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CNBC Exclusive Interview Transcript: CNBC Meets...President Jimmy Carter

Unofficial transcript of the CNBC Meets interview with President Jimmy Carter for soundbite extract only, not for full publication. Subject to change and final alterations. Interview conducted by CNBC's Tania Bryer.

All references must be sourced to CNBC Meets.

CNBC Meets air dates:
US CNBC World - 1st October 2014, 10:30ET
Europe - 1st October 2014, 22:00 UK, 23:00 CET
Asia Pacific - 4th October 2014, 17:00 SIN

CNBC's Tania Bryer (TB): James Earl Carter Junior was sworn in as the 39th President of the United States of America on January 20th, 1977. A champion for human rights, peace and the environment his term in office was overshadowed by International crises and domestic recession. After leaving the White House in a landslide defeat in 1981 he re-invented the post-presidency years by dedicating his life to improving those of others around the world. The President invited me to his Library and Center in his home state of Georgia to reflect on his life in his 90th year

TB: Sir, we're here at your Presidential Center and library in Atlanta, what did you want to create here?

President Jimmy Carter (PJC): I wanted to create an organisation that would fill vacuums in the world. Do things that other people didn't want to do or couldn't do, and now for 32 years or more the Carter Center's done that in about 80 countries in the world, with er, healthcare, peace, democracy, freedom - those kind of things which are a very exciting challenge. I think so far we've met it quite well.

Jimmy Carter was born in the small southern town of Plains, Georgia on October 1, 1924. Along with his brother and two sisters he grew up on land which has been in the family since 1833.

TB: Sir, you grew up 2 hours from here on a farm just outside of Plains, during the time of racial segregation, how did that shape you?

PJC: Well we were the only white family among about 50 African-American families, and I grew up without any sense of racial distinction because my playmates were African American. I fought with them, wrestled with them, worked with them, fished and hunted with them and played with them. And so, later I began to see as I got older that the policy or custom in the South and throughout the country as a matter of fact was to distinguish between black and white people in a very unfavourable way. And my mother was a registered nurse so she didn't pay any attention to the racial distinctions and I think I learned from her the fact that all people were equal, even though the laws at that time and customs ordained otherwise. And that shaped my attitude and I think it's made me feel very deeply that basic human rights and equality among people should be a high priority for every human being.

TB: You mentioned your Mother sir, Miss Lillian, who worked long hours as a nurse, and your father James Earl Senior ran the farm, what sort of values did they instil in you as a child?

PJC: …She instilled in me the values of helping other people who were in need. She worked 20 hours a day as a private duty nurse…So sometimes for weeks at a time we didn't see our mother who was serving other people, who were very poor, who couldn't pay her by the way. My Father was a very hard-working farmer. He taught me the values of innovation and entrepreneurship. As a matter of fact when I was six years old I was already earning as a much as a grown man on the farm because he let me go into the field and pull up peanuts and wash them at night and I would take them into town. I would walk about 2 miles from Plains and I would sell 20 bags of peanuts for 5 cents each and that was the same as a full grown man got working in the field from sunrise until sundown. So.. and I saved that money, and later invested it - and so my father taught me both hard work and how to earn a living on my own.

After finishing his studies in Georgia and inspired by his Uncle Tom Gordy who served in the United States Navy, the young Jimmy Carter left his home town to explore the world.

TB: In 1943 Sir you were accepted to the Navy academy in Annapolis what did the Navy years teach you, what did you experience?

PJC: Well of course I was able to go around the world, y'know, on the ship, I was a submarine officer as well. So I visited China and Japan and the Philippines and Australia and also parts of Europe and the Caribbean, so that's one thing I learned from it. And I would say another was how to get along well with people who were diverse from me, but on whom, each person's life depended on the other's intelligence, capability and attention to duty… And in addition, discipline and how it, er is, necessary to orchestrate your duties and to carry them out acceptably, not only to yourself but to superior officers, so I think, maybe that bode me well when I was running for President and making 10 or 12 speeches every day and working from daybreak, before daybreak until late at night. So I think another y'know, another reminder of hard work and discipline.

In 1946 Jimmy Carter married his childhood sweetheart Rosalynn Smith and the couple along with their young family settled into naval life with Jimmy rising to the rank of Lieutenant. However a personal tragedy took him back to his roots.

TB: You had to leave the Navy in 1953 when your Father passed away to come back and run the family farm, was that a difficult transition for you, Rosalyn and your young family?

