Bill Clinton’s talk with Kim Jong-il in 2009 is leaked

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Bill Clinton’s talk with Kim Jong-il in 2009 is leaked

In 2009, former U.S. President Bill Clinton suggested to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il that he pursue bilateral talks with Washington alongside the six-party denuclearization talks, according to a memo of the meeting released by the Wikileaks website.

A memo attached to an email sent to John Podesta, who had attended the meeting, said that former President Clinton told the North Korean leader that Pyongyang “must not make President [Barack] Obama pick between a bilateral relationship and the Six Party Talks.”

Podesta is chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Since Oct. 9, Wikileaks has been releasing a series of his emails.

This “Memorandum of Conversation” details a meeting between Clinton and Kim Jong-il that took place between 5:05 p.m. and 6:05 p.m. on Aug. 4, 2009 in a conference room in the Paekhwawon State Guest House in Pyongyang.

Clinton was on a private humanitarian mission and successfully negotiated the release of American reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor after being captured near the Chinese border earlier that year.

Clinton told Kim that Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “wanted strong bilateral relations” with North Korea, but “could not abandon other countries, with which the United States had many ties, ties that went beyond the nuclear issue and the Korean Peninsula.”

The former U.S. president then requested that “DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] leaders debate among themselves whether it would be possible both to pursue bilateral U.S.-DPRK talks and rekindle the Six Party Talks to take advantage of the relations that the new Obama administration had built with China, Japan, the ROK [Republic of Korea], and Russia.”

“There is more than one way to skin a cat,” Clinton was quoted as saying in the memo on the topic of Pyongyang’s return to the six-party talks.

The six-party talks involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States were initiated in 2003 with the aim of convincing Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions and resolve security concerns on the Peninsula. They have been suspended since late 2008, when North Korea walked away from them.

According to the memo, Kim replied that either with or without the six-party talks, the United States and North Korea should do away with their hostile relationship and that the two countries “need not inherit the relations that history had given to them.”

The North Korean leader said in concluding remarks that Pyongyang would have to think about ways to save the six-party talks while pursuing bilateral talks. But he did not seem ready to pursue the six-party talks at the expense of bilateral relations.

The memo said that Kim conveyed that if bilateral talks went well, cooperative relations within the six-party talks would be possible.

This memo appears to have been drafted by David Straub, an associate director of Korean Studies at Stanford University who served as the former head of the Korea desk at the U.S. Department of State. He was a member of Clinton’s delegation.

Podesta, founder of the Center for American Progress policy think tank, previously served as chief of staff during the Clinton administration and chief of President Barack Obama’s transition team.

Kim Jong-il was accompanied by his vice foreign minister, Kang Sok-ju, at the meeting, which was followed by a banquet with Clinton as guest of honor.

It was their first meeting although Clinton 15 years earlier had been the first world leader to send a letter of condolence after the death of Kim’s father, Kim Il Sung, the founder of the regime and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un.

Pyongyang had insisted it wanted a high-level U.S. envoy to negotiate the release of the American journalists.

According to the memo, Kim said that Pyongyang had invited him first “on the basis of good feelings toward President Clinton.”

North Korea and the United States implemented the 1994 Agreed Framework, through which Pyongyang pledged to freeze its nuclear program, under the Clinton administration.

Kim even invited Clinton back to Pyongyang officially or unofficially, even for a holiday.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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