THE PRESIDENT. Tomorrow, the Secretary of State will depart for the Soviet Union. We have spent weeks in detailed study about the agenda that has been prepared. The agenda is one that has been derived by the Soviet Union and by our own country. I would say the central focal point will be arms limitations and actual reducations for a change.
I had long discussions with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and with other members of my own Cabinet to derive our potential proposals, which Cy Vance will put forward to Mr. Brezhnev and the Russian leaders.
We will be talking about the limitation on arms sales. We are now the No. 1 exporter or salesman of arms of all kinds. We have been working with our own allies to cut down this traffic, and we hope to get the Soviet Union to agree with us on constraint.
We will be dealing with mutual and balanced force reductions in the NATO area, and on this trip Cy Vance will make a report on the attitude of the Soviet Union leaders concerning the European theater.
We will be trying to control the testing of nuclear devices, both weapons and peaceful nuclear devices, and we would like to eliminate these tests altogther if the Soviets will agree.
We are going to try to move toward demilitarizing the Indian Ocean and, here again, we will be consulting closely with our allies and friends. And we are going to express our concern about the future of Africa, and ask the Soviet Union to join with us in removing from that troubled continent outside interference which might contribute to warfare in the countries involved. And we will start laying the groundwork for cooperation with the Soviet Union at the Geneva Conference, which we hope will take place, concerning the Middle East.
These matters are extremely complex. We don't know whether or not we will be successful at all, but we go in good faith with high hopes. The Soviets have been been very cooperative up to this point, and we are pleased with their attitude, and I know that the prayers of the American people will go with Cy Vance, our Secretary of State, to the Soviet Union in hopes that this trip might result in the alleviation of tension and the further guaranteeing of peace for our world in the future.
Q. Mr. President, the pace of inflation has been picking up a bit, at least temporarily. Both the consumer and wholesale price indices annualize are in the double-digit range. How do you see the outlook for inflation and how are you coming on fashioning a comprehensive program to deal with it?
A. There is an underlying inflation rate of 5 to 6 per cent, which is derived from the rate of increase in wages minus the productivity of workers. It is one of the best measurements.
I think that the monthly reports that come in quite often are very misleading. They are transient in nature. We have had a drastic increase in energy costs during this winter period because of the unprecedented severity of the weather. We have also had a very high increase in the cost of many food items, again because of damage to crops in different regions of the country, and because of coffee losses overseas.
My own guess is that the inflationary pressures will continue at about the level that they have historically the last couple of year, around 6 or a little bit better per cent. We are now preparing a very strong anti-inflation package, which will be delivered to the Congress and to the American people within the next couple of weeks. We have been working on it since even before I was inaugurated.
We have begun to exercise constraint on some of the spending policies of our own administration, and we also are beginning to assess the impact of many decisions made by government and the public that contribute to the inflationary pressures which quite often are not obvious.
I hope to both learn myself and to let the Congress and the American people learn in the process how we can control inflation.
I think the economic stimulus package that we have can boost the increase in our national product up to around 5 per cent or a little better, which is crucial to cutting down the unemployment rate. It will not be, in my opinion, a major factor in inflation. But on a long-range basis, I intend to help control inflation.
I intend to cut down the expenditure of government programs well enough to bring about a balanced budget by 1981. I am deeply committed to this goal. I believe that we will have unveiled for the nation to assess a comprehensive package against inflation within the next two weeks . . .
Q. In terms of bringing the American people in on the dialogue, you spoke of arms reduction - does that mean that Vance will take a new set of proposals on SALT: and two, you spoke of the cooperative attitude of the Soviets - does that mean that you don't think that any of Brezhnev's statements in the past week will have any bearing in terms of your human rights stand on the SALT negotiations?
A. I think the first question is easily answered. Yes, we will take new proposals to the Soviet Union. We are not abandoning the agreements in the Vladivostok agreement. As you know, all previous SALT agreements have been, in effect, limitations that were so high that they were, in effect, just ground rules for intensified competition and a continued massive arms growth in nuclear weapons.