PJC: It really was difficult because I had the best job in the Navy, I was in charge of one of the two nuclear submarines being built at that time and it was a choice assignment for any young officer of my, my, my rank, and it was a very tortuous decision for me to make, I never had thought about it before. When I got back where I was working, Schenectady, New York, I told my wife I was, planned to leave the Navy, she was very angry. In fact later when we drove home from Schenectady, NY to Plains Georgia, seven hour drive, she never spoke to me on the way. If she had to go to the rest room she would tell our older son, 'tell your father I need to stop at the restroom'....She was very upset about going back to a little tiny town of Plains.

Mrs Carter: He's said that so much now I almost believe him (laughs) I don't remember that happening at all. I, I, I well, I was young, I had 3 children, Jimmy's mother and my mother were both at home and I thought I was, I just, I was having a good time, we were travelling. We spent a year and a half in Hawaii for instance …It was just exciting to me. And I, he had planned to stay in the Navy but then when his father died....His really ....it was something he had to do because his brother Billy was still in high school, and his father had worked so hard to build up the business, good business, and so we came home

PJC: …I could remember what I had learned as a young man about farming and then for the next 17 years I was a full-time farmer and er I still, we still own the same land which we've had now since 1833.

TB: In 1962 you entered the Georgia State Senate, what made you decide to suddenly go into politics?

PJC: At that time I was Chairman of a local school board, some-county school board(!), and, er, the politicians in Georgia were very conservative and they were saying 'No not one', which meant that if a black child entered a white classroom that they would shut down the entire public school system. So in a very naive way I decided that I would run for senate to try to protect the local school, the public school system.

In 1966 Jimmy Carter lost his first race to become Governor of Georgia. However in the next election he was victorious and entered the Governor's mansion in Atlanta on January 12, 1971.

On December 12, 1974 Jimmy Carter announced he would run for President with a promise of truth in government in the wake of the Watergate scandal. After a two year hard fought campaign he defeated Gerald Ford - AND on November the 2, 1976 this onetime rural farmer from Plains, Georgia was elected the 39th President of the United States.

TB: As the 39th President of the United States, what do you feel were your greatest successes?

PJC: Well I kept our country at peace, which er..has happened very rarely since the second world war. And I tried to work for peace between other people who were not directly related to the United States like between Egypt and Israel. I normalised diplomatic relations with China. And I implemented a very strong human rights commitment that brought about a change throughout Latin America for instance, from totalitarian military dictatorships to democracies. So I would say the promotion of peace and human rights were the two things, that er, which I'm most proud. And we had a very wonderful environmental record at that time. We kind of foresaw, may be 30 or 40 years before it became a crisis, that we needed to conserve energy and have alternate sources of energy, cut down on our waste of er, of er, carbon and other fuels of that kind to protect the environment. So those are the 3 things that I think of right off hand.

It was in 1978 that President Carter brought together Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt to Camp David to put an end to three decades of war. Despite days of hard negotiations brokered by President Carter the peace deal seemed set for failure.

TB: I believe you saved the peace agreement at Camp David when you went to Prime Minister Begin quarters and gave him signed photographs for his grandchildren...

PJC: ….The peace agreement that I was trying to negotiate had broken down. We were in our 13th day at Camp David and I decided that it was over because Prime Minister Begin was so adamant about er, about, not um, removing his Israeli settlements from Egyptian territory. And so, I had given up, my wife had gone back to Washington to prepare for our return to Washington in, in defeat, or failure. And I, Begin asked me for a signed photograph of me and him and Sadat to each one of his 8 grandchildren. So instead of just saying best wishes Jimmy Carter, I got my secretary to get their names and I put 'with love and best wishes to' and I put his names of his grandchildren. And when he got the photographs, he was quite angry with me at the time, he just said 'thank you Mr President' and turned around and he began to read, and he called out the name of his first grandchild, and then he called out the name of his second grandchild and er, he had tears running down his cheeks and er, and so did I, and then he said in effect why don't we try one more time, and so we tried one more time and we were successful.

Jimmy Carter the 39th President of the United States has become one of the world's most prolific and respected humanitarians whose work through The Carter Center sees him travelling the globe fostering peace, fighting disease and promoting democracy. It was this unwavering belief in peaceful resolution that cost him his Presidency

TB: Sir, do you feel there were any choices you would have made differently?

PJC: …I think I would have been re-elected easily if I had been able to rescue our hostages from the Iranians. And everybody asks me what would do more, I would say I would send one more helicopter because if I had one more helicopter we could have brought out not only the 52 hostages, but also brought out the rescue team, and when that failed, then I think that was the main factor that brought about my failure to be re-elected. So that's one thing I would change.

