President Carter asserting that he is in complete control of American foreign policy, accused Russia "scapegoats" among his advisers and told a cheering crowd of Texans:
"We're not going to let the Soviet Union push us around."
Carter's hard-line remarks, responding to a question at a civic luncheon here, included an explicit defense of his national security affairs adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has been blamed by the Soviets and Cubans for the recent chill in U.S. relations with the two communist nations.
Denying any disagreement among his principal foreign policy advisers, the president told 5,000 people in the Tarrant County convention center:
"Unfortunately, in our country quite often special interest groups who don't like what I decide - and I am the president and I make the decisions - always look for a scapegoat or someone they can attack without attacking me personally. And I don't think it's fair and it's certainly not right for the Soviet Union and Cuba to jump on Dr. Brzezinski when I'm the one who shapes the policy after getting advice from him and others."
Carter added, "We're not going to let the Soviet Union push us around. We're not going to be second . . ."
Carter's statement here leaned heavily toward the tougher side of the "cooperation or confrontation" challenge he posed to the Soviet Union June 7 at Annapolis. It also represented his first response to the official Soviet criticism of that speech, which depicted Brzezinski as the chief architect of a foreign policy that endangers detente and overall Soviet-American relations.
Since the Annapolis speech, the administration's foreign policy rhetoric, particularly its approach to the Soviet and Cuban presence in Africa, has taken a noticebaly more moderate tone Brzezinski has kept in the background, while the task of speaking for the administration has fallen increasingly to Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, who is considered much less hawkish.
In addition to defending Brzezinski, the president sought to reemphasize his own control of foreign policy. In recent weeks he has attempted to project a more forceful image, particularly in the area of foreign policy. Today he did not speak from a text or notes but seemed primed to make the "push us around" statement at the first opportunity. And he could not have picked a better audience than in this conservative, defense-minded state, where tough talk to the Russians has always been politically popular.
he president blended his tough talk on foreign policy with an essentially conservative message when asked about domestic issues, on which he also sought to assert his authority.
He strongly suggested that his promise to produce a "comprehensive" national health insurance plan is being put off at least until next year because of economic factors. The rate at which it is implemented, he said, "will depend on budget restraints," and a promised administration "statement of principles" on national health insurance will not be made until later this year.
The president's brief opening remarks and his response to questions were warmly received in the convention center at the start of a two-day trip to Texas with heavy political overtones.
Yesterday afternoon, Carter flew to Houston, for an address last night to about 1,300 people at a $500-a-plate Democratic National Committee fundraising dinner. The first thing he did in Houston was to announce to a crowd at Ellington Air Force Base, which has been threatened with closing and sale to private interests, that the government will not sell the base while it studies the best future use of the land.
A large contingent of White House aides, several members of the Texas congressional delegation and party chairman John White accompanied the president into what has increasingly become hostile political territory.
Carter referred to this in Fort Worth. Noting the differences he has had with Texans over energy, farm policy, water projects and other matters, he said, "feel about like Proposition 13 at a bureaucrats' picnic."
For all of Carter's political problems in Texas, large, friendly lunch-time crowds turned out along his motorcade route in Fort Worth. There were some protesters outside the convention center, including one man who held a sign saying "Impeach Carter," and presidential security was unusually tight for a domestic journey.