E. Howard Negroponte,
INTERVIEW WITH PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER
INTERVIEWER: The Middle East first of all, Mr. Carter. What led you to propose reconvening the Geneva talks?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Well, I had an interest in the Middle East from the time I was much younger, and then when I was Governor I went to the Middle East to travel around - that was in 1972. During my campaign for president, I made it clear to the American people, and I guess to the warriors who would listen, that when I became the leader of this country, that I would initiate the strongest possible move to bring peace to the Middle East. As you know, nothing was being done then on the peace front. UN Resolution 242 had been passed, but nothing had happened. So, very early in my term, beginning in January, I began to invite the various leaders to come to Washington and to meet with me: President Rabin, who was Prime Minister of Israel at that time; King Hussein came over; President Sadat came over; later Menachim Begin came over, after he was elected in May, I think. Assad has never yet been to the United States, so I met him in Geneva. During a G7 meeting in London, I went over to Geneva to meet with Assad. So by the time the end of the first five months had passed of my term, I had met with all the key leaders in the Middle East. And I felt, after talking to Sadat in particular, that that was a time to re-initiate a strong move, led by me, for a peace effort. Then it seemed that I should do it completely within the framework of the UN resolutions, Security Council resolutions, and that was my hope. In response to my conversations with him, Sadat first decided that he would invite all the participants to come to Cairo, including all the five nations, the prominent members of the Security Council. I was very averse to bring in France and China, as well as Great Britain and the United States, so I objected to that, and suggested that he have another alternative in mind; and that's when he decided to go directly to Jerusalem.
INT: In an important speech that you made early that year, you talked about the necessity to introduce fairness into a settlement in the Middle East. What did you mean by that?
JC: Well, this speech got me into a lot of trouble because I talked about a homeland for the Palestinians. Prior to that time, and maybe since then as well, the United States Government policy has been overwhelmingly oriented toward compatibility with the government in Jerusalem, in Israel, and I felt that we couldn't really make progress in bringing about a comprehensive peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors without at least addressing the concerns of the Palestinians, of Egypt and of Jordan in particular. So in that speech that I made, I think in Massachusetts, I thought that it was proper to say that the Palestinians deserved a homeland of their own, and this aroused a furore in some circles in my country; but it was a necessary prerequisite for the further progress that was made between Israel and Egypt.
INT: After Sadat's visit to Jerusalem and speech to the Knesset, and after a great deal more hard work, you managed to get the major participants to come to Camp David to sit down with you. How difficult were those 13 days?
JC: I think, as everyone will probably remember, when Sadat went to Jerusalem it was a momentous event. He made a very harsh speech to the Israeli Knesset, but the fact that he went there and made a speech did away with the sharp edges of what he actually said. Later, when he and Begin had a meeting in Ismailya, they were totally incompatible; they were only together 15 minutes or so, and then they separated in some degree of anger. I had my hopes up when Sadat went to Jerusalem, and my hopes in effect were dashed when the results were so poor. So it was that failure of real progress after Sadat's historic trip that caused me to invite Begin and Sadat to come to Camp David, which I did with a long handwritten personal letter to each one, and they both accepted. I didn't know what was going to happen at Camp David - no one knew - and I think the general presumption was that not much would happen. And at the time, we envisioned maybe three days of exploratory talks. When I arrived at Camp David, Sadat followed me first, and Sadat was willing to comply with my hope that we might elevate our expectations dramatically and actually have an agreement between Israel and Egypt. When Begin came, though, he wanted us just to do some preparations for future talks that would go into any kind of details with the foreign ministers and defense ministers at some neutral place in the Middle East. And so it was out of that environment that we began our negotiations. The first three days of the talks were very unpleasant; primarily, I and Begin and Sadat in a very small room. Sometimes the Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, was there. I would try to get the two men to agree on something, and they couldn't agree on anything; they were very antagonistic. No matter what my efforts were, they always wanted to revert back to what had happened in the last 25 years, with four wars and boys killed and bombs dropped. So, for the last 10 days in Camp David, they never saw each other. I kept them totally apart, and I went back and forth between the Egyptians and the Israelis to try to conclude an agreement. I used then, and still use, a technique that I call "the single document technique", in that I have exactly the same text that I present to the Israelis and the Egyptians, and every time one of them insists on a change, I make that change and present it to the other, so there's no reason for them to believe that I'm misleading them. And so it was that long, tedious, back-and-forth negotiation that finally brought the two men to an agreement.
INT: You didn't get much sleep?
JC: No, I didn't get much sleep, but there was an element of excitement and... you know, there that kept us going.
INT: But how near did the talks come to complete breakdown at the end?
