Return to Transcripts main page


Former President Bill Clinton Secures Release of Two American Journalists from North Korea

Aired August 4, 2009 - 17:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: A former U.S. president makes a secret trip to one of the most secretive regimes in the world. Bill Clinton gaining a pledge of freedom for two U.S. journalists held in North Korea

Let's go straight to CNN foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty -- Jill, how did this mission come about?

And why do you think Bill Clinton was a able to pull this off?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it didn't happen overnight, Suzanne. You know, this actually has been in the works for quite a while, a few weeks. There were several candidates. Remember Bill Richardson, Vice President Gore and also John Kerry -- candidates for going to the North and trying to get those women out.

But the person that the North Koreans really wanted and invited, ultimately, was Bill Clinton. And that was a decision by the White House, we are told, that he would be the best person to do it.

One of the reasons is because he is not a government figure, not anymore. And if you had somebody else, a senator or whatever, they were part of the government. This gave the White House an opportunity to send Bill Clinton in kind of an unofficial humanitarian way to the North to try to bring those journalists out.

And it happened quite quickly. But apparently, it did not happen until there was an apology made. And here is how the North Korean media described it, KCNA, saying: "Clinton expressed words of sincere apology to Kim Jong Il for the hostile acts committed by the two American journalists against the DPRK" -- that's North Korea -- "after illegally intruding into it. Clinton courteously conveyed to Kim Jong Il an earnest request of the U.S. government to leniently pardon them and send them back home from a humanitarian point of view."

So that's how the North Koreans describe it. But certainly it appears that you have President Clinton -- and, also, you could almost say, Suzanne, two Clintons working together -- Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who also contributed to this, as well as Bill Clinton.

MALVEAUX: And, Jill, what -- what does each side get out of this deal?

DOUGHERTY: Well, ultimately, I think you would have to say that the North Koreans get some face, as it's very important in Asia -- face, their respect, that a former leader of the United States would come to North Korea, sit down with their leader. And then, on the other side, the United States certainly gets the journalists out. That's number one. And potentially, according to some people who really watch North Korea, it might -- and that's a big might -- bring the North closer to coming back to talks. But, again, that could be -- you know, that could be a long way and it's not guaranteed at all.


Thank you very much.

And I -- I want to show our viewers very quickly what we're watching from North Korea -- North Korean television. These are just bars right now, but obviously we're keeping our eye on any developments that may happen out of -- out of the area, whether or not those journalists will be released -- will be released soon, whether or not we will see the former president. But we're keeping our eye out for anything that might happen and might be released out of the North Korean side.

I want to go to the White House -- what went on behind the scenes to make the former president's trip even possible.

Let's go to CNN White House correspondent, Dan Lothian -- and, Dan, what has the White House response been today?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, on the latest development, the White House continues to have a "no comment." But, you know, clearly here, this is a situation that they're saying is very sensitive, so they want to be cautious.

But I do want to take you a little bit behind-the-scenes and kind of bring you up to date on how we got to this point.

This story first broke last night, roughly between about 8:30, 9:00 is when we first found out about it. We reached out to some of our contacts here at the White House and have been giving -- given some indication that the White House would be releasing a statement. That was according to some of our sources.

But then quickly, the White House decided to take a "no comment" stance. It didn't matter what information we had been giving by our sources earlier, they simply said "no comment."

It wasn't until this morning, almost 10 hours later, that a short statement was put out by the White House and essentially suggesting that they would make no former comment as long as this mission by former President Clinton was still on the ground.

So that gives us, perhaps, a little indication as to where the White House is in terms of timing. But they don't plan on coming out, perhaps, in front of the cameras or releasing any kind of statement until President Clinton is wheels up from North Korea -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Dan, do we know whether or not the former president, Bill Clinton, was he delivering a message from President Obama to Kim Jong Il, as has been reported?

LOTHIAN: Yes, that -- that was reported. There was some speculation that perhaps President Obama did give him a letter to hand deliver. Robert Gibbs was asked again at the briefing if that took place. Twice today he has said that that simply is just not true -- that he was not given any message, either in writing or in the language. He was not given any message at all to hand deliver or to send to North Korea.

MALVEAUX: OK. Dan, thank you very much.

Dan Lothian at the White House.

Let's get insight now from someone who is very familiar with the communist regime's thinking.

Jack Pritchard is a former U.S. Special envoy to North Korea.

Thank you very much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, obviously.


