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Jimmy Carter: N. Korea crisis top threat to world peace

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said the Bush administration has aggravated tensions between the United States and North Korea.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said the Bush administration has aggravated tensions between the United States and North Korea.

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(CNN) -- Former President Jimmy Carter said Friday that flexibility between the United States and North Korea is the key to resolving the crisis over North Korea's nuclear program, a standoff that he called "the greatest threat in the world to regional and global peace."

The 2002 Nobel Peace Prize laureate said North Korea needs to agree to complete inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and abandon any plans to become a nuclear power -- and the United States needs to make a "firm commitment" that it will not attack.

Carter, on a trip to Japan and China to promote the peace and health programs of his Atlanta-based Carter Center, said the matter warrants "the top priority in the international community at this time."

Carter accused the Bush administration of aggravating tensions between the United States and North Korea, which he called a "paranoid nation."

"The United States has refused direct talks, has branded North Korea as an axis of evil, has declared an end to no first use of atomic weapons, ... has invaded Iraq, and has been intercepting North Korean ships at sea, and has condemned the peace initiatives of [President] Kim Young-sam of South Korea and President Clinton in the United States," he said.

U.S. changes tack toward N. Korea

Carter's comments come amid indications that after refusing to offer any inducements that might be construed as "quid pro quo" to make North Korea abandon its nuclear program, the Bush administration appears to be backing away from that stance.

South Korea
North Korea

A State Department official said Thursday that U.S. representatives said, during talks in Beijing, that the White House would address North Korea's security concerns -- a guarantee that the United States will not attack -- in a "step-by-step process" -- with the goal of North Korea stopping any nuclear developments.

Besides North Korea and the United States, Japan, China, Russia and South Korea participated in the Beijing talks.

The U.S. position seems to have changed significantly since July, when White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the administration would not "give in to blackmail" or "grant inducements" to get North Korea to dismantle.

State Department officials also said the United States would consider easing a trade embargo against the poverty-stricken nation and helping it secure International Monetary Fund loans to boost its sagging economy.

North Korea has consistently demanded a guarantee from the United States that it will not attack. Pyongyang has threatened to declare the nation a nuclear power and test nuclear weapons because of what it considers a hostile U.S. policy.

CNN's Tokyo Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon contributed to this report.

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