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Transcript of President Jimmy Carter's Meeting with the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Israeli Knesset

Committee Chair: Good morning. Mr. President, I would like to welcome you and thank you for accepting our invitation to appear before the Knesset committee on Foreign Relations and Defense. We know you have contributed much to the historic event, signing the peace treaty with Israel and Egypt and we have on my left, the Egyptian ambassador who is living proof of the success of this historic event and we have celebrated this year the 30th anniversary of the peace treaty. It is no secret, Mr. President, that we not only share your commitment and devotion to the peace process (inaudible) Mr. Begin said on your first visit to the Israeli Knesset on March 12, 1979, "We have a beautiful democracy," and you will be witness to democracy today. This is the meaning of Knesset, the meaning of parliament, and we have many views around this table. I think that most of the people here, maybe most Israelis were, to say the least, frustrated with some of your remarks about the Palestinian issue but respect your vision, commitment and love for the state of Israel, and this is why we felt we have to listen to you and also to share our feelings and thoughts with you today. You are the first former American president visiting this committee and we look forward to a fruitful discussion.

President Carter: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. I am deeply honored and grateful for a chance to appear before this distinguished group. I know that having been president of the U.S. and dealt with the Congress that this committee is certainly the highest level of public service that can be expended in this great democratic nation. And I remember vividly coming here. I looked at my notes from that period, and I did appear with this committee 30 years ago in preparation for my visit later to the Knesset. I don't remember you or anyone else here but I remember your mother very distinctly. (laughter) You mentioned that I appeared before a democratic body, and after your mother's comments – (Chair: she was shouting), she didn't need a mic – Mr. Begin turned to me and said, "This is real democracy in action." I hope you'll give her my personal best regards. In many ways she reminds me of my own mother, who expressed her views without restraint and never backed down from her deep personal beliefs, philosophically and politically.

Very briefly, I come here with no authority, but just representing The Carter Center, which we established after I left the White House; my wife and I have been the leaders of it ever since. We have a number of projects around the world, at this time in 71 nations. Pre-eminent consideration is bringing good health to starving, destitute, poverty-stricken and forgotten people. It's not an accident that 35 of those nations are in Africa, and my wife and I go there quite often. She's the world's foremost proponent of mental health, and she deals with this problem all over in many nations. Another very important aspect of our life at The Carter Center is the monitoring of elections. We only go to countries that have a problem with their election or challenge to the results of their election. We just completed this past week our 76th election observation mission in Lebanon. We had 60 people there, including my wife and my son, and we went to all parts of the country, and the election turned out quite well. It was honest, fair and open, and the results were accepted by the winners and the losers gracefully. After that we drove from Beirut to Damascus. I met with the president of Syria, whom I've known since he was a college student in London; as a matter of fact, he was studying to be an ophthalmologist and surprisingly became the president of Syria. And then after that, as I always do lately when I'm in Damascus, I took an opportunity to meet with the leaders of Hamas, with their politburo: one is a physicist – that's my background – one is a medical doctor, one is an economist, one is an accountant. They speak very frankly with me and I try to use their influence for promoting peace between the Palestinian community in general and Israel. The last time I was there my main hope was to get them to help me deliver a letter to Gilad Shalit. They agreed to do so and I was able to deliver that letter, and also to get a letter from him to his parents. So they have ultimate responsibility for the policies of Hamas.

Since we've been here we've had a chance to meet with a number of people, I won't go down the list, but yesterday I was able to go and visit a group of settlers, as they call themselves. The mayor of Gush Etzion was very nice to me and had a group there, and I was honored to meet with them. Tomorrow I'll be going to Gaza, I'll be making a speech at the graduation exercise of young children who are being trained by the United Nations Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA). Following that I'll be meeting with the Hamas leaders in Gaza. Following that I will be going back home, finally. My wife and son had to go back after the election in Lebanon.

I come here to meet with you with great appreciation. My own hope is that we can see a repetition under the leadership of our new president and your leaders of what happened 30 years ago when I first became president of the United States. As you well remember, Anwar Sadat was looked upon as the greatest opponent and terrorist in this region, because he had been responsible for or participated in four wars in the previous 25 years against Israel. The fourth was the October War in 1973. I was able to induce him to be flexible on the subject, and he later came to Israel, as you know, and spoke to the Knesset and Menachem Begin, a great man whom I will always love as a political brother, and together they were able to bring peace. I hope the same thing can happen. I know we have a lot of differences about how it should be done. I have been involved on the perimeter of the effort ever since I left office. I did work to some degree on developing the terms of the so-called Geneva Accords. I was the keynote speaker in Geneva, when about 200 Israelis and 200 Palestinians came to commemorate that proposal, which is, on balance, to me, an acceptable proposal on how the two sides might offer an acceptable formula. I realize that any future agreement has to be the result of detailed and extensive negotiations, so I'm not presuming anything in the future. But as I was in the settlement yesterday, according to the Geneva proposals those settlements near the '67 border will remain there, and there will be a land swap of about 2 per cent. That may or may not suit any of you, but that's just a possibility.

So let me say again that I'm grateful to come here. I was very pleased, personally, with the speech President Obama gave in Egypt. I happened to be in Syria the night he made his speech, and it was well received, at least among the Arab nations, I think, and maybe many of the people here in your great country. So those are my comments. I would be glad – I don't know, I'm not the presiding officer here – if you have any comments to make to me I would be glad to receive them, and if you have any questions I would be glad to try and answer them. Thank you again, I'm honored to be here.

Chair: [speaking in Hebrew].

Mr. Ambassador?

Egyptian Ambassador: Good morning. It's an honor for me to be here with you, honorable members of the committee. And again I'm always glad to be beside President Carter. For sure, it was one of my dreams to see him, and right now I am sitting beside him in the Knesset, in Israel. I remember when I was young, in 1977, when President Sadat came here. I was at that time at university. After the signing of the agreement, I was graduated from university. I don't believe that after 30 years I would be here as the Ambassador of Egypt to celebrate 30 years of the peace treaty. Sitting by President Carter is a great honor, and it proves that through dialogue we can achieve peace. I wish you all the best, and I hope that I will be a witness to peace here among all Arab countries, including the Palestinians. I wish you all the best, thank you.

Chair: [speaking in Hebrew].
Mr. [?] is a former spokesperson for the Israeli Army and is now a member of the Knesset, but he is known by every Israeli for his public service. He is a member of the Kadima party.

Mr. [?]: Thank you very much Mr. Chair. First of all, thank you for coming to the Committee, it's a great honor. I would like to raise three points with you. One deals with Iran. You were the American president when you let the Shah of Iran fall. You said, "We won't interfere," and the Ayatollah came with this change. In retrospect, if you look backwards, and you see the outcome today, are you happy? Do you like, I mean, if it was still for your judgment, what's better for Iran: the Shah, with whatever policy he had, or the present government which, as you all know, is threatening the entire Middle East? In this context, what do you see as the chances of stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?

The second question deals with Hamas. I read your interview with Haaretz on Friday when you said you are in favor of Israel negotiating with Hamas. I would also like to know whether you are in favor of the United States government talking to al-Qaeda and bin Laden. Which means, are you in favor of talking to terrorists, terrorist organizations or terrorists in general? Because you know where the government of Israel stands, this government and the previous one.

And the third question is about the Prime Minister's speech last night. What's your judgment? Do you think it will help Israel somehow to promote chances for peace?

President Carter: I believe it is my privilege to take my choice of the three questions, is that correct? (laughter) [Unidentified speaker: "You don't have to answer all three of them."] First of all, I was perhaps the most distressed foreigner in the world when the Shah was overthrown. The Shah was a friend of the United States, he was a friend of six presidents before me. He was a friend of mine, I visited with the Shah in Tehran. After I became president he visited me. And this brought about a tragedy for my country, and for me personally and politically. When the American hostages were taken, it caused me all during the year 1980 the worst months of my life. And there's no doubt in my mind that the revolution that took place in Iran was not good for the Iranian people. I think that answers your first question.

Your second question concerns Hamas. I never said that Israel should negotiate with Hamas. What I said was that Israel should negotiate with a unity government in what I call Palestine, in the West Bank and Gaza, or Judea and Samaria, which includes Hamas. One of the elections in which I was involved as an observer was in January 2006 when as you know the United States approved the elections with Hamas candidates. Israel approved that election reluctantly, and so did Fatah. It was an honest and fair election. Hamas candidates won a majority of seats in the Knesset. I stayed here two days longer than I had planned to try to help form a unity government between Hamas and Fatah, but I was unsuccessful. And then I went to meet the international Quartet in London, I went home long enough to take a shower and change clothes, flew immediately back to London and appealed to the Quartet to help promote a unity government. The decision was made not to do so, and not to let the elected members of the Palestinian authority to travel, to convene, and since then, as you know, almost every member of the Hamas party who won in the election has been imprisoned. A few of them have been released. Thirty-five of them are still in Israeli prisons because they won the election.

And so I still believe that the best approach to future substantive peace talks, with Israel on one side and Palestinians on the other side, is to negotiate with a unity government. The Hamas leaders have always told me that they accept completely Abu Mazen, Mahmoud Abbas, to be their spokesperson, since he's the head of the PLO. And as you know the PLO is the only organization that Israel recognized officially as representing the Palestinians, not the Palestinian Authority. And Hamas has also always announced publicly and permitted me to announce that they would accept any agreement that is reached between Abu Mazen and your prime minister provided it's submitted to the Palestinians in a referendum and is approved. So I think that the involvement of Hamas is necessary, and I know that many members of Hamas are not averse to accepting Israel as a neighbor in a future peace.

