President Carter extracts American hostage from North Korea
Former US president Jimmy Carter was heading home from North Korea Friday after securing the release of an American citizen and a pledge from Pyongyang that it wants to resume nuclear disarmament talks.
The Nobel peace laureate was leaving the reclusive communist state with Aijalon Mahli Gomes, an African-American who was jailed in April for illegally crossing into the North from China, his office said.
State media in North Korea and China said the former president had left the country but this was not immediately confirmed by his Carter Center.
“At the request of president Carter, and for humanitarian purposes, Mr Gomes was granted amnesty by” North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, said a Carter Center statement.
Gomes was first detained in January and then sentenced to eight years of hard labour and a fine of about 600,000 dollars for illegal entry into North Korea.
The Carter Center said it expected Gomes would return to the US city of Boston on Friday afternoon to be reunited with his family.
Carter had arrived in Pyongyang on Wednesday on a private mercy mission for Gomes which his office and US officials stressed was not sponsored by the US government.
However, North Korea’s state media said Friday that Pyongyang had expressed its willingness through Carter to resume six-party nuclear disarmament talks which have been on ice since April last year.
North Korea has made similar expressions before but attached onerous conditions to any resumption of talks that have been ruled out by the US and South Korean governments.
But the latest offer via Carter came just after a senior Chinese envoy on the nuclear dossier had visited Pyongyang, and as Kim Jong-Il reportedly pays a visit to China, North Korea’s sole diplomatic and economic patron.
China’s Xinhua news agency said Carter spoke with North Korea’s nuclear envoy Kim Kye-Gwan for a few minutes before departing Pyongyang. He had also held dinner talks on Wednesday with number two leader Kim Yong-Nam.
Kim Yong-Nam expressed a willingness for “the resumption of the six-party talks” and the denuclearisation of the peninsula, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said after Carter’s visit.
North Korea walked out on the talks, also involving South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan, in April 2009 in protest at UN condemnation of an apparent missile test disguised as a space rocket launch.
It carried out its second nuclear test the following month, sparking tougher UN sanctions.
A key obstacle to restarting disarmament talks is the sinking in March of a South Korean warship, with the deaths of 46 sailors, an attack both South Korea and the United States blamed on North Korea.
The United States on Thursday declined to rule out a resumption of the talks, heading into the UN General Assembly late next month.