When former president Bill Clinton went overseas to convince North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il to release two American journalists I thought to myself, “good luck on that one, buddy.”
Euna Lee and Laura Ling were facing twelve years in a North Korean labor camp for supposedly “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry.” Lee and Ling were conducting research for a report on women and human trafficking. The situation looked increasingly grim as each day passed. But Big Bill flies over to Pyongyang on a private mission and whamo, Jong-Il gives the two a full pardon and they are on their way home back to the U.S.
The Telegraph (UK) reports that North Korean state media claims Jong-Il pardoned both reporters after Clinton “expressed words of sincere apology” for their “hostile acts.” However, Clinton said he issued no apology.
The families of the two journalists realeased the following statement:
The families of Laura Ling and Euna Lee are overjoyed by the news of their pardon. We are so grateful to our government: President Obama, Secretary Clinton and the U.S. State Department for their dedication to and hard work on behalf of American citizens.
We especially want to thank President Bill Clinton for taking on such an arduous mission and Vice President Al Gore for his tireless efforts to bring Laura and Euna home. We must also thank all the people who have supported our families through this ordeal, it has meant the world to us. We are counting the seconds to hold Laura and Euna in our arms.
Only the most hardened partisans are unable to find joy in this occasion. Say what you will about Big Bill, the dude still has the power of persuasion. Which, as Richard Neustadt argued, is necessary for any successful U.S. president.
But questions remain. For example, what exactly is Kim Jong-Il going to get in return for this? A softer U.S. stance towards North Korea’s nuclear weapon program? As John Bolton notes, “If you wanted to divorce the kidnapping, abduction issue of the two reporters from the nuclear issue, you couldn’t have picked a less likely envoy than president Clinton.”
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