As I arrived at the White House yesterday for the regular press briefing, I spotted an easily-recognized figure: Jimmy Carter. Accompanied by two aides, the 39th President was headed into the West Wing where he used to work as I went into the briefing room.
The arrival of Carter to the White House (unannounced to the regular press corps) and subsequent confirmation to me that he was meeting with the National Security Council staff as well as President Obama sparked immediate speculation that the 86-year-old former President would be tapped for as a special envoy to deal with the current flare-up between North and South Korea.
From when he met with the late North Korean strongman Kim il-Sung in 1994 to discuss Pyongyang’s nuclear prowess to a few months ago when he secured the release of an American prisoner, Carter has had a special relationship with the Communist nation known as “the hermit kingdom.” In the wake of the shelling of a South Korean island by North Korea, Carter wrote in the Washington Post last week that the U.S. should consider direct talks with Pyongyang.
When I mentioned my “Carter sighting” during the press briefing, it caught many of my colleagues by surprise. New York Times White House correspondent Peter Baker says that Carter’s visit to the White House was his first since Barack Obama took office in January of 2009.
In the final question of the briefing, I asked Press Secretary Robert Gibbs whether Carter was headed to meet President Obama.
“I believe his schedule had a meeting with our National Security Advisor and I believe the President also asked President Carter to stop in,” replied the President’s top spokesman.
“Regarding Korea?” I asked.
Gibbs said “[t]hat is all I know, and I will try to find more.”
When I pressed Gibbs and asked if Carter would be available for reporters’ questions later, he would only say: “That’s not my bailiwick.”
A colleague shouted: “Tell him to go the stakeout!” leading Gibbs to say to both of us: “. . I will say that you guys both wanted to see him, how about that? I will try to get some more information.”