WASHINGTON (AP), March 2, 2002 - In former U.S. President Richard Nixon's Oval Office, Rev. Billy Graham didn't mince words in describing his feelings about Jewish people and the media: "This stranglehold has got to be broken or this country's going down the drain."

On Friday, the 83-year-old evangelist apologized for his words spoken 30 years ago and captured on an audio tape. The conversation was among 500 hours of Nixon tapes released this week by the National Archives. Most were recorded between January and June 1972.

"Although I have no memory of the occasion, I deeply regret comments I apparently made in an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon ... some 30 years ago," Graham said in a statement released by his Texas public relations firm. "They do not reflect my views and I sincerely apologize for any offense caused by the remarks."

In the conversation with Nixon, the Southern Baptist evangelist expressed disdain for what he saw as Jewish domination of the media.

"You believe that?" Nixon says in response.

"Yes, sir," says Graham.

"Oh boy. So do I," Nixon agrees, then says: "I can't ever say that, but I believe it."

"No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something," Graham says.

In his statement, Graham distanced himself from those comments and said his legacy has been one of working for stronger bonds between Jews and Christians.

"Throughout my ministry, I have sought to build bridges between Jews and Christians," he said. "I will continue to strongly support all future efforts to advance understanding and mutual respect between our communities."

Graham has been in frail health for years.

The friendship between Graham and the president began during the Eisenhower administration, when Nixon was vice president.

At a later point in the conversation, when Nixon raises the subject of Jewish influence in Hollywood and the media, Graham says, "A lot of Jews are great friends of mine."

"They swarm around me and are friendly to me. Because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth. But they don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them," Graham says.

Nixon replies: "You must not let them know."

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