Jimmy Carter photo

The President's News Conference

February 27, 1979


THE PRESIDENT. In my 2 years as President, I've spent more time and invested more of my own personal effort in the search for peace in the Middle East than on any other international problem. That investment of time and effort was and is appropriate because of the great importance of peace in that region to our own country and the vital importance of a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt to those two countries.

Some progress was made in the talks at Camp David last week, 4 1/2 days of talks. I do not share the opinion that the proposals that we put forward were contrary to the Camp David agreements of last September or that they would make an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty meaningless.

Based upon the developments of last week and the recommendations of all the parties involved, I had hoped to be able to convene without delay negotiations at a level which would permit the early conclusion of a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, as a first step toward a wider settlement for the entire Middle East.

I regret that such direct negotiations are not possible at this time. I'm concerned about the impact of this development upon the prospects for peace. However, it was the belief of all those at Camp David—Secretary Vance and all the negotiators from Israel and Egypt—that the conclusion of an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty is an urgent necessity. I share that view completely.

If we allow the prospects for peace that seemed so bright last September when we came back from Camp David to continue to dim and perhaps even to die, the future, at best, is unpredictable. If we allow that hope to vanish, then the judgment of history and of our own children will of necessity, and rightly, condemn us for an absence of concerted effort.

For that reason, I spoke personally this afternoon with Prime Minister Begin and with President Sadat. I've invited Prime Minister Begin to join me as soon as possible for a frank discussion of all the issues involved. I'm hopeful that these talks will lead to an early resumption of direct negotiations.

Prime Minister Begin has accepted my invitation. He will be arriving here Thursday evening for discussions with me.

I will then consider asking either Prime Minister Khalil or President Sadat to join in further discussions. I recognize that the public interest in this matter is intense. However, I have made it clear in the past that any premature public discussions of these very sensitive issues serve no useful purpose. For that reason, I will have no further comments to make on the Mideast peace negotiations this afternoon, but I will be happy to answer any further questions on other matters of interest to the American public.



Q. Well, Mr. President, I really think you should answer a couple of questions. One, are you saying that Camp David is back on track or you are trying to get it on? And also, were you led to believe by your own advisers or by the Israeli officials that Begin would come, or did you labor under some false assumption on your part?

THE PRESIDENT. I won't have any other questions to answer on that subject. I think I've covered it adequately. And Prime Minister Begin is making a simultaneous announcement in Israel, and I don't think it would be constructive for me to answer any questions further.


Q. Mr. President, does the escalating price of oil and gasoline, which is continuing-does that cause you to have any second thoughts now about your prediction of inflation for the year?

THE PRESIDENT. Obviously, the unpredictable shortage of oil on the international market, caused by the Iranian disruption of supply and other factors, have caused the price of energy to go up faster than we had anticipated. This adds inflationary pressures. The situation with supplies and prices is serious; it's not critical.

I have made proposals to the Congress for standby authority to take action, when necessary in the future, on a mandatory basis. Early next month we will present to the Congress, also for their approval, matters that I can take—action that I can take to deal with the temporary Iranian disruption.

As you know, we had in 1973 about a 2-million barrel-a-day shortage brought about by the embargo. We now have a shortage of about 2 million barrels per day. But I think it's accurate to say that our own country and the international consuming nations, including us, are much better organized to take care of these changes that have been taking place. So, inflationary pressures do exceed what we had anticipated. I think we are much better prepared to deal with them.


Q. Mr. President, some of your critics are saying that you are exhibiting weakness and impotency in your conduct of foreign affairs, that is, in your reaction to crises around the world. And although you argue that your policy is one of prudent restraint, is there not something to the idea that the perception itself adds to the problem of this country's interests? And, if so, is there anything you can do about it?

THE PRESIDENT. Obviously, perceptions have some importance in political terms and also in diplomatic terms. There is no doubt in my mind that the United States is adequately protecting its own interests, that we are adequately protecting the interests of our allies and friends as commitments bind us to do. We've had no complaints about them in this respect. And I think that an exercise of prudence in trying to contain our regional disputes and combat among other nations is in the best interest of our own country.

We are a strong nation, the strongest on Earth—militarily, politically, economically. I'm committed to preserving that strength of our Nation, even enhancing it. And I think it would be completely improper for us, for instance, to inject ourselves in any active way into the combat that's presently taking place among Communist Asian nations, or to try to intrude in a completely unwarranted fashion into the internal affairs, political affairs, of other nations. And I have no intention of making these foolish decisions and taking foolish action to the detriment of our Nation's interest, just to assuage some who criticize me because we have not become actively involved in these kinds of circumstances.


