Powerful Contacts Behind Clinton's Success in N.Korea

      August 07, 2009 08:54

      Former U.S. President Bill Clinton (right) speaks to film producer Stephen Bing (left) during welcome home ceremonies for journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee in Burbank, California on Wednesday. /Reuters-Yonhap

      Behind former U.S. President Bill Clinton's successful trip to North Korea was a network of influential business and political contacts.

      The U.S. government provided no funding for the visit, except for the salaries of the Secret Service agents guarding the former president. The Obama administration distanced itself from the trip from the start, calling it a "personal humanitarian mission." As it is illegal for the U.S. government to use taxpayer money to fund a private endeavor, Clinton had to personally procure the aircraft to make the "sensitive" flight and hand-picked his entourage, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.

      Dow Chemical provided the jet that flew Clinton from his home in Westchester, New York to Burbank, California. The company has contributed US$50,000 to the William J. Clinton Foundation, which is involved in disaster relief and in combating the spread of AIDS. In Burbank, Clinton met up with John Podesta, his former White House chief of staff, and other members of his entourage. The group boarded a Boeing 737 in Burbank that carried them to Pyongyang. The owner of the aircraft is real estate mogul and Hollywood producer Steve Bing, an old friend of Clinton's who donated between $10 million and $25 million to Clinton's foundation and is a regular contributor to the Democratic Party.

      Marc Foulkrod, chairman of Avjet which manages Bing's 737, said Bing covered the flight's $200,000 operational expenses, including fuel costs ($6,000 p/hr) and wages for the pilot and crew. Avjet received an order from Bing on July 30 or 31 to get the jet ready to fly. But since U.S. regulations prohibit U.S.-registered aircraft from landing in North Korea, it took "an unprecedented level of cooperation" from the Federal Aviation Administration and the State Department to secure the necessary legal and diplomatic approvals in time for Monday's departure, Foulkrod said.

      According to Reuters, the State Department gave the authorization for the trip on Sunday. Prior preparations had been made so that the plane could land at U.S. military bases in Alaska and Japan to refuel. This is why former vice president Al Gore, who is a co-founder of Current TV which employs the freed journalists, thanked Bing and Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris at the arrival ceremony in Burbank.

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