Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Clinton in North Korea

Former President Bill Clinton is in Pyongyang, meeting with Kim Jong-Il:

Former President Bill Clinton met Tuesday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on the first day of a surprise visit to Pyongyang, with the "exhaustive" talks covering a wide range of topics, state-run media said.

Kim engaged Clinton in a "wide-ranging exchange of views on matters of common concern," the report said.

Clinton was in communist North Korea on a mission to secure the release of Americans Euna Lee and Laura Ling, reporters for former Vice President Al Gore's Current TV media venture who were arrested along the Chinese-North Korean border in March and sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor for illegal entry and
engaging in "hostile acts."

A senior U.S. official confirmed to reporters traveling to Africa with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that the former president was in North Korea to secure their release, but said the White House would not comment until the mission was complete.

"While this solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans is on the ground, we will have no comment," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement. "We do not want to jeopardize the success of former President Clinton's mission."


This could be quite interesting. Clinton isn't the first former President to go to North Korea; Jimmy Carter went in 1994. But this is a whole new dynamic in international diplomacy, with the former President's wife being the current Secretary of State. Because of this, anything Bill says will be seen as official U.S. policy; even though he doesn't hold any official position, he carries an international gravitas unlike any other individual. In some ways that makes this a brilliant move with regard to the diplomatic impasse with North Korea, as the Obama administration can maintain a plausible distance from any concessions toward formal diplomatic relations, while creating an open conduit for communications. But there are perils with this move, by both creating a new GOP attack talking point and allowing Kim Jong-Il a new propaganda campaign. Relations with North Korea have been an almost impossible dilemma, with no good options available, but this may be the most creative diplomatic move in recent history. Because of the international respect for both Clintons, the world will pay attention.

We'll see how this all plays out, but I'm betting that Bill will get the journalists released. And that's a good place to start.

(Added: Well, that didn't take long. The journalists have been "pardoned", and that they will be released during Clinton's visit. Nice work, Bill Clinton.)

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