The Norwegian Nobel Committee today awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2002 to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. The choice was intended as a message to the current U.S. administration to give negotiations a chance in its showdown with Iraq.
Prague, 11 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Carter, a trained nuclear physicist and former governor of Georgia, was elected in 1976 to a single four-year term in the White House. He had repeatedly been a front-runner for the Peace Prize since sponsoring the 1978 Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt, widely considered to be his greatest achievement.
The chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Gunnar Berge, in making the announcement in Oslo today, indicated that singling out Carter's efforts this year was no accident: "In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power, Carter has stood by the principles that conflicts must be, as far as possible, resolved through mediation and international cooperation based on international law, respect for human rights, and economic development."
Berge explained to reporters that the award "should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current [U.S.] administration has taken" in its dealings with Iraq. He added that the award should also be seen as critical of those who "follow the same line" as the United States.
The chairman of the five-member Nobel Committee said the committee awarded the 78-year-old Carter with the $1 million prize "for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development."
Berge specifically mentioned Carter's "vital contribution" to the Camp David Accords. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.
"At a time when the Cold War between East and West was still predominant, [Carter] placed renewed emphasis on the place of human rights in international politics," Berge said.
Carter welcomed today's award, saying the prize "encourages people to think about peace and human rights." In an interview today with CNN, he refused to comment specifically on the policies of U.S. President George W. Bush, but said: "I do think that in every way before we go into a war of any kind we should exhaust all other alternatives, including negotiation, mediation, or, if that's not possible in the case of Iraq, working through the United Nations."
Carter was the 39th president of the United States. His presidency was notable for his insistence on basing foreign policy decisions on respect for human rights. However, his presidency was weakened by the 444-day hostage crisis in Iran in which militants held the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran captive in response to Carter's invitation to the ailing Shah of Iran to receive medical treatment in the United States.
Carter made it clear from the start that his presidency would stand for human rights around the world. In a speech he delivered in October 1977, Carter outlined his vision this way: "I see a hopeful world, a world dominated by increasing demand for basic freedom, for fundamental rights, [and] for higher standards of human existence. We are eager to take part in the shaping of that world. But in seeking such a better world, we are not blind to the reality of disagreement, nor to the persisting dangers that confront us all."
Carter devoted much of his foreign policy attention to Latin America, where during his presidency the number of military juntas declined sharply as democratic governments were elected across the region.
One of Carter's first goals on becoming president was to work for a second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, known as SALT II, with the Soviet Union. The treaty was designed to limit the number of both countries' nuclear weapons systems. The first such treaty, SALT I, was negotiated by President Richard Nixon.
Negotiating the treaty with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was difficult because of Carter's persistent criticism of Moscow's human rights record. But in June 1979, the two leaders signed SALT II. But the U.S. Senate did not ratify the treaty, and it was put aside after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
In November 1979, Iranian militants who had the tacit support of Ayatollah Khomeini's government stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took its occupants hostage. Carter declared that the U.S. should not give in to hostage takers.
"It's vital to the United States and to every other nation that the lives of diplomatic personnel and other citizens abroad be protected, and that we refuse to permit the use of terrorism, and the seizure and the holding of hostages, to impose political demands. No one should underestimate the resolve of the American government and the American people in this matter," Carter said.
Negotiations with the Iranians were fruitless. In April 1980, Carter ordered U.S. special forces to try to rescue the hostages. The effort was a disaster. Eight U.S. soldiers died in the aborted mission, which ended any chance Carter might have had to be re-elected. Ronald Reagan defeated him in November 1980. The hostages were released in January 1981, minutes after Reagan was inaugurated as president.
Since retiring from politics, Carter has offered his services as peace mediator in conflicts around the world through the Carter Center, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. He also devoted much energy to providing housing to the poor through a private program that offers help to the needy who want to build their own homes.
(RFE/RL Washington correspondent Andrew F. Tully contributed to this story.)