E. Howard Negroponte,
INT: Just to go back once more to Camp David, could you say what you think the effect of those accords were on the progress of the Cold War? Is there a relationship between what you achieved in the Middle East and a broader international situation?
JC: It's hard for me to see a direct connection between the Camp David accords and the peace that was signed later between Israel and Egypt. On the overall Cold War situation, the Soviet Union at that time had two major investments: one was in Syria, which was kind of their entrée to the Middle East process; and the other one was more indirectly through the PLO. I was dealing very harmoniously not only with Israel and Egypt, but also Jordan and Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries, so I don't really think there was ever any confrontation or aspect of confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States because of the Camp David peace effort. As you know, however, under President Nixon, when the Israelis were in the war in the early Seventies and crossed the Suez and started toward Cairo, the Soviets marshaled their nuclear forces and put them on extreme alert and notified President Nixon: "If the Israelis don't stop their advance, we will intercede militarily on the side of Egypt." So that's when the confrontation came between the US and the Soviet Union concerning the Middle East.
INT: What price did Sadat pay for the Middle East accords?
JC: Hm. Well, Sadat, who is the leader I most admire that I've ever met, was a man of great personal courage and wisdom and generosity, and he was quite knowledgeable about the broad aspects of diplomacy on a global basis. Sadat was a little bit too self-assured, a little maybe too free of concern about what his neighbors thought. He would sometimes made derogatory remarks about the royal family in Saudi Arabia, and I would caution him, "Don't say this because, you know, they're part of the people that most support you." He anticipated, I think, at Camp David that if the accords were signed, that Egypt would suffer from an economic boycott of sorts from the other Arab countries. I don't think that he anticipated as severe a boycott effort or an embargo on trade as did materialize; but he was willing to accept this. And of course, I think he also underestimated the animosity toward him personally within his own country, and this was demonstrated tragically when he was assassinated by his own people as his own military troops went in front of the reviewing stand. The loss of Sadat was a tragic blow to peace in the Middle East, and I think to global stability.
INT: And it was a personal blow to you and Mrs. Carter.
JC: One of the saddest days of my life, almost equivalent to the death of my own father or my own brothers and sisters, was the death of Anwar Sadat.
INT: Iran - when the Shah was deposed, was that a blow to the United States?
JC: Yes, it was, it was a blow to the United States when the Shah was deposed. He had been a close associate, an ally with, I think, if I'm not mistaken, seven presidents who preceded me, and we never dreamed that the Shah was likely to be overthrown by his own people. But when he became embattled by attacks from his own people at home, and particularly from the Ayatollah Khomeini, who was issuing broadcasts and tape recordings from France, we gave the Shah every possible legitimate support. When he was finally overthrown and had to leave the country, we tried to find him a haven where he could reside, and he eventually wound up in Panama, without any one of us knowing that he had terminal cancer, which was revealed later on. During the interim period, after the Shah was forced out of Iran into exile, during the first 10 or 11 months of 1979, we had a working relationship with his revolutionary replacement. We helped them find accommodations in Washington for their diplomatic staff and so forth, and they were paying bills to American contractors that had been incurred under the Shah, and so forth. It was only in November, the first week in November, when the students, militants took over the American Embassy, that the situation deteriorated. And before I let the Shah come to New York for treatment for his cancer, I had direct assurances from the President and the Prime Minister of Iran, from Bazagan and Yasdi, were their names, that if the Shah would come to New York for treatment and not make any political statements, that they would assure me that the American interests in Iran would be protected. While they were still in office, American hostages were taken and our Embassy was overrun. Two or three days later, the Ayatollah Khomeini's son went into the Embassy and in effect endorsed positively what the students or militants had done. Bazagan and Yasdi resigned in protest, and then we were faced with the long period of holding our hostages. But we had tried successfully to get along with the revolutionary government after the Shah was overthrown. We tried to sustain the Shah as long as he said he had a chance of staying there; we provided a haven for him to go to after he was put into exile, and I permitted him to come to New York for treatment for his terminal cancer.
INT: Mr. Carter, could you have anticipated that the staff of the Embassy would have been seized and made hostages?
JC: Well, I was taken aback by surprise when the militants overran our Embassy and captured our hostages and then refused to release them. First of all, this is contrary to the basic Islamic faith. The Koran says you must protect foreign emissaries when they're in your country, in a religious sense, this was a violation of the Islamic law. And I had been given full assurance before I let the Shah come to New York for treatment, that American interests would be protected in Iran. The President and Prime Minister - Bazagan and Yasdi were their names - gave me this assurance. After the militants took the American Embassy and captured our hostages, the President and Prime Minister of Iran resigned in protest against this violation of their commitment. So I was obviously surprised when this occurred.
