Clinton trip not a precedent

August 7, 2009 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, Aug 7 – The White House has dismissed claims that Bill Clinton’s recent mission to nuclear-armed North Korea could set a precedent for other rogue states seeking a public relations bonanza.

The former US president was meanwhile preparing to brief the US security establishment, which is desperate for rare intelligence from inside the reclusive state, and for a face-to-face meeting with President Barack Obama.

There were also hints that Clinton’s three hours of talks with isolated leader Kim Jong-Il this week ranged much further than the fate of the two jailed US female journalists for whom he traveled to Pyongyang to rescue.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs parried claims that Clinton’s mission, characterized by Washington as a private humanitarian venture, could encourage other US foes to seek a similar moment in the spotlight.

"I don’t read a lot of precedent into it," Gibbs said Thursday, sending a fresh signal that North Korea’s release of the reporters would not diminish international pressure for a halt to its nuclear program.

"If they would like to see a greater international breakthrough, then they just have to come back to live up to the responsibilities that they entered into."

Conservative critics of Clinton’s dramatic trip have complained that such a move could be leveraged by North Korea as a "reward" for belligerent behavior.

But the former president’s wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, defended the mission, saying similar initiatives had been undertaken by other ex-presidents and members of Congress.

"It is absolutely not rewarding them. It is not in any way responding to specific demands," she told CNN in an interview from Nairobi.

Bill Clinton was tight-lipped about the visit except to say he had not gone beyond the State Department’s previous expression of regret over the incident.

"The young women had acknowledged that they did go into North Korea briefly, a few steps, and that they shouldn’t have done it. And the secretary of state had previously said that the United States regretted that," he said at his foundation in New York.

"I was not asked for any more, nor did I offer any more."

The White House has said reports by Pyongyang’s official media that Clinton apologized for the journalists’ conduct were false.

National Security Adviser James Jones said that despite US delight at the outcome of Clinton’s mission, it had not changed the relationship between Washington and its Cold War foe.

"I wouldn’t draw any other conclusions beyond the fact this was a good event. We certainly hope it can lead to good things, but we won’t know that for a while."

Bill Clinton gave an initial readout of his North Korea mission late Wednesday to a member of the National Security Council, the White House said, adding that a more formal briefing would take place "quickly."

He is also expected to meet Obama, but Clinton said he would let the White House do the talking.

"I am not a policymaker, I shouldn’t be, so I have an obligation to report to my government and otherwise to say nothing that would in any way tip the balance of any kind of decisions that might or might not be made," he said.

A senior Japanese official said Thursday that Clinton had urged Kim to resolve questions over the fate of Japanese nationals kidnapped during the Cold War.

Officials did not dispute reports Clinton discussed a broad range of issues in his encounter with Kim, and told him Pyongyang could benefit if it released kidnapped South Korean and Japanese nationals.

The Wall Street Journal quoted a South Korean official as saying Kim was hoping to secure the kind of direct summit with Obama that he failed to lock in with the former president as his administration drew to a close in 2000 and 2001.

In 1994, Clinton presided over the "Agreed Framework" — an attempt to get the North to abandon its nuclear program in return for economic benefits — but the deal later fell apart.

Clinton returned to the United States on Wednesday with freed journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling.

Lisa Ling told CNN Thursday that her sister said her captors had "treated me humanely" during her isolation in Pyongyang, but that she was forced to "adapt to a new version of normalcy" in the nearly five months of her detention.

Lisa Ling declined to go into details surrounding the journalists’ arrest, saying her sister would soon write an editorial about her experience.


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