Q&A: The Elders' visit to the Korean Peninsula

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Sunday, 24 April, 2011

Why are the Elders visiting the Korean Penisula? Who are they meeting? What do they hope to achieve?

Why have the Elders chosen to visit the Korean Peninsula?

There are humanitarian issues of significant concern in North Korea, as well as high levels of tension and distrust between North and South Korea – made worse by the lack of official dialogue between the two governments. The Elders hope to be helpful on both counts.

The problems they want to help address cannot be resolved without others. They will therefore be visiting Pyongyang, Seoul and Beijing and will be in contact with officials from other key governments such as the US and Japan.

The Elders work on a range of issues around the world – including the Middle East, Cyprus, Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan and Zimbabwe and actively promote equality for girls and women. The Korean Peninsula is a new initiative, prompted in part by an official invitation from Pyongyang to send a delegation. The Elders want to see if there is useful role they can play.

Which Elders are taking part in the trip?

The Elders’ delegation will be led by former US President Jimmy Carter, who has a long association with Korean affairs. He is joined by three fellow Elders: former President of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari; former Prime Minister of Norway, Dr Gro Brundtland; and former President of Ireland, Mrs Mary Robinson.


Where are they travelling to, and whom will they be meeting?

The Elders delegation begin their regional visit in Beijing on 24 April and will travel to Pyongyang (26-28 April) and Seoul (28-29 April). In all three locations they plan to meet senior officials, members of civil society, academic experts and foreign diplomats.


What do The Elders hope to achieve?

The Elders are being modest in their objectives. They hope it is possible to establish a relationship of trust with those they meet. They understand that progress will not happen overnight.

The Elders want to encourage the reopening of meaningful dialogue between the North and South, as well as the other states in the Six Party Talks (China, Japan, US and Russia) – and real progress on improving the health and welfare of people in North Korea.

They believe that it is in the interests of millions of people that dialogue is re-established soon to address escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula. They also want to help alleviate the urgent humanitarian issues being raised by the UN and other agencies.


Why are the Elders meeting with the government of North Korea?

The Elders believe that it is not possible for problems or conflicts to be resolved without communication.

Unfortunately there is currently no official dialogue between North and South Korea on the main subjects that divide them. There is a high level of tension and mistrust on both sides. The Elders hope that by listening to both governments, and seeing the situation for themselves they can help to re-establish a degree of trust. They do not seek to replace any official process.

In North Korea, the Elders are particularly concerned with the health and economic well-being of the people. They hope to have positive exchanges with officials on the rights of vulnerable people and on improving the welfare of the whole population.


The Elders visit seems to be part of a wave of visits and activities – are they coordinating their efforts with other governments?

The Elders often consult governments to seek their views. However, the timing of this visit was determined by their availability to travel together.

The Elders also feel it is the right time for such an effort. A grave food crisis is reported in North Korea which could affect as many as six million people and there is a deadlock over the resumption of dialogue to address security and stability on the Korean Peninsula.


Can the Elders be sure any food aid given to North Korea reaches those in need?

The Elders understand that this is a concern. Distributing food is never risk-free in any situation, but the World Food Programme (WFP) and other agencies working in North Korea have been doing this all over the world in difficult and complex circumstances, for many years.

There is no doubt that transparency about the distribution of food can be improved. The Elders will emphasise the importance of better monitoring of food assistance and distribution in their discussions.


Are the Elders trying to restart the Six Party talks?

The Elders are not seeking to replace or intervene in any official process. They recognise that the Six Party Talks format is the mutually agreed process at present for multilateral dialogue on security and nuclear issues, and hope to be helpful in supporting efforts to restart those talks.


Are the Elders carrying messages from any governments?

The Elders are not messengers for any government.


Have any of the Elders visited North Korea before?

President Carter has visited twice, in 1994 and 2010. Gro Brundtland visited in 2000 as Director-General of the World Health Organisation.


Media release: The Elders to focus on easing inter-Korean tensions

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