Interview with Jimmy Carter

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The 1984 interview with American-Arab Affairs shows the former president’s frustration with Israeli settlement building and his hope that Arab states would negotiate with the Jewish state to build on his landmark accord.


In January 1984, the predecessor of Middle East Policy, the quarterly journal American-Arab Affairs, interviewed former President Jimmy Carter to get his analysis of the Reagan administration’s first term and the prospects for broadening the shift toward regional peace that had been forged with the landmark 1978 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt.

Carter “seemed to have an optimistic streak that led him to believe problems could be resolved if leaders would simply reason together and listen to the aspirations of their people,” writes William B. Quandt, who participated in the Camp David talks as a National Security Council staffer. In his analysis of the peace process, Quandt further observes that Carter had the mind of an engineer and thought “complex problems could best be tackled by careful study, detailed planning, and comprehensive designs.”1

We can see that in the Council’s interview with the president. Carter condemns the expansion of settlements in the occupied territories but says he is still hopeful that Arab states will negotiate with Israel. And while he acknowledges that neither the Arab countries nor Israel wanted to be seen as the first to soften their positions and accede to talks, the president continues to see the United States as the “catalyst” that can use its credibility to build the confidence needed to nudge the parties to the negotiating table.

Despite this optimism, Carter’s analysis can be clear-eyed. In his interview, the president recognizes that the Camp David accords demonstrated the risks to Arab states in seeking bilateral peace. The proof was not just the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat but, more important, the sense among officials in Egypt that the peace deal emboldened Israel to invade Lebanon.

In the relatively short term—from the time of this interview to the Oslo Accords and the 1994 Wadi Araba Treaty between Jordan and Israel—the president was prescient in his seeing a way forward. But his remarks should remind us that Palestine was considered a crucial part of bilateral deals between Israel and its neighbors. The president may not have anticipated that, nearly four decades later, the United States, Israel, and interested parties in the Arab world would forge ties that largely exclude language requiring Israel to move back to pre-1967 borders and negotiate a final-status agreement with the Palestinians.

Editor Erik R. Peterson spoke with Carter on January 13, 1984, right after two significant events. The more important was the October 1983 suicide bomb attacks on US and French military personnel in Beirut, where they had been deployed after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon the year before. The president tells American-Arab Affairs that the continued presence of the Marines was untenable, and he calls on the Reagan administration to press Israeli and Syrian forces to leave the country while also leaning on the Lebanese president, a Maronite Christian, to fix relations with the country’s Muslim majority.

The other event was a conference titled “The Middle East Consultation: Five Years After Camp David,” held at the Carter Center in November 1983. The event featured Carter, President Gerald R. Ford, officials from Arab governments, and Cyrus Vance and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s secretary of state and national security adviser, respectively. The scholarly conference could not escape the fraught nature of Middle Eastern politics: The Israeli government boycotted the event because of the participation of Walid Khalidi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization who had advocated for a sovereign state whose capital would be in East Jerusalem.

Anne Joyce, the longtime editor of American-Arab Affairs and Middle East Policy, attended that 1983 conference at the Carter Center. She writes that the former president “was a model of intellectual talent and temperament, chairing all the sessions without relying on notes or aides.” Most important, she remembers, is that Carter “no longer had to be circumspect about his opinions on Middle East politics.”



1 William B. Quandt, Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Since 1967, Third Edition (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2005).


Interview with Jimmy Carter

Reproduced from American-Arab Affairs, no. 7 (Winter 1983-1984). 

Jimmy Carter served as President of the United States from 1977 to 1981. The following interview was conducted by Erik R. Peterson, Editor of American-Arab Affairs, on January 13, 1984. 


AAA: How would you assess the performance of the Reagan administration in the Middle East in the last three years?  