As far as the third question, the speech of the prime minister last night, I watched it very carefully. I think it raised many new obstacles to peace. I appreciated what he had to say about the possibility of a two-state solution, so-called. The two other statements that were included in President Obama's speech was "no expansion of settlements" — my interpretation of the prime minister's speech is that there would be expansion of settlements. The other item raised by President Obama was that Jerusalem should be shared, and I interpreted from the prime minister's speech last night that that was not acceptable. That's his privilege, of course. He also announced, I think, in a departure from previous prime ministers, that the Arab countries would have to acknowledge that this is a Jewish state. This has not been a demand in the past. [Questioner: Wasn't it?]. Not for the Arab countries to say this. The Arab nations with whom – and I meet with their leaders quite often – are perfectly willing to acknowledge Israel's right to exist within the so-called '67 borders, that might be modified. And they reserve for Israel the right for you to call yourself a Jewish state. They maintain that with 20 percent of your population being Arabs, that they cannot acknowledge Israel to be exclusively a Jewish state.

Break in Recording….

Question: I would like to ask you a question related to the United Nations' two refugee organizations. One is UNHCR, which seems to be a very bad organization because it does not keep any refugees… They lost all their refugees. UNRWA seems to be a very successful organization because they grow all the time. They started with 500,000 [in 1948] now they have maybe 4 million… Why don't we have UNRWA to treat maybe all the refugees in the world? You will have hundreds of millions of refugees! (laughter) And the other question came to me… and please don't think I'm impolite. There was a very strong [article] written about you by Alan Dershowitz who wrote a lot of things about money that was donated to your foundation by Arab states. I think your meeting with Hamas or Hezbollah is legitimizing these organizations. A previous president of the United States… these terrorist organizations… would you be able to say how much money was donated by Arab funds… and how can we be sure that this didn't influence your judgment on the conflict here?

President Carter: I'll try to answer both of your questions. I can't answer the first one because I can't speak for the United Nations. I don't know why they'd have two organizations and why UNRWA and the High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) are different and necessary. You probably know more about it than I. I'll be going to Gaza tomorrow as a guest, you might say, of the United Nations Relief and Welfare Agency — UNRWA — because they are in the process of educating over 200,000 children in Gaza and I'll be going to a human rights graduation, but I can't answer the first question. The second question is this: I don't know Alan Dershowitz. I have seen him once at a meeting in Israel in 2006 when he was in the back of the room. I made a speech at Herzeliya conference and he asked me a question from across the room. I'd never seen him before or since. But his allegations are false. Not because he's lying, but because he didn't have all the information.

I checked on this question about our receipt of funds from the Arab world. The Carter Center has a budget that I have to raise personally, of about $40 million a year to finance our humanitarian programs, most of which goes to health care, which would be interesting to you. In the Third World, we deal with diseases only that the World Health Organization (WHO) calls "neglected tropical diseases." You would be familiar with them; most of the people here would not. This includes trachoma, lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, dracunculiasis, and onchocerciasis. So, that's where almost all of our money goes. The total amount — the percentage of money that has ever come to The Carter Center from all Arab nations has been 2.3 percent of our total budget. We receive a much greater percentage of that, as you would well imagine, from the American Jewish community. And if you balance them, we would be much more inclined to go against the Arabs. But that doesn't affect my policies or my actions. I would be glad to give you the exact figures, which I believe were in my latest book, but I'll be glad to send you the exact figures of all the contributions that have ever been received by the Carter Center. But it would be a very small percentage from the Arab countries.

And you mentioned the fact that I meet with Hamas and Hezbollah and legitimize them. I've never met with Hezbollah, so I'm not legitimizing Hezbollah. I never met with Hamas leaders in 2006 until after they were elected members of the Palestinian parliament. This was contrary to my policy, because I generally try to meet with all the major political parties before an election. But in 2006, I was in partnership with the National Democratic Institute as an observer in the elections. They have received almost all of their money from the U.S. government, and one of their requirements was that we not meet with Hamas before the election, so I had to comply with that. I did not meet with Hamas before the election. I only met with Hamas after the election, when they had won a majority of the seats. And so I didn't legitimize them. I figured that they were legitimized by the vote of their own people, given the majority in the polls. I think it's important for someone who is interested in peace to at least provide communication with Syria — we don't have a U.S. ambassador to Syria now — and also to meet with Hamas, who I think has to play a role in the future Palestinian Authority and ultimately in a peace agreement with Israel. I'm not apologizing; I'm trying to explain my position.

