Carter to visit North Korea over US prisoner: Report

Former President Jimmy Carter will travel to North Korea very soon on a humanitarian mission to win the release of an American jailed for illegally entering the isolated country, a news report said.

Last Updated: Aug 24, 2010, 12:56 PM IST

Seoul: Former President Jimmy Carter will travel to North Korea very soon on a humanitarian mission to win the release of an American jailed for illegally entering the isolated country, a news report said.

Carter, 85, would go as a private citizen, with no accompanying U.S. officials, to secure the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, the U.S.-based Foreign Policy journal reported on its Web site.

The reported visit would take place amid heightened tensions on the peninsula after the torpedoing in March of a South Korean warship, which Seoul blames on the North and which prompted Washington to announce expanded sanctions against Pyongyang.

Last month, North Korean state media reported that Gomes, 30, had attempted to commit suicide, just a few months after being sentenced to eight years hard labor.

U.S. officials refused to comment on the Carter report, but a senior administration official said that any such visit would be conducted as a private humanitarian effort.

Former President Bill Clinton made a similar visit last year, winning the release of two U.S. journalists also jailed for illegally entering the North.

South Korean media have reported the North wants Washington to send an envoy to discuss improving ties, including the resumption of stalled six-party nuclear disarmament talks.

Both Washington and Seoul have said Pyongyang must first admit responsibility for the sinking of the warship before they would consider returning to the talks.

The U.S. State Department said last week that a four-person team had gone to Pyongyang earlier in August to secure the release of Gomes but was not successful.

Foreign Policy journal, quoting sources familiar with the Carter, said he might take his wife and daughter and was slated to leave within days.

Carter has dealt directly with North Korea in the past, and analysts said the visit might improve the chilly diplomatic atmosphere. But experts say Washington is unlikely to shift from its current tough stance.
In 1994 trip, Carter went to Pyongyang to meet with then North Korean leader Kim Il Sung and successfully persuaded him to join talks about its nuclear weapons ambitions.

At that time, the North had threatened to reprocess its spent nuclear fuel, prompting the Clinton administration to call for UN sanctions.
"Carter and North Korea have a trust between them that grew out of his 1994 visit," said Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

"His visit is pretty positive in trying to shift from the phase of pressuring the North to one of dialogue."

Bureau Report