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Will Jimmy Carter's latest North Korea visit change anything?

Former US President Jimmy Carter ended a quick visit to North Korea this week with a message that Kim Jong-il would be willing to hold a summit with South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak.

By Donald KirkCorrespondent / April 28, 2011

Former US President Jimmy Carter listens to reporters' question following his North Korean trip during a joint press conference in Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday, April 28. Carter says North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is willing to hold direct talks with South Korea's president.

Lee Jin-man/AP

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Former US President Jimmy Carter’s 48-hour mission to Pyongyang this week leaves analysts wondering whether anyone, however well intentioned, can persuade North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il to relent on his hard-line policies and return to serious talk on giving up the North’s nuclear program.

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Mr. Carter, arriving in Seoul on Thursday along with the former leaders of three other countries, repeated the North Korean mantra of eagerness to negotiate “without preconditions” but acknowledged that he had again not succeeded in meeting Mr. Kim.

Instead, he and the other three, including Martti Ahtsarri of Finland, Mary Robinson of Ireland, and Gro Brundtland of Norway, had to settle for a written message, said Mr. Carter, of willingness to negotiate “at any time and without any preconditions.”

That statement, similar to many released by North Korean officials in recent months, “is a perfect example of the law of diminishing returns,” says L. Gordon Flake, executive director of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation in Washington. It’s “bromides that we’ve all heard before.”

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The great flaw in the message, say North Korean analysts, is that North Korea couples the message with what amount to conditions, including a demand that the United States must provide “security guarantees” and negotiate a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953. The US position is that North Korea must first negotiate with South Korea.

'Deep regret'

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