Former President Jimmy Carter says he is willing to make another historic trip to North Korea to help reach a diplomatic solution to the current nuclear standoff. In an exclusive interview, VOA's Kane Farabaugh talks with President Carter about how he sees a peaceful end to the current crisis.
It is one of the most challenging foreign policy issues facing the Bush administration -- how to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapon development program.
The administration is reluctant to deal with the reclusive communist country unilaterally, but former President Jimmy Carter says those are part of the terms he's been given by representatives of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
"If the United States would agree to declare officially that we would not attack North Korea as long as North Korea didn't attack its own neighbor South Korea and so forth, and if we would agree to start working towards normal relations with North Korea -- to lift the embargo against North Korea to let it be absorbed into the international community, that they would then stop again their production of nuclear weaponry and let inspectors come back in. I'm not speaking for them, because I can't say that they either had the full authority to make those commitments to me or that they would carry them out if they were made."
Carter, whose academic background includes nuclear physics and reactor technology, has the distinction of being the only U.S. President to visit North Korea.
It was 1994, when the communist country had expelled International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from its Yongbyong facility, and threatened to develop weapons-grade plutonium. The move put the U.S. military on the brink of war.
"The American General, Gary Luck, told me that if the war did break out it would be much more devastating among South Koreans and others than the original, the first Korean War."
Carter asked the White House if he could travel to North Korea to attempt to broker a deal as a peaceful means to end the nuclear standoff.
"I had a list of demands and requests that were given to me by the Clinton administration. I gave all of these to Kim Il Sung, the dictator of North Korea, and he agreed to all of them."
His trip to North Korea was considered a diplomatic success, creating what would be known as the "Agreed Framework" with the United States. Part of the agreement allowed IAEA inspectors to resume their work
"We agreed to build them some modern reactors and to let them have fuel oil to replace the electricity they lost, and those were all good things. I also reached an agreement where the leader of North Korea would have direct summit talks with the leader of South Korea, the first time that it happened in 43 years -- that took place later on."
In 2002, President Bush declared North Korea part of an "axis of evil" and ended direct talks. Pyongyang responded by once again removing IAEA inspectors from its nuclear facilities and began secret development of weapons grade plutonium.
"Therefore, they now have the capacity to have seven or eight nuclear explosives."
In the wake of North Korea's first successful nuclear weapon test in October of this year, the security situation in Asia grew more dangerous than it was during Carter's visit in 1994. In our interview, he indicated he is once again willing to help broker peace.
We asked Mr. Carter: "Have you had the opportunity yourself to be invited to go North Korea currently to meet with Kim Jong Il, and if you did, would you go?"
"Yes, I would go, with permission from the White House. I wouldn't go without that."
So far the White House has not granted President Carter permission to travel to North Korea. The Bush administration favors six-party talks with North Korea that includes South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States. There is no date set for the next meeting between those countries… currently the only forum to work on a peaceful solution to North Korea's nuclear standoff.