BEIJING (Reuters) - Former President Jimmy Carter said on Monday he hopes to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his son and presumed heir during a visit this week that will concentrate on Pyongyang’s nuclear program and foodaid needs.
The Nobel Peace prize winner is leading a delegation of former state leaders — The Elders — on a three-day visit to the secretive state, which is under wide-ranging international sanctions.
“I don’t know with whom we’ll be meeting in North Korea. We would like very much to meet with Kim Jong-il and also Kim Jong-un,” Carter told a news conference in Beijing, referring to the leader’s son and handpicked successor.
“We have no indication that we will do so, but it would be a pleasure if we could do so,” he added.
“Concerning the nuclear issue, we will report as accurately as we can after we visit North Korea of what they had to say, but we’re not pre-judging in advance what our experiences in Pyongyang will be.”
North Korea quit six-party nuclear talks involving it, the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia, in 2009 after new U.N. sanctions following the North’s second nuclear and long-range missile tests.
Carter, in 1994, brokered a deal which pulled Washington and Pyongyang back from the brink of war over the North’s nuclear program.
But he said he was not going in as anyone’s envoy.
“The Elders are not in a position to negotiate, we’re not mediators. We’re going to learn what we can and share what we find with the leaders with whom we have contact in the future.”
Their visit comes as the six-party envoys step up their shuttle diplomacy to search for ways to restart nuclear talks. China’s representative Wu Dawei will visit Seoul on Tuesday.
The main regional powers agree inter-Korean dialogue must precede the resumption of regional nuclear talks.
South Korea’s Unification Minister Hyun In-taek told a seminar on Monday the situation had reached an “inflection point,” but reiterated that Pyongyang must show a responsible attitude on last year’s two attacks on the peninsula.
The North denies responsibility for the torpedoing of a South Korean warship last year, and said it shelled Yongpyeong island after South Korea test-fired artillery into its waters.
While Washington has said it “won’t talk for talks’ sake,” experts say that while the two sides engage in dialogue the likelihood of the North staging a military attack like last year’s deadly assault on a South Korean island diminishes.
Carter and his team, which includes former Irish President Mary Robinson, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and ex-Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland, will also be looking at the country’s parlous food resources.
More than 6 million people in North Korea urgently need food aid because of substantial falls in domestic production, food imports and international aid, the United Nations said last month.
“The World Food Programme reports that the distribution of food to the people in North Korea has been dropped from 1,400 calories per day to about 700 calories per day, and that’s an average,” Carter said.
“So it’s a horrible situation there that we hope to help induce other countries to alleviate, including South Korea, which has cut off all supplies of food materials to the North Koreans,” he added.
“In almost any case when there are sanctions against an entire people, the people suffer most and the leaders suffer least.”
Additional reporting by Maxim Duncan in Beijing and Jeremy Laurence in Seoul, editing by Jonathan Thatcher