The story behind Clinton’s trip to North Korea


Freed journalist Euna Lee is followed by Laura Ling as they step off their plane Wednesday in California.
Two senior Obama administration officials described on background how former President Bill Clinton’s mission to Pyongyang to secure the release of two U.S. journalists imprisoned by North Korea evolved:

President Obama never spoke directly with former President Clinton about this issue, the officials said. During a phone call with their families in mid-July, the journalists told their relatives that they had been informed by the North Koreans that they would be willing to grant them amnesty if an envoy like former President Clinton would come to Pyongyang to secure their release. During the weekend of July 24 and 25, President Clinton spoke with National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones about his willingness to take on this mission. Clinton ultimately agreed to go on the mission but made it very clear in every communication that this was purely a humanitarian effort. Clinton also wanted to make sure, based on the due diligence of the national security team, that there was a high likelihood of success if he went. One official said: “We were convinced this would be the result and based on that we could advise President Clinton that his trip was going to be successful.” It was always made clear by Clinton and the national security team that this would be a humanitarian mission. One of the officials said: “We had one goal in mind, which was in the U.S. interest, which was to seek the release of these two U.S. Americans. That’s what it was, and we’ve been very clear about what it wasn’t. It in no way indicates and that’s why I also want to underscore the consultations that we have with allies before the mission to be absolutely clear here what it was and what it wasn’t. and it wasn’t in any way about our disagreements with the DPRK with respect to its conduct, or with respect to our intention to vigorously enforce resolutions and to vigorously seek the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” President Clinton and his team did engage in an hour-and-15 minute meeting with President Kim Jong Il, and then had a dinner which lasted a little over two hours. “So the total amount of time that they were in meetings or agendas with each other was about a little over three hours and 15 minutes,” one official said. Asked if the nuclear issue at least was discussed, the official said, “I don’t have an answer to that question. I’m sure president Clinton gave President Kim his views on denuclearization and his views are well known with respect to denuclearization.” Former Vice President Al Gore was actively involved in this effort from the start, speaking often with the families and the Obama administration. One official said: “Gore has been directly, constantly and vigorously involved in trying to seek the release of his colleagues at Current TV.” President Obama called the parents of the two journalists between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tuesday to congratulate them. Both of the journalists are “enormously relieved and in good health.” The jet carrying the freed journalists, Clinton and other officials touched down Wednesday morning in Burbank, California.

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