Carter hopeful of meeting Jong-il

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The Independent Online

Former US President Jimmy Carter said yesterday he hopes to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-il during a visit this week that will concentrate on Pyongyang's nuclear programme and food needs.

The Nobel Peace prize winner is leading a delegation of former state leaders – called The Elders – on a three-day visit to the secretive state.

"We would like very much to meet with Kim Jong-il and also Kim Jong-un," Mr Carter (right) told a news conference in Beijing, referring to the leader's son and handpicked successor.

"We have no indication that we will do so, but it would be a pleasure if we could do so," he added.

"Concerning the nuclear issue, we will report as accurately as we can – after we visit North Korea – of what they had to say, but we're not pre-judging in advance what our experiences in Pyongyang will be."

North Korea quit six-party nuclear talks involving it, the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia in 2009, after new UN sanctions following the North's second nuclear and long-range missile tests.

Mr Carter and his team, which includes former Irish President Mary Robinson, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and ex-Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland, will also be looking at the country's parlous food resources. More than six million North Koreans urgently need food aid because of substantial falls in domestic production, food imports and international aid, the United Nations said last month.

Mr Carter brokered a deal in 1994 which pulled Washington and Pyongyang back from the brink of war over the North's nuclear programme. But he said he was not going in as anyone's envoy.