Jimmy Carter says he's 'probably' crafted best career of ex-presidents

Former President Jimmy Carter said Monday he has "probably" crafted a better post-Oval Office role for himself than other ex-presidents have. 

Carter, who's post-presidential activism has drawn both praise and controversy, said his work with the eponymous Carter Center and his involvement in other areas has set him apart from his counterparts.

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"I feel that my role as a former president is probably superior to that of other presidents," he told NBC News in an interview to air Monday night.

"Primarily because of the activism and the — and the injection of working at the Carter Center and in international affairs, and to some degree, domestic affairs, on energy conservation, on — on environment, and things of that kind," he continued. "We're right in the midst of the — of the constant daily debate."

Carter's high-profile activism has often earned him criticism from the right, especially for his skeptical view of Israel and his engagement with North Korean leaders. 

Carter defended his work, saying his organization works in areas of the world that are ignored by the U.S. government.

"The Carter Center has decided, under my leadership, to fill the vacuums in the world. When — when the United States won't deal with troubled areas, we go there, and we meet their leaders who can bring an end to a conflict, or an end to human rights abuse, and so forth," he said. "So I —- I feel that have an advantage over many other former presidents in being involved in daily affairs that have shaped the policies of our nation and the world."

Almost all recent ex-presidents have opened presidential libraries and have opened charitable organizations, such as the Clinton Global Initiative.

But the 39th president also acknowledged why some view his work specifically with an unkind eye. Asked if he thinks he is treated differently from his living colleagues, he replied "Yeah, sometimes. And I can understand that," mentioning his visit to North Korea last year to discuss nuclear arms reduction.

"We go there. I go to Pyongyang. I meet with their leaders. I talk to them. I bring back their messages to the State Department and to the White House," he said. "And — and I think we fill, you know, a legitimate need. But I can see how it makes sometimes the incumbent president uncomfortable to have me doing things of this kind, when political niceties don't let — him or his administration do them."