On Wednesday August 25, 2010, former president Jimmy Carter flew to Pyongyang to negotiate the release of a Boston man, Aijalon Gomes, imprisoned there since January. Gomes had entered the isolated dictatorship through China and was sentenced to eight years of hard labor after his capture. Carter, according to The Associated Press, was greeted with “smiles, salutes, and hearty handshakes” upon his arrival.
This was not the first time that Carter had visited the so-called “hermit kingdom” on a one-man mission. In 1994, President Clinton, whose relationship with Carter was often chilly, reluctantly agreed to dispatch the ex-president to North Korea to prevent the regime from continuing its nuclear program. Clinton and the State Department were apprehensive about Carter’s style, and he was not on the top of the list of potential deliberators. His approach was unconventional, as he was inclined to establishing deep personal relationships with foreign leaders and sometimes discussing religious matters. As historian Douglas Brinkley explains in his book The Unfinished Presidency, “the prospect of Jimmy Carter running loose in North Korea made the State Department nervous. The general consensus was that this was no time to experiment with Carter’s Christian freelancer approach to diplomacy.” Ironically, Clinton had just sent the Reverend Billy Graham to do the same bidding, and the renowned pastor was turned away.