On June 26th, Laura Ling’s husband Iain Clayton marked the couple’s 5th wedding anniversary with deep sadness, having hoped against hope that his wife would be back in the United States in time for a celebratory trip. Meanwhile, today’s date – July 17th – brings to four months the length of her and Euna Lee’s captivity in North Korea.
But perhaps the most painful – and relevant – current anniversary is that of July 18th, 2009, a date already in play in the rogue country (Pyongyang is fourteen hours ahead of Los Angeles). For it was just two years ago that the first phase of the sixth round of Six-Party talks resumed in Beijing, the same day that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified North Korea’s claim that it had closed its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon.
How could things devolve so quickly? The short answer is that the suspension of an effort to freeze North Korean international financial assets in 2007 (a condition for the Northeast Asia country returning to the Six-Party negotiations table) and the stroke suffered by Kim Jong-il in 2008 conspired to create the worst of all possible worlds for Lisa Ling’s sister and crew to step into illegally.
President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have maintained that the case of Ling and Lee should be kept separate from the larger issue of North Korea’s development and testing of nuclear weapons. But who’s kidding who? From Day One (March 17th, 2009), the regime of Kim Jong-il has viewed these two journalists as political pawns, placing the current Administration between a rock and a nuclear place. Obama, as he must, is standing firm, which means that the likelihood of Ling making it back to L.A. for her 33rd birthday (August 30th) appears at this moment to be slim. But let’s hope I’m wrong.