After a three day trip to North Korea, "the Elders" fly to South Korea. Former US President Carter speaks of a humanitarian disaster in the North and urges the US and South Korea to resume aid to the impoverished nation.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says the north is willing to cooperate
There were high expectations that "the Elders," a team of former heads of states, US President Jimmy Carter, Irish President Mary Robinson, Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland and Finish president Martti Ahtisaari would meet with the North’s reclusive ruler Kim Jong Il. But up to the last minute, it seemed the group would not be able to get a word with him.
Carter is hopeful
Carter says just as the Elders were leaving Pyongyang, they were summoned back to their guesthouse, where they received a message sent by Kim himself. "He is willing and the people of North Korea are willing to negotiate with South Korea or with the United States or the six powers, on any subject at any time and without any preconditions."
'The Elders' failed to meet the reclusive Kim Jong Il
The six party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program have been in deadlock since Pyongyang walked away from the negotiating table over two years ago. They had included both Koreas, the US, Japan, China and Russia.
But Carter says the north is willing to put previous stalemates behind them and hold multilateral or direct talks with any interested party. That includes even holding a summit with South Korean President Lee Myung Bak.
Nonetheless, officials in Seoul have downplayed the Elders’ visit to Pyongyang. President Lee declined a request to meet with Carter and the other members of the delegation.
"Donors must act"
In addition to concerns over North Korea’s nuclear program, the Elders say they are very worried about the food situation there. Earlier this year, the World Food Program said that there is not enough food in North Korea to feed all of its 24 million people.
The Former Irish President, Mary Robinson, says donors must act quickly. "The current situation is extremely serious, it is serious because there was a very bad winter, a very severe cold, flooding came at just the wrong time for the harvest and there is foot and mouth disease. And also the fact the United States and South Korea are not providing the aid that they provided previously has aggravated the situation."
Tensions escalated between Seoul and Pyongyang after the North shelled an island near their disputed sea border
But so far, Seoul says that no aid will be given until North Korea apologizes for the sinking of the Cheonan naval ship last year as well as the deadly attack on Yeonpyeong Island last November. Washington takes a similar position.
While addressing a question on North Korea’s human rights situation, Jimmy Carter said this reluctance to provide aid to the North is a greater concern. He said, "one of the most important human rights is to have food to eat. And for the South Koreans and the Americans and others deliberately to withhold food aid to the North Korean people because of political or military issues not related, is really indeed a human rights violation."
Carter added that he doubts Pyongyang will ever apologize for the Cheonan or Yeonpyeong Island incidents. But he says officials there expressed there regret for the loss of lives.
Author: Jason Strother
Editor: Sarah Berning