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Published: Aug 14, 2009
Bill Clinton Ex-Aide Says Kim Jong-il 'Fully Engaged' In Talks
by Staff

A former aide who accompanied Bill Clinton on his recent trip to Pyongyang said on Friday that North Korea's reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il, was "fully engaged" during talks with the former U.S. president.

John Podesta, who served as White House chief of staff, joined Clinton on a successful mission to Pyongyang last week to win freedom for two jailed American journalists.

He attended both of Clinton's meetings with Kim, who is believed to have suffered a stroke and possible pancreatic cancer and is preparing for his succession as leader of the isolated communist state.

"I would basically say that the discussions were pretty straightforward and he was fully engaged," Podesta told reporters when asked his impressions of Kim. He declined to elaborate.

Clinton was the most senior American envoy in nearly a decade to spend time face-to-face with Kim, whose government tested a nuclear device in May and since then has launched a series of missiles.

Clinton's meetings with the North Korean leader led to a "special pardon" for journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling of U.S. media outlet Current TV.

"It was quite emotional for both Laura Ling and Euna Lee but it was quite emotional for us as well," Podesta, who now heads the liberal Center for American Progress think tank, told a small group of reporters at a healthcare breakfast. "It was quite an amazing experience."

Clinton has not spoken at length publicly about his meetings with Kim. Podesta said he and Clinton jointly briefed a staff member of the White House National Security Council about the trip.

Plans for Clinton to meet President Barack Obama, who has called on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, are still being developed, Podesta said.

"It is in the works, but it has not happened yet," he said.

(Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Phil Stewart)

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