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Bill Clinton returns to world stage -

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ELEANOR HALL: Former US president Bill Clinton has re-emerged onto the international stage with a
successful mission to North Korea to free two jailed American journalists.

Bill Clinton met North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong Il and the women were released just hours
later.

The White House insists his trip wasn't an "official" visit, but questions are now being raised
about whether Bill Clinton's diplomatic foray will affect US-North Korea relations.

Washington Correspondent Kim Landers reports.

KIM LANDERS: It was a secret mission by a high level envoy.

(Sound of North Korean television)

Bill Clinton's surprise trip to Pyongyang has won the release of two American journalists held
captive since March. Euna Lee and Laura Ling had been sentenced to 12 years in a hard labour camp
after reportedly illegally crossing into North Korea from China.

But today North Korean television says leader Kim Jong Il has issued a pardon and ordered their
release. State media says former president Clinton apologised on behalf of the women and also
relayed President Barack Obama's gratitude.

Jack Pritchard is a former special envoy to North Korea. He believes North Korea has agreed to
release the journalists in a bid to try to reset its relationship with the Obama administration.

JACK PRITCHARD: For the first time we've seen that UN Security Council resolution, the sanctions
were looking as though they might actually have an effect on the regime. We saw an incident in
which the North Korean ship, the Kang Nam, was set sail ostensibly to Burma, turned around midway,
came back, the Burmese Government said if you'd shown up we were going to search you.

So these things were accumulative in effect, what the North Koreans really saw no good future down
the path that they were on.

KIM LANDERS: So how should the Obama administration take advantage of Pyongyang's gesture?

JACK PRITCHARD: Well what I hope comes out of this is a message from Kim Jong Il through president
Clinton to the Obama administration that says - give us a chance to talk with you first, and then
we're on our way back to multilateral talks.

And what the Obama administration needs to do now is take them up on that, rather than say no we're
not going to talk to them bilaterally; engage them, see where it leads. But with the intent of
getting them back to the multilateral track just as soon as possible.

KIM LANDERS: Bill Clinton's mercy mission is the highest profile visit by an American to Pyongyang
for nearly a decade. The reporters' families say they're overjoyed by the news of their pardon and
they've thanked Bill Clinton for taking on such an arduous mission.

William Cohen was defence secretary in the Clinton administration.

WILLIAM COHEN: And I'm sure that president Clinton made an assessment of the health and well being
of Kim Jong Il, to say whether or not he is in full control of his faculties and that perhaps
rumours about his health have been exaggerated, so that would be one thing.

Secondly, he may have been able to probe to see whether or not there is some flexibility on the
part, or willingness on the part of Kim Jong Il to in fact return to the six party talks. So body
language has a lot to do with it, some signals, some nuanced conversations, something offline
perhaps John Podesta had a conversation with several people, and they can bring that back to the
administration and say - here's a way of moving forward without compromising our principles on this
one, saying we're not going to reward them for bad behaviour.

KIM LANDERS: President Barack Obama has previously declared that North Korea posed a "grave threat
to the peace and security of Asia and the world", but he hasn't ruled out eventual dialogue.

So does Bill Clinton's successful mission signal a turn in US-North Korea relations.

Walter Lohman is the director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation.

WALTER LOHMAN: The real danger though is that this will be a repeat of history along the lines of
Jimmy Carters visit in 1994, that's that Clinton will come out with some sort of promise or
interest from the North Korean side on addressing their nuclear issue, and then that will
immediately take the pressure off that's been building on them to abandon their program.

I think that we have to be very careful that the North Koreans don't leverage us into something
else, I think they have much broader aims than just talking to Bill Clinton.

This is Kim Landers in Washington for The World Today.