Campaign'80 interview with Walter Mondale; Mondale: Russians can't doubt US intentions

Mr. Vice-President, how do you respond to critics who say the Carter administration was very late in discovering the aggressive intentions of the Soviets?

From the beginning of our administration...we have been very realistic about Russian intentions and efforts. One of the biggest problems about the 1972 summit with the Soviet Union was that the world was persuaded or led to believe that there was a rosy new era of detente, that somehow the Soviet Union was a much more restrained and responsible power than later or previous events justified. We have never done that. We have never argued anything other than the Soviet Union was a tough competitor. We showed it in our budgets, we showed it in our strategy from the beginning. We negotiated a very tough and, I think, excellent SALT agreement. We immediately moved to strengthen NATO with a long-term improvement program. We started right out moving toward the decision for the long-range theater nuclear force structure to meet the [Soviet] challenge.

We moved swiftly into the Middle East to try to get something going there where we could bring about a reduction in tensions, and certainly the Camp David accords were a part of that. We opened up our relations with the People's Republic of China. We vastly improved relations throughout Asia and the Pacific -- among other things a permanent base in the Philippines

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From the very start we were realistic and showed our willingness to try detente, and we're still interested in detente, but at the same time fully appreciative of its difficulties and the need for deterrents.

What do you say to the charge that the President has sent out a signal of toughness to the Soviets, but because of his previous soft actions -- on Soviet troops in Cuba, for one -- there is little credibility in his words or actions now?

I don't think there's any evidence that we've been weak at all on the Cubans. We have been far more direct in public on Cuban involvement around the world. We've had considerable success in defeating the Cubans [in their bid for] a seat on the UN Security Council, where we helped lead the fight to block them....It comes in poor grace, it seems to me, for previous administrations that didn't even discover the presence of Soviet troops in Cuba to be critical of this administration, which did discover it and then move to insist on restraints and limitations there. Of course, just as with the Soviet Union, we've tried to get a basis for a reduced tensions with the Cubans, but it had to be based on different performance on their part....At no time have we done anything but keep the pressure on the Cubans to stop their international interventionism.

Some people are expressing anxiety that the President's drawing of a line in the Persian Gulf has to involve the nuclear threat.

I think the test of leadership was recently when the President took the tough step on the grain embargo, some of the other steps....All these people [who] have used hard adjectives have been remarkably reluctant to do anything that involves sacrifice and toughness. That was a good test and the President stood up well under it and the American people responded to that strength, as well as his leadership on the Olympic issue and the rest.

The best way to invite an absolutely fundamental challenge to the US as well as the security of the rest of the civilized world would be to leave doubts in the mind of the Soviet Union about the danger of any efforts on their part in Iran or Pakistan or the Middle East, the Persian Gulf. This could be catastrophic if they were to get in that position. The President drew a hard line there, and in so doing enhanced the possibility that conflict would not ensue. If doubt were left then they might be encouraged to do something like they've done in Afghanistan. . . . The Russians can be under no doubt whatsoever about our intentions there. We're moving rapidly to develop an expanded presence in a conventional sense in southwest Asia, in the Indian Ocean , in the Persian Gulf, in northern Africa, through the rapid-deployment forces and the rest. All of this is designed to make our challenge credible and to deter the Russians and to make less likely any threat or use of that kind.

What is your response to the charge that the President's new hawkishness is shaped by domestic political considerations?

The President's record has been consistent from the beginning. We are interested in detente. . . , but with the Soviets behaving in the way they are, we have no alternative but to continue to keep the pressure on and to build up our military forces and to make the points that we made. When the President announced the grain embargo -- now, after the Iowa caucuses everybody said, "Oh my goodness, politics.' But there wasn't anybody charging Carter with politics when he took that tough step. The politicians were the ones around saying, 'Get tough, but let's not do anything that hurts.' He did the tough thing there, and a dangerous thing politically. But the public supported him. How do you respond to the charge that the President is not dealing effectively with urgent problems at home -- inflation, growing recession, energy?

Let's just use a few. We have added more jobs to the work force than any administration in history -- over 9 million jobs. We have dealt more effectively, more comprehensively with the energy crisis than any administration in American history. We are going to have most of the President's package adopted within a few months now. We will have in place the largest single project in the history of America, larger than the space program, the highway program, and all those things. I won't detail the massive program, but the programs in place already will save 4 million barrels of oil a day by the mid-80 s. The program, when finally adopted, will literally have created a revolution in the laws, the structure, the approach, the attitude for both conservation and production. From the very beginning in early '77, this President has been out front leading.