MALVEAUX: How significant is this development, this is -- beyond the release of these two journalists?

PRITCHARD: It's a big development. The North Koreans have simply used the fact that we had two American journalists who were being held there. This was an opportunity, in my opinion, for the North Koreans to reset the relationship with the United States.

They got off to very bad start. They made some miscalculations about the Obama administration. And now, this has given them an opportunity to say let's hit the restart button, let's see if we can't do this a little bit better, because they're headed in the wrong direction.

MALVEAUX: You know their thinking. You've dealt with them over the years.

Why do you suppose they turned?

Why did they twist and decide this isn't working, we want to go in a different direction?

PRITCHARD: Well, I think for the first time, we have seen that U.N. Security Council resolution, the sanctions from 1874 were -- were looking as though they might actually have an effect on the regime. We saw an incident in which the North Korean ship, the Kang Nam, was set sail, ostensibly to Burma, turned around midway, came back. The Burmese government said if you had shown up, we were -- we were going to search you.

So these things were cumulative in effect for what the North Koreans really saw no good future down the path that they were on. MALVEAUX: Do you do think it was the difference between the Obama administration getting tougher, getting harder with North Korea or do you think it was the willingness of the international community -- those other players who also said in the United Nations, we're going to cooperate, we're going to get tougher with this regime?

Or who do you think is the standout player in changing this dynamic?

PRITCHARD: Well, everyone deserves some credit. You're quite right. The entire U.N. community were given a task. The U.N. Security Council resolution didn't simply slap the North Koreans on the wrist, it gave the others things to do -- things to report. And that was important.

But again, the Obama administration has dealt very deliberately, very patiently and cooperatively with our allies and it's made a difference.

MALVEAUX: What message do you think this sends to other nations like Iran?

PRITCHARD: Well, hopefully, they'll see the right message. And that is that there is a purposefulness about the U.S. policy and that given an opportunity to engage with the United States, that's probably the right choice.

MALVEAUX: You've been in situations like this before. Obviously, this is a turning point, but it's a really delicate point in U.S./North Korean relation. They could go the right way or they could just blow it.

What -- what does the Obama administration -- what does President Obama need to do right now, this moment, to take advantage of this?

PRITCHARD: Well, what I hope comes out of this is a message from Kim Jong Il, through President Clinton, to the Obama administration that says give us a chance to talk with you first. And then we're on our way back to multilateral talks.

Now, they may not have said it in that way, but that's hopefully the message that they delivered.

And what the Obama administration needs to do now is take them up on that. Rather than say, no, we're not going to talk to them bilaterally, engage them. See where it leads, but with the intent of getting them back to a multilateral track just as soon as possible.

MALVEAUX: OK. Mr. Pritchard, thank you so much for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

PRITCHARD: And you're quite welcome.

MALVEAUX: Jack Cafferty is in New York with The Cafferty File -- Jack, what are you following? CAFFERTY: Suzanne, before we nominate Kim Jong Il for the Nobel Peace Prize for releasing those two journalists, it's worth remembering exactly who exactly we're dealing with here. The fact that former President Clinton was able to gain the women's release should not change anything.

North Korea is a dangerous regime armed with nuclear weapons and in the midst of a lot of questions about who will succeed the little mad man who runs the place. In all likelihood, North Korea would like to sit down, as was being suggested by our guest a moment ago, sit down with the United States for bilateral talks -- just them and us -- and negotiate another one of those phony deals that they've been party to in the past. Their word is no good.

They don't like the six party disarmament talks aimed at trying to get them to give up their nuclear weapons program. They'd rather get the United States to agree to feed their people without having to do much of anything in return.

There should no letting up on the part of the group of six nations just because of today's humanitarian gesture on the part of North Korea. These are the same people who have threatened to fire a ballistic missile toward Hawaii and have made repeated threats against South Korea and other of their neighbors. There is absolutely no reason to believe that today's developments change anything when it comes to North Korea.

But North Korea, undoubtedly, will think that it does.

Here's the question -- how will the release of the two American journalists affect North Korea's relations with the rest of the world?

Go to and you can post a comment on my blog -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thanks, Jack.

North Korea's pardon for the two U.S. journalists has friends and family rejoicing. We'll take you to the headquarters of their employer, Current TV.

And we're learning more about these two women online -- how celebrities joined the fight for their release.

And what pressure did China put on North Korea and did that have something to do with the pardon?

