North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is ready to meet with South Korean President Lee Myung Bak “at any time,” former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said.
Carter said he received a message from Kim during a three- day trip to North Korea. While the North has made multiple appeals to resume talks with the South, Lee’s administration has said the regime must first accept responsibility for two attacks last year that killed 50 South Koreans.
The former U.S. leader made his second trip to North Korea in less than a year to help push forward stalled multinational talks on ending Kim’s pursuit of atomic weapons. Carter said he and three former European leaders were called back while en route to Pyongyang airport to receive a written message from Kim that he is willing meet with any of the five nations involved in the negotiations, especially South Korea.
“He specifically told us that he is prepared for a summit meeting directly with President Lee Myung Bak at any time” on any issues, including denuclearization, Carter told reporters in Seoul. Kim said he was willing to negotiate with any of the five other nations in the six-party talks “on any subject, at any time and without any preconditions.”
Carter’s trip and by-elections in South Korea yesterday are among variables that may lead to a resumption of the six-party negotiations, said Daniel Pinkston, Northeast Asia deputy project director of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. “When they might happen I don’t know, but at least everything is pushing in that direction.”
Tensions rose on the Korean peninsula after the two attacks, including the November shelling of an island near the disputed western sea border that left four dead. North Korea said the shelling was in retaliation for South Korea violating its waters. The North has also denied involvement in the sinking of a South Korean warship a year ago that killed 46 sailors.
Carter said based on discussions with North Korean political and military officials, he doesn’t believe the regime will publicly admit responsibility for the sinking.
Carter, 86, was accompanied on his trip to North Korea by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, 73, ex-Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, 72, and former Irish President Mary Robinson, 66.
South Korean opposition parties won two of three parliamentary seats contested in by-elections yesterday, striking a blow to Lee’s ruling party. His approval rating has halved to 33 percent since he came to power in February 2008, according to an April 18-22 poll by Seoul-based Realmeter. The poll had a margin for error of 1.6 percentage point.
The trip also comes after North Korea said it is preparing to indict a detained U.S. citizen. Jun Young Su has admitted charges against him since he was arrested in November, KCNA reported on April 14.
Carter won the release of another imprisoned American during his last trip to North Korea in August. He traveled to Pyongyang in 1994 when he met with Kim’s father, Kim Il Sung, and discussed terms to freeze the country’s nuclear program.
North Korea’s negotiations with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. on its weapons programs were last held in December 2008. Kim’s regime has since detonated a second atomic device in May 2009 and shown a previously unknown uranium- enrichment program to visiting U.S. scholars.
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