CARTER: I don’t think that the Reagan administration has been nearly aggressive enough in trying to pursue the principles of U.N. Resolution 242, the Camp David accords, the Reagan initiative or the elements of the Fez statement that were compatible with U.N. Resolution 242. In the past, under Nixon, Ford and me, either the President or the Secretary of State, almost on a full time basis, was available as a top level mediator to search out every possibility for progress towards peace. Under [Henry] Kissinger, [Cyrus] Vance and [Edmund] Muskie, I think a good bit of progress was made. This has not been the case in the last three years. There was about a year and a half of absence of activity. After Secretary of State [George P.] Shultz came into office, the Reagan initiative speech was made on September 1, 1982, and then there was a flurry of activity. But that has died down. We have confined our effort almost exclusively to the Lebanese crisis and have not committed ourselves to the principles of withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian rights, recognition of Israel by the Arab world, which I think are crucial elements toward permanent peace in the region.  

AAA: Why do you think the current Administration hasn’t pursued those policies? 

CARTER: It’s hard to answer the question of why the Administration did this or that. I’m not privy to Administration councils except that I have, I think, a reasonably good relationship with Secretary Shultz and with the National Security Advisors—both [William P.] Clark, when he was there, and now [Robert C.] Bud McFarlane. I don’t really know. There is a tendency on the part of the Administration to postpone those difficult questions that are so highly charged politically: settlements, withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian rights, self-determination, Arab recognition of Israel, Israeli security, overall peace. These are the factors that must be addressed forthrightly and, I think, in the leadership capacity of our country in order for a peace initiative to be successful. And it’s easier not to do it than it is to do it. In Lebanon, of course, we had one brief period last May when Secretary of State Shultz personally involved himself in a withdrawal agreement, but unfortunately Syria was not a party to the effort. It was, as you know, an agreement that was worked out between Israel and Lebanon, which was then disavowed by the Syrians and which I doubt the Lebanese parliament will ever approve. Also, of course, we’ve had the American Marines and personnel in Lebanon. I think this has been the factor that has focused our attention on Lebanon.  

Cover of journal

I don’t know how to influence the Administration’s reticence about the overall peace effort. After our consultation in Atlanta, President Ford and I went to Washington to meet with Secretary Shultz and National Security Advisor McFarlane, Ambassador [Richard M.] Fairbanks and others involved in the Mideast area, and we gave them a report on the consultation and offered our assistance whenever it was appropriate to pursue the ideas put forward at the conference. We also met with the Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate and made the same report and the same offer. I think now in an election year, the chances are still minimal that the United States will play the role of a leader in pursuing the peace process. My own hope is that the principles of the Reagan initiative and the Camp David accords will be pursued aggressively. But I don’t know. I don’t predict what they will do.  

AAA: Do you support the continued participation of American troops in the multinational peacekeeping force? 

CARTER: No, not under present circumstances. I thought it was a mistake for us to put them there in the beginning and I think it is a mistake for us to keep them there. This is the first time that I know of when we’ve used our troops to referee among a multifaceted group of religious and political factions involved in   a kind of internecine combat. In the past we’ve pretty well confined our troop involvement on a peacekeeping basis to separate different nations and, most often, when those nations themselves agreed that our troops ought to be there; as between Israel and Egypt in the Sinai, between North and South Korea, and so forth. This involvement by the Marines in a highly vulnerable position where we have no control over circumstances might precipitate further bloodshed in support of the Lebanese Christian leadership, which is a worthy group but in opposition to a majority of Muslim and Druze leaders and  people. I think this is an untenable position and I hope that President Reagan will find the earliest possible opportunity to withdraw the Marines, if not completely from the region then to a safer location—perhaps  into the ships off the coast.  

AAA: What course of action would you prescribe now in Lebanon? 

CARTER: Well, the most important element is for us to adamantly demand the withdrawal of all external forces, of Israel and Syria, so that we don’t give tacit approval for the partition of Lebanon. Secondly, I think we ought to make our support for the [Amine] Gemayel government contingent upon a genuine effort to bring together the disputing factions within Lebanon itself. There may be some minimal changes in the Lebanese form of government that would be acceptable to the Arab groups—for instance, a popular election of the President. The President can still be from the same faction as Gemayel is now, but let the people of the country vote. That’s the sort of thing that might be acceptable to them. A third thing is that we must recognize that Syria, whether we like it or not, has genuine security interests in the region and will play a major role in any future agreement for peace. 