Now, on inflation, everyone knows -- and I've been listening very closely to our critics -- that inflation is entirely too high; we're the first to say that. But they also know that it is fundamentally attributable to the energy crisis. The fact that international oil prices have soared by a thousand percent since 1970. Back in the Republican period when they had a similar problem with the oil embargo, they had 15 percent inflation. We cannot control international oil prices. The one thing we can do is to get our energy situation under control, and it is President Carter who's leading. I've been waiting for one of those critics to say what he would do differently. Contrary to the Republicans and the others, we have tightened this [federal budget] deficit tremendously from that which existed when we ran for office. We have restrained monetary policy; we have historic labor accord; and we've done it all without trying to throw a monkey wrench into the economy. We're getting growth and improved profits all at the same time. It's going to take a while to get this inflation down, but it is the other side of the energy problem. How do you answer the charge that the President for too long relied too heavily on inexperienced Georgians, particularly Jordan, Powell, Lance, Moore, Watson, Eisenstadt?

Every President I've ever known has brought in with him close friends and allies in his inner White House group. Jack Kennedy did it, Ford did it; it's just traditionally done. But, he [Carter] also brought in a lot of seasoned hands: Brzezinski, Vance; I|m here. Stu Eisenstadt is not a newcomer at all; he was an issues man for Hubert Humphrey and worked for Lyndon Johnson. We've constantly strengthened our staff. Charlie Schultze, one of the oldest hands in the business, is at the Council of Economic Advisers. I just think that's a bad rap. Isn't the President wrong not to campaign at this time? Doesn't he owe it to the American voters and to the democratic process to get out and discuss and debate the issues?

That's exactly what he intends to do. Right now we're going through this crisis with our hostages [in Iran], [and] this unprecedented challenge by the Soviet Union [in Afghanistan]. The latest survey I saw showed that the overwhelming majority of the American people want him right there. There's only one Presdent at a time, and we need him here a lot more than we need one more political speech right now. This President has probably been more accswered more questions, had a more open administration any other President. As soon as he can get thse other problems [settled], he intends to hit the trail -- and he will.

Will he debate too? Will he debate Kennedy?

He will be responsive to the normal political process. What do you say to the charge that the President put the blame on public malaise for not getting support for his domestic programs when it was really his lack of leadership that was involved?

If you read that speech carefully, he did say that there was a feeling in the country of some disappointment and it's accurate. He also said that there's a lot of spirit and strength in America. He proposed a very broad program for energy that's going to be adopted. He said by moving ahead dramatically to deal with the energy crisis we can help do two things: solve the energy crisis and also strengthen the national spirit. That's all accurate.Some critics say this administration has not done enough for the blacks and poor. other administration; the food stamp legislation; best civil rights enforcement program perhaps in America and in history; housing has been at good, high levels. There was virtually no youth employment program when we took over. We have 4 or 5 billion in that program now. We've just announced an exciting and dramatic program to deal with this tragic problem of youth unemployment, particularly minority youth unemployment. We have dealth with health problems. There's just no basis for that charge. Some of your critics within the Jewish community allege that the President has been tilting toward the Arab countries and away from Israel.

Maybe I could just qoute [former Israeli Foreign Minister] Dayan and [present Defense Minister] Weizman, who know a little bit about it. They both have said that no President has done more for Israel than Carter -- that the Middle East accords have fundamentally changed the picture there. The President's personal involvement is instrumental. Now you know, when Begin visited Egypt for the first time last year, he was the first head of Israel to do so in 2,500 years. The community knows full well that we've done a good job there. Can you justify the President's failure to fulfill his campaign promise to cut defense spending?

When he ran he said he thought we could cut waste in the defense budget, and we did cut certain projects like the B1. At the same time he had to deal with what he perceived to be the growing Soviet threat. In each year of the Carter administration there has been real growth in the defense budget. In this coming budget there is going to be a substantial increase. We feel that we not only have added real resources but we've done a better job in putting them where we get more strength for the dollar. The Republicans during this campaign have been able tag you with a Democratic recession. How can you possibly win when. . .

We don't have a Democratic recession. We are trying to have a slowdown, a moderate slowing to bring down the inflation. The American people support that. If they look at the overall record of economic growth of jobs, profitability, economic vitality, our record is an excellent one. The public will see that. We have serious inflation, but they also know where that's coming from. Our opponents who are decrying inflation don't have an answer. We've done those things that make sense to deal with it.

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