Former President Jimmy Carter said Monday his remarks were "careless or misinterpreted" when he said President George W. Bush's administration has been the "worst in history" for its impact around the world.
Speaking on the NBC television show "Today," Carter appeared to retreat from a statement he made to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for a Saturday story in which he said: "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history."
Carter said Monday that when he made the comment, he was responding to a question comparing the Bush administration's foreign policy to that of Richard Nixon.
"And I think Richard Nixon had a very good and productive foreign policy and my remarks were maybe careless or misinterpreted. But I wasn't comparing the overall administration, and I was certainly not talking personally about any president," Carter said.
"I think this administration's foreign policy compared to president Nixon's was much worse," he said, but he said he did not mean to call it the worst in history.
Deputy White House press secretary Tony Fratto, with Bush at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, said Monday, "I think it just highlights the importance of being careful in choosing your words. I'll just leave it at that."
In audio posted Saturday on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Web site, an interviewer asked Carter: "Which president was worse, George W. Bush or Richard Nixon?"
Carter gave the broader answer, calling the Bush administration "the worst in history."
Frank Fellone, deputy editor at the Democrat-Gazette, said Monday that the newspaper's story was "accurate and also contextual."
"If President Carter's remarks are careless or misinterpreted, they are not misinterpreted by us," he said.
The White House on Saturday had dismissed Carter after the remarks as "increasingly irrelevant."
In response, Carter, the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner, said: "Well, I don't claim to have any relevancy. I have a completely unofficial capacity. The only thing I lead is the Carter Center."
After the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story appeared, Carter spokeswoman Deanna Congileo had confirmed his comments to The Associated Press.
"The overt reversal of America's basic values as expressed by previous administrations, including those of George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and others, has been the most disturbing to me," the newspaper quoted Carter as saying.
In his comments Monday, Carter said he has not been timid about sharing his opinions directly with the president and other world leaders, but said he has been careful not to level personal criticism against Bush.