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Mr. Clinton Goes to Pyongyang…Kim Jong-Il Keeps His Toys

August 5, 2009

President Bill Clinton has just returned from North Korea with two American journalists (Laura Ling and Euna Lee) after arranging their release from prison. Arrested last March on the China-North Korean border, Ling and Lee were sentenced to 12 years hard labour. In arranging this delicate release secret talks went on for several months. Clinton was hesitant in agreeing to go because of not wanting to negatively affect US foreign policy and to play into the hands of Kim Jong-Il, who has demonstrated his mastery of manipulating the United States in the past. It needs to be stressed that this was a humanitarian mission, but it’s easy for the media and the public to misconstrue intentions.

Al Gore had been suggested to the North Koreans as one person to meet with government officials to finalize the release of Ling and Lee. No way, said the North Koreans. They wanted someone no less than a former president. John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org said it best when he stated that sending President Clinton was “…way too much fire power to deploy to spring two journalists.” Indeed. However, this chain of events is not that surprising when one looks back at how Kim Jong-Il has brilliantly captured the world’s attention on numerous occasions. As much as North Korea is a dangerous, volatile and extremely poor country (with a massive military), Kim Jong Il’s behaviour is reminiscent of a five year old standing alone in a sandbox, throwing his toys at the big boys in an attempt to get their attention. But boy, is he ever succeeding. One particular irony to this story is that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton only two weeks ago dismissed North Korea’s demands for attention from the Obama administration.

President Clinton’s mission was a big success, and perhaps it will help pave the way for improved relations between North Korea and the U.S., not to mention other Western countries. Kim Jong-Il is reportedly dying of cancer and is grooming his youngest son (25) to replace him. That may come sooner than expected. In the meantime, the Obama administration has its work cut out for itself by trying to manage the North Korean government, while at the same time addressing numerous serious problems back at home. But for today let’s just say, “Good job Bill!”

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