Jacob Heilbrunn

Jimmy Carter Is At It Again

No one has been more assiduous in courting the world's dictators than Jimmy Carter. So it should come as no surprise that he's back at trying to curry favor with perhaps his favorite despotism. In today's New York Times Carter announces that the Hermit Kingdom is really, truly ready to try and come to terms with the United States.

Carter, fresh from having extricated a hapless American from the clutches of the regime, writes:

there are now clear signals of eagerness from Pyongyang to resume negotiations and accept the basic provisions of the denuclearization and peace efforts.

In July, North Korean officials invited me to come to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, and other officials to secure the release of Mr. Gomes. Those who invited me said that no one else’s request for the prisoner’s release would be honored. They wanted me to come in the hope that I might help resurrect the agreements on denuclearization and peace that were the last official acts of Kim Il-sung before his death in 1994.

There's no harm in negotiating with the North, which is what Washington has been trying to do for decades. But what Carter doesn't mention in his op-ed is that the North never adhered to those 1994 accords. It violated them, continuing to work on its nuclear program. Meanwhile, America and South Korea did adhere to them. In October 2002 Secretary of State Colin Powell--no neocon, he--stated that North Korea was engaged in secret work on nuclear weapons. Specifically, the North was working to try and enrich uranium. Notice also that Carter piously refers to the "last official acts of Kim Il-sung"--as though he were some kind of great statesman instead of a murderous totalitarian dictator. There is something sickening about this ex-president's devotion to thuggish leaders, dead or alive.

Carter's desire for a new accord between Washington and Pyongyang is not itself unreasonable. But it would have to be one that had real teeth when it comes to verification. With North Korea mired in a succession crisis--and China apparently unwilling to pressure the regime--the likelihood of reaching an agreement with the North seems awfully slim. But that won't deter Carter from proclaiming that, in part thanks to his recent visit, a full resolution can be had.

But how would Carter know? Kim Jong-Il bolted the country for China as soon as he heard Carter was on his way. Carter seems not to have been miffed. He truly exemplifies the triumph of hope over experience. Perhaps having been spurned by Kim this time has only heightened his ardor for a return visit. He's free to travel to the North as much as he wants, but the Obama administration should steer clear of his delusions about the North's desire for peace.