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The President's News Conference

March 24, 1977


THE PRESIDENT. I have a brief opening statement to make about the function of the Presidency and about the Secretary of State's upcoming visit to the Soviet Union.

I think one of the most impressive observations that I have understood so far about the Presidency and what it stands for is the need to derive its strength directly from the people. There have been some expressions of concern about my bringing on these news conferences and in other ways, issues that affect foreign policy directly to the people of our country.

I think it is very important that the strength of the Presidency itself be recognized as deriving from the people of this Nation, and I think it is good for us, even in very complex matters when the outcome of negotiations might still be in doubt, to let the Members of Congress and the people of this country know what is going on and some of the options to be pursued, some of the consequences of success, some of the consequences of failure.

I think in many areas of the world now we are trying to invest a great deal of time and attention and the good offices of our country to bring about a resolution of differences and to prevent potential conflict.

Tomorrow, the Secretary of State will depart for the Soviet Union. We have spent weeks in detailed study about the agenda that has been prepared. This agenda is one that's been derived by the Soviet Union and by our own country. I would say the central focal point will be arms limitations and actual reductions for a change.

I have had long discussions with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and with other members of my own Cabinet to derive our potential proposals, which Cy Vance will put forward to Mr. Brezhnev and the Russian leaders.

We will be talking about the limitation on arms sales. We are now the number one exporter or salesman of arms of all kinds. We have been working with our own allies to cut down this traffic, and we hope to get the Soviet Union to agree with us on constraint.

We'll be dealing with mutual and balanced force reductions in the NATO area and, on this trip, Cy Vance will make a report on the attitude of the Soviet Union leaders concerning the European theater.

We'll be trying to control the testing of nuclear devices, both weapons and peaceful nuclear devices, and we would like to eliminate these tests altogether if the Soviets will agree.

We are going to try to move toward demilitarizing the Indian Ocean and, here again, we'll be consulting closely with our allies and friends. And we are going to express our concern about the future of Africa and ask the Soviet Union to join with us in removing from that troubled continent, outside interference which might contribute to warfare in the countries involved. And we will start laying the groundwork for cooperation with the Soviet Union at the Geneva Conference which we hope will take place, concerning the Middle East.

These matters are extremely complex. We don't know whether or not we will be successful at all, but we go in good faith with high hopes. The Soviets have been very cooperative up to this point, and we are pleased with their attitude. And I know that the prayers of the American people will go with Cy Vance, our Secretary of State, to the Soviet Union, in hopes that this trip might result in the alleviation of tension and the further guaranteeing of peace for our world in the future.

Mr. Cormier [Frank Cormier, Associated Press].


Q. Mr. President, the pace of inflation has been picking up a bit. And at least temporarily, both the consumer and wholesale price indices, annualized, are in double-digit range. How do you see the outlook for inflation, and how are you coming in fashioning a comprehensive program to deal with it?

THE PRESIDENT. There is an underlying inflation rate of 5 to 6 percent, which is generally derived from the rate of increase in wages minus the productivity of workers. It is one of the best measurements.

I think that the monthly reports that come in, quite often, are very misleading. They are transient in nature. We've had a drastic increase in energy costs during this winter period because of the unprecedented severity of the weather. And we have also had a very high increase in the cost of many food items, again because of damage to crops in different regions of the country, and because of coffee losses overseas.

My own guess is that the inflationary pressures will continue at about the level that they have historically in the last couple of years, around 6 or a little bit better percent. We are now preparing a very strong anti-inflation package which will be delivered to the Congress and to the American people within the next couple of weeks. We have been working on it since even before I was inaugurated.

We have begun to exercise constraint on some of the spending policies of our own administration, and we also are beginning to assess the impact of many decisions made by Government and the public that contribute to the inflationary pressures which quite often are not obvious.

And I hope to both learn myself and to let the Congress and the American people learn, in the process, how we can control inflation.

I think the economic stimulus package that we have can boost the increase in our national product up to around 5 percent or a little better, which is crucial to cutting down the unemployment rate. It will not be, in my opinion, a major factor in inflation. But on a long-range basis, I intend to help control inflation.

I intend to cut down the expenditure of Government programs well enough to bring about a balanced budget by 1981. I am deeply committed to this goal. And I believe that we will have unveiled, for the Nation to assess, a comprehensive package against inflation within the next 2 weeks.

