Browse Topics



Interview: Jimmy Carter Discusses The Possibility Of War With Iraq And U.S. Policy With Regards To The Middle East

Morning Edition: February 25, 2003

Carter Urges More Diplomacy on Iraq


When former President Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December, he concluded his acceptance speech with these words.

Former President JIMMY CARTER: Ladies and gentlemen, war may sometimes be a necessary evil, but no matter how necessary, it is always evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other's children.

EDWARDS: Carter has been a tireless advocate for peace through his non-profit Carter Center. His advocacy has, at times, made him a critic of the Bush administration's policies toward Iraq and North Korea. In his new book, "The Nobel Peace Prize Lecture," Carter outlines how peace should be the foundation of any country's foreign relations. This view still leaves room for war, he says, especially in the case of Iraq.

Mr. CARTER: The American people have two basic commitments that are pretty universal. One is that we want Iraq to eliminate all weapons of mass destruction, and secondly, we'd like to do this peacefully. My hope is, and my prayer is, that we can accomplish both those goals. The bottom line is that Iraq must comply with United Nations resolutions to eradicate all weapons of mass destruction, and I think that if Iraq refuses to comply, then the war would be inevitable.

EDWARDS: You were critical in the past of the Bush administration's reluctance to take the case against Iraq to the United Nations. Do you support a second UN resolution backing military action against Iraq?

Mr. CARTER: Yes, I do. As I expressed in this book, I think that this is a very good move to strengthen the United Nations and not to weaken it, and to strengthen our ties with our natural allies and others around the world who want to see this issue resolved, but resolved peacefully, if possible, through the United Nations.

EDWARDS: What about the breakdown in ties with France and Germany and the United States? Is this a temporary breach or a real cause for concern?

Mr. CARTER: I really believe it's a temporary breach, just based on this one argument, and I don't have much doubt that the leaders of France and Germany are now representing, fairly accurately, a majority of people throughout Europe.

EDWARDS: As president, you tried not to take sides in the Middle East as a means of brokering a peace agreement. What do you make of the Bush administration's approach?

Mr. CARTER: I think that the present stalemate in the Mideast, and the lack of vigor in the United States government in seeking a resolution is one of the major causes of dissention, not only in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, but throughout the world. It has driven a dividing line between us and Muslims throughout the world and others who think that the United States is the only avenue to peace. This is the first time since Israel became a nation, and certainly since the 1967 War, when the American government has not tried to take a balanced role and tried to negotiate forcefully to bring about peace. We're not doing that now.

EDWARDS: What should the US be doing to help resolve the Middle East problem?

Mr. CARTER: I would like to see our government continue to work with the so-called other members of the quartet--that is Russia, Great Britain and the United Nations--evolve a proposal on the Mideast based on United Nations Resolution 242; that is a withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories and a peaceful relationship without terrorist acts in the Mideast and pursue this aggressively at the negotiating table, as I did when I was in the White House, as other presidents all the way through President Clinton have done vigorously, including George Bush, Sr., and make an effort to bring the two parties to a table with a hope of peace and justice for both sides.

EDWARDS: And in North Korea? You helped ease tensions between the US and North Korea in 1994 by negotiating for peace. What should the US do now?

Mr. CARTER: Well, I would like to see us find some avenue to have direct talks with North Korea. What we have at this moment is a deadlock, and what I've advocated is that through some mechanism--either sponsored by China or Russia or some other means--that we find an excuse to save face, but also to negotiate directly with the North Koreans. My hope is, and my belief is, is this is what the North Koreans want and that there can be a resolution of this issue peacefully.

EDWARDS: You promote pace and democracy abroad through the Carter Center. Do you worry there's too much pushing and not enough diplomacy in current US foreign policy?

Mr. CARTER: Well, I think the diplomatic effort in this present standoff, concerning both North Korea and Iraq, has not been adequate. The public opinion polls that I have seen, almost throughout the world, show that America has not yet prevailed in convincing other countries or other peoples that our policies are correct. I know that Secretary of State Colin Powell is now in the Far East, in China, on the way to South Korea to try to convince the other nations that our policy in not negotiating with North Korean is a proper one. So far, he's not been successful.

EDWARDS: With so much attention on Iraq and North Korea, is another part of the world being neglected?

Mr. CARTER: Well, the Carter Center's involved every day in Venezuela, and we've helped in four different elections in Venezuela in the last five years. Venezuela and Bolivia are trouble spots. We've already mentioned a part that I think is being neglected between Israel and the Palestinians. Africa is always much more greatly in need. So, yes, the rest of the world is often neglected, and I think that a lot of the world was neglected when I was in office as well.

EDWARDS: As you travel abroad, have you noticed a significant rise in anti-American sentiment?

Mr. CARTER: I think the anti-American sentiment now is at the highest point that I have ever witnessed in my life. The Carter Center now has programs in 65 different countries in the world--35 of them are in Africa--and there's a great expression of anti-American feeling, and this is exhibited not only to diplomats, but also to business leaders and others who come back home and make their reports. Yes, I think the anti-American sentiment is very high right now.


Mr. CARTER: I think it's primarily because we've abandoned any real effort to bring peace to the Mideast, and the fact that we have persisted in moving, at least rhetorically, against Iraq with the insinuation that we would do it unilaterally.

EDWARDS: Or is just a product of being the last remaining superpower?

Mr. CARTER: Well, as a matter of fact, as I tried to explain in my Nobel address, this is the first time in world history that there has been one unquestioned superpower, economically, military, politically and even, I would say, socially and culturally in many ways. And this has aroused from opposition, some jealousy, some animosity toward America just because of our extreme success.

EDWARDS: Thank you, Mr. President.

Mr. CARTER: It's been a pleasure to talk to you.

EDWARDS: Former President Jimmy Carter's new book is "The Nobel Peace Prize Lecture." An extended version of the interview is at

The time is 29 minutes past the hour.

Copyright 2003 National Public Radio®. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information, please contact NPR's Permissions Coordinator at (202) 513-2000.

This transcript was created by a contractor for NPR, and NPR has not verified its accuracy. For all NPR programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version.