Former President Clinton Returns to US With Journalists Released From North Korea

SEOUL (RPRN) 8/5/2009–President Bill Clinton is expected to arrive early Wednesday morning in Los Angeles along with two journalists released from North Korean captivity. Mr. Clinton’s visit is being seen by some as a new page in U.S.-North Korean relations. Others see it as a domestic propaganda coup for Pyongyang.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday she was “happy, relieved” and “extremely excited” to learn that North Korea had released captive U.S. journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee. Speaking on a visit to Africa, Clinton said she telephoned her husband, former President Bill Clinton, during his plane trip from North Korea to the United States.

Mr. Clinton boarded a private jet in Pyongyang Wednesday morning along with the two women, who spent more than four months in North Korean custody.

A North Korean court sentenced them to 12 years of hard labor for illegally entering the country and committing “hostile acts”. The two were filming for a documentary when they were arrested near the China border. Their arrest and trial sparked calls for their release by media organizations and human rights groups.

“Of course we’re very happy,” said Bob Dietz, a spokesman for the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York. “I don’t think this is the end of the situation. I think there are a lot more things to be learned about what happened up there on the border, how they were treated in North Korea. But I do think this is a signal that these kind of issues can be resolved.”

Mr. Clinton visited Pyongyang as a private citizen, but experts on North Korea say the trip opened the door for more dialogue between the two countries.

Yoon Duck-min, a researcher with Seoul’s Institute for Foreign Affairs and National Security, says the visit also gave Kim Jong Il’s government a domestic political boost.

He says the meeting may have lent stability to North Korea’s efforts to set up a process of succession for Kim Jong Il. He says Pyongyang will use the meeting as a stepping stone to an eventual handover of power to his youngest son, Kim Jung Un.

Brian Myers specializes in North Korean propaganda and political communication at South Korea’s Dongseo University. He thinks the visit will enhance North Korea’s perception of the value of its nuclear weapons programs.

“They have been telling their people that the country’s accession to the nuclear club has drastically upgraded the country’s image in the outside world, and yet they’ve had a propaganda problem with that in the sense that no high-ranking visitors have since then come to North Korea to pay tribute. So in that sense Bill Clinton’s humanitarian mission to Pyongyang came at exactly the right time for them,” he said.

Myers says Mr. Clinton’s visit sends a confusing signal at a time when Washington is trying to discourage provocative behavior by the North.

Photo credit: Vigils for Asian American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were held throughout the country on Wed., June 3. The two employees of San Francisco-based Current TV – a media venture founded by former Vice President Al Gore – were arrested March 17 near the North Korean border while reporting on refugees living in China.

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