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


Q. Mr. President, in terms of bringing the American people in on the dialog, you spoke of arms reduction. Does that mean that Vance will take a new set of proposals on SALT? And two, you spoke of the cooperative attitude of the Soviets. Does that mean that you don't think that any of Brezhnev's statements in the past week will have any bearing in terms of your human rights stand on the SALT negotiations?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the first question is easily answered. Yes, we will take new proposals to the Soviet Union. We are not abandoning the agreements made in the Vladivostok agreement. As you know, all previous SALT agreements have been, in effect, limitations that were so high that they were, in effect, just ground rules for intensified competition and a continued massive arms growth in nuclear weapons.

We hope to bring not only limitations for--to continue in the past, but also actual substantial reduction that the Soviets will agree. That will be our first proposal. I spelled this out briefly in my United Nations speech.

And the second fall-back position will be, in effect, to ratify Vladivostok and to wait until later to solve some of the most difficult and contentious issues. We hope that the Soviets will agree to the substantial reduction.

The other part of your question was, what, Helen?

Q. It was in the question of this new-this cooperative attitude.

THE PRESIDENT. About Brezhnev's attitude?

Q. Right.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I study Mr. Brezhnev's speeches in their entirety. And I think the speech made this past week to their General Trade Union Conference and one made previously at Tula--I consider them to be very constructive.

There was a delineation in his speech between human rights--which he equates with intrusion into their own internal affairs, and I don't agree with that assessment-that has been divided in his speeches from the subject of peace and arms limitation, including nuclear arms. So, I have nothing that I have heard directly or indirectly from Mr. Brezhnev that would indicate that he is not very eager to see substantial progress made in arms limitations.


Q. Mr. President, in your opening statement you said you thought it was a good thing for you to speak out on negotiation details, but you didn't say why. As I understand the criticism, sir, it is that it impedes negotiations when you put out on the table, just in a range of thought, things that the parties haven't privately been able to work out. Why do you think it does not impede negotiations?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think if anyone would analyze the details of the statements that I have made so far, they are not so narrowly defined or specific that they would prevent both parties to a dispute from negotiating in good faith with a fairly clean slate ahead of them. The Middle East is one example.

I think, in many instances, the propositions that I have promulgated publicly are generally conceded to be very important and legitimate, but the public expression of those matters has not been made to the American people over a period of years.

The exact means of defining borders in the Middle East, the exact resolution of the Palestinian problem, the definition of permanent peace--all these things obviously have to be decided between the Arab countries and Israel. But to point out that they are matters in dispute and that we hope they will 'be solved this year, I think is constructive.

We have not intruded ourselves against the wishes of the interested nations in the eastern Mediterranean. Both Turkey and Greece welcomed our emissary, and I think we can be a good mediator to the extent that both parties trust us to act in good faith.

The same thing applies in southern Africa and the same thing applies to the MIA mission to Vietnam and Laos. And I believe that it is very important for the American people to know the framework within which discussions might take place and to give me, through their own approval, strength, as a party to some of the resolutions of disputes and, also, to make sure that when I do speak, I don't speak with a hollow voice, but that the rest of the world knows that on my stand, for instance, on human rights, that I am not just speaking as a lonely voice, but that I am strongly supported by the Congress and the people of the country.

This week the Congress passed almost unanimously--I think with only two dissenting votes in 'both Houses--a strong confirmation that my own stand expressed on human rights is indeed the stand of the American people. It's an unswerving commitment. It's one that will not be changing in the future. And I think for the rest of the world to know this and for the American people to participate in that expression of concern about human rights is a very constructive thing.


Q. Mr. President, you said that when you received the report from the Woodcock Commission that every hope you had for their mission had been realized.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, that is true.

Q. That report suggested that the best way to get an actual accounting of those still missing in Southeast Asia is for the normalization of relations; yet, your position in the past has been that there must be an accounting first before relations can be normalized. Have you changed your position, and what hope does that give for the families?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I haven't changed my position. I have always taken the position that when I am convinced that the Vietnamese have done their best to account for the service personnel who are missing in action, at that point, I would favor normalization, the admission of Vietnam into the United Nations, and the resumption of trade and other relationships with the Vietnamese.

