Former president Jimmy Carter, one of the few U.S. officials who has traveled to North Korea and met with its leaders, expresses hope for the planned White House summit with Pyongyang but warns that President Trump may have made “one of the worst mistakes” of his tenure by naming John Bolton to the sensitive post of national security adviser.
In an exclusive interview with USA TODAY, pegged to the publication of his new book titled Faith, Carter calls Bolton “a warlike figure” who backs policies the former president calls catastrophic.
“Maybe one of the worst mistakes that President Trump has made since he’s been in office is his employment of John Bolton, who has been advocating a war with North Korea for a long time and even an attack on Iran, and who has been one of the leading figures on orchestrating the decision to invade Iraq,” Carter said. He called the appointment, announced last week, “a disaster for our country.”
Now 93, Carter was characteristically blunt as he discussed the potential power of the student-led March for Our Lives and the possible outlines of a nuclear deal with North Korea. His 32nd book, titled Faith: A Journey for All, being published Tuesday by Simon & Schuster, reflects on the impact faith has had on the challenges in his life and in the country’s history.
Although he doesn’t mention Trump by name in the book, he writes about his concerns that racial and other divisions among Americans have been exacerbated since the 2016 presidential election.
In a far-ranging interview, though, the 39th president did talk about the 45th. He discussed the political repercussions of allegations by porn star Stormy Daniels, aired in an interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes Sunday, of a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump and the payment of $130,000 in hush money by his lawyer a week and a half before the 2016 election.
“My understanding from the news media is 17 different women have come forward and said basically the same thing that Stormy Daniels said, so I think that President Trump’s political base, so-called, will be unshaken,” Carter said. (He was referring to accusations against Trump that range from unwanted harassment to consensual affairs.) “But I think in the long term it will have a deleterious effect on his political standing.”
In the November elections, he predicted, “we’ll see the adverse impact of the revelation of immorality and his violation of his sacred oath before God to be loyal to his wife.”
The criticism from the plain-spoken Carter may be less surprising than the simple fact he is still around to deliver it. In 2015, he was diagnosed with brain cancer, which he and others saw as a likely death sentence.
“I thought I only had maybe two weeks to live,” he recalled, “so I told goodbye to my family and to the Carter Center staff who work with me.” But radiation treatments along with a drug to enhance his immune system succeeded against the odds.
“I was prepared for death at that time,” he said. What did he do when he got the unexpected reprieve? “Well, I just went back to work.”
Carter volunteered that he would be willing to reach out to the North Koreans on behalf of the White House. In 1994, during the Clinton administration, a controversial trip by Carter to Pyongyang helped pave the way for the 1994 Agreed Framework in which North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for aid. In 2010, during the Obama administration, he traveled to North Korea again to help negotiate the release of a U.S. citizen.
Given his criticism of the new national security adviser, Carter doesn’t seem likely to be tapped as a special envoy by the Trump administration. Indeed, asked for his advice to the current president on North Korea, he said his “first advice” would be to fire Bolton.
That said, he also urged the administration to listen closely to the North Koreans for the core of their demands.
“What the North Koreans have wanted for a long time is just assurance confirmed by the Six Powers Agreement — with China and Russia and Japan and South Korea and so forth — that the United States will not attack North Korea as long as North Korea stays at peace with its neighbors,” he said, though he cautioned he had never met with the current leader, Kim Jong Un.
That may require concessions by the United States on its military presence on the Korean peninsula, he said, perhaps a draw-down of U.S. troop levels or an agreement to forego the annual military exercises there.
Would that compromise be one worth making?
“If a deal can be confirmed by the constant inspections of the International Atomic Energy Agency,” he said, “yes, it certainly would be.”