Are the days of sending a former US president to Pyongyang to bring back imprisoned US citizens in North Korea? Let's consider: Bill Clinton's private mission of mercy in 2009, and Jimmy Carter's in 2010. Each mission of mercy, orchestrated by the White House, had the private stamp of approval of it: no need to leave official finger prints, thank you very much. And each president hand or orally delievered a message from Kim Jong il about the North's willingness to improve relations with the US. And as far as we know, he got no answer, safe Obama's firming up US support for South Korea's president Lee Myung bak's vindictive campaign against the DPRK that almost set off a shooting war in November 2010.
At that time the American Korean business Jun Yong su was arrested in Pyongyang on charges of funny commerical dealings. A wag might put Jun's arrest in another light: he was 'hostage' so that the US wouldn't encourage Lee's warlike manoeuvres with the US along the NLL [Northern Limit Line].
The locking up of Jun was firmly kept under wraps and the US managed to bring, more or less, Lee to heel like a good attack dog. Jimmy Carter came to North Korea as part of a peace mission of Elders had hoped he could win the release of the imprisoned American Korean. He left emptied handed to the good delight of those in the South and the US who consider him a menace, because of his attempts to open the door to dialogue with Kim Jong il & co.
This time, North Korea wanted an official. It got him in the person of Robert King,a career diplomat and a Morman, with the duties of human rights envoy. Ostensibly, he had to 'talk' about possible food aid that the US cut off in 2008, in order to align US policy with South Korea's when Lee took over the Blue House. Of late, the US has come under growing pressure to resume food aid to the North suffering from the effects of a triple natural disaster whammy in years, thereby nuturing grown famine and starvation. Obama has strongly resisted this appeal, but can he continue to do so?
In any case, Kim Jong il released Jun, in the hope that the US would soften somewhat its intransigence towards the North. One thing, however, is clear, North Korea no longer is willing to rely on high powered figures who act in a private capacity to talk to the US.