I'll ask former Defense secretary, William Cohen.


MALVEAUX: Over the years, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has been a diplomatic troubleshooter. He has negotiated the release of other Americans held in North Korea and has been closely involved in this case, as well.

Governor Richardson spoke with me just a short while ago.


GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: I talked to Lisa Ling, who I've been working with on this issue for some time, along with the administration. Although I don't speak for the administration, they asked for my advice.

And she's very excited. The fact that the girls have been pardoned, I think Lisa is -- her sister has had some physical ailments.

But the fact that it looks like everything is moving towards a return back home, she's very excited. She's been -- Lisa has suffered a lot. You know, it's been five months. These -- this has been one of the longest detainments of Americans that we've had in a long time. And I've been able to get a couple of different ones out.

But this one has lasted five months. There was a sentence of hard labor. The girls were getting -- obviously, having some physical ailments. But the great news is that they're coming home.


MALVEAUX: American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were working for Current TV at the time of their arrest. Former vice president Al Gore founded Current TV, along with businessman Joel Hyatt of the Hyatt Legal Services.

Dan Simons joins us live from the cable TV headquarters in California, where the co-workers, I imagine, Dan, are pretty happy about now.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, obviously, they're thrilled. I'm told by -- by a company employee -- not authorized to speak to the press just yet. But I'm told that the atmosphere inside is joyous.

Suzanne, we also -- this one employee I talked to told me that Vice President Gore actually comes to the headquarters quite often, but they're not quite sure where he is today. Obviously, everybody anxious to hear from him.

When I was inside about an hour or so ago, just as the local media and myself showed up here, we were told that senior executives were having a meeting and, at some point, obviously, they were going to put out a statement. We have not received that statement yet, but, of course, we're waiting here -- waiting on any word here from Current TV -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you very much.

Dan Simon at the headquarters of Current Television.

Celebration is also happening online, where there were large scale campaigns for the journalists' release.

Let's go to our Abbi Tatton -- and, Abbi, what kind of reaction are you watching?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Suzanne, it's absolute rejoicing. As you said, so many people were fighting online for the release of these two journalists -- through Facebook groups, online petitions, letter writing campaigns, a lot of them organized right here at the campaign site of the two families.

And so much of this was pushed by celebrities that kind of got in on the lobbying campaign. Ashton Kutcher -- he's got two or three million followers on Twitter. He was writing Tweets really publicizing the fact that these two journalists were in prison in North Korea.

You had, just recently, footballer David Beckham meeting with the families of the two journalists, as well. All of this posted on that campaign Web site.

So it's no wonder that now, with this news, some of the biggest trending topics -- those are things that people are really talking about on Twitter right now -- are related to the release of these two journalists.

And talking about Twitter, we should mention, also, that Bill Clinton -- former President Bill Clinton is being hailed an absolute hero by so many dozens of Tweets coming in each minute on the site.

Because it's Twitter and Bill Clinton, we can't bring you all of them. But we should just say that Bill Clinton super hero is pretty much summing it up right now.

So an atmosphere of absolute rejoicing online for the release of these two journalists -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Abbi, thank you.

Well, it's a political coup, but without a White House presence -- why did the Obama administration send former President Bill Clinton to -- to do the negotiating?

We'll take a look at that. And we'll also take a look at how the journalists' release will affect North Korea's relationship with the rest of the world.

Stay with us.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

MALVEAUX: We want to go straight to Brianna Keilar, who is monitoring all the stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Brianna, I understand you have some breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, breaking news out of North Korea, Suzanne. According to the North Korean News Agency, Bill Clinton -- this is in quotes: "Bill Clinton, former president of the United States, and his party, left here today by air. They were seen off at the airport by Yang Hyong Sop, vice president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly and Kim Kye Gwan, vice minister of foreign affairs."

We'll, of course, be monitoring more information that's coming from the North Korean news agency and bringing it to you as we get it, Suzanne.

Meantime, predawn raids in Melvin foiled a planned terrorist attack on one of Australia's largest military bases. Police say they arrested four young extremists with ties to an Al Qaeda group in Somalia. Officials say a seven month investigation revealed a planned suicide attack on a base that's home to commandoes trained in counterterrorism and a Blackhawk -- a Blackhawk helicopter squadron.

