Jimmy Carter photo

The President's News Conference

January 17, 1979

THE PRESIDENT. Good afternoon, everybody. I have a brief opening statement to


Last fall, when I outlined the administration's commitment to control inflation, I set as a goal for ourselves the submission of a budget for 1980 fiscal year with a deficit of less than $30 billion, which would be substantially more than a 50-percent cut compared to the deficit that I inherited.

The budget will be submitted to Congress this coming Tuesday. I have more than met that goal. As a matter of fact, the fiscal year 1976 budget deficit was more than 4 percent of our gross national product. In 1980, we will have cut it down to 1.2 percent of our gross national product. We had an earlier commitment also to reduce total Federal spending down to 21 percent of our GNP by fiscal year 1981. We will have met that commitment 1 year earlier.

This has been a very difficult budget to prepare because of those stringent goals. But I felt it was necessary, and I believe the Nation agrees with me that it is necessary, to restrain Federal spending.

We have not neglected the needs of the disadvantaged Americans, poor Americans, and those who are unemployed. As a matter of fact, the total allocation of funds for the poor will be increased by $4 1/2 billion by 1980 fiscal year, and we will have a total of about $11 billion designed for jobs and job training to sustain the high employment rate in our country.

So, to summarize, the budget commitment will be to control inflation. It will be very austere, stringent, tough, fiscal policy, but fair to the American people and oriented to help those who are most disadvantaged have a better quality of life.

Mr. Cormier [Frank Cormier, Associated Press].



Q. Mr. President, what will the posture of our Government be now toward the various contending factions in Iran that even continue to vie for power over there?

THE PRESIDENT. We have very important relationships with Iran—past, present, and I hope, in the future—and I expect in the future. They have been good allies of ours, and I expect this to continue in the future.

In accordance with the provisions of the Iranian Constitution, a change in government has now been accomplished. Under Mr. Bahktiar, whose government we do support, the Majles, the lower house of parliament, and the upper house, the Senate, have approved his government and his Cabinet.

We have encouraged to the limited extent of our own ability the public support for the Bahktiar government, for the restoration of stability, for an end of bloodshed, and for the return of 'normal life in Iran.

As you know, the Shah has left Iran; he says for a vacation. How long he will be out of Iran, we have no way to determine. Future events and his own desires will determine that. He's now in Egypt, and he will later come to our own country. But we would anticipate and would certainly hope that our good relationships with Iran will continue in the future.

Q. Mr. President, a month ago at a news conference, you said the Shah would maintain power. How could you be so wrong, and is it typical of our intelligence elsewhere in the world? And are you in touch with Khomeini in case he winds up at the top of the heap?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it's impossible for anyone to anticipate all future political events. And I think that the rapid change of affairs in Iran has not been predicted by anyone, so far as I know.

Our intelligence is the best we can devise. We share intelligence data and diplomatic information on a routine basis with other nations. And this is a constant process whenever a problem arises in a country throughout the world.

I have confidence in the Iranian people to restore a stable government and to restore their economic circumstances for the future.

No, we have not communicated directly with Mr. Khomeini. Our views have been expressed publicly that he support stability and an end to bloodshed in Iran and, no matter what his deep religious convictions might be—and I don't doubt their sincerity—that he permit the government that has now been established by the legal authorities in Iran, and under the Constitution, to have a chance to succeed. We do know that the Iranian military and many of the religious and political opponents to the Shah have given their pledge of support to the Bahktiar government. And that's our hope.

And I would like to add one other thing. We have no intention, neither ability nor desire, to interfere in the internal affairs of Iran, and we certainly have no intention of permitting other nations to interfere in the internal affairs of Iran.

Q. If we had had better intelligence in Iran, is there anything that we could have done to save the Shah? And there's a second part to that question. You just referred to Iran as allies. Would you authorize new weapons shipments to the Bahktiar regime?

THE PRESIDENT. Even if we had been able to anticipate events that were going to take place in Iran or other countries, obviously, our ability to determine those events is very limited. The Shah, his advisers, great military capabilities, police, and others couldn't completely prevent rioting and disturbances in Iran. Certainly, we have no desire nor ability to intrude massive forces into Iran or any other country to determine the outcome of domestic political issues. This is something that we have no intention of ever doing in another country. We've tried this once in Vietnam. It didn't work well, as you well know.

