BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Programmes: Hardtalk  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Thursday, 12 December, 2002, 10:18 GMT
Jimmy carter
Former US President, Jimmy Carter
HARDtalk with Tim Sebastian - interview with Jimmy Carter

This interview was shown on BBC World on 10 December 2002.

Please credit HARDtalk with Tim Sebastian and BBC World television if printing extracts.

INTRODUCTION:

TIM SEBASTIAN (TS): Amid all the US military building-up in the Gulf comes a Nobel Peace Prize here in Oslo, not to the current US President but to one who served more than 20 years ago and has consistently opposed unilateral military action against Iraq.

Is the Nobel Committee playing politics with the prize, and is Jimmy Carter encouraging it?

President Jimmy Carter, a very warm welcome to the programme.

JIMMY CARTER (JC):
It's good to be with you.

TS:
Just as you're receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, many thousands of people around the world are concerned that your country may be about to start an uncertain and costly war with Iraq. Do you share those concerns?

JC:
No, I don't. I think the United States has demonstrated quite clearly that we are committed to the United Nations Resolution passed by the Security Council.

We have agreed to support the inspection teams. We've agreed to honour their findings and only if there is a default or refusal by Saddam Hussein to comply with the UN Security Council Resolution, would there be any prospect of military action, and before that happens, the United States has agreed, as you know, that that would go back to the United Nations Security Council for a decision.

TS:
For a decision or to discuss it? They haven't said that the decision can be made by the Security Council.

JC:
Well, to discuss it, but you know, my country has always complied with the UN, United Nations, and I'm sure we will again.

TS:
You yourself wrote in September that the belligerent and divisive voices in Washington now seem to be dominating. Do you still feel that way?

JC:
They do not dominate. As a matter of fact, as you know, those divisive voices to which I referred were calling for unilateral action.

The United States government has decided that it should be multi-national and not to go to the UN Security Council, that's what the voices said, they've gone to the Security Council; not to concentrate on the inspection team, they've now decided to go with the inspection teams; and to concentrate then they proposed on regime change, and now the concentration is on removal of weapons of mass destruction.

So I think that all those voices that were quite loud if not dominant three months ago have been reversed, and I think the United States has taken a completely appropriate, multi-nationally supported position.

TS:
But you're a lot more optimistic about Saddam Hussein's compliance than the White House for instance. You said, 'I think and I hope he's in compliance.' The current President says, 'The signs are not encouraging.'

JC:
I don't have access to secret information about....

TS:
You could have, couldn't you, if you wanted to?

JC:
I'm not sure how complete the briefing for me would be, but yes, if I asked for a briefing, I could get a briefing.

But I have based my opinion on the report of Mr. Blix, the chairman of the inspection team, and also on the statements of the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, who said that at least so far, the indications are that Iraq has complied with the demands of the inspection team, and I hope that they will continue to do so. I have no assurance, of course, that that will take place.

TS:
But America's apparently delivered a statement saying it has no weapons of mass destruction. The clear view of America and Britain is that it has, that's why we have a crisis at the moment.

JC:
Well, I'm not sure that at this point, any member of the Security Council has seen the 11,000 pages of report, and all the information will eventually come out, not only for the members of the Security Council, but also for the public. I don't know how to make a judgment in advance.

TS:
But British officials already describe the document as 'the mother of all nonsense.'

JC:
I was not aware that the British officials had access to the document but I don't know that my information is correct.

TS:
Would there be any reason to believe Saddam Hussein and his government after all the lies that have been told over all the years?

JC:
Well, I wouldn't want to get in the position of defending the Saddam Hussein regime whom I condemn quite deeply and sincerely, when they invaded Iran during the hostage crisis many years ago when I was President.

I don't know how to answer that question about they will or will not comply. I think it is the threat of military action that has become the greatest inducement to Saddam Hussein to comply with the Security Council.

TS:
So force and the threat of force is really the only things that bring about results these days.

JC:
It is a major factor, yes.

TS:
And you say this as someone who's worked tirelessly for peace, that you need almost to back up peace efforts with the threat of force?

JC:
Not always. Sometimes it's not necessary. I've been involved in a lot of peace talks, when I was representing only the Carter Center, which has no authority and no military capability.

Sometimes an honest and sincere appeal by a trusted mediator can induce two adversaries to agree to a ceasefire temporarily, or to a permanent peace agreement.

In fact when I negotiated between Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat in 1978 and '79, there was no threat of force, but we offered our good services and both leaders saw that a treaty between Israel and Egypt was in the best interest of both countries, and not a word of that treaty, after 23 years, has been violated.

TS:
If in the current crisis with Iraq the US decides that the Security Council is no longer going to deliver what it wants to deliver, and decides on unilateral action, would you support that, or do you think that the determination whether to go to war should be made only by the Security Council?

JC:
Well, I would wait, I think, until that time materialises, because I don't want to say what I would or would not do, if this or that might happen. I think I'll avoid that speculation.

TS:
But there are cases where you think it's appropriate to take unilateral action, you wouldn't rule that out altogether.

JC:
I don't agree with the word 'unilateral' because it would have to be a justification for any initiation of war, in our hemisphere or in Asia or in the Mid-East or anywhere else.

TS:
Do you think the UN is still up to the job of helping to maintain stability in the world?

JC:
Yes. I think the United Nations now is as strong as it has ever been since 1945. I think their influence, that is, the Security Council's influence, has been enhanced in the last few months.

When the United States and the other nations went to the Security Council and said, 'We need this consultation, we need to put all the evidence before you, we need for the Security Council and not one nation to decide about the return of the inspection team,' and the United Nations itself, after weeks of intense negotiation, decided on the premises that would be guiding for the inspection team, I think that has strengthened and not weakened the status of the United Nations.

TS:
You don't see it as arm-twisting, that the United States went along and said, 'You better give us what we want, which is a resolution. If we don't get it, we'll go and do what we want.'

JC:
No, there was no arm-twisting so far as I know, but obviously the United States had one position at the beginning, France and Russia in particular had a contrary position, China was fairly silent, Great Britain was supporting the United States, and as is the case in all international negotiations with which I'm familiar, there was a consensus reached and all parties yielded a little bit on their original positions in order to seek agreement, and that's what happened. I think that's the best way to do things.

TS:
A senior official told us that the price for Russian agreement to the resolution was a verbal agreement to give them a free hand in Chechnya. If that in fact was the case, do you think that's too high a price?

JC:
I would not have done it. I don't agree with that. I think that Russia should, if possible, negotiate the Chechen problem maybe with mediation by an outside entity in order to resolve that problem peacefully, but to give them a so-called free hand, if the high British official was speaking with authority, would not be a means of condoning excessive force exerted on the Chechen people.

TS:
Does that shock you, that such an agreement might have been made?

JC:
Well, I'm not sure it was made.

TS:
But if it was?

JC:
It doesn't shock me that some British official said it, that's what your premise is. I think you can find a high British official, a high Russian official, a high Chechen official or a high French official that can say almost anything, but I doubt that that official was speaking with authority for the entire government of Great Britain.

TS:
President Carter, some people have sought to use your prize almost as a stick to beat President Bush with.

I mean, comments from the Nobel Committee Chairman Gunar Berger is a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken. Does that sadden you that it's been used in that way?

JC:
My understanding is that the other members of the committee stated that in the deliberations concerning the award of the Peace Prize, that the Iraqi issue was not even discussed, and that the award was made on a basis of, I quote their language, 'a life-time of assessment' of what I have done.

I presume also that the five members of the Nobel Peace Committee have the right to speak as they wish, and I don't presume that the chairman was speaking on behalf of the committee. He was posing his own personal opinion.

TS:
Does that opinion sadden you?

JC:
It doesn't sadden me. It has precipitated questions from news reporters and from interviewers, but I think that element has been discounted as far as the purpose of the award and the reasons for giving the award.

TS:
Nelson Mandela said, 'He' - talking about you - 'deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. When President Bush has taken that belligerent attitude, Carter has condemned him,' so it's being picked up by more than news media. Again, is that troubling that he should say something like that?

JC:
I've never in my life condemned President George W. Bush. I expressed my concern several months ago about some of the voices of high officials in Washington, not President Bush, and I'm very grateful that President Bush has decided to go on a proper route in addressing the Iraqi issue through the United Nations on a multi-national basis with the inspection team, and to remove weapons of mass destruction.

That has been my position from the very beginning and I'm very grateful that it is also the official position of President George W. Bush and the United States government.

TS:
But you were quoted last July as saying, 'I've been disappointed in almost everything he's done.' Do you still feel that way? You don't as far as working with the United Nations is concerned, but on other issues?