It’s obvious that the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the aftermath of it has greatly enhanced the influence of President [Hafez al-]Assad and the Syrians in the entire Mideast region. We ought to recognize that fact, communicate and negotiate freely and substantively with the Syrians and try to bring about a resolution to the Lebanese crisis. 

AAA: What is your assessment of the recent mission of Reverend Jesse Jackson to secure the release of Lieutenant Goodman? 

CARTER: Well, I’m glad he went. I’m glad it was successful. I think what precipitated Reverend Jackson’s going was a report from Syria that President Reagan’s representative Mr. [Donald] Rumsfeld didn’t seek the release of the Lieutenant. That information was brought back to our country. When Jesse Jackson found out about it, he decided that he would question that policy and go himself.  

I think that President Assad’s decision to let the Lieutenant go had two or three elements to it. One was that it gives a world-wide image of humanitarianism to the Syrians by letting this pilot return to his family. Second, I think it creates an opportunity at least for a better relationship between Syria and the United States. And, third, it is a possibility for Assad to embarrass President Reagan and his administration by letting a private citizen’s effort be successful on a mission that would ordinarily be addressed between two governments. 

AAA: What is your assessment of the continued construction of Israeli settlements on the West Bank? Are the chances for a durable peace diminished with the construction of these settlements? 

CARTER: Well, there is very little indication, if any, from first the [Menachem] Begin and then the [Yitzhak] Shamir governments that they intend to withdraw at all from any portion of the West Bank and Gaza, and the aggressive settlement activity is the major proof of what I just said. There is another element to it which is interesting, however. With the present level of settlement activity maintained for the next ten or 15 years, the chances are that the ratio between Arab-Palestinians and Jews in the occupied territories will remain the same—about 65 percent Muslim and Christian Arabs and about 35 percent Jews. So the demographic nature of population percentages will not change. However, there are people on both sides, Arabs and Israelis, who would like for the world to believe that the settlement activity is so extensive that it’s now become a moot point, that the taking over of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel has been completed. This creates either on the one side a sense of hopelessness, which perpetuates the status quo; or on the other side a sense of crisis, which might precipitate action on the part of one of the parties involved. So, I would say that it’s a matter of great concern. It’s an indication that the principles of U.N. Resolution 242, the Camp David accords and the Reagan initiative will not be honored.  

But at the same time it doesn’t necessarily create a hopeless situation. There is still time for Arab leaders to come forward and say “let’s negotiate” under whatever title they want to assume—either the Reagan initiative, U.N. Resolution 242, or the Camp David accords—and to let the peace process continue. I deplore the massive settlement activity. I wish it would be terminated during the time the peace talks are underway, as I understood was agreed at the Camp David Meetings, but I still don’t look upon the activity as a foregone conclusion that the peace talks are hopeless. 

AAA: What are the implications of the recent agreement between the United States and Israel in the area of strategic cooperation? Do you view it as a step toward a negotiated peace, or as an obstacle?  

CARTER: I think it was a mistake and would probably be more of an obstacle to progress than an incentive toward progress. In the first place, I don’t think that there is any substance to the announcement of any real significance to Israel or to the United States. The essence of it is that President Reagan would see that a commission was established to look into ways whereby cooperation between our country and Israel would be improved. So I think the bottom line is that there isn’t any great benefit to be derived by Israel or our country from this announcement. The second thing is that this created a very serious blow to the status of Arab moderates, those who support the peace process, and makes it much more difficult for them to be effective. I think it creates within the entire Arab world an impression that the United States has voluntarily abandoned another portion of its objectivity or neutrality or balanced position as a negotiator, which we have to maintain.  

So for those reasons I think it’s a mistake.  


