The President's News Conference
THE PRESIDENT. Good morning. Thank you. I have two brief statements to make.
SENATOR JOHN L. MCCLELLAN
One concerns Senator John McClellan from Arkansas, whose funeral is being held today. He served in the Congress for 39 years and exemplified a deep commitment to his own major committee assignments. He has recently been the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. He was always a strong fighter for an adequate national defense, and he was a man of supreme integrity.
In a few minutes, the Vice President and my wife, the First Lady, will be going to the funeral along with a large delegation of Members of Congress. And I want publicly to express, on behalf of the American people, my admiration for what he has done, my public condolences, in addition to the private condolences I've already extended to his wife, and my appreciation for his tremendous contribution to our country.
THE MIDDLE EAST
The other comment I'd like to make is concerning the Middle East. In the last few days we have seen, I believe, an historic breakthrough in the search for a permanent, lasting peace in the Middle East because of the true leadership qualities that have been exhibited by the courage of President Sadat and the gracious reception of him in Israel by Prime Minister Begin.
This has been, already, a tremendous accomplishment. I think the importance of it is that there has been an initiation of direct, person-to-person negotiations between Israel and the major power in the Mideast among the Arab nations who are Israel's neighbors. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan have a total population of about 12 million; Egypt has a population of 36 million and has by far the greatest military force. And the fact that this strongest Arab country and the nation of Israel are now conducting direct negotiations is a major accomplishment in itself.
Two of Israel's most cherished desires have already been met. One is this face-to-face negotiation possibility, and the other one is a recognition by a major Arab leader that Israel has a right to exist. In fact, President Sadat said, "We welcome you in our midst."
The United States has been very pleased to see this reduction in distrust and a reduction in fear and a reduction in suspicion between the Arabs and the Israelis. We have played a close consultative role with both of these leaders. We have, on several instances recently, acted as intermediaries at their request. Both Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat have publicly expressed their reconfirmation that these exploratory talks are designed to lead toward a comprehensive settlement including Israel and all her neighbors.
Sunday, President Sadat called for a conference in Cairo. This is likely to be held around the 13th of December, about the middle of December. We will participate in that conference at a high level--Assistant Secretary Atherton 1 will represent our Nation. We look on this as a very constructive step. The road toward peace has already led through Jerusalem, will now go to Cairo and ultimately, we believe, to a comprehensive consultation at Geneva.
1 Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs.
It's not an easy thing to bring about a comprehensive peace settlement. Immediate expectations have sometimes been exaggerated. The definition of real peace--I think we've made good progress on that already. The resolution of the Palestinian question still has not been decided. And the solution to the problem concerning borders and national security has also not been decided.
We have played, I think, a proper role. I have tried to convince, in the past, Prime Minister Begin of the good intentions of President Sadat and vice versa. When there has been no progress being made, the United States has taken the initiative. Now that progress is being made, a proper role for the United States is to support that progress and to give the credit to the strong leadership that's already been exhibited by Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat and to let our Nation be used, as called upon, to expedite the peace process.
I believe that this is a move that the whole world looks upon with great appreciation. And again, I want to express my congratulations and my appreciation to these two strong leaders for the tremendous progress already made and for their commitment to future progress.
THE MIDDLE EAST
Q. Mr. President, what is your reaction to Secretary General Waldheim's suggestion for a post-Cairo, pre-Geneva Middle East conference at the United Nations or on some neutral ground?
THE PRESIDENT. As you know, Secretary General Waldheim has also agreed to send a high-level representative to the conference to be held in Cairo. I don't know yet what position our country will take toward a potential meeting at the United Nations. We've not received any invitation to it. I noticed in the news this morning that Israel has said that they would not participate. But it's too early for us to decide whether or not we will go to any conference, if one is actually held at the United Nations.
Q. Mr. President, Egypt and Israel can legitimately deal with themselves, but can Egypt really represent all the other parties, when they're not even at the conference, and the Palestinians, who have never had a say in their own political destiny?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that President Sadat, in his private communications with me and even in his public statements, has said that he is trying as best he can to represent the Arab position concerning Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and also the resolution of the Palestinian question.
