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Interview with Former President Jimmy Carter and Marion Creekmore

Aired September 13, 2006 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, exclusive, former President Jimmy Carter facing a frightening world; the United States fighting an unpopular war, terrorists making everybody feel unsafe even on American soil; the Mid East a mess, North Korea and Iran threatening nukes.

Jimmy Carter next only on LARRY KING LIVE.


KING: A great pleasure to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE, it always is, President Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, Nobel laureate, founder of the Carter Center in Atlanta where he is right now, and New York Times best-selling author.

Later, we'll meet Marion Creekmore, Jr., author of the book "Moment of Crisis" dealing with Jimmy Carter and North Korea and that will be in the second half of the program.

In the first half, we'll delve into other things, always great to see him as we said. It's been five years since 9/11. Are we safer, Mr. President?

JIMMY CARTER, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't think so, Larry. I believe that we would be much more safe if the United States citizens were as united as we were right after 9/11 and also, as you know, then we had almost unanimous support from Muslim countries, from Europe, from Japan, from China, Russia, everywhere else in the world to combat terrorism.

And now, unfortunately, because of the policies that have been established, the United States and Great Britain and a very few others stand almost alone on the one hand. And, I think the lack of progress in the Middle East peace process and also our presence in Iraq has tended to stimulate more animosity against America. So, overall I don't think we're any more safe or even as safe as we were before 9/11.

KING: So, you're saying we have created these enemies?

CARTER: Well I don't say we created them. We had some enemies to begin with but as you well know in past years, for instance, countries like Jordan and Egypt were our strongest possible supporters in the Islamic world. And now the latest public opinion polls there show that less than five percent, in one case only two percent of the people look with favor on America.

So, we've kind of alienated a lot of people around the world that would have been with us. And, I don't think there's any doubt that right after 9/11 our country was more united than it had been maybe since Pearl Harbor and we had almost unanimous support around the world to join in with us in a unified commitment to combat terrorism.

Now the world is divided with us and Great Britain on one side and the rest of the world pretty much, certainly the Islamic world condemning American policies. So, I think if we can make some progress on getting out of Iraq and make some progress for the first time in five years in attempting to bring a resolution to the Mid East peace process that will heal very quickly some of the problems that have been created.

KING: Others have told us, Mayor Giuliani the most recent on 9/11, that they're surprised that there hasn't been another attack of some sort on United States soil, are you?

CARTER: I'm pleased. I wouldn't say surprised but I'm certainly pleased that there hasn't been. I think that the domestic programs that we've initiated and the concentration of violence in Iraq has partly taken the pressure off the terrorists, thank goodness, against making another effort in the United States.

They've been in, as you know, in France. They've been in Great Britain. They've been in Spain and other places. And I hope that that policy or that good fortune will continue obviously for America.

KING: Mr. President, we have a short excerpt from President Bush's speech on 9/11, the speech he gave at 9:00 Eastern Time this past Monday night. We'll play that excerpt for you and get a reaction. Watch.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out the terrorists would leave us alone. They will not leave us alone. They will follow us. The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad.


KING: And we also might add that Monday's Washington Post reported on a marine intelligence assessment that the situation in west Iraq, Anbar Province, is dire that the United States has been defeated politically, which is where wars are won and lost, your overall comment.

CARTER: Well, I respectfully disagree with what President Bush had to say. I don't think that the safety of America depends at all on the extended presence of U.S. troops in Iraq.

My own preference would be that over a period of time in a very cautious and methodical way that we could remove our troops from Iraq, I'd say certainly say over a period of a year and that should be done with the public approval from the government of Iraq.

I think a lot of the disturbance on the streets of Iraq, particularly around Baghdad, is caused by the continued presence of the United States and the lack of a commitment by Washington to remove U.S. troops at any time in the foreseeable future.

So, that assurance I think would be an alleviation of the tension. And, obviously from the very beginning there have been people from Washington who believed and have claimed and some of them still claim that Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis were involved in the 9/11 attacks, which is proven to be false. And so, I think this attempt to connect Iraq with terrorism against us, 9/11 and since then, has been an error and a misjudgment.

KING: Is this a struggle for civilization as the president says?

CARTER: Well, I don't think there's any doubt that the present altercation with terrorists is a very serious problem that every person of respect in the whole world, including the United States, ought to address. But it certainly ought not to be escalated to a struggle for civilization.

