CBS Honors ‘Nobel Laureate’ Carter, Who Hails His Relations with Dictators

On Tuesday’s CBS "Early Show," host Harry Smith interviewed former president Jimmy Carter, who he introduced as "Nobel Peace Prize Laureate President Jimmy Carter." Smith then proceeded to launch into a discussion about Iran citing an "an exhaustive investigative piece in the New Yorker...by Sy [Seymour] Hersh." Apparently Harry and ‘Sy’ are good buddies. Smith described how Hersh’s article "chronicles the building up, the drum beats of the potential of war with Iran" and asked Carter: "Is there a best way to find peace with Iran?"

Asking the president who oversaw the disastrous Iranian hostage crisis how to deal with Iran is like asking the dictator of Sudan how to bring about an end to the genocide in Darfur. Oh wait, Carter has talked to the Sudanese tyrant about that very issue:

HARRY SMITH: You're working with Richard Branson's group, this group called "The Elders," Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, on the ground. You talked to [Sudanese leader Omar al] Bashir, al Bashir?"

JIMMY CARTER: "Oh, yes, several times, I've known Bashir since he was a colonel."

SMITH: "Does he get it?"

CARTER: "Oh, yes. He's quite aware, he's quite knowledgeable. He's now been the leader of the country for 18 years. He is intimately involved in everything that goes on there. He's a very intelligent person."

The discussion of Sudan was prompted in the second part of the interview following a question by Smith about Carter’s diplomatic efforts: "Were you unhappy with the way the Clinton Administration picked up on the seed work, the tilling of the soil that you did in some of those trouble spots?" Don’t worry, Smith never wandered too far away from the Clinton camp: "If Hillary Clinton were to end up in the White House, do you think she would do a better job vis-a-vis some of the work that you've done and her receptiveness to it?"

Another diplomatic misadventure that Carter touted to Smith was his visit to North Korea:

But in the case of North Korea, I did get finally approval from Bill Clinton to go to North Korea, but after I had been invited for three years to go and try to ease the tension there. We worked out a deal where North Korea gave up its nuclear program for the time being, which later President Clinton adopted as his own policy, which is very good.

Given North Korea’s development of a nuclear program after Carter’s "deal," one has to wonder what kind of fertilizer he used to "till" that "soil."

Here is the full transcript of the interview:

7:00 AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: "First, though, joining us this morning a news maker in his own right, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate President Jimmy Carter. Mr. President, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with us, many of us, at CBS News, just a week or so ago, and she said the most dangerous country in the world right now is Iran. There's an exhaustive investigative piece in the New Yorker about a week ago by Sy Hersh. He chronicles the building up, the drum beats of the potential of war with Iran. Just yesterday, General Petraeus in Iraq said that the Iranian ambassador to Iraq, he claims, is a member of the Alquds force, the special forces Iranian National Guard. Is there a best way to find peace with Iran? Is it diplomatic, or is it military?"

JIMMY CARTER: "Well, it's definitely diplomatic. Even after the Shah was deposed, I quickly restored diplomatic relations with Iran. As a matter of fact, that's been proven by the fact I had about 60 diplomats in Iran, as you know in Tehran--"

SMITH: "Held hostage."

CARTER: "And they had an equal number in Washington, so we were continuing to try to communicate with them and work with them. And I think that now, with increasing evidence, that Iran is a dangerous and unpredictable country, the best thing to do is to have a maximum diplomatic relationship."

SMITH: "You agree, though, that they are dangerous and unpredictable."

CARTER: "Well, they're potentially dangerous, and they're certainly unpredictable, yes. But I think that if we could find some way to communicate directly with them, to reassure their fears that we might attack them, which is constantly a drum beat out of Washington, maybe deliberately from the administration or inadvertent, Sy Hersh has written three or four articles in the New Yorker, I haven't read the latest one, but he's always maintaining that the United States is preparing to attack Iran. They read those articles and they see all the other news, and if they feel they're going to be attacked, then I think that's one incentive for them to be more militant. So I think to assuage their fears and to tell them the truth about our intentions would be very helpful."

SMITH: "But it seems to me that we've done a pretty clear job of letting our intentions be known, yet they remain recalcitrant at best. Is military, is a military strike an option?"

CARTER: "I don't think so, not at this early stage, and I don't think that anybody in the administration has maintained openly that that is a present option. Every indication I've heard from Condoleezza Rice or President Bush has been we want to resort to diplomatic means to -- as thoroughly as we possibly can before we would consider military strikes. So I think a military strike against Iran at this time would be completely unnecessary and counterproductive. Iran is a different proposition from what Iraq was when we attacked Iraq. It wouldn't be an easy thing to invade Iran. And where would we get the troops? We don't have enough troops for Iraq, where would we get them from?"

SMITH: "Right."

CARTER: "And I don't think we'd have any other nation in the world that would join us in any sort of military venture against Iran. So, diplomacy is the best approach."

