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August 5th, 2009
01:31 PM ET

Commentary: Bill Clinton shows that diplomacy works

Editor's note: Joseph Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a nonprofit organization that makes grants to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and the author of "Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons." He formerly was a senior vice president at the Center for American Progress, a think tank that describes itself as "progressive," and was on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee.

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/08/05/art.joseph.cirincione.jpg caption="Joseph Cirincione says Clinton's trip was the culmination of diplomacy his adminstration began 15 years ago."]

By Joseph Cirincione
Special to CNN

(CNN) - President Clinton did more than free two unjustly jailed journalists. He jump-started the successful diplomacy he had begun 15 years earlier.

In October 2000, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Pyongyang. During Bill Clinton's presidency, the administration had locked down North Korea's plutonium production program, which had created enough deadly material for two bombs during the Reagan years. They had stopped all missile tests. They were a few details away from concluding a deal to end these programs completely.

But Clinton ran out of time. Enmeshed in Middle East peace talks, Clinton could not get assurances that a presidential visit to North Korea would seal the deal. He passed off the almost completed process to the incoming George W. Bush administration.

On March 6, 2001, new Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "We do plan to engage with North Korea to pick up where President Clinton and his administration left off." But Bush had different ideas. On March 7, Bush kneecapped Powell.

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Filed under: Bill Clinton • North Korea
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Bernice

    Rovan, that was a misprint...of sorts. I know it was not his jet, but the jet of an actor. Bill was the perfect man for this job! He held class from the beginning...to the end. That is why Kim likes Bill so much. Hes just a classy guy! Your very last sentence Rovan, hit the nail right on the head! Hes just one classy guy!

    August 7, 2009 at 5:50 am |
  2. James

    It shows that Bill Clinton was able to use diplomacy to be able to get the news reporter released. Bush has made things worse by engaging the "my way or the highway" act.. Just glad that Obama was able to let him do this.

    August 6, 2009 at 10:35 am |
  3. Doc NJ

    Kim Jong Il just wanted an autographed picture with Clinton.

    August 6, 2009 at 10:21 am |
  4. Wren

    He also used an actor to give use of his plane, also he opened a window in a crazed man's mind (Kim) long enough for his words to flow from Mr. Clinton's mouth to his ancient ears (Kim).

    And he moved through you to let you see another white man as a good guy for saving the day. All is right with the word till all goes dark again.

    Its a miracle!!!

    August 6, 2009 at 10:15 am |
  5. ronvan

    Bernice: WRONG! Number one this was not Clintons jet. It was given to him to use by Bing! Number two: No ex president goes anywhere on official business, representing the U.S., without approval of the sitting president. It has already been reported, by various people, that President Obama and members of his team had been behind the scenes working out the details on the girls release well before Clinton left! I do agree that Bill Clinton was the right person to send and should be used in other matters. He still has the class, personality, and the smarts, to get things done when maybe others can't.

    August 6, 2009 at 9:41 am |
  6. Bernice

    I stand corrected here this morning. I also give God the credit. He used Bill Clinton to serve his purpose.

    August 6, 2009 at 9:14 am |
  7. Wren

    Diplomacy always works. It is a shame very few in this countries Government are willing to try it. Clinton was and did, Carter (as much as people hate him) did. These two men knew talking and diplomacy was the way to get to the root of a problem and from there move forward with the goal and affirmative action at hand.

    This country does not have to blow up everything that says "No' right off, we do not have to invade them or threaten them. Sitting down and talking not only finds a longer lasting solution, but it gains respect and a greater chance at longer lasting peaceful relations.

    Contrary to what most believe, to gain and keep respect does not come at the end of a bomb, gun, tank or invading squatting army. You cannot just force yourself into where you are not wanted and expect instant love and an open ear that will hear clearly ever word said. I am sure if someone breaks into ones home here and ties the homeowner up while holding a gun on them. Is not going to make them very open to non-hostile communications and retaliations.

    The President knew he could not go in there and get these two girls released. No president would have been able to. At least not out alive without a nuclear war. Anyone in the active Government would not have been able to go in and get these two women, this was a given, why do you think when this first happened they were tapping ex-political people? Clinton just happen to be one that can talk diplomacy and also one that Korea happens to have listened to in the past when it came to nuclear weapons (as in not making and or testing them, the second he was out they had a field day though).

    There is no overshadowing when you have a hostage negotiator. Does anyone see signs of Clinton pushing his wife out of her office now that he has done this one thing? Really, he negotiated for two peoples life, for this we should be thankful not nick picking.

    August 6, 2009 at 8:26 am |
  8. Raleigh R

    very happy they are home for them and their family's.I thank God and give HIM all the credit.

    August 6, 2009 at 6:15 am |
  9. Bernice

    Too funny! Obama was not welcomed onto the North Korean soil to begin with! Give credit where it is due for a change!!! CLINTON, held his own very well, flew his own jet over, had to endure a lunch and photo shoot, then made the deal to get the ladies returned! NOT OBAMA! They were supposed to! BUT, it took a US American citizen! Please give the credit where it was due! Thank you BILL CLINTON! You, alone, did more for these ladies than our own govt. even could! This took diplomacy, but not from this administration!!! Great job Mr. Clinton. God Bless you for being there for the helpless Americans!! What the shame is ...we all knew that this administration would try to take the credit. Noone in his administration did this act of kindness ...an American citizen named Bill Clinton surely did though!!

    August 6, 2009 at 6:15 am |
  10. jenny

    Good job everyone involved.....including NK who released them.
    Lets pray everyone stays on the peace trail...
    Gotta say love Mr Clinton. Good job.

    August 5, 2009 at 5:33 pm |
  11. Larry

    The Obama administration is getting more done thru diplomacy than Bush did with his wars.

    I think Bush was just too stupid for diplomacy.

    August 5, 2009 at 2:14 pm |