Mrs Carter: I would say 'do something, anything' and he said and then have them take a hostage out one at a time one day and execute them in front of the world? Y'know he was firm, but it was tough. …We knew he would probably not, probably not, be re-elected, he didn't give in. I was proud of him…Peace is very difficult war is popular in our country.

TB: Even your wife Rosalyn was encouraging you to take action, was it hard to not take everyone's advice around you, even your wife's?

PJC: Yes. Um, well I could've been re-elected if I'd taken military action against Iran, shown that I was strong and resolute and, um, manly and so forth. But, er, I think if I, I could have wiped Iran off the map with the weapons that we had, but in the process a lot of innocent people would have been killed, probably including the hostages and so I stood up against all that, er, all that advice, and then eventually my prayers were answered and every hostage came home safe and free. And so I think I made the right decision in retrospect, but it was not easy at the time.

Sir Richard Branson: I think he was incredibly unfairly judged. I mean he was ahead of his time when he was in the White House….I think if it hadn't been for the Iran Hostage situation he would have had a second term and I think most likely would've been as well-respected for his time in office as for his time outside the office.

TB: Do you feel the American people have accepted that now, that it was the right decision?

PJC: I think increasingly they have as more facts are known and as people look back on those times. Er, but there's still a strong inclination in our country to take military action when I think it's not necessary.

TB: You left office sir, as you have said, involuntarily, if you had been re-elected what would you have liked to accomplish?

PJC: I don't have any doubt that if I'd had another term in office I could have implemented very firmly the peace agreement that I negotiated with Israel and its neighbours., Er, that was never fully implemented. So now 35, 40 years later we still have Israel not at peace with its neighbours…But my successors were not very interested in the Mid East peace process, not as deeply as I was, and that's one of the things I could have done differently.

In 1980 President Carter lost the election to Ronald Regan and in 1981 at the age of 56 he left the White House to return to an unknown future in Plains, Georgia. It was his Mother, a staunch peace activist who inspired his post presidency career.

PJC: When I graduated from the White House I was 56 years old, y'know her first question was What Are You Going to do Next? So, she saw that I needed a new career so I basically carried out the ambitions and hopes of my mother. She was a very stern task-master, she demanded a lot from us so I still have a kind of a sense that I need to please my mother in at least in what I do.

TB: In 1982 Sir, you set up the Carter Center, what did you hope to set out to achieve with it?

PJC: Well our first hope at the Carter Center was to have like a small Camp David here so I could negotiate peace agreements between countries that were at war or likely to go into armed conflict, and we still do that as a matter of fact. But er we also had a basic premise of not duplicating what other people do…So this leaves us in a, with a chance just to fill kind of vacuums in the world.

Mrs Carter: … I think the reason we've been so successful is that it all goes back to his human rights policy. Because the people in the developing world somehow know that Jimmy cares about them.

William Hague: He understands that our responsibilities to others do not end when we leave office. And that I think is an inspiration to many other politicians and leaders in the world. It's an example that many of us should try to follow.

The work of The Carter Center is spearheaded by the President and Rosalynn Carter who are at the heart of every project that is undertaken. Millions of lives have been improved in over 80 countries thanks to their tireless work.

PJC: We've taken on 5 tropical diseases. Last year the Carter Center treated 36 million people for these kind of diseases. We go into the village or train people to do so and actually treat the people in their own village and give them credit for it and so it makes it a matter of great pride for them and er, a restoration of not only their health but their self-respect and hope for the future. So it's a very exciting er, series of projects, that we, that we, um, undertake every day at the Carter Center.

TB: And you're close to eradicating guinea worm..

PJC: Yes we started out er with guinea worm in about 26000 villages in 20 countries in Asia and Africa and we found at the beginning 3 and half million cases of guinea worm. Er last year we only found 148 cases instead of 3 and a half million, and so far this year we've only found 9 cases…And so it's a very successful program so far and the villages where we have eliminated it will never know a case of guinea worm again.

TB: What do you feel are some of the most pressing issues now that you would like to address?

PJC: Well I've written 28 books, that's the way I make a living, and um, my last book was about the horrible abuse of women and girls around the world. Y'know I think it's the worst, unaddressed issue that the world faces today. And those of us in the more advanced countries don't know much about horrible abuse of girls whose genitals are mutilated when they're very young, children, er, who are killed because a girl is raped by strangers and her family kills her because, to protect their own nation's honour, er, these kinds of things go on in the more remote parts of the world as far as we're concerned. But even in the United States…human slavery now is greater than it ever was during the 18th of 19th century. In Atlanta Georgia we have between 200-300 girls sold into sexual slavery every month.. And on our college campuses in America, in almost every college, the sexual abuse of girl students is horrendous and it's not addressed directly because the college owners and administrators don't want it to be known that they have sexual assaults still taking place on their college campuses. And the same thing applies obviously in the military.

Angelina Jolie: President Carter has always been so inspiring. He when he left office he seemed to do even more and his strong stand on women's issues and his strong moral compass you know he's a man that does not, does not seem to be in any way making waves in order to get headlines. He does, he takes a strong stand because of what he believes and ummm he has such faith and such conviction.

William Hague: President Carter is a very powerful voice for people who feel powerless or forgotten. And I think he is something that means a lot to me, that he is a male leader who stands up for the, what I regard as the great strategic prize of this century which is the full political, social and economic empowerment of women.

Karin Ryan, The Carter Center: He has a universal commitment to human rights and that he's not going to pull his punches, he's going to say what he thinks, and he is so intelligent he knows what's going on in the world and he's willing to point out what's needed.

TB: You and Mrs Carter have made a difference to so many lives in over 80 countries around the world, and when you travel to these places sir how does it make you feel?

PJC: (smiling throughout) Well it makes me feel very good because they are out to welcome us, and they make me Chief of the village honorary, they give me land on which I could graze my cattle and they put on beautiful uniforms and...... and sometimes they ask me to do a ceremonial dance because I'm a new chief.

Steven Hochman, The Carter Center: He is busier than most people who are holding full time jobs. He keeps going all the time and is so impressive. He still wants to achieve and still and he still has the energy to achieve….He's known all over the world and unfortunately not as well known for his work at the Carter Center in the United States.

President Carter's global mission for human rights led him to win the prestigious Noble Peace prize in 2002. And in 2007 he became a founding member of The Elders, an independent group of world leaders who work together for peace and human rights.

Sir Richard Branson: The one American that epitomised everything that the Elders were to stand for, er, was President Carter. And he's done throughout his life what he's believed to be right, um, so it was wonderful that he accepted Nelson Mandela's request to make him an elder. He inspires er, inspires all of us who sit at, who sit at his feet in Elders meetings ….by er, his humility, by er his willingness to listen…um, even by his sense of humour which he's not enormously known for - but he has a delightful sense of humour.

TB: Do you still keep a strong faith after witnessing so many injustices around the world?

PJC: Well I do not only my faith in my country and in myself, my capabilities, but also faith in God. I'm a very deeply committed Christian, I teach Bible classes every Sunday that I'm home in Plains which is about 35 or 40 times a year...And also the basic principles for Judaism and for Christianity.....and for Islam and for, and for, um, Hinduism. They're all basically the same to promote peace and justice and humility and care for those who are in need.

TB: Sir you travel extensively round the world for your Carter Centre initiatives, for your role in the Elders, you've mentioned that you still teach at Sunday school, you build homes for Habitat for Humanity. You manage to spend time with your 12 grandchildren and I believe 9 great-grandchildren (Carter: soon be ten, yes) - soon to be 10! Would you ever consider slowing down in your 90th year?

PJC: Well, I've been really lucky with my health and also with the opportunities I have. We have, my wife and I have an enormous potential menu of things that we choose to do and we are free from any political constraints and so forth…So we still travel too much and may take on too many new projects - but it's exciting and challenging, unpredictable and adventurous, er, and a very gratifying life still.

TB: Mrs Carter, how would you like your husband to be remembered?

Mrs Carter: Well I think, I hope he'll be remembered for his human rights work. He cares about people in the world and wants them to have a good life.

TB: President Carter, what would you like your legacy to be?

PJC: …I'd like to be remembered as a champion of peace and human rights. Those are the two things that I've, um, found as kind of a guide for my life. I've done the best I could with those, not always successful of course, but I'd say Peace and Human rights.

TB: And how would you like others to view you?

PJC: Well for my grandchildren, to view me as a good grandfather, I got four children as well as all those grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I'd like for my wife to think about me as a good husband. And I would hope that the American people would see that I tried to do what was best for our country every day I was in office. And I would like for the Carter Center people to feel that I had established some principles along with Rosalynn that have been beneficial to them and to literally hundreds of millions of people around the world. So those are the kinds of things that sometimes I think about.

TB: Sir, thank you so much for your time.

PJC: I've enjoyed it very much. Good questions and I appreciate it.

Angelina Jolie: To tell him we all do think of him and his legacy [stumbles] as one of such compassion and humanity and to continue to do all the great work that he does and to wish him a very Happy Birthday.

William Hague: I wish him every future happiness and a great birthday

Sir Richard Branson: To give him the biggest, biggest hug ever. To give his...to wish him an extremely happy birthday.


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