We have some existing contracts for delivery of weapons to Iran, since sometimes the deliveries take as long as 5 years after the orders are placed. Our foreign military sales policy is now being continued. We have no way to know what the attitude of the Bahktiar government is. We've not discussed this with them.

After the Iranian Government is stable, after it assuages the present disturbances in Iran, then I'm sure they'll let us know how they want to carry out future military needs of their own country. It is important to Iran, for their own security and for the independence of the people of Iran, that a strong and stable military be maintained. And I believe that all the leaders of Iran whom I have heard discuss this matter agree with the statement that I've just made.

Q. Still on Iran, Mr. Carter, there is a suggestion that if Iranian oil supplies do not begin flowing again, perhaps within 2 months, there may be a shortage and perhaps a price increase for us. Does our intelligence indicate that might happen, or is there such a prospect as you see it?

THE PRESIDENT. We derive about 5 percent of our oil supplies from Iran in recent months—much less than many other countries, as you know, who are more heavily dependent on Iranian oil. I think an extended interruption of Iranian oil shipments would certainly create increasingly severe shortages on the international market.

So far, other oil-producing nations have moved to replace the lost Iranian oil supplies. If this should continue, it would just reemphasize the basic commitment that our Nation has tried to carry out in the last 2 years, that is, to have a predictable energy policy, to reduce consumption of energy in toto, certainly, to reduce dependence on foreign oil, and to eliminate waste of oil.

I don't think there's any doubt that we can cut back consumption of oil by 5 percent without seriously damaging our own economy. And I would hope that all Americans who listen to my voice now would do everything possible within their own capabilities to cut down on the use of oil and the waste of all energy supplies.

I think that this restoration of Iranian oil shipments is a desire by all the religious and political leaders in Iran who have an influence over the future. We have seen since the OPEC price increases, even before the Iranian supplies were interrupted, some shortage of spot shipments of oil.

The present price of oil, even with increased production from other suppliers, is now slightly above the established OPEC price. But our hope is that oil prices will go down, at least to some degree, as Iranian supplies are reintroduced.



Q. Mr. President, as I think everyone knows, you've had some problems with your women's advisory committee recently. I'm wondering how you can get a new and effective committee in view of the fact that you seem to feel that if they issue public criticism of you, you don't want them on the committee.

THE PRESIDENT. I have no aversion to public criticism. Someone who runs for President and who serves in this office for 2 years becomes acclimated to that environment as a matter of course. And I think there's hardly an interest group in our Nation who doesn't at one time or another severely and publicly criticize the President and the administration. That's not part of it at all.

There were and are about 40 women whom I personally approved to serve on the advisory committee. Their function is to work with me, hopefully in harmony, to achieve mutual goals, goals of enhanced opportunities for women, for the elimination of any discrimination against women, to assure that every decision made by the Government, in the executive branch or Congress, has at least as one factor to be considered how we can best meet the needs of women, and to overcome the suffering that they have experienced because of past legal and other discriminatory actions.

This is a good function for the Committee, and it's a need that I have to continue. I have no quarrel with, no problems with the Committee itself. I did select and appoint Ms. Abzug to serve as the Chairperson of the Committee last year, and it didn't work out well.

The Committee has never been well organized. Their functions have never been clearly expressed to me. There has not been good cooperation between the Committee and the Cabinet members or my advisers or me, and I felt it was necessary to change the Chairperson, whom I had appointed personally.

It's a prerogative of the President. And we'll do everything we can now under a fine, new Chairperson of the Committee to restore its effectiveness and to make. sure that I and the women throughout the country, and particularly in this group, work to achieve those mutual goals which we share.


Q. Mr. President, on your negotiations with China over normalization of diplomatic relations, did you at any point ask the Chinese to provide a binding, written pledge that they would not try to seize Taiwan by force? And if you did request that, why didn't you get it? And if you didn't, why didn't you ask for it? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. One of our goals in the negotiation was to get a public commitment on the part of China that the differences with Taiwan would be resolved peacefully. This was not possible to achieve. The final outcome of that was that we would make a unilateral statement Chat we expect any differences between Taiwan and China to be resolved peacefully, and the agreement was that the leaders in China would not contradict that statement.

Since the announcement of normalization, Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping and others have made public comments that substantiate the statement that I have made. It's a matter internally for the Chinese to resolve, but I think Mr. Deng has made several statements saying that it ought to be resolved peacefully.

