ATLANTA – Former President Jimmy Carter said that an agreement he brokered 12 years ago for North Korea to halt nuclear weapons development is "in the wastebasket" since the Bush administration turned its back on the deal and labeled the isolated nation part of an "axis of evil."
But Carter, speaking at a previously scheduled panel discussion on his 1994 mediation, said he does not foresee the current dispute over North Korea's test of a nuclear bomb to lead to war.
"I really think it's less likely now," Carter said, adding that in 1994 war "appeared to be imminent" if the Clinton administration had pushed sanctions against North Korea through the U.N. Security Council.
The former U.S. president said the late North Korean leader, Kim Il Sun, had agreed to every stipulation that Carter proposed, including a freeze of the weapons program, a halt to processing of nuclear fuel, a return of U.N. inspectors and bilateral talks with South Korea.
Within weeks, Kim died, but his son and successor, Kim Jong Il, soon notified the Clinton administration that he would abide by the agreements, Carter said.
In exchange, he said, there were no sanctions, and the U.S., Japan and other countries agreed to supply North Korea with enough oil to produce electricity to replace that generated by a nuclear plant shut down under the agreement.
"All of that has been thrown in the wastebasket," Carter said.
He said that after President George W. Bush took office, "there was a rapid change in the attitude toward North Korea."
"Within a year, the entire framework was destroyed, and North Korea was branded a member of the axis of evil," he said.
Between October 1994 and December 2002, no plutonium was produced in North Korea, said Marion Creekmore, author of the new book "A Moment of Crisis," about his 1994 trip with Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, to Pyongyang.
"Most people believe that since 2002, North Korea has produced enough plutonium for six to 10 nuclear weapons," said Creekmore, who joined the Carters in the panel discussion at The Carter Center, along with James Laney, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea 12 years ago.
Laney said it appeared that war was certain before Carter's trip, which demonstrated to him that every opportunity for peaceful resolution of a crisis must be used.
"That is not appeasement. It's not being a wimp," Laney said.