August 27, 2010 10:32
Did former U.S. President Jimmy Carter unwittingly play a part in an elaborate diversionary ploy by the reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to conceal his trip to China early Thursday morning? Carter arrived in the North Korean capital on Wednesday to win the release of an American held captive in the North, only to find his host on the way out.
It is unclear whether the two met before Kim left in his armored train. The North's official Korean Central News Agency at 9 p.m. Wednesday said Carter, who arrived at 4.30 p.m., attended a dinner hosted by North Korea's official No. 2 leader Kim Yong-nam and the North's chief envoy to the six-party nuclear talks Kim Kye-gwan. Meanwhile a train carrying Kim Jong-il crossed the border into China shortly after midnight, according to a senior South Korean source.
That makes it unlikely Kim had time to see Carter, who had sounded out the possibility of a meeting with the North Korean leader through his own channels. Pyongyang had insisted on a visit from a "senior official" if it is to release the captive American, implicitly dangling the prospect of talks in front of the U.S. But all that may have been either an elaborate smoke screen to mask Kim's plan to visit China, or a pointed snub after the U.S. tightened sanctions against the North over its sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan.
Even if Carter met Kim, the meeting would have been brief and offer no chance for in-depth discussion. Kim's treatment of Carter contrasts starkly with the red-carpet welcome his father Kim Il-sung gave the ex-U.S. president back in 1994, when he treated him to a three-hour boat ride on the Taedong River that runs through Pyongyang.
Carter's visit was seen as a turning point in stemming the first North Korean nuclear crisis because Kim Il-sung promised to halt operations at North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear plant and hold a summit with the South Korean president.
A diplomatic source in Washington said Kim Jong-il's inhospitable treatment of Carter "is a clear signal that Pyongyang intends to go its own way rather than improve relations with the U.S."
Carter, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, has been the most active former U.S. president in mediating in international issues, and a failure to meet Kim would be embarrassing for him. The U.S. administration has been careful to distance itself from the trip, saying Wednesday it is "a personal visit," but the snub could nonetheless be an attempt to send a message to President Barack Obama.
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