WASHINGTON -- They called each other 'Jimmy' and 'Jerry' and suggested a move that the man who has their former job opposes - U.S. recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, in language that seemed stronger than when they were president, said they believe there can be no real diplomatic advances in the Middle East until the role of the PLO is accepted.
They made the comments in an unprecedented joint interview Sunday aboard the presidential jet on their way back from the funeral of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
They spoke with mutual respect. There was no sign of the bitterness from past political wars. They shook hands and smiled broadly.
The interview, conducted by three pool reporters, focused on the Middle East.
In a commitment made during Ford's administration and reaffirmed during Carter's, the United States pledged not to negotiate with the PLO until the organization formally recognizes Israel's right to exist.
Asked if the United States should talk to the PLO as Sadat had urged and Reagan rejected, Ford said:
'At some point that has to happen. I would not want to pick the date today, but in a realistic way that dialogue has to take place ... as you go down the road at some point the dialogue has to take place and I think that will happen.'
Ford said some negotiations on conditions for recognition of the PLO would be required.
Carter, in answer to the same question, said, 'We can't speak for Israel but I think a simultaneous acknowledgement of the PLO and that Israel has a right to exist, and our dealing with the PLO would be certainly something that I favor.'
Carter also said, 'Many of the PLO leaders are very moderate in abhorring terrorism and violence. I don't see any possibility of the Palestinian world, and the Arab world, of acknowledging any other leadership for the Palestinians other than the PLO.'
Carter attributed the current stalemate in the Middle East negotiations, in part, on the Israelis and their policy of installing new settlements in the occupied West Bank.
While also blaming the reluctance of the PLO and the Syrians to take part in the peace negotiations, Carter said the lack of progress is 'primarily because of the settlement policy on the part of Israel and the difficulty with East Jerusalem.'
Israel has announced its intention to permanently annex East Jerusalem, which has been occupied militarily by Israel.
Carter also said the prime mistake made at the 1978 Camp David conference was in failing to involve 'more deeply the Saudis and at least the Jordanians.'
U.S. diplomats aboard the plane were visibly perturbed by the two former presidents' remarks about the PLO when they heard them on tape, but there appeared to be broad agreement between the two men on the issue.
In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Menachem Begin's spokesman Uri Porath declined to comment on the interview. 'The comment is 'no comment,' period,' Porath said.
In Beirut, the PLO also declined official comment before a complete review of the former presidents' remarks.
Carter and Ford were blunt in their hostility to Moammar Khadafy of Libya.
Carter described Khadafy as 'the only leader in the world that I know (who) condones terrorism ... in some ways (Khadafy) is subhuman.'
Ford described Khadafy as a 'bully ... who could very well precipitate the United States in any one of a number of options.'
He refused to discuss what those options might be.
'This man, in my judgment, is a cancer on that part of the globe ... the world as a whole cannot tolerate that kind of continuous activity ... the world as a whole has to consider these kinds of people as not in the best interests of mankind generally,' Ford said.
Both former presidents were part of the official U.S. delegation to Sadat's funeral. Richard Nixon also was part of the delegation but he went to Saudi Arabia on 'a private visit' instead of returning to the United States.