SMITH: "Alright Mr. President, great to have you with us this morning. We're going to have a lot more with President Jimmy Carter, just a little bit later on this morning. Thank you so much."

CARTER: "Thanks, Harry."

7:30 AM SEGMENT:

SMITH: "We return now live with President Jimmy Carter, who has a brand-new book out. It is called "Beyond the White House." And I want to talk about this book, because I was reading it last night, and I got the sense that you went -- in the Carter sense, went on so many of these diplomatic missions, sort of outside of the purview of the government. You're in Haiti. You're in Bosnia."

CARTER: "North Korea."

SMITH: "North Korea. Were you unhappy with the way the Clinton Administration picked up on the seed work, the tilling of the soil that you did in some of those trouble spots?"

CARTER: "Well, I have had a policy, since the Carter Center was formed, of not going into a very sensitive political arena of the world without at least tacit approval from the White House."

SMITH: "Right."

CARTER: "So, a lot of times we've been blocked from going, when I thought we could do some good. But in the case of North Korea, I did get finally approval from Bill Clinton to go to North Korea, but after I had been invited for three years to go and try to ease the tension there. We worked out a deal where North Korea gave up its nuclear program for the time being, which later President Clinton adopted as his own policy, which is very good."

SMITH: "Right."

CARTER: "In the case of Sudan, that's the only complaint I've had against the Clinton Administration. They never did go along with our effort to bring peace to Sudan. So, after George W. Bush was elected, I went to the -- his inauguration after he won the difficult election in Florida. I was the only volunteering Democrat there. And on the reviewing stand, he asked if I had any favors to ask. I said, yes, the only thing I'd like you to do is try to bring peace to Sudan, which he did. So, he has done a very good job in Sudan. But we've gone only when we're invited by both sides to a serious debate or potential conflict. And with at least the sometimes the reluctant approval of the White House."

SMITH: "Right. If Hillary Clinton were to end up in the White House, do you think she would do a better job vis-a-vis some of the work that you've done and her receptiveness to it?"

CARTER: "Than her husband?"

SMITH: "Yes."

CARTER: "Well, I think that Bill Clinton did a good job. The only complaint I've had about him was in Sudan where he seemed-- his administration seemed to have had an urgent desire to overthrow the government in Khartoum, which is impossible, and they, in effect, blocked all peace efforts."

SMITH: "You're just back from there."

CARTER: "Yes."

SMITH: "You're working with Richard Branson's group, this group called "The Elders," Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, on the ground. You talked to Bashir, al Bashir?"

CARTER: "Oh, yes, several times, I've known Bashir since he was a colonel."

SMITH: "Does he get it?"

CARTER: "Oh, yes. He's quite aware, he's quite knowledgeable. He's now been the leader of the country for 18 years. He is intimately involved in everything that goes on there. He's a very intelligent person."

SMITH: "People are dying. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps as many as 200,000 have died. The situation in these camps are absolutely deplorable, as bad as they could be imagined."

CARTER: "Yes, we were in the camps this past week."

SMITH: "Right. And the world allows this to go on. What -- is there a solution? Is there a way forward? Does Bashir show any signs of being malleable?"

CARTER: "Yes, in Abuja two years ago Bashir approved the Darfur Peace Agreement, but only one of the rebel groups agreed."

SMITH: "Mm-hmm."

CARTER: "And now there's another effort being made by the United Nations and the European Union on the 27th of October in Tripoli, Libya, to reconvene peace talks, and Bashir is completely amenable to going there. He doesn't know who's going to be across the table from him because the rebel groups are now fragmenting into many little parts and their fighting with each other. So, Darfur is a very complex area, and I would say that the government itself under Bashir has less and less control over what's going on in that troubled region."

SMITH: "Yeah, the last time you were here, you were talking about your then most recent book "Palestine Peace, not Apartheid," which caused all kinds of controversy. You had members of your board of counselors from the Carter Center resign. There were people who said, you know, Jimmy Carter, this is not your job. You have taken a side here in the time that's transpired since, and as there's an effort to try to get peace talks sort of going again over there, do you have any regrets about what you said?"

CARTER: "No, not at all. The book is absolutely correct, and I think it was necessary and has played a good role and was overwhelmingly approved, although there were some that objected to it. The book was written about Palestine, not Israel. And the second word in the title, as you just mentioned, was "peace," not apartheid. And I think a lot of people adopted the word apartheid as the number one thrust of the book and it's not even mentioned in the book, as a matter of fact. But I think the peace effort that's belatedly going to be attempted in November is a very good development. As you know, for seven years, since Bill Clinton left office, we've had not a single day of good-faith negotiations between Israel and its neighbors, and it's highly overdue. And my hope is that we'll see some constructive efforts being made on the Palestinian side and the Israeli side, when they convene in the United States in November."

SMITH: "There you go. President Carter, good to see you again. Thank you so much for coming by and chatting."

CARTER: "Thank you very much, always good to be with you."

SMITH: "Do appreciate it. And you can read an excerpt from "Beyond the White House" on our website at cbsnews.com."

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC