E. Howard Negroponte,
INT: What sort of message did you send Brezhnev the following day on the Hot Line, the telex Hot Line?
JC: I sent Brezhnev an inquiry. At first: "What are your intentions in invading Afghanistan? Uh, when will you withdraw?" That was my first questions. He sent me word back that he had been invited into Afghanistan, to maintain stability there, by Afghan leaders. The fact is that as his forces went into Afghanistan, he carried in a puppet leader that he implanted in Kabul to administer the government that was to be controlled by the Soviet Union. I knew that his response was not honest. Then they continued to pour in airplane after airplane loaded with troops, and then to cross the border on land as well. This took several days. That's when I decided to issue my statement, that I've already described, that I considered any further advance by the Soviet Union beyond Afghanistan to be a direct threat to my country.
INT: With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Cold War took a turn markedly for the worse.
JC: Exactly. Well, we had been making good progress, I think, in alleviating the tension of the Cold War. I had explained my reasons for normalizing relations with China; we had concluded a very productive negotiation in Vienna for the SALT II treaty; we were having a very good response from the Soviet Union in permitting Jews to emigrate from their country because of our human rights policy, and I really felt that we were on the track to an alleviation of tension. And then Brezhnev made what I considered to be a very serious mistake, maybe because he was old and somewhat debilitated in his political strength, of invading Afghanistan. This was a major setback, and obviously the Soviets had not tried to extend their effective... their hegemony beyond their borders since they had gone into Hungary and Czechoslovakia a generation earlier, so it was quite a change in their basic policy.
INT: I'd like to ask you briefly about the Horn of Africa. What view did you take of Soviet and Cuban activity in Ethiopia?
JC: I thought this was a serious. When the Soviets moved into Ethiopia to assist the communist dictator there, Haile Mariam Mengistu, I thought that this was a threat to the stability of Africa. And they denied that they were even involved, both the Soviets and the Cubans. We had adequate intelligence to intercept radio transmissions from Soviet troops and Cuban troops inside Ethiopia, to... I could even give them the names of the Soviet generals who were in Ethiopia, and we had messages, for instance, about a Soviet general whose wife was ill and he had asked the Kremlin to let him go back home to visit his wife. When Gromyko came to the White House, and he and I were sitting across the table from each other, he denied, in looking me in the eye, that there were any Soviets in Ethiopia. And I said, "Mr. Foreign Minister, this is the information we have." He knew he was not telling me the truth, but it was the policy of the Soviet Union to claim they had no troops there. Somalia was trying to gain the Ogarea, I thought, from Ethiopia, so there was some equal responsibility on both sides for the war. I thought that Somalia should not be permitted to succeed in trying to take Ethiopian territory, and I refused to give the Somali Government any weapons with which to fight the war. At the same time, I thought that the Soviets and the Cubans should get out of Ethiopia and letthat be a domestic or local confrontation between two African countries and not see it expanded into a much wider hegemonic effort by the Soviets.
INT: Extremely clear answer - thank you very much. I'd like to end by asking you two general questions. What was your view of restricting the supply of oil, putting up the price of oil? What was your view of oil as a weapon?
JC: Well, there was... as is well known, the use of oil as a weapon was begun in 1973, when President Nixon was in office and I was Governor of Georgia, and OPEC was formed and oil was withheld.. as an embargo weapon against any nation that had harmonious relations with Israel. So the Arab embargo of oil created a very serious threat to our own nation's domestic well being, or even our national security if you take it to extremes. So, when I became President four years later, the energy depletion and the excessive dependence of the United States on foreign oil, was still a very pressing item on our nation's consciousness, including mine as the leader of my country. So I began a very strong move for energy conservation, to reduce the waste of oil, and I raised fairly dramatically the ability to charge reasonable prices for oil instead of very low subsidized prices, with an excess profits tax so that the oil companies wouldn't benefit too much. This applied to oil and natural gas. So I've always had an adverse reaction to the use of oil as a weapon. It's almost an act of war when it's done. One of the final items that was an obstacle to the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was the fact that Israel was occupying Egyptian territory, including Egyptian oil wells, and it was this Egyptian oil that was being used to furnish Israel with an assured supply of petroleum products. And I had to work out at the last minute, with Begin, an agreement to return these oil wells to Egypt, and Egypt agreed through President Sadat to let Israel have first call on the oil produced in the Sinai region. And I also agreed with Israel that if Egypt should cut off the supply, that the United States would supply Israel with oil at the world market price. So oil has always been a very difficult issue for us. Nowadays, the United States, many years later, has lowered its guard and we are not importing more than half our total oil consumed from foreign sources.
INT: Last question. What part did your Christian faith play in the formulation of your foreign policy and your fortitude in carrying it out?
JC: I don't think there's any doubt that my Christian faith has permeated my life in almost everything that I have done, as a businessman, as a family leader, as a Governor and as a President. I happen to be a Baptist, with my father's own commitment to the total separation of Church and State, in that the government cannot impose my religious beliefs on any other citizen of my country, and that my church shouldn't try to claim a privileged position in our secular society. But there's no doubt that my promise to tell the truth when I was in the White House, my commitment to basic human rights, the alleviation of suffering, the promotion of peace in Zimbabwe and in the Middle East, and my reticence to use military force to accomplish America's political goals, are all compatible with my religious faith.
INT: Did prayer help you during Camp David, for example?
JC: Well, yes, there's no doubt that when I reached a crisis stage as President, that prayer was always part of my conscious effort. At Camp David, for instance, the one time that I remember praying most fervently was when I got the word that Sadat was leaving Camp David and going back to Egypt and he was through with the negotiations. So, I had on blue jeans, and very casual clothes; I put on slightly more formal clothes and I went off in a corner and I said a silent prayer that when I went to Sadat's cabin I might induce him to stay on for further peace talks. And of course, when I got to his cabin, I was ultimately successful. So my prayers were always designed to let me act... I would say compatibly with God's will and in an honest way. I have been able to refrain from praying that I would be victorious in elections or that my favorite football team would win the championship and things of that kind.
INT: Mr. Carter, thank you very much indeed.
JC: I've enjoyed it.