I believe that the response of the Vietnamese leaders to the Woodcock Commission was very favorable. They not only gave us the bodies of 11 American servicemen, but they also promised to set up a Vietnamese bureaucracy to receive the information that we have had about the date and the place that we think service people were lost and to pursue those investigations.

I think this is about all they can do. I don't have any way to prove that they have accounted for all those about whom they have information. But I think, so far as I can discern, they have acted in good faith.

They have also suggested, and we have agreed, that we go to Paris to negotiate further without any preconditions. In the past, the Vietnamese have said that they would not negotiate with us nor give us additional information about the MIA's until we had agreed to pay reparations. They did not bring this up, which I thought was an act of reticence on their part.

They had claimed, previously, that President Nixon had agreed to pay large sums of money to Vietnam because of damage done to their country. Our position had been, whether or not that agreement had been made, that the Vietnamese had violated that agreement by intruding beyond the demilitarized zone during the war.

But they told Mr. Woodcock and sent word to me: We are not going to pursue past agreements and past disagreements. We are eager to look to the future. And I am also eager to look to the future.

If we are convinced, as a result of the Paris negotiations and other actions on the part of the Vietnamese, that they are acting in good faith, that they are trying to help us account for our VIA's, then I would aggressively move to admit Vietnam to the United Nations and, also, to normalize relationships with them.

Q. As to the second part of my question, what about the families of the 2,500 people who have still not been accounted for, or remains have not been returned?

THE PRESIDENT. I have nothing but sympathy for the families involved, and I can assure them through this news conference presentation, that we will never cease attempting to account for those 2,500 American servicemen who were lost.

I might point out that at the conclusion of the Korean war and the Second World War, of those that were lost in action, we only accounted for--I think we still did not account for 22 percent. At the conclusion of the Vietnam war, my understanding is that we had accounted for all except about 4 percent.

I can't certify that we have all the information available, and we are never going to rest until we pursue information about those who are missing in action to the final conclusion. But I will do the best I can. But I don't want to mislead anybody by giving hope about discovery of some additional information when I don't believe that the hope is justified.


Q. Mr. President, in the criticism of your water project hit list, so-called, which now totals about 30 projects, I believe, there has been a suggestion that some kind of an environmental clique has produced that list but there has been no actual review or consultation by some of the line agencies--Interior. Specifically, there has been a suggestion that Secretary Andrus has not been involved in the final consultations of the review. This, after some years of review, went into the production of those projects themselves. Could you respond to that kind of criticism, sir?


The so-called hit list is a list of projects that will be meticulously reviewed in public hearings, where Members of Congress, Chambers of Commerce, Governors, farmers, environmentalists, and others who are concerned about each individual project can participate.

All of the projects that have been recommended for reassessment have been carefully reviewed by Secretary Andrus in every one of those that relate to the Interior Department, the Bureau of Reclamation, and by the Corps of Engineers, those that are being proposed for construction by the Corps of Engineers. In effect, the Corps of Engineers and the Department of Interior have had a veto over projects that would be reassessed, with only two exceptions--one exception in Arkansas, one exception in Georgia-which I personally asked that they be reassessed when the corps did not agree.

But these projects need to be looked at very closely. I personally don't believe that any of the projects ought to be built, but I will keep an open mind until after the complete review process is concluded and will then make my own decision as far as the President's position is concerned. But I can assure you that the Corps of Engineers and Interior Department have been intimately involved in the preparation of the list and the reassessment of the list. It's a preliminary screening. Public hearings will conclude for me what my own position would be.

Ed Bradley [CBS News].


Q. Mr. President, on the subject of Vietnam, if you feel the United States is not obligated to uphold the terms of the Paris Peace Accords because of the North Vietnamese offensive that overthrew the South Vietnamese Government, do you feel, on the other hand, any moral obligation to help rebuild that country?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't say what my position would be now on future economic relationships with Vietnam. I think that could only be concluded after we continue with negotiations to see what their attitude might be toward us.

My own natural inclination is to have normal diplomatic relationships with. all countries in the world. Sometimes there are obstacles. I believe there are now 14 nations with whom we do not have diplomatic relationships. I don't know what the motivations of the Vietnamese might be. I think part of the motivation might be to be treated along with other nations in economic assistance from our country, and in trade, and development of their fairly substantial natural resources, including oil.

