Seoul Downplays Carter's N.Korea Visit

      April 27, 2011 10:15

      Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan on Tuesday downplayed the significance of the recent visit to North Korea by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, saying the North should seek direct talks with South Korea instead.

      "Personally, I don't see why North Korea would send a message through a third party or civilians when various channels for dialogue are open" between North and South Korea, Kim told reporters. "There are many other channels of communication with us, and isn't North Korea stressing the need for dialogue among Koreans?"

      Referring to Carter as a "third party" shows Seoul does not intend to put much weight on any message the North sends through the former U.S. president.

      The foreign minister stressed Carter's visit is "purely private" and has nothing to do with the U.S. government. He expressed skepticism about the outcome, saying both South Korea and the U.S. believe the North Korean regime is trying to use Carter's visit for its benefit, no matter what his humanitarian intentions may be.

      Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter shakes hands with a North Korean official on arrival at Sunan International Airport near Pyongyang on Tuesday. /AP-Newsis

      Seoul fears a repeat of events in August last year, when Carter wrote an op-ed in the New York Times after his visit to North Korea reflecting the North's position. Carter at the time failed to mention that North Korea sank the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan and merely spoke of the North's desire to resume the stalled six-party nuclear talks. The column drew flak from U.S. politicians including Sen. Joseph Lieberman and North Korea experts.

      Yun Duk-min, a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, said, "It's regrettable that Carter at a press conference in Beijing made it sound as if our government is responsible for North Korea's food shortage." He called on Carter to "make it clear that North Korea's constant provocations, including nuclear tests and the sinking of the Cheonan, were responsible for the halt of food aid from other countries." As a Nobel laureate, Carter has a responsibility to prod North Korea to improve its human rights track record, he added.

      Kim Sung-han, a professor at Korea University, said, "The reason why North Korea allowed Carter's visit at this point is because it wants to talk with the U.S. and bypass its responsibility for the provocations. If Carter does not want to end up being used by North Korea, he should urge the North to show it is sincere about stopping provocations and scrapping its nuclear weapons program."

      "The Elders," a group of former leaders led by Carter, left Beijing on Tuesday and were greeted in Pyongyang by North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun. They include former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, former Norwegian Prime Minister Harlem Brundtland and former Irish President Mary Robinson.

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