Jimmy Carter photo

The President's News Conference

December 15, 1977


THE PRESIDENT. Good morning, everybody. I have a statement to make first about a subject of great importance to us. This is Human Rights Week around the world. I've worked day and night to make sure that a concern for human rights is woven through everything our Government does, both at home and abroad.

This policy has produced some controversy, but it's very much in keeping with the character and the history of our own country. We became an independent nation in a struggle for human rights. And there have been many such struggles since then, for the abolition of slavery, for universal suffrage, for racial equality, for the rights of workers, for women's rights.

Not all of these struggles have yet been won. But the freedom and the vigor of our own national public life is evidence of the rights and the liberties that we have achieved. I believe that public life everywhere, in all nations, should have that same freedom and vigor.

We have no wish to tell other nations what political or social systems they should have, but we want our own worldwide influence to reduce human suffering and not to increase it. This is equally true whether the cause of suffering be hunger on the one hand or tyranny on the other.

We are therefore working to advance a full range of human rights, economic and social, as well as civil and political.

The universal declaration and other international human rights covenants mean that one nation may criticize another's treatment of its citizens without regarding each other as enemies. We will continue to do this, just as we welcome scrutiny and criticism of ourselves as part of the normal dealings between nations. We have strengthened our foreign policy on human rights, and we are letting it be known clearly that the United States stands for the victims of repression. We stand with the tortured and the unjustly imprisoned and with those who have been silenced.

Other governments and the dissidents in Eastern Europe and the political prisoners in Latin America and Asia know where we stand. We've spoken Out against gross violations of human rights in countries like Cambodia and South Africa and Uganda. We've received exiles from many other countries, exiles who represent those who are unable to speak freely in their own lands.

We've encouraged several countries to permit inspection of human rights situations by the International Committee of the Red Cross. We've reduced military relationships which in some countries in the past have seemed to support repressive regimes.

Our foreign assistance programs will now reflect more clearly our concern about human rights. We will continue to lead the fight in the United Nations, sponsored by Costa Rica, to establish an Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. We support the private and the independent human rights organizations which gather information and support activities in the human rights field.

In the past year, human rights has become an issue that no government on Earth can now afford to ignore. There have been numerous instances of improvement. Some represent genuine change, some are only cosmetic in nature. But we welcome them all, because they reflect a relief of suffering people and persecuted people.

The results of our human rights policy will seldom be dramatic. There will be tensions along the way, and we will often be perceived as either being too rash or too timid. But this is a small risk, compared to the risk assumed by brave men and women who live where repression has not yet yielded to liberty.

My personal commitment to human rights is very strong. The American people feel as I do. Our Government will continue to express that commitment and not ever hide it. And we will always encourage other nations to join us.

Thank you very much.

I'll be glad to answer questions now.



Q. Mr. President, there are reports that Prime Minister Begin is bringing along some of his peace proposals to discuss with you. My question is, if the United States underwrites peace, will we have a say in terms of what real peace is, if it gives economic aid, psychological aid, security, and so forth? And I have a followup.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, our hope and our goal has been that the nations directly involved in the Middle Eastern crisis, the Middle Eastern disputes, would meet directly with one another and reach agreements that would encompass three basic questions. One is the definition of real peace, genuine peace, predictable peace, relationship among human beings that might transcend the incumbency of any particular leader. I think President Sadat has made a major stride already in the achievement of what is real peace. The second one is the withdrawal of the Israelis from territory and, at the same time, the assurance that they would have secure borders. And the third one, of course, is to resolve the Palestinian question.

As I've said before, the direct negotiations between Egypt and Israel is a major step forward. We are attending the Cairo conference and will offer our good services when it's needed. But the basic responsibility will be on the shoulders of the two nations directly involved. As you know, United Nations observers are also there. Other countries were invited by President Sadat to attend--Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and the Soviet Union. They have not yet accepted that invitation.

We are not trying to define the terms of peace. Anything that is acceptable to Israel and her neighbors will certainly be acceptable to us. But we are always available, I hope, as a trusted intermediary on occasion to break a deadlock or add a supportive word or in a way to introduce one of those leaders to another and convince the opposite party that each leader is acting in good faith.

