Getting through to North Korea

Is Bill Clinton's visit to Pyongyang the start of a new dialogue with North Korea?

Give the Americans credit, said Seoul’s Hankyoreh in an editorial. Sending former President Bill Clinton to Pyongyang to negotiate the release of two American reporters was a clever way to break a months-long deadlock over North Korea’s nuclear programs. In April, North Korea quit the six-nation nuclear talks—involving the U.S., North and South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan—after the U.N. Security Council condemned it for launching a rocket. There has been no progress in negotiations since then. The U.S. could not reward North Korea for its stubbornness by sending an official government emissary. So it sent a former president, just as it did in 1994, when Jimmy Carter sat down with Kim Il Sung, father of the current dictator, and persuaded him to restart talks. Clinton’s visit did more than free the hostages. It “signals that a North Korea–U.S. dialogue will begin in earnest.”

The North Koreans sure love to host Americans, said Kang Chol-hwan in Seoul’s Chosun Ilbo. Indeed, Kim Jong Il gave Clinton “a groveling reception,” treating the visit as “a diplomatic victory.” It was nothing of the sort, though, since it served to focus international attention on just how desperate for attention Kim has become. Still, there may be a method to his madness. North Korea keeps insisting on direct negotiations with Washington “while distancing itself from its ally China, which holds all the economic and military keys.” That’s because China has been pushing North Korea to reform its repressive, Stalinist system. Kim would much rather talk to the Americans, who have less leverage over him. No wonder he abandoned the six-party talks.

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