"I love jihad" were the words heard inside a North Carolina courtroom, as officials said the recording was from the leader of a suspected terrorist group. The seven suspects, including ringleader Daniel Boyd, are charged with conspiring jihad overseas. Authorities say they seized a variety of items from Boyd's house, including an assault rifle and other guns, 27,000 rounds of ammunition and documents promoting jihad against America.

A plane landing on a resort island near Thailand skidded off the runway in stormy weather and crashed into a building, killing the pilot and injuring at least seven others. The injured co-pilot was trapped inside of the plane for two hours. The Bangkok Airways flight landed on the island of Samui, which is popular with foreign tourists.

Muffy is home nine years later. Muffy is a fluffy white mutt. She was found sleeping on a sliver of cardboard in the backyard of a Melvin home and she was identified through a microchip in her ear and flown back to her owners, who live 12 miles away in Brisbane, Australia. She's now settling into her new old digs. And, really, only Muffy knows the details of her Australian odyssey. It makes you think about micro chipping your animals, for sure.

MALVEAUX: But you wonder why it took so long to find her. I don't know.

KEILAR: These are -- these stories are great. You hear them sometimes. They're very fun.

MALVEAUX: That's great.

Brianna, thank you.

Well, North Korea's leader -- he may be cruel and eccentric, but is he crazy?

We'll look closer at Kim Jung Il.

And could the pardon for the two jailed journalists mean a turn in U.S./Korea -- North Korea relations? Bill Clinton's rescue mission came as Hilary Clinton launched a big trip to Africa.

Did the former president overshadow the secretary of State?



Happening now, two American journalists are released in North Korea.

What does this signify in the relationship between the United States and North Korea?

It wasn't an administration official who rescued the women, but former President Bill Clinton who swooped into North Korea. His administration negotiated on the communist country's nuclear program in the 1990s.

But why send the former president now?

CNN's Brian Todd has the answer.

And who is the reclusive leader of North Korea?

Kim Jong Il is accused of allowing his people to starve while he enjoys the Joy Brigades. We'll explain.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux.


So why did it take a former U.S. president to win freedom for the two journalists held in North Korea?

Could the Obama White House pull this off with its own officials?

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is joining me now -- and, Candy, what does each side get out of this politically going forward?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm not sure for the U.S. This is so much about politics as about getting those two women out of North Korea. That has been what the behind the scene negotiations have been about.

What does North Korea get?

Well, North Korea gets those photo-ops that you see coming out of that country. It is their leaders, alongside Bill Clinton, who is still very, very popular overseas -- very, very revered. And that is a -- I mean never underestimate what a feather in the cap that is for North Korea, which wants, above all, legitimacy. MALVEAUX: I mean they could have chose a number of people -- former President Jimmy Carter, former secretary of State Madeleine Albright, even the current secretary of State, Hilary Clinton.

Why do you suppose they solicited President Bill Clinton to go over?

CROWLEY: I don't think they could have sent Secretary of State Hilary Clinton simply because North Korea, since Barack Obama became president, has set off, what, six, eight missiles, with the president coming out saying this should not be allowed to stand. So you cannot send a U.S. official, otherwise you have countries, I'd imagine, across the world sort of seizing U.S. citizens.

On the other hand, North Korea wanted some of that prestige. So I think that this was not something that happened in a vacuum. It's not that the U.S. said to OK, let's send President -- former President Clinton. I think that's what North Korea wanted.

MALVEAUX: And what do you suppose that Clinton said to -- to seal the deal here?

What do you is suppose he actually brought to him?

What do you think he, if you could read the tea leaves?

CROWLEY: I -- I think that this was done deal before he left. I don't think there's any way the former president of the United States, who is a senior statesman now, would go to North Korea unless they weren't almost, you know, to a mortal lock that he was going to bring home those two women. I think this was to go over and to make good on the U.S. side of that deal, was to have this person of high visibility and high stature go over to North Korea to get them.

MALVEAUX: Candy, thank you so much.

Did pressure from China help the U.S. journalists -- free them?

Former Defense Secretary William Cohen joining me now.

He is CEO of The Cohen Group, which represents multinational companies who do business in China.

Good to have you with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: Let's focus on that.

What do you suppose, China, always a member of the six party talks -- did they play a unique role this time around?

COHEN: It's hard to say. But China increasingly has been in the spotlight. You have a much tougher position taken by the South Korea government today, along with Japan and the United States. So that left China and Russia.

Now, most of the U.S. officials were saying that China holds the key here. China, predictably, would say well, we don't have as much influence as you think.

