ATLANTA -- President Reagan and Jimmy Carter briefly put aside their profound political differences today, and smilingly took turns praising each other at the dedication of the former president's Carter Presidential Center.
The president and his wife Nancy flew to Atlanta for the outdoor dedication ceremonies, attended by 2,000 dignitaries, and were given a tour by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter of the $25 million, 30 acre-complex overlooking Atlanta.
Reagan planned to return to Washington in midafternoon to welcome home American journalist Nicholas Daniloff who was freed by the Soviets after intensive diplomatic negotiations that also resulted in the return to Moscow of accused spy Gennadi Zakharov.
The exchange was accompanied by a surprise announcement that Reagan would meet Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at Reykjavik, Iceland, the weekend of Oct. 11-12 to pave the way for a major summit later this year in Washington.
In his litany of praise for Carter, the president cited the former president's dedication to human rights, civil rights, his family and his devout Christian faith.
'None of us today need feel any urge, in the name of good will, to downplay our differences,' Reagan said. 'On the contrary, in a certain sense, we can be proud of our differences, proud that because they arise from good will itself -- from love of country, from concern for the challenges of our times, from respect for, and, yes, even outright enjoyment of, the democratic processes of disagreement and debate.'
The dedication took place on Carter's 62nd birthday, and Reagan used the occasion to win a laugh from Carter. 'There's one thing left to say, from the 40th president to the 39th president: Happy birthday and, Mr. President, if I could give you one word of advice; life begins at 70,' the 75-year-old president said.
Carter rose to his feet and told Reagan, 'That was beautiful. ... I don't think I ever heard (a speech) that was more gracious or more generous or more thoughtful.' He added, with a grin, 'I understand more clearly than I ever have in my life why you won in November 1980 and I lost.'
Reagan and Carter have indulged in verbal warfare since the presidential campaign of 1980 and have had little contact since Reagan's victory.
Earlier today, Carter noted in an interview on the NBC 'Today' program that 'we've had 5 years of no progress, even retrogression for nuclear arms control.' In another interview on Cable News Network, Carter said he and Reagan 'have practically a non-existent relationship.' ---
In his address, Reagan said from the time of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, 'frank debate has been part of the tradition of this republic.'
'Today, our very differences attest to the greatness of our nation,' Reagan said. 'For I can think of no other country on Earth where two political leaders could disagree so widely, yet come together, in mutual respect. To paraphrase Mr. Jefferson: We are all Democrats. We are all Republicans, because we are all Americans.'
Reagan said that the center, which will house some 27 million documents, stresses Carter's special concern for human rights and said that 'scholars will be poring over (them) for decades to come.'
'Perhaps, the central gift that this center will give to the nation is a story -- the story of one man's life -- a story that is distinctly and gloriously American.'
The president said Carter had risen from 'Jimmy Who' to the 39th president of the United States through 'the values of perseverence, loyalty and family.' He called the dedication a celebration of the 'new South that Jimmy Carter helped to build.'