The Cable

Jimmy Carter headed back to North Korea

Former President Jimmy Carter will travel to North Korea next month, a State Department official confirmed.

"We have been made aware of his trip. I'm not aware of any plans we have to talk to him. He's obviously traveling in a private capacity," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, adding that Carter "does not carry an official U.S. message."

The Cable broke the news last August that Carter was set to travel to Pyongyang to rescue Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a 30-year-old man from Boston who was sentenced to eight years in prison after being arrested for crossing into North Korea from China. The State Department was happy to have the Gomes issue resolved, but many within the administration viewed Carter's claim of progress in dialogue with North Korea upon his return unhelpful.

In November, Carter wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for engagement with Pyongyang.

"Pyongyang has sent a consistent message that during direct talks with the United States, it is ready to conclude an agreement to end its nuclear programs, put them all under IAEA inspection and conclude a permanent peace treaty to replace the ‘temporary' cease-fire of 1953. We should consider responding to this offer," Carter wrote.

But the North Korean government has been increasingly belligerent since Carter's last trip to the Hermit Kingdom. It sunk the South Korean ship Cheonan, shelled a South Korea island with artillery, and unveiled a whole new cascade of uranium enrichment tubes to visiting American experts.

The Obama administration has made clear that it won't enter into talks with North Korea until the regime takes steps to address the complaints of South Korea first.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that Carter will travel to Pyongyang with former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and other senior dignitaries. Perhaps this time he won't be snubbed again by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who decided to take a trip to Beijing last year just as Carter arrived.

The Carter Center did not respond to requests for comment.

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