Carter agreed to go, apparently with the approval of the White House, after North Korean authorities made clear that Gomes would not be freed unless a high-level American came to Pyongyang to bring him back. Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency said in a brief dispatch only that Carter “and his group,” whose members were not named, had arrived and that Kim Kye-gwan had greeted them.
“Kim Kye-gwan’s meeting Carter has a symbolic meaning,” says Kim Sung-han, a professor at Korea University here. “It symbolizes North Korea’s intention to shift attention to the denuclearization issue” – and away from the sinking of a South Korean Navy ship, the Cheonan, in March. North Korea has repeatedly denied having anything to do with firing the torpedo that split the ship in two in the Yellow Sea with a loss of 46 lives.