Question: Mr. President, I would like to welcome you. I would like to mention the biggest… of all the issue of Iran. I personally believe that Iran is trying to buy time and so far they have been very successful and are very close to achieving nuclear capability. And having the example of North Korea… more than a few times negotiations were tried. Having this result, my question is, will U.S. negotiations not be successful… I believe they should be very short, in terms of months, not in terms of years. What is your personal assessment of Iran as the next step that the U.S. should take? The second issue is Hamas. You mentioned the PLO and Hamas and the formal negotiations between Hamas and the PLO. So far Hamas continues to support terror… I believe that they need one government, one law, one "gun" or it will be impossible to negotiate. Those in the West Bank and Gaza, it is very important to explain to them that without having these two elements implementing within the Palestinian side, it's really impossible to negotiate with members of the Palestinian Authority…without having one government, one "gun" it would be impossible.

President Carter: Well, the Iranian issue is one that's very difficult. As I said in an earlier response, I have more grief probably causing my defeat for re-election from the hostages being held by Iran. I personally pray that Iran never has a nuclear weapon. I believe that's a deep commitment, and Obama also has made it plain that that's one of the goals of the United States. The Iranians, as you know, are members of the group that have adopted the Non-Proliferation Treaty. There are four countries that have not, as you know: India, Pakistan, Israel, and lately, North Korea. North Korea was a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty until recently, when they disavowed it. Iran, so far, is in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. I helped to initiate many aspects of it and I know it almost by heart. They have a right, as all countries — signatories — do to develop and enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. That is easy to say. The next step is, what are they going to use there and enrich the uranium for? Their highest authority, Ayatollah Khameini, swears, I presume before God, that they will not use their rich uranium for nuclear weapons.

Audience member: Do you believe him?

President Carter: I'm not saying I believe him, I'm just telling you that this is what they say, that it is against their religion. No one in the Western world believes it. I'm not saying I believe it, but that opens up an avenue for a possible resolution of this problem. If they can be put in a posture of cooperation with the United States, instead of confrontation with the United States, then it may be possible to negotiate an agreement which would require Iran to have unlimited, unrestricted supervision by the IAEA. This would not require any loss of face or embarrassment to the Iranian leaders, because they could do it and say, "We have always felt this way. We have always been against weapons. We are glad for the IAEA to come in and assure, with intense observation of their uranium cylinders, that they are not moving toward weapons." However, if there is no such accommodation, and the Iranians are confronting the United States and others, then there is no motivation for them to permit international inspections from the IAEA to ensure that they have complied with the agreement. So, I think — I've talked to Obama about this, and I'm explaining to you his position. I'm not trying to speak for him, but his hope is that through conversations with Iran and a demonstration of mutual respect between one nation and another, that we can reach an agreement with Iran so that they will fulfill their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and permit inspections to ensure that they don't move towards a nuclear weapon.

You asked me also about Hamas, I've forgotten…(question is restated). My information… as of yesterday is that there are no rockets coming out of Gaza now. They know that there will be very severe retaliation if… I think… two things to answer your question. First, Hamas has made it clear to me publicly that they accept the PLO as a negotiating element with Israel, and that Abu Mazen represents them in the negotiations, and, secondly, they would like the authority of the Palestinian Authority itself to comply and that they would accept any successful negotiation between the PLO and Israel if it's submitted by a referendum and approved by the Palestinian people. I'm not speaking, confirming what they say, I'm just telling you what they said.

Question: Well, thank you, I really appreciate that, and I think all of us are appreciating very much the fact that you are almost three decades after leaving the presidency, and you still work at an increasing pace in global politics, so there is some expectation for the next decade. Live until 120, and I really wish you all the best. I'll try to focus my question about the Arab Initiative, because I believe it's very interesting to understand, and maybe you can share with us your thoughts, or maybe your plan concerns the Arab Initiative, because when you mentioned the stable situation in Lebanon, before and after the last elections, I'm sure that we are all aware of the fact that in Lebanon the strongest force is not the Lebanese army, but Hezbollah troops. And in the PA, the strongest force is not the Palestinian troops, but Hamas troops in the Gaza Strip, well-equipped by military weapons smuggled in from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. And even until today, nobody succeeded to block it totally, although there is a slight improvement. And therefore when we go backward to understand who those two arms belong to, so we arrive to Iran. Hezbollah in the north, Hamas in the south. Are both two arms of the Iranian body? Concerned with the conventional threat, and a number of questioners mentioned the nuclear threat, which is a serious issue by itself. And we do accept or are waiting to understand what's the real steps by the superpowers in general or the U.S. in particular, because we say boats are safe in the port, but that's not what they were built for. And superpowers, I think they are very safe at home, but that's not why we call them superpowers. And once we come to Iran threat, and you mentioned about what they're trying to express about their plans in the future, but just to remind all of us, in 1981, Iran sent into battlefields against Iraq children of 12 years old — thousands of Iranian children, in order to clean fields of mines. It's Iranian behavior and I suggest all of us take it into account when we are thinking or talking about the future steps taken by Iran. And I return to my question: How do you see the Arab Initiative playing a role here in the Middle East, not only in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but in the Israeli-Syrian peace treaty in the future, maybe Lebanon in the future, because we all understand that the axis, Iran via Iraq, via Syria, to Lebanon, it's a disaster to the Middle East and maybe more than the Middle East, and the nuclear threat by Iran is a disaster, not only to Israel, but to many other countries including Arab countries. I'm sure the Egyptian ambassador can elaborate much better than me about the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons. And here we go back to the Arab Initiative. Do you think that initiative can lead us forward to maybe a more productive solution, or just another plan that is going to evaporate over the years?

