Carter recalls Camp David talks of 1978 Former president hopeful after Wye conference

October 26, 1998|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Former President Jimmy Carter reminisced yesterday to a packed room at the University of Maryland about the groundbreaking Middle East peace talks 20 years ago.

Carter's talk, in which at one point he seemed to choke back tears, came as part of a 20th-anniversary commemoration of the historic Camp David summit between Israel and Egypt. Those talks paved the way for other Middle East negotiations, such as the one recently undertaken by President Clinton at Wye Plantation.

"The talks of 1978 showed that it was possible for Arabs and Israelis who had warred with each other, and who had killed each other, that they could find peace," Carter said in the student union ballroom, where more than 500 people gathered.

Carter said the latest round of Middle East peace talks at Wye River represent an important, historic attempt to reunite the two sides that he once helped bring together.

"It's put back on track the peace process. There's hope again," Carter said. "I'm inclined to be cautiously optimistic."

Carter, 74, made his remarks during the second annual Anwar el Sadat Lecture at the university at the invitation of Jihan Sadat, the widow of Sadat, the Egyptian leader at the talks 20 years ago.

Carter recalled the peace process between the Arabs and Israelis to be one of the most difficult undertakings of his presidency.

He brokered an agreement between Sadat and then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin that paved the way for other Arab-Israeli agreements. But the 13 days of talks at Camp David, Carter recalled, were tense and at times going nowhere.

At one point, he said, Sadat, whose friendship he had always valued, was about to walk out when Carter stopped him and successfully implored him to stay.

"I told him that if he left me there, the condemnation of the world would be upon him," Carter told the crowd.

Historians and political leaders have drawn parallels between the Camp David talks and the Wye River negotiations. Not only did both take place in Maryland, but the issues were largely the same. In both cases, Israel was pressed for troop pullbacks and land concessions.

A final settlement in the Wye talks is due by May 4.

Pub Date: 10/26/98

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