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Train Trip From Cairo to Alexandria, Egypt Informal Exchange With American Television Correspondents.

March 09, 1979

PRESIDENT SADAT. This is my Georgia.

Q. It is what?


PRESIDENT CARTER. This is President Sadat's home province.

Q. He says it is his Georgia.

PRESIDENT CARTER. That is right. He lives about a half hour from here.

I think it's obvious that these people want peace.

Q. How are the talks going, sir?

PRESIDENT CARTER. I think very well. We still have some problems, obviously. But President Sadat genuinely wants peace. So do I. So does Prime Minister Begin. We don't know yet what will happen until we get through with the talks.

Q. Do you have a feeling that you can wrap up this end of it on the scheduled trip?

Q. Will you be able to leave on schedule, sir?


Q. Maybe stay another day?

PRESIDENT CARTER. I don't know. I really don't know.

Q. Mr. President, at where you are at the moment, would you think that you and Sadat will have an agreement by the time you leave?

PRESIDENT CARTER. That's hard to predict. Prime Minister Khalil and Secretary Vance are talking about language and specifics. President Sadat and I have always been basically in agreement on strategic matters. And that's the situation now. We'll get together in Alexandria with the whole group to see what differences still remain.

Q. You said, sir, before you came out, that you didn't think it would be easy. Is it any less difficult now that you're here?

PRESIDENT CARTER. That's hard to judge. We obviously came on this trip without any assurance of success. But I know two things: One is that the people of Israel and Egypt want peace. That's obvious. And I believe that the leaders of Israel and Egypt want peace.

Q. Mr. President, if it's possible that you may have to stay 1 more day, can we conclude that the talks are not going as you thought they might?

PRESIDENT CARTER. I don't think that's easy to predict, because if they should go well or shouldn't go well, 1 day in my life wouldn't be very significant, compared to the prospect of improving chances for peace. So, I don't 'believe that that would be a good measurement.

Q. If you went 1 day later, would that foul things up on the Israeli side, with the arrangements that they've made, sir?

PRESIDENT CARTER. No. I don't think there's any likelihood at all that I would get to Israel a day later. I think what it will do is to take to Israel either an encouraging prospect or one that would require some substantial modifications. And we really wouldn't know what the chances were until we got through with our discussions in Israel.

Q. Are you in communication with the Israelis while you are here?

PRESIDENT CARTER. Only through the Ambassadors. But there's really nothing to report to the Israelis yet, because we're in the process of discussing the specific terms on which there is a disagreement still. And I think it'll be after our meetings in Alexandria this evening and tomorrow that we'll know how close we are together. Obviously, we'll go to Israel with some differences still remaining. And I'll do the best I can to resolve those differences.

Q. Were you surprised by the Egyptian counterproposal?

PRESIDENT CARTER. No. We've had a very clear picture of the Egyptian position, both from the statements and attitudes of Prime Minister Khalil in Camp David and, also, my own private conversations and communications with President Sadat. So, there have not been any surprises.

Q. President Carter, how far apart do you presently regard the Israelis and Egyptians to be on the question of Palestinian autonomy?

PRESIDENT CARTER. Well, the question of Palestinian autonomy will have to be resolved in the talks that would commence 1 month after the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. The Palestinian autonomy description is best summarized in the Camp David agreements, and both President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin have reconfirmed their commitment to me that all of the Camp David agreements will be carried out. And the details, obviously, will have to be worked out over a period of a year after the peace treaty is signed.

Q. Mr. President, just to clear up one thing.


Q. You expect it's possible that you may arrive in Israel 24 hours late?

PRESIDENT CARTER. No. I think we'll get to Israel on time.

Q. Even though you are having more difficulties here than perhaps you'd imagined?

PRESIDENT CARTER. Well, as I said, I have not been surprised after I got here. I've not been disappointed nor pleasantly surprised. It's about what we anticipated. But my expectation is that we'll get to Israel on time.

Q. Thank you very much, Mr. President.


Q. President Sadat, could we just ask you a question, sir? Could you characterize the talks for us so far? How do you think they've been doing, sir?

PRESIDENT SADAT. Well, let me say this: We had a 3-hours talk yesterday, very intensive talks. I think there are progress, for sure there are progress. And I think it is time now that we can say that the signing of the agreement is not so far at all. From my side, as you know, I'm doing my best, and I shall be doing my best. But in all candor, without the intensive effort by President Carter and the American people and the Congress behind him, we would have never reached this. Let me hope that everything will be clear in this visit.

Q. What is the greatest problem, sir? What is the biggest difficulty?

PRESIDENT SADAT. Well, you know, I commented last night after the 3-hours' talk with President Carter, Vance, and Brzezinski, and the Vice President and the Prime Minister was with me. Let me tell you this: We must get rid of the distrust, because, unfortunately, there are still some shades of distrust until this moment, and it is not from the Egyptian side. We have dropped all complexes and everything through my visit to Jerusalem. It is a word here, a word, but I don't see any difficulty in reaching an agreement upon the main principal issues.

And, as I told you, if it was not the effort and the perseverance of President Carter, we couldn't have achieved this. And it is needed now in this precise moment to reach the final result.

Q. President Sadat, on the basis of your discussions with President Sadat [Carter] and what you know from him of the Israeli position, are you now ready to sign an agreement?

PRESIDENT SADAT. I am ready to sign the agreement, yes.

Q. There will be nothing more required for Egypt to do or for Israel to do before an agreement can be consummated?

PRESIDENT SADAT. I can speak for myself, not for the Israelis. For myself, I am ready.

Q. Without making any significant changes in your basic position?

PRESIDENT SADAT. I beg your pardon?

Q. Without making any changes in the positions you held before President Carter came here?

PRESIDENT SADAT. Well, let me tell you this: In the very frank discussions we had last night, I found, really, that there is no obstacles in the way, because there is only a misunderstanding about the main issues. But apart from this—and this will be President Carter's, I mean, goal to do-yes, I think we are on the verge of an agreement.

Q. For example, sir, are you now satisfied with the question of full Palestinian autonomy in the occupied territories?

PRESIDENT SAD^T. Well, let me tell you this: Let us always put emphasis on the Camp David documents. This is a great achievement, and maybe you heard me before saying that let us try and defuse the explosive situation. Camp David documents didn't defuse only the explosive situation but has opened the way to a comprehensive settlement. So, adhering to the Camp David two documents, for sure we shall be reaching an agreement.

Q. What is the main obstacle now, President Sadat? What is the main problem you still must solve?

PRESIDENT SADAT. I think—and it may appear, I mean, ridiculous—some words here or there, only some words here or there.

Q. Can that be resolved by tomorrow night, by Saturday night?

PRESIDENT SADAT. Between me and President Carter, be sure of one thing: Whatever arises between me and President Carter, we are identical, and we shall continue to be identical.

CORRESPONDENT. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Note: The exchange began at 11:05 a.m. on board the train. Participants included Walter Cronkite of CBS News, John Chancellor of NBC News, and Peter Jennings of ABC News.

Following the trip, the President went to Ras-al-Tin Palace, where he stayed during his visit to Alexandria.

Jimmy Carter, Train Trip From Cairo to Alexandria, Egypt Informal Exchange With American Television Correspondents. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/248973

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