I have no idea what proposals, if any, Prime Minister Begin will bring to me tomorrow morning. But he and I will meet privately, just the two of us for a while at his request, and I will listen to what his report might be, and we will be constructive as we have been in the past.

Q. Well, do you have any idea of what the outcome of the Cairo conference will be in terms of goals?

THE PRESIDENT. I have hopes, but obviously I can't predict what will occur. We've always hoped that even when some of the nations choose not to participate, that the nations who do negotiate could move a major step forward toward an ultimate, comprehensive peace settlement.

Both Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat have stated publicly and repeatedly that they are not seeking strictly a bilateral or a two-nation agreement. They recognize that an agreement in the Sinai without involving the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, could not be a permanent resolution of territorial differences, and if they ignore the Palestinian question, this would still not result in permanent peace, and if the Palestinian question is not addressed, again, it would not be an adequate step toward permanent peace.

So, I think, obviously, this is a good first step. I would hope that in Cairo itself, even if the other nations don't choose to attend, that Egypt and Israel can make a major stride toward a comprehensive peace that would at least address in definitive terms the questions that also involve Palestinians, Jordanians, Syrians, and Lebanese.


Q. Mr. President, this year you've been working with a very heavily Democratic Congress, yet your legislative record, I think, can fairly be described as mixed. You've had some successes, some failures, other things in limbo. Do you think you can improve on your legislative record next year, particularly in view of the fact that a lot of those people are going to be running for an election and may not be devoting as much attention to legislation as they were this year?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, almost all of the major proposals that we put forward to the Congress have either been adopted or are still under active consideration. The two remaining doubts among our major proposals are social security, which has a good possibility to be decided this week, and, of course, the most important of all is energy.

There are three of the five major considerations on energy that have been resolved successfully by the conference committees. The remaining ones are the crude oil equalization tax and how to deal with natural gas. The natural gas question is the one that has been in dispute more than 20 years, and it is the one that's the most difficult. It's also the one that's the most expensive, potential]y, to the consumers and most rewarding to the oil and natural gas companies.

I think it's unlikely that the Congress will conclude action on the energy question this year, as I had hoped. But I believe that they have made and will continue to make enough progress so that very early next year they'll complete this year's agenda by taking action on the energy question.

We will have a much more carefully considered agenda for 1978, broadly encompassing the commitments that I've made to the American people and the issues that I've identified since I have been in office as being important.

I'd say it's a more effective presentation, because we now know better when the Congress can move rapidly and when they can't. I think the Congress has made substantial progress even on energy, which has been the only major failure this year, and I believe the basis that they've laid will lead to a rapid conclusion next year.

I'm not discouraged about it. I'm very pleased at what has been accomplished so far, although we didn't conclude 100 percent of what we proposed.

Q. Mr. President, the Vice President is saying that you've had a great year in getting important legislation through Congress. Yet the public perception seems to be to the contrary. How do you account for this?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, my own perception is in harmony with that of the Vice President.

We have created a new Department of Energy. We have instigated a $21 billion economic stimulus program with substantial tax reductions, substantial jobs programs, public works projects, and I believe that this is beginning to pay rich dividends. We've had good progress on many other major items that we've proposed--a comprehensive farm bill, which is a great step forward.

We've had some problems that still exist. I terminated the construction of the B-1 bomber, for instance. We've already completed three of those very expensive airplanes. We have a fourth one now in production that will give us an adequate number to complete a comprehensive research and development program on the advanced, very costly, very fast-moving bomber. The Congress is still insisting, some of the Members of Congress, on building a fifth and sixth airplane at an absolute total waste of about $500 million, a half a billion dollars.

This is the kind of question that's very tenacious and very difficult to address. But I think the sum total of this year, the agenda that we have completed, is a very good one.

Q. Yes, but what about public perception? It doesn't seem to be precisely along these lines.

THE. PRESIDENT. Well, I think the public perception, of course, is always affected by reports in the news media, and it's inevitable that most of the attention given during the progress of a congressional session--or legislative session while I was Governor--dwells upon the hot debates and the disputes and the disagreements, and there's not nearly so much attention given when there's a harmonious resolution of a difficult question. But I believe that there will be a turning of attention when the Congress does adjourn for 1977 to an inventory of what has actually been done. And I believe that when that attention is given and that assessment is made, that the public impression will be good.


