Michael Hirsh of Newsweek reports that on the back story of Clinton's surprise visit to North Korea. This was a renewal of the effort to regularize international relations with North Korea started in 1994.
Apparently the Bush administration objected to the fact that recognition of North Korea and regularized international relations would be a support to the government of Kim Jong Il and prevent the American government from removing them.
But eight years of Bush/Cheney and John Bolton's hard line policy has clearly been a total failure. So a return to the Clinton process can't be worse and offers the possibility of reducing the problems caused by the rogue kingdom on the North Korean peninsula. Control of the nuclear capabilities, terrorism, criminal activities and military threats of the North Korean reclusive regime is a lot more important than continued efforts to remove the regime of the dying Kim Jong Il.
I'm no expert in diplomacy and especially not in North Korea (is anyone?) but with the rather clear regime changeover coming up, efforts to find out what is going on and who to talk to would seem to make it a lot easier to shape the incoming replacement government and its policies would seem to be a very good idea.
Does it give Kim Jong Il a chance to leave a legacy of greater security for his government after he dies? Yeah, that seems likely. But face it. Eight years of the American hard line crap hasn't worked and if continued will cause a lot more trouble than it's limited chance of success is worth. Giving Kim Jong Il a short success just before his death in exchange for the future ability to possibly have greater influence on his successors seems a small price to pay to change a bad situation.
Getting North Korea out of the business of selling nuclear technology, and possibly missile technology, will have real benefits in America's bigger set of international problems. One of those bigger problems is the unstable and terrorist-threatened nuclear-armed Pakistan. Another is the real danger of anti-American international terrorist groups getting nuclear technology. Compared to these problems, the minor negative of making commitments to stop trying to remove the North Korean regime is a very minor cost. And there is no indication that North Korean regime removal has any chance of success anyway. To commit to the near inevitable seems like a very low price to pay to get greater freedom to deal with our other much greater international threats.
It cannot be overemphasized that the Bush policies towards North Korea have utterly failed. To continue them (as demanded by John Bolton) is clearly an example practicing the insanity of repeating the same continuously failed actions over and over, each time hoping for a different outcome.
Of course, there is no indication that Clinton carried any official message to North Korea or that he conducted any official discussions. But it does appear that he may have made contacts that will be available if future diplomatic activities become possible. The anticipated death is Kim Jong Il makes such activities very likely.
What I write here is just speculation about a mysterious but major international trouble spot. Go read Hirsh's article for a few facts being reported. Just don't forget that almost everything important about North Korea is unknown.