Jack Pritchard, a former high-level envoy to North Korea and president of the Korean Economic Institute, said on "Washington Unplugged" Wednesday that there "has been a lot of [behind the scenes] activity" between the U.S. and North Korean governments since two American journalists were detained by North Korea.
"The North Koreans have a small mission in New York, about eight or nine people. One of those individuals, at a minister level, his job is solely to maintain contact with the United States," Pritchard said. "There is an open channel of communications there that's been open since day one."
He said that "instructions" have been channeled from Kim Jung Il to New York to Washington, DC, a process that resulted in former President Bill Clinton's mission to negotiate the women's pardon. Additionally, Pritchard said that North Korean officials pressured the journalists to tell their families that it would take Mr. Clinton or another high level envoy to make the deal.
Pritchard also said that Swedish ambassador Mats Foyer was influential in the months leading up to the release, and that Foyer visited the journalists a few times.
Washington Unplugged moderator Sharyl Attkisson asked if the fact that the women were never actually sent to the hard labor camp could be seen as evidence that negotiations were ongoing.
"It's hard to tell," Pritchard said. "When they weren't [sent away] it was a clear signal that the North Koreans were looking for a dialogue with the United States."
The North Koreans indicated over the last couple of weeks "the seniority of the envoy they would be looking for," he added.
Pritchard said that the arrest in North Korea was different from the kidnapping of three hikers in Iran. He said Americans should not expect a high-level diplomatic mission to meet with Ahmadinejad.
Acknowledging that Lee and Ling broke local law is "different than a terrorist going out and capturing Americans and kind of holding them hostage," he said.
Moving forward, Pritchard said the mission should encourage the U.S. to "lead as quickly as possible to multilateral dialogue and a quick path to nuclearization."
Watch the full show above.