Q. Mr. President, I take it from your description of the U.S. role in the Mideast that it is not your intention to endorse specific proposals; that is to say, if Mr. Begin or anyone else presents to you what they hope to do, that they would not be able to go back to a peace conference and say, "Jimmy Carter says that this is what he likes."

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that's a fairly good assessment. I stay in close touch with most of the Middle Eastern leaden, certainly President Sadat. We exchange communications several times a week. Cy Vance is returning from the Middle East tonight, and he will give me a very definitive analysis of the attitude of all the Middle Eastern leaders involved, plus Saudi Arabia, one step removed geographically.

I think I know at least in general terms what would be acceptable to President Sadat, maybe not as a final conclusive agreement, but as an interim step, or major step, toward a final agreement. And if Prime Minister Begin's proposal, in my own personal judgment, is conducive to a step in the right direction and would be acceptable to President Sadat, then I would certainly privately tell him, "This is a very good step." If it should be far short of what I think President Sadat could accept without very serious political consequences and serious disappointment in Egypt and the rest of the world, I would have no reticence about telling Prime Minister Begin privately, "I just don't think this goes far enough." But I would not be the ultimate judge of whether or not it's acceptable or not to the Egyptians. That would be up to President Sadat.


Q. Mr. President, to what extent are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the results of the social security legislation?

THE PRESIDENT. I think the overwhelming consideration that I had early this year when we proposed legislation to the Congress was to restore the integrity of the social security system itself, to make sure that income to the social security system was adequate to meet committed expenditures.

The Congress conference committee report fulfills that completely. This puts the social security system on a sound financial basis, at least for the next 25 years, throughout the rest of this century.

It's a little more costly than I had hoped it would be. But we were able to stop some of the very costly proposals that either the House or Senate had proposed. I think it's a good resolution of a very serious problem that did exist when I took office, that is, that the social security system was on the road toward bankruptcy. Now it's sound. The American people will pay more taxes into the social security system, but in return they'll know that it will be there permanently and in a sound condition.


Q. Mr. President, may I ask you about the role of the Soviet Union in the Middle East? Do you feel that the Soviet Union in recent months has been in any way helpful in trying to bring peace to the Middle East, and how do you regard U.S.-Soviet relations, as we come to the end of this year?

THE PRESIDENT. I think our relations with them are much better than they were shortly after I became President. I think they've gotten to know me and my attitudes; I think I've gotten to know them and their attitudes much better than before. On SALT, a comprehensive test ban, the Indian Ocean, and many other items, we've had a very constructive relationship with the Soviet Union which I think is constantly improving.

I think the Soviets have been much more constructive in the Middle East than they formerly had. Obviously, they've not been as constructive as I would like to have seen.

The Soviets, for instance, were invited to attend the Cairo conference, along with other nations. They were invited by President Sadat. They chose to decline the invitation. I wished that they had accepted. The Syrians have chosen to decline. I have no evidence that the Soviets have had to use their influence on the Syrians to prevent their attendance. I think this was a decision made by President Asad in Syria.

So, I would say the Soviets have not been very constructive yet. They have not been nearly as much of an obstacle as they apparently were in the past.

Our general relationships with the Soviets are very good, and my hope is that they will continue to cooperate in the future when we go past Cairo toward an ultimate Geneva conference. I was well pleased with the joint Soviet and American statement. Although it's not a definitive solution, obviously, it has no obstacles in it which would prevent an ultimate resolution of the Middle East differences.

So, I'd say it's a mixed assessment. In general, though, they could have been much worse.