President Carter: Well, first of all, I think, in answer to your first question, about Hezbollah and Hamas weaponry, the U.S. is trying to build up the military capability of Lebanon. We've already delivered 10 M60 tanks and I think there are 50 others on the way. The only restriction on U.S. military aid to Lebanon is anti-aircraft and anything that could impede Israeli overflights, which cause the Lebanese great distress. I was down with the UNIFIL commander on the border, what they call the Blue Line, between Lebanon and Israel last December, in a helicopter… and the commander was explaining to me that there's an average of 12 Israeli overflights over Lebanon every day, and this is a problem for them. So the U.S. is not helping Lebanon do anything that could interfere with your overflights  — either anti-aircraft weapons or military planes. I think, though, that, except for that, the U.S. aid is trying to build up the military strength of the Lebanese regular forces. And you know the strong effort that's been made here for many years with an American general in charge. I met with him yesterday. He trains people in Jordan and Jericho, and with the graduating class of new young security people, very soon they'll bring the total to 2,100. And we hope — the U.S. hopes — that they will stabilize and strengthen the capability of the PA to counteract at least partially, as you say, what Hamas is doing.

Now, the Arab initiative. I know Senator George Mitchell well. When I was president, he was a young private lawyer in Maine. I appointed him U.S. district attorney, and then, later, I appointed him the U.S. district judge. Then later, I took the senior Senator of Maine, Edmund Muskie, to be my secretary of state. And Muskie arranged with the governor of Maine to appoint George Mitchell to the U.S. Senate. He and I have known each other a long time and I have great admiration for him. I can tell you that both he and Obama look on the Arab initiative as a very wonderful first step to an ultimate peace agreement that we all hope will occur. As you know, before Obama made his speech in Egypt, he went to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Abdullah. His major purpose there — and I'm not going to get into secrets; it's been public — was to get the Arab initiative reconfirmed, and to let the Arabs take tangible steps to show that they are sincere. I've talked to King Abdullah about this myself, when I was over there last April. I think he is the leader, in many ways, of the Arab community of nations. I think he's sincere in saying that he wants to have diplomatic relations with Israel. And when he was asked about trade, commerce, and visitation, he said, "We'll treat Israel just like we do each other. Just like I do other Arab countries. That's a promise." It's predicated, though, on the same principles that you know have been expressed by the International Quartet and by the Geneva initiative that I mentioned earlier that has no official status, and they have been expressed in the United Nations in Resolutions 242, 338, 194, and so forth, which, early on, Israel accepted, and which Menachem Begin reconfirmed in the Camp David Accords where he signed and reconfirmed U.N. Resolution 242. So, I don't see any incompatibility between the U.N. resolutions and the Quartet's recommendations, or the roadmap and the Arab initiative. It calls for Israel to withdraw from occupied territories — it doesn't say "the," just "occupied territories" — and to give the Palestinians full autonomy. And, also at the Camp David Accords, Prime Minister Begin committed, and the Knesset approved, by an 85% vote, the withdrawal of Israeli military and political forces from the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria. These are the basic international principles that the U.S. espouses, and those will be the framework, at least, of an agreement. But everybody knows that the final agreement would have to be completely accepted by the PM of Israel and confirmed by the Knesset. So all these hopes and dreams we know are just proposals on which future negotiations can be predicated.

Question: (Labor) Thank you for your answers, Mr. President. I'd like to welcome you... I was only 10 years old during the Israeli-Egyptian peace process, and we studied about it in school. So for me it's a historical moment to be here as a member of the Israeli parliament, and hopefully, be a part of the next peace process. I hope it won't take 30 years longer, because, as you know, 30 years is enough, and we must solve this problem. So, actually, I was very happy to hear Mr. Netanyahu, for the first time, I think, saying "a Palestinian state." I welcome him to also promoting the peace process. I'd like to relate this to the Geneva initiative. I think the Geneva initiative reflects to all of us that sometimes civilians and NGOs can get together and have a lot of agreement, and maybe we can think about our leaders as the obstacle to promoting any agreements. We must encourage all these NGOs to work much harder to influence the decision makers towards peace and towards agreement. I would like to ask you about your attitude about the North Korean issues, because the eyes in the Western world and the Middle East, also, are looking forward to the U.S. and their reaction to the nuclear weapons and process in North Korea, and knowing that Iranian scientists were part of it. I would like to hear your point of view on this issue.