But I think the pressure was growing on China to do something about getting the North Koreans back to the six party talks. So it's hard to say whether they were -- if they had the invisible hand here working. But I think they obviously have a role to play and will have a bigger role to play in terms of helping to resolve the -- the nuclear standoff that we have with the North Koreans.

MALVEAUX: What was their role when it comes to the -- the U.N. Security Council sanctions, those tougher sanctions that were passed this last go-around?

COHEN: Well, they said that they were in favor, rhetorically at least, of much tougher sanctions, but they also didn't want to put them into effect just yet. So it was one of, yes, we are you, at least verbally, rhetorically. They really weren't prepared to crack down as hard as we would like to see them crack down in order to put more pressure on.

So it may be this was a way for them, if they were working behind the scenes, to say, stay with us. We are bringing pressure. It is more gradual than would you like, but nonetheless, it may prove to be productive in the long-term.

MALVEAUX: Do you think that president Clinton had any kind of leeway in moving forward and pressing the nuclear issue and actually saying we want to talk about that, your nuclear ambitions?

COHEN: Well, according to the White House, he had no leeway for that. But in these situations, when you sit down with the heads of state of another country, usually you have a much broader discussion. And I'm sure able to say there are many issues we have to resolve, the nuclear issue being among them.

But I think the White House did not want to have President Clinton negotiating anyway or taking any step forward, because that would appear to undercut their very tough bargaining position, saying we are make nothing deal, we're not taking two steps back to bring the North Koreans back to the bargaining table.

So I think they wanted enough distance. The North Koreans wanted high visibility with a former president. The administration wanted someone not part of the administration so they can say we are not making a deal on any other aspect with the North Koreans. This is simply Bill Clinton helping to bring this release about. It has no leeway to discuss any kind of negotiations. So I think they had it both ways.

MALVEAUX: This is such a reclusive regime in a country that is so closed, to have a former U.S. president there a former chief of staff, John Podesta, who was also there with him -- what kind of information do you think they took back with them that we can glean from this trip?

COHEN: Not everything has to be said to be understood. Words can go unspoken and still be heard. And I'm sure that President Clinton made his assessment of the health and well being of Kim Jong- il to say whether or not he is in full control of his faculties and perhaps rumors about his health have been exaggerated. So, that would be one thing.

Secondly, he may have been able to probe to see whether or not there is some flexibility on the part or willingness on the part of Kim Jong-il to, in fact, return to the six-party talks.

So body language has a lot to do with it, some signals, some nuanced conversations, something offline, perhaps John Podesta had a conversation with several people, and they can bring that back to the administration and say here is a way of moving forward without compromising our principles of this one, saying we are not going to reward them from bad behavior.

So there is a lot that can be gleaned from a meeting such as this. And, again, it doesn't have to be written out specifically. You can glean a lot just from the atmospherics and exchange between the people.

MALVEAUX: Do you think this move by Kim Jong-il today, does help him with his relationship with the Chinese?

COHEN: I think it helps him perhaps at home. I don't think anyone is going to be -- change their opinion about the Stalinist regime, as such, of the North Koreans. I think the Chinese understand who they are dealing with, the Japanese and South Koreans do.

I think it helps them at home. It may send a signal that we are prepared to sit down or come back again. It may be that the North Korean leaders, looking for his successor, building a foundation for that son -- one of his sons to take over in the event he passes away some time in the future.

So it could be a number of motives involved, but he could be laying a foundation to say this is how I want to have my successor build upon the foundation I am currently laying.

We don't know at this point. I think right now, we have got two young women who are about to be released and they're going to be back home safely with their families, and we have President Clinton, who I think did some really great work here. I think it was important.

He is such a highly respected figure internationally. He has the Clinton Global Summit Initiative every year, and he commands a lot of respect.

MALVEAUX: OK, Bill Cohen, appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Well, he stays at home and sometimes wears four-inch platform heels, yet he runs a nuclear-armed country. Dictator Kim Jong-il of North Korea releases two American journalists. But exactly who is this man?

And it's former Bill Clinton who sweeps in and saves the day. Did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a role in this or was it all Bill? We'll ask Donna Brazile and Kevin Madden. Stay with us. You're in "The Situation Room."


MALVEAUX: California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is also reacting to the release of the two journalists from North Korea. Let's go straight to our Abbi Tant. And Abbi, what is he saying?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Suzanne, the journalists have working at San Francisco-based current TV. This just in from Governor Schwarzenegger, a statement that reads, "Maria Shriver and I happily join all Americans in celebrating the pardoning of Laura Line and Euna Lee.

