Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter arrived in Seoul on Thursday accompanied by the former leaders of Ireland, Finland and Norway after a trip to Pyongyang. The group, who call themselves the "Elders," signally failed to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
It was Carter's third trip to the North and the second during which Kim could not be bothered to meet him. Nonetheless, after telling reporters prior to the trip that South Korea is responsible for the North’s food shortage and saying he wanted to meet the reclusive leader, he came back with the message that Kim is "always ready" to hold a summit with President Lee Myung-bak, as if that was a great revelation.
During his stay in Pyongyang, Carter blogged from Pyongyang, "We are hearing consistently throughout our busy schedule here in Pyongyang that the North wants to improve relations with America and is prepared to talk without preconditions to both the U.S. and South Korea on any subject." He wrote that it is a tragedy that the two Koreas have not signed a peace treaty even though more than 60 years has passed since the Korean War. The objective of his visit to Pyongyang was to discuss with Kim Jong-il the scrapping of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. This did not happen, but for some reason he is still parroting the North Korean line that it will not give up its nuclear program without a peace treaty. Did these eminent former leaders really have to travel all the way to Pyongyang to hear a message they could have found on Google?
The Barack Obama administration has distanced itself from Carter's visit saying it is a "private matter." The South Korean foreign minister referred to Carter as a "third party" and said he would not place much weight on any message the former U.S. president brings back. When ex-U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang, Kim at least met him and released an American hostage as a favor, but he has ignored Carter twice now, presumably because he decided the 86-year old is of no use any more.
Suzanne Scholte, of the conservative Defense Forum Foundation, said in a statement on Thursday on Thursday, "We are ashamed to see a former American president who claims to care about human rights, now attempting to prolong the Korean War by serving as a mouthpiece for the Kim Jong-il regime." It may be time for Carter to accept that his role in inter-Korean affairs has come to an end.