Obviously, the leaders in Syria, even Jordan, certainly the PLO, have not recognized that Egypt is speaking for them adequately. I think, though, that in his speech to the Knesset, in his followup speech to the People's Assembly in Egypt, President Sadat has evoked very clearly the basic Arab position that I have understood in my private conversations with President Asad from Syria and with the King of Jordan, Hussein.
So, I believe that this is an exploratory effort that does accurately represent the basic differences between Israel and all their neighbors. And the fact that Jordan and Syria have not been willing to participate, I don't think has dampened President Sadat's commitment or enthusiasm at all. It is constructive, and I think what he discovers in his already completed discussions with Prime Minister Begin and those that might be taking place in Egypt in the middle of next month will certainly be conducive to pursuing the Arab cause.
I think it's constructive, because for the first time, the Arab position on those controversial issues has been spelled out very clearly for worldwide understanding. And I think the differences that have been faced by us and others for long years are now much more clearly understood by the public. The differences are still sharp; the resolution of those differences is going to be very difficult. I think that to the best of his ability, President Sadat is speaking for the Arab world.
Q. Mr. President, if the other Arabs refuse--continue to refuse not to sit down with Israel, would the United States oppose it if Egypt and Israel somehow worked out some sort of separate agreement? Would that be a good thing, and what would our position be on that?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, we and Egypt and Israel have all taken the position, publicly, and the same position privately among ourselves, that a separate peace agreement between Egypt and Israel to the exclusion of the other parties is not desirable. This is predicated upon the very viable hope that a comprehensive settlement can be reached among all the parties involved. If at some later date it becomes obvious that Jordan does not want peace or that Syria does not want peace or that Lebanon does not want peace in a settlement with Israel, then an alternative might have to be pursued. But we've certainly not reached that point yet.
I think that the other Arab leaders do want peace with Israel. And I am certainly not even considering, and neither is Sadat nor Begin, any assumption that the possibilities for peace have narrowed down to just two nations.
Walt [Walter Rodgers, Associated Press Radio].
Q. Mr. President, there has been criticism of your earlier decision to bring the Soviet Union into the Middle East, the peace negotiating process, and the Soviets have indeed refused to go to Cairo. Would you please explain to the American people why you think it's important that the Soviets be involved in these Middle East peace negotiations?
THE PRESIDENT. The Soviets have been involved in the peace negotiations ever since 1973. The entire Geneva conference concept was established through the United Nations with the United States and with the Soviet Union as cochairmen. So, this has been established now for at least 4 years. And this is a concept that has been adopted and approved by all the parties involved, including the United Nations overwhelmingly, perhaps even unanimously.
In the past, I think it's accurate to say that the Soviets have not played a constructive role in many instances because they had espoused almost completely the more adamant Arab position. My own feeling is that in recent months, the Soviets have moved toward a much more balanced position as a prelude to the Geneva conference.
We have tried to spell out very clearly-certainly since I've been in office and, I think, my predecessors as well--the United States position. We disagree in some of those issues with the Soviet Union. We've not concealed those differences. We disagree in some instances because of the procedural items that are being discussed. But there is no division between us and the Soviet Union now that didn't exist before, and I would say that their positions have been much more compatible recently.
I wish that the Soviets had decided to go to Cairo. They've decided not to. But we'll make as much progress as we can, following the leadership of Sadat and Begin, to make real progress in Cairo with the Soviets not present. And my belief is that the desire of the whole world is so great for peace in the Middle East that the Soviets will follow along and take advantage of any constructive step toward peace.
The fact that we do have differences of opinion is well known and I don't think is an obstacle to eventual peace in the Middle East. But we did not bring the Soviets in. They have been in since the very initiation of a Geneva conference. Do you have a followup?
Q. Yes, sir. Do you think you can have peace in the Middle East without the Soviets involved?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that we or the Soviets ought to play a constructive role. And I think both of us will. We have been the nation then and, I think, now that is uniquely trusted by all the parties involved to act fairly and consistently concerning the Middle East questions. I don't believe that the Soviets occupy that position. And I don't have any doubt that if the nations surrounding Israel can work out an individual peace settlement with Israel leading to peace treaties, that the Soviets will play a constructive role, certainly at that point. It would be contrary to their own interest to be identified as an obstacle to peace. I don't think they are trying to be an obstacle to peace. Their perspective is just different from ours.
