Clintons continue to play key roles, even in the Obama era: NYT

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Washington, Aug. 5 (ANI): The riveting tableau of a former president jetting into a diplomatic crisis involving the United States and North Korea, while his wife was embarking on a tour of Africa in her capacity as America's chief diplomat, has underscored the unique and enduring role the Clintons are playing, even in the Obama era.

Bill Clinton's success in securing the release of two American journalists who were languishing in a jail in North Korea came just two weeks after Pyongyang issued a harsh personal attack on his wife and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in response to comments she made comparing its nuclear test and missile launchings to an attention-seeking teenager, reports the New York Times.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry objected to her "vulgar remarks" and called her "a funny lady" who was neither intelligent nor diplomatic.

"Sometimes she looks like a primary-school girl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping," a spokesman said.

According to the paper, the initiative to send Bill Clinton was cloaked in secrecy and came after weeks of back channel talks between the United States and North Korea through its United Nations mission.

Clinton departed from North Korean capital Pyongyang at about 8:30 a.m. local time, along with the journalists, Laura Ling, 32, and Euna Lee, 36, on a private jet bound for Los Angeles, a statement from the former president's office said.

The North Korean government, which in June, had sentenced the women to 12 years of hard labour for illegally entering North Korean territory, announced hours earlier that it had pardoned the women after Clinton apologized to Kim for their actions, according to the North Korean state media.

The White House, which had implicitly blessed Clinton's mission, said it would withhold comment until officials had a chance to speak with the former president.

The mission to Pyongyang was the most visible by an American in nearly a decade. It came at a time when the United States' relationship with North Korea had become especially chilled, after North Korea's test of its second nuclear device in May and a series of missile launchings.

It ended a harrowing ordeal for the two women, who were stopped on March 17 by soldiers near North Korea's border with China while researching a report about women and human trafficking. They faced years of imprisonment in the gulag-like confines of a North Korean prison camp.

And it catapulted Clinton back on to the global stage, on behalf of a president who defeated his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a bitter primary campaign last year, and who later asked her to be his secretary of state.

Hillary Clinton was deeply involved in the case, too. She proposed sending various people to Pyongyang - including former vice president, Al Gore - to lobby for the release of the women, before Bill Clinton emerged as the preferred choice of the North Koreans, people briefed on the talks said.

About 10 days ago, Gore, who co-founded Current TV, the San Francisco-based media company that employs Ling and Lee, is said to have called Bill Clinton to ask him to undertake the trip.

Clinton agreed, as long as the Obama administration did not object.

In addition to Gore and Clinton, the White House's list of potential candidates included Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

North Korea signaled its desire to have Bill Clinton to act as a special envoy in conversations with Ling and Lee, who relayed that message to their families in the middle of July, according to a senior administration official.

The message was in turn passed to Gore, who contacted the White House, which then explored whether such a mission would be successful.

President Obama did not speak directly with Clinton before the mission. But his national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, contacted the former president to sound him out. The senior official said the administration did "due diligence" with the North Koreans in advance to ensure that if Clinton went, he would return with the women.

He also denied that Clinton apologized to the North Koreans as a condition of obtaining a pardon from the government.

As president, Clinton had sent Kim a letter of condolence on the death of his father, Kim Il-sung, according to a former official.

For Kim, the former official said, freeing the women was a "reciprocal humanitarian gesture."

The families of the American journalists issued a statement saying they were "overjoyed" by news of the pardon and thanked Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton.

"We especially want to thank President Bill Clinton for taking on such an arduous mission and Vice President Al Gore for his tireless efforts to bring Laura and Euna home," the statement said.

Current TV said in a statement that it too was "overjoyed" and that the hearts of its employees went out to Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee for "persevering through this horrible experience."

The Obama administration said Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee were in good health. (ANI)

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