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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT

Close Friend of Pistorius Speaks; Interview with Former President Jimmy Carter

Aired February 21, 2013 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: Tonight, reasonable doubt? Is the Oscar Pistorius defense enough to get him free on bail in just a few hours?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN LERENA, CLOSE FRIEND OF OSCAR PISTORIUS: Oscar is a very loving person, as well as Reeva.

MORGAN: I'll talk to his best friend about the couple, the crime and where Pistorius goes from here.

Also the real story behind Ben Affleck's masterpiece, "Argo."

BEN AFFLECK, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: Argo, a science, fantasy, adventure.

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT: When I left office, I ordained that we would not reveal any American involvement in the process.

MORGAN: My exclusive with former President Jimmy Carter on the rescue mission immortalized by Hollywood and about guns in America and how his grandson helped get President Obama win reelection.

CARTER: It was something that he could not deny, and it stuck with him for the rest of the election.

MORGAN: This is PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Good evening. I'm in San Diego, California, for an exclusive interview with former President Jimmy Carter. We'll get to that a little later, but in just a few hours, Oscar Pistorius will enter a chaotic courtroom with the hopes of leaving a free man. The decision on granting him bail will be decided tomorrow morning. This case, is of course, riveting the world, and is full of shocking twist and turns.

The latest? The lead Pistorius investigator accused of attempted murder in an unrelated case. Pistorius says he didn't mean to keel his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. He says he thought he was shooting an intruder. Prosecutors call it premeditated murder.

Well, joining me now from Johannesburg is Kevin Lerena, he was a close friend of Oscar Pistorius who also spent a lot of time with the couple.

Welcome to you, Kevin Lerena. First of all, my sincere condolences to you in the loss of your friend Reeva, and obviously what's happened to Oscar Pistorius who is facing his own life ruined.

What is your reaction to all the events in the court this week? Because in the end it will come down, I guess, to whether people believe Oscar's version of events or not.

LERENA: You know, it's been a very busy and a hard week for a lot of South Africans and a lot of people in the world. Firstly, Oscar was my friend. Reeva was my friend. And I'm going to back Oscar, you know, you -- just because of what happened and the whole series of events, you know, you've got to -- you've got to stand by your friends.

And no matter what the story was or what the truth is, the only thing I'm asking as a friend, I'm backing Oscar, it's been very hard for me because I feel like I've lost two friends. Obviously the passing of Reeva and what's happening to Oscar now is very tragic.

MORGAN: When did you last see them both as a couple?

LERENA: As a couple? It was in Cape Town over December holidays. That's when I last saw them. But I was speaking a lot to Oscar and Reeva over texting. And that's -- but I last saw them together as a couple in -- in January. In January.

MORGAN: The last time you talked to Oscar about Reeva, he is saying now very firmly they were in love, he had rarely felt happier, there was nothing wrong with the relationship. Was that your understanding?

LERENA: Hundred percent. When I saw them together in Cape Town, they really were in love. Oscar was a very loving person, as well as Reeva. So by no means did I think their relationship was in jeopardy. They're loving and you know, like I said, it's very sad because it was a big shock to us to hear what happened, to wake up that Valentine's morning and to hear the shock to all South Africans and many people around the world. But they're so very loving and their relationship was smooth.

MORGAN: Oscar had a number of guns at his home and there are reports that he enjoyed drinking. Perhaps a little too much on occasion. Just describe to me what Oscar was like away from the cameras. Was he a big drinker? Was he somebody that was prone to having temper tantrums, for example? We saw one at the Olympics. But did you see that side to him?

LERENA: Never in my company. As a person, Oscar was always very loving, happy, joyful person. You know, when you're a person of his status and around the world you always got people watching you. So by no means was he ever misbehaving or reckless or wild in my company as always. He know how to have fun. Like I said he was a good guy. Could have fun with his mates, and -- but never was he reckless and ever in my company aggressive towards anyone. MORGAN: What about his relationship with guns? You were in a restaurant with Oscar not so long ago when a firearm went off accidentally in the restaurant which would alarm many people.

LERENA: Correct. You know, our relationship with guns and that type of thing, Oscar obviously was a collector and a few of his friends are collectors as well. But he carried his own handgun obviously for his own self-protection. You know, after all, around the world, there are bad parts in every country and every city. And it's a good form of self-defense, whether it's a false sense of security or not. A lot of people in South Africa carry guns for self- defense.