NATIONAL ENERGY PLAN
Q. Mr. President, I would like to go to that other set of negotiations, on Capitol Hill over energy. Does it now appear to you, sir, that in order to get an energy bill, you may have to grant Senator Long's desire and agree to some sort of plowback to the oil industry for incentives in order to get the wellhead tax? And would you now think that, perhaps, you're going to have to go above $1.75, even up to $2 for natural gas?
THE PRESIDENT. I've never had any conversation with Senator Long that would either encourage me or require me to change my position from what it was last April. We still maintain that the proposition we put to the House and Senate in the energy proposal is the best. The House-passed version of the comprehensive energy plan is very close to what we've proposed, and we support the House position in almost every instance when there is a disagreement.
I don't have any inclination to modify that position anytime soon. We will be consulting very closely with the particular conferees who most nearly espouse the administration's position, and I would guess that the negotiations leading to some ultimate resolution of differences would be between the Senate conferees, headed by Senator Long and also, of course, Senator Jackson, on the one hand and the House conferee leaders on the other side.
We will add our assistance when we can, but we will not betray the confidence of people who look to us for leadership. And I will not work out any private agreement with Senator Long that would betray the commitments that we've made previously, publicly, I might say, in all instances. So, I don't see any possibility of doing what you propose, or what you ask about.
Obviously, both sides are very likely to compromise. They've already had compromises on literally dozens of issues. The three major issues remaining, as you know, are the electric rate reform--we have a good chance of having that resolved this week--the pricing structure on natural gas--and that conference committee will go back to work tomorrow; Senator Jackson is returning to Washington, D.C., then--and of course, the tax on crude oil. And these are to some degree interrelated. But I think that we've got a good chance, still, for making progress now, and I'm going to maintain the position that we described last April as long as possible, support in every instance the conferees that support our position.
Q. Mr. President, if I understood you correctly, then you think the conferees may have to compromise, but that you, yourself, would maintain the administration position.
THE PRESIDENT. That's correct.
Q. The question then becomes--if they compromise and send you a bill with those items I mentioned--what are you going to do?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, as I spelled out in my last fireside chat to the American people, there 'are three basic elements that I would require: One is fairness in dealing with consumers; the second one is meeting the goals of both conservation and production in the energy area; and, third, an energy proposal that won't bankrupt this Nation nor seriously disturb the future budgets of our country.
That's a fairly broad base, and I think it's an adequate parameter within which the conferees can work. But if any of those principles are violated, I would not sign the bill.
PRESIDENT'S CAMPAIGN PROMISES
Q. Mr. President, based on the reflection of 10 months in office, more than 10 months, do you think that perhaps you made too many promises in last year's campaign and in such precise language? And taking that a step further, do you think that perhaps you tried to fulfill too many of those promises this first year?
THE PRESIDENT. I'm trying to fulfill all my promises. And I think I was quite reticent in making those promises, certainly compared to some of my opponents. But we've put forward already to the Congress proposals that carry out the major promises that I made--reorganization, energy, welfare reform, and so forth.
We've also been successful, I think-when an analysis is made of what the Congress achieved this year, I think there's going to be a very pleasant reaction from the American people when they see the progress that we've accomplished. So, I don't think I made too many promises, and I think I'm doing an adequate job in trying to fulfill those promises.
There is a very heavy agenda for the Congress. And it's much easier for the administration to evolve a proposal or to present legislation to the Congress than it is for Congress actually to pass it. And so the Congress will inherently follow behind any administration in dealing with very controversial issues that have no easy solution. So, I think so far our relationship with the Congress has been good. The effort to carry out my promises has been adequate. I don't think I made too many promises to the American people.
Q. Have you decided yet whether you will reappoint Arthur Burns?
THE PRESIDENT. No.
Q. Well, won't the business community be further unsettled if you don't reappoint Dr. Burns? Wouldn't it be a risky thing not to do?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I think not. I don't believe anybody is indispensable, you know, a President or the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board or anyone else. I think that if I should decide to replace Dr. Burns as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, then it would be incumbent on me to get someone who is competent and who would arouse the confidence of the American people, including the business community.
