Jimmy Carter in Beirut said he would be willing to meet with Hezbollah officials if they were willing to meet with him.
Carter arrived Tuesday in Lebanon and will continue on to Syria. The former U.S. president is scheduled to meet in Beirut with political leaders to plan his Carter Center’s monitoring of the next Lebanese elections.
“I am going to meet with all of the political parties as possible,” Carter said. “I understand that several leaders of Hezbollah said they were not going to meet with any president or former president of the United States, so I don’t know yet.”
An official with Hezbollah, which is labeled a terrorist group by the United States, told The Associated Press that it had no immediate comment on Carter’s remarks but might issue a statement, most likely on Wednesday.
Carter, who has been critical of what he says is the pro-Israel tilt of U.S. foreign policy, also will speak Dec. 12 at the American University in Beirut on “30 years after Camp David: A memo to the Arab World, Israel and the Quartet.” Carter brokered the Camp David Egypt-Israel peace accords. The Quartet refers to the grouping of the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union that guides the current Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Carter will meet in Syria with President Bashar Assad “to discuss the prospects for peace in the Middle East,” according to a statement from the Atlanta-based Carter Center, the human rights group he established and still leads. Carter was widely criticized in April when he met in Syria with the exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. The United States also labels Hamas a terrorist organization.
Israel and Syria have been negotiating peace indirectly under Turkish auspices but without the encouragement of the Bush administration, which regards Syria as a terrorist-backing rogue nation.
A number of dovish pro-Israel peace activists and groups in the United States are pressing President-elect Barack Obama to give priority to Israel-Syria talks, saying the Israeli-Palestinian track is intractable for now.