August 4th, 2009
05:03 PM ET

What North Korea wants

Editor's Note: Victor Cha was director of Asian affairs at the White House during the Bush administration. He visited Pyongyang with Governor Bill Richardson back in 2007. Cha spoke to Kiran Chetry on American Morning Tuesday.

[cnn-photo-caption image="http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/08/04/clinton.northkorea.gi.art.jpg" caption="Former US president Bill Clinton arrives at Pyongyang airport."]

Q&A with Victor Cha
CNN American Morning

Kiran Chetry: Drawing on your experience and extensive knowledge of North Korea, what might be going on in these negotiations with Korean leaders and our former President Bill Clinton?

Victor Cha: Well, I think for the North Koreans … receiving a former head of state gives them a lot of face, political face, which is important to the country and to their leadership. I would imagine that the former president is there solely for the purpose of trying to bring back these two Americans. And he’s probably engaging in discussions with the Foreign Ministry as well as with some members of the party, perhaps even the dear leader himself to secure the release of these Americans as a humanitarian gesture by the North Korean government.

Chetry: We’ve heard the rhetoric ratcheted up recently, the long-range missile firings, the censure of North Korea by the United Nations, nuclear talks, pulling out of the six-party talks. What does it say about North Korea’s influence on the world stage if they’re finally getting a former U.S. president to visit them, but it’s only after detaining two American journalists?

Cha: Well, I mean it doesn’t say a lot in terms of their reputation around the world, clearly. You know, but for them, former President Clinton is very credible for them because he as president considered very seriously going to North Korea in his last few days or weeks in office. So, for the North Koreans to receive him, I think they see that as a really big deal for them. And hopefully that will be enough to get them – get the two Americans released. But overall, in terms of their reputation around the world, it certainly doesn’t do them any good.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Bill Clinton • North Korea
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Art

    It takes two to tango and I guess these two did some dancing. The family's must be so happy and relieved. On the other side though, I wonder what else may have been on the "table", if anything. For a man who egnores the world and pardones two "convicted" people seems odd to me. There's motivation here, time will tell.

    August 5, 2009 at 7:25 am |
  2. georgy_it

    That americans scored a success here is undoubtful, it is a shame the fact having made a deal with an infamous tyrans though, who will benefit from such pact as an easy propaganda and to gain regards from the international community. Thye detentions of the two journalists was a hot situation to handle anyway and their release has been a relief for North Korea , I just hope that the deal is about offering medical cares to Kim Jong Il the moment he will desperately need them.

    August 5, 2009 at 2:26 am |
  3. Steven Goh

    Good Job, President Clinton. Wow... You haven't lost touch of your diplomacy. Nicely Handled.

    Being able to extend his hand of first to North Korean shows his true character in handling Korean understanding and feelings. He handle it wisely, delicately, without humiliating both parties. Good job too Mrs. Clinton. It was a good idea to work as a team! Husband and Wife

    Perhaps, both Americans, China and Koreans (including North) can work with each other to aim for better relationship of three countries. Its possible. But a question of when their hands will extend out.

    It goes to show that North Korea is not an unreasonable as what Media report them to be. They DO co-operate. Just a question of seeing their interest eye to eye.

    Steven Goh

    August 4, 2009 at 11:53 pm |
  4. george

    they want to be free just like the rest of us ,a system that is of south Korea maybe, it could happen if an American government stay out of it.
    n-Korea need a helping hand not war.

    August 4, 2009 at 10:57 pm |
  5. carol kesling

    to both karen and carol..... WELL SAID !!!!!!!!!!! gotta love bill clinton....

    August 4, 2009 at 10:38 pm |
  6. Lynn C. (Kitchener, Ontario)

    Great work Mr. Clinton and Obama administration!
    These young ladies were, apparently, treated respectfully and exceptionally well. They never did face "hard labour".
    I hope that the three students who have been captured on the Iran/Iraq border will be treated just as humanely (doubting so), and that there will be as intense an effort to get them released as these two young ladies. These 3 were student tourists who were not involved in any espionage. ** I would imagine their families are in as much angst as Lisa Ling and ??'s family. ** Will there be an effort to work with Iran to get them released?

    August 4, 2009 at 9:29 pm |
  7. Annie Kate

    Hooray for President Clinton – he did what our government couldn't seem to do and succeeded as the two women are on their way home. I'm sure this is a red letter day in both their families lives.

    Whether Clinton went on request for Obama or not does not detract from his generosity of heart to take his own time and risk his own safety to go negotiate for their release and hopefully position North Korea and the US in a way that talks can begin and we can step away from the brink of what could have been a very nasty nuclear attack. Clinton has once again shown by his actions his deep and abiding patriotism and love of country. I hope the Clinton haters will at least grant Clinton some credit for this and spare him the slings of rocks and arrows for once.

    August 4, 2009 at 9:03 pm |
  8. Jack, Montauk, NY

    What North Korea really wants is to be reunited with South Korea and eventually they will agree to whatever terms are set by South Korea. Just watch.

    August 4, 2009 at 8:51 pm |
  9. Heidi Ann Berg

    Clinton was the best choice to send ,his whole being is a non threat.The way he smiles and communicates to people is very soothing

    August 4, 2009 at 8:41 pm |
  10. Karen

    I hope the work President Clinton has done will help your birthday be as happy as can be . Happy Birthday Obama! You deserve it. Thank you for all the work you are doing to help America and help Americans. We need you! God Bless YOu!

    August 4, 2009 at 7:46 pm |
  11. JC- Los Angeles

    In exchange for the journalists, did North Korea agree to take our mortgage backed securities and GM cars?

    August 4, 2009 at 7:35 pm |
  12. Leslie

    I'm praying for the americans over there and I'm praying that NK will make a smart choice.

    August 4, 2009 at 7:21 pm |
  13. Michael Clark

    Great job Mr.Clinton

    August 4, 2009 at 6:26 pm |
  14. carol

    I believe President Clinton was successful in being the person to whom the journalists were released, and in being a person requested by North Korea is that his was the last administration to deal directly with North Korea. In the old tradition of "saving face" I believe that Clinton had no "baggage" to bring to the table. During the last eight years, US policy has been to spit on North Korea. While I don't feel that NK deserves any respect, we have to be smart and not act like cowboys.

    August 4, 2009 at 5:49 pm |