North Korea requests Clinton. So off he goes.

August 5, 2009

KOREA-NORTH/It turns out that it was North Korea which had suggested that former President Bill Clinton would be the best person to come and negotiate the release of two journalists who had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in the Stalinist state.
The U.S. government — particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — had been working for months on trying to free the two journalists. The secretary of state reportedly proposed sending various people to Pyongyang, including Clinton’s former vice president Al Gore, to lobby for the women’s release.
But North Korea rejected Gore and other possible envoys like Senator John Kerry, Governor Bill Richardson and former ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg. Pyongyang wanted President Clinton and passed that word along through the two detained journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were making occasional phone calls to their families.
“In mid-July during one such phone call, Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee shared what the North Koreans had told them — that they would be willing to grant them amnesty and release the two Americans if an envoy in the person of President Clinton would agree to come to Pyongyang and seek their release,” a senior administration official said.

KOREA-NORTH/The families passed the request along to Gore, who co-founded the media group that employs the women. Gore then asked the Obama administration if the former president could make the trip.

Once the administration determined that North Korea would indeed release Ling and Lee if Clinton made the trip, the former president agreed to travel to Pyongyang on a “private, humanitarian mission.”

Before leaving for North Korea, Clinton was briefed by Obama national security officials and he also spoke with Gore and the families of the two women. 
Once in Pyongyang, where he was greeted with the fanfare of a state visit as opposed to a private humanitarian trip, Clinton secured the women’s release after about three hours and 15 minutes in meetings and over dinner with President Kim Jong-il. 

The U.S. government says it didn’t offer any quid pro quo. But it remains to be  seen what, if anything, Clinton proposed in exchange for the  women’s release.

The North Korean news agency called the Clinton-Kim talks “exhaustive” but maybe they were also exhausting? Especially if the North Korean supreme leader is as sick as reported. 

And in the end, who has enjoyed more coming in from the cold and being in the global spotlight? Kim Jong-il or Bill Clinton?

For more Reuters political news, please click here. 

Photo credits: Reuters/KCNA (Clinton sits with Kim in Pyongyang) ; Reuters/Danny Moloshok (Laura Ling (top) and Euna Lee disembark from plane in United States)

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