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Clinton to Pyongyang: Criteria for Success

Author: Scott A. Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy
August 4, 2009
GlobalSecurity.org

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A former U.S. president visits Pyongyang to break the stalemate at a time of rising tensions over North Korea's nuclear program. This sounds like déjà vu, but the twist is that the mission is a purely "private" one to secure the release of two American journalists convicted and sentenced to twelve years in a North Korean labor camp for committing "hostile acts" against the regime. Nonetheless, if Jimmy Carter's 1994 visit to Pyongyang is any guide, Bill Clinton's visit might turn out to be the equivalent of hitting the "reset" button in U.S. relations with North Korea. What are the criteria for judging the outcome of the Clinton visit to Pyongyang?

First, the visit will be successful if Bill Clinton is able to reverse North Korea's harsh verdict and secure the release and return of Laura Ling and Euna Lee to their families. There is a high possibility that the visit can achieve this result since the North Koreans have discreetly sent signals to this effect by not assigning the two journalists to a labor camp and by allowing limited telephone contact between the reporters and their families. North Korea's UN Ambassador Sin Son-ho held a hurriedly arranged press conference on July 25th at which he stated that "we are not against a dialogue. We are not against any negotiations on issues of common concern."

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