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Pioneer Editorial: Proceed with caution on North Korea

There was much jubilation Wednesday as former President Bill Clinton returned to the United States with two freed journalists from North Korea. The move, however, causes concern over how the United States interacts with the communist nation again.

President Clinton, on a secret humanitarian mission, this week met with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Ill in Pyongyang and apologized for the actions of two women journalists -- employed by former Vice President Al Gore's Current TV -- who had been held by the North since March under accusations they had illegally crossed the border from China.

Observers say that North Korea wouldn't even consider releasing the women unless it received a personal visit from a sufficiently high-ranking American. Doing so, however, could set a dangerous precedent in the already touch-and-go relations with that nation. It is another case of the small, poverty-stricken nation crying out for attention, and this time the United States gave it. In fact, the Obama administration gave its tacit approval to the trip, allow President Barack Obama sent no message along with Clinton for Jong Ill.

North Korea has a history of saber-rattling, one that we hope doesn't escalate into nuclear confrontation. North Korea has long held its fledgling nuclear weapons program as a wedge to gain attention and be seen as a world power on the basis of joining the nuclear club, not for its economic and social achievements. That North Korea recently fired off test missiles -- even on the Fourth of July -- indicates that the nation wants attention.

President Clinton's wife -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton -- called the actions like that of a teenager seeking attention, with the North returning that the secretary lacked intelligence and style.

Perhaps al North Korea wants is attention, and opening diplomatic ties and providing humanitarian aid could be giving North Korea the right attention.

But seeing how it got a former U.S. president to come and apologize for the actions of two U.S. citizens could also signal a weak streak that the North could take advantage of with even more bizarre requests backed eventually by a missile that could deliver a warhead to U.S. soil.

We're happy that the two journalists are able to rejoin their families, but we're also concerned that the United States tread carefully and be ever watchful of North Korea's intentions.