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.”