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Carter begins tour of China, Koreas to reduce regional tensions

All Headlines 23:21 April 24, 2011

By Hwang Doo-hyong

WASHINGTON, April 24 (Yonhap) -- Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter Sunday embarked on a tour of China and the two Koreas in a "new initiative" to help reduce tensions in the Korean Peninsula amid stalled international dialogue for North Korea's nuclear dismantlement.

"At a time when official dialogue with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea appears to be at a standstill, we aim to see how we may be of assistance in reducing tensions and help the parties address key issues including denuclearization," Carter said in a statement released by "The Elders," an independent group of global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela in 2007 to support global peace and humanity. DPRK is North Korea's official name.

Carter and three other members of the group are already in Beijing as part of their week-long tour of China, North Korea and South Korea, the statement said.

"I am delighted to be making this visit to the region as a member of The Elders," Carter said. "This is an important new initiative for us as a group."

The other members are former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, former Norwegian Prime Minister Dr. Gro Brundtland and former Irish President Mary Robinson.

"Members of The Elders, currently in Beijing at the start of a six-day visit to China and the Korean Peninsula, hope that their efforts will contribute to an easing of the current tensions between North and South Korea," the statement said. "The Elders will also discuss how to ameliorate reported food shortages in the DPRK that may affect millions of people."

Carter and his entourage will visit Seoul Thursday after a three-day visit to Pyongyang to meet with South Korean officials, the statement said.

Carter is expected to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, as he met with then-North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, the current leader's father, and brokered a bilateral U.S.-North Korea deal during the first North Korean nuclear crisis in 1994, which led to the Geneva Agreed Framework later that year.

Carter's trip is the second of its kind since August, when he toured Pyongyang to bring back an American citizen caught for illegal entry.

He could not meet with Kim Jong-il at the time as the North Korean leader had traveled to China for a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Kim made the trip in an apparent attempt to seek Chinese support for the unprecedented third-generation power transition to his youngest son.

Carter is widely expected to bring back a Korean-American who has been held in North Korea since November for illegal religious activities.

The 1994 Geneva agreement called for the freezing of the North's plutonium-producing nuclear reactor in Yongbyon, north of its capital, Pyongyang, in return for massive energy aid, plus other economic assistance and diplomatic recognition by Washington.

The nuclear deal was scrapped in 2002 when the Bush administration labeled North Korea as part of the "axis of evil" and denounced Pyongyang for secretly enriching uranium in violation of the deal.

The six-party talks came as a substitute in 2003, but have been stalled over U.N. sanctions for North Korea's nuclear and missile tests and other provocations.

Pyongyang also revealed in November a uranium enrichment plant, another way of making nuclear weapons separate from its plutonium program. The North claims its intention is to generate electricity.

Carter's visit comes amid a diplomatic flurry to revive the six-party talks.

A South Korean delegation will visit Washington Tuesday to meet with Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, and other U.S. officials to discuss the nuclear talks and other bilateral and regional issues.

Chinese chief nuclear envoy Wu Dawei will visit Seoul early this week on ways to reopen the nuclear talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

Seoul has proposed bilateral nuclear dialogue with Pyongyang, followed by Pyongyang holding another bilateral discussion with Washington before moving to a plenary session of the six-party talks.

Seoul and Washington also call on Pyongyang to address South Koreans' grievances over the North's torpedoing of a South Korean warship and the shelling of a border island that killed 50 people last year before any resumption of the denuclearization-for-aid talks.

North Korea refused to apologize for the provocations against the South and walked out of a rare inter-Korean dialogue in February, thwarting hopes for an early resumption of the multilateral nuclear talks.

Another thorny issue is the uranium program.

North Korea and China have suggested that the uranium issue be discussed at the six-party talks, while South Korea and the U.S. want the issue to be dealt with at the U.N. Security Council first.

Carter said last month that he will not only seek "a peace treaty and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" but try to "find out about how we can help with the humanitarian plight of the people who are starving to death."

U.S. officials have said they are assessing the food situation in the North, which is said to be suffering from severe food shortages due to a poor harvest last year.

A U.N. monitoring team, which concluded a fact-finding mission in North Korea last month, has called for the provision of 430,000 tons of food aid to North Korea to avoid "the risk of malnutrition and other diseases" for millions of children, women and the elderly in the North, stricken by floods and severe winter weather.

Washington suspended food aid to Pyongyang two years ago over lack of transparency in food distribution.


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