Bill Clinton’s role in North Korea both primary and secondary

Top news these days is the release of Laura Ling (32) and Euna Lee (36) from North Korea by former President Bill Clinton. The two U.S. journalists allegedly crossed into the Secret State from China in order to collect material for a report about trafficking of North Korean women into China. What impact did Bill Clinton have on their release?

First of all, we have to take a look at the very beginning of this issue. As much as North Korea isn’t famous for its hospitability and respect for human rights and liberties, it cannot be criticized for detaining both Mrs. Ling and Mrs. Lee, if they really crossed the line. They had no visas or any other documents that would permit them to enter the DPRK which technically makes them illegal immigrants, invaders, and even spies. Therefore, although they were doing their job trying to collect material for their report, it was against the law and was entirely their fault that they ended up being captured and later sentenced to 12 years in prison with stalinist conditions.

Former President Clinton’s role in bringing them back to the United States is vast – both primary and secondary. Analysts speculate that it is his charisma, comparatively good relations with the Dear Leader during his years of presidency and, last but not least, his outstanding diplomatic skills that led to attaining the final goal.

And there is a reason for them to speculate with Mr. Clinton’s qualities at least because of the signing of the Agreed Framework under his administration in 1994 whose purpose was to put an end of the North’s nuclear ambitions and open diplomatic relations between the two countries.  However, a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity told reporters that North Korea had agreed to free Laura Ling and Euna Lee and Mr. Clinton had already known about the outcome before his plane took off to Pyongyang:

Bill Clinton undertook the mission, a senior administration official said, only after the North assured the White House that the reporters would be freed and allowed to return home with the former president. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to detail the back-channel negotiations, also said the North rejected Gore as a suitable emissary. (AP, Yahoo, Steven R. Hurst 2009)

If that senior administration official said the truth, then it is most likely that the meeting between the U.S. delegation led by Bill Clinton and the North Korean officials led by Kim Jong Il was mainly about the nuclear issue in the Secret State, regardless of speculations in the media that the issue was never discussed then.

The former President and his delegation had reportedly been talking with the North Korean side for three hours. It is unconceivable to me that they were talking about the release of the two journalists only for such a comparatively long time, especially if it had already been known that the sole presence of Bill Clinton would assure their freedom.

What’s next

Judging by the circumstances, it is unlikely that we are ever going to be told what they were talking about specifically, especially since the meeting had been kept a secret until the last minute. However, I think that the expression of Bill Clinton’s face is a good way to understand what course Washington has taken in its relations with Pyongyang. In diplomacy, such a somber expression means no suggestion of warmth between the one with that expression and the one(s) to whom he or she is addressed. Mr. Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright used exactly the same method when she met with Slobodan Milosevic and… Kim Jong Il. The photo of her with the Dear Leader was at the same place that you see in the photo above:

In her memoir “Madam Secretary Madelein Albright, her comment is the following:

We were in the process of testing North Korean intentions when the Clinton administration’s time ran out.”

The photo was taken in 2000 when President Clinton’s term really ran out but that’s another matter. What matters is the coincidences between the two former leaders’ facial expressions at the same place and probably for the same purpose but at a different time. It looks like Washington hasn’t changed its attitude toward Pyongyang even when it sends former leaders there which sends a very convincing message to the North Korean administration – that the United States will do everything they possibly can to prevent the North from attaining nuclear weapons .

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