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Jimmy Carter denies North Korea trip, despite regional reports

- The Washington Times - Monday, July 29, 2013

Former President Jimmy Carter is not planning to visit North Korea to try to win the release of a Korean-American missionary imprisoned there, despite news reports in the region, his spokeswoman said Monday.

"President Carter has no immediate plans to visit North Korea," spokeswoman Deanna Congileo said.

Over the weekend, Washington-based Radio Free Asia reported in a Korean-language story that Mr. Carter was scheduled to visit North Korea "very soon" to discuss the release of Kenneth Bae. The story was sourced to unnamed human rights officials, according to the Yonhap News Agency.

Last week, Japan's Kyodo News Service, citing a U.S. official as its source, reported that Mr. Carter was considering a visit to Pyongyang at the invitation of North Korea's government, according to Yonhap.

Mr. Bae, a U.S. citizen who lived in China, was arrested in November by North Korean authorities on charges of conspiring to overthrow the communist government. He has said his faith took him to North Korea, where Christianity is forbidden.

In April, as Washington and Pyongyang faced off over U.S. military exercises with South Korea, Mr. Bae was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

Mr. Bae has written to his family in the U.S. begging for help because his health is failing, his sister said in an interview last week.

If Mr. Carter accepts an invitation from the regime of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, the decision may prove controversial, although it would be a hopeful sign for the family and supporters of Mr. Bae.

In the past, Pyongyang has used jailed Americans to force visits by former U.S. officials, including Mr. Carter, former President Bill Clinton and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. The visiting officials, having provided Pyongyang with a propaganda victory, generally have not gone home empty-handed.

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