133. Editorial Note

From 1:04 to 1:50 p.m. on December 31, 1979, President Jimmy Carter participated in a taped television interview with Frank Reynolds, a correspondent with ABC News and co-anchor of ABC’s “World News Tonight.” Portions of the interview were scheduled to air that evening on the program with other segments scheduled to air on ABC throughout the week. Reynolds conducted the interview from the ABC News studios in New York; the President was in the Oval Office. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary)

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Earlier, on December 29, Carter had sent a hotline message to Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev regarding the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. For additional information about this message, and Brezhnev’s response, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume VI, Soviet Union, Document 248. Reynolds devoted a portion of the interview to this development:

“Mr. Reynolds. Mr. President, you’ve mentioned Afghanistan. Could you tell us what was Brezhnev’s response to your message to him?

“The President. He responded in what I consider to be an inadequate way. He claimed that he had been invited by the Afghan government to come in and protect Afghanistan from some outside third nation threat. This was obviously false. Because the person that he claimed invited him in, President Amin, was murdered or assassinated after the Soviets pulled their coup.

“The leader that’s presently been imposed upon the Afghan people was apparently brought in by the Soviet Union or either has not yet come into Afghanistan—He’s not been seen since he was anointed to be the leader by the Soviets and their cohorts in Afghanistan. He also claimed that they would remove their forces from Afghanistan as soon as the situation should be stabilized and the outside threat to Afghanistan was eliminated.

“So that was the tone of his message to me, which as I say, was completely inadequate and completely misleading.

“Mr. Reynolds. Well, he’s lying, isn’t he, Mr. President?

“The President. He’s not telling the facts accurately, that’s correct.

“Mr. Reynolds. Have you changed your perceptions of the Russians in the time that you’ve been here? You started out it seemed to a great many people believing that if you expressed your good will and demonstrated it that they would reciprocate it.

“The President. My opinion of the Russians has changed most [more] drastically in the last week than even the previous two and one-half years before that. It is only now dawning upon the world that the magnitude of the action that the Soviets undertook in invading Afghanistan. . . . This is a circumstance that I think is now causing even former close friends and allies of the Soviet Union to re-examine their opinion of what the Soviets might have in mind. . . . I think it is imperative that within the next few days, after we consult with one another that the leaders of the world make it clear to the Soviets that they cannot have taken this action to violate world peace not only in that region, but throughout the world without paying severe consequences. . . .

“What we will do about it, I cannot say. But, to repeat myself, the action of the Soviets has made a more dramatic change in my opinion [Page 679] of what the Soviets’ ultimate goals are than anything they’ve done in the previous time that I’ve been in office.

“Mr. Reynolds. But what we and the other nations allied with us do will involve more than stiff notes of protest . . .?

“The President. Yes it will.

“Mr. Reynolds. It will. Action will be taken?

“The President. Yes.” (American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents 1977–1980, Document 409) According to a transcript of the interview published in The New York Times on January 1, 1980, Reynolds also asked the President about the return of U.S. hostages in Iran, protection of broader U.S. interests, and the difficult decisions facing the President. He inquired as to whether or not the President would be forced to “make a choice,” presumably regarding the rescue of the hostages. The President responded:

“A. That’s an option that we have explored very thoroughly. Obviously we cannot separate the safety of the 50 hostages from our long-term American interests because they are intertwined. I don’t see any conflict between the two and for us to peremptorily cause bloodshed or start a war in Iran and in that entire Persian Gulf region just to show that I am brave or courageous or forceful or powerful would be exactly the wrong thing to do for the hostages and for our long-range interests. So I don’t see any conflict between the two.” (“Transcript of President’s Interview on Soviet Reply,” page 4)

In his diary entry for December 31, the President noted:

“I had a one-hour interview with Frank Reynolds of ABC. He’s going to chop up the interview into four or five sections and broadcast them on prime time the rest of the week. Jody thought the interview was great, and I think it was a very good one.” (White House Diary, page 383)