We hope to bring not only limitations, to continue from the past, but also actual substantial reductions that the Soviets will agree to. That will be our first proposal.
I spelled this out briefly in my United Nations speech. The second, fall-back position will be in effect, to ratify Vladivostok and to wait until later to solve some of the most difficult and contentious issues.
We hope that the Soviets will agree to the substantial reduction. The other part of your question was, what . . .?
Q. It was in the question of this new cooperative attitude.
A. I studied Mr. Brezhnev's speeches in their entirety. I think the speech made this past week to their General Trade & Union Conference and one made previously at Tula, I consider them to be very constructive.
There was a delineation in his speech between human rights, which he equates with intrusion into their own internal affairs, and I don't agree with that assessment. That has been divided in his speeches from the subject of peace and arms limitation, including nuclear arms. So I have nothing that I have heard directly or indirectly from Mr. Brezhnev that would indicate that he is not very eager to see substantial progress made in arms limitations.
Q. Mr. President, in your opening statement you said you thought it was a good thing for you to speak out on negotiation details but you didn't say why.
As I understand it, the criticism, sir, is that it impedes negotiations when you put out on the table just a range of those things that the parties haven't privately been able to work out.
Why do you think it does not impede negotiations?
A. I think if anyone would analyze the details of the statements that I have made so far they are not so thoroughly defined or specific that they would prevent both parties in a dispute from negotiating in good faith with a fairly clean slate ahead of them.
The Middle East is one example. I think in may instances the propositions that I have promulgated publicly are generally conceded to be very important and legitimate but the public expression of these matters has not been made to the American people over a period of years.
The exact means of defining borders in the Middle East, the exact resolution of the Palestinian problem, the definition of permanent peace, all of these things obviously have to be decided between the Arab countries and Israel. But to point out that they are matters in dispute and that we hope they will solved this year I think is constructive.
We have not intruded ourselves against the wishes of the interested nations in the eastern Mediterranean. Both Turkey and Greece welcomed our emissary and I think we can be a good mediator to the extent that both parties trust us to act in good faith.
The same thing applies in southern Africa and the same thing applies to the MIA mission to Vietnam and Laos. And I believe that it is very important for the American people to know the framework within which discussions might take place and to give me through their own approval strength as a party to some of the resolutions of disputes and also to make sure that when I do speak I don't speak with a hollow voice, but that the rest of the world knows that on my stand, for instance, on human rights, that I am not just speaking as a lonely voice, but I am strongly supported by the Congress and the people in the country.
This week the Congress passed unanimously, I think with only two dissenting votes in both houses, a strong confirmation that my own stand expressed on human rights is indeed the stand of the American people. It is one that will not be changing in the future. I think for the rest of the world to know this and for the American people to participate in that expression of concern about human rights is a very constructive thing.
Q. You said that when you received the report from the Woodcock Commission that very hope and you have for their mission had been realized. That report suggested that the best way to get an actual accounting of those still missing in Southeast Asia is for the normalization of relations, yet your position in the past has been there must be an accounting first before relations can be normalized.
Have you changed your position and what hope does that give for the families?
A. I haven't changed my position. I have always taken the position that when I am convinced that the Vietamese have done their best to account for the service personnel who are missing in action, at that point I would favor normalization, the admission of Vietnam into the United Nations and the resumption of trade and other relationships with the Vietnamese.
I believe that the response of the Vietnamese leaders to the Woodcock Commission was very favorable. They not only gave us the bodies of 11 American servicemen, but they also promised to set up a Vietnamese bureaucracy to receive the information that we have had about the date and the place that we think service people were lost and to pursue those investigations.
I think this is about all they can do. I don't have any way to prove that they have accounted for all of those they whom they have information. But I think, so far as I can discern, they have acted in good faith.
