Public Papers of Jimmy Carter, 1978

Author: Jimmy Carter  | Date: July 11, 1978

Interview With the President
Question-and-Answer Session With West German Reporters.
July 11, 1978


PETER MERSEBURGER [ARD Television]. Mr. President, in Berlin you will be facing political East-West realities. You are stressing human rights. At the same time Soviet-American relations are declining. And in Moscow Shcharanskiy is on trial. Don’t you think that the two principles are contradicting each other, that human rights is undermining detente?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we did not initiate the trial of Mr. Shcharanskiy, and we did not initiate the commitment tothe preservation of human rights. As you know, the Final Act of the Helsinki agreement was signed by, I think, 35 nations, including the Soviet Union, voluntarily. They also, of course, signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a member of the United Nations.

Their violation of these agreements is something that I think is earning the condemnation of the entire world, all those who believe that a person should have a right to emigrate, to live with his family, to have some possibility for free speech, to criticize one’s own government. This is the principle which is on trial in the Soviet Union. We deplore this and make our criticism clear to the Soviet Union, both through diplomatic channels, through private comments, and in some cases publicly. This is not a unique American attitude. Many people throughout the world believe in these basic rights.

At the same time, we recognize that we cannot intrude into the internal affairs of the Soviet Union. We can’t determine the outcome of the trial. We can’t set the punishment, if any, that might be levied against Mr. Shcharanskiy, Mr. Ginzburg, Mr. Orlov, or others who have expressed themselves and who have tried to monitor the compliance with the Helsinki agreement.

We’ve not let this interfere in our pursuit of cooperation with the Soviet Union on crucial matters. For instance, we are negotiating, constantly, terms of a SALT agreement to limit and even to reduce the inventory of atomic weapons. We are working with the Soviet Union on a comprehensive test ban. We’re trying to bring about, along with your government and others, a successful conclusion to the long stalemated mutual and balanced force reduction talks in Vienna.

So, where there are matters where we can cooperate, of mutual advantage to us, we are proceeding enthusiastically to bring about a successful resolution of those issues. But on matters where we disagree with the Soviets, because of a difference of perspective and form of government-human rights is one example; their unwarranted intrusion into the African situation is another—we don’t hesitate to let our displeasure be known.


PETER GRUBER [ZDF Television]. Mr. President, after being in office for 1 1/2 years, if you judge your human rights policy, don’t you think it’s counterproductive?



THE PRESIDENT. I think that there is hardly a national leader in the world who doesn’t now have as a constant concern or consideration the subject of .basic human rights, basic human freedoms, whether or not one’s own citizens condemn actions of the government or deplore actions of the government, whether or not the rest of the world looks with pleasure or displeasure on actions within a country.

In many areas of the world the recommitment to human rights initiated by us and many others, I might say, has borne rich dividends. There’s been a strong shift toward democratic principles in Latin America. In Indonesia there have been tens of thousands of people liberated from prison. I think we’ve reexamined in our own country some possible violations of basic human rights. I think other free Western democracies have done the same. And I think the raising of this issue in a responsible, clear way has been a very constructive element throughout the world in ensuring human freedoms in which we believe so deeply.


MR. MERSEBURGER. Mr. President, not so far ago, Soviet leader Brezhnev in Bonn agreed on the so-called indivisibility of detente. Do you think a SALT agreement, a new one with the Soviets, is only possible if the Soviets show more restraint in Africa, for instance?

THE PRESIDENT. We are deeply committed to detente. We believe that detente must be broad-ranging, and we also believe that detente must be reciprocal. We believe that world peace is a reciprocal benefit. The conclusion of a SALT agreement is a benefit to both nations and indeed to the entire world. We want to cooperate with the Soviets whenever we possibly can, and we are searching to broaden, not to narrow, the areas where we cooperate and reach agreement.

At the same time, we recognize that because of a difference of philosophy between our two governments, attitudes among our people being different, that we are going to be competitive with the Soviet Union for many years in the future, perhaps generations in the future. We are perfectly willing to be competitive. I think we can prevail, because our natural philosophy of government, based on human freedoms, is more attractive to people. We don’t try to interfere with the inclination of nations to preserve their own individuality and their own freedom, contrary to the attitudes of the Soviets in some areas of the world.

We want peace. We don’t want to stir up local conflagrations or conflicts. This is contrary to the attitude that the Soviets have exhibited in some areas. We have a need, I believe, over all this, to maintain our own security and the security of our allies. And we are trying to strengthen our ability to meet a possible attack, either by conventional means or by nuclear means, which would be a holocaust for the entire world, possibly.