GEORGIANS IN THE ADMINISTRATION
Q. Mr. President, as you know, there are those who say that the high councils of your administration are overloaded with Georgians. First, do you think such a thing is possible, and secondly, in searching for a replacement for Bert Lance, will you perhaps go beyond the boundaries of Georgia?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, the high councils of my administration are comprised by the Cabinet members and the major heads of the agencies involved. I consult on foreign affairs not with members of the immediate White House staff who might be from Georgia, but with Dr. Brzezinski and with Secretary Vance, on transportation with Brock Adams, on defense with Secretary Brown, and so forth.
The members of the Cabinet, I think, are broadly representative of the American people. My immediate White House staff, who don't run the departments-many of them are from Georgia. But I don't think that there's an excessive dependence on them, no more than has been the case in the past when President Kennedy brought large numbers of people from Massachusetts to work intimately with him who had been with him before, or President Johnson, or others.
The other part of your question about the Office of Management and Budget-Jim Mcintyre is the head of the OMB and he's doing a very good job. Whether or not I would replace him in the future still has to be decided.
THE MIDDLE EAST
Q. Mr. President, to come back to the Middle East for a minute, is the United States Government taking any concrete steps with some of the other governments that have been reluctant, such as Syria, the PLO, which is not a government, and the other countries, to bring them into this process that has been initiated by Israel and Egypt? And if so, what steps are we taking?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, not with the PLO; we have no contact with the PLO. But with Jordan and with Syria, with Lebanon and, in a supportive role, with the Saudi Arabians and others, we have played, I think, an adequate role. At the time we discovered that President Sadat was going to make a proposal to go to Jerusalem, we immediately began to use whatever influence we had available to us to encourage the other nations not to condemn President Sadat. This particularly applied to Saudi Arabia, to Jordan, to the European countries, to the Soviet Union, and to Syria. In some instances, either they decided not to condemn him or our influence was successful.
We would like very much to keep any of the nations involved in the immediate Middle Eastern discussions from rejecting an ultimate peace settlement and withdrawing from the prospect of going to Geneva. This includes, of course, Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat. They have not rejected the concept that there must be a comprehensive settlement.
In the meantime, we don't see anything wrong; in fact, we look with great favor on the bilateral negotiations between Israel and Egypt. In the meantime, we are trying to induce the Syrians, the Lebanese, the Jordanians, and, as I say again, in a supporting role, the Saudis and others, to support both the ongoing negotiations that will continue from Jerusalem into Cairo and also to avoid any condemnation of Sadat that might disrupt his influence and put an obstacle to peace in the future.
That's about all we can do. We have no control over any nation in the Middle East. When we find the progress in the Middle East being stopped, we use all the initiative that we can. When we see progress being made by the parties themselves, we support them to move on their own.
I think it's much more important to have direct negotiations between Egypt and Israel than to have us acting as a constant, dominant intermediary. I think this is a major step in the right direction. We hope later that Jordan and Syria and Lebanon will join in these discussions, either individually or as a comprehensive group, dealing with Israel directly.
Q. Mr. President, you used the word "induce." What inducements is the United States Government offering to Syria and the others?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, we are not offering them any payment of money or anything, but we primarily capitalize on their clear determination, their clear desire to have peace. There is no doubt in my mind at all that President Asad, who has been one of the most highly critical leaders of what Sadat did--there's no doubt in my mind that President Asad wants peace with Israel, and there's no doubt in my mind that King Hussein wants peace with Israel. And sometimes it's very difficult for them to communicate directly with Israel.
We act as an intermediary there. We meet with those leaders on both sides. Obviously, if there should be a breakthrough in the future, similar to what occurred between Egypt and Israel--let's say, for instance, that if King Hussein said he would like to negotiate directly with Prime Minister Begin, we would support that enthusiastically and offer our good offices to encourage such an interchange. But we don't have any inclination nor ability to dominate anyone nor to require them to take action contrary to what they think is in the best interests of their nation.
DAM SAFETY INSPECTION
Q. Mr. President, you told us at your last news conference, sir, that you would see to it that Federal inspections started promptly on private dams. You had a meeting on this subject Monday. Could you tell us what happened?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I met Monday with the Secretary of Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Army, and the head of the Corps of Engineers. We have 9,000 high-risk dams in this country which are not Federal dams. These are nonfederal dams. We will commence very shortly an inspection of all those dams.
My present intention is to distribute, within the next few days, certain guidelines to be worked out with individual States so that the Corps of Engineers personnel, perhaps assisted by some from the Department of Interior, would begin to inspect the dams that we consider of most danger, about 2,000 the first year. It costs about $7,500 per dam to inspect them, on the average. We've allotted $15 million for this purpose.