They have also suggested and we have agreed that we go to Paris to negotiate further without any preconditions. In the past, the Vietnamese have said that they would not negotiate with us nor give us additional information about the MIAs until we had agreed to pay reparations. They did not bring this up, which I thought was an act of reticence on their part.
They had claimed previously that President Nixon had agreed to pay large sums of money to Vietnam because of damage to their country.
Our position had been whether or not that agreement had been made, that the Vietnamese had violated that agreement by intruding beyond the demilitarized zone during the war.
But they told Mr. Woodcock and sent word to me, we are not going to pursue past agreements and past disagreements. We are eager to look to the future. I am also eager to look to the future.
If we are convinced as a result of the Paris negotiations and other actions on the part of the Vietnamese that they are acting in good faith, that they are trying to help us account for our MIAs, we would aggressively move to admit Vietnam to the United Nations and also to normalize relations with them.
Q. What about the families of the 2,500 people who still have not been accounted for; remains have not been
A. I have nothing but sympathy for the families involved and I can assure them through this news conference presentation that we will never cease attempting to account for those 2,500 American servicemen who were lost.
I might point out that at the conclusion of the Korean War and the Second World War, of those that were lost in action, we only accounted for - I think we still did not account for 22 per cent.
An the conclusion of the Vietnam war, my understanding is we had accounted for all except about 4 per cent.
I can't certify that we have all the information available and we are never going to rest until we have pursued informaion about those who are missing in action to the final conclusion. But I will do the best I can. I don't want to mislead anybody by giving hope about discovery of some additional information when I don't believe that the hope is justified . . .
Q. Mr. President, on the subject of Vietnam, if you feel the United States is not obligated to uphold the terms of the Paris peace accords because of the North Vietnamese offensive that overthrew the South Vietnamese, do you feel, on the other hand, any moral obligation to help rebuild that country?
A. I can't say what my position would be now on future economic relationships with Vietnam. I think that can only be concluded after we continue with negotiations to see what their attitude might be toward us.
My own natural inclination is to have normal diplomatic relationships with all countries in the world. Sometimes there are obstacles. I believe there are now 14 nations with whom we do not have diplomatic relationships. I don't know what the motivations of the Vietnamese might be.
I think part of the motivation might be to be treated along with other nations in economic assistance from our country and in trade, and development of their fairly substantial natural resources, including oil.
Other considerations might be political in nature. They might very well want to balance their friendship with us with their friendship with the Soviet Union and not be completely dependent upon the Soviet Union. That is just a guess on my part of it, but I am willing to negotiate in good faith.
But as far as describing what our economic relationship might be with Vietnam in the future after the relationships are established, I just couldn't do that now.
Q. Mr. President, with that understanding and your hesitancy to disclose a position before negotiations are started, beyond that do you still feel that if that information on those American servicemen missing in action is forthcoming from the Vietnamese, then this country has moral obligation to help rebuild that country, if that information is forthcoming?
A. The destruction was mutual. We went to Vietnam without any desire to capture territory or to impose American will on other people. We went there to defend the freedom of the South Vietnamese. I don't feel that we ought to apologize or to castigate ourselves or to assume the status of culpability . . .
Q. Mr. President, would you mind telling us what our commitments are in Zaire and what the applications of those commitments might beto us?
A. We have no outstanding commitments in Zaire. Over a period of years, President Mobutu has been a friend of ours. We have enjoyed good relationships with Zaire. We have substantial commercial investments in that country.
After the recent very disruptive conflict within Zaire, when the country was finally formed a number of years ago, it has been fairly stable since then Zaire was involved, I think at least indirectly, in the Angolan conflict, and there are some remaining hard feelings between Angola and Zaire on the part. Some of the Katangans who lived in the southern part of Zaire are now involved in trying to go back into the area where they formerly lived.
