Former President Jimmy Carter has been considering a mission to North Korea to seek the release of imprisoned Korean-American tour operator Kenneth Bae but has “no immediate plans” to go, his spokeswoman told ABC News.
Several news reports from the region have stirred speculation that a Carter visit could be imminent. Washington-based Radio Free Asia reported Sunday, citing human rights advocates, that Carter had scheduled a trip to Pyongyang and would possibly meet with North Korea’s premier Kim Jong-un.
“President Carter has no immediate plans to visit North Korea,” Carter press secretary Deanna Congileo said.
Carter has discussed with Secretary of State John Kerry a possible trip to North Korea as recently as last week but had not finalized plans, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday.
“They discussed a range of issues during their meeting,” Psaki said. “And, certainly, he didn’t indicate he was going at the time because it sounds like he didn’t have plans to go.”
The 39th president was in Bogota, Colombia, Monday, according to The Carter Center. He and wife Rosalynn Carter were leading a delegation to celebrate the country’s elimination of river blindness, a parasitic disease that his foundation has led the fight against.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest Monday created confusion about a possible Carter mission to North Korea when he appeared to confirm a trip at the daily press briefing.
“I can tell you that President Carter is traveling to North Korea on a private trip,” Earnest said definitively. “He’s doing that in his personal capacity.”
Officials later walked back those remarks, saying a trip was not confirmed.
Carter, 88, has made two previous visits to North Korea on diplomatic missions. He met with then-President Kim Il-sung in 1994 to defuse a standoff on the country’s nuclear program. In 2010, Carter brokered the release of imprisoned U.S. teacher Aijalon Gomes on humanitarian grounds.
The United States has been trying to win the release of Bae, 44, since his November 2012 arrest and subsequent conviction for trying to overthrow the communist regime. He and the U.S. government have contested the charges.
Recent interview footage of Bae from prison has shown his health is deteriorating, officials say.
ABC News’ Dana Hughes and Jim Avila contributed reporting.