Haiti: Carter lauded for diplomatic wizardry: Relief on all sides and plaudits for Carter as bloodshed is averted, but Aristide's supporters fear worst is yet to come

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IT MAY BE too late to be nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize. But if Jimmy Carter keeps up the pace, he could be pencilling in a trip to Oslo in 1995. For the second time in three months, he has used his diplomatic skills to help the Clinton administration avoid perilous military showdowns, in Korea, and in Haiti.

Historians will argue over Mr Carter's contribution to resolving the cliffhanger in Port-au-Prince. The prestige of his fellow emissary, General Colin Powell, must have counted among the soldiers across the bargaining table. The information that C-141s bearing US paratroops were one hour out of Haitian airspace, when the deal was finally struck, must also have concentrated their minds.

But few would deny the former president, aged 69, the lion's share of the credit. As Sam Nunn, the third member of the team, said yesterday at a White House press conference alongside President Bill Clinton, 'without his determination to bring about peace, this could not have happened'.

Those gracious words do not apply only to Haiti. The promotion of peace and human rights have been the hallmarks of Mr Carter's freelance diplomacy. The man who was swept from office by President Reagan to a sigh of national relief has become the most esteemed former president of recent times, with an approval rating that Mr Clinton would kill for.

The Carter touch has been apparent in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. His good offices helped engineer the surrender of power in Nicaragua by the Sandinistas. He monitored Haiti's 1990 election, which brought Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. He is trusted by both Fr Aristide and General Raoul Cedras.

His efforts do not always succeed. There is disorder in Liberia and Sudan, where Mr Carter tried to bring about a settlements. He is still charged with navety, and with relying on appeasement. His extraction earlier this year of a promise from North Korea to 'freeze' a nuclear capacity, that Mr Clinton had publicly vowed to destroy, annoyed the President's aides. But today Washington and Pyongyang are talking about exchanging diplomats, not missiles.

Many qualities which maddened Americans during his 1977-1981 presidency have become virtues. Pious 'do-goodery' is not an electoral winner. But it does wonders for a former president's popularity, when he works on public housing sites or on schemes to attack poverty and crime in the capital of his home state. Defeat endowed Mr Carter with humour.

His presidency is being viewed more kindly. Revisionists rarely dwell on its humiliations: the 'stunned rabbit' episode, his declaration that energy conservation was the 'Moral Equivalent Of War' - immortalised by its acronym of M-E-O-W, or the humiliating failure of the mission to rescue the Tehran hostages.

As the movement towards peace in the Middle East gathers pace, the 1979 Camp David accord seems a great achievement. So do the Panama Canal Treaties. Perhaps his insistence on human rights opened cracks in Soviet Communism. The present Democratic President is picking up where Mr Carter left off. Carter officials like Warren Christopher and Anthony Lake became the nucleus of the Clinton foreign policy team, and found themselves under fire for vacillation, the charge levelled at their former boss.

There are parallels between the only two Democrats in White House in the last 25 years. Both are from the Deep South, had troublesome younger brothers and were obsessed with the fine print of policy-making. Both were branded as novices at foreign policy. But in Mr Carter's case no longer. He does not rest on his laurels. This week he will meet the UN ambassadors of North and South Korea. The goal is a peace treaty. If that comes about, the Nobel Prize appears certain.