Clinton's arrival comes amid a steadily worsening standoff between Washington and Pyongyang over the communist regime's refusal to abandon its nuclear weapons program, but his primary objective is to bring home two American journalists serving jail time in the isolated country.
Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who work for a TV news venture run by Clinton's former Vice President Al Gore, were sentenced to 12 years hard labor for illegally crossing North Korea's border — and for what Pyongyang has vaguely termed "hostile acts". Their detention has widely been viewed by analysts as a bargaining chip for the North Koreans to wield in their dealings with Washington on other issues.
However, Zarate told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith Tuesday that "both sides are looking to win" with the entry of Bill Clinton into the fray.
"For the North Koreans, they get the propaganda value of the highest-level visit in a decade — a former president of the United States coming to their capital," said Zarate.
In addition, "at a time when they're being more and more isolated internationally… they get the potential of the opening of the bilateral dialogue with the United States that they've wanted," Zarate added.
North Korea has expressed a clear interest in such a two-way dialogue with Washington, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on behalf of the Obama administration, dismissed the overture. This White House is insisting instead on a return to the Six-Party Talks forum, which also includes South Korea, Russia, Japan and China.
CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk says the North Korean's may actually see Clinton's visit as a way of having a bilateral dialogue with Washington, thanks to his close ties through marriage to the Obama administration. (Read more of Falk's analysis>.)
"The North Koreans have wanted to use them as pawns," said Zarate. "I think they are getting what they've wanted here, which is high level recognition."
Regardless, Zarate said the United States also stands to reap substantial rewards from sending such a heavy hitter to Pyongyang.
"We get the opportunity to see the safe release of the two journalists, which is a big issue," he told Smith, "and potentially putting this issue aside so that other discussions will move forward."