Monday, November 23, 2009

What former US President J. Carter said about Bush and world affairs

Bangkok Post

FORMER US PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER was in Chiang Mai last week to help build houses for the homeless in the Mekong region. The Carter Work Project works with the international housing charity organisation, Habitat for Humanity, which launched a campaign on November 16 to build 50,000 homes over five years. Carter said 82 Thai homes were being built in Chiang Mai's San Sai district in honour of His Majesty the King who celebrates his 82nd birthday next month.
Suthichai: How do you assess President Obama's performance so far?

Carter: He has set a good goal for himself in many ways. He has announced an end to torture. He has announced his goal to do away with nuclear weapons. He has changed the image of my country among many people around the world.

Do you think he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize?

Yes, I do.

Some people don't agree with that.

I was surprised when he got it so early. But I think the Nobel committee looked at what he had already said and done. There is no doubt that he has transformed our country's image - and the reputation of our country. He has also set himself some goals that are very admirable.

Do you think he can sustain the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan?

My hope is we will withdraw from Iraq very quickly. Unless there is a violent change, I think we will withdraw as scheduled by the end of 2011.

Afghanistan is another story.

Yes, it's another story. I hope we will withdraw our massive military effort in Afghanistan to reconcile with the people and cut down on the violence and attacks on the Afghanistan people.

Do you think Afghanistan may turn into another Vietnam?

I hope not … I don't think so.

Do you think President Obama can handle it all?

He is one of the most brilliant presidents we have ever had. He is very wise. He is under tremendous pressure in our country. I still have confidence in him.

Is there anything you don't like about him, so far?

I wish he could have been more forceful in pursuing his goal in the Middle East. He announced that there should not be any more settlements … and he has backed away from that. But maybe, he is just biding his time.

Iran. He says he is willing to negotiate with that country's leadership too.

I think that's very good. We also sent our assistant secretary of state to Burma. I agree with that. And I think we should have an ambassador in Syria as well. Also, I would like to see us have direct talks with North Korea.


Yes, Cuba too. When I was president, after having been in office only two months, I removed all the travel restrictions to Cuba. And we opened an office in Havana and Washington. And they are still there in Washington. They are still there. I was very keen to have diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Unfortunately, [Fidel] Castro then was dominated by the Soviet Union and he sent a large number of troops to a number of countries in Africa and so forth. If it hadn't been for that, we would have had established diplomatic relations with Cuba.

What do you think is the biggest threat to the world now?

In the long term, I think the Israeli-Palestinian issue is a kind of a festering cancer that can erupt in the future into a big conflict. This is the issue that arouses terrorism and animosity against our country for many people. All the Arab countries have agreed to recognise Israel diplomatically - and as a trade partner. All 56 Islamic countries, including Iran and Indonesia - provided that Israel withdraws from Palestine. That, I think, is the main threat to a large war.

You also met the late North Korean leader, Kim il-Sung. How did you find him?

I was there in 1994. He was very intelligent. Very smart. He knew everything about his country. He had been a dictator for 50 years. He knew every building … when it was built, what it was for … etc … And I got along quite well with him. I negotiated with him to have a summit meeting with South Korea's president … and he was planning the summit when he died. He died only one month after I was there.

And, as you know, following up on what I had prepared, the summit did take place between Kim Jong-il and Kim Dae-jung and Kim Dae-jung won the Nobel Peace Prize for that.

I think in the long term, we will see some reconciliation between the two Koreas.

Are you concerned about China's rise?

The day Deng Xiaoping and I announced full diplomatic relations between China and the US, three days later, in 1978, he announced economic reform and he proceeded with that. He promised me that he would also guarantee freedom of worship and they did in 1982. He promised that Bibles could be distributed in China. And he did as promised. Before that a Chinese person could not move from one village to another without permission from Beijing. Now, there is free movement.

They haven't gone as far as I had hoped in political freedom. But the Carter Centre for the last 10 years has had a contract with China. We monitor their small village elections. They have about 650,000 villages and they are not part of the communist system. The Communist Party starts with townships, large cities, counties and provinces.

They have very honest village elections. When you reach 18, you are registered to vote automatically. Everybody is expected to vote. You can run for elections for three years. You can run for re-elections. You don't have to be a communist. In fact, very few of them are communists. Perfectly free and fair and honest elections (at that village level).

But there have evolved some conflicts because of that. In the past, the townships controlled those little villages and now the villages accept their own leaders they want to control. So, last year, there were about 40,000 conflicts - disputes - in China.

We have very good relations with the leaders of China. We also work with them on health and economic development programmes in small villages.

So, you believe it when China says its rise won't threaten the rest of the world?

I believe they mean it when they say that. China is going to become one of the superpowers soon, if not already. Everywhere that I go, in Latin America and Africa, the Chinese are in every country, trading with the people, giving them financial assistance, contracting for their raw materials - oil, copper, zinc, bauxite, also food, such as soybean. The Chinese are becoming very aggressive around the world, politically as well as economically.

…at the expense of the United States?

In some cases … in the last eight years, yes. Because under our previous president, we lost those kinds of friendship. One thing that I believe President Obama will do is to regain some of those friendly, good relationships.

Did you actually say that president Bush was the leader of the worst administration in the United States?

Yes, I think he was, in my lifetime … and I have a long lifetime

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