The “Youngest” Elder

Closeup, smiling

It’s not often that an 83 year old is introduced as young and energetic. But that’s exactly how Jimmy Carter was described when he was introduced to a small audience of students, faculty and staff at American University. The 39th president was on the Washington DC campus Wednesday (10/24) to spell out what is going on in Sudan, and what he and his new group, The Elders, are doing to help bring peace to the region.

In late September, just days before Carter’s 83rd birthday, he was visiting a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sudan. This trip was not Carter’s first to the region. In fact, he has visited Sudan at least once a year since 1988. But it was his first visit as a member of The Elders, a newly formed group of former statesmen and women, who have come together to try to address some of the world’s biggest issues.

During his 45 minute speech, Carter gave a complete and concise background on the issues in Sudan. Without any notes, he explained in great detail the politics between the North and the South in the troubled country, what is happening in Darfur, and what he thinks will help bring peace to the region.

Carter and the rest of the Elders are working closely with the governments in Sudan, in both the North and the South to work towards a long-term resolution. “Our number one hope is that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement can be maintained,” Carter explained. “It’s a complex, troubling situation, and we hope that the Elders can at least induce the international community to retain an intense interest there and to punish with threats and other means, any organized group or leader who might threaten either the Darfur Peace Agreement or the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.”

And it would help, according to Carter, if the United States would make human rights a bigger priority. When asked about the 2008 election, Carter did not hold back in his opinion of the current US policies.

“I hope that the next president will be a Democrat, in which case I think there will be an excellent chance of having an all out effort on a global basis to promote peace and not preemptive war. And my hope is that this present, worldwide lack of confidence in America to do this can be alleviated.”

He then outlined three things the next president could say in his/her inaugural address that would make, what he called, a drastic difference. “First of all the United States will abandon the new policy of preemptive war, and we will not go to war unless our own security is directly threatened. Secondly, the United States, will never again torture prisoners or abandon the international restraints on the proper treatment of those who are incarcerated. Third, the US will begin … to promote a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

“I hope the next president will also announce that the United States will take the leadership on a global basis to protect the environment and to deal as effectively as possible in combating global warming…and I would hope the next president would say once again, as our nation has done in the past, ‘We will raise high the banner of human rights.’”

With just these few meaningful statements, Carter explained, we could change the world’s perception of the US, and then lead the international community in helping to solve problems like those in Sudan.

He did credit the Bush administration for its part in working towards the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. That work, it turns out was a “favor” that Carter had asked for. After the 2000 elections, he said “I was as troubled as all the other Democrats” about the Supreme Court’s decision on the 2000 election, putting Bush in office. But he and his wife Rosalynn decided they should go up to Washington for the inauguration. “I believe it is accurate to say that we were the only two volunteer Democrats on the reviewing stand,” he joked.

But he explained that they felt welcomed, and at one point President Bush thanked him for coming and asked if there was anything he could do for Carter. He replied, “I only have one request, and it will probably be the only request I’ll ever make to you while you are in office, and that it to try to bring peace to Sudan. And he did. He did the best he could. He appointed former Senator Jon Danforth, from Missouri, who took charge of the negotiation, and they finally concluded what is presently know as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the North and the South. And it has resulted in, in effect, a sustained, but fragile ceasefire, there are no more battles going on. And this opened up an opportunity, by the way, for the Carter Center to go into the South and carry out some projects in health and agriculture.”

Carter hopes that his involvement, both through the Elders and the Carter Center, he can help restore peace to Sudan. But he knows it will be a long road. The Carter Center is considering the prospect of assisting in the Sudanese elections, scheduled for 2009. And the Elders have offered to serve as mediators between the opposing governments.

Regardless of capacity, it can be certain, that as long as he is able, President Carter will be helping the people of Sudan, and the rest of the world. And at 83 years old, he shows no signs of slowing down.

The entire speech can be viewed here.


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