Both women risked their lives to search for truth in an area of the world where press is often censored, and I applaud those who work to negotiate their pardon.

Our heartfelt thoughts are with the families of Euna and Laura, and we wish them both a safe return to California."

A couple months ago, at the beginning of June at the time of the two journalists' sentencing, Governor Schwarzenegger said the state was ready to offer any assistance to the federal government in bringing these two journalists home.

He also mentioned that the families of the two, the family statement, is on the campaign Web site, which is "Free Laura Ling and Euna Lee," which celebrating their release today, that statement reading, "We are now counting the seconds until we hold Laura and Euna in our arms again" -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: OK, thank you very much, Abbi.

Bill Clinton's big surprise, getting a pardon for U.S. journalists jailed in North Korea. Joining me, CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile along with Republican strategist Kevin Madden.

A very big development today and somewhat of a surprise. I want to start off with you, Donna. Why do you suppose -- there were a number of people that could have gone, including Al Gore. Why do you suppose it was Bill Clinton who the North Koreans said, yes, we are willing to deal with, and not Al Gore?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: First of all, former Vice President Gore, has worked with the White House, the State Department, a range of people, I understand, who have offered to help with the best intentions.

This was like a symphony, everyone was involved in trying to ensure that these two women were released. And I think the vice president, I'm not speaking for him, but I'm sure he's elated tonight to know that these two young women will be coming home to their families.

MALVEAUX: Does it matter who it was, whether or not Al Gore had that primary role or if he played a background role?

BRAZILE: Absolutely not. That's not who he is and that's not what this is about. This is about getting these two women back home safely to their family, and clearly, former President Clinton played a role in making this happen.

But this is a win-win for the country, for the young women. But more important, this is important for President Obama, who I think is really pushing, you know, this whole effort to ensure the safety of Americans by using a range of options, using former presidents, and who knows what else.

MALVEAUX: Have you spoken with Al Gore today?

BRAZILE: No I have not. But I did applaud the fact that these two women were being released.

MALVEAUX: Kevin, what does this mean, do you suppose, for President Obama? What does he need to do to make this moment, turn this moment into one that really translates into moving the relationship forward here in a constructive way?

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it will be interesting to see whether or not this is an indication by the North Koreans they are interested in kick-starting bilateral talks, and whether or not that would lead to multilateral talks.

I do think that what's troubling about this in one regard is that it is a continuation of what many Republicans have referred to as the basketball diplomacy, that we continue to go over to North Korea, we make a deal with them, they get something, but we don't get anything in return.

Their veracity is continually in question, and their ability to hold forth to the agreements that we set are always in question.

But I do think this has to be, for the Obama administration in the present, a sign that they can continue to more towards bilateral agreements, bilateral talks There is wide disagreement on the Republican side on whether or not that is going to be helpful, but that there will be again, an engagement with the other parties in multilateral talks.

BRAZILE: This is a shaky regime, and I think the Democrats as well as the Republicans have had a hard time getting them to stick to their promise to dismantle their nuclear program.

I don't know if that is part of the discussions, I don't know if that is part of, you know, negotiations from here. But clearly, there were some back channel negotiations to make that happen, and thank god those young women are coming home to their families. MALVEAUX: Is there any discomfort or concern that this might overshadow his wife, the secretary of state?

BRAZILE: Absolutely not. It shows that they are both strong people. They are both valuable assets to this administration.

And more importantly, senator -- Secretary Clinton understands clearly what's at stake in this world, and I'm glad she was probably part of this as well.

MALVEAUX: What is her role going forward?

MADDEN: I would agree with that.

I think that, look, there is no doubt that Bill Clinton, former President Bill Clinton has a huge shadow. Hillary Clinton also has a very big shadow. I think that they both played, and I think the essence of their relationship has been a partnership for a long time.

So I expect that there was probably a lot of work together on this to see this towards an end.

But I do think that this is not going to alter Secretary Clinton's stature at all. I think that Secretary Clinton has her own resume, her own level of engagement with this president and with leaders around the world that's not going to be greatly affected by this particular incident.

MALVEAUX: What does Obama...

BRAZILE: First of all, I think we should refuel former President Clinton's plane, once he gets home after the women are back and send him to Iran to get the three hikers, refuel it again and send him to get the young man from the Taliban, just keep him in the air.

