The Bag Man: Bill Clinton in Pyongyang

[Update:  More here, at The New LedgerI suspect we’ve come to a fork in the road.  One way brings us to Agreed Framework III, and the other clears a major obstacle toward intensifying sanctions, and an adult response to a crisis that talks without clear benchmarks and objectives have only exacerbated.  Place your own bets.]

Former President Clinton is in Pyongyang to ask for the freedom of Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

As I’ve said before, it hardly matters how Ling and Lee got across the border as far as the policy of our government is concerned.  Either way, a detention of this length is unjustified and clearly aimed at gaining some ransom, whether monetary of diplomatic.  As such, it should be treated as false imprisonment and therefore, terrorism.  Either way, no ransom should be discussed, offered, or paid.  And either way, the North Koreans should understand that some particularly painful sanction will be applied with increasing force until Ling and Lee are freed.  Predictably, however, things have taken a different turn.  So who thinks Clinton is arriving empty-handed?  Obviously, there’s much about this mission that’s hidden from us, but there are a few things that we either know or can infer with near certainty:

1.  There was a price of admission.  The terms of the visit were negotiated with the North Koreans for months, meaning that North Korea didn’t let Clinton in without at least the prospect of a payoff.  The converse must also be true:

“The question is going to be how could he go to Pyongyang without some assurance that they would be released,” Snyder said.  “For someone at his level to go without a prior assurance of some kind would be to risk a huge loss of face.”

Despite the Administration’s admirable efforts to keep this issue separate from the nuclear diplomacy, the subject will almost certainly come up and probably already has.  Both Clinton and the North Koreans are involved in their own intrigues against President Obama, and I wonder why Obama decided to trust Clinton with a venture like this.  A man of lower stature and higher integrity would have been far more suitable, which suggests that the North Koreans have already won round one of these negotiations.  Indeed, the very fact of negotiating for the freedom of these women means that.

2.  Bill Clinton doesn’t take insults directed at his wife’s appearance personally.

3.  Reports that Kim Kye Gwan was purged were greatly exaggerated.  He was there at the airport to greet Clinton.  It’s yet more evidence that the Norh Koreans seek linkage between their hostage-holding and the nuclear negotiations.  North Korea tends to send low-ranking officials to greet high-ranking Americans as a particular form of insult (Ralph Cossa thinks Kim Jong Il will have to meet Clinton, but Ralph Cossa is wrong about a lot of things).

In all likelihood, this story will end the way talks with North Korea always do — with North Korea being rewarded its evil acts, and with North Korea no less of a threat to us than when the story began.  And because North Korea has learned to profit from ransom, there will be more hostages taken as a result.


  • As much as I want Laura and Euna to come home, I don’t like this because I don’t want us to look weak coming out of this. Bill Clinton is a big reason why we have problems with North Korea today with the nuclear weapons.

  • Perhaps very un-American of me, but Laura and Euna aside, I only have one question: What will we have to “pay”, or what have we already “paid”, as the price for this negotiation and possible release of the Americans?

  • Can’t wait to see the pic; guess who just finished shaking hands with Bill Clinton, part 2: Kim Jong-il!

  • Usually, Carter defends his overtures to the Middle East by saying that he’s going to meet Hamas strictly as a “private citizen”… So I wonder who Bill’s sleeping with to get the Obama administration to cover for him by saying he went in as a private citizen.

    The fact that the administration is claiming Bill went in as a private citizen points to the conclusion that he went in with some kind of ransom. That way, if things go haywire, the administration could claim that it did not provide any material support to the regime and that Clinton was acting alone.

    And I agree with Dana’s comment…the Clinton administration was responsible for ongoing violence in Somalia, Rwanda (->militias in Congo), former Yugoslavia, etc. To send him back in to any of these places would be the definition of insanity.

  • Let’s start a One Free Korea pool speculating on how much William Jefferson Clinton imitates William Shatner as the Pyongyang Priceline Negotiator and pays for Laura Ling and Euna Lee’s hotel expenses?

    I’ll start: $200,000 … How’s that for a bill, Bill?

