In North Korea Liberation, What's the Catch?

Experts say Kim Jong Il wanted an ego boost, but still some speculate American concessions were too great.

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Among the many angles of debate following Bill (and Hillary) Clinton's diplomatic coup in North Korea, the most salient to emerge is controversy surrounding the question of what North Korea gained from the exchange. Did Bill kowtow to Kim Jong Il over nuclear weapons? While those who know the country best--particularly Bill Richardson, who visited most recently in 2007--say "no," this hasn't stopped Sean Hannity and the more-expert Gordon C. Chang from speculating that the costs down the road may be too great.

Here are the best views so far on what North Korea got from the bargain:

  • A Reenactment of Kim's Father, says David Sanger on the radio show The Takeaway. "Kim Jong Il, who...may not have a lot of time left, wanted his face time with a former president, just as his father Kim Il Sung had face time with Jimmy Carter."
  • Time to Hone the Nuclear Program, says Gordon C. Chang in the Wall Street Journal. "Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, was on hand at the airport in Pyongyang to greet Mr. Clinton as he arrived--a clear sign Pyongyang, at least, is linking the two issues."
  • A Way Out of Disarmament Talks, say The Editors of the Journal. "Yet Mr. Clinton's visit is a message unto itself. It will bolster Kim's bid to dissolve the six-party negotiations in favor of the direct talks with the U.S. he has long sought.
  • Smooth Succession says Bill Richardson. "So, they wanted international visibility for this. Kim Jong-il, who's ailing, wanted to shore up his domestic base.  He wants to set up a succession for one of his sons.  So, this is why he wanted somebody has high profile as former President Clinton."
  • Weapons, Money, Secrets, Who Knows! says Sean Hannity. "What if there was some special deal?  We know in the Clinton years, they gave money, they gave light water reactive, they gave technology.  And we got nothing in return except the advancement of their nuclear program."
  • Nothing. This Was Good News, Plain and Simple says Spencer Ackerman. "If all it costs the U.S. in the future to secure hostage releases is for Bill Clinton to show up in various hellholes, that's a pretty good use of an ex-presidency. I'm searching for an actual harm to U.S. interests here and I just can't find it."
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