Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Changing the Direction of North Korea-U.S. Relations

In his private mission to North Korea today, former President Bill Clinton secured the release of the two American journalists arrested along the Chinese North Korean border in March. In this unpublicized visit, Clinton met with North Korean leader Kim Jong II and negotiated the release of Euna Lee and Laura ling, the reporters for former Vice President Al Gore’s Current TV. The two young women had been sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor for illegal entry and allegedly committing “hostile acts.” It has now been reported that the two journalists are returning to the United States on Clinton’s plane.

The official Korean central news agency said that Clinton and the North Korean leader discussed a wide range of topics, including the release of Ling and Lee and the status of the North Korean nuclear weapons program.

The dramatic events come at a time of heightened international tensions. The Obama administration had voiced concern about North Korea’s recent testing of nuclear and ballistic missiles, which violates UN Security Council resolutions. In late May, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned North Korea that it could face “unspecified consequences for this aggressive behavior.” Meanwhile, for the past several months she had also been working to negotiate the release of the two journalists.

Senior North Korean officials greeted Clinton with a warm welcome and bouquet of flowers at the airport, after which he was treated to a banquet at the state guesthouse. Analysts say that, though Clinton is no longer president, the broad smile on Jong II’s face indicated a possible upturn of events in what seemed to have become a downward spiral of Western-North Korean relations.

Experts believe that Bill Clinton’s visit came at the behest of North Korean leaders, who had indicated they might release the two young women with a formal apology and a visit from a high-profile U.S. emissary.

When asked in a KCBS radio news interview for her reaction to Clinton’s success, Dr. Gloria Duffy, president and CEO of The Commonwealth Club, responded, “I not surprised. I am very pleased by the pardon. And I am wondering what this will lead to. What other topics were discussed? Why was North Korea so interested in opening the door to perhaps further positive developments?

Duffy, who worked with President Clinton as a nuclear arms negotiator during his first term in office, added, “The last successful agreement that was negotiated with North Korea about its nuclear program was under the Clinton administration. So there is a positive history there. That was the Agreed Framework negotiated in 1994 that was dispensed with some years later during the Bush administration. That’s important symbolism. The North Koreans have wanted to meet with a United States president for some time. Kim Jong Il has wanted to be seen as a world leader…, so the symbolism is very important to him being equated with a senior American leader –again, one [Clinton] who had a relatively positive relationship with North Korea. In fact under President Clinton’s leadership, many positive things happened.”

--Commonwealth Club Media and Public Relations Department


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