Tales from the Trail

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.”

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.

from Global News Journal:

How Ill is Kim Jong-il?

Photo:A compilation by Reuters of pool photographs and images provided by North Korea's KCNA news agency showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il from 2004 to 2009. The photograph in the lower right was released this week by KCNA

By Jon Herskovitz

The image the world once had of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, with a trademark paunch, platform shoes and a bouffant hair-do, is gone and may never come back. He has now become a gaunt figure with thinning hair who has trouble walking in normal shoes, let alone ones with heels 8-10 centimetres (3-4 inches) high like he used to wear.

A look at photographs the North’s official media has released of Kim over the past few months indicate he is not a healthy man. There has been an enormous amount of speculation about what is wrong with Kim, 67, including a report from South Korean TV network YTN this week that he has life-threatening pancreatic cancer.

Albright: Memories of Kim

What a difference nine years makes. Then the U.S. was toasting with Kim Jong-il, now it’s vilifying him for shooting a rocket over Japan.

Madeleine Albright, the last U.S. Secretary of State to meet North Korea’s Kim nine years ago, says people thought he was crazy then, but she disagreed. KOREA NORTH USA

Kim is the center of attention again (a place he seems to relish) after North Korea launched its rocket over the weekend, sending world powers scrambling for a response. But the U.N. Security Council has been unable to agree on how severe its words should be to scold him.