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The Democratic Way to Handle North Korea

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By Al Kamen
Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Deja Kim all over again? It's warming up in Washington, and the president's health-care plan looks like it's headed for a rough time; his popularity in the polls is shaky. The North Koreans are acting out again with their nuclear program and other provocations. So what does the president do? He sends his predecessor Democratic president to see the seriously ailing North Korean leader to work something out.

Thus, President Bill Clinton dispatched former president Jimmy Carter in mid-June 1994 to have a chat with the aged North Korean President Kim Il Sung, a.k.a. Great Leader, and work things out. Carter, though he went seriously off-message by calling for immediate, high-level talks with the hard-line commies, secured a pledge from Kim not to eject international inspectors from North Korea's main nuclear operation at Yongbyon.

And now we've got President Obama, with his own health-care ship taking on some water, dispatching Clinton to do some diplomatic work with ailing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the "Dear Leader," and son and successor to the great one. Clinton's mission was to get North Korea to free two reporters, and hours after Kim and Clinton met on Tuesday, North Korea pardoned and released the reporters. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, in a moment that was reminiscent of some of the problems with Carter's trip, denied a North Korean claim that Clinton delivered a verbal message from Obama.

There could be a bit of a bad omen here for Kim Jong Il: He's looking really bad in the photos with Clinton, much as his father must have looked when Carter showed up. And the elder Kim was dead about seven weeks later.

. . . And Vacation

Obama is borrowing another page from the Clinton playbook as well, selecting Martha's Vineyard, Clinton's favorite vacation spot and playground of the rich and famous, for his summer vacation later this month. Sure, there is a historically significant African American presence on the island -- Attorney General Eric Holder is vacationing there, Yale law professor and novelist Stephen Carter based "The Emperor of Ocean Park" there and Harvard Law professor and beer drinker Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. has a house there. (Also the Secret Service probably likes the layout of the 28-acre farm he's headed to, according to the Vineyard Gazette, which first reported the Vineyard pick.)

When Clinton chose to go there his first summer as president, he got positively hammered in the press -- despite the heavy presence of media types on the island. As the New York Times chided in an editorial "Clinton Among the Swells," the man from "L'il Abner's home state is headed smack into the belly of the beast he pledged to control: the Washington establishment." And who could forget the great times Clinton had there, including that fine evening at a night club partying with that rock band.

Curiously, seeing as how Obama is from Chicago, he's rejecting Lake Michigan's beaches, which are better than the Vineyard's, and the beautiful lake, which is shark-free. He could hang out here with his old pal Abner Mikva and maybe do something for the battered Michigan economy.

False Alarm Dept.

Some ears surely perked up big-time yesterday morning at Reagan National when an announcement came over the public address system. "Delta passenger Michael Sulick, please come down to baggage claim 1 to pick up your unclaimed bags," the announcement said. Sulick? Was that Michael Sulick, head of the National Clandestine Service, the head of covert ops? Unclaimed bags?

Not a big rush -- one must be discreet, after all -- but our source, assisted by a friendly Delta agent, went down to just take a look. Seems someone had tried to check the bags through to Vienna, as in Austria, a major CIA station, which can't be done from National. A closer inspection of the bags revealed the tags were made out to a Michael Sulek with an "E" and no "C." So everyone stand down.

Of course, that could just be his cover nom de voyage.

A Love-Hate Thing

Tonight's the night for the "Evening Reception" for embattled Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), our old Peace Corps buddy whose reelection bid, according to the polls, is in serious jeopardy in a heavily Democratic state. Dodd has been buffeted by allegations that he's been way too tight with the financial services industry -- his biggest source of campaign funding -- which is blamed for the financial system's near collapse last fall.

Dodd earlier this year said he would take no money from firms bailed out by taxpayers, including his biggest donor, Citigroup. And he's pushing hard for a new consumer protection agency much opposed by the banking crowd.

On the other hand, our invitation would indicate that some financial industry lobbyists could well be mingling at Charlie Palmer's at 5:30 Wednesday. The munchies should be great. It's $5,000 to be a "host," $2,500 to "co-host," and only a grand if you just want to get in to graze.

Moving On

Mark W. Everson, a Washington fixture under President George W. Bush, will become vice chairman of Alliant Group, a consultancy that provides tax services to businesses. Everson served as Bush's commissioner of Internal Revenue Service, but may best be remembered for his tenure as president and chief executive of the American Red Cross, which was cut short six months into his term when he was ousted for having an "inappropriate relationship" with a female subordinate.

Speaking of sex scandals, Joel Sawyer, the spokesman who found himself stuck covering for South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) and whose loyalty helped keep the Luv Guv in office after his romp in Argentina, is resigning to start his own communications consulting firm. Sawyer's last day with Sanford is Wednesday. Appalachian Trail tomorrow?


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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