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Jimmy Carter's North Korea visit may trigger cooling-off period

Jimmy Carter was greeted Wednesday by North Korea’s nuclear envoy, Kim Kye-gwan, which analysts say is a signal North Korea wants the visit to be about much more than the release of US prisoner Aijalon Mahli Gomes.

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Former President Jimmy Carter receives flowers from a North Korean girl upon his arrival at Sunan airport in Pyongyang Wednesday.

KCNA/Reuters

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Former President Jimmy Carter and wife, Rosalynn, flew into the North Korean capital of Pyongyang Wednesday amid hopes of a breakthrough in US-Korean relations as symbolized by the person who greeted them at the airport.

North Korea’s nuclear envoy Kim Kye-gwan, a veteran of years of off-and-on talks with US envoys on getting the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program, welcomed the former first couple on their arrival at the outset of an overnight visit that the US insists is strictly “private” and “humanitarian.”

Although the stated reason for the visit is to bring US citizen Aijalon Mahli Gomes back home, that appears to be diplomatic cover for talks that Mr. Carter is now expected to have with top North Korean officials, possibly with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il. Mr. Gomes, from Boston, was in South Korea as a teacher and preacher until he was arrested in January after crossing the border from China with a letter asking Kim Jong-il to resign. North Korean media said he attempted suicide after a court sentenced him in April to eight years in prison.

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