So ... why Bill?
International affairs analysts say the former president offers something the North Koreans crave -- status and bragging rights. His visit could be considered ransom by itself. Plus Hillary Clinton and Pyongyang aren't exactly simpatico these days, after she and the North Koreans got in a lowbrow war of words during her trip to Asia last month.
"Let's face it. He is a rock star of sorts. And they probably get the most sort of payback, or payoff if you will, from having a visit from him as opposed to the other candidates," said Jim Walsh, a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies international security.
The former president, who met with leader Kim Jong Il and the two journalists before apparently winning their release, appears to have been the first choice for the job over several other potential one-shot envoys.
Aside from the secretary of state, other logical choices included former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson, who has traveled to the country on similar missions previously; former President Jimmy Carter, who made a tension-defusing visit in 1994; and former Vice President Al Gore, who co-founded the Current TV channel the jailed journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, worked for.