Jimmy Carter takes a look at '84 race, arms race, Mideast

A relaxed Jimmy Carter - free from the burden of the Oval Office and once again exceedingly cordial - gave reporters his latest views on national and global affairs and made a little news en route:

* For a while Mr. Carter sounded as though he were backing away from supporting former Vice-President Walter F. Mondale's quest for the Democratic presidential nomination.

''I don't agree,'' he said of Mr. Mondale's advocacy of getting tough with the Japanese on trade. He said that a protectionist policy ''is not good for the country.''

''But,'' he added, ''I don't want people coming away from this breakfast thinking I'm not for Mondale. He is still my favorite. . . . He wants to run his own campaign, to separate himself from me. It is advisable. . . . I don't want him to inherit my problems.''

Carter said that Mondale was doubtless wooing labor when he took this protectionist position, that he might well have been courting an AFL-CIO endorsement.

* The former President said he did not favor a nuclear freeze, ''not in the simplistic form it is being proposed. There must be verification. We must be certain the Soviets are complying.'' He said that a bilateral nuclear-arms freeze, where verification was certain, ''would be very acceptable.''

* He said that in pursuing their Mideast peace initiative, ''Reagan and (Secretary of State George P.) Shultz must be very forceful in making sure that the American views are known to (Israeli Prime Minister Menachem) Begin. Begin takes advantage of loopholes. Reagan and Shultz must be clear, forceful, and persistent.''

Carter said the President should make it clear that Israeli settlements should not be expanded until peace talks are concluded.

Did he think a change in Israeli leadership was imminent? ''No, I don't think so,'' he said, noting that Begin and (Israel's Defense Minister Ariel) Sharon still are reasonably popular in Israel.

* ''We are in an arms race,'' said Carter. ''Both sides are at fault. . . . But the Soviets precipitated the arms race.''

He said that when President Reagan moved early toward a big buildup in defense ''it sent out tremors,'' not only to Russia but throughout Europe. He said he suspected that in the end Mr. Reagan will reduce his military expenditures to somewhere in the neighborhood of the Carter military budget.

* Asked if he thought Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts was planning another presidential campaign, Carter said: ''He's been assessing this opportunity for the last decade or more. The presumption is he will run, and he's a formidable candidate.

''Four years ago, Kennedy was ahead of me 3 to 1. I think he thought I would drop out - the way Lyndon Johnson did when Robert Kennedy announced.

''The polls found that a lot of people who said they would support Ted Kennedy as a candidate had reservations about him actually serving in the Oval Office. That's still a factor. Maybe he can overcome it this time.''

* Carter clearly was keeping his options open for 1984 as far as where his final support would go. He said that if Kennedy were nominated, ''I will vote for the Democratic candidate.'' He said that, beyond his liking for Mr. Mondale, he also was fond of Reuben Askew. He views the former Florida governor as quite attractive.

Ohio Sen. John Glenn (D) also received some kind words. ''He has an Eisenhower demeanor,'' said Carter. ''And maybe the country is ready for that after having a born-again Baptist and a movie star in the presidency.''

Mr. Carter was asked: ''You are a relatively young ex-president. Is it within the realm of possibility that you might seek public office again?'' The answer: ''I have no thoughts on running again.'' Afterward, reporters commented that that reply left ample room for a later decision to make another bid for the presidency - perhaps even in 1984.

Mr. Carter said that Reagan had not kept him well briefed on developments in the foreign field. ''When I was negotiating on SALT II,'' he said, ''I saw to it that (former presidents) Ford and Nixon got all the details.''

At one point Mr. Carter disclosed that William Clark, head of the National Security Council, had come down to visit him at Plains, Ga., when he first took over that job. ''I feel I have a very good relationship with him,'' he added.

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