  • Another democrat campaigning against his own country’s national security on foreign soil. This is unforgiveable on every conceivable level. Clinton goes in to beg, hat in hand for the flesh of two alleged American media voyeurs while humbly ignoring the 200,000 Koreans dying in the gulags.

    I can’t put into words how wicked this unfathomably stupid tack is. Appeasing Kim Jong il when he is within 12 months of his long awaited and eagerly desired demise is a strategic blunder on a biblical level.

    Every true Korean patriot will reject this gratuitous homage to one of history’s most deluded, evil men – and informed Americans will share their sentiment.

  • Another democrat campaigning against his own country’s national security on foreign soil. This is unforgiveable on every conceivable level. Clinton goes in to beg, hat in hand for the flesh of two alleged American media voyeurs while humbly ignoring the 200,000 Koreans dying in the gulags.

    KCJ, which Democrat are you talking about? Obama or Clinton? Clinton going is something that is very much orchestrated by the Obama administration…

  • Perhaps both, nkmatters…

    This level of suck uppance has me speechless. No doubt this is Kenyan Marxist diplomacy – but the visit just sent KJI’s status through the roof. Can you imagine Geoge Bush going to Pyongyang (“I have a visceral reaction to this man – he starves his own people…”) and ignoring the 200,000 victims of Jucheism?

    And Joshua’s angle that he symbolically threw his wife under the bus by the visit is particularly poignant. Clinton is an attntion whore of patholigical dimensions. Even if he springs Ling and Lee, the price will be 200,000 dead Koreans.

    I need to stop. My anger is seething over this…

  • French media first to post photo of Bill Clinton/Kim Jong-il on Internet:

    Look at the huge smile on Kim Jong-il’s face! Looks like Bill Clinton is holding the check!

  • joshua is the fake john bolton.

    same article:

    and i can’t believe that don kirk was sooo off re: Chris Hill’s best friend Kim Kye Gwan.

  • According to google, Bill Clinton is 25 cm taller than Kim Jong Il but from the looks of this picture it is more like 10 cm.

  • quite frankly….he doesn’t look as bad as the media portrays:

  • Oh my god! You MUST see this! South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency has published 5 photos of what looks like Bill Clinton’s trip to Pyongyang. Wait until you see the fifth one!

    It’s a big surprise; you just have to see it to believe it! I still have tears in my eyes as I’m typing this. Sooooo funny!

  • CNN just reported Kim Jong Il ordered a pardon for the two women. God let’s hope it’s true.

  • THEY HAVE BEEN PARDONED! sorry for caps, but big news day.

    no details yet. I can’t BELIEVE we gave attention to the tantrums AGAIN.

  • So did FOX

  • I think you guys got it wrong when it comes to paying ransoms. The top priority should always be to free the hostages, not kill/capture the “bad” guy.

    Though I agree Kim Jung Il and the North Korean government itself are a blight upon humanity, there will always be bad people. You can’t gid rid of them. Granted we should always try to remove them, but when other things get involved you have to take a couple steps back.

  • KCJ, dont let your seething hatred give you an ulcer there.

  • “Clinton expressed words of sincere apology to Kim Jong Il for the hostile acts committed by the two American journalists against the DPRK after illegally intruding into it,” the news agency reported. (KCNA)

    Right. Hostile acts. KCNA at its best again.

    But where are the brigands and the imperialists in that news report?

  • Call me naive but I am hoping just the fact that someone as high ranking as Bill Clinton and the promise of further negotiations will be enough to appease Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Il may be in his last days and there is speculation he wanted to show his power by meeting with someone as high up as Bill.

  • I hope we renege on whatever deal we cut with them as soon as these girls are safely on US soil. Give NK a taste of their own medicine.

  • The Facebook group is reporting that they’re being pardoned. Hopefully this signifies a quick publicity stunt with no diplomatic repercussions, but I doubt it.

  • The comments section in this Bolton op-ed makes me want to switch my party affiliation from the Democrats to the GOP…

  • While there no doubt will be a price to pay, calling it “terrorism” is a stretch. Blackmail or ransom, yes. Terrorism, no. Threatening to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire,” however, could be construed as such.

