Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter arrived in North Korea on his second trip to the country in less than a year to help push forward stalled multinational talks on curbing the regime’s development of atomic weapons.
The arrival of Carter, 86, was reported by North Korea’s official Korea Central News Agency today. He was accompanied by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, 73, ex-Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, 72, and former Irish President Mary Robinson, 66. The mission is aimed at easing tensions on the Korean peninsula and addressing food shortages, the group, which calls itself “The Elders,” said on April 24.
“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 the April 24 statement, referring to North Korea by its official name.
North Korea has reported progress on its nuclear programs even after the United Nations toughened sanctions, disclosing in November a capability to enrich uranium that provides a second means of making weapons. Tensions rose on the Korean peninsula after two attacks last year that killed 50 South Koreans, including the November shelling of an island near the civil-war foes’ disputed western sea border that left four dead.
“Carter can help provide a turning point in the stalled dialogue with North Korea as he acts as a messenger,” said Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “The U.S. wouldn’t want to wait forever for inter-Korean relations to improve at the risk of jeopardizing nuclear disarmament talks.”
The trip also comes after North Korea said it is preparing to indict a detained U.S. citizen. Jun Young Su has admitted the alleged charges since he was arrested in November, KCNA reported on April 14.
Carter won the release of another imprisoned American during his last trip to North Korea in August. He traveled to Pyongyang in 1994 when he met with leader Kim Jong Il’s father, Kim Il Sung, and discussed terms to freeze the country’s nuclear program.
North Korea’s negotiations with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. on its nuclear weapons programs were last held in December 2008. Kim’s regime has since detonated a second atomic device in May 2009 and shown a previously unknown uranium-enrichment program to visiting U.S. scholars in November.
“Our doors to dialogue are wide open. Whether the North steps into that room of dialogue is completely up to them,” South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In Taek said yesterday in Seoul. Hyun said North Korea must assume responsibility for last year’s attacks before relations with South Korea can improve.
North Korea denies any role in the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March 2010 that claimed the lives of 46 sailors. It also says it shelled Yeonpyeong Island because South Korea’s live-firing exercises violated its territory.
Kim’s government also said its uranium-enrichment facility was aimed at developing civilian nuclear power in a country that suffers from chronic electricity shortages.
Carter will travel to North Korea “in a strictly private capacity,” without carrying any official message from the government, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said March 24. The U.S. described Carter’s last trip to Pyongyang as a private mission.