Just hours after former President Bill Clinton exchanged words with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the two imprisoned journalists who were sentenced to 12 years in a labor prison for border trespassing.
“They are en route to Los Angeles, where Laura and Euna will be reunited with their families,” spokesman Matt McKenna said in a written statement.
A relieved U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Obviously I am very happy and relieved to have these two young women, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, on the way home to their families,” she said upon her arrival in Nairobi, Kenya, for an economic forum.
“I spoke to my husband on the airplane, and everything went well. We are extremely excited that they will be reunited soon when they touch down in California,” the secretary of state said. “It is just a good day to be able to see this happen.”
North Korea pardoned Lee and Ling and released them after having spent about four months in prison on charges of entering the country illegally to orchestrate a smear campaign.
According to CNN, Lee and Ling said in a phone call in July that North Korean officials were willing to grant amnesty if a high-ranking U.S. diplomat was willing to travel to Pyongyang.
The reporters families and former vice president Al Gore, who owns the California-based media outlet that employs Lee and Ling, recruited the support of Bill Clinton.
After U.S. officials determined his visit would ensure the release of the reporters, Clinton was dispatched.
Officials made it clear that Clinton’s visit was strictly a private humanitarian mission and not one of present international affairs, including North Korea’s controversial nuclear program.
Laura’s father Doug Ling said the news of his daughter’s safe return home made “One of the best days in my life … I figured, sooner or later, they’d be back.”
He believes his daughter would continue her journalistic career “Despite this terrifying experience.” He added, “I can’t imagine that Laura would give up her passion to tell stories that otherwise wouldn’t be heard.”
“All of us at Current are overjoyed at Laura and Euna’s safe return. Our hearts go out to them — and to their families — for persevering through this horrible experience.”
While North Korean’s state-run news agency insists Clinton apologized, reports are vastly different.
“Clinton expressed words of sincere apology to Kim Jong Il for the hostile acts committed by the two American journalists against the DPRK after illegally intruding into it,” the news agency reported.
“Clinton courteously conveyed to Kim Jong Il an earnest request of the U.S. government to leniently pardon them and send them back home from a humanitarian point of view.”
In sharp contrast, however, a U.S. official insists he is unaware of any apology. He went on to say the two met for about three hours and 15 minutes, and did not hear what was discussed.
The report from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the nation’s official name, described the agreement to release the journalists as “a manifestation of the DPRK’s humanitarian and peace-loving policy.
“The DPRK visit of Clinton and his party will contribute to deepening the understanding between the DPRK and the U.S. and building the bilateral confidence.”