Clinton: Husband's N. Korea trip 'absolutely not' reward

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday took umbrage at suggestions that former President Bill Clinton's North Korea trip rewarded bad behavior, while Kim Jong-il's heir apparent reportedly took credit for the P.R. coup.

Speaking from Kenya to CNN's Fareed Zakaria, Clinton said that her husband was "not seeking... even contemplating" the trip to secure the release of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, but said North Korea had requested Clinton's appearance through the women's families. The request was then passed on to former Vice President Al Gore, who employed Ling and Lee at his Current TV network, and then to President Clinton.

ADVERTISEMENT
Clinton repeated the administration line that the trip, which secured a "special pardon" from Kim Jong-il for Ling and Lee, was a "private humanitarian mission."

"It was not in any way a government mission," Clinton said, while acknowledging that her husband's trip would hopefully pave the way for better relations.

"Obviously what we're hoping without it being a part of the mission in any way... [is that it] will lead the North Koreans to realize that they can have a positive relationship with the U.S.," Clinton said. While refusing to disclose any private conversations with her husband about the trip, Clinton said the administration was going to get a "full debriefing" soon.

The secretary of state said is was important to convey that "we have no designs on North Korea" and didn't post a threat to the reclusive communist nation while wanting to rein in the regime's nuclear ambitions.

"It's not a good feeling to see them exporting nuclear technology as they have," Clinton said.

Clinton laughed heartily when Zakaria asked her to comment on former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton's concerns that the former president's visit would be seen as a reward for hostage-taking and encourage further hostile acts by rogue states and terrorist groups against Americans.

"When you send in a former president, you're really rewarding bad behavior," Bolton told The Hill on Tuesday. "We've given them something simply by him showing up. We have played into their strategy, which is unfortunate in the risk that it sets up for  the future."

"It's absolutely not rewarding them," Clinton told Zakaria. "It's a recognition that certain countries... hold people and subject them to long prison terms that are unwarranted."

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Sunday that North Korea was using the Clinton visit to puff up the resume of Kim Jong-il's heir apparent.

Sources told Yonhap that 26-year-old Kim Jong-un, the youngest son of "Dear Leader" Kim, was being praised for his "outstanding tactics" in getting President Clinton to come and apologize before the North Korean leader.

Yonhap reported a similar "resume building" attempt when Kim Jong-il was going to take over from his father, Kim Il-sung: The younger Kim, who was also 26 at the time, was credited for the 1968 seizure of the USS Pueblo. The U.S. ship remains a tourist attraction in Pyongyang today.

Kim Jong-Il's youngest, according to Yonhap, is already being reffered to as "general."