Jimmy Carter waving from Air Force One

AAA: Do you support the establishment of a dialogue between the United States and the PLO?  

CARTER: I think that this will be necessary in the future. But I believe that the PLO will have to be willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist and also acknowledge that U.N. Resolution 242 and its general principles are applicable in the Mideast. I have only met a few PLO leaders and I have encouraged them to make this commitment, and if they do so then I would be strongly in favor of our officials negotiating with the Palestinian community, including the PLO leadership. 

AAA: What benefits has Egypt derived from the so-called “peace dividend” that resulted from Camp David?  

CARTER: They have gotten all their territory back, which is a major achievement, including the oil wells, which are of great financial benefit to Egypt. They’ve removed the threat of war with Israel; and I think they have strengthened their ties with the United States. Those are the positive elements of it.  

On the negative side, Egypt has damaged its relationship with other Arab countries. That damage is now slowly but inexorably being repaired. Egypt has put itself in a position of criticism because the elements of the Camp David accords as they relate to Palestinian rights of self-determination have not been and are not being pursued. The decisions that have been made by President [Hosni] Mubarak in the last two and a half or so years, in my opinion, have been compatible with what [assassinated Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat would have done under similar circumstances had he survived. The relationship between Israel and Egypt is severely strained, and although diplomatic relations and recognition still exist and an Israeli ambassador is in Cairo, there is no Egyptian ambassador in Israel. This was a result of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, and many of the Egyptian leaders with whom I’ve talked privately tend to believe that the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was a factor in Israel’s deciding to invade Lebanon. This was a severe blow to Egypt and to their feelings toward Israel. 

But the peace treaty has survived three severe tests already. One, of course, was Sadat’s death; another one was the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai during the dismantling of settlements, which was a traumatic experience for Begin and for his government; and a third is the invasion of Lebanon by Israel. So I think the treaty is a fairly permanent element on the Mideast scene, provided Israel doesn’t officially abandon its commitment to the principles of the Camp David accords, which involves withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and the recognition of Palestinian rights to self-determination. I think if Israel ever, for instance, annexed the West Bank and Gaza, or announced officially that it had no intention of withdrawing, that Egypt might very well disavow the treaty because Sadat and Mubarak had made it clear that the treaty between Israel and Egypt was predicated upon a broader agreement involving Palestinian rights. 

AAA: Do you support Reagan’s idea of a Palestinian-Jordanian federation as an approach toward a settlement? 

CARTER: Yes, I think that’s one of the reasonable approaches. At the time President Reagan made his statement I supported it and I support it now. But that element of his statement is not a final conclusion. It’s an expression of opinion by the leader of our nation that this is one of the reasonable approaches to an ultimate decision on the West Bank and Gaza. The subject for discussion about the permanent status of the occupied territories is still open. The Camp David accords, signed by Prime Minister Begin, President Sadat and me, call for negotiations involving Palestinian negotiators to determine the final status of the West Bank and Gaza. At the conclusion of those negotiations the agreement concerning the West Bank and Gaza has to be submitted to the representatives of the Palestinians themselves for acceptance or rejection. So this gives the Palestinians a major role in deciding the ultimate status of the West Bank and Gaza. I think that is a factor that is quite often forgotten, that the need for Jordan and the Palestinians to come forward and negotiate on those terms, or on those of the Reagan initiative, is very important. And I think that they made a serious mistake last April when King Hussein [of Jordan] was not able to get Palestinian support for joining the peace talks.  

AAA: Many attribute that lack of support to the fact that the settlement activity in the West Bank has continued and that there are no signs on the part of either the United States or Israel for any concessions in the negotiations. Do you think that is true? 

