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Carter says Middle East peace may be remedy for terrorism

WALTER PUTNAM - Associated Press

ATLANTA - Brokering peace in the Middle East between Israel and its neighbors may be the greatest step the U.S. could take to reduce the level of violence and terrorism emanating from the region, former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday.

Carter covered a wide range of topics, including Iraq, Iran and the image of the United States regarding human rights, during the first of the 2006-2007 series of Conversations at The Carter Center, programs the center said are "designed to increase public awareness on issues of national and international importance."

The former president and Georgia governor said the recent reluctance of the United States to push for a ceasefire in Lebanon had repercussions throughout the region, where many "react so deeply that recruiting of terrorists is possible."

"Bringing peace to the Mideast, between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel and Lebanon, and Israel and Syria, would be a great factor in reducing the animosity against our country and the incidence of terrorism that exists within the Islamic world," said Carter, who has just completed his 21st book, titled "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid."

"Sometimes very wealthy and influential leaders find their recruitment possible among disaffected people, who quite often are ignorant about the subject but have their animositities developed," Carter said.

He said that after Sept. 11 there was unity throughout the world, but the sentiment in favor of eradicating al-Qaida and capturing Osama bin Laden was squandered by revelations about abuses at Guantanamo, Cuba, Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and secret prisons throughout the world.

"This has brought disgrace on our country and condemnation from major human rights organizations, almost unanimously, around the world," Carter said. "We have relinquished the leadership we ought to have."

He said the Bush administration had "abandoned Afghanistan, to a major degree, for an unnecessary and unjust war in Iraq, and shifted the entire emphasis toward Iraq."

That, he said, "has lost support of almost every country on earth in the combat on terrorism."

He said there should be a commitment to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq over a year, and an international conference of every country with interests there to find ways to support the new government in Baghdad and "let the people there know they would have their own affairs to administer."

Carter said it is a mistake not to have direct communications with Iran, which the United States has not had diplomatic relations with since Islamic revolutionaries took over the American Embassy in Tehran during his administration.

"We have a policy now, quite different from what we've had in history, when we disagree with a country or when we ordain a particular policy for American government, if others won't accept our basic principles, then we won't talk to them - at all," the former president said.

He said Iran, Hezbollah, the Hamas-led Palestinian government and North Korea "are the trouble spots."

"I think we ought to have some concerted effort to communicate with them and say what are your policies and what can we do to accommodate them and you accommodate ours," Carter said.



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