Other considerations might be political in nature. They might very well want to balance their friendship with us with their friendship with the Soviet Union and not be completely dependent upon the Soviet Union. That is just a ,guess on my part. But I am willing to negotiate in good faith. But as far as describing what our economic relationship might be with Vietnam in the future after the relationships are established, I just couldn't do that now.

Q. Mr. President, with that understanding and your hesitancy to disclose a position before negotiations are started.---

THE PRESIDENT. I don't have a position.

Q.---beyond that, do you still feel that if that information on those American servicemen who are missing in action is forthcoming from the Vietnamese, that then this country has a moral obligation to help rebuild that country, if that information is forthcoming?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the destruction was mutual. You know, we went to Vietnam without any desire to capture territory or to impose American will on other people. We went there to defend the freedom of the South Vietnamese. And I don't feel that we ought to apologize or to castigate ourselves or to assume the status of culpability.

Now, I am willing to face the future without reference to the past. And that is what the Vietnamese leaders have proposed. And if, in normalization of relationships, there evolves trade, normal aid processes, then I would respond well. But I don't feel that we owe a debt, nor that we should be forced to pay reparations at all.


Q. Mr. President, yesterday several Congressmen accused your economic policies as being dictated by New York 'banks. Now, your plans for bailing out New York through using the IMF with a hyper-inflationary process indeed does sound like a recent speech that David Rockefeller made in which he called for hyper-inflating the advanced sector and imposing so-called demand economies on the Third World, which means massive austerity.

Now, at the same time, over recent weeks a number of our NATO allies---

THE PRESIDENT. What is your question?

Q. My question is, over recent weeks a number of our NATO allies have indicated that they would rather see the problem of Third World debt resolved through a debt moratorium. And I am just wondering if there is any chance that you'd go along with our allies in that direction, or if you would insist on this kind of by per-inflationary bailing out?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have had no entreaties from David Rockefeller concerning the New York problem, nor have I had any of our allies that have called on me to join them in a debt moratorium. I am not in favor of a debt moratorium.


Q. Mr. President, would you mind telling us what our commitments are in Zaire and what the ramifications of those commitments might be to us?

THE PRESIDENT. We have no outstanding commitments in Zaire. Over a period of years, President Mobutu has been a friend of ours. We've enjoyed good relationships with Zaire. We have substantial commercial investments in that country.

After the recent, very disruptive conflict within Zaire when the country was finally formed--a number of years ago-it has been fairly stable since then. Zaire was involved, I think at least indirectly, in the Angolan conflict, and there are some remaining hard feelings between Angola and Zaire on that part. Some of the Katangans who lived in the southern part of Zaire are now involved in trying to go back into the area where they formerly lived.

We have no hard evidence or any evidence, as far as that goes, that the Cubans or Angolan troops have crossed the border into Zaire. We look on them as a friendly nation, and we have no obligations to them as far as military aid goes. But we have been cooperating in exchanging information with the Belgian Government, the French Government, and others, just to try to stabilize the situation and to lessen the chance of expanding the conflict.


Q. Mr. president, I don't ask this question in a churlish way or an argumentative way---

THE PRESIDENT. I'm sure you don't. [Laughter]

Q.---but taking--recalling the unwillingness of the United States to intervene at the time of the Hungarian uprising or at the time of Dubcek's ouster in Czechoslovakia, what do you really think that you can accomplish for political dissidents in the Soviet Union, not in other parts of the world, but in the Soviet Union? And I have a follow-up I would like to ask.

THE PRESIDENT. Why don't you ask your follow-up now and I will try to answer.

Q. My follow-up is this: You are saying that all of the evidence that you have from Mr. Brezhnev is that he is willing to go forward or he is receptive to SALT II negotiations.

Mr. Brezhnev said before the Labor Congress that normal relations would be impossible--"unthinkable" was his word--if your human rights campaign continued.

You have referred to private communications with Mr. Brezhnev, and I would like to know in the follow-up question, whether he has given you any assurances in those private communications that he is indeed willing to go forward on SALT II?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it is not just a matter of private conversations. We are not trying to overthrow the Soviet Government nor to intrude ourselves into their affairs in a military way.