INT: Were the hostages, in your view, deliberately not released, in spite of all your efforts, until after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President?
JC: Yes, I believe that's the case. Well, I'd better start over again.
The first thing I did after the hostages were taken, was to send the Ayatollah Khomeini a secret message: "If you put any of our hostages on trial, I will (interfere in) all commerce between Iran and the outside world. If you injure or killa hostage, I will respond militarily." And after that, the Ayatollah never made any statements about injuring or killing a hostage or putting any on trial, so I felt that the hostages' lives were being protected. We tried many times, through all kinds of emissaries - Germany, France, Syria, the PLO, Mohammed Al- to get the hostages released, unsuccessfully. And I think certainly, toward the end of my term, when we could have had the hostages released, that the Ayatollah deliberately delayed their release until five minutes after I was no longer President. The morning of the inauguration of President Reagan, when I went out of office, the hostages had been sitting in an airplane at the end of the runway into Iran for several hours, waiting to take off, and they waited until I was no longer President.
INT: You've explained the long relationship of partnership or clientship or friendship between the United States and Iran under the Shah. Did you tell him, when you were in office, what you thought of his record on human rights?
JC: Yes, very strongly. When the Shah was in Washington for a state visit in November of 1977, his secret police, Savak, had fired into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators and killed, I believe, several hundred of them. When the Shah came to visit me, I took him aside into a small office that I had adjacent to the Oval Office, and I told him that I thought that he was making a serious mistake in violating the human rights of his own people through his secret police and in taking strong military action against peaceful demonstrators. I advised him strongly not to do this any further. He replied to me with some degree of scorn and said that not only the United States but all the European countries were making a serious mistake in permitting demonstrations of our people against our government, that this was obviously a communist plot to overthrow democracy and freedom in the Western world, and we were ignorant as leaders in not stamping out this kind of demonstration at its earliest stage. And he said that.. in the nation of Iran there were just a tiny handful of people who opposed his regime, and these were all communists, inspired and controlled from outside, that there was no indigenous threat to his popularity. That was his response. It was a very frank and fairly unpleasant confrontation, but in private.
INT: What forewarning did you have of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan?
JC: I had no forewarning in Christmas week of 1979 that the Soviets were going to invade Afghanistan. I was deeply concerned about Iran; there was a burgeoning animosity between Iran and Iraq; the Iranian stability was quite fragile. Pakistan was adjacent to Afghanistan, and I could see that the Soviet movement into Afghanistan was not an end in itself. The intelligence that I had from various sources, including within the Soviet Union, was that the Soviets' long-term goal was to penetrate into access to warm-water oceans from Afghanistan, either through Iran or through Pakistan. I saw this as a direct threat to global stability and to the security of my own nation. I had several alternatives, one of which was military action, which I thought was out of the question half way around the world, with the powerful Soviet military adjacent to Afghanistan. So I exhausted all the other means that I had to put restraints on the Soviet Union. One of them was to issue a public statement that if the Soviets did invade either Pakistan or Iran out of Afghanistan, that I would consider this a personal threat the security of the United States of America and I would take whatever action I desired or considered appropriate to respond, and I let it be known that this would not exclude a nuclear reaction. This was a very serious and sobering statement that I made, and I relayed this in more private terms to Brezhnev, and encouraged him to restrain the Soviet forces and urged him to withdraw them from Afghanistan.
INT: Could you just say where you were when you got the news, and what you did on the 27th of December 1979?
JC: Yes. In December of 1979 I was in Washington, although I would have normally been in my home in Plains, Georgia, for Christmas with my family, but since the hostages were being held at that time and I was making every effort on a daily basis, 24 hours a day potentially, to explore every possibility for their release, I did not go home for Christmas. So I was in my normal quarters as President in Washington, and sometimes back and forth to Camp David, when (Overlap) the Soviets...
INT: (Overlap) I think you got the news in Camp David, didn't you, on the 27th of December?
JC: Yes, I was at Camp David. On the 27th of December, I was in Camp David, but you have to remember that my communications set-up and my access to the outside world and to the Government was the equivalent in Camp David to what it was in the White House, and it's only a short helicopter flight between the two. So I was, you might say, on duty as President and not on vacation when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.