WASHINGTON — The White House lashed back at former President Jimmy Carter today, saying he was out of line for accusing President Reagan of resorting to military solutions in foreign policy disputes.
"We are deeply disappointed by his comments, and it would seem that if he wants to be helpful in the area of foreign affairs that he might want to forgo criticism of U.S. leaders while he is on foreign soil," President Reagan's spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said of Carter, who has been frequently criticized by Reagan.
Later, Reagan, asked at a photo session about Carter's statements, declined to comment.
But Fitzwater responded immediately when questioned by reporters. "He's wrong," the spokesman said of Carter's assertion that Reagan is more inclined to use military force than diplomacy.
During a visit to Cairo, Carter used some of the harshest language he has ever invoked in reference to his successor.
Carter told a group of businessmen and diplomats that Reagan "is more inclined to form a \o7 contra \f7 army to overthrow the Sandinistas (in Nicaragua) or inject the Marines into Lebanon or use American battleships to shell villages around Beirut" than to seek negotiated settlements to problems.
The former President also faulted Reagan for the "missing leadership" in Washington and said Middle East leaders lacked "courage, tenacity and dedication" in allowing the Middle East peace process to founder.
Carter, who was instrumental in arranging an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty before leaving office in 1981, was the target of repeated attacks from Reagan during the 1980 election campaign for his handling of the Iranian hostage crisis.
Lambasted on Panama Canal
Reagan also had lambasted Carter on the Panama Canal treaties and for seeking ratification of the SALT II arms control treaty.
Asked why Reagan never held back his criticism of a sitting President, while the Administration believed Carter should now remain silent, Fitzwater argued that the subject of the Middle East peace process was "a delicate area."
The spokesman also took sharp issue with Carter's assertion that Reagan had failed to come up with a plan to calm the situation in the Middle East.
"The Administration has demonstrated a continuing diplomatic effort in the Middle East since the beginning of the Administration," Fitzwater said, adding that Reagan has sent Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy to the Middle East numerous times to pursue peace in the region.
Neglecting Channels 'Not True'
"It is simply not true that this Administration is neglecting diplomatic channels," he said.
Fitzwater acknowledged that while Reagan had no specific major gains that compared to Carter's Israeli-Egyptian Camp David accord, that did not mean the President has not tried.
Asked whether the White House believed that a former President should not criticize a sitting President, Fitzwater replied, "That's it."
Queried whether the Administration was disturbed that Carter had criticized Reagan during a foreign visit, the spokesman shot back, "My beef is that he criticizes Ronald Reagan."