoniously if I never made a proposal and if I agreed with everything the Congress did and we didn't address any of the controversial issues like welfare reform, tax reform, reorganization, or energy policy.

The same thing applies to the Soviet Union. We have never before made an attempt with the Soviet Union drastically to reduce the level of atomic weaponry. In the past, we've put limits on increasing production of atomic weaponry. We've never tried with the Soviet Union to get a complete prohibition against all testing of atomic devices. Now we are trying to work with the Soviet Union to get this very controversial and very difficult goal realized.

We've never tried before to work with the Soviet Union to demilitarize the Indian Ocean or to restrict any further militarization of that area. This is a controversial matter. It affects other nations as well--India, Australia, New Zealand, Iran, Somalia, and so forth.

So, we are now trying to address some questions that in the past have been avoided or delayed.

The question of human rights is one that obviously has caused some tough debate and difference of opinion, expressed publicly and privately. We could have sat quiescently and never raised the issue of human rights. I believe that our raising of the issue was compatible with the hopes and dreams and inclinations and commitments of the American people. And there have been varying kinds of responses to this pursuit.

We do not initiate all these controversies. As you know, the basket three aspect of the Helsinki agreement would have raised the human rights question to some degree, absent any commitment on my part.

But I don't think that this is an indication of deteriorated relationships between us and the Soviets because we are finally addressing, in a forceful way, from different perspectives, some extremely controversial but important issues.

So although I would like for us to agree on everything, I think the period of debate, disagreement, probing, and negotiation was inevitable. And I have no apologies to offer, and I have no regrets about the issues that have been raised that have proven to be controversial.

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

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Frank, very much. Thank you, everybody.

Note: President Carter's eleventh news conference began at 2:32 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/244357

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