- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - Former President Jimmy Carter on Wednesday backed a historic deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, telling The Associated Press that the U.S.-led agreement is “a major step in the right direction.”

“My thought was: Thanksgiving,” Carter said. “I think it’s a very wonderful agreement, and I have complete confidence in John Kerry to negotiate a binding agreement where a violation will be detected.”

Carter said he received a White House briefing on Tuesday to discuss details of the agreement. He said it provides “fallback” to detect any violations and enforce terms of the deal.

The 1979 Iranian hostage crisis dominated Carter’s campaign for a second term in the White House. He was defeated by Republican Ronald Reagan.

In a new book “A Full Life” released this month, Carter writes that the crisis made him vulnerable to attacks labeling him ineffective and called his final year in office “the most stressful and unpleasant” of his life.

Here’s a look at the other topics Carter discussed in his interview with the AP:

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CONFEDERATE SYMBOLS

Carter commended South Carolina officials’ recent vote to remove a Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds and said other states should do the same on government property. The flag was rarely used before it came to represent white supremacy during the civil rights movement, he said.

“The use of a symbol that is prominently interpreted by African Americans and many white people as a symbol of white supremacy, it’s time to do away with it,” he said.

But he said there should be a distinction between the battle flag and tributes to Confederate figures, such as the large carving at Stone Mountain Park or statues in his home county in Georgia.

Carter’s Southern roots were central to his first presidential campaign. His great-grandfather fought in the Confederate army at Gettysburg, and Carter described his father as “an enlightened segregationist” who believed throughout his life that races should be separate but treated black employees and customers of the family’s farm in south Georgia well.

He said Americans must recognize that race still is an issue, from the recent massacre at a black church in South Carolina to differences in access to education and health care.

“There’s no doubt in my mind, living in the South, that the aftermath of racial discrimination is still present,” Carter said, later adding: “We have a long way to go.”

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FAITH, GAY MARRIAGE AND ABORTION

Carter said his Christian faith is the basis for his continued opposition to abortion, unless a mother’s life is in danger or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. But he has come to believe gay marriage would not be condemned by Jesus Christ.

“He always was for the downtrodden, the outcast, the despised, people who had suffered in the past from discrimination,” Carter said. “The number one word we ascribe to Jesus would be love. When two people are honestly in love and they want to bind their love affair in a more legal fashion through marriage and it doesn’t hurt anyone else, then I don’t see why Jesus wouldn’t have been for it.”

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LEGACY AND FUTURE YEARS

Carter will turn 91 this year. He has continued to travel overseas and to work at the Carter Center in Atlanta, the human rights organization he founded after leaving the White House. He hopes that will be his legacy. But someday Carter said he and his wife, Rosalynn, will have quieter lives in their hometown of Plains.

“We’re prepared for that,” Carter said, smiling. “And like every other human being, we also have to be prepared for the end of our life when it comes. We’re not looking forward to it, but we are prepared to face it when it comes.”

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Follow Kathleen Foody on Twitter at http://twitter.com/katiefoody.

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