Bill Clinton Briefs Obama on North Korea Mission

Published August 18, 2009

| AP

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that information her husband brought back from North Korea has been "extremely helpful" by providing a window into what's happening in the reclusive country.

But it did not change the Obama administration's position on North Korea, which is under pressure from the U.S. and its allies to end its nuclear weapons program.

"Our policy remains the same. Our policy is consistent," she said.

Clinton made the remarks at a State Department news conference with Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez as President Barack Obama met with Bill Clinton about the former president's mission to North Korea that won the freedom of two imprisoned American journalists.

In a brief statement, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama thanked Clinton for undertaking the mission and the former president "described the process." Gibbs said the two spoke for 40 minutes in the West Wing's situation room before Obama invited the former president to continue their conversation for another 30 minutes in the Oval Office.

"President Obama said he was gratified that the Americans had been safely reunited with their families," Gibbs said.

The session was the second conversation between the two men on the North Korean mission, although the private meeting was the first in-person and in-depth debriefing between the current and former president. Bill Clinton also has met with National Security Council staff twice and his associates also have had extensive discussions with the NSC, State Department and other agencies about the trip.

He won the release on Aug. 4 of journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who were working for Clinton's former vice president, Al Gore, at Current-TV. The former president also met and had dinner with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il.

Clinton's trip was arranged secretly in part by Joseph R. DeTrani, the government's senior officer responsible for collecting and analyzing intelligence on North Korea, The New York Times reported Tuesday on its Web site.

Clinton did not ask to see Kim, requesting instead that he meet with "an appropriate official," the newspaper said, quoting unidentified senior U.S. officials.

Kim, who was found to be unexpectedly spry by the Clinton delegation, expressed a desire for better relations at a lengthy dinner with Clinton that consisted of "chitchat" and did not include substantive discussions of North Korea's nuclear program, the officials told the Times. Kim proposed that they stay up afterward; he did not indicate that his nation would give up its nuclear program, and he gave no indication he was engaged in a succession struggle, the Times said.

Separately, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's office said late Tuesday that two North Korean diplomats were in Santa Fe to meet with Richardson on Wednesday on a topic that was not disclosed. The delegation was from the North Korean mission to the United Nations, a spokesman said.

The North Koreans had requested the visit, but the governor's office said Richardson would not be negotiating or be representing the Obama administration.

Richardson was U.N. ambassador in the Clinton administration and has served as a roving diplomatic troubleshooter, including missions to North Korea, Sudan, Cuba and Iraq.

U.S. officials are eager to learn about Kim's health. He is believed to have had a stroke and is suffering from chronic health problems.

Asked whether her husband got any signal that the North was ready to return to six-party talks on its nuclear weapons program, the secretary said that the United States was trying to determine whether there were signals it could act upon to try to create a "positive atmosphere."

She added: "But it's really up to the North Koreans."

The secretary of state, whom Obama defeated in last year's Democratic presidential primary campaign, met earlier with Obama at the White House but aides said the previously scheduled visit by Bermudez prevented her from attending the meeting between her husband and the president.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Clinton sent her chief of staff and counselor, Cheryl Mills, who was the secretary's point person on the matter.

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