JC:
Well, there are some issues on which I agree with the government and some on which I disagree, and I have had the same opinions, supportive and contrary when President Clinton was in office and when President Bush Senior was in office and when President Reagan was in office, and even earlier when President Ford was there before I was, so you know, as an American citizen, and as a member of the Democratic Party, not very active in politics any more, I expressed my views, but I have nothing but congratulations for President Bush for the final position that he took, which has been the US position as approved by the UN Security Council.

TS:
Is he doing a good job generally though?

JC:
Well, I would have preferred to see a Democrat in the White House.

TS:
But you're worried about unilateralism, aren't you?

JC:
Yeah.

TS:
I mean, you talked about peremptory rejections and nuclear arms agreement, the biological weapons convention, environment protection, use of these unilateral acts and assertions increasingly isolate the United States from the very nations needed to join in combatting terrorism, so this is a matter of principle for you, isn't it?

JC:
I would like very much to see the international agreements on landmines approved, which were not disapproved by President Bush but by President Clinton.

I would like to see the international criminal court I implemented, which was opposed for seven years by President Clinton, not President Bush.

I would like to see the United States comply quite early with the total elimination of chemical weapons by international inspection or prohibition against testing nuclear weapons. But you see, these are decisions made not just by the present Republican administration, but also by the previous Democratic administration.

So I would say that my general attitude toward these international agreements are much more accommodating to world opinion because the policies suit my own philosophy, then the final decisions of the US government in recent years both in this administration and in previous administrations.

TS:
But you think it's vital to go out and make friends rather than search for enemies.

JC:
I'm sure every President knows the advantages of making friends, yes.

TS:
Except one, about which you said 'We have ignored or condoned abuses in nations that support our anti-terrorism efforts while detaining American citizens as enemy combattants.' I mean, you seem to be speaking as a matter of principle, you're known as a defender on human rights.

These are things that deeply concern you and your co-workers at the Carter Center. This is what you do, isn't it?

JC:
The policy of the Carter Center, which I think accurately represents my own attitude, is one to promote peace whenever possible, and to enhance human rights whenever possible.

TS:
Even at the cost of speaking out against your own administration's policy?

JC:
Well, the administration in Washington disagrees with that philosophy of promoting peace and human rights, I have always reserved the right to speak out, even 20 years ago, and I still reserve that right.

TS:
Do you understand the dislike of America that's grown up in certain parts of the world in recent years?

JC:
Well, in certain parts, but I saw some opinion polls just recently by the Pew Foundation, which is a very respected group in the United States.

It showed by an overwhelming majority that people around the world admire and support America. There are a few things on which world opinion is more negative toward America, but you have to realise that there's just one super-power now and in every issue that arises, whether it's in Iraq or the Mid-East or whether it's in East Timor or Sri Lanka or Sudan, the United States is expected to play a leading role, maybe not the pre-eminent role.

TS:
You presumably subscribe more to President Clinton's view that the US could and should use a little more of its money to go out and buy itself some friends.

JC:
Well, I wouldn't say buy friends. No, I don't agree with that, but I think for instance in the Middle East, the United States has historically been, and should be, an honest broker. I think we should be working assiduously to bring the two parties, the Palestinians and the Israelis, together now, as was done here in Oslo.

TS:
But you've said you've been disappointed with successive administrations since you left office and their inability to develop more resources or more attention or more concentration.

JC:
Yes. It hasn't always been my disappointment focused on an administration. It's also been focused on the leaders of the Palestinians and the Israelis and the Arab world.

You have to have courageous and dedicated leaders, as was the case with Prime Minister Begin and Anwar Sadat, President Anwar Sadat, in order to reach an accommodation.

It's certainly not always the responsibility of the mediator, but usually the major responsibility and the ultimate responsibility has to be the leaders of the adversarial forces.

TS:
Would you like to see US aid used as a lever and possibly US aid to Israel cut back because you wrote in April, you cited as a persuasive factor the $10 million of daily American aid to Israel, and you pointed out that George Bush Senior had threatened this assistance in '92 to prevent the building of Israeli settlements between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

JC:
Well, I did the same thing when I was President. There was a time when Israel was contemplating an invasion of Lebanon, and I went to Israel and confronted Prime Minister Begin about it, and I told him in effect that if US weapons were used in an invasion of Lebanon, that I would use my authority as President, which I had under the law, to declare that these weapons were being used improperly, and not for the defence of Israel, but for the attack of another country, and at that time Prime Minister Begin cancelled his decision to go into Lebanon.

TS:
So that's an effective lever which could be used again.

