US journalists' homecoming

'Daily Star' writes that the release of U.S. journalists from North Korea could signal an opening to talks on denuclearization and normalization of relations between the United States and North Korea

The Daily Star
Saturday, August 8, 2009

THE return of TV reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee to California from their 140-day captivity in North Korea where they were sentenced to 12 years of hard labour for an alleged illegal entry from China goes down as a stand-out event. For one thing, the denouement comes as a positive anti-climax to an abyss reached in the relationship between the US and North Korea; and for the other, it has been made possible through an involvement of high level players, especially that of former US president Bill Clinton.

The outcome is, in a way, the measure of what track-II diplomacy by a lone man of wide acceptability can achieve. Yet, the principal message to draw from the dramatic and heart-warming release of the journalist is this: when diplomacy is seriously and imaginatively employed in mitigating a profound humanitarian concern relating to a family that when the state feels empathetic about and owns up, is not only bound to succeed but also achieve a higher purpose.

It is worthwhile to note that the outcome is set against a particularly inimical phase in the Washington-Pyongyang relationship marked by North Korea's nuclear and missile tests and continuing UN sanction against the country which seemed to throw the six-country talks out of gear. Besides, Pyongyang's highly uncomplimentary remarks about US Secretary of State Mrs Clinton signalled a further embittering of relations. The atmospherics were left soured. Perceptive observers, however, tend to think that the extremely harsh comments were perhaps sought to be countervailed by conveying words to Washington that if Bill Clinton were to step in, Pyongyang would grant amnesty to the journalists.

Basically, it appears North Korea is anxious not to go to a point of no-return with the USA. Actually, it has made full use of Clinton's presence by reaching what it called "a consensus of views seeking negotiated settlement of issues dividing the two countries." The US had from the start drawn a line between the nuclear issue and the humanitarian concern but there is little denying that an aperture may have opened for a continuation of a dialogue on the nuclear and other issues.