CARTER: Yes, that is certainly a major factor. However, someone has got to break the impasse. Israel says that they are going ahead with settlement activity because the Arabs refuse to negotiate. But the Arabs refuse to negotiate because Israel is engaging in settlement activity. I know from personal knowledge and experience that the Israeli public is sharply divided over this issue. And I think there would be a profound impact on the political structure in Israel, including some members of the Likud Party in the Knesset, if Jordan would say, “We are ready to negotiate with Israel, provided the settlement activity is stopped.” I know that there are members of the Likud Party as well as many members of the Labor Party who would say, “Let’s go on record in the Knesset to stop settlement activity as long as good faith negotiations are taking place.” But for the Jordanians and Palestinians and other Arabs to say, “We will never negotiate until the settlement activity stops,” means that the Israelis are going to say, “Why should we stop the settlement activity if the Arabs refuse to negotiate?” You’ve got an irreconcilable impasse there which leads away from peace and toward inevitable future bloodshed and confrontation. 

AAA: What could the United States do to break this impasse?  

CARTER: The same thing that we’ve done in the past. The same thing that was done under Ford, Nixon, Kissinger, me, Vance and Muskie. Take the initiative, set out the terms, encourage both sides to be forthcoming, express publicly the basis for potential negotiation. Let the American view be clear. I think if President Reagan would enthusiastically continue his efforts along the lines of the so-called “Reagan initiative” of September 1982, there would be an adequate basis for progress. But you’ve got to recognize that the semantics in the Mideast are very important. The Israeli leaders, Shamir, Arens and others, have said they will only negotiate under the aegis of Camp David, although Shamir, Arens and others have never supported the “Camp David” accords. Hussein would find it impossible to negotiate under the so-called Camp David accords. Hussein might be willing to negotiate under the Reagan initiative. Other Arabs would support negotiations under the so-called “Fez statement” principles. All of those are relatively compatible although none of them go far enough. I think the umbrella under which negotiations could be undertaken is U.N. Resolution 242, which is kind of the grandparent of them all. The Camp David accords include U.N. Resolution 242 verbatim; therefore, the Reagan initiative is, and the Fez statement is claimed to be, compatible with U.N. Resolution 242. So I think Resolution 242 would be the basis under which the negotiations could take place. But you can’t demand that Hussein accept Camp David before he negotiates, and you can’t demand that Israel accept the Reagan initiative before they negotiate, and so forth. You’ve got to seek a common denominator under which the negotiations can take place. I don’t know with what degree of sincerity the present Israeli government wants to negotiate. I don’t have any way of knowing. But I think that if Hussein came forward and said, “I am ready to negotiate on the basis of U.N. Resolution 242 without preconditions except that settlement activity stop during the time when sincere negotiations are taking place,” it would indicate a great move by the Arab world toward peace. It would mean that Israel would have to negotiate or be severely embarrassed. And I think that under those circumstances the Israeli public and the government would support negotiations. But a catalyst has to be there and I see no alternative to the United States being that catalyst. 

Jimmy Carter

AAA: How might the U.S. develop more continuity in Middle East policy? Is a bipartisan approach feasible in an election year? 

CARTER: Well, King Hussein has also called strongly for a bipartisan approach and Crown Prince Hassan at the Atlanta consultation repeated this suggestion, and I know that the Jordanians have made this request directly to President Reagan and to Secretary of State Shultz. I think if the Reagan administration were willing, a bipartisan group, maybe headed by a former Democratic secretary of state and a Republican secretary of state, for instance, with a number of distinguished Americans, could look into this overall situation and say “This is what ought to be done.” It would take some of the political onus or pressure off the President himself and would be an avenue for possible progress. That’s the alternative to the President and Secretary of State doing it themselves, which would be my first preference. What you have to recognize is that if Arab leaders are going to be forthcoming, as was Sadat, they are not inclined to take a chance through [former Middle East envoy] Bob Strauss or [his successor] Sol Linowitz or Don Rumsfeld or Bud McFarlane or Ambassador Fairbanks, as worthy as all those gentlemen are. If they are going to take a chance, they have got to know that the President of the United States or the Secretary of State is personally involved in the process and will not leave an initiator of a peace effort exposed. That is the element that has basically been missing for the last three years. During the Sinai disengagement agreement and the Golan disengagement agreement, the Syrian, Israeli and Egyptian leaders knew that Secretary Kissinger and the President of the United States were directly and personally involved. During the Camp David negotiations all the leaders over there knew that I and my Secretary of State were personally involved and if they made an initiative in total secrecy, or even publicly, that they wouldn’t be left exposed. They would not have made those kinds of agreements or those kinds of initiatives to even the most competent and worthy low-level mediator or negotiator at the ambassadorial level. And that’s why I say that’s my first preference. The second preference might be a major commission headed up by two secretaries of state.  

