TRANSCRIPT: Former President Jimmy Carter

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your trip has also become fodder for the political campaign here at home. Senators Obama and Clinton and both said they would not meet with the Hamas leader. Several Democratic congressmen are urging you not to follow through with the meeting.

And former Speaker Newt Gingrich pounced on this, saying Democrats ought to disinvite you from their convention, because of this proposed meeting.

Are you worried that you might be making trouble for Senators Clinton, Obama and other Democrats?

CARTER: Well, I was not amazed to find that all political candidates -- not only those running for president, but those running for the U.S. Senate, for governor or Congress -- would be critical of any American who met with Hamas or with the Maoists here in Nepal, and so forth, that the United States government condemns.

But I feel quite at ease in doing this. It's something that the Carter Center has adopted as a goal, after I left the office, to promote peace, to promote human rights and justice, and democracy and freedom, and to alleviate suffering. And sometimes we are criticized...


CARTER: ... but I try to bear the criticism with relative equanimity.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you still have a smile on your face.

Yet, sir, Hamas has not renounced violence and will not recognize Israel.

Why is it right to meet with them in the absence of a renunciation of violence and recognition of Israel?

CARTER: Well, you can't always get prerequisites adopted by other people before you even talk to them.

The last meetings that I've had with Hamas leaders, immediately following the election in January of 2006, they told me that they were willing to declare, along with Israel, a complete ceasefire in Gaza and in the West Bank, that they were fully endorsing the right and authority of Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader, to negotiate on behalf of all the Palestinians -- including them -- and that whatever peace agreement he was able to negotiate with the Israelis, they would fully support it in advance, provided that it was presented to the Palestinian people in a referendum.

So, I've heard some reports directed to me early on, that they might be somewhat flexible. And I intend to find out if these are their prevailing thoughts now.

And when I find out whether they are accurate or whether they're inaccurate, the latest opinion of the Hamas leaders with whom I will meet -- and I'll just meet with a few -- then I'll share what I find with the Israelis and with Fatah, and also, of course, with the American government officials.

STEPHANOPOULOS: At the beginning of your trip in Africa, you signaled -- and you made quite a splash here in the United States by signaling that you support Senator Obama. You said that your children, their spouses and your grandchildren -- even though you didn't make a formal endorsement -- they are all for Barack Obama.

What do they and you see in Senator Obama?

CARTER: I didn't quite hear the question. The only thing I know is that, I have not made an endorsement, and don't intend to, until the time of the convention.

But so far as I know, all my children and grandchildren are supporting Obama.

STEPHANOPOULOS: you said people could surmise your views from what your children and grandchildren are saying, at least of your trip to Africa.

Yet, at the beginning of the campaign, you said Barack Obama didn't have the proven substance or experience.

Has your view on that changed?

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