White House: Relationship with North Korea Unchanged

But some Republicans are questioning whether the United States caved in by sending such a high-profile emissary to the country that has defied United Nations mandates in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

"I don't think there is any doubt that this is a propaganda success for Kim Jong-Il and the North Korean regime, and enhances their prestige," said former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who added that he was happy that Ling and Lee were safe at home.

Others wonder what it means for other Americans detained around the world, namely the three Americans who are being held by Iran for straying into the country, and Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"Iran and other autocracies are presumably closely watching the scenario in North Korea. With three American hikers freshly in Tehran's captivity, will Clinton be packing his bags again for another act of obeisance? And, looking ahead, what American hostages will not be sufficiently important to merit the presidential treatment?" asked John Bolton, former ambassador to the United Nations. "Indeed, the release of the two reporters -- welcome news -- doesn't mitigate the future risks entailed."

Did the U.S. Cave In to North Korean Demands?

Those conservative concerns have been amplified on the airwaves.

"Do you ever wonder why Democrat presidents have to send ex-Democrat presidents to resolve problems like this?" conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh questioned. "And the Norks are saying that Clinton apologized in order to get the two journalists released."

Secretary of State Clinton denied that her husband apologized at all, contradicting reports by North Korea's central news agency. The White House also has reiterated that reports by the country's state media that the former president carried a message to Kim Jong-Il "were not true."

"What North Korea did in holding these two reporters was an act of terrorism," Bolton told Fox News. "And I think we're being used as pawns in a larger struggle."

But others say this was not about opening relationship with North Korea, but rather simply about bringing back the two detained journalists.

"If you are an American that you find yourself not of your own doing being held in another country and it's not a terrorist and it's not a hostage situation, do you want your government to say, 'No, we are not going to send somebody simply because it looks as though we are losing face?'" said Jack Pritchard, president of the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, D.C., and former adviser on North Korea for presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. "I am not so concerned with this precedent."

Pritchard told ABC News there are signs North Korea is ready to come to the table to talk about its nuclear program.

"I think that there is a signal here that the North Koreans don't like the direction for which the relationship is heading. And they can't control it," he said. "They need a very face-saving way to change this dynamic. I think they are signaling that they want to do something differently. I would recommend that we take this opportunity. Let's see if this message comes out from the North Koreans."

Officials say they are not worried about setting a precedent with another country, such as Iran, and each situation has to be evaluated on its own merits.

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