We have no hard evidence, or any evidence, as far as that goes, that the Cubans or Angolan troops have crossed the border into Zaire. We look on them as a friendly nation and we have no obligations to them as far as military aid goes. but we have been cooperating in exchanging information with the Belgian government, the French government and others just to try to stabilize the situation and to lessen the chance of expanding the conflict.
Q. Mr. President, I don't ask this question in a churlish way or argumentative way, but taking - recalling the unwillingness of the United States to intervene at the time of the Hungarian uprising or at the time of Dubcek's ouster in Czechoslovakia. what do you really think that you can accomplish for political dissidents in the Soviet Union, not in other parts of the world, but in the Soviet Union, and I have a follow-up. I would like to ask.
A. Why don't you ask your follow-up now and I will try to answer.
Q. My follow-up is this: you are saying that all of the evidence that you have from Mr. Brezhnev is that he is willing to go forward or at least is receptive to SALT II negotiations.
Mr. Brezhnev said before the labor congress that normal relations would be impossible, unthinkable was his word, if your human rights campaign continued.
You have referred to private communications with Mr. Brezhnev and I would like to know in the follow-up question whether he has given new assurances in those private communications that he is indeed willing to go forward on SALT II?
A. It is not just a matter of private conversations. We are not trying to overthrow the Soviet government nor to intrude ourselves into their affairs in a military way.
I think it has been a well-recognized international political principle that interference in a government is not a verbal thing. There is an ideological struggle that has been in progress for decades between the Communist nations on the one hand and the democratic nations on the other.
Mr. Brezhnev and his predecessors have never refrained from expressing their view when they disagreed with some aspect of social or political life in the free world. I think we have a right to speak out openly when we have a concern about human rights wherever those abuses occur.
I think that Mr. Brezhnev has not said that he is concerned about my campaign on human rights. What he said is that he objects to any intrusion into the internal affairs of the Soviet Union.
I have tried not to be reticent about it. I have tried to let my own position be clear in the speech at the United Nations and in my other actions. I have tried to make sure that the world knows that we are not singling out the Soviet Union for abuse or criticism.
We are trying to move in our own country to open travel opportunities and to correct civil rights abuses and other abuses in our country. So I don't think this is a matter that is connected with the search for peace through the SALT negotiations, for instance.
The very fact that Mr. Brezhnev and his associates have welcomed Secretary Vance to the Soviet Union and have helped us prepare a very comprehensive agenda is adequate proof that he has not broken off relationships in any way and that he has hopes that the talks will be productive.
My belief is that he is acting in good faith. We are not going to negotiate in such a way that we leave ourselves vulnerable, but if the Soviet Union is willing to meet us halfway in searching for peace and disarmament, we will meet them halfway.
I think that this is a good indication that they are acting in good faith. If we are didappointed, which is a possibility, then we will try to modify our stance . . .
Q. I want to ask you about a subject on which I don't believe you have been questioned before.
Have you asked the Justice Department to finally come up with a national strategy for fighting organized crime?
A. I have discussed this with Attorney General Bell and he has not yet evolved to present to me a comprehensive approach to the organized crime question. But I would have to give you an answer to that after the press conference. I don't know what the status of his effort is . . .
Q. Let's put it this way: how high a priority would you be giving to the fighting or organized crime?
A. I think quite high. When I was governor, we organized a substantial effort to fight organized crime. We detected the interrelationship between gambling, which a lot of people assume is just a normal part of life: prostitution, which some people think is not too bad: the distribution of drugs, which is condemened by almost everyone, and other forms of illegalities. And the upshot of our anaysis was that they are very closely interrelated.
Profits from gambling profits from prostitution and other more acceptable kinds of crime in some people's minds are directly used to enhance the distrbution of heroin and other drugs. So I think it is a very serious problem. It is one that we ought to address from a national level an one of the crucial elements that can be improved is to have local, state and federal law enforcement agencies cooperate in a much more effective fashion in exchange of ideas and information and also in the prosection of criminals . . .