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Jimmy Carter's Consistent Message to North Korea

And, of course, there was the 1994 "Agreed Framework" nuclear freeze deal with North Korea, in which the U.S. and allies promised North Korea the gift of two modern nuclear reactors, plus loads of free food and fuel, if only Kim Jong Il's regime would desist from pursuing nuclear weapons. North Korea took the goods for years, and while the foundations for the reactors were being poured, North Korea was cheating on the deal. The upshot was that the Agreed Framework, with its aid and de facto acceptance of the Pyongyang regime as an acceptable negotiating partner, helped Kim Jong Il consolidate his grip on power inherited in 1994 from his father. Those are the origins of the far greater danger posed by North Korea today -- a North Korea which has conducted two nuclear tests (in 2006 and 2009), tested ballistic missiles, and continued its sanctions-busting traffic peddling weapons and nuclear technology to the likes of Iran, Syria and Burma (and beyond?). This spring, it sank a South Korean war ship; this past week, it shelled the island of Yeonpyeong; and  it feels free to threaten South Korea, the region, and the world with war.

Jimmy Carter was the godfather of that 1994 "Agreed Framework" -- conceived during a trip he made to Pyongyang in 1994. Following his latest trip to North Korea, this past August, he would now have the U.S. defer again to North Korea's threats and attacks, and offer -- yet again -- a similar deal. At this point, a lot of Americans may be inclined to dismiss Carter as simply a peripatetic crank who can't resist anything that might still feed his own sense of self-importance. But the bigger question may be what the North Koreans made of his visit to Pyongyang this past August. However diminished Carter may be in U.S. policy circles, he still arrives in a place like Pyongyang wearing the mantle of a former president of the United States. We don't know the full content of his discussions with what he describes in his piece as "top North Korean officials." But we do know that Carter himself over the years has conveyed a consistent message. His decision to re-visit Pyongyang this past summer, as well as his Wednesday op-ed, conveyed the same old Carter message: That Americans are chumps. That's a deadly dangerous message to be sending North Korea. What's needed right now is a lot less consistency from the U.S., which needs to break the pattern of sending pay-offs to North Korea. One place to start, at no cost to any American except perhaps Carter himself, would be for Jimmy Carter to back off.