While expressing happiness and gratitude that journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee are safe at home, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told ABC News that he's concerned that former President Bill Clinton's humanitarian mission to North Korea sets a bad precedent for the future.
"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," McCain said. "But at the same time we are more than happy that these young women are home safe and sound and I appreciate the fact that former President Clinton was able to achieve that — apparently no one else was able to."
"The question is will the North Koreans really change their behavior as far as nuclear weapons are concerned and the six party talks and progress in other areas," McCain said. "That’s the question that remains."
McCain said that in 1994, "former President Carter went" to visit Pyongyang "and North Korean behavior did not change."
"There is no doubt that the North Koreans saw this as a propaganda success," McCain continued, referencing the "statements they issued during the 75 minute meeting and two hour dinner with Kim Jong Il — President Clinton deserves some kind of award," he said jokingly about the former president spending so much time with the North Korean leader.
Asked if he would have done anything differently as president, McCain said he didn't know "because I don’t know what if any agreements were made ahead of time. Certainly as president of the United States I would emphasize the need for six-party talks, for removal of the nuclear weapons and our continued advocacy to free the 200,000 people that are kept in the worst prison conditions — the kind that would make Joe Stalin blush."
The 2008 GOP presidential nominee said he didn't know if there were any agreements.
"The one thing I’m sure of is that former President Clinton was assured of their release if he went to North Korea," he said. "What else went on I don’t know, but I have confidence that former president Clinton raised these issues with the North Koreans."
McCain said he's been "critical of both the Bush administration and the Obama administration’s handling of North Korea and I think we should have been much tougher on them and I think the Chinese should be much tougher on them and we have not highlighted enough the terrible conditions in which 200,000 people exist. So I can’t say exactly what I would do but clearly all along I would have had a different emphasis."
As an aside, we asked McCain to weigh in on the "birther" movement — the fact-challenged critics who, despite all evidence to the contrary, continue to question whether President Obama was born in the U.S.
"Several people said things about that during the campaign," McCain recalled. "You know, people would approach us. We dismissed it out of hand and still do."