Sunday, August 9

State Dept, Clinton to North Korea: "It was a Humanitarian Mission"

The press actually gave the State Department a (relatively) hard time when asking about President Clinton's trip to North Korea to win the release of the two reporters that North Korea was holding hostage.

The State Department has taken the position that the President was merely on a humanitarian mission. That got tested when one of the reporters pushed Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood on if it was a humanitarian mission, why not thank the North Korean's as well:
MR. WOOD: We’ve had discussions. They were all – we made them aware that this indeed was just a humanitarian mission, and we wanted to keep them abreast of what was happening.

Let me go back over to the front. Please, sir.

QUESTION: Yeah, on humanitarian side, is U.S. Government considering resuming any humanitarian effort to North Korea, any assistance as a reward or in response to North Korea’s humanitarian gesture?

MR. WOOD: No, nothing that I’m aware of at this point.

QUESTION: Well, Robert, how about just saying, “Thank you?” I mean, you know, everyone’s been thanking, kind of, President Clinton and President Obama and Secretary Clinton and everybody for all their diplomacy. But I haven’t heard anybody say, you know, kind of, “Thank you to the North Koreans for their gesture of pardon,” considering that Secretary Clinton a few weeks ago, as we said, did make some comment about how everyone was sorry that this happened.

MR. WOOD: Well, the Secretary’s words stood. Look, this was a humanitarian mission, plain and simple, and everything that --

QUESTION: Well, what about that it was a humanitarian gesture on the part of North Korea and that it was a positive sign?

MR. WOOD: We’re happy to have those two journalists back, Elise, and leave it at that.

QUESTION: Well, no, I’m sorry, why can’t you say that – why can’t you acknowledge – you know, it was a mission that President Clinton went to go have the North Koreans pardon them. So why can’t you acknowledge the gesture?

MR. WOOD: We’re very relieved to have them back.

- US Dept of State 5 August Press Briefing
Also in the briefing they declared that the North Koreans got nothing out of this trip by President Clinton.
QUESTION: Critics of sending former President Clinton to North Korea say that his visit bestows too much legitimacy on the regime. What response do you have to that?

MR. WOOD: Look, this was a humanitarian mission. Our primary interest was to try to win the release of these two journalists. This was something that both the President and the Secretary were very concerned about. And so as I said earlier, this was a message that was communicated – I’ve given you the path for that communication – and we wanted to do what we could. President Clinton was approached, agreed that he would undertake the mission. And we’re all, as I said, very pleased with the result. These two young women have been freed. And it’s been a very – I’m sure a very difficult ordeal for them. But in terms of whether we’re giving the North Koreans any legitimacy by having President Clinton go, this was purely humanitarian, and that’s all it was from the beginning.

QUESTION: But at the same point, you still have a very prominent American, a former president standing next to the smiling Kim Jong-il. I mean, how does that not play as some sort of concession to the North Koreans or bestowing some sort of legitimacy on his –

MR. WOOD: There were no concessions. This was a humanitarian mission, and that was clearly that. I mean, photos don’t necessarily reflect what went on there. We’re just very pleased that these two journalists have been released. And it was a – as I said, it was a humanitarian mission, plain and simple. - US Dept of State 5 August Press Briefing
I could have sworn that I also heard a follow-up declaration in that 'They got nothing' when listening to this on the radio the first time, but I cannot find it in the video. But at least this is the message they are sending out.

Now it very well be that there were no concessions, but that is not going to stop people from claiming that there were concessions made the next time it appears that the US is cutting the North Koreans a break. And who knows how literal they are being. It could be that President Clinton made no deals because deals were made earlier. There is even one story out this morning that the US is willing to have direct talks with North Korea provided that they return to the six party talks. This was basically offered before, but why come out and say it again so soon after this trip?

And who told the North Koreans that they were getting nothing out of this? North Korea does nothing unless they are being paid to do it. It could have been for propaganda purposes. If so, there is nothing that the Obama Administration can do to prevent them from taking advantage of it. Hell, the North Koreans can just come out and claim that President Clinton delivered concessions from President Obama. It is not like they have not lied before.....

One more part of the press briefing struck me as odd. I wonder how much information they gave the Japanese in advance of this trip? They kind of danced over that aspect in reply to the question of whether the other six-party talks partners were also informed. China and South Korea were named, but not Japan. As it so happens, Japan has a longstanding dispute with North Korea over kidnapped citizens. Mr. Wood danced around the issue.

After listening to the State Dept briefing, I am more suspicious than I was before about what deals might have been made. Time will tell.
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