In a surprise move first reported by South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper, former President Bill Clinton has secretly traveled to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang to plead for the release of Euna Lee and Laura Ling, the two American journalists captured by North Korean authorities and sentenced to hard labor for “spying.” No guarantees, but it might work. There’s footage of Clinton being received positively in North Korea. Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post quotes Victor Cha, a Georgetown professor and former Bush White House aide, as saying “it would be very difficult for the North not to give these people up” to someone of Clinton’s stature.
The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, put out a statement at 7:17 this morning saying “While this solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans is on the ground, we will have no comment. We do not want to jeopardize the success of former President Clinton’s mission.” Still, if there’s a State Department press briefing today [Update: It's scheduled for noon], President Clinton’s North Korea trip will surely dominate it. Speculation immediately turns to what else Clinton and the North Koreans will discuss — the North’s resumed bellicosity, the nuclear-weapons file, ballistic missiles. Even if Clinton has been authorized to speak only about Ling and Lee, two nations that have never had formal diplomatic relations and only ad-hoc encounters during moments of crisis — and, you know, a war — are bound to try to explore each other’s intentions on a host of other topics.