The situation has deteriorated seriously in the last three years, not only in Lebanon, but in the overall relationship between Israelis and Arabs and between Arabs and the United States. In fact, the relationship between the United States and Israel, I think, has not improved. 

AAA: You’ve mentioned the conference that you recently had at the Carter Center at Emory University [The Middle East Consultation: Five Years After Camp David, held in November 1983]. What were the results of that conference?  

CARTER: It’s hard to say. Perhaps for the first time, we had official representatives of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia come to meet with Israelis and leaders from Europe, the Soviet Union and the United States, in an open forum, wherein each nation’s position was described as best it could be. Contradictory opinions were presented from the stage to a large audience. Those in the conference who were not on the stage at that time could cross-examine the spokesmen who had just given their views. Although Israel didn’t have an official representative there—he was withdrawn at the last minute—there were six or seven representatives from Israel who could speak with knowledge if not official authority. We had at the conference most of the chief American negotiators, Democratic and Republican, from the last decade or so. I believe the exchange of views was very beneficial. It was certainly informative to me and President Ford. 

It’s hard to say what the results were or will be. But I think that all the Arabs went back with a better understanding of Israel. And I think the Israeli participants gained a better understanding of Arab positions. It gave Arabs a chance to talk to one another, because it’s very difficult for Egyptians and Syrians, for instance, to communicate. And, I think some of the technical explanations, such as the demographical aspects on the West Bank and Gaza, were also helpful.  

AAA: Will there be any follow-up activity from you and President Ford?  

CARTER: Yes. We are now distributing scholarly papers and proceedings of the consultation. We will be producing a paperback book which will be widely distributed among lay readers—very brief, simple language—which will show, I hope without distortion, the views of the different parties involved in the Mideast dispute: this is what the Syrians believe; and this is what their goals are; this is how they assess current matters; this is how the Israelis look upon the current Mideast situation; this is how the Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Saudis look upon these matters; this is how the Soviets and the Europeans look upon them; this is a brief history of the Mideast dispute; these are some of the opportunities for the future. I think it will be helpful. 

Since the conference, Professor Kenneth Stein, who was my coordinator, has been to Jordan to participate in a session sponsored by King Hussein and Crown Prince Hassan. Secretary Vance has gone from the consultation to both Egypt and Israel. He made a speech establishing the Dayan Center at the University of Tel Aviv, and I am sure that his own views were shaped to a substantial degree by the results of the consultation. I think that consultation is a first step toward a non-official exploration of possibilities for improved relations in the region.  

AAA: How do you assess the positions of the leading Democratic candidates for the Presidency so far as Mideast policy is concerned?  

CARTER: Well, I don’t really know what their positions are. I don’t read the speeches they make to different groups. I just see news reports of what they’ve said and I know from experience that when you read news reports sometimes comments are taken out of context. But I doubt if any of them would make any statement that would be contrary to the interests of Israel. And I would guess that during a political year both Democratic and Republican candidates would be inclined to emphasize our nation’s commitment to Israel and the Israeli point of view. I’ve had discussions with some of the Democratic candidates and my own advice to them is not to make any statement in conflict with the principles of the Camp David accords and, therefore, the Reagan initiative. But I don’t know how to predict what they will do. 

AAA: I’d like you to comment on the evacuation of Arafat and the dissension within the PLO.  

