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Carter eases back on criticism of Bush

Remarks were 'misinterpreted'

Jimmy Carter spoke during a break from construction of a house for Habitat for Humanity in Violet, La., yesterday. He said he has "been very careful . . . not to criticize any president." (ALEX BRANDON/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

CRAWFORD, Texas -- President Bush brushed off criticism of his foreign policy yesterday from President Jimmy Carter even as Carter tried to roll back on some of his comments, calling them "careless or misinterpreted."

At a joint news conference with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at his Texas ranch, Bush said criticism like Carter's was "just part of what happens when you're president," but made clear he disagreed with the Democrat.

"I understand some people . . . may not agree with the decisions I made. But what the American people need to know (is that) I'm making them based upon what's best for this country," Bush said.

Carter, upset by Bush's Iraq war policies, said Saturday in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that "as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history." The former president, a Georgia Democrat, had previously called Bush's record on international relations "the worst in history" in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published May 19.

"My remarks were maybe careless or misinterpreted, but I wasn't comparing the overall administration and I was certainly not talking personally about any president," the 39th president said in an interview on NBC's "Today Show" yesterday morning.

Bush defended his actions.

"We're at war with an enemy that is relentless and determined, and it's essential that the decisions I make protect the American people as best we can," he told reporters at his Crawford ranch.

Carter, 82, told the Arkansas newspaper that Bush's policies represent an "overt reversal of America's basic values" as established by previous administrations, including those of his father, George H. W. Bush, and other Republican presidents.

Yesterday, the former president said his characterization of Bush's policies came in response to a question about President Richard Nixon. "This administration's foreign policy, compared to President Nixon's, was much worse," Carter said on NBC. "I wasn't comparing this administration with other administrations back through history but just with President Nixon's."

Carter, a 2002 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, also said he has "been very careful, and still am, not to criticize any president personally."

White House spokesman Tony Fratto initially declined to comment on Carter's interview, then told reporters the former president is "proving to be increasingly irrelevant" and called his criticism "reckless" and "personal." Fratto said Carter's explanation "highlights the importance of being careful in choosing your words."

In the interview, Carter said he is against Bush's doctrine of so-called preemptive war to deal with potential threats -- part of the rationale for the Iraq war -- the Democrat-Gazette reported, calling it a "radical departure" from past policy.