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Trip Report by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to Seoul, South Korea, March 20-24, 2010

March 24, 2010

The primary purpose of our trip was to establish a partnership between Cyber University of Korea and the Rosalynn Carter Institute on Caregiving at Georgia Southwestern State University. This will put the Caregiving curriculum online for thousands of students in Korea and other nations.

We met with President Lee Myung-bak, the speaker of the parliament, the Minister for Reunification, and other government, academic, and religious leaders.

I was awarded an honorary doctorate by Korea University and asked to discuss relations between North and South Korea and the global problem of nuclear proliferation. I described our visit with N. Korean president Kim il Sung in 1994, when we were able to evolve a complete agreement for an abandonment of their nuclear enrichment program in exchange for direct talks with the U.S. that would lead to a pledge of no military attack, the provision of alternate energy sources, and a step-by-step lifting of sanctions and ultimately normal relations.

This agreement was put into formal terms under President Bill Clinton, but abandoned by President George W. Bush. The North Koreans reacted by resuming enrichment of their spent fuel rods and now have enough plutonium for perhaps ten explosive charges.

Responding to questions from students and the news media, I described the suffering of North Korean people from 50 years of severe economic sanctions, imposed by the U.S. and other nations since the Korean War. Their hardship is exacerbated by the policies of the totalitarian regime in Pyongyang, which gives priority in allocation of scarce food and other supplies to government officials and the military. There is also genuine paranoia in Pyongyang, aggravated by overt threats of military attack from some high legislative and executive officials in Washington.

Rightly or wrongly, N. Korean leaders consider the United States to be solely responsible for the threats and suffering and the only foreign power with which they can negotiate a resolution of differences. U.S. policy has been to avoid such direct top-level talks.

My opinion is that the sustained economic sanctions have been counter-productive, unnecessarily punishing the most vulnerable citizens and permitting the relatively isolated Pyongyang regime to tighten their grip and to blame their economic woes on foreign powers. Also, it is clear that genuine fear of military attack is a powerful factor in convincing them that they need a nuclear arsenal. To clarify these issues and perhaps to resolve them, I see no harm that would come from direct negotiations between high officials of North Korea and the United States.

March 23, 2010: Remarks by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter at Korea University, Seoul, Korea >

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