JC:
I think so, and after I left office, as you know, and President Reagan was in office, Prime Minister Begin authorised Israel to go into Lebanon 40 kilometres, but the then Defence Minister Sharon, I think without the authority of the Prime Minister, decided to go all the way to Beirut.

But yes, I think that's an appropriate law to enforce if Israel uses its American-supplied weapons other than in the defence of Israel.

TS:
You're quite on Israel, aren't you? You talked about Israel's inability to live peacefully with its neighbours earlier today. It is a country that's been under constant attack, constant attack from suicide bombers. Is it fair to talk about Israel's inability to live peacefully with its neighbours?

JC:
Well, I think Israel would very much like to live peacefully with its neighbours, and in 1978/79, and for a number of years afterward as you know, there was no violence there.

Israel was living in harmony with its neighbours, and as I mentioned earlier, the treaty between Israel and Egypt that I helped to negotiate is still very advantageous to both Israel and Egypt, and so far as I know, not a single word of that treaty has been violated.

TS:
So your point?

JC:
My point is that Israel has on occasion lived in peace with its neighbours, and would like to again, and my hope is that we'll see that day come.

TS:
But you don't have much expectation while Ariel Sharon is leader?

JC:
No, I don't. But I have seen recent statements, in fact today, by Ariel Sharon, that peace talks were being conducted with the support of his government, with the Palestinians, and the latest news is that I saw on CNN recently, within the last hour, is that the Palestinians have denied that the peace talks were taking place with Ariel Sharon's government. But peace talks....

TS:
That's probably a sure sign that they are.

JC:
But peace talks are continuing and have been underway for a number of years with which I'm fairly familiar, between a group of Israelis and a group of Palestinians, at Taba, which is the sea-coast town, building upon the proposals that were made three or four years ago to Prime Minister Barak and to Chairman Arafat.

So I think that quiet, citizen-type negotiation in the Mid-East is always encouraging, because if they can define among themselves a patently fair delineation of borders, and a patently honest and fair way to deal with East Jerusalem and with the return of Palestinians, either to permit a certain number to come back under prescribed conditions, or to be compensated for what they've lost, I think that would make it much more difficult for rejectionist leaders to forego that opportunity for peace

Who knows? It's still too early to say, but I think that progress is being made in an unofficial way.

TS:
But it needs more engagement by the US and a firmer tack with Israel.

JC:
And by the Palestinians. I think all three parties need to be more committed to it, but I'm very encouraged by this back way of exploring the difficult issues.

TS:
President Carter, are you proudest of your days since leaving the White House, of your achievements since leaving the White House? Were there too many constraints? It's the most powerful office on earth, but are there too many constraints on the man who actually holds that office?

JC:
No, I don't think there are too many constraints. You know, our constitution is now more than 200 years old. It's been very rarely changed. It's the oldest constitution on earth, and every President has lived according to the constitution, and I did, too.

TS:
I was thinking of Cuba particularly, where you issued a directive ordering the normalisation of relations but it never got that far.

JC:
No, I didn't do that. I lifted all the travel restraints that prevented Americans from going to Cuba and that directive stayed in effect until I left office and President Reagan reversed that position.

I made the first step to normalise diplomatic relations with Cuba by forming an interest section, an official office, by the United States in Havana and by Cuba in Washington. That interest section has never been closed, even under President Reagan or subsequent leaders, and I think that's still intact.

And I don't have any doubt in my own mind, which may be quite subjective or prejudiced, that if I had a second term, we would have gone on toward normal relations with Cuba.

TS:
Do you still wish you had?

JC:
Wish I had had a second term? My wife does. I wouldn't want to change my life, the way it's been.

It was a very bitter disappointment to me when I was not re-elected, and I didn't have any idea of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but Rosa and I decided to start the Carter Center with very slight glimmer of hope about what it might be, but it has far exceeded our expectations, and it's given us a very fruitful and exciting and unpredictable and challenging and adventurous, I would say a gratifying life.

So I don't think I would want to undo my life and change it substantially, even for a second term.
TS:
President Jimmy Carter, it's been a great pleasure having you on the programme. Thank you very much indeed.

JC:
I enjoyed it. Thank you.



HARDtalk with Tim Sebastian is broadcast Mon - Friday on BBC World and BBC News 24
HARDtalk home
About HARDtalk
Tim Sebastian biography
Programme schedules
Contact us
FAQs
RELATED WEBSITES
BBC News 24BBC News 24
The latest news, sport and weather
Links to more Hardtalk stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Hardtalk stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes