During an interview with New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd on October 21, former President Jimmy Carter made some surprising statements, coming from a lifelong Democrat. Carter’s most widely reported comment was his affirmative reply to Dowd’s question about whether he would be willing to travel to North Korea to lead a diplomatic mission aimed at smoothing out the tense relationship between President Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jung-un.
“I would go, yes,” replied Carter.
After Dowd told Carter that influential Washington “big shots” were terrified about the ongoing Twitter battle between Trump and Kim (she referred to them by the pejorative nicknames they had pinned on each other — “the Dotard” and “Little Rocket Man”) Carter replied: “I’m afraid, too, of a situation. I don’t know what they’ll do. Because they want to save their regime. And we greatly overestimate China’s influence on North Korea. Particularly to Kim Jong-un. He’s never, so far as I know, been to China.”
Carter continued, “And they have no relationship. Kim Jong-il [Kim’s father] did go to China and was very close to them.”
Carter, reported Dowd, said that the “unpredictable” Kim Jong-un makes him more nervous than his father, Kim Jong-il, and that if the young leader thinks Trump will act against him, he could do something preemptive. “I think he’s now got advanced nuclear weaponry that can destroy the Korean Peninsula and Japan, and some of our outlying territories in the Pacific, maybe even our mainland,” Carter said.
Carter told Dowd that he has talked to Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, about going to North Korea, but has so far gotten a negative response. “I told him that I was available if they ever need me,” Carter related.
If Carter should manage to get Trump to agree to sending him to North Korea, it would not be the first time he has gone on such a mission. In 1994, after North Korea had expelled investigators from the International Atomic Energy Agency and was threatening to begin processing spent nuclear fuel, then-President Bill Clinton called for U.S. sanctions and ordered an increase in the U.S. military presence in the area.
However, Clinton also secretly recruited Carter to undertake a peace mission to the communist regime that was described as Carter’s own private mission.
Carter negotiated an understanding with Kim Il-sung (Kim Jong-un’s grandfather), but went further and outlined a treaty (agreed framework), which he announced on CNN without the permission of the Clinton administration, as a way to force the United States into action.
The Clinton administration signed a later version of the Agreed Framework, under which North Korea agreed to freeze and ultimately dismantle its nuclear program and comply with its nonproliferation obligations in exchange for oil deliveries and other perks.
The agreement was widely praised at the time as a significant diplomatic achievement, but, in December 2002, it collapsed as a result of a dispute between the George W. Bush administration