by Hwang Doo-hyong
WASHINGTON, Aug. 28 – Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter returned home Friday with the American detained for seven months in North Korea for trespassing.
A private charter flight carrying Carter, Aijalon Gomes and their entourage arrived at Logan International Airport in Boston, hometown of the detained man who was sentenced in May to eight years in a labor and re-education camp and fined US0,000 for illegal entry in January.
Carter flew into Pyongyang Wednesday on a private mission to secure Gomes' release.
His presence in Pyongyang is seen as a thaw in U.S.-North Korea relations which had been chilly since the latter torpedoed a South Korean warship in March.
However, Carter apparently did not meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il who left for China as the former American president flew into Pyongyang.
North Korean media said a dinner meeting pushed through on Wednesday between Carter and Kim Yong-nam, president of the presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly.
Carter's itinerary for Thursday and Friday is unclear.
Ceremonial head of State Kim discussed with Carter bilateral relations between their countries.
The leader also reaffirmed to Carter North Korea's denuclearization pledge and intention to return to the six-party talks on ending the North's nuclear weapons programs, noted the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
Kim Jong-il traveled Wednesday to Jian, Jilin Province on a special train and visited a school once attended by his father Kim Il-sung, the communist North's founding father.
The reclusive North Korean leader then moved to Changchun, the provincial capital of Jilin Province, and is believed to have met there Friday with Chinese President Hu Jintao over succession to his son, the six-party nuclear talks as well as food and economic aid.
The North recently suffered from massive flooding.
North Korea and China usually release information on Kim Jong-il's travels only after he returns home.
Kim made five visits to China since 2000, the latest one being in May when he went to Beijing apparently to discuss his plans on transferring power to his son Kim Jong-un.
Discussions during this trip also focused on other issues of mutual concern.
The 27 year-old Jong-un is reportedly accompanying his father in an apparent move to assure a third-generation power transition which is unprecedented in a communist nation.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, Hu's likely successor, reportedly received the North Korean leader and his heir-apparent in Jian Thursday.
U.S. officials aren't commenting on Kim Jong-il's meeting with Hu.
"I defer comment to those governments," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.
National Security Council spokesperson Mike Hammer also said: "We have no comment."
Crowley earlier in the day welcomed Gomes' release but distanced the Obama administration from Carter's trip.
"President Carter's trip was a private, humanitarian, and unofficial mission solely for the purpose of bringing Mr. Gomes home," he said. "The U.S. government did not propose or arrange the trip."
The spokesman also warned American citizens not to travel to North Korea.
"Travel to North Korea is not routine or risk-free," he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he "appreciated" North Korea's decision to release Gomes "on humanitarian considerations" and "commended Mr. Carter for his humanitarian mission."
He also encouraged emergency humanitarian assistance to flood-ravaged North Korea.
Kim Jong-il was widely believed to be amenable to meeting with Carter, who brokered a bilateral deal in 1994 that led to the Geneva Agreed Framework to freeze the North's plutonium-producing nuclear reactor in return for benefits.
The pact was scrapped in 2002 when the Bush administration denounced Pyongyang for secretly enriching uranium.
A trip to Pyongyang by former President Bill Clinton to meet with Kim Jong-il last year led to the first high-level contact with North Korea under the Obama administration.
US special representative for North Korea policy Stephen Bosworth flew to the North Korean capital in December.
Clinton won the release of two American journalists caught illegally entering North Korea in March 2009 while on a reporting tour covering North Korean defectors.
Center for U.S.-Korea Policy director Scott Snyder sees no breakthrough with the Carter trip.
"A Kim Jong-il meeting with Carter would not have had a big impact on US-DPRK relations since it was a private visit," Snyder said.
DPRK or Democratic People's Republic of Korea is North Korea's official name.
The scholar was equally pessimistic about the six-party talks despite Friday's summit between Kim and Hu which is the second in three months.
"Conditions will not exist for the resumption of six-party talks unless President Hu was able to convince Kim Jong-il to resume denuclearization commitments under the February 2007 agreement," he said.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan Wednesday said that a North Korean apology for the sinking of the warship Cheonan is not a precondition for resuming the six-party talks.
The official instead called on Pyongyang to reinstate inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency and to restart disabling the North's nuclear facilities in advance.
China's chief nuclear envoy Wu Dawei met with South Korean officials in Seoul Thursday and proposed preparatory talks for another plenary session of the nuclear talks which were stalled over U.N. sanctions for North Korea's nuclear and missile tests.
The talks involve both Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
Wu is also visiting Tokyo and Washington.
He visited Pyongyang last week.
According to Denny Roy, senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, he's also pessimistic about chances of the Kim-Hu summit producing a breakthrough.
"Beijing and Pyongyang will cooperate in pushing South Korea and the U.S. to return to the six-party talks," Roy said. "They will test the fortitude of the democracies, trying to get them to abandon their preconditions."
North Korea will continue its brinkmanship, he said.
"North Korea might appear to agree to discuss denuclearization, seeming to satisfy the first precondition, only to tell us later that what they meant was the U.S. must denuclearize first," he said. "If Seoul and Washington give up the second precondition that Pyongyang admits to sinking the Cheonan, this would mean North Korea has committed an act of war with no significant negative consequences – of course this means Pyongyang could go back to this strategy of provocation during the next downturn in relations." (PNA/Yonhap) scs/CJT/rsm