June 23, 2014
The primary purpose of our trip was to explain more fully to our supporters and partners the Carter Center's projects in South Sudan, Sudan, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Myanmar, Liberia, Nigeria, Hispaniola, and a few other countries. Nicole Kruse, Hrair Balian, and I met with foreign ministers and officials responsible for development assistance to thank them for their longtime support, answer their questions, and describe future plans of mutual interest. We enjoyed delightful visits with U.S. Embassy staffs in both Stockholm and Oslo, where I made brief speeches and answered questions from the assembled crowds. Ambassador Mark Brzezinski (son of my national security advisor in the White House) assembled a large group of distinguished and influential Swedish leaders for lunch and an extended discussion, and in Oslo, we were able to observe Independence Day with about 1,700 other celebrants.
I spent one morning in the countryside near Oslo with participants of the Oslo Forum, an annual event where public officials and leaders of nongovernmental organizations assemble to discuss peace processes, mediation techniques, and important issues of the day. I was questioned at length by Lyse Doucet, chief foreign correspondent for BBC, and then answered other questions from the audience, for a total of an hour and 45 minutes. It was a challenging and enjoyable experience for me. During the discussions, I pointed out that for every person killed in the Syrian civil war, about 1,000 girls are eliminated at birth or selectively aborted by parents who prefer boy babies and cannot afford more children, or whose family size is restricted by their governments. Several of the subsequent questions were about the worldwide abuse of women and girls. I expressed support for Palestinian reconciliation and elections, the advisability of Iran's involvement in peace discussions in Syria and Iraq, and opposition to a military role for the United States in the two countries.
While there, I also had private discussions with Bouthaina Shaaban, special advisor to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad (and earlier to his father), who is knowledgeable about the regime's affairs. I emphasized the need and advisability for the president to be generous in deciding who will be included in his recently announced amnesty and in permitting the delivery of humanitarian supplies and services to beleaguered communities in Syria. Using the Carter Center's mapping of the areas controlled by the government and armed opposition groups, safe relief routes to many of the isolated communities can be determined. Minister Shaaban responded that this would be approved if the Red Crescent (controlled by Assad) could monitor deliveries. I also arranged for easy access of our staff members to Damascus and other places in Syria, to discuss possible power sharing options that can lead to a peaceful future.
I also met with Central African Republic President Catherine Samba-Panza, who explained the plight of her country, with its extreme poverty and ongoing armed struggles in many regions. She thought that a successful election would be a possible key to progress, and I promised to send representatives from our Center to Bangui to determine if we can be of help.
During sessions with the two foreign ministers, Carl Bildt and Børge Brende, it was encouraging to acknowledge the compatibility of the basic policies between The Carter Center and the two nations we visited.