James Church on Euna Lee & Laura Ling’s Pardon

The news of Current TV journalists Euna Lee & Laura Ling’s pardon after former President Bill Clinton flew to Pyongyang to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il provokes an incredible sense of relief and joy. The outcome could have been worse – a whole lot worse – even if the signs pointed to what just happened. And what with Clinton going over this time instead of former governor Bill Richardson, the emissary who negotiated on behalf of previous Americans detained in North Korea, no doubt the pro quo will be steep to match the quid of letting Lee and Ling go home to their families and loved ones.

Back in May, before Lee & Ling received their now-jettisoned sentences of 12 years hard labaor, I conducted an email Q&A with James Church, the pseudonymous Western intelligence officer and author of the Inspector O novels, about his take on the situation. In light of today’s news I thought it worthwhile to follow up with him again for his thoughts:

Given how the women were treated after the trial as well as the drift
of events in late July, it became increasingly clear that the North was
preparing to use the case as a pivot in the larger question of
relations with the US.   That is to say, when they judged the time to
be "right," the North Koreans would make the gesture of releasing the
women in what they calculated would be a first step toward revitalizing
US-DPRK diplomacy.  A key to that was a sufficiently high-level US
visitor in order to justify Kim Jong Il's direct, personal, and visible

As luck would have it, Clinton represents a more positive
era in Washington's relations with Pyongyang, and thus his appearance
in the North could be used more broadly to stir memories of a time when
the two sides were actually making considerable progress across a wide
front.  For the North, the symbolism all worked.  One lovely question
now is whether Washington can sustain the momentum and use the
opportunity that has presented itself to before something "bad" happens

  A very good question indeed.