President Carter said early this morning that the "extraordinary" price increase announced Thursday by the international oil cartel "causes an economic watershed for us" and also for the rest of the world that must be met by "a bold response" from the economic summit meeting here.
He said that he believes the American people and the Congress are now "aroused" by the actions of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countres and are ready to take specific actions in response.
Carter's comments came as he was preparing for the final meeting of a two-day economic conference here with leaders of six other Western, industrialized countries. Although Carter and his counterparts from Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and West Germany discussed the Asian refugee problem, Thursday's meeting primarily centered on energy problems.
An American source said Carter wound up the first day "discouraged" by the reluctance of his fellow heads of government to pledge specific cuts in oil imports. White House aides said, however, that they were still hoping to achieve a compromise that would provide specific, numerical reductions in imports through 1980, blended with some features of longer-range global targets on imports favored by the European Common Market.
Standing in the rain at the doorway of the American Embassy residence, Carter said this morning that "no one on earth will fail to suffer because of these extraordinary increases in oil prices."
He said in response to questions that he had talked to other leaders at the seven-nation conference here since the OPEC action was announced in Geneva and that "they are also deeply concerned" about the economic consequences.
In general, world leaders fear that the price increases, which Carter estimated at 60 percent since last December, will cause a worsening of both inflationary and recessionary tendencies throughout the world.
Carter said that on his return to the United States on Sunday he will make the energy concern his first and most important order of business. He not only reiterated his earlier calls on Congress to pass comprehensive energy legislation to make the United States "more immune" to the damaging effect of "outside decisions by OPEC and others" but also said he would meet with his own advisers to see what other steps might be taken.
Carter stressed that it is more important than ever for the nations assembled here to act "expeditiously and cooperatively" to meet directly the new situation posed by OPEC. He said it was his belief that the summit would come to grips with this situation. We need to be bold, determined, and aggressive," Carter said.
Asked about the effect of the OPEC action on the U.S. dollar, which has been shaky in world markets in the past few days. Carter said he thought that if the summit responds promptly it will tend to stabilize the dollar.
The stiff OPEC price increase was pretty much in line with what had been rumored in the past few days here so that the dimensions do not catch the leaders here by surprise. Thursday, a high American official estimated that a split price structure of the kind announced by OPEC might increase the U.S. cost of oil about 10 percent annually.
Despite President Carter's somewhat optimistic prediction this morning that the summit would take bold action today to deal with the energy crisis, the outcome still seems in doubt. Officials worked through the night trying to arrive at a compromise that would assure there will be a substantial reduction in oil imports by the end of 1980. But as of an early hour Friday morning, the issue had not been settled.
At a press conference at the end of Thursday's talks, Japanese Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira would say only that the question of energy imports had dominated discussions, "and we decided that our personal representatives should be asked to boil this question down."
One of Carter's frustrations Thursday, a source said, was that Ohira is "more of a philosopher than a forceful chairman of the conference."
Thus, while Ohira had been a strong supporter of the American country-by-country approach to oil import cuts during his bilateral talks with Carter earlier this week, he was a less strong advocate of that position while in the chair at the summit.
Ohira, according to sources, is so determined to lead a harmonious conference that he has subdued his own opposition to the Common Market proposal that oil import restrictions be on a regional, rather than country-by-basis.
Another source of irritation was the still smoldering feud between Carter and French President Valery Giscard d'Fstaing, stemming from Giscard's blunt criticism of American oil conservation efforts in a Newsweek interview. Although the two managed a smile for TV cameras when they emerged from the Akasaka Palace this morning, one observer said: "The vibes between them were very bad."
In essence, what U.S. officials are now struggling to "sell" is composed of two parts. First, there would be import ceilings set, country by country, for the balance of 1979 and 1980. It would make hard and specific the equivalent of the 5 percent cut earlier agreed upon by the member nations of the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Second, there would be "targets" or "goals" for the import level that each country would not exceed by the year 1985. The implication is that these targets, while also specific, would be considered somewhat less precise and binding, simply because 1985 is more than five years off. (No goals or targets would be set for the interim years between 1980 and 1985).
U.S. officials are determined to get as much specificity into the agreement as they can for 1979 and 1980. Under the scheme, U.S. imports would be trimmed from the current average of 9.5 million barrels a day to 8.5 million barrels by the end of this year, and then held there for 1980.
The United States insists on the country-by-country procedure, so that everyone would share in the reductions. "If we treat the Common Market as one unit, as they propose," said an American official, "some of them could be in position actually to increase imports."
One U.S. source said bluntly: "The Common Market has made a lot of noise with its proposal for a freeze, but it's really something of a phony." CAPTION: Picture 1, Japan's Prime Minister Ohira points out something of interest to Canada's Joe Clark as President Carter and French President Giscard walk alongside after the first session of Tokyo's economic summit. UPI; Picture 2, President Carter, far right, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher await the start of yesterday's summit in Tokyo as cameramen shoot away. AP