Q. Mr. President, your preference for a general or comprehensive settlement in the Middle East is quite understandable, one that could be endorsed by all the interested parties. But I wonder if you think, in light of what has happened since President Sadat's visit, since many people feel that Israel has no real worries about a one-front war, that if an agreement, formal or informal, even a real warming takes place between Israel and Egypt, that you could have de facto peace in the Middle East, perhaps not as neat and wrapped up as a treaty, that would be a major accomplishment in itself? And do you think that it may have to come to that as a result of President Asad's opposition to the talks and the PLO?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, our immediate hope and goal is that any peace move made by Israel and Egypt would be acceptable to the moderate Arab leaders in the Middle East, certainly King Hussein in Jordan, certainly the Saudi Arabians. We have had good indications in my personal visits with President Asad that he wants to resolve the differences. Lebanon is heavily influenced, as you know, by Syrian presence there. The PLO have been completely negative. They have not been cooperative at all.

In spite of my own indirect invitation to them and the direct invitations by Sadat and by Asad, by King Hussein, by King Khalid in Saudi Arabia, the PLO have refused to make any move toward a peaceful attitude. They have completely rejected United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338. They have refused to make a public acknowledgement that Israel has a right to exist, to exist in peace. So, I think they have, themselves, removed the PLO from any immediate prospect of participation in a peace discussion.

But I certainly would not ascribe that short of intransigence or negative attitude toward any of the other parties who have been mentioned as possible participants. We want to be sure that at least moderate Palestinians are included in the discussions. And this is an attitude that's mirrored not only by myself but also by Prime Minister Begin, President Sadat, and others. So, I think they are all major steps, already having been taken, to delineate those who are immediately eager to conclude a step toward peace--those like President Asad, who will wait a while and see what does occur, to see if the Golan Heights question can be resolved and so forth, and those who have in effect removed themselves from serious consideration like the PLO.


Q. Mr. President, I'd like to ask you about the farm strike. Some of the Nation's farmers are on strike today. As you know, there was a meeting at the White House last weekend, and some of the farmers present noted your absence and said if you really cared about their problems as a farmer yourself you would have been there. How do you respond to that, Mr. President? And do you plan any actions because of the farm strike?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have deep sympathy for the farmers. I'm one of them. I understand their particular concerns at this time. They have enormous investments, capital investments. In my own county, for instance, the average farm family has a much greater investment than does the average businessman or industrialist. Their income on their investment is exceedingly low.

We've made some major strides in 1977 to help ease those problems. The last time I checked, the price of wheat was up about 60 cents. The price of corn was up about 38 cents from a year ago. So, the trends are in the right direction. The target prices, the support prices, passed by Congress in the new farm bill, are much more favorable to the farmers than was the case with the previous legislation under which farmers had to live.

Most of the farm strike impetus has been from those areas of our Nation who have been affected by adverse weather conditions, something over which the Government has no control. Georgia had a devastating drought. We had less than a 5-percent corn yield compared to the average year, and the corn that was harvested was heavily affected, damaged by aflatoxin mold, and the farmers in Georgia have suffered because of it.

I think we've made a strong move to increase agricultural exports. This past 12 months, we exported $24 billion worth of farm goods, more than we've ever exported in the past. We are creating a reserve supply of key feed and food grain stocks not held by the Government but primarily held on farms by farmers, and we're trying to form international arrangements to eliminate as much as possible the wild fluctuations up and down in farm prices.

So, we've already made great strides toward alleviating the problems of the farmers. The ones who are primarily suffering, as I said earlier, are not suffering from farm legislation or the absence of it, but from weather conditions over which no one has any control.

Q. So you don't think the strike is quite really representative, then, of the rest of the farmers in the country?

THE PRESIDENT. No--although I have to say that I think all farmers would like to get more money for their crops. We have passed a bill this year that will provide about $6 1/2 billion in Government payments to farmers. I've never been in favor of guaranteeing a farmer a profit. We have tried, though, to create an orderly marketing system, where wild fluctuations will not devastate individual farm families, some stable price system and some adequate reserve system and an adequate way to sell our farm products overseas that we don't need on the domestic scene.

We've made good progress in that respect. In addition to having a farmer in the White House, we've got a working dirt farmer who's thoroughly familiar with the life and problems of farm families in the Secretary of Agriculture.

I think when Bob Bergland goes to meet with these farm groups and talks to them, they understand that. But they are hurt very seriously financially. And a stable, healthy farm economy is very important to me.

