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Former President Carter Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Honors: His role in the 1978 Mideast accord and ongoing human rights work are recognized.

October 12, 2002|KEN ELLINGWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — As his own country readied for a possible war with Iraq, former President Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in recognition of his role in brokering Middle East peace while in office and his efforts since then to defuse conflicts in some of the world's most forsaken places.

In awarding the prize to the 78-year-old Carter, the Norwegian Nobel Committee cited "his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development." The committee cited Carter's frequent work as an election observer and credited the efforts of the Carter Center, founded in 1982, to combat disease and promote progress in the developing world.

As president, Carter played a central role in achieving the historic Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel in 1978. For 13 days at the Camp David, Md., presidential retreat, Carter served as host and mediator while Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin inched toward agreement. Sadat and Begin were jointly awarded the peace prize that year, but Carter was not nominated.

Since he left office in 1981, Carter has used his prominence as a former president to broker talks in conflict-torn zones and to push for fair elections and other basic rights in hot spots around the world. Much of that work has been done under the aegis of the Atlanta-based Carter Center, founded by Carter and his wife, Rosalynn.

Carter said the peace prize "serves as an inspiration not only to us, but also to suffering people around the world."

The Nobel announcement, coming as the U.S. Congress granted President Bush authority to use force against Iraq, stirred fresh controversy over the escalating preparations for a possible war. The Nobel committee's statement appeared to allude to the Bush administration's threats to use force, if necessary, to disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power," the committee said, "Carter has stood by the principles that conflicts must as far as possible be resolved through mediation and international cooperation based on international law, respect for human rights, and economic development."

The Nobel committee chairman, Gunnar Berge, was quoted as saying that the decision to award the prize to Carter "should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken." But another committee member said the panel had not discussed Bush's policy toward Iraq and that Berge's opinion was his own.

Bush called to congratulate the former president around 7 a.m. EDT Friday--2 1/2 hours after Carter got word of the award--and the two spoke for "a couple of minutes," according to White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "The president was very pleased to be able to extend his congratulations to a former president," he said.

Fleischer declined to comment on Berge's comments. "The president thinks this is a great day for Jimmy Carter. That's what he's going to focus on," he said.

In a televised interview, Carter sidestepped a question about the committee's apparent criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq policy. But Carter said he would have voted against the Senate resolution authorizing Bush to use force. The resolution passed early Friday morning.

Carter said he was "humbled" by the Nobel prize, for which he had been nominated numerous times. "People everywhere share the same dream of a caring international community that prevents war and oppression. During the past two decades, as Rosalynn and I traveled around the world for the work of our Center, my concept of human rights has grown to include not only the rights to live in peace, but also to adequate health care, food and to economic opportunity," the former president said in a statement released by the Carter Center.

Carter became the third U.S. president to win the Nobel honor, following Woodrow Wilson in 1920 and Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.

Former President Clinton added his voice to a global chorus of congratulatory goodwill for Carter. "I cannot think of anyone more qualified to receive this year's Nobel Peace Prize than President Jimmy Carter," Clinton said in a statement. "He continues to inspire people everywhere, young and old alike, through his vigorous quest for peace, justice and a better quality of life for all citizens of the world."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was among this year's nominees for the prize, said Carter "deserved it better than I, and he won it, and I'll try for it next year." Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio said Carter's award was "wholly deserved." Sampaio praised Carter's efforts at achieving peace for East Timor, a former Portuguese colony annexed by Indonesia.

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