BBC News | 27 August 2010 | 21:22 GMT
Former US President Jimmy Carter has arrived back in the US with an American whose release by North Korea he won. Mr Carter and Aijalon Gomes touched down in Boston, where their plane was met by Mr Gomes’s family. Mr Gomes, who had been living in South Korea, was jailed in January after crossing into North Korea from China. The insular nation’s state-run news agency said leader Kim Jong-il had granted the former president’s request to "leniently forgive" Mr Gomes. His friends and family applauded when the flight landed at Boston’s airport shortly after at 1400 (1800 GMT) on Friday. Mr Gomes, who appeared thin, embraced his mother and Mr Carter upon walking off the plane.
The former president spent two days in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, before leaving with Mr Gomes, who had been working as an English teacher in South Korea. Mr Gomes reportedly crossed the border from China into North Korea on 25 January. It is not clear why he entered the country. The teacher, described by colleagues as a devout Christian, was also fined 70m won ($700,000; £460,000 at the official exchange rate). He was visited by a US official and two doctors in a hospital in Pyongyang earlier this month. North Korea said in July that he had tried to kill himself.
The US state department said it welcomed Mr Gomes’s release, but also stressed that Washington had played no official role in Mr Carter’s trip. "We appreciate former President Carter’s humanitarian effort and welcome North Korea’s decision to grant Mr Gomes special amnesty and allow him to return to the United States," state department spokesman Philip Crowley said. Mr Gomes’s family said in a statement shortly before his arrival in Boston that they felt "blessed" for Mr Carter’s efforts. "The Gomes family is enormously relieved and happy. We can’t wait to get our arms around Aijalon," spokeswoman Thaleia Schlesinger said.
In visiting North Korea, Mr Carter is following in the footsteps of another former US President, Bill Clinton, who last year secured the release of two US journalists detained in North Korea for crossing the border. Meanwhile, North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA, reported that the number two leader, Kim Yong-nam, had told Mr Carter that the state might be willing to resume six-party talks aimed at putting an end to its nuclear ambitions. Pyongyang has demanded that UN sanctions be lifted and the US agrees to talks on a peace treaty.