Jimmy Carter's North Korea visit: Can he repeat Bill Clinton's success?
Jimmy Carter's North Korea trip this week may echo a successful meeting he had in Pyongyang 16 years ago. But can he secure the release of an American hostage as fellow former President Bill Clinton did last year?
(Page 2 of 2)
Carter’s plan to go to North Korea was first revealed on the website of the journal Foreign Policy. The article cited experts as cautioning, however, that “Carter's trip should not be seen as a change in US policy toward Pyongyang and will likely not yield any breakthrough in what most see as a diplomatic stalemate between the two sides.”Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
A private trip
On that note, Carter’s mission would differ from that of Clinton in one significant way. Carter would travel with his wife, Rosalynn, and possibly his daughter, Amy, but probably not with a coterie of former US government experts on North Korean issues. His trip, said a State Department spokesman, would be entirely private.
Although Carter would stay overnight in Pyongyang, it’s uncertain if he would see North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il.
Tim Peters, a missionary here with a long background in dealing with defectors in North Korea, says he would be "surprised” if Carter got to meet Mr. Kim.
A South Korean investigation that included experts from half a dozen countries found that the sinking, which killed 46 South Korean sailors, was caused when a midget North Korean submarine fired a torpedo that split the Cheonan in two. The North denies any role in the attack.
A master stroke by Kim Jong-il?
Regardless of whether Carter meets Kim Jong-il, however, analysts see North Korea’s eagerness to receive such a high-level American visitor as a master stroke on the part of Kim Jong-il.
“It is kind of spoiling North Korea whenever that kind of thing happens,” says Ha Tae-keung, who runs North Korea Open Radio, which broadcasts by short wave into North Korea and reports on events in the North. “One of the reasons for North Korea to receive Carter is that it is propaganda for the North Korean people. They can interpret this as the Obama administration giving in to the North Korean regime.”
Paik Hak-soon, who directs North Korean studies at the Sejong Institute, a private think tank, sees a Carter visit as “particularly symbolic in view of his very important role in solving the first nuclear crisis in 1994.”
Mr. Paik believes that Carter, like Clinton, will brief President Obama on his return.
“He will carry a message,” says Paik. “That is something we need at this moment.”
From a strictly humanitarian point of view, Carter’s trip was welcomed here despite concerns that Kim Jong-il would use it for propaganda purposes. “We hope Mr. Gomes will be released on humanitarian grounds,” says a South Korean foreign ministry spokesman. His release is good news to us.”
Peters, whose Helping Hands Korea group aids North Korean children who are essentially outcasts in China, calls the Carter mission “the answer to our prayers.”
“Anyone who has been through detention in North Korea for eight months has been through hell,” says Peters. Gomes “had a deep and abiding sympathy for North Korea. I’m glad his ordeal is about over.”