Jesse Does It Again

To the chagrin of three presidents, he's become America's secret weapon. But to those who call him friend, there's no secret to his success, reports CBS News Correspondent Russ Mitchell.

"I think he has the Lord on his side," says the Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts III, of New York's Abyssinian Baptist Church. "Jesse has the ability to negotiate and meet with these heads of state and those who work for them in a way that means he comes in peace."

What even his critics concede is that Jesse Jackson has done it again.

In the 1980s, he won the release of more than two dozen jailed Americans from Cuba's Fidel Castro. And he convinced Syria's dictator to free downed Navy pilot Robert Goodman.

In the '90s, he drew fire for meeting with Saddam Hussein, but the result was the release of dozens of Western hostages.

In almost every case, including his trip to Yugoslavia, Jackson has not had the blessing of the U.S. government. His supporters say anyone who knows Jackson knows he doesn't expect it and doesn't need it.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington DC's House delegate, says Jackson, "has a great deal of gumption. He has taken himself from being a civil rights figure to being a world figure, and he's taken with him what he's learned in the civil rights movement: direct action, mediation. That's what it takes to get results."

While there are many who still think private citizen Jesse Jackson has no right to be in the negotiation business, his track record has a lot of people smiling today - including three American servicemen who will soon be on their way home.

©1998, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved