President Carter telephoned United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young yesterday morning and personally chastised him for a public statement that there are "hundreds, perhaps thousands," of political prisoners in the United States.
Returning here from Carter's visit to Berlin, White House press secretary Jody Powell told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president telephoned Young yesterday morning and "told him he was very unhappy with the choice of words" Young used in an interview with a French newspaper.
Carter also expressed unhappiness with "several statements he [Young] made in the article," Powell added.
Young's remarks came at a particularly embarrassing time for the administration.
In the view of White House officials, the comments implicitly suggested little or no difference between what Young called "political prisoners" in the United States and Soviet dissidents, undermining efforts by the president to protest the trials of Anatoly Scharansky and Alexander Ginzburg.
"Andy agreed that it was a mistake, and an unfortunate one, and he apologized for the problems he caused," Powell said.
In making public the president's telephone call, the White House clearly sought to drive home the point that Young is being ordered to hold his tongue and that another such episode would likely end his career at the United Nations.
Powell said it was plain from Carter's remarks that the president "feels it was a mistake he does not want repeated."
Young, a former Georgia congressman and civil rights leader, has been in hot water more than once for what State Department officials have considered careless and ill-timed public remarks. Previously, however, Carter's closest White House advisers, who have known Young for years and admire him, have agressively defended him.