Jimmy Carter offers to help mediate between two Koreas

ASAN, South Korea, AP

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on Monday offered to help restart a stalled dialogue between North and South Korea, but said it was unlikely that he would be asked to mediate.

“If I were ever asked to act as a mediator, I would be delighted to do so. But I don’t believe this is a likely prospect,” Carter told reporters in Asan, 90 kilometers (56 miles) south of Seoul, during a visit to South Korea as part of a campaign to raise awareness of worldwide housing shortages.

In 1994, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton sent Carter to North Korea to defuse rising tension over the communist country’s alleged nuclear weapons program. North Korea later agreed to a freeze in its nuclear program in exchange for a promise that a U.S.-led consortium would provide two light-water reactors.

Inter-Korean relations improved significantly last year following a historic summit of their leaders in June, during which the two neighbors agreed to work together for reconciliation and reunification.

But reconciliation efforts came to a standstill this year after the inauguration of President George W. Bush, who suspended talks with North Korea pending a policy review. Washington proposed in June to resume talks with Pyongyang, but the two sides have yet to agree on an agenda.

Carter is in South Korea to build houses for the homeless as part of an international campaign to raise public awareness of housing needs worldwide.

Joined by former Philippine President Corazon Aquino and 9,000 domestic and foreign volunteer workers, Carter will help build 136 homes in Asan, Chinju, Taegu, Paju, Kunsan and Taebaek during the event that ends Saturday.

Habitat for Humanity, a U.S.-based Christian organization, is sponsoring the event as part of its 25th anniversary programs. The group has built more than 100,000 homes worldwide so far and estimates that some 1.5 billion people live in substandard housing or have no home.

“My hope is in the future to see Habitat for Humanity projects in North Korea,” Carter said.

On Monday, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung visited the Asan site to encourage workers. “Neighbors helping neighbors, countries helping countries, this is a moving scene that shows the possibility of true world peace and joint prosperity,” Kim said in a statement.