Jimmy Carter Lays a Wreath at Arafat's Tomb

Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18pm EDT
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Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter laid a wreath of red roses at the grave of Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat during a visit to the West Bank City of Ramallah on Tuesday.

"He and Mrs. Carter and his son Jeff wanted to pay their respects to President Arafat," Carter's trip director Rick Jasculca told Cybercast News Service. But the former president didn't make any comments there, he said.

Dubbed the "godfather of terrorism," Arafat was linked to the deaths of two American diplomats in the Sudan in 1973 -- one of many terror acts laid at his feet. (See earlier story)

Twenty years later, Arafat became the first PLO leader to sign a peace agreement with an Israeli Prime Minister -- Yitzhak Rabin -- in 1993. He was considered Israel's peace partner (although many Israelis never believed it) until the beginning of the violent Palestinian uprising in September 2000. Arafat managed the terror war against Israel until his death in 2004.

U.S. officials have emphasized that Carter is visiting the Middle East as a private citizen and not as a representative of the U.S. government.

On Tuesday, the Israeli government refused Carter's request to visit Hamas-controlled Gaza. The former U.S. leader has angered the Israeli government over plans to meet Hamas's top leader, Khaled Mashaal, in Syria on Friday.

Most visiting American dignitaries -- including President Bush -- have avoided Arafat's tomb. Michaela Schweitzer-Bluhm, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem that handles Palestinian affairs, told Cybercast News Service that no active U.S. Executive Branch member had ever laid a wreath on Arafat's grave.

Carter first met Arafat in 1990, when Arafat was leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization. According to a New York Times report, Carter praised Arafat as a peacemaker.

Years later, Carter led an international team in observing the first Palestinian Authority elections that gave Arafat the presidency. (Carter also observed the 2006 elections that brought Hamas an overwhelming parliamentary majority.)

Arafat was the most frequent visitor to President Bill Clinton's White House. President Bush also dealt with Arafat at the beginning of his presidency, but after the Palestinian leader lied to Bush in early 2002 about a huge shipment of Iranian weapons bound for the P.A., he was shunned until his death in November 2004.

On Tuesday, Carter also had lunch with a dozen or so Palestinian civil society leaders and had what was described as a "wonderful round table" discussion with Palestinian youths that he and his wife enjoyed immensely, said Jasculca.

As President Carter travels around the Middle East he is "eager to hear viewpoints" about peace and the peace process. "Instead of talking, he's doing a lot of listening," said Jasculca.

See Earlier Stories:
US Knew About Arafat's Key Role in Diplomats' Murders (June 6, 2006)
Arafat Leaves Legacy of Violence, Terrorism, Chaos (Nov. 11, 2004)

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