President Carter asked the United States Olympic Committee yesterday to lead a worldwide effort to remove this summer's Olympic Games from Moscow unless the Soviet Union withdraws all of its troops from Afghanistan by Feb. 20.
Declaring that "deeper issues are at stake" than the spirit and survival of the Olympics, the president called for an American boycott of the Moscow Games if the International Olympic Committee refuses to move or postpone the quadrennial event.
Carter's decision on the Olympic makes U.S. participation in the 1980 Olympic Games highly unlikely because an early Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and IOC acquiescence in the American demand are considered remote possibilities.
White House officials said they expect the USOC to go along with the presidential request, and for a number of other countries to support the U.S. call for moving the games to another site, possibly Montreal or Los Angeles.
In the Soviets' first reaction to Carter's stand, Moscow radio labeled the president's call "futile."
"Observers assess Mr. Carter's attempts to exert pressure on the Soviet Union as futile and reflecting Washington's current course to undermine the policy of easing tension and reviving the Cold War," the English-language broadcast said.
The president made his decision known yesterday on the television interview program "Meet the Press" (NBC, WRC), and in a letter to Robert Kane, president of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Carter voiced his views in terms of a request to the USOC, a private entity, but White House officials later made clear that hte administration is prepared to force an American boycott if the USOC and Amercian athletes insist on going to Moscow for the contests starting July 19.
"The U.S. government, if necessary and if it decided to do so, could prevent American athletes from participating" in the games, White House counsel Lloyd Cutler told reporters.
The president, who earlier withdrew from a campaign debate with his major Democratic Party rivals, Sen. M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., appeared on the nationally televised program the day before today's Iowa precinct caucuses begin the 1980 presidential nomination process. t
Asked about a possible "political motive" in agreeing to appear on the profram yesterday, Carter said it is "very important for the president not to assume in a public way the role of a partisan campaigner in a political contest" so long as to twin crisis in Iran and Afghanistan continue.
Foreign policy issues dominated the questioning, as they have the 1980 presidential campaign, a factor that Carter has found to his advantage. At one point, NBC's Judy Woodruff noted that the "misery index" -- a term Carter used in 1976 to describe the combined inflation and unemployment rates -- is now six points higher than it was when last compaigned, and asked what he thought of that.
The president replied by mentioning the American hostages being held in Tehran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and price increases for imported oil, which he said is the prime cause of higher inflation.
White House press secretary Jody Powell said that Carter's hard-line foreign policy comments, which included a suggestion of a long-term U.S. naval presence in the Indian Ocean, "foreshadowed" the State of the Union address the president will deliver to Congress Wednesday night.
On the Olympic Games, Carter said he will oppose American participation at Moscow even if no other nation supports the United States.
He said he favors establishment of a permanent site for the Summer Olympics in Greece and another permanent, unspecified site for the Winter Games.
The 1980 Winter Olympics are scheduled to begin Feb. 13 in Lake Placid, N.Y. Cutler said he does not expect the U.S. call for removal of the summer games from Moscow to affect the Lake Placid events, which the president is scheduled to open officially.
The USOC will meet next weekend in Colorado Springs and consider Carter's expect U.S. Olympic officiels and athletes to go along with the request, the power to move or postpone the Olympics rests with the international committee, which will meet Feb. 10 through 12 in Lake Placid.
In his letter to USOC President Kane, Carter said that if the IOC rejects a U.S. proposal to move or postpone the games. "I urge the USOC and the Olympic Committees of other like-minded nations not to participate in the Moscow Games.
"In this event," he continued, "if suitable arrangements can be made, I urge that such nations, conduct alternative games of their own this summer at some other appropriate site or sites. The United States government is prepared to lend its full support to any and all such efforts."
Cutler told reporters the administration is prepared to share the financial burden of shifting the Olympic events with other countries. He said Montreal, site of the 1976 Summer Olympics, and Los Angeles, scheduled to host the 1984 Summer Games, are the two most likely alternatives sites.
Before his television appearance yesterday, the president informed leaders of dozens of other countries of his request to the USOC and asked them to follow the U.S. lead, Cutler said.
"There is a groundswell of public opinion in many sections of the world that this should be done," he said. "My personal view is that a number of nations will ask their Olympic committees to support a postponement or moving the games."
Cutler was reluctant to discuss the possibility the government might have to prevent American athletes against their will from going to Moscow, saying he did not think that would be necessary. But he said that if the administration needed additional authority to force a boycott of the Moscow Games by the United States, "I don't think we'll have trouble getting it."
The administration has been considering calling for a withdrawal of the United States from the Moscow Games since shortly after the late December Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Central to this strategy is the belief that hosting the Olympics is of enormous political and propaganda importance to the Kremlin and that loss of the Olympic would be a severe blow to the Soviets.
"If the Olympics are not held in Moscow because of Soviet military agression in Afghanistan, this powerful signal of world outrage cannot be hidden from the Soviet people and will reverberate around the globe," Carter said in his letter to Kane. "Perhaps it will deter future aggression."
The president added: "Aggression destroys the international amity and goodwill that the Olympic movement attempts to foster. If our response to affression is to continue with international sports as usual in the capital of the aggressor, our other steps to deter aggression are undermined."
However, White House officials said they do not expect even the threat of losing the Olypics to force a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. "We'll see how much importance they attach to these games," Cutler said.
In a separate television appearance yesterday, Kennedy said that while he considered a withdrawal from the Olympics to be a "symbol" and not "a substitute for an effective foreign policy," he would not make it an issue in his race against Carter.