    We’ll see what happens with the next North Korean leader as it’s clear human rights and the nuclear issue is not something any U.S. administration so far has been willing to do what it takes to achieve progress. Probably things won’t change much, though.

  • wow Joshua, the reporter return trip do’s and dont’s thread just disappeared above this thread.

  • I don’t care if a relatively small amount of cash was exchanged. I am glad the two were released.

    Now, I wish it would be quickly forgotten or the focus would just be on the two reporters telling there tale.

    But, even before they were out of country, as soon as it was known Clinton was in the North, we starting having the media bringing on talking heads who talked about what “opportunities” this latest news was opening up…

    …That should have been easy to predict from near the start of this. It should have been predictable that Pyongyang was not only going to get some kind of monetary gain from this but it would actually get a PR gain and a positive momentum push on the diplomatic front…

    At the start and through most of this, I was too focused on how the US and the media were not reacting to the news of the abduction with any heat or fury. I didn’t realize that when Kim Jong-Il released the two —- there were be the usual debate about what kind of “positive sign” it was from Pyongyang and “what it means” concerning the “regime’s willingness” to do whatever positive in terms of nukes or opening up or reform…

    But that is how every “gesture” by the North has been treated since the early to mid-1990s……It should have been obvious…..

  • I do not believe that the US should barter for the release of two women at the expense of the other 299,999,998 citizens of the US.

  • I do not believe that the US should barter for the release of two women at the expense of the other 299,999,998 citizens of the US.

    But the government didn’t barter now did they? Clinton was not with the government this time, it was a private matter.

  • Jeff, don’t be stupid. He’s a former POTUS and the pro-forma husband of the Secretary of State.

  • This is an excellent diplomatic touch by Bill Clinton and a political capital for Kim Jong-Il.
    Comrade Kim Jong-Il languished for years to meet a High US political figure like Bill Clinton. Since his father met Madeleine Albright, he has to prove to the Korean people that he is as powerful as his later father to whom he dreams to emulate both in tyranny and grandeur.

    I am a strong advocate of the two-party talk for the following reasons:
    1- The best timing since the Korean armistice with the president Eisenhower. Kim Jong-Il certainly like the Clintons (Not Trust) because it was his administration that sent Madeleine Albright
    2- He like and may be trust his old pal Bill Richardson
    3- Kim Jong-Il would certainly be willing to open a window on his country if he could get a non-aggression assurance from Barrack Obama himself
    Kim will be able to nurture his ego in front of China because the old-brother is not present to scold or influence the talk. Jong-il who is born is 1941 (according to his official biography) is older that Hu Jin Tao December 1942. In a Confucian society, this is something of a huge importance. Although China is considered the older Brother, its leader Hu is younger than Kim of North Korea.
    Jimmy Cater in his book “Our endangered Values” (page 107) wrote that North Korean late president Kim Il-Sun responding to several years of invitations expressed his deep concern from the Chinese leaders. DPRK would prefer to take the lead on any direct and secret with the US.
    I agree with most that North Korea leaders may give one signal and act erratically, but if the US is to get something from the North Korea a direct talk would denifitely earn a better result.
    But Japan and may be South Korea may want to keep the six-party talk alive, something understandable, but North Korea reading the tea leave of North Korean leaders, they already assumed that both Japan and South Korea are under the US nuclear umbrella therefore why bother listening to them.
    Whatever the outcome with the US, DPRK rightly believes that the other two ccountries would follow Japan and South Korea).

    Despite North Korea bellicose attitude, if we look back the past fifteen years there have been windows of opportunities to work out differences and may clear a platform on which peace could be built upon.

    The Juche doctrine (Self-reliance) on which the whole ideology was built is non-existent as North Korea relies more and more on charity from South Korea , US , Japan and mainly China although, as soon as these are delivered Korean labor party (조선로동당) Joson Rodontang members a quick to put the motherland’s stamps on them.
    North Korean is not on the brink of collapse but the system is sustained by the “feeding tube” of the countries she calls Imperialist American its South Korea fantosh and militarist Japan. We all know these are just sounds of crying babies what else to call a country with which they are still technically at war.
    North korea knows that it may loose any future war, but the dictator knows that would also mean the end of the regim, therefore, it is ready to drop the million of shells on Seoul and other south Korean major cities and even Japan just do more arm to all in the way a suicide commando terrorist would end a loosing war.