President Carter: I have been personally involved with North Korea, maybe when you were too young to know. In 1994, I was convinced that North Korea would attack South Korea if they were condemned by the U.N. and additional punishments were imposed on them. So, with permission of President Bill Clinton, I visited North Korea, and I met with Kim Il-Sung, the president and spiritual and political leader of North Korea, worshiped by the people. My background is in nuclear physics. I was a nuclear engineer, working under a great Jewish citizen, Admiral Rickover. He was my mentor. Except for my father, Admiral Rickover affected my life more than any other man. Anyway, I was sent to North Korea because I knew nuclear engineering. While I was there, Kim Il-Sung agreed to abandon their nuclear program and to bring back in the IAEA inspector to stay full time in their only small nuclear reactor. That's where all of their weapons materials have come from since. And we adopted this agreement. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Pyongyang, and President Clinton planned to visit Pyongyang also in the final months of his career as president. He was unable to do so. But anyway, when President Bush came in office, he renounced this agreement and condemned North Korea and withdrew the agreement that I had helped negotiate. As a result of that, Kim Il-Sung's son, Kim Jong-Il, decided to re-initiate the purification of spent nuclear fuel from their reactor. And now they have evolved enough nuclear fuel we believe to make seven atomic explosives. They've already exploded one partially, and more recently exploded one that was appropriate strength — it was good. They have enough nuclear fuel for at least five more nuclear weapons. So I think it's a tragedy that this has happened, and it's a threat to that entire region, with the possibility of encouraging South Korea and Japan and others to develop nuclear capability. It opens up an opportunity for nuclear confrontation, and it is very serious. My hope is that we can see this threat abandoned by North Korea. I think it's increasingly difficult to do. But this gives a preview of what can happen if Iran follows in the footsteps of North Korea. The North Koreans are not a people to be underestimated. They're tough, competent, dedicated, willing to do anything to achieve their military goals, and they are proving this.

Now Iran has much more capability to develop nuclear weapons if that is their desire... and I don't think I need to repeat my hopes that I expressed with the earlier question, that with good faith and the best expectations, Iran might do what Kim Il-Sung agreed to do with me, and that's let the IAEA inspectors come in and in an unimpeded way examination of all of their nuclear facilities. If they will agree to that, I think we can prevent Iran from making this possibility become a reality.

Question: (former Ethiopian) Thank you and welcome… I wanted to comment and ask you two questions. I'd like to know, what is your opinion of the issue of the refugees' solution? As you know, there is not any way for Palestinians outside the country who are asking to come inside the country. It doesn't go together, these two solutions [two-states and right of return?]. This concerns me. Because there is a majority in Israel for a two-state solution, but there's a big consensus on this in Israel on the issue of refugees. My second question is: your Center is active in international projects. I think that you are the peacemaker and very well known in this region. What is your Center's way to educate these people about peace? One of the big problems in this region is the big propaganda against Israel, anti-Jewish activities, and so there is no environment of peace in this region; it's very difficult. So is your Center acting to educate people on peace? It's very important. My next problem, I think we have talked about your meeting with Khaled Meshaal and Hamas wrote letters, because you said you met them after they came in power, after they got a breakthrough. But… even Hitler came in power after the democracy elections, so we have to be very careful when dealing with dictatorships like Hamas and Hezbollah.

President Carter: Well, to address your last question first, my own experience with Hamas has been their participating in a purely democratic, fair, open, transparent, safe election in January 2006. And they were not able to serve, as you know… I don't equate them with Hitler, but you're welcome to do so if you wish… I was involved deeply with Yitzhak Rabin earlier and when Colonel Mengistu was in power… in your former country. I went there with a personal mission to get Mengistu to let Ethiopian Jews come to Israel. He had refused until I met with him and I've been very active in Ethiopia. We have not had a Carter Center program to educate Palestinians. We have a massive education program in Ethiopia and other places. We've just finished training 7,000 highly trained Ethiopian health workers, plus 30,000 women in Ethiopia, that will permit one woman for every 2,500 Ethiopians. We have a massive program in Ethiopia to deal with the tropical diseases I mentioned earlier.

