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August 5, 09

NEWS / Pardoned U.S. Journalists Return Home from North Korea

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr. and Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writers

Washington — President Obama says he is “extraordinarily relieved” that American television journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling have safely returned to the United States after the North Korean government agreed to their release following a meeting between former President Bill Clinton and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il.

Speaking at the White House August 5, Obama thanked former President Clinton for his “extraordinary humanitarian effort,” as well as former Vice President Al Gore, Clinton’s vice president, “who worked tirelessly in order to achieve a positive outcome.”

Obama said he spoke with the families of the two journalists on August 4 once he knew they had boarded a plane to the United States.

“The reunion that we’ve all seen on television I think is a source of happiness not only for the families but for the entire country,” he said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former president’s wife, told NBC’s Today television show that her husband’s visit to free the journalists was a separate issue from the Obama administration’s continuing concerns over North Korea’s nuclear program.

Speaking from Kenya August 5, Secretary Clinton said, “I want to be sure people don’t confuse what Bill did, which was a private humanitarian mission to bring these young women home, with our policy, which continues to be one that gives choices to North Korea.”

The North Koreans “can continue on the path they are on, or perhaps they will now be willing to start talking to us within the context of the Six-Party Talks about the international desire to see them denuclearized,” she said, adding, “I hope that North Korea makes the right choice.”

Former President Clinton is the first high-ranking U.S. official to meet Kim since then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited North Korea in 2000. The former president arrived in Pyongyang August 4 on the unannounced visit and met with Kim. Following the meeting, Kim announced a special pardon for the two American journalists and ordered them released.

The journalists were arrested by soldiers March 17 near North Korea’s border with China. Following a five-day trial, the two were sentenced on June 8 to 12 years of hard labor in a North Korean prison camp for “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry,” though they were actually held in a guest house outside the capital city, Pyongyang.

At the time they were detained by North Korean officials, Lee and Ling were on a reporting assignment for Current TV, a California-based media company that was co-founded by former Vice President Gore. The company said the two women were researching a news report on North Korean women being sold by human traffickers.

The White House had said that former President Clinton’s visit to North Korea was a private visit, and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said emphatically August 4 that the former president did not deliver a written or oral message to Kim from President Obama.

Clinton is the first former U.S. president to travel to North Korea since Jimmy Carter traveled there in 1994.

Soon after arriving in the United States, Laura Ling told reporters in Burbank, California, that she and Lee feared that “at any moment, we could be sent to a hard-labor camp.”

Ling described their 140-day incarceration in North Korea as “the most difficult, heart-wrenching time of our lives.”

“We are very grateful that we were granted amnesty by the government of North Korea, and we are so happy to be home,” she said. “And we are just so anxious right now to be able to spend some quiet private time getting reacquainted with our families.”

Tags: secretary of state,


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