Q. Mr. President, if you were still in Plains, would you join the strike, if you were on your farm in Georgia?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, my cousin Hugh, who's not a farmer, participates in the strike. My sister, who is a farmer, drove a tractor to Atlanta as part of the farm strike. My brother, Billy, supports the farm strike. And I think if I were in Sumter County, I would also participate, at least in the demonstration of need and the demonstration of the plight of the farmers actively. Now, where the strike will go from here, I don't know. I doubt that many of the farmers involved will actually stop producing crops. It would be a very hard blow on themselves, it would be a self-sacrificial effort and perhaps would hurt their families more than they can bear.

But the actual prohibition against producing food and fiber is something in which I would not participate. The demonstration of the tangible and demonstrable need of farmers is something in which I would participate.


Q. Mr. President, your foreign trip is taking you to a disparate range of countries, and the schedule offers fairly limited time for exchanges with other heads of state. Can you tell us what overall objective you have in mind for this trip and if there is any foreign policy theme that you want to accomplish? And I'd like to add to that, do you intend to press this issue of human rights, that you mentioned earlier, in your stops in Poland and Iran?

The PRESIDENT. Yes, I do intend to press the subject of human rights. My time set aside for negotiation with foreign leaders where I'll visit is equivalent to the time that I set aside for discussions with foreign leaders who come here and visit me. There are literally weeks of preparation that go into the visit to any country, days of preparation on my own part. I'll spend a lot of my time over the Christmas holidays reading thick notebooks on the nations to be visited. Each nation is different.

I'll start off my trip with Poland. I think it's very important that an American President indicate our interest in Eastern European countries. Poland is one that has very close ties to us. We have strong trade relationships with Poland, and my presence there is just as important as is the presence of President Brezhnev when he visits a nation like France or Germany. And we will be discussing a broad range of questions with Poland.

We are just making a brief stop in Saudi Arabia and Iran, to and from India. But we'll have time for several hours of intensive discussions with the leaders in those two Middle Eastern countries. They are major suppliers of oil to ourselves and to the rest of the country (world). 1 They have a major political and military influence in the Middle East. And it is very important that I let their people and those leaders know that I care about our friendship with them and vice versa.

1 Printed in the White House Press Office transcript.

India, as you know, is the world's largest democracy, with hundreds of millions of people. In the past under Mrs. Gandhi, their primary orientation shifted toward friendship with the Soviet Union. I would like very much for the people of India, for Prime Minister Desai, with whom I have a continuing correspondence, to know how much we value a restoration of those strong ties of friendship, trade, commerce with India. And I think this is a very important consideration for me.

I have already visited England. Early next summer or late spring, I'll be visiting West Germany, and I particularly wanted to visit France as well. When I was in London last May, President Giscard particularly asked me if I could come to France later this year, late this year. I replied that I would if I could schedule it. And so, I am very eager to negotiate major problems with France. They have a much greater historical presence, for instance, in Africa than we do. I think many of the African nations, particularly those that speak French, look toward France as a source of advice and counsel, economic aid to them. And it will help me to have a better avenue or understanding of Africa to meet with Giscard.

France is not a member of NATO. But they are very supportive of the European defense effort. They retain very rigidly their autonomy and independence from the influence of other countries, which is good. But I want to discuss with Giscard our negotiations with the Soviet Union, our influence in the Middle East, our growing influence in Africa.

Of course, to visit NATO headquarters is important as well, because we are trying to increase our contribution and our influence in NATO.

Those trips are not tied harmoniously or homogeneously together, because each country is unique, each visit will be unique, and I'll prepare each one to get maximum benefit from it.


Q. Mr. President, how large a tax cut are you going to ask to offset the social security tax increases, especially the very large increases for those now making $20,000 a year and more?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know yet. We had hoped that I could have the final version of the energy bill and the social security bill and understand the tax consequences of each before we put together the final version of an income tax reduction. The reductions will be substantial, and we will have a clearer picture of the social security tax impact before I put the final version of the income tax reductions together.