I will participate tomorrow in a ceremony for the graduating class of children in Gaza, many of whom are children of Hamas parents. And the main thrust of the UNRWA education has been to teach them basic human rights. They've had to almost memorize the 30 principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and part of my speech tomorrow will be devoted to reminding them, as graduates, that when they expect to be treated with respect and peacefully, they should do the same thing with people with whom they disagree. But I can't claim to you that The Carter Center played any role in the education of these Palestinian children.

About the refugee solution — well, that has been addressed by many people, and I think that some of your previous PMs here have agreed on the acceptance of a token number of refugees that might actually come into the state of Israel. But the way that I understand the Geneva proposal is that each one of those returnees would have to be approved individually and personally by the government of Israel, which may mean zero, or it may mean a few thousand. And it would have to be equated to some degree by a formula that would apply to European nations and to Canada and the United States. But the primary principle is that most of them would come to what I call Palestine, that is Judea, Samaria, or the future Palestinian state nearby or either go to other countries, like our own, like the United States. The vast majority of claims by Palestinians to return would be resolved by financial compensation. This is a part of U.N. Resolution 194, as you may know: either return or be compensated. I have made speeches about this and answered questions, and in the past I've always said that 12 to 14 billion dollars would be created in an international fund to be used for this purpose… to let a balanced, non-prejudicial court to decide in each case how much money should be paid to a family that can't return, and let this international fund pay that fee. That would comply with the U.N. resolution that applies to the refugees' return. I would envision very few, if any, coming back into the nation of Israel.

Mr. Plessner: Question: Thank you, Mr. President. As I mentioned, I think we had the opportunity and chance to meet during your last visit here a year ago. And I appreciate, and I think I speak for all of my friends and colleagues here, your commitment to bringing about peace and stability to the region. We've been hoping for it for decades, and nobody doubts the fact that it comes from a genuine and humanitarian motivation, and it's well appreciated.

I'd like to ask a question about how you reconcile your regional outlook and your specific policy prescriptions about the question of the Israeli-Palestinian issue and specifically about Hamas. This question was raised in different shapes and forms before, but I'd like to inquire about a different dimension. In the region today, there's obviously a major struggle between moderates and radicals. The radical axis obviously led by Iran, which also affected your presidency, so you know something about it. Obviously the basic consensus in Israel today is that we should do as much as we can to strengthen our moderate allies, the moderate axis, the understanding and common denominator between the different and moderate actors and, specifically in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, to try and strengthen as much as we can the PA, and we want, to put it simply, the West Bank to succeed and the Gaza attempt of Hamas to fail. And, ideally, we would want you to use your political capital in order to promote this worldview, which is important not only to Israeli interests but to the interests of Europeans and Americans and our allies. Another dimension to look at that is that you spoke about democracy and you legitimized your actions vis-à-vis Hamas, or you explained your actions vis-à-vis Hamas, in response to the question of "Why are you legitimizing Hamas?" You said, "Well, they've been legitimized by a democratic election." My question is, is your view of democracy that democracy is just about being elected once, or because democracy, as far as I understand it, is more about a political culture of compromise, dialogue, the way you conduct yourself, openness to deciding a certain fashion. Hamas is not democratic in this sense, and therefore, why should you legitimize your dialogue with Hamas on those grounds which they themselves don't accept?

Another speaker: Mr. President… I think that I want to join the MK Mr. Plessner. I do not know better words to ask this question about your approach towards Hamas.

Third Speaker: Labor Party: Mr. President, Mr. Ambassador, it's a privilege and a pleasure, by the way, to have you here. And by the way. I think that Israel owes you a great deal for having the peace treaty with Egypt, and without you I do not believe that they would be able to do so. I visited The Carter Center in Atlanta. It was very impressive, and I would recommend that all of my colleagues to do so in their own spare time.

President Carter: They would be more than welcome.

Speaker: Now, I want to ask you about Hamas as well, but from a different angle.

Other speaker: We want to know how you were invited, and we were not. (laughter)

President Carter: I am extending all of you a personal invitation to come.

Speaker: I have connections.

…I feel that because of your great experience and the things that you did in the past all over the world, I feel that you can make a difference vis-à-vis the release of Gilad Shalit. Now, the fact that I feel that says nothing. I want to hear how you feel about that. If you feel that it is possible that you can concentrate on that, you can make a difference on the issue of Gilad Shalit.