There's no doubt in my mind that the United States is secure, stable, permanent. Our government will survive any threat to the existence of America or the existence of democratic freedoms in our country or in Europe and different places, including Japan, are stable and sound. So, I think that's a gross exaggeration of a threat, although the threat is serious.

KING: Senator Kennedy says and I want to quote him correctly, "The president should be ashamed of using a national day of mourning to commandeer the airwaves to give a speech that was designed not to unite the country and commemorate the fallen but to seek support for a war in Iraq that he has admitted had nothing to do with 9/11." Do you share that view?

CARTER: Well not exactly. I think the president is doing the best he can. I certainly wouldn't want to criticize his motivations or his desire to see terrorism met in an effective way.

Obviously though our country is deeply divided because of the highly partisanship efforts that have been made by the administration spokesmen to equate Republicans with patriotism and Democrats who criticize any policies relating to Iraq as kind of unpatriotic.

That's been a serious mistake and it's driven a wedge between Americans, which we do not need obviously. And, I also hope and believe that we can bring our country back together if there's a ease in the political orientation of what statements have been made.

So, I don't agree with what President Bush has said but I don't disagree with his basic motives of trying to protect us from terrorism. That's very important.

KING: We'll be right back with President Jimmy Carter. At the bottom of the hour, we'll be joined by Marion Creekmore, Jr. and talk about the president's attempts and exploits in North Korea.

More about other current situations right after this.


KING: We're back with President Jimmy Carter. Your reaction to Vice President Cheney's assertion that the criticism of Iraq, the Iraq war, emboldens United States enemies and makes allies doubt American resolve.

CARTER: Well, the vice president unfortunately has been consistently very careless with the truth. He still maintains some preposterous comments and attitudes toward the origins of the Iraqi war, the circumstances in Iraq now and he's had a policy in my opinion of deliberately trying to mislead the American people by making untrue statements and there's no reason to give any credence to his ridiculous claims that you've just described.

KING: But why -- so you're questioning his motives? Do you think he doesn't really agree with what we're doing?

CARTER: I really don't know what his real policies or beliefs are but I do know that he's been most consistent since the very origin of the Iraqi war in deliberately misleading the American people by making false statements, statements that I'm sure he knew were not true.

And this is a very serious thing for a highly placed official in America to do and even now he still will not admit, for instance, that Saddam Hussein was not at least partially possible for the 9/11 attacks, when the president himself has said that's a false statement.

And to constantly say that anybody that criticizes any aspect of our misguided policies in Iraq are unpatriotic and imply our condoning of terrorist attacks is completely ridiculous and ought to be refuted forcefully by everybody.

KING: Mr. President, is Iraq the overriding issue in the fall elections?

CARTER: I think it's a major issue, Larry. There's no question about that. I believe though that Iraq being connected erroneously with terrorism and the combat of terrorism is misleading and a mistake.

The American people overwhelmingly now see that what we did by going into Iraq was a serious mistake based on false statements that were either deliberately false or just misapplication of known intelligence or misinterpretation. And the policies that we've followed in Iraq trying to win the war have obviously been fruitless and counterproductive.

I think we've strengthened the hegemonic (ph) policies or status of Iran and the entire Middle East region. We've strengthened Iran enormously. We've divided the people in Iraq one from another.

We've alienated the almost unanimous support that we had around the world for our policy in fighting terrorism as we shifted out of Afghanistan and let Osama bin Laden go free.

All of these emphases have been mistaken. And when any Democrat or any citizen who doesn't have any political orientation says that we've made a mistake it seems that the vice president says "Well you are unpatriotic if you disagree with anything we've done."

So, I think this is very misleading and gratefully the American people now see overwhelmingly according to public opinion polls that this has indeed been a mistaken or erroneous interpretation of America's desire to find the truth and to correct the problems that have been engendered by building them on truth and facts.

KING: What are your thoughts on Senator Joe Lieberman not getting the Democratic nomination and therefore running as an Independent in Connecticut?

CARTER: I'm really sorry that he's running as an Independent and I'm grateful to notice that all the Democrats who are loyal to our party, loyal to our principles are not supporting him and are hoping that he will be defeated.

I think Joe Lieberman is a good man. He's been strongly in favor of the Iraqi war from its very beginning. He was one of the originators of the public statements that misled the American people into believing that the Iraqi war was justified.

