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North Korean Diplomats Secretly in Los Angeles Last Week

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Thanks in part to the heroics of former President Bill Clinton and a number of behind the scenes private diplomats using LA producer Steve Bing's private jet, the two Asian-American journalists working for Current TV (co-owned by ex-VP Al Gore) and being held for crossing North Korea's borders without visas were freed from the 12 years hard labor they were each sentenced to serve.

There were the obvious public statements issued after the trip but the off-radar, embargoed news was potentially very important as a thaw in our relations. The US State Department almost immediately granted visas for a 5-member North Korean delegation to visit Los Angeles to meet US nonprofit relief groups, some of whom have worked in North Korea for decades and some, like Los Angeles-based Operation USA, which have only infrequently sent medical aid to North Korea when colleagues working there asked for help during devastating food shortages.

Last Tuesday--August 18--saw the arrival in Los Angeles of North Korea's Counsellor at the United Nations (whose US travel is limited to not setting foot more than 25 miles from UN Headquarters in New York City) and 4 senior members of the North Korean government's "Korea-US Private Exchange Society", aka KAPES. KAPES coordinates which US aid groups are allowed to visit North Korea and which ones can send material assistance to the Korean people. The groups chosen are allowed to monitor distribution of their aid and in most cases are satisfied that it is not used inappropriately.

Faced with the kind of empty cordialities which infused Bill Clinton's public meetings with the North Koreans, Operation USA decided to pick up the 5 men near LAX and drive them to its warehouse in Los Angeles so they could see medicines and medical equipment which Operation USA sends all over the world. While their enthusiasm was evident about the prospect of getting more private US aid, they were also open in acknowledging the recently deteriorating state of US-North Korea relations and feared that they might be out ahead of the rest of the North Korean Government in promoting such engagement....something which has happended at least twice in the past 10 years to US relief groups hoping to work in North Korea.

That's where the Clinton action could pay its greatest dividends in opening up a very closed society.