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North Korea Frees Journos, Return to U.S. With Clinton

ling_kim_1369100cThis is great news. The New York Times is reporting that North Korea has agreed to free Current TV journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, and that the two may return to the U.S. with Bill Clinton this evening.

According to Reuters, North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA, reported that Kim Jong-il, the country’s leader, has granted two American journalists a “special pardon,” on Tuesday, which releases them from detention, following a meeting with former President Bill Clinton in Pyongyang. Reuters reports that KCNA issued the following statement: “Kim Jong-il issued an order of the chairman of the DPRK National Defense Commission on granting a special pardon to the two American journalists who had been sentenced to hard labor in accordance with Article 103 of the Socialist Constitution and releasing them.”

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Well that was a successful 12 hours! Bill Clinton to the rescue! The back story on all this is sure to be good. Apart from rescuing Ling and Lee, there is bound to be a great deal of speculation that Clinton was also there to smooth the way towards initiating some sort of nuclear talks with North Korea. Also, whose idea was it to send Clinton? Hillary? Obama? Rahm? It was a bit of a genius solution when you think about it: the North Koreans wanted a high profile emissary, the States didn’t want to look like their government was kowtowing to Kim Jong-il. If George W. wants a lesson to image rehab he need look no further than Clinton’s last 24 hours.

The White House continues to assert that this was a “private mission” — which obviously it is anything but. Mark Knoller is suggesting the outcome was in the bag before Clinton even took off: “It’s a good bet the fix was in in advance. If Clinton comes, asks nicely, shows respect to “dear leader,” he can leave w- the journalists.” We shall see, a number of cablers have been speculating that the White House just wants to avoid commenting until Clinton, and now the journos, are back in U.S. air space, which could be sometime later tonight.

UPDATE: The New York Times has a fairly detailed backstory on how the trip came together, including the fact North Korea had requested Bill Clinton be the one to make the trip, assuring that if he did the Lee and Ling would be released. There’s also this bit on Hillary’s “deep” involvement, as well as the role of White House, and how this fits into the larger Clinton-Obama picture:

And it catapulted Mr. Clinton back on to the global stage, on behalf of a president who defeated his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a bitter primary campaign last year, and who later asked her to be his secretary of state.

Mrs. Clinton was deeply involved in the case, too. She proposed sending various people to Pyongyang — including Mr. Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore — to lobby for the release of the women, before Mr. Clinton emerged as the preferred choice of the North Koreans, people briefed on the talks said.

About 10 days ago, these people said, Mr. Gore, who co-founded Current TV, the San Francisco-based media company that employs Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee, called Mr. Clinton to ask him to undertake the trip. Mr. Clinton agreed, as long as the Obama administration did not object.

The riveting tableau of a former president, jetting into a diplomatic crisis while his wife was embarking on a tour of Africa in her role as the nation’s chief diplomat, underscored the unique and enduring role of the Clintons, even in the Obama era.

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