Tales from the Trail

McCain sees N.Korea as using Clinton visit for propaganda

KOREA-NORTH/WASHINGTON – Republican Senator John McCain says North Korea was attempting to use former President Bill Clinton’s visit for propaganda purposes and enhance the prestige of Pyongyang.

In an interview with Reuters, McCain said the Obama administration should resist any temptation to engage in direct talks with the North Koreans but instead should push North Korea to rejoin stalled six-party negotiations over its nuclear program.

The six-party talks include the United States and North and South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.

McCain, the Republican candidate in last year’s presidential election won by Barack Obama, said he believes all Americans appreciate Clinton’s role in securing the release of two American journalists and sparing them from “the worst gulag in the world, with conditions that would make Stalin blush.”

“The question is, will this signal a change in North Korean behavior?” McCain said, recalling that a visit by former President Jimmy Carter to North Korean in 1994 led to hopes for a change but did not produce lasting progress.

North Korea requests Clinton. So off he goes.

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.”

Bill grabs spotlight from Hillary

KOREA-NORTH/For months, Bill Clinton has stayed out of the diplomatic spotlight in deference to his wife.

But the former U.S. president has dominated the news since he turned up in North Korea seeking the release of two American journalists, while Hillary Clinton headed to Africa for her first major trip there as the top U.S. diplomat.

Secretary of State Clinton stayed out of sight from reporters traveling with her on the 15-hour flight to Kenya. Her staff said she would not comment on her husband’s mission to Pyongyang, which the White House billed as private.

from Left field:

Baseball brings ‘em together: all 5 U.S. presidents

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It's one thing they can agree on... baseball. 

Major League Baseball is bringing all five living U.S. presidents together at next week's 80th All-Star Game.

President Barack Obama and his predecessors George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter will appear in a 7-minute video presentation as part of the U.S. sports league's all-star festivities on Tuesday in St. Louis. Baseball called it the first time all living U.S. presidents would participate in a ceremony at a sporting event.

The video address will be part of a pre-game ceremony honoring 30 men and women being recognized by MLB and People magazine for acts of giving and service to their communities. Each person represents one of the sport's 30 teams.

Bill and Hillary take to joint stage on Haiti

USA/USA/Haiti is a family concern for Washington power couple, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and husband former President Bill Clinton. 

The Clintons — albeit separately — addressed a donors conference on Haiti on Tuesday — Hillary as the new top diplomat and Bill as the head of his charity.  

In her morning address, Hillary Clinton shared her love for the impoverished nation, revealing she went to Haiti for the first time with her husband soon after they were married. 

So is Clinton advising Obama on healthcare? White House won’t say

President Barack Obama turned his chief rival in the 2008 Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton, into his secretary of state, but is he tapping her for advice on healthcare reform too?
 
Not clear. Clinton, who spearheaded a failed attempt to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system in the 1990s while her husband, Bill Clinton, was president, will be in Europe on Thursday, when Obama holds a “summit” on healthcare reform.
 
So has the White House consulted with the former first lady about the issue? OBAMA/
 
“You know, I don’t know if they have had wide-ranging conversations specifically with Secretary Clinton,” spokesman Robert Gibbs told a White House briefing.
 
“There are still a number of people around that were part of that effort that can be consulted,” he said.
 
Clinton’s failed efforts in the 90s were widely blamed for hurting her husband’s adminstration, with critics citing the secrecy of the process as one of its downfalls.
 
Thursday’s summit is meant to set a process in motion to reduce healthcare costs and extend insurance benefits to millions of Americans who are not covered.
 
Gibbs hinted that the White House would not repeat the former first lady’s mistakes.
 
“I think even those involved in previous efforts would acknowledge misgivings that they had about the way the process worked,” he said. “Tomorrow’s effort is intended to bring about a process that people can be assured is open.”

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lemarque (Obama and Clinton at the State Deptarment on January 22)

Bill Clinton to Obama: Don’t be so gloomy on economy

Bill Clinton has some advice for President Barack Obama — lighten up a little on the economic comments, dude. DAVOS/

In an interview with ABC News, the former president said he likes the fact that Obama does not engage in happy talk when he says “the economy could get worse before it gets better,” and that the $787 billion economic stimulus plan is only a start on the road to economic recovery.

“I’m glad he shot straight with us,” the husband of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

Hillary on the Hill

WASHINGTON – Bill Clinton was not in the room, but his presence was certainly felt at Hillary Clinton’s long confirmation hearing on Tuesday.hillary4

As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee considered her nomination to be Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, Republicans on the  panel raised the potentially thorny subject of the former president’s charity, which has received donations from several nations including the governments of Saudi Arabia and Norway.

They questioned whether appropriate steps had been taken to avoid possible foreign policy conflicts if Sen. Clinton, of New York, is confirmed.

Bill Clinton hails Obama’s selection of secretary of state

 

U.S. Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton won the swift and hearty support of one former globe-trotting U.S. president: her husband, Bill Clinton. 

Just minutes after President-elect Barack Obama nominated Hillary Clinton as his top diplomat on Monday, Bill Clinton issued a statement of praise.

“As an American, I am thankful,” Bill Clinton said. “As her husband, I am deeply proud.”

The First Draft: Wednesday, Nov. 19

Please sir, can I have some more? CEOs of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler make their case for a $25 billion bailout to the House of Representatives, one day after enduring a skeptical reception in the Senate. A vote could come as early as today, but Senate backers say they might not have the support they need.
 
Testimony to the House Financial Services Committee gets underway at 10 a.m.
    
In Chicago, President-elect Barack Obama continues to assemble his administration. Eric Holder, a former Justice Department official under President Bill Clinton, emerged yesterday as a possible pick for attorney general, while the Wall Street Journal reports that Clinton himself offered to submit his future charitable and business activities for ethics review if wife Hillary is tapped for Secretary of State.

Formal announcements could come on Friday, a source tells Reuters.   
   
In the Senate, Democrats have edged closer to a critical 60-seat majority after Anchorage, Alaska mayor Mark Begich declared victory over incumbent Republican Ted Stevens, a convicted felon. That gives Democrats control of at least 58 seats, with races in Georgia and Minnesota still hanging in the balance.
 
A recount in the Minnesota race between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken, a former comedian, begins today. Franken himself si making the rounds in Washington to raise money and huddle with his fellow Democrats.

For a change, the stock market is not expected to get off to a dismal start today. Hewlett-Packard’s reassuring quarterly results and profit outlook are expected to offset worries about the deeping global economic slump.
   
And finally, Happy World Toilet Day! The advocacy group Water Advocates says 2.5 billion people don’t have access to a toilet, leading to millions of preventable deaths each year from exposure to human waste. The group holds an event in front of the Capitol at 12:30 p.m. to draw attention to the problem.