Will the release of American reporters by N. Korea have an impact on Hawaii?

Im Shin Nam
Im Shin Nam
Won Tkatch
Won Tkatch
Denny Roy
Denny Roy

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) -  The two American reporters held in North Korea for close to five months have been released.  Former president Bill Clinton was instrumental in receiving a "special pardon" from North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il.  Some wonder if Tuesday's developments will improve our relations with North Korea and reduce the threat to Hawaii?

It was exactly a month ago when the U.S. military was preparing for a possible North Korean missile launch targeting Hawaii.  And Tuesday, former president Clinton came home from Pyongyang with the two reporters.  Many in Hawaii are happy about the news, but still remain skeptical about North Korea.

The actual mission to bring back Euna Lee and Laura Ling took 24 hours.  The behind the scenes negotiations took months.  Former President Clinton brought the two American women home.

The announcement took many in Hawaii's Korean community by surprise.

"I'm really happy to hear the news," said 78-year-old Korean American Im Shin Nam through a translator.

This diplomatic side of North Korea comes after Kim Jong Il threatened to launch long-range missile directed at Hawaii.  Some Koreans say they still don't trust him.

"Why keep them for all these months only to release them?" asked Korean American Won Tkatch, who spoke also through a translator.  "Why launch missiles and scare people, I don't understand that mindset."

And experts say the release of Lee and Ling was pure North Korea propaganda.

"Superficially someone might get the impression that relations seem to be really bad between the U.S. and North Korea a few weeks ago and now things are better," said Denny Roy, a fellow at the East-West Center and a North Korea expert.  "Actually this Clinton mission has very little impact on the larger north Korean relationship. It's basically a side show."

Roy believes North Korea-U.S. relations will remain very strained and hostile, similar to a Cold War situation.

"It wasn't necessary for someone like Bill Clinton to go to North Korea to resume the communication between the two countries," said Roy.  "The question has been, do we have something to talk about."

That remains to be seen, but some hope this is the start of a more diplomatic Kim Jong Il.

"North Korea probably realized they had nothing more to gain by keeping these two reporters as prisoners," said Nam. "The North Koreans are unreasonable people but even they realized it was time."

Now the question is whether or not North Korea will come back to the six-party talks.  They've said recently they only want bilateral talks with the U.S.   So, it's a matter of time until we find out if Clinton's diplomatic mission helped cool relations between the two countries.