The release of the two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, followed weeks of quiet negotiations between the State Department and the North Korean mission to the United Nations, said Daniel Sneider, associate director of research at Stanford University's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center.
Clinton "didn't go to negotiate this, he went to reap the fruits of the negotiation," Sneider said.
Having Clinton serving as emissary served both North Korea's need to continue maintaining that the two women Ling and Lee had committed a crime, and the Obama administration's desire not to expend diplomatic capital winning their freedom, Sneider said. "Nobody wanted this to be a distraction from the more substantially difficult issues we have with North Korea," he said. "
Bill Clinton is relatively well-regarded in North Korea, for his less-bellicose attitude toward the country during his administration. [One can assume the subject of Hillary Clinton did not come up, who North Korea's Foreign Ministry recently described as "a funny lady" who sometimes "looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping".]
Former President Clinton was accorded honors typically reserved for heads of state. The trip was reminiscent of one 15 years ago by former President Jimmy Carter when Clinton was in office, also at a time of tensions over North Korea's nuclear program. Carter's visit helped thaw the deep freeze in relations with the Korean War foe and paved the way for discussions on nuclear disarmament. Clinton later sent Albright to Pyongyang for talks with Kim. [And symbolically or not, the VIPs posed for a group shot in front of the same garish mural where Madeleine Albright posed during her historic visit to Pyongyang in 2000.]