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Friday, August 27, 2010

N. Korean Mission: In Lieu of Kim

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter traveled to North Korea and, with help from flowers, managed the release of an American citizen and, perhaps, much else.


A girl greeted Jimmy Carter at Pyongyang’s airport with

flowers and a salute Wednesday, Aug. 25.

Photo: Reuters

There’s flying under the radar. There’s also flying over the radar – a mode of transportation accessible to a select class of travelers. Ex-U.S.-presidents qualify if, like Jimmy Carter, they’re internationally known human rights advocates who have won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, flew to Pyongyang, North Korea, August 25. Their trip was ostensibly to secure the release of a U.S. citizen, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who had been sentenced to eight years of hard labor for entering the country illegally. That was the Carters’ official purpose. But such a high-profile visit suggests lots more diplomatic knitting: to gain North Korea’s cooperation in nuclear disarmament? to begin normalizing relations with the U.S.? to ease somehow the animosity between the two Koreas since the sinking of a S. Korean ship in March? Who knows? That’s what flying over the radar is all about.

The New York Times reported,  “Gomes is believed to have entered North Korea in support of Robert Park, a fellow Christian activist from the United States, who crossed into the country from China in December to call on [N. Korea’s leader Kim Jong Il] to release all political prisoners. Mr. Park was expelled after some 40 days.”

But Gomes remained in custody and, according to several sources, had attempted suicide since his incarceration in April.

Carter made the trip as a “private citizen” rather than a U.S. official, opening the way for many friendly gestures that would not at present be possible for the Obama Administration. (Even so, South Korean leaders were said to be incensed at the visit).

Ceremonial flowers appeared throughout the Carters’ short stay, maintaining an air of kind formality. Upon his arrival in Pyongyang, the ex-president was welcomed by a young girl, who handed him a bouquet and extended a vivacious salute. Baring his signature smile, he accepted the flowers and “blew her a kiss before getting into a black stretch Mercedes-Benz.”

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Posted by Julie on 08/27 at 07:28 PM
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