WASHINGTON — The Carter Center is denying that former President Jimmy Carter is planning a trip to North Korea to negotiate the release of an American prisoner, contradicting a White House statement that he would be traveling there.
"President Carter is right now in Bogata, Columbia sic, on a trip to help announce success in the fight against river blindness disease there," said Carter spokesperson Deanna Congileo. "He is not in North Korea, and he has no immediate plans to travel there."
Congileo did not respond to follow-up questions about whether or not Carter has North Korean travel plans that are not immediate.
Earlier on Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest had seemed to confirm the trip, saying that Carter was embarking on a "private trip" to North Korea. Earnest declined to comment on the Carter Center's denial.
The State Department, on the other hand, would not confirm whether Carter is going to North Korea. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters that the Carter Center had "come out and said he is not going." She said that the topic of Kenneth Bae, an American missionary who was sentenced to 15 years' hard labor in North Korea earlier this year, had come up at a meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and the Elders, an international group of elder statesmen that includes Carter.
"This is an issue that we've been very engaged with through our protecting power," Psaki said of Bae and referring to Sweden, which represents the US in North Korea.
Carter has negotiated the release of political prisoners before, including Aijalon Gomes, who was released from North Korean custody in 2010 following a visit from Carter.