JC: Almost completely, on two occasions. One was when Sadat met with Moshe Dayan, whom he had hardly known. Moshe Dayan was Foreign Minister then. He had known Isa Weizmann quite well, and liked Weizmann. But he had a talk with Dayan, and Dayan in effect, without my knowing it, told Sadat "The Israelis will go no further; there will be no more concessions on the part of the Israelis." I didn't know it, but Sadat told the Egyptian delegation, "We are leaving Camp David," and he went to my national security adviser, Zbigniew Brezinski and said, "Bring my helicopter - I'm going back to Egypt." I learned about this, and I went over to Sadat's cabin and I confronted him in a very frank and ultimately successful way. I said that "Our friendship is over. You promised me that you would stay at Camp David as long as I was willing to negotiate, and here you have made your plans to leave without even consulting me, and I consider this a serious blow to our personal friendship and to the relationship between Egypt and the United States." And he agreed to stay, to the consternation of the other Egyptians. That was one time it almost broke down. And the other time was at the end of the talks, when Begin had made an oath before God that he would never dismantle an Israeli settlement, and there was a substantial settlement on Egyptian territory, called Yamit; about 3,000 Israelis were there. Begin could not bring himself to violate his promise to God. So at the last minute, we evolved an alternative: that Begin would stand aside and let the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, decide to dismantle or not dismantle the settlement. And after that, we signed the Camp David accords, and then later the Knesset voted 85% to dismantle the settlement at Yamit. To my disappointment, they not only withdrew the Israeli settlers but they also bulldozed everything level with the ground.
INT: Those accords - one of your greatest achievements?
JC: I would say one of the achievements. I don't know whether they have the longest-lasting impact. Some of the domestic legislation - we deregulatedalmost everything in the Government, and we had the (unclear) Bill, and I normalized relatiowith the People's Republic of China, and had the Panama Canal treaties. But certainly that was one of the highlights of my administration, yes.
INT: I'd like to turn to human rights, for which you'll very certainly always be remembered, for your belief in that. You said very early on that human rights would be a fundamental tenet of your foreign policy. Why did you say that, and what does that mean?
JC: I come out of the environment of the Deep South, where I had seen the millstone of racial discrimination weighting down my people, both the black people and the white people; and I had seen the enormous progress that we were able to make after we removed the legal restraints of a two-class society, with the whites superior and blacks inferior. So I was very convinced before I became President that basic human rights, equality of opportunity, the end of abuse by governments of their people, was a basic principle on which the United States should be an acknowledged champion. So I made the statement even before I was inaugurated, as has been said, that... I announced that human rights would be a cornerstone or foundation of our entire foreign policy. So I officially designated every US ambassador on earth to be my personal human rights representative, and to have the embassy be a haven for people who suffered from abuse by their own government. And every time a foreign leader met with me, they knew that human rights in their country would be on the agenda. And... I think that this was one of the seminal changes that was brought to US policy. And although, in the first few weeks of his term, my successor Ronald Reagan disavowed this policy and sent an emissary down to Argentina and to Chile and to Brazil, to the military dictators, and said "The human rights policy of Carter is over," it was just a few months before he saw that the American people supported this human rights policy and that it was good for his administration, so after that he became a strong protector of human rights as well.
INT: But relationships between states are based partly - some would say largely - on realpolitik. The Soviet Union regarded your constant addressing of the issue of human rights in relation to them as a sort of provocation. Were you prepared for that? Did that concern you? Did it help your foreign policy or hinder it?
JC: That's hard to say. There's another word that may not be in the dictionary: idealpolitik, real and ideal. I didn't single out the Soviet Union for my human rights policy: I applied it in a much more difficult way to the regimes in South America, most of which were military dictatorships and very abusive. But the Soviet leaders did assume that my human rights policy was targeted against them, to embarrass them. I don't have any regrets about having done so. There's no doubt that this was a cause of disharmony between me and Brezhnev, between my Secretary of State and Gromyko and so forth. But it resulted almost immediately in a dramatic increase, for instance, in Jewish migration from the Soviet Union. The first year I was in office, only about 800 people came out of the Soviet Union, Jews. By the third year I was in office... second year, 1979, 51,000 came out of the Soviet Union. And every one of the human rights heroes - I'll use the word - who have come out of the Soviet Union, have said it was a turning point in their lives, and not only in the Soviet Union but also in places like Czechoslovakia and Hungary and Poland [they] saw this human rights policy of mine as being a great boost to the present democracy and freedom that they enjoy. I don't want to exaggerate its effect, but I think it was a very sound policy, and it's basically been followed since then, and I think there's a much more intense awareness of human rights principles now than there would have been otherwise.
INT: Historians today would say that the pressures that you helped engender within those societies led to the crack-up, or helped to lead to the crack-up of the communist system at the end of the Cold War.
JC: Well, there's no doubt about that, that the American human rights policy greatly strengthened the democratic forces that were in their embryonic or infant stage in many countries around the world, and I would say particularly within the Soviet bloc.
INT: Agreed. President Carter, I'd like to talk to you now about arms. When you came to office, you immediately began to press for deep cuts in arms levels. Why did you do that?
JC: I thought it was necessary. I issued directives, for instance, not only considering nuclear weapons but also sophisticated so-called...