I think it has been a well-recognized international political principle that interference in a government is not a verbal thing. There is an ideological struggle that has been in progress for decades between the Communist nations on the one hand and the democratic nations on the other.

Mr. Brezhnev and his predecessors have never refrained from expressing their view when they disagreed with some aspect of social or political life in the free world. And I think we have a right to speak out openly when we have a concern about human rights wherever those abuses occur.

I think that Mr. Brezhnev has not said that he is concerned about my campaign on human rights. What he said is that he objects to any intrusion into the internal affairs of the Soviet Union.

Now, I have tried to be reticent about it. I have tried to let my own position be clear in the speech at the United Nations and in my other actions. I have tried to make sure that the world knows that we are not singling out the Soviet Union for abuse or criticism.

We are trying to move in our own country to open travel opportunities and to correct civil rights abuses and other abuses in our country. So, I don't think this is a matter that is connected with the search for peace through the SALT negotiations, for instance.

The very fact that Mr. Brezhnev and his associates have welcomed Secretary Vance to the Soviet Union and have helped us prepare a very comprehensive agenda is adequate proof that he has not broken off relationships in any way, and that he has hopes that the talks will be productive.

My belief is that he is acting in good faith. We are not going to negotiate in such a way that we leave ourselves vulnerable. But if the Soviet Union is willing to meet us halfway in searching for peace and disarmament, we will meet them halfway.

I think that this is a good indication that they are acting in good faith. If we are disappointed, which is a possibility, then we'll try to modify our stance.

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


Q. On a subject on which I don't believe you have been questioned before, have you asked the Justice Department to finally come up with a national strategy for fighting organized crime?

THE PRESIDENT. I have discussed this with Attorney General Bell, and he has not yet evolved to present to me a comprehensive approach to the organized crime question. But I'd have to give you an answer to that after the press conference.1 I don't know what the status of his effort is, Mr. Sperling.

1 Later in the day, the White House Press Office issued the following statement:

At his news conference, the President said he assigned a high priority on fighting organized crime and promised to elaborate on his position after he had a chance to review the status of this effort with Attorney General Bell.

The President is informed by the Attorney General that Peter Flaherty, whose nomination to be Deputy Attorney General advanced in the Senate today, will have overall supervision over Justice Department efforts in fighting crime. To this end, Flaherty will bear the prime responsibility for the activities of the Criminal Division of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Both the President and the Attorney General endorse the principle of concentrating Federal law enforcement efforts on attacking large, organized crime operations, instead of focusing on minor offenders. They are particularly concerned about curtailing the activities of large-scale narcotics traffickers. In this connection, a study is underway on the advisability of making the Drug Enforcement Administration part of the FBI as a means of stepping up the fight against narcotics.

They believe these efforts must take place with the close involvement of local and State law enforcement agencies, since this is where most of the resources for fighting crime are located. The administration looks in this regard toward a national program in which all levels of government would cooperate to produce the maximum reduction of crime.

The administration also places a high priority on fighting white-collar crime. To promote this effort, programs will shortly begin within the FBI to train and recruit more accountants, computer specialists, and other experts, so as to increase the FBI's effectiveness in uncovering and successfully helping to prosecute intricate fraud, financial manipulations, and other white-collar crime.

The Attorney General will report to the President as aspects of his anti-crime program are developed.

Q. Let's put it this way: How high a priority would you be giving to the fighting of organized crime?

THE PRESIDENT. I think quite high. When I was Governor, we organized a substantial effort to fight organized crime. And we detected the interrelationship between gambling, which a lot of people assume is just a normal part of life, prostitution, which some people think is not too bad, the distribution of drugs, which is condemned by almost everyone, and other forms of illegalities. And the upshot of our analysis was that they are very closely interrelated.

Profits from gambling, profits from prostitution and other more acceptable kinds of crime, in some people's minds, are directly used to enhance the distribution of heroin and other drugs. So, I think it is a very serious problem. It is one that we ought to address from a national level. And one of the crucial elements that can be improved is to have local, State, and Federal law enforcement agencies cooperate in a much more effective fashion in exchange of ideas and information and, also, in the prosecution of criminals.

MR. CORMIER. Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.

Note: President Carter's fourth news conference began at 2:30 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/243347

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