President Carter, in remarks released by the White House yesterday, said the United States retains the option of using the Seventh Fleet or even of going to war to protect Taiwan against a future challenge from the People's Republic of China.
Carter's statement in a Friday news conference with out-of-town editors was by far the strongest he has made along these lines since the normalization of diplomatic relations with Peking.
The comment, volunteered in response to a more general question about China, appeared to be directed at the congressional drive to enact a resolution of U.S. support for Taiwan's future security.
Carter has opposed the enactment of legislation on the defense of Taiwan as unnecessary. In recent days, however, the daministration has indicated that it will not object to congressionally sponsored resolutions that do not contradict the recent understandings between Washington and Peking.
When Carter was asked on Dec. 19 about possible use of U.S. force to defend Taiwan, he siad "we would certainly be deeply concerned" if China should attack Taiwan. He added that further comment would be "absolutely unnecessary speculation" because no such attack is likely.
In his latest comment, Carter said U.S. policy "does nothing to prohibit a future president or a futre Congress, if we feel that Taiwan is unnecessarily endangered, from interposing the American Pacific Fleet between the island and the mainland.
"And there is certainly nothing to prevent a future president or Congress from even going to war, if they choose, to protect the people of Taiwas or to protect any other people... that we look on with favor," he said.
Administration officials said regular U.S. naval patrolling of the straits between the mainland and Taiwan was stopped several years ago, but that movement of ships in transit through the straits as a matter of convenience has continued on an irregular basis.
Speaking to the out-of-town editors, Carter dismissed suggestions that the United States might be placing too much faith in 74-year-old Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping. Carter said that though leadership in Peking inevitably will change, he depicted the Chinese policy leading toward normalization of relations with Washington as "a unanimous decision" strongly supported by Premier Hua Kuo-feng.
In response to another question, Carter said publicly for the first time that he is "holding in abeyance" further withdrawals of U.S. ground combat troops from South Korea pending a new assessment of the situation there.
Carter continued to say that he has made a "basic decision" to bring U.S. troops out of Korea over a period of years, but said the rate of withdrawal is being assessed.
Among the factors being taken into account, he said, are new U.S. intelligence estimates that North Korean ground forces are much larger than previously believed, Ther factors, he added, would include the impact of the normalization of U.S. relations with China and the recent resumption of public dialogue by North and South Korea.
Carter did not say how long the reassessment will take. Major withdrawals of more U.S. troops are not expected until late this year, at the earliest.
Carter told the editors; in response to their questions, that:
He hopes a forthcoming meeting of Egyptian and Israeli foreign ministers in the United States will resolve their differences in private discussions with a minimum of public disclosure.
"I don't think it is possible" to destroy the international oil carte; and thus the best way to deal with it is to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil.
There is "no possibility" that he would agree to a 90 percent of parity payment for all agricultural crops, as demanded by American Agriculture Movement demonstrators encamped on the Mall.
He supports Defense Secretary Harold Brown's suggestion that any draft registration scheme ordered by Congress should include registration for women as well as men, although he does not expect a return to the draft.