He's been an undeviating supporter of the war from the very beginning and still is. He's joined in with the Republican spokespersons by saying the Democrats who disagree are really supporting terrorism. So for all these reasons I've lost my confidence in Joe Lieberman and don't wish to see him reelected.

KING: Would you say you're disappointed?

CARTER: Yes, I'm disappointed and surprised. I thought that Joe Lieberman, like all the rest of us down through history that have faced a tough campaign and lost, almost invariably the losers have said "Well that was an honest election" which it was in Connecticut. "I accept the results and I'm willing now to support my opponent who won." And that's what America is about and I think that Joe Lieberman is departing from that in a very disappointing fashion.

KING: How do you think your party is going to do in the elections House and Senate?

CARTERS: I don't know. I think the political prognosticators around the nation, political analysts in Washington and otherwise, think that we have a very good chance of getting one or more majorities in the House and Senate.

Five of the elections in the Senate are now leaning toward Democrats. One more election is required. As a matter of fact, my own son Jack is running in Nevada, which John Kerry lost by less than two percent in 2004. A recent poll showed that Jack is within three points of tying his opponent, an incumbent Senator.

And I think the trend of support for Democrats in general, in general terms has been very strongly favorable. That's counterbalanced obviously by the fact that many people who say that "I prefer Democrats" say "I'm still in favor of my Republican incumbent."

That's part of politics but I think it's up for grabs. But it will be close election and will be very good for the country in my opinion if there can be a division of authority and power, political power in Washington.

I think that would almost make mandatory a much more harmonious treatment of very controversial issues like health care and immigration and foreign policy between the White House and the Congress if the president had to deal with some Democrats in a majority in one of the houses and vice versa. So, I think it will be a matter of bringing our country together on a bipartisan basis rather than a further division of our country.

KING: We'll be back with a discussion about the Middle East with the man who knows the territory, President Jimmy Carter. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with President Carter.

Before I ask you about the Middle East, how is your son Jack doing? I know he has colitis right?

CARTER: Doing well. He had a serious bout with colitis. Jack is a long distance runner and was in excellent physical condition. But last Saturday night, he went through kind of a crisis stage with an unprecedented degree of infection.

So, Rosalynn and I went out to be with him. Now he's making great progress. All of his vital organs, all of his blood counts and so forth are back in the normal stage and he's recovering rapidly.

KING: All right, now we turn to the Middle East. Did anyone win this conflict, Israel, Hezbollah, anybody win?

CARTER: No, I don't think so. As you know, the United Nations resolution passed that ended the actual bombing and firing of rockets has been a very constructive move. And now with the international community going in and joining with the Lebanese Army in the south I think this will greatly reduce any threat from Hezbollah in the future against the Israeli territory. That's a major move in the right direction.

But three issues have not yet been resolved, as you know. One is the mandatory disarmament of Hezbollah, which was bypassed and that's very important. Secondly, the fact that Israel still occupies a small portion of Lebanon that is the Shebaa Farms area. And third is the exchange of prisoners. Israel now holds approximately 10,000 prisoners who are Arabs, some Christian, some Muslims and others. And I believe that the swapping of the two prisoners that Hezbollah is holding for a few or some, I don't know how many, prisoners that are being held by Israel of Lebanese would be a very good move in the right direction.

So those three issues still have to be resolved. But I believe that if we can have a permanent NATO combined with other nation peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon this will stabilize the situation.

And my hope is that this will be a permanent repair of the border between Lebanon and Israel and prevent any further violence there in the coming future. So, there have been some bad things about it. Neither Israel nor Hezbollah has won. But maybe we have a good omen for better relationships in the future.

KING: The Bush administration strongly supported Israel's activity in Lebanon but you recently told Der Spiegel, you said, "I don't think Israel has any legal or moral justification for their massive bombing of the entire nation of Lebanon." But isn't Israel, Mr. President, kind of between a rock and a hard place here?

CARTER: Well I think Israel should have responded by attacking the southern part of Lebanon and by dealing with the Hezbollah threat if they were going to refuse to make any sort of prisoner exchange to alleviate the tension.

But for them to decide to bomb the entire nation of Lebanon and to declare that the Hezbollah threat across the border that only involved the taking of two soldiers and the killing of a few others I think greatly and unnecessarily escalated the entire conflict and caused tens of thousands of people to suffer unnecessarily.