I think we’ve strengthened NATO. And we look upon these alliances, militarily and otherwise, to be an integral part of our own national policy. We, of course, feel that an attack on Western Europe would be exactly the same as an attack on the soil of the United States itself. So, these are complicated interrelationships, but I think they are fairly well defined. And we recognize that cooperation and competition is an integral part of our relationship with the Soviets now and in the future.

MR. GRUBER. There are contradictory voices coming out of Washington concerning the United States relationship to the Soviet Union. There are soft voices and there are tough voices. Which do you prefer to hear?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the establishment of policy for our Government falls on my shoulders as President. And when we find an area of compatibility, cooperation, mutual advantage, we are very glad to discover this relationship with the Soviet Union. As I said earlier we are trying to broaden the areas in which we can cooperate.

When we disagree, of course we reserve the right as a free nation to let those disagreements be known so that they can be debated, and hopefully progress can be made even in alleviating some of those disagreements. There are some principles that must be maintained. I’ve mentioned a couple already—our mutual security, basic democratic principles of freedom.

We don’t try to intrude into the internal affairs of other countries, but we try to demand that now and in the future international agreements are honored. And with changing circumstances in a very’ complicated interrelationship, there are times of expressions of cooperation and friendship; there are sometimes legitimateexpressions of concern and disagreement. But this doesn’t mean that we have different policies. We have one basic policy that is complicated in itself.


MR. MERSEBURGER. There is some European criticism of what is called the unpredictability of the Carter administration. What is your response to that?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think any administration must change with changing circumstances. The world is a rapidly changing place. We have tried to have a policy that’s clear. A basic principle is to strengthen the alliances that exist between ourselves and the European nations, for instance. We also try to expand the area of friendship with the newly emerging nations of the world, the ones that in the past have not been very strong or effective or active but are presently increasing their influence.

I would say that in Africa, Nigeria would be an example of that, that Indonesia would be another example, Brazil, Venezuela, India, of course. We are trying to improve our relationships with the People’s Republic of China. We have a new interest in Africa, trying to preserve peace there in Namibia, Rhodesia, in the Horn of Africa.

We are trying to lower the level of conventional weapons sales, reduce the level of nuclear armaments. We have a nonproliferation policy. We’re trying to understand the economic interrelationships that exist between the developed nations of the world and between us and the developing countries of the world.

So, I think that all these matters that we have addressed are individually different from one another, but collectively, they comprise the American foreign policy. It’s very clear in my own mind what we hope to achieve. We spell it out for those who will listen, and with changing circumstances, of course, in the future, over a period of years, of course, our country will have to change its own policy. But we are a leading nation on Earth.

I think our policies directly affect many other people. And those many diverse peoples look upon our country with different perspectives. But there’s nothing simple or easy about international economic or political or military affairs. But I think we have a very stable, very clear foreign policy that changes in an evolutionary way, not a revolutionary way.


MR. GRUBER. You are going to Bonn to take part at the economic summit. You didn’t finish your energy legislation. You couldn’t reduce your trade deficit. Would you say you are going empty-handed to Bonn?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I’ve reexamined the commitments that we made at the last economic summit in London. We promised to reduce the level of oil imports in our country. We have done so. The first 5 months of 1978 our average imports of foreign oil were about a million barrels a day less than they had been during the year 1977. We promised to do what we could to reduce unemployment in our countries. I’ve only been in office 18 months, but we have had a net increase in employment in our Nation of 6.4 million jobs. We’ve reduced the unemployment level 1 3/4 million jobs. We reduced the unemployment rate by 2 percent.

We’ve had good progress in the Congress in implementing a national energy plan. It has five basic component parts. Already the conference committees have approved four of the five. The net result of this, when implemented, will be to reduce oil imports an additional 2.3 million barrels per day. This is a very difficultthing in our country, because, as is quite often not understood in some Europe nations, and perhaps even Japan, we are not only a very heavy consumer of oil and natural gas, but we are also one of the world’s greatest producers of oil and natural gas.

And to change from a deep concern about production, which has been our Government policy in the past, to a new concern about conservation and a shift toward other more plentiful supplies of energy is not easy for a country. But we are making good progress; my prediction is that the Congress will act successfully on our energy plan before they adjourn this year.

MR. GRUBER. So, what options will you bring to Bonn?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that which I’ve just described concerning energy, to continue to reduce the level of oil imports, a presentation to the other countries of items with which they may not be familiar, that is, that our adverse trade balance has been primarily attributable this year not to oil imports, but to the importation of manufactured goods, a lot of them from Germany, a lot of them from Japan.

We have maintained and reached our goal of sustained economic growth in our country. Other nations, Japan, and Germany have not been so successful. In 1977, our economic growth rate was much higher than the average of our other trading partners who will be at the summit. We were much more able to purchase your goods than you were to purchase our goods. I think now there’s a more moderate level of growth in our own Nation and perhaps an increasing rate of growth in your country and that of Japan. Perhaps in the future you’ll be able to buy our goods better than you did in 1977.

