Tuesday, former U.S. President Bill Clinton met with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, while on a visit to negotiate the release of two American journalists who have been imprisoned there since March 17. The high-level meeting suggests to some that Seoul is finally ready—after months of rising tension—to engage in dialogue with Washington. North Korea’s Central TV reported that Mr. Kim and Mr. Clinton “exchanged a broad range of opinions on issues of mutual interest.” Television footage from Pyongyang showed Clinton being presented with flowers at the airport—where high-ranking officials, including chief nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-gwan, came to meet him. The state media also reports that a dinner party was hosted for Clinton.
The two journalists were sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor for “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry” after they crossed from China into North Korea. The White House has been considering sending a special envoy to North Korea for weeks. But White House press secretary Robert Gibbs—referring to the trip as the “solely private mission” of the former President—has stressed that Mr. Clinton is not acting on behalf of the Obama administration. Clinton’s wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has been deeply involved in the case.