A prize for a peace-maker, one that also constitutes a slap in the face of the current U.S. government over its policy on Iraq.
FOR his peace-making and humanitarian work over the last 25 years, former United States President Jimmy Carter has been awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize for Peace .
The Nobel Committee used the occasion to send a sharp rebuke to the Bush administration for its aggressive policy towards Iraq: "In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power," the Nobel citation read, "Carter has stood by the principles that conflicts must as far as possible be resolved through mediation and international cooperation based on international law, respect for human rights and economic development." Gunnar Berge, the Nobel Committee Chairman, was even more direct. The award "should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken," Berge said shortly after the award was announced in Oslo.
The Peace Prize often carries a political message, but never before has it been so pointed. Carter, beaming in the affection of his home town, Plains in Georgia, said he did not bring up the subject of Iraq when President Bush called to congratulate him. "I feel very strongly about it, yes," said Carter, who has said the administration should not act unilaterally against Iraq. "But I didn't think it was appropriate to mention it. I haven't spent the last 22 years walking around saying what I would or wouldn't do if I were still President."
Administration officials sought to duck any controversy over the Gunnar Berge's remarks, saying they were proud that Carter won the award. The prize, which carries a stipend of $1 million, recognises the 39th U.S. President for his "vital contribution" to the Camp David Accords in 1978, his "outstanding commitment to human rights," his work fighting tropical diseases such as guinea worm and river blindness and his continuing interest in furthering democracy.
More than any other ex-President, Carter, a Democrat and former Georgia Governor, has stretched the gravitas and star power of the Oval Office to promote democratic values across the world. Unlike his peers, he never joined corporate boards or go on the lecture circuit. Instead, with seemingly endless energy and his signature toothy grin, he has trudged up mountains to meet with warlords, cajoled dictators into granting more freedom and found a second career of "waging peace", as he calls it.
Everywhere he goes, so does his wife, Rosalynn, his most trusted confidante. His activism has not always won praise. Sometimes he goes on missions with the support of the U.S. government; sometimes not. When he intervened in an escalating dispute between North and South Koreas in 1994, he was criticised by President Bill Clinton for getting too chummy with North Korea's ruler.
Carter, who won the presidency in 1976, does not disagree that he has been a better former President than President, having lost a landslide election to Ronald Reagan in 1980. He is an icon in many Third World countries, especially in Latin America. He has been nominated more than 10 times for the Peace Prize, although not in 1978, the year Menachem Begin of Israel and Anwar Sadat of Egypt won it for signing a treaty Carter wrote. Officials said then that they received his nomination too late.
Since then, so many nominations have come and gone, Carter said. "When I got the call this morning at 4 a.m., I thought it was a joke," he said. "I didn't even know this was the day the prize was announced. I usually follow these things, but this year I wasn't paying attention. And then when I talked to the committee, and realised I really won, I was thrilled." He said he was accepting the prize on behalf of "suffering people around the world". He plans to use the money for an emergency fund for the Carter Centre, the private peace-making foundation that he and his wife founded 20 years ago. "I can't tell you how many times I get a call in the middle of the night and some crisis is about to break out," he said. "Now we'll have the funds to get there."
Carter is the third American President to win the award, after Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. He is the second Georgian to win. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King won it in 1964. Carter has said on many occasions that one of the biggest regrets of his life is that he never met Dr. King, a contemporary. As the Governor of Georgia, Carter hung Dr. King's portrait in the State Capitol.
Carter's stiffest competition this year came from President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and a handful of Chinese dissidents and U.S. disarmament experts. Some of Carter's biggest accomplishments, the Nobel Committee said, were the conflicts he prevented. In 1994, with U.S. warships steaming toward Haiti,
Carter averted a bloody crisis by convincing a military junta to leave. He also brokered a truce in Bosnia that year and has negotiated at length with warring groups in Sudan. In Plains, the peanut farm town where Carter grew up and started his political career, Main Street was shut down for a ceremony and the residents all 637 were cordially invited. It was Jimmy Carter's day though it is almost always like that here. There were farmers in straw hats, fanning themselves with Nobel Prize programmes. Banners read, "Congratulations Jimmy! We love you!" And lots of hugs and "Way to go, man!" It did not take long after Carter received the call from Oslo for word to spread in Plains, where Carter and his wife live.