The underlying economic problem is the very high adverse trade balance. We have a negative trade balance. Germany and Japan have very high, positive trade balances. But I think that this circumstance will improve. We are all concerned about inflation. We are all concerned about unemployment. We recognize that what’s good for our country almost inevitably is good for all of our trade partners. The last thing I’d want to say is we hope to bring about a successful conclusion of the multilateral trade negotiations, which have not been successful so far. We want to reduce tariffs and other impediments to free trade.

I think we are the most enthusiastic nation among those who will be at the Bonn summit in that respect. And we hope that the European nations and Japan will respond as enthusiastically as are we. We need more ability to market our own goods among our trading partners.

So, those are the three basic items: energy, trade relationships, improved inflation and unemployment circumstances.


MR. MERSEBURGER. There has been some confusing signals concerning German-American relations the last year-neutron bomb, disagreement on economics, nonproliferation policies. Is it perhaps, Mr. President, that the Germans expect a stronger leadership and you prefer to deal between equal partners? You expect them to be more responsible, to do more?

THE PRESIDENT. I doubt that the German Government or people look to us to dominate or to impose our will on them or anyone else. We recognize the economic and military, political strength of our country. It’s not only a privilege, it’s also a heavy responsibility.

We recognize clearly that what happens in our own Nation affects directly the lives of many people around the world.This puts on my shoulders the responsibility of having very close relationships with the leaders of countries who are allies of ours. I have met personally with Chancellor Helmut Schmidt four times. Every 3 or 4 months we have been together. We have frequent exchanges of messages through diplomatic channels, and we call each other, without any crisis evolving, on the telephone fairly often just to discuss matters that are of interest to our people.

I was at Camp David this past week. Helmut called me on the phone. We had quite an extensive conversation. And I’ll be spending 2 days with him before the economic summit commences. So, I think that this constant exchange of information, consultation, advice, on occasion, criticism, is healthy and constructive.

Ultimately, in a democracy we leaders are responsible to our people. And our policies can’t depart too greatly from those that our people espouse. But I have no concern at all about the stability of our relationship, the commonality of our interests and purposes, and the strength of our cooperation at the government level and on a personal basis as well.

I’ve had the privilege not only of meeting with Chancellor Schmidt, but many of the members of his Cabinet, some of the members of the opposition parties. And I think throughout that entire gamut of responsible and distinguished leaders of the Federal Republic of Germany there’s a common realization that what I’ve said is true, that we share so much responsibility and opportunity, that we are so closely intertwined in our destiny, the shaping of it, and that the people demand that we enhance our personal relationships. And I feel very proud of this relationship, have no concern about it at all.

MR. GRUBER. In the foreseeable future, Mr. President, can you imagine any circumstances which might allow self-determination in East Germany?

THE PRESIDENT. We would like to see a unified Germany based on self-determination. That’s our ultimate goal. And we would contribute in any way we could to bring this about. That’s also the goal, I believe, of all the Western allies. And we hope that some day we’ll see a unified Germany.


MR. MERSEBURGER. Mr. President, would you like to see China concerning in relation to the Soviet Union, as a lever to nudge the Soviet Union in the direction of confrontation or cooperation?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it would be a serious mistake for ourselves, for the People’s Republic of China, for the Soviet Union, to try to play one against another. We develop our relationships with each country in the world on a bilateral basis, what’s best for their people and ours directly. We would never use China as a lever against the Soviet Union. I think the Chinese people would resent it very deeply, and I think the Soviet Union would also.

I think it would be a counterproductive thing for us. We want to have normal relationships with ’China in carrying out the terms of the Shanghai Communiqué, and we want to increase the cooperation with the Soviet Union. But to play one against another would be a very serious mistake which we would never make.

MR. MERSEBURGER. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you. I’ve enjoyed it.

NOTE: The interview began at 3:33 p.m. in the Map Room at the White House. It was taped for later broadcast on West German television.

The transcript of the interview was released on July 12.


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Chicago: Jimmy Carter, "Interview With the President Question-And-Answer Session With West German Reporters.," Public Papers of Jimmy Carter, 1978 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Jimmy Carter, 1978 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.2303 1259–1263. Original Sources, accessed March 29, 2023,

MLA: Carter, Jimmy. "Interview With the President Question-And-Answer Session With West German Reporters." Public Papers of Jimmy Carter, 1978, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Jimmy Carter, 1978 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.2303, pp. 1259–1263. Original Sources. 29 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Carter, J, 'Interview With the President Question-And-Answer Session With West German Reporters.' in Public Papers of Jimmy Carter, 1978. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Jimmy Carter, 1978 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.2303, pp.1259–1263. Original Sources, retrieved 29 March 2023, from