Update: North Korea has reportedly pardoned the two U.S. journalists.
Those who have complained that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has too many envoys are going to have a field day with this. But the decision to send former President Bill Clinton to Pyongyang to try to negotiate the release of the two Americans held there, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, is a smart move.
First, sending a well-respected former U.S. president shows the kind of respect Pyongyang is likely to respond well to.
Second, having such a seasoned political observer on the ground will give the U.S. some intelligence about what is going on in Pyongyang these days, with rumors about Kim Jong Il on dialysis and the plan to hand the reins to his youngest son, Kim Jong Un.
To the extent that the Obama administration wants to send a signal that they want to find a way to reengage after the second nuclear test, President Clinton can be trusted to handle that carefully.
Fourth, Bill Clinton is an excellent hands-on negotiator, and he won’t give up.
Finally, the fact that the U.S. is sending such a high-level figure means that back channels have indicated the possibility of success. I’m willing to live with the smirks for a decision that might return two Americans to safety and could help break the impasse with North Korea.
– Nina Hachigian