We were also insistent upon the fact that the treaty between us and Taiwan would not be peremptorily or immediately canceled or abrogated. The treaty will be terminated in accordance with its own provisions, with a 1-year's notice to Taiwan. The Chinese did not agree with this originally, but they finally accepted that fact.

Another insistence that we had, which was finally agreed to, was that we would go ahead with normal trade, cultural relationships with Taiwan and also that existing treaties other than the defense treaty would continue in effect.

One point on which we did not agree with the Chinese was that we will, after this year, continue to sell defensive weapons to Taiwan to provide for their security needs. The Chinese leaders do not agree with this policy, but they understand that it is our policy and, knowing that, they went ahead with normalization.

So, there were some differences between us, but I think this is one of the major achievements for peace in the world and, particularly, to cement our relationship with the nations in the Western Pacific. And I think we had a very good outcome for the long negotiations.


Q. Mr. President, next month you are going to meet, supposedly, with the Prime Minister of Thailand, who is the head of a nation that is now threatened by the Vietnamese. I need to know two things, if you could. One, what is the U.S. prepared to offer Thailand to ease their concerns about the Vietnamese? Will it be money, economic aid, military weapons, or American-piloted aircraft? Number two, have you personally been in touch with the leaders of China and the Soviet Union to see what they plan to do to help ease the situation?

THE PRESIDENT. We are very interested in seeing the integrity of Thailand protected, the borders not endangered or even threatened by the insurgent troops from Vietnam in Cambodia. We have joined in with almost all other nations of the world in the United Nations in condemning the intrusion into Cambodia by Vietnamese forces. This obviously involves the adjacent country. of Thailand.

Mr. Kriangsak will be coming here to visit with me, and during that time, we will reassure him that our interests are in a stable and secure and peaceful Thailand. We have continuing trade relationships with Thailand. We provide them with some military arms for defensive purposes, as have been negotiated for a long period of time.

We don't detect any immediate threat to the borders of Thailand. In some instances, the invading forces into Cambodia have deliberately stayed away from the border itself. And, of course, the Chinese give Thailand very strong support. The Soviet Union has expressed their support for Vietnam, as you know. And in our efforts, along with others in the United Nations, we have warned both the Vietnamese, and also the Soviets, who supply them and who support them, against any danger that they might exhibit toward Thailand.


Q. You have invited former President Richard Nixon to the White House for the dinner for Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. During your campaign, you said Mr. Nixon had disgraced this country, and about a year ago, you said that you thought he had indeed committed impeachable offenses. Why are you honoring him in this way now?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, the consequences of the Watergate actions by President Nixon have already been determined by the Congress and by the actions of Mr. Nixon himself, having been pardoned by President Ford.

In preparing for the upcoming visit by Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, I felt that it was a fair thing and a proper thing to invite both President Nixon and President Ford to the White House for the banquet at which Mr. Deng will be honored. As you know, as President, one of the major achievements of President Nixon was to open up an avenue of communications and consultation and negotiation with the Chinese, which resulted ultimately in normal relationships.

I think it's entirely proper that he be there. In addition to that, the Chinese officials, including Vice Premier Deng himself, had asked for an opportunity to meet with President Nixon and to express their thanks personally to him for the role he played in opening up Chinese-United States relationships.

So, I have no apology to make. I think it was a proper thing to do, and I'm very pleased that President Nixon has accepted our invitation.


Q. Mr. President, in your opening statement you mentioned that you had succeeded in your goal of holding the budget deficit to $30 billion. Some critics of your budget policy say that goal was set rather arbitrarily early in the budget process and that, in fact, if the deficit had been a little higher, say $35 billion, that a lot of the current cutbacks could have been avoided and with only a marginal impact on the war on inflation, maybe, perhaps two-tenths of 1 percent.

How was that figure set? And why you 'not choose to make such a decision, knowing that there would be a great deal of opposition to the budget cuts among many constituencies on which you will have to depend next year in the election?

THE PRESIDENT. That commitment that I made, I think in October, to hold the budget deficit down to $30 billion or less was very carefully considered and, as a matter of fact, was hotly debated among us when I was getting ready to present to the American people a program for controlling inflation. The basic argument was roughly between $32 billion as a goal for the deficit versus $30 billion, and I finally decided to choose the most stringent figure.