But with regards to the (INAUDIBLE) issue, that was a major mistake what happened from Oscar's part, it wasn't intentional. And that also could have been a very bad event and something that could have been very tragic. We are all very fortunate that day. And after that event, Oscar was very apologetic. You know, that's how dangerous guns can be. And -- but by no means did I think he was negligent with the gun. It was a real -- it was a pure accident as to what happened.

MORGAN: In terms of where we are now, try and -- if you can, tell me about the area of Pretoria in South Africa, where Oscar lives. How dangerous is it there? Does he have good reason, and he said this before that he felt pretty paranoid about his safety there.

Did Oscar have good reason to always fear that somebody may break in and cause him harm?

LERENA: Definitely. You know, in South Africa -- I can't talk about around the world, but in South Africa, the most secure state and the most protected places are the places that are getting hit all the time, the up market places are the places where people are looking to break in, where burglars are looking to intrude. You know, so I do believe sense of security in South Africa is a big thing, whether it's in a good area or a bad area, you've got to take your security very highly.

And, yes, I believe whether you stay in the high area, low class area, securities is very important. And you can never have to much security anywhere around the world, especially if you are a person of his status.

MORGAN: Knowing Oscar as you did and do, and having known Reeva as well, do you think it is possible that Oscar Pistorius could have lost his temper in an argument with Reeva, maybe had a few drinks, we don't know, and just literally flipped? And killed her because he was having a human rage?

LERENA: Like said, because, you know, the onus is on -- is on Oscar. He knows what happened that night. You know, there's always going to be three sides to the story. No one will really know what happens. We'd be hoping what was said in court is the truth. It really does sound right. You know? The more -- if you block out all the critics and all the bad things that people are saying in the press, and you just for a minute think about what Oscar said in his statement it really does make sense.

With regards to the arguing, we don't know -- you don't know what goes through someone's mind if they are arguing, can they flip out? Can that happen? We just don't know, you know? So for now and the time being, I really blocked all the bad press and I thought about it. And if you -- if you look at Oscar's story and his statement and his affidavit, it really does make sense.

MORGAN: Do you think he'll get bail tomorrow? And will you be seeing him if he does?

LERENA: That's up to the state obviously. Judging on my own opinion, yes, I do think he'll get bail and if the opportunity comes that I can't see him, I'd love to see him. Like I said, I'm his friend. I've been in contact with his brother and I'm just wishing the family all the best because my condolences and thoughts are with the Steenkamp family but also the Pistorius family.

They must be growing through a very hard time and if the -- if the opportunity comes, I'd love to see my friend and, you know -- to console him because either way, whether it was a mistake or murder, premed murder, whatever the state comes out with you still want to console your friend and stand by his side.

MORGAN: Kevin Lerena, thank you much indeed for joining me.

LERENA: Thank you for having me. Thank you, Piers.

MORGAN: In the courtroom this case gets stranger by the way. I want to bring in now my legal experts to talk about it. Joining me is attorney Alan Dershowitz and former prosecutor Vinnie Politan, the HLN host and legal expert.

Welcome to you both. This case, Alan, is getting ever more bizarre. We now have one of the chief prosecutors, one of the chief police officials, who's been removed from the case, from the investigation, because it turned out he himself is facing these bizarre charges of attempted murder related to some drunken night out.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, LAWYER: Well, it's bizarre. Especially the attempted murder charge doesn't seem like it's plausible. He apparently shot at a van which he believed contained fleeing felons. That is, he acted in the course of his duty of a police officer. I've never heard of somebody being indicted for attempted murder for that. Attempted murder required an intent to kill. Maybe recklessness.

And the question is, is this coincidental that they review this investigation now or is this what I've talked about before, the South African judicial system cannot be trusted? It is not a good legal system. It is a politically correct system, it is a system that has had corruption in it over the years and a system that does not have checks and balances the way our system in the United States and the British system has.

So, you know, you can speculate all you want, but there is reason to be suspicious about whether this is a complete coincidence or whether it's somebody trying to manipulate the system.

MORGAN: Vinnie Politan, you were pretty firm last night that you think Pistorius is guilty of murder. Has anything changed your mind over the last 24 hours? We saw more evidence coming out today.

VINNIE POLITAN, HOST OF IN SESSION AND HLN'S MAKING IT IN AMERICA: No. Did he fill out a new affidavit? I mean, maybe then he could change my mind. The bottom line here, his story is going to remain the same because he's locked into it. And I look at the facts. I look at a man with a gun, a woman who has been shot and killed, OK?

That's where we start this whole thing from. The fact that this lead investigator has some baggage, it's not good, I wouldn't like it as a prosecutor, but hopefully the judge that hears the case can figure out that it has nothing to do with what happened in the room that night.

