Jimmy Carter was greeted Wednesday by North Korea's nuclear
envoy, Kim Kye-gwan, which analysts say is a signal North Korea
wants the visit to be about much more than the release of US
prisoner Aijalon Mahli Gomes.
Former President Jimmy Carter and wife, Rosalynn, flew into the
North Korean capital of Pyongyang Wednesday amid hopes of a
breakthrough in US-Korean relations as symbolized by the person who
greeted them at the airport.
North Korea's nuclear envoy Kim Kye-gwan, a veteran of years of
off-and-on talks with US envoys on getting the North to abandon its
nuclear weapons program, welcomed the former first couple on their
arrival at the outset of an overnight visit that the US insists is
strictly "private" and "humanitarian."
Although the stated reason for the visit is to bring US citizen
Aijalon Mahli Gomes back home, that appears to be diplomatic cover
for talks that Mr. Carter is now expected to have with top North
Korean officials, possibly with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il.
Mr. Gomes, from Boston, was in South Korea as a teacher and preacher
until he was arrested in January after crossing the border from
China with a letter asking Kim Jong-il to resign. North Korean media
said he attempted suicide after a court sentenced him in April to
eight years in prison.
STORY: Can Jimmy Carter repeat Bill Clinton's success in North
Carter agreed to go, apparently with the approval of the White
House, after North Korean authorities made clear that Gomes would
not be freed unless a high-level American came to Pyongyang to bring
him back. Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency said in a brief
dispatch only that Carter "and his group," whose members were not
named, had arrived and that Kim Kye-gwan had greeted them.
The man who was sent to greet Carter sends signal
"Kim Kye-gwan's meeting Carter has a symbolic meaning," says Kim
Sung-han, a professor at Korea University here. "It symbolizes North
Korea's intention to shift attention to the denuclearization issue" -
and away from the sinking of a South Korean Navy ship, the Cheonan,
in March. North Korea has repeatedly denied having anything to do
with firing the torpedo that split the ship in two in the Yellow Sea
with a loss of 46 lives.
"Denuclearization is North Korea's priority," says Mr. Kim,
alluding to statements by the North expressing willingness to return
to six-party talks that it's avoided since December 2008. North
Korea last week received China's nuclear envoy, Wu Dawei, in
Pyongyang, and Mr. …