Carter Explains Strategy As Clinton's Fireman
He resolves crises, but some US officials say he gives in too easily
ATLANTA — ALTHOUGH he may have left office in 1981 carrying the stigma of a failed presidency, these days Jimmy Carter is enjoying a reputation as a global peacemaker who intervenes in sensitive situations.
His recent negotiations in Haiti, which for now are winning international praise, mark the second time this year the former president has stepped in to help the Clinton administration get out of a foreign-policy pickle.
Last June, Mr. Carter traveled to North Korea and helped diffuse a crisis over that country's suspected nuclear-weapons program. Carter was even called by Cuban President Fidel Castro Ruz during the recent refugee crisis, but he will not discuss what they talked about.
Through his work with the Atlanta-based Carter Center, he has monitored elections in eight countries, hosted peace talks between Ethiopia and the Eritrean rebels, and mediated civil strife in Somalia, among other accomplishments.
Carter started the center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization funded by individual, foundation, and corporate donations, in 1982 to promote peace and human rights.
His strategy is simple, he explained to students at Atlanta's Emory University, who gathered in a gym Wednesday night to ask him questions, during one of his annual town-hall meetings.
``What the Carter Center does is what other people will not or cannot do ... talk with people with whom no one else will talk,'' he said. In the case of North Korea, ``There was only one man on earth who could resolve the problem - [North Korean leader] Kim Il Sung.''
``The US wouldn't talk to Kim; South Korea, Japan wouldn't talk to Kim, so we went over to talk to Kim Il Sung,'' Carter said. ``Same way with [Haitian Lt.] Gen. [Raoul] Cedras.... We've done that in many cases around the world not nearly so publicized.''
Carter has been successful as a peace broker in world trouble spots because ``he tries to put himself in the position of the other party and figures out what appeals to them,'' says Erwin Hargrove, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. ``This scares the White House - they're afraid he gives in too much.''
At the end of a phone call from Haitian military leader General Cedras that eventually lead to the last-minute peace mission, Carter invited Cedras to come teach sunday school at his church in Plains, Ga.
The former president has acknowledged tensions with the State Department over his conflict-resolution activities. ``It stands to reason they're not happy with Carter as a loose cannon,'' Dr. Hargrove says.
But when asked how he felt about President Clinton, Carter praised him for sending the trio of Carter, Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia, and former Gen. Colin Powell to Haiti when the crisis approached the critical stage.
``People have said Clinton was too wobbly. Why wasn't he firm like Ronald Reagan and why wasn't he firm like George Bush?'' he said. ``Those presidents didn't have the political courage to make one last effort for peace. President Clinton did.''
Carter explained how events unfolded in Haiti. Last Sunday morning, when it looked like no agreement was possible, he called his wife, Rosalynn, who advised them to visit General Cedras' wife. Mrs. Cedras told them that she and her husband had taken an oath to give their lives.
``We began to talk to her about how we might change her mind because she said we will never yield to a foreign invader,'' Carter said. ``We told them that the greatest duty of a leader like her husband was not to give his life, was not to go to war, but to work for peace. It is much more difficult waging peace than waging war.... She used our influence on her husband.''
To the question of what he would still like to accomplish, Carter replied:
``I've been one of the most fortunate people on earth. I would like to continue to use my ability, talent, and influence in an exciting way. The Carter Center gives me a chance to do this,'' he said. ``If I have one wish that I could yet achieve I would say to bring peace, unification, and reconciliation to the Korean peninsula.''
Many people believe Carter's role in negotiating a peaceful solution to Haiti will finally earn him the Nobel Peace Prize. This year's prize will be announced Oct. 14. The former president has been nominated for the award at least five times.