MORGAN: The prosecutor today said the defense had failed to explain why two cell phones and the gun were found in front of the shower, adding to the claim that Reeva Steenkamp locked herself in the rest room not just to relieve herself, but with a cell phone to protect herself. How significant could that be?

POLITAN: Well, it's possible. Well, it's very possible. Then the question is, to protect herself from whom? Obviously the prosecution will say to protect herself from him, from Oscar. And the defense will say to -- she locked the door because she heard Oscar screaming and she too thought there might have been an intruder and perhaps she locked herself in the room.

But, again, I have to emphasize the court is not going to determine either on the bail application or ultimately, which is the more reasonable account. There's every good reason that he ought to get bail and it will tell us a lot what the judges are thinking, how they determine whether or not to give him bail.

MORGAN: Yes, I mean, Vinnie, that will clearly be an indicator of I guess how they are viewing this case. Do you think he'll get bail? Do you think he should get bail?

POLITAN: I don't think he should get bail. I mean, if you're charged with premeditated first-degree murder and the judge agrees based upon what the judge heard in the courtroom, why should you get bail? There's -- and especially someone like this. This is someone that has access to money and an ability to get away, and the fact that hey, he can't hide somewhere, well, maybe he'd find a jurisdiction where it's bit more difficult to be brought back into the country. The bottom line is --

DERSHOWITZ: Do you really believe that?

POLITAN: We know he's responsible for the death. We know he's responsible for the death, Alan.

DERSHOWITZ: I think what you and others want to do is you're so sure he's guilty, you want to punish him. You want to make sure he get some punishment. This way he spends a year in jail and even if he's acquitted he gets some punishment. But that's not the way the legal system is supposed to operate.

POLITAN: It's protection. It's not just about punishment. It's also about the protection of the rest of society. And what else is he capable of doing if he is in fact responsible for killing another human being already? I mean, that's another part of all of this.

DERSHOWITZ: But what if he's not. But what if he's not.

POLITAN: He is responsible.

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: OK. Well --

POLITAN: He is responsible.

DERSHOWITZ: You're serving -- you served -- yes, but he might be responsible --

POLITAN: Best-case scenario, he's the unresponsible gun owner ever.

DERSHOWITZ: Well, boy, that's a hard line to cross. There is so many irresponsible gun owners I wish we could talk again about if there were no gun in the house we'd have two live people there today instead of a dead person and a person struggling to save his own liberty.

But, you know, irresponsible gun ownership is not a crime, unfortunately, and we have to understand the difference between being responsible for what happened, and he is morally responsible for what happened, even if he made a mistake, and being criminally responsible. And you don't deny somebody bail unless are you certain he is criminally responsible. You are prepared to be judge, jury, and executioner. I just want to keep an open mind based on his words.

You may be right. You may be right.

MORGAN: OK.

DERSHOWITZ: His words don't persuade me easily.

MORGAN: That's -- we'll have to leave it there.

DERSHOWITZ: Thanks so much.

MORGAN: Got to leave it there. It's a fascinating debate.

This debate is happening all over the world, all over America. Nobody that I've spoken to is 100 percent sure about what happened here. That's what makes it so gripping obviously. We will find out tomorrow if Oscar Pistorius he gets bail. And we may get more information.

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ: When in doubt, let him out.

MORGAN: Until then, gentlemen. Thank you very much.

Coming up, my exclusive interview with former President Jimmy Carter on Obama, guns in America, and, of course, "Argo."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORGAN: He was the 39th president of the United States at a time when the country was in deep crisis -- the economy, the energy crunch and turmoil in the Middle East. Sound familiar? What does he think about the issues now facing President Obama.

Joining me now for an exclusive interview, the former president, Jimmy Carter.

Welcome to you, Mr. President. How are you?

CARTER: Fine, Piers.

MORGAN: You look actually in terrific nick.

CARTER: Well, I'm in good shape so --

MORGAN: Maybe you should become pope.

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, you are four years older than him. What did you make of him retiring because he was feeling exhausted.

CARTER: Well, of course, I was surprised. First time in over 600 years. I was surprised. I know that John Paul II, whom we knew quite well, went through a lot more ordeals, and I think even more health problems than Pope Benedict, but I don't -- I'm not in a position to criticize. I don't know what his status of health is.

MORGAN: But, I mean, if an American president retired on the grounds of exhaustion, they'd be ridiculed, wouldn't they?

CARTER: Well, I think it was not only exhaustion, but he said that he was just not mentally able to handle the challenges that were required of his job, which is an enormous job. So, you know, it's up to him, I think, to make a decision. It's not been done much in the past.

