20. Editorial Note

At his first press conference, held in the Old Executive Office Building on February 8, 1977, at 2:30 p.m., President Jimmy Carter discussed the impact addressing human rights concerns might have on U.S.-Soviet relations:

“Q. Mr. President, there have been a series of actions taken in recent days by the Soviet Union, including the expulsion of American journalists and the arrest of Alexander Ginsburg, actions that we have taken issue with in one form or another. How concerned are you that by being outspoken on issues of human rights that we may jeopardize possibly our relations with the Soviet Union on other matters?

“The President. Well, this brings up the question that is referred to as linkage. I think we come out better in dealing with the Soviet Union if I am consistently and completely dedicated to the enhancement of human rights, not only as it deals with the Soviet Union but all other countries. I think this can legitimately be severed from our inclination to work with the Soviet Union, for instance, in reducing dependence upon atomic weapons and also in seeking mutual and balanced force reductions in Europe.

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“I don’t want the two to be tied together. I think the previous administration, under Secretary Kissinger, thought that there ought to be this linkage; that if you mentioned human rights or if you failed to invite Mr. Solzhenitsyn to the White House that you might endanger the progress of the SALT talks.

“I don’t feel that way. I think it ought to be clear, and I have made clear directly in communication to Mr. Brezhnev and in my meeting with Ambassador Dobrynin, that I was reserving the right to speak out strong and forcefully whenever human rights are threatened—not every instance, but when I think it is advisable. This is not intended as a public relations attack on the Soviet Union, and I would hope that their leaders could recognize the American people’s deep concern about human rights.

“I think in many other countries of the world there has been some progress. I think in the Soviet Union there has already been some progress. The number of Jews, for instance, who have been permitted to emigrate from the Soviet Union in the last few months has increased.

“If this trend should continue, I would be encouraged. But I would have to take this position of being independent in my own public pronouncements. I’ve got a lot to learn. I was concerned the other day, for instance, when the AP reporter [George Krimsky] was expelled from Moscow. I had at first thought to retaliate by expelling the AP reporter from Washington. But I found out that was not the right approach to take.

“But we have got to be firm, and we have got to be forceful. But I don’t want to tie everything together in one package so that we are timid about insisting on human rights.

“Q. Do you interpret this in any way as a kind of testing of you by the Soviet Union?

“The President. No, I don’t. I don’t interpret it as a testing. I regret the fact that the Soviet Union saw fit to expel a newspaper reporter. I regret very deeply the fact that the Soviet Union has now incarcerated Mr. Ginsburg, who has been one of the leaders in the Soviet Union in representing the case of the dissidents. But I can’t go in with armed forces and try to change the internal mechanism of the Soviet Government.

“But I don’t think it is designed to aggravate me or to test me or to test the will of this country. My commitment to human rights is clear. I will maintain that clarity to the maximum extent possible.

“I don’t want to mislead the American people in dealing with the Soviets or with others. We can’t expect overnight success. It requires long, tedious, labored, very carefully considered progress. I am not looking for magic answers but my determination is very deep.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pages 99–100; brackets in the original)

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The press conference was broadcast live on radio and television. The President noted in his personal diary: “I had my first press conference. I felt completely at ease and leveled with the press the best I could, describing frankly some of the crucial issues that face our country. The major emphasis was on SALT talks and human rights. I spelled out in general terms our positions on these issues and intend to keep the press conferences on schedule and not evade issues any more than necessary for national security.” (White House Diary, pages 17–18)