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Lapis Views: 490
Published: 18 years ago



Feb 18 2003

From Alexandra Williams In Plains, Georgia

FORMER US President Jimmy Carter is backing the Daily Mirror's Not in My Name campaign.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, and the only US president since 1945 never to order American soldiers into war, endorsed our stance on war with Iraq, saying: "You're doing a good job. I am glad about that. War is evil."

Carter, who will be 79 this year, is a pariah among hawkish Republicans and a hero for doveish Democrats, frequently denouncing wars and conflict whenever they flare. He said: "There has been a virtual declaration of war but a case for pre-emptive action against Iraq has not been made. We want Saddam Hussein to disarm but we want to achieve this through peaceful means.

"He obviously has the capability and desire to build prohibited weapons and probably has some hidden in his country.

"A sustained and enlarged UN inspection team is required."

Carter said an opinion poll which rated the US as the country posing greatest danger to world peace was a "very embarrassing thing".

It was "sobering" to realise the degree of doubt that has been raised about his country's motives for war in the absence of convincing proof of a genuine Iraqi threat.

Looking at a copy of the Mirror he said: "I know the Daily Mirror, of course. I know it well. It's getting the message across."

We met at his home in Plains, the heart of rural Georgia, 130 miles south of Atlanta.

The former peanut farmer's house, where he lives with his wife Rosalynn, is surrounded by pungent red peanut fields and cotton farms.

It is set well back from the road behind a high iron fence. Secret Service patrol the area 24 hours a day.

Four Secret Service agents dressed in blue blazers and with curly wires coming from their right ears signalled his arrival.

He said: "The issue that concerns everybody is Iraq.

"The news this morning is that all over the world, including this country and Britain, there are massive demonstrations against the starting of a pre-emptive war.

"Obviously Saddam Hussein will have to comply with the revelation and destruction of all weapons of mass destruction.

"But there is a growing consensus, among other countries at least, that we should let the UN inspectors do their thing first before we start a pre-emptive war against Iraq."

Forever the diplomat, Carter was careful not to directly criticise President George Bush by name.

He said: "Some very embarrassing things have happened in this country.

"Time magazine in Europe did a public opinion poll on its website and over 350,000 people responded to the question, 'Which country poses the greatest threat to world peace?'

"North Korea received seven per cent of the votes, Iraq received eight per cent and the United States received 84 per cent.

"We have lost the ability apparently in our country to convince other nations to stand side by side with us."

He added: "I think most people, if they were asked, 'Would you prefer the Iraqi question was resolved peacefully?' would say yes.

"If you asked the same people, 'Do you think Iraq must comply with the UN requirement to eliminate weapons of mass destruction?' they would say yes.

"So the question is, how do we correlate these two yes answers in a positive and effective fashion?"

Carter has argued that any "belligerent move by Saddam would be suicidal" in the current climate of intense monitoring and therefore "inconceivable".

And he has described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the "festering cancer and root cause of much anti-American sentiment".

In private Carter makes his views about the government known, as a friend of his revealed.

The friend said: "The former President is far too discreet to go mouthing off.

"But people round here do remember him saying, 'Our State Department never gets upset about anything unless white skin or oil is involved'. His words have rung true again."

Carter's single term presidency from 1977 to 1981 was often dismissed as ineffective, despite his greatest success - the Camp David agreement of 1978 which led to the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

This was quickly eclipsed by the energy crisis and the taking of US hostages in Iran.

However his activities since he lost office have been held up as a model for a post-presidential career. He has "waged peace", as he calls it.

A commentator once quipped: "Carter used the presidency as a stepping stone to what he really wanted to do in life."

Unlike most of his successors, Carter - an ex-President at only 56 - did not take up golf or take to the lucrative lecture circuit.

He returned to Plains and a year later set up the Carter Center in Atlanta, through which he has negotiated with some of the world's most controversial figures.

He has circled the globe as a freelance mediator in international conflicts. He has defended democracy by monitoring elections and pioneering medical programmes in the Third World. And he has built housing for Atlanta's poor.

It remains to be seen just how effective his influence can be on the warmongers. But if his CV is anything to go by he could hold the key to the crisis.


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