(LAUGHTER)

MORGAN: A lot of people when I said I was interviewing you, as with last time, said to me, you know, he's the greatest post-president president America has ever had. Do you take that as a compliment, or is it kind of a veiled insult?

CARTER: Well, I take it as a compliment. My wife takes it maybe as a veiled insult. I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

She would say, well, he was also a great president, and he just continues the same kind of work. But, you know, it had a lot of challenges. We did a lot of good things when I was president. We brought peace to Israel and Egypt. We promoted human rights. We formed an alliance for the first time with China after 35 years. We told the truth. We kept our country at peace for four years, which is a rare thing.

MORGAN: Incredibly rare.

CARTER: Since the Second World War. So I think we have peace and human rights, I'm satisfied with my term in the White House.

MORGAN: Has the role of president changed dramatically, do you think?

CARTER: Yes. It has.

MORGAN: Since you were in the White House. I mean, when you look at the challenges facing President Obama and the way it now works in the modern age, what do you think of it?

CARTER: It's changed dramatically. As a matter of fact, when I ran against Incumbent President Gerald Ford, you know how much money we raised? None.

MORGAN: Seriously?

CARTER: When I ran four years later against Ronald Reagan, who was challenging me, we didn't raise any money. We didn't have any negative commercials. We just used a two-dollars-per-person check- off, and that was all the money we used for the campaign.

MORGAN: Extraordinary, isn't it?

CARTER: So the change has been brought about, it's primarily because of a massive infusion of money into the political campaign.

MORGAN: Does that corrupt the political system?

CARTER: It corrupts the whole political system. It means, in effect, that almost every member of Congress running for re-election or governors running for election or presidents running for election are basically accepting massive legal bribes from people of special interests who want something in return in the future.

And the worst thing about it is there's a large portion of that massive infusion of money, which has now been ordained stupidly by the Supreme Court from -- commercial organizations, is used for negative commercials. So their main technique is not to win election, it's to destroy the reputation of your opponent.

MORGAN: Let's turn to President Obama. What do you think has been the greatest achievement, and what do you think has been his greatest failure to date, and what would you like to see him do in this second term?

CARTER: Well, I think in his second term, he'll obviously have to be a lot more liberated from political constraints than he was before. I'd like to see him -- I understand he's going to the Mid- East soon to the Jerusalem for the first time since he's been in office. I would like for him to promote peace between Israel and Israel's neighbors, and to insist on the same things that he promulgated with his speech in -- in Cairo and call for the 67 voters to prevail. He's been quite mute on that now for the last three years or more.

MORGAN: You've diplomatically, though, gone for the easy answer, which is what you want to see him do. And I said, what about his greatest and worst moments as president, do you think?

CARTER: Well, I wouldn't -- I don't think he's had a worst moment. I guess -- has not done anything that was disgraceful or of severe failure. He got re-elected, which is a very good thing for becoming president.

MORGAN: Biggest disappointment. Let me phrase it like that.

CARTER: Well, you know, I wanted him to move forward on matters concerning human rights with the closing of Guantanamo and promoting human rights around the world. Instead, we've now got permanent incarceration without it out trial. We've got drone assassinations and things of that kind.

MORGAN: Are any drone attacks acceptable?

CARTER: I can't disavow all of the drone attacks, but I would really like to see some intermediate step. Maybe not in the federal government, but in the executive branch if not. I would prefer federal government first where judges could say, OK, let's see if this American citizen still living in Yemen or living in Mali that you want to assassinate without trial, if that's a justified act.

And if that -- if they approved it, then go ahead with it. But -- I think now, it just says, "a distinguished American" or "authoritative American," it could likely be the president or somebody else to be able to say, we'll kill that particular person because we believe that he is planning some time in the future to attack America. I think that's too loose a description of what -- of what the situation should be.

MORGAN: I mean, there's no doubt if a Republican president was doing this, the Democrats would be shouting foul very loudly, I think.

CARTER: I think that's true. And there were a few drone attacks under George W. Bush, but they've been massively escalated under this administration, and I'd like to see some restraints put on it.

MORGAN: Where has President Obama been successful? What have been his great achievements?

CARTER: Well, I think -- I think everybody says Obamacare or the new health program is a major achievement. It's one that I wanted to do when I was president. I wasn't able to get it through. And most other previous president's, Democratic and Republican, have tried to do the same thing. But I think he was able to succeed working with the Congress.

There were a lot of things about it that weren't perfect. I would much rather have seen a single-pay system, but I think that was a major achievement.

MORGAN: Last time we spoke, you sort of suggested you didn't have much of a relationship with President Obama. Have things improved or deteriorated, or are they about the same?

CARTER: About the same.

(LAUGHTER)

You know, he and I respect each other. When he came to Atlanta this past week, his staff invited me to come to the speech. I was in Atlanta to make a speech myself. I couldn't go. But he met my grandson, who's in the state Senate. He had met my grandson, who was the one who found the 47 percent tape and pretty --

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: Right. Well, it won him the election.

CARTER: I think -- I personally think so.

MORGAN: Yes.

CARTER: James, my grandson who did that, was born in -- a month after I moved into the White House. His parents were living in the White House.

MORGAN: So basically -- I think Carter won Obama the election.

CARTER: Well, I think -- I think so.

(LAUGHTER)

But that's kind of a prejudiced --

MORGAN: But it was a key moment actually. I mean, do you think that was the pivotal moment in destroying Mitt Romney's chances.

CARTER: I believe it was. It was something that he could not deny. And it stuck with him for the rest of the election, and I think it was a major factor if not the major factor. And when James went to meet President Obama, President Obama ran across the room, embraced him and thanked him. But Piers, for the first time, by the way --

MORGAN: Is last week

(CROSSTALK)

CARTER: Yes.

MORGAN: That's the first time.

CARTER: Yes, it was. So --

MORGAN: And did he actually say thank you for winning me the election?

CARTER: I don't think he said, winning the election, but thank you for helping me win the election.

(LAUGHTER)

I don't know exactly what the words were.

MORGAN: But would you like to have a better relationship with the president.

CARTER: Well --

MORGAN: And there aren't many surviving presidents.

CARTER: No. Well, in the past, I've had up and down relationships with presidents, and I'm sure that's been the case down through history. My most close friend in the White House was George Bush Senior, George H. W. Bush, and his secretary of state, James Baker. They were very closely, almost on a daily basis, with the Carter Center because there are some things that a government cannot do. And some president have called on me and it called the senator to perform those duties. And so that's been the main judgment that I've made.

But I never do go into a sensitive area of the world without getting -- at least tacit approval from the White House.

(LAUGHTER)

They always know I'm going, and if they say don't go, then usually I don't go.

MORGAN: Usually.

CARTER: Well, one time I decided to go regardless, and that was in 1994, when we were heading toward a war between North and South Korea. And I wrote president -- Clinton, then -- a letter and said, I've decided to go without your approval. And the vice-president, Al Gore, intercepted my letter. President Clinton was in Europe. It was the anniversary of Normandy landing, and Al Gore said, if you'll change that sentence to, "I'm strongly inclined to go," I'll try to get the president to approve, and he did.

So I went to North Korea and worked out a complete agreement with Kim Il-Sung.

MORGAN: Final question for this part, do you think Hillary Clinton is going to run in 2016?

CARTER: I don't know, but she -- I think -- let me just say that I don't know what she's going to do, but she has done an outstanding job, I believe, as a secretary of state. I'm very proud of her achievement.

MORGAN: Let's take a short break, Mr. President. When we come back, the Academy Awards are this weekend, in Los Angeles, and a vested interested here, really, I think in your heart, because "Argo," which of course involves one of the -- one of the good moments of your presidency, is up for the Best Movie.

CARTER: Yes.

MORGAN: I'll ask you about that.

CARTER: All right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: President Carter brought with him some memorabilia which we auctioned to benefit the Carter Center.

CARTER: One thing I do is make furniture and I've made all kinds of furniture in the past. With poster beds and so forth. This time I've made a very simple stool out of a beautiful piece of wood. And it'll be auctioned off and my furniture always brings a big price because people want to help the Carter Center and then they have a piece of furniture that, you know, 100 years later was made by a president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think everybody knows Hollywood. Everybody knows they shoot "Stalingrad" with Pol Pot directing and sell tickets.

There are only bad options. It's about buying the best one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't have a better bad idea than this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the best bad idea we have, sir, by far.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The United States government has just sanctioned a science fiction movie.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: A scene from the Oscar-nominated film, Argo, about a daring rescue during the Iranian hostage crisis. I'm back now with former President Jimmy Carter, who was, of course, in the White House at the time. You've seen Argo, I take it? How accurate is it from your memory?

CARTER: Well, let me say first of all, it's a great drama. And I hope it gets the Academy Award for best film because I think it deserves it. The other thing that I would say was that 90 percent of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian. And the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA.

And with that exception, the movie is very good.

But Ben Affleck's character in the film was only -- he was only in -- stayed in Iran a day and a half. And the main hero, in my opinion, was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.

I was informed about it the first day. And I was very much involved with the Canadian government because the Canadian government would not legally permit six false passports to be issued. So the Canadian parliament had to go into secret session the first time in history, and they voted to let us use six Canadian passports that were false.

MORGAN: But when you first heard about this outlandish plan to create a fictitious science fiction movie to get these hostages out, you're the president of the United States. I mean, if this had gone badly wrong, you would have been an absolute laughing stock. So it's a bold moment for you, for the presidency, for the country.

CARTER: Well, I don't deny that, but it was much bolder for the Canadian government to do it because the Canadian government was not involved in the hostage crisis, as you know. They could have been hostages themselves had it been revealed.

But as I said, you know, they did the primary work. And as a matter of fact, the American hostages left Iran and landed in Switzerland and landed before the Iranians ever discovered that they had been there.

When I left office, I ordained that we would not reveal any American's involvement in the process, but to give the Canadians full credit for the entire heroic episode. And that prevailed for a number of years afterwards.

But I think it's a great film, and it tells a dramatic story. And I think it's accurate enough.

MORGAN: This was a high point, but there was a low point, obviously, involving the other hostages in Iran. And from what I've heard about this, it was because you sent more helicopters than you were supposed to, but then even more crashed and were taken out of the operation, rendering it a failure.

CARTER: That's right. Well, one helicopter unexplainably turned around and went back to the aircraft carrier. Another helicopter went down in a sand storm. And then we were left with six helicopters, which we had to have to bring out all the hostages and also all the rescue teams, and one of them crashed.

So we lost three out of eight helicopters, which was completely unpredictable. Had all six helicopters survived, the hostages would have been rescued. It was a beautiful planned operation.

MORGAN: Had that third one not gone down, do you think it would have saved your presidency?

CARTER: I think so. It was a major factor because not only did it happen on election day, but the last three days I was in the White House, I never went to bed. I was constantly negotiating, and at 10:00 on inauguration morning, when President Reagan was going to take over, the hostages were all in -- ready to take off in Tehran, but the Ayatollah Khomeini kept them two and a half hours more because they wouldn't take off until I was out of office.

MORGAN: How did you feel about that?

CARTER: That was one of the happiest moments of my life, when on the reviewing stand in front of the Capitol, when President Reagan was making his acceptance speech -- his inaugural speech -- I was told secretly by the Secret Service that the hostages had taken off, they were on their way to Germany, free. And I think that's one of the happiest moments of my life.

MORGAN: Now, President Reagan, I think he then let you fly to Germany to meet the hostages.

CARTER: Yes, he did, very graciously. He let me be the one to go and receive the hostages when they came to Germany.

MORGAN: When you saw what happened with the killing of Bin Laden -- there's a dramatic movie about that also at the Oscars -- you see one helicopter go down. I mean, this must have brought back so many memories for you.

CARTER: It did.

MORGAN: How much of these kinds of things is alike? I mean, that could well have cost President Obama his presidency had both those helicopters crashed in the hunt for Bin Laden.

CARTER: Well, there's always luck involved. There's always careful planning involved. There's always heroism involved, whether you win or lose a particular event. And I was very gratified to see that this assassination of Bin Laden succeeded.

MORGAN: Let's take a short break, Mr. President. Let's come back and talk about all things foreign policy because John Kerry made his first speech and says, there's no such thing as foreign policy any more. Everything foreign now impacts on Americans domestic affairs. What do you think about it?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARTER: Another one is this "Argo" poster over here that's signed. And I also have photographs by me and Tony Mendez, who was a hero to the CIA that helped get out six hostages from the Canadian embassy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I came here purposely to underscore that in today's global world, there is no longer anything foreign about foreign policy. More than ever before, the decisions that we make from the safety of our shores don't just ripple outwards. They also create a current right here in America.

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MORGAN: Newly installed Secretary of State John Kerry speaking out, offering his view of U.S. foreign policy. Back with me now for an exclusive interview, former President Jimmy Carter. John Kerry has got a point, hasn't he? I mean, almost everything America does on the foreign stage these days does tend to have a direct impact back home.

CARTER: The morning of President Obama's inauguration, John Kerry and his wife, Teresa, came to my hotel room, and he and Rosalynn and I had a long conversation about the future of America and of foreign policy. And he expressed the same sentiments to me at that time.

MORGAN: Did you agree with him?

CARTER: Yes, I do. There's no way now to separate, if there ever has been -- there's no way to separate foreign policy from domestic affairs.

MORGAN: There's a sense that President Obama's strategy is leading from the back, as we saw in Libya. Is that a sensible way forward for America, to let the international community to take more of a lion's share of international incidents like in Libya, like in Egypt, whatever it may be?

CARTER: I think so. I think that's one of the provisions of America getting involved in a war, is to wait until all the peace efforts have been exhausted and until the United Nations take a move, if that's possible, or like in the case of Libya and so forth. So, yeah, I think so. And, you know, we've been in a war since President Eisenhower left office after the Second World War.

The United States has been at war almost full time in some country or the other.

Maybe it was legitimate to do away with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan after they attacked America. That was certainly a war -- an attack I approved. But in general, I think America's been involved in war too much.

MORGAN: Should America be a little bit more insular, be more selfish?

CARTER: I don't think so. You know, I think we have to be involved in a global situation. We're not going to any longer going to be the preeminent unilateral superpower as we were before. But we have obligations overseas.

I would like for instance -- I already mentioned -- I'd like to see the United States take the preeminent role in bringing peace to Israel finally.

MORGAN: Does everything in the end come back to Israel and Palestine?

CARTER: Yes, I think so. I think more than any other episode or incident or situation on Earth, this is the most directly effecting adversely America in not bringing peace to Israel and justice and peace to the Palestinians, yes.

MORGAN: Can any -- I mean, you obviously were very successful in bringing peace with Israel and Egypt. Can any deal be done that doesn't involve sitting across a table with Hamas?

CARTER: I've met several times with Hamas' leadership. And I think they are willing to accept Israel to exist peacefully within the '67 borders or some modification of those borders.

But the first step has to be to bring Hamas and Fatah together so they can have another honest election. That is a major premise, and I think the 67 borders between the two with some modifications will lead to a two-state solution.

Netanyahu now, I believe, has decided unequivocally to move to a one-state solution, which every one of his predecessors in the prime ministership have condemned as a disaster for Israel. And I think Israel is now moving toward a disaster for itself, in insisting that all the way from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea has to be Israeli control. That is a mistake for Israel.

MORGAN: Let's turn to Iran and some quite worrying developments today. Iran apparently has been installing advanced centrifuge machines for enriching uranium at a its nuclear plants. This is according to the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog. The IAEA also said it's expected Iran may have held explosive tests related to nuclear weapons.

Clearly, very concerning. But at what point should America consider military action, and what type of action would be acceptable, do you think?

CARTER: Well, I would hope that we could avoid military action there. And you know, obviously if Iran should threaten Israel with a missile that is nuclear in character -- a nuclear missile -- then obviously they -- America would have to defend Israel, and should.

But it would be almost completely suicidal for Iran, that might have two or three or four missiles, to be attacking a country that has maybe 150 or 200 missiles. That is Israel. And knowing that the United States with our 5,000 missiles -- we'd respond instantaneously -- it's almost impossible for me to consider Iran being that stupid.

MORGAN: Last time we spoke, you thought that President Assad would be gone in a few months. He's still there more than a year later. What should be done about him?

CARTER: Well, I'm not sure that -- that what you just said is true, because I have always doubted that Assad could be overthrown in this sort of early stage.

MORGAN: I think you hoped that it would be resolved.

CARTER: Well, I hoped it would be resolved, but, you know, this is one case where -- one of the few cases where I disagree with U.S. government policy.

I don't think that it's ever been possible for Assad to be forced to step down by the opposition forces, even constantly washed up against him. He's got 3.5 million people in his military. He's got the Alawites with him. He's got the Christians with him. He's got a lot of other non-Sunni Muslims with him. And I never have thought it was going to be easy to overthrow Assad.

I've known Assad since he was a college student. He's made some horrible mistakes lately trying to retain power. But let him be moved out of office through democratic process. That's the best approach.

MORGAN: Let's take a break. I want to come back and talk to you about guns, the culture of gun violence enveloping America right now and what should be done about it.

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CARTER: I do a lot of painting as well. And I've painted almost 100 paintings. This particular one is a street called Straight in Damascus. I was over there. And this is where Paul was rescued. So this is one of the paintings that I've done.

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JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've been around a long time. I'm the guy who wrote the first assault-weapons ban, I wrote the Crime -- the Biden Crime Bill, thing that put 100,000 cops in the street. I got elected when I was 72 to a 29-year-old kid.

But I've never seen an array of officials who are as committed and talented -- and I mean this sincerely -- as was called for and needed right now, right at this moment, and right in this state.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MORGAN: That's from Joe Biden speaking about guns today in Connecticut. Back now with my exclusive interview with former President Jimmy Carter.

