Dennis Wilder joined PBS’ News Hour to discuss former President Bill Clinton’s surprise visit to North Korea, Kim Jong Il’s pardoning of two jailed American journalists and the broader implications of the meeting.
JEFFREY BROWN: Why now? Why at this time? What’s known about what brought this about?
DENNIS WILDER: Well, I think for some time now the Obama administration has been trying to find a way to get the journalists out. I think the North Koreans, after the new U.N. sanctions, after some experience with the isolation they felt since their nuclear test, wanted some sort of way to show that they were able to break out of the isolation.
So I think they indicated that they would be very interested in a visit by someone like President Clinton. They made an overture, and the administration decided for the sake of the journalists to take them up on that.
BROWN: All right. But before we get to the “what next,” is there any understanding about — I mean, there is this dispute, I guess, about whether he carried a message from President Obama. There’s the North Korean state agency saying he apologized, but that’s not clear. Is there any way of knowing whether the U.S. gave up anything, even if that’s just an apology at this point?
WILDER: I very much doubt that the Obama White House gave any kind of real apology or any statement for him to take. I think the White House is, as Mr. Harrison said, a little wary of all of this. They feel that this is a fine amnesty for the two journalists, but they don’t want it to look like amnesty for North Korea.
After all, North Korea walked away from the six-party negotiations. It conducted another missile test this year; it conducted a nuclear test this year.
The administration says it’s fine to give an amnesty to these two. We’re happy to see them coming home, hopefully. But we’re not going to move forward in negotiations with North Korea until we see a lot more from North Korea of serious goodwill and good intent.
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This decision [banning American citizens from traveling to North Korea] is both appropriate and overdue. It's about protecting American lives ... I see extremely limited prospects under prevailing circumstances for any meaningful improvement in US-[North Korea] relations.