Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Pyongyang – Two jailed US journalists – Washington and diplomacy by Bill Clinton

On August 3, 2009, former President Bill Clinton shook hands with a North Korean official in Pyongyang.

(Photo/Zhang Binyang/Xinhua, via Associated Press).

In an update to an earlier blog (M. Ulric Killion, North Korea sentenced US journalists to 12 years of hard labor, June 9, 2009), which discussed the case of two American television journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were sentenced by a North Korean court to 12 years of hard labor for illegally entering North Korean territory, former president Bill Clinton is now in North Korea attempting to negotiate the release of the two journalists.

On August 3, 2009, the New York Times reported that, “Mr. Clinton landed in Pyongyang,” though “The White House declined to comment.” (Mark Landler and Peter Baker, Bill Clinton in North Korea to Seek Release of two U.S. Reporters, NY Times, Aug. 3, 2009). This also marks the first public mission by Clinton on behalf of the Obama administration.

Washington is approaching the issue of the two journalists with caution. In formulating how to approach Pyongyang on the issue of the two journalists, Washington has been weighing the options of a special envoy, and United Nations-supported “strict sanctions against the North Korean government, including a halt to all weapons sales and a crackdown on its financial ties” (NY Times, Aug. 3, 2009). All of this may also explain the failure of Washington to comment on Clinton’s trip to Pyongyang.

In the end, though not conclusive on available diplomatic options, Washington appears to be attempting to separate its official diplomatic campaign from the case of the two journalists, though presenting the issue as a humanitarian issue. Nonetheless, the negotiation of an earlier release of the two American journalists, which is short of the twelve (12)-year sentence of hard labor, as earlier mentioned (Killion, June 9, 2009), is contingent on some form of diplomacy, such as a special envoy or couching the crisis as one of a humanitarian issue.

In this respect, Washington appears to be on the right track, by approaching the crisis as one of a humanitarian issue. By doing so, Washington also engaged a diplomatic approach that enhances its ability to garner additional support from the international community, especially from countries such as China and Russia. The voting record of China and Russia as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council evidence a reluctant to impose strict sanctions against Pyongyang, especially military action (Killion, Modern Chinese Rules of Order (2007), 164-69).

As earlier mentioned (Killion, June 9, 2009), “Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University, said the 12-year sentence, though the maximum under Korean law, "does not mean much because the issue will be resolved diplomatically in the end.

Moreover, as foretold by Kim Young-hyun, due to Washington and the diplomacy of Bill Clinton, the two U.S. journalists were released. As reported by the Washington post, “North Korea announced Tuesday that it had pardoned two detained American journalists, hours after former president Bill Clinton met in Pyongyang with reclusive dictator Kim Jong Il as part of an unannounced and highly unusual diplomatic mission to win their freedom” (Glenn Kessler and Stella Kim, N. Korea Says Two U.S. Journalists Have Been Pardoned, Washington Post, August 4, 2009).

Kim issued an order "granting a special pardon to the two American journalists who had been sentenced to hard labour in accordance with Article 103 of the Socialist Constitution and releasing them," the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said (Kessler and Kim, 2009).

Copyright © Protected - All Rights Reserved M. Ulric Killion.

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