Former U.S. President Bill Clinton left North Korea on Wednesday with two American journalists whose release he secured in a meeting with the hermit state's leader, possibly opening the way to direct nuclear disarmament talks.
Following are comments from experts on what North Korea's pardon of the journalists might say about Pyongyang's stance on negotiations with the international community and what might happen next.
ZHANG LIANGUI, CHINESE EXPERT ON NORTH KOREA AT CENTRAL
PARTY SCHOOL IN BEIJING
Actually, this incident was just North Korea making an effort to meet directly with the U.S. They want bilateral talks to resolve the issues.
I don't believe that Obama would have sent an important message to North Korea via Clinton's visit. The North Koreans have rejected the six-party (nuclear disarmament) talks and they won't give up their nuclear plans; both were important components of U.S. policy, so to cave to them would show the U.S. had failed.
Bilateral talks can't solve the problem, because they leave out other countries.
I think the U.S. should resolutely reject bilateral talks. They won't be accepted by other East Asian countries. If these bilaterals touch on regional security issues, at the very least Japan and South Korea would be dissatisfied.
If China is sidelined, it would also have an adverse reaction.
NARUSHIGE MICHISHITA, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, SECURITY AND
INTERNATIONAL STUDIES PROGRAMME AT NATIONAL GRADUATE INSTITUTE
FOR POLICY STUDIES IN JAPAN
I think there will be a three-pillar approach, as we saw at the end of the Bill Clinton administration. The three pillars are tackling nuclear arms, missiles issues and then moving toward a peace treaty (between the United States and North Korea). It is unclear what exactly the United States actually offered at the meeting, but I think Clinton at least tried to find out where North Korea stands on those issues now.
North Korea wants to stabilize its relationship with the United States before it chooses its new leader and wants to do so quickly, given the health problems of Kim Jong-il. The United States probably wants to keep North Korea from falling into a dangerous situation and thus wants to engage at an early stage to control the situation.
For the time being, decisions will likely be made between the United States and North Korea, but it will eventually lead to the resumption of six-party talks. Although North Korea says it won't return to six-party talks, it knows it needs the scheme to get financial assistance or energy aid.
BRUCE KLINGNER, KOREA EXPERT AT THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION IN
Clinton's visit has roiled the North Korean policy waters beyond their already tumultuous state. There are great uncertainties over North Korean and U.S. intentions, escalating the risk of miscalculation, confrontation, and crisis.
The Obama administration should make clear that while freeing the U.S. journalists removes a potential friction point between the U.S. and North Korea, it does not serve as a substitute for Pyongyang's full compliance with U.N. resolutions 1874 and 1718. Washington should continue to insist that North Korea express its clear commitment to abide by all of its previous six-party talks pledges to completely and verifiably abandon its nuclear weapons programs.
Until North Korea does so, Washington should continue to press the United Nations member states to fully implement the counter-proliferation and financial sanctions required under U.N. resolutions. Pressuring North Korea, while concurrently holding open the potential for the regime to receive significant benefits if it abandons its nuclear weapons, offers the most viable potential for resolving the North Korean nuclear problem.
(Additional reporting by Lucy Hornby in Beijing and Yoko Nishikawa in Tokyo, Editing by Dean Yates)