Thanks for nothing, JimmyFormer U.S. President Jimmy Carter came to Korea yesterday after a three-day trip to Pyongyang with three European members of The Elders, a group of former government leaders. His latest visit to North Korea reminds us of his efforts to achieve a South-North summit and an agreement to resolve the first nuclear crisis in 1994.
The atmosphere now, however, is quite different from in those days. In a press conference held in Beijing before his trip to Pyongyang, Carter stressed that he would seek ways to address such tricky issues as the North’s nuclear weapons program and its food shortages.
The South Korean and U.S. governments expressed different measures of surprise and caution over his trip, with some officials explicitly criticizing it. Other were disappointed at the image of Carter standing up for North Korea while keeping mum on its repeated military attacks on us, its nuclear threats and its abysmal attitude toward human rights. Yet we maintained a glimmer of hope that something would come of his visit. But it ended up only affirming the North’s insistence on keeping its nuclear weapons.
Although he met with Kim Il Sung to negotiate a deal in Pyongyang in 1994, Carter has failed to meet with Kim Jong-il. What the Chairman of the National Defense Commission has in mind seems pretty clear: Kim has no intention whatsoever to make concessions on nuclear weapons.
During the trip to Pyongyang, Carter posted a message on his blog hinting at the stubborn attitude of the North on the issue. “The sticking point - and it’s a big one - is that they won’t give up their nuclear program without some kind of security guarantee from the U.S.,” he wrote Wednesday night. Carter added his personal feelings by saying that the United States, as guarantor of peace on the peninsula, causes North Korea’s people major worries, which exhausts the political energy and resources of North Korea. Carter’s remarks are heavily tilted toward the North.
Carter has been engaged in a passionate pursuit of peace in several trouble spots around the globe, including Korea. But the result of his efforts don’t match his unrivaled zeal. If a former U.S. president continues to travel to disputed areas without some noticeable results, it doesn’t exactly befit the prestige and dignity of a person of his position. Carter’s ardor to settle conflicts is understood, appreciated and admired. When it comes to the Gordian Knot of the Korean Peninsula, however, he doesn’t seem to have what it takes to help.