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(3rd LD) S. Korea says Carter failed to meet with N. Korean leader

All Headlines 18:11 April 28, 2011

(ATTN: UPDATES with Carter's two separate meetings with South Korean and U.S. officials in paras 4-5, comment by delegation spokeswoman in paras 11-12; adds background in paras 7-8)

SEOUL, April 28 (Yonhap) -- Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and three former European leaders did not meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il during their three-day trip to Pyongyang, a South Korean official said Thursday.

The South Korean official made the comment after being briefed by Carter and his delegation on their rare trip that included meetings with North Korea's No. 2 leader Kim Yong-nam and Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun. The South Korean official spoke on condition of anonymity.

Carter arrived in Seoul earlier Thursday after wrapping up his trip to Pyongyang, apparently empty-handed as his much sought-after meeting with Kim and his heir-apparent son Kim Jong-un never materialized.

"There are two major issues that you are facing in your two countries, dealing with the political and military aspects of life and the other one is dealing with the humanitarian aspects of life," Carter said in a meeting with South Korea's Unification Minister Hyun In-taek, who is in charge of inter-Korean affairs. It was not immediately clear whether Carter gave any further details on his trip as reporters were asked to leave the closed-door session.

Carter also held separate talks with Gen. Walter Sharp, the commander of U.S. forces in South Korea. No details were immediately available.

The trip underscored cool reactions by Seoul and Washington toward the former U.S. president who has often acted as an unofficial diplomatic troubleshooter amid tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

In 1994, Carter defused tensions on the peninsula by brokering a U.S.-North Korea nuclear deal during his meeting with then-North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, the late father of the current leader. However, the nuclear agreement unraveled after Washington accused Pyongyang in 2002 of running a secret uranium enrichment program.

After years of denial, North Korea revealed a uranium enrichment program last year that could serve as a second way of making nuclear bombs, aside from its plutonium program.

South Korea's Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan told reporters earlier this week he did not have "high expectations" over whether Carter could make North Korea change its attitude.

The United States has also described Carter's trip as "strictly private."

Carter also failed to secure the freedom of a Korean-American detained in North Korea since November, according to a spokeswoman for Carter's delegation.

The detainee, identified as Jun Young-su, is the fifth American detained by North Korea in recent years. Carter brought home another detained American during his previous trip to Pyongyang last August. The North has also released three other detained Americans.

This week's trip by the former leaders came amid diplomatic efforts to resume stalled international talks on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

North Korea has expressed its interest in returning to the talks it quit in 2009, but its refusal to take responsibility for its two deadly attacks on the South has hindered diplomatic efforts to revive the talks that include the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.

Carter said that North Korea wants to have an unconditional dialogue with South Korea and the United States on denuclearization or any other subject, but will not abandon its nuclear weapons without a security guarantee.

"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," Carter said Wednesday in a message posted on the Web site of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders to promote global peace and humanity.

"The sticking point, and it's a big one, is that they won't give up their nuclear program without some kind of security guarantee from the U.S.," he said.

Meanwhile, a group of U.S. human rights activists, including Suzanne Scholte, head of the U.S. non-governmental Defense Forum Foundation, criticized Carter's trip to Pyongyang as appeasing a dictator who has killed millions of North Koreans.

"As Americans we know that Carter's policies as president of our country prolonged the Cold War with his appeasement of the Soviet Union," the activists said in a statement.

"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."

The peninsula is still technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

The activists are in Seoul to attend a series of events highlighting North Korea's dismal human rights record.

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