Even Meredith Vieira More Skeptical of Hamas Than Jimmy Carter

Appearing on Monday's "Today" show former President Jimmy Carter offered his advice to President Barack Obama on the Mideast peace process and to her credit "Today" co-host Meredith Vieira actually expressed skepticism about Carter's faith in Hamas in those negotiations. Vieira repeatedly questioned Carter about the trustworthiness of Hamas as she queried Carter, "But do you believe that Hamas can be trusted?" and pointed out to the 39th President, "Hamas has said that its goal is to destroy Israel. How can you involve them in a peace process when they've said their goal is to destroy Israel? They don't recognize Israel." To be sure this certainly was a slightly tougher treatment than Carter had grown accustomed to from Vieira's predecessor at "Today," Katie Couric.

The following is a bit of the back and forth between Vieira and Carter:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: But do you believe that Hamas can be trusted?

JIMMY CARTER: Yes, I do. I think they can. Because of their own self-interest. Not because they're benevolent or kind or that sort of thing. But yes, I do. I think they can. And they've never betrayed any commitment that they've made to me or publicly, as a matter of fact.

VIEIRA: You know, the President has said that, that he considers Hamas a terrorist group. I mean he's made no suggestion that he's gonna go speak with them. Do you think that he should go and speak directly with the leadership?

CARTER: Not directly but I think that George Mitchell certainly could.

VIEIRA: Do you think that he will?

CARTER: I don't know, it's up to him to decide. But there's no way to have peace in the Middle East without having Hamas involved. You have to realize that Hamas is now in command of the Gaza Strip, which includes 100-, 1.5 million Palestinians, and they have substantial following even in the West Bank, which has 2.5 more million Palestinians. So Hamas have got to be involved.

VIEIRA: But Hamas has said that, but Hamas has said its goal is to destroy Israel. How can you involve them in a peace process when they've said their goal is to destroy Israel? They don't recognize Israel.

The following is a complete transcript of the interview as it occurred on the January 26, "Today" show:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: President Obama is beginning his first full week as President with a massive to-do list on his desk, the economy tops on the domestic agenda. But his first calls to foreign leaders centered on the Middle East crisis. Our 39th President, Jimmy Carter, has a unique perspective on that area of the world and his new book is called We Can Have Peace In the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work. President Carter good morning to you.

JIMMY CARTER: Thank you Meredith.

VIEIRA: Before we get to the book, I want to talk about that moment at the Inauguration that's gotten a lot of attention from the media and folks, where you warmly greeted President Bush Sr. and his wife, Barbara and them seemed to ignore President Clinton as you walked by. People said, is he snubbing him? What really happened, sir?

CARTER: Well we had already been for the Clintons for about 10 or 15 minutes as we waited for President Bush Sr. to come in. So we had warm greetings, already exchanged kisses with Hillary and Rosie exchanged kisses with Bill. So we had already been intimately associated with them for 10 to 15 minutes before we came into the television view. That was why the difference. We were seeing the Bushes for the first time.

VIEIRA: So there's no conflict whatsoever between you folks and the Clintons?

CARTER: No, of course not.

VIEIRA: Okay, let's talk a little about the Inauguration. For the first time, President Obama addressed the Muslim world and extended a hand to them. No president has done that before. Then the first calls he made as president were to leaders in the Middle East. Were you pleased by both of those actions?

CARTER: I was. I think it's very important that he bring them in. His first call, by the way, was to, was to--

VIEIRA: The head of Fatah I believe.

CARTER: The head of Fatah and also to Saudi Arabia and to Egypt and also to Jordan. And those three, those four calls were very important. And he's made an extremely important choice of his special envoy, George Mitchell, who is a tough, competent, aggressive negotiator. Which we haven't had now for a long time.

VIEIRA: And what does George Mitchell need to do? He's heading out, I believe today?

CARTER: Yes. I talked to him yesterday, he's leaving this morning to go to a number of countries in the Mideast. Well he needs to explore, I think, on his first visit, the elements that comprise the present situation. I was just over there last month inn December, and met with the top leaders of, of, of, you know involved in the process, including the Lebanese. And I was there quite extensively in April. But I think the first thing he needs to do is just size up what's going on and what can be done, in his opinion. After the debacle that we witnessed in Gaza.