    The negotitions, according to both (former) secretary Madeleine Albright and Jimmy Carter, North Korea wants to pursue direct talks (without China) and secret (TO keep a high profile) with it own people.

    North Korea is looking for three discussions points (Not in order of importance)
    1- No Hostile Intention – meaning no war and no subversive actions against the regim
    2- Diplomatic relationships with the US
    3- Reunification

    Let elaborate a little bit on each of these points:
    1- No Hostile Intention – In my view This is certainly the most sensitive point for North korea . It is tough in every class-room, every political meeting, every news. During the past 50 years the regim is paranoiac to anything not under the control of the system that is assuring that the country is safe oh, I should say that the Kim and team are safe and could hold onto power for centuries.
    Not surprise, because the DPRK has done nothing but build a military arsenal and draft millions of young men into one of the world largest army.
    I believe with people like Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Madeleine Albright, Bill Richardson and maybe Al Gore the US can bend North Korean leadership to execute the “1994 agreed framework” and stop building its nuclear arsenal in return for a light water nuclear reactors units supervise under US and south Korean engineers.
    Kim Jong Il will be very happy to meet these honorable statemen and save face on the other hands Obama can still keep denying having sent anyone and that’s fine as North Korea would also prefer to have secret talks by denying and even broadcasting propaganda message to the korean people.
    The other reason this definitely give an opportunity to the system to implode, because there are extremist core ideologues who are benefiting from the statu-quo and would never welome an overture with the west. That is also a good thing, let Kim deal with them

    2- Diplomatic relationships with the US
    This is only a ceremonial event to show the world that the two countries now are at peace and welcome each other.
    The rest of western world without negative label may accept the North; the country would start moving positively toward the modern world.
    When North Korea will gain credibility on world stage, it clean image would allow investors from South Korea, China and the rest world build the dilapidated economy.

    3- Reunification
    North Korea dearest dream is to get out of the grips of China. For thousands of years Korea has been vassals of the Chinese empire. Now it is time to stand to the big brother who has become rich and more arrogant toward the younger.
    I must be cautious here but from my observation, the Korean people and the leadership of DPRK has a remarkable disdain for Chinese policy toward it nation.
    I read recently that Hu Yaobang the 6th General Secretary of the Communist Party of China who was in office between 1982 – 1987 visited North Korea, confided to Kim Il-Sung about China’s policy before Kim’s tour to Eastern Europe in 1984. I was in my second year at Wonsan University.
    Kim in return, told Eric Honneker (DDR ) East German president >.
    Interesting prediction by Kim Il-Sung, we can see here that DPRK fear of the Chinese leadership to follow the true socialism course intended in the early years of the long march for which they fought and stood firmly in the 50 – 70 thought against the west.
    Hundred of thousands of Chinese blood were lost to save Kim Il-sung’s regim during the Korean war June 25, 1950 – July 1953), but you would find no Chinese artifact at Pyongyang war museum or Chinese voluntary army mentioned in any of the scholar books.
    Since that forced reunification, with disastrously failed, DPRK remained very worried about the outcome of any future reunified of the two Koreas.
    This is a subject certainly keeping Kim Jong-il awake. The dream of reunification is genuine but with the conditions that a reunited Korea be under the leadership of 조선로동당) Joson Rodontang are remote.
    Considering today’s democratic success of the South, It is largely improbable that DPRK leadership can take on a fully democratic system which is alien to its current core socialistic values.
    At the beginning the system of two states/two governing bodies (Pure speculation on my part) may the best approach, until the two countries North and South dilute their 50 year venom and rebuild trust again.
    I am not sure the German model would work in Korea, however I thing the EU parliamentary system may be a good option.

    Reference :
    a)- Madam Secretary a Memoir Madeleine Albright
    b)- Our Endengered Values – President Jimmy Carter
    c) Cold War International History Project :

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