President Carter: First of all, Hamas didn't enter the political arena as candidates until 2005, under the approval of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. They sought, first of all, municipal and local elections, and they were successful in 35 percent of the cities and towns of Palestine. Their taking office was approved by Ariel Sharon, and I might say that, in general… they performed well. They did not have corruption, they cleaned up their city, they got the citizens to clean up their streets, they planted vacant lots with gardens, and it was that experience as local officials that gave them the reputation in the legislative election of 2006 of being less corrupt than Fatah. In 2006, their candidates were permitted to seek office by Prime Minister Olmert and by President Bush and obviously by Fatah. And they had to take an oath that they would commit themselves to nonviolence. That was the only thing they had to agree to, to be nonviolent. Every candidate did so. And they were elected. I didn't have anything to do with the approval or disapproval of the rules or regulations of the election. That was done by a very high-quality election commission, maybe the best I've ever seen in the world, made up of judges, former presidents of universities, who didn't want to sully their personal reputation. There was no corruption, no cheating on the election. That's why I participate; I don't decide who runs, who is elected, or anything. That's decided by the people who go in and vote.

And I would say that the election was almost perfect. As far as the Palestinians were concerned, the election was not perfect, because those in East Jerusalem are not permitted to vote, except very few of them. I argued this with later Prime Minister Olmert, who was mayor of East Jerusalem when Arafat was elected in 1995. At that time, I believe, Peres was prime minister. They said that they couldn't vote in East Jerusalem; they could only mail their ballot, their votes, as foreigners to be counted in the West Bank. I didn't agree with that, but I had to accept. I never have any authority in an election. I never have wanted to have any authority. We just try to observe what happens and try to make sure that the election is honest and safe and fair. So that's my involvement with Hamas. I didn't approve their candidacy; Ariel Sharon did. And Olmert did.

Previous speaker: Mr. President, Hitler was also elected by democratic election.

President Carter: And so was I. And so was I, and so were you. And that doesn't mean that I'm Hitler, and that doesn't mean that you're Hitler. It doesn't mean that anyone that's elected democratically-

Speaker: No, it doesn't, but democratic election doesn't explain the terror attitude that comes from Hamas. This is the main problem.

President Carter: The point I'm trying to make, sir, is that I didn't approve Hamas being candidates. It was your own prime ministers who did so, because you obviously have control over what happens in the West Bank.

Speaker: But you give, sir, legitimacy to the terror activity that comes from Hamas.

President Carter: I'm not legitimizing Hamas. I don't have any authority to legitimize anyone.

Asker of second-to-last question: The argument is that their post-election conduct renders them undemocratic and therefore illegitimate.

President Carter: That's a judgment for you to make. I don't dispute what you're saying. I didn't quite understand if you had a different question?

Speaker of last question: I asked about Gilad Shalit.

President Carter: I have done as much for the Shalit family — I'm not bragging — as anyone could possibly do, maybe as much as anyone in Israel has done. And I've told you in the past what I did. I met with Shalit's mother and father when I was here in April and I gave them my word of honor that I would do the best I could to find out if their son was alive, and they did not know if he was alive. I then went to Cairo. The Hamas representatives who met me in Cairo would not tell me if Shalit was alive or dead, and they denied — he wouldn't tell me if he was even in Gaza. So that's the main reason I went from there to Damascus. I met with the ultimate leaders of Hamas, and I told them that this is very important to me and to the people of Israel, and that it would be a good thing for them as far as international opinion was concerned, if they would let me prove that Shalit was still alive. And because of my arguments, they agreed, and they let me deliver the letter I had in my pocket to them and they delivered it to the young corporal, who has been there now almost exactly three years. Later, I asked them also to let Shalit write a letter back, because there is no proof that he's alive just for Hamas to take the letter from his parents. When he wrote a personal letter back to his parents, Hamas had it delivered to my office in Ramallah, and we delivered it personally to his parents. I hope I can do the same thing on this trip. But there's a limit to what a former president, who was involuntarily removed from office, and who has no position in the U.S. government, to do. I don't have any authority. I have to use my ability to persuade people to do what's best for their interests. And what I did in that case was to convince the Hamas leaders that it was in their interest to let me prove that Gilad Shalit was still alive. I can tell you personally that he is still alive now; he withstood the bombardment of January.

Speaker: Maybe they would let you visit him?

President Carter: I would be delighted if they would. It has made it more difficult for me; I have been very honest with you, and very frank. I've said some things I know none of you agree with. But this makes it more difficult when your prime minister says that he will open the gates and let them have a bag of cement so that they can rebuild their houses only if they prove that Shalit is alive. So now, if they prove that Shalit is alive, that makes it appear as though they are succumbing to the threats from Netanyahu. It would be much easier for me to get proof that he's alive if Hamas didn't have to say, well, if we do this, then we are yielding to threats from Netanyahu, but that's a decision for him to make. I'm very gratified that he has now appointed a representative of Israel to participate in the talks between Hamas and Israel. We were in Egypt last week talking to Omar Suleiman…he sent word to me, through my emissary, that nothing was happening on the Shalit issue. But maybe now, with an Israeli emissary, they can talk, and I pray that Shalit will be soon free.

Speaker: Mr. President, I want to thank you on behalf of each and every one of us.

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