American Morning

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August 6th, 2009
06:19 AM ET

Bill Clinton: International man of history

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="This file photo taken on August 4, 2009 and released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il (R) posing with former US president Bill Clinton (L) in Pyongyang."]

By John F. Harris & Mike Allen

A controversy-prone ex-president rides to the rescue to defuse a crisis provoked by an erratic dictatorship on the Korean Peninsula. Most people breathe a sigh of relief, but there are skeptics who wonder if the breakthrough was won through appeasement.

Not only has Bill Clinton seen this movie before, he’s starred in it — though in a different role than the one he’s playing this week with his burst of globe-trotting diplomacy in North Korea.

The 42nd president’s success in forging a behind-the-scenes deal for the release of two American journalists in exchange for Clinton’s surprise appearance in Pyongyang may signal a new chapter in one of the United States’s most vexing and dangerous relationships. Or it may turn out to be another false start with an isolated and paranoid regime.

In either event, however, this week marks a curious full circle in the life of Bill Clinton, who until this week was an elder statesman
who seemed without a clear identity or useful role in Barack Obama’s presidency. A Clinton adviser said the former president is ready and eager for more Obama assignments.

History, it turns out, is full of inside jokes.

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Filed under: Bill Clinton • North Korea
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= 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
August 5th, 2009
01:25 PM ET

Freed journalist: 'We are so happy to be home'

BURBANK, California (CNN) - Laura Ling on Wednesday expressed the shock she and Euna Lee felt when former President Clinton showed up in Pyongyang, North Korea, to help secure the two journalists' release.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Euna Lee, left, and Laura Ling go to hug their families Wednesday after arriving in California from North Korea."]

"We feared at any moment that we could be sent to a hard labor camp and then suddenly we were told we were going to a meeting," a tearful and emotional Ling said at a news conference in California shortly after arriving by plane with Lee and Clinton.

She spoke minutes after the two women were reunited with their families at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank outside Los Angeles. They had been detained in North Korea since March.

North Korea pardoned Ling, 32, and Lee, 36, after Clinton's brief trip Tuesday to Pyongyang.

"We were taken to a location, and when we walked through the doors, we saw standing before us President Bill Clinton," Ling said with Lee standing beside her.

"We were shocked, but we knew instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end."

She expressed her and Lee's "deepest gratitude" to Clinton and his "wonderful, amazing" team.

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Filed under: North Korea
August 4th, 2009
07:43 AM ET

Analysis: What North Korea wants

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="This photo taken on August 4, 2009 and released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency shows former US president Bill Clinton arriving at Pyongyang airport."]

Former President Bill Clinton is in North Korea today. His visit comes more than eight weeks after two American journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, were sentenced to 12 years in prison for allegedly crossing into the country illegally.

Victor Cha was director of Asian affairs at the White House during the Bush administration. He visited Pyongyang with Governor Bill Richardson back in 2007. Cha spoke to Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Tuesday.

Kiran Chetry: Drawing on your experience and extensive knowledge of North Korea, what might be going on in these negotiations with Korean leaders and our former President Bill Clinton?

Victor Cha: Well, I think for the North Koreans … receiving a former head of state gives them a lot of face, political face, which is important to the country and to their leadership. I would imagine that the former president is there solely for the purpose of trying to bring back these two Americans. And he's probably engaging in discussions with the Foreign Ministry as well as with some members of the party, perhaps even the dear leader himself to secure the release of these Americans as a humanitarian gesture by the North Korean government.


Filed under: North Korea
June 24th, 2009
06:41 AM ET

Ambassador visits jailed U.S. journalists in North Korea

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="A file picture taken on June 4, 2009 shows a South Korean conservative activist holding pictures of US journalists Euna Lee (L) and Laura Ling (R) during a rally in Seoul."]

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Swedish ambassador met with two imprisoned American journalists in Pyongyang on Tuesday, a state department spokesman said, their first visit with him since a North Korean court handed down their 12-year sentence.

The spokesman said he could not provide details of the conversation between the Swedish ambassador and Current TV journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling.

The journalists were apprehended in March near North Korea's border with China and accused of illegally crossing the border and plotting a smear campaign against North Korea. After a closed trial, Lee and Ling were sentenced to 12 years in prison earlier this month.

Also on Tuesday, a statement obtained by CNN from the families of Ling and Lee expressed gratitude that North Korean officials permitted the Swedish ambassador's visit.


Filed under: North Korea
June 9th, 2009
10:28 AM ET

Life inside a North Korean prison

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="T. Kumar of Amnesty International has studied conditions inside North Korean prisons."]

American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling have been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in North Korea. What kind of conditions would they face in a North Korean prison? Not much is known about them. But through the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, we have satellite maps showing the layout of one prison.

T. Kumar is the advocacy director for Asia and the Pacific at Amnesty International and he has studied the prison conditions in North Korea. He spoke to John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Tuesday.

John Roberts: If they were sent to one of these prisons, what kind of conditions would they encounter based on the studies you've done?

T. Kumar: We have to divide the situation into two categories. First is about the living conditions. The living conditions are extremely harsh. It's overcrowded, very little food and very little, if any, medical attention. Then every day they have to work for more than ten hours. Very hard labor starting from breaking stones to working in the mines. And very little food again during the day.

Roberts: Very high rates of death in detention among these prisoners?

Kumar: Yes. It's a combination of facts why the deaths are occurring. Number one, it's hard and forced labor. Second, it's lack of food. And unhygienic environment…There is no medical attention at all in many cases. So combined of all of these issues, [there is a] very large number of people who die in these [prisons].


Filed under: North Korea
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