MALVEAUX: What is his role going to be now when he steps off that plane? I mean, really, what is he going to do now?

MADDEN: He has the job he always wanted. It's outside the constraints of the presidency, but he gets to do all the things that he really enjoys, which is going out there and involving himself in the world issues.

He is front and center on the world stage, and he gets to work on issues like diplomacy, but without having to deal with the media every single day and the White House process every single day.

MALVEAUX: Is there any danger that he becomes a more powerful player than the president?

BRAZILE: Absolutely not. No. There is only one president of the United States.

But Bill Clinton is right now helping the people of Haiti. When President Bush was in office, he called upon former President Clinton to help with the tsunami relief, help with Katrina relief. He is a valuable asset to this country...

MADDEN: I would agree with you. There is a tradition there. And Bill Clinton is going to be front and center here.

MALVEAUX: I want to talk, if I could, switching topics. We had a poll on -- a new CNN poll regarding Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley and the president and whether or not that beer summit was actually effective.

Some of those numbers showing a real difference between white and blacks and how they actually saw that. Some of those numbers suggesting that for African-Americans, it was more productive and they thought that race relations need to be dealt with in a more serious way.

Donna, how do you see it?

BRAZILE: Well, I think first of all, the polls suggest that we still see race through the prism of our own experience, whether it is our experience with the police, people in authority positions or our perception of each other.

It tells us we are not post-racial, we have a lot of work to do. But you know what? I think most Americans agree and they say that what President Obama did at the "beer summit" was for the better. It will help improve race relations at some point.


MADDEN: I think Donna is right. I think we do see -- unfortunately in this country we do see things very differently depending on our race.

But I think that we make a mistake by saying that particular incident, the "beer summit," as it has been called, ought to serve as a microcosm for the larger debate in this country.

I think that there was much less to do with race on that particular incident, had a lot more to do with class. And at the end of the day, it all had to do with two folks getting their back up when there was a way to resolve it quietly. And instead it became this -- emblematic of race relations, and I think we made too much out of that.

MALVEAUX: Last word, Donna?

BRAZILE: We have made a lot of progress, and I think that this incident should not set us back. This country is on the road to equality and freedom for all. Let's stick with that path.

MALVEAUX: All right, Donna Brazile, Kevin Madden, thank you for joining us.

North Korea's pardon on the two U.S. journalists has friends and family rejoicing. Our own Anderson Cooper talked to Laura Ling's sister not long ago. You will see part of that interview coming up. And he has kept world leaders worrying for years. What really makes North Korea's leader tick? A closer look at Kim Jong-il.

You're in the Situation Room."


MALVEAUX: North Korea's leader has a reputation of being eccentric and cruel, accused of allowing millions of his own people to starve. CNN's Brian Todd joins with us a closer look at the man Bill Clinton went to meet. Tell us a little bit about him.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, Kim Jong-il is known for his brinksmanship on the world stage. His regime conducted a second nuclear bomb test in May. It's launched several missile tests since then.

This is a man who knows how to make western leaders lose sleep at night, and he learned that in his own household.


TODD: This is a man who cut his political teeth under the father of modern North Korea, his own father, Kim Il-Sung, himself a brutally repressive dictator.

Before his father's death in 1994, Kim Jong-il was known for erratic behavior, a fast driving, chain smoking, binge drinking playboy. After his father died, observers say he at least temporarily cut back on the smoking and drinking, but his eccentricities are legendary.

DR. JERROD POST, FORMER CIA PROFILER: He recruits at junior high school level attractive young girls with clear complexions and pretty faces to be enrolled in his joy brigades. And the joy brigades function is to provide rest and relaxation for his hard working senior officials.

TODD: And U.S. officials say he once ordered the kidnapping of a South Korean movie star and her director husband. He is only 5'2" but has been known to wear four-inch lifts in his shoes.

U.S. intelligence officials say he likely suffered a stroke last year and recent video appears to show significant weight loss. Most agree, this nation that now claims a nuclear arsenal is controlled by an insecure, paranoid tyrant.

But diplomats, journalists, others who have been to his capital say don't follow for the Dr. Evil comparison.

PETER MAASS, "NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE": Really, everybody who has met with Kim Jong-il, and there have been quite a few South Koreans, Americans, Russians, North Koreans who have since defected, this all come out saying this man knows what he is doing. He's not crazy.

