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IRAN: Warming up to once-despised Jimmy Carter

April 21, 2008 |  9:13 am

Carter2

The Iranian government has officially and regularly decried former President Jimmy Carter since the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979. 

But it looks like some within official Iranian circles are willing to let bygones be bygones, especially now that Carter has defied the Bush administration by meeting with the Palestinian militant group and Iranian ally, Hamas.

Iran's animosity toward Carter stretches back decades. He was, after all, the U.S. commander in chief who toasted deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi months before a popular 1978 uprising against his rule, briefly offered the monarch sanctuary in America and dispatched an ill-fated rescue team to free American diplomats and embassy employees being held hostage in Iran.

But politics makes for strange bedfellows.

Last week, Carter met with Hamas officials in the West Bank and Egypt before sitting down with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in the Syrian capital.

Today, Carter told a news conference in Jerusalem that Hamas is willing to recognize Israel so long as a peace settlement is approved in a Palestinian referendum. Some Hamas officials later backed away, saying they might not accept a referendum, and Carter, a 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner has heaped scorn on Hamas for its continued rocketing of southern Israel.

Nevertheless, the man who was burned in effigy by Iranian demonstrators in Tehran three decades ago has become a respectable statesman in the eyes of the Iranian media.

"Former President Carter puts blames on the Zionist regime for refusing talks with Hamas," said a report on state-controlled Iranian television.

A report published by the official Islamic Republic News Agency under the headline "Carter criticizes US for excluding Hamas from peace talks" notes that the man from Plains, Ga., "criticized the US for lobbying to exclude Hamas from the Middle East peace talks."

The hard-right English-language daily Tehran Times published excerpts of an opinion piece by Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar originally published in the Washington Post:

Now, finally, we have the welcome tonic of Carter saying what any independent, uncorrupted thinker should conclude: that no 'peace plan,' 'road map' or 'legacy' can succeed unless we are sitting at the negotiating table and without any preconditions.

Borzou Daragahi in Beirut and Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

Photo: The Shah of Iran, from left, U.S. President Jimmy Carter, the Empress of Iran, and the president's wife, Rosalynn Carter, during a state dinner at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 15, 1977. Credit: National Archives website

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