Q+A: Can Carter’s North Korea trip revive diplomacy?

WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – Former President Jimmy Carter’s private mission to North Korea won the release of an American teacher jailed for illegally entering the reclusive state.

Carter will leave North Korea on Friday morning with Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who was sentenced by the North to eight years of hard labor earlier this year, the Carter Center said.

The successful effort to extract Gomes has prompted speculation the 85-year-old Carter might have opened a door to renewed U.S.-North Korea diplomatic contacts at a time of increasing tension on the Korean peninsula.

Following are some questions and answers about the trip:

WILL THE U.S. CHANGE POLICY AFTER CARTER’S VISIT?

No. The Obama administration’s policy of “strategic patience” combines pressure through economic sanctions while leaving the door open to dialogue.

The administration took pains to distance itself from the Carter mission. Although he met North Korea’s top nuclear negotiator, there was no indication Carter met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who made a surprise visit to China.

Asked about a preparatory meeting for six-party talks proposed by China, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Thursday, “There are still actions that we want to see from North Korea that convince us that such a meeting would be fruitful.”

The United States wants Pyongyang not only to return to six-party nuclear negotiations that also involve China, Japan, Russia and South Korea, but to commit to implementing disarmament pledges the North made in earlier rounds of those talks. Pyongyang has boycotted the talks for nearly two years.

North Korea’s No. 2 leader, Kim Yong Nam, told Carter that Pyongyang was committed to denuclearizing the peninsula and resuming six-way talks, the North’s state news agency said on Friday.

U.N. sanctions adopted after North Korea tested a nuclear device in May 2009 remain in place, and Washington is toughening unilateral sanctions against the North following the torpedoing of a South Korean warship earlier this year.

Top Obama administration officials have pointedly said they will not reward North Korea again for merely showing up at talks or for pledging actions it had already promised to take.

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES FOR THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION?

The Obama administration needs to underscore solidarity with allies Japan and South Korea, the main subject of recent North Korean threats, while working to keep China and Russia on board with U.N. sanctions.

The secretive Kim Jong-il’s visit to China has not been confirmed by Beijing or Pyongyang, but it comes amid indications the ailing 68-year-old leader is making preparations to hand over power to his third son.

Having apparently failed to meet Kim, Carter will not be able to give the Obama administration the level of informed assessment of the North Korean leader’s health that former President Bill Clinton provided a year ago when he visited Pyongyang to free two jailed American journalists.

U.S. critics of Obama’s tough approach to North Korea warn that refusal to engage with Pyongyang denies Washington opportunities to gather information on and forge channels to whoever emerges as the next leader in North Korea.

(Reporting by Paul Eckert; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Q+A: Can Carter’s North Korea trip revive diplomacy?