In the 16 September 2010 edition of 'The New York Times' [NYT], Jimmy Carter's 'North Korea wants to deal' was prominently displayed on its op-ed page.
The former US president based his piece on recent conversations he had with senior DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea]official during his two days in Pyongyang. He had gone to North Korea on a mission of mercy, in order to seek the release of the American Ajialon Gomes sentenced to 8 years of hard labour and fined millions of US dollars.
[It is interesting to note that 8 days after Mr. Carter's op ed appeared, the 'NYT's'Letters to the Editor has kept a frozen silence as if to turn a deaf ear to the former president's appeal.
Kim Jong il, it seemed, requested the mediating role of Mr. Carter, in an unexpressed hope that he might cut yet another knot in US DPRK relations.]
Before going any further, let's have some background on Jimmy Carter's standpoint on North Korea.
In 1977 when he became America's 39 president, Mr. Carter called for a new policy towards the divided Korean peninsula, including reduction of US troops. [We must needs recall here that this was happening as a consequence of the South Korea's president Park Chung hee had tried to subvert members of the US Congress through bribery. Short hand, this is referred to 'Koreagate'. US relations between Seoul and Washington had cooled to subzero temperatures.]
Mr. Carter failed to carry out his new policy, owing to strong pressure within and out of his government.
Zoom to June 1994,when Mr. Carter flew to Pyongyang to the displeasure of the Clinton White House. We must not forget Bill Clinton had threatened North Korea with a nuclear riposte were it to continue its own nuclear programme. Jimmy Carter met with Kim Il Sung. He returned with a document of good intentions, and thus began 6 years of negotiations, fruitful contacts, and ultimately the visit of secretary of state Madelaine Albright. She met with Kim Jong il and her conversations proved positive. [GuamDiary suggests reading Marion Creekmore's 'Moment of Crisis: Jimmy Carter, the power of a peace maker, and North Korea's nuclear ambitions'.]
On the heels of Mme. Albright's trip, it was thought that she had paved the way for a visit to Pyongyang by Bill Clinton. Such was the muck and mire the White House was in after the impeachment and the marshaling of America's North Korean clerisy that it would be a serious mistake to confer the mantle of normalcy in relations with Kim Jong il.
With George W. Bush an arctic wind froze any promising negotiations with the DPRK. Mr. Bush went as far as labeling North Korea as an 'axis of evil' state. What's more, the Bush White House went out of its way to snub the Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo hyun governments in Seoul who continued the 'Sunshine Policy', by broadening and deepening relations with Pyongyang. GuamDiary also suggest reading Mike Chinoy's 'Meltdown: the inside story of the North Korean crisis'.
The Bush administration refused to deal face to face with the DPRK. It found its own face saving strategy by calling for a six party talks in Beijing of North Korea's neighbours--South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia joined by the US--to negotiate a solution to North Korea's nuclear programme. The talks have had a bumpy history and are now stalemated. The election of the Lee Myung bek government in South Korea in 2008 added more oil to the fire of doing everything but talking to North Korea on an equal and even playing field. In fact, Mr. Lee scrapped the 'Sunshine Policy'; he proceeded to revive a cold war with North Korea. Coupled to the Bush administration's hostile and aggressive approach to Pyongyang, his stance effectively split the six party talks into two factions: the US, South Korea, and Japan on one side, and on the other, Russia, North Korea, and China. Beijing had the thankless task of trying to bring the two 'factions' together with diminishing success.
Mr. Bush's tone deaf and rather crude diplomacy had an unintended result: the DPRK tested an underground nuclear device, thereby becoming a member of the global nuclear club! The US immediately reversed its combative posture, and agreed to talks in Beijing and to send its special envoys to Pyongyang.
This seeming 'thaw' bought small beer in negotiations.
In good times and bad, Kim Jong il kept signaling that he was willing to 'deal' with the US. The Bush White House had deliberately piled on a high barrier of conditions so crafted that Mr. Kim would have to turn them down.
With Barack Obama in the White House, it would be hoped that it would take new steps towards the DPRK. He did but in a direction that surprised many: he not only continued a hard line policy towards North Korea, characterised by a new harshness and more stringent conditions. This approach reached its apotheosis during the sinking of the South Korean courvette 'Cheonan' in March 2010. [GuamDiary directs its readers attention to its many commentaries on the matter.]
Yet in July 2010 hopes ran high of a instance to change in relations when Bill Clinton went to Pyongyang to obtain the release of two journalists sentenced to 12 years of hard labour. There he met with Kim Jong il. But that hope was dashed by the Obama White House.
It is not unreasonable to posit that upon his return Mr. Clinton relayed verbally or in writing or both a message from Mr. Kim calling for direct talks and a deal to end the Korean War and the settling of outstanding issues plaguing the two countries for the last 60 years.
But US secretary of state Hillary Clinton echoed Mr. Obama's lack of enthusiasm for a deal of any kind.
And so, we arrive back at Jimmy Carter's op ed contribution in the 'NYT'. To his credit, he appealed to his fellow citizens by relating his talks with senior North Korean officials; they once again and without a sense of futility called for a deal with the US. And once more, the US has let the ball drop.
It would be wrong to not note the small steps of crafted punishment towards the DPRK. The war of propaganda and joint US ROK military exercises have yielded small potatoes.
In fact, North Korea has turned the situation to its own advantage: it has offered to return to the six party talks in Beijing after more than a year's absence. It was willing to review the South's dossier on the sunken 'Cheonan'. It also called for restarting visits by families separated by the Korean War. Pressure of voters in an election year in South Korea has forced the hand of Lee Myung bek whose popularity has suffered by his government's corruption and mismanagement. He broke his own embargo on diminished food supplies to the North by offering an increase in shipments. He agreed to talks on family visits.
But on the other hand, the US and ROK eager to see the DPRK take its rightful seat at the six party talks, hold to the common position that the North is responsible for sinking the South Korea ship and the loss of 46 lives. This is something that Pyongyang has rejected out of hand. As GuamDiary has reported, it has submitted its own dossier on the events. We have also pointed out the serious chinks in the ROK investigation--compromising evidence, the drunkedness of the 'Cheonan's' officers at the time of the sinking, so on. We equally reported the breaking of ranks by Donald Gregg, former CIA operative and ambassador to South Korea, who absolved North Korea of any blame in the sunken 'Cheonan'. We have not scanted in pointing out China's response to the joint military exercises in the Yellow Sea by conducting its own as a warning that China will not let the DPRK be intimidated nor tolerate a miscalculation the US and ROK might make resulting in hostilities.
The US might have opened back channels to the DPRK but GuamDiary doesn't expect any productive outcome. The Obama administration is hell bent on having North Korea to cry 'Uncle!' and repent its ways. That ain't going to happen!
GuamDiary, too, wrote of America's North Korean clerisy exhorting the US to adopt a reactionary policy of 'rolling back' North Korea. So we come to a point that the US is chasing its own tail with little hope of breaking out of a prison it built for itself.
Jimmy Carter deserves a sustained applause for not being hoodwinked by US policy towards North Korea. As a Nobel peace prize winner, he knows better. It would do the Obama administration well to listen to his words and adopt a new policy towards the divided Korean peninsula.