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Carter expected to visit Pyongyang next month

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is expected to visit North Korea next month to thaw the frozen dialogue between the two sides, reports said Thursday, as Washington continues to snub holding two-way talks with the unpredictable state.

“It is highly likely that ex-President Carter will travel to North Korea in about a month as the North Korean mission in New York has been arranging for the visit,” the Yonhap news agency reported, citing an unnamed source.

Carter is expected to be accompanied by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other prominent figures wanting to serve as middlemen in U.S. relations with Pyongyang, the source also said.

Reports over the former president’s purported visit come as regional powers have been escalating efforts to deal with Pyongyang’s ongoing nuclear ambitions and a new uranium enrichment program.

Washington, which has been seeking a U.N. Security Council condemnation on the potentially-dangerous uranium program, claims Pyongyang must first solve issues with Seoul in order to rejoin peace talks with other dialogue partners.

The six-nation talks on Pyongyang’s denuclearization, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia, have been stalled since the end of 2008. North Korea conducted its second atomic test soon after leaving the talks, which resulted in further isolation and the suspension of aid.

Seeing the U.S. as the largest negotiator among its five dialogue partners, North Korea often requests two-way talks on its nuclear programs.

Carter visited Pyongyang in August and brought back Aijalon Gomes of Boston, who had been sentenced to eight years in a labor camp for illegally entering the communist state.

The former president failed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, however, as the reclusive leader abruptly left to China for a meeting with Hu Jintao.

Carter brokered a bilateral U.S.-North Korea deal during the first North Korean nuclear crisis in 1994, under which Pyongyang was to dismantle its nuclear reactor in return for massive financial energy from Washington.

Meanwhile, State Department spokesman Mark Toner maintained that Washington has no plans to hold bilateral talks with Pyongyang.

“We of course maintain contact with North Korea ... (but) have nothing really to announce on any planned meeting with North Korean officials,” he told reporters in Washington. “We’ve been quite clear about what we want to see before six-party talks could continue.”

South Korea echoed Washington’s position.

“We are very closely communicating with the U.S. over this issue,” an official at the Foreign Ministry here said on the customary condition of anonymity. “We have full support from regional powers that they will not start any kind of dialogue with the North until inter-Korean issues are solved.”

The latest talk between the two Koreas broke down when delegation from Pyongyang refused to discuss two deadly attacks made against a South Korean warship and a border island last year.

Seoul persists that North Korea must apologize for the attacks that killed a total of 50 South Koreans before any kind of negotiations can be made.

Apparently growing desperate to resume talks and secure aid, North Korea last week said its uranium program “can be discussed in the framework of the six-party talks,” a proposal its ally China welcomed, while Seoul and Washington dismissed as “insincere.”

Not wanting to take the program to the Security Council, Beijing has been calling for an immediate resumption of the stalled six-nation talks.

By Shin Hae-in and news reports  (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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