Apparently, there has been an intense, and largely obscured, diplomatic effort to free them.
Yesterday, the news broke that former President Bill Clinton was on his way to Pyongyang to negotiate their release. And this morning, both are home with their families after 5 months in captivity.
The Obama administration has unequivocally denied any involvement in the negotiations, but it seems unlikely that President Clinton (who, after all, is married to the Secretary of State) went to Pyongyang without some authority to represent the United States in an official capacity. International diplomacy just doesn't work that way.
Further, reports state that President Clinton only accepted the mission on the condition that he could be assured beforehand that he would return with the two journalists. That means that something had been in the works for a while.
President Clinton met with North Korea's "dear leader," Kim Jong Il, after a long public absence by the latter, who is rumored to be in failing health and perhaps nearing the end of his life. They reportedly spent 3+ hours in intense and wide-ranging "discussions." Given North Korea's --uh --"eccentric" behavior in the international community, one can imagine that these discussions were loaded and perilous. It's doubtful that the substance of the conversation will ever be made public.
A couple of points to make about the whole thing:
- For all the snide characterizations of President Clinton as a publicity hound, jealous of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton for their time in the international spotlight, he has been very low-key with his involvement. Even when he stepped off the plane, freshly back from North Korea, he made no public remarks, leaving that for Vice-President Al Gore, who owns the company that employed the two journalists.
- The happy result of this effort is yet another illustration by contrast of the ineptitude of the Bush administration. One wonders what fate may have befallen the captives had they been at the mercy of the diplomatic incompetence of Junior and the gang. Perhaps the singularly most offensive of the Bush diplomatic corps, John Bolton (the guy who couldn't even get appointed to an ambassadorship because of his boorish behavior and lack of tact) was sniveling all over the media yesterday and today. "It comes perilously close to negotiating with terrorists," he whined. (But, of course, this is precisely why the Obama administration avoided any public involvement in the negotiations.)