He might be emotional, he might be somewhat eccentric, but crazy, absolutely not.


TODD: A U.S. intelligence official tells us Kim's line of succession is not quite clear. This official says Kim's youngest son, Kim Jong-un, would be the likely successor, but there are other members of this regime, including senior military officials, who might succeed him -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: And we have seen pictures of him today. What do we make of his health, now?

TODD: Well, this U.S. intelligence official told us that Kim still seem to be feeling the effects of what they believe was a stroke that he suffered last summer. But he appears to remain in firm control of this regime. He doesn't show any ill effects. He actually looked a little bit better in those pictures with Mr. Clinton today.

MALVEAUX: OK, thank you, Brian.

TODD: There is a joy in California air as Current TV celebrates the future homecoming of their coworkers from North Korea. We will take you live to their headquarters and their reactions about the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

And Jack Cafferty has your take on international politics and if the world will now look differently on North Korea after this latest move.

You're in the "Situation Room."


MALVEAUX: Here's a look at hot show, pictures, likely to be in your newspaper tomorrow.

In Afghanistan, a boy slices tomatoes as they dry on a wall in Kabul.

In Mexico, President Felipe Calderon and Honduras's ousted president wave during a welcoming ceremony.

In New York, Giants quarterback Eli Manning signs autographs after training camp.

And in Germany, a two-day-old gorilla held by his mother.

Hot shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

Well, it's been a difficult ordeal for relatives of the two journalists. After they learned of the original sentence, hard labor in a North Korean prison, the sister and husband of Laura Ling spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LISA LING, LAURA LING'S SISTER: All we can say is that they are journalists, and they were doing their job. My sister has been a journalist for years. And that's really all we can see.

We we're in the courtroom. We don't know any sort of specifics other than what was released. We just hope, you know, given the fact that we know the girls have apologized profusely, that they will let the girls come home to us.

It's been three months. And that's been too long for us.

Since the verdict, no one has seen them. So, frankly, we don't even know exactly where they are. And we're particularly concerned about their mental state, because when you tell two women they have just been convicted and sentenced to 12 years hard labor, we can't even imagine what they are feeling and what they are going through.

I mean, I am sure they are just traumatized. And because we haven't heard anything from them or about them, we are particularly worried.

COOPER: A lot of people have your wife and Euna in their thoughts and in their prayers. What's your message to those people tonight who are following this? What do you want them to know?

IAIN CLAYTON, LAURA LING'S HUSBAND: We've been so touched by the sport and the outpouring of love and compassion for Laura and Euna. And that has been a great source of strength for us. And we are just humbled by that and very, very thankful.


MALVEAUX: Time now to check back in with Jack Cafferty -- Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The question this hour, Suzanne, is how will the release of the two American journalists affect North Korea's relations with the rest of the world?

Dave says, "Hopefully, not at all. You don't get brownie points for fixing a problem you created in the first place."

Mike in Washington says "This move by Kim is a smoke screen. He has had a lot of pressure over the nuclear discussion and controversy, and he has used this act of good intentions to take the focus off the more dangerous nuclear issue. Now more than ever we need to watch North Korea closely.

Jamaal in St. Petersburg, Florida, "It's positive. I was done with them all together. I was done with them altogether with their saber rattling and imprisoning those two lovely journalists. I liked Laura Ling's reporting. It reminds me of Christiane Amanpour.

Now I feel better about North Korea, like they could maybe actually be an active member of the world community, and that would be great."

David writes, "I agree with you, Jack. North Korea's leader is a maniac, can't be trusted.

On the other hand, this pardon and the release of the two U.S. reporters show just a flicker of humanity. I think our government should formally offer a modest thank you to North Korea just to keep the ball rolling.

If we handle this in the right way, it might not only lead to further talks with North Korea, but even influence that other despot in Iran to release his American captives. You never know."

Doug in Ohio says "Evidence suggestion that Il is ill and North Korea's leadership is looking to the west as he fades. Today is great news for the two U.S. journalists and their families. It may signify something new.

Hopefully it does, but we should insist on the six-party talks and not simply give in to the emotions of the day. Cautious optimism is in order."

Jeff in New Jersey writes, "North Korea is a country shut off from the rest of the world. Releasing the girls and hanging out with Bill Clinton was their ten minutes in the spotlight. It changes nothing. North Korea needs to disarm and then help to feed their people." Amen.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there among hundreds of others -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Jack.