Q. Mr. President, given all of that, when the United States was displeased with the action that the Soviets had taken in the Shcharanskiy case, we held up the sale of some oil-drilling equipment to the Soviets. Given the fact that we have condemned the Chinese attack into Vietnam, why is it that Treasury Secretary Blumenthal is now in China negotiating new trade agreements with the Chinese?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that's a completely different circumstance. We've not had any bilateral disharmony between ourselves and the Chinese. We are changing our interest offices into embassies on the 1st of March, and I need a major representative of our country to be there when that change is made. Our new Ambassador, Leonard Woodcock, has just recently been approved by the Senate yesterday and will not be able to arrive on time.

We do not agree with many of the actions that the Soviets take in dealing with other countries. We've not let that disrupt our bilateral relationships with the Soviets. Our SALT talks, for instance, have never been interrupted nor delayed. And we have expressed our very firm disapproval to the Chinese about their crossing the Vietnamese border, and we have expressed our strong disapproval to the Soviets and to the Vietnamese for the Vietnamese crossing of the Cambodian border.

But for us to terminate bilateral relationships because a major country, the Soviets or the Chinese, do something contrary to our desires would certainly be counterproductive. And I think the trip to China to establish relationships with the Chinese for the future by Secretary Blumenthal is proper and was well-advised.


Q. Mr. President, your brother, Billy, has made some remarks concerning Jews, and I wonder, sir, if you deplore or condemn those remarks. I also have a followup.

THE PRESIDENT. I might say, first of all, I don't have any control over what my brother says or what he does, and he has no control over what I say or do.

I know Billy and have known him since he was born, and I know for a fact that he is not anti-Semitic and has never made a serious, critical remark against Jews or other people in our country. To the extent that any of his remarks might be interpreted as such, I certainly do not agree and do not associate myself with them.

Billy is my brother. He's seriously ill at this point. I love him. I have no intention of alleging to him any condemnation that I don't think is warranted, and I would say that I disassociate myself and my brother, Billy, from any allegations of remarks that might be anti-Semitic in nature.


Q. Mr. President, you have outlined now the authority you'd like Congress to give you for mandatory conservation of fuel, but could you outline for us which steps you would take first and just how serious you regard the situation right now?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the Congress has 60 days during which time they can decide whether or not to approve the standby authority that I have requested. What might be done first would remain to be seen. We don't have any present intentions of implementing any of those measures. We are asking for a complete rationing system on gasoline as a standby measure-which I think is a substantial improvement over the ones previously proposed—the right to prohibit the sale of gasoline on weekends, the right to control public advertising, and so forth. But I can't say at this point, not knowing the degree of shortage in the future of energy, and particularly gasoline, what I would do. But I think those standby rights that I could exercise if necessary are important, and I'll just have to make a judgment when the time comes.


Q. Mr. President, you were generally complimentary in your reaction to the Carnegie II report, which was released on public broadcasting recently. Specifically, I'd like to know, do you support the concept of a spectrum fee, of asking broadcasters to pay for their fair share of the use of the public's airwaves?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. I've not studied the issue well enough to answer the question.


Q. Mr. President, Mr. Schultze was testifying before Congress today about proposals to change pending regulations. I'm wondering, have you decided to delay or postpone major air and water pollution regulations?

THE PRESIDENT. The answer is no. We have an excellent record on the enforcement of the air and water pollution standards and, also, on the strengthening of those standards. It's important, however, that the regulations be administered in the most effective way and that economic considerations be taken into account when necessary. The regulators, Doug Costie and others, know that they have authority to consider that item and then to make their judgments accordingly.

I have not interfered in that process. I have a statutory responsibility and right to do so, but I think it would be a very rare occasion whenever I would want to do so. But we are certainly not going to abrogate nor to cancel the enforcement of the air and water pollution standards.


Q. Mr. President, recently Secretary Brown was in the Middle East and met with the leaders of those countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. And you have expressed the need and the desire for the United States to strengthen the defensive perimeter of that part of the world to safeguard the flow of oil. There have been public reports that the Saudi Arabian Government has refused an offer by the United States for the stationing of U.S. troops. I can't vouch for that report, but could you tell us what your plans are for that area and what we would be willing to do to safeguard the world's oil supply?

