Jimmy Carter to Visit N. Korea to Push Nuclear Talks, Food Aid

Pyongyang, North Korea
A portrait of Kim Il Sung, founder of North Korea, hangs in Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010. Photographer: Dieter Depypere/Bloomberg

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and other former leaders will visit North Korea tomorrow to help push forward talks on curbing the development of nuclear weapons and addressing food shortages that plague the Stalinist state.

Carter, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland and former Irish President Mary Robinson are in Beijing today, the group said in a statement. In Beijing, Pyongyang and in Seoul they will meet with top officials, diplomats, scholars and “members of civil society,” said the group, which calls itself “The Elders.”

Tension on the Korean peninsula rose last year after 46 South Korean sailors died in the sinking of the Cheonan warship, blamed on a North Korean torpedo. In November, the North shelled a South Korean island, killing four people. Chinese-led six-country talks aimed at curbing the North’s nuclear program have not taken place in more than two years.

“At a time when official dialogue with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea appears to be at a standstill, we aim to see how we may be of assistance in reducing tensions and help the parties address key issues including denuclearization,” Carter said in a statement.

Brundtland, former director-general of the United Nations World Health Organization, said the group would also discuss “longer-term food security and health issues that are so important to economic development.”

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said last month that an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in North Korea endangered the lives of cattle, hogs and goats.

North Korea’s economy shrank 0.9 percent in 2009, when UN sanctions banning arms trading and restricting financial transactions were toughened following the country’s second nuclear test in May that year, according to the Bank of Korea in Seoul. North Korea doesn’t release its own data.

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