We will, by the way, exceed that goal by about $1 billion. This budget, when it's examined in its entirety over this coming weekend, for revelation on Monday, the 22d, I think will be seen by any fair person as meeting the legitimate needs of those who are most dependent on government, on meeting the defense needs of our country, on being well-balanced, on being fair, and contributing greatly to controlling inflation.

I think it's important that the Government set an example. We can't ask business, labor, and private Americans to make any sort of sacrifice in controlling inflation if the Federal Government doesn't set an example. And if I have to err on one side or the other, I would be more likely to set a stringent example than I would to have the allegation made that we were not sincere about controlling inflation.

I might add one other thing. There's an erroneous premise that exists in this country that to control inflation hurts poor people. The ones who suffer most in our Nation from rampant inflation are those who have fixed incomes that can't be changed, those who are unemployed, those who are poor, or those who can't move from one job to another, looking for a better life as circumstances change. So, I think to control inflation is the best thing that I can do for those with relatively low incomes and who are most dependent on government.

So, a combination of those two, controlling inflation and having a fair budget, is a very good goal, and I'm just glad that we were able to make it.


Q. Mr. President, in a speech last August 5, in Wilson, North Carolina, you spoke of making the smoking of tobacco even more safe than it now is. This past week the Surgeon General's department came out with a report saying that smoking of tobacco is not safe at all and, in fact, is positively hazardous to health. Will you continue to support Federal price supports for tobacco, and why?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I intend to continue to support those Federal price supports.

I think it's a completely legitimate action for the Government to point out the dangers of smoking, and I don't have any way to dispute the arguments, one side or the other, derived from scientific examinations, experiments, and from medical analyses. I think it's important that people know the dangers of smoking. Because of these revelations in the past with the first Surgeon General's report and, hopefully, to be escalated with the recent revelations of dangers of smoking, those who do smoke cigarettes now have safer cigarettes to smoke with less nicotine and less tar. And I think the progress that has been made has been derived primarily from that purpose. There's been some slight reduction in the cigarette consumption per capita in our country.

So, I do intend to continue the program for stabilizing tobacco prices for the farmers who depend upon that for an income. But, at the same time, I have no criticism—in fact, I support the role of the health authorities in our Nation who point out the dangers of smoking.


Q. Mr. President, given your concern over inflation, which you've reemphasized today, it is still your intention this year to propose some variation of the wellhead tax or take some other action that would have the effect of raising domestic oil prices?

THE PRESIDENT. Ultimately, domestic oil prices will have to be raised substantially. As you know, the law changes twice, as fixed now: once in May of this year and, again, I believe, in October of 1981, when all controls go off of oil prices. Exactly what schedule that decontrol might take and what compensatory tax assessments might be passed by the .Congress-those decisions have not yet been made. And I'm not prepared yet to announce decisions that haven't been made. But we'll be consulting with Congress and trying to assess how we can balance the inevitable increase in oil prices to constrain consumption and, at the same time, to have a minimal adverse impact on inflation.

It's a difficult decision. Those two decisions work against one another. But I'll have to make them eventually, and I will announce them later on when I decide.


Q. Mr. President, do you see any danger of our losing our intelligence listening posts in Iran? And if we do lose those posts, will we have enough backup capability so that you can assure Congress that we can verify a new SALT agreement if you get one?

THE PRESIDENT. There is obviously, in any country where we have intelligence sources, a danger for those sources to be modified or lost. We had this occur, as you know, a few years ago in Turkey, when we had an embargo against the sale of military weapons to Turkey. And this has happened from time to time in an evolutionary way.

We have constantly been able and determined to provide increasing capability for surveillance which would allow us to compensate for those changes that are inevitable in any changing society.

So, I can assure the public and the Congress that no matter what happens to the specific intelligence sources in Iran, we can adequately compensate for their change and provide adequate verification for the compliance by the Soviet Union with SALT agreements.


Q. There seem to be a lot of people who think that the Soviets now are gaining a military edge over us.


Q. Now, isn't this perception basic to the problem of getting a SALT treaty ratified?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think the perception is accurate. I think that militarily, we are certainly equal to or superior to the Soviet Union in our own capability. Certainly, in addition to that, we have harmony with our neighbors, which the Soviet Union lacks. And our allies are free and independent and tied to us philosophically with a deep commitment, as is the case with NATO and other alliances. The Soviets can't match that dependability and independence among their allies.

Economically, politically, I think our systems are superior to the Soviet Union. There is no doubt, however, that the approval of the SALT treaty by the American people and by the Congress will certainly be influenced by perceptions that we are indeed now and we will indeed in the future be secure and that our military strength and capability in its totality will be adequate to meet any Soviet threat. And there is no doubt that we will be able to meet any such threat now or in the future.



Q. Mr. President, following up again on China, shortly after your announcement last month, you said in a television interview that President Brezhnev's response in a private message to you had been positive.


Q. TASS then took issue with you, and this week in an interview published in Time, Mr. Brezhnev said that it was like playing with fire to encourage China's militancy. In view of these statements, do you still feel that the Kremlin is positive about your China policy?

THE PRESIDENT. I have reread the original dispatch that I got from President Brezhnev, and I've also read the TASS statements, and happen to have read last night the interview with President Brezhnev in Time. I think my interpretation of Brezhnev's original statement was accurate. He did point out the fact that they had relationships with China that could be contributory to peace. He expressed in his original statement a desire or an intention to monitor future relationships between ourselves and China and expressed some concern about a possibility of our using this new relationship against the Soviet Union.

This is not our intention. We never intend to use our improved relationships with China against the Soviet Union or the relationships with the Soviet Union, which I hope to improve, as a factor to endanger or to threaten China. So, that was a proviso put in his first dispatch.

But I think, still, in balance, it was constructive. It was certainly constructive and positive, compared to the anticipation that I had from the Soviet Union.


Q. Mr. President, Governor Brown of California has called for a constitutional amendment requiring the Federal Government to balance the budget. If Congress rejects the amendment, he says the States should initiate a constitutional convention to get it started. How do you feel, sir, about the wisdom or feasibility of this proposal?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, one of my political philosophies and economic philosophies and one of the commitments of my own administration all have been to reduce the Federal deficit and to work toward a balanced budget.

I think it would be extremely dangerous for a constitutional convention to be assembled for this purpose. Many legal scholars and others believe that such a convention would be completely uncontrollable, that the Constitution could be amended en masse, with multitudes of amendments originating therefrom. It would be a radical departure from the policy of amendment of our Constitution that we've experienced for the last 200 years. And I think an amendment to our Constitution ought to be a very cautious, careful thing.

I personally prefer that amendments be carried out to the Constitution—originating in the Congress, and then ratified by the States—as we have used so well as a policy for the last 200 years.

It would be also a serious matter, a difficult matter, to devise a constitutional amendment prohibiting any deficit spending without adding provisos that would let us deal with unanticipated military or security needs and unanticipated needs when we have a deep depression for keeping our people at work and providing for large numbers of those who might be poor or hungry or needing services.

So, I think this is something that ought to be approached very gingerly, very carefully. And if there is any constitutional amendment, it ought to be done in accordance with practices that we've used in the past.

The final thing I'd like to reemphasize is that I intend to continue to work for a balanced budget, and I believe that this is the best approach to it.


Q. Mr. President, with Iran off-line now on oil production, and your worrying about spot shortages, there are a lot of scientists who see Saudi Arabia down there, and Mexico. Yet we seem to be turning our back on natural gas production in Mexico; some question about whether they want to have substantial gas in the American market. How do you reconcile that?

THE PRESIDENT. We are very interested in Mexican oil and natural gas to be purchased by our own Nation. The decisions, however, on how rapidly to produce and to market their oil and natural gas is a decision to be made by Mexico. They are understandably very independent in this respect, and we would not try to encroach on their independence nor try to encourage them to more rapidly produce gas and oil than they themselves desire.

We have immediate needs and also long-range needs, sometimes not quite the same. In the immediate future, the next few months, there is no urgency about acquiring Mexican natural gas. We have at this moment a surplus of natural gas in our own country, and the statements made by the Secretary of Energy were related to that fact.

He has encouraged large users of oil and gas to use gas instead of oil, but, for instance, new powerplants to be built in the future have to be designed to use coal. And we also have the problem of using efficiently gas produced in the 48 States of our country and, in the future, how to bring the natural gas that is available from Alaska down through Canada to our Nation. It's a very complicated thing. And when I go to Mexico next February, this will obviously be one of the matters that I will discuss.

But I'm not going down there to negotiate the price of natural gas. We'll be talking, myself and President Lopez Portillo, more on long-range strategic approaches on how we might best provide a good market for Mexican oil and gas that they want to sell to us.

MR. CORMIER. Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.

Note: President Carter's forty-second news conference began at 4 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/249229

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