In that process, we will train the State personnel who will continue the inspection process after this original inspection is made. We would then continue this for 2 or 3 additional years until all the 9,000 dams have been inspected. This program then would be taken over primarily by the States because the Federal Government has no direct responsibility for these nonfederal dams. In the meantime, of course, dams that have been built by and are controlled by the Corps of Engineers and the Department of Interior are being inspected, I think adequately, by the personnel in those departments because they are Federal dams.
Q. Mr. President, one of the issues you'll be facing in the new year is that of tax reform. There's some discussion that what is needed now is a tax break, a quick fix, if you will, and that comprehensive reform can come further down the road. What do you think, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT. 1977 is a year when we are seeing major legislation, long overdue, passed, hopefully, that cause some increases in taxes. And additional taxes are necessary to restore the integrity of the social security system; some wellhead taxes are necessary to carry out a comprehensive energy policy and to hold down unnecessary consumption. I would hope that all those changes in the law that bring about any tax increase would be concluded in 1977.
In 1978, there will be substantial tax reductions, and combined with that will be an adequate proposal for tax reform. I spent several hours this week going over the details of our tax reform package. We can't conclude that analysis until we know what will be done on energy and social security, because they have such a high impact on the tax structure. But there will be substantial tax reductions in 1978, combined with comprehensive tax reform.
Q. Mr. President, you want them to be together. You don't want to separate the two?
THE PRESIDENT. That's correct. They will be together. Some of the more controversial items on tax reform that have been proposed to me--they would be very time consuming and have very little monetary significance--might be delayed until later on, because I feel that it's necessary to expedite the effectiveness of substantial tax reduction, and I'm committed and the Democratic congressional leaders, at least, are committed to substantial tax reduction in 1978 as soon as we can put it through.
BALANCE OF TRADE
Q. Mr. President, the foreign trade deficit is running about $27 billion a year. I wondered, sir, since this is putting downward pressure on the dollar in some currencies, what can you do about it?
THE PRESIDENT. The revelations about October's balance-of-trade deficit were quite disturbing. We analyzed this and found that the same monthly rate of deficit that had existed ever since last May or June, about $2.4 billion per month, is exactly the average of September and October.
So, we apparently have a fairly stable pattern per month of a $2.4 billion deficit, primarily caused by two factors: One is our extraordinary importation of foreign oil. We import $3.7 billion worth of oil every month. This means that we have, if we didn't import the oil, about a $15 billion trade surplus per year. And we have got to cut down on the excessive importing of oil from overseas before we can hope to get our trade balanced.
The other reason for an adverse balance is that our own economy has improved in the last few years--few months, much more than has the rest of the world. Because of our improvement in the economy, we are much more able to buy and much more willing to buy goods from overseas than those nations are able to buy from us because their economies have not been restored as much as ours.
We have one major element that can be introduced to cut down on our trade deficits-and that's obvious--and that is to reduce oil imports.
FRANK CORMIER [Associated Press]. Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT. Thank you.
[President Carter's twentieth news conference began at 10:30 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:]
THE PRESIDENT. I haven't decided.
Q. What changed to cause you to release him from the commitment? I mean, he knew back in January that Shapp would have to be out and a new Governor elected.
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. Pete 1 never discussed it with me directly.
1 On November 26, Deputy Attorney General Peter F. Flaherty announced his intention to resign in order to explore the possibilities of running for the office of Governor of Pennsylvania.
Q. You talked about depoliticizing Justice during the campaign, and do you think that releasing him from this commitment to allow him to get back into politics is going to cut against that trend that you've instituted?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know enough to comment about that because I was not involved in the hiring of him, nor in his resignation.
Q. Do you know how cold it is in Normandy in January? [Laughter] I mean, seriously, let's get down to brass tacks.
THE PRESIDENT. We'll find out.
Q. Are you still committed to the joint Soviet-American statement and the contents? Are you still committed to the con tents of the Soviet-American---
THE PRESIDENT. Yes.
Q. By saying "We'll find out," I take it that the trip is announced.
THE PRESIDENT. The trip will be announced tomorrow.
President Carter's twentieth news conference began at 10:30 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/242870