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Former US President Jimmy Carter Turns 90


Today -- October 1st, 2014 -- is the 90th birthday of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. On this program, we look at his very active and interesting life.

“There can be no nobler, nor more ambitious, task for America to undertake on this day of a new beginning."

Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer, naval officer, state senator and governor of the southern state of Georgia before becoming the 39th president of the United States.

VOA reporter Kane Farabaugh met with Mr. Carter many times after he left the White House. The former president spoke with Kane about his years as the nation’s leader. He also talked about his career as head of the Carter Center, a non-profit organization in Atlanta, Georgia. The Center works for peace, and tries to improve the health of people around the world.

This program is based on Kane Farabaugh’s discussions with, and research about, Mr. Carter.

Jimmy Carter was sworn-in as president on January 20, 1977. In a speech to the American people, he promised “a government as good as its people.”

“There can be no nobler, nor more ambitious, task for America to undertake on this day of a new beginning than to help shape a just and peaceful world.”

Mr. Carter was concerned about human rights during his presidency.

The four years he spent in office were very busy, and a large number of issues affected his presidency. Inflation, rising unemployment and an oil shortage hurt the economy. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in late 1979. In answer to the invasion, Mr. Carter ordered a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.

Mr. Carter won foreign policy victories with the Panama Canal Treaty and a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. But his presidency is most-remembered for the Iran hostage crisis, which happened in his final year in the White House. He lost in his effort to win re-election, and left office on January 20th, 1981.

Mr. Carter said the end of his presidency was the beginning of a new life of “fighting disease, building hope, and waging peace” as head of the Carter Center.

“I look upon the Carter Center work as an extension of what I tried to do as president. You know, we brought peace between Israel and Egypt. We opened up a harmonious relationship with Latin America with the Panama Canal Treaty. We opened up diplomatic relations with China and things of that kind. And so what I have done since then has been kind of an extension. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that when I won the Nobel Peace Prize, for instance, it was because of the work of the Carter Center. So, I would be perfectly satisfied to have a legacy based on peace and human rights. I mean, who wouldn’t?”

Jimmy Carter was born 90 years ago in the small southern town of Plains, Georgia.

He served as an officer in the U.S. Navy, helping to develop nuclear submarines. In 1953, he returned to Plains to operate his family’s peanut farm, after the death of his father.

Jimmy Carter entered Georgia politics in the 1960s. He served two terms as a state senator and then was elected the state’s 76th governor. He served one term -- from 1971 to 1975.

Mr. Carter had no experience as a Washington politician. But he knew Americans were angry with Washington after the presidency of Richard Nixon. Nixon had resigned from office in 1974 because of the Watergate crisis. Still, most political experts believed the former Georgia governor had little chance of success.

But in the general election of 1976, he defeated President Gerald Ford, winning 50.1 percent of the popular vote to Mr. Ford’s 48 percent. President Ford had not been elected president or even vice-president. He had only taken office after Mr. Nixon resigned.

Jimmy Carter gave credit to his family and his life in Georgia for the success of his presidential campaign.

The most successful event in Mr. Carter’s presidency was the end of hostilities between Egypt and Israel. The president met with Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at Camp David in Maryland. Those meetings led to the Camp David agreement and, later, a peace treaty between the two countries.

“There had been four wars between Arabs and Israelis in the previous 25 years, with the Egyptians in the leadership supported by the Soviet Union. They were the only country that could really challenge Israel militarily. And we had success in getting a treaty between Israel and Egypt, not a word of which has ever been violated.”

President Carter also negotiated a treaty that gave control of the Panama Canal to Panama. And he established full diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.

In 1979, a revolution in Iran ousted Shah Reza Pehlavi, who fled to the United States. The U.S. government had strongly supported the shah for many years. In November, militants attacked the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage. The militants were supporters of an Islamic religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

In April 1980, President Carter approved a military operation to free the hostages. It failed when several military aircraft crashed in the Iranian desert. Eight American service members died. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance -- who had opposed the rescue operation -- resigned in protest.

The crisis led in part to Mr. Carter’s defeat in the 1980 presidential election. He lost to former movie actor and California Governor Ronald Reagan. The day Mr. Reagan became president, the hostages were released.

“With the now-liberated Americans who were held hostage…”

In 1981, Mr. Carter returned to Plains. He was deeply in debt and unsure about what he should do next. During his time in office, his businesses had been poorly-managed. He wrote a book about his presidency and sold some of those businesses to pay his debts. And he made plans for a small library and presidential museum to house papers related to his White House years.

“I envisioned it to be a tiny thing, where I would have an office and some nice buildings in Atlanta, and that anyone in the world that had an ongoing conflict or potential conflict could come to me and I would help them mediate the dispute and stop a war.”

But The Carter Center became much more. It has sent representatives to help monitor, or watch, more than 90 troubled elections. It also has helped end many international disagreements, including a nuclear dispute with North Korea in 1994. It also helped negotiate a peace agreement between Uganda and Sudan. The Center also works to improve health and fight diseases in the poorest parts of the world.

Mr. Carter has spoken many times with the Voice of America. In one of those interviews, he said he is most pleased with the center’s work in reducing the threat of Guinea Worm disease.

“There’s only been one disease in the history of humankind ever eradicated, and that was smallpox, more than 30 years ago. So Guinea Worm is going to soon be the second disease in history to be wiped off the face of the earth.”

Partly because of the work of The Carter Center, there are fewer than 100 cases of Guinea Worm, almost all of them in Africa.

In 2002, because of his work at the Carter Center, Jimmy Carter was given the Nobel Peace Prize.

The former president has written 26 books and is writing at least two more, including one about life in his 90s. His books include his autobiography and three books on the Middle East conflict. Some of his books have angered people who support Israel. Much of the money from the book sales is given to the Carter Center.

Mr. Carter has lived longer after leaving the White House than any other former president. And Mr. Carter and his vice-president Walter Mondale have the longest post-presidential partnership in American history. He has been active after his presidency for a longer time than any former American president.

This program was produced by Christopher Cruise, who also wrote the program in Learning English from reports by VOA Correspondent Kane Farabaugh. Jim Tedder narrated it. George Grow edited it.

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Words in this Story

ambitious - adj. having a desire to be successful, powerful or famous

presidency - n. the job of the president or period of time when a person is president

negotiate - v. to discuss something formally in order to make an agreement

harmonious - adj. not experiencing disagreement or fighting

human right - n. a basic right (such as the right to be treated well or the right to vote) that many societies believe every person should have

eradicate - v. to remove (something) completely

Now it’s your turn to use these Words in this Story. In the comments section, write a sentence using one of these words and we will provide feedback on your use of vocabulary and grammar.

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