Carter’s Elders go to North Korea

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Carter’s Elders go to North Korea

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Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former Prime Minister of Norway Dr. Gro Brundtland and former President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari (from left to right) attend a press conference in Beijing yesterday before leaving for Pyongyang. [AFP/YONHAP]


Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and three others from a group called The Elders will start a three-day trip to North Korea today to encourage Pyongyang to engage in a meaningful dialogue with Seoul and to address the country’s food shortage.

The trip comes in the middle of a whirlwind of diplomatic movement around the Korean Peninsula, as South Korea, the United States and China make efforts to break the deadlock between the North and South.

“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 yesterday during a press conference in Beijing.

Carter’s group had said earlier yesterday that “it is in the interests of millions of people that dialogue [between North and South Korea] is re-established soon to address escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”

“Clearly there is a great level of mistrust and suspicion between North and South Korea,” said former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who is on the team headed to Pyongyang. “But the stakes are too high to allow this standoff to continue.”

Talks between South and North Korea have been officially at a standstill since February when North Korea stormed out of working-level military talks.

South Korea and the United States have since called for North Korea to show a “sincere” attitude if it wants to resume inter-Korean dialogue, which would be the key to talks with other countries and eventually the six-party talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

South Korean Minister of Unification Hyun In-taek said yesterday that inter-Korean talks would be “hollow” if the two Koreas do not discuss the two attacks by North Korea last year.

The Elders also expressed their desire to focus their trip on the North’s need for food, referring to a recent report from the UN World Food Programme estimating that 6 million North Koreans are in need of food.

“We are very concerned about the acute shortages of food reported by the government of North Korea and humanitarian agencies,” said former Norwegian Prime Minister Dr. Gro Brundtland, another Elder and a former director general of the UN World Health Organization. “We also want to discuss longer term food security and health issues that are so important to economic development.”

Carter told journalists, “It is a horrible situation there and we hope to induce other countries to help alleviate [the food crisis], including South Korea, which has cut off all supplies of food materials to North Koreans.”

“When there are sanctions against an entire people, the people suffer the most and the leaders suffer the least,” Carter added.

Former Irish President Mary Robinson is the fourth Elder going to Pyongyang.

Carter said he wishes to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and possibly his son and heir apparent Kim Jong-un. The former U.S. president’s last trip in August 2010 to Pyongyang ended without a meeting with Kim Jong-il, who was visiting China at the time.

The group will travel to Seoul this Thursday to brief South Korean officials on their trip to Pyongyang.


By Christine Kim [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]
카터 “김정일·정은 만나고 싶다”
‘엘더스’ 회원과 오늘 방북

정부 당국자는 25일 지미 카터(Jimmy Carter) 전 미 대통령을 비롯한 전직 국가수반 4명( ‘엘더스’그룹)의 방북에 대해 “방북 내용에 관계없이 현재의 우리 기조를 지켜나갈 것”이라고 밝혔다. 당국자는 “정부는 카터 전 대통령이 방북 뒤 서울에 갖고 오는 (남북대화, 6자회담에 대한) 메시지와 관계없이 ‘북한이 비핵화의 진정성을 보이는 조치를 먼저 해야 한다’는 입장을 유지할 방침”이라며 이같이 강조했다. 당국자는 “미 국무부도 카터 전 대통령 일행의 방북 일정조차 모른다고 할 만큼 신중한 입장”이라고 말했다. 정부의 이런 입장은 북한이 실질적 비핵화 조치는 하지 않으면서 남남 갈등을 유도하는 쪽으로 카터 방북을 활용할 수 있다는 판단에 따른 것이다. 26일 방북하는 카터 일행은 2박3일 일정을 소화한 뒤 28일 항공편으로 서울에 도착해 김성환 외교부 장관, 현인택 통일부 장관을 비롯한 정부 고위 당국자들과 면담할 계획이다. 그러나 이들이 이명박 대통령을 면담할지 여부는 정해지지 않았다고 당국자는 전했다.

 앞서 힐러리 클린턴(Hillary Clinton) 미 국무장관은 지난 17일 이명박 대통령을 예방한 자리에서 “북한은 우리(한·미)를 갈라놓을 수 없다(North Korea cannot divide us)”라며 “한·미는 절대적으로 행동이 일치한다(absolutely in sync)”고 밝혔다고 정부 소식통이 전했다.

 ◆카터 베이징서 회견=카터 전 대통령은 25일 중국 베이징 래플스호텔에서 외신 기자회견을 열어 “아직 김정일 위원장과 후계자 김정은을 만나게 된다는 기별을 받지 못했지만 만나고 싶다”고 밝혔다. 북핵 6자회담 재개 논의에 대해선 “대화 내용에 대해 예단하지 않고 있다”며 어떤 논의도 할 수 있음을 내비쳤다. 그러면서 “(한국의 대북) 지원이 끊기면서 북한 어린이의 3분의 1이 영양실조일 정도로 식량 문제가 끔찍한 상황”이라고 밝혔다.

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