THE PRESIDENT. We have no desire to open military bases in that area or to station American troops in Saudi Arabia. And this proposal has not been made. That part of the report was erroneous. However, we do want to strengthen the combined responsibility and capability of our friends and allies who seek moderation and peace and stability to preserve the integrity of that region. Secretary Brown visited Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel for this purpose, and his trip was very successful.

It's important also for those nations and for others in that region to know that we have a real interest, a real national interest in the stability and peace of that region and, particularly, for the supply of oil, the routes through which the oil is delivered to ourselves and to our allies and friends throughout the world.

But any sort of action that we take would be contributory to peace, would not encroach on the prerogatives of individual nations. And we do not intend to become involved in the internal affairs of another country. We have no plans to establish military bases in that region.


Q. Mr. President, is Governor Brown talking sense or is he talking nonsense when he advocates his constitutional amendment to require a balanced Federal budget?

THE PRESIDENT. I think the convening of a constitutional convention to pass such an amendment would be very ill-advised, contrary to the best interests of our country. It would be a radical departure from the historic procedures that we have always used to amend our Constitution and might result in unlimited amendments which would change the basic thrust, the philosophy, and the structure of our Government itself. So, I would oppose very strongly any call of a constitutional amendment [convention] for that purpose.

I might say that there are other ways to do this. I have been a strong advocate for a balanced budget, and I'm doing all I can this year and will do it in subsequent years to reach a balanced budget. In my opinion, that's a subject that ought to be addressed through this kind of action and not through a very restrictive constitutional amendment.

Another thing that I would like to point out is that there would be a necessity for the careful drafting in such a constitutional amendment for exceptions. We would, obviously, have to deal with very serious economic circumstances if they did prevail, extremely high unemployment rate, or an extremely deep depression. In addition to that, we would have to meet the needs for national security if our Nation was threatened.

So, I consider the balancing of the budget to be best addressed by those of us who are working for it, within statutory limits that presently exist. If a constitutional amendment should take place, the constitutional convention process would be the worst imaginable route to that goal.


Q. If I may follow, do you think that Governor Brown would be a worthy adversary for you next year?

THE PRESIDENT. If I were looking for an adversary— [laughter] —then I would say that he or many others would be worthy.


Q. Mr. President, half a dozen OPEC countries have announced, or are threatening to do so, some kind of oil price hike in the last couple of weeks. It gives the impression that the United States is at their mercy and that we are helpless. Are we?

THE PRESIDENT. We have no control over prices that other nations establish for their products, including oil. This is a subject that I have addressed as forcefully as possible, since April of 1977, when we presented to the Congress a comprehensive energy proposal. Our best approach is to reduce exorbitant waste of oil and other energy products that presently exists in our country, to increase the production of oil and gas and other energy products within our Nation, and to use our legitimate influence when it can be exerted to minimize any increase in prices. But we cannot control other nations in this respect.

I might say that we are much better able now, as a world consuming community, to deal with these increases than we were back in 1973 and '4, when the price was quadrupled overnight without any warning, and before the consuming nations were working in harmony to provide reserves on hand, to increase exploration and production, which has since then occurred in the North Sea, in Mexico, obviously, in Alaska, and other places.

But we have no control over it. We deplore it. We would like for them to hold down the prices as much as possible. Our best response is to use energy in our own Nation efficiently, to cut out waste, and to increase our own production.


Q. Mr. President, in view of what you've just said about the energy situation, why are you uncertain about whether you will impose the new conservation measures as soon as Congress gives you the authorization? It would seem that the country might be waiting for some sort of signal that things are really serious and that consumers must cut back.

THE PRESIDENT. If the Iranian production is not restored, then we would face a half-million-'barrel-a-day shortage, more or less, possibly increasing later on to 700,000 barrels a day. By the first of next month, in addition to the request to Congress that I've just put forward, we will have measures outlined for taking this action when it is necessary. As a matter of fact, we don't want to have stringent restraints placed on our economy that might cause very severe disruptions, high unemployment, and very adverse reactions not only in our country but throughout the world.

But with the standby authority, then I would have the responsibility, as authorized by Congress, to take action based upon the severity of the need.

We have, I think, a matter of judgment to be made in that respect. But to commit myself ahead of time to greatly constrain the American economy when it's not necessary would not be in the best interest of our country.


Q. Mr. President, what is our Government doing, if anything, 'to try and influence the new Iranian Government to increase production, keep prices down, and, generally, how would you describe the relationship between our Government and the Khomeini government?

THE PRESIDENT. The Khomeini government has made it clear ever since it came into power, through our direct negotiations with Prime Minister Bazargan and our Ambassador and through their emissaries, who have even today talked to Secretary Vance, that they desire a closeworking and friendly relationships with the United States.

