Bill Clinton to the rescue

The former president's trip may be successful in securing the release of two American journalists

Topics: Bill Richardson, Bill Clinton, War Room, Jimmy Carter, Middle East,

Update: Clinton’s mission was successful, and Kim Jong Il has pardoned the two journalists. See this post for more.

In a surprise visit, former President Bill Clinton arrived Tuesday in Pyongyang, North Korea, to meet with the isolated nation’s leader, Kim Jong Il. While North Korea’s nuclear program and recent spate of missile tests have caused growing consternation around the world, the main purpose of Clinton’s trip was to negotiate for the release of two U.S. journalists currently imprisoned there.

ABC News is now reporting that Clinton also met with the jailed reporters, Laura Ling and Euna Lee. A government source described the meeting as highly emotional but told ABC that those on Clinton’s team in North Korea are hopeful the journalists could be released as early as tomorrow.

Clinton has a loose connection to the jailed reporters. Both work for Current TV, a news and media venture headed by Clinton’s former vice-president, Al Gore. Ling and Lee were arrested on the border between North Korea and China in March. In June, they were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for what North Korea said was their illegal entry into the country, as well as engaging in undefined actions deemed hostile to the communist country.

The White House has thus far remained reserved when discussing Clinton’s trip. North Korean media said Clinton shared a message from President Obama, but White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs released a statement in which he said, “While this solely private mission to secure the release of the two Americans is on the ground, we will have no comment … We do not want to jeopardize the success of former President Clinton’s mission.”

However, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., seemed somewhat confused by the decision to send Clinton. On the “Today” show this morning, he said of Clinton’s visit that “I don’t know what this is,” though he expressed hope that the visit could lead to progress on limiting North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.



 

There is a long history in the U.S. of notable political emissaries traveling across the globe to try to free hostages.

Perhaps the most memorable diplomatic mission was the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1999 trip to Belgrade to ask for the release of three U.S. soldiers held as prisoners of war by then Yugoslav president (and war criminal) Slobodan Milosevic. The trip was controversial because Jackson made the journey without the blessing of the Clinton White House. That he actually convinced Milosevic to release the soldiers after the Clinton administration had been unable to do so made Jackson’s fame as a hostage-release negotiator grow. The civil rights leader has worked as a diplomat in similar circumstances numerous times over his career: He was able to get hostages released from Syria in 1984, from Cuba in 1987 and from Kuwait and Iraq in 1990 — all without official presidential or congressional approval.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who had been discussed as a possible liaison to negotiate the return of Lee and Ling, brokered the release of U.S. hostages from North Korea in the 1990s. Richardson has also helped secure the release of hostages from Iraq, Cuba and Sudan and most recently met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to seek his support in getting a Colombian Marxist guerrilla group to release three U.S. contractors they’ve detained since 2003. Colombian commandos eventually freed the hostages, along with Ingrid Betancourt, in June 2008.

And in one of the most embarrassing hostage situations the U.S. ever faced, President Jimmy Carter proved unable to negotiate with Iran for the release of 52 Americans held after the overthrow of the shah during the Iranian revolution. A daring military operation to free the hostages also failed. Iran eventually released the hostages once President Ronald Reagan took office. Later in his presidency, Reagan suffered a major political scandal when it was revealed that his administration had sold arms to Iran in an attempt to gain the release of seven American hostages being held in Lebanon by Iranian terrorists.

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>