It is hard to imagine a stronger signal of Bill Clinton's celebrity status than North Korea's explicit demand that they would release the two jailed American journalists provided he come visit. Back-door dealings for their release began sometime in the spring, when the U.S. started pressing the North Koreans via the Swedish ambassador. Eventually, the prisoners' families were allowed to regularly speak with them on the phone. During a conversation in mid-July, the North Koreans conveyed their surprising desire for Clinton to come to Pyongyang. Then, through a collaborative effort involving both the State Department and Al Gore, officials sought to confirm that the high-profile visit would actually result in the prisoners being released. They also made it clear that the trip would not involve issues such as North Korea's nuclear saber-rattling. (Though most observers fully expect that these issues were discussed.) As it turns out, before Clinton's unmarked plane had touched down in Pyongyang, the North Koreans had already committed to handing over the two journalists.
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