Former President Carter was ushered into early retirement by the American voters because they saw him as ineffective at home and weak abroad, but he showed again this weekend that he retains two surpassing virtues: a preternatural patience and an unshakable faith in his fellow man.
Patience and faith were rewarded with success Sunday as the delegation led by Carter won agreement from three Haitian junta leaders to step down.The talks had dragged on for many hours beyond their informal deadline of early afternoon Sunday, apparently at least in part because of the former president's unwillingness to take no for an answer.
His doggedness in pursuing a bloodless conclusion to the Haitian standoff came as no surprise to those who have endured previous negotiations with him. Several recalled the marathon Camp David talks that created the breakthrough peace accord between Israel and Egypt in 1978 asan example of Carter's endurance in the face of apparently insurmountable odds.
His fellow U.S. negotiators in Haiti - retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Georgia Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn, chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee - brought other skills to the lengthy talks in Port-au-Prince.
Powell is a man of imposing accomplishment, rising from the son of Jamaican immigrants of African descent in the South Bronx to the nation's highest military office. Haitian military chief Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and his cohorts could not fail to hear Powell's message - that the U.S. military is prepared to quickly and forcefully depose them.
And Nunn, while cautious in the extreme in public, is known as a difficult foe in private negotiations. He enters talks with his bottom line firmly fixed before him and seldom leaves without achieving it. President Clinton saw that side of Nunn, to his embarrassment, in his losing battle with him over gays in the military.
But it was Carter's imperturbability in the face of Cedras' demands that kept the talks alive Sunday.
"We are seeing again President Carter's single-mindedness and persistence, as he demonstrated at Camp David," said William B. Quandt, who handled Middle East issues on the National Security Council during the Carter administration. "What came through there and elsewhere is that he is someone who believes there are solutions to problems, and men and women of good will can find solutions if they work hard at it.
"That's an article of faith with him. He also has an aversion to the use of force; he would always rather find other ways to solve problems. That hasn't changed."
Camp David dragged on for 13 days before Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat announced their historic accord ending three decades of war. There were numerous occasions during the tense discussions when the game looked lost and the participants were ready to pack up and go home.
But Carter essentially kept them under house arrest at the Maryland presidential retreat, insisting that they keep talking.
Months later, when the deal was on the verge of unraveling, Carter undertook a series of visits to Jerusalem and Cairo to put the agreement back on track, refusing to return to Washington until he had nailed down the final details.
Again this June, Carter refused to accept defeat in talks with North Korean strongman Kim Il Sung over Pyongyang's nuclear weapon program. Although many in the Clinton administration contend Carter exceeded his negotiating instructions from Washington and was duped by the late North Korean leader, his tenacity and desire to find a solution eventually found a face-saving formula that at least temporarily defused the crisis.
As for Powell, a longtime aide and confidant of the general's said Sunday that the nation's former top soldier carried with him not only decades of military service but also years of diplomatic experience, gained during his tenure as military aide to former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, as national security adviser in the Reagan administration and as chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
"He met with countless heads of state, presidents and prime ministers as well as defense and foreign ministers. He has incredible experience at this level," the Powell associate said.
"More importantly, he brings credibility, a most important commodity when you're dealing with stakes this high. He knows the strength and will and commitment of the (U.S.) force and he can speak to it with authority," the source said.
Nunn, President Clinton's third emissary to the Haitian leaders, avoids histrionics in negotiations, whether with congressional adversaries or presidents of either party, said a senior Senate official who has watched him operate for many years.
Nunn's emphasis is always on the outcome, not on the process, and he makes a fetish of knowing his brief in intimate detail, the Senate official said.