VIEIRA: Well let's talk a little bit about that. Because really this is about how do you begin the peace process when it might not be in Hamas' best interests right now. A lot of their power stems from conflict. So they may not be interested in putting down arms and going to the negotiating table. On the other hand, you have the Israeli settlers on the West Bank, they need to get out of there. They have quite clearly said, "We're not going anywhere."

CARTER: Well, Israel's got two basic choices. One is, a one-state solution, which is disaster for Israel and all its neighbors. And that's where they're heading right now. The other choice is a two-state solution, which everybody endorses publicly. You know, the United States, the international quartet, the Arab countries have all endorsed it and so forth. But I'm afraid it's moving in the opposite direction. But in my book I describe a very clear picture of what can be done for the benefit of Israel and the benefit of its neighbors. We've had a chance to meet two times with the leaders of Hamas. Both those in Gaza and those that are top leaders in Damascus, Syria.

VIEIRA: And you've been criticized for that, sir, because Hamas is considered a terrorist group.

CARTER: By some they are. And they've done some, some bad things. But for instance, the year before we had the ceasefire, that I helped to orchestrate last June, the 19th, there was one Israeli killed by rockets. And on an average, 49 Palestinians killed every month during that previous year. And as soon as the ceasefire went into effect, Hamas obeyed it completely. There was no serious rocket fire during the next four or five months. Whereas, Israel did not restore providing provisions for the, for the Palestinians and Gaza. But Hamas has pledged to me and publicly, that they will accept any ceasefire that is negotiated between the Fattah leaders, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Israelis, provided the ceasefire turns are then submitted to the Palestinian people for approval and a referendum. So that's a major step forward.

VIEIRA: But do you believe that Hamas can be trusted?

CARTER: Yes, I do. I think they can. Because of their own self-interest. Not because they're benevolent or kind or that sort of thing. But yes, I do. I think they can. And they've never betrayed any commitment that they've made to me or publicly, as a matter of fact.

VIEIRA: You know, the President has said that, that he considers Hamas a terrorist group. I mean he's made no suggestion that he's gonna go speak with them. Do you think that he should go and speak directly with the leadership?

CARTER: Not directly but I think that George Mitchell certainly could.

VIEIRA: Do you think that he will?

CARTER: I don't know, it's up to him to decide. But there's no way to have peace in the Middle East without having Hamas involved. You have to realize that Hamas is now in command of the Gaza Strip, which includes 100-, 1.5 million Palestinians, and they have substantial following even in the West Bank, which has 2.5 more million Palestinians. So Hamas have got to be involved.

VIEIRA: But Hamas has said that, but Hamas has said its goal is to destroy Israel. How can you involve them in a peace process when they've said their goal is to destroy Israel? They don't recognize Israel.

CARTER: I'm not here to defend Hamas, but to tell you what they have pledged to me and publicly, that if any agreement is negotiated between Fatah leaders and Israel, then Hamas will accept the agreement. If it's submitted to the Palestinian people in a referendum. And that's a very good step forward. And I think they will do that because of their own self-interest. And Hamas complied very thoroughly with the ceasefire agreement that I have worked out for last June the 19th. For, for five months, there were no rockets fired until Israel did attack Gaza again on November the 4th.

VIEIRA: You, you have been president, you've received the Nobel Peace prize but your, it seems to me that your interest in the Middle East has always been very strong. This, this effort to have a final peace there.

CARTER: Yes.

VIEIRA: If you could negotiate a peace treaty in the Middle East, where would that stand in terms of your accomplishments?

CARTER: Well I did negotiate a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

VIEIRA: But a lasting one, then.

CARTER: That's lasted. Not in the a single word has been changed in the last 30 years. And of course, Egypt was a main, I would say the main military challenger to Israel. And that peace treaty has held completely. But I would like to see a comprehensive peace there based on the, the international quartet's provisions. Based on all the United Nations provisions, based on the official U.S. policy. And also, based on what the leaders of Israel say they want. That is a two-state solution. And in this book, I've spelled out completely a very meticulously, what that two-state solution must comprise. And the other thing is, to repeat myself, to, to go do one-state solution, with one nation between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean sea, would be a disaster for Israel, as has been confirmed by all the Israeli leaders. But that's, that's the way they're heading, if they don't adopt my provisions here, which are common provisions, to a two-state solution.

VIEIRA: Okay President, President Carter, thank you so much. As always a pleasure to have you here.

CARTER: It's good to be with you.

VIEIRA: The book is We Can Have Peace In the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work. President Jimmy Carter.

Israel/Palestine NBC Today

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