Former president Bill Clinton arrived in Pyongyang, North Korea, this morning in an effort to secure the release of two imprisoned American journalists. Weeks ago, officials from the rogue nation let relatives of Laura Ling and Euna Lee know that they would release their captive daughters if the United States sent Clinton to pick them up. Lee and Ling were arrested by North Korean security forces in March while they were traveling along the Chinese border in order to report a special for Current TV, the San Francisco–based television-news network started by Al Gore. Pyongyang tried and sentenced the women to twelve years in one of the country’s notorious labor camps, releasing a “confession” deemed suspicious by many outsiders. “The accused admitted that what they did were criminal acts, prompted by the political motive to isolate and stifle the socialist system of the DPRK by faking up moving images aimed at falsifying its human rights performance and hurling slanders and calumnies at it,” the national news service claimed.
Clinton’s trip is not an official diplomatic mission, so the White House is not commenting. “While this solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans is on the ground, we will have no comment,” explained Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. “We do not want to jeopardize the success of former President Clinton’s mission.” Clinton is not part of the State Department’s diplomatic corps, despite the fact that he’s a former president who is married to the secretary of State. This gives the United States some wiggle room so it doesn’t seem that they’ve been forced into official talks, while at the same time satisfying North Korea’s insatiable desire for recognition by prominent American politicians. The last former president to visit North Korea was Jimmy Carter in 1994, whose trip proved as a catalyst for a nuclear accord that lasted for nine years and for that time halted plutonium production there.
The Obama administration hopes that Clinton’s visit might provide a similar window for a diplomatic coup. It’s not clear whether he’ll meet “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il, but the main priority is getting the two captive journalists back, and finding out what really happened back in March.