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Jimmy Carter Administration: Exchange With Reporters on Visit of Anwar al-Sadat to Israel

(November 20, 1977)

REPORTER. Could you tell us how your prayer for peace in the Middle East went? What was your prayer, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. My prayer was one that recognized this whole world wants peace; that Christ, our Savior, is the Prince of Peace; that the Middle East has been particularly afflicted by war, which no one there wanted, constantly-almost day by day---conflict, and four major wars in the last 30 years; that yesterday Prime Minister Begin, who is a very deeply religious man, worshipped God in a Jewish temple; this morning President Sadat worshipped the same God in a Moslem mosque and later worshipped the same God in a Christian holy place where Christ was buried; and that all over the world today people are praying for peace.

I mentioned the fact that sometimes the leaders of nations have been the ones who have been an obstacle to peace that was yearned for by the people of their countries and that I knew that Prime Minister Begin is a deeply religious man--he and I have pledged privately to pray for one another--and that President Sadat is a deeply religious man also. He and I have pledged privately to pray for one another.

And I just hope that the prayers of people all over the world will be heard, that this momentous day might lead the entire world another major step toward the peace that we all desire.

Q. You see the hand of God moving in all of this, don't you?

THE PRESIDENT. I think the fact that the Arabs, the Moslems, the Jews, the Christians all worship the same God and freely acknowledge it is a binding force that gives an avenue of communication and common purpose.

I know that when Crown Prince Fahd was here, he talked about this to the Members of Congress and to me, and it's mentioned frequently by leaders like Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat when they talk to me privately, that we do have this common religious bond that at least provides a possible avenue for peace if we can remove the obstacles that men create.

So, yes, I do see it as a common bond.

Q. Do you think things are going well so far?

THE PRESIDENT. I think so. The fact that President Sadat would be courageous enough to go to Israel will transform, I think, the Middle Eastern peace prospects, regardless of the outcome of this particular visit. It's a breakdown in 30 years, perhaps even centuries, of hatred.

I was particularly touched yesterday when President Sadat walked down the red welcoming carpet and shook hands with Mr. Dayan, and he and Mrs. Meir exchanged a friendship, and he bent and kissed her on the cheek. I thought that was a great occasion. I think it will be a major step forward.

Q. What do you mean that leaders have been an obstacle to peace in the Middle East?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think it's obvious that the people of the world want peace and pray for peace. And I think that this action by President Sadat to break down all the barriers that have been created by leaders in the past and go directly to the heart of Israel in Jerusalem has been feared by many as a possible action that would arouse the animosity of his own people. And also there was doubt about how Israel would receive him. But the overwhelming gratitude and excitement that now exists in Israel and in Egypt shows that the people were ready for it, and it was just the reluctance of leaders to take this momentous step that was an obstacle.

I have talked to all of the leaders in the Middle East, both the presidents, the kings, the prime ministers, and the foreign ministers, and I know from personal experience that they genuinely want peace. Some of them, I think, have underestimated the willingness of their own people to accept strong moves toward a new understanding. And I think that Sadat and Begin will show today that the two nations that have constantly been at war with tremendous suffering, whose leaders have only been separated by a 30-minute plane ride, have responded well.

I think this is proof in itself that had we leaders of the world been more aggressive in taking bold steps that the people would have responded.

Q. How much difference does the opposition of the Syrians make?

Q. We understand that even now President Sadat is entering the Knesset in Jerusalem.

THE PRESIDENT. I want to get home to watch the speeches. I promised both men on the telephone this week that I would be watching and listening to every word.

I think the Syrians have perhaps been the most difficult and because they are in the most difficult position. They are a nation that's relatively small in size and not nearly so great as Israel or Egypt in military strength. But they are the tie between the more moderate Arab world and the Arab world that still is perhaps most radical, and in a strange way they have become the spokesmen for others who don't want to see such immediate steps made to recognize Israel.

President Asad, with whom I met in Geneva this past year--this year, this past spring, I think, genuinely wants peace, but he has become kind of a spokesman in a strange way for some of the more radical Arab leaders who don't yet want to move.

And I think that this might very well break down the barrier to peace that has existed for so long.

Also, I think it's obvious that President Asad doesn't want to see Syria left out of the future negotiations. They fear that Egypt and Israel will negotiate a bilateral peace agreement to the exclusion of other Arabs. And this is something that neither Sadat wants, nor I, nor Prime Minister Begin. And I think that once this meeting is over, if it is successful--and I pray that it will be--then this threat that the rest of the Arabs see in being abandoned by the strong nation of Egypt will be removed.

Q. And you think it will make Geneva more possible?

THE PRESIDENT. I think so.

REPORTER. Thank you, Mr. President.

Sources: Public Papers of the President