PLAINS, Ga. -- Former President Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his commitment to diplomacy over war -- an honor that was delivered with a rebuke of the Bush administration for its hard line on Iraq.
Carter, 78, was cited for his peacemaking during and after his White House years, including brokering the Camp David accords in the Mideast, mediating other conflicts around the globe, serving as an election observer and promoting human rights.
In an unusual political aside, the Norwegian Nobel committee contrasted his 1978 success in using diplomacy to find peace between Egypt and Israel with President Bush's vow to oust Saddam Hussein by force if necessary.
"In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power, Carter has stood by the principles that conflicts must as far as possible be resolved through mediation and international co-operation based on international law, respect for human rights, and economic development," the citation said. It did not mention Iraq directly.
Carter, in his tiny hometown of Plains, said the award honors the staff of the Carter Center, the Atlanta policy center he and his wife founded 20 years ago. The center helps people in the world's poorest countries, emphasizing democracy, human rights and health care.
Most of the $1 million prize will go to the center, Carter said.
"Maybe this award will let people know what the Carter Center is, not just in my lifetime, but for the next 100 years," he said.
Carter rose from a small-town peanut farmer to the presidency in 1976 after a campaign that stressed honesty in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
Four years later, he was turned out of office in a landslide to Ronald Reagan in 1980, undermined by double-digit inflation, an energy crunch that forced Americans to wait in line for gasoline, and the 444-day hostage crisis in Iran. In a famous speech in 1979, he lamented that the country was in a state of "paralysis and stagnation and drift."
After the presidency, though, he doggedly pursued a role on the world stage as a peacemaker and champion of democracy and human rights, and burnished his reputation as a statesman. It is often said that he is a much better ex-president than he was a president.
"When he ran he was known as the first born-again Christian. This prize signifies that he has been born again politically," said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. "He left office at a very low point -- he was very unpopular and very unsuccessful. But through his hard work and dedication he has done more good out of the office than he has when he was in it. He had a star-crossed presidency."
Many consider Carter's crowning achievement as president to be the peace treaty he negotiated between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Premier Menachem Begin. Carter kept them at Camp David for 13 days in 1978 to reach the accord; Sadat and Begin shared the Nobel Peace Prize that year.
The Nobel committee said Carter did not share in that prize because he was not nominated in time.
In 1994 he helped intervene in conflicts in Haiti, North and South Korea and Bosnia. He has also monitored dozens of elections and met with human rights advocates around the world.
Message to Bush
The committee has often used the prize to send a political message, but rarely makes direct comments. While the citation honoring the former president did not mention Iraq, the committee chairman was more blunt about the award's intentions.
"It should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken," Gunnar Berge said.
Other committee members distanced themselves from Berge's comments.
"We didn't discuss what sort of interpretation of the grounds there should be," Hanna Kvanmo told Norwegian news agency NTB.
Carter said he did not think the committee's action was meant to send a message to Bush. He said the administration had come a long way from its earlier, tougher stance against Iraq.
"The international expressions of concern and those in our own country as well have already had a positive effect on our Washington leaders," Carter said. "My hope and expectation is that the influence of the world community will continue to play a beneficial role."
Last month, Carter criticized Bush's stance on Iraq, saying military action without the blessing of the United Nations would be a grave mistake that would put America in danger. "It is a radical departure from traditions that have shaped our nation's policy by Democratic and Republican presidents for more than 50 years," he said.
On Friday, he said he would have voted against the congressional resolution allowing the president to use force against Iraq.
"I don't think there's any doubt that Saddam Hussein does create a threat -- I don't think directly to the United States at this time, but potentially in the future. I think we should take every action to make sure he never does get nuclear weaponry," he said.
Bush called his predecessor to congratulate him.
"It was a friendly conversation," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said. He declined to respond to Berge's statement.
Carter is the third American president to be awarded the prize. Woodrow Wilson received it in 1919 for his role in establishing the League of Nations, a forerunner to the United Nations. Theodore Roosevelt received the prize in 1906 for brokering a peace treaty between Russia and Japan.
The last American to receive the peace prize was Jody Williams and her International Campaign to Ban Landmines in 1997. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger shared the 1973 award with Le Duc Tho of then-North Vietnam, who declined it.