In The News

Clinton to Pyongyang

August 5, 2009

Bill Clinton’s dramatic mission to secure the release of two American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee following North Korea’s harsh verdict regarding their unauthorized entry into North Korea has succeeded on multiple fronts, based on criteria for success I offered yesterday: 1) the visit secured the release of the two journalists, 2) the visit has provided a first-hand opportunity for a direct assessment of Kim Jong Il’s health and the leadership’s decision-making capacity, 3) the visit provided an opportunity to convey directly to Kim Jong Il an American view of North Korea’s situation and the unacceptability of North Korea’s continued nuclear weapons pursuits. We do not know yet whether Kim Jong Il has been able to use the opportunity to make a new start in relations with the Obama administration.

The mission itself was reminiscent of the diplomacy of Japan’s Prime Minister Koizumi, who made a one-day trip to Pyongyang in September of 2002 and succeeded in securing the release of four Japanese abductees and a direct apology from Kim Jong Il. Although Clinton’s trip was private, it has become clear that the mission was a direct result of months of painstaking negotiations and an assessment by Pyongyang of the likely maximum benefit it could obtain for the release of the journalists. The issue increasingly was becoming a burden rather than a benefit to North Korea. The Obama administration efforts to utilize an envoy of lesser stature than Mr. Clinton were rejected by the North Koreans. Read the full blog.

Scott Snyder directs The Asia Foundation’s Center for U.S.-Korea Policy. He was quoted on former President Bill Clinton’s  trip to North Korea to negotiate the release of two American journalists in The Los Angeles Times, NPR, and Slate. Today, Snyder blogged on Global Security about the implications of this visit. He can be reached at

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