That's by far greater, by the way, than will any possible combination of taxes resulting from the energy bills. I just don't know yet. We will have simplicity; we'll have a major tax reduction for both business and individuals. We'll have a greater progressivity, giving the tax breaks where they are most needed, and we will have substantial tax reform. But the exact dollar amount that will be recommended to the Congress is something that I won't decide until early in January.

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

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much. Have a Merry Christmas, everybody.

[President Carter's twenty-first news conference began at 11 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building and was broadcast live on radio and television. Following the news conference, the President remained in the room to answer questions from reporters on an informal basis, as follows:]

Q. Are you still going to Fayetteville?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, tomorrow night.

Q. Mr. President, you said we stand with the unjustly imprisoned. Where do we stand on the Wilmington 10, who have been in jail for over a year on the testimony of witnesses who have recanted?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you undoubtedly know, Mary [Mary McGrory, Washington Star], the Wilmington 10 are not tried in Federal court. It's a State case. And until that case should some day get to the Federal courts, I would have no jurisdiction.

Q. But do you have any feelings about it? Amnesty International, which defines violations of human rights in the world, says that the Wilmington 10 are unjustly imprisoned. I wondered what your own view was, since you're an advocate--

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'm against unjust imprisonment. And the Attorney General is obviously monitoring the case. I think a group of Congressmen have been to North Carolina to look into it.

But I just don't feel like it's proper for me to comment on a particular case that's in the courts until its appeal procedures have been concluded. I don't know the testimony. I've never studied the transcripts of the case. Obviously, I want justice to be carried out, but I don't have any knowledge of that.

Q. I mean, it is kind of an international situation now because Brezhnev called in, as I understand, our Ambassador Malcolm Toon at the Soviet Embassy and said, "What about this? How can you talk about our cases when you have this one?"

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you know, I've seen many cases go through the judicial system of our Nation, and in almost every instance that I remember, the ultimate decision was the right one.

Q. But you have no inclination to call up Governor Hunt, your fellow southern Governor?


Q. Are you going to meet Mr. Begin more than once, or are those 3 hours tomorrow morning about it?

THE PRESIDENT. I'll be meeting with Cy Vance this afternoon at 6: 15, when he returns, to get a report from him on all the visits that he concluded in the Middle East. But I only have one meeting scheduled with Prime Minister Begin so far tomorrow. If he and I can't conclude our discussions inside the time allotted, then I would cancel some of my other appointments to meet further with him.

Q. You know, one of the interesting things is that Mr. Vance is not a low-level official of this Government. He was in Jerusalem last week.


Q. Why does the Prime Minister have to come all the way here just to look you in the eye for about 3 hours?

THE PRESIDENT. You'd have to ask him about that. He sent word to me that he would like to come over here and meet with me. He has not told me what the subject of his conversation would be. But quite often I have an inclination to talk directly to heads of state and not just to the foreign minister, and I think that the work of Secretaries of State and foreign ministers are a good precursor to the more final discussions between heads of state.

I don't think Prime Minister Begin would have made this long and arduous trip had he not had something important to discuss with me. I look forward to it with a great deal of anticipation.

Q. Mr. President, when do you think you will get an energy bill?

THE PRESIDENT. At the latest, early next year. I think if the conference committees can lay down the principles of natural gas regulation and oil taxation, I think the conferees' staff members can be working on that between now and January. I think everybody wants to conclude this as rapidly as possible. It's probably the most difficult and complicated and politically divisive issue that the Congress has ever addressed. You have to remember that we are not a nation of consumers alone. We are a nation of major producers, one of the largest oil-producing nations in the world, and also the greatest consumer of all in the world. And there are inherent conflicts.

The Senate conferees, as you know, have been rigidly divided nine to nine. They've never been able to break that deadlock so far. But I can see progress being made, because many Members of the Congress come and discuss with me or with Frank Moore or with Jim Schlesinger their own private feelings about what they could accept. And there's much more flexibility among the members of the conference committee individually than there has been so far in the public statements or the actual votes. I think we'll have a general agreement, and I think the action on the energy measures will be concluded quite early in the next year's session.

President Carter's twenty-first news conference began at 11 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building and 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/242988

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives