He's still feeling jilted, Jimmy Carter says

September 21, 1994|By New York Times News Service

ATLANTA -- Even now that he is helping make U.S. foreign policy, even now that he is stopping war on the wing, Jimmy Carter still gets that jilted feeling from the Clinton administration.

And the worst of it is, he signals that he is being treated shabbily by someone he brought into the State Department, Warren Christopher, a man he once called "the finest public servant I ever have known."

"Rosalynn and I have discussed this a lot, it means a lot to us," he said yesterday, sitting in his office at the Carter Center .

"We haven't come up with a solution to it," he said in a sprawling interview.

He circled around but rarely used Mr. Christopher's name. It was probably inevitable that there would be tension between the former president, who is running around the globe acting like a secretary of state, and the secretary of state, who is back in Washington acting frustrated.

It was a telling sign Saturday afternoon in Washington when Mr. Christopher and his deputy, Strobe Talbott, showed up in a limousine to take a break at the late afternoon showing of the Robert Redford movie, "Quiz Show," while Mr. Carter was scrambling around in Haiti trying to negotiate a last-minute deal that would stop the planned invasion of the Caribbean country.

Mr. Carter should be basking in his moment of glory. But the former president, as one friend puts it, is a man with "a Mission, capital M, and Moral force, capital M."

And with a will of steel, he has forced a reluctant Clinton administration to accept his help as a global facilitator and peacemaker, and certainly to turn the Carter Center in Atlanta into a diplomatic powerhouse in resolving intractable disputes.

So, ever since Mr. Carter got back to Atlanta Monday night, he has veered between happiness and wonder at the agreement he forged, and unhappiness and wonder at the cautions that some Clinton advisers had leveled about the risks of free-lancing by a former president.

"I don't know if you've talked to anybody at the State Department," Mr. Carter said, referring to his policy-on-the-hoof adventures in North Korea and Haiti. "In both cases, it's been the White House and President Clinton personally who has said go ahead, but obviously, it's been reported, over the planning and vehement opposition of many of his top advisers."

"Opposition, by the way, that I do not comprehend," he said. "It's totally illogical to me. We've just had to accept the fact that there is this great reluctance, primarily concentrated in the State Department. The ones that are closest to the president are the ones that finally approved our intercession.

"[Vice President Al] Gore has been a great help, Tony Lake to a little bit lesser degree. I know that after President Clinton announced that we were going, there was even more consternation in the State Department than there was when we dealt with North Korea. But I don't know why. I honestly don't. I'm not being coy about it.

"Warren Christopher's background is superb," he said. "When I gave him the Congressional Medal of Freedom in the presence of all my Cabinet members -- he was a subcabinet member -- I said, 'This is the finest public servant I've ever known.' So, I don't know what there is there."

The State Department tried hard yesterday to dispel any notion that Mr. Christopher was plotting against his old mentor. "There have been some erroneous reports that Secretary Christopher was against President Carter's participation," said Michael McCurry, the Department spokesman.

He said: "President Carter probably remembers the speech that Secretary Christopher gave at the dedication of the Carter Center in Atlanta, which was about the underutilized role of the ex-presidents."

But while expressing admiration for Mr. Carter, some officials said he must be utilized in moderation. When he wanted to jump into the Middle East peace talks earlier this year, for example, the administration declined, to Mr. Carter's dismay.

Even in moments of triumph, there are nagging questions: When an envoy like Mr. Carter moves the goal posts is the outcome worth what was given up? That question seemed particularly acute yesterday as Haitian police beat demonstrators, killing one, in plain sight of the U.S. Army in Port-au-Prince.

Said one administration official: "You want to make sure when Carter goes somewhere that he knows that he's an emissary, not a free agent,"

With a sigh, another said: "Carter is very independent. This kind of frustration is endemic with prominent Americans who are trying to help the government. You have a government in place that's working on policies and you have to think hard about how to use national assets like President Carter."

Talking about the slights he feels from Foggy Bottom, Mr. Carter insisted that "there's a voluminous written file relating to this question, and there are several personal visits relating to this question."

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