By demanding that none other than Bill Clinton come to resuce the imprisoned US journalists, the reclusive Kim Jong-Il has added to Barack Obama's foreign policy headache

He may look like he is about to croak, but once again Kim Jong-Il has proven he’s quite the master at playing international politics. He’s the sure fire winner in the mercy dash Big Dog Bill Clinton made to the hermetic kingdom to secure the release of two American journalists.

Kim has out maneuvered them all on a number of fronts, not the least on that of Clinton vs Clinton.

No sooner had Hillary scolded the North Koreans, drawing on her experiences as a mother to provide the ammunition with which to lambaste Kim and Co. as children throwing tantrums, than her hubby is jetting in on a private plane to have a photo-op with the number one tantrum hurler. In a pre-arranged choreographed piece of diplomacy he managed to save the damsels in distress – journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were each facing twelve years hard labour for straying into North Korea.

Kim’s team described Hillary as looking either like a schoolgirl or an old woman out shopping, and not very bright. There was only one Clinton he had any intentions of entertaining.

It seems no coincidence that North Korea and Iran – two of the US’s biggest nuclear headaches – have imprisoned US journalists this year, only for Ahmadinejad and now Kim to step in and pardon said journos in acts of mercy and great kindness. I can just see the Tui billboard.

In Iran’s case the release was suspiciously close to Ahmadinejad’s spectacular election rout (cue another Tui). Kim's release appears to be suspiciously close to the day when he will have to face his own mortality… and was perhaps a last ditch attempt to hog the world stage with one of the most recognizable politicians still around – Bill.

Kim is displaying to his own adoring public that he’s still got what it takes to play in the world sandpit when and if he wants. He can have his nukes and still call the shots no matter what sort of a telling off Hillary delivers him. It can only be speculated upon as to whether Bill apologised to Kim for Hillary’s dressing down or secretly agreed with the take of the dictator. Now wouldn’t that spark some high octane pillow rage à la maison Clinton!

The ironies in the Clinton dash abound. Whilst in office, Big Dog, as they soooo affectionately still call him here in North America, was all set to bomb North Korea’s nuclear reactor. He only pulled back when Pyongyang agreed to freeze its programme and allow in the IAEA inspectors. Ten years later he’s on the front pages around the world sitting, albeit stiff as a board and rather unamused, alongside his country’s great nemesis, who is equally po-faced.

But politics is a dirty game and you don’t always get to hang out with the gorgeous ones, and these guys – the big one and the diminutive one – both know it.

So what did Kim manage to extract from the Americans?

The White House has been walking on egg shells trying to insist Mr C. had no authority to discuss anything other than the release of the journalists. That is impossible to believe.

The situation with North Korea and its nuclear programme is at the very least in a dangerous diplomatic logjam, and any opportunity needs to be taken to try and break the impasse… even if it means using the most unusual of channels, in the form of the Secretary of State’s bed pal.

Whether or not he carried a secret message from President Obama, and whether or not he apologised on behalf of the US for the journalists’ actions and in so doing essentially admitted guilt, are really byproducts of the greater issue of nuclear disarmament.

Nukes are not only Kim’s trump card, they are his only card, and he’s proven a master so far at teasing out world powers so as to ensure himself at least a bit part on the international stage.

A very Pollyannerish take would suggest Kim was using this as an act of outreach and goodwill, with a genuine wish to actually get the nuclear thing sorted, reduce his bellicose antics and thereby cut the level of opprobrium from neighbours and fellow world citizens – particularly his old mates Russia and China.

That unlikely act of contrition would then see a resumption of the Six Party talks and perhaps an easing of sanctions.

For so long now it reads like a Jack and Jill year one primer. Kim is naughty; see Kim be naughty. Kim is sorry; see Kim apologise. Kim is good; see Kim get fuel and aid and food and even a nuclear reactor for civilian energy. All the grown-ups sigh with relief – not least the biggest grown up of them all, the UN. Kim talks; everyone talks. Kim tests a nuke. Oops. Naughty Kim. Kim captures US citizens; Kim gets Bill; see Kim on the world stage. Blah blah blah.

This circular carry-on has been the pattern for years, and takes all involved on some frustrating roller coaster, only to dump them right back at where they were a few months or even years before. During that time Kim has managed to enrich some more weapons grade uranium and rattle not only his reactors, but his near neighbours and the world at large. Oh, and a few more of his hapless imprisoned citizens have probably starved to death for the nation’s good in the form of the Dear Leader’s nuclear prowess.

It can only be considered disingenuous to believe for an atom-splitting second that the world’s most reclusive autocrat is reaching out to the world in search of peace and goodwill.

Hopefully, Clinton will have returned to the US with the good dirt on the actual state of not only Kim’s health but his mood and some sort of info on the team around him. Perhaps he was even able to glean some insight into the succession programme for what must now be an inevitable outcome of the 'sooner rather than the later' variety.

The White House will also be, or should be, painfully aware of the flurry of international attention Kim commanded with such ease.

Arguably more important than the results of an assured dissection of his shrunken and gaunt appearance will be the lesson the Iranians take from such an overt show of the power than comes with membership of the nuclear club. Of course when dealing with things circular, the Israelis will be watching closely because they don’t want the Iranians getting such Kim Jong- Illusions.

Really, it all only adds to the headache being suffered by the present inhabitant of the White House, while Bill can claim he was merely rescuing a couple of damsels in distress. Really. Monica will be impressed.

Comments (2)

by stuart munro on August 10, 2009
stuart munro

Your enthusiasm for the six party talks is probably misplaced. The talks were designed to prevent substantial progress on North Korea, and substantially they have achieved that.

The visit establishes rather clearly that US presidents can visit the DPRK with some hope of success. Were Kim's regime as committed to the destruction of their 'despicable nemesis' as the newspapers have it, they would simply have thrown Clinton in prison too. Obama said, prior to his election, that he was prepared to visit states like North Korea and Iran. I imagine that this is his cue.

by stuart munro on August 19, 2009
stuart munro

The death of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Kim Dae Jung on Wednesday brings the issue of North Korea back into the political spotlight. Author of the so called "Sunshine Policy", Kim did possibly more to reconcile to two Koreas than any contemporary leader, as well as entrenching a healthy democratic culture in the then somewhat militaristically inclined south.

Kim was a great human being. I wish we had more of his like in New Zealand.

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