Oprah: Did you ever wonder what might have happened if the conversation had been initiated just one week sooner?
Richard: I don't live my life thinking about "if only." I just try to think positively about the future. We'll never know for certain what would have happened if we'd gone to Iraq. The important thing is that we've got to do everything we can to prevent other wars. Peter and I created the Elders because we want leaders to arbitrate in conflict situations like the one between the Algeria-supported Polisaro Front and Morocco over the Western Sahara, or the crisis in Darfur. We all know about the big world conflicts: Israel and Palestine, Zimbabwe, and so on. But there are smaller conflicts that aren't even on the world's radar screen; most of the world has no idea that Ethiopia invaded Somalia a year ago. It makes sense for the Elders to sit down with both sides and see whether leaders can come to an understanding. Ten days from now, we're going to the Sudan.
Oprah: Which of the Elders are going?
Richard: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and [former First Lady of South Africa] Graça Machel. [Former United Nations envoy] Lakhdar Brahimi will join them. The group will meet with both the government and the opposition in the capital city of Khartoum. They'll then travel to Darfur and visit local community leaders. They hope to strengthen the framework for assuring permanent peace in Sudan.
Oprah: Will you be there?
Richard: Yes—but I'm going so that I can observe and learn. As individuals, each of the Elders has the potential to stop wars; collectively, these 12 men and women are powerful. When someone like Nelson Mandela or Kofi Annan is on the phone, people will take that call.
Oprah: What is your ultimate hope and expectation for the Elders?
Richard: I'd love for the Elders to still be around in a thousand years' time. I want to see the group build credibility in the world. I'd also like them to address other major issues, like global warming, dwindling fish stocks, and the horror of unnecessary disease. For instance, AIDS should never have gotten out of control in Africa; it's unforgivable that the world community allowed it to get out of hand.
Oprah: If the Elders had existed 20 years ago, what difference do you think they might have made in the spread of AIDS in Africa?
Richard: They would have alerted the world to the issue, and if a particular president was denying that AIDS was related to HIV and that it was becoming a crisis, they would have had a quiet word with him or her. By moving quickly in situations like that, the Elders would be able to caution the world, and then get the resources to deal with a problem in its infancy.