The biggest problem in the Mid East, Larry, is not that skirmish, which was very serious, on the Lebanese/Israeli border. The biggest problem has been caused by the total lack of any effort in the last five years to have a comprehensive negotiation between the Palestinians on the one hand and Israel on the other supported by the United States as a fairly objective mediator.

This is a radical departure from the effort of all previous presidents since Israel has had an altercation with its neighbors and that included George Bush, Sr. It included me and all the others.

But this administration has made no serious effort at all to bring the disputing parties together to act as a trusted mediator and to bring a comprehensive solution to the Mid East situation, which obviously involves a two state solution with Israel living in its own borders, with the Palestinians living in their borders and supported by the international community under the aegis of the international quartet and based on the roadmap plans. That's what needs to be done. The United States I think is a major culprit in not orchestrating such peace efforts. KING: Would you agree that most people not directly involved look at this as hopeless that they're never...

CARTER: Yes, I do.

KING: There's never going to be peace.

CARTER: I don't think it's hopeless at all. In fact, I've written a new book. It's my 21st book, it will be out in November that describes what I believe to be a very clear picture or plan for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East as a highly subjective thing I think it's the only reasonable plan and it's based on the official position of the United States government.

It's based on United Nations resolutions down through the ages, ever since Israel became a neighbor -- I mean became a nation. It's based on the commitments that the Palestinians have made, most Israelis have made. And it's also based on what the international quartet has said, that is the United States, European Union, Russia, and the United Nations in establishing the so-called roadmap.

And so I don't think it's a hopeless case at all but it does require that the United States take an objective position and orchestrate peace talks that I've already described in my previous answer.

KING: What's the title of the book?

CARTER: The title of the book will be "Palestine, Peace not Apartheid" and it's going to be a relatively controversial book but it describes I think in very accurate terms what most Israelis want, what the Palestinians want and what the international community wants and a good path toward a comprehensive solution to the problem.

KING: Has our involvement in Iraq affected in any way our ability to be a broker in the Middle East?

CARTER: Well I think it has. I believe that most Muslims, maybe including most Palestinians and the surrounding countries of Jordan and Egypt and Lebanon and so forth have been adversely affected as far as their opinion of America as an honest broker.

And, our becoming unnecessarily involved in attacking Iraq under false premises and the sustained involvement of America there, I think has worked against the general acceptance that previous administrations have had from the moderate Islamic community that America ought to be the one to bring about peace between Israel and her neighbors, particularly now the Palestinians but previously Egypt.

I played that role and negotiated, as you know, a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, not a word of which has ever been violated. And this removed the major military threat to Israel because Egypt had been involved in four wars in the previous 25 years before this peace treaty was negotiated. And, obviously Henry Kissinger was involved in helping to overcome some of those tensions. Jordan has now signed an agreement to live peacefully with Israel. So, I think all of those previous agreements, many of them still pervasive and unchallenged, are very good proof that it's not impossible that it can be possible and that we can move forward now to a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

KING: Doesn't America's need for foreign oil impact all of our decision making in this?

CARTER: Yes, it does. I think we are now quite reluctant to take a bold stand for democratization or for peace in the Middle East and so forth if it would alienate major oil suppliers and that includes many of the Gulf States. Obviously it includes Saudi Arabia. It even includes countries in Africa like Nigeria. It even affects our relationship with countries in Latin America that provide oil, including Venezuela.

But there's no doubt that our over dependence on foreign oil is a very major problem. When I became president, Larry, we were importing about eight million barrels of oil a day. We spent four years putting into law some major conservation measures. And within five years after we passed those bills we had dropped down to about five million barrels of imported oil per year.

We are now back up to 12 million barrels of oil imported and a lot of that has been caused by an abandonment of the requirement for efficiency of American motor vehicles. That's a major unresolved tapping of reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

And now with the Hummers and other deliberately gas guzzlers that the American government has endorsed it makes it almost a farce to say that we have a good energy policy. We also ought in other ways do things that would save energy by producing more from solar power.

But I would say the major unaddressed opportunity is to reduce the -- increase the gas mileage of the gas guzzlers that America is producing. This has not only hurt us in energy levels but it's made very serious inroads into the capabilities and the status of say General Motors and Ford Motor Company that have adopted American policies and are still producing gas guzzlers and now their bonds are junk bonds, they're laying off thousands of people whereas people who are producing more efficient automobiles are taking over a lot of the market. So, we've just had a very catastrophic, I think, policy in America of continuing to endorse gas guzzlers as a symbol of -- and a production priority of America.

KING: Let me get a break and coming up, how much of a nuclear threat is North Korea? We'll ask the former president when we come back.


KING: Welcome back, our guest Former President Carter will be joined in a minute by a man who went with him on one of the diciest peace missions of his post White House career.

First, a little background.

North Korea, suspected of building nukes, international talks not working, the United States pushing sanctions. North Korea warns that could mean war. The year, 1994 -- 12 years ago in June. Jimmy Carter went to North Korea on a personal peacemaking mission. President Clinton had big concerns about the trip, so did South Korea.

Carter met Kim Il Song. They talked. Carter announced a deal including a freeze on North Korea's nuclear program. Critic called him gullible, naive, and worse. But the deal held, despite Kim Il Song's sudden death. Official diplomacy produced in a grave framework in October of '94. It fell apart in 2002.

President Bush has called North Korea part of the axis of evil, and North Korea has turned its nuclear facilities back on.

We are joined, the president and I, by Marion Creekmore, Jr. He is author of, "A Moment of Crisis: Jimmy Carter, the Power of a Peacemaker, and North Korea's Nuclear Ambitions." An extraordinary book published by Public Affairs. The introduction is by Jimmy Carter.

How, Mr. Creekmore, did you and President Carter get together on this? Or did you just write it and he then wrote the introduction?

MARION CREEKMORE, JR., AUTHOR: I was very fortunate from 1992 to 1996 to work with President Carter at the Carter Center in Atlanta. During that period, I had the occasion to coordinate and help with some of his international initiatives.

One of the most important, being that of his trip to North Korea where he stopped a crisis that was becoming increasingly serious and may in fact have stopped the war.

KING: Mr. President, you went in 1994 because you believed there was a serious risk of war. What about the situation now? Worse?

CARTER: Well, one of the worst things that any human being can do, any government can do is to address one of the most serious problems in the world in a person's human life and say this is my position. If you don't agree with me completely, I'm going to go in a closet and pout. I'm not going to talk to you. I'm not going to consider your concerns. And I'm not going to have any communication with you directly.

And that's what we're doing now in North Korea. And that's what we're doing with the government of Syria. That's what we're doing with the government of Iran. That's what we're doing with the government of the Palestinians. We're saying, you don't agree with us; therefore, we're not going to have any direct talks with you or keep direct communications with you.

I think that has exacerbated an already very serious problem in North Korea. And that was the case that we had in 1994. The dictator of North Korea, Kim Il Song, kind of a for a while, you know, an international affair, had announced that he was going to move toward the development of atomic capabilities.

And I've met with leaders from the Clinton administration and I became -- also some leaders, by the way, from China. And I was convinced that if the United States did punish North Korea and condemn their revered President Kim Il Song as an outlaw, a criminal, that they would attack South Korea, which they could still do today.

And I also met with General Gary Luck, who was an American commander of all forces, South Korea, and American forces in South Korea. General Luck told me that his opinion was that more than a million people would be killed almost overnight if North Korea did respond to punishment of them.

So I decided to go to North Korea. And I met with the Clinton administration ahead of time, got their advice, got their assessment of the situation. And when we got there, we found Kim Il Song remarkably amenable to what I proposed.

Luckily, I had some nuclear background. I was a nuclear engineer and submarine force. So I understand the technical aspects of the case. And so over a period of time, we negotiated all the agreements that the United States government demanded in advance, plus a few more they added at the last minute.

And then later when I got back to Washington, the Clinton administration doubted what I said, that it hadn't been that good. So I wrote to Kim Il Song, and he confirmed every statement that Marion Creekmore and I made; and then based on that, there was an accommodation between the U.S. government and North Korea.

So that's a brief summary of what occurred.

KING: Now, Marion, you're a career diplomat. You served in many posts. Is it a little difficult when a non-governmental agency practices diplomacy?

CREEKMORE: Well, it can be difficult. That is a delicate situation, but there are times when I think it's essential. And I think we saw that in 1994.

Basically, the governments involved had reached a gridlock. The situation could not be moved off of a very dangerous course. And had this particular non-governmental organization, the Carter Center, headed by President and Mrs. Carter, not taken the initiative that they took, I think that the situation could have been extremely serious; and as I mentioned before, could have ended in war.

So, I think there are times when non-governmental organizations can play an invaluable role.

KING: What was it like to watch President Carter in action?

CREEKMORE: Fascinating. As I mention in my book, he is, I think, the best negotiator I've ever been privileged to work with. He's a man who understands the issues, who listens carefully, finds the fundamental interest of the parties involved and seeks to bring them together. And he's most effective in doing so.

KING: The book is, "A Moment of Crisis," and we'll talk more about it when we come back on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


KING: Mr. President, our Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour has a question related to this subject -- Christiane.

CARTER: Great.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, much has been made of the Bush administration's U-turn when they proposed face-to-face negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. But there were stiff preconditions.

Do you believe that such preconditions are conducive to striking a deal? And do you think that Iran should be offered security guarantees? As you know, Iran believes that negotiations on its nuclear program are just a faint for regime change by the Bush administration.

CARTER: Well, Christiane, when a country says I will talk to you if you accept all of my demands in advance, that pretty well precludes any sort of substantive move toward accommodation. And that's exactly what we've done. And you can't expect the Iranians to agree in advance to do everything we demand, just to have a chance to talk to America.

And also I don't think there's any doubt that some of the public statements that have been made recently in Washington by top level officials and also promulgated in major news periodicals, like "The New Yorker" magazine, that the United states is actually planning to make a preemptive attack on Iran. That also causes consternation and makes Iran even more inclined to move toward a nuclear premise. So, I think that that's a very serious problem when you do that.

My own opinion is that the United States should have unequivocal commitment to discussing the controversial issues, not only with Iran, but with North Korea directly. And also say, between Israel and the Palestinians with the Palestinian government and also with Lebanon, and also with Syria. But if you refuse to negotiate or talk to somebody unless they agree with you completely, it means that the -- there's no chance for accommodation.

KING: Marion, what is history's assessment of that trip going to be?

CREEKMORE: Of the 1994 trip?

KING: Yes.

CREEKMORE: I think it will simply be that there was an extremely serious crisis, that that crisis was settled peacefully. It was settled to the interests of all parties; of the United States particularly, but to all of the parties, including North Korea. And that it prevented a situation that could have deteriorated into the possibility of war.

KING: And as a diplomat, Marion, how concerned are you about North Korea now?

CREEKMORE: I'm quite concerned, and I would like to see something similar happen as we saw in 1994. I think it's essential that the United States government and the North Korean government, at very high levels, talk directly about the problem. They can do it under the rubric of the six-power talks, they can do it directly and bilaterally. But the main thing is to bring together the leaders of the two countries to see if there's not a peaceful way to resolve the fundamental issues that could let this situation get much worse.

KING: Do you agree, Mr. President?

CARTER: Larry, I think Marion Creekmore has looked back on what happened in 1994 with a most thorough, diplomatic and academic attitude. And he's told the facts about what happened and all the controversial things that went on both before and after that trip.

And he's written a remarkable analysis of how the 1994 situation is being almost exactly duplicated now, and how the two are related. Any American who's interested in the -- and concerned about the North Korean threat ought to read this book. It's going to be a textbook for educating people on what we might do in the future. And I certainly do agree with what Marion has just said, yes.

KING: We'll take a break, and when we come back, our own Wolf Blitzer has a question. Don't go away.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Anderson Cooper live in Kabul, Afghanistan, where we'll be reporting from tonight on "360." More than 100 Taliban fighters gather for a funeral. The U.S. military sees them gathering but doesn't open fire. The question is why. We'll also take you to the frontlines of the war on terror, the propaganda war being waged by al Qaeda on the Internet. All that and more on the top of the hour on "360," 10 p.m. Eastern.


KING: We're back. CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who used to be our White House correspondent and now hosts "THE SITUATION ROOM," has a question for the president -- Wolf.


Mr. President, congratulations on the new book. Do you believe there are any circumstances that could lead to a North Korean, or for that matter, Iranian decision to abandon nuclear weapons?

I ask the question because many analysts have suggested that both of those regimes see a nuclear bomb as their single best long-term guarantee for political survival. Kim Jong-Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supposedly are convinced that if they didn't have a nuclear bomb, they personally could wind up like Saddam Hussein.

CARTER: Wolf, that's a very interesting question. And obviously, I can't speak for the leaders of those two countries. But I think that what North Korea wants and needs -- not just now, but in the last 15 or 20 years -- is to be accepted within the international community as a respected country, and to make sure that they realize and convinced truthfully that the United States has no plans to launch an attack against them and that they can have the economic embargo that's been imposed on North Korea now for more than 50 years, lifted and that they can be free to negotiate without any impediment from the United States with their neighbors in South Korea. I think those are the kind of things that North Korea wants.

If they could be assured of all those things, then I think there's a much greater chance they would abandon any effort to develop nuclear weapons, compared to what the situation is at this point, where they are being threatened with a possible military action against themselves.

And I think the same thing applies to Iran. As a matter of fact, legally, Iran does have the right, under the Nonproliferation Treaty, as you well know, to enrich uranium, as long as it's used for peaceful purposes. That's what they claim to be done -- to be in progress. I don't know that we can believe them, now. But I think one thing that moves them maybe in the future to develop a nuclear weapon is the constant threat from the United States that we might attack them militarily if they don't comply with our demands. So the threat of an attack from the United States -- a nuclear power -- against Iran is certainly a strong incentive to encourage Iran to move toward a nuclear weapon capability of their own.

That's just logical, and I think that we very well ought to negotiate directly with both countries and alleviate their concerns about our launching an attack on them.

KING: Do you think, Mr. President, it was an error to include them in the `Axis of Evil' statement?

CARTER: Yes, I think so. As soon as we announced that North Korea and Iran are in the Axis of Evil and then we -- and Iraq -- and then as soon as we attack Iraq, it obviously made North Korea and Iran say, well, we're next. And I think, had we not become so deeply bogged down in Iraq, who knows -- we may already have launched some kind of a military action against one of those two countries.

So, yes, I don't think there's any doubt that this public castigation and condemnation of proud and sometimes paranoid nations is a step in the wrong direction.

KING: Marion, as diplomatically, would you agree that was wrong language?

CREEKMORE: I think better language could have been found, yes.

KING: Than `Axis of Evil.'

CREEKMORE: Oh, yes. I --

CARTER: Marion is much more diplomatic in his responses, Larry, than I am, as you've noticed -- for which I'm grateful.

KING: As a former president, hey, what are they going to say to you?

We'll be back with our remaining moments with Jimmy Carter and Marion Creekmore. The book is, "A Moment of Crisis."

Sean Penn tomorrow night. Don't go away.


KING: I want to touch a few quick bases -- we have only a few minutes left. You still teaching, Marion?

CREEKMORE: Yes, I am. I teach at Emory University.

KING: And the book, "A Moment of Crisis," is out now, right?

CREEKMORE: Yes, it is. It's in the bookstores.

KING: Mr. President, should President Bush meet directly with the leaders of Iran and North Korea?

CARTER: I don't think so, as a first step, Marion (sic). But a top-level representative -- secretary of state would be obvious -- to meet with the top leaders of those two countries I think would be the appropriate thing, not President Bush himself.

KING: How -- off the topic, though, but still most important -- how is your friend, Gerald Ford?

CARTER: I talk to him on the phone every now and then. I think he's gotten good reports since he had his treatment for his heart problem. And Betty and his staff tell me that he's recovering quite nicely. As you know, he's one of my best and closest personal friends, and we -- all Americans should be praying for his full recovery and his extended life.

KING: Before we go, by the way, good news in all of this: Jimmy Carter has a first great-grandson, right?

CARTER: That's right; he was born Saturday before last, on the second day of the month. Nine pounds, two ounces, doing well. And we're very proud of him.

KING: In Jim Carter's long career, Marion, where is the trip to North Korea going to rank?

CREEKMORE: I think it will be one of his most important achievements. He has many important achievements, but I would think this would certainly be among those that ranks very high.

KING: Do you continue as active as always, Mr. President? CARTER: Well. I do, yes. We have programs at the Carter Center in 65 different nations in the world, Larry -- 35 of them in Africa. And we continue with our efforts to help with elections including right now in the Republic of Congo. We just finished helping with the election in Guyana. We've done all three Palestinian elections. In fact, we've done 65 of them. So we're still as active as we possibly can be.

KING: Thank you, Mr. President, as always. Look forward to seeing you in November with the next book.

CARTER: It's a pleasure.

KING: And Marion, congratulations on the terrific work.

CREEKMORE: Thank you.

KING: The book is, "A Moment of Crisis."

Sean Penn tomorrow night. "ANDERSON COOPER 360" is next. Good night.


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