Clinton 'Urged N.Korea to Free S.Koreans, Japanese Too'

      August 07, 2009 07:40

      Former U.S. President Bill Clinton urged North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and other officials there to free South Korean and Japanese detainees, CBS quoted a U.S. government official as saying.

      During his surprise visit to Pyongyang on Tuesday to free two U.S. reporters, the official said Clinton "made it clear to the North Koreans that he was on 'purely a private humanitarian mission' aimed solely at the release of the journalists and was separate from other issues on the table between the North and the U.S. and other countries," according to CBS. Clinton "also pressed very hard" on the release of South Korean detainees and people abducted from Japan, it said quoting the official.

      Here, Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young told reporters Clinton "demanded that the detained South Korean worker in Kaesong and the crew of the Yeonan be freed on humanitarian grounds." The Yeonan is a fishing boat that strayed across the Northern Limit Line and was towed to the North on July 30. "A senior official at the U.S. State Department delivered the message to the South Korean government as a token of gratitude for supporting his latest trip to the North," Moon added.

      Considerable behind-the-scenes efforts by both the South Korean and Japanese governments reportedly led to Clinton raising the issue in Pyongyang.

      Seoul urged the U.S. to raise the issue as it was concerned about North Korea maneuvering to hold dialogue only with the U.S. but freezing out the South.

      A government official said North Korea's detention of South Koreans, including the fishing crew and a Hyundai Asan staffer who has been held there incommunicado for some 130 days "is similar to that of the American women journalists. South Korea's issue is quite different from the question of Japanese detainees, given that the North has completely denied the existence of some Japanese detainees or claimed that others are dead."

      The Japanese were abducted as part of a bizarre drive by the North in the 1970s and '80s to acquire trainers for spies.

      But a diplomatic source said it is questionable how much stress Clinton placed on the Korean and Japanese detainees, "a side issue at a time when his main goal was to win the freedom of the American female journalists." The source added it was "highly likely" that he paid mere lip service to the matter as a courtesy to U.S. allies.

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