Jimmy Carter in Pyongyang: the trouble with US policy towards North Korea

Jimmy Carter is always welcome in Pyongyang. Since his ‘visite eclaire’ in 1994 when he went to North Korea against the expressed wishes of the US government, he’s brought a voice of sanity to a more and more off the pier US policy towards the DPRK.

Once more, he is in Pyongyang as a ‘private citizen’ surrounded by what is prettily called ‘the Elders’ —   Martti Ahtisaari of Finland,Mary Robinson of Ireland, and Harlem Brundtland of Norway — to meet Kim Jong il, if possible, or senior North Korean officials. Their mission is to nudge resumption of the stalled six party talks in Beijing, look at ways to alleviate the dire lack of food, and possibly for Carter to bring home yet another US citizen under arrest. Just as important is the desire of these elders is to bring a message to the intransigeant and opening hostile and aggressive South Korean president Lee Myung bak, to engage with Kim Jong il. Not an easy task.

Yet, GuamDiary who’s long followed the pretzel like twists and turns of US policy towards North Korea, cannot help but wonder: isn’t this ‘deja vu all over again’? but with the trappings of a few Europeans thrown in. On Carter’s last visit, not only did he bring home a naif evangelical Christian sentenced to hard labour and a multimillion dollar fine, but he also hand delivered a letter from Kim to president Obama, which went unanswered as far as we know.

Carter’s integrity and his ‘guts’ speak for themselves, but the US government is less than honest in dealing with North Korea. Surely, under the guise of a ‘private’ mission can glaring political issues festering for the last 60 years even begin to be ironed out. You need face to face meetings on a governmental or diplomatic level to kick start the process, something the US has turned itself inside and out to avoid doing. This ‘virginal’ shyness goes a long way in explaining the failure of the off again on again six party talks in Beijing dealing with the nuclear issue on a divided Korean peninsula.

Studies have shown that the George W. Bush administration loathed to speak to North Korea, so it came up with a strategm using the good offices of China to talk to Pyongynag. Almost 10 years later, it has borne nothing but bitter fruit. Obama has not only continued Bush’s approach but upped the ante by supporting Lee’s military adventures along the NLL [Northern Limit Line] within a whisper of North Korea’s territorial waters, resulting in November with a North Korea riposte which did not quite chasten Lee nor Obama in pursuit of war like policies.

It is an open secret that with two failed wars in Asia, and a fancy pass in Libya, the US is looking for a way to wiggle out of the tripwire that is its and South Korea’s policy towards North Korea. The Elders may bring some balm to soothe open wounds, but they won’t budge Lee in Seoul much. And the US will find itself where it always is with the card it draws: ‘Go back to go’, meaning start all over again.

Carter is willing to do his best to lessen tensions. He has the will but not the power Obama does and refuses to use wisely. Instead Obama continues to treat North Korea as a wayward child who understands only threats, sanctions, warnings, short of a good spanking which would mean reopening the frozen Korean War.

And that in a nutshell is the weakness of Carter’s latest journey to Pyongyang. The US has to and should engage face to face with North Korea, but, alas won’t, it seems.

GuamDiary has always thought a Geneva like conference kill a multitude of problems: it would provide the venue for a tete a tete between the US and North Korea, a setting for four — the US, China, North Korea and South Korea — for ending the Korean War with long last a peace treaty [the inclusion of Seoul is a favour since Syngman Rhee refused to sign the 1953 Armistice Agreement, and so technically, South Korea has no right to sit at the table], and finally six party talks — US, China, North Korea, South Korea, Russia, and Japan — to work out modalities on the nuclear issue.

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