Let's talk about guns. You're a gun owner. You own a variety of guns. What do you make of this debate post the appalling atrocity in Sandy Hook?

CARTER: Well, for a long time, I've advocated a prohibition against assault weapons and against magazines that hold multiple bullets and also armor-piercing bullets and things of that kind. And I think that this is something that was done earlier, it was not renewed, and I would like to see the Congress do that this time.

MORGAN: The main reason why the assault-weapons ban may not pass is the power of the NRA --

CARTER: I know, yes.

MORGAN: -- in going after American politicians who then get cowed into silence. And I think it's just morally cowardly.

CARTER: I do too. I agree with you completely. And it happens not only at the federal level, but it also happens at every -- at every state level and every municipal level. The NRA is there pressuring weak-kneed -- weak-kneed public officials to yield to their pressures, when they know what they're doing is wrong.

I'm a gun owner. I mean, I'm a farmer. I -- I have two -- two pistols. I have two rifles, a .243 and a .22. I have four, five shotguns. And I've been a hunter all my life. I never have had a need for an assault weapon. I've never had a need for armor-piercing bullets. I never have had a need to -- to do anything of that kind.

And I think it's ridiculous for our country to be in the forefront of killing people with guns. And when you see that there are maybe 20 or 30 people in Canada killed in a year and several thousand people killed here in the United States from guns, that shows that the NRA is wrong and that we should have some restraints.

MORGAN: What should President Obama do to try and get through another assault-weapon ban?

CARTER: Well, you have to put the full, you know, influence of the White House behind a subject this controversial and deal with every senator and every Congress member on an individual basis and see what they need and what they want and maybe use, you know, most persuasive effort.

And I think he's doing the right thing, though, in bringing this forth to the forefront in his second term. It's very -- been very good.

And I think he's doing a very good job with that. I hope he'll succeed. MORGAN: We're here in San Diego, and it's the 21st Winter Weekend that you've held on behalf of the Carter Center. It's raised over 18 million, this initiative, 18 million dollars, an extraordinary achievement.

Has it become your greatest achievement, do you think?

CARTER: I think so. The Carter Center now has an annual budget of about 100 million dollars that we raise from multiple sources. We promote peace. We promote democracy. We just finished our 93rd troubled election in the world. We've done all of the Arab Awakening elections in -- in Tunisia and Libya and in Egypt. And we've done the first two elections in Indonesia. We've done all three elections in -- in Palestine.

And the main thing we do is to deal with tropical diseases, neglected diseases. One of our most notable achievements has been Guinea worm. We started out with 3.5 million cases in 26,500 villages. We've been to every village, and now we've cut from 3.5 million down to, last year, 542 cases only.

MORGAN: That's amazing.

CARTER: And in January, there were zero cases of Guinea worm in the world for the first time in history.

MORGAN: Could you have cracked it?

CARTER: Oh, well, we're going to have some more cases come up later on in the year, but we -- we're cutting down it, and eventually, very soon, we'll have zero cases of Guinea worm on Earth. And that will be the second disease in history that's been totally eradicated from the face of the world. So we are very pleased with that.

MORGAN: Let's take one short final break.

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CARTER: When I was inaugurated president, I pointed out that human rights will be the foundation of our foreign policy. And this is a statement that I made. And I had wrote a long note on it and signed it personally. So this is an original document that somebody's going to get in the auction.

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MORGAN: Back now with President Jimmy Carter.

I can't leave you without asking about your wife, Rosalynn. The last time, I had the great pleasure of meeting her. How is she?

CARTER: She's doing fine. She's very dedicated now to mental health. And she has our first program overseas in Liberia, which has been at war, you know, for about 25 years. And Rosalynn is now helping to train 150 psychiatric nurses because they've had only one psychiatrist in all of Liberia. So she works on mental health all over the world.

MORGAN: Now, on the assumption that you live for another 40 years, which I reckon is a -- probably an underestimate looking at you, what would you like your legacy to be? If you could write your own tombstone, what would you like the wording to say?

CARTER: I think "Peace and Human Rights." That's what the Carter Center's motto is. We try to wage peace, that is, aggressively seek peace, and bring hope to people in the world and alleviate suffering. So "Peace and Human Rights," I think.

MORGAN: There can't be many better ways to be remembered than that.

President Carter, it's been, again, a great pleasure to see you.

CARTER: I've enjoyed it, as always. Thank you.

MORGAN: Come back soon.

CARTER: I'd like to.

MORGAN: That's all for us tonight. Jake Tapper is in for Anderson Cooper, and that starts right now.