Two U.S. journalists who were held for nearly five months in North
Korea are back in the United States and have been reunited with their
families, after former President Bill Clinton secured their release.
A plane carrying Laura Ling, Euna Lee and Mr. Clinton arrived in
Burbank, California Wednesday. The former president had flown to North
Korea, and met in Pyongyang Tuesday with North Korean leader Kim Jong
The journalists and Mr. Clinton were greeted with cheers when they
stepped off the plane. President Barack Obama said he is
"extraordinarily relieved" over the release. U.N. Secretary-General Ban
Ki-Moon also welcomed the return of the women.
North Korea arrested Ling and Lee in March. A court later sentenced
them to 12 years of hard labor for illegally crossing the border from
China and committing "hostile acts."
Speaking inside an airport hangar, Ling said she and Lee feared at any
moment they would be sent to a labor camp. She said they were shocked
when North Korean officials summoned them to a meeting where they saw
Mr. Clinton. Ling said she knew then, as she put it, the nightmare was
coming to an end.
North Korean state media say Mr. Kim pardoned the women after meeting
with Mr. Clinton and receiving a "sincere apology" for their actions.
But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the former president's
wife, speaking in Nairobi, Kenya, denied that her husband apologized
for Lee and Ling.
The two journalists were working on a story about North Korean refugees
for U.S.-based Current TV, a news outlet co-founded by Al Gore, who was
vice president in the Clinton administration. Gore was at the Burbank
airport for the emotional reunion.
State-controlled media in North Korea say Mr. Clinton and Mr. Kim also
discussed a "negotiated settlement" of broader issues between the two
The White House says Mr. Clinton's mission was private, and that he
undertook the trip at the request of the families of the journalists.
Administration officials say Mr. Clinton did not discuss any issues
beyond the women's release, including the stalled talks on North Korean
Welcoming the release, U.N. Secretary-General Ban reiterated his hope
that dialogue will soon resume between North Korea and the parties
concerned toward resolving outstanding concerns, including the nuclear
Tensions have risen recently over Pyongyang's nuclear test in May, and
its test-firings of long- and short-range missiles. The nuclear test
led to a United Nations resolution imposing a new series of tougher
sanctions against North Korea.
In 2000, then-President Clinton dispatched his secretary of state,
Madeleine Albright, to North Korea for talks with Mr. Kim. Mr. Clinton
is the second former U.S. president to travel to Pyongyang. Jimmy
Carter visited in 1994, on a mission that led to an earlier accord on
North Korea's nuclear program.