Press Conference on the Iran Hostage Crisis (29 November 1979)  

President Carter: For the last 24 days our nation's concern has been focused on our fellow Americans being held hostage in Iran. We have welcomed some of them home to their families and their friends. But we will not rest nor deviate from our efforts until all have been freed from their imprisonment and their abuse. We hold the Government of Iran fully responsible for the well-being and the safe return of every single person .         

            I want the American people to understand the situation as much as possible but there may be some questions tonight which I cannot answer fully because of my concern for the well-being of the hostages.

            First of all I would like to say that I am proud of this great nation and I want to thank all Americans for their prayers, their courage, their persistence, their strong support and patience.

            During these past days our national will, our courage and our maturity have all been severely tested. And history will show that the people of the United States have met every test.

            In the days to come our determination may be even more sorely tried but we will continue to defend the security, the honor and the freedom of Americans everywhere.

            This nation will never yield to blackmail. For all Americans our constant concern is the well-being and the safety of our fellow citizens who are being held illegally and irresponsibly hostage in Iran.

            The actions of Iran have shocked the civilized world. For a government to applaud mob violence and terrorism, for a government actually to support and in effect participate in the taking and the holding of hostages is unprecedented in human history.

            This violates not only the most fundamental precepts of international law but the common ethical and religious heritage of humanity.

            There is no recognized religious faith on earth which condones kidnapping. There is no recognized religious faith on earth which condones blackmail. There is certainly no religious faith on earth which condones the sustained abuse of innocent people.

            We are deeply concerned about the inhuman and degrading conditions imposed on the hostages. From every corner of the world, nations and people have voiced their strong revulsion and condemnation of Iran and have joined us in calling for the release of the hostages. . . .  (end audio)

Q: I would like to follow up Mr. Schorr's question. The consequences of the crisis in Iran is drifting the United States into almost a cold war with the Islamic countries. Watching TV news for 25 days Americans soon will believe the whole Moslem world is hating them. Moreover, they are not told that the Shiites are a very minor minority among the population of the Islamic world because the majority is Sunni. Don't you think you get any help from any Islamic country? And what will your policy be towards the Islamic countries under the circumstances?

President Carter: Well the premise of your question is completely wrong. We're not approaching any sort of cold war with the Islamic countries. So far as I know every Islamic country has condemned Iran for its capture of our hostages and has been very supportive. This includes Moslem nations which in the past have not been close friends of ours -- Iraq, Libya and others.

            So I don't see this as a confrontation at all between our nation and the Islamic world. It's certainly not part of the Islamic faith to condone, as I said earlier , blackmail, or the persecution or harm of innocent people, or kidnapping, or terrorism.

            So I think that we have a very good relationship with the people and the governments of the Islamic world and I don't think it's deteriorated in this instance. In some ways we've been drawn closer to these people because they see what has occurred in Iran as something of a disgrace for their own religious faith and they don't see this as typical of what Moslems believe. I might add also that this is not typical of the Shiite faith, either. It's the misguided actions of a few people in Iran who are burning with hatred and a desire for revenge completely contrary to the teachings of the Moslem faith. 

Q: Mr. President, there is a feeling of hostility throughout the country towards Iran because of hostages. Senator Long said the taking of our embassy in Iran, in his words, is an act of war. There are rumors-since denied-that our Navy has been called up for service. I ask you as our Commander in Chief, is war possible, is war thinkable?

President Carter: It would be a mistake for the people of our country to have aroused within them hatred-toward anyone. Not against the people of Iran, and certainly not against Iranians who may be in our country as our guests.

            We certainly do not want to be guilty of the same violation of human decency and basic human principles that have proven so embarrassing to many of the Iranian citizens themselves.

            We obviously prefer to see our hostages protected and released completely through peaceful means. And that's my deepest commitment. And that will be my goal.

            The United States has other options available to it which will be considered depending upon the circumstances, but I think it would not be well advised for me to speak of those specifically tonight. 

Q: Mr. President, many Americans view the Iranian situation as one in a succession of events that proves that this country's power is declining. How can you assure Americans tonight that our power is not declining abroad and how are you reassessing priorities for the eighties in foreign policy?

President Carter: The United States has neither the ability nor the will to dominate the world, to interfere in the internal affairs of other nations, to impose our will on other people whom we desire to be free to make their own decisions.

            This is not part of the commitment of the United States.

            Our country is the strongest on earth. We're the strongest militarily, politically, economically, and I think we're the strongest morally and ethically.

            Our country has made great strides even since I've been in office.

            I've tried to correct some of the defects that did exist. We have strengthened the military alliances of our country, for instance.

            NATO now has a new spirit, a new confidence, a new cohesion, improving its military capabilities, much more able to withstand any threat from the East from the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact than it was before.

            We've espoused again the principles that unite Americans and make us admired throughout the world, raising the banner of human rights. We're going to keep it high.

            We have opened up avenues of communication, understanding, trade, with people that formerly were our enemies or excluded us -- several countries in Africa, the vast people and the vast country of the People' s Republic of China.

            In doing so we have not alienated any of our previous friends. I think our country is strong within itself. There is not an embarrassment now about our Government, which did exist in a few instances in years gone by. So I don't see at all that our country has become weak. We are strong and we are getting stronger, not weaker .

            But if anybody thinks that we can dominate other people with our strength, military or political strength or economic strength, they're wrong. That's not the purpose of our country.

            Our inner strength, our confidence in ourselves, I think is completely adequate and I believe the unity that the American people have shown in this instance, their patience, is not at all a sign of weakness. It is a sign of sure strength.  

Question:  In what ways was the U.S. becoming stronger during this time?