A delegation of former world leaders, including former US president Jimmy Carter (pictured), that arrived in North Korea on Tuesday will discuss food shortages and nuclear disarmament with the country's leaders during a three-day mission.
AP - Former President Jimmy Carter and other past world leaders were hoping to meet with North Korea’s leader as they began a three-day mission Tuesday to discuss dangerous food shortages and stalled nuclear disarmament talks.
Children presented flowers to Carter, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland and former Irish President Mary Robinson at the airport, and the group was greeted by Vice Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, according to Associated Press Television News in Pyongyang.
The former leaders didn’t know ahead of their three-day trip who they would meet with, but said they hoped to have talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his son and heir apparent Kim Jong Un.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency confirmed that Carter and his group arrived Tuesday morning by chartered plane.
The mission comes as diplomats struggle to find a way to restart talks meant to persuade the North to abandon its atomic weapons ambitions.
Dismal ties between North and South Korea, which have ruined efforts to restart the nuclear talks, will also likely be on the agenda. Animosity has soared between the neighbors since the North allegedly torpedoed a South Korean warship in March 2010, killing 46 sailors. Pyongyang shelled a South Korean island in November, killing two civilians and two marines. The North late last year also revealed a secret uranium enrichment program that would give it a second way to make nuclear weapons.
South Korea is demanding an apology for the warship sinking and island shelling before allowing deeper talks. North Korea says it wasn’t responsible for the ship’s destruction and says Seoul provoked the island shelling by staging live fire drills in disputed waters.
Before flying from Beijing to Pyongyang, Carter told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that he didn’t intend to raise the case of Korean-American Jun Young Su, who is being held in North Korea, reportedly on charges of carrying out missionary activity.
The U.S. State Department said last month that Carter would not be carrying any official messages.
It is not the first time Carter has traveled to North Korea during a period of high tension over Pyongyang’s nuclear program. In 1994, he met with then-leader Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il’s father and the North’s founder, and helped broker a U.S.-North Korea nuclear deal.
He last visited North Korea in August to secure the release of imprisoned American Aijalon Gomes, who had been sentenced to eight years of hard labor for crossing into the North from China. Carter did not meet with Kim then because the leader was on a rare visit to China, his nation’s biggest ally and aid provider.
Carter’s trip comes amid efforts on several fronts to reinvigorate stalled six-nation nuclear negotiations. China’s top nuclear envoy was due in Seoul on Tuesday for talks, while a South Korean delegation was to meet with U.S. diplomats in Washington.
North Korea’s nuclear envoy reportedly traveled to Beijing earlier this month to discuss restarting the talks, which involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.
The former world leaders also plan to discuss food shortages that could threaten many North Koreans.
Years of poor harvests, a lack of investment in agriculture and political isolation have left the North severely vulnerable to starvation, with the average amount of food distributed by the government to each person dropping this year from 1,400 calories per day to just 700, according the U.N.’s World Food Program.
Former Irish President Robinson said a recent United Nations study based on conditions throughout North Korea classified 3.5 million out of the country’s 24 million people as “very vulnerable” to starvation and that conditions stood to worsen with cuts in food distribution.
Date created : 2011-04-26