Kim Jong Il’s treatment this week of former president Jimmy Carter, who traveled to Pyongyang to secure the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, has struck some observers of North Korea as especially mystifying. Kim, who usually goes out of his way to try to coax American officials to Pyongyang for highly publicized meetings, did not meet with Carter and instead left the country for China.
That decision to forgo a valuable propaganda opportunity set off a flurry of speculation in Washington about the message he was trying to send.
Charles Jack Pritchard, who served as a special envoy for negotiations with North Korea under President George W. Bush, said that the fact the North Korean regime demanded a high-level US visit to secure Gomes’s release, and then snubbed it, was an attempt to humiliate the United States. “The intent was to exact a penalty from the United States and simply say, ‘You guys disrespect our laws and you want us to release him after he has been found guilty.’ ’’
John Park, director of the Korea working group at the Washington-based US Institute of Peace, said Kim’s trip underscored the fact that North Korea is placing a higher priority on strengthening its relations with China — already its most important ally — than courting the United States.
A senior congressional aide who closely follows North Korea said it could be a positive sign that Kim did not seek to use Gomes to his political advantage by showcasing himself with the former president.