They have also announced that oil production in Iran will be increased and that, very shortly, exports will be recommended. And my own assessment is that they have strong intentions to carry out both these goals and that they are capable of doing so.

Q. Mr. President, there is, or there appears to be starting a public debate on the question, "Who lost Iran?" I noticed that former Secretary Kissinger was suggesting that your administration should bear some responsibility; former Under Secretary of State George Ball suggested that the Nixon-Kissinger administration did much to destabilize Iran with their billions in sophisticated military hardware. My question was, I suppose, do you agree with Ball? Who lost Iran, or was Iran ours to lose in the first place?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it's obvious that Iran was not ours to lose in the first place. We don't own Iran, and we have never had any intention nor ability to control the internal affairs of Iran. For more than 2,000 years, the people in the Iran area, the Persians and others, have established their own government. They've had ups and downs, as have we. I think it's obvious that the present government in Iran, as I just answered, would like to have good relationships with us. I don't know of anything we could have done to prevent the very complicated social and religious and political interrelationships from occurring in Iran in the change of government. And we'll just have to make the best of the change.

But, as I say, we cannot freeze the status quo in a country when it's very friendly to us. When the change is made by the people who live there, we do the best we can to protect American interests by forming new alliances, new friendships, new interrelationships, new trade relationships, new security relationships, perhaps, in the future, with the new government, and that's the best we can do.

But to try to lay blame on someone in the United States for a new government having been established in Iran, I think, is just a waste of time and avoids a basic issue that this was a decision to be made and which was made by the Iranian people themselves.


Q. Mr. President, in view of the fact that we have some arrangement to support Israel in the event that they have oil shortages, do you view Iran's lack of desire to supply oil to Israel as creating problems for us in terms of our support for Israel in securing secondary sources?

THE PRESIDENT. When the supply of Iranian oil to Israel was interrupted, I immediately notified Prime Minister Begin and the Israeli Government that we would honor our commitment to them. So far, the Israelis have been able to acquire oil from other sources in the Sinai, and also on the world markets from different countries.

We will honor that commitment. I think that the total Israeli oil consumption is only about 1 percent of 'the consumption in the United States. So, even if Israel should have to depend upon us for a substantial portion of their oil, we would supply that oil from our country or from sources in other nations without disruption of the American economy.


Q. Mr. President, in view of the decision for Prime Minister Begin to come here Thursday evening, do you still intend to go to Los Angeles on the weekend? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think it will be possible for me to go to Los Angeles if Prime Minister Begin comes, as presently planned, and if he and I are off, for instance, at Camp David negotiating.


Q. Mr. President, a number of the Nation's farmers have been here for the past few weeks now

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I've heard that. [Laughter]

Q. — protesting prices. And apparently they don't seem to feel that they're getting much sympathy from the administration. The demonstrations have continued tying up traffic. The other day, a goat was tossed over the White House fence and some farm equipment, and damage has been done to the Mall. How do you feel about the farmers' presence here, and do you agree with the suggestion that they perhaps should go home

THE PRESIDENT. You know, people have to stand in line to demonstrate in front of the White House. There are several demonstrations every day. And this is part of a free society, that this is permitted.

I think the farmers have a legitimate right to demonstrate their views or even their displeasure against the Congress action or against the action of this administration, as long as they do it within the bounds of the law. And I think that in some instances, the farmers' demonstrations have caused unwarranted hardship or interference in the right of working people here in Washington to go to and from their homes. When this does occur, in my opinion, the farmers' demonstrations are counterproductive.

We have tried to provide the farmers with a forum here and to honor their desires as much as possible. I deplore, and many farmers throughout the country deplore, the damage that has been done to Washington—the chopping down of trees for firewood, the breaking of the bottom of the Reflecting Pool, the turning over of some of the shelters for people using rapid transit systems. Those things are deplorable. And I'm sure that almost all of the farmers who are actually here with their tractors did not want to see those things happen, either.

Secretary Bergland has made a policy of meeting not only with the farmers from a particular community or State but also with the congressional delegation who represented those particular farmers. And I think there's been a good exchange of ideas. I think we understand the farmers' desires and their complaints. There is no possibility, in my opinion, that the Congress would increase on a flat basis the parity support prices to 90 percent, which is a basic demand of the farmers here.

But they are welcome to stay as long as they demonstrate peacefully and legally. And I honor that right and indeed would cherish it.

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


Note: President Carter's forty-fifth 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/248970

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