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North Korean leader Kim Il Sung at first rejected former President Carter's proposal to turn over remains of U.S. servicemen from the Korean War. Then came the nod from Kim's wife, Kim Jong Ae.

"OK," the Great Leader told Carter. "It's done. It's done."Carter relayed the deal-making moment to reporters with a chuckle, part of a 90-minute interview full of wide-eyed optimism.

"He said we can include that in future negotiations. I said that's not what I'm asking for," Carter said, perched at the edge of flowery chair in a downtown hotel suite.

"Then his wife broke in and told him he should do it, which I thought was very nice," Carter said. "She is a very attractive lady."

Just like that, the deal was done.

U.S. officials are now busy trying to confirm whether Kim intends to carry out the promise, along with several others Carter said he secured on last week's trip to North Korea.

Dazzled by the neon lights of Pyongyang, the bustling crowds at downtown stores, the "friendly and open" nature of communist officials and the "vigorous and intelligent" 82-year-old communist leader, Carter said he believes he brought the United States from the brink of another Korean War.

Even if nobody else is so sure.

"There may be an opening here," Assistant Secretary of State Robert Gallucci said Sunday. In private, administration officials worried that Carter was too eager to hear words of peace from Kim, the iron-fisted dictator of one of the world's most isolated countries.

For Carter, the risk was worth taking.

"I thought we were getting ourselves painted into a corner," Carter said. North Korea would be insulted by sanctions and move toward a second Korean War "unless there was somebody communicating with the only person in North Korea who could make a decision," he said.

But even Carter is not sure Kim can be trusted to keep his end of the bargain by freezing his nuclear program, letting inspectors stay and holding a first-ever summit meeting with South Korea's president.

"I don't feel that I have been duped," Carter said. "But the proof is in the pudding."

The remarkable round of diplomacy began an hour or so before President Clinton left for Europe early this month to commemorate the Allied D-Day invasions during World War II.

Carter said he called Clinton to express his "extreme concern" that U.S. plans for sanctions against North Korea would lead to war. The pair agreed to get Carter briefed on the topic. Gallucci briefed him June 5. The next day, Carter confirmed that North Korea stood by old invitations to him to visit.

The former president called Vice President Gore and told him he was inclined to make the trip. Gore, after running the conversation by Clinton in Europe, talked to Carter again and gave him permission to go.

Carter flew to Washington for extensive briefings and cleared his planned public statements with Gallucci.

In South Korea, officials said they were "concerned about my visit." He then traveled to North Korea and was wowed.

Officials who forbid any outside influence on North Koreans were "friendly and open." Kim was "vigorous and intelligent."