Current Affairs

The Delicate Ballet of Diplomacy: North Korea

Clinton and Jong-il

There he is: Bill Clinton sitting next to Kim Jong Il in North Korea.

Rejected by Mr. Kim was a long list of suitors that included Mr. Gore, Senator John Kerry, and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson.  None had the prestige sought after by Mr. Kim, but all had experience in dealing with the country’s regime. Then- President Clinton teetered on war with North Korea in 1994 before diffusing that situation through diplomatic backchannels involving Jimmy Carter.  For more on that event, read more here.

The meeting between Mr. Kim and Bill Clinton ended in the successful release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, both residents of San Francisco and reporters for Current TV, a media outlet founded by Al Gore.

Outside of the dramatic rescue of the foreign journalists, any longstanding, tangible results from former President Clinton’s visit are still unclear.  Questions remain about the content exchanged during the three hour conversation and the effect this attention will have on Mr. Kim who has been craving it for years.  However, Mr. Kim does possess, even in ever-failing health, near absolute power in determining North Korea policy, so this placating of his desires may prove to be the necessary first step in an ongoing dance with this sometimes erratic, isolationist regime.

Sending former Presidents on diplomatic missions can convey a strong message to a target country about America’s intentions without entangling the current President in the morass.  It has proved successful in 1994 with Jimmy Carter and now with Bill Clinton.  It also has the distinct advantage of achieving foreign policy goals without the use of military force.