CARTER: I think that division within the PLO has existed for a good while, and I’ve talked with some of the PLO leaders on both sides. Some of the dissidents feel that Arafat has favored his own supporters within the PLO leadership excessively, and has not shared both political and financial responsibility widely enough. Some of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza feel that Arafat and the PLO leadership have been excessively preoccupied with the PLO as an organization, the interaction of politics and financial considerations and so forth, to the detriment of the best interests of the Palestinians who live in the occupied territories and who live as refugees in other places. So there are some genuine reasons for dissatisfaction among the Palestinian community with the Arafat leadership. On the other hand, I think that the dissidents’ voices and actions in Syria are probably the result of an effort to take over control of the Palestinian leadership by a very militant and rejectionist minority. 

They probably have motives which are not limited to those of fairness and equity of treatment and concern with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. I presume that among a substantial majority of Palestinians, Arafat has still retained the status of their preferred leader. 

What the result might be of the recent schism in the PLO leadership and the second exodus of Arafat, I don’t know. It may be that he now feels less constraint from Syria than he did before, and would be more forthcoming in encouraging Hussein, for instance, to join the peace talks. It may be that Arafat is weakened to such an extent as a leader that other voices within the Palestinian community might be stronger, either from within the occupied territories or possibly from within the Jordanian parliament. Either one of those Palestinian voices could be used by Hussein as an encouragement for him to join the talks under the Reagan initiative, for instance. However, it’s obvious that King Hussein would have to be very cautious in trying to speak for the Palestinian community in an improper way and capitalizing on the problems within the PLO. So I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m not privy to the thinking of the leaders and have very little contact with them. I would hope that there would be a moderation of the PLO attitudes; that there would be an encouragement of Hussein, along with Palestinian representatives, to join the peace talks; and a willingness to recognize that Israel has a right to exist and exist in peace behind recognized borders. This could be a positive factor and not a negative factor. 

AAA: Is there a continuity between the Carter Doctrine in the Gulf and the policy that has been pursued by the Reagan administration?  

CARTER: It’s hard to say about the element of continuity. I felt that when the Soviets went into Afghanistan they had to understand clearly that if they went any further into Pakistan or Iran and threatened the Persian Gulf region with Soviet occupation, it would be a direct threat to American security and we would respond accordingly. That was the element named by others as a “Carter Doctrine.” I have to say we did what we could, and in a proper way, to strengthen the freedom fighters’ position within Afghanistan and to slow down the progress of the Soviet Union in taking over Afghanistan completely. I hope that the Soviets will not exhibit any further signs of expanding their military presence toward the Persian Gulf region. This would be a very serious threat to the security and economic well-being of the entire Western world, and I think we would have to respond accordingly in the most severe way. So I presume the views I’ve just expressed to you would still be the views of the Reagan administration, although I don’t have any specific assurance from them on whether that is the case. 

AAA: Some Arab leaders feel that the Soviet Union has the most to gain from the inability of the United States to implement policy aimed at the resolution of Middle East disputes. Do you agree with that contention?  

CARTER: Yes, I think to the extent that the American position or reputation or friendship within the Arab world has decreased, the Soviets have a potential to improve their relationship at our expense. There is no question about that. In general, however, the Arab leaders and the Arab people have a justified suspicion of the motives of the Soviet Union. The deeply religious Arab leaders are concerned about atheistic communism in principle and practice. And they have seen that in many parts of the world, a weak nation which becomes dependent upon the Soviet Union for arms supplies in a revolutionary period might later be subject to Soviet domination. I think that they are very cautious about that possibility. In spite of the fact that our damaged relationships with some of the Arab countries provide an opportunity for Soviet progress, it’s not an inevitable thing. I have disagreed publicly with Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and others who have alleged that Syria was a Soviet puppet. I think that Assad is too intelligent and too effective as a leader to let his country be dominated by the Soviet Union. And I think he’s using Soviet assistance to the benefit of Syria as he sees it, but he would not permit Syria to become a surrogate of the Soviet Union or to be dominated by Soviet policy. 

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