PYONGYANG, Aug. 27 (Xinhua) -- Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter left the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) Friday, wrapping up a visit that not only realized the release of a U.S. citizen, but also was widely seen as carrying much political weight.
|This photo released by official news agency of the Democratic People's Republic of|
Korea (DPRK) KCNA shows Kim Yong Nam (R), president of the Presidium of the Supreme
People's Assembly of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), meets with
former U.S. president Jimmy Carter in Pyongyang, Aug. 25, 2010. (Xinhua/KCNA)
Carter and Aijalon Mahli Gomes, the U.S. man detained by the DPRK since January for entering the country illegally, boarded the same civilian jet which Carter took when he arrived here two days ago, as Xinhua reporters witnessed at the scene.
The U.S. State Department welcomed the release of Gomes, saying in a statement that "we appreciate former president Carter's humanitarian effort and welcome the DPRK's decision to grant Mr Gomes special amnesty and allow him to return to the United States."
In a related development, the official KCNA news agency reported that Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, said during his meeting with Carter that the DPRK is willing to resume six-party talks.
CARTER, GOMES LEFT DPRK
Carter talked with DPRK Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan who came to see him off for about five minutes at the airport before he boarded the plane.
Carter also received flowers from a young DPRK girl and kissed her. He and Gomes posed for photos taken by journalists, but neither of them made any public comments at the airport.
Reporters present from the DPRK, China and Russia were provided with a temporary shelf to stand on but couldn't get close to Carter.
Gomes, bald-headed, wearing a short-sleeved shirt and carrying two bags, smiled and waved to the people who saw him and Carter off at the airport.
Gomes, a 30-year-old from Boston who once taught English in South Korea, was detained by the DPRK on Jan. 25 for illegal entry into the country.
On April 6, Gomes was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment and fined about 700,000 U.S. dollars.
Carter, a Nobel peace laureate, was said to be traveling as a private citizen, similar to that by former U.S. President Bill Clinton last August when he secured the release of two female U.S. journalists detained there for illegal entry. He had visited the DPRK in 1994.
According to the KCNA, during Carter's trip, he made an apology to Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, for Gomes' illegal entry and gave the assurance that such incident will never happen again.
He also asked Kim to convey to top DPRK leader Kim Jong Il a message courteously requesting him to grant special pardon to Gomes to leniently forgive him and let him go home.
The KCNA said after receiving a report on the request made by the U.S. government and Carter, Kim Jong Il issued an order of the chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission on granting amnesty to Gomes.
DPRK SAYS WILLING TO RESUME SIX-PARTY TALKS
During Carter's stay in the DPRK, he also met senior DPRK officials and discussed "the pending issues of mutual concern between the DPRK and the U.S.," according to the KCNA news agency.
During a meeting with Carter, Kim Yong Nam, president of the DPRK's Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, "expressed the will of the DPRK government for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the resumption of the six-party talks," during a meeting with Carter during the latter's stay in Pyongyang.
The former U.S. president also met with DPRK's foreign minister and vice foreign minister for U.S. affairs on the DPRK-U.S. relations, the resumption of the six-party talks, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and other issues of mutual concern.
Carter also watched a performance given by the State Symphony Orchestra.
The KCNA said Carter's visit "provided a favorable occasion of deepening the understanding and building confidence between the two countries."
A PRIVATE VISIT CARRYING POLITICAL WEIGHT
Carter, the second former American president in a year after Bill Clinton to visit DPRK to secure the release of U.S. prisoners, made the trip in his capacity as a private citizen, without any U.S. government officials in his company.
But the visit took place after months of tensions between the DPRK and the U.S.-backed South Korea over the sinking of a South Korean navy ship and has raised hopes of more contacts and thawing of strained relations between Pyongyong and Washington.
The Carter trip is reminiscent of former U.S. President Bill Clinton's unofficial visit to DPRK last year to bring back two detained US female journalists. During that trip, Clinton met with DPRK's top leader Kim Jong Il and discussed the prospect of improving relations between the two countries.
Carter, a Democrat, served as U.S. president from 1977 to 1981 and won the Nobel peace prize in 2002.
He made his first trip to the DPRK in 1994, during which he helped restart nuclear talks that led to a landmark disarmament deal later that year. He also mediated a summit meeting between DPRK and South Korea.
On the nuclear issue, Carter has urged the United States to make direct negotiations with the DPRK. Sanctions were unproductive and "there is no harm in making a major effort, including unrestrained direct talks," he said in a speech in Seoul in March, adding the initiative must be from the U.S. and South Korea.
Some obervers have hoped the latest Carter trip would lead to a thawing of relations too. "The fact that former President Jimmy Carter is going to North Korea is interesting. It shows the administration is willing to have some kind of contact with the DPRK," said Michael Green, an expert on Korean peninsular affairs at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"But I don't think they have very high expectations for any diplomatic breakthrough," he told Xinhua in a telephone interview.
Washington has insisted that any dialogue should be conducted in the Pyongyang's denuclearization process guided by the six-party talks mechanism, which is participated by the two countries, China, the Republic of Korea, Japan and Russia.
The six-party talks have been stalled for more than two years. The DPRK recently said it was willing to return to the